Deadlines and Breadlines


I’ve still got a nice, tall stack of comics to review, but there are just days ya gotta unpack the rants.

So I get a call last week from a newspaper I’d sent a job application to. Some poor lady on the other end of the line was asking if I wanted to work for them.

Now I’m not anti-newspapers — I’ve worked for several of them in the past and generally enjoyed my jobs there — but we’re all very aware of how unstable the newspaper biz is right now, and I’d long ago decided that any newspaper that called me to talk jobs was going to have to stand up to me quizzing them hard about their financial stability. Yes, part of my strategy is to scare them off from me if they think I’m too aggressive for them — better that than to move several hundred miles away and then get laid off again.

Anyway, the person I was talking to flunked the test bad. She told me they were going to survive — their parent company wasn’t doing so well, but the actual paper was healthy and was the only paper in town, so they just couldn’t possibly close, and they’d already been cut back to the bone, so there was nothing else that could be cut anyway. When I told her that the A-J was pretty healthy, was the only paper in town, and had gone through a number of cutbacks, and it still hadn’t kept me and a bunch of other people from being laid off, she didn’t have much to say.

Then I asked about the salary, and she told me it paid $10 an hour. I told her not to consider me for the position any longer.

Listen, y’all can consider the source on this — I’ve worked at a couple of newspapers and several radio stations, but never in a position of management, never as an editor, never as a publisher… but there are two major things that newspapers are doing wrong right now.

* Underpaying the employees. The newspaper I talked to is a picture-perfect example. They want to hire smart reporters who’ve got all the right education, who’ve spent a few years in college earning their journalism degrees, who they’re relying on to enhance their reputation as on-the-ball members of the journalistic community — and they want to pay them fast-food wages. If some guy walked in off the street, high school dropout, no real skills, no previous writing experience, they’d tell him to get lost. They’d insist that he had to have the education in order to get their poverty-level job. Heck, I’ve got a Masters degree, over a decade of writing experience, and previous newspaper employment, and they still thought I’d be willing to accept $20,000 a year.

This is insane.

I’m not saying reporters should be paid $100,000 a year. But there’s no reason to force skilled, highly educated employees to work their butts off for crap wages. If you can’t afford to pay reporters enough to keep them out of the poorhouse… then just quit. Seriously. Shut down the paper, open up a McDonalds franchise, and you can pay high school kids minimum wage all day long. Eventually, some smart businessman will realize that he can keep a newspaper open, informative, and profitable while still paying the employees enough to keep them and their families comfortable.

* Overpaying the columnists. I’m dumb enough to read a bunch of the columnists at the big national papers. I know, I know, it elevates my blood pressure and just makes me cranky and foul-tempered all day. These guys get paid millions of dollars a year to blather nonsense and lies all over the editorial pages, they go on TV and blather, they go to DC cocktail parties and yuck it up with their fellow multimillionaire columnists, they’re considered big media stars, important opinion-leaders, and their invented bulldada is quickly picked up as the Conventional Wisdom that fuels the talk-show screamathons.

Honestly, they should all be fired. Use their bloated salaries to try to stabilize the newspapers, boost salaries a bit, invest in some new strategies to make journalism profitable. But 95% of the big national editorial columnists are useless hacks who couldn’t keep a job if it weren’t for their guaranteed no-fire positions.

You wanna really see some improvement? Take David Broder, Maureen Dowd, Richard Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, Jake Tapper, Joel Stein, Thomas Friedman, George Will, Jeffrey Rosen, and the rest of the no-talent brigade, tie them to the outside of a rocketship using rusty barbed wire and a staplegun, and fire them into the sun. They’re an embarrasment, and they’re a drain on the finances of an industry that can’t afford their prima donna salaries.

Obviously, there’s more stuff wrong with the modern practice of corporate journalism that I don’t have time to get into. They spent way too long standing in White House briefing rooms saying “WMDs in Iraq? Wow, I totally believe you” and haven’t yet come up with any way to convince us that they’re not going to keep believing whatever lame bullcrap some monied storyteller invents for them. The national papers seem to be run solely to put more reporters on TV. Too many seem to prefer to resent the Internet instead of figuring out how to make it work for them. A lot of them would seem to rather chew their own hands off than report anything negative about public officials or other prominent media pundits. But again, I could go on and on and on about this, and still not get done with my list of pet peeves, so I’ll stop right here.

That’s my two cents anyway.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to an e-mail from someone claiming to be Jake Tapper: “i’m a correspondent for ABC News, not an editorial or opinion writer for a newspaper….”

Duly noted. Jake Tapper is, in fact, the Senior White House Correspondent for ABC News. He’s still not getting off the side of that rocket-to-the-sun, ’cause spending your day googling yourself when you should be covering the White House for ABC News would seem to be picture-perfect proof that you’re getting paid too much for not working enough. Unless he’s got some really good questions for Robert Gibbs in today’s press gaggle — and not just the usual “Whyyyy did Wanda Syyyykes have to be so meeeeean to poor iiiinnocent lamb Rush Limbauuuugh?” — then I’m expecting a note on ABC News President Robert Westin’s desk with an explanation about why you’re wasting company time surfing comic book blogs.

(Unless, of course, Jake Tapper didn’t really send me an e-mail. In which case, Jake, someone’s spoofing yer e-mail addy!)

No Comments

  1. WizarDru Said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:34 am

    $10 an hour? Really? REALLY?

    Wow. So newspapers really ARE doomed. That’s a shame. A professional journalist should be making more of a wage than a guy who’s managed to not quit McDonalds for six months.

  2. asiangrrlMN Said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    Hi. I’m from Balloon Juice. You can guess my moniker there. I have to say, it’s dreadful how the newspapers are treating their journalists. I agree with you that most columnists are a waste of money. I except Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, Eugene Robinson, and a few others.

    I will not be sad to see the papers go if there opens up a new place for real journalists.

  3. AhabTRuler Said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    Theoretically, the op-ed columnists are there as a draw, a name to get more people to pick up the paper. The WaPo has driven me to the point where I won’t pick up the paper almost entirely based on the opinion columnists, especially as it was one of the few things I liked the dead-tree version (w00t! crosswords, something about holding the folded paper).

  4. AhabTRuler Said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    “I liked about the dead-tree version”

  5. Hero Sandwich » Deadlines and Breadlines II: I hate to say I told you so, but… Said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    […] last week, I had my post about the sorry state of journalism, with regard to salaries — in other words, the reporters […]