The Black Gate
Talking through our budget battles last week, one of our editors told me, “as Tolkien remarked about hobbits, in our newsroom we do not need hope as long as despair can be postponed.”
We didn’t get a chance to follow-up right away, but the image stuck in my mind, and I searched for the origin. It comes in The Two Towers. At the end of an arduous journey to Mordor, Frodo, Samwise and Gollum watch as the Black Gate closes, and Tolkien tells us,
“After all, [Sam] never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.”
Importantly, the description “cheerful” here refers not to simple-minded Pollyannism, but to the much more powerful Nordic definition of “cheer” – the outlook that drove Viking warriors on to joyful battle despite (sometimes because of) the odds.
For Christians, hope is grounded in belief that good eventually triumphs; not so for the Scandinavian pagans whose myths Tolkien loved. For them hope is foolish, since evil is expected to triumph in the end. (See The Limitations of Long-Term Hope, by Lorin Rosson III).
Courage combines with cheer as the foundation of the Vikings’ highest virtue: carrying on without guaranteed results simply because the struggle is the right thing to do.
As another aging Boomer was known to say, I believe in hope. But I also admire both courage and cheer, and I know that each approach has its moment.
Our hope for better times rests on the conviction that quality news and information always advantage those who have them – and that if we deliver that when and how audiences want, there will be profits to support us.
There are doubters in our industry and on Wall Street right now. The Present Troubles (higher debt, lower revenues, growing anxieties) compound our budget woes. This is the time for courage – and cheer.
We’re building a bridge from one media world to another. The days of my professional youth, when newspapers dominated InfoWorld and profits could be expected to rise each year, are gone forever. Tomorrow’s pattern is not yet established. The way ahead is opaque at best, daunting at worst. We know it will not all be smooth.
But this is precisely the time to carry on forthrightly because it is the right thing to do. Some of this I can change, and some of it I can’t, but I am entirely in charge of how I respond. I want to be proud of that.