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Books Russell Smith: Who needs nagging parents when there’s CareerCast?

CareerCast , a job search site out of Carlsbad, Calif., publishes an annual list of best part-time jobs in North America.

Feng Yu/Getty Images/Hemera

Reporters all over North America are thrilled to bits that a U.S. jobs site called CareerCast has declared "Newspaper Reporter" to be the worst job of 2015. There is so much grim promotion of this fact among my colleagues it amounts to a kind of jubilation. We're like the guy in the hospital gleefully croaking, "I told you I was sick!"

The celebration happened after CareerCast listed 200 American jobs in order of desirability: The top job was actuary (high income, low stress, lots of job opportunities). Reporter was at the bottom because of low pay and a deeply negative "growth outlook," meaning opportunities are shrinking rather than growing. Other jobs in the bottom 10 included lumberjack, military personnel, corrections officer and photojournalist – all because those involve physical danger.

This points to a problem in the CareerCast scoring system, which assigns points for income, environment and stress – it mixes apples and oranges. There's a category difference between wishing you were paid more and being shot at. Surely one should count for more than the other? Furthermore, aren't photojournalists the kind of people who actually like getting shot at? I bet they are among the happiest of the bunch.

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I, on the other hand, am willing to sacrifice a great deal of money in order to have this cat on my lap and to be listening to Scarlatti (wearing, of course, my usual tiger-striped spandex zentai suit). How many points for this Scotch within easy reach, huh CareerCast?

CareerCast is not a scientific research organization: It is a job-search site that, like many others, sets out to give advice on how to update your résumé. So it cannot resist giving advice to all the newspaper reporters it has just outed as useless. It's predictable advice: Turn your skills to marketing! There are tons of jobs out there in public relations and advertising that require verbal agility and creativity! Look, we hardly need to be told this. We know. Half of our colleagues have already left to do something with a job title I can't understand – they are now communications facilitators, brand narrative editors, cloud customer experience curators, content extruders… I really don't understand what they do, but they seem to have nice ski holidays. You see them sometimes at parties and they kindly offer you a little work – if you're really stuck, they need someone to do blog entries, about bacon, mostly, just a few thousand words every day about bacon, it's pretty easy, as long as you familiarize yourself with the bacon brand identity and the brand narrative and the brandbrandbrand; if you're interested, you can call their assistant.

Soon, you, too, can be sitting in on all-day meetings about improving the brand reach on bacon-friendly social media. And crafting hyperenthusiastic press releases about disruptive paradigm shifts in bacon consumption, to send to reporters who will all, without fail, delete every one without reading it. (I deleted six press releases from my inboxes just while writing that sentence. I was not just eliminating spam, I was taking my revenge on all the well-paid acquaintances who write them.)

In its helpful advice, CareerCast sounds like the mothers of English and philosophy majors the world over. "Couldn't you just do something a little more practical?" it implores, cutting the crusts off your sandwich for you. "I just worry for your future, is all. You think just thinking deep thoughts all the time is going to pay the bills when you're older, when you have kids? At a certain point we all have to pay the piper. Life isn't just sitting on the phone chatting with the most interesting people in every field, you know!"

CareerCast has left you a brand-new cardigan and some khakis in your room; just try them on, once, just once! And won't you just sit down once with your cousin who has done so well in bacon, he's waiting for your call, what would one coffee with him cost you? All you have to do is go out to Markham/Surrey/Bedford…

You try to cheer CareerCast up a little that you say, "Look, it could be worse – I could be a Canadian short-story writer!" That's a job so bad it doesn't even exist.

CareerCast is a little confused by this; it doesn't like this sort of humour. So you solemnly promise that you will talk to your cousin, but not right now, you have to go right now, to interview an economist who is suggesting a reform of capitalism. And then a scientist with a theory on the brain and violence. And then a politician who has just spent five years in jail. And then a Croatian choreographer who only works with nude dancers. You say you promise you will try on the cardigan, but you will probably be back very late, as there is a party for the Croatian dancers.

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And CareerCast nods, a little hurt, and turns away to close the sheers, muttering to itself, "Sad, so sad. So much potential there. And yet he refuses to do anything useful."

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