Jun 21, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Oh, the question keeps arising, a simple one, a query that has remained unchanged through the heavy turmoil engulfing our industry, and this company in particular.
Namely, why still do this?
Nearly 14 years into the gig, when so many peers and colleagues have run off to other media ventures or other professions, when all the news about the news business sounds bleak and stark, why still do this?
For so long, there just wasn’t enough time for self-doubt or self-examination. Ten months out of the year, seven days a week, there was always another story, another game, another block of stories to churn out.
So even at night, when I went home and crawled into bed for six hours (if that) of fitful rest before the work cycle repeated itself, all that weighed on the mind was the next group of tasks.
Then the season ends. And it does so amid a spate of concern about where we’re going to be in the near-term and long-term future. Departures of dear colleagues, forced by economic circumstances, wound the psyche and add to the sense of vulnerability.
Look up around the country, and it doesn’t get any better. Cutbacks, layoffs, the long-revered Times-Picayune in New Orleans cutting down to three days a week – that hardly cheers me up.
There’s a sense that local journalism, like national journalism, is sliding downhill, the professionals interested in gathering the facts shuffled out by reluctant advertisers and customers that want everything for free because that’s what the Internet gave to them 15 years ago and that toothpaste can’t be put back.
Looking back, news web sites should have insisted on pay walls from the get-go. Maybe that would have softened the blow, for subscriptions were, and are, the lifeblood of printed publications of all sorts. No one minded then. They mind a lot now.
Even when media companies branch out, get on the web, go mobile, make sure that you can get your news anywhere at any time, and even with the way journalists have warmed up (myself included) to Facebook and Twitter (@blackwell_phil, shameless plug), it won’t mean anything unless there’s a way to make it professional and profitable.
In a roundabout manner, that brings me back to the original question – why still do this?
Maybe, from my standpoint, I’m too deeply rooted into the Central New York community now. It’s home. So many people depend on the services I provide, on various media platforms, and to abandon them, whatever the reasons, would be selfish in the extreme.
Yet from a larger standpoint, it boils down to the thing that has drawn me to journalism since childhood, or at least from the time I realized that I could make a reasonable career out of it. There are stories to be told, we must tell them – and if we won’t, who will?
Community reporting is, at this exact point in history, more vital than ever. People in power, whether in business or politics or sports, are prone to maintaining, or expanding, that power, unless they knew that someone, anyone, would hold them responsible for it.
There’s real reason to question whether our national media can fulfill that watchdog role. The total corporate takeover and hunger for ratings and profits, combined with the rise of outlets (you know who they are) who only espouse one point of view, regardless of facts, discourages courage. Why be truthful when all that does is tick off some distant CEO?
Recently, I’ve been reading through Douglas Brinkley’s brilliant biography of Walter Cronkite. Details aside, he didn’t get that “Most Trusted Man in America” mantle in the 1970s because he hid from the truth.
In beautiful (the moon landing) and tragic (JFK’s assassination, Vietnam) moments, Cronkite laid out the facts. Sometimes his emotions seeped into his broadcasting, but it was never less than honest. People saw that, regardless of what they thought, they knew Cronkite wouldn’t lead them astray.
Those times are long gone. None of us are Cronkite. But if we stay true to ourselves and do not jump off the ship of journalism, then we can still provide that vital role of informing and enlightening our communities, earning their trust in the process.
So why still do this? Because it’s essential work, good work, and most importantly, it’s the kind of work a vibrant society needs. And despite every reason to question it and consider something else, I still love that work.