How the Worst was Won

Thank you, Forbes. It’s always fun to start the day by being told your job stinks.

For those who missed it, Forbes just put out its annual list of the worst jobs in America. You know the sort I mean: the jobs with either low pay, or high stress, or no future, or a work environment that goes beyond the challenging.

Jobs like the infantry, where people, you know, shoot at you from time to time.

Or working on an oil rig, where the hours are long and family often distant.

But the job that rated the worst of all – below the chancy life of an actor, the injury risk of a lumberjack or a roofer, or the downsizings of the post office – was newspaper reporter.



There must be some mistake. I mean, sure, the pay is nothing to write home about. Sure, there’s enough long hours and deadline pressure to make coffee a viable tax write-off. And yeah, a lot of papers have been closing down, laying off, or thinning out. But still, that’s no reason to ….


I hate to admit it, but they may have a point.

From a coldly clinical point of view, this is not the line of work that every parent dreams their child will someday pursue. Doctor? Sure. Lawyer? Why not? Teacher? Of course. Ink-stained wretch? Keep the room furnished, they may be moving back into it soon.

It’s folly. It’s absurd. It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous.

And I wouldn’t do anything else in the world.

I’ve wanted to be a reporter since the eighth grade, ever since the day in Ms. Shopland’s Spanish class where I couldn’t find the word “author” in my glossary for an exercise, but could find “journalist.” And despite every pothole I’ve mentioned above – and quite a few I haven’t! — I’ve never seriously regretted the choice.

To be a reporter is to be a storyteller, with the chance to meet intriguing people and relate interesting situations.

To be a reporter is to be a translator, making the complexities of a government, or a process, or a problem understandable to the average person.

To be a reporter is to be part of a heritage, measured out in crinkled headlines. It means being part of a profession so necessary, it’s cited in the Constitution; or being the first one to hear what’s happened; or seeing people at their best and worst, and remembering that they too are humans with a story worth telling.

It means diving into the pool of words, immersing yourself in the beauties of English. Even if it means arguing endlessly with an editor over using“cement” or “concrete” in a sentence.

And for me, it means doing what I love.

And really, that’s the important part, isn’t it?

We’ve all taken jobs because we had to. Life goes on, and it demands food on the table and a roof over the head. But to do what you love, to do a job you know you can do well and delight in the doing of – that is heaven and earth with a fistful of rainbow sprinkles on top.

It may even keep you alive and alert, as well as happy. There’s been more than one study out there showing that high job satisfaction is good for your body and good for your mind. And really, it’s just more fun to be around someone who enjoys what they do. Even if it’s not the glamorous or “practical” choice.

The science fiction author Spider Robinson once wrote about coming to a crossroads in his life: should he take the plunge and try to write full-time, or chuck it in and concentrate on his less enjoyable but more secure day job? His editor at the time, Ben Bova, gave it a week of thought before finally telling him “Spider, no one can pay you enough money to do what you don’t want to do.”

Words of wisdom.

Oh, the job that Spider walked away from?

Newspaper reporter.


2 Replies to “How the Worst was Won”

  1. Hi Scott,

    I always like reading your columns. You are funny—in a good way—and adroit, in ways that make people enjoy reading you, and leaving them with a smile.

    But I tell you what, there’s something about reading a hard-copy edition of the paper that is so much more pleasing than an on-line reading of the very same thing. I like the morning paper. I like sitting down with a cup of coffee and poring over the pages—although I’m more than a little partial to the Opinion Page. It’s my favorite. Your column is probably next in line—to my favorite. I look forward to it every Sunday.

    Just this past week I wrote someone on an email these very words: “I rather like Scott Rochat’s columns. I enjoy the humorous, witty way he incorporates family life into life lessons, and I’m truly impressed at the efforts and love he and his wife extend toward Missy in their taking care of her. I’m sure it cannot be easy. But how wonderful for Missy to have someone so loving and kind to take care of her, and the rewards Mr. and Mrs. Rochat reap from that I’m sure are rich—presently and eternally.”

    I just thought I’d Cher that.

    I didn’t know I was going to share that when I wrote it… I just decided to Cher it now. Cher’s kind of that way, you know. And so is Chering.

    But I hope the hard-copy, nice and crinkly-sounding newspapers do not go away. They do make such a nice sound, don’t you think? I bet that’s a big part of what people like about them. Maybe the computer should add crinkle-sound to the on-line edition! Now there’s a thought!

    But I think people ought to know those newspapers that “fall out of the sky” every morning (My son, Marshall, used to think God sent down the newspapers from Heaven every morning for us. Sometimes yes, they do seem to be Godsends. Sometimes not.) add to the pleasantry, even luxury, of life in ways I bet they don’t imagine. Annamarie told me something a while back I’ve thought to incorporate into a letter to the editor—a somewhat delicate topic, but I think it’s worthy of some thought—so maybe later I’ll have to address it.

    That must be a bummer being told first thing in the morning that your job stinks! At least it’s not your breath. Or your feet. That would stink. If someone told you that first thing in the morning… But I am sorry that your job stinks—it smells good when it hits the papers… and when the papers hit our driveway… and when the papers crinkle in our hands as we savor the aroma of our morning coffee, and we read your engaging columns or news articles—I like your style in those as well. But when you say it stinks, I have to wonder: Does it smell like possum? Possums are cute… they play dead… but they do stink.

    And I just wanted to say: Yes, cement and concrete are words that often get confused. I know the difference between the two. Learned it actually in Military Science 101 in college… Map Skills I think it was called. The instructor made sure we knew the difference between cement and concrete.

    Cement is usually a 10 to 15% portion of concrete. Made from limestone, sand, iron-ore and clay or shale, which provide the four essential elements of calcium, silicon, aluminum and iron, it is the binding agent of the aggregates of the concrete, and causes the concrete to harden, resulting in a concrete pad, slab or concrete floor. Never is it a cement floor, but colloquially, many people call them cement floors probably just because cement floor has a “cooler” sound than concrete floor. So sometimes people call them cement floors, even though they know it is concrete.

    I’m sure that misuse of the word would drive an editor crazy, though.

    And in case anyone is wondering, I found a nice chemical explanation of the hydration process of the cement bonding with the aggregates, turning the concrete into a hardened mass:

    Cement chemist notation: C3S + H → C-S-H + CH
    Standard notation: Ca3SiO5 + H2O → (CaO)•(SiO2)•(H2O)(gel) + Ca(OH)2
    Balanced: 2Ca3SiO5 + 7H2O → 3(CaO)•2(SiO2)•4(H2O)(gel) + 3Ca(OH)2

    Nothing stinky about that.

    But it’s going to stink if I don’t get any sleep tonight, so I am shutting her down now.

    Thanks for the entertaining, thought provoking columns, Scott. I don’t think they stink one bit.

    Katherin Engelhard

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