Dear, dear, dear, dear God.
If you exist, please help me. Us. Me. Me and us. Us and me. All of us.
Two seconds ago, I just completed a column from my old newspaper, The Tennessean. The headline: Dave Ammenheuser wants your ideas on Midstate sports.
I don’t know Dave Ammenheuser. I don’t have any knowledge of Dave Ammenheuser’s work. But, well, what the fuck? What the flippin’ fuck?
Read his column. Please. Why? Because it symbolizes everything wrong with the modern world of newspaper, the modern world of Gannett newspaper, the modern world of the journalist who—seeing those around him canned one by one—does whatever it takes to buy into an awful corporate philosophy of fooling the reader into believing we (they) care about the reader. In his piece, Dave Ammenheuser first explains how, after working primarily as an editor, he’s going to start penning columns. Why (the stated reason)? Because Dave is the leader of The Tennessean sports department, and he now has freedom. Why (almost certainly the real reason)? Because The Tennessean has pretty much fired everyone, the staff is 12 people and an empty can of Diet Tab and, fuck, somebody’s gotta fill the pages.
But wait … there’s more. Back when I was coming up, all Nashville media folks rightly bowed down toward Fred Russell, the legendary Nashville Banner sports writer/editor whose “Bury Me in an Old Press Box” is an all-time classic. Russell perfectly symbolized what journalism at its best stood for—gritty, dogged, hard, fierce, independent, creative. In his piece, Dave Ammenheuser actually writes this:
A community leader I respect said, “Dave, you’re Nashville’s new Fred Russell.”
It was the highest of compliments. Fred Russell was an icon in our industry. One of the nation’s all-time great sports writers, he was the Nashville Banner’s sports editor for nearly 70 years.
Let’s be clear: I’m no Fred Russell.
He also makes clear that the most difficult part of becoming a writer again has been the, “public promotional tools used to showcase my new role. There was a full-page promo in Friday’s Tennessean. There are billboards around the city. We produced a television ad.” Oh, it’s so awkward and hard for me. And here’s a link to the ad I’m in. But, please, don’t watch the supplied link. Because it’s awkward. Just look. So awkward. But, really, look again.
Why am I writing this? Because I love The Tennessean. The old Tennessean. The newspaper that produced David Halberstam. The newspaper that covered the civil rights battles with unbridled righteousness. The newspaper that fed The New York Times. The newspaper where, as a punk-ass kid with a horrible attitude, I was taught 1,001 lessons from people like Catherine Mayhew and Neal Scarbrough and Jimmy Davy and David Climer—and one of those lessons was (not in these exact words) find the stories. Report. Dig. Search. The idea that a sports editor would use his space to write, “I understand the need for the promotional pieces and appreciate them. But this space will be about you. Have ideas for a column? Please share them with me” is vomit worthy.
Reporting isn’t about soliciting story ideas.
It’s about finding them.