Want to Be a Writer? Steer Clear of Newspapers

‘Reporter’ among worst jobs, study finds; some journalists, however, disagree

By Dana Wilkie Apr 13, 2016
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  • 10: Firefighter

  • 9: Taxi Driver

  • 8: Advertising Sales Person

  • 7: Retail Sales Person

  • 6: Pest Control

  • 5: Enlisted Military

  • 4: Disc Jockey

  • 3: Broadcaster

  • 2: Logger

  • 1: Newspaper Reporter (CareerCast)

Many journalists are likely to say that theirs is a pretty entertaining occupation. They interview famous—or notorious—people, report on important events, and are free to question the powerful.

But CareerCast doesn’t think journalism is such a hot profession. The website for job hunters and the HR community, reports that newspaper reporter is absolutely the worst job anyone could possibly hold in the U.S., with broadcaster the third worst.

CareerCast's annual Jobs Rated Report, which ranks the 10 best and worst U.S. jobs, bases its research on three criteria: salary and professional growth potential; the job’s emotional, physical and time demands; and the future hiring outlook for each job. CareerCast also considered 11 stress factors to determine which professions were among the most and least desirable.

This year’s report found that disc jockey was also among the 10 worst jobs, along with logger, enlisted military personnel, retail salesperson, advertising sales representative, taxi driver, firefighter and pest control worker.

“Declining employment opportunities contributed to the inclusion of many of the 10 worst careers,” said Kyle Kensing, online content editor for CareerCast. “Traditional news media are particularly hard hit due to newspapers folding or moving to digital-only, and waning advertising revenue.”

By 2024, employment of newspaper reporters and news broadcasters is expected to decline by 9 percent for each, the report found.

Professions in mathematics topped the best jobs list, with data scientist coming in at No. 1 and statistician at No. 2. Mathematician (No. 6) and actuary (No. 10) also require advanced math skills. 

“Part of what makes mathematical professions so desirable is the proliferation of statistical and data analysis in business, government, nonprofit, health care and education,” Kensing said. “Math professionals can still follow traditional paths like education and engineering, but the growing significance of ‘big data’ has opened promising doors in business, advertising, marketing, finance and even health care.”

HR manager was ranked No. 14—the same spot the job held in the 2015 survey.

“HR manager consistently ranks in the Top 20 for a variety of reasons,” Kensing said. “The environment—typically an office setting with immediate access to necessary resources—is among the best of the careers we track. This year, HR manager ranks 11th in environment. Competitive wages contribute, as well, with HR manager ranking 23rd overall in that category. A growth outlook near 11 percent puts HR manager on the positive end, as well.”  

While there’s no doubt that newspapers are downsizing or closing, what the report authors didn’t do was speak with people in the professions they ranked.

Instead, the authors focused strictly on the concrete elements that go into the work—pay, employment prospects, career advancement opportunities and stress factors like personal well-being. 

“The report was conceived as a way of assisting job seekers in making decisions related to their career path,” said Andrew Strieber, publisher at CareerCast. “The report also helps high school and middle school kids turn their career dreams into the most realistic path possible, and assists those in a midcareer transition in making a smart choice about their future.”

For 25 years, Daniel Weintraub was a reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Sacramento Bee newspapers. He is now editor of the online publication California Health Report. 

“[Newspaper work] was a great job and I loved every day of it,” said Weintraub, who lives in Sacramento. “The best part about it was that every day was different. Even covering public policy and politics, I felt like I learned something new with every story. I didn't get wealthy doing it, but the pay was enough to live comfortably and raise a family. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.”

Thomas K. Arnold of Carlsbad, Calif., balances steady freelance work for Variety and USA Today with a full-time job as publisher and editorial director of Home Media Magazine.

"My happiest days were when I was a freelance contributor to the View and Calendar sections of the San Diego County edition of the Los Angeles Times," he said. "I could write a feature on ethnic grocery stores one week, spending each day shopping for unusual food and talking to interesting people from Iraq, Mexico, Germany and Sweden. Over the weekend I could go on a ride-along with police in southeast San Diego, and then the next night to a concert by one of my favorite bands for a review."

Kensing agreed that many journalists—broadcasters included—love their work. But while it may appear that reporters on CNN, for instance, are having a blast—traveling the globe and interviewing celebrities—reporters at national news outlets are just “the top fraction of the industry,” he said.

“Cutbacks at the regional and local levels have negatively impacted employment prospects for those either breaking into the field, or whose career aspirations are to work in smaller markets,” he said. “Downsizing in other roles has also put more on most broadcasters’ plates, whether it be editing or other technical aspects.” 

As for stress, he said, broadcasters have “a tough job.”

They “work in a competitive field with obviously very tight deadlines, and in a very public eye. Imagine doing your job and having your e-mail and social media flooded with harsh criticism of everything from your appearance to manner of speaking. That’s what broadcasters face.”

Several of the other least desirable jobs are dangerous and physically demanding—such as firefighting, military service and logging, Kensing said. 

The number of jobs in advertising sales is declining, Kensing said, and such jobs involve tough competition and strict deadlines. As for taxi drivers, they’re typically paid low wages, and now encounter competition from ride-sharing companies like Uber.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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