I recently spent a week with Steve Smith and 10 other editors and their top Web editors at a Knight Digital Media Center conference in L.A., focused on the digital future of the news industry. Steve is a former managing editor of The Eagle, now executive editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
As soon as I read Steve’s recent late-night blog post waxing nostalgic for the dying breed of hard-bitten newsman, I knew his post would draw some predictable criticism. Yes, those good old days tended to shut out anyone who wasn’t a good old boy, and the arrogance that has been an albatross for the news industry grew deep roots through that era. Some of the posted responses are the typical, “this is exactly what’s wrong with your business.”
I read Steve’s post as a harmless piece of end-of-the-day whimsy. Much of the good old days weren’t all that good. But Steve touched on something that another former Eagle managing editor, Theresa Johnson, and I talked about occasionally. Newspapers don’t really have many odd characters anymore (some of you who’ve been to the newsroom might dispute that). At least, they don’t make up the critical mass of the staff. Steve’s post reminded me of a story that a colleague from a small newspaper in North Carolina once told me, about an angry city editor who threw half of a wax-paper-wrapped sandwich at a reporter. The sub sandwich hit the reporter in the head, and then everyone went back to their business.
I enjoyed reading Steve’s post, but I don’t feel all that nostalgic about many parts of the good old days. Like any industry, changing times mean letting go of some parts of what we were — the hardest pieces are the ones that disappoint readers. We tend to think the news business is a little different in the changes to its culture and character, but as I look across the downtown skyline on a Friday night, I’m thinking the stories would be just as colorful in all those buildings emptied out for the weekend.