(This will be an abnormally long, self-indulgent post. Bear with me…)
As one of my former colleagues put it, the days of the old H-A have officially come to an end. I’m sure the spirit of dear, departed Don Benn is furious.
My first job out of college was at the LaPorte (Ind.) Herald-Argus, the same place my hero, Ernie Pyle, got his start. Within weeks, due to turnover, I was the senior reporter on staff. I was 22. Two years after that, I left, too. It was the natural course of things, as was noted by a janitor at the county courthouse, where I spent a great deal of time covering circuit court. He noticed me, even if I never really noticed him.
“I heard you’re leaving,” he said one day. Shocked, I said that I was. “That’s what happens,” he said. “All the good ones leave.” Well, the H-A staff was a bunch of “good ones.” We did great work in all departments. Many stayed but many of us moved on. As T.S. Eliot wrote, the center cannot hold. Things fall apart.
Small dailies will always struggle with turnover and that is a shame. Every community, no matter how large or small, deserves to have a talented, hard-working news staff cover the important events that define a community. Each reader deserves to have an insightful reporter deliver information important to his or her life. And they deserve the dedication and sharply honed skills of the pressmen, the pre-press workers, the circulation folks, the sales reps and everyone else working to bring them the most vital piece of media that community will ever see—the newspaper.
It’s hard enough to produce a newspaper of quality. It’s exponentially harder when that staff turns over so frequently. It is nearly impossible when that staff is gutted.
Just ask the Herald-Argus. (“LaPorte paper cuts almost half its jobs”)
The economics of the newspaper business will forever conflict with their mission. There have always been layoffs and cutbacks and things done in the name of efficiency. Exceptions are rare (read “Salvation in Tupelo”...scroll down). So I don’t get angry when I read about more “corporate” edicts that destroy good things like the Herald-Argus—because, make no mistake, the Herald-Argus will never again be as good as it was. Nothing can be as good again that suffers such a loss of institutional knowledge, of devotion to the community. Nothing can recover from such a brutal, devastating hit to credibility. Sure, the Herald-Argus will rebound a bit and maybe even thrive, but it will never be the same.
No, I don’t get angry about these things. I grow sad over the loss. I feel an emptiness inside that will never go away and will never be filled. I’m sure once and current staffers know what I mean. Maybe even readers do, too. I’ve been gone a long time, but I still suffer the loss. That’s what a good newspaper does—it stays with you.
Do the new owners sense this, though?
The nation—perhaps the world—seems to be caught in an accountability crisis of indeterminate length and origin. No one stands up anymore. Whatever the circumstance, you would think there would be enough bravery and intelligence among the leaders of business (and governments, too) to know that the right thing to do would be to say, “This is tragic and we are sorry. We value your service. You are good people. But we must do these things to survive and thrive and be vital in the future” and then offer just compensation for the very real pain involved.
But nice guys don’t win this game. It’s just a primal, hardcore, waste-laying process I can’t quite grasp, I guess. I just don’t know what it takes. I was never a businessman.
I was always a journalist, though. And I know what it takes for a newspaper to thrive. It takes people. It takes compassion. It takes a mission. It takes honesty.
Not a line item.
My heart goes out to the staffers cut and those that remain…and to the readers who lost a good newspaper. I hope the new H-A can serve them as well.