It always pleases me to see talented people remaining in local journalism while all around them their colleagues are switching to government and public relations jobs.
I and my journalist wife, Denby Fawcett, have never even momentarily considered doing anything else. It’s like a calling to be a minister at a small church.
The money’s not there. Nor the benefits. And the profession is under heavy attack by the President and those who walk in his footsteps.
Yet some don’t yield to other temptations. I think of the Borrecas, Essoyans, Daysogs, Daytons, Viotis, Coles, Donnellys, Pangs, Salgados and Cruzes. Others I’ve unintentionally omitted. They hang on. Paula Akana is the most recent drop-out of the high-talent ones; she is running Friends of Iolani Palace.
Government jobs are a big attraction because they offer nice pensions and lifelong medical coverage. Most local journalism jobs here are without pensions and your medical coverage stops when you stop. You might have a 401k, although when I was at KGMB those were only offered to non-union employees.
We had severe layoffs one year at KGMB. I and other paid columnists were laid off at MidWeek on April 1st. And there have been heavy layoffs and furloughs at the Star-Advertiser. I suffered through a long strike at the Advertiser in ’63. Another one at KGMB in the 80s.
My work in this city started at $120 a week at the Advertiser in 1963. In 1965, I became their Vietnam permanent correspondent for $150 a week but I paid my own housing and meal costs. The next year, I switched to KGMB because owner Cec Heftel telegraphed he’d pay me double whatever the newspaper was paying. In ’68-’69 and ’72-’73 I defected to NBC News as a correspondent in Vietnam for a $25,000 base salary and a $1,500-a-month housing allowance. $25,000 to put my life on the line daily!
Former Advertiser reporter Peter Boylan left the news business to be a political spokesman and then an $84,000-a-year City housing coordinator with zero housing coordination experience. Can you blame him?
MidWeek this week showed how deep Covid has penetrated the local news business when it ran a paid-for cover story written not by MidWeek staff but by mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya’s campaign. Adjacent to the cover story was a full-page Amemiya campaign ad. The buzz is the asking price for MidWeek cover-story availability to candidates was $70,000, and you’ll see more of that before this election is over.
Newspapers used to be the playthings of rich men (no women) who wanted local influence and to be known as turning out a great news product, no matter the cost. Owners such as Barry Bingham at the Louisville Courier-Journal and, yes, Thurston Twigg-Smith at the Advertiser. But they would sell to conglomerates such as Gannett when they didn’t have heirs who wanted to run a newspaper and become as much a tradition business as a purveyor of critical information to the public. Businesses carefully watch the bottom line.
Since the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management took over Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper chain, 1,600 employees have been laid off and more than 30 papers shut down. 22nd Century Media, which published community newspapers in the Chicago suburbs, went out of business. McClatchy furloughed 4.4% of the newsroom staff at its 30 papers around the country.
The better money for local journalists migrated from newspapers to network TV or a large stations such as Los Angeles or New York, owned by a network. Local journalism paid wages lower than a carpenter’s or a city bus driver’s.
But as I said earlier, many hung on. It is their calling.
The future seems to be online journalism — Honolulu Civil Beat and even this blog and Ian Lind’s or the Hawaii Free Press. I’m sure the New York Times and the Washington Post will survive as print reading. But not much out there in the hinterlands, or probably even here with our big population. Young people get their news from their smart phones and some pretty dicey online sources.
Also, newspapers have becaome more political — considered by many readers to be left or right. News became more tribal and, I cringe as I say it, sometimes slanted and opinionated.
Bari Weiss recently resigned as an editor at the New York Times, saying: “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”
There’s a good, long piece on current journalism objectivity or lack thereof in last week’s issue of The Economist.
Denby and I will keep the faith, plug away right to the end of days for us.
It’s a calling.
Learn more about local journalism and network TV by reading REPORTER by Bob Jones at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.