Thirty-four years ago today, I began working as the newsroom librarian at WCCO-TV. Back then, there were no computers or voicemail. I slowly pecked away on a manual typewriter and wrote phone messages by hand for some of the highest profile members of the WCCO “family,” including Dave Moore, Bill Carlson, Susan Spencer and Mark Rosen.
Sadly, Mark is the only on-air person in that group still here at ‘CCO. (You can see Susan on CBS’s 48 Hours’ Mysteries shows. She is on a long list of former Channel 4 folks who have moved on to the network.)
So much has happened in the field of journalism in the more than three decades since I moved from newsroom librarian to crime beat reporter in 1981. Back in 1977, there was no Google at my fingertips when reporters needed research help. Instead, I clipped newspaper articles every day for background information for stories. The web was still 12 years away from creation. It was seven years before Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who founded Facebook, was even born.
Fast forward to 2011. As I write this, I am on my MacBook. My BlackBerry is just a few feet away, next to my iPad. I call these amazing tools my “Macberries” and can’t imagine life without them!
But these same high-tech tools are also part of what threatens the future of “traditional” news media.
As people get used to going online, having their news when they want it and where they want it, it gets a lot tougher for newspapers and television news organizations to survive. Spend a few minutes with a journalist these days and it doesn’t take long for them to speculate about where we are going and what kind of economic model will eventually have to be developed so there will be a next-generation of news.
As I write this, my daughter is a news producer at KSBY-TV in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Shelby is very lucky to be working with a couple of former WCCO anchors, Jeanette Trompeter and John Reger. Shelby landed the job after she graduated from the University of Minnesota last May, where she majored in journalism and after working weekends on the WCCO assignment desk. I find it encouraging that all the gloomy predictions about the future of “traditional” news have not turned her off to the idea of being a broadcast journalist.
Shelby literally grew up in our WCCO newsroom. She has watched first-hand what it’s like to have a mom on the crime beat. She’s seen me come home after interviewing parents who lost their child to a drunk driver, watched video of me being Tasered for a story and saw me bail out of a family birthday dinner because a killer chose that day to confess. Two years ago, she watched me on TV, choking my way through smoke grenades and flash bangs police used to disperse RNC protesters in front of Mickey’s Diner in St. Paul.
But she’s also seen the deep satisfaction I feel when I do stories that have made a difference in our community or help a murder victim’s family get some justice. On the fun side, she enjoyed watching me as a guest on Oprah. Oprah featured an I-TEAM report we did regarding officers our cameras caught sleeping on the job and hanging out in a strip joint.
Despite the economic challenges facing journalism these days, my daughter will also have a lot more tools and training than I had when I started down a similar path back in 1977. I am confident there will always be an important role for local journalists to play in reporting on the important issues and events in our communities. You just can’t cover content in the Twin Cities from some office in the Silicon Valley in California!
Meantime, if you’d like to read about some of the stories I have covered on the crime beat, I have included them in a reflections blog I posted on my 30-year anniversary at WCCO.