Tag Archives: newspapers

Advice:

Never drink late at night and start looking at clips you wrote really early in your college journalism career. Because then you come across sentences like this:

While Jason went off to search for halogen lights and a hot pot, my stomach began to growl. Perhaps it had been presumptuous to assume the man who just raised our tuition 4.4 percent would feed us dinner.


and they make you sad.

From Schmoozing with the Bergs, GW Hatchet, 2/15/01

yikes.

Bag it, Tag it: A post-mortem for the New York Sun

You learn lots of interesting things about people when you have a grocery eye view of their world. In the space of two tightly packed paper bags, you can tell who’s vegan, who’s only able to buy groceries with government assistance, who’s getting government assistance for groceries but can still afford an iPhone and Chanel bag, whose kids need an extra boost of protein, the number and appetite of people’s cats, etc.

Today I learned that one of the last things the New York Sun did was to give very nice, sturdy and easy to carry tote bags to its employees. Then it ceased publication and laid nearly everybody off.

This I found out from the woman at my register today who brought the bag to fill with her groceries. She used to cover music for the Sun until it shuttered in September of last year.

Do you still write at all? I asked

“Yes, if I can find anyone who will actually pay me to do it.”

The Sun was an interesting and worthwhile (despite reportedly hemorraghing $1 million a month) experiment in big-city journalism that launched in 2002. Interesting because it attempted to land a massive, fully armed battle helicopter right on the crumbling ledge of the cliff the rest of the print world was digging into with cracking fingernails. Worthwhile because it highlighted smart writing, intelligent coverage and tried to inject the kind of sensible, academic conservative dialogue that William F. Buckley advocated into the New York City liberal gestalt. Worthwhile also because the introduction of a new newspaper in New York City in 2002 was a big, steaming middle finger to the prevailing trends at the time that even that frozen bag of edamame I put in the woman’s bag could have seen was a ridiculous time to invest money in a new print publication with a staff of 110 full-timers.

The Sun’s closure last fall was immenent and anticlimactic, because it didn’t have the cultural tenure of The New York Times or the Daily News, or the intensely important niche coverage of the Wall Street Journal and because it was appreciated more in concept than in practice.

I told the woman that I am also a former newspaper reporter, that I still cover music for the paper down South (though that is gradually and predictably fading away) and had some stuff run on Billboard at my peak (though I haven’t heard a word from them since my one connection left to be the music director for Jimmy Fallon’s show).

“Have you tried blogs?” the lady asked, a question which I couldn’t immediately determine whether it was borne out of hopeful sincerity or sarcastically sadism.

Yes, I said. And the truth is, I said, I’m more interested in just being involved in important writing than I am in getting paid for it, but it would be nice to make a living off it again some day.

Her advice: A friend of hers, Michael Azerrad, wanted to be a music writer. He started writing dozens and dozens of back-of-the-book reviews for Rolling Stone for barely any pay. Then, finally, he became a top writer for the magazine before writing Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, probably the definitive biography of the band published just a few months before Kurt (or Courtney … OH NO HE DIDN’T) shot himself.

“Sometimes you just have to write for low pay or free or whatever until you get to that level of name recognition before you can move on to something better,” she said. “Of course, that was in the 80s.”

She talked about how she writes for some blogs herself for not much pay nowadays. “Everyone’s having trouble,” she said, which made me feel slightly better about my situation, just like when I read the tweet (still don’t care for that word) from Susan Orlean the other day about her fellow Nieman fellows being out of work.

No, I didn’t get her name. I was about to ask but then she ran off, not even opting to fill out the raffle ticket you get when you bring your own bag, even if it is for a defunct media enterprise.

The history of journalism is littered with the empty shells of worthy competitors who held their own against the big city titans but were ultimately plowed under by financial problems or natural selection. The Raleigh Times lost out to the N&O eventually. The Washington Star is the prime example — a paper that probably at times hit harder and faster than The Washington Post, with a scrappier attitude that certainly kept the editors and reporters at the bigger Post on their toes, always wary of what the competition was up to. The Star was lousy with talented journalists who went on to do great things: Howie Kurtz, MoDo, Fred Barnes, Jack Germond, Mary McGrory and many others (including like 10 of my J school profs at Maryland) worked there before it shut down in 1981, a month before I was born [shotgun on the book idea about the Washington Star, fyi, you idea-grubbing hounds]. The Sun stood toe-to-toe with the Times on some of its cultural reporting, but just couldn’t make ends meet in this print-purging environment.

It reminded me of another transaction at the register about two weeks ago. The woman fumbled with her purse and pulled aside a few loose bills and change.

“Oops, that’s my newspaper money,” she said.

You seem a bit old for a paper route, I said.

“No, I use it to buy papers with,” she said. “Three papers a day, ever since I was a kid. The Times, the Post and the Daily News.”

Wow, good for you, I said, not revealing my ink-stained background.

She went on an unprovoked rant about how important newspapers were as grease in the wheels of democracy, how blogs will never replace the in-depth reporting of newspapers, how she doesn’t even look at ads online but will sometimes actually seek them out in the print paper (you’re looking at them online, even if you don’t realize it, I thought, and it’s a marketer’s dream that lives in your subconscious).

Good for you, I said with sincerity. I told her I worked for newspapers for a few years before being effectively chased out.

“You should get back into it,”  she said. “Don’t give up on it!”

Uh, yeah. If only it were that simple.

Then today I came across this bit of info from the Nieman J Lab web site (see how deliciously circular these posts are?) a few weeks ago talking about how the New York Sun web site is threatening resurgence. The site still grabs about 100,000 hits per month even in its defunct state (by comparison, this site has reached about 3,500/month at its peak), and is showing signs of life with new blog posts and a resumption of the Out and About column online.

As I was writing this, my roommate and I had a brief conversation about how solid the writing in The Sun was particularly in its arts-and-culture side, and how interesting it was for the right-of-center publication to try to stake out a place in New York City.

Maybe The ethos of the Sun still has a place in New York City. Maybe the enthusiasm of the customer who sets aside her money for three papers every day will spread wide and far.

But before she left, the lady with the New York Sun bag said this:

“Well, maybe I’ll end up working at Trader Joe’s some day.”

Hell, I said, that’s how I ended up here. Another employee, James, used to work at the now-shuttered Ann Arbor News and the Detroit Free Press before landing in TJ’s BK.

But we’re not hiring right now, lady, so just get in line, OK?

Ballsy

For the New York Times to place this sticker:

50

on the same page as this note:

cityWhich says:

“This is the last issue of The City. Starting next weekend, to consolidate local coverage and reduce costs, it will be replaced by a new section, Metropolitan, a showcase for distinctive writing, ambitious photography and innovative storytelling about New York and its suburbs. The new section will include some features from The City as well as the television listings now located in the back of the main news section.”

Also cut: Escapes, which, I admit, I had a hard time differentiating from “Travel.” More on the cuts here.

Balls. Unless the 50 percent off was in reference to the amount of content you will be receiving with your home subscription.

David Simon takes the Senate to the wire

David Simon testified before the Senate Commerce Committee today on the future of newspaper journalism, appearing along with Arianna Huffington, Steve Coll (former ME of the Post) and Marissa Mayer of Google. Simon can be a brash asshole sometimes (like when ripping on young but hard-working cops reporters at the Sun for instance, a product of lingering grudges from his Sun days, I reckon), but he’s also emerged as the most ardent and articulate spokesman for the defense of newspapers and top-quality journalism.

Here’s the text of his commentary. I’ve highlighted some comments that I think are particularly poignant. Thanks to Cribbster for the tip.

David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of the HBO series The Wire, testified this week before the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on the future of journalism. These are his prepared comments.

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet
Hearing on the Future of Journalism, May 6, 2009

Testimony of David Simon (Baltimore Sun, 1982-95, Blown Deadline Productions, 95-09, Baltimore, Md.)

Thank you all for the invitation and opportunity to speak on this issue today, but I start by confessing reluctance.

My name is David Simon and I used to be a newspaperman in Baltimore. Head and heart, I was a newspaperman from the day I signed up at my high school paper until the day, eighteen years later, when I took a buyout from the Baltimore Sun and left for the fleshpots of Hollywood.

To those colleagues who remain at newspapers, I am therefore an apostate, and my direct connection to newspapering –having ended in 1995 – means that as a witness today, my experiences are attenuated.

Ideally, rather than listening to me, you should be hearing from any number of voices of those still laboring in American journalism. I am concerned that the collective voice of the newsroom itself – the wisdom of veteran desk editors, rewrite men and veteran reporters is poorly represented in this process. But of course newspapers are obliged to cover Congress and its works, and therefore the participation of most working journalists in today’s hearing would compromise some careful ethics. I know your staff tried to invite working journalists but were rebuffed on these grounds. And so, tellingly, today’s witness list is heavy with newspaper executives on the one hand, and representatives of the new, internet-based media on the other.

And so, I’ve accepted the invitation, though to be honest, I’m tired of hearing myself on this subject; I’ve had my say in essays that accompany this testimony, and in the episodes of a recent television drama, and I would be more inclined to hear from former colleagues if they were in a position to speak bluntly.

I am glad, at least, to be testifying beside Steve Coll, who labored at the Washington Post for two decades and whose coverage of complex issues upholds the highest journalistic standards. And I will leave to Mr. Coll a more careful and considered analysis of where journalism and newspapering must travel. I fully agree with his fundamental argument that non-profit status is the industry’s last hope, and I believe his thoughts on the subject are more advanced and detailed than my own.

If Mr. Coll can be prescriptive, I will do my best to be diagnostic. I’ll set him up by concentrating on what went wrong in American newspapering.

What I say will likely conflict with what representatives of the newspaper industry will claim for themselves. And I can imagine little agreement with those who speak for new media. From the captains of the newspaper industry, you will hear a certain martyrology – a claim that they were heroically serving democracy to their utmost only to be undone by a cataclysmic shift in technology and the arrival of all things web-based. From those speaking on behalf of new media, weblogs and that which goes twitter, you will be treated to assurances that American journalism has a perfectly fine future online, and that a great democratization in newsgathering is taking place.

In my city, there is a technical term we often administer when claims are plainly contradicted by facts on the ground. We note that the claimant is, for lack of a better term, full of it. Though in Baltimore, of course, we are explicit with our nouns.
High-end journalism is dying in America and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the web or anywhere else. The internet is a marvelous tool and clearly it is the informational delivery system of our future, but thus far it does not deliver much first-generation reporting. Instead, it leeches that reporting from mainstream news publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth. Meanwhile, readers acquire news from the aggregators and abandon its point of origin –namely the newspapers themselves.
In short, the parasite is slowly killing the host.

It is nice to get stuff for free, of course. And it is nice that more people can have their say in new media. And while some of our internet commentary is – as with any unchallenged and unedited intellectual effort – rampantly ideological, ridiculously inaccurate and occasionally juvenile, some of it is also quite good, even original.

Understand here that I am not making a Luddite argument against the internet and all that it offers. But democratized and independent though they may be, you do not – in my city — run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall, or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars and union halls where police officers gather. You do not see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You do not see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.

Why? Because high-end journalism – that which acquires essential information about our government and society in the first place — is a profession; it requires daily, full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out until the best of them know everything with which a given institution is contending. For a relatively brief period in American history – no more than the last fifty years or so – a lot of smart and talented people were paid a living wage and benefits to challenge the unrestrained authority of our institutions and to hold those institutions to task. Modern newspaper reporting was the hardest and in some ways most gratifying job I ever had. I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes American institutions as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training, or for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying or from whom they are withholding information.

The idea of this is absurd, yet to read the claims that some new media voices are already making, you would think they need only bulldoze the carcasses of moribund newspapers aside and begin typing. They don’t know what they don’t know – which is a dangerous state for any class of folk — and to those of us who do understand how subtle and complex good reporting can be, their ignorance is as embarrassing as it is seemingly sincere. Indeed, the very phrase citizen journalist strikes my ear as nearly Orwellian. A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor; he is not in any sense a citizen social worker. Just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to trained social workers and firefighters.

So much for new media. But what about old media?

When you hear a newspaper executive claiming that his industry is an essential bulwark of society and that it stands threatened by a new technology that is, as of yet, unready to shoulder the same responsibility, you may be inclined to empathize. And indeed, that much is true enough as it goes.

But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry’s part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he’s as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger.

Anyone listening carefully may have noted that I was bought out of my reporting position in 1995. That’s fourteen years ago. That’s well before the internet ever began to seriously threaten any aspect of the industry. That’s well before Craig’s List and department-store consolidation gutted the ad base. Well before any of the current economic conditions applied.

In fact, when newspaper chains began cutting personnel and content, their industry was one of the most profitable yet discovered by Wall Street money. We know now – because bankruptcy has opened the books – that the Baltimore Sun was eliminating its afternoon edition and trimming nearly 100 editors and reporters in an era when the paper was achieving 37 percent profits. In the years before the internet deluge, the men and women who might have made The Sun a more essential vehicle for news and commentary – something so strong that it might have charged for its product online – they were being ushered out the door so that Wall Street could command short-term profits in the extreme.

Such short-sighted arrogance rivals that of Detroit in the 1970s, when automakers – confident that American consumers were mere captives – offered up Chevy Vegas, and Pacers and Gremlins without the slightest worry that mediocrity would be challenged by better-made cars from Germany or Japan.

In short, my industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.

When locally-based, family-owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly-owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed.

Economically, the disconnect is now obvious. What do newspaper executives in Los Angeles or Chicago care whether or not readers in Baltimore have a better newspaper, especially when you can make more putting out a mediocre paper than a worthy one? The profit margin was all. And so, where family ownership might have been content with 10 or 15 percent profit, the chains demanded double that and more, and the cutting began – long before the threat of new technology was ever sensed.

But editorially? The newspaper chains brought an ugly disconnect to the newsroom, and by extension, to the community as well. A few years after the A.S. Abell Family sold The Sun to the Times-Mirror newspaper chain, fresh editors arrived from out of town to take over the reins of the paper.
They looked upon Baltimore not as essential terrain to be covered with consistency, to be explained in all its complexity year in and year out for readers who had and would live their lives in Baltimore. Why would they? They had arrived from somewhere else, and if they could win a prize or two, they would be moving on to bigger and better opportunities within the chain.

So, well before the arrival of the internet, as veteran reporters and homegrown editors took buyouts, newsbeats were dropped and less and less of Baltimore and central Maryland were covered with rigor or complexity.

In a city in which half the adult black males are without consistent work, the poverty and social services beat was abandoned. In a town where the unions were imploding and the working class eviscerated, where the bankruptcy of a huge steel manufacturer meant thousands were losing medical benefits and pensions, there was no longer a labor reporter. And though it is one of the most violent cities in America, the Baltimore courthouse went uncovered for more than a year and the declining quality of criminal casework in the state’s attorney’s office went largely ignored.

Meanwhile, the editors used their manpower to pursue a handful of special projects, Pulitzer-sniffing as one does. The self gratificationof my profession does not come, you see, from covering a city and covering it well, from explaining an increasingly complex and interconnected world to citizens, from holding basic institutions accountable on a daily basis. It comes from someone handing you a plaque and taking your picture.

The prizes meant little, of course, to actual readers. What might have mattered to them, what might have made the Baltimore Sun substantial enough to charge online for content would have been to comprehensively cover its region and the issues of that region, to do so with real insight and sophistication and consistency.

But the reporters required to achieve such were cleanly dispatched, buyout after buyout, from the first staff reduction in 1992 to the latest round last week, in which nearly a third of the remaining newsroom was fired. Where 500 men and women once covered central Maryland, there are now 140. And the money required to make a great newspaper – including, say, the R&D funding that might have anticipated and planned for the internet revolution – all of that went back to Wall Street, to CEO salaries and to big-money investors. The executives and board chairman held up their profit margins and got promoted; they’re all on some golf course in Florida right now, comfortably retired and thinking about things other than journalism. The editors took their prizes and got promoted; they’re probably on what passes for a journalism lecture circuit these days, offering heroic tales of past glory and jeremiads iads about the world they, in fact, helped to bring about.

But the newspapers themselves?

When I was in journalism school in the 1970s, the threat was television and its immediacy. My professors claimed that in order to survive, newspapers were going to have to cede the ambulance chasing and reactive coverage to TV and instead become more like great magazines. Specialization and detailed beat reporting were the future. We were going to have to explain an increasingly complex world in ways that made us essential to an increasingly educated readership. The scope of coverage would have to go deeper, address more of the world not less. Those were our ambitions. Those were my ambitions.

In Baltimore at least, and I imagine in every other American city served by newspaper-chain journalism, those ambitions were not betrayed by the internet. We had trashed them on our own, years before. Incredibly, we did it for naked, short-term profits and a handful of trinkets to hang on the office wall. And now, having made ourselves less essential, less comprehensive and less able to offer a product that people might purchase online, we pretend to an undeserved martyrdom at the hands of new technology.

I don’t know if it isn’t too late already for American newspapering. So much talent has been tom from newsrooms over the last two decades and the ambitions of the craft are now so crude, small-time and stunted that it’s hard to imagine a turnaround. But if there is to be a renewal of the industry a few things are certain and obvious:

First, cutting down trees and printing a daily accounting of the world on paper and delivering it to individual doorsteps is anachronistic. And if that is so, then the industry is going to have to find a way to charge for online content. Yes, I have heard the post-modern rallying cry that information wants to be free. But information isn’t. It costs money to send reporters to London, Fallujah and Capitol Hill, and to send photographers with them, and to keep them there day after day. It costs money to hire the best investigators and writers and then to back them up with the best editors. It costs money to do the finest kind of journalism. And how anyone can believe that the industry can fund that kind of expense by giving its product away online to aggregators and bloggers is a source of endless fascination to me. A freshman marketing major at any community college can tell you that if you don’t have a product for which you can charge people, you don’t actually have a product.

Second, Wall Street and free-market logic, having been a destructive force in journalism over the last few decades, are not now suddenly the answer. Raw, unencumbered capitalism is never the answer when a public trust or public mission is at issue. If the last quarter century has taught us anything – and admittedly, with too many of us, I doubt it has – it’s that free-market capitalism, absent social imperatives and responsible regulatory oversight, can produce durable goods and services, glorious profits, and little of lasting social value. Airlines, manufacturing, banking, real estate –is there a sector of the American economy where laissez-faire theories have not burned the poor, the middle class and the consumer, while bloating the rich and mortgaging the very future of the industry, if not the country itself? I’m pressed to think of one.

Similarly, there can be no serious consideration of public funding for newspapers. High-end journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously. Moreover, it is the right of every American to despise his local newspaper – for being too liberal or too conservative, for covering X and not covering Y, for spelling your name wrong when you do something notable and spelling it correctly when you are seen as dishonorable. And it is the birthright of every healthy newspaper to hold itself indifferent to such constant disdain and be nonetheless read by all. Because in the end, despite all flaws, there is no better model for a comprehensive and independent review of society than a modern newspaper. As love-hate relationships go, this is a pretty intricate one. An exchange of public money would pull both sides from their comfort zone and prove unacceptable to all.

But a non-profit model intrigues, especially if that model allows for locally-based ownership and control of news organizations. Anything that government can do in the way of creating non-profit status for newspapers should be seriously pursued. And further, anything that can be done to create financial or tax-based incentives for bankrupt and near-bankrupt newspaper chains to transfer or even donate unprofitable publications to locally-based non-profits should also be considered.

Lastly, I would urge Congress to consider relaxing certain anti-trust prohibitions with regard to the newspaper industry, so that the Washington Post, the New York Times and various other newspapers can sit down and openly discuss protecting their copyright from aggregators and plan an industry wide transition to a paid, online subscriber base. Whatever money comes will prove essential to the task of hiring back some of the talent, commitment, and institutional memory that has been squandered.

Absent this basic and belated acknowledgment that content has value — if indeed it still does after so many destructive buyouts and layoffs – and that content is what ultimately matters, I don’t think anything else can save high-end, professional journalism.

Thank you for your time and again, for your kind invitation.

And here’s a sharply written and smart rebuttal from Gawker about the value of “citizen journalism.”

Excerpt:

With so much quality civic reporting already being done online for little or no pay, it stands to reason we could eventually get quality government reporting entirely from bloggers, both professional and amateur, rather than depending on a federally-coddled cabal of conspiring nonprofit newspapers, as Simon envisions.

And there are reasons to think the quality would actually be better, since so many of the writers are deeply invested residents, rather than the sort of superficially-engaged, careerist professional journalists portrayed so well by Simon in The Wire and all too common in American newsrooms.

My addition to the froth on this subject: Citizen journalism is good in the sense that it picks up the pieces of what the big media leave behind — maybe, let’s say, a new fast food restaurant opening in a neighborhood — or other details of a small story. It’s the long-tail theory of journalism; the the internet provides so much access to so much information that even minutiae will find an audience somewhere.

But Gawker’s assertion that an army of unpaid, volunteer “gadfly” bloggers could hold governments accountable is still a bit naive, I think. Any municipal government reporter who has attended more than a few meetings will know the kind of gadfly personalities they’re talking about — the ones who go to every meeting, who have something to say during every public comment period, who email and call the local newspaper reporter constantly with information. Usually this is for a specific reason: because the person has a cause, a grudge, a pot hole in front of their house that never got fixed. A reporter’s job is to be invested in the community they’re covering (and not enough do this properly, for sure) but to be disinterested in the news they’re covering.

The idea that these kinds of folks could provide a play-by-play of what goes on at these meetings is still accurate. But the idea that the kind of serious journalism Simon pines for could be handled exclusively by a voluntary force of citizen reporters, bloggers, whatever, ignores the strength and support you have as a representative of a media organization.

If you’ve worked for a newspaper any time in the past few years, think about the number of times the paper had to go to the mat with the local officials over open records laws, access to records, etc. My former paper in SC took the state medical board to the supreme court over access to the records of a doctor who had been penalized but was still allowed to see patients without them ever knowing he had been caught practicing on patients drunk and other things.

Journalism is a calling, so the compensation thing isn’t the most important factor. But the idea that an decreasingly profitable newspaper model will be replaced with an entirely unprofitable blogging model has yet to ease my concerns about the future of journalism.

_______

PS to this post – if I get ragged on for being a blogger (and I do: my roommate and former CBS Evening News employee threw a tortilla chip at my face when she found out I have a blog), the only reason I started this was as a way to keep writing during this lack of journalism jobs. Please feel free to hire me to end my tenure in leech-media zone.

Oh for the good old days?

The most recent addition to Stuff Journalists Like :

#5 the good old days

Good ole days There was a time when being a journalist mattered. A time when a press pass not only got a journalist past the crime tape but also maybe a free drink on the house, a girl’s number and a little respect.

There was a time when being a journalist meant drinking whiskey in the newsroom. A time when journalists were more concerned about sources and stories than web-updates and blogs. A time when newspapers were king and the biggest worry in the newsroom was filling the news hole. These were times when journalists loved newspapers and newspapers loved them back.

keep reading….

__________________________

It’s true a bunch of us feel that way, and we didn’t even have the good ol’ days. Save for at The Diamondback in college, when sleeping, drinking and generally walking around in an unshowered mess in the newsroom were frequent occurrences. We got maybe a handful of years in the professional news world before everything crumbled, and kept crumbling quickly.

Let’s not forget one thing: the good old days probably really weren’t that good. Newsrooms used to be overwhelmingly white and male (something they’re still struggling with). Standards and ethics at a lot of publications were lower than they are today (some didn’t even create universal ethics standards until the late 90s or even later). Newspapers were essentially one-way monoliths of information with little interaction from readers outside the letters to the editor page. Lacking competition, there was still a prevalent “eat your broccoli” approach to some of the news reporting.

And, of course, it was the lack of foresight and sense of contentment from earlier newsrooms that helped push the press towards irrelevance today.

Our generation heard tell of the glory days of smoke-filled rooms and clacking typewriters from professors and mentors over the years. My first J school professor at GW, a former NYT reporter, told stories about being in the press pool for JFK when an event the next day was canceled. They all sat up drinking whiskey and getting rip roaring drunk late into the night. When they woke up in the morning, the event was back on, and the president’s people grabbed this professor, put him on a helicopter with Jackie Kennedy and flew his tired mass into the sky for a miserable day of reporting, rotor blades beating a hangover into his head with an unrelenting rhythm.

I couldn’t imagine what they’re telling kids in J schools now. The internet was basically covered in one elective J class at Maryland that was informative but sometimes moved at a glacial pace to accommodate some of the, er, lesser technologically inclined class members. Surely there must be some sort of intensive online reporting classes popping up by now, right?

But in a more hopeful tone, what will people look back on when telling stories about the new media revolution? Nights spent spilling drinks on your iPhone, inhabiting smoke-filled Gchat rooms, trading barbs with the local Sheriff via his Facebook wall, when telling a girl about your blogging would get you laid?

Right.

‘I want a revolution’

In this spirit of the New York Times’ real-time word train experiment, a collection of a few random takes on the decline of the industry from friends still in the trenches, culled from recent e-mails, from people working in South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  These are young, talented people, still looking to do good journalism, finding themselves frustrated at the breach. Expletives preserved, because journalists curse, especially in tough times (note- I’m not including names or any specific work places, but if any of the below quoted want their comments removed, let me know):

my paper laid off 6 people today, 4 newsroom including lifestyles editor and lifestyles copy editor, leaving 2 people in that department.  yet they say we’re gonna keep putting out a lifestyles section. HUH??  I want a fucking revolution.  The paper needs to be completely restructured with 25 journalists in mind.  It’s not remotely the same paper that exists with 50 people.  I want a tight, highly produced 8 page paper instead of a loose weak 20 page paper or whatever.  I want my friends to have their damn jobs.

this sucks.

_____________________________________

Anyway, thought I would drop you a note to tell you about newsroom drama. 20 percent of our staff got laid off today — appx 30 people. They were ruthless. 3 photographers, 3 reporters, 3 producers, 1 web producer, 1 designer, two department heads including my old boss (the guy who hired me), Lots of sales people, our New Media marketing director and her 5 marketers, our Digital Assets Manager … and on and on and on. I honestly can not understand how I didn’t get laid
off. I know it’s only a matter of time. I figured I was gone at the
end of the month (they’ve done layoffs the last week of the month for the past three months)

I know you must have this conversation all the time,
but isn’t it fucked up how fast our profession is being wiped out.?
Breaks my heart.

______________________________________

The whole thing has been a shit show. They announced that nine people were going to be laid off then took three days to do it. Everyone sat around and counted heads for three days to see if they’ve gotten to nine yet. All the guidance we’ve gotten is bullshit about working smarter. The only ideas about making things better involve just waiting the bad economy out. My short-term idea about making things better involve WineFest on Saturday and St. Pat’s Day on Sunday.

______________________________________

We’re holding up OK, I guess. The biggest problem we have is with our new regional editor, who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Our old editor was insane, but she had a great nose for news and analysis. The new guy is all about chicken-shit features on the front of our statewide Friday paper, which is an inside baseball publication dedicated to hard news analysis.
I personally can’t take it anymore, and need to leave immediately. My attitude has changed.

April Fool’s Day journalism headlines

Newsroom heeds advice of its young, tech-savvy staff

Publisher gives up company SUV to save one reporter’s job

Chicago paper adds 30 new positions, expands coverage area

Study shows facts becoming more popular than opinion

Anonymous online commenters turn off caps lock

Twitter produces revenue

CEO sends T-800 back to 1960 to destroy ARPANET, Vint Cerf

Google decides to just give some of its damn extra money to newspapers already

Blogger actually appreciates MSM source material

Gary Pruitt informed the Rolling Stones aren’t cool any more

Local paper Web site tries new things

Decent paying job at established media company found on Craigslist

Editors respond to inquiry letter with haste and courtesy

Publisher’s predictions of future prosperity proven to be accurate

Sam Zell returned to Baldur’s Gate universe

Zell

Zell

Journalist quits drinking

J school education provides huge return on investment

Reader calls newspaper with rational, reasoned disagreement over story

Sheriff’s Office press person likes to be helpful, knowledgeable

Joe Grimm applauded for sound career advice

Yes yes, and there’s plenty more thinly veiled anger to be had. Got others?

Here’s Tribune’s actual April Fool’s Day press release:

Tribune to Unveil Revolutionary Communications Tool

Alternative Info Super-Highway Created, May Render Internet Obsolete By 2010

Content Delivered to the End-User More Directly Than Ever Before

CHICAGO, April 1 /PRNewswire/ — Tribune Company today announced detailed plans to introduce a high-power, low-cost communications device designed to make all media, including the Internet, obsolete by next year. The device, tentatively being marketed as “The Accelerator(TM),” uses patent-pending nano-technology to aggregate the sum of all human knowledge–everything from where you put your keys last night to the genetic sequence of field mice DNA–and deliver what you want, when you want, directly into your brain. A prototype of the device and a description of its features can be found on the company website at www.tribune.com.

“Forget cloud computing, this is vapor computing,” said Randy Michaels, Tribune’s chief operating officer. “Traditional media companies have been working for years to harness the so-called power of the Internet–we decided that rather than compete, we’d just make it obsolete.”

It might be funny, if a bunch of my friends didn’t have jobs hanging in the balance of the future of that company. Less jokey , more fixy Sam.