Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Our New Colleagues...

Greetings, My Friends,

My apologies for the recent dearth of e-mails. It's been a busy few weeks that have kept me away from my keyboard, but I've got a few moments to spare to bang this out. I'm hoping that in coming months, we can do more with the blog and bring in some more regulat content, but in the meantime, I wanted to weigh in on a couple of newsroom things.

First off, let me say thank you one final time to our former member Lisa Sodders, now off to her new adventure at RAND Corp. Everyone who worked with her knew of her sunny disposition and seemingly boundless energy, but I want to salute the way she was always first to volunteer for a Saturday shift or a holiday assignment. No one looks forward to those, but she was always happy to take it for the team and we should all be appreciative. She never failed to offer compliments to all of us and always believed in the paper. She was also a loyal, unflagging supporter of this union, something that will be sorely missed in her absence. But I'm glad to see her off to greener pastures and wish her the best in her new gig. Happy Trails, Lisa and enjoy the new opportunities.

And now I want to pay attention to our new colleagues and competitors -- the folks who'll be writing for Valleynews.com. Citizen journalism's gotten a lot of ink in recent years, both dismissive and supportive. To hear some tell it, it's the best thing that could happen to our industry. Others blow it off as just feel-good news. I'm far from an expert in it, but in the early days of our own foray into the waters, it seems like it'll be a good thing.

On the site, I've read about a shaved dog wandering Van Nuys, ruminations on marriage and complaints about neighbors. Pat Aidem wrote a beautiful, heartfelt piece about her husband's heart trouble. Contributors have dipped their toes into politics and taken the site into all kinds of different directions. It's in its nascent stages now, but it looks promising so far.

This isn't the kind of journalism many of us set out to do when we got into this business, but I think it's no less important to the future of our industry. Newspapers aren't what they used to be and all across the country, editors and staffers alike are scrambling to find ways to get people to care about the product. Citizen journalism isn't the only answer, but if it gets people to care about the work all of us do, then that's a good thing.

As a general assignment reporter, this is admittedly kind of scary. All of a sudden, the whole readership's got the same job I do. Whereas a beat reporter can rely on their sources to get a story no one else would, my only sources are the same ones who can now tell the story themselves. That makes my job harder, because now I'm competing against a bunch of new faces. I think I'll still be able to get the good stories, but now, I've got the chance to get beaten in my own paper by my own readers.

So while that's scary, I like the challenge. It should keep us all sharp to know that we're not the only ones with the voice of authority now-- anyone with a computer who can string a sentence together or snap a digital picture can take us on. But just like we relish the chance to compete with the Times or any other media here in town, hoping that our skills, talent and training will produce a superior product, I'm looking forward to that competition. I want to prove I can beat these people and turn out something that they want to read and pass around, just like we'll do with their work.

And I'm glad that as the paper trots down this road, that it's not totally turning the reins over to the folks who've never done it before. I like that not only do we have a mix of Daily News veterans like Jason, Rick and Mark and new folks like Alejandro and Denisse, but that they've been made part of the newsroom. The company could have stuck them off in marketing and paid them crap wages, but instead, they made them reporters, just like any other department.

Rather than going through a fight to organize them and make them union-covered positions, we worked with Ron and Melissa to make these jobs a full-fledged part of Editorial. The same goes with our Web team, who also now enjoys the protection of the union contract. These folks are doing the same work as the rest of us, so they deserve to be treated as such, both by management and the rest of us.

Will Valleynews and programs like it be the thing that puts journalism back on the track to the promised land? Who knows? I haven't spent enough time in the biz to make that judgment. I don't think that the people who've spent decades doing this know that yet. But it's a good start, one that I hope will help keep the job we love and the business we signed on with going for years to come.

Thanks for your time and support, as always,


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