They wrote gritty, dark truths. They took pictures that bared souls open like filleted fish. They were celebrities who didn’t give a shit about being one.
They were bold. They had a voice, a stage on which to emote. They were respected for it.
Walk into any newsroom in the U.S. today and it’s most likely owned by a corporation. There’s still good people there, but they’re underpaid, over-worked and highly unappreciated.
The newspaper is a “product,” a vehicle to sell ads and promote the bottom line.
Thirty-three years ago, I typed my first news story for publication. It was done on my mother’s green IBM typewriter – the very one pictured above.
(Notice I said typed; I had written the article longhand, on a yellow legal pad with a pencil in my tight, printed hand, having lost the ability to write cursive after years of hanging out at the architectural firm where my mother was employed. It would be another couple of years before I learned to compose on the typewriter.)
I’m 48 years old and on a time-out from the trade, which will come to an end around April 2012.
I seriously doubt, as much as I love a good newsroom, that I’ll find myself back in one anytime soon.
Not after reading recently that Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received $9.4 million in compensation for 2010 – including an all-cash bonus of $1.75 million.
The news came out while several Gannett rank-and-file employees were sitting at home on unpaid first-quarter furloughs – announced Jan. 4 by U.S. newspaper president Bob Dickey.
“To help us manage through these challenges, we have made the difficult decision to implement a furlough across USCP during the first quarter. This was, quite frankly, an option I had hoped we could avoid. Furloughs, while difficult, do allow us to protect jobs. The staff reductions we have taken over the past few years have been very hard and further reductions are not our first preference.”
The most I ever made in a year as a Gannett employee was $50,000 – slightly more than my base salary of $22 an hour (yes, that’s for someone who has more than 20 years in the business). The sum included overtime hours, which I was told – frequently – we could not afford.
For simply doing my job. For swinging for the fences on each and every news story I ever wrote (and I’m quick and I’m good). For being a craftsman with words; for being a guy just trying to make a middle-class living, while also trying to make a difference.
Mr. Dubow’s 2010 cash-only bonus would have paid the yearly salary for 35 journalists making what I made in 2009.
You cannot send your rank-and-file into the streets unpaid while you sit back and collect $1.75 million in cash and tell qualified, dedicated, creative men and women that it’s a business – and that business right now isn’t doing so well.
It’s like pissing on someone and telling them that it’s raining.
Journalism isn’t about a return on the dollar for stockholders.
It is a craft, one that takes dedication and talent.
Think you’re going to get your news from bloggers? Think again.
This – the fourth estate – exists to bring light to the dark corners of the world, where dishonest men hide from the printed word.
Journalism is about truth. It’s about justice. It’s about creativity.
I’ve never wanted to be anything but. In my earliest conversations, people used to ask if I really wanted to be a writer. I always corrected them, saying I wanted to be a reporter.
Nowadays, I’ll tell people I’m a writer first.
I will always be proud of the work I’ve done in the craft. I will protect what it is – and means – to be a journalist.
“Never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.”
The poet Henrick Ibsen said that more than 100 years ago.
It rings true in 2011.
I just can’t afford a new wardrobe these days.