When I first read Ken Burger’s controversial column “Getting Trapped in F&B,” I was shocked. Somehow the P&C columnist had read my mind. Well, sort of. See, I had written the nearly identical column just days before. Here’s what I wrote. Feel free to compare it to Burger’s original rant.
Getting Trapped in the Newspaper Biz
By Chris Haire
When you pick up a paper in Charleston, the reporter who wrote the article you’re reading just might be a more cynical asshole than you are.
It’s a common phenomenon in towns like this. Creative writers get sucked into the newspaper business to earn spending money, then find themselves trapped.
And it’s easy to see why.
Newspapers and magazines are cash cows in news-hungry towns that always need smiling young faces to attend city council meetings, compile the police blotter, and write obituaries.
People with a knack for writing are custom-made for jobs that deliver quick cash, have flexible hours, and meld into a lifestyle that fits somebody who doesn’t want to get a nine-to-five job.
Which is why the reporter you’re reading probably just crawled out of bed, is thinking about what to have for lunch while you have been at work for three hours, and is promising their significant others once again that they’re going to get out of the newspaper business and join a PR firm or get a job as a technical writer. You know, as soon as they get the reporting bug out of their brains.
But they’re not exactly public relations material.
They’re more like public works projects. They’re damaged goods.
More copy, sir?
There are, you see, downsides to staying in the newspaper business for too long.
Needless to say, it’s a young person’s game. Some work odd hours, tend to party together into the wee hours of the morning, spend what money they made that night before the sun comes up, wake up with a hangover and a bloody nose, then start all over again.
It’s addictive. And it makes you feel like you ought to be doing more with your life than asking people if they think Nikki Haley had sex with Will Folks.
Talk to a few reporters and editors who’ve been at it a while and they might tell you the truth. Once the high wears off, it’s just a crummy job.
For young women, especially, sexual harassment is common. For some, the after-hours party scene is fueled by alcohol and drugs. And, after a while, they fall into a cultural spin cycle that’s hard to leave.
That’s because it’s quick money that requires little training.
And while it can be physically and mentally demanding, it can also be demeaning.
‘Never say never’
In the business, they’re known as lifers.
They’re the reporters who keep saying they’re going to leave the business but never do. They don’t want to leave the business. They’re like ninth-semester seniors. Just can’t find the finish line. Others got the diploma but never found a job that paid more than churning out purple prose about last night’s football game between Summerville and Wando.
Then there are the jumpers. They flit from place to place, hoping the next paper will be better than the last. But it’s usually the same.
Eventually they tire of dealing with readers who note each and every grammatical error, overbearing editors with inflated egos and even larger monkeys on their backs, and the constant drama the readers never see behind the scenes in the editorial department — fist-fights, drunken one-night flings, and never-ending arguments about AP style.
Some simply age out. They finally get a job as a campaign spokesperson, work regular hours, and make regular money.
But, as one former reporter said, “It’s still a fallback. Never say never. If I lose my job today, I could be writing columns again tomorrow.” Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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