By Robert Hankins
The Record Newspapers, Orange, Texas
NSNC member since 2007
It’s not a perfect system, but has some merits – mainly because we need our afternoon naps. That’s been my little private joke over the years. I’m there every week, and most times I actually do stay awake.
There has been a feeling among editors and publishers in the last few years that reporters shouldn’t go to meetings. I like them because they generate news. I don’t care if it’s being “like a secretary,” a complaint you might hear by the boss from time to time. My feeling is, “What’s wrong with secretaries?” You report what happened to tell the people who weren’t there, just like you would a concert, funeral or anything else someone might have missed.
Not every one of your readers will want to know, but some will because that’s where their taxes get spent. And that’s how reporting began – to chronicle the event. Nowadays we’ve gotten to think we’re all prose writers, which is OK if you have the time and the resources to do it right.
It’s been my experience that in most cases, you don’t. The powers that be would rather have you working on a nothing story, because they get it in their head you don’t have enough on your plate. You’re supposed to be a good little robot.
Downsizing is very common in my line. Theory being, “Why can’t we just pay one person to do 10 jobs? It decreases moral and increases resignations of positions that we can phase out and stick on someone else. It’s so simple.”
Some years ago, I was talking with the business manager of a daily paper and wondered why it always took so long to fill vacant positions.
“Oh, you didn’t know?” she said. “Every year at Christmas they take all the salaries from the ones that aren’t filled and divide up bonuses among the managers.”
Very simple, indeed.
Sound like a certain company from Houston to you? Like Enron perhaps? One that imploded because the wealth spent all its time at the top and never trickled down to the little guy? I guess the riff-raff wasn’t all that important – only the backbone of the entire company.
The Internet is dipping into everyone’s profit margin, and if you want to be a print journalist these days you’ve got to be a cameraman and everything else. Why not just go all the way and do a live newscast from the paper? You’ve got the room for it – that big space where your press used to be since it was phased out.
Community papers are a bit out of the mire. They’ve built up a clientele of advertisers and readers over the years that see them for what they are – not the New York Times but local people just trying to make it like everyone else. It also helps when they’re free.
It’s unfortunate but my colleagues and I will never know newspapers when they weren’t dying. Having suffered through my share of more than a few restaurant guides and other revenue cons, somehow I just can’t see Ed Murrow or Walter Cronkite having to do a story on McDonald’s because they bought an ad.
I’ve been a manager at times, mostly emerging with my soul intact. It seems to me that newspapers should be embracing the Internet.
I know about the twitters and other garbage out there now, but the Internet of the future will be truly amazing. People will get their news on it, kids will get educations with it and advances will be made in communications, health and science.
I’m not saying, “Stop printing your paper.” Those will go soon enough, but unless they stay ahead of the game a lot of editors will be bagging groceries at Sam’s Club soon. And for God’s sakes keep those managers out of the till. Do they really need that fourth home in Wyoming?
Why not use the Web to our advantage? Why not make our Internet news operations better, instead of selling coasters, luggage tags, keychains, coffee mugs and playing cards with pictures from the paper on them?
We can knock the Internet all day or we can accept it, but the latter is the only real option.
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Robert Hankins, firstname.lastname@example.org, has worked as either an editor, managing editor, staff writer or columnist at many newspapers in southeast Texas. Several of his stories have run in the Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman. The opinions expressed here are his own. He has been an NSNC member since 2007 and lives in Lake Charles, La.