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Akst: Worst job in the world? No way!

Published: Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

There are times when low self-esteem comes in handy.

Like now.

That’s because of two more sour notes in the blues dirge that is public sentiment about American journalism … but not necessarily the reality of American journalism.

One is a new documentary, “Black and White and Dead All Over.” It’s described as a “grim look at the newspaper industry’s struggle for survival.” I haven’t watched it yet, but I will as soon I get some bourbon.

The other is an annual survey from CareerCast.com, which for 2013 has rated newspaper reporter as “the worst job.”

“Ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from Internet businesses have created very difficult conditions for newspaper reporters, which has been ranked as this year’s worst job,” the survey said. It also mentioned high stress and declining job opportunities.

Blah blah blah. Tell me something every journalist (former, current and would-be) and journalism educator hasn’t heard before.

I’m about 95 percent teacher and about 5 percent reporter, but I have worked as a reporter, and this isn’t a pity party. I do have a small salary and no job security, but I love what I do.

And these days, when wages are flat or declining and there is no such thing as job security, really, how much different is my profession?

Sure, I worry about my career, all the time, but what I also worry about the wildly premature and erroneous conclusion that journalism is dying/dead because of some horror stories. That’s a concern because journalism should not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’d like to bring four points to your attention.

One, it’s wrong to conclude that all newspapers are dying. I’m on the board of directors of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association. NINA’s mission is to advance journalism and journalism education in this area.

NINA is a small, feisty group, but its board has about 7,000 years of combined experience. Collectively, we wish people would stop assuming all media publications are on ventilators. Many newspapers, magazines, niche publications and websites are thriving … in 2013.

Over the coming year, NINA will be working on several initiatives to help promote and grow our profession. Visit ninaonline.org for more information.

Two, let’s go back to “competition from Internet businesses” mentioned in the job survey. Wednesday evening, I examined the top 20 stories on Google News. All 20 were from traditional news organizations. Those organizations are staffed with journalists.

Point is: Until we can beam from place to place, most news will come from journalists somehow.

Third, many people possess the skill/intellect to be journalists, but few are willing to travel to Syria, analyze terabytes of data, look at body parts in the road after an accident, or harvest poignancy from a city council meeting.

Fourth, journalism training provides skills employers desire. Employers want professionals who communicate clearly (textually, visually and orally), think critically, interact with diverse people effectively, analyze information, work in teams, and are attentive to productivity and deadline.

Journalists do all of the above, all day, every day.

I’m not saying you should suddenly love the news media. I am saying another former journalist, Mark Twain, got it right when he said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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