Draydel

Deep thoughts, random insights, and musings by Susan Jacobs

Monday, December 01, 2008

My return to blogging and a bit of a rant

Fair readers, I am happy to report that married life has not marked the end of my blogging career, in spite of my long absence. Perhaps at some point I will elaborate on the joys and challenges of this wonderful change in my life, but in the meantime, I would like to jump feet first into that old enterprise I used to enjoy so much: thinking out loud.

Did I say a bit of a rant? Correction: A full blown rant


In these days of economic crisis and corporate downsizing, the chance of a talented journalist finding work at an old fashioned newspaper is slimmer than ever. Most daily newspapers in major cities have dramatically smaller staffs than they did a few years ago, and we all are left to wonder if these publications will exist at all in the future. While it is sensible and nearly inevitable that newspapers will eventually evolve into primarily (or entirely) electronic versions of their former selves, it seems likely that many publications will cease to exist even in electronic form because they have failed to remake themselves fast enough to match the new technology or because they do not offer content that is unique enough or compelling enough for consumers.

From a strictly capitalistic perspective, there may be nothing to weep about, since a free market allows the most successful products to survive. However, quality journalism is more than a buyable commodity -- it is an intangible resource of unpredictable content. More than a mere record of what has occurred, good journalism gives its consumers insight and understanding. Anyone who attends a public meeting (and few citizens ever do) can tell you if a resolution passes or not, but a good journalist can help readers understands what it means, and perhaps even why they should care.

As someone with years of training and experience in such matters, it is frustrating that such talents, which have never been particularly valued, are increasingly considered dispensable, even worthless. Even more upsetting, as I look at the remaining staffs of various publications where I used to work, is that it is not the most talented staff members who remain on board, but the most average. The envelope pushers, creative thinkers and masters of prose have been laid off, or have left in frustration (with important exceptions). Meanwhile, the folks who do clean, acceptable and unremarkable work are the ones who have jobs. The papers still publish on deadline, but there is a loss of ambition and passion. If articles about Paris Hilton sell more papers than those about storm sewers, then Paris Hilton wins (and so do the writers that can say the snarkiest things about her). Never mind that sewer systems have real and immediate health, environmental and community development implications.

I got into journalism because it was challenging and fun and creative. Sometimes the topics I covered were uncomplicated and other times they were intellectually exciting. Whatever I wrote, each day was different and exciting, and gave me the opportunity to meet people I would never otherwise encounter.

At one time, such experiences were commonplace for entry-level reporters at scores of newspapers all over the country. Now, it seems, the privilege of doing first-hand reporting for a respected daily newspaper is reserved for a very small class of journalists that is constantly shrinking.

My current employment situation is due in part to personal choices that I have made that are not directly related to the journalism jobscape. (I left my most recent staff position to move to a different city because I was getting married.) However, I can't help be frustrated that, whereas professionals in most other fields can look in the classified job ads in any major city and find at least a couple of jobs to apply to, journalists who are tied to a particular city almost inevitably have to consider working in another field.

This situation is not at all new -- it has been developing for more than a decade. I was fortunate to be insulated from the problem for a while, but now I am feeling it keenly. I am trained to do a job that I love, one which, giving license to my ego, I feel that I am called to do. I am not as brilliant or as cutting edge as I would like to be, but I am committed to doing my job well and I have touched many readers in the past with my work. I feel that I have lots of potential that I have only begun to mine.

And now I have to figure out what else I am qualified to do.

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