In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Journalism’s bright side: few rattlesnakes

So a soldier, a lumberjack and a newspaper guy walked into a bar. Which might have had the makings of a joke, except they couldn’t afford a punch line.

You couldn’t come up with more dismal occupations than these three, according to the job ratings published last week by, the self-described “premier career site for finding targeted job opportunities by industry, function and location.”

Careercast rated 200 jobs, ranking the most desirable as those with “high pay, low stress, a robust hiring outlook, a healthy work environment and minimal physical exertion.”

I can see now, perusing the list, that I should have listened to my mother when she said “actuary,” Careercast’s top rated job, just ahead of “biomedical engineer.”

Okay, I admit it — she never actually uttered the word actuary. She did, however, express considerable skepticism about the particular profession in which I’ve toiled now for 44 years, always expecting me to find something more substantial, as if newspapering were a kind of temporary summer job, like lifeguard or camp counselor.

Turns out, she was onto something.

Careercast’s 2013 edition ranked newspaper reporter 200th out of 200 jobs. We nosed out lumberjack, last year’s last-ranked job but only number 199th in 2013 thanks to the likes of me. Which makes me think there might be some kind of genetic component in lousy employment choices. My grandfather was a lumberjack, a job he described mostly in terms of rattlesnake encounters. Makes me feel like I’m carrying on a kind of (snake-bit) family tradition.

When my mother sensed slippage in my academic proficiency, she’d evoke professions that best matched my knucklehead inclinations. “You’ll be lucky to be a garbage man.” Careercast ranked garbage collector — a job with a decent hiring outlook and not much stress — 40 slots ahead of newspaper reporter. Sometimes she said “janitor,” now rated 47 places better than the one I landed.

Still, it’s perplexing to be dead last, given that nasty insurgents are constantly shooting at enlisted soldiers, No.198. And lumberjacks, No. 199, face high unemployment . “And while working outside all day may seem like a great job perk, being a lumberjack not only is considered the worst job, but also one of the world’s most dangerous.”

Timbering’s apparently a bad job. Just not this bad. High stress has always infected newsrooms, what with profane and ill-tempered editors attaching a literal definition to the word “deadline.” Low pay, too. (One of my first reporting jobs, with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, paid me $105 a week to tramp around northern Mississippi looking for stories. Plus $5 a photograph. I shot every redneck who moved. And their dogs.) But Careercast indicated that “ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from Internet businesses” pushed us to the bottom in 2013.

Still, it’s hard to fathom how we fell so low. Newspapering may entail stress, lousy hours, low pay, angry politicians, hurricanes, riots, endless meetings. But there’s damn few rattlesnakes. That ought to count for something.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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