After a month of not thinking about city council and elections and all the things that go with the title “weekly small town reporter,” I changed out of my sweatpants and started thinking about city council and elections and all those things that go with my job description.
And here’s what I learned while I was working on what I like to call The Book That Ate My Sanity: I love my job. Well, most of it. I like the city council parts and the newsier items, although some parts I could never do again and die happy, like taking what will most certainly be my 11th photo of someone standing at the polls this election day. But covering the actual elections? I’m ready to go. Sewer issues? I’m all about it. I realize this makes me weird, but I’m OK with that.
In my month’s hiatus, which left me with little money but a new affinity for Old Navy sweatpants (I’m really not kidding about those sweatpants), I realized, too, that even if I didn’t need the month off to rewrite the book, I needed the month off for to recharge my batteries. I was burning out and run down and feeling sorry for myself, and that didn’t help any of us.
When I graduated from college (roughly 937 years ago), my undergraduate work prepped my for a career as a broadcast journalist. I had a job – not a great job, but a job – at a local radio station, and I was ready to get to work. The sad thing was, the days of broadcast journalism, at least in the Tampa market, were numbered. The then-old-timers in the industry bemoaned the loss of the “good old days”, and it quickly became apparent to me as I wrote countless minutes of copy instead of reporting the news, that they weren’t just whistlin’ Dixie (although we were a country radio station, so whistling Dixie wouldn’t have been out of the question). I lasted just over a year before I left broadcasting, discouraged and mourning the good old days I never had the chance to see.
I won’t bore you with every job I had between then and now, but I did gravitate towards more writing-centric jobs and finally landed at the Gabber.
Here’s the thing about the weekly paper format: those “good old days” the old-timers grumbled about that I never had the chance to witness? Weekly papers are one of the last bastions of those days.
Think about it: when was the last time a local radio station did any sort of news beyond the hourly newsbreak, which generally consists of reading the Associated Press feed straight off the wire? How about most of our television stations? And daily papers… well, sometimes they get it right, but it appears to me my colleagues in the dailies live in constant fear of layoffs and what career they’ll have next, because they’re living out their own good old days. Don’t get me wrong, daily papers are still far better at news than we are – for now, they have the research staff and manpower to do things we cannot – but they are trying so hard to figure out how to survive in the Internet age that it seems that they tend towards the sensational, just to keep you dropping that dollar in the newsbox.
Look, I’m not deluded: I know we aren’t the best news organization in town. I know, too, that I have flaws. That’s the point: this past month, I realized that I have the job I trained for in college: reporting news to people who want to hear it, in whatever media available. It’s not the local NPR station or even the NBC affiliate, but I get to do it in a town I love and for people who, quite honestly, won’t get the coverage anywhere else.
Which is why I intend to do it much better.
I know some of you hate how I cover things in town or feel as though I don’t do enough of it, and I may never please you. I know still others of you are rolling your eyes, thinking to yourself, “this chick is really deluded about the ‘news’ in her local paper.”
Maybe so. But I can tell you that our paper is one of the only news outlets serving Pinellas County that has not, in the past five years, called staff in to the office to discuss staffing cuts or talk about their inability to turn a profit. None of our small staff fears that the paper is going to fold. I know people in print and broadcast who can’t say that. So, like us or not, we’re here, we’re still able to report on local news, and I intend to do so as long as they will let me. We may not look like the news organizations of four decades – or even one decade – ago, but we do look like one of the only ones still standing who isn’t pandering to the sensational.
As Ziggy Marley said, “these be the good old days.”
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.