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It’s not so bad to go from bad to worse

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As it does every year, CareerCast.com ranked 200 jobs from best to worst. At the top of the 2014 list, mathematician; at the bottom, lumberjack. That list can be viewed here: http://wdt.me/bestworst

Newspaper reporter was listed at number 199, just below Enlisted Military Personnel, which was 198.

I reached out to two of my former military colleagues who became reporters to get their take on why the three of us — two Arabic linguists and one Spanish linguist (me) — left the Marine Corps and went to college to get “worse” jobs.

Don Iler covers county government and politics for the McMinnville News-Register in McMinnville, Ore. This is his take on the rankings:

“Obviously I got into journalism because of the money. And the women. And because I was bad at math.

“Also, I’m really upset I didn’t try my hand at logging when I lived in Curry County. I knew a couple of loggers there and I’m sure I could have figured out a way to get on a crew. Then I really would have finished the trifecta. Guess I should line something up for when I get laid off when newspapers don’t exist anymore.

“I’d also like to note that the quoted salary for reporters is more than what I make. I want to know where reporters are getting paid that much.

“But seriously, I went into journalism because I liked to write and enjoyed reporting. I like never knowing what your day will be like and having to become a polymath of sorts, knowing a little about a whole lot of things. I enjoy the research, going through piles of documents and talking to people about all sorts of things. I enjoy deadlines and wish there was one for the novel I’m writing — I think I would finish it faster.

“There are also plenty of public meetings and budget sessions I’ve wanted to gouge my eyes in out of boredom, but it’s important that someone is watching the people controlling the purse strings and making the decisions that affect our lives. And I really enjoy the secrets and being the only person who knows about something, which was one of the things I enjoyed most about my job as an enlisted military.”

“I also think it’s incredibly funny that we all ended up as reporters.”

Mat Wolf is a Cairo, Egypt-based journalist who has written for VICE magazine and the Huffington Post. These are his thoughts:

“I agree with most of Don’s sentiments, including the fact I don’t make as much as that list says I’m supposed to.

“One of the reasons I joined the Marine Corps was the hope it would get me out of the sleepy little Northwest logging town I grew up in. After seeing the list, I sort wish I had stuck around a year, and signed up with a logging crew to complete the trifecta, much like Don.

“I had been interested in journalism since high school and I liked to write and bug people with questions, so when I got out, I sort gravitated towards this field. After working a few internships at community newspapers however, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be happy in that type of job, so I found work overseas and took it right after finishing my bachelor’s in 2012.

“Been working in the Middle East ever since. I chose the region in large part due to my past experience there, as I understood Arabic and felt I sort of had a sense on the culture. Pay hasn’t been great, but I’ve had fun. I take the greatest satisfaction from some of my freelance work. Other gigs can admittedly be just as boring as anything I’d find in the states, so it’s a mixed bag.”

As I was reading about the 10 worst jobs of 2014, I came across the name of Eric Johnson, who is the executive editor of Northern Logger, a magazine based in Old Forge, NY.

After earning a degree in journalism, Eric worked as a lumberjack for a short time before taking the Northern Logger job in 1982, so I decided to call him to get his thoughts on his experience with the second and first worst jobs of the year.

“Both journalism and logging are pretty dangerous professions from a career point of view,” Eric said.

But that doesn’t mean that those fields don’t have an allure.

“People get into logging because they’re buying into a lifestyle,” Eric said.

According to Eric, both industries have changed dramatically, with the business side of operations becoming more difficult and more sophisticated as time has passed. But an essential feature remains unchanged: the lifestyle and ethos that each profession advertises can cut both ways. The same aspects and challenges of a job that make it rewarding can be the same aspects and challenges that make it unbearable. And all this takes place within a market that shifts its favor to certain skills over others in a volatile and unpredictable world.

I suggested to Eric that perhaps the ten so-called worst jobs — lumberjack, newspaper reporter, enlisted military personnel, taxi driver, broadcaster, head cook, flight attendant, garbage collector, firefighter and corrections officer — were staffed by people who were looking more for a vocation than a career, people who were looking for a job that offered little in financial remuneration but much in intangible rewards.

But after reading the list and comparing it to the ten best jobs — mathematician, university professor (tenured), statistician, actuary, audiologist, dental hygienist, software engineer, computer systems analyst, occupational therapist and speech pathologist — it occurred to me that this analysis doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. In both categories there are jobs that seem like vocations and jobs that seem like, well, jobs.

I suppose the point is that we all roll the dice when it comes to work. Those of us who think of ourselves as more practical might aim for a job close to the top of the list, hoping that the skills we’ve developed and the time we’ve invested in our studies remain in sync with the needs of the marketplace.

And then there are those who ascribe a greater significance to our “guts,” or our “dreams,” or our interests — we choose jobs that align with our ideas about what would make an interesting and full life. And then there are those who just pick a job because we need a job or we fall into a job because it’s there. It’s all a balance between good fortune and hard work, with the scales weighted diffently in just about every case.

For me personally, I like reporting because it lets me write. And by this point you can probably tell I like to write.

Aside from that, I’m just waiting for the day when the Internet breaks down and newspapers come back into vogue. By then both lumberjacks and reporters will be a scarce commodity in high demand.

It’s called taking the long view, people.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering Jefferson County government and politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at dflatley@wdt.net.

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