I’ve been a professional journalist for more than 11 years. It’s probably closer to nine if you count the two years I worked my way down to paper boy. That was an important learning experience, however, so I include it in the total.
The job doesn’t pay much, and I’ve accepted a life of virtual penury, debt collectors and angry girlfriends as I shrug at the bill and more failed experiments with ramen noodles than I’d care to remember. There’s also the stress, the anonymous angry all-CAPS emails, and the weird belief among much of the population that journalists are part of some sort of global conspiracy. There’s also being called “mainstream media,” which particularly pisses me off when I’m covering a meeting about water-table levels.
I quit my job at least once a day, usually when a source doesn’t call me back or they run out of coffee in the break room. I don’t tell my editors, of course, because they might wish me bon voyage. But at least once a day, I stand up from my desk, walk out the door and stew in my truck for about 10 minutes before concluding that any other job will suck far worse than being a journalist. Then I walk back inside and get back to work.
Journalism is the only job for me. And to be perfectly honest, its the only profession where my mood swings, absence of any discernible filter between my thoughts and mouth, and general lack of respect for authority will be tolerated and in some cases encouraged. At a paper in Oklahoma, I had a coworker who was, in effect, the Church Lady from “Saturday Night Live.” Any time I apologized to her for whatever string of profanity I had just launched into, she would look me dead in the eye and say, “John, it’s a newsroom.”
In any other job, I’d be fired before lunch. And possibly brought up on charges.
I bring this up because — a lot of people don’t know this — newspapers are private companies that rely on advertising and subscriptions to stay in business. The Daily Camera, my primary employer, charges about 12 measly dollars a month for online access. And that’s after about a dozen free articles.
But people gripe. They say it’s not fair they should have to pay for news. A woman even wrote in once to say she was guaranteed free news under the First Amendment. It irks me that people won’t fork over 12 bucks for news. They’ll pay for Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime and everything other imaginable online type of media. Ask them for the price of two kombuchas, however, and they look at you like you just set fire to their house.
To set a good example, I pay for The Washington Post and The New York Times. It costs me about $25 bucks, and I’m supporting my fellow journalists. You should do the same. Otherwise, I might be out on the street, and you’ll be in the dark.