Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Who Says There's No Future in Print Journalism?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 4:04 PM

he job seem about as humiliating as forming the middle rung of the creature from the film The Human Centipede
  • The ad makes the job seem about as humiliating as forming the middle rung of the creature from the film The Human Centipede
The Tennessean is looking for an editor and has posted the opening on Gannett's website. In another era — like five years ago — I would have thought it to be a bit undignified for a hallowed daily paper to indiscriminately cast about for a wise and courageous leader, but I get it now. The Tennessean doesn't care as much about picking somebody locally who understands the city as it does finding a subservient middle manager who can keep the place open a little longer.

Nowhere are the job's bureaucratic traits more evident than in the posting itself, the likes of which only Dwight Schrute would take seriously. Rather than say in the sort of plain language that journalists are supposed to speak, that Gannett wants a smart, hardworking, aggressive editor who will break news and anger people who run things, the posting talks about upholding "journalism standards across all platforms." With that one little phrase, Gannett has just eliminated the best type of person for the job — someone who'd have no idea what a platform has to do with running a newspaper.

The ad also notes that an editor's job is to "Lead planning and oversee execution of content strategies" and to "Organize, manage and lead the Information Center staff by reinforcing the mission and providing local content," which I think means, treat reporters decently and help them do their jobs. That wording shows just how sterile this job has become. And what exactly is an Information Center anyway? What's wrong with the word "newsroom"?

At the risk of reading too much into a posting on a corporate website, the main problem with this job notice is that it elevates "information" and "content" over news. News is what all of us — liberal, conservative, independent — want from our daily, along with a good blend of pointed, wide-ranging commentary. I don't think we necessarily want "content." News is John Arriola running the clerk's office like a used tire shop. Content is the 2,329 comments following a Tennessean story on whether wives should submit to their husbands.

There was a time (like, say, before the Mark Silverman era) when working as the editor of a paper like The Tennessean meant something. You were in a position of importance and trust, and you had the opportunity to make a difference — and have the time of your life. Not anymore. It's no longer enough for the editor to work with his or her staff to publish a relevant and interesting paper. Now the editor must facilitate "strong community connections" (huh?) and "work to balance customer needs with business imperatives," which is code for slashing the paper's budget whenever Gannett is feeling especially worried about its stock.

Even in the midst of a horrible economy and an even worse time for daily newspapers, being the editor of The Tennessean should still be fun. This posting, though, makes the job seem about as humiliating as forming the middle rung of the creature from the film The Human Centipede. In both cases, you have to eat a lot of crap and pass it on. The new editor, however, should take some solace — in the movie, the middle one is the only one left standing. Well, sort of.

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