Death of a Staterman – Act II

Nick Baker

As a journalist, I would like to naively believe I can put my heart and mind into what I write and the public hangs on every word. That is how I began in this business. The reality, however, is a disappointing bastardization of that idea.

To sell the word, it must be what John Q. wants, nothing less and certainly nothing more. I am slowly but surely becoming that bastard.

My delusional belief in creativity and the use of well-picked and well-placed words is dying an increasingly quick death. And am I beginning to understand that it’s not so much about the words, but about how they are packaged, shipped and received? And in this business, as in most facets of life, people don’t want all the bells and whistles.

As a child, I wanted a Happy Meal for the toy, and the food was a nice bonus. As an adult, I just want the damn food, and all the time spent dreaming up and designing a nice cardboard box for a Big Mac that I have to open and discard is just slowing me down. People want simple news, not lofty words or a lot to think about.

I have had countless experiences with editors in the newsroom in which I am reminded that something I wrote is too wordy, too detailed and too lengthy for anyone to care. Too many words mean people will almost instantly be turned off. Yet as a writer, words are my passion.

Putting them in innovative and creative pieces is what I strive for. Despite this grandiose vision of what journalism should be in my eyes, I am constantly reminded that I must be concise, condensed and in general, pretty damn boring.

The cliché is, “Think outside the box.” Only as journalists, in our haughty attempt to “inform the public” (read those words aloud in a nice, stern voice), we are responsible for that box.

We box up everything we think needs to be said about the world into a convenient little package, which we hope will sell despite the constant reminders from our journalistic predecessors that the American public’s attention span is more and more resembling that of a brick.

But we, as journalists, must sell the written word, regardless of whether or not we fully stand behind the words underneath our bylines.

We must sell the word because we want to believe we represent the last bastion of straight-up truth-tellers. Television news, unlike print news, tries to catch viewers with flashy tricks and lots of yelling, a far cry from the blandness of newspaper writing.

From the smug Sean Hannity to the abrasive Chris Matthews, television represents an in-your-face form of entertainment in which viewers are told what to think by personalities who surely must know what they are talking about.

In print news, I suppose we would like to think we care only about the news. That would be the most satisfying rationale I could come up with. Only what makes news is purely subjective, and our field is based on the subjective nature of objectivity.

What is news? Who is important? Who is it worth telling?

Who’s going to buy the most papers?

Who’s going to buy the most ad space?

Forget about truth, ’cause we can give you truth. We are more concerned with who we are going to give it to and whether or not they will eat it up.

So this is the death of a Staterman.

My requiem will be that one day my work, and indeed the work of all newspaper journalists, will be regarded as the factual preservation of history. Sure, no one will remember the name on the byline. But we must believe that what comes under the name will be what people recall years from now.

We hope that trimming away the fat will allow the historical contexts to be clearer and ultimately what people remember.

Perhaps Chuck D. said it best when he stated, “History shouldn’t be a mystery. Our history’s real history, not ‘his story.'”

I guess that, my friends, is the whole damn point.

Nick Baker is a junior newspaper journalism major and a reporter and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].