Here’s a question I get a lot: “Would you rather work in a big city or a small town?” I’m sure the asker isn’t really interested in hearing me wax poetic on the finer points of my internal dilemma regarding this very question. (That’s what my blog is for.)
So we’ve got two fighters in the ring today. The big city paper is brawny beast of a work environment. Powerful and intimidating, sure, but ride with the big city paper and you’re guaranteed name recognition and a shot at glory.
The small town paper is smaller in stature, but don’t count it out. It can handle blows just like the big shot. Working for a small town paper could give you a chance to catch your breath and make a name for yourself in the meantime, if you play your cards right.
I have a little bit of experience working for both kinds. In 2011, I interned on the news and web desk at the Dallas Morning News, and this summer I interned as a news reporter for the Grand Island Independent. Each job had its positives and negatives. Let’s take this point by point.
The Dallas Morning News has an average daily circulation of about 260,700. The Grand Island Independent? About 20,500. Assuming you want more people to read what you write, the big city paper is the clear winner here.
2. Paper size:
Small town papers are, well, smaller — in both the size of the newspaper and its staff. A smaller staff is great because you get to know the people with whom you work (hopefully you like them). It sure does feel easy to get lost in the crowd at a bigger paper, and there’s a lot more competition amongst reporters.
When it comes to the size of the actual publication, fewer pages in the paper means more focus on local events and a greater chance of making the front page. At the GI Independent, about half of my articles were on page 1. At the DMN, I was lucky if I made the front page of the local section.
Is that really so important, though? Being on the front page is awesome, but I’d much rather be proud of my work and confident in its significance, no matter the page number. We’ll call this one a draw.
The working environment of a big paper is just as quick-pace as the city to which it delivers the news. Same goes for small town papers. With less interest in online and convergence media and less competition from other news outlets, you can afford to take a breather at a small town paper. Eat lunch before you write up that school board meeting. Help another reporter with his or her story while you put your own on hold for half an hour. Just get everything in by midnight — or by the time your editor leaves.
That doesn’t mean the reporters at small town papers are lackadaisical about their work — the reporters I met at the GI Independent stayed at the office well beyond their 9 to 5 commitments tying up loose ends, following leads and finishing up their stories. There’s just a bit less pressure to put out content when you have little competition and a smaller range of coverage.
At the Dallas Morning News, every deadline was ASAP. In a full-time position, I’m sure that could get pretty stressful. But I’m the kind of person who thrives on a quick deadline, so I think big city wins on this point.
Big cities are hosts to higher crime rates, more politicians to complain about, and a lot more community events and issues to cover. The definition of “news” is arguably more strict than that used by a smaller paper, which has to reach for more features and community events to fill the pages.
But small towns are far from idyllic, and many communities sport their own ugly undersides when it comes to government and crime. Grand Island was no exception: The city was rife with issues regarding its lack of a fire chief, the forced resignation of an unpopular city administrator and growing ethnic diversity.
Stories are to be found everywhere. If you can’t find stories in a small town, you’re not looking hard enough. So we’re calling this one a draw too.
I live in a suburb north of Dallas, and my daily commute to work last summer should have taken about 20 minutes each way. Instead, it took more than 40, and it would have taken an hour if I didn’t beat rush hour by about 30 minutes each day.
Dallas traffic sucks, and there’s no way to get around it unless you’re okay with arriving at the office at 4 a.m. The situation is a different shade of the same color for any big city.
In Grand Island, my commute took me 10 minutes. In fact, you could get most anywhere in the town in about 15. It goes without saying that small towns are also easier to get around in general, although if you’re like me, you’ll find a way to get lost wherever you are.
Regardless, waking up only 30 minutes before I had to be at work was really nice. Small town wins.
This one is subjective: City or country? I say city. I like the open-mindedness, I like the public transportation, I like the culture and the food and the sheer variety of it all. I’d rather live in a city of 5 million than 50,000.
Tally it up: Big city paper is the clear victor, despite some of my qualms about getting lost in the shuffle and losing job security. Working for a larger paper is a bit intimidating because of the quicker deadlines and competition, but I dream of having a major impact on the face of journalism, and for the time being I believe working at a big city publication is the way to do it.
Of course I will apply for positions at smaller papers. I have a lot of respect for small town papers after this summer and I’ll work anywhere, no matter how small, as long as I can call myself a journalist. But next time I’m faced with that question of dream job preference, I think I’ll have an answer.