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Sean P. Means: Yes, it's still fun to work at a newspaper

Published April 16, 2014 6:21 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There's a moment in "Citizen Kane" that touches newspaper people in ways everyone else will never understand.

It's an early scene, when the imperious banker Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), the guardian of the young and rich Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), reads a letter from his ward. Kane is uninterested in most of his vast corporate holdings, except one: The New York Inquirer.

" 'I think it would be fun to run a newspaper,' " Thatcher reads in Kane's letter, and fumes.

One thing journalists know is that, yes, it's fun to run a newspaper — and just as much fun to work for one.

It would have to be fun, or else we wouldn't stay through all the bad stuff this industry has endured the past few years.

More bad stuff hit The Salt Lake Tribune last week, when eight of our colleagues were laid off in a budget-cutting move. This is after 19 of our colleagues were laid off last September, and a few others before that.

Each time this happens (and the fact that it's becoming a routine is another sign of the bad times), we have a small ritual. We gather in the back room of a local bar and drown our sorrows — or at least take them out for a swim.

Sometimes the old veterans, staffers who retired or were laid off in previous rounds, stop by to catch up with their old colleagues. Invitations don't have to be sent out. The old-timers read about the layoffs in the paper and assume (correctly) we will be back in that same bar the next Friday night.

Then, on Monday, those of us still employed try to figure out how we will carry on without our now-former colleagues.

Outsiders consider it a terrible job. In fact, according to an annual survey of desirable jobs, released this week by the website CareerCast.com, newspaper reporter ranked 199th out of 200 professions. The worst job to have? Lumberjack.

Newspaper reporters rejoiced at this news, because in last year's survey, we were ranked No. 200. This is considered progress. (On the downside, it means the Monty Python guys were lying when they sang, "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK.")

Yes, we know about the news industry's dreary prospects. We know about dwindling numbers of available jobs. And we know about the uncertainty as newspapers try to move from the traditional print version to digital platforms — while still trying to make money.

We know all that, and still this is where we want to work.

Why? Because in no other job do you get a chance to walk into an office filled with the smartest people in town.

Seriously, when I enter the Tribune newsroom, I sit among experts in their chosen fields. I can ask a question about anything — politics, music, law, health-care policy, restaurants, television, baseball, Real Salt Lake, you name it — and engage in a smart conversation.

There's not a day I go into the Tribune newsroom when I don't learn something new before I leave. How many other jobs can do that?

We were reminded of the depth of the Tribune's collective expertise on Monday, when we got news of one of our own getting national recognition.

Pat Bagley, the Tribune's venerable editorial cartoonist, was announced as one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the biggest award in American journalism. And even though he didn't win (Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer did), it made us proud that a guy we know was a contender.

We all marvel at Bagley's ability to sum up complex issues with concise drawings and creative symbolism. (My favorite recently was his depiction of the Tea Party as an ungrateful teenage elephant, yelling back at his GOP elephant parents.)

It also helps that Bagley is an all-around mensch. He's a charming storyteller, always dresses as The Dude from "The Big Lebowski" for Halloween, and he's the guy who arranges space in that bar when it's time to toast our laid-off colleagues. (He also provides each fired co-worker with a Bagley lapel pin, which tells the servers that someone else is buying that person's drinks.)

As long as people like Bagley work at the Tribune, I'll want to work here, too. And our survival depends on readers who want the same expertise that makes working here so much fun.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.