Page 56 - foxtalk issue 2

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56
Winter 2011
Perspectives
The copy gate closes?
Alumnus Mike Benischek reflects
on his time in Lowell Thomas and
on how media are consolidating
I
n the fall of 2003,
I sat in a Lowell Thomas classroom
and listened to professor G. Modele Clarke explain that
while becoming a newspaper reporter is exciting, the real
money in the industry, and the real job security, is in
copy editing.
“Copy editors are the gatekeepers,” the man who liked to go
by “G-Mo” told us.
Six years later, the Gannett Company laid off every one of the
Poughkeepsie Journal’s copy editors – myself included, splitting
time as a sports writer and a copy editor, included – and out-
sourced all page-designing duties to another newspaper’s staff
within the company. Gannett has since done the same with
many of its other newspaper properties.
Times change quickly, and few industries are changing quick-
er than the media.
If you’re wondering, my own story did have a happier ending
than some, as I was immediately re-hired as a full-time writer
(you can be the judge of whether they made the right choice),
but that’s besides the point.
There were plenty of lessons I picked up at Marist that still hang
around inside my head – most more meaningful than learn-
ing to unplug the Nintendo before using a screwdriver to futz
with the motherboard. Prof. Clarke preached the importance
of learning all of newspaper writing’s rules in order to know
when and where you can best break them. Dr. Keith Strudler
once called me out on losing focus within what I thought was a
masterpiece of a column, and I’ve asked that same question of
every subsequent masterpiece.
Still, the lesson that I come back to most often is the simple
fact that in 2003, copy editors were the gatekeepers, and today
they are the industry’s vestigial organs.
Copy editors are still necessary, of course. Somebody, some-
where, has to create the physical newspaper each day. But the
page designers that have increasingly become the star of the
news world are now the web page designers. While the high
costs for newsprint and paper only encourage the physical pa-
per to shrink, the cost for webspace (or relative lack thereof )
encourages online expansion.
It also doesn’t hurt that in 2003, Facebook had still yet to make
its f irst friend and Twitter was just a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye.
The never-ending battle to “be f irst” with the news has never
been tougher, now that breaking stories get re-tweeted by mil-
lions in an instant.
Add in the fact that smartphones immediately equip all of
us with the tools to be a one-person newspaper, and suddenly
there’s no “gate” for those copy editors to open and close. The
gate’s wide open and it’s been renamed the iGate.
As predicted by Prof. Andrew Utterback in another memo-
rable Lowell Thomas lecture back in 2002, all media is con-
solidating, and all jobs in media are consolidating accordingly.
Newspapers are trying to get into online video news. Television
stations have websites to compete with print news. And singular
websites, with little overhead, are vying for their share of both
sides of the industry.
So, if I can pass along one lesson of my own here, it would sim-
ply be to keep your eyes and ears open to just about everything
and anything if you plan to get into the media industry.
You may need to know how to edit video. You may need to
know how to write a news feature. You may need to know that
the f ire department will literally pull you out of your bed in the
old townhouses if you sleep through an accidental f ire alarm.
Trust me, you can learn any of it at Marist.
Be prepared. The industry is as exciting as ever, but there’s no
telling where it will be headed in the future. Just ask the copy
editors.
photo courtesy of Mike Benischek
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