Mar 05 2007

Straight Outta (Idaho) Journalism

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There is a clear career path for journalists in Idaho – straight outta journalism. Is it more true in Idaho than most places? Our first impulse is to say yes (although that’s a point we want to explore more fully.)

And so we’ve compiled a list of Idahoans who worked in Idaho newsrooms once, but now work (in Idaho) doing something else.

The current list

There aren’t a lot of veterans any more in most Idaho newsrooms; much more common, especially in the Boise area, is a rapid-fire churning. A reporter or editor who reports to work in one of those newsrooms will soon become aware of where most of those who have preceded him or her has gone: Usually, into a communications job (meaning here, “public information,” “press secretary” or something similar) in state or local government, or a comparable job in one of the large business entities in the area.

If you’re a citizen who would like to stay informed about the community and region around you, that should give you pause. Consider: If you know that, statistically, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you’re going to work, eventually, for one of those public or influential private organizations you’re trying to neutrally cover today . . . are you really sure it isn’t going to influence you just a little bit? Maybe you pull a punch here, ease back a little there, stop short of asking something a little . . . embarrassing now and again? Or maybe not . . . but the possibility of risk is always there.

Which is not to make any accusations against any of the people on the list we’ve compiled – of Idaho journalists now working outside the profession but still in Idaho – which we’ll get back to in a moment. A lot of them were fine journalists, and a lot of them do their current jobs very well too.

Nor is it that there’s anything awful about working in one of these communications jobs; the entities for which they work have (speaking generally) useful and important work to do.

It’s just the fact that there’s so many of them that ought to be troubling.

Partly because it’s a reflection on some bad things.

A lot of these people would not have left journalism if they had a real choice, but in many cases, they didn’t, or at least no good ones. Relatively few Idaho journalism jobs pay well, and many pay below what most people would consider a barely living wage. (Most of those Boise TV reporters who look like prosperous upper-middle-class professionals are pulling wages that would shock most of their viewers.) The people who run the media conglomerates evidently understand that experienced journalists usually are more expensive journalists; they have little incentive to encourage people to stay around for long.

Atop that, many newsrooms have become increasingly horrible places to work; and atop that, the number of journalism jobs has been decreasing in recent years. We’ve seen several of them struggle, for months and years, to try to stay in the business while getting out of an untenable work situation, and ending up taking a paycheck where they could.

This relates to an extent to who owns these news companies. You’ll see relatively few names, for example, from the home-owned Lewiston Tribune and Idaho Falls Post Register; turnover in those places has tended to be low. There are others; but they are the exceptions.

When these journalists do leave, they discover that their pay is increased, their work hours diminished and they tend to be treated a lot better in their new offices.

It’s just that now, they’re someone’s spokesman.

And there are a whole lot more of them. A great many of the jobs to which these journalists have gone, didn’t exist very many years ago; a number of the people on this list were the first occupants of their post-news jobs. Are there now in Idaho considerably more people paid to work with (and influence) reporters, than there are reporters? Probably.

That is not the story of everyone on this list; a few have more interesting career paths. Roger Simmons, for years a reporter on KTVB-TV, managed the Western Idaho Fairgrounds and later was elected to the Ada County Commission. Maybe the most interesting of all is Jan Boles, years ago a photographer for the paper now known as the Idaho Press-Tribune (at a time when this writer worked there as well, as a reporter); he is now archivist at the Albertson College of Idaho, and doing some groundbreaking work there.

There are those who left the newsroom to follow a passion, or have other personal motivations (Mike Zuzel, for example, who left journalism to work with a childhood friend who happened to have gotten elected mayor of Boise). We won’t try to break those down; that would be an exercise in mind-reading. But we’d guess they’re a distinct minority.

About the list.

To keep this project under some control, we set some limits. Generally it includes people who have left Idaho newsrooms (who worked in a reporting or editorial capacity) to go to work outside journalism, but still in the state of Idaho; and it includes only people currently working in Idaho. Among media organizations, we looked only at dailies among newspapers, and larger cities for radio (though we bumped into none directly from that medium), and the wire service (Associated Press) and television stations around the state. (How many radio reporters, outside of public radio, are left in Idaho? The number was large even 20 or 25 years ago; it’s far diminished now.)

The list does not include retirees (which excludes some recently prominent people, from Steve Ahrens (Idaho Statesman political editor to IACI President), Larry Taylor (KTVB-TV anchor to Idaho Power executive) to Ken Robison (Idaho Statesman editorial editor to state legislator) to . . . many others.

Partly because of the difficulty of keeping track of people who have left the state – who have been surprisingly comparatively few, considering the overall totals – they’re not included. But below the main chart is a short list of where some of those people are now.

The chart is of course a work in progress, and we will update it from time to time. If you know of more former Idaho journalists who should be on it – and we know going it is of course not complete – let us know. If you see an inaccuracy, let us know and we’ll get it corrected.

By the way: The list also notes when a job reports to a partisan elected official, or a board or commission whose majority is of a particular political party, or a party organization (or when, as in one case, was itself a partisan elective position). Following the normal parlance, red squares indicate Republican, blue Democratic. The particulars are unlikely to be a surprise to current and future Idaho journalists who will be figuring out which party controls most of the post-newsroom jobs (as they go about covering the politicians, of course). Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you about the “liberal Idaho media.”

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One Response to “Straight Outta (Idaho) Journalism”

  1. TracieMilleron 02 Apr 2009 at 9:09 am

    You forgot to add Dean Miller to your list. Dean was fired from the Post Register in February. He’s still looking for work.

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