Journalism 2011 - An Essay

Used to be journalism was a craft, dominated by people named Breslin, Woodward & Bernstein, Pyle, Hirsh, Bly, Bourke-White, Twain and Hemingway.
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.


Christine said...

It's a tough trade these days, with enews that makes it's way instantly to the hands of ipad users like my 16yr old son, who wouldn't even dream of reading the paper like I do. One page at a time, licking my finger and turning the next one. The CEO $stuff$ just makes me mad. By the way I'm amazed you still own the typewriter.

Anonymous said...

"Journalism is about truth. It’s about justice. It’s about creativity."
And your Sir, were the embodiment of that and more when you were reporting for our local paper. No matter what kind of "slant" that local paper would try and put on anything, whether real or perceived, I could always count on your pieces for the eloquent unvarnished truth. (And in a very interesting, engaging way. After all, you were out there.)

I am continuing to grow so very tired of media folks talking AT me. Admonishing me. Berating me. Cajoling me. I wish to be informed, not brain washed.
My life, my world, is more than sound bites.

Please consider reporting again. We need you, and folks like you.

Donna Hole said...

There are some reporters that have given the NEWS industry a bad rap. Happens in every profession.

But I know where you're coming from. I've been lucky with my agency that they are starting the budget cuts with mid and upper management. Not firing or laying off, just not replacing positions when they become vacant.

Our director suggested that rather than cutting the wages of the lower employees, that the upper management decline their bonuses. Its tough not paying the rent on the summer retreat and possibly cutting back on the mutual funds investments; but the alternative is that a regular employee may lose the only home they live in.

I hear you Thom. The world is not fair. Thanks for stating your principles. Its tough to give up a job you love and believe in. I hope you find something else you can be as passionate about without compromising your values.


Catherine Denton said...

Well said. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Dee Martin said...

This is the way of everything it seems. It is depressing and sad.

UWGB-BEEK said...

Wouldn't we all like a cash bonus like that, but most of us have an ethical backbone that wouldn't allow us to steal from our employees.

Well done!

trisha said...

I fully share your views about present day journalism.

there are good people in journalism world but i think they are not allowed to talk. i really believe so; if they talk they are reduced to zero.

media is a business to make profit and thats how it is acting, anyone who reads newspapers or is fully involved with any form of media as a reader/viewer knows it.