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January 19, 2015 / jeffnward

Another book excerpt!

Chapter 2 is complete! And let me tell ya, writing a cohesive book is nothing like writing even five columns a week. It’s not nearly as easy!

In this chapter, I talk about how 2006 was the last good year for newspapers and thus, the last opportunity to make some sort of effort to sttave off the impending print media decline. But despite a plethora of farsighted folks offering the kinds of suggestions that look eminently sensible in 2015, newsrooms were immune to any sort of introspective capacity or the need to change and adapt.

So here’s my explanation for the underlying current that created this bizarre dynamic in which the folks charged with calling out the rest of us couldn’t apply that same scrutiny to themselves:

—-

And I wasn’t nearly the only one proffering these kinds of propositions either, but putting forth anything that involved any kind of introspection or internal change was an exercise in futility. It was like asking Kim Kardashian to keep her clothes on.

You see, much like India’s caste system, newsrooms were prone to a bizarre kind of hierarchy that made improvement virtually impossible. We’ve previously touched on those strata in chapter one.

Before the pervasive print media layoffs completely changed the dynamic, the Untouchables consisted of the stringers and freelancers. The reporters were the Shudra, followed by the Vaishiyas or section editors, then the managing editors or Ksatriya, and lastly, the publishers, executives, and owners made up the Brahmin class.

It’s not that these ‘castes’ didn’t communicate or interact with each other because they did. It was that those interactions were selectively filtered.

For example, if a freelancer made any kind of suggestion, it was summarily dismissed simply based on the source. Most reporters had their finger directly on the public’s pulse, but more often than not, the section editors shot their content ideas down. Some of my managing editors came up with phenomenal proposals to increase readership, but since it wasn’t the publisher’s idea…

And so forth and so on.

Remember former managing editor Greg Rivara? The one who got me into this mess? He used to call it “managing up.” In other words, in order to get anything done or change anything at a newspaper, not only did you have to do your damndest to keep your immediate superior from making yet another disastrous decision, but you had to convince them that any new concept was theirs before it would even be considered.

So the bottom line was, nothing changed. It was a happy obliviousness.

One Comment

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  1. The Observer / Jan 19 2015 3:40 pm

    Your description of newspaper management sounds a lot like that of the screw-up
    “program directors’ if radio stations.

    Years ago, one current (again!) radio personality described program directors as:

    “zit-faced high school grads with relatives in the radio business, who think every
    listener likes the same juvenile stuff they do.”

    After hearing the programming on WGN-AM these past few years, I tend to agree.

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