At Large : Enough about you
Newspaper people spend a lot of time thinking about their business and their places in it. Sometimes, thinking about their business actually gets in the way of doing their business.
Often, such self-reflection is unhealthy because it leads to generous grants of dispensation for past slip-ups. Taking one's own measure, at least by newspaper types, also leads to vast expressions of high-mindedness and greater purpose, which in the day-to-day run of the work have little to do with anything. And, nowadays, it can lead to whining, especially about how the Internet has mugged the newspaper industry.
I have in mind testimony by David Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, before a Senate committee on May 6. Senators, whose motives, as always, require intense and skeptical scrutiny, are apparently worried about their friends in the media.
"When you hear a newspaper executive claiming that his industry is an essential bulwark of society," Mr. Simon told the Senators, "and that it stands threatened by a new technology that is, as of yet, unready to shoulder the same responsibility, you may be inclined to empathize. And indeed, that much is true enough as it goes. But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry's part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he's as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger."
And, later in his testimony, "When locally based, family owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed."
Some journalist observer/participants - Mr. Simon is one - take stock in honest terms, and their reviews can be refreshing, if a little flattening.
Or, for instance, writing about columns such as this one I suppose, Russell Baker, the long-time New York Times OpEd Page humorist, wrote, "It takes great self-confidence to write a newspaper column. Some might say it takes arrogance. Be that as it may, my willingness to pronounce on a great many matters of which I have little or no knowledge is one of my prime qualifications for this trade."
Now, you will probably join me in thinking that Baker may have gone a bit far in these remarks, especially about the little or no knowledge thing, but nevertheless there is a grain of truth there.
The comment that follows, written by a one-time United Press International Washington bureau manager, seems exaggerated of course, but - well, you judge for yourself.
"A newspaper is not the place to go to see people actually earning a living, though journalists like to pretend they never stop sweating over a hot typewriter. It is much more like a brothel - short, rushed bouts of really enjoyable activity interspersed with long lazy stretches of gossip, boasting, flirtation, drinking, telephoning, strolling about the corridors sitting on the corner of desks, planning to start everything tomorrow.