Elegy for the hack

Steve Smith, editor of the Spokesman-Review, writes an eloquent elegy for the newspaperman and his myth.

Something is coming, some turn in the media universe, a turn in the future of my newspaper. A turn that will mean the end of me, of us. There will be reporters. Editors. Something called online producers and multi-media coordinators. Mojos. Slojos and Nojos. Bloggers, froggers and twitters.

But there won’t be newspapermen. At 58, I am among the last of a dying race.

And what a race it was. An American archetype.

He goes on to recall the myth of the newsroom, a myth that attracted me, too: tough guys, bad dressers, smokers, drinkers, schmoozers, crusaders on a Hollywood set with a typewriter soundtrack. Ah, the romance of it.

Oh, the danger of it. I think it is the tug of that romance that has held newspapermen back from changing, from seeing new opportunities in new challenges, from realizing that they weren’t about the myth but had a job to do.

So as much as I love what Smith wrote and how he wrote it, I disagree with him at the end when he says:

No instrument will ever serve the public interest so relentlessly as the daily newspaper. New media will successfully distribute data and information. “Communities of interest” will develop around niche products. And while print newspapers will survive to serve a small, elite audience, they never again will serve the larger geographic communities that gave them life and purpose. Democracy will have to find a new public square.

No instrument? Quite to the contrary, the instrument we have in the internet is quite promising. Its potential is not yet realized and may not be realized but it is there. What we need now are not nostalgic romantics but brave doers — aren’t newspapermen supposed to be brave? — who will recognize that potential.

Democracy has found its new public square. We’re in it. The question is: What is our role there? How can we help what happens there? What do we bring to the square?