Monday, March 3, 2008

An Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks

They say an old dog can't learn new tricks. I know they're wrong.

About a month ago, I wrote about my "journalism dad" Don Moore, who had spent several decades working at the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He was my deskmate for several years -- a grump of a man with a big heart and an eye for a good news story. I used to tell people, "Don Moore could find a story in a crack in the sidewalk." And he could.

Last month, he got laid off in a round of cuts at the family-owned newspaper on the west coast of the state. It was just one more in a long line of layoffs at newspapers across the country. But because it was a small paper, it seemed no one even noticed he was gone.

Don started in the business when the writing tools of choice were a pad, a pencil and a typewriter. So in an economic climate like the one facing newspapers today, it was unlikely he was going to find another job. When I discovered he'd been let go, it felt like someone knocked the wind out of me.

So I wrote an entry in this blog, from a former newspaper-editor-turned-web editor, that asked the newspaper industry when it was going to find the answer to what ails it? And when it does find the answer, where will all the people like Don Moore be? You know the folks I'm talking about. They're too old for an industry that is struggling, if not dying. And too young to retire and sit out on a beach thinking about the good, old days.

After a few more days of stewing about it, I decided I couldn't sit around and wait for anyone else to come up with the answer -- because it may never happen. So I called him and asked him if he wanted to write for the web. Four weeks, a new laptop, a wireless router and some story assignments later, he had his first web-only byline on, the site we launched in December. And while he's still tryiing to figure out links and attachments, the same skills that served him in the newspaper industry have found a new home writing stories on the Internet.

Today, I got a series of e-mails from some friends I met when I attended the Maynard Institute a few years ago. All smart, savvy young professionals who fell in love with journalism and wanted to make a difference. The title of the string of notes was "another round of layoffs." And from newsrooms around the country, they e-mailed one-after-the-other about the various states of economic well being at their companies. It was not a pretty picture.

Given that I'm out of the traditional print industry for a time, I could only sympathize, send good wishes and hope for better days for them -- and for the profession itself. There was, in my mind, one happy thought. At least one of the fine newspaper journalists I know has been able to find his way to another job doing what he loves to do -- writing good stories -- in the new media landscape.

And that's got to count for something.

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