It nearly breaks my heart what’s happening to my former profession of journalism.
Once upon a time, newspapers were a training ground for wanna-be writers. Often-crusty editors whipped into line whole generations of young reporters, fresh from J-school with stars in their eyes and hopes of uncovering corruption. Another Watergate, perhaps.
And maybe even winning a Pulitzer in the bargain.
When I recall how naive we all were, how patient our editors were in teaching us the things we didn’t know, I have to smile.
My first “real” job out of college was as a reporter for an evening daily newspaper in Texas, covering what was deemed the “dinner circuit.” Every day, I’d be treated to lunch or dinner with one or another service club (Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.), and I’d gather information about their members for inclusion in a twice-weekly column I wrote. Birthdays, anniversaries, funny stories, all were fodder for my columns. Evenings, I attended meetings — area city councils, transportation boards, etc. — then wrote up a news story for publication in the next day’s paper.
My bosses lived on Maalox and cigarettes, chugging the former like water and puffing until clouds of smoke hung overhead (some even lit a new one before finishing the old).
The tapping of keyboards, the rushing around of reporters, the clanging of telephones — a newsroom wasn’t a quiet oasis! But the sharing of ideas and stories and humor, the excitement of hearing something new before anybody else heard it, the camaraderie, made it a fascinating and fabulous place to work.
Every once in a while, we’d hear of a colleague who was penning “the great American novel” in his or her free time. Or one who had aspirations of swapping newspaper reporting for magazines. Or public relations. Or for some politician’s press corps.
Our digital age has changed lots of that.
Maybe the saddest change is an announcement by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. They plan to cut back publication this fall to just three days a week. After 175 years of service.
If that happens, NOLA will be the largest city in the U.S. without a daily paper.
Sure, printing revenues are down. But cutting the newsroom staff by a whopping 50 percent in favor of an online version? In a city where many residents don’t even have Internet connections?
The marketing department will be slashed to one person. Special section employees, library, and human resources — all cut. Pressroom severed by nearly 40 percent.
I never worked for the T-P, but having worked on other newspapers for about two decades, I can easily put faces to these statistics. They could have been my friends, my colleagues. We could have laughed together and shared successes.
Now I’m crying for them, their families, New Orleans, and my old profession.
Something special is dying.