07 September 2009

Outing myself: Yes, I am an Optimist

Where I live, we don't have a real summer, just a few weeks of hot weather (and we didn't even get that this year), then it's back to sweaters and Ugg boots. Like many towns in the Nearly Frozen North, mine celebrates the end of summer with a four-day bash of music, food and beer--the last fling before snow flies.

At this year's festival, I think every small and large newspaper within 50 miles had a booth on the midway, hawking subscriptions and tchotchkes to get people to take the paper. They were the least busy people on the street. Each time I walked by those stalls, I saw the same empty tents, the same giveaways gathering dust and the same stack of cards, not even one missing.

And each time I walked by, I felt more and more like a traitor to my kind.

Understand, I grew up in a newsroom. The first decade of my professional life was spent covering cops, courts and councils and meeting daily deadlines with the fervor of the newly converted. I cut my writing teeth on lifestyle features and have had more than one photo move over the AP wire to run nationally.

But I don't subscribe to a newspaper.

I get high on the smell of newsprint and ink, am energized by deadlines, and love the cynical, boisterous and rude atmosphere of the newsroom.

But I don't subscribe to a newspaper.

I left the business when it became more about covering scandals and entertaining readers than keeping an eye on government run amok. And though I miss the newsroom everyday but pay day, I don't subscribe to a newspaper (or news magazine) for the same reason I exited the newsroom: the industry has lost its way.

This is an era where Katie Couric passes for an anchor and discovering Sarah Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant is called investigative journalism (I'd call it ironic and karmic, but not worth more than a short story on B1).

Reporting lost its sense of purpose about the same time that Time-Warner and Disney began buying up news outlets. Couple this lost of direction to a changing advertising model and the desire for double-digit profits, and you have an industry in trouble. But rather than improve content, newspapers cut editions, try gimmicks or lay off senior staff who actually know what they are doing.

I cried when the Rocky Mountain News shuts its doors. But beneath my overriding sense of guilt is a small kernel of hope.

When corporate America washes their hands of the industry, I hope independent, passionate men and women will take up the call. I want to believe that being unshackled from conglomerate ownership will be the best thing to happen to news since the invention of the printing press. When helmed by owners committed to news not just profits (although I'm not against making money) the Fourth Estate will be re-invigorated and the news, in whatever form it comes, will once again be relevant and reflect what this country needs to know... not just what it wants to know.

Yes, I'm outing myself as a closet optimist, but like many present (and probably former) journalists, I believe it's possible to change the world. I just have to remind myself that sometimes change is painful.


Jeffe Kennedy said...

I hear you and share your shame: I no longer subscribe to any paper. I made the decision to devote my reading time to other things.

Clearly, blogs are included in that.

I like this vision of the future.

LK Hunsaker said...

I don't either for the same reason. Also for that reason, I rarely watch TV. I hope you're right and with so many citizen journalists online, I'd say it's possible.

Liana Laverentz said...

Amen. From another non-subscriber.