Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An inside view of the newly departed Detroit Daily Press

(Update: Just to be clear this column was written by James Briggs and is posted on his blog - link on headline. This was not written by Jim Smith the author of this blog. I agree that it is very well written and completely describes the love and passion we all have/had for the business. If you have direct comments for Mr. Briggs please head over to his blog and make them there.)

The Detroit Daily Press was fool's gold
by James Briggs

I’ll remember my week at the here-today-gone-tomorrow Detroit Daily Press as the week I didn’t see my wife.

Hired to cover the Lions and Red Wings for the Daily Press, I logged (well, that’s probably not the right word, since my hourly count held no relation to payment) about 80 hours, not counting the mandatory pro bono work prior to Nov. 19, and filed 14 articles. I was not scheduled for a day off at the time of the Daily Press’ demise.

Perhaps that should have been a clue that the Daily Press wouldn’t appear on anyone’s best-places-to-work list. But to the extent that I was responsible for the startup newspaper’s success, I reasoned, I’d take a paper route if the paper needed me to (apparently it did).

I received word via Facebook that the Daily Press had ceased publication on Friday, while I was at Ford Field for a high-school football state final. My initial reaction was not horror – that came later – but rather relief. I called my wife and told her I’d get to spend the rest of Thanksgiving weekend with her.

Daily Press photo editor Rodney Curtis expressed similar relief in his blog, saying:

It seems my family is happy to have me back. Even if I’m not adding money to the coffers. Christmas won’t be, how shall we say, overly extravagant this year but the crazy enigmatic smile on my daughter’s face when she heard the paper closed after only five days of publication said it all. There was good and bad in that smile. Mostly good though. She just didn’t want to overly show how gleeful she was that Mr. Grumpy Puss had gone into hibernation and possible extinction.

What went wrong with the Daily Press?
The most commonly cited reasons for the paper’s failure have been advertising (there wasn’t any) and distribution (ditto). Reporter Wendy Clem has written a piece suggesting intimidation from outside influences led to circulation problems.

She might be right. But even if she is, it doesn’t matter.
At the end of the day, the Daily Press arose with neither the technological nor human infrastructures in place to get the job done. The newspaper chewed up its staff like a piece of gum and spit it out when the flavor had subsided. I think the paper turned out well for five days, but we wouldn’t have had the stamina to keep it up.

You could argue these words come from a jilted employee, and you’d be right. Almost immediately after I gave up a job I liked at AnnArbor.com, the broken promises began. “Give your previous employer whatever they need” became “we need to be your priority now.” A promised five-day work week became a joke – the Daily Press couldn’t fill its sports section unless I worked from morning until, well, the next morning.

While I might sound angry at the newspaper, I’m not. I’m angry at myself in the same way you might get angry if you fell for a Nigerian scam. You knew it was too good to be true, but you let greed take over and wash away common sense.

You vividly remember the last possible moment you could have backed out, when all your analytical instincts were screaming at you to walk away, and you want that moment back. But you – I – didn’t listen, and the moment passed. Now, all that’s left is getting over the embarrassment and moving on.

When I first heard about the Detroit Daily Press, I said it had no chance. Yet, when the paper offered me a job, I drowned my logic and dove for the scam. All of us who came on board made up reasons to believe this newspaper somehow would persist when all evidence suggested the battle was hopeless.

That’s how it is when you’re addicted to something. And I’m more convinced than ever that print journalism is a drug for those who love it.

Some of my colleagues remain hooked on the drug, believing the presses will roll again in January. But the Daily Press isn’t coming back. If you can’t sell advertising the week of Thanksgiving, how will you do it in January, the worst month of the year in terms of newspaper revenue?

The Detroit Daily Press was fool’s gold for dozens of people clinging to the hope that newspapers could still succeed in these-here hills, long after the hills had proved barren.

I gave up a job and poured every ounce of energy into dredging up that fantasy, and walked away with a check for $344 and the promise of another soon-to-come check.

On the plus side, I suppose that’s more than anyone ever recouped from a Nigerian scam.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Months ago, I was very disappointed when the DDP didn't return my calls regarding my interest in working there. Now, I'm very thankful. Even if they had offered me a job, I probably wouldn't have accepted it. From where I live, it's about 70 miles one-way to Detroit. I presume they would not have offered anything near what I would've needed to make the commute worth my while.

At least I didn't waste a trip to Detroit for an interview.

BTW, since there's already the Detroit Free PRESS, why was this one called the Daily PRESS? They couldn't come up with something original?

Anonymous said...

Ouch.

But frankly, we saw the same unreality at TFJ, during the last big buyout.

Sad.

David said...

Jim:
What a wonderful column on the vocational passion we all feel for journalism! Underlying the specific details of the Daily Press, here, you describe honestly and without rancor the way that journalists truly do feel called and driven to do this work.
I'm the publisher now of Rodney Curtis' Spiritual Wanderer book and Web page over at http://www.readthespirit.com/ and, as a journalist myself, I made a similar challenging migration from newspapers, half jumping and half pushed because the truth is that "Religion News Writers" are an endangered species at newspapers much like Film Critics, Theater Critics, Children's Issues Writers, Science Writers, Book Critics, on and on and on.
Like you, I always did this work not only because it produces a paycheck, but because it's my personal calling when I crawl out of bed in the morning.
Thank you for sharing your own vision of this, and the challenge of balancing these callings with family.
All best in your journey!
-- David Crumm

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jim,

Just wanted to thank you for posting this column. It touched me, especially the part about it being an addiction, etc. I don't know if you saw my post on Facebook, but I got a job that I start Monday with Parsons & Maxson (www.p-and-m.com). I will be a writer doing all kinds of marketing, PR, corporate communications, brochures, etc. I'm excited about it, believe me, but I sat and bawled after I got the offer the other day. My reaction came as a complete shock to me.

I had actually gone the day before for an interview to possibly return to copy editing out at Valley. It's comfortable. It's my passion. I knew I could do the job.

Yet, when I called to let Valley know I had gotten this job offer, they said there was just no way they could pay what I will get at P&M (which is far below what I left off making at The Journal, mind you). Valley told me that if I was offered the copy editing job, I'd get about what I started out making at The Journal in 1999.

I am excited and terrified about this new start, and I am grieving the business I loved and thought I'd be in my whole life. I guess I had always thought that just maybe I'd find a way back in, and everything would work out. I know that will never be a reality.

Anyway, I just felt the need to share. Thank you for posting the column.

Misty Gower

Anonymous said...

Nicely written, James. Piece of advice: Don't go back to aa.com. You'll end up in the same boat -- without a job in days, weeks, a few months, maybe. It really is time to move on.
--former colleague

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Misty:

I missed the Facebook posting but am very glad for you that you have found meaningful, gainful employment.

As you are already aware, there is no job that will replace the fun, the friends and the excitement of daily journalism, but I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

Best wishes to you in your new venture.

Jim

jamesebriggs said...

Thanks, Jim, for posting this to your readers. I appreciate the comments.

Jim of L-Town said...

James,

I think all of us who are in, or have been in the business, feel some of your pain. Best wishes in moving forward.

Jim