Note: I am sure many of you have no idea about Dirck Halstead”s “The Digital Journalist,” a pioneering digital publication and a powerful, thoughtful journal of fact and opinion in the pursuit of the truth. I wrote for TDJ for many years. Dirck once asked me if I would write a column about why I wrote for TDJ. I did and here, these many years later is an edited version of my response to his request. For anyone interested, the archive is online and available to those who seek its scope and wisdom. So this is for you, Dirck Halstead, as I recall that wonderful past we shared.
2003. Out of the news loop for several years, writing books and making documentary films, I had been looking for a home for my ideas but I did not know where to go. It was difficult to break into publications, either online or in print, where well- established writers already were in residence. I did not want to write a blog because I did not think I had that much to say. My ego was in check; I had no need to fill it further. However, I wanted a structure similar to the one I had had all through my professional life — deadlines, form, and purpose. .
Until my editor at the University of Missouri Press told me about The Digital Journalist in early 2003, I did not know it existed. I was not a devotee of the Internet. I used the Web for research, for staying updated on news, for checking the weather and getting sports scores. On my editor’s advice, I looked at the site and liked what I saw. Here was a community of journalists serious about their work, and though specific to photojournalism, the magazine seriously cared about all aspects of the profession. It was not a blog. It was a solid newsmagazine run by journalists who cared about journalism. I liked the idea that it contained pieces about how journalism in the modern age happens. These pieces had substance, the photos were sharp and interesting, and, more importantly, working journalists contributed to the site. It had a serious tone and I liked the idea that it was a mix of the practical and the theoretical. I decided I wanted to be part of The Digital Journalist. But how would I do it?
A germ of an idea came to me about what I might contribute. I contacted Dirck Halstead, whom I had met in Saigon, and he agreed to publish parts of the introduction to my memoir, “Inside Television’s First War,” about how NBC News covered the war in Vietnam. After the piece appeared, it was good to see myself in print, though only in cyberspace. After my first long piece, Dirck offered me a column. Originally, I thought I would contribute sporadically, not every month. I had no thoughts about what I would write. Ideas I talked to friends about became columns. I found a home for feelings that had been percolating inside me about the state of broadcasting, about TV, film and photography, even about books, and
especially about coverage of the war in Iraq. Once I started writing and contributing, there was no turning back.
Too many sites allow the writer to go on forever. We know that reading blogs is an endless endeavor. Most of the pieces on The Digital Journalist, thankfully, do not go on without end. Fortunately, though on the Internet, the old model of print in newspapers and magazines still prevails with this publication. It is a good model and a challenge to keep from writing everything you know every time pen goes to paper. That requires discipline and knowing when to stop.
I continue to read newspapers and magazines online and off, and to watch TV news. I respect the reporters who cover the news every day and help get me the information I use for my columns. My loss would be great without those who find and report the news. The culture would lose because of the infinite darkness that would follow if the people who gather the news did not exist. This is not heartening. Being able to watch this ever-changing world closely enables me to turn an increasingly critical and disappointed eye on an often-fragmented media, one often devoid of ethics and one that has no sense of purpose other than to make money and get ratings. Many news operations are second-class, especially local TV news. It is increasingly the same at the networks. Blame the excess of mammon on the conglomerates that run all news businesses and you might be right. Blame it on the people who today choose news as a career, and you might be right. Blame it on the rapidly changing landscape of news, and you may be right.
All that is fine with me, for now. It just gives me more to write about in a venue I am proud to have as a home for my ideas.