THURSDAY’S LETTERS: More Thoughts on Newsroom Joy and J-School Education

By: E&P Staff

Readers continue to respond favorably to Denny Wilkins’ column about today’s profit-obsessed newsrooms, and his struggles with what to tell his J-school students about the profession they are about to enter:

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Tell them that journalism is like acting — a craft, not a profession. Tell them it has always been an arbitrary, disorganized, crazed, unfair business. Tell them their first boss will probably be an idiot with little reporting experience who will provide little practical advice. Tell them that if they want to get better they will more than likely have to do it on their own. Tell them they will be paid a ridiculously low salary. Tell them they will need six to 12 months to answer two questions: Am I good at this, and do I love to do this? Only if the answer to both questions is “Yes” should they stay. Tell them it has always been like this. In the same way that real actors will starve, will work for free, will do anything to be part of a glorious communal process, young journalists will endure and succeed and flourish — or they won’t. Tell your students the odds are against them, always have been, but that for the small number who make it, a great adventure awaits.

Bob Baker
www.newsthinking.com

Los Angeles , Calif.

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Thanks for Mr. Wikins’ piece on the state of journalism today. Unfortunately, his assessment was right on, but I would be curious to see more people discuss the issue of why newspapers seems to set outrageous profit margins and ignore the plight of their workers (salary, unpaid overtime, etc.)

I agree that the mind-set has shifted to a less confrontational press, particularly at the smaller newspapers where I have worked. But when exactly did it become OK for managers, CEOs, and presidents to make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars while staff writers and copy editors are making $10-12 an hour and having to work in understaffed situations.

I have seen poor management decisions sap the life in several newspapers, but all that those who are left can do is shake their heads and accept the situation.

I think the newspaper industry had better wake up because in an age where information is a remote or click away, the time is coming when people will shake their heads and forget about newspapers forever.

Adam Minichino
Mount Dora, Fla.

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Today’s J-school students must enter the profession with their hearts and their heads wide open — and alert.

As the world becomes more complex and filled with information and pseudo-information, journalism has an even more important function today than ever. Only clear-thinking and independent journalists can clarify which is which. Corporate media are a reality, but it’s not all black-and-white, either. Things can be done; individuals can have impact. Journalists can make a difference.

I intend to send the same message in planned courses at a new communications and journalism school (in English) starting here in Israel in the next few years. Your column is already in my file of materials for then!

Good luck!

Alan Abbey
Tel Aviv, Israel

Ed’s Note: Alan Abbey, a veteran of more than 20 years at U.S. newspapers, is Editor and Managing Director of Ynetnews.com, the English-language website of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper.

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Hal Welch, an automotive sales manager at The Athens Banner Herald, had a few questions and observations after reading Jennifer Saba’s article, Wheeling and Dealing for Classified Ads:

Your article on the shift from classified print to online was very interesting. I had a couple questions for you though. Are there any numbers out there reflecting revenue as opposed to percentages? Online spending may be up 20 or 50% but I hardly expect that it could or ever would be a viable option when it comes to floating newspaper budgets. My dept is down the same 5-7% everyone else is but the bottom line still sees $115,000 per month. My online is also up 34% but only equivilates to about $6,000 of the $115k. As someone who came to the paper business from the car business I can tell you that — although good for study, and leads — most of what a dealer gets off the Web is the most difficult sale they encounter with the least profit of any lead category. I know we as an industry must do something to hang on to our share, and the net may be the only way. Look out if it is though; local papers will have a very very difficult time with that transition. Any thoughts?

Hal Welch
Automotive Sales Manager
The Athens Banner Herald
www.onlineathens.com

Saba’s response: You’re right about the online figures. Across the board online revenues are growing like gangbusters percentage-wise but it’s still a small amount of dollars. Borrell Associates reports that while the overall automotive category grew at a rate of 2% in 2004, the Internet portion grew 51.5% to $1.2 billion. That’s still a tiny piece though. Of the $30 billion spent on all advertising in 2004, the Internet category only captured a 4% slice of that pie.

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Re: Will Bunch’s column about a reserve soldier who was reluctantly called to fight in Iraq, where he later died, one Iraq War vet has this to say:

I was moved to respond to your article regarding Gennaro Pellegrini Jr. It didn’t make me mad, it just made me tired. Do you think this brave young man would have appreciated what you wrote? I doubt it. He was an amazing man that was accomplishing amazing things. One of those amazing things was being a soldier.

This man knew what it meant to be a soldier. He knew it meant that when he was called to serve, it was his duty to answer the call. Soldiers do not have the luxury of choosing which war they will fight, they execute as ordered.

We may not believe in the cause but it can’t stop us from doing what is right. We have a commitment to our country, ourselves, and more importantly, our fellow soldiers. Reservists are ordered to combat every day. We are ordered to leave our families, our careers and our dreams behind us to fulfill our duty. It is not easy for any of us. We may feel fear and even anger about what we must do but we also feel a sense of duty.

Instead of focusing on this soldier’s reluctance to serve, you should have focused on his sense of duty and his courage.

You say that those of us who want to romanticize military service should speak to Pellegrini. I don’t have to speak to him and I don’t think you should speak for him. I also served in Iraq. No one was angrier than me when I got that fateful call. I didn’t want to go. No one really wants to go to war. It is something we do because we held up our right hand. It isn’t romantic. It is reality. Soldiers go to war.

It is sad that people like you use dead heroes to further your agenda. Your article’s agenda does nothing for the family of this soldier or his memory. Do you think he would have wanted to be remembered as the soldier who told a reporter how he didn’t want to deploy? I am sure not. He knew his brothers and sisters were in harm’s way every day. He may have been angry about deploying but he knew it was the right thing.

Please think before you use a dead hero to further your anti-Bush, anti-war sentiments. Try to use your wits and not prey on the public’s emotions. This time is hard enough for service members and their families, don’t you think?

Vicki Angell

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