I’m going on 49 years old, and I have a lot of friends around my age who have survived the surge in newsroom layoffs and are still working in an ink-stained newsroom somewhere. Not one of us wanted to be covering local news at our age (or, for that matter, at any age.) But we’ve been there, done that. To be brutally honest: For an ambitious journalist, the only way to get through a four-hour suburban school board meeting—even at age 22—is to keep repeating the mantra “this, too, shall pass.” In other words, treat this day’s assignment as just a boring but necessary pit stop on the road to Moscow or Beirut.
During a brief stint in the legendary Room 9 of New York City Hall in the early 1990’s, there was a metro reporter for The New York Times who was actually nicknamed “Pit Stop,” because he’d told all his friends that covering New York City was just a kind of a speed bump before the Middle East beat, which for him it was. Now our bosses, and all the journalism-reform gurus, tell us that “the pit stop” has morphed into the finish line.
There’s a very real problem here, a serious disconnect. For the past couple of years, a number of change-minded journalists, academics and engaged citizens have been discussing a lot of great ideas for saving the news business: Teaching reporters how to wield video cameras on assignment, to file breaking news for the Web, to use a blog to cover a local beat like mass transit, or work as moderators with engaged citizen journalists.
What’s almost never mentioned in these discussions is the human factor. After all, one of the underlying tenets of saving newspapers is supposed to be rescuing the livelihood of working journalists. But do the rank-and-file of most metro newspapers in 2007, people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, actually want to do these things—cover local news for life, with no chance of parole?
I’ve gone hyper-local and I like it! My message still goes around the world.