Entries from December 2008 ↓

i want my Rocky!

Journalism is essential to inform citizens and keep our democracy alive.

Every semester, that’s what I emphasize to my journalism students at the University of Colorado. It certainly isn’t an original thought – it’s a premise that’s been around since the founding of this country or before.

And it’s what I believe.

It’s also one of the reasons I’m proud to work at the Rocky – even if it’s only once or twice a week editing copy and writing headlines, which I’ve been doing since June of this year. Before going to CU as a journalism instructor, I worked for Scripps at the Camera in Boulder, where I was a reporter and editor for 11 years. Before that I worked at newspapers in Iowa and Florida.

Clearly, the Web has revolutionized how we get news. There’s video, audio, wonderful photos and, most of all, up-to-the minute reports of key happenings. Readers can now have conversations with each other – and with journalists – on message and comment boards. And non-journalists can get in on reporting the news, too. Certainly the recent DIA plane crash, in which a passenger twittered the crash, is a great example of that last feature.

Another advantage is that readers can seek out what they’re interested in. I’m a huge advocate of that. The more information we can find about a topic, the better our decisions will be.

But one reason I love newspapers – and especially the Rocky – is the surprises I can find in the news I might not seek out on my own. How many of us would have searched the Web for a story such as “Final Salute,” the moving story of families being notified of the war deaths of their loved ones? Who out there on the Internet pressed federal officials, dug throug documents and tracked down former Rocky Flats nuclear plant workers to report on feds’ failure to compensate the workers for their health problems? Rocky reporter Laura Frank did just that in her series “Deadly Denial.”

I could cite many more great examples – Drew Litton’s great sports cartoons, the excellent political coverage from M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Lynn Bartels and Ed Sealover, and the great workouts from Lisa Ryckman, just to name a few.

Then there are the different viewpoints – something we don’t often seek out on the Internet. From Tina Griego’s reports on Border Street and rebuilding Windsor to Vincent Carroll’s incisive editorial columns.

When we seek out only what we want to know or hear, we miss out on valuable information that can inform the decisions we make in our democracy – or information that also entertains, amuses or even enrages us.

Without a broad, well-rounded publication like the Rocky, readers may get what they want from the Web but they probably won’t get what they need.

Cross-posted from http://www.iwantmyrocky.com/.

Thoughts on finding work in tough times

First, let me confess: i was kind of a slacker as an undergraduate student. i focused heavily on working at restaurants and bars in order to have 1) cash to pay tuition and 2) friends to party with.

Also: i’m probably the last person my Iowa State University j-school classmates expected to ever be a newspaper reporter or editor, let alone still be working in the business (for the next few months at least) almost 30 years later. It’s rarely been an easy road and it still isn’t.

After graduating in three years and three months, i took a year off to continue to pursue cash, friends, etc. At some point, my husband and i looked at buying a house. We needed at least 20 percent of the $55,000 asking price to put down, plus interest rates were like 15 percent back then. No deal on that deal. It was the recession of the early ’80s: stagflation, energy crisis, etc. etc. We did buy a Mazda GLC (great little car!), tho, brand new. It got about 30 mpg, is my recollection.

Anyway, i went to grad school in 1980 to avoid lunch shifts at the restaurant. Grad school is a great response to a recession (just watch enrollment soar next fall – it happened in 2002 and 2003, too, from my anecdotal experience).

Two years later, with the recession yet to run its course, i started looking for a real job. First, i passed the state exam to become a statistician – according to my stat profs, no easy task. i interviewed for a job with the Iowa public safety department, a job that would have paid pretty well by my standards in those days ($18,000 a year is what sticks in my mind). Then the state instituted a hiring freeze.

That was OK. Because i really, really wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Back in those days, there was no Internet, thus no j-jobs Web site or craigslist. i sent out resumes and clips everywhere i thought i might want to work. i checked the job postings at the j-school and sent resumes to those places. Let me add that this was a time when the news industry wasn’t looking so great: afternoon newspapers like the Des Moines Tribune were shutting down, conglomorates were buying up family owned businesses.

Another confession: my internship experience was all across the board and not necessarily that relevant to a newspaper job. i was a press-aide intern, aka fourth in pingpong, for GOP Gov. Robert Ray, a wonderful guy who played pingpong with press secretary Dave Oman, a state trooper and – hey, you need a fourth – whoever else was available each time he arrived at or left the capitol. i did a radio internship with the university news service. i did some stringing for a couple of local newspapers and worked two quarters at the Iowa State Daily. The cash was better at the restaurant.

Anyway, i did manage to get a couple of interviews at newspapers in west central Iowa. At one, the publisher made some comment about my “nice dress” with what i interpreted as a leer. Scratch that place. Did they offer me a job? Maybe, but i can’t remember. Because instead, i landed at the Carroll Daily Times-Herald, a family owned afternoon newspaper that’s still got it going on today.

The pay: $205 a week, less than the clerks i hung out with in the afternoon at magistrate court – and they only had high school diplomas. But that was OK. i loved my job. i covered the county supervisors on Monday (and had open meetings and other showdowns with them, what fun!). Every morning, i stopped by the city police department, the county sheriff’s and the clerk of court to see what was going on crime wise. In 1984, i met Rueben Askew, George McGovern, Alan Cranston and other Democratic candidates for president. i even started a weekly feature with recipes from local cooks. It was a blast.

i gave up that job when we moved to Florida, where i worked 20 months as a flack for an elected official, then moved back into newspapers, first at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, then at the Orlando Sentinel. More great times.

In 1994, we made a “lifestyle refugee” move to Boulder, Colo., a great place to live, tho not nearly the journalism mecca that Florida was. Still, i loved my 11 years at the Daily Camera in Boulder, where like my first job, i could do everything – edit, write about a variety of subjects, even learn to design pages and write headlines.

These days, in addition to teaching, i work part-time on the copy desk at the Rocky Mountain News, which Scripps announced this week is for sale. More sad times and perhaps the last job i’ll have at a newspaper.

But back to that first job. It took me months to get that gig – nothing happens quickly on the job-search front, especially in a recession. It took persistence in mailing out resumes all over, calling people up, interviewing, following up with thank-you notes.

It took desire, which i’m sure showed up in the enthusiasm i expressed in interviews.

And it took sacrifice to work for less money than i’d been making waitressing and to live 70 miles away from my husband during the week.

My Times-Herald editor (he’s still there!) once told me the j-school prof i listed as a reference mentioned described me as a “free spirit.” Merriam-Webster defines it as a synonym for nonconformist. i’m good with that. Still.

That whole free-spirit thing may be what journalism needs more of today. For many of my students, they may find success through nonconforming – at least when it comes to conforming to the tradition of newspapers, which appears to be dying off.

And the right cheers…

As the news industry implodes (and make that 2,000 Gannett employees out of work) there seems to be a common thread in the comments on the stories i’ve seen.

It popped up first yesterday, when i checked the Tallahassee Democrat, where my former co-worker Bruce Ritchie lost his job. The comments on that story are highly political – and even racist.

From Nascardad:

“Yep, now everyone knows that the left-wing media is just a, could it be, just a big corporate entity. As much as they whine and cry about other corporations, they are just as heartless. Is your CEO going to work for one dollar this year? Didn’t think so. Hope you die.”

Then there’s this, probably the worst:

“All they do is lament and complain and be suggestive and parley their race into not being CUT! I guess when the business manager has a name of Africa you can be sure you are stayin!”

The theme continued at the Gannett-owned Des Moines Register:

“This has more to do with the growing liberal slant/rants of the editorial staff than a troubled economy.”

And when the Rocky Mountain News ran a story that its corporate parent, Scripps, was selling the Denver newspaper, more of the same:

“Liberal drivel finally caught up with ya, huh?”

And:

“They just don’t get it. Liberalism in the media and a liberal biased media loses every time. I got so tired of the junk and trash they were calling reporting I also canceled my subscription.”

You gotta wonder about these folks. Where will they/do they get their news? And where will they post these comments when these news sites go away?

Slicing beyond the bone and into the brand…

Happy holidays journalists, from Gannett Corp., which is slicing and dicing almost 1,800 jobs, from CNN, which is cutting its entire science/enviro/tech team, from Cox Newspapers, which is closing its D.C. bureau, and from others seemingly too numerous to mention.

All of these cuts are tragic. But one that touches me and illustrates the sheer stupidity of some of this is the Des Moines Register getting rid of front-page cartoonist Brian Duffy. For decades, the Register has run editorial cartoons on the front page, by Duffy since 1983 and before that by Frank Miller and Ding Darling. It makes me cry to type these words.

By letting Duffy go, the Register tosses away a significant portion of its brand. Those cartoons MADE the front page of the Register. They told a story about Iowa. They poked fun at the powerful and at the little people. They followed the folks in my homestate as they rode their bicycles across Iowa every summer, as they shoveled snow and shivered every winter, as they followed their favorite hoops or football team through the legendary high school playoffs.

Newspapers wonder why they’re losing readers. Well, this is one of the reasons. When readers can’t come to you for something unique, why bother?

In defense of the desk.

Everyone needs editing.

But copy or presentation desks seem to be one area where publishers are looking to cut back. At my last full-time newspaper job, a former co-worker recently recalled, three of us often put out 30 pages of copy on a Saturday – that’s three people to choose wire, design pages, edit copy and write headlines. That presentation desk is even smaller since i left, tho in fairness, so is the print edition of the newspaper.

Now some publishers are talking about getting rid of that function altogether or shipping it offshore.

That would be a mistake. Because everyone needs editing.

As an example, i’d cite my most recent published “charticle” in which a grad student found a wording issue (and actually, i found and corrected a second one while looking through it at work). In my part-time gig on the copy desk at the Rocky Mountain News, i routinely find misspelled words, names spelled a couple of different ways and the occasional errant field goal in the wrong direction.

That said, the role of copy/presentation desks does need to change. Editors need to be able to do everything, rather than specialize in design or writing heds. Just like reporters must shoot video, blog and twitter, editors need to be able to edit and upload breaking news quickly for the Web, design some print pages and carefully read the longer investigative piece.

Steve Outing makes that point effectively in today’s E&P column. Just as the rest of the news biz is changing, so is editing. That doesn’t make editing any less important.

But those resisting the changes – especially the movement to doing more work on the Web – will be left behind.