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When I started working as a journalist (OK, as a paid intern), there was no Internet or e-mail, unless you count PINE, located at one terminal where you stood up to use it. At our giant, metal desks, we pounded out stories and briefs and obituaries on word processors. The future of newspapers meant an end to ashtrays in the newsroom. Or so I thought.
Soon enough, the morning paper where I was eventually hired and the evening paper whose garbage cans we regularly raided to see what its writers were up to, merged. Sworn enemies were told they were one fat, happy staff. A consultant from Poynter was brought in and because I was new and “fresh” (i.e. had less vested in the politics of the place) he put me in charge of the merged paper’s “Journalism Values” committee. We were supposed to figure out some new concept called team reporting, so my fat, happy paper flew me and a city editor in need of a hearing aid out to Takoma and Portland. I’d never been west of Ohio. It was all terribly exciting. The old-timers were not excited. They smelled buyouts. They were right.
After the buyouts, it was attrition. We closed bureaus, then expanded bureaus for the “Neighbors” zoned editions. When that failed miserably, we closed them again and laid off our Neighbors. This is an old story. David Simon already told it some weeks ago in the Post. It wasn’t the best piece I’d ever read, but it resonated with me. At 35 and in this business since I was 19, I had watched everything he described happen around me. And it made me realize that, cliche or not, I am officially an old-timer, a nostalgist, a crusty editor who can smell when the jig is up.
The jig is up at my old paper, at my current paper, at the Post (where the announcement of Katharine Weymouth’s hiring was accompanied by a much smaller announcement of buyouts) and, of course, at Simon’s Baltimore Sun, which recently announced its Towson burueau is about to be toast and yet another round of buyouts is on the way. (Don’t worry about those old-timers who are left at the Sun, though. They have a full two weeks to consider their options. Tick-tock.) In Baltimore this is all, or at least in part, to make way for b, some half-assed rehash of of an already half-assed rehash called Redeye, which the Trib, which owns the Sun, launched in Chicago. At least Redeye has a capital letter.
Here’s the Sun‘s publisher’s reasoning for canning journalists in favor of TMZ: “We’ve been saying for at least six months or so we need to be investing in the growth engines that are going to fuel revenue growth here, and that’s primarily in interactive and niche print.”
Somebody get me an ashtray.