Gray Matters - Can't make it here anymore
Belfast — I've been thinking a lot lately about the lyrics from that James McMurtry song titled "We Can't Make it Here," a rather sad summation of the state of this country, the struggle of American workers and the changing idea of the American dream.
It is with a heavy heart that I inform each of you, who have so kindly supported me and my work by reading this piece and others I have penned in these pages every week, that this will be the last column I write for The Republican Journal. That is because I have come to the conclusion that due to the present economy, and the state of the print media industry across the country, that I just can't make it here anymore, either.
I will say now that no one ever gets into journalism, particularly print journalism, to get rich. I know this just as well as anyone who has toiled in this field for as long as I have. Because my line of work is all about dealing in facts, I'll throw a few out for you to illustrate this point.
According to an article published at stateofthemedia.org, print advertising revenue has been on a steady decline in recent years. In 2012, for the sixth consecutive year, the revenue levels in the industry have dropped by about $1.8 billion, or 8.5 percent. Unlike what many folks may think, it is not solely the newsstand sales that keep small papers alive — while subscriptions and paper sales certainly help, that ad revenue is the real lifeblood that keeps small weeklies like ours going, and keeps people like me any my hardworking co-workers earning a paycheck.
There are more options for getting the word out about your business, events or wares than ever before, with social media being a great tool for accomplishing this. Sites such as Craigslist mean people can buy, swap or trade anything under the sun, free of charge, which is a pretty good option compared to paying for a classified ad. I totally get that.
While lots of media companies have tried to recover those losses with digital advertising, including our own, stateofthemedia.org reports that the revenue growth on that front has grown "anemically" at best across the country and does not come close to filling the financial hole.
The trouble with this industry, as I see it and as I have experienced it in recent years, is that while local papers tell their supporting communities that they value employees who have deep roots in the community, who have institutional knowledge and know how to spell everyone's name, that stuff doesn't come into the equation when those employees seek annual pay increases.
We are met with responses that echo the kinds of realities I have highlighted above. In other words, no one is saying we all don't work hard or that we are all undeserving of a better paycheck that is more closely aligned with the cost of living. It's just not in the cards. Sorry.
As I stated before, no one should get into this line of work unless they love it, and I can honestly say I have loved the years I've spent serving the readers in Waldo County. The Journal, one of the oldest publications in the state, is in itself an institution, and I have always believed that those of us who work here merely take care of it for the real owners of this paper. Not the person who signs our paychecks; I'm talking about each and every one of you, the readers, who have made this care taking role so enjoyable for me.
But reality suggests to me my time in this industry must end. Reality tells me that because I have been both mom and dad to my young son for much of his nine years on this earth, I absolutely must do better for the both of us. Reality suggests I can no longer put my financial well-being on hold in exchange for working in a field I love, despite the fact that I know I will not make what is considered a livable wage (or at least, not for a long time). According to a recent forbes.com article by Forbes contributor and expert on business growth Adam Hartung, "[a] living wage allows one parent to earn enough money from a single 40 hour per week job to feed, cloth, educate, transport and otherwise lead a decent life for a family of [four]. Today in America this is in the range of $13.50-$15 per hour."
I won't say what I earn here, but I can tell you it is below that range. And that is with 17 years of experience. I can tell you it's been tough to get by, especially with a little one to think about.
All this while working days, nights, weekends and holidays — all time I will never get back with my son.
But thanks to a great new opportunity in an exponentially growing field, I can change it all for the better. I can now be hopeful about things like having opportunities to get promoted, and make enough to do better than just "get by." I can look forward to spending holidays with my son, and when I am at work, I can still help people every day, which has always been important to me.
But don't think for one minute I'm not sad to say goodbye to this profession, the people in it, and the people in this wonderful community. It has truly been my privilege and my honor to share all of your stories over the past 17 years, and I want to say thanks for letting me into your businesses, your schools, your homes and your lives for all of this time. I can't tell you how much getting to know you all has meant to me, and I will never forget it.
So here is where I turn my own page. Wish me luck guys, and I hope I see you all around.