Two Types of Journalists

I recently read Carl Hiaasen’s new novel, Basket Case. While I don’t share his passion for the environment, I do love it when he rants about the state of journalism. I hope he doesn’t mind my sharinging a few of this thoughts here.

“Only two types of journalists choose to stay at a paper thats being gutted by Wall Street whorehoppers. One faction is comprised of editors and reporters whose skills are so marginal that theyre lucky to be employed, and they know it. Unencumbered by any sense of duty to the readers, theyre pleased to forgo the pursuit of actual news in order to cut expenses and score points with the suits. These fakers are easy to pick out in a bustling city newsroomtheyre at their best when arranging and attending pointless meetings, and at their skittish, indecisive worst under the heat of a looming deadline. Stylistically they strive for brevity and froth, shirking from stories that demand depth or deliberation, stories that might rattle a few cages and raise a little hell and ultimately change some poor citizens life for the better. This breed of editors and reporters is genetically unequipped to cope with that ranting phone call from the mayor, that wrath-of-God letter from the libel lawyer or that reproachful memo from the company bean counters. These are journalists who want peace and quiet and no surprises, thank you. They want their newsroom to be as civil, smooth-humming and friendly as a bank lobby. Theyre thrilled when the telephones dont ring and their computers tell them they dont have e-mail. The less there is to do, the slimmer the odds of them screwing up. They dream of a day when hard news is no longer allowed to interfere with putting out profitable newspapers.

The other journalists who remain at slow-strangling dailies are those too spiteful or stubborn to quit. Somehow their talent and resourcefulness continue to shine, no matter how desultory or beaten down they might appear. These are the canny, grind-it-out pros who give our deliquescing little journal what pluck and dash it has left. They have no corporate ambitions, and hold a crusty, subversive loyalty to the notion that newspapers exist to serve and inform, period. They couldnt tell you where the companys stock closed yesterday on the Dow Jones, because they dont care. Once upon a time they were the blood and soul of the newsroomthese prickly, disrespecting, shit-stirring bastardsand their presence was the main reason that bright kids lined up for summer internships.”

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