[Posted by Evan Maxwell]
Patterico, sly dog that he is, has granted me the power to pontificate in his absence. My guess is that he really thinks himself Tom Sawyer and he has gotten somebody to paint fences for free.
But that’s the joy of the Blog. The entry cost is very low. A few electrons and time.
Patterico and I connected because of our mutual interest in my alma mater, the Ol’ Grey Lady, El Tiempo de Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times. I served fifteen years in the bullpen of that tree-killing institution and I admit it, I got a great big kick out of using that bully pulpit to exercise my insights and spread my blather across a million plus billboards each morning.
But I always blathered with the secret knowledge that I didn’t really own the pulpit. Therefore I was constrained, by editors, other reporters and ultimately by the Great Otis himself, the late publisher during my era, Otis Chandler. These multiple censors, if you will, were built-in filters of my work. I covered crime, and I discovered quickly that certain types of crime were regarded as unworthy of coverage: stories about Latino prison gangs were excoriated by some of my colleagues as examples of “institutional racism;” Dorothy Buffum Chandler didn’t like truly disgusting homicides with her morning eggs; a certain key member of the editorial board believed police chases were inherently evil exercises in testosterone and should be discouraged and ridiculed.
Those are the kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle influences that all reporters, even the most fearless and intrepid ones, face each time they sit down at the typewriter (how quaint an antique) or the computer keyboard. Ultimately, I got sick of battling those influences and went off to write novels and nonfiction with my wife and by myself. I left the newsroom in 1984 and haven’t been back, even to visit, in almost twenty years.
But the newsroom hasn’t really changed all that much. For better or worse, or both, newsrooms are still the same slightly inbred, always entertaining and fascinating places they once were. I don’t think they are any more diverse, despite heavy efforts to change the mix by including more minorities. They are still bound by often-unstated but forceful rules about what news really is, and what journalists and the public at large should think about the news. Newsrooms have changed only by getting smaller and more anxious. You would be anxious, too, if you saw 82 of your colleagues frog-marched down to Human Resources one morning and stripped of their press cards, their jobs and to a great extent their self-chosen identities.
What has changed is the rest of the world. The Blogosphere has given rise to all kinds of new voices, different voices, happy voices, angry voices, insightful voices. The Bully Pulpit of the daily broadsheet has rivals now. They are quicker, they are much more diverse and they are often, though not always, just as smart and insightful as the guys and gals with presscards and Tribune expense accounts.
Newspapers and networks and magazines will not pass from the scene. And they still provide the background against which we in the Blogosphere operate. But they are not the loudest voice in the room any more. Nor can they expect to go unexamined and unchallenged.
So I look forward, boys and girls, to a few days of telling tales out of the newsroom and to offering my peculiar insights into the new media-rich world we live in.
And I promise to try to be a little more brief.
– Evan Maxwell