If my former newsrooms were people I would be attending many funerals.
My past lives fall around me. My first journalism job was at The Birmingham News in Alabama, which recently stopped printing. So did other papers in my home state, The Mobile Press Register and the Huntsville Times. The Tuscaloosa News, where I worked when my daughter was born, said goodbye to its building and my former co-workers gathered at the wake. Overall, 2,500 newspapers in the United States have closed since 2005. The country will lose one-third of its newspapers by 2025.
It was in those buildings I looked for salvation in the form of a career I could love. I found that and friendship and love and trial by fire. I also learned not to use cliches like “trial by fire.”
I’m not sad about these changes but I miss those newsrooms. Buildings fall. People grow up. Technology changes. Isn’t that how we know we are alive?
I tell journalists who speak to my university classes not to look back.
“Students don’t care what we used to do,” I remind them. “They are moving forward. Do not — do not — talk about how things used to be.”
I put on my stern professor face. I don’t blink.
But when we — the old folks we never thought we would be — talk about newsrooms as institutions, they are unrecognizable. One of my former students wanted to know: Why do we seem to miss old-school newsrooms so much?
I told her I didn’t have an easy answer but that I would think about it and try to write it down. So here we are.
How did things used to be? I almost can’t remember. Yet it is there, faint like a darkroom-developed picture in the black-and-white recesses of my heart. I remember.
I believed our newsroom was a kingdom called Justice.
It was our personal fiefdom named Truth.
Our laws were built on Fact and Empathy.
We all wore a crown there, even if many of us didn’t fit anywhere else. We came from near and far to tell stories. Some of us escaped Bad Places and Mean People. Others chose to be in those rooms and had always wanted to be.