05/11/13 8:00am
05/11/2013 8:00 AM

An outfit named CareerCast recently released a list of the “worst jobs” for 2013. To earn a spot on the list, a job had to feature “low pay, high stress, challenging work requirements and a poor employment outlook.”

The top 10 list included such jobs as lumberjack, enlisted military personnel, oil rig worker, dairy farmer and meter reader. And can you guess the very worst job of all? Newspaper reporter. Yes, newspaper reporter.

To borrow a phrase from comedian Steve Martin: E-x-c-u-s-e me!

[Click here to read the complete list from CareerCast]

Having been in and around the newspaper business for some 50 years now, I would agree that the job of reporter is challenging and often unappreciated and under-compensated, but the very worst job? Verily, I must demur.

Just off the top of my head I can think of plenty of worse jobs — like garbage collector or tunnel attendant or president of the United States. And I also suppose it’s now up to me to defend the newspaper industry and the job that is its most fundamental building block: reporter.

Here’s the basic challenge: Attend a three-hour Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at which dozens of applications are debated, taking notes while trying to stay awake. Stop at 7-Eleven for a 16-ounce cup of java on the way back to the office. Sit down at your computer, sift through what’s important and what’s not and, in the space of an hour or so, transform those notes into a compelling, informative and succinct 500-word story, posting it to the newspaper’s website before bedtime.

That requires a skill set, I would argue, that 99.9 percent of the population does not possess. Nor do about three-quarters of the candidates who walk into a newspaper office thinking they can do that job. It requires raw intelligence, astute powers of observation and organization and, of course, writing ability. Again, it’s something very few people can do at all, let alone do well.

I would also argue that it’s very important work. Whether it’s exposing the Watergate scandal or trying to make sense of a pending school budget vote, the work newspaper reporters do is fundamental to our essence as a nation. And if someday, as some naysayers suggest, there’s no such thing as a newspaper, as we presently know it, then reporters will be doing this vital work via platforms beyond our imagination.

Back when I was working as a newspaper reporter, I do remember thinking from time to time that I was under-appreciated and underpaid. (How does a starting salary of $112.50 a week in 1969 translate into 2013 dollars?) But never did I consider the work trivial or unimportant. Each day (for I worked on a daily newspaper back then) I could look at the work product with a sense of accomplishment and pride — and a sincere belief that it made a difference.

That was back in the days of hot lead and manual typewriters, but little about the fundamentals of the job has changed in the ensuing five decades. And as long as that holds true — no matter how hard the work, no matter how the pay scale compares to other industries — being a newspaper reporter will remain one of the best, not one of the worst, jobs.

02/24/13 7:00am
02/24/2013 7:00 AM
Grant Parpan East End editor

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Grant Parpan (center) moderating last month’s legislative debate at Martha Clara Vineyards.

Ten years ago this month, I was managing a video store in a Los Angeles suburb, still unsure where life would take me.

One day on lunch break, I was sitting in my car reading a local paper when I noticed a classified ad for a part-time sportswriter.

As a young man whose mom always said I taught myself to read at age 3 so I could follow the Mets game recaps in Newsday, covering sports was something I really wanted to try.

After passing a freelance test assignment, I ended up getting the job and, before long I’d worked my way into a full-time staff position.

No longer employed at a video store, I was suddenly a newspaper man. (Newspapers? Video stores? I know how to pick professions, right? Also on my shortlist of potential careers were village blacksmith, town lamplighter, neighborhood milkman or courier for the Pony Express.)

It’s been quite a decade in newspapers. My career has taken me back home, introduced me to my beautiful wife and given me the unique opportunity to tell other people’s stories — the good and the bad.

Last week, I attended Roy Laine’s 100th birthday party. I grew up two miles from Roy’s home in Wading River but would never have had the good fortune of meeting the man if not for this job.

During the party, his friend Fred Conway said to him, “Roy, I’ve never met anyone else who reached 100,” to which the birthday boy joked, “Neither have I.”

But not me. In fact, it was the second 100th birthday party I’d attended in a year. Not many career paths can so frequently take you places you’d never go otherwise.

When I speak to classes at area schools, I always start off by asking the students what they want to do for a living. I write down all the occupations they mention. Even in high school and college journalism classes, students don’t necessarily want to be reporters. Usually the list looks something like this: baseball player, doctor, actor, mechanic, teacher, etc.

While I never had the opportunity to be any of those things myself, my job has enabled me to take a peek into the lives of the folks who live in these worlds.

I never threw a one-hitter for the Mets, but I saw Steve Trachsel do just that on the very first day I covered a Major League game. I also never got to spend an afternoon at the Bada Bing, but I once got to ask a local actor what it was like to film a scene in the bar for “The Sopranos.”

So far in my career, the folks I’ve written about have taken me along on their greatest journeys — to Antarctica, the NFL draft and the Olympic medal stand. They’ve also shared with me their harrowing ordeals of homelessness, life in prison and the loss of the person they loved most.

Of course, not every story captures someone’s greatest or worst moments and it’s often the stories somewhere in between the highs and lows that have the greatest impact on the reader. People love to see familiar names and faces in the newspapers, and there’s nothing quite like being able to tell people something they didn’t know about their friends and neighbors.

I’ve never understood reporters and editors stressing about how they’ll fill their newspapers. Even in small communities like the ones we cover, there are endless stories to tell each day. Anyone seeking proof of that need look no further than this newspaper’s archives or visit our website as it’s constantly updated every day.

Serving as executive editor of your community newspaper is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Each morning I’m genuinely excited to come to work to help tell the stories that are important to you.

When I moved into this role seven months ago — after spending the past two years helping to grow this company’s presence on the web and the five years before that editing our former newspaper in Brookhaven — I failed to use this space to introduce myself to those I’ve never met.

I welcome any feedback you all have for me at the email below. If you’d prefer to speak with me, my direct line is 631-354-8046. Of course, you can always drop by our office in Mattituck, too.

This past decade has been the best of my life and I eagerly anticipate many more years of telling your stories on the pages of this community newspaper.

I couldn’t think of a better career path for a guy like me.

gparpan@timesreview.com

10/13/10 6:34pm
10/13/2010 6:34 PM


BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Jerry Steiner reading his newspaper, the Riverhead Rebel, a spoof on The Riverhead News-Review, while sitting in his favorite reading spot at his Allied Optical store downtown.


While some journalists are jumping ship and leaving print publications to write for the web, one Riverhead businessman is hoping to make a go of it in newspapers the old-fashioned way.

Jerry Steiner, owner and proprietor of the West Main Street business Allied Optical, is offering readers his own take on life in downtown Riverhead in a new publication called Riverhead Rebel.

“It’s a spoof on you guys,” Mr. Steiner, of Shoreham, told a News-Review reporter. He explained that if Times/Review Newspapers are “goat cheese and fine wine” his new venture will be “bum wine and brats.”

The cover of the first issue features two stories, one by Mr. Steiner on the art of cooking bratwurst and another written by Anthony Coates, adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

Mr. Coates’ article details a recent tasting flight at Tweed’s restaurant on East Main Street. But instead of Martha Clara or Diliberto merlots, the tasting featured low-end fortified wines such as Cisco Peach and Thunderbird.

“It’s total off-the-wall stuff,” Mr. Steiner said.

The paper’s inaugural issue hit newsstands last month, and Mr. Steiner and co-publisher Darren Johnson say they are planning to run additional installments. About 5,000 copies were distributed at locations between Jamesport and Wading River, Mr. Steiner said.

How often the Riverhead Rebel is published will be determined by demand, said Mr. Johnson, a former spokesperson for Stony Brook/Southampton and owner of the website 631politics.com.

Mr. Johnson has been publishing the free newspaper Campus News on downstate college campuses for several months. He said it was difficult to find writers to fill the first issue of the Riverhead Rebel ­— only himself, Mr. Steiner and Mr. Coates submitted articles — so he had to pad the paper with Campus News stories. He thinks the first issue will inspire other writers to turn in more submissions and that the Rebel will grow.

“I think there is a market for a fun publication,” he said.

In the paper, Mr. Johnson gives a first-person account of leaving his rental home in downtown Riverhead and purchasing a three-bedroom house in upstate New York. However, he said he hopes to write more “tongue-in-cheek” entries in the same vein as the satirical newspaper The Onion.

Mr. Steiner claims he is one of the few downtown business owners who have stayed loyal to Riverhead over the years. A self-professed “northside thug baller” ­— he aligns himself with other northern Main Street business owners — Mr. Steiner hopes to offer his readers “a little flavor of the old Riverhead.”

He started working in Allied Optical, then owned by his father, when he was about 8 years old in the 1960s. He said that although many of the other people his age left for college and decided to settle elsewhere, he returned to his hometown. “Idiots like me came back,” he said.

Still, a visit to Allied Optical, which has sat in the same location since the 1970s, is never boring. Along with eyeglasses, Mr. Steiner will often serve up a few laughs and a refreshment or two to patrons, even a complimentary do-rag to a lucky few.

With the Riverhead Rebel, the longtime downtown business owner hopes to offer a little commentary on Riverhead politics and a place to showcase his controversial ads, one of which features him with a large pair of scissors while holding a severed mannequin head.

But most of all, Mr. Steiner hopes to have a little fun.

“I’m about comedy and insanity,” he said.

vchinese@timesreview.com