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Spirituality: St. Joseph the Worker & Husband the Reporter

May 1, 2013


It’s the middle of the week — are you feeling down on your job? Well, chances are your employment hasn’t been determined to be the worst ever, as a website recently called Kerry Trotter’s husband’s chosen field. Chin up, folks. You could be a newspaper reporter. Today, Trotter invokes the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker, whose feast day we celebrate, to bring some perspective to the daily grind. 

Last week, website ranked 200 jobs available in this country from best to worst. 

If you have any friends in the fields of journalism or actuary science, you probably saw some rumblings about this on Facebook.

Using an incomprehensible algorithm that measures salary, job outlook, and the likelihood of being crushed by a falling object while on the clock, they crowned  “actuary” as the best job one could have. “Newspaper reporter” came in dead last.

(Let’s assume here that the results were real, and not just a masterful PR grab by a little-known job search service … always a distinct possibility.) 

Either way, those are some sobering words to digest when your husband’s field occupies the No. 200 spot. 

Actually, I know a lot of 200s given the degree I hold, the similar chosen profession of many members of my family, and my own past life in journalism. When the link went viral among this crowd on Facebook, some grumbled in self-effacing agreement while others took umbrage and attacked the research methods (which is a very reporterly thing to do). To be fair, I know not one “1.” In fact, I had to look up what “1” was, and behold, Wikipedia’s answer: “An actuary is a business professional who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty. Actuaries provide expert assessments of financial security systems, with a focus on their complexity, their mathematics, and their mechanisms.” 

Ummm… what?

Now, I don’t mean to offend any actuaries out there, but I think this study misplaced some X’s and Y’s in order to determine the outcome of this list. And what about the wildly unpredictable human variable? That intangible factor in which one person’s actuarial career is another person’s nightmare? And I say this as an admittedly biased ally and former member of the 200 club.

I get mathematically why “newspaper reporter” wound up in the cellar. Yes, the career is on the endangered species list; yes, there is a great deal of pressure placed on reporters to work long hours and meet exacting deadlines; yes, it pays laughably low wages. My husband can attest to all of the above. But he can also attest to incredible job satisfaction; increased self-worth; excellent time management skills; the rare boast of never, ever being bored on the job; the continual state of learning and growing; and making contributions to the betterment of society. In fact, my husband recently had lunch with a colleague, mentor and 30-year veteran of the business who told him that she had no intention of stopping anytime soon because she was still having so much fun. When was the last time you heard an actuary say that? (Oh, right. I don’t know any.)

But this brings me to my point.

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, which was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 as a rebuttal to Communist “May Day” worker celebrations. St. Joseph’s contributions as both a carpenter (which ranks at No. 147, by the way) and as the professional mentor to Jesus have always been lauded for the “humanizing” element the work gave the Son of God. This is because, as puts it, “Humanity is like God not only in thinking and loving, but also in creating. Whether we make a table or a cathedral, we are called to bear fruit with our hands and mind, ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ.”

That last part stuck with me. And it should stick with other 200s as well.

My husband repeats an old saying stating that good journalism should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Reporters ought to seek and tell stories that elevate the cause of the forgotten, abused or disenfranchised and strive to dislodge the roots of injustice. Does any of this sound at all familiar to us Catholics? This sort of creativity, this telling of a well-crafted story with the capacity to help others is participating in God’s work, in “building up of the Body of Christ.” Of course, there are plenty of journalists who are not doing this explicitly, and plenty more who are simply not good at what they do (or should be considered journalists for that matter), but I think in all the venomous hatred in our media blame game, we forget how much we rely upon the truly good, meaningful and impactful stories we read, hear and see — especially the coverage that puts reporters in harm’s way, as is the case in war zones. We only seem to notice the bad stuff, but that’s human nature. Change comes about when we seek the truth, and even more so when we find it. I think we can all agree on that point. 

A quick glance at the top jobs on the list and it becomes apparent that very few offer a creative element or opportunity to build anything, much less anything tangible. In addition, those “best” jobs, in many cases, deal much more with numbers than with humanity (again, that could be a great perk for many folks). Yet for the 200 personality type, a number-filled, product-less profession sounds like hell on earth.

My husband, whom I met and fell in love with while getting our graduate degrees in journalism, ranks among the number-loathers. He returned to his previous career in newspaper reporting after spending a little over a year writing for a Chicago non-profit. It was an excellent cause, filled with wonderful, passionate employees. He worked regular hours, received good vacation time, and made a decent living. 

Even with all certainty and stability, something was missing. So he dug in his heels and spent many months tracking down and eventually earning a coveted spot among the award-winning reporters of the Chicago Tribune. On day one of the job, the shift in our lives was seismic. His hours were long and erratic; he fretted about deadlines and fact errors (unnecessarily); our one car was suddenly unavailable; family plans were cancelled or compromised for work reasons; the tenuous future of the profession cast a pall on planning for our own. 

But the real difference came in him. I watched him tuck his reporter’s notebook in his back pocket and head off to work with enthusiasm again. I saw the joy on his face while he “talked shop” with me about hounding down sources and hustling off to the site of breaking news. I forget all the bad stuff when he bounds down the stairs in the morning to retrieve the paper, open it up, and see his name above a story on which he busted his proverbial hump the day before. He loves work again. He loves this work — this thankless, fortuneless, bottom-dwelling labor of the 200s. He was creating again, he was building up. 

To the 110s, 155s, 16s, 1s and everyone else on that list, St. Joseph, pray for us — in fact, pray for every worker out there, even those whose work is in fact searching for work. And for the 200s, one in particular: crafting something that lies somewhere between table and cathedral, your contribution matters more to us than the credit we give it.

I’ll join St. Joseph in praying for you as well.

And maybe for a raise, too.
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