The truth about pessimism

by Zen Vuong

Old journalists are disgruntled journalists.

The statement isn’t true for all veteran reporters, but it is a truth generally acknowledged for those who have survived the once grand and profitable newspaper industry. It is true for photojournalists at the Los Angeles Daily News. They were once flown to Washington, D.C., for presidential events. It is true for many Los Angeles News Group journalists who remember being permitted to drive a company car. And it is definitely true for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, which once occupied two floors with a view. The newspaper’s quarters have since been reduced to a first-floor closet office.

“Are you sure you want to get into the newspaper business? It’s not too late to get out,” is a refrain I heard over and over as I visited all nine newspaper offices of the Los Angeles News Group. Many of my colleagues were joking, but I realized some were barely joking as they issued a litany of complaints about the state of the media business in Southern California.

I met journalists who took pay cuts even as the company asked them to produce more content, including videos, and contribute to a greater social media presence. Reporters were no longer just reporters. They needed to be multimedia mavens.

Stories about the fall of newsrooms worried me, but then I realized that as much as my colleagues complained, they’re the survivors. While others have moved on to more lucrative careers in public relations or marketing, these individuals have stayed behind as the holders of the Fourth Estate. Not because they were too mediocre to make it in a different industry, not because they were too old to leave their current position, but because they were addicted to being storytellers who provided the lens through which society sees the world.

So as much as they grumbled, I knew that these grumpy old men – for many of the old hands are white men – loved the news, and they loved being reporters.

In the end, being disgruntled might be the ticket that keeps these journalists sharp. Happy, wealthy and complacent reporters don’t have the drive to dig deeper and stick it to the man.

I aspire to be a disgruntled, old journalist.

Zen Vuong was a Spring 2013 Chips Quinn Scholar for Digital First Media in Los Angeles. She has a masters degree in journalism with a concentration in interactive publishing from Northwestern University. Vuong was the team lead for a startup online magazine for young Asian girls, Shine; a marketing intern at a humanitarian nonprofit and an editorial intern for The Architect’s Newspaper. Additionally, she has worked for the Medill News Service, a daily news website, and the International Iran Times, a weekly newspaper. Her freelance work has been distributed in such publications as the Journal of Urology, the Windy City Times and The Northwest Indiana Times.


1 Comment

  1. Zen,
    I liked this piece, although I was a bit concerned about such a revealing account of the mood inside a news organization where you just interned. It’s important not burn bridges.

    The good news is, at LANG you have Michael Anastasi, the new VP of News who cares about the future and wants to see the group move in new and dynamic directions. He cares about his people, is a good person and a hell of a newsman. So they’re lucky to have him down there.

    I understand why journalists feel frustrated.
    On the one hand, our skills could easily translate to more lucrative careers, but few, if any of those careers, bring us the joy of writing an outstanding story, leading a newsroom, taking a great photo, or writing that outstanding headline.

    One could argue because of this love of craft we are imprisoned. At a time when pay, resources and workload don’t align, the result among some is anger, resentment or frustration.

    I am not sure what the solution is.
    Until the economics of the profession stabilize, those paychecks aren’t going to get any bigger. Unfortunately, the marketplace continues to be volatile and there is no certainty when, how or if we’ll get there.

    As you point out, journalists do this for reasons beyond the money. Because of that passion or pathology, some feel they are tethered to this profession and perhaps it is this sense of captivity that leads to disgruntled journalists.

    I remain optimistic and excited about the future.
    Life is too short to be disgruntled, or old.

    Enjoy the fact you’ve found a career you love so much you’d subject yourself to being underpaid and overworked.
    Most people can’t say that.

    Now, hopefully these lean years will be followed by some fat and cream, but even if they aren’t, you’ve been blessed to do a job you love, and as such, never really worked a day in your life.

    Martin G. Reynolds
    Chips Quinn Scholar
    C/0 95′

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