Loss of experience hurts readers most

Our local newspaper has lost two more of its most experienced reporters.
Sony Hocklander and sports reporter Lyndal Scranton have accepted buyouts from Gannett, the paper’s parent corporation. Each has written a final column describing how working for the paper has enriched their lives and, they hope, that of the community.
I especially related to Lyndal’s column. He told of learning from longtime News-Leader Sports Editor Marty Eddlemon and other sports old timers. They taught him his craft. Their contemporaries on the news side taught me mine. Long before I entered the hallowed portals of Walter Williams and Neff halls at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I learned to write in news style from Frank Farmer, Hank Billings, Jim Billings, Dale Freeman, Lucille Morris Upton, and my columnist/idol Tom Ellis. On my first day of my beginning news reporting class, the story I turned in earned an A and accolades, because I followed their teachings.
Two fellow J-school grads in my class, Don Underwood and Bil Tatum, spent their careers at the News-Leader, accepting similar buyouts a few years ago. In the intervening time, I’ve read of others who have done the same. The paper has lost its familiar names and its longtime boots-on-the-ground staff.
When I began work in 1980 at the Muskogee Daily Phoenix (also a Gannett publication in those days) I felt fortunate to have longtime Muskogee journalists who could tell me who fit in where, and what had happened 10 or 20 years ago that affected today’s events. Joan Morrison, who had reported at the Phoenix since she was a young woman and whose father, John Lewis Stone, was its legendary managing editor, was especially valuable, as was Warren Weakland, a former sports editor turned education reporter. They retired during my career. When I left the newsroom, I took 19 years of institutional memory with me in my head.
Corporate officials and editors who have come to towns from elsewhere lack that. They look to cut newsroom expenses by getting rid of the higher-cost veterans (most people would be shocked to know how little these people make after years on the job) and replacing them with newcomers who aspire to hit the big time after spending a couple of years in the backwaters. These people, and their bosses, have no real interest in the long-term well being of their communities, seeking rather to advance their careers.
These new journalists cut their teeth on technology and seek trailblazing ways to present the news. The only one of my journalistic mentors who survives, Hank Billings, writes a weekly history column for the News-Leader, while we other retired fossils have gone on to new experiences.
The readers are the only real losers in this scenario.

One thought on “Loss of experience hurts readers most

  1. Good article. There is a huge shakeup. A history-changing shakeup in newspaper journalism. It is a loss in quality. The world is changing. Makes me nostalgic.

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