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Newspaper columnist: A dirty job, but somebody has to do it

Ok, I admit it. My professional life is hell.

It is such tough, physical work, pounding one’s fingers on a keyboard. It is so demeaning, calling a congressman or a corporate executive and having to wait seconds – sometimes minutes – for him or her to come to the phone. It is intensely dreary, doing a job that opens doors into fascinating peoples’ lives, from all walks of life.

What a drag it is, gathering information and weaving it into a story that may help readers to better understand the community in which they live and the people who live in it. I can’t stand it, having the privilege and the power – as H.L. Mencken famously overstated – to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

But seriously: Here I was, thinking I am the luckiest guy in the world. Only to find out that I, and my journalistic brethren, labor at the worst job in America. If I hadn’t read it on, I would never have believed it.

The job-search site just released its annual ratings of 200 careers. Weighing salary, stress and job prospects, its analysts came to the conclusion that “newspaper reporter” comes in dead last – behind such worthy but uncoveted professions as lumberjack and oil rig worker.

I am not sure about lumberjack. But having logged time back in the day driving a cab, pumping gas and stocking store shelves, I can confidently state that writing a newspaper column runs laps around any of them.

OK, I get it. These are trying times for journalists. Unlike in the pre-Internet age, there are plenty of ways for people to get information other than the daily newspaper. There have been cutbacks, and some have raised doubts about print journalism’s future. Reporters routinely double as videographers, bloggers and tweeters, with not a pay raise in sight.

As a columnist, I generally do not – unlike reporters – fret about getting beaten on a story or labor to unearth information about ethically challenged politicians. In that sense, journalistic life is easier for columnists. Plus we get to dispense unsolicited advice on a variety of subjects and have the power and the platform to shame public officials who act contrary to the public good. Nice work, if you can get it.

The specific challenge for any columnist is regularly writing stuff that – to varying degrees – is entertaining, enlightening, witty, heart-tugging, thought-provoking and provocative. No pressure there, particularly when an identifiable photo conveniently runs with every piece. This allows readers the opportunity to convey their constructive criticism not just through cyberspace, but at parties, on supermarket lines or during other chance encounters. Or, more happily, to share some positive reinforcement. Either way, it comes with the territory.

Having said that, I would not trade what I do for anything.

Truth is, there is no “best” or “worst” job, merely a job that works for you. A physical guy who loves the outdoors will likely enjoy life as a lumberjack, No. 9 on the “10 Worst” list.

Me, I’ll take journalist. Times may be tough, but it is, was and – to my mind – ever will be a great gig. No matter what says.