Saturday, April 25, 2009

Demise of newspapers depressing


Was it really that long ago that being a journalist was a big deal? Remember how the blockbuster get-Nixon movie "All the President's Men" spawned a generation of Woodsteins who wanted to expose corruption and smite the evildoers? For a time there, news reporters were actually respected, trusted, occasionally even liked.

Fade to black; those notions are as outdated now as the nasty fake-brass ashtray I kept - and used all day - in my first real newsroom job. I remember the busloads of school kids that would be brought in to observe the workings of a real newsroom. They were wide-eyed little Woodsteins, until I would perfunctorily blow a big-shot reporter smoke-ring into their little faces, causing them to cough and sputter.

Outta my way kid, I gotta get to the bottom of something, anything. Never mind it was probably just a bag of Doritos from the vending machine.

During those tours, we felt like animals in a zoo as one beleaguered personnel manager after the other herded yet another Boy Scout troop, church youth group or Future Journalists of America chapter through the maze of cubicles to gape at the reporters at work.

Usually the tour guide would try to make it seem as if we were all very busy getting the next day's edition out.

Sometimes we were, but just as often all they observed was the sports guy flirting with the features editor over the top of her cubicle.

There was the editor who really did keep the bottle of bourbon in the bottom drawer, just like on "Lou Grant."

When asked why he never came to the office Christmas party, he memorably responded: "Why drink with all these losers when I can drink alone?"

I'd always wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Always. And I'm only slightly embarrassed today to recall the time I was writing for a weekly and did a front page interview with the man who fixed Sissy Spacek's muffler when her car broke down in our small town. No Sissy, she was long gone, so I just took a picture of the repair man, surrounded by his entire family, grinning like crazy as Daddy held up Sissy Spacek's old muffler like a prize striped bass.

So given all that history, it makes me sad to read all the stories about the demise of newspapers.

More than half of the friends I used to work with have been laid off, furloughed, downsized, outsourced and every other verb that makes you feel like you've been through that wringer gizmo that costs extra quarters at the Laundromat.

It stinks. And there's nothing much to be done about it.

Formerly respectable dailies run ads for quackery back-pain cures and goofy "Amish" stoves. It's the middle of the end, friends. Where will all the Woodsteins go?

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