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 V.19 No.30 | July 29 - August 4, 2010 

Bear With Me

I, Fired

A small-town reporter goes for broke

I’m a tumbleweed; you’re a micromanaging fascist.

In a case of irony invading my life, I was fired from my newspaper job for writing.

I had been working as a crime reporter for a twice-weekly paper, which means I was broke but also working as feature writer, city council writer, question-of-the-week writer, parade correspondent, photographer and Lunch Boy.

Lunch Boy (one who fetches the editor’s lunch) wasn’t offered as a class in college, so I learned on the job. Actually, I have no journalism degree, either, and learned how to be a reporter by being a reporter.

I get a free obituary at the paper in Oklahoma. That’s the extent to which I have laid down roots in any place I’ve been.

Being a crime reporter usually means that one is a failed criminal, much in the way a music critic might be a musician with no talent. I have always suspected that the impending failure of the American press will more than likely result in many reporters metamorphosing into criminals, much as the samurai became the yakuza.

The only alternative is to join the demon people and do public relations work. Apparently, I lack the sunny disposition for a PR job and am therefore doomed to hang around car wrecks and house fires in a town where the social center is Wal-Mart and the methamphetamine trade can only be described as “booming.” I stay long enough to make a friend or two then drift away. I get a free obituary at the paper in Oklahoma. That’s the extent to which I have laid down roots in any place I’ve been.

It’s not easy being print. Goddamn bloggers chipping away at the market. But you can’t swat a fly with an iPad.

In order to stave off this downward spiral into petty thievery for a few more weeks, I penned a few columns for the paper you now hold in your hands.

I didn’t consider it a competing papernot even the same sport, really. Alternative weekly vs. community paper. Different adjectives.

I never did any movidas (Mexican slang for side work) for the Alibi while at the other job, only wrote on my time. My philosophy: If you don’t pay someone enough to live, you can’t dictate his or her side hustle. No problem, right?

Wrong.

Even in its badly weakened condition it remains an integral part of a democracy, and I rue the day the last one is gone. (For your column award consideration.)

Maybe I could have saved my job, but that would have involved kowtowing and lost dignity. That, I cannot abide. Hate myself enough already. It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Emiliano Zapata said that. He was shot.

I come from a long line of people who would rather live in a refrigerator box (or at mom’s) than submit to unreasonable management. Ours is a lifestyle that is unprofitable and leads to many nights up waiting for “Married ... With Children” reruns to come on.

The Kansas City Star reports that the unemployment rate dipped in June (that’s good) because more people quit looking for work (that’s bad). And 64 percent of people think newspapers will no longer exist within 40 years, according to a poll on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

It’s not easy being print. Goddamn bloggers chipping away at the market. But you can’t swat a fly with an iPad.

A former journalist, now in law school, told me the other day that perhaps journalism is becoming a part-time gig, that there will be fewer full-time reporters in the future. My former employers offered this as a solution: Sack groceries on my days off. Another reporter does that. Why not me, they suggested.

I’m not above sacking groceries, washing dishes or waiting tables. I’ve done these jobs before (and will again shortly).

But I find two things wrong with the part-time option. One, there will be reporters out stealing service jobs from other people when there already aren’t enough to go around. Two, reporters have generally bad attitudes and demand 20 cigarette breaks a day, regardless of whether they smoke.

Reporters need prizes as well, constant prizes that eat away at our brains like tertiary syphilis. Do other industries give out as many prizes to themselves? I think not. (John Bear has only won an honorable mention for public service reporting. This previous paragraph merely served to espouse his jealousy of all those “award-winning” journalists out there. Harumph.)

Solution: bailout. I’m not the first person to broach this subject, but, come on, every other vile, heartless industry gets one, and who is more hated than the media? We’re important. The founding fathers gave us one-fifth of one amendment. Take that, TV.

It can be hell listening to people in the business drone on about the First Amendment, open meetings and public records. The ones who talk the most are often the ones who do the leasta genuine reporter is too busy for rhetoric. Unfortunately, newsrooms are full of this type of desk-bound Socrates (and me fresh out of hemlock); add these pontificators to the low pay, the strange hours and the bad coffee and you get an industry of people who flee from job to job, an industry of tumbleweeds endlessly searching for less noxious environments. A fellow reporter, now unfortunately dead at 56, worked 12 papers in 13 years. I’ve worked three in four.

But the First Amendment is important, regardless of whether D-bags like including them in their delusions of grandeur. It’s real simple: If the press ceases to exist, some sort of Orwellian nightmare is not far off. Regardless of it being technologically obsolete, the paper will always be more thorough than the television and less ghostly than the Internet. Even in its badly weakened condition it remains an integral part of a democracy, and I rue the day the last one is gone. (For your column award consideration.)

Oh well. Nothing to do now but wait to see if I get my unemployment insurance and “work on that novel.” As I write this, it seems like a bad time to be unemployedand a writer, for that matter. The Republicans are opposing unemployment extensions. Sen. Candidate Sharron Angle said such benefits are making the population spoiled. Sarah Palin just compared herself to Shakespeare. I cannot help but feel uneasy.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
 

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