Tools of a not terribly prestigious trade
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  • Tools of a not terribly prestigious trade

Journalism, the profession that could never get no respect, still can’t.

The Harris Poll just took another of its periodic surveys of prestige in the workplace. Harris gave 2,537 adults a list of 23 occupations and asked them to place the jobs in one of four categories:

Has a great deal of prestige

Has prestige

Has not that much prestige

Not at all prestigious

Doctors led the list, 45 percent of the people who responded putting them in the top category, 44 percent in the second category. Real estate brokers and agents came in last, being placed in one of those top categories just 31 percent of the time. Journalists were sixth from last—45 percent of the people think their jobs are relatively prestigious.

In 2006 I wrote about a similar Harris poll. Again there were four categories describing different levels of prestige—though the language was slightly different. Firefighters led the way, 63 percent of the people responding saying they enjoy “very great prestige.” Again real estate agents came in last. Again journalists came in sixth to last.

I commented then, “Harris began taking this poll in 1977, and the net loss for journalists since then is one percent. We’ve never been the public’s darlings. In the same period teachers rose 23 percent and scientists dropped 12 percent. It’s scientists who have something to worry about.” Eight years ago I reported that “16 percent said journalists have hardly any prestige at all.” This year 16 percent said journalism is “not at all prestigious.”

In 2006, 43 percent of the respondents put journalism in the top two categories for prestige. This year 45 percent did.

Our trade is steady as she goes.

I spotted the most recent poll when someone linked to it on Facebook. I immediately wrote a comment, called it a “dubious poll—along the lines of hi skul popularity polls that asked kids who they thought was the most popular (rather than who they actually liked a lot.)” Eight years ago, I see now, I blew off the Harris query as a “high school popularity-poll question.” So I’m consistent too. I have no deeper insights now than I did then.

Harris did some massaging of its new data, which made the results more interesting. Respect for journalism is pretty consistent across the generations: among Millennials (18 to 37), 47 percent thought the trade is relatively prestigious; among Gen X (38 to 49) it was 40 percent, Baby Boomers (50 to 68) 46 percent, and Matures (69 and up) 44 percent—which tells me we’ve not only never been the public’s darlings but we never will be.

However . . . respondents were also asked this:

“Now, thinking of the same list of occupations, which ones you would suggest a child think about as a future profession and which one you would discourage them from pursuing?”

And 61 percent replied that they’d encourage kids to be journalists. Leading the way were the Millennials, 65 percent of whom believe journalism is something kids ought to look into. I’m not sure what this means. Possibly all it means is that because Millennials don’t read newspapers they missed the news that everyone else has stopped reading them. But I think it supports my popularity poll thesis: a lot of people who are under the impression nobody else respects journalism believe personally that it’s a pretty decent way to make a living.