Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Goodbye Avalanche-Journal

Friday Dec. 4th will be my last day at the Avalanche-Journal.

Thus ends four and a half great years as webmaster, columnist, and half-assed troubleshooter.

I learned a lot at the A-J, and I’ll always be grateful to the editors there for publishing my work and giving me a chance to grow as a writer. Special thanks to Bill Kerns, Shelly Gonzales, Terry Greenberg and Beth Pratt for reviewing my early work and taking a chance on a guy who was basically hired as a code monkey.

I had a lot of misconceptions about journalism when I walked in the door four years ago. I was a lot more political back then, and like most amateur pundits, I had thrown around the term “mainstream media” until it lost all meaning.

The problem with amateur pundits is that they see everything in black and white, or maybe just red and blue. Everything is taken as proof of some political position. Every story choice, every offhand comment, every random typo is interpreted as an ideological statement.

But as I watched things from the inside, I was struck by how straightforward and workmanlike the whole thing is. Whatever ideological bias you think you see in your local media, the contents of the paper really are determined by what the editors think people want to read.

Those choices may not always be popular, and they may not always be right, but I was struck by how hard these people try, every day, to be honest, helpful and fair.

Eighty percent of my readers are scoffing now. It’s easier to believe in the conspiracy, and it’s certainly more fun, but for the professionals I’ve met, loyalty to journalism becomes a kind of politics in itself. Journalism becomes a kind of third party that they believe in just as fiercely as partisans believe in Obama or the GOP.

Every writer has political opinions and nobody can hide their biases completely, but I was impressed by how hard they try. There really is something sacred about journalism — something religious in the way it captures the hearts and minds of people who devote their lives to it.

Journalists fall short of that ideal sometimes, and of course they make exceptions for the editorial page, but for the average reporter on the street, loyalty to journalism matters more than anything that happens in the political arena.

I don’t expect the average reader to believe that, any more than I believed it four years ago, but I had to give up a lot of prejudices once I saw this process from the inside.

The media is such an easy target these days. Partisan rancor is at such a fever-pitch, journalists are held to extraordinary standards of accuracy and fairness, in a time when budgets are shrinking and the Internet is trying to redefine what news is.

I wish readers could see what I’ve seen, to understand just how much work goes into researching and balancing the content of these stories, to see how much these people have to produce and experience the pressure of writing copy on deadline.

Imagine waking up every day and having your day’s work scrutinized by a hostile audience, having every word interpreted in the most negative way possible and thrown up for ridicule.

I love blogs, but blogs by definition are free from the constraints of objectivity and sourcing that journalists struggle with. Our society may not appreciate the value of objectivity right now, in the mad rush to choose sides and ignore “news” they disagree with, but we’ll definitely miss it when it’s gone.

Bill Kerns

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 2, 2009 at 01:56

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. My office has an employee who used to deliver the AJ as a side job to what she does here, so she would always bring one for us to read here at the office. She stopped delivering a few months ago, so we have not had the paper here at the office since. I also do not get it at home, but I didn’t really miss it except for your articles. I hadn’t thought about it much until I saw you today at Little Panda. I didn’t want to bother you while you were eating, but wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your work. It also prompted me to look for you on the web because of the content of your articles I figured I could probably find you on a blog or something. Sure enough, I found your blog, and noticed you left the AJ. If you plan on taking your observations to your blog, I will continue to read them now that I have found it. Keep up the good work!


    December 17, 2009 at 12:50

  2. Thanks man, that’s really nice of you.

    Yeah, I don’t do web stuff at the A-J anymore but they’re letting me continue the column as a freelancer.

    I wouldn’t expect much entertainment from this little blog but I’ll at least try to link the columns here.

    Michael Duff

    December 18, 2009 at 11:25

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