When it comes to the “manly” duty of bringing home the proverbial bacon and providing for my family financially, I’m hardly a paragon of success. And right now, with Christmas approaching, I find myself wishing my salary allowed me to buy all the gifts I’d love to give to the special people in my life.
But I’m a journalist. And in case you didn’t realize it, newspaper reporters aren’t paid diddly shit. But what we lack in compensation we make up for in being overworked, unappreciated stress cases who are widely reviled by just about everyone and often times even blamed for many of society’s woes.
A recent CNN article even put journalists in their #4 spot on a list of jobs that are low paying and highly stressful. And unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, you know newspapers have been suffering from poor circulation numbers and plummeting revenues, meaning it’s very possible the newspaper as we’ve always known it could be headed for a total modification at best, and extinction at worst.
When all of this is taken into account, it begs the question: why am I still a journalist?
I left a sales job in 2006 to come back to the newspaper business. I don’t want to get into salaries, but I had to take a substantial pay cut to do it. Although my earning potential was MUCH higher where I was, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t writing. But why is that, you ask? Why is my happiness mysteriously tied to a job that stresses me out, keeps me on call 24/7 and pretty much guarantees that I’ll never be paid a handsome sum of money?
Call me naive if you want, but the answer is because of the truth. Specifically the search for it and exposing it.
I take my job very seriously. Between the print version and online, each story I write is easily viewed by 100,000 people. That means unlike other jobs where you can slack off and screw up without major consequences, readers rely on journalists to be accurate, fair and balanced on a daily basis. My name is attached to each story I write, and that means my credibility is at stake every single day. Readers trust me to present them with an accurate depiction of what happened, and it is my job to hold people accountable and find the truth at all costs.
As you might imagine, when you do that much digging you inevitably end up pissing people off and stepping on some toes. And that can get pretty heated at times, believe me. You get screamed at, threatened with lawsuits and sometimes just threatened.
But despite all that, this is a job I take to heart and hold sacred. It’s why I fight so hard when someone isn’t giving me answers to which the public is entitled. It’s why I run down leads and tips, investigate, ask questions, make public records requests and keep an eye on what’s happening. Reporters are watchdogs and gatekeepers. We hold people accountable and make them explain themselves. And without people taking up that role, you don’t even want to know how much would be swept under the rug.
As a father, I know there will come a day when Will asks why we don’t live in a house as big as some of his friends. He’ll ask me why we don’t drive fancy cars. He’ll want to know why he can’t have some of the nicer things that the dads of his friends are able to buy him. And when I explain why, he’ll probably ask me why I don’t just get another job that pays more.
I’ll tell him there is nobility is being someone dedicated to truth. I’ll tell him doing something you love (even if it’s a love-hate relationship at times) is worth the trade off of making barely enough to get by. And I’ll tell him that being entrusted with the task of delivering the truth to the people is a damned important thing.
I think he’ll understand that.