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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Myth of the Depressed Newsroom Journalists

It's a commonly held assumption by people who work for media organizations that life in the newsroom is lousy and likely only to get worse. That's because journalists are essentially guarded optimists and like to be perceived as crusty and curmudgeonly while inside they are really hopeful that things will get better.

Of course, nostalgia being what it is (or was), we look back on our times in newsrooms with a certain rosy hue attached. A few of us see only the bad times, but most journalists look back and admit (at least to themselves) that it wasn't so bad.

I point this obvious quality out because I was recently reminded of it by a facebook page entitled "Former Nippers." 

A "Nipper" is someone who works or who once was employed by NPR (Get it? NPR? "Nipper?").

Some wit even managed to "borrow" a large plaster statue of the RCA mascot known as Nipper and placed it at the entrance to the NPR elevators. Employees to and from work would festoon Nipper with vacation souvenirs, political signs, mardi gras beads, hats and other tshotschkes that abound in any newsroom.

The "Former Nippers" facebook site is remarkable. Set up by Art Silverman, a still gainfully employed Nipper, it's for the benefit of the many who once worked at NPR over the years as NPR marks its 40th anniversary in 2011.

Hundreds of little reminiscences have been sent in. They aren't exactly generated by NPR corporate communications, but it makes for a brilliant presentation of what NPR was and still is.

They included photos of long ago assignments in faraway places, off-campus social gatherings, tours of a then-new building, young and fresh faced reporters, producers and hosts who have created indelible personal and audio memories and not a few shared jokes, experiences and a couple of regrets about friends and colleagues no longer alive. As they might say on SNL: "Good times."

I was even more struck by the still vital bonding going on. It would be hard to imagine a facebook group of "Former CBS-ers." Or "Former CBC-ers." Not these days.

Of course, no collection of memories is complete without the foibles of management. According to one "Former Nipper", there was one manager actually tried to introduce a dress code at NPR. Someone still has a copy of the memo. Hilarity ensued.

Other managers tried to overcome the deep tribal feelings of the newsroom culture by bringing in the latest consultants who tried to impose (inflict?) a new and different set of values. It never worked because it, in my opinion, was never made clear why it was necessary. At what was so wrong with the tribal newsroom culture anyway?

All that remains of one futile attempt to change the culture is the mocking memory of a consultant's "Bill Cosby" sweater of many colors and his efforts to channel the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci (these were pre-Dan Brown days...).

It might have been helpful to tell management that the newsroom culture embraces skepticism as its primary value. That might have saved a lot of money and aggravation. But it makes for some great stories years later.

Still NPR management must have done something right, if the still-living spirit of the "Former Nippers" is any indication.

Happy new year.

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