Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Newspapers From Nowhere
People who are more spiritually fit than I am will often say that one way to maintain contact with God is to write up a gratitude list. If I were doing one today, I know what would be at the top of it. I am profoundly grateful I no longer work for a newspaper in this country.
The news from the newspaper world has been so bad for so long that no sane person would need a specific reason for feeling that way. But mine was an article that appeared a few weeks ago, about the Salinas Californian’s attempt to create a “newsroom of the future.” For those not familiar with the business, that’s a euphemism for doing more work with fewer people.
The article contained more gruesome details than the average Jo Nesbo novel. Among them was the fact that the Californian would be laying off all news personnel and asking them to reapply for jobs such as “journalist-marketer” and “content coach.”
Enough to Make You Weep
When I worked at the newspaper, we didn’t have content coaches. We had editors. One of the best was Ward Bushee, who hired me. I can’t even imagine what Ward would have done to any corporate type who tried to change his title from managing editor to content coach. All I can say is, it wouldn’t have been pretty, and no jury would have convicted.
I understand, of course, that every business goes through changes. Nevertheless, journalism, like the Catholic Church, has a fundamental creed from which it departs at its peril. The creed defines who and what you are, and in journalism, editorial independence is a bedrock part of it. Take that away, and you might still have a newspaper, but you don’t have journalism.
The mere existence of a job title like “journalist-marketer” is an acknowledgement that there is no more editorial independence. Once a reporter starts thinking about selling something instead of simply getting the story, he’s not a reporter any more. He’s something else, and I don’t know what.
Removing the Home Town Feeling
Beyond the job titles, the article also mentioned that the Salinas paper’s copy editing had been done in Visalia, a couple of hundred miles southeast, and that its page design was done in Phoenix, AZ. That’s more cost-effective, I’m sure, but the hidden cost is the loss of any sense of there being a home-town paper.
An editor in Visalia, reading a Salinas story, has no real context and no real knowledge of the community. If the story says a criminal incident occurred at the intersection of two streets, how would the editor in Visalia know if those two streets do, indeed intersect? I suppose the editor could look at a street map, but if it were done in every instance, speed and efficiency would be lost. A locally based editor, on the other hand, would simply know.
I cut my teeth in the business having editors only a few feet away, who would shout out questions and call me over to point out how they were editing my copy. That’s how I learned to get better. They also pointed out local details, such as how people referred to a place and which local businesses had quirky spellings. Less of that would happen if you simply moved the editors into the next room. Move them two hundred miles away, and none of it happens. It’s yet another step taken down a road that’s leading us to newspapers from nowhere.