Death of a Staterman – Act I

Nick Baker

It’s a quarter to 1 in the morning. It has finally reached that point in the night where I am officially out of good reasons to not start writing. I open up another cheap can of Schlitz and force myself, like I have dozens of times before, to sit down in front of a blank computer screen to coerce inspiration and put it into meaningful, captivating words in the hopes that someone picks up the paper and takes the four or five minutes to read what I have to say about whatever aspect of worldly events currently concerns me, and moreover, that they care.

Without any tangible foundation or direction for the basis of my first crack at the Forum page of the Daily Kent Stater, I start to wonder what the hell I could possibly have to offer in written form to the readers of this column that would be of any insight.

As the cheap brew flows and the clock progresses, I begin to be distracted by the increasingly obvious realization that I have nothing good to say. I think, “Christ! I’m a journalist!” After all, this is what I do. I tell people things, and I do it in writing. So why now, when presented with an open forum to piss and moan and tell people whatever I want, am I struggling to come up with a concept worth putting in writing?

I figure the best thing I can write about is what I know. Write about what I do. So, I am a journalist. I write. I write things with an infinitesimal hope that somebody will read my cleverly constructed words and pay attention.

Only this business of journalism does not reward creativity in written form, at least not in the newspaper realm. Instead, we are not merely encouraged, but instructed, to dumb down accounts of incidents, withdrawing detail and description and giving the story a quick smash in the trash compactor. At heart, I am a writer. As an occupation, I am a writer who must sell what I write to people who could probably find something better to do. And I’m told they are easily distracted.

It is necessary to conform to the occupation you choose in order for anyone to take you seriously. A few years ago, I came into this field thinking I could skate by on my quick words and good looks, but there are things you learn, things that start to slowly diminish the alluring power of the printed word and the First Amendment.

So one half-hour and another Schlitz into this foray into the heart of op-ed journalism, I begin to question how I can explain what it is that I do. I stand around, observing events and talking to bystanders, looking for the right character to give me a good quote. “Hey you, yeah you, the one who’s been standing next to this savage car wreck for the last 45 minutes, circling the scene and taking in all the gruesome details with your camera phone. What did you see? Good God, you say through the windshield? And off the side of that SUV?”

And there it is, enough information to craft a story. I stood around, I observed, I asked questions and I packaged them up for a newspaper.

This brings me to my hope that my words will affect somebody in some way. Why do I bank on this hope? Why do I feel like realizing that hope represents the pinnacle of journalistic achievement, when in reality, me personally breaking the consciousness of the reading public through fancy words is hardly a realistic goal?

I once believed that I could show up in college, serve my time on various student publications for a good look, and walk out with the world at my fingertips simply because I knew how to write and I put my heart into whatever came out in ink.

But I have become jaded after my short two and one-half year career, and have concluded that in this business of journalism, and I do mean business, heart is not the top concern when dealing with journalistic writing. No, no, heart falls somewhere behind selling papers to readers who often don’t care and selling ad space to businesses by convincing them readers do care.

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