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'Out of the News' in two reviews

Published Wednesday, September 19, 2012 11:00 pm by John McClelland, editor


AOJ members have several books out now and on Amazon. This one is directly pertinent to the current crisis in journalism. A veteran looks around and a newcomer looks ahead.

We came to journalism as a calling...

By Susan Parker

Most journalists enter the field because they want to make a difference, somehow, somewhere.

They want to uncover things that need to see the light of day – not for sensationalism, to sell newspapers or attract viewers, but because they sincerely want to make their communities better, more honest, more productive and healthier, happier places. ...It’s a calling, a vocation and a way of life.

Former reporter Celia Viggo Wexler mentions this in her introduction to “Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis.” ...She has painted a picture of a profession that is undergoing a transformation that is as much identity crisis as it is outdated business model. [full text]

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Tales from troubled times, words of hope

By Lauren Hightower-Emerson

The past few years have not been kind to journalism. With the Great Recession, the national hemorrhaging of the industry reached an alarming level of layoffs, reduced content or going online-only.

As a young journalist in my first job out of college, I looked on with confusion and dread. Even my own little corner, a small, family-owned paper, the second oldest in Texas, had talk of paycuts, hiring freezes and a few layoffs.

Since then, print-based journalism is showing signs of recovering. But the question remains, how did this happen? [full text]

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  Celia Viggo Wexler was an award-winning journalist for more than a decade, working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., Lafayette, Ind., Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., before becoming a public-interest lobbyist. A longtime member of the National Press Club and Investigative Reporters and Editors, she joined AOJ in 2011.

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[Full copy Parker]

We came to journalism as a calling...

A review of 'Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis,' by Celia Viggo Wexler

By Susan Parker

Most journalists enter the field because they want to make a difference, somehow, somewhere.

They want to uncover things that need to see the light of day – not for sensationalism, to sell newspapers or attract viewers, but because they sincerely want to make their communities better, more honest, more productive and healthier, happier places to call home. The good ones sincerely want this on a deep level, and not not because they want to become media stars or get rich, but because they view this as the right thing to do. It’s a calling, a vocation and a way of life.

Former reporter Celia Viggo Wexler mentions this in her introduction to “Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis.” Wexler drew on her own experiences with journalism, advocacy and lobbying as well as those of 11 former journalists. She has painted a picture of a profession that is undergoing a transformation that is as much identity crisis as it is outdated business model.

“Being a journalist isn’t something you get over, I realized. It’s a way of thinking about things that is forever a part of who you are,” Wexler writes in her preface. “But journalism was also changing. Newspapers were shedding jobs, and fact-based journalism was being challenged by bloggers and websites. The Internet was enabling everyone to share and comment on the news, with little editorial intervention”

Those of us who were working journalists at the time saw the foundations of our profession rocked like an earthquake, but the significance of this sea change was not necessarily fully obvious at any given time. Wexler’s book charts a course that helps connect the dots that took us from where we were to today’s new and rapidly changing world.

In her conclusion, Wexler points out how to some extent the profit motive and rise of corporate media undermined the profession itself. This is evident, she writes, in important or in-depth stories killed for want of space, in the frequent failure of journalists to ask probing questions, and in the rise of punditry and news as entertainment rather than education.

Her conclusion?

“It feels as if journalism of the twenty-first century may deliver two kinds of meals – fast-food, from the slimmed-down shadow of your daily newspaper or broadcast news outlet – if you’re lucky to have either – or the gourmet feast of high-quality investigative reporting, reporting that of necessity can only take on a few, high-profile, long-term issues.”

Yet despite the depressing state of journalism today, Wexler remains optimistic about the its future, one in which a new generation of reporters will find new ways to sniff out and share information, while technology will facilitate reaching many audiences.

There’s food for thought in “Out of the News” for new or aspiring journalists, newsroom veterans and citizen news consumers alike.

  Susan Parker, voices editor at The Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., has worked there since 1990, as youth editor, as editorial writer, and since 2001 as editorial page editor. She has been a member of AOJ/NCEW since about 2005.

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[Full copy Hightower]

Tales from troubled times, words of hope

A young journalist's review of 'Out of the News'

By Lauren Hightower-Emerson

The past few years have not been kind to journalism. With the Great Recession, the national hemorrhaging of the industry reached an alarming level of layoffs, reduced content or going online-only.

As a young journalist in my first job out of college, I looked on with confusion and dread. Even my own little corner, a small, family-owned paper, the second oldest in Texas, had talk of paycuts, hiring freezes and a few layoffs.

Since then, print-based journalism is showing signs of recovering. But the question remains, how did this happen? Was it all the fault of the Internet? Or were there other, more subtle shifts inside the industry that paved the way for this nationwide crisis?

In her book “Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis,” Celia Viggo Wexler offers her opinion, as well as the stories and opinions of eleven others who left journalism at the top of their game, when they held positions others might see as the pinacle of success.

Wexler takes a unique approach in examining the causes of modern journalism's struggle. Instead of a broad analysis of nationwide figures and trends, she goes to the people who lived the industry. These people worked their way to the top and saw the inner workings on a personal level.

She presents an individualized perspective on the many things that brought journalism to its knees.

But also through these stories, Wexler presents a glimmer of hope for former journalists and those still in the industry. The people featured in her book are no longer “journalists,” but the skills they developed in journalism have proved to be valuable tools in whichever profession they chose. That could be tracking government corruption for a nonprofit, writing dramas for HBO or even working in environmental activism.

By showing the value of skills learned in good journalism, Wexler shows us the bricks that can be used to rebuild and pave a road back to success.

This book connects with journalists on a personal level. It walks the reader through the lives and careers of former journalists step-by-step to their career pinnacles. And it follows them through the problems that force a choice: to stick with the career they loved or take a risk and find their way in unfamiliar territory. Although each of these people chose to leave journalism, the reader still finds a grain of hope.

The reader might well read slowly in small bits, to really digest what is said. This is a book I would recommend for journalists of all levels. It offers words of caution for the young beginner and perspectives that can touch the veteran.

But most important, it contains personal looks at some of the mistakes that have been made, so perhaps we can avoid them in the future.

  Lauren Hightower-Emerson is community conversation editor at the Victoria Advocate in Victoria, Texas. She graduated from Baylor University in 2007, joined the Advocate in 2007 and joined AOJ in 2012.

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(Amazon book orders placed via the AOJ website link cost the same, but AOJ gets a slice.)[back to top]


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