Editor’s note: A shorter version of the following blog post was published at www.bizjournals.com on April 25. The post has been edited and reprinted with permission.
by Blanca Torres
My name is Blanca and I’m a happy newspaper reporter.
It feels strange to write that statement, partly because when someone says they’re happy, the rest of the world looks on in disbelief, scorn or general apathy. Also because I learned yesterday that the job of newspaper reporter ranked at the very bottom on a list of 200 careers published by CareerCast.com on April 23. Reporters jumped on the news, and there was plenty of reaction from former newspaper types lamenting the days they were overworked and underpaid.
I am responding a day late, but I have a reason: I was on deadline. Weekly print deadlines at the San Francisco Business Times fall on Wednesdays but these days I, like many reporters, are pretty much always on deadline because you can’t seem to update a newspaper website frequently enough. Or blog. Or tweet. Or post on Facebook. I didn’t have much time to reflect until today.
I’m a happy journalist mostly because I have a job. Perhaps you envision newspaper reporters as cynical, bitter people easily incensed when sources don’t call back or “decline to comment,” stressed out by deadlines, angry because an editor changed a sentence and anxiously awaiting the next scoop like a crack fiend awaits the next hit. Well, yes, I do experience all of that, but frankly, it’s part of the reason I’m happy — the angst is part of the ride.
I recently sent a note to a former editor at The Sun in Baltimore, Trif Alatzas, to congratulate him on his promotion to executive editor and mentioned that I feel grateful to be working still as a journalist and not miserable. When I graduated from college, ready to start my career, I wouldn’t have imagined that 10 years later that kind of statement would feel like an accomplishment, but it does.
The “at least I have a job” sentiment might sound naïve or complacent, but considering the state of the industry, I do feel fortunate to continue working in a field I love. Trif once told me that being a journalist is the best job in the world and one of the most competitive. I must love deadline pressure, the unreasonable demands and the reluctant sources because the thrill of breaking a hot story or seeing my byline on a story I worked hard on hasn’t gone away.
I began my newspaper career when I was 15, working as a news clerk for my hometown paper, the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Wash. I had my first front-page story before I had a driver’s license. I worked for various dailies throughout the country before landing at the San Francisco Business Times five years ago. I’ve enjoyed working for a niche publication that has a core, growing audience and makes money — something most daily newspapers can’t say.
My publication has plenty of challenges and, as my editor knows, I’m not afraid to voice what I’ll call “suggestions for improvement.” But like a soldier in the army, I report for duty. Even during the high times before the days of the Internet and free Craiglist ads, journalism wasn’t all that peachy. The industry had buyouts, layoffs, paper closings and reporters going to the “dark side” for better pay and hours in public relations, media relations, communications and other fields ending in “-tions.” The industry’s decline has, of course, exacerbated the exodus, and the trade-off between high job satisfaction in exchange for stressful work conditions is losing its appeal.
I feel relatively stable in my job. I’m the child of immigrants from Mexico who taught me from an early age that just as there’s no such thing as life security, there’s no job security, so all you can do is work hard. I live and work in an amazing city and part of the country. I frequently meet readers who tell me, “I read your paper cover to cover every week.” Nothing is ever perfect, but I can’t help but consider myself one of the lucky ones.
When I meet journalism students, however, I find myself at odds with what to say. Do I encourage them to enter a field in which jobs are dwindling and those that remain aren’t as good as they used to be? Do I tell them that they will probably never earn as much as siblings or friends who chose other paths such as engineering, finance, teaching or sales, but that’s OK? Do I tell them, set yourself up for disappointment?
I talked about these questions with friend and fellow journalist John Diaz, editorial editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, during a recent event of the Bay Area chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. We were celebrating the retirement of Ysabel Duran, who worked in broadcast journalism for 42 years. I was amazed at the length of her career and the number of college students there seeking to follow in her footsteps. John agreed that it’s much harder for today’s rookies. But he said, “If this is what you want to do, you’ll find a way to do it.”
I often think about my career and ask, what’s the next step? Is there a next step? By admitting that I’m happy, am I jinxing myself and setting myself up for a speedy demise? I don’t know. Nobody knows. That’s OK, because for the moment, I’m happy.
Blanca Torres covers East Bay real estate for the San Francisco Business Times. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, she was a Summer 2001 Chips Quinn Scholar for The Detroit News.