Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

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People looking for work in Cache Valley know there is one employer that stands above all others when it comes to job security, competitive pay and benefits.

Have you already jumped ahead of me and guessed what employer I’m talking about? The answer is Utah State University.

USU’s job board is probably bookmarked on more computers in Cache Valley than any other local website with the possible exception of the jail-booking page, and when full-time positions open up there, people seeking to better their circumstances in life leap at the opportunities en masse.

I know local residents who’ve applied up to 20 times before landing one of USU’s coveted positions, while others have done the same without ever getting an interview. Still they persist.

“Yeah, so what’s your point?” I can hear some readers saying right now. “Why have you chosen this to write about, Mr. Editor? Are you trying to make a statement of some sort?”

There are a couple of reasons I thought this would make a good subject for a column. First, my aim as a columnist has always been to highlight aspects of the local community that exist in plain sight but are rarely broached as topics on the pages of the newspaper. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, I do have a personal angle on this particular aspect of Cache Valley life.

The Herald Journal as an employer has always felt the effects of USU’s gravitational pull. In my 25 years at the newspaper, I’ve seen more than a dozen HJ reporters and editors abandon their journalism careers for the green pastures of USU. They didn’t go there to work as journalists but in most cases to ply the trades of public relations and marketing.

In addition to significant upgrades in pay and benefits, many of my former colleagues have told me they enjoyed a sizable reduction in workload and a huge reduction in stress. Add to this the priceless intangible of guilt-free vacation time.

Yes, newspaper work is stressful, even when you aren’t clocked in. The deadlines are relentless, and pleasing the reading public is a daunting task that sometimes leads to unpleasant attacks on social media as well as in person (the old-school method of confrontation that I can tell you is still proudly practiced to this day).

Although employee departures always cause some disruption in the Herald Journal’s operation, I don’t begrudge news staffers wanting to find better opportunities, and I think it’s fantastic Cache Valley has an institution of USU’s caliber that can provide so many good jobs.

Still, it hurts every time someone leaves, and the fact that public-sector jobs would have so much more appeal than many private-sector equivalents has always irked me a bit.

That pain and irritation is fresh. Just last month, the USU marketing department hired away one of the best reporters we’ve ever had — a fearless and resourceful young news-gatherer with whom I’d developed a meaningful connection. Of course she had to do it, but it seems a crappy career trade-off to go from chronicling these electrifying times in our society and holding government officials accountable to editing and writing promotional copy for one of the very institutions you used to report on.

Another example of this very type of professional flip-flop and the mass exodus from news-reporting to news-spinning comes to us from the Salt Lake City media, where Tribune editor Jennifer Napier Pierce went almost overnight from being a fierce government watchdog to working as a senior advisor and director of communications for Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

A person has to make a living.

As our crackerjack reporter and I said our sad goodbyes last month, I had a revelation about the HJ-to-USU pipeline that seemed quite ironic. It is this:

Newspapers don’t hire public relations and marketing specialists to be news reporters and editors. They wouldn’t be qualified. What they do is the antithesis of what journalists do. Yet journalism experience appears to be an ideal qualification for PR and marketing jobs. If someone knows how news media works from the inside, it’s assumed they should also know how to imitate and influence it.

This says a lot, but no matter. It is what it is.

Beyond the newspaper’s concerns and my own hurt feelings — which admittedly are trivial in the grand scheme of things — you have to agree USU positions are considered plum jobs by the general Cache Valley populace, and as such they have always been the subject of a lot of talk, rumor, lore, jealousy, jockeying and intrigue.

When someone lands a USU job, they usually don’t leave until retirement. They may shift from one position to another within the institution — often a higher position — but even if their work relationships and conditions aren’t always ideal, they tend to hang around because the perks outweigh the drawbacks.

Job longevity might be more common among classified employees than faculty members, who sometimes opt for more lucrative and prestigious positions elsewhere. Nevertheless, a lot of professors spend their entire careers at USU as well.

Some people aren’t going to like me saying this, but another well-known aspect of USU employment, like all public-sector jobs, is that it’s pretty hard to get fired.

I can say this with certainty because The Herald Journal has covered many situations over the years where prominent USU employees who committed firing offenses by most standards were quietly transferred to other positions or fought their dismissals tooth and nail until they got a settlement.

Most readers are probably familiar with a few instances like this that never made the news. These stories, like knowledge of where the local speed traps are located, have simply become an integral part of the Cache Valley culturescape.

So there are many things that set USU employment apart from working at Walmart, Zions Bank, Smith’s Marketplace, Starbuck’s, ICON, Thermo-Fisher, Schreiber’s, the Cache Valley Mall or The Herald Journal. The university is on a hill overlooking Cache Valley in more than just the physical sense.

Please be aware that Cache Valley Publishing does not endorse, and is not responsible for alleged employment offers in the comments.