Friday, August 1, 2008

'I am a newspaperman'

"For some unexplainable reason, I am compelled to say that tonight."

That's how Steve Smith, my old Eugene reporting colleague and now editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, opened his elegiac blog post last night on the passing of the newspaper business as he and I once knew it. Some might find Steve's essay overly nostalgic or even treacly, but it struck me for its naked pining and undercurrent of frustration. I feel his pain. As Michelle and I talk about all the time around here -- too much, maybe -- how the hell do you rescue this stupid business?

Should Seattle-size papers turn into a collection of hyperlocal West Seattle Blogs? Can the LA Times be the LA Times without the half of its newsroom it has lopped off since I worked there? Do you really need a newspaper film critic when you've got The Cooler?

I found Steve's post while checking back to reread something I'd spotted on his "News is a Conversation" blog earlier this week, a report by the Spokesman-Review's "Task force for content evaluation," appointed by Steve. The report, available here, isn't particularly groundbreaking and I don't agree with all the conclusions -- "Have a dedicated Web re-write person" seems upside-down to me, for example -- but I like the discussion of priorities. It's a start, and something every newsroom should be doing if it hasn't already.

It's easy to get lost in all the industry's hand-wringing. Michelle's recent Google Reader pick, "Newspaper Stories We Tell Ourselves," by Ken Doctor, is a nice tour through the head-in-the-sand thinking that helped get us here. But it doesn't reach any brighter conclusions than Steve Smith's anxious newsroom committee.

Interestingly, while his "content evaluation" crew may have inadvertently spurred Steve's lament for old-time "newspapermen," his own paper is among those smartly bridging the new and old eras. The Spokesman-Review is a leader in newsroom transparency, for example, beginning with Steve's blog and including a daily look inside the paper's news meetings and other decisions. And it's still rockin' the house with some old-school shoeleather stuff like this week's investigative report naming the 10,000 people who bought counterfeit high school and college degrees from a Spokane diploma mill.

As a fellow dodo -- Steve's metaphor -- I read that and felt like I'm "still a newspaperman" too. Even if I'm really not one anymore.


freda said...

It is just my opionion but-I think it is difficult finding one's way through a revolution. The industrial revolution changed peoples lives drastically and the computer revolution is doing the same. Even though it is a big improvement it is hard to transition from the old to the new for the people who earned their living doing things that used to be essential, and that still are essential, but it is hard to figure out how to be reimbursed in the new situation. When I was in the UK back when John (great uncle) retired from his position as editor on the pharmocutical journal, he was having fits wondering how it would survive because of the internet. We still need journalists because the opinion of the person on the street is not reliable and on the internet one always has to consider the source, while, with newspapers, the source was reliable, and well trained. Unfortunately, many people do not consider the source, and an amazing amount of garbage is spewed forth on the internet. pardon my rambling, love your post.

freda said...

oops, typos, oh well, nothing I can do about it.