David & Mr. Bangs

This was a particularly hard week. Long. Cold. Rainy. Exhausting. A lot of sleepless nights. Nervous energy that sapped the body of its own spark. Four board meetings. More meetings and meetings. Some exciting times hanging out with friends, old, new and newest. The whole week was like a whirligig. There are holiday parties everywhere. I don’t want to attend them. I just wanted to sit at home, read a good book, listen to Miles and just let my mind wander. 

And whenever my mind wanders, I find myself thinking about the profession I have left behind.It has been eight years since I touched cigarettes.  It has been eight years when the craving is in the back of my mind. Reporting too, is a narcotic, one worse than nicotine. It never leaves you. Whenever I have that craving, I do one of the two things — either get into an email discussion with one of my ex-editors or I end up watching one of the three movies about media: All The President’s Men, Shattered Glass and Almost Famous. They are movies about idealism, narcissism and innocence of a profession I have now left behind.

Lester Bangs, music critic and editor of Creem magazine, portrayed brilliantly by late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous, was one of my favorite characters in the movie. It was because of the movie, I finally got to learn about him, his work. If you read his reviews, his essays and his interviews, you almost know the man, but you really don’t. But what I remember the most about him is when he tells young William Miller:

“They’re gonna buy you drinks. You’re gonna meet girls, they’re gonna try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs. I know. It sounds great, but these people are not your friends.”

His words are eerily similar to the comments made by David Churbuck, my editor at Forbes.com, who chucked up a promising career in print to go chasing his Internet dream. He left 85 Fifth Avenue in New York, to move uptown by a few blocks to a grimy office above an aging toy store and taking us believers — back when they called us the fools — along for a ride of our life. David was told perhaps a version of those words by his mentor/editor when he was a pup of a reporter.

The world of media has changed. The method of media has changed. But what media is supposed to do hasn’t changed. I don’t think that will actually ever change. What David and Lester Bangs have in common, is that they have helped pay forward what is important for the profession to do what it is supposed to do — they have shared the ethos and ethics of the business. Today’s hyperactive media landscape that places less less value on editors.

We have publications where editorial experience is virtually non existent. The value system of the media is what makes it useful, important and brave enough to say what it is supposed to say that. It doesn’t matter if the medium is moving at the rate of clicks or at the rate of one’s mind, what matters is knowing what is the right thing to do. A lot comes from being around smart editors. It is important that we have those folks around to make sure that the next twenty five year old can reach fifty and share that process with others.

In a must read blog post for all aspiring journalists, a Note to a new journalist, Churbuck writes:

I wish I could offer encouraging words about the future of journalism, but it’s no less under-appreciated and challenging than it was in 1980 when I wrote my first piece (on a sewer bond hearing which my editor cut in half and said, “Don’t cry kid. This isn’t a short story about granny’s funeral you know.”). And I hope it is every bit as weird and fun as it was for me — there’s no better place I can think of than a newsroom on a good news day for, as General Gavin said to the nervous paratrooper approaching the drop-zone over Normandy on D-Day: “Buck up son. Don’t be nervous. Don’t you like jumping out of airplanes?” And the soldier said, “No sir, I don’t. But I like hanging around guys who do.”

A letter from Om

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