Falling In Love

This is interesting.

Tom Fiedler’s memo on changes at the Herald contains these phrases, which are trotted out in one form or another whenever anyone announces moving additional resources to online: “But we didn’t fall in love with journalism because of ink and paper. We fell in love with it because it had the power to change lives for the better — and we can do that on paper, on the web and over the airwaves with equal devotion.” Can I just say, without being accused of Luddism, that Tom, you don’t know how I feel, and some of us, I think even “many” of us, DID fall in love with journalism because of ink and paper? Because of how it felt when you unwrapped that rolled-up paper on the front steps or at the kitchen table and saw a compendium of what had happened all in one place. Because of how it felt, how it smelled, how it looked. Because of the order and structure a newspaper brought to the random chaos of the world. Because of the romance of printers’ ink and Ben Franklin and Humphrey Bogart saying “It’s the press, baby, the press.” If the future involves less of that or none of that, yes, we can still do our jobs and still make a difference in society. Maybe even do them better. But, all you visionary leaders out there — stop telling me where my heart lies. I wanted to work in the newspaper business, not just “in the field of journalism,” and I am tired of being told I didn’t.

Well, I’m turned on. Don’t know about you.

My own story about love and ink, beyond the mysterious “Read More” link.

One of the first knock-down, drag-out fights Mr. A and I had (one of the first of many, some of which continue to this day and are good for passing the time on long car rides) was when the newspaper we were both working for was thinking of going “online only.” The words still make me shudder. This was in 1995, and the Internet was going to make us all rich, or so many people thought. It was 2 a.m. or some shit, we’re standing on the sidewalk in front of the office yelling at each other, and I’m saying, “I don’t understand this, it’s nothing, it’s air. What do you pick up in the morning off your driveway?”

I can still hear, in my head, the thrum of the press that printed us. It was a sound that hit me low in my gut, like a lover’s voice does, deep and visceral, pounding out over and over in auditory form that what we did was real because we could pull it off the line at the end of the night and we could hold it in our hands. I was 21, everything was transitory, and we were all drinking a lot back then. Proof that we weren’t hallucinating it all was very, very welcome.

Did I fall in love with ink, with paper? Oh, yes, baby, god baby yes. I found line tape (showing my age) in my hair and my underwear drawer. I have cuts and scars from X-acto knives on my fingertips to this day. It was like putting your heart on a platter every night and serving it up every morning, print was, in its drop-dead deadlines and total incapacity to take it back if you fucked it up. It was permanence, history, evidence that the stories we told would last, at least, as long as the pulp held up. I couldn’t imagine, for all the indignities and bullshit inherent in newspapering, a life that didn’t include a paper.

But here’s the thing. Love isn’t static, love of people, love of tasks, love of a life. And as always when love goes sour, I had to sit down and separate out what it was I really loved about the life I was trying to lead, try to hold on to that if I could, while letting go of the stuff that was rubbing raw in my head. Was it really the ink? The smell of the press? The feel of my own name under my fingers, pressed into paper and sent out to a few thousand people?

Or was it the 2 a.m. arguments, the shitty coffee, the passion to tell a story and make people listen to what I had seen and heard? The passion, really, that seemed to me to be particular to newspaper people, passion about everything, passion about the tiniest detail in the most inconsequential narrative, they’ll stay up all night arguing and drinking and smoking and come back at 6 a.m. and dance in the office over something that they got that somebody else didn’t … how many people do you know that dance because of something that happened at work?

There’s a kind of weird polarity in the minds of some of my print journo friends, that their loyalties have to lie with one, or the other, as if by loving the Intarwebs they’re somehow traitors to the Cause of Dead Trees or some such. I sympathize with the Romenesko letter-writer above, with his love of print culture and his love of his work. But for me, journalism was journalism. The medium, beloved as it was and still is in nostalgia, was secondary.

What I really loved was the participation in a group of people who were willing to bust ass to tell the truth and make it known to all who could hear them. Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s what we’ve got here, in our Beads to Bush and our Gaggles and Action Alerts and our particular kinks that we push, in the talking we do every day about what kind of world we want to build, in our hope and anger and nit-pick-iness and OCD tendencies and our loves. We’ve got that here, even though there’s nothing to hold in our hands over coffee.