Pulitzer and Peabody winner Laurie Garrett has decided not to return to Newsday, for reasons she lays out in a memo to her erstwhile colleagues that Romenesko
got a hold of.
She has more options than most, from her current gig at the Council on Foreign Relations to writing books that sell enough.
But she evidently loved being a science writer at Newsday. What she did not love was what Newsday's corporate owners were doing to the monopoly paper for Long Island.
She really lets the Tribune corporadoes have it, below the jump.
Read the whole thing, if you care about the parlous state of journalism today, but here's the nut:
Ever since the Chandler family plucked Mark Willes from General Foods, placing him at the helm of Times Mirror with a mandate to destroy the institutions in ways that would boost dividends, journalism has suffered at Newsday. The pain of the last year actually began a decade ago: the sad arc of greed has finally hit bottom. The leaders of Times Mirror and Tribune have proven to be mirrors of a general trend in the media world: They serve their stockholders first, Wall Street second and somewhere far down the list comes service to newspaper readerships. ...
All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions.
The pain she refers to is a circulation fraud scandal, which, while obviously criminal, was the almost inevitable effect of relentless pressure for ever-higher profits.
She's had the chance, at CFR, to find out that Newsday's "deterioration" due to its profit focus is not unique.
This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness, in which cynically placed bits of misinformation (e.g. Cheney's, "If John Kerry had been President during the Cold War we would have had thermonuclear war.") fall on ears that absorb all, without filtration or fact-checking.
What's are we missing, thanks to bottom-line "journalism"?
The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. ...
Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of "snappy news", sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.
So, what do good journalists do now?
Now is the time to think in imaginative ways. Salon and Slate have both gone into the black; in nations like Ukraine and South Africa courageous new forms of journalism are arising; some of the blogs that clog the internet are actually quite good and manage to keep politicians on their toes. Opportunities for quality journalism are still there, though you may need to scratch new surfaces, open locked doors and nudge a few reticent editors to find them. On a fundamental level, your readers desperately need for you to try, over and over again, to tell the stories, dig the dirt and bring them the news.
She concludes hopefully:
Newsday has always had more talent than it knew how to use. So go ahead, Talent: Show them your stuff. I'll be reading. ... Make me regret leaving, turn Newsday into a kick-ass paper that I will be begging to return to.
I wish I had such hope for the future of American journalism, at Newsday and elsewhere.