Back in the mid-80s, I made one of the worst decisions of my life: to major in journalism. Even though some courses I took at university offered tantalizing glimpses of an alternative route (astronomy, for one), I stuck with my original decision and slogged through the mostly boring four years of a communications degree.
In that time, journalism in America had long been in decline, from at least the early 70s. Its downward trajectory has only continued and where the bottom lies is anyone’s guess. With these thoughts in mind, I noticed an op-ed piece penned in yesterday’s Viet Nam News. It was written by a working journalist in Viet Nam, and the article demonstrates clearly that being a journalist anywhere in the world these days sucks. The article is titled ‘Journalism cannot be a mercenary pursuit.’
It begins, “In 2013, global job-search portal CareerCast rated journalism as the worst job in the United States, below lumberjacks, janitors, garbage collectors, and bus drivers. The agency publishes the list annually in its Jobs Rate Reports. Two hundred jobs are ranked based on factors such as environment, income, outcome, and stress.”
While this study focused on the U.S., the writer explains that the situation is the same in Viet Nam, where journalists deal with low pay, high stress, competitiveness and crazy hours. Reporters earn between 200 and 400 dollars a month. As bad as journalism was back when I graduated, the ubiquity of the internet with thousands of citizen journalists and bloggers has made the working newspaper journalist not only endangered but quite possibly obsolete.
This is not a black and white issue. I think society benefits from having trained, professional, and full time journalists working for established news organizations who both support and defend them. At the same time, we as citizens cannot rely on or even expect these journalists to do all the work that is required of a citizenry keeping a check on over-reaching and over-zealous governments. Bloggers and citizen journalists (and whistle -blowers) can fill this gap.
Ten years ago, many media watchers, observing the increasing rate of bankruptcies and mergers in the newspaper industry, along with the increasing penetration of the internet, were predicting that within a decade the newspaper industry would be dead. That hasn’t yet happened and the remaining newspapers are hanging on, though often by just the thinnest of margins. It’s 2014 and I’m happy that I can still wake up and buy a local newspaper to read with my morning coffee. And I salute the journalists who are still ‘out there’ , working for pennies, and often putting their very lives at risk. (70 journalists killed in 2013, with many more imprisoned or beaten).