They've been saying that journalism has been dying for as long as I've been doing it.
Anybody who knows anything about newspapers, they say, will tell you they're dying. The debate mostly seems to be about the timing of the last rattle and creak of the press. Then there's dissecting the causes, naming conditions and culprits.
Generally, if you know a couple of newspaper veterans, you should do whatever you can to keep them apart, because they're as gloomy as moping vultures. If you get a few of them together, they will tell you how horrible it is until your ears bleed. They will tell you nothing's like it used to be; "We used to be important," and old reporters have been treated horribly.
At my first daily paper, the publisher was an old, Associated Press guy, and he'd tell me how he missed his own college graduation to report a story, something important where he had to run 17 blocks to find a pay phone and call it in. Then, next breath, he'd suggest I find another line of work, because real reporting was dead. That was almost a decade ago.
When I started here, at the Clayton News Daily, my editor told me that when people asked him what he did for a living, he lied. He said he was so tired of people telling him all the terrible realities of newspapers that he just didn't want to be identified with it all anymore. He stopped coming to work a couple of weeks later. He might as well have hung a big banner up around his empty desk: "None of this matters. Journalism is dead."
I guess I believe the experts, when they say journalism is dying. I don't have any evidence they're wrong. But, sitting here in a newsroom, I realize that I don't care. So what if it's dying? So is the sun. So are the Biblical withering grass and flowers. If the industry, and everything on paper, really does eventually pass away, it doesn't change anything.
I'm usually a pretty pessimistic person, but when I think of journalism, I have a hard time being gloomy. You know why? Because this is a fantastic job.
Maybe it's just me, but I love being a reporter, and if people ever stop reading papers, I'll thank them for having read them at all. Because being a reporter has been great.
One of the first big projects I did, when I was at a school paper, involved calling up the president of the teachers' union and asking him a bunch of questions. I was nervous at the impertinence of this, just calling him and asking impolite questions. But then he answered the phone and my questions, and I realized, with the sort of exhilaration usually reserved for skydiving, that I was now free, as a reporter, to ask questions.
I hadn't been this free since I was a kid. To ask "why," and "what," and "how come?"
This is like the freedom to wear a super hero costume or not wash your face. It's the totally liberating experience children give up without knowing what they're doing. As a reporter, you get a little bit of that back. Uninhibited curiosity is OK again.
I've gotten to ask about spawning salmon and about casket sales, about murder and about growing trees. I've asked about guns and trains and the vagaries of constitutional law. I've asked crying people why they're crying, politicians if they're lying, and what it's like to watch a way of life die.
I don't know of many jobs that allow you to be interested in the whole weird world. Journalism encourages it.
I'm leaving the Clayton News Daily, at the end of this week, because my fiance has a job in Germany, and I'm following her there. I'm going to be teaching writing, so I'm leaving journalism for at least a little while. I imagine I'll be back, if journalism doesn't finally die, but anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for reading. I'm glad I got to do this.
Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.