“Thick skin and objectivity. If you can’t develop both, then you probably don’t belong in journalism or this class.”
The college professor surveyed the class for a few moments, allowing his words to linger. He was waiting for the timid to look away, perhaps fidget or slip out the back door.
It was the first step in preparation for one of the most rewarding careers available in this country.
Of course, that was nearly three decades ago. Long before any of us ever thought we’d see the job of newspaper reporter listed as the No. 1 worst job in America.
Thanks to the Internet, every major media outlet has been airing that piece of trivia for the last couple weeks after it was released by an online job search resource.
As a reporter, no matter how thick your skin, just knowing that somebody else considers your job to be the worst in the entire country is a bit unsettling. Then again, those of us in this field never thought we’d ever see the industry savaged with massive staff cuts or that major dailies would simply go out of business and multiple others would be forced to reorganize through bankruptcy.
It’s been a tough row, to be sure, but the worst job in America . . . newspaper reporter?
Yes, the stress level is high. The competition in a smaller pool of jobs is fierce. And the pay is often paltry. But the worst job . . . really?
I never agreed with the college professor about having thick skin. I always thought it would make me less sensitive to the world, something that would prevent objective reporters from doing their jobs. Who wants to be cynical?
As somebody who has been doing this for almost 30 years, rest assured this is not the worst job in America. And here’s why:
It’s easy to find everything that is wrong in this world, our industry and among journalists. But there few other careers where the careful assembly and presentation of words and images can create positive change. That alone makes this one of the greatest careers for anyone who wants to help improve the world and give voice to others who have the same goal.
Some may actually think being a janitor is a worse job than a reporter. But as a former janitor, I can tell you there are aspects to that job that are rewarding (keeping a building clean makes people happy and leads to a better work environment).
Maybe the worst job is the individual who empties Porta Potties, unless that person knows that his/her role is essential to each and every one of us who attends an outdoor activity and depends on clean facilities to prevent the spread of disease.
Perhaps another “worst job” headliner is the person who cleans up road kill. Awful job, right? Unless you consider that if all the carcasses that end up on our highways were not removed, we’d have serious transportation issues, accidents and potential loss of life.
Worst of lists are little more than minor distractions in a world where entertainment often trumps real news. In this case, the worst jobs list serves no purpose other than to make anyone who is not in the Top 10 list feel better about his lot in life, I guess. It offers nothing to the enhancement of society.
Truth be told, there is a level of pride that can be achieved in all work and it plays a huge role in one’s own opinion of his value to society. You will not find this in any top 10 worst list.
Not everybody necessarily sees their job as the most fulfilling aspect of their life. But every person can do his best no matter what their job. We can all gain satisfaction and peace of mind when we know we have given our best at work. When we do that, it truly does make a difference in some form or fashion to somebody else that is affected by our jobs.
So, perhaps the worst job in the world is not a job at all, but a point of view. It is that frame of mind that compels an individual to survey the landscape, point a crooked finger at another, and suggest they have a meaningless job and that their life is being wasted.
For that person, for that kind of mindset, we can all be truly sorry.
But as a journalist, and I will speak for all of us, we really do want to make the world a better place. We don’t always succeed, but we try. And for the record, we don’t have thick skin, but that’s what allows us to be compassionate and connected to our world.
Keith Anderson is ECM Sun Newspapers director of news. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .