A refreshing new media mea culpa

Take note of this, “printies” and traditional journalists: A rare apology from a leading new media proponent who admits to being a bit harsh on those with careers spent mainly in now-decaying mainstream news institutions:

“In my experience, the vast majority of journalists and editors work very hard and very well, usually without the compensation or recognition they deserve. I am deeply grateful for the efforts of my colleagues in the journalistic trenches. I’m especially awed by journalists who keep doing their work independently, after their job or news org disappears.”

Amy Gahran’s farewell piece as editor of The Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits feature also explains why she has taken journalism educators to task for similar reasons — her impatience with the journalistic status quo and enthusiasm for new ways of doing the news:

“Yes, I can be pretty cocky and flippant, and sometimes I’ve been oblivious to the current pain and struggles of journalists and news orgs. I apologize for that.”

I wish she wouldn’t have waited until signing off from her column to write this, but I think it’s a big gesture to do it at all. I’ve never found Gahran too over the top, especially in comparison with some of her counterparts. Indeed, in my very first post on this blog (has it been almost a year?), I included a video clip of her talking about the massive rethinking needed by mainstream journalists. Her comments were rather spot-on, based on some of my experiences as a Web editor at my former newspaper’s site.

But one of the most deflating discoveries I’ve had in acquainting myself with the work and ideas of some online media sages is the kick-em-when-they’re-down tone of their diatribes. Occasionally I’ve gone to their sites to gain information and understanding and often feel instead like I’m getting punched in the stomach for not being in the vaunted generation of young journalists with laptops in their cribs. Journalists from the “legacy” domain have been regarded as a clueless, antiquated and unreconstructed bunch, especially if they are at a mid- or late-career stage.

The gleeful, blanket condemnation of the so-called curmudgeon class is meant to summarize the mindset of an entire profession, but conveniently ignores many journalists from backgrounds like mine who do “get” and even embrace the Web. The antipathy for anything reeking of the print world is just as kneejerk as that of the curmudgeons. Even younger journalists know there are plenty of old school values worth bringing forward:

“While we are caught up in our new toys — and I include myself in this — we risk forgetting where we came from.”

I don’t expect anyone else to say they’re sorry as Gahran has. That’s not the point, really. But perhaps her message might signal a less hostile approach to blending old “printies” like me into the world of Web journalism. Instead of the one-way scolding that we’ve been getting, perhaps the sages might actually start to think that we’ve got a significant stake in the future of the profession. I’m not going to hold my breath, but thanks for your thoughts, Amy.

• Former Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple is doing his damnedest not to let the work of stellar newspaper reporters, now outside the newsroom, go unnoticed. He continues a series of interviews with former Pulitzer Prize winners who’ve either been laid off or who’ve taken buyouts. Some are mindful how their old worldviews contributed to the demise of the industry. Says former Washington Post Style section reporter Tamara Jones:

“I think we all wish we hadn’t been so complacent. There’s always been this disparity between the way we perceive ourselves and how society views us. As journalists, we genuinely believe that we are doing noble work, but opinion polls consistently rank us among the least-trustworthy, right down there with ambulance-chasers, grave robbers and mercenaries. Maybe we should have been less indignant and more curious about why we weren’t valued.”

I plead guilty to possessing this sentiment as well, for far too long. Temple’s also talking to other post-newsroom journalists about how they’re reinventing themselves in another series entitled “A New Life.”

In both cases, there are some very inspiring stories here.

• New York Times media reporter David Carr talks to Tina Brown a decade following the big party that launched the audacious “Talk” magazine, which didn’t last three years. Carr casts this as a metaphor for the end of the splashy word of legacy print media, and although Brown now has gone Web with The Daily Beast, she’s a bit wistful too:

“I was aware it was a historic night. We were on a boat and I was with Natasha Richardson. We were talking and laughing, looking at the lights of the twin towers. And then a big wave came over the side of the boat and soaked us both. Now Natasha is gone, the towers are gone. It’s very, very sad, but I am very excited by this new world we are heading into.”

I have my own Ten Years After remembrance — from a quite different event that same year. It seems 1999 is the year we all partied, a bit too hearty, and we’re all trying now to put those times in perspective, learn from them and carry on.


4 thoughts on “A refreshing new media mea culpa

  1. Hi, Wendy

    Thanks for your post. I had to think very carefully about writing that apology, to be clear about what I was *not* apologizing for, as well as what I was.

    I’ve offered a lot of criticism of traditional journalistic culture, mindset, organizations, education, and practice. I do not regret that, and I will continue to do that at http://Contentious.com. But it’s so easy to focus on whatever’s frustrating or going wrong in journalism and news orgs that it’s easy to overlook what’s working well.

    I intend to try to do more of both, in an environment where the expression of my perspectives are not constrained by the sensitivities of an increasingly conservative organization.

    – Amy Gahran


  2. Thanks Amy. As a newsroom refugee going on nearly a year, I’ve become a bit weary of some of the hostility and denigration directed toward those of us with that background, even if we fully embrace the Web, as I do. It doesn’t mean there aren’t values, practices and aspects of the print world that I don’t miss and think need to be present in the digital realm.

    I suppose that all I’ve learned since I left my newspaper is that there are no absolutes in any of this and keeping an open mind about the future of journalism is essential. What surprised me is that some “new media” minds are more closed than some ink-stained wretches I know. So I was encouraged to read your post. So thanks again and best wishes.


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