Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006



Editorial: THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOURNALISM
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Hollywood, Calif.

Printable version of this story

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all. It also makes it tough to sound coher= ent," the lettter from an old newspaper pal back East begins. After a long=

time in the trenches, she's taken over the reins of daily newspaper on the= Atlantic coast.

But rather than being a reward and privilege earned for selfless years= of service, the job has become akin to that of a major disaster triage man= ager in a Red Cross field hospital who is forced to choose between which of= the injured will be treated and which must be left to die. And the job is = killing her.

"My job has turned into a real meat grinder," my friend says. "I've had = to cut my photo department budget by $17,000 by forcing out my best reporte= r, something I was forced to do by my owner.

"He also instructed me to demote my sports editor, a guy who's been wit= h the paper for 21 years and is the heart and soul of the place. Naturally,= he's quitting. The newsroom is in open revolt over the tactics of the fina= ncial manager -- the guy who's been engineering these moves -- and I may be= losing more reporters and editors in the coming weeks.

"And with the switchover to AM publication coming in January, we stand = to lose a lot of people in the pressroom, mailroom and circulation.

"The paper's circulation is still down and things aren't good. The promi= sesthat were made to me about making a great paper have not come true. Sadl= y,this story is being repeated everywhere else in the country. The newspape= rbusiness sucks right now, and it's really getting to me."

I read her lament with a sense of dread. America's newspapers are dying= in a thousand little ways, and with them may die the only reliable source o= f trueinformation in a world that is overwhelmed with words and images manu= factured by the ream in corporate boardrooms to convey their alternative ve= rsion of reality.

It hurts me to think about my own relationship with newspapers. For the= Village Voice, in 1970 I once traveled 3,000 miles on a budget of $75 (I n= eeded to borrow $18 to make it home) and spent several weeks getting interv= iews with two of themost elusive men in South America, the radical Jesuit p= hilosopher Ivan Illich and the man who had Che Guevara's personal diary, An= tonio Arguedas. I wrote a 5,000 word story that filled a couple of pages o= f the Voice, and got their checkin the mail about two weeks after I sent th= e piece. It was for $75.

In 1979, I was living in real poverty, and my lack of food had brought m= y weight down from 200 pounds to 135, my waist from a 42 to a 28. Huge boi= ls grewin my armpits from cheap deodorants, and I had to lance them myself = with a pin.But what looked like another great alternative newspaper was bei= ng founded inLos Angeles at the time by a former editor of the Free Press. =

Oblivious to my circumstances, I went after a big storyabout how an extr= emely controversial private-public land swap in Beverly Hillshad become the= epicenter of a vast sea change in the cultural identity of that city as th= ousands of wealthy Iranians fled from the Sha's crumbling empire and the as= cendant Ayatollah Khomeini. I spent three months on it, and published it a= s a cover story that came out one day before the Iranian takeover of the U.= S. Embassy in Tehran.The paper's ad revenues literally quadrupled in a sing= le month.

The Los Angeles Timestook my story fact by fact and wrote 12 mo= re. I got a check for $300.

Over the years, I've been shot at, kidnappped= , bombed and beaten up, beaned with bottles and threatened with a firing sq= uad and nearly starved to death for two alternative newspapers who gladly u= sed my work but nevert offered me a job. I'm suspended from the second one= now -- and with that suspension lost half my record-breaking $13,000 incom= e -- because I had the temerity to advance myself and my ideas in the polit= ical marketplace as a "vanity" candidate for Mayor.

My friend works in the very dangerous battlefield of a war against truth= waged by profit for power over the people. While it may not seem so, my wo= rk has been far easier than hers; I have called my time my own, and no man = owns me or my newspaper.

I have earned the indulgence of an honest landlord and the grudging acc= eptance of a lovely wife who cleans other people's houses for a basic wage.= Neither of us have SSI or life or health insurance or any other income fr= om our government, and only I manage some extra income in the form of gifts= from my family. We don't get a tax rebate; I don't make enough money to o= we any taxes.

At the end of the day, my friend and I may be losers, but w= e have fought the battle.Those who have not are still at work.

In my case, both papers are now owned by the same company, which for a= ll I know is a branch of one of the other corporate behemoths that own virt= ually everything you read. My friend works for an entrepreneur, which a rar= e thing in this business that grinds so many of small newspaper owners to a= powdery, weightless dust.

I am dying, too. My brave journalists who once chased the news across t= he globe have largely vanished from these pages, lured to meaningful pay fo= r meaningless work in countries where journalists are even more under the g= un. We still hear from some of them, like the incomparably brave Andreas Ha= rsono who eluded a three-week manhunt in Suhartos's Jakarta after we publis= hed his story on the military's plans to topple Megawati from power as head= of the Indonesian Democratic Party.

Bill Johnson is so fine a journalist that his work would grace the fro= nt pages of any newspaper in the world, as it did for four decades with the= Associated Press that left him living close to poverty in Oklahoma City. = Randall Holhut struggles on at thelmof another daily much like my other fri= end, who would lose her job if I mentioned her name and newspaper here.

There are many, many journalists who own a piece of this last from the= last "worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening," = as William Faulkner described our essentialposition, who will not notice if= it sinks beath the waves.

I am dying, yes, but not for forty years. And this newspaper, widely de= rided by the millionaires who own my former haunts, will also endure and pr= evail. That is because,as Faulkner also wrote, we are possessed of an immo= rtal soul that pours itself into this payless work, and elevates the terrib= le simplicity of our architecture to a towering thousand-year-old redwood s= tanding alone at the deserted peak of journalism, free, independent and tru= e.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter