My trusty little friend still sits at my desk.
Thirty-five years ago this week, I started at The Examiner. (The first time, that is. There was an interruption for a few years in Minnesota, chasing too many news stories and too few fish.)
I was a copy editor, my one true calling. These are the people who fuss over “compared to” and “compared with” – there is a difference – and the people who know all 50 state capitals. Don’t watch the ballgame with them, because they sit there and correct the TV’s grammar.
These are my people.
No internet in 1984, so the tools of the craft were simpler. A Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, the Associated Press Stylebook, a Bible – people are forever misquoting the Bible – the World Almanac and a few other good books.
And my little friend, a KMC 100B. It’s a calculator. A good copy editor checks the math. I bought this calculator at the old Kmart on U.S. 24, and I think I paid about $8. It runs on sun. I’ve crunched my way through $300 million budgets and never put a battery in it. Good investment.
A lot of years, but here’s what hasn’t changed. We do journalism for one reason: What we do makes for a better community. We report information, we put it in context, and we give people of different viewpoints a voice. We help conduct the ongoing civic conversation. The nation’s founders specifically wrote this into how the great American experiment in self-government is supposed to work.
As I say, there was no internet in 1984. I can remember writing news stories a decade later about how this new thing was coming and what schools and other institutions would do about it. (Remember when the internet was going to mean an age of enlightenment and fact-based reason? What a mirage.)
The newspaper industry reacted the same way it did to all new threatening technologies. It panicked. Let’s put our product online (good idea) for free (horrible idea). Ads alone will support it (dubious idea unsupported by data).
But there does seem to be a growing realization that a good product, even your favorite news app, comes at a cost. And that “the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10 – I told you that Bible was handy).
So that offers a degree of hope. I know this too: What we do still matters. It has great value for community and country.
You might not agree with every word you read in the paper. You might get infuriated by something we said or something a politician did. If you slam the paper down in disgust, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Stay engaged. It’s what we’re here for.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.