Friday, February 4, 2011
Today was Dennis Roddy's last day at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I'll have a story about it in next week's print edition, and my understanding is that the Sunday Post-Gazette will carry a farewell piece from him. But in the meantime, if you somehow failed to notice his contributions to local journalism, you may be wondering why people are making such a big deal out of his departure from the scene.
A good place to learn would be the archive of the columns he once wrote. But for now, you could do worse than read the e-mailed note Roddy sent to his Post-Gazette colleagues about 45 minutes ago -- just before he headed out to the bar. A few of them have forwarded it to me, and I've reprinted it below:
A wise man once told me, "You're fired." His name was Ron Stephenson. He was the news director at WJAC-TV news in Johnstown and working for him was like spending six months at sea with Captain Queeg. The genius in the remark was that I did not spend my later years working in the newsroom of a small television station that used to bump the Pirates games for the Billy Graham crusade.
I went into newspapers -- a rollicking choice that, for nearly four decades, has given me more exhilaration than a crime spree. I got to be Robin Hood without the tights.
I leave at a time the industry is in a mess. Which means I could have left anytime after I first walked into the offices of The Nanty Glo Journal. This industry always seems to be in a mess because it is a messy industry. We manufacture no corporeal goods beyond information, and we sell the space between the words in hopes that our readers are in need of both knowledge and hearing aids. There is no cogent reason that newspapers should ever have existed except that some people need to tell a story and some people need to read one. The unalloyed irrationality of the whole enterprise is conclusive proof it can't be killed because when death is logical, only the logicians die. Can it be mangled? Horribly. Dented? Deeply enough to make a pond. Eliminated? You might as well try shooting down the sun.
If I were to leave you with any profound wisdom I would surprise myself and defeat my purpose. Profound wisdom is almost always useless because it is either self-evident or it’s written in Latin.
So here's a small, parting thought. I came into this business when Watergate was at its peak and from there the combined hubris of our side and the malign dishonesty of theirs created a love of hating. The hatred was directed as us, at journalists, and it was cynical and calculated and successful.
For the span of my career, my profession has been demonized, its practitioners caricatured and assumptions of our character so distorted that if half of it were true I’d be writing you from hell.
Here's the lesson I learned:
Save for ending the occasional sentence with a preposition, we're doing nothing here we need be ashamed of. What we do is good. Forcing out facts and conveying them honestly is inherently good, as much a part of natural law as faith and charity and trust.
Journalists don’t do well. They do good. I'm humbled to have been among you. Now, it remains for me to admire from afar.
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