May 5, 2009

Sad State

The talk of the town has been the possible demise of The Boston Globe (though a deal reached earlier this week by the union has saved the paper for now). The newspaper is currently owned by The New York Times Company (so wrong, in my opinion), and the rumors of it's dwindling future causes my stomach to turn. When I was sixteen, I job shadowed then parenting columnist, Barbara Meltz, and science reporter, Beth Daley, at The Boston Globe, an experience that inspired my aspiration to journalism. With Beth, I went out to New Bedford to interview fishermen about the booming scallop industry. Beth asked me to write my version of the story and used part of my reporting in her piece that appeared on the front page of The Globe. In my adolescent mind, it felt like the start of my career.

These days, however, I see my dream of becoming a journalist rapidly falling away. This feeling was especially true in the recently released film State of Play. This political thriller features journalism, past, present, and future. Russell Crowe plays Cal McCaffrey, a seasoned reporter and the epitome of bygone journalism, driving a 1990 Saab, writing on a 16 year-old computer, and always with a pen and paper on hand to capture the details of a story. Playing opposite him is Rachel McAdams as Della Frye, a blogger hired by The Washington Globe (read Post), modernize and monetize the online side of the publication. The movie casts Della's youth and verve in contrast with Cal's more laid back approach. It's a tale of the Internet, more specifically, the blogosphere, trumping print media. While Cal sits back at his desk, Della has "finished ten stories in the last hour," according to their editor-in-chief, played by the exquisite Helen Mirren.
Photo courtesy of
Underlying the main plot, the movie is a tribute to the probable fate of journalism. Today, we are all about getting the most information possible and getting is FAST. News sources want to hire writers who can get information out in double time. Cal is a method man, who takes the time and care to get all the details for a richly reported story. His process proves ends up being the sounder choice in the movie, as Della's know-it-all demeanor fades into awe of Cal's journalistic tactics. Cal becomes teacher, and Della, the student. Cal's instincts, honed by smarts and job experience, enable him to solve the story (not without a personal cost) with Della's help. While the traditional journalism pays off and story is printed in its full glory at the film's end, there is something elegiac about the movie's ending, especially with last scenes showing how a story goes from press to delivery. Watching the credits, I wondered how much longer I would be able to devour my Sunday paper with newsprint staining my hands. It's beginning to feel like the end of an era, similar to the way milk is no longer delivered in bottles to homes as during my parent's youth.

While the death of print media feels inevitable, there are advocates out there, crying for its rescue. Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) issued a statement in support of Cardin's bill to save community newspapers by making them non-profit organizations with the same IRS classification as NPR, churches, and hospitals. Kerry expressed concern over the lack of diverse and accurate reporting with the fall of so many newspapers. The bill will support community papers but not the big news conglomerates like (dare I say) The New York Times Company.

Talking about the changing face of media, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post spoke about the rise of citizen journalism from the falling timbers of newsprint groups. Part of me likes the idea that anyone can contribute to a story and how it is a chance to bring more truth and details to reporting. However, if everyone can be a writer, then what makes the career choice of a writer/journalist so special? It doesn't. Journalists may end up being a very elite group, difficult to penetrate and when penetrated, feeling constant paranoia about being ousted by a savvier, swifter writer in your topic area. I guess everyone worries about this in a competitive career track, but my point is that the drying up of a print media pool will drastically increase the cutthroat nature of the job.

I digress in this post because I would love nothing more than to be a cub reporter in a bustling newsroom right now, a dream quickly slipping away. At least in the sense of working in a traditional newsroom. The landscape of news reporting will change in the next few years and I am tuning in to the developments and conversations so that hopefully, someday, I can grab that brass ring: my own byline.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a lovely bit of your own marginalia!