Tuesday, August 11, 2009
An Open Letter
These past few months have caused some introspection on my part with regard to this medium I call “newsmcnabb”.
When I started writing this journalism/media criticism blog, I was convinced that it was filling a void. No one was keeping a day-to-day eye on news in all media in Central Texas. No one wrote critically about the Austin American-Statesman. Few were writing about so-called “new media”, the traditional media’s web sites and the blogosphere. For the most part I still think this is still a valid pursuit after some 115 posts during the past ten months.
Feedback regarding the newsmcnabb site has been most favorable. I’m gratified and humbled. It was fun reading this past week for example that one of my readers is a ninth-grade journalism teacher. That’s fun. Thank you.
I also seem to have alienated some friends still in “the business” who have been moved to anger or some other emotion after reading a post focusing on their newsroom or medium. Emails that were once friendly in tone have become icy with formality, calling me “Mr. McNabb”, which I have always thought was reserved for my 93-year-old father. Other emails use terms like, “…with all due respect…” which can be interpreted as veiled disdain. Another said, “I will respectfully decline this and future offers to provide source material” citing the competitive nature of the business. This friend has not replied to my follow-up email.
It is my perception that people in this market nowadays are taking things way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong. I was and still am more into competition than many. Witness my campaign to make the top three on Austin360.com’s “A-List” not long ago. There was a time when people had fun while competing and practicing journalism here in Austin and Central Texas. Some shops may still be having fun, but they don’t outwardly show it. I am convinced that newsrooms where you hear laughter are also the newsrooms producing quality reporting. Show me a white-knuckled newsroom, and I’ll show you a newsroom that makes mistakes out of fear of making mistakes, if nothing else.
When one is in the news business, one may grow an extra layer of thick skin. I never did. No one enjoys rejection. When I was in the business, and I would have to handle a mean-spirited soul on the telephone, I would not roll over. Many of my former colleagues have heard me engage in righteous debate with people who wished to take me on. When the smoke cleared, however, I would debrief myself and even beat myself up, thinking that I might have handled that call or that email better. One can never retrieve words, you know.
So, during the past few months, I’ve been asking myself if continuing writing this medium is worth losing friends. I may rightfully wonder if they were really friends in the first place, and if they were not, then there is no loss. If real friends are muzzled by management, is it fair putting these true friends in the middle of possible controversy or in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they talk to me about anything, even if it has nothing to do with journalism or media?
Believe it or not, this blog consumes chunks of my time. I don’t just sit down and start writing, shooting from the hip. Many topics require a fair amount of research. I do pay attention to the truth. Part of truth telling is fact finding, asking questions. If I cannot get facts or answers, it is difficult to tell the whole truth. Some stories are left untold. A reporter cannot write about something if they don’t know about it, even if it is “good news”.
I congratulate Michael Vivio, publisher of the Austin American-Statesman, for his good news this past week. Cox will retain ownership of the newspaper. I also thank him for calling me after I emailed, even though he was not wishing to comment further. I respected that, and I didn’t use anything that he told me during the ensuing conversation. In a similar vein, I am appreciative of the spokesperson for Fox TV who returned my call within minutes about their bad news that Fox 7 was laying-off seven employees. These are two people whom I have never met, yet they helped confirm information, if nothing else.
Those whom I have counted as friends, however, either will not or cannot have these conversations. For going on 40 years I have been forming friendships and building relationships in Central Texas and Austin media in particular. Those relationships were built on trust and respect. It saddens me when some apparently no longer see me as a friend because of the newsmcnabb blog.
So, in this “Open Letter” I’m asking you, should I continue? Does this serve a worth-while purpose? I’d like to know your thoughts. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org use the “comments” button at the bottom.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Posted by NewsMcNabb at 5:14 PM