Ironically, those best/worst lists so popular with news publications and websites often reveal that journalism is among the least desirable careers.
Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram enterprise reporter Eric Russell doesn’t get it.
“On the best days, journalism is the best job,” he said. “It’s a great job. I don’t get people who say it’s the worst job.”
Russell, 39, is a storyteller who wound up in journalism because he loves writing. A sports writer-turned-newsman, he loves to help people tell their stories, and he’s been doing it since he began filling composition books as a child. He wants to sit in people’s living rooms and learn about their lives.
Two stories in recent years stand out: One was part of a Press Herald series on aging that focused on a man taking care of his wife who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Russell spent time in their home and described what life was like for the couple, noticing little details and capturing dialogue:
“Kathy Roy is tipped back 45 degrees in her geriatric recliner. A small towel is draped across her clothes. Her eyes are open, but the lids are heavy. She doesn’t move except for an occasional, involuntary muscle tic.
‘How we doing, mum?’ Larry asks as he brings the juice to her lips. She takes the straw and slowly draws the liquid.”
The other was a story about a retired teacher who moved to Maine and was found dead in her Wells mobile home. After writing the initial stories, Russell asked to go to her hometown in New York to find out more about Lucie McNulty, whose body wasn’t found for 2½ years.
“It was a fascinating look at someone who died this one way, but lived another,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Maine, the Westbrook native got his first job in journalism at the Bangor Daily News. After working as an intern and in part-time positions, he was stationed in the Hancock County bureau until a job covering the city of Bangor opened up.
After that, he accepted a job at the Press Herald as a general assignment/enterprise reporter, which means he doesn’t have to limit his writing to a particular geographic area or topic. He’s seen changes in newsrooms since his start in journalism in the early 2000s. It can be difficult to keep up with the demands of constantly updating a story online as it unfolds while still crafting a well-written story, he said.
Many of Russell’s stories are reported and written over a period of days, so he doesn’t feel the pressure of constant updates as much as other reporters.
“I feel pretty lucky to have the beat I have,” he said. “I feel pretty lucky I’m not subjected to those pressures others are.”
Russell, who is active on Twitter, said he thinks journalists should welcome criticism and debate. The best way to combat critics is to show people how you got the story, he said.
“The more we can show readers how we got this, the better our credibility is,” he said. “You’ve still got daily pressure, but the best way to address the pushback is to be as transparent as you can be.”
“At the end of the day,” Russell said, “we need people to read our stories.”
In a nutshell …
POSITION: General assignment/enterprise reporter for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
YEARS AT CURRENT EMPLOYER: 6
YEARS AS A JOURNALIST: 14
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR LOCAL NEWS: Press Herald and Maine Public
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR NATIONAL NEWS: The Washington Post
ADVICE FOR BEING A SMART NEWS CONSUMER: I think being a smart news consumer means being thoughtful about where the news is coming from. It is trusted? Is it well-sourced? I also think people need to remember that newspapers have separate opinion pages that shouldn’t be conflated with the news pages. And the biggest thing I think people can do is not rely on social media for their news. Pick up the paper or go directly to the website. Don’t just read headlines or comments.