This reporter passed a career milestone earlier this month—I officially retired from Oil & Gas Journal on Aug. 3, primarily to avoid driving Houston highways during its notoriously frustrating rush hours.
That likely will come as a surprise to readers of this article since obviously I'm still writing for OGJ.
However, the company is letting me wade gradually into retirement while writing an occasional piece under contract to keep me from going cold turkey and to put something besides cat food on the table.
Strangely, I felt none of the anxious anticipation of retirement as when I became a "short-timer" during my Army enlistment and for months each morning crossed off the date on the calendar in a countdown to the end of my 3-year enlistment.
In fact, I never really thought about retirement at all—especially back in college when I was selecting a major. Otherwise, I would have taken courses to prepare for a real job with real benefits like the stock options and golden parachutes enjoyed by oil company chief executives—benefits I've reported for years but for which I'd never qualify.
Journalism is a notoriously poor-paying profession, especially the daily newspapers where I worked for most of my 40-plus years in the business. The retirement plan at the few major daily newspapers still publishing is for the reporter to die at his keyboard—but not before making the deadline for the final edition of the day.
Fortunately, trade publications are often more profitable and therefore provide better benefits for their staff, so my retirement home will not be an empty large cardboard box that once packaged a major appliance.
An odd profession
When you get right down to it, journalism is an odd profession.
A geologist can find new resources of oil and gas; a producer can pull those resources out of the ground; an engineer can build pipelines to move those resources and plants to process them. These people make the world and the economy run. But the best report I ever dug up and wrote about those and other activities ended up the next day in the garbage with the coffee grounds and fruit peels.
So why are people like me attracted to a job with relatively low pay, deadline tensions, the prominent display of any mistake in an article, the impermanence of your work, and the "kill the messenger" mentality of readers who don't like the news I've given them?
Simple—it's the most fun job I've ever had! There's never been a single morning in all those years that I've dreaded going to work. Witnessing firsthand many events involving many people that affect the real world is interesting and exciting.
Digging up more facts than the competition and writing them up by deadline is a rush, as is competing with other staff members to see who has the top story of the day that will attract the most readers.
We don't do it for the money but for the thrill of the hunt and the success in beating the competition. In that sense, dedicated journalists are a lot like those champion athletes who claim they would play the game even if they didn't get paid. Of course, our financial loss would be much less than theirs.
I'm still adapting to my new status. Retirement is a strange concept to me, having worked more or less steadily at an assortment of jobs since I was 15 (even longer if you count the Christmas cards, packets of seeds, and cans of Cloverine salve my little brother and I used to peddle door-to-door in East Texas during our preteen years. The worst thing about retirement so far is that I now have to take my coffee breaks on my own time.
Meanwhile, my wife is working on a retirement plan of her own—one the human resources office of a daily newspaper would envy.
Her plan is simply to outlive me.