By: E&P Staff
Laurie Garrett, the prize-winning Newsday reporter, left the Melville, N.Y., paper Monday with a blistering memo to her colleagues that may provoke debate elsewhere in the newspaper industry.
Garrett, whose leave of absence allowing her to work at the Council on Foreign Relations ends March 8, announced that she would not be returning to her paper ?largely because? her work at the Council had proven to be the most exciting challenge of her life. But clearly there were other circumstances as well.
?Ever since the Chandler Family plucked Mark Willes from General Foods, placing him at the helm of Times Mirror with a mandate to destroy the institutions in ways that would boost dividends, journalism has suffered at Newsday,? she wrote in the memo, which was posted at the Poynter Institute’s Romenesko site. ?The pain of the last year actually began a decade ago: the sad arc of greed has finally hit bottom. The leaders of Times Mirror and Tribune have proven to be mirrors of a general trend in the media world: They serve their stockholders first, Wall St. second and somewhere far down the list comes service to newspaper readerships.?
Garrett won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for her reporting on Ebola. She?s also won a Polk Award and a Peabody and was finalist for another Pulitzer in 1998. She left National Public Radio to work at Newsday in 1988.
?The deterioration we experienced at Newsday was hardly unique,” she wrote in the memo, describing the past few years. “All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions. Long gone are the days of fast-talking, whiskey-swilling Murray Kempton peers eloquently filling columns with daily dish on government scandals, mobsters and police corruption. The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity.
?When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person’s apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they’d found and told the truth. If they hadn’t been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way. …
?Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of ‘snappy news’, sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger’s offices in Times Square. Profits: that’s what it’s all about now. But you just can’t realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it’s damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.
?This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness.?
Garrett lamented ?Judy Miller’s bogus weapons of mass destruction coverage, the media’s inaccurate and inappropriate convictions of Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill, CBS’ failure to smell a con job regarding Bush’s Texas Air Guard career and, sadly, so on.? But she added: ?It would be easy to descend into despair, not only about the state of journalism, but the future of American democracy. But giving up is not an option. There is too much at stake.
?So what is to be done?
?Now is the time to think in imaginative ways. … Opportunities for quality journalism are still there, though you may need to scratch new surfaces, open locked doors and nudge a few reticent editors to find them. On a fundamental level, your readers desperately need for you to try, over and over again, to tell the stories, dig the dirt and bring them the news. …
“Make me regret leaving, guys: Turn Newsday into a kick ass paper that I will be begging to return to.?