Death of a Newspaper Man — Just as low end and depressing as ‘Death of a Salesman’

By Mick Gregory

Excuse my dark fascination with Joe Grimm’s newspaper HR advice column at Poynter Online. I may have Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy or something.

Many jounalists must have some kind of delusions of status and grandure. Are J-schools preparing them for the marketplace (the real world)? If not, there are thousands of graduates who should file lawsuits for false marketing of communications and journalisim degrees at any of the Top 50 universities. Shouldn’t these institutions have to report numbers of graduates who land jobs in journalisim? And what they average in income like engineers, MBAs, and other fields?

It’s time we told the truth to these sad bastards heading for a life of cuts, low pay and false promises.

Here is another sad case:
My entire career has been at papers larger than 60,000. Almost two years ago I left to take a job as a managing editor at a very small newspaper to get into management. At the time, a friend warned me the paper might force me into working so many hours that I wouldn’t have time for anything else.

After studying the resources available to the paper, I figured things would be OK. Well, since I got here, we have lost 1.5 positions in the newsroom. I’m always trying to get things done and I’m working 10 to 14 hours a day (more often on the upper end). I’m working on my master’s thesis right now and we’re expecting a baby soon (both will be done in about six months). I’ve been to the doctor because of chest pains (not heart attacks). I have also become very short-tempered of late. I feel like my anger is almost out of control.

I want to help our company do more with the Internet but I can’t even get my hands on the Web site. We had a story yesterday that we ended up getting scooped on because we had to wait to print.

Wow, a 10,000 paper gets scooped. Who knew?

When I talk to my publisher about my frustrations with the quality of journalism we’re doing he suggests that my expectations are too high for our situation.

Listen to the publisher. He/she has a grip on reality.

I was planning on leaving in six months, but I’m now asking is that wise? Should I leave before my temper becomes worse? Should I quit and finish my thesis and then find a new job? Or should I endure, hoping I can make a positive difference in a place that I’m worrying will ever change?

Where are you going to go?

Frustrated in Podunk

I am worried for you and your growing family. I am glad you are seeing a doctor.

Chest pains and anger verging on the uncontrollable are not to be taken lightly. Stress will not diminish after the baby comes.

Joe Grimm
Enduring this is not a formula for success. Nor is flat-out quitting.

You’ve got to reduce your hours immediately and stop trying to save the whole newspaper all by yourself. It can’t happen. Talk to your editors, cut back to a more manageable schedule and let some responsibilities go to other people or cut them out of the agenda. This will be difficult at first, but the chance to spend more time at home and do some better decision-making should show some immediate benefits.

Keep looking for that new job, but be cautious about the few months on either side of the due date. You don’t want to compound work stress with the joyful stress of having a baby and the aggravation of moving.

Follow doctor’s orders, of course, and visit the newspaper’s Human Resources department to see whether there is an Employee Assistance Program that can also help with some of the health issues you describe.

Coming Friday: The newspaper where he interned went up for sale with the understanding that it will be closed if a buyer isn’t found. He wonders whether there is a bigger story in this.

2 thoughts on “Death of a Newspaper Man — Just as low end and depressing as ‘Death of a Salesman’

  1. It’s amazing, but Joe offers some decent advice here.

    But he usually rips the idea anyone would EVER go down in circulation.

    Regarding the first part of your post: I also wonder why so many universities continue to offer degree programs to a saturated market. If I had to guess, I’d say there are a lot of people who would simply go elsewhere to get a piece of paper that often doesn’t mean a whole lot.

    Plus, newspapers still hire college grads because they’ll take low-end pay. The real question is where the people will be 7-10 years down the road, when they’ll be seeking salaries outside the range of what the papers want to pay.

    Joe never talks about that part of the equation, though.

    You should check out his tour schedule at Poynter sometime. If I can ever coordinate a business trip with one of his appearances, I’d like to hear what he has to say to the students. Could I go 5 minutes without bursting into laughter?

  2. Wenalway, you have a great sense of humor. There should be an investigation into the false hopes that J-schools offer high school students. A special report by citizen journalists on the hucksters. They are not much different than the degrees online shops. Only one hell of a lot more expensive.

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