An email from a reader in Chicago — the city where hard-nosed, hard-headed and hard-drinking newspapermen pounded their typewriters and defined a hell-raising style of our profession that is now all but long-gone — wanted to know why I refer to myself as a “newspaperman” and not a “journalist.”
The late and legendary newspaper columnist Mike Royko once told me that we should never refer to ourselves as “journalists.”
“Someone I can’t remember once said a ‘journalist’ is an unemployed newspaperman,” Royko said. “Whoever said that was damn right.”
I’ve always suspected that unnamed “someone” was Royko himself. He was great as coming up with great comments like that but seldom took credit.
In these days of Internet and “social media,” that is anything but social, I’m damn fortunate to still be able to write and photograph for a newspaper. Delivering news and information on processed wood pulp is, many believe, a dying profession.
Yet it is one where supported by billionaires who lose millions owning newspapers.
Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, rescued The Washington Post. My checks for my newspaper work comes form BH Media, owned by billionaire Warren Buffet. That chain now owns the dailies in Roanoke, Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, among others, and also owns The Floyd Press and many other weeklies.
Throughout history, ownership of newspapers has been a past-time for the very wealthy and some used that ownership to push their own agendas on how America, and the world, should function. William Randolph Hearst used his newspapers to advance his causes and was the inspiration for Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane.
Rupert Murdoch used tabloid style newspapers in England and other parts of the world to build his media empire that includes Fox News, referred to as “Faux News” for many of us who cling to the notion that reporting should be based on objectivity, not political opportunity.
Warren Buffet is not known to impose his beliefs on the reporting of the newspapers he owns. BH Media gave the local paper in Manassas time to turn itself into a decent “community newspaper” when it took it over. When it didn’t, the chain shut the paper down.
But chain ownership also means cuts, consolidations and decisions based on bottom line conclusions that were non-existent in the glory days of the newspaper business.
Most of us who work for newspapers aren’t rich. The only time I made money in my life was while working as a political operative in Washington. I loved the fat checks but hated what I did to get the money.
Now, as a semi-retired newspaperman living back in the mountains where I went to high school in the early 1960s, I am back writing and shooting photos for the weekly where my practical newspaper career started in 1962. My articles sometimes appear as well in The Roanoke Times, my first daily newspaper reporting job after I graduated from Floyd County High School in 1965 and left the county.
Call it deja vu ‘all over again’ or just some good old-fashioned karma comin’ round.
Or just call it good luck for a man who loves what he does.
I’m a newspaperman.