It’s easy for a writer with many years between now and retirement to look in horror at the current scene: Newspapers folding, great reporters being laid off—and all this infernal talk about changing publishing models. Please, spare me that shit. I’d rather die of starvation than boredom.
Here in Chicago, the struggling Tribune has been taken over by a windbag real estate magnate who appears to know little and care less about journalism and writing. The management goons he has put in place—like management goons everywhere—talk about the newspaper like it’s a blank slate with a brand name. Let’s turn the Chicago Tribune into MySpace!
A newspaper is not a blank slate to Rick Kogan, Trib writer and son of legendary Chicago newspaperman Herman Kogan. To Rick, who now finds himself something of an elder statesman in Chicago journalism, a newspaper is a life. (A life he has always generously tried to help eager writers into. As a favor to a friend of mine who was trying to help me break into Chicago journalism, Kogan once took me to the Billy Goat, bought me three highballs in 40 minutes, gave me five story ideas and promised me he’d introduce me to the right editor to pitch them to.)
In a column by local media writer Mike Miner, Kogan acknowledges that he doesn’t know how to fix the Trib so it makes money again. "I don’t know anything about video or the Internet," he says.
But to Tribune management, he says, "Whatever way you guys go, don’t forget it’s all about the word."
And to publishers everywhere, Kogan adds: "It’s hard not to be seduced by the new. But I will argue forever that to think of words as the old is crazy."
When I begin to succumb to worry, I reassure myself by remembering that scribes have been around since caves have had walls, and that if I’m a good enough scribe I’ll be around as long as I want to be. (Which, of course, is all the security a writer has a right to ask for.)
Readers, what comforts you in the middle of this writer’s night?