Archive for September, 2009
In the spirit of pure “blogging,” I just wanted to share this story with y’all about one of the few times as a journalist I can say we directly made a difference in someone’s life. It’s a follow-up to this story about a Coos Bay veteran named Stacy McClain. Long and short of it is this: he got his bennies back, after a phone call from the VA that came a day after our front-page story. It felt good to be able to help someone.
Here’s the link:
What follows is a really powerful reply to a piece I posted here recently about journalism. I found it inspiring, and so should you. The writer asked that I not identify her or her paper, so I bleeped a few sections.
I have been following your blog on wordpress.com for a short time now. A fellow journalist and economic casualty of the industry, I only recently started my own food blog, after being laid-off from a daily in March.
I just want you to know that your post on the disempowerment of journalists keenly resonates with me and my camp. Although I don’t have your years of experience, I have lived through the bewilderment of working very hard just to achieve full-time work, then feeling the bust of disillusionment and sorrow and bewilderment over how the world needs us but can’t seem to support us in any meaningful, i.e. paying, way.
I especially related to your words about the shift in morale within the newsroom. When I was hired to be a police reporter in March 2008, I felt like I had truly arrived. It didn’t bother me that the paper wasn’t well-regarded in the area or that the circulation was low. I felt that the work I did was important and required a certain hutzpah and braininess that only a born journalist could bring to it. I relished it even as changes in staffing produced insurmountable tensions and an overall moroseness in the office. Page counts shrank, so stories were tightly controlled and diminished. Meanwhile, editors subtly ratcheted up story quotas by making us feel that if we did not turn in literally twice what I was quoted at hire that I would be like dead weight. I was almost disciplined when one week, exhausted and fed up, I put in for overtime for five hours that I had already worked but not gotten approved ahead of time. It led to a tongue-lashing and eventually a crossing out of those hours. To me, that was the nadir. To be told that you can’t get paid for your work which so few people, generally speaking, can think to do. It was humiliating, but I went on. My editor told me that I was being selfish and that other reporters worked off the clock so why was I the only one saying anything. Besides, he reminded me, my overtime hours brought us perilously close to lay-offs. Six weeks later, I received my pink slip.
I realized that over the course of only one year, the office had nose-dived from being a fairly cordial, welcoming place into a cutthroat, back-biting environment. The layoffs only diminished the power of the reporters in the face of editors who operated frantically and tyrannically. I was displaced from my beat covering courts because one of the editors decided that it would be better staffed by a man named Frank. Frank was a man and would do better in the face of sexism within the police ranks. Also, Frank had an 18-month-old daughter and would be more loyal to the paper because he had a mouth to feed. Literally, this was the reasoning. The union has been called in to investigate this editor, but it hardly does me any good now. Frank left two months later to work for the competition.
I am 28 years old. I have broken stories of national and local significance. I was a competent and agile reporter. I have been reporting, if you include my free lance work, for five years now. I recently did the research and discovered that I have never been paid a livable wage. A few days ago, I heard an interview with author John Sanford. That’s his pen name. He started writing fiction after he won a Pullitzer Prize as an investigative journalist, and his paper gave him a $50 bonus for his efforts. This morning I fielded a call from an editor in Carlsbad, NM who wanted to know if I would move there from Branford, CT to work for $10/hour.
I realize that to the rest of the public our concerns and complaints probably register as typical recession-kvetching or as dire, unrealistic prophesying. My boyfriend is a reporter; in fact, he assumed my workload when I left. I still hear how the public’s attitude toward the press translates into daily interactions from him. Quite simply, as reporters we have both experienced what I can only call “press-bashing.” He was getting quotes from attendees at a regional dog show when a man in the crowd intervened and suggested to the woman and her 8 year old daughter that they stop speaking to him. When he produced a business card, instead of a press badge, the man suggested he could be a child molester. The woman and her daughter fled in a huff. Over and over again, my employers published anonymous posts full of the most baseless, vulgar and personal slander against us. The comments never bothered me. It was my job to expose real child molesters and people accused of wrongdoing, but I never understood how providing a medium for these comments either served our community or advanced the stories. To this day I’m not sure which I feel more greatly: a generalized betrayal by a public that, glutted from easy TV and multimedia outlets that pander to the least intellectually capable, doesn’t seem to value my work anymore or a betrayal from my employers and potential employers who expect me, in spite of all this, to produce at an inhuman pace for a subhuman wage.
My boyfriend just completed a historical account of the porn industry at its heyday, The Other Hollywood by Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne. I suggested that the parallels between our industry’s decline and the porn industry’s were striking. He agreed and we might collaborate in an essay about this.
At this point, I am perilously close to getting another job in journalism. I still feel a sense of duty and a calling. But I get very angry when bank tellers suggest that I “go into TV.” Even my grandmother, whose husband was a publisher and vice president of Morris Communications, suggested this because “that’s where the money is.” I don’t know what the answer is, but I am close to believing that massive reform of copyright laws is necessary. The AP should pay you generous service fees every time they pick up a story. (I was shocked to learn, incidentally, that they only have 2 reporters in the entire state of CT.) Journalists are usually the first to strike down ideas about internet regulation but at this point we’re falling on our own knives, or pens, as the case may be.
Anyway, keep up the good work and know that your words are well-received here. You may publish this or edited excerpts on your blog, but I ask that you not use my name or my former paper’s name.