Help Wanted: Journalists

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 5:32 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Local news outlets are not immune to the nation’s labor shortage. As part of her ongoing series, our Kayla Martin spoke with members of the WCAX team and other outlets about the challenges and benefits of the job.

We start by following Melissa Cooney, a Channel 3 reporter, throughout her day. Cooney starts her day like any journalist, asking tough questions. But where she is and who she is talking to and the topic she’s covering -- that’s different every day.

“I feel like I learn a lot about a lot of new things every day,” Cooney said. ”I’m a lot of things, but I’m never bored.”

This can be a challenging job, from covering stories that are traumatic to triumphant. It can take an emotional toll. Angelo Lynn, the editor and publisher of the Addison County Independent, agrees. “It’s not all pretty. There are things that aren’t so great. We tell that story to help the communities recognize a problem and correct a problem,” he said.

Lynn believes the biggest challenge with getting more journalists in the door is the state’s current housing and day care crisis.

“I do my interviews and film and write and edit,” Cooney explained. TV reporters just starting out face those same financial challenges. Many who get into the news business are driven by a passion for journalism. “I have always been obsessed with news and following news.”

Lynn says journalism just kind of runs in his family. But finding young journalists excited and skilled enough for the job has become increasingly difficult. “We’re no different than any other industry. The problem is we don’t have many low-skill jobs,” he said.

“It’s interesting, the hiring process has undergone a lot of changes since we’ve been in the pandemic,” said WCAX general manager Jay Barton. He says it took a while for this industry to catch up with the workforce woes others have been seeing during the pandemic. Another problem is students taking a gap year due to the pandemic, meaning fewer young journalists for entry-level jobs. “I think what we’re seeing now is the ripple effect of enrollment and people holding back in 2020 and 2021, because they didn’t want to potentially pay for full tuition for video classes.”

Lynn says the interest in young journalists wanting to enter the field is strong on his front, something not all local papers can say.

Tabitha Armstrong, the general manager of the Newport Daily Express, says they’re feeling the strain too. “We’re definitely understaffed,” she said. “We’re just not seeing the level of interest we have in the past. The people who are interested seem to be people without background.”

University of Vermont faculty member Richard Watts says this could be because of a shift in the way students choose to use their journalistic skills. “Our program is not a journalism program, per se. It’s under something that we call reporting and documentary storytelling and it enables the students to conceive of a whole variety of things that they might do,” he said,

“It’s important for those students to understand that they have to be a photographer, be able to do video, podcast. They got to be able to do everything and write a darn good story as well,” Lynn said.

Pay is also an issue. It can be tough for local news outlets to catch up to the competitive demands of the overall labor market. “Starting in journalism, the good news is that the pay has been growing. The bad news is it wasn’t very good to begin with,” Barton said.

“Make it a good living and people will be here,” Lynn said. “You can really make a difference as a community newspaper helping the town be its best self.”

“People that turn into journalists and reporters want to tell stories, be in the thick of it. And I think the more people like that the better,” Cooney said.

Click here to learn more about positions at WCAX.

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