I recently visitedÂ a web site calledÂ AngryJournalist.com. I had read about it in a commentary fromÂ aÂ prestigious journalism think-tank, the Poynter Institute.Â At first I thought it was a joke, thenÂ I gotÂ angry,Â because itsÂ welcome screen read:
“Tell us what’s making you upset at your journalism job. Anonymity guaranteed. One rule: no real names.”Â
How oxymoronic! Journalists sign their work. They report the news without fear or favor, or at least they should. ToÂ post an anonymous complaintÂ shows fear. EvenÂ if some of theÂ postersÂ hold media jobsÂ they are not journalists. JournalismÂ is a standard of performance, not a position. AndÂ that standard is incompatible withÂ anonymous caterwahling.
I live theÂ frustration and fearÂ so common in this ageÂ of disruption.Â Last yearÂ IÂ survived a one-in-four cut in my newsroom. Empty cubicles surround meÂ where colleagues once sat. IÂ wonder whenÂ my turn will come.Â MyÂ paycheck is the main support forÂ me, my wife andÂ three kids. My wifeÂ had a cancer four years back. She is in remission butÂ is now uninsurable outside of a group health plan.Â I worry about thisÂ but it doesn’t make me angry. At who or what? The 21st Century?
Instead I focus myÂ indignationÂ on the moral corwardice of American journalism.Â The most important decisionsÂ we asÂ journalists make is whatÂ we cover and whatÂ we ignore.Â And it isÂ the tone ofÂ coverageÂ that sickens me. Setting aside politics and crime,Â what passes forÂ newsÂ seems like so muchÂ hedonistic triviaÂ meant to driveÂ advertising sales.
I find this “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”Â sensibilityÂ completelyÂ at odds with whatÂ I see around me. I’m aÂ frugal man. My commute carÂ cost less than an iPod. AÂ carpool buddy sold it to me as a favor. YetÂ for the first time in my life, at age 53,Â IÂ must nowÂ balance my checkbookÂ for any debit over a hundred bucks.Â This fluffy coverage representsÂ the collective judgment ofÂ thousands of putative journalists. They too areÂ anonymousÂ for all practical purposes. But theirÂ judgments botherÂ me.Â Aren’t media supposed to be a mirror? Mirror, mirror on the world, what the hell is wrong with you?
Since I work inside the systemÂ I do what I can. On my beat I try to cover stuff that I thinkÂ matters. WhenÂ things fall through the cracks IÂ writeÂ a memo. IÂ try to keep myÂ anger in checkÂ because it doesn’t help. MyÂ editors are stuck between the newsroom headcasesÂ andÂ the boardroom briefcases.Â No surprise whichÂ wins more often.
But I will notÂ put a black bag over my angst andÂ whisk it off toÂ some anonymous Internet holding cell. If it disturbs you that a journalistÂ who kicks ass and takesÂ names by dayÂ goes homeÂ someÂ nights and cries, then youÂ should be disturbed.
Every morningÂ I get up and put onÂ a tie and my moxieÂ and do it again. IÂ knowÂ thatÂ thousandsÂ like me mustÂ do the same. WeÂ pick a few battles and try to manage theÂ career risk byÂ keeping our bitch-to-byline ratio positive. IÂ sure wish we knew who each other wereÂ because I’m driving myÂ family crazy and I could use the company of people who can understand how muchÂ it means to me to be a journalist, how hard I work at it andÂ how little I get in return.
Meanwhile,Â I wish these anonymous whiners and wankers would change the name ofÂ their pissingÂ pond to DepressedJournalist.com. That way theyÂ could enjoy the catharsis withoutÂ tarnishingÂ theÂ brand of those of us whoÂ journalistsÂ and are angry enough to take ourÂ stands.