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.

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13 thoughts on “Truth

  1. Hey, if you love your job, that’s huge. I can’t say I love my job, except the freedom and the money. Too bad you’re not a sports writer. Why aren’t you a sports writer?

  2. @Lola: I’m not a sports writer because I love sports. I want to watch them as a fan and not sit there in the press box like a zombie, repressing my fan urge to scream during a good play and remain objective. Not to mention, a lot of sportswriters end up hating the athletes they cover because they get to peek behind the curtain.

    I like being a fan too much. I never want sports to be work.

  3. Hi DF…first time commenting here. I’ve worked as a writer my entire career–not a journalist, but a copywriter. Some of the jobs I loved (ad agencies), some I’ve made a ton of money at (inhouse advertising for an insurance conglomerate) and some that are neither fun nor well-paying (curret job at a university). However, when it’s good, it’s very good. And I have my blog for fun. I bet your son will understand and be proud of the work you’re doing.

  4. @Franklin: Thanks for stopping by. And I’ve checked out your blog before, it’s very, very good.

    I have worked as an associate editor at a medical publications company and as a salesman at a stainless steel distributor, in addition to working full-time at newspapers. Even when I was working these other jobs, I freelanced for the paper. But it wasn’t enough. Apparently I’m a news-dork adrenaline junkie who needs the rush/dread of a deadline just to get by.

    That having been said, it would be interesting if ever I was offered a job as a PR flack or something similar. I might take it, I might not. Or I might take it, get sick of it in a year and then quit. I don’t know.

    All I do know is I’m working in what some call a dying industry doomed to extinction…and for better or worse, I dig it!

  5. Wished more of these newsreporters would be more like you – instead of biased as they are.

  6. Your talents are not fully utilized chasing small town politics … you need a bigger venue!

  7. @findingme: All reporters (hell, all human beings) are biased. But successful reporters put all of that aside when they tackle a story. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. And granted, there are surely some reporters who inject that bias into stories. But I swear to you, the majority truly do not. I’ve been accused of being on certain sides of issues and I laugh because some of them I truly don’t give a shit about personally. It stems from the editorial section of the newspaper, and which way it happens to lean. People say the Boston Globe is on the left and the Herald on the right. And because of that, people assume the news reporters give the corresponding slants. But people don’t realize there is hardly ever communication between editorial and the news section. I wish more people understood that.

    @Beachdog: Thanks for that, but I’m no better than anyone I work with.

  8. Happiness is much more important than lots of zeroes on a paycheck. It’s why I quit my job to stay home with my kids. Even though not having lots of money sometimes sucks, I have never once regretted that decision.

  9. It’s always a fine line, and it’s hard to make tough choices. But I can tell you, if you aren’t happy at what you are doing your kids won’t be happy either. You were born with ink in your blood, and for that I both apologize and am proud.

  10. Have you ever thought of writing books? With the right topic, there would be plenty of investigation and deadlines! You’d be good at it.

  11. Jessica: I’d love to write a book. It’s my dream. In fact, I sent a few queries and proposals out to literary agents but nothing came of it. It’s a tough time for the publishing industry and most of the agents who bothered to get back to me said the “daddy” market isn’t as profitable as the mommy parenting books, which is already a saturated field.

    Unfortunately getting your foot in the door is all about who you know. And unfortunately I don’t think I know the right people.

    But thanks for the compliment!

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