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Like Attending My Own Funeral

March 18th, 2008 · 4 Comments · LANG, Sports Journalism, The Sun

My first entry on this blog was a recounting of being fired. Which I intended to be, oh, a look at one company’s methods of getting rid of a long-time employee in a time of crisis. I can’t say it was blog-as-catharsis because I don’t remember feeling any worse before or any better after. In terms of the writing of it. Lots of journalists have a sort of instinctive impulse to chronicle.

What surprised me was the reaction to it. This is a blog that didn’t exist two weeks ago, and after I posted that first entry I e-mailed the link to a half-dozen former colleagues, letting them know I had been fired and, if they cared to peruse it, this lengthy record of it existed.

It got much bigger. No, not laobserved.com big. But eventually it was seen by thousands of people, if I am to believe the stats generated by Word Press.

I have some ideas about that.

1. As evidenced by the incredibly kind expressions from former co-workers (which soon embarrassed me, in their sweep; yet I wasn’t prepared to risk a sense of repudiation toward any of the authors by NOT posting their thoughts), there was a sort of collective keening of grief for a Section That Had Been.

For all journalists over a certain age, a sense of “bigger and better, upward and onward” informed our professional world view. Newspapers would grow, if at a slower pace; the product would become slicker and more professional, if seen only by elites; and the newspaper we worked for would exist for decades to come. This was the thinking only a few years ago.
The tales of previous newsroom generations would be handed down, and all of those who gave their professional lives to a news organization would be survived by the latter-day paper. Our progeny, if you will.

Now, there is a sense that we all died childless. Only a feeble remnant of what what we labored on remains, and institutional memory is blowing away like dust in the wind.

Because I was at the San Bernardino Sun for so long, I was a sort of touchpoint for a (generally pleasant) and quite specific past for Sun alumni, and my dismissal from the paper seemed to some to be the slamming of some coffin lid. Irrevocable and grim.

(And the anguish and memories that came in response … yes, it was rather like attending my own funeral. “He sent me to the Lakers game and we all partied afterward …” I was Huck Finn, watching it all unfold, and it was more than a little weird.)

2. I happened to get fired — and write about it — as the retreat of newspapers turned into a rout. Seventy (!) L.A. News Group editorial employees were fired in a 10-day span, and that was just the casualty count for one branch of Dean Singleton’s falling empire, amid a gasping industry.

I would never be so bold as to suggest my experience stands as The Obit for Journalism’s Lost Generation … but it came at a time when our vocation/avocation was staggering. Maybe, for the first time, we actually realized that this isn’t a downturn, this isn’t a correction, this isn’t a bridge from what-we-knew to what-will-become … this is the death throes of an industry.

Those of us who loved what we did are trying to come to grips with that. And, yeah, I’m returning to a death metaphor, but it’s almost as if we all just accepted that print journalism has only months or a few years to live. There will be no recovery from this.

So we are interested in hearing from those who have gone to the other side. Those who preceded me and those yet to come, the dwindling survivors bracing for their own demise.

I now expect the occasional extinguishing of this or that journalistic light is about to become general. Newspapers, perhaps entire chains will go under, stop publishing, and then another and another and another. All that will remain is memories and (if we’re lucky) microfilm down at the public library. Maybe a few titans (the New York Times) and a collection of weeklies will be left.

I know industries come and go. But how many of them brought such enjoyment and satisfaction to its practitioners as did print journalism? We got paid to do something we almost always loved doing. And we had the extra added benefit of being able to say what we did “mattered,” even when it didn’t, quite.

Can we say that of the buggy-whip industry or the VHS industry or the Rust Belt companies long shuttered? Did anyone grieve when The Mill closed? For lost employment, perhaps, but not for a way of life we journalists always found entertaining, often found exhilarating and sometimes ennobling.

I just walked into a moment in time when our business prognosis shifted from grim to morbid. The Black Death is upon us, and not many will survive to see a job future we would have recognized even a few years ago.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nickj // Mar 19, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Keep ’em coming. Great stuff.

  • 2 Gary Scott // Mar 19, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Here’s what another former Sun reporter had to say on this same topic some months ago:

    “And which, exactly, is the proper epitaph for the generation that entered newspapering at the very moment when the big-city dailies — the fat morning papers, those that survived the shakeout of afternoon tabloids and other weak sisters — seemed impervious, essential and ascendant? Were we the last craftsmen prepared for a horse-and-buggy world soon to prostrate itself before the god of internal combustion? Or were we assembly-line victims of the inert monopolists of early 1970s Detroit, who thought that Pacers and Gremlins and Chevy Vegas were response enough to Japanese and European automaking superiority?”

    Read the full article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/18/AR2008011802874.html

  • 3 Patti // Mar 22, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Hey Paul,
    There aren’t too many sports writers that I follow regularly but you are one and so is Luis Bueno. I first fell for you when you recognized the intrinsic worth of a soccer player who I feel very close to. Then you wrote a most amazing article about a heroic young man who first introduced me to the beautiful game in the purist sense and as a result of a horrific accident, will never play again. I found out about your unceremonious extraction from the Sun by reading Luis’ blog. My first reaction was “What a loss for us all” and then upon reading the response of so many I know that you’ll survive…and so will your fans. You are a good man and although I am not psychic I do believe in Karma…you’ll be okay….and I know your fans will always be there. I’ll hang in there if you will!

  • 4 Anon // Apr 10, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Is there something particular about the medium that is special? I understand from a reader’s perspective, the romanticism that people have about physically opening up a newspaper, scanning the headlines, folding it down to read a particular article. That tactile connection that generations of newspaper readers have, I can grasp.
    But for those of you on the other side, does it matter that the words you write are put out onto what we technorati would refer to as “dead tree” (ie: paper)? It just seems to me, someone who has never subscribed to a newspaper personally, that “print journalism” would be the easiest thing to get online; that the essential matter was the journalism distilled into the written word. Why does a big cultural wall exist between the world of paper and the internet?
    To take your VCR analogy a step further, one could say it paved the way for our living rooms to have DVD players and DVRs. The essential tasks the VCR did, record shows and playback rented movies, are unchanged. I view print journalism the same way.

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