I recently visited a web site called AngryJournalist.com. I had read about it in a commentary from a prestigious journalism think-tank, the Poynter Institute. At first I thought it was a joke, then I got angry, because its welcome screen read:
“Tell us what’s making you upset at your journalism job. Anonymity guaranteed. One rule: no real names.”
How oxymoronic! Journalists sign their work. They report the news without fear or favor, or at least they should. To post an anonymous complaint shows fear. Even if some of the posters hold media jobs they are not journalists. Journalism is a standard of performance, not a position. And that standard is incompatible with anonymous caterwahling.
I live the frustration and fear so common in this age of disruption. Last year I survived a one-in-four cut in my newsroom. Empty cubicles surround me where colleagues once sat. I wonder when my turn will come. My paycheck is the main support for me, my wife and three kids. My wife had a cancer four years back. She is in remission but is now uninsurable outside of a group health plan. I worry about this but it doesn’t make me angry. At who or what? The 21st Century?
Instead I focus my indignation on the moral corwardice of American journalism. The most important decisions we as journalists make is what we cover and what we ignore. And it is the tone of coverage that sickens me. Setting aside politics and crime, what passes for news seems like so much hedonistic trivia meant to drive advertising sales.
I find this “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” sensibility completely at odds with what I see around me. I’m a frugal man. My commute car cost less than an iPod. A carpool buddy sold it to me as a favor. Yet for the first time in my life, at age 53, I must now balance my checkbook for any debit over a hundred bucks. This fluffy coverage represents the collective judgment of thousands of putative journalists. They too are anonymous for all practical purposes. But their judgments bother me. Aren’t media supposed to be a mirror? Mirror, mirror on the world, what the hell is wrong with you?
Since I work inside the system I do what I can. On my beat I try to cover stuff that I think matters. When things fall through the cracks I write a memo. I try to keep my anger in check because it doesn’t help. My editors are stuck between the newsroom headcases and the boardroom briefcases. No surprise which wins more often.
But I will not put a black bag over my angst and whisk it off to some anonymous Internet holding cell. If it disturbs you that a journalist who kicks ass and takes names by day goes home some nights and cries, then you should be disturbed.
Every morning I get up and put on a tie and my moxie and do it again. I know that thousands like me must do the same. We pick a few battles and try to manage the career risk by keeping our bitch-to-byline ratio positive. I sure wish we knew who each other were because I’m driving my family crazy and I could use the company of people who can understand how much it means to me to be a journalist, how hard I work at it and how little I get in return.
Meanwhile, I wish these anonymous whiners and wankers would change the name of their pissing pond to DepressedJournalist.com. That way they could enjoy the catharsis without tarnishing the brand of those of us who journalists and are angry enough to take our stands.