How the news industry in 2010 was like a 4 lb. hamburger

While cleaning out my Google Drive this past month, I stumbled one of the oldest documents in there — my final column from the Morris Daily Herald, dated April 2010. This was a companion to a column about my job search.

It’s sad how it took such a short amount of time to make me jaded. In 2006, with the Internet and social media starting to make a major impact, online commenting and declining revenue really took a bite out of my passion.

Sitting at my desk, digesting the four-pound Ethyl Burger from R-Place in Morris, Ill., I’m becoming a bit nostalgic. Tomorrow is my last day in Morris — a stay that lasted four years.

In many ways, my career here has turned out a lot like this burger.

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The Ethyl Burger — I challenge I accepted two days prior to leaving my first post-college job.

When placed in front of me, it had so much potential. It smelled delicious. The first dozen bites or so were amazing.

Much like journalism, no? Bear with me, here.

Starting in college and continuing through my time at the MDH, there was so much excitement in this job. I’ve ridden on a stunt plane, been right next to the action at sporting events, chased fire trucks, met famous people, cheated death. Then there are the stories; the access some people are willing to give you into their lives. Given the time and resources, a journalist can do so much good.

Specifically at the MDH, there was a lot of professional development opportunity as well. Even though I was hired as a photographer, the editors allowed me to get involved with the Web site and design graphics — which eventually evolved into designing pages and special sections.

Maybe the best thing of all about a newsroom is the friendship that develops. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two amazing work-sisters over my time here. There have been plenty of buddies that have had my back, too.

In fact, many people in Morris have been that welcoming, and I now consider them friends. They know who they are, and it’s a pleasure every chance I get to see them.

But not every bite of this job is pleasing. It’s certainly not what my professors originally built it up to be. They may not have understood what was coming. The internet. Facebook. Rising costs. Lowered circulations.

Jumping into this industry, it certainly tastes great; but then the industry bites back.

With the ability to post news online, and the potentially unlimited amount of advertising revenue to be generated (with less overhead) newspapers across the country embraced Web sites — and so did readers.

But the advertising revenue never came. Readers dropped their subscriptions. Apparently the 21st-century reader is not so keen on sitting at their dining table holding a newspaper. They’d rather pull out their phone and skim through the headlines.

What that has meant for your average journalist is one thing — stress. More work with less resources. Suddenly, like the Ethyl, you’ve bitten off more you can chew.

When a journalist does a good job, they don’t hear a whole lot about it. It’s important to explain municipal budgets to residents, but no one appreciates hearing about them.

Instead, we get grief when we make a small mistake; that’s not to mean we shouldn’t get any. But every couple months we get an envelope with dozens of highlighted spelling or grammatical errors. Then there are the attacks about or choices in political cartoons — or comments about how a photo is crooked. Yeah, that’s about you, Pat Johnson; give these guys a break.

And, even when we check five times, we still misspell ‘Bowden’ as ‘Bowen.’

Sometimes in this industry you can’t win.

Until you do, that is.

We brought home over 30 Illinois Press Association awards again. In addition to 12 Illinois Associated Press Editors Association awards — which is a record for us. We’re only competing against the smallest papers in the state, but they are the ones with the same resources as us. It’s a small victory, but it makes us proud.

As for me and my 170 pounds, I only ate 3/8ths of the Ethyl. I’m sure there are others that can do better, but I don’t have a lot of stomach room to work with here.

That leaves me with 5/8ths of leftover burger. Instead of stuffing as much in as possible in one sitting, I’ll be able to enjoy it for a few meals to come. I may even share it with some friends here at the MDH.

You have to do the same thing in any creative field. When inspiration leaves you, it’s good to take a step away and come back to it later. Or find some different scenery, in my case.

Like my burger, there is a lot left in my career. Luckily, it will continue to taste pretty darn good.

Thanks for the good times, Morris.

If you asked ’10 Adam if he’d still be in journalism in five years, I’m not sure what he’d say. As it turns out, I have one foot in the water, but the other foot in technology.

Honestly, I’m not sure there was any other path for me. I was starting to believe then what I believe now — that real investment and innovation in news distribution is what’ll help journalism stay on it’s feet. That’s why I’m excited to work with the Online News Association; and it’s why I founded Electable, so serve as a platform for local election coverage.

Even in the tech community, I see a strong crossover with journalism standards. FiscalNote (where I currently work on the marketing team) is a legislative and regulatory tracking platform — and a powerful tool when applied to news-gathering and government oversight.

One thing’s for sure, ’10 Adam would be shocked that ’15 Adam lived in Washington, D.C.

Written by

Senior Digital Manager @ONA; Formerly @nwherald, @pewresearch, @fiscalnote. Softball pitcher; journalist; pizza. Grad of @Illinois_Alma.

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