We are in the "post-truth" era now, so we've been told.

That is the new caveat the media has branded on the asphalt of our information highway.


We are indeed in a new era where seeking the truth by a journalism profession that has cratered in user respect and confidence has been made exponentially more difficult because the public has simply decided now that facts just aren't as important as once thought.

If the mainstream media is going to step up its game in the search for any kind of real truths about our future government and how it will work, they need to address a now well-entrenched "hire-ocracy" for young print and electronic journalists that has made entering into the field of journalism — of truth-seeking — not just a challenge but a depressingly austere lifestyle choice.

I recently retired from a multi-decade career as a TV news photographer in Baltimore. I've worked with scores of young reporters over the years. I can vouch that the latest crop of new journalists are smart, eager and adaptive people. But they are stymied by a profession with salaries bordering on poverty level wages.

According to the RTDNA, a typical entry-level salary for a college grad journalism student in a small media market is now as low as $18,000 a year. That's $8 an hour.

Because of low wages and lessened importance, Careercast.com rated the job of "newspaper reporter" as No. 1 in a list of 200 "worst" jobs.

After 10 years or so of paying one's dues, an aspiring reporter might be pulling down $30,000 a year at some mid-level media market. This is usually the time when many determined journalists realize that there is no real payoff in this as a life-long profession and look for new career opportunities.

In a post-truth era I'm afraid this progression will accelerate.

Surveys now show a recent precipitous drop in enrollment in college journalism schools.

If the reality that these students are going to be living with roommates and eating ramen noodles for the first decade of their adult professional life hasn't hit them yet, it will at some point, and we will lose those who don't have an almost outsize desire to uncover the truth.

An already-graduated glut of available workers has so lowered the reward for the persistent few that a full professional career in journalism may now be a thing of the past.

And now the truth-pool has been so muddied with carcinogens, why would anyone want to stick a toe in it? We're asking a lot for these new journalists to seek the truth when no one seems able to find it anymore.

Truth seems to be riding a see-saw nowadays behind a thick fog of ambiguity and practical equivocation.

"Facts are facts" doesn't seem to matter now, if someone, anyone else says "so what?"

Stephen Colbert nailed it a few years ago with his word: "truthiness." As long as we kinda-sorta "feel" it's true, that's close enough for government work — literally.


If: "It's true to me!" is the measure — or worse: "Who cares anyhow?" — we are sending young media professionals on a suicide mission.

Newspaper editors will scream opposition to the very thought that we, as good people, would ditch our quest for the enlightening qualities that reflect an evolved human species. Like the search for truth.

Guess what? The Internet's fake news stories are far more entertaining than the real ones.

Truth today has become a variable. Now so lost in the haze, these new journalists are challenged like never before to find it. This whole new truth paradigm is racing ahead of them and only the eternally persistent may ever catch it — at $8 an hour.

For now, the truth is off and running, sticking out its tongue, daring us to catch it. And I'm afraid that as things stand now, its head start may be too much for us to overcome.

We must continue to advance the idea that journalism is a profession that is worthy of one's talent and worth more than a poverty level income.

Winnowing and decoding the truth is hard, uncompromising work with little reward. I fear that the truth seekers of tomorrow may not want to bother.

Tim Rutherford retired as a WMAR-TV news photographer in Baltimore; his email is timrutherford@comcast.net.