Last weekend I attended a gathering of journalism superheroes of yesteryear.
There were reporters, editors, and photographers from an era when journalism was real, and good, and it was done the right way.
It was a time where decisions were made from the gut, not based on reader polls or corporate mandates. Instincts drove the reactions and actions of journalists on deadline, whether it be a writer, photographer, editor or page designer.
At one time during the Observer-Dispatch (OD) reunion, I looked around and noticed I was the youngest in attendance and I wondered, am I the last of a dying breed?
I was lucky enough to work at a newspaper at a time when there were no ads on the front page; when there were more seasoned veterans than there were rookies. It was a time when the rookies looked up to those with more experienced and learned from them, instead of strutting their stuff like the cocky little poodles who look at seasoned reporters as old relics who should retire.
I had the pleasure of working with and learning from the best: Tony Vella, Ed Ruffing, Barb Charzuk, Frank Tomaino, Shirley Williams, Bill Farrell, Nancy Schmeltzer, Don Challenger, Jack Marsh, Russ Davis and many more. Our Managing Editor Tony Vella use to walk around the newsroom with his sleeves rolled up…the best way I can describe him is like a taller, skinner Lou Grant. He was the real deal. He started his career when newspaper journalism was riding high and his career continued forward through the years when it was at it’s best.
At the picnic, Shirley Williams turned to me and said that with today’s stories, there is a lack of sincere human interest. Today’s stories seem to have no compassion and the human interest seems to be more about sensationalism than presenting the reader with what it’s like to walk in someone’s shoes.
That has become a goal of what I’d like the Utica Daily News (UDN) to become. The day after the picnic I was talking to our reporters, Marques Phillips and Dana Silano, and I said “That’s what we need to do.”
Even before I got out of bed, I started receiving text messages and phone calls about a headline the Observer-Dispatch had published this morning: “Serial slumlord.” The story is about the landlord who owned the apartment building where 4 people died last weekend. The cause of the fire was determined to be the cause of one of the tenants that died in the fire. For the past week, the OD has been reporting, and very well I might add, on the trail of unkept rental properties he owned. Officials have not yet released any definitive connection between the conditions of the property and if those conditions caused the 4 people to die.
“Serial Slumlord.” Is it me? Or is that a sensational headline that editorializes the story. I can’t imagine that headline flying 20 years ago. Tony Vella would have never of let that make it to print. But that was then, and this is now.
I don’t know where this UDN path I’m on is heading. What I do know is that I’m very proud of it, I’m very proud of everyone who works on it, and I am loving living in the spirit of all those journalism superheros of yesteryear with the few resources we have. I know I’ll have to keep telling the stories of those great people I worked with and what it was like to work with them. Hopefully, we will continue to make our news decisions based on instincts, and based on fairness.
People are saying that print journalism is dying. They say that news corporations are imploding and snuffing themselves out. I can see that. But I think that a few years down the line when this bad journalism nightmare has put itself out of its misery, when it has become extinct, there will be a few of us that went underground like little dormant seeds, only to one day, when winter has passed, sprout up and bring back the ethical, journalistic values of the past, and bury what is here now in the present.