Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My former life in newspapers

As you may or may not be aware that I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor.  I once thought that was what I would do for the rest of my life.

Oh, how things can change.

The other day, one of my new co-workers asked me if I missed the newspaper business.   You might be surprised at how often I'm asked this.  I never really know how to answer.  I usually just say, "yes and no." And then, of course, I have to explain what I mean by that.

So, today, I thought I'd share with you what I liked and disliked about my life in the newspaper business.

DISLIKED ...

... the hours.
I worked in three different small communities, which usually meant I was one of few reporters. In some cases, I was the only one.  That meant it was up to me to cover every meeting (city council, school board, etc.), school event (programs, proms, and graduations), and every other event happening in the community.  In my last newspaper post, we were actually covering three school districts and two towns.  In other words, I had meetings three out of four Monday nights and I was booked the last two Saturdays in April and the later weekends in May. It was exhausting.

... the complaints.
As you read above, I was often stretched thin and sometimes I didn't get to everything that was happening.  Some things got missed.  I also made errors.  Crazy, right?  Because everyone is perfect at their jobs, right?  I got yelled at on the phone more times than I can count, and I don't even want to tell you about the nasty emails.  People got upset about everything -- logical or not.  I once had a caller cancel their subscription because we forgot to change the TV Guide section of the paper one day.  I also got an angry call from a woman who couldn't believe I had the nerve to publish the name of her son who had been arrested.  (Pro tip: Maybe if he wasn't doing illegal things, his name wouldn't be in the paper.) I have a really soft heart, so I didn't always deal with these situations well, but I got better as time went on.

... the pay.
Yeah, I said it.  There is not money in journalism.  I know money isn't everything, but it sure can make life a little easier. I owed more in student loan debt than I made in a year at my first two jobs out of college.  I was living paycheck to paycheck and struggling.  In my third community, I ended up getting a part-time job, which meant I worked seven days a week most weeks.  Granted, I only worked a few hours on some of those weekend days, but still ... I had to get up and go to work.  As an introvert, this was very draining.  I needed more downtime, but I really couldn't afford it.

+++++


LIKED ...

... my co-workers.
There were a few I could have done without, but for the most part, I had some wonderful newspaper families.  I still hold my first editor in high regard. He was a great mentor and friend to me as I navigated my first job so far away from family.  I learned so much from him, and I don't think I could ever thank him enough.  I made some solid friendships I still value very much.

... the people I met.
Features were among my favorite thing to write. I loved getting to know someone and then turn around and describe them to readers.  It was just such a fun process.  I think this is where my introvert nature came in handy since introverts are good at deep conversations, not small talk.  I met some amazing people --- and they all had something to share.  I think that was my other favorite lesson from journalism --- everyone has a story.

... the access I had.
Even though I worked for small publications, I still got to utilize some press privileges -- tradeout tickets to concerts (this is how I saw Britney Spears) and photo passes at Iowa Cubs games (I got some really great shots).  In 2007, many presidential candidates came through the town I was working in.  I got to interview Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Bill Richardson, and several others who aren't coming to mind at the moment. I got to see and hear several others speak.  Even if I didn't agree with their politics, I still think it was a priceless opportunity.

+++++

I left the newspaper business in 2011 after nine incredible and eye-opening years.  It was just time.  I was starting to get burned out, and I decided it was best if I leave before I short-changed the people in the communities I worked.  My readers were always the most important factor in my jobs.  They were not just customers, they were also the source of inspiration and stories. They were the reason I worked long hours, sacrificed time with family, and missed out on lots of social opportunities.  I wanted to give them the best.  I fell short most of the time, but at least I tried.


6 comments:

  1. I used to work for a newspaper too. On the advertising side though. It was my internship while I was in college and I worked there for 4 years. I absolutely loved the industry, but it changed so much during my time there - and has since changed even more dramatically. I fear the future of newspapers sometimes!

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  2. I used to work at a local tv news station (behind the scenes tho) so I can totally relate, especially with the money. Ugh, that was the worst. Definitely cool access tho, I also worked for a local morning show so we met local "celebs" so that was always fun.

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  3. I started out majoring in journalism, but I definitely couldn't hack it and switched to English! the complaints, ugh. If you get arrested, it goes in the paper. It's kind of a thing.
    Actually, reading the blotter in the Daily Iowan after a football weekend was kinda my favorite pasttime...

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  4. Journalism was the career I was most drawn to besides teaching. I took a News Writing class my first year and just didn't feel like I would get to be as creative as I wanted in journalism. I'd love to hear more about what it was like to interview President Obama and other politicians.

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  5. I feel the exact same way! I was a reporter for a metro paper straight out of college. I liked it a LOT--the hours were super flexible and I got to interview people with really awesome stories. BUT, the pay sucked and there were layoffs at every corner. After almost two years, I had to move on. I'm glad I did. I recently read about another round of 32 layoffs at the paper. There's no future in it, imho. ANd I'm making almost triple what I was making when I was a reporter.

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  6. My husband was one of 3 reporters (one was just a sports guy) at our local paper for 10 years. I can say I 100% am so happy he is no longer working 60 hours a week for such little funds. He got a part time job (24 hours a week) with the state that includes benefits and pays him almost as much as the paper did. As a bonus, he works with confidential information (foster kids stuff) so he isn't allowed to take it out of the office. We are both so much happier!

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