I’d worked at The Oregonian for more than a decade, first as a TV critic, then a feature writer. I’d worked at People magazine for the 4.5 years before I came back to Portland, so that’s 16 years of non-stop employment, with all the privileges, pains and joys of corporate-style journalism under my belt. Almost all of it was fun and exciting, but then things changed (see also: economic collapse; massive cutbacks; editorial panic; etc.) and despite my love for reporting and telling stories, this feeling in my viscera kept insisting it was time to go.
There’s a whole gut-wrenching-to-me story about my particular circumstances, but I’m going to leave that for now. Instead, some observations on the human story behind daily journalism in the 21st century, and why a fellow who truly does want to do nothing more than collect facts and stories and then tell them to people might feel compelled to abandon that job for a highly abstract future.
1. The diminished horizons of modern daily journalism, with its endless cutbacks, lay-offs, buy-outs and etc. makes for a grim and unhappy working environment. Remember in “Toy Story 3” and the twisted autocratic society created by all those daycare toys, driven mad by years of abuse? That’s your modern newsroom. At least the one I experienced. Any culture governed by fear is inevitably going to be an ugly place, governed less by the common good than by a feedback loop of panic, anger and joylessness. No one is happy. Good people are made to do things you know they can barely stomach, let alone feel proud of.
2. Breaking up is hard to do. I’ve never really had a spectacular, bitter romantic break-up, but now I’m in the midst of one at my now-ex-office. I loved working for my boss for all this time, but now we’re yelling at each other over email because both of us (definitely me, I’m guessing him too) feel double-crossed and unappreciated. This has never happened to me. When I left People in ’00 they were very nice about counter-offering a promotion, etc., but my family wanted to move back west so that was that, and no hard feelings. We had a really nice party in the conference room and it was all smiles and congratulations.
3. What it came down to, ultimately, is simple: One part of my career was moving quickly in a good direction; the other was sliding just as quickly the other way. Given the choice of working with people who are hugely supportive of what I’m trying to do, and another group that lost their patience with me a few years back…well, what would you do?
4. Did I make mistakes at the newspaper? Of course. Did I contribute to the bad vibes? Indeed I did. Did I just slit my own economic throat? Quite possibly. But screw it. I’m going to take this other path for a stretch. I’m going all-in on the Bruce Springsteen biography I’m currently writing, and then charge after whatever looms on the other side. At some point you either have faith in yourself or you don’t. And while I know full well that my auto-adoration may be a symptom of some psychiatric misfunction, it’s too late to stop now.