The J School is the building on the left….
I graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1983.
That was a long time ago.
We were a class filled with ambition, fired by Woodward and Bernstein (or Woodruff).
We were journalists, with a capital J, and headed for a world in which journalism ran a spectrum from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to Time Magazine to NBC News and far far beyond.
It seemed immutable.
The class was relatively small. About 150, I think, but many of them went on to stellar careers in the profession. We have 5, I think at last count, Pulitzer Prize winners.. and many others of fame and note.
Our class, perhaps uniquely, perhaps not, continues to stay in touch through a list-server that the University graciously set up many years ago. Remarkably, we still talk to one another and as a group.
The collapse of the Tribune Company set off another round of discussion.
I commented on the list-serve that we were all privileged to witness this event.
This resulted in some acidic responses.
One member of the class, a well known and award winning science correspondent wrote that “it is is both offensive and thoughtless to suggest that watching their demise is “a privelege”.
(He was referring to the many people who were losing their jobs.)
It was about the word privilege.
Well, we are journalists, or at least we were trained to be journalists, so words are important.
Here is what I wrote back: (names have been deleted, as I think the list-serve is not public)
Dear xxx and anyone else offended
First, let me say that I am sorry if I offended anyone by the use of that word.
Needless, to say, that was no my intention.
Of course I feel terrible for those who have lost their jobs, for those whose jobs are threatened
and for those who are going to lose their jobs, (and there will be many yet to go).
I am deeply sympathetic.
However, as we are all journalists (certified, no less!), I don’t mind engaging in a syntactical discussion.
Words are our surgical instruments, so to speak.
Privileged, I don’t think is wrong.
Privileged in that we are getting to watch a massive and powerful historical event unfold.
That event may have, does have, overwhelming consequences, not only for those struck by the storm
but for all of us; for democracy and society, if I may be so bold.
The collapse of newspapers and magazines (and I am here to tell you that TV networks are about a decade
away from the same situation, if not less), is an event of vast historical proportions for journalists.
These things don’t happen often, and when they do they are world changing.
This event is not driven by some business happenstance or bad investment or momentary downturn in the market. It is driven by technology.
And it is global – in all meanings of the word. And permanent. There is no ‘quick fix’.
The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, the birth of our own trade, caused no less havoc amongst the scribes and
Monks whose purview was writing 500 years ago. That piece of technology, in an instant, rendered their entire world
obsolete. What followed was surely better, but you can be sure that for the Monks, it was a terribly wrenching experience.
As xxxx points out, I have indeed made my living over the past 20 years calculating and riding the impact of this
technological shift, and trying to prepare (often without much traction), many media companies for the tsunami that
has now begun (and I emphasize begun) to arrive. More is to come.
It is, believe me, no momentary dislocation. You are witnessing a once-in-a-500 year event.
The Chinese have a curse. “May you live in interesting times”. It is a curse for a reason.
What we are seeing is awful, but with the emphasis on the etiology of the word,
We are filled with awe, even as we watch the world around us dissolve.
So no, I don’t think privileged is wrong.
We are observing a unique and massive historical event, even if it is a very terrible one.
And not everyone gets to do that – awful though it may be.
It doesn’t mean I don’t care.