In Praise Of Journalism


Just so we’re clear from the beginning — I realize I’m publishing this article on the internet.

One day we’ll talk about newspaper journalists like we talk about blacksmiths and riverboat captains.

“Did you know they used to give us our news on paper? The news about yesterday — today? It took armies of men and women, huge machines, to make these things that people would only read a part of then throw away. Can you believe that?”

I’m in this profession still. And I’m happy that I am. It’s a good life. This trade can have camaraderie, passion, excitement. When stories break on deadline it’s like, as my editor-in-chief told me, you have superpowers. You can change things around you if you’re good enough and you work hard. It really can be Mencken’s “life of kings.”

I’m at my fourth paper. Half of my career as a reporter and the other half as an editor. The deterioration of the industry saddens me, as inevitable as it is. Good journalists have had their whole lives upended by downsizing and layoffs. People already cynical by trade have seen their livelihood disintegrate around them. I’m not so sentimental that I think newspapers need to last forever. But journalism does.

As someone who has been a writer, reporter, copy editor and deputy editor I know the value of processing an article through multiple layers of scrutiny. Print journalism may be on its last legs, but it still has a few good years left. Maybe decades. I hope the traditions of good journalism that were built through more than a century of standards and refining the craft won’t be lost due to a “transition period.” A lot of us want quality. I also get that people want their news quickly, as it happens. What the editors did here during Sandy was a fine example of good internet journalism. It gave us an instant picture of what was happening not only in New York, but in other parts of the country.

What I’m talking about preserving are the stories that don’t need to be published instantly, that because the internet cuts out the time needed for a printing press and distribution can go through rounds of edits and be improved tremendously and still beat a paper. But hiring editors takes resources. Most internet sites aren’t there yet. Which is why the editing is so bad on most websites. I’m looking forward to when we get past that — to well-written, well-edited, high-quality breaking internet news.

Anyone who tries to tell you they know what the future of journalism is going to look like is selling snake oil. No one really knows. People can speculate about the form it will take but we’re not that good at predicting technology. We know journalism will be based on the internet and sent to personalized mobile devices. What we don’t know is how we will fund the quality of journalism we had when newspapers were at their height.

Right now, I’m thankful I still get to do this. I’ve seen many good friends and colleagues go into PR and marketing or go back to school to become lawyers and teachers. It’s like writing fiction and the difficulties in getting a book deal — it weeds out the posers. A lot of authors who were journalists first like to say in interviews that a writer can learn from journalism, but then they have to get out or it will ruin their creative drive. I’m willing to take that risk. I don’t know what form it’ll be in, but I could do this my whole life.

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image – Rufus330Ci