Friday, December 11, 2009

The Two Lives of E&P

Mr. Commonplace Blog, observing the demise of Editor & Publisher, remarks (dismissively?) that he never read it. "So what?" he responds. There will be others to provide whatever it offered.

So what? Two reasons, CPB, once ancient history one current. First, in the old (1950s) days--sure E&P was a dreary piece of management self-help. But for the marginal hack on the edge of nowhere, it filled an additional role: suicide prevention. I'm talking specifically about the classified ads (the only part we ever read) and the ever-present dream of elevating yourself from Podunk to Palookaville:
Reporter. Must have c&c. ...
So: no matter how miserable your life seemed to be, no matter how dead-end your dead-end job, E&P always offered the possibility of another chance, a new start, a new cobblestone on the yellowbrick road.

C&C" = "car and camera." It was you who did the police blotter and the divorce records at the courthouse in the morning, and you who snapped the photos of the 4-H prizewinners in the afternoon, and you who spent your evenings in sweat-soaked high-school gymnasia, watching "duels" or "standoffs" on the basketball court (some of this could actually be fun). And you who scratched the next morning for names to fill the box scores, and scrabbled for something novel in the way of a headline ("Coldwater Douses Sandwich," my friend Bob once wrote--and very nearly got himself fired for impertinence. "Mother of Mercy" Suffocates "Holy Innocent" was probably never actually written).

For all this they paid you--what? Oh, it depends. My future ex-wife (as she was then) made her journalistic bones at the News Herald in Russellville, Kentucky (about 1955), for a princely $25 a week. This was thought ungenerous. At Washington CH Ohio, I actually got the biggest percentage pay raise of my life when some compassionate benefactor extended the minimum wage to cover me (plus overtime!) and catapulted me all the way from $37.50 to $48 a week.

The E&P ads started around $35, and ranged --well, not very far. If it was a Guild shop, they offered a scale that more or less doubled your pay over six years, up to perhaps as much as (gasp!) $105.50 a week. I figured if I made it to $5,000 a year, I would be getting some traction. And $20,000 was tall cotton, fat city, a dream beyond the reach of avarice.

And remember, these were the jobs that E&P dangled before us--the ones we dreamed of because they were better than the one we had. From this, you can sketch your own picture of the ones we were trying to escape.

This sounds like penury. Okay, it was penury. But a bit of perspective. One, we were mostly children--I for example was a college dropout with the first crush of adulthood just settling down upon me. And two, we were doing journalism which we, little darlings, thought an honorable profession.

But we were waking up to the fact that "doing journalism" was a lot of boring and dreary work for which somebody else made all the money, and we began to look around. And then we could always dream of a real ticket out. And sometimes, it worked. The late David Halberstam who started his career on pretty much this same circuit (West Point, Mississippi) leveraged his post-adolescent grassroots experience up to Nashville and on to Viet Nam, riches, fame, power, the love of beautiful women, the whole works. For my part, I clawed my way off to law school, and the professoriate. Having come from journalism,I have always said that I am the only person I know who went into teaching for the money.

Anyway, it was the old E&P that kept us from drinking the fixative in the photo lab (where we also presided). The new (soon to be defunct) E&P is a rather different story. Somewhere along the line, I know now how or why, E&P morphed into a first-rate chronicler of the news biz, with particular reference to its lies and evasions.

CPM says ho hum. Others will fill the gap. But think he is missing the point here, several points. He's treating it as a problem of form--print versus whatever (the medium of the media?). If that were all there was to it, he'd be right. Something will come along.

But it is more thn a matter of form. One, good journalism is always in short supply, nd if you lose any of it, you are in error to sigh and say something else will take its place. And two, it appears that E&P's passage may not be a mere death--it might be murder. Apparently E&P stepped on some toes. Not all who step on toes are good journalists, but stepping on toes might be part of the definition of good journalism. In any event, there is more than a little reason to suspect that E&P is not merely being allowed to expire in a hospice; rather, that its being killed off as an act of spite or vengeance. Anyway, I will miss both E&Ps, one with wry nostalgia, the other with a greater sense of sadness and urgency.

Footnote: CPB also says ho hum to the passage of Kirkus Service, the serial book reviewer. On this one, I guess I am with him. Kirkus has always been a mystery to me. I don't think I have ever actually seen a "copy" of Kirkus--or whatever avatar embodies the idea. But as CPB suggests, Kirkus always lie on a continuum somewhere between the anodyne and the soporific, and it is hard to imagine what, if anything, we lose by losing that.


D. G. Myers said...

Reply is here.

elrojo said...

oh my, what a disappointing start to the day -- the news that Editor and Publisher is no more. i was political reporter on the bham news in '62, i had covered George Wallace's successful campaign for gov somewhat critically, threats about my safety on the hiway (US31) from bham to montgomery were extant, when i saw an E & P ad for a political reporter on Louisville Times. i got the job despite the presence in the newsroom of such qualified guys for the promotion as Bill Greider (author and columnist), Ward Sinclair (went to Wash Post) and prof. jack ayer.