Daily Archives: September 16, 2009

Michael Moore’s lack of empathy, and watching a newspaper die, from the inside


Two things sparked this post (I don’t know, sometimes I figure you people might be interested in how my mind works…)

One is Michael Moore, who I generally regard as a brilliant satirist and filmmaker. I’ve loved Moore’s movies since someone in high school told me I should rent this new film called “Roger and Me,” about one guy trying to take down General Motors.

It was hilarious and smart, and since then I’ve seen all of Moore’s movies, including the underrated “Bowling for Columbine,” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which, despite its intended purpose, did not rid us of the scourge of W. in 2004.

Moore has been a powerful voice on the left, and while occasionally he goes too far and defeats his own purpose, he’s still one of the good guys in my mind.

Anyway, Moore’s got a new flick coming out about capitalism, and at a press conference in Toronto the other day he somehow got on the topic of newspapers.

He spouted most of the same lines many of us have used when talking about the slow decline of my industry; corporate greed, profits over people, etc. None of it remotely surprised or affected me.

But then he went a little further. He said “good riddance,” about the death of newspapers. And he predicted that in “one year, or two years,”  there will be no more daily papers.

Well you know what, Michael? “Good riddance?” Screw you.

I say that because newspapers, at their best, expose scandal and malfeasance and bad people doing bad things to good people, and isn’t that what you’re about? Isn’t that why you first started making “Roger and Me,” because you wanted Roger Smith of GM to explain to you why his hard-working factory employees were being laid off by the thousands in Michigan?

And now you’re saying good riddance, and, basically, who cares if newspapers die in a year or two. Who do you think writes stories and uncovers scandal that motivates you to do documentaries? Who do you think is keeping an eye out for the public good, about things like automobile safety and rule-breakers in government and athletes cheating to get ahead? Dedicated newspaper reporters, sir.

I don’t know, I’m probably so charged up about this because the last 36 hours have been horrible at work, which is the other reason I’m writing this.

For the fourth time in two years, the Daytona Beach News-Journal laid off a significant portion of the staff. These cuts hit me harder than the other ones, and I think it’s because we continue to lose good, talented, honest people who bleed for this business and never wanted to leave. We’ve run out of people who didn’t care about the job and now they’re firing indispensable parts of our staff.

Friends of mine, people I care about, got an email from our corporate receivership leader at 4 p.m. Monday (it’s a long story, we’re in the process of being sold and the court has put an outside manager to run us in the interim. Of course, “the interim” has lasted a hell of a lot longer than anyone thought it would).

These people got an email at 4 p.m. (hey, might as well get a good day’s work out of them) saying they had to show up at 11 Tuesday morning and meet with human resources, and bam, that was it.

Long-time employees, newer employees, journalists of great skill and people who put in an honest day’s work for a story; it doesn’t matter.  One email, a handshake, and a few week’s severance pay. And what was once a vibrant, passionate voice shining a light in this community gets just a little dimmer.

It is heartbreaking watching a living, breathing organism like a newsroom slowly, excruciatingly die. People I respect and trust were walking around like zombies today, trying to keep working, but dealing with the feelings of surivor’s guilt and helpless anger at the same time.

Many more talented writers than I have been writing about the breath being slowly expunged from this business we love; I can’t put it nearly as eloquently as they have.

But let me just say that watching it from the inside has been even more painful than I could have imagined.

I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy of what it feels like, and the best way I can describe it is this:  It’s like watching a beautiful mural on a wall that you helped paint, slowly being chipped away and chipped away, and as each piece falls to the floor a little piece of you falls with it. And you can’t stop it, or rail against it, you just have to stand there and watch.

Look, I know Michael Moore does have empathy, and I know he’s really railing against the corporate monsters like Gannett and Tribune Co. for putting profits over people when he says “good riddance.”

But there were people crying and hugging and not wanting to leave at my office today, trying to hold on to one last moment of being a part of something bigger than themselves. As I said goodbye, I was grateful I wasn’t joining them.

But watching them leave, I was sad all over again.

And I think if Michael Moore, or anyone else who has been gleefully dancing on the tombstone of newspapers  had been there, maybe they’d feel a little differently.