Monday, June 8, 2009

An 'old timer's' lament

This is a great read by a reporter who I remember reading. She has captured perfectly the demise of newspapers. It's a long tome (well worth the time), but here are three of my favorite parts:

"Page redesign – that harbinger of newspaper death -- had already hit The Record. Seeking answers elsewhere, the business managers bought in to another notion of what could save the day: "CI," short for "Continuous Improvement." Some called it "Constant Insanity." It was a business improvement model, inspired by the Japanese, meant to impose greater order and efficiency on the daily newspaper."

And then this that could have been written about the ninnies who prowled the Flint Journal newsroom during the last several years:

"Our percentage of days meeting deadlines was supposed to improve, our general wastefulness decline. Signs went up around the newsroom, with the word "Muda," or mess, in Japanese and the international interdiction sign across it. We received threats and reprimands about the pileup of papers on our desks. Had my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Dade, been reincarnated as a Twenty-first Century newspaper editor? It was hard to know whether this was a misguided business department mandate or one person's obsessive-compulsive disorder. Either way, it was an unconscious metaphor. By definition, journalism was creative and untidy and all of the efforts to treat it like banking or insurance or accounting misunderstood its essential nature – and would be sure to fail.

Panic seemed to intensify at the Record, in the form of quantification. How large is the mess on your desk? How many minutes late is your copy? How many words are in your lead? There should be no more than 26, it was rumored. There were edicts against anecdotal leads, and leads with dependent clauses. Annual reviews included byline counts – how many stories could you write in how short a time?"

And this is rich also:

"Still, many editors were driven by an opposing motive to win journalism prizes. Bad ideas floated downward from sterile news meetings where editors tried to second-guess an imagined Pulitzer board. Or they recycled old ideas that had already won prizes. Police brutality was a favorite. Nursing home abuses. Kids who kill. These were often more topics than stories. Let's write a 10-part series on PCP – so we did. But the winning-prizes motive could occasionally leave room for serendipity, for real, original creations to emerge from the notebooks of reporters who were out in the world. There was still hope for the languid."

Candy Cooper nailed it. Wish I'd written it.

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