Don’t Bean Count Me

We're mad as hell. Why do we continue to take it?

I’m sick of hearing about the bottom line. About cost benefit analysis, bean counting, profit margins, and soft markets. I’m sick of newsroom cuts, of reporters sent home, of newspaper teams—families, really—broken and torn. I’m sick of buyouts, of slashes, of cutting the fat.

Why do journalists put up with this? I’d love for every single reporter, from the tiny three-reporter office in a small town in Ohio to the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, to lay down their pens and notebooks, turn off their computers and recorders, and strike. Stand up, walk out, and show that we are a force. And we’re pissed.

This month, some 1,000 newspaper reporters have lost their jobs, with about 150 positions cut from the Los Angeles Times alone. Owners of newspapers big and small are splicing and dicing their workers, who, after dedicating their lives to the craft, to the people, are suddenly left unable to serve.

“You guys have given this place everything and asked for little in return,” one reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News wrote to his colleagues there, after twenty-two jobs were cut earlier this year. “You’ve sacrificed yourselves for love of the craft and love of the community…”

And it’s true; we are working for you, dear reader. We are your news.

We are stories and facts that people need to and want to know. We are the eye-opening adventures, the inspiring accounts, the watch-doggers, the justice-seekers, the tattle-talers, the unravelers, the explainers.

Most of America, I suspect, still gets its news from traditional sources. We are still how you know the election, the Oscars, the Super Bowl, and the war. We are how you know about international affairs, political revolutions, the economy. We are your eye on your city council, your school district, your mayor, and your president. We are who won, what’s playing, how to save money, and where to spend it. We are cures, we are disease, we are questions and answers. We are how you know—and, to our fullest capabilities, we are your voice. Without us, it would sure be one long game of telephone.

I’ve been a journalist for a few years now, though I’m only twenty-six. Along the way, I have found reasons to keep at it. Like a story my journalism professor at USC, Miles Corwin, wrote about a racetrack in Los Angeles. “I drove by that race track all the time,” I remember him saying, “and I wanted to know if people actually lived in those old falling apart buildings.” As it turned out, those were the track workers’ homes, and they were in appalling condition. After his story about it came out, the track was forced to clean up its act and provide the workers with a better place to live. By reporting the facts, we sometimes effect change, because people throw up their hands and say “what the hell.”

Politicians, victims, people in need; people who stop reading the article halfway through, people who mostly like sports or the arts or the health or business news—people need to know what is going on. They can take action. Or they can just think about it. But they are richer and more connected for knowing.

So to all the billionaires out there who own newspapers: many of you have enough money to burn for several years. This is something worth burning it for. This industry is worth it. This industry’s ideals—knowledge, choice, mutual understanding—are worth it. Don’t soothe me by saying that everything will get better in the future, when we learn how to market off of the Internet. Do not tell me your hands are tied because the beans have been counted and there just aren’t enough.

Take pride in what we are. Help us evolve. Replace our newsprint with Web pages for all I care. But don’t destroy what we do along the way.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Kathleen Nye Flynn is a writer based in California.