There is a quote — I think it’s from Garrison Keillor — that seems incredibly dated to me now, and likely seemed dated to most of the rest of the world a long time ago.
“Newspapers are where TV people get their information.”
As hazy as my memory can be, I swear I remember proudly wearing a shirt with that quote on it early in my newspaper career, which ended almost a month ago when I switched from newspapers to television after 21 years of faithful service to the print medium.
For those two-plus decades, defending newspapers was something I relished, and describing print journalism as a noble profession was something I would pepper into many conversations with TV news often propped up as the sensationalistic antithesis of the righteous job done by us scribes.
That quote helped solidify a longstanding belief, one grounded in a life spent reading newspapers and wanting to see my byline in dailies, that TV reporters were just good-looking hacks more concerned with getting attention than with finding the truth.
Dismissing, distrusting and flat out disliking TV people became a common theme in the newsrooms where I set up shop. Instead of recognizing the solid work being done by broadcast journalists, I would focus on their slight missteps, like an occasional off-topic question at a news conference or less than flattering fashion and hair choices past and present.
Certainly there were some TV news people who weren’t good at their jobs, but I can recall just as many newspaper people who lacked the ability to consistently gather news, write efficiently or both.
Time softened my stance on some broadcasters, as did allowing myself to befriend a few TV folks who not only produced respectable bodies of work, but also helped begin to shatter the “all appearance, no substance” stereotype that had inhabited my brain for so long.
After just a month of working at a TV station, I can say with total confidence that I had it all wrong, at least as it pertains to my current employer. The people I share a newsroom with now flipped my misguided notion of what broadcast journalism was on its head, then told that notion where to go and that it should stay gone.
Not a day on the new job has passed without me being borderline amazed at something one of my co-workers did. Granted, part of the reason for my newfound wonderment is because the job is still pretty new to me, as are my office mates and the city. Drinking in all of this change has been mostly delightful and a welcomed departure from the somewhat stagnant work and personal life I had been leading.
Nevertheless, prior to the first interview with the station that hired me, I still figured I would be a career newspaper man. There is no denying that the future of the state of the print industry scared me, particularly after seeing several rounds of layoffs affect co-workers I knew — some were good friends — but I kept holding on, until I was ready and able to let go, and I haven’t regretted it for even a second.
It’s not that I suddenly dislike newspapering. A part of me will always love it and during frequent visits to grandma’s, I look forward to grabbing the Winston-Salem Journal off the sloped driveway, the way I have hundreds of times ever since I could walk.
Being able to enjoy reading the work of my former colleagues online is a treat now because I’m just a reader, not their copy editor, although some habits die hard and when I see unnecessary prepositional phrases or adjectives in their stories, it’s all I can do not to text them with corrections or suggestions.
But I don’t. I mostly just hope for their sake that I can continue to read their stuff and that they will have a place to write it because my belief that printed communication is still an honorable trade has not changed.
My job is different now, as is the way I deliver stories, but I’m still a news gatherer. I learned on Day 1 here that my co-workers expect our station to be first and to be accurate on every story we produce. From covering a car accident or a murder trial to doing investigative pieces and timely features, the reporters, anchors, producers, digital team and everybody behind the scenes — everybody, period — works hard and takes pride in that work. It truly is a sight to behold for a guy like me who once thought TV news was as easy as typing some words into a teleprompter and reading it.
Trust me, even that isn’t as simple as it looks or sounds.
After being partly to mostly overwhelmed the first week or so, I think I’m starting to find a groove and hearing “Good job, Tony” once or twice has set my mind at ease a little bit. Each work shift is fast-paced and challenging and there is still so much I don’t know, but I’m learning more each day and I’m inspired by sharing a newsroom with so many talented, driven, savvy journalists.
Because that’s what they are: Journalists. They’re not just TV people to me anymore.
They report the news, they care about getting it right and they don’t need newspapers to do either of those things anymore. Maybe they never did.