Saturday, May 27, 2017

News media too trivial to be liberal; the reminisces of a reporter-type person

I get noble ideas occasionally about how being a reporter-type person is my contribution to society, but some of the modern-day world realities make me contemplate that what I do is spread triviality instead.
I still own one, although I can't recall last time I used it

I can’t help but reflect upon what has become of the newsgathering business – and not just because some dink voters these days enjoy the idea their newly-elected congressman committed assault on a British newspaperman.

TOO MANY NEWS people spend too much of their time trying to recycle the stories they’ve already reported into so many venues so as to draw attention to our original published reports. It takes time away from finding new news stories.

Yet I suspect that too many of the people who think they’re being informed by what appears on their social media accounts never bother to go beyond the dinky 140-character blurbs (if they use Twitter) or pithy single-sentence (if on Facebook) accounts to see the real story. It’s no wonder the masses are clueless.

It can be a humbling experience to think that the 1,100-word story I wrote recently out of Gary, Ind., for the Post-Tribune will only capture the public attention for about 20 words – and no more.

It causes a trivialization of the information we gather, which is what leads me to say that the concept of a “liberal” media really is a myth. We have a “trivial” media, with too much space taken up by fluff that fills column inches.

WHICH MAY BE why readership is down, publications shrink to offer less space and the quality of the product declines even further. An endless cycle – even though the ideologues amongst us want to believe it’s because we don’t pander to their narrow thought.

Yet still, I have to confess to feeling the urge to be a reporter-type person. In some ways, the desire to be the eyes and ears of the community is all the more important now in this hyper-partisan era than it was that day some three decades ago that I walked across a stage and was handed a college diploma.

My strongest memory from that day (aside from thinking that our commencement speaker was deadly dull and that it rained during part of the outdoor ceremony) was that I felt pleased in knowing that I had a job interview scheduled for later that week.
Still a comforting sensation

As things turned out, that newspaper in suburban Chicago Heights didn’t think I was totally useless and wound up putting me to work beginning Monday.

THE 30-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of which occurred this week. My first news assignment was covering a plan commission hearing in Orland Park held entirely in executive session (meaning I sat outside while officials met privately) and I had to try to decipher what was taking place inside.

Since then, I’ve had my share of interesting (and historically-significant) moments. But much has changed since the days when Ronald Reagan and Harold Washington were actual living beings, rather than pseudo-iconic figures to differing segments of our society (including the ones most upset we don’t cater exclusively to their ideological beliefs).

For one thing, that Chicago Heights newspaper is no more. Neither is the old City News Bureau for whom I once toiled. United Press International for whom a part of me will always think myself tied still exists in some form, but the old bureaus in Chicago and Springfield, Ill., where I worked are no more.

In fact, I was the one who had to pack up the belongings of that latter bureau when it closed. It’s enough to make me feel like a professional “kiss of death” to news organizations. Perhaps I should keep quiet about it, lest my current employer get paranoid about my potential influence and give me yet another job layoff.
A long-lost image we'd like to keep of ourselves

ALTHOUGH IF I think of the equipment I have used throughout the years, it seems like a collection of antique junk – although I must confess to still owning a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 computer. The famed “Trash 80” that a generation of reporters relied upon to file copy – which can’t do anywhere near what my laptop can these days.

I recall when a “fax” machine was a newsroom novelty and it was considered a revolutionary act that organizations could instantly send us statements or other detailed information. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I got a fax. And I’m sure that when I did, it was for something stupid and trivial.

I also recall the habit of always scanning a room for the nearest payphone in case I had to make a quickie call. Actually, I still do that, even though more and more there are no payphones anywhere to be used.

But the ultimate change may be that I actually wrote my first stories on typewriters, whereas one of my contemporary (and about two-decades younger) news colleagues admitted recently to never having touched a typewriter in her life.

IT’S ENOUGH TO make me feel antique. Particularly since some people think these changing tools ARE the significance of the news business, instead of merely new toys to “play” with on the job. As though I endured all that prep time early in life just so I could talk to anonymous schmoes what they think of the latest mindless ramblings of our political geeks.

Even more so than the fact I remember who were Carmen Fanzone and Harry Chappas, while most people merely draw a blank in their eyes at the mention of the one-time infielders who bobbled many a ball on both sides of Chicago but were entertaining in their own unique ways.


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