letters to the editor

Notes from Online Readers

CJR.org readers weigh in on journalism career mistakes and the shrinking Sacramento press corps
December 1, 2010

In CJR’s September 28 news meeting, “Woulda Coulda Shoulda,” we asked our readers, Have you made any pivotal career mistakes and, if so, where have they led you?

A long time ago, I was an intern at the Columbia Journalism Review, It was like being a bat-boy for the Yanks . . . working with writers like Wren Weschler from The New Yorker. Just answering the phone was a thrill—Fred Friendly is on the line. That first paycheck from CJR for writing an article. Incredulous that people actually get paid for writing. Then with the encouragement of an associate editor at CJR, I applied to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and somehow got accepted.

I had that nagging sense I was no journalist. I could barely type five words a minute; I often jumbled things up; the braces on my teeth whistled when I said words with an “s.” For some reason I declined my acceptance and moved up to Boston to play drums in a rock band with my brother. I figured I could get a job at a Boston daily and play in the clubs at night. How wrong I was! I ended up working odd jobs here and there.

How many young aspiring journalists would have jumped at that acceptance letter? I often thought, one-time working as a carpenter, stepping on a nail. Where would life have taken me if I had gotten my masters in journalism?

Ten years later, I got a job as an associate editor at a trade magazine then got promoted to editor. Then after that, my band-mate brother suggested we launch a magazine together. We lasted about five years before the financial crisis shut us down. That was two years ago. I think John Lennon said it best, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” —Dan Sheridan

In his October 6 piece, “Not Watching Sacramento,” CJR’s Joel Meares took a look at the California capital’s shuttered news bureaus and dwindling press corps to assess what that means for coverage of the nation’s largest state government.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Yes, the Sacramento press corps has shrunk badly, but having watched it closely as the Bee’s editorial page editor from 1978 on, I’m not sure it was ever as searching as the fond reminiscences suggest. Big stories were missed—among them the booby traps in the state’s quasi-energy-deregulation bill that brought on the electricity crisis of 2001-2. More important, serious TV coverage of Sacramento all but vanished in the late 1980s and returned only briefly to chase Schwarzenegger in the year or two after he was elected. And only rarely, given the size and complexity of the state, did the fundamental governmental problems of the state get serious coverage. Everybody knew when the budget was late, but hardly anyone knew why, or what Sacramento’s politics meant in terms of the programs and policies that the political battles were about. —Peter Schrag

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.