Had my mother known that zoologists would be able to pay back their student loans faster than journalists, I might be wearing a beige Safari hat and managing the Reptile House today.
The kids would have liked that growing up, getting to feed the cobras and pythons and bragging to their friends about dad the herpetologist.
What a hit I would have been at show and tell, pulling a Komodo dragon from my backpack and telling (possibly) tall tales about close encounters with the deadly rattlers.
But mom didn’t know what Bankrate.com has just made painfully public, that the return on investment for a journalism degree is pretty sad.
Beginning reporters today make about $38,000, meaning that if they commit 10 percent of their salary a year to paying off student loans; well, it’s going to take awhile to break even.*
Nearly everyone makes more than reporters: economists, civil engineers, political scientists, lawyers, dentists, even librarians. Librarians! There are still libraries? (Of course there are, and I love them just as I love the mom and pop bookstores.)
Still, it turns out that the only professionals who get a lower return on investment than aspiring journalists are aspiring marriage and family therapists.
Surely if the trend continues, stressed out journalists will need counseling, meaning more business for the therapists and a higher spot on the ROI ladder.
Looking back, 38K would have been a fortune when I graduated and took my first newspaper job in 1976. This was the post-Watergate era, when every kid in J-School wanted to break the next big story. Reporting was exciting and romantic, a license to ask brazen questions and a passport to places the public wasn’t invited. Let the engineering and business majors make their money; we were having fun and getting paid to boot.
In hindsight, I realize we were learning other skills as well, like how to perform under deadline pressure, how to distill fact from fiction, and how to write clearly and concisely.
We honed the diplomatic skills needed to assuage cranky editors and persuade reluctant sources to go on the record. We learned that each story has more than two sides, and how to pull just the right quote from a page full of scribbled notes. We worked hard on the art of interviewing, all the while learning not only how to draw out a subject, but also which skills were needed to succeed on the other side of the table.
There were days when there was no breaking news.
We learned to find and write feature stories. There were a few days when we got it wrong. Mistakes happen in every profession, but it’s especially disheartening to see your name, an error and the dreaded “correction” in print. We learned the importance of personal credibility.
And then came the Internet and social media. Newspapers were not prepared. Advertising fell, subscriptions plummeted, and lots of reporters lost their jobs. It saddens me that there is a website today called newspaperdeathwatch.com.
I am among the lucky ones. Years of writing, interviewing and finding the precise quotes that captured my subjects’ voices let me pivot and become a speechwriter for the federal government. I stayed 10 years before moving to a company that specializes in media and presentation training. Again, my time covering sports, politics, the state legislature, Congress and a thousand general assignment stories prepared me well for the position.
Others may make more coming out of college, but, attention Bankrate: I wouldn’t trade my journalism degree for anything, including all the Egyptian dab lizards in the Bronx Zoo.
Source: Bankrate website.
Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.