Thursday, August 28, 2008

The demise of newspapers and a piece of my heart

I've watched with heavy heart as newspapers across the U.S. are changing and dying. The local newspaper I grew up reading has merged with the bigger newspaper out of Twin Falls. They're still the South Idaho Press, but it's different. The Sunday paper is the Times News, the editorial board is out of Twin Falls, not Burley, and the writers are mostly stringers. The Deseret News recently announced that they cut 30% of their staff. And I predict that within the next 20 years, there will be even less newspapers, teetering on none.

After a brief desire to be an entrepreneur, from 10th grade on I wanted to be a journalist. And not a television journalist, but a My-Man-Friday, dirty, smelly, print journalist. When I graduated from BYU in print journalism, a degree that doesn't exist anymore--it's just a non-descript journalist--there were only about 10 of us graduating with that particular degree. I've worked in about three different newspaper agencies, and in every one, you get a feel for what newspaper people are like. For the most part, they're characters: odd ducks with funny personalities and strange passions. They're also slobs and they smell funky. The hours are long, and the pay is worse than terrible, and the dress reflects that. It's not uncommon to see ties that should have been retired in the 80s still being worn by newspaper men. In the game Life, before the pay increases, a journalist made the same amount of money as a teacher: $24,000. That still holds true, but journalists don't get summer break or overtime. It's not uncommon for journalists to work 10-14 hour days. And it's a lot of fun, but it's draining.

I carry in my heart all the odd ducks I've met from my newspaper journies.
  • Doc Taylor practically lived at the Utah County Journal/Orem Daily Journal. He loved classical music and grew up in a polygamist colony, though I don't think his mom was polygamist. He could talk your ear off. He probably single-handedly interviewed every person in Utah County.
  • Lewis Wohlman was a jewish Wisconsin native, who moved to America Samoa, married a mormon woman, moved back to Provo to be near his kids while they attended BYU, and was one of the best editors I ever had. He pushed me to tears on a few occassions. But I developed a tougher skin and learned to really care about what I was writing.
  • Gale Norton was the craziest man I've ever met. I'm pretty sure everything that came out of his mouth was false. He claimed to have won a Pulitzer for editing, but I'm not sure they give away Pulitzers for editing. He was in his 70s, so we gave him a pass on a lot of stuff, including the occassional sexist comment. But he was interesting, and I did learn some valuable grammar lessons from him.

And given time, I saw myself turning into one of them. I don't know what will happen to people like my old colleagues when newspapers cease to exist. Perhaps they'll become well-paid bloggers. Until then, I'm doing my small part by keeping a subscription to my local newspaper. It's my $8/month contribution helping to keep a few old buddies from homelessness. Money well spent.


Aundrea said...

Now that I know a real, bonafide journalist reads my blog I shudder to think of the ways I've offended you with my run-on sentences, bad grammer, punctuation mistakes, etc. Please, forgive me!

Fish said...

I wouldn't worry about it Aundrea. I write for a living as well, but I'm not afraid to leave some awful grammar and spelling in my posts. It's a blog after all.

Morkthefied said...

And to boot, a journalism degree is kissing cousins to the underwater-basket weaving degree; only more writing. Seriously, journalists aren't your English A-types: they're just people who like to write.

Lewis said...


Was wracking my brain the other day (whilst spending Thanksgiving with BYU alum daughter, still living in Provo) trying to remember your name and was mortified that I could not. But I found it here! Spelled correctly, unlike my own name (which does not have an "H"). (Might also mention here that "occassion" has only one "s", but since copy editing isn't my thing, maybe I won't bring it up. Except that I can't let it go, still being all about high standards of excellence and all the jazz.)

How wonderful to read how well you are doing and how memorable our fleeting months at the ODJ were.

It was obvious back then you had the whole ink-running-through-your-veins thing going. Your blog is a great read. Bravo!

Had a nice lunch with Debby and Courtney and Doc in Orem about 2-3 years ago, but the ODJ seemed like it belonged to a whole 'nother lifetime to me that day, whereas they had all been reporting to work at DTI every day for the previous X years. Was disconcerting in some way I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Feel free to respond to my gmail account. Which you can find by googling my (properly spelled) name and gmail.


p.s. How could I forget "Burley, Idaho"?