A subversive act and a plea for help

Aaron Sorkin’s final Twitter message, on the Fourth of July 2012, read: “Fuck it, I give up.”

That’s the way I feel after writing more than 50 pieces in this space since the Fourth of July 2015.

The problem is I stuck to my area of expertise – the media – instead of pretending to know the magic formula for making money, losing weight, bringing up kids, keeping fit, having hot sex, cooking kale.

If you read on, there will be a plea for help. But first, how I got to this juncture.

Affirmed: Journalism as practiced today is so uniformly and predictably awful that any critical appraisal seems pointless.

My head hurts from all the time I’ve spent reading, watching and listening – and crafting story ideas that fit comfortably into an 800-word column.

After six months, my only conclusions about the news/sports entertainment complex are that those in the business:

  • Believe they are doing a fine job.
  • Don’t know what good work is.
  • Don’t give a shit – until they’re laid off.

People who consume media:

  • Don’t expect much.
  • Don’t care.
  • Are only interested in something that supports their preconceived notions and those of their make-believe friends.

My set-in-stone preconceived notions are that:

  • The Internet has made people dumber.
  • Social media is pablum for like-minded people.

***

I attempted to alter course in the past month or so, with pieces on two great reporters and former colleagues: Kate Webb of UPI and Steve Thorne of Canadian Press.

The Webb story was widely read, thanks to an assist from a UPI alumni-group site where I posted a query.

None of the replies answered my question. Most began: “I didn’t really know Kate but …”

The piece on Thorne was a chartbuster for me: nearly 1,000 hits, mainly in Canada, but also all over the world.

As far as I can tell, the reason the story received so much play was because Thorne posted it on his Facebook page, all his “friends” read it and passed it on to their “friends.”

And since all of these “friends” already knew of Thorne’s situation, folks just shook their heads in despair.

As far as I know, no one in a position to give Thorne a reporting job responded positively to the story, much less contacted him to discuss an offer.

***

Writing the Thorne piece got me thinking about my own downfall as an influential editor at CP and my most subversive act during a lifetime in the news biz.

In my final years at the wire service, I had climbed down the ladder of success to working night-rewrite.

It was about this time that the president of Canadian Press, Keith Kincaid, announced he was creating an annual prize for excellence.

The President’s Awards would be in two categories: one for journalism, the other on the administrative side.

Late one night, during a break from my rewrite duties, I banged out a long letter nominating myself for a President’s Award, lauding all my extraordinary contributions to CP.

Leaving no fingerprints, I gave it to one of my most trusted colleagues, asked her to sign it and to collect signatures from other CP writers and editors.

The petition went across the country and back. I pretended to know nothing about it.

In March 1993, the first president’s awards were announced, the winners each receiving $1,000 and a plaque.

I didn’t win, but I was told the number of nomination signatures was so high that Kincaid could not ignore it. In a circular distributed to staff, he wrote:

“Ken Becker … receives an honorable mention for his ongoing contribution to CP’s editorial report. His work helps CP shine. It is multi-dimensional in that he guides others, edits, rewrites, and writes features and spot news equally well. Younger staff who nominated Becker cited the high journalistic standards he sets for them.”

After making the announcement, I was told Kincaid dressed down his senior managers: What the hell is Becker doing working nights on the rim of the Ontario Desk? Can’t we find him something better to do?

They didn’t move me back into a supervising editor’s spot, where I could best serve the wire, but soon transferred me to the features department as a fulltime writer.

***

When newspapers and magazines were the only place to find printed journalism, I kept up with my favorites: Breslin, Hamill, Russell Baker, Red Smith, Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins, Hunter Thompson.

Now? I look for Timothy Egan’s column in the New York Times. Pretty good.

Anyone who says journalism is now better than ever has a cushy job in the business.

***

My plea for help: If you know of anyone in the media who is doing exceptional work, or has been fucked around and prevented from doing exceptional work, please let me know by email: kenbecker@rogers.com

In the meantime, I’m not sure I have anything to write on this site.

Maybe I’ll discover a recipe to make kale edible.

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One thought on “A subversive act and a plea for help

  1. The best journalists I know have been laid off by or taken buyouts from either CP or Postmedia. Even when I was still in the biz I knew a lot of good journalists who were sidelined like you because they’d fallen out of favour – or had never made it into favour, like me. I’ll never make a claim to journalistic excellence, I got into the biz mostly because I wanted a job where they’d pay me to write, but who knows what I might have become if I’d received the least bit of encouragement when I had some fire. I stayed at CP for too long and when I left, for an employer that didn’t reassure me daily that I just wasn’t good enough (while nonetheless continuing to ask me to do the job I apparently wasn’t good enough to do), I didn’t care anymore. And after my Postmedia layoff I moved out of journalism completely. Stephen Kimber, a former J-school prof, laughed when I told him that for me the hardest thing about working in the private sector was the compliments. He told me he hears that a lot from former journalists.
    Still, don’t give up. There must be good ones out there somewhere.

    Like

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