The future of local
newspapers is local bloggers. Simple as that. Call them "stringers" if
you like. But if you’re going to build a bridge from the past to the
future of journalism, you’ll need bloggers to help build it.
When I broke into journalism back in the primordial muck and ooze of the computer age (anybody else out there remember working on One System terminals? How ’bout Coyotes? Bueller? Anyone?) one of the noisome tasks I was assigned as a young snot-nose reporter was sifting through the submissions from all our stringers. I was assigned this because I was at the absolute dead-ass bottom of the totem pole and nobody else wanted to deal with these wack-a-doos.
So every day, after making the calls to all the desk sergeants at the Sheriffs Departments in the surrounding counties ("Hey Elmer, anything going on today in Pepin County?" "Nope. Quieter than a butterfly’s burp. Heh heh. Wait for it – squeeeeeaaaaal, boy!") and trying to make heads or tails out of the obit notices sent to the paper from the various alcoholic funeral-home operators ("Johan Johnson is survived by son James Johnson, cousin John Jameson, brother-in-law Jamie Johanson and turtle Theodore…") I would have to pick up the giant stack of odd-colored paper from the stringers.
I learned to dread the sight of onionskin paper.
We had a stringer down in Eleva-Strum (site of the annual "Broiler Festival" which is basically an excuse for public drunkenness and lechery, wherein the local farmers put on some kind of depraved parade full of racist and sexist and scatalogical "floats" such as an outhouse built over a manure spreader being towed behind a tractor with the words "Hippie White House" scrawled over the door) who was out of her mind.
I, being the good and dutiful apple-cheeked reporterboy that I was, would pore over these brittle sheets of single-spaced psychosis, trying to get a couple of sentences to put into the "Regional Roundup" section. Since this was back in the day when cut and paste literally meant cutting with Exacto knives and pasting with rubber cement, I would carve out a couple sentences and pitch the rest.
Then one day I got a call from the old bat. She was wondering if I could send her back her submissions. I told her that I had cut out the stuff we needed and thrown away the rest.
"What! You killed my babies!" she shrieked.
"Uh … no … I … uh…" I stammered.
"All this time, you’ve been killing my babies! Killing my babies!" she broke down into sobs.
Journalism school had not yet gotten to the upper-level courses dedicated to dealing with paranoid-schizo-delusional marginal reporters … which, by the way, would be a damn sight more useful a course than most of the 400-level offerings you see in J-schools across the country. I looked up and saw the other reporters and editors in the newsroom looking at me in understanding, pity or hostile warning, daring me to just try to dump this hysterical woman in their laps.
Eventually, we hit upon a solution. I would edit down her submissions, and then I would store them in the bottom drawer of my desk. At the end of the week, I would carefully stuff them into an big manila envelope and then mail them back to her.
I offer this little cautionary tale not as a pure ego boost (well, at least not totally) for myself. This experience will soon be shared and understood at a genetic level by all the newspaper reporters and editors out there who will be seeking to include local pundits into their news gathering operation. For what you are about to receive, may the Good Newspaper Lord make you truly thankful…