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When I fell out of love with journalism

November 21, 2011

Years ago, I worked for the Danbury News-Times in Danbury CT, and covered the town of New Milford. I did a story that proved the First Selectman got into a car accident with a town vehicle and the police destroyed the evidence. Instead of being promoted for the story, I was told by the editors that I was clearly “arrogant” and I wound up being demoted to an entry-level job in Southbury CT, a town essentially ruled by a selfish voting block of an elderly condo community who were against everything. On top of that, management tampered with my personnel file and removed a recent job review where I was praised for doing an excellent job.

During this affair, I had said to the editors, “Hey, you’re the ones who decided to run the story. I couldn’t run it.” The editor looked away. Then I realized what it was about. The powers that be in a small town got the advertisers to put pressure on the editors to bag me, and since they wanted to keep their jobs, simply threw me under the bus. I said, “How can you say I was arrogant and alienated people when I had a job review before this story was printed and it said I was doing a great job?” The editor said, “Yeah, we can’t find that.” I replied, “It’s good I kept a copy.”

Anyway, when I was a reporter I went after the big guy and the little guy. But clearly, I was being told never to go after the big guys. Woodward&Bernstein might hold at the Washington Post, but on local newspapers it’s the car advertisers who probably hold more clout with the editorial board.

So I sat in Southbury and produced total fluff pieces to just pull down a paycheck and save money to go California. Eventually, when I had enough cash, I went to the publisher and submitted my resignation. He offered to let me take it back. I said, “You don’t understand, this is a moral decision.” This rattled him.

When I left, I said goodbye to the editors, and the one who threw me under the bus stuck out his hand. I said, “I’d like to shake your hand, but you sold me out.”

I walked through the newsroom and  looked at all the reporters staring intently at their screens and writing their articles. And I thought, I bet every one of them is sitting on the one story that if they pursue and print will ruin their careers. But a reporter’s job is also to go after others who are failing to do their jobs in whatever field they’re in and expose them. I just couldn’t look the other way. I mean, if I have to do a piece on some poor schlub who got nailed for a DUI, but I had to turn my head when the same drunk is the mayor of a town–well, I didn’t become a reporter to be a hack and a shill.

And I left the newsroom to do stand-up comedy in San Francisco, write novels and surf.

One of the benefits of being a reporter is you’re no longer comforted by the fact that you’re the smartest person in the room.

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