Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pulitzers lost, what a cost: Fourth in a series on the impact of thousands of job cuts at America's newspapers

Janet Reeves was the force behind the extraordinary photo department of the Rocky Mountain News. It was my privilege to work with her for 17 years. She led her staff to three Pulitzers: one for Columbine, one for the worst summer of forest fires in Colorado history, and one for "Final Salute," perhaps the most powerful story the paper ever told. (Final Salute also won the Pulitzer for feature writing.) Anybody who worked with her would tell you that her drive and commitment, her passion for excellence, made it happen. Now she's out of a job. I don't believe there's a newsroom in America she wouldn't make better.

This series explores the impact of thousands of journalists losing their jobs by asking some of those who have shown themselves capable of producing work of the highest caliber - winners of the Pulitzer Prize who are no longer at a newspaper - for their reflections on what happened to them and how they view the future.

1. Name, final paper.

Janet Reeves, Rocky Mountain News

2. What work did you winner Pulitzer for, when?

2000 Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography, coverage of "Columbine tragedy." Staff award

2003 Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography, coverage of "Colorado wildfires." Staff award

2006 Pulitzer for Feature Photography, editor on Todd Heisler's "Final Salute," for which Jim Sheeler was also awarded the Pulitzer for feature writing.

3. Why did you leave your newspaper? When?

The Rocky Mountain News was closed Feb. 27th , 2009.


4. What are you doing now? Any reflections on life after newspapers?

It would be nice or even poetic to write how I'm enjoying my time away from journalism, exhaling a bit and re-discovering myself on my induced sabbatical. But I can't and won't. I do resent being put on the sidelines of a career I cherished and thrived in. Having said this, I can truthfully say that about four months after the closure I indeed recognized within myself how rested and fresh I felt and so ready to jump back into the game. Recognizing that the game has many new looks and moves to it. I also feel like I have grown, living this unemployed experience along with so many others. I guess since I am a trained observer of people it is no surprise that I watch folks in all walks of life (even more so than before) and wonder how they exist, what they do for a living, could I do that? Are they happy? What would make me happy and fulfilled? I have enjoyed and been inspired by my former colleagues at the Rocky, trying new paths and taking chances.

5. What do you hope to do going forward? Will you stay in journalism? How?

So what am I doing? I am like a one woman job fair. I have traveled the country, chatting with the wonderful colleagues and friends I have come to know over the years. I have attended photo festivals, judgings and conferences where I seek advice, throw out ideas and look at great images and listen to the journalists' stories......reminds you that what we do as photojournalists and journalists is alive and necessary. I truly hope that I can weather this storm and find my new direction and remain connected to journalism. I feel I have so much left to give to our profession and to learn. I feel like a hungry bear coming out of hibernation.

6. What has the downsizing of your former newsroom or closing of your former paper meant to the quality of journalism in your community? For example, are there types of stories not being told? You could use your own experience to provide examples here.

I know the community of Denver, Colorado and journalism mourns our passing. They have told me, and not just to pass on false sympathies but to express the loss of the voices, photos and news that they trusted. Why was it that so many Americans trusted Walter Cronkite? The 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News had the same effect for many readers. They came to us to learn, experience and forge their own opinions from our stories and photographs. The Rocky is gone and many readers believe they lost something personal that day. Yes, they will move on to other venues just as the nightly viewers of Walter Cronkite had to, but an era of trust and familiarity dies.
Denver will, no doubt, never be a two-newspaper town again. Competition is a wonderful thing that keeps all involved sharp, accurate and driven. I hope that the online news of today's media markets can keep Denver's traditional news media (papers, magazines, radio and TV) on point.

7. What, if anything, do you think your newspaper should have done differently to prevent the downsizing or closure that cost you your job?

I find fault with the publishers and owners of American newspapers, not just currently, but 10-15 years ago. They demonstrated little foresight or vision for the future. If they did hold workshops for themselves and employees on how to survive and re-invent themselves before they became outdated, they certainly didn't listen or care much past their profit margins. That group demonstrated in the last few years how little American journalism and the whole Fourth Estate theory means to them.
Having said this, my own experience tells me that at the Rocky we were trying very hard for years always to reinvent. Design, voices, technology, web, online multimedia, Yourhub.com, Olive (e-edition) and even the experiment in the late 80's early 90's with an online version known as the a la carte edition. We used so many different vehicles to try to stay ahead and meaningful to our readers. The fickle reader has some blame here as well. Take something for granted and it will disappear.

8. What would you advise young people wanting to pursue a life in journalism today?

The new trends on how we gather, distribute and communicate information are just the pipelines. We are in phase, a really major sea change, but I optimistically believe people will seek out the unbiased truth, the storytelling images that shape our world and realize that they will not be satisfied with what they see from their neighbor's cellphone or an unknown twitter or blogger. In fact they will demand it. So my advice to a young person considering a life in journalism is go for it, but don't replicate the past. Create your future. Guess I'll try to listen to my own advice!!

Final note: If you know of others who should be asked to participate in this series, please let me know. Thank you.
John Temple

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