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Journalism cannot be a mercenary pursuit
Publication Date : 23-06-2014
In 2013, global job-search portal CareerCast rated journalism as the worst job in the United States, below lumberjacks, janitors, garbage collectors and bus drivers.The agency publishes the list annually in its Jobs Rate Reports. Two hundred jobs are ranked based on factors such as environment, income, outcome and stress.
Newspaper-related jobs have dropped down the ranks through the years, according to analysts. They also point out that there is bitter truth in the assessments, including low pay, intense stress, uncertainty, competitiveness and, of course, crazy hours.
The CareerCast rankings have been translated into Vietnamese and quickly spread through social media. Many who work in Vietnam's newspaper industry can identify with their American counterparts.
While there are few statistics on how much newspaper journalists make in Vietnam, it's clear that newspaper work has never made anyone rich – unless you climb to the highest rung.
It's difficult to get rich in any profession, but the chances are higher in Vietnam if you study and work in finance and banking, marketing, branding, public relations and business management. Despite the economic slowdown, they are still called the "money majors."
Youngsters here often start out as contributing writers for media outlets, getting paid for stories published. This can amount to a couple of hundred thousand dong, equivalent perhaps to $10-20 dollars.
Depending on the publication, new reporters can earn about US$200-$400 per month. Those who work for more prestigious news organisations can earn $480-960 a month, but most have to possess a credible byline. This can take years to earn.
In comparison, secretaries and administrative assistants can start out at a couple hundred of dollars per month at foreign-owned companies and marketers earn much more.
Stress and crazy hours go hand in hand in the profession. In 2011, Tin Tuc newspaper (News) ran a story detailing the stress that female journalists have to bear and the family time they had to sacrifice to hours on the road or in the office.
Editors, sub-editors and journalists on duty must get used to working hours that often last until mid-night. Female journalists, like their male counterparts, are under newsroom deadlines to be the first. They not only have to face the dangers of entering hot-spots to report, but their efforts are scrutinised by their bosses and the public.
In a close-knit family-oriented society like Vietnam, that struggle is more painful. Several female journalists in that newspaper article said they had to quit the profession to seek a more stable, nine-to-five job.
Like the rest of the world, Vietnamese print newspapers have to cope with fierce competition from the exploding world of online news. Unofficial statistics show there are about 77 online newspapers and 200 news sites in operation throughout Vietnam. This does not include the websites that the print media operate.
According to a report in January on WeAreSocial, a London-based social agency, Vietnam has about 20 million social media users and 36 million Internet users. News here also travels at lightning speed, spreading its effects on and off line.
Many online sites have below average proofreading and editing skills and also tend to sensationalise stories, so the general public often lumps all the media together as less than credible.
When online news reports turn out to be inaccurate, it also creates public distrust about the profession. This often makes it harder to get interviews with people.
Unlike the US where most cities have a clutch of local newspapers, most print publications in Vietnam are concentrated in three metro areas: Ha Noi, HCM City and Da Nang.
Statistics from the Ministry of Information and Communications show that by the end of last December, there were 838 news organisations in the country and more than 1,100 publications. Therefore, the competition to "get it first" and find new angles for news reports is fierce.
Reporters are often now asked to do more work in the same amount of time: posting online, blogging, writing, taking photos and, in some cases, making videos. In some newsrooms, the level of payments for reporters depends on the number of "clicks" the story gets. That can add another layer of stress.
On top of that, journalists in Vietnam have to juggle a more delicate relationship between public relations people, government sources and newspaper readers.
So much for the difficulties. But there are many reasons to celebrate.
There are privileges of being the first to know, digesting complex policies and helping protect national sovereignty as we have seen in the coverage of China's illegal placement of an oil rig in Vietnamese waters. Reporters are always at the frontline.
Perhaps one of the iconic image about Vietnamese cities is an image of a xe om driver reading a newspaper on his motorbike while waiting for customers on a street corner. It's an image that signifies the important role of newspapers in this fast changing country.
Despite the struggle to survive on the job, dedicated newspaper reporters will always survive.