It's been exactly one year since I "worked on Maggie's Farm." It's been a glorious year spent with my son. He turned three a few days after my departure from TV, now he's just a few days away from turning four. I may not be an expert on many things, but I could write a book about three year olds. Maybe I will. Then again, maybe someday he'll write about his awkward stay-at-home dad.
It's also been an opportunity to step back and observe the news industry from afar. As I wrote in my "Goodbye" blog post last year, the news profession will always be important, but the business is changing rapidly. Layoffs have been rampant for both print and broadcast reporters, not to mention all the good people who work "behind the scenes." The few who are left are waiting for the other shoe to drop.
My ego was bruised when I was informed my services were no longer required, but I fully understand why it happened. At the risk of sounding like my own worst enemy, I'll tell you that I have not watched a local newscast since my last day on the air. I've not turned my back on news... far from it. I just get my information from other, more convenient media. Most everything I require is on my iPhone.
In my short bio on Twitter (the very fact that a forty-one-year-old man "tweets" illustrates how weird things are), I describe myself as an "Accomplished stagecoach driver learning to drive a car." It's how I feel. I'm envious of all the twenty-somethings who've been born fluent in this new digital language I'm struggling to master. I have a friend who has based a large part of his new consulting business on these youngsters and so far he's doing quite well.
Coincidentally, this technological revolution happened at a time when a "salary bubble" had formed here in NYC local TV. (I believe that those who, allegedly, cover the media for a living have overlooked this part of the story). Powerful management-types were changing stations and attempting to steal talent away from the competition. I'm sure you remember when some of the most recognizable faces in town suddenly switched stations. Those who were lucky enough to have contracts up for negotiation during this period cashed in on the bidding war. But as we learned from the real estate market, bubbles burst, and when they do, people suffer.
Now your local stations are dealing with declining budgets, shrinking revenue and smaller audiences. Yet despite dwindling resources they're still tasked with covering the largest city in America. Good luck.
You'd think all this would convince me to become a banker (wait, sorry, bad example). But I can't deny that news is in my blood. Lately. I've been feeling the itch to get back to work "on Maggie's Farm." The lingering question, however, is, "What kind of "Farm" will it be?
Maybe some sort of Soviet-style "collective" farm in which information is free? Citizen journalism? I hope not. The living legend Morley Safer said this week that good journalism needs structure and responsibility. "I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery," he said. Great line.
Moreover, this is America, someone will figure out the best way to monetize information in this new era. I guarantee it.
I'm just one of many who are waiting to see how it all shakes out. In the meantime, all I can do is "fold my hands and pray for rain..." (And, of course, pick my son up from preschool.)