Giving Up is Not the Answer

A letter appearing in today’s NY Times prompts my response – Good Riddance.
The letter:
Why I Decided Against a Career in Journalism
To the Editor:

Re “Journalism’s Misdeeds Get a Glance in the Mirror,” by David Carr (The Media Equation column, July 30):
After holding top positions on my college newspaper for the last three years, I recently decided not to pursue a career in journalism. Coincidentally, Mr. Carr’s examination of the public’s lost confidence in the news media shares some of my rationale.
While he rightly criticizes the journalists in the phone-hacking scandal, he explains that they succumbed to the pressures of cutthroat competition and ruthless profit motives.
In many ways, these journalists reacted to the demands of the consumers of their reporting: a public infatuated with the private lives of celebrities and the sordid details of their gossip, infidelities and failings. Readers, too, share some culpability for driving reporters down such a contemptible path, through their continued subscriptions and consumption of those dubious tabloids.
Perhaps when the media replace supplying the guilty pleasures of their readers with the ethical pursuit of the truth, then journalism will be the right field for me.

JAMES R. SIMMONS Jr.

I offer this response:

Dear Mr. Simmons,
I wish you well in whatever endeavor you choose and congratulate you on your decision not to pursue a career in journalism.  Obviously you dont have the fire-in-the-belly to really succeed in this field which will require creativity, stamina, perseverance, and commitment.  Forgive me, but as someone who has worked and succeeded for more than 40 years as a journalist I’d conclude from your letter that you dont seem to have the gumption.
Yes there are admittedly many troubling things about our field – corporate ownership, a troubling economy, business models which are in flux.  Sure we’re making mistakes – we tend to see things too often in terms of scorecards – who’s leading, what’s trending, what’s the latest (even when there is little that’s new or changed).  Too often it seems we hype rather than just report.  All true.
We reduce even the more complicate social issues to short and often too simple vignettes, as if that does justice to the issue.  Network news stories are pitifully abbreviated; print lines and newspaper sections are often embarrassingly thin, compared to what many of us remember only a few years ago.  
New models of news, including many of the services aimed at college-aged students such as yourself are thin on substance and too-hip-for-their-own good.  New programs that feature scandal and celebrity over substance are not what I find much favor with — but trends come and go and change is always part of the equation.  Some times it requires more patience as change – including audience’s tastes – adapt.  Yes, there have been mistakes – and there are also corrections.  I suppose if you want to toss blame maybe we ought to include an education system that seems content not to teach civics or citizenship much less create an awareness or sufficient appreciation of the integral role we should responsibly play in society.
Yes Mr. Simmons there is much that is wrong but if you don’t have the stomach to be part of the solution then I am glad that you have decided to pursue a career elsewhere.  To me Sir it is better that you have been culled you from the pack lest readers/audiences, including me, become saddled by your bemoaning and wailing.
Perhaps you might follow a career in  politics?  Or business? Surely there is nothing too challenging or wrong about those fields, or is there? 

Sincerely,

Peter Shaplen

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

2 thoughts on “Giving Up is Not the Answer”

  1. Peter, my good friend, I agree with the letter-writer. He says the system is corroded and corrupted. He’s right. You say individual journalists can make a difference. You’re right — but to an ever-decreasing extent. The corroded and corrupt system will win. Always has. How much do the corporate owners care about the public’s right to know? How much do they care about their bottom line? That ratio has dramatically shifted through the years. I gave up on that system long ago, as you know, and I have utmost respect for those who stay and try to fight the good fight. But they are steadily losing more ground every day. It is terribly sad but it is true. I think you are unfair to the young man. It seems to me he is not gutless, but has rightly understood that journalism, which once was fertile ground for dedicated young people who cared about the world, is now very parched territory.

  2. Lee – your note is – as always – thought provoking and I thank you for writing it. I wish you’d add it as a comment on the blog too. I agree the territory is parched – but that’s why we need creative & committed leaders more than ever.
    I was also struck by his record that he held senior positions on his paper for 3 years – but then, still decided to change (abandon) his avocation… that seems wrong too. If he harbored doubts then he might well have relinguished those positions of prominence earlier in favor of others who want to carry on the battle. I agree fighting the good fight seems Quixotic. I agree the odds favoring change seem long indeed. Maybe ‘gutless’ is too strong but I still say good riddance… we need all the fight we can muster. All the gumption that we can summon. All the tenacity that we can summon and devote to the fight. The business has changed – it’s not the business that won our hearts oh-those-so-many-years-ago… I do wish him well… especially in another field where he feels he will have greater success.

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