The Paragraph Stacker

Uncensored columns from an exiled newsmane

Photo by Ustav Srestha via Unsplash

I got a call from the old shop last week. I applied for a couple jobs there. It was a long shot. The company cut my job twice in the last dozen years. I continue to knock on the door.

At this point, I feel like John Cryer trying to woo Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink.”

He was in permanent friend zone.

I was in lesser regard with the old shop.

The former boss called. It was a brief, cordial conversation.

I got the answer I expected: I’m out of consideration for the jobs I applied for.

She said she didn’t want to close the door all the way. The subtext is the door is closed and locked.

Or, at least, that’s how I felt.

I thought I would grieve.

I was sad, but the sadness held on for far less time than I anticipated.

What I felt more than anything was relief.

I knew, categorically and without question: Daily journalism was done for me in Des Moines and probably Iowa.

Unless the Cedar Rapids Gazette suddenly decides they need a columnist in Des Moines or the Winterset Madisonian decides it needs a new editor, I think my days in paragraph factories are finished.

The truth is the way I practice journalism and the way journalism is practiced today are too different. I avoid implying my way is better. My way is older and slower. The new way is faster.

I vowed I would not be the kind of person who trashed his old shop after my time there ended. I intend to stick to that vow.

I do have a few things to say about modern journalism, especially as it is practiced in the digital age.

There is enormous pressure on individual reporters. A few years ago, paragraph factories across the country made the unforgivably stupid move to get rid of copy editors to cut labor costs.

The general public doesn’t understand copy editors. The vaguely understand editors, as in the supervisors who assign stories.

Copy editors were the true guardians of facts and grammar. There were always grammatical and syntax errors that slipped into the news.

But copy editors fielded most of those mistakes cleanly. They saved reporters from stupid errors that ranged from embarrassing to preventing legal action.

With the copy editors gone, reporters are like baseball pitchers without an infield or outfield. They must pitch a perfect game or risk routine ground balls rolling to the outfield wall for Little League home runs.

This move to cut copy editors and shift their duties to people whose first responsibility is to make websites work came at a time when news outlets regularly shed employees through retirement buyouts and layoffs.

In short, newsrooms got younger and cheaper, but also more inexperienced with fewer people to guide them.

There were many moments in my 27 years in the industry where I thought, “This is the beginning of the end.”

The day corporate ownership decided to kill copy editors was when I realized they were committed to the end.

I see no future in which news organizations survive as corporate entities.

The insatiable hunger for wealth on Wall Street is anathema to the theoretically altruistic mission of journalism.

I intentionally preface “altruistic mission” with “theoretically.” Newspapers, TV stations and all other forms of news media save public broadcasting have always been about profit.

They still make money in many cases. But they do not make Wall Street money.

Wall Street investors — that’s almost everyone who has a 401(k), by the way — only care about how fast a company can turn $1 into $2.

The mission is irrelevant. Hell, even innovation is irrelevant. All of it falls far behind the number one priority: make more money to help a handful of rich, white men get fractionally richer.

And for newspapers, at least, that’s not working so well.

Two newspaper companies merged in 2018. The combined company was estimated to be worth about $1.2 billion when the companies came together.

Today the company is worth about $250 million. I imagine the executives talking to employees like the Dude talking to Mr. Lebowski in “The Big Lebowski” after a botched attempt to recover his supposedly kidnapped wife.

DUDE: Nothing is f——— here, man.”

BIG LEBOWSKI: “The g——— plane has crashed into the mountain!”

But therein lies the silver lining in this gray cloud: I was pushed out of the plane before it crashed.

I sure hope folks at newspapers can right the trajectory and avoid a fiery death. It looks pretty bad at the moment.

I fought that fight for 27 years. My fight is done.

It’s time for me to grow up and get a real job.

That’s not looking too great, either.

But at least I’m not on that plane crashing into the mountain.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

8 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye: How Journalism is finished with me and it’s about time I got over it

  1. Donna Johns says:

    I read an “in depth” report in DMR; the reporters shall remain nameless. It read like someone’s first try at a bad novel. So sad. A decent editor would have stopped that. I’m on your side, which is probably in the end worth little, except you get to know someone you’ve never even met, “cares.”

    Like

    1. I appreciate your support, but I didn’t write this to open a forum on the Register. I mean what I said: I have no ill-will toward my former shop nor do I wish to talk negatively about it.

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      1. K Hauser says:

        Thank you Daniel for many years of worthwhile reading.

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    2. Donna! I think I read the same very yellow retrospective you did. I was faux-sobbing and murmuring “No, no, no,” until hubs asked, “What happened?” and I said, “These children have good intentions but need a hard-nosed editor to tell them it’s not working, even if they saw a story just like this on BuzzFeed or Hello Giggles.”

      Like

  2. Janice Anderson says:

    I always read your columns in the DMR and enjoyed reading them. I admired your honesty and your willingness to share things about yourself in order to help others. I have to say that I miss your columns. We still get the print DMR every day and I find I read less and less of it. There is not much objectivity any more. Each reporter has his own personal opinion and feels that he must share it with everyone. So objectivity goes by the wayside. So, I skim through it, do the Jumble and sometimes the crossword puzzle,check the TV listings and put it in the trash. Because I am older, I still prefer a paper copy, but I realize that I am paying for that and so far I am willing, but who know how long that will last.

    Like

    1. droll53 says:

      I’m with J Anderson. I feel like my money is wasted on the print edition. I miss your columns. There are interesting investigative pieces, but they aren’t every day. Journalism is what used to keep life honest. Now, we’re stuck with lies from the Executive Branch and Congress that go unchecked. Peace.

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  3. DAng says:

    I remember being in a situation once where I was dreading the end of something and then when it actually did end, relief flooded over me. Totally unexpected reaction. And all ended well.

    Like

  4. Sarah says:

    Sometimes a door slammed in your face is a relief and a sense of freedom. It’s still hard as the next steps aren’t obvious, but now can get that one foot free from the mud and move forward. Peace

    Like

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