JANUARY 24, 2013 12:17PM

Our Revels Now Are Ended

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We meet 'neath the sounding rafter,
And the walls all around are bare;
As they shout back our peals of laughter
It seems that the dead are there. 

     They're gone now. All of them. Fred, Geoff, Cec, Gladys, Don, Blair, Marcella and the rest. All those who taught me something about the strange demi-world I inhabited for 40 years.
     It's easy for me to think back on those times and dwell on frigid nights at fires or accidents, stuffy council chambers, boring Rotary luncheons, the ennui between calamities.
     But it's at least as important to recall the faces and the names of those on whom I patterned my work ethic -- and ethics.
     I had no formal education in my chosen field. None. Just a perhaps stupid willingness -- even eagerness -- to learn and see and do it all. They were the ones who schooled me in the old days and in the old ways, and God help me, I loved them for it.
     So when I read those haunting lines from Indian Revelry in a fine, gritty novel by Sean Chercover, I was riveted. The poem was written around 1835 by W.F. Thompson during a deadly epidemic in the far-flung reaches of the British Empire. I won't bore you with the details of its provenance. You can find those on the excellent Mudcat Cafe website, if you're so inclined.
     It resonated at least partly because of the context. Chercover says it was sung by Chicago newspapermen -- presumably to the dirge-like The Lost Chord -- in the 1890s, and sometimes still is whenever they gather.
     It's really about being an outsider, maybe even an outcast. And about a sense of having been cursed, because I believe a person didn't choose that life, that life chose the person.
     All those names I mentioned were real people who had marital, drinking, financial, health or other troubles that were directly related to their work. So did I, for that matter. It came with the territory, and we all accepted it as the price we paid for serving the mistress who had us in her thrall.
     Old school newspapering is not only not for the faint of heart, it's not for anyone who has a heart. It is ugly and cruel and often vicious, and it eats away at any finer traits someone might have.
     If Chercover is right, then it means the old ways, if dead in this age of information overload, are at least remembered, perhaps even reverenced. I guess that's all right with me, because if I had to do it all over again the way I did it, I would. I'd have no choice.
     But I wouldn't wish it on anyone else.

Then stand to your glasses, steady!
We drink in our comrades' eyes:
One cup to the dead already --
Hurrah for the next that dies!


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ethics, work, newspapers

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Oh how I'd love to respond with a poignant and pithy bit of verse.....

Unfortunately, all that jumps into mind is......

"T'was brillig, and all the slithy toves did gyre and gimbal in the wabe......... ;-)

Yep, Sky, Jabberwocky seems just about right.

Thanks, Seer. Yes, that era has passed, perhaps mercifully. Still, one of the driving motivators back in those days was the constant demand to be "first with the worst", which led, then as now, to all kinds of wretched excess.
This is the first time I've seen that slogan "First with the worst." I was naive enough to believe newspaper people were truly interested in reporting the news -- good, bad or simply informational. Your writing seems sad, in a mournful kind of way.

It is a sad commentary when our professions become minefields of stress, treachery and bad vibes. I want my world back.
i'm not sure i envy you all that much your lifetime of writing for a living, at least newspaper writing. maybe it's just that i find it rather more wondrous to have found it, to be doing it, after all the hard work years are over, instead of it *being* the hard work years. i think you know what i mean. people who wrote for papers aren't always the best at writing from the heart, but you have a knack, boan, of letting the words reveal what's underneath as clear as a crystal stream.
" If you don't read the newspaper your uninformed. if you read the newspaper and your mis-informed." Mark Twain

It's a crap shoot now with the advancement of information technology whether what you read is true or partially true. Sensationalism is the news of the day, it sells. People now it seems get their news from social media sites and people wonder why things are fucked up. Time for Bugs Bunny I have to go, talk at you later my friend, good post....................o/e
( Michelle gives me daily NEWS briefings )
L, the pressure was always on to beat the competition to a story, something similar to what you see in these days of instantaneous "reporting" via Twitter, for example. There was, however, a big "but" back then -- you had to be right (at the risk of being fired), which ethos seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

Zuma, I'd do it all again, if the circumstances were the same. Mind you, it was always a high pressure job. If you were doing it "right", that is.

Thank you, femme. Since I left the job, and stopped using my real name (associated -- by me -- with the work), I've found incredible freedom with and pleasure in writing, similar to what you've said. OS has been terrific for that reason alone.

O/E, I don't dare ask what the daily briefings entail. And you're right, there's a qualitative difference between how information used to be organised and disseminated and the way it is now. Evolution? Or devolution? Love the Twain quote.
Nice to come back and find OS working and catch up on great pieces like this. You've honoured your mentors with this clear-eyed look at a career that, while difficult, you clearly loved.
Such a fitting nearing-eulogy. Newspaper reporting is still alive but on life support. A lot has changed since the "good ole days" but for those who still have the drive and the strength, the story's still the thing.

This post will interest you, I think, along with the link in it to my post about RW Apple. Bob Novak.
Me too, Poppi. And glad I am to see you here again. Your post about war reportage was amazing.

Yeah, VA, I loved it. I can't deny that, no matter what the current views are of the media. It was a wondrous time in many ways for the likes of me.

Sally, I remember that post (and I went back and re-read it just to make sure I was recollecting clearly). You're another of the "good guys" in the job.
A terrific post. Thanks.
I've said it before, I never could have been a ( photo)journalist but I admire and respect you for doing it. BTW...its good to see that you're still here.
"Hurrah for the next one that dies." It is errie how alike are the emotions of old soldiers and old reporters.
Thanks, 'Bug, and it's nice to see you back here. I only ever knew one photog with whom I worked that I'd also consider a real artist with a camera. Think he's retired now, but he created some of the most amazing images I've ever seen on newsprint.

Yeah, David, I think we share a lot of the same feelings. And didn't you once say you helped out a reporter friend by taking photos at various scenes? So you know what it's like.
goddam right the old ways are remembered!
shit,just talk to an old person!

ah who wants to be remembered? i wanna be seen heard and
by someone in the here and now.

Then stand to your glasses, steady!
We drink in our comrades' eyes:
One cup to the dead already --
Hurrah for the next that dies!

bet! someone dies, hurrah! sometimes they can
I missed this somehow, but glad I caught up. I can understand the enthralling need to answer a calling, "I believe a person didn't choose that life, that life chose the person". I felt that way about my own career, long after the marriage ended and other unhealthy things took up the space that was left. You pulled up a lot of old feelings with this. I'm glad I'm out. I wouldn't wish it on anyone either, but I felt more alive back then.
I miss reading "old school" news, with reporters who take to the street & aren't made-up & dressed for a camera, or spouting opinions via social media. (She says, offering her opinion via social media.) Of course, I always envision it all His Girl Friday, fast & loose on the moral end, hats & cigarettes & coffee & a bunch of guys rambling on & drinking too much in cocktail lounges. I miss reading guys with daily columns & a city beat, guys who knew everyone in town & even held power over the rich & famous. I miss when reporters could write, & even make a difference.
Actually, James, I'd be just as glad to discover I wasn't remembered. Someday, I'll write about why I feel that way.

Yep, Gabby, you're exactly right. Nothing will ever equal that period for excitement -- at least, not in my working life. And I am very, very glad to have survived and be out of it.

Suzie, I got in at the tag-end of those days, all "Hello, sweetheart, get me re-write" and stuff. It was fun, it truly was. As for the social "media" -- well, they aren't. But lots of people believe they are, and that's what counts.
Can't remember if I commented on this post over on Our salon, but no matter: Most excellent R&R!!
it's so strange how the curses and the blessings jostle together, even in a heartless world ~

this was riveting, old-school, thanks ~
Thanks, JMac. It's possible you saw my post on Our that was inspired by the same poem -- except it was fiction, a genre I'm not at all comfortable with, usually. I don't hang around there very much these days, so thanks, too, for noticing.

And thank you also, Catch. Yeah, the job was a mixed blessing, and I won't lie and say I didn't have a great deal of fun at it, despite the horror show it sometimes became. And I do miss those people.
Great song. Looks like the papers will die before the last of the newspapermen.
Yeah, Con, there are still some good people out there trying to swing for the bleachers, and even succeeding sometimes. Gives me some hope.
Journalism is a cruel taskmaster but I still love it with what's left of my heart. Raising a glass to all those who "died of newspapers." Long may they run.
We are similarly afflicted, Emma. Thanks for the comment, and may I say how nice it is to see you here again.