Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Not-so-happy anniversary: Five years of permanent vacation

^
I'm not going to go all FDR and call Jan. 15, 2009, a date which will live in infamy, but ...

The previous evening, I had received this email from a GateHouse Media mid-level manager:


We need to have you come into the office at 10 a.m. tomorrow.


When Roberta asked me what I thought the cryptic message meant, I said: "Well, I don't think they're calling me in to tell me my last column won the Pulitzer Prize."

Braving blizzard-like conditions, I drove the 30 miles from Lakeview to Downers Grove and was greeted by somber-faced GateHousians. Yes, I was being laid off. No, there would be no severance pay, as that longstanding policy had been terminated along with me. Yes, I would receive compensation for my unused vacation time (but not before they tried to job me out of several weeks of it). No, I would not be allowed to write a farewell column to the readers who had gotten to know me over the previous 11 years.

Just like that, I was an ex-columnist, an ex-sportswriter, an ex-newspaper man, an ex-journalist, an ex-working stiff. All I had ever known professionally was kaput.

GateHouse was going broke. Its stock price had plummeted near zero. It needed every available cent to lavish salary increases and bonuses on its top executives. (A practice that continues to this day even though the company is even more broke. Ah, capitalism!) So, even though I had been reassured just one month earlier that my position was in the budget for 2009, it wasn't exactly shocking that the pencil-necked geeks had deemed me a luxury they chose not to afford.

Sometimes it's hard to believe it's been five years since I was a full-time sports hack. Other times, it seems like forever ago.

I spent the better part of two years trying to get a decent job in the field. I wrote freelance articles for AP, my employer from 1982-1998. I kept writing this blog and, for a while, let the Chicago Tribune publish it. Some months, my check from the Tribune totaled as much as 18 whole dollars! I am not making that up. When I told my editor there I no longer wanted to write for 1/5th of a cent per hour, he actually seemed insulted. I had a guy at one Chicago online sports site jerk my chain for nearly a year: Yes, we might hire you; no, we don't have the budget for it; wait, maybe we do; no, actually, we don't.

Enough. In the summer of 2010, when my wife had the opportunity to work at Charlotte's children's hospital, we decided to move on, literally and figuratively.

Aside from the tripe I occasionally post here on TBT, I have not written a single sports story since becoming a North Carolinian. I write personal finance articles about once a month for SeekingAlpha.com, I do some "survivor stories" for the American Heart Association and I've written a few op-eds for the Charlotte Observer, but mostly I have left that part of my life behind.

I am fortunate that, at 53, I am not hurting financially because Roberta and I were big savers, because we have no debt and because she is a wonderful Sugar Mama. So I earn a little dough doing stuff I want to do, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of being a coach, a referee and an umpire, among other things.

Nobody likes to be told they no longer can come to work. We want the decision to be ours, not theirs. But life gets messy sometimes, so we adjust on the fly.

Do I miss it? Sure, some of it. Not all of it.

In honor of the fifth anniversary of GateHouse sending me on permanent vacation, here are five things I miss about my former life. But first, just for giggles and snorts, five things I don't miss ...

WHAT I DON'T MISS

Interviewing Jocks.

When my son was little, his friends would ask, "Does your dad get to talk to Michael Jordan?" I told him to respond: "No, Michael Jordan gets to talk to my dad." It was a cute line, especially when delivered by an 8-year-old, but it wasn't true. From 1995-98, I spent a huge portion of my life standing around waiting to be part of a big media scrum around Michael Jordan.

For the most part -- and definitely by the time the new millennium had arrived -- everything was packaged for the media. We were led around from one press conference to another. Comments usually were generic. I'd sit down to transcribe my tape and realize I hadn't gotten one freakin' quote worth using.

On the rare occasion that a coach or athlete said something remotely funny, the press corps would pretend to laugh as if Steve Martin and George Carlin were on stage trading barbs. It was embarrassing.

People thought we were lucky that we got to talk to these guys, but more often than not they had nothing to say. When we did get to cover an Ozzie Guillen or a Jeremy Roenick or even a Milton Bradley, it was like manna from heaven. Mostly, the routine became a chore. These guys didn't particularly want to talk to us and, for the most part, I didn't want to talk to them.

Deadlines.

When I was with AP, the slogan was "a deadline every minute." And yes, we did have to write quickly. But as I discovered when I became a columnist, there are deadlines and then there really are deadlines. If the game didn't end until 1 a.m. when I was with AP, I still waited to write until it was over. But if I didn't have my column in on time when I was with Copley (and, later, GateHouse), the newspapers I served would run something else in its place -- maybe even an advertisement.

As newspapers strove for earlier and earlier delivery, the deadlines became earlier and earlier, and I often had to write before an event had ended. If the event was big enough, as when the White Sox were in the 2005 World Series and Game 3 went 14 innings, I'd do several versions of the column for all the different editions of the papers.

Not to make it sound like I was mining coal in West Virginia but it wasn't easy!

The Internet Effect.

When I agreed to start blogging in 2007 (in addition to the columns I already was writing), I didn't get one more cent out of it. What I did get was a ton more work to do, thank you.

Couple the sheer workload with the immediacy of the Internet and there's no such thing as putting a story to bed. In addition, readers suddenly had the right to comment anonymously and in real time. It's always fun to be called a douchebag by some guy who goes by Illini69.

My last year and a half in Chicago, I covered a lot of baseball games as a freelancer for AP and I was in awe at the amount of work -- and the quality of the work -- that the city's baseball writers did: blogs and tweets and photos and notes and game stories and feature stories and graphics. Incredible. Day after day, all year long -- because there no longer is an offseason in baseball, what with all the news that takes place from November to March. Honestly, I doubt there is a more difficult newspaper job in America than baseball beat writer. It was always tough, but the Internet has made it ridiculous.

When I columnized about Erin Andrews' inappropriate behavior in the Cubbie clubhouse, I knew it would be read by a lot of people. But I severely underestimated the Internet effect and her popularity out in cyberspace. For some two weeks, I became a target out there in Dweeb Land. It was interesting ... and a little bit scary.

"Wow. You Get To Go To Games For Free?"

Later in this post, I acknowledge that my job carried a certain amount of prestige, or at least the perception of prestige. At the same time, plenty of folks thought my job consisted of hobnobbing with the athletes, relaxing at the ballpark and rooting on the home team.

Even some of my family members and close friends used to "joke" about how easy I had it, as if they knew. And what was I going to do, get mad and defend myself by telling them how much work I was doing? So I usually went the self-deprecating route instead.

Once, one of my relatives was complaining about all the housework she had to do. After a few minutes, I interrupted and said, "Hey, you're only a housewife. I have to go to football games for a living!"

The Stress.

When I was with AP, I was almost always stressed out. It was a high-pressure job, and talking with friends who are still with the company, it appears that is even more the case now. I excelled under pressure, but that doesn't mean it was easy or fun to deal with. There were several occasions I would wake up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. and realize I had left something out of the final version of my story (a.k.a., the dreaded PMer, a rewrite for afternoon newspapers). I would call the office to make the correction.

By 2006 or so, there were constant rumors that David Copley was going to get out of the newspaper business and sell all of our properties (he did), that the new owner would care only about profit and not about journalism (yep), and that GateHouse would clean house (bingo!). It was a stressful time.

Then, of course, there was the stress I put upon myself. I never was able to "mail it in" on even the most routine AP stories, so I really tortured myself when writing my column. If I wasn't on deadline, I would read, re-read and re-re-read my column until I didn't find even one comma out of place. Sometimes, I would be 3 or 4 hours into a column and say, out loud, "This is complete crap." I'd delete the whole freakin' thing and start over. Not only was my name on my column, but so was my ugly mug. I put a lot of myself in most of what I wrote. It was only a story about a jock or a game, but it still mattered, and I had to do it right.

Now, I live a mostly stress-free existence. Maybe one of the things I like about coaching, refereeing and umpiring is the immediacy of each moment, a non-journalism way to get a little stress back into my life.


WHAT I MISS

The Travel.

I got to see the world, all on somebody else's dime. Many of the trips were mundane -- flying into Detroit for a night game and then going back home the next morning was far from exhilarating -- but I also got to go to some amazing places.

AP sent me to five Olympics (Calgary '88, Albertville '92, Lillehammer '94, Atlanta '96, Nagano '98) and dispatched me all over North America covering hockey, basketball, baseball and football.

During the first three years I was Copley's columnist, I got to manage my own travel budget, and my only restriction was that I shouldn't go over budget. I took full advantage, giving myself some great assignments. In the process, I learned how to stretch a dollar when making travel arrangements, a skill that still serves me well.

After Copley sold its Chicago papers and I became more aligned with the fine folks of Central Illinois, I still had a lot of input into where I traveled. A few times, I even got to fly on David Copley's private jet to the California desert resort town of Borrego Springs for editor meetings. I felt like a VIP, even though I wasn't one.

The Writing

Every once in awhile, I got to write something that actually touched readers. When I wrote a column after my dad passed away, I received more than 100 condolence letters -- not email, mind you, but actual hand-written letters, including one from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. When I wrote about my daughter getting ready to graduate high school and leave home, lots of people told me the column made them shed a tear.

One time after covering a Cardinals-Cubs game, I ran into a guy outside Busch Stadium, and he pulled from his wallet a folded, tattered copy of the column I had written years earlier about Darryl Kile's death. That's right: The guy actually carried it around with him.

I got paid to express myself through my observations and my words, and that was pretty damn cool.

As a reporter, I occasionally got a scoop, and watching my peers have to play catch-up for a day or two always was an amazing feeling.

One thing I really used to love was sitting in the media room after a huge event, the only sound being thousands of fingers banging away at laptop keyboards.

The Paycheck.

Let's not sugarcoat things: We work for money. In addition to being able to buy things we needed and wanted, that regular paycheck helped me and Roberta sock away money for the future.

Who knew the future was going to arrive -- with a thud -- just a few months after I turned 48?

The Press Box.

Basically, sportswriters are a bunch of adolescent goofballs. As we watch the Cubs collapse, the Bears fall apart and the Bulls implode, anything that enters our warped minds somehow finds its way out of our foul mouths. The amount of crapola we spew about the jocks we cover is topped only by the amount of crap we give each other.

I miss debating my peers about important issues such as our Hall of Fame ballots, which Chicago coach or manager would be the next to be fired, and whether Jay Mariotti was the worst human being we ever had encountered or just one of the bottom two.

Sadly, even before I was sacked, many of my best friends in the industry had been sent packing or been reassigned by their employers, so the press box wasn't what it used to be.

The Prestige.

I never considered my job to be particularly glamorous, but others did. I could be in a room filled with million-dollar lawyers or doctors ... and all of them thought I had the best job.

On its good days -- and there were many -- they were right.

As is the case with folks in most professions, my job gave me an identity. Five years later, I still struggle a little when asked, "And what do you do?"

Am I retired? Semi-retired? A freelance writer? A coach? A part-time golf ranger? An ex-journalist? All of those things are true, none rolls off my tongue like: "I'm a sports columnist, and you?"

As stressful and frustrating as it occasionally was, I never lost sight of the fact that what I did for a living was considered a dream job by many.

You know what? It was considered a dream job by me, too.
^

42 comments:

  1. Great article Mike. Congrats on your Anniversary. Make sure your "sugar mama" takes you out for a nice dinner tonight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure if "congratulations" are warranted or not. I guess why not, so thanks! The Sugar Mama is busy tonight, but she's always good to me!

      Mike

      Delete
  2. Things I Miss About Chicago Press Boxes

    1. Veteran guys like Mike Nadel making them more fun to walk into because of their humor and decency.

    Great stuff, Mike. Glad you're enjoying the sane, rational life down in North Carolina and it's hard to believe it's been five years. All the best,

    David Haugh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very nice thoughts, David.

      Not sure how sane things are in NC; politics here are almost as crazy as those in Chicago. But life certainly is less stressful.

      Take care,
      Mike

      Delete
  3. Mike, having never lived in Chicago, I am unfamiliar with your work. My loss. Outstanding column. This from a media guy in So. Fla. I did a video tribute when my Dad died in 2012, and a few yrs before, I interviewed him during a Panthers gm. his passion about hockey spewed over the airwaves. The stories, like the one you wrote about, resonated w the audience. That was nice to have that forum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not familiar with my work? You infidel! You can always google my name and look at some of my past crud if you'd rather kill time that way than, say, punching yourself in the face!

      Seriously, thanks for the nice words. My parents lived their golden years in your neck of the woods, Delray Beach. Many welcome visits there for me to escape Chicago in the winter.

      Mike

      Delete
  4. Terrific piece and outlook. I was with Street & Smith's for 30 years until I was not, and one happy result was enjoying the friendships of Joe Godard, Don Pierson, Dave Van Dyck, Bob Markus, Andy Bagnato and other talented Chicago-based writers. Best of luck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jerry. So, what you're telling me is that you're retired. What good are you to me now?

      I knew all the folks you mentioned very well. Good guys and good journalists.

      Thanks for reading.

      Mike

      Delete
  5. Nice article, Mike. You write really well - unfortunately for me, it's mostly about sports......but I enjoyed this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Elizabeth. You must really enjoy my personal finance stuff on SeekingAlpha.com, too!

      Thanks for visiting my blog site ... and living to tell about it.

      Mike

      Delete
  6. When I was 23-24, I was the sports editor at a Gatehouse paper and came down to see you and a few others like Jim Litke and Paul Sullivan at a seminar in Springfield. This was before you were part of that dysfunctional family, and we had horror stories galore about how they sold the art off the walls of our paper when they bought it, among others. (Or maybe we never even got to that one; there were too many to choose from -- like our printing being moved to Rockford, thus moving our Saturday deadline to 9:30 p.m. because they printed The Onion on Saturdays. Yes, The Onion got a more ideal print time than one of their actual newspapers, which itself sounds like something from The Onion).

    But I remember your message to us, which was to stick with it. We both did for awhile, though he eventually wised up and went back to school for an MBA. Me, I'm still at it, though mercifully somewhere else. Although maybe it isn't so merciful given that I took a 3% pay cut last year and can probably only afford another year at this rate possessing the saving skills of Mel Rojas and sans sugar mama. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement, which helped keep the dream alive. And I wish we could have warned you about the nightmares that lay ahead of you, but we would have found the concept of Gatehouse buying papers larger than our own too absurd for the possibility to be considered.

    I'm glad you have found happiness post-sports writing. Part of the reason I've been holding on is it seems like would be really difficult to find that satisfaction, even at double the salary. Can you be re-born when you feel born to do something?

    -Alex

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alex:

      You deserve a gold star for sticking with it this long. Even when we get mistreated sometimes (and for you, it sounds like most of the time), this thing called sportswriting gets in our blood and it's hard to get it out.

      Feel free to PM me if you ever want to talk about stuff.

      Mike

      Delete
  7. Mike,

    As a current sports journalist, I found myself nodding through your entire post. You've nailed the essence of the profession, even in its current form. The highs, the lows, the stresses, the annoyances, the perks and the reason we continue to do what we do.

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. X:

      Except for those who reach the real heights of the business, it's a lousy industry, so you are to be commended for lasting as long as you have.

      I'm glad you got something out of the post. Feel free to contact me any time.

      Mike

      Delete
  8. In my days writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The National, don't recall if I ever met you somewhere out on the road in a press room or pressbox, Mike, but you hit the nail on the head a few dozen times in this piece. Well done, good and faithful media servant. Mike Towle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike:

      I was the extremely attractive one with the bald head and the big mouth!

      Seriously, I'm glad you liked the post. I fought the good fight as long as the fight would let me fight it, and I still sometimes say "we" when talking about the sportswriters in general.

      Mike

      Delete
  9. I really needed this today.

    I have Baldest Truth pinned to my Chrome Browser with my 5 other favorite sites, but I didn't get the update. My mom knocked on the door to tell me check it out (still living at home. for time being hopefully).

    I had just finished yet another depressing rant about how I feel like I've been fishing for four years since graduating and that I should have majored in Aquatic Studies, instead of journalism. Fishing in lakes, barely any bait, just intuition. Lakes with no fish. Lakes that are just lakes with no rivers and lead to nowhere. Lakes that make me give the fish back. Lakes that tell me my boat isn't big enough. Lakes that tell me my boat is too small. Lakes that tell me I haven't been fishing long enough. Lakes that tell me I've fished too long. Sometimes I just wanna capsize this f*cking boat.

    I remember going into journalism in high school and being thrilled by the culture. I always tell people to consider that the great super heroes were reporters (not ethical ones, but that's another story). The coverage element was so new to me in high school because it wasn't a thing I learned at Bell. I was young and loved Harriet the Spy, Citizen Kane, All the President's Men, and even that really bad movie with Michael Keaton and Glenn Close. From early on I heard your stories through Ben; and then hearing you talk for years about your stories and travels and bylines...all aspects were largely why I took it so seriously in high school on The Warrior and why Iater in college. My only regrets in terms of getting started are, that I never really sought career guidance from you then, and, that I never really had a goal in my journalism. I just loved to write and cover stories, specifically music history (not so much sport-- my interest waned as it dawned on me that I'd never grow past 5'8; I found that my heart was never in it in the first place). I'm now finding that I've written about many things, but never about ONE thing for a while, and that has kind of set me back.

    I don't know if you knew that I did radio for 7 years (2 hip hop shows), but so much of what you wrote about things you "don't miss" made me laugh and reminded me about what I don't miss about radio, especially when i did the big show at WLUW downtown (my last official run). I've done one rap interview in 2 years since leaving The Hip Hop Project and don't miss it. Rappers are probably far worse than sports players and I'd be happy if I never did another one. But I found that broadcast production and audio design is what I love to do, and, radio was oftentimes truly a great experience-- met great people and my print-voice is what brought me there and allowed me to succeed. Writing (and radio) gigs have been so hard to come by and keep, especially if you are pigeonholed in an area of expertise. It's been frustrating but hopefully I'll find my stress-free place soon as well.

    sorry for the essay, keep up the great reads!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Troy:

      If you had sought career guidance from me, I would have said: "Run! Run from journalism as fast as you can and don't look back! Run, Troy, run!"

      Actually, that's one of the sad things: I wouldn't have said that. For years and years and years, I counseled many young'uns who were interested in journalism as a career, especially newspaper journalism. I worked with them, encouraged them, edited things for them. If I knew then what I came to know later -- that, for far too many, it's a career death sentence -- I would have at least warned kids about it.

      I'm sorry to hear that your career hasn't been what you hoped it would be. Unfortunately, I hear that a lot from men and women your age who thought journalism was what they wanted. Fortunately, you are smart and willing to work, so I have confidence that in time you will find something in which you have a passion that can be your life's work.

      Best of luck. Hope to see you and the rest of the Brundidges at some point in 2014.

      Mike

      Delete
  10. Mike, like you, I did not retire. I cringe when I read and hear what passes now for print and broadcast journalism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops ... sorry about that, Jerry.

      There certainly is a lot of crud out there passing for journalism. But there's good stuff, too, and far too many of the people producing the good stuff get paid peanuts and treated with disrespect. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.

      Mike

      Delete
  11. Mike,

    Great post, for several reasons. I am also "celebrating" my permanent vacation, having been laid off by AP in January of 2006.

    I worked on the baseball desk in NYC for the 1998 season before moving to the MegaSports desk at AP Digital from 99-06, and remember your work fondly.

    There are many of us out here, and we appreciate the way you put into words what we are all feeling. Thank you for writing it.

    Stay well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember your name, Mark. Sorry to hear that, like too many of us, the choice to leave wasn't yours.

      Thanks for the very kind words.

      Mike

      Delete
  12. To All:

    This has been my most-read TBT post in several years. I can't believe one of you people reading this isn't in position to give me a great job for, oh, $200K (but I'd settle for 150).

    Thanks for nothing!

    Nadel

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hey Mike,

    It was while looking over your shoulder in the Metrodome and watching you write with what seemed to be stream-of-consciousness speed that I realized sportswriting wasn't the career for me. And for that I thank you.

    But I still find it hard to believe that you, who made it look so easy (believe me -- I know it's not), can't find that $200k job. Maybe it means that the jobs just no longer exist. And that the rich people will continue to take more and more of the money.

    I mean, just read stories online, sports and otherwise: typos galore and nobody cares because they either go unnoticed or simply get changed and re-uploaded. In other words, editors and proofreaders seem to be going the way of the buffalo as well. Not sure where the industry is headed but it doesn't seem like it'll be anywhere good.

    People still ask me, all these years later, what it was like to be a sportswriter (even if I was, as Tom Kelly once called me, the replacement's replacement). And I couldn't put it any better than you did in the first half of your screed. It's a thankless job and, although I'm happy I got a taste, I'm happier that I didn't chase it beyond my mid-30s.

    Anyway, it sounds like you're happy, which is great. And, for what it's worth, it looks like people still enjoy your writing. I know I do.

    Best,
    Mark A.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's always great to hear from you, Mark. All these years later, I fondly remember our collaborative efforts covering stuff, especially Twins games. You were among the best at cutting through the B.S. and quickly giving me the best quotes you got.

      I long ago stopped trying to figure out my former business. I went through my brief -- very brief, thankfully -- woe-is-me phase, realized life isn't supposed to be "fair," and moved on, just as you had however many years earlier.

      I am happy and, perhaps more importantly, content.

      My daughter lives in Seattle now and we plan to go out to visit her at some point. It would be nice if somehow our paths could cross.

      Here's to life!

      Mike

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the warning! Actually, Seattle is roughly 200 miles from where I sit but it's certainly not out of the question. And it would be nice ...

      Delete
  14. Mike,

    I was a reporter for Sports Illustrated, the Yankee beat writer for the New York Daily News, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the baseball columnist for the Star-Ledger. I got laid off one year ago. I haven't really gotten a sniff of a job since. Thank God for our wives! And I agree with every word you just wrote.

    Jeff Bradley

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow, Jeff, that blows.

    People think just because you've got a name and a resume employers are gonna knock down your door to get you. These days, most don't want to hire anybody at top scale or close to it.

    I have a pretty good history in the business and have been told repeatedly that it's "amazing" and "a shame" that I wasn't able to get a job. But your resume makes mine look like a second-year writer out of Bluffton (no insult to second-year writers or Bluffton residents intended).

    I wish you luck. And happiness with your Sugar Mama!

    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  16. The saddest commentary on a declining industry is that there's no longer room for a total pro like Mike Nadel. Surely one of the reasons it's declining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a nice thing to say, Dan. Obviously, right back at ya!

      Mike

      Delete
  17. Thanks for the post, Mike. Journalism is kind of like farming -- very hard to do unless someone in the family is selling combines in town.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, if only I was related to Rupert Murdoch or Sam Zell.

      No wait ... I'd rather be forced to wear a hoodie and walk through George Zimmerman's neighborhood.

      Mike

      Delete
  18. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the great column. I kept shaking my head yes while reading it. Your wit and humor is missed in our cramped press boxes back here and besides the ever shrinking journalistic field, not much has changed. Yes, the Cubs still stink!

    Hope all is well with you and your family and trust me when I say this is one winter back here you should be glad you're missing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey David:

      The Cubs still stink? I find that very hard to believe! All I'll say is that the 22nd will be their century!

      I miss my friends in the Chicago press corps for sure (but don't miss the weather). Stay well.

      Mike

      Delete
  19. Similar story, Mike, though I never reached the heights of my career like you did. I strung for radio stations from 2002-2006. Did updates in-studio starting at 5 a.m. Covered 70 Brewers games in 2006, usually as the first to arrive in the press box at 3:30 p.m. and the last to leave around 1 a.m. Loved the press box, too, and miss it a lot. It was the changing corporate climate outside of it that led me to start doing desk-job "schmo" work in '07. Make 250 percent more than I did in radio, now, and work half the hours. Still miss it.

    The immediacy of the business is what's fun. Everything is in the moment. But it‘s also being there.

    I still think its odd. These are the moments that define our lives, these games. You spoke to how much they resonate with fans. Seems like the only people who don't value the storytellers themselves are the beancounters. I've never reconciled that, even with the supply-and-demand idea that there's always a kid just out of J-school willing to work for peanuts. It's so short-sighted that it doesn't make sense to me. I think we'll regret it as sports fans in 50 years when we find the depth of reporting and record from this era is lacking. A YouTube video of the event itself, a stat sheet and an overly generic AP story everyone uses doesn't give you the feel of what was going on in the locker room or in the player's head to make what happened happen.

    I dunno. I still get my fill as a PA announcer, mostly for small colleges. It's in our blood. There's just far fewer places for us to bleed anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan:

      I'm glad you have found life worth living away from the arena, but I understand and share many of your emotions.

      My one quibble is don't sell AP short. Yes, some writers are better than others, and some newspapers and Web sites only run the basic 2-4 paragraph story. But AP has many, many reporters who are every bit as talented writers and storytellers as any out there. I like to think I was pretty fair during my years there and never did like being labeled "generic" or "just the facts." I know you didn't mean anything by it; I guess I'm just a little overly sensitive on behalf of my many friends still at AP.

      Mike

      Delete
  20. Mike,

    Great read. A few years behind you, same boat.

    Worked at a metro paper in the Northeast; parent company decides to go 3 days a week print with no real business plan in place on how to recoup lost revenue. So you know what happens next, though it took a full year to play out. Staffer to stringer to "sorry, we don't have the budget to keep you anymore."

    The guys who are left -- some of whom are older than me (49) -- suddenly find themselves doubling up on beats or working ridiculous hours to do all that needs to be done, like posting audio or video in addition to writing watered-down gamers, because that's what the bosses want. Actually, I use the term "gamers" loosely. More like synopses. Enterprise is nearly dead. an into an old colleague few days ago; I called it a "sweatshop" now. He seemed taken aback but didn't exactly deny it. Goes to bed @ 3 am on game nights. He's a heart attack waiting to happen.

    The biz screwed the pooch 20 years ago by making a conscious decision to give the milk away for free as the Net emerged -- and now an entire generation has been raised to expect all their news for free, instantaneously. It is an unsustainable business model and one that is only going to decline even further.

    Knew we were entering unsustainable territory when we started posting our annual football preview -- traditionally one of the biggest print cash cows -- online AS THE COPY ROLLED IN, days before the street, a decade ago.

    Newspapermen make lousy businessmen; unfortunately the reverse is also true. Never thought it would roll downhill this quickly. Glad you're out & have filled the void. Tough for me to to do. Nothing comes close. We worked in the toy department & we knew it.

    Regards,

    Jeff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeff:

      Lots of good points in there, and of course I feel your pain.

      I feel fortunate that I got to work a couple decades in what I consider the real "golden age" of sportswriting -- post Watergate and pre-Twitter. It might not have been as glamorous as the 20s or 40s or 60s, but it paid a hell of a lot more, there was a chance to work your way up to a real salary, and many scribes (especially columnists) got the opportunity to become multi-media stars.

      It was a fun ride, and I'm not sure I'd change a thing.

      Mike

      Delete
  21. Hi Mike. I am late to the party because my computer crashed and now am just back online. I am one of your "nice folks in Central Illinois" and used to read you all the time when you appeared in the Springfield paper. I sent you a note after your article on 9/11, and still have the article in a box of sports articles/essays that has meant something to me over the years. I missed you when you were gone, found you on your blog after Googling, and was glad that I did.

    Our paper has nothing of interest any longer and I laughed when you mentioned the early cut-off times for deadlines. It cracks me up to pick up the paper the next morning after an important game and NOT see any article about it....almost like it just didn't exist. However, there is a report the next day....you know, after I've already read about it online or elsewhere. Bah. They do still carry the Heloise column, tho, with all those timeless tidbits of wisdom. Oh, and the best part is that the actual size of the paper is much easier to handle while sitting on the pot..... (my husband says that, not me, hee hee).

    At any rate, I enjoyed this post, am glad you are happy, and I hope you continue to enjoy your days of leisure, haha, and coaching, etc., with or without any paying writing jobs. Makes me sad, tho, to think that you are not able to do what you 1) excel at, and 2) love.

    Keep writing on your blog when you get the urge. Your fans are out here, trust me.

    All the best,
    Belle from Springfield

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Belle:

      You are the exact kind of reader I enjoyed writing for the most, and I am both honored and flattered that you have been so loyal and supportive over the years.

      Take care,
      Mike

      Delete