Richard Roeper has been a columnist in the Chicago Sun-Times for 20 years. I remember first reading his column about nine years ago and just loving what he did. Every day, he’d find a topic that I usually wouldn’t care about. But he would wax poetic about it. Or sometimes he would just be an idiot about things and I appreciated that just as much.
I often talk about how sports was the reason I first got into journalism and this is partially true. But I think, looking back at it, Roeper’s daily musings might have had something to do with it also. Because i read his column just about every day, I was given a good sampling of what kind of stories or columns could be written in journalism.
Anyway, on Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times filed for bankruptcy protection. The move was a blow heard throughout the journalism world. With the two major newspapers now under bankruptcy protection, the city is Exhibit A for all who are sounding journalism’s death knell.
But Roeper managed to produce an encouraging, 3,000-word blog post on the same day about it. Now, his blog isn’t a cheerleader blog that falsely claims just how wonderful the journalism industry is and that all the talk of its death is overblown. Instead, he reflects on his world as he moved up in the industry. He shares anecdotes that offer a glimpse into the columnist’s world of the ’90s.
For those who love journalism – and I am fortunate to know many who do – it reminds them of the forgotten romantic side of journalism. The days when columnists and reporters were not scoffed at just because they were connected to a newspaper. The days when to be a journalist, you just knew that you might have to spend a few years eating Ramen noodles, skimping on the extras because you understood that you had to pay your dues for a little bit before “making it.”
Not to mention, “making it” wasn’t a motivation. The motivation was finding compelling stories to share with readers. They were the days when, as Roeper explains, reporters were feared by lawmakers. Today, lawmakers can get away with more because of an ingrained skepticism on the part of the public.
As a random guess, I’d probably bet that local governments have many problems with FOIA laws. I have requested public records from two cities in my short time as a journalist. One of them asked for $10. The other asked for $50. Both of these charges are illegal. But if I were a resident asking to see these records, I probably would unknowingly pay these illegal fees and not think twice about it. This is a very specific illustration to why Roeper’s anecdotes ring so nostalgic to even those who are just getting into journalism. It’s a reason journalism is the Fourth Estate. It keeps an eye on things so the everyday citizen doesn’t get screwed.
The public’s skepticism, unfortunately, has its roots in reality. Bad journalists who have absolutely no remorse when committing ethical violations will slip through the cracks. And when they do screw up, well, the blogosphere nowadays blows up.
At the end of his blog entry, Roeper offers a bit of hope that is all-too-rare from prolific journalists. It’s much appreciated. I think Roeper will have his column in 20 years, albeit in online-form only. Journalism is going through a transition. I’ve heard some saying “it’s not dying, it’s evolving.” It’s a reality that, while being about five years too late, will be the reason this all-important industry will return to prominence, albeit in a different form. I only wish more prominent journalists had the confidence in it that Roeper has.