The death of the working class reporter

Justin Ward:

Back in college, our newswriting class was assigned All Over But the Shoutin’, an autobiography by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg. His was a Horatio Alger story, the journalist version of the American Dream. Bragg managed to make it all the way to the New York Times without ever completing college. He went straight from his high school paper to covering local sports. He kept swimming upstream to bigger and bigger papers, moving from sports to features, and ultimately he landed an assignment as an international correspondent in Haiti for the Times.

It was supposed to be inspirational for us young journos. If we just stayed on the grind and kept chasing good stories, we too could climb the ladder to the heights of our profession. But the media landscape we inherited was vastly different than the one in which Bragg made his bones.

In the late 20th century, it was possible for a college dropout to go on to be a household name. Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, quit school early for a job in journalism. So did legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite, who learned his trade at the Daily Texan, just like I. But that kind of career trajectory was unimaginable to us.

The year I graduated was an inauspicious one. With the global financial crisis starting to unfold, 2007 was a bad time for the economy and an even worse time for the news industry.