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.
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.
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