“It would be smart if you argued the point,” he says, pointedly.
My old friend Curtis Lawrence, from my early reporting days in the Twin Cities, did not get laid off. He quit the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004 to teach journalism full time at Columbia College in Chicago. I ask him the same question I asked of Tom and Brenda. How’s the newsroom look from the outside?
“I’m not that encouraged by the current state of the media, but I don’t think it’s hopeless,” he says. “I’m discouraged that there is less and less public affairs reporting on government and close-to-the-bone neighborhood issues. The argument has always been that the media gives people what they want. There’s some often-repeated saying that if all someone gets is hamburger and never gets steak, they’ll think hamburger is pretty good. That’s the direction the business seems to be going. You could even substitute bologna for steak.”
Lou and Driscoll are having lunch in a bar filled with cops and reporters. “This could be the old days almost,” Lou says.
“Almost,” Driscoll agrees.
“It’s good to be part of it again,” Lou says. “I feel I’m in touch with things. Getting back on a newspaper is like being with a woman who doesn’t shave her legs.”
“That’s beautiful,” Driscoll says.
“Yeah,” Lou says. “Reality. Maybe you don’t like it but it’s real.”
Driscoll spots Rossi taking a seat at the bar.
“I don’t like that kid,” he says.
“I’m not nuts about him either,” Lou says. “But he’s good. Real good.”
“Maybe,” Driscoll concedes. “But he’s got no idea about humanity. He doesn’t care.”
I’m at Medill on a gray fall morning not long ago to talk to a graduate-level feature writing class. It is taught by another ex-Tribune staffer, Alan Solomon, who took a buyout about a year ago. I think there’s more dignity in jumping rather than waiting around to be pushed, but Solomon tells me the landing hurts either way.
There are about a dozen students, sitting at a twenty-foot-long table, listening to me talk about a five-thousand-word profile I did of Reverend Jesse Jackson. I spent a summer with him, flying across the country and to the mountains of Venezuela, where Jackson had the villagers chanting in English, “I am somebody.” I tell the students that those days are over. It’s hard to find a five-thousand-word newspaper story these days. The Trib’s Sunday magazine was killed and most of the staff let go.
But I don’t want to discourage the kids. As one points out, they’ve paid good money to come to Medill and the university has already cashed their checks. So I tell them what is in my heart rather than my brain: being a journalist is fun and honorable and important and I’d do anything to get back into the newsroom. I still want to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I still care.
Solomon has the students write stories about my talk as a class assignment. “It would be too harsh to call Don Terry a cautionary tale,” one begins. “He’s closer to a warning—and a gentle reminder—that in the twenty-first century, the business of journalism, the careers of newspapermen, are too fleeting and fickle.”
Driscoll comes through. The old pro falls off the wagon but climbs back on long enough to write a story that could blow the lid off a police scandal. But Mrs. Pynchon is worried about the impact on the paper. It looks like she’s going to kill it. Driscoll joins Lou to commiserate at a newspaper hangout. Rossi comes in with the early edition. Driscoll’s story is page one.
“Oh my God,” he says. “She ran my story.”
Lou pulls the paper across the table for a better look. “Well, well,” he says. “We work on a newspaper. A real newspaper.”
The credits roll. I turn off my iPod and go to sleep with a smile on my face. Maybe in the morning, I’ll start a blog.