A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were standing in a hardware store trying to figure out which contraption works best for storing a garden hose.
Another customer, standing near us, overheard our discussion and weighed in. It was clear he’d done his research. We laughed as we explored the ins and outs of hose winding. In the end, we went with his choice.
Walking out of the store, I couldn’t help but think of the typical newsroom. Stay with me, please, as there is a connection: In both places — in the aisles of a hardware store and in just about any place where reporters gather — you’re likely to benefit from the gift of someone else’s expertise. All you have to do is raise a question, and the opinions fly.
Sometimes you’re getting help to pick out a silly home improvement tool.
Sometimes you’re brainstorming how to protect democracy.
Alert the blogosphere warlords: Here I go again.
I’ve written a lot about the decline of newspapers and how this imperils a thriving democracy. I’ve had a stake in newspaper journalism for more than 30 years, so call me sentimental if it makes you feel all warm and superior. Do, however, grant me the lessons of my experience. I’ve worked as a freelance writer for peanuts and as a staff person with the rumbling force of a major newspaper. With few exceptions, there’s no comparison.
Online aggregators and so-called citizen journalists never will be a substitute for the newspaper tradition. For that, you want reporters with the time and expertise to dig through the lies and obstructions of politicians with something to hide. For that, you want reporters who make a living wage. You also want reporters who put up with one another in the same room on a regular basis, with time to breathe. Home offices and Facebook do not a newsroom make, no matter how often you’re instant messaging.
I recently confided to a fellow journalist that I miss working in a newsroom. “I miss the camaraderie,” I said, “all the brainstorming.”
He shook his head.
“No,” he said. “You miss working in the old newsroom, the one 10 years ago. You don’t miss what’s going on now.”
We all should be worried about how the changing personality of newsrooms is crippling the creativity of their brightest people. I’m not talking about editors who dumb down content and issue bans on narrative journalism. Those are bad developments, but smart reporters always find ways to work around uninspired bosses.