In recently rereading two good speechs from ASNE, I was struck by the contrasting message I carried away from each.
The first was John Carroll’s fine speech to the assembled editors, entitled “Last Call at the ASNE Saloon.” It is a characteristically well-crafted work of art, but it is at its core more valedictory hymn than blueprint for solutions.
The writing is elegiac, the focus nostalgic.
“The golden age is over,” he tells us. “With the advent of the web, our rotary presses, those massive machines that once conferred near-monopolies on their owners, are looking more and more like the last steam engine … Then there’s a more subtle problem, a crisis of the soul.”Well, not really, John.
Contrast his message with that of our colleague Dave Zeeck (who is, I feel certain, as big a John Carroll fan as I):
“I'm not spending another minute of my life worrying about the future of newspapers … I believe in newspapers and I believe they will last. But I also believe in the web. Heck I'm willing to believe in iPods and cell phones. Really what I'm saying is I believe in journalism. I believe in the future of news … What we do isn't about the ink and the pulp, though my love for both endures. It's about journalism. Turning over the rock. Finding the story. Telling it in a compelling way. Changing a life. Opening a mind. Righting a wrong. Making a community better.”I’m not trying to set up a Zeeck-Carroll steel cage death match here. There is much to learn from each speech, and much in common between then. You can find a pdf version of Carroll’s remarks here, and David’s speech is available here.
But here’s one thought that certainly occurs to me as I read them: the epic, big-picture pirouette may not serve us very well as we go about the daily business of telling our communities what they need to know. Neither the sweeping jeremiad – What Hath God Wrought? – nor the revolutionary manifesto – Blow up the newsroom! – offers much real guidance for doing what we must do.
Dave offered an historical reference, from the Hebrew Book of Ethics, in summary:
The work is great
The day is short
It is not our duty to complete the work
But neither are we free to desits from it.
I’d add that Abe Lincoln had some advice about navigating a considerably more epic struggle back in his day. Speaking of the unimaginable issues facing a country at war with itself, he observed, “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we will save our nation.”
Let’s make it so.
– Howard Weaver