* Editor’s Note: The end of this post contains a minor House of Cards spoiler.
Photographer Will Steacy has a photo essay on his online portfolio called ‘Deadline;’ I’ve seen it pop up on several blogs this past week.
In the essay, Steacy memorializes the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer, from their first buyout in 2009 through their move from the iconic ‘Tower of Truth’ office tower and into a single-floor office at the top of an old department store. Some of the photos, such as the before-and-after of the old newsroom—full of desks and phones and people, and then an empty shell—are riveting.
Steacy’s father worked at the paper for 30 years, and his layoff in 2011 is chronicled in the photos as well.
I think the photos themselves are a well-produced piece of work, but I have mixed feelings about some of the editorializing that went along with it on the ‘value of journalism’ and that sort of thing. I don’t think change has to necessarily be a bad thing. They needed a massive newsroom back in the pre-computer days because there were some jobs that were just less efficient than they are now.
When my dad first started working, around the same time as Steacy’s father, they still were paying people to work switchboard and type messages! When those jobs went, some people got upgraded to more executive assistant type jobs (we have one at my workplace, and I promise you, her job is a lot more complex and stimulating than just answering phones!), and some perhaps left the industry to get trained for other things.
And yes, there were perhaps a percentage of typists and file clerks and switchboard operators who were too far along to adapt and find a place in the new corporate structure. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone now, thirty years later, who would argue for a return to those days just to save the jobs of those few people.
The industry is in transition; I agree with Steacy about that. But I think that, when the dust settles some, we’ll find that some jobs will go, but other jobs might yet come.
Offhand, I can think of half a dozen bloggers who grew their new media platforms into a book deal or more; I can think of as many writers who made their name peddling their own stuff, as indies, on the Kindle store.
I think, too, that we need to be careful about assuming that Steacy’s father’s newsroom will be replaced by a new monolith who will then endure the ages the way the newsroom didn’t. This is the flux generation, where things grow and change and evolve as the world does, too. To survive in this digital age, you have to be nimble and flexible and open to new opportunities.
The Beloved and I have been watching the much-hyped first-ever Netflix-only series, House of Cards, over the past month and there is a great moment where a young reporter is offered a much-sought promotion at an old-school newspaper.
She has been filing great stories thanks to a powerful Deep Throat-type character who has been helping her, and she is delighted to share the news with him of the success he has helped her achieve. His response surprises her: He tells her to turn it down.
He needs someone in his pocket who is nimble and quick and, above all else, available. She can’t be tied down to the schedules and editorial protocols and press conferences of a newspaper if she’s going to be useful. She must make the decision to either stick with the old way, and achieve only the success they prescribe for her, or to go off on her own—scarier, but with more possibilities. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Steacy’s elegy for the old days.
Hi, Joanna. The “in his pocket” scares me; in that sense, society would have been better off with the old system. Of course, the counter argument is that owners and management of newspapers can be compromised, so the sleaze is at the institutional level. That is why I’m keen on a mix of blogs and mainstream–ready to police each other.
Meanwhile congrats on all the good stuff you’ve bern writing for TeleRead lately (along with others).
“He needs someone in his pocket who is nimble and quick and, above all else, available. She can’t be tied down to the schedules and editorial protocols and press conferences of a newspaper if she’s going to be useful. She must make the decision to either stick with the old way, and achieve only the success they prescribe for her, or to go off on her own—scarier, but with more possibilities. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Steacy’s elegy for the old days.”