I wanted to pull out something Laura said in a comment here:
Very few bosses in my 20-year career stood their ground to protect journalism. They wanted to protect their reputations and their pets, and the kind of journalism that enhanced their repuations. 2) Yet there were, in fact, Gus Hayneses, and I’ll name one name: Lynda Robinson, my editor for a time at the Sun, who had to flee for her own career, ended up at the Washington Post. She was kind, she was ethical and she had my back. In fact, when a story of mine was almost spiked on the grounds that it was mean-spirited — I wrote a piece about how local soup kitchens don’t need that much help on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but sure would appreciate some volunteers the other 363 days — she marched into the top editor’s office and said, “If this story doesn’t belong in the paper, then I don’t deserve to be an editor here.” Or words to that effect.
Because it goes to the heart of what comes across to me when I watch The Wire, and watch recent politics, and watch basically the whole world ever of late, which is that we seem to ask ourselves just how much we can suck and get away with it. We seem to tell ourselves a lot that we’re trapped creatures, that we’re hamstrung by this that or the other circumstance, that things are all beyond our control and so what we need to do is sit down and tell ourselves there was nothing we could do. And it’s not like there are tons of examples of things going the other way. Thieves get rich and saints get shot, to quote Mr. Sondheim. Dean Baquet refused to fire his reporters at the LA Times and just wound up fired himself. He was a hero, and rightly so, but it cost him dearly.
Somewhere along the line, though, we lost the sense that “that’s just the way things are” doesn’t actually, you know, solve the problem. If hope isn’t a plan, despair isn’t either. Juke the stats all you want, play politics with the school budgets, shuffle some reporters around to cover three times as much as they used to cover for less money, and talk about how you had no choice, but the problem remains. And you know, you always have a choice. Making a choice to sit on your ass talking about how you have no choice, that’s a choice too, motherfuckers. And at some point we have to stop giving ourselves this out, this “well, it was all too much,” sigh, bitch, moan, drink, sleep. That’s all it is, an out. If we spent half as much time fighting to fix the problems in journalism as we spend complaining about Craiglist, we’d have this all sorted out before breakfast and be on to health care at lunch.
Has the Internet changed things? Sure. Course. Classified ads, paying for content, newsprint costs, 24-hour news cycles, the cinematographe, they’ve all changed things. But the fact remains: People will go to whatever delivery system they have to, to get something they want. I hate fucking FedEx with the fire of a thousand suns, and swore I’d never order from any company that ships through FedEx, but there’s this tiny place that sells a body butter that smells like marshmallows, and I love me a marshmallow and … well, you see what I’m saying. I don’t go to the Internet because I like the Internet, I go to the Internet because it has great stuff that I a) can’t live without and b) can’t get anywhere else. Same thing with the movie theater, and radio, and stage plays. You want to keep me reading your paper, you’d better be giving me something special, and come on, it’s not that hard.
There’s a lot of journalism blather going on right now, and the facts are these: The money’s there. The profits are there. It’s the corporate-ownership profit-making model that’s broken. It doesn’t work for newspapers anymore and maybe it never really did. Run them as nonprofits, like Mark Helprin’s whaling ship/newspaper The Sun in Winter’s Tale, run them for the people they serve and the people who work for them, instead of for mutual fund investors. Run them for the people again, for the public service they still provide, for the method of delivering information and attention and even advertising that is still dear to many hundreds of thousands of people. Run them for stories that can’t be told any other way. Run them for stuff you can’t do by any other means. Run them for the content, for once, run them for the mission, instead of for the money.
Which brings me back to Laura’s comment. And The Wire. We’ve all decided in advance how much bullshit we’re willing to live with. How hard we’re willing to fight. What’s inevitable and what’s not. We pretend these limits are made out of granite when all they’re made out of is our refusal to say no, just this far, no more. We’ve grown so accustomed to surrender in advance that when a glorious exception arises all we can think of is how special it is, not how stupid the rule was in the first place.
Am I making sense? I’m a little drunk, right now, but I’m saying we don’t stand up the way we should, for the things we say we love. We don’t fight because we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t. There’s all these things out there that we’re so sure we know, about what choices we have and how certain things are going to happen, and we don’t consider anything … I hate to say outside the box, but I’m surrounded by cardboard and there’s lots of tape overhead, so … We talk about everything except the real problem, which is that we have to be willing to do what’s required to solve society’s problems, not just what we feel like doing, or what we can get away with.
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