July 20th, 2008
A curmudgeon journalist gets inspired: a short subject
By Ron Sylvester
FADE IN: (After a busy week wrestling with a data project, RON is catching up on his reading, scratching his head like a curmudgeon. We hear the narration of his inner voice, resembling Woody Allen):
MERANDA WATLING wrote a post on her blog which reminded me why the news business will survive.
The passion both these young women show for journalism is exactly what has kept this curmudgeon going back to work for three-plus decades now.
RIPPLE FADE TO:
“I am 22 and about as tech-savvy as an employer could possibly hope for their employee to be. And you know what? I LOVE my newspaper job. But I don’t love it because I am wedded to the idea of a printed product or because I long to wear fedoras or be Woodward and Bernstein or any of that. I don’t. I really really don’t. I rarely read the printed newspaper (my editor hates this), and I’d much rather be putting together an interactive graphic than sitting through a school board meeting.”
I did get into this business because of Woodward and Bernstein, and on occasion have donned a fedora (and look as dapper as Ryan Sholin). I also said this week in a news meeting
CUT TO Weekly staff meeting
RON (as reporters and editors nod off around the conference table): “We can’t cut staff and change the makeup in our newsrooms while continuing to cover the news the same way we have for the past 50 years. That includes writing about every school board meeting.”
FADE TO: Tampa Tribune newsroom, where JESSICA hears editor JANET COATS say that despite doom surrounding pending layoffs, journalism is “Is worth fighting for.”
“Out of all her quoteable moments, those were the words that stuck with me. It was that powerful statement that conveyed the hope, faith and prayers of all journalists worldwide. That maybe this industry can’t be demolished because of its importance and that maybe our love and passion for it could be enough to keep it running.
“Well, it’s going to take more than love and passion. That love and passion must move us to find solutions to keep our industry, our jobs and our identities alive and well.”
RON (laughing while reading comments of Jessica’s critics, who keep mentioning declining circulation of the print product, as if it makes their points, rather than hers):
Can we agree that our audience is moving to the Web? (Speaking very slowly for those who still don’t get it) People are reading their news on their telephones — as I do, as long as my old eyes will allow it. Meranda and Jessica get what many veterans don’t: the means of delivering the news is changing. The news isn’t. Reporting isn’t. The people who love news and reporting it aren’t. (He pauses, as he often does when writing, wondering if he’s making any sense to anyone but himself. Undaunted, he continues…).
Of course, we have to do our jobs differently than we have. But all we’re doing is what wire service reporters have done since the 19th Century: looking for faster ways to get the news out. (Curmudgeonly allusion ahead) Our goal is no different than Edward G. Robinson in “Dispatch from Reuters” (1940).
That’s doesn’t mean our newsrooms will always be producing newspapers. And there will always be a need for news.
“But they will need accurate, reliable news sources. And the skills I am learning working as a beat reporter are preparing me to be that source. It’s not perfect, for sure. Newspapers won’t ever regain their dominance. But I hate to see the best of the best being shooed away and told working for a newspaper is a death sentence. Trust me, journalism — democracy — needs those people not to flee too far from good old-fashioned community journalism and not to give up.”
(Background music swells with Gloria Gaynor’s 1970s-era curmudgeon standard “I Will Survive” as we) FADE OUT