February 04, 2003

Good Olí Days? Hildy Who?

Mike Clark, omsbudman for the Florida Times-Union raises this question: "The 'good old days' of news: Did they really exist at all?"

Part of his answer is provided by Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post media reporter:

''There was no golden age (of journalism). There was certainly a time when politics and government were treated more substantively and seriously by the media. But what some people mythologize as the good old days was a time when women wrote mainly for what was known as the women's pages, when newsrooms were almost entirely white, when news about Negroes was treated differently than news about whites. Reporters of the Front Page mold may have been more in tune with the people they were writing for, but they were less educated, less specialized, less knowledgeable and sometimes drunker than today's journalists."

These things are true. The days of Hildebrand Johnson may not have been golden, but they were lively and that energy is often the lacking ingredient in modern newspapers, which, because they are reported and edited by more educated, more specialized and more knowledgeable (and certainly less drunk) journalists, have had much of the spirit bred out of them.

That said, today's newspapermen and women have the opportunity to make these times the beginning of a golden age of journalism. Never before has such a convergence of talent and technology taken place. Properly focused - on the political, cultural and environmental dynamics that are changing our communities and our country (instead of on the mundanities of process and petty police news) - these forces can reinvigorate newspapers as a source of needed information and sought-after opinion that can be delivered to consumers across multiple platforms.

Recently, while speaking to a class of journalism students in San Francisco, several of them lamented the paucity of newsroom jobs awaiting them after graduation and expressed fears for the future of their would-be profession.

Nonsense. An array of opportunities awaits this new generation of journalists, choices that those of us who went before them didn't have and couldn't even imagine. The appetite for news in this country has never been more voracious. How newspapers choose to feed this beast will determine if these days, indeed, can be a golden age.

(Thanks to OmbudsGod for the tip).

Posted by Tim Porter at February 4, 2003 07:42 AM

Interesting post. One line that resonated was that today's newspapers are created by people ... "who have had much of their spirit bread out of them."
So true. I work for one of them. And this week my paper squished a little out of me.
Yesterday I got a *written reprimand* for a headline in my business section and its "improper use" of the word "pawn" topping a story about a debt-laden, credit-screwed energy company in our area. The company is selling subsidiaries to raise cash -- when earlier sales didn't net as much as hoped, they began looking around for more stuff they could sell to raise cash. We wrote a display headline saying that the company was "pawning parts."
Not my best head ever, but certainly not worthy of a reprimand. That *never* happens at our paper, except in cases of plagiarism. If the editor wrote reprimands for every bad headline, the man would get no sleep.
Anyway, it became a Reprimadable Offense because the CEO of the energy company wrote a smart-ass letter to the publisher -- which, in an attempt to scare us from covering his company, he does each time we do a story . His letter highlighted definitions of "pawn" from the dictionary -- which narrowing defined the term as putting up something for a loan.
True he's selling, but I maintain that the colloquial use of pawn -- meaning to dig around for stuff you can sell when you desperately need some cash -- quickly commicated a sense of the story and the desperation of the company's situation.
That head could have been better and perhaps it should have prompted a spirited conversation about headline writing. Instead, we knelt before the CEO --apologies were written, editors were reprimanded.
It was an important story to the 10,000 shareholders in our area -- the editor and publisher should have taken pride in it.
But I guess, pandering makes more financial sense.
That's the press, baby.

PS: Sorry this was long. You can't imagine how pissed I am!

Posted by: Meg on February 6, 2003 11:50 PM


Posted by: term life insurance on October 6, 2003 12:24 PM
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