The TV show "Lou Grant" did not push me toward newspapers. By the time it debuted on Sept. 20, 1977, I had just started college pointed in that direction. But you can bet I watched all five seasons, and again in reruns, as I hoped to launch my career.
The show bore some realism, aside from the literary requirement that two reporters and one photographer do all the important work at a major Los Angeles metro. This wasn't "Love Boat," where a revolving cast of guest stars could grab pen and notebook each week.
I can't remember if I wanted to be Joe Rossi or Billie Newman, although I did have a crush on one of them.
Ed Asner's recent death got me nostalgic for the days I watched him as the editor Lou Grant. The show depicted a newsroom that soon would die, not that anybody knew it at the time. The Internet soon killed classified ads, a newspaper life blood, sending an entire industry down a sinkhole.
|Robert Walden and Ed Asner in "Lou Grant."|
As a newspaperman, I deeply felt the crumbling of print journalism, although I came to appreciate how change was necessary on so many levels.
The fictional Los Angeles Tribune newsroom led by Lou Grant mirrored most real ones around the country. It was very white and very male. Now cringeworthy, to be honest.
Although newspapers and online publications still have miles to go to create staffs that mirror an increasingly diverse population, many are making an effort. Hiring journalists of color and members of the LGBTQ community can only help raise the sagging -- some would say depressed -- level of trust that the public has in the media.
That said, I am grateful I was able to start my career at the tail end of what I describe as "The Front Page" era, referencing a farcical play about newspaper reporters that was written in the 1920s and subsequently adapted into a variety of movies. Most of you probably remember the Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon version from 1974.
My first daily-newspaper editor was Lou Grant personified -- not the version from the eponymous drama, but from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
B.W. was a middle-aged, balding, roly-poly graduate of a major metro newspaper who covered the Mafia then settled into a career at small papers helping young reporters make their way in the craft. Bob was also a cliché.
He always had a bottle of cheap whiskey in one of his desk drawers and invited reporters into his office for a daytime belt. He said and did other things that would get him fired in half a minute today. While interviewing young women for reporting jobs, B.W. would sometimes emerge from his office, which had glass windows, to comment on their physical appearance.
B.W. also conducted a lot of business from a barstool at a nearby bar, which also would not go over well in 2021.
It's easy to look back and see how wrong all this was, but I'd be lying if I denied that working for B.W. was a load of fun for a newbie in his 20s.
A couple of years later I went to the Oakland Tribune, which had a newsroom stuffed with oak furniture that would have been state-of-the-art in the 1920s. It also maintained old-fashioned wire machines that made a constant clickety-clack noise while spitting out stories on a continuous roll of paper, which copy clerks ripped out of the machine to distribute to editors. When a major story broke, the machine would ding four times.
Diversity was not an issue at the Tribune, which was owned by a Black man, Robert Maynard, and had a staff of editors and writers that looked more like its community. But it still had its share of old-timers, some crusty, some not.
I sat aside a reporter named Bill Eaton, a soft-spoken man in his 60s who captivated me with stories about his airplane and flying and always had a supply of grape Bubble Yum that he shared liberally. Bill died of a heart attack ishortly after remarrying, which saddened me immensely.
Not long after, the Tribune made me a baseball writer. That essentially ended my days of working inside newsrooms.
Nostalgia is quite the hallucinogen. It can create euphoric memories while blocking our ability to reason that things can be much better today. It's OK now and then to be Abe Simpson yelling at clouds as long as you don't go on about how much bigger and fluffier the clouds were 50 years ago.
Ed Asner was a great actor and "Lou Grant" was a great show. And I'm grateful I got a taste of the newsroom life that he and the show depicted before it disappeared into a 21st century that demanded more equality and diverse thoughout.
Today we have newsrooms real and virtual that pump out copy from a diverse array of people that we could not have foreseen 40 years ago. A lot of it is crap; more of it is very good.
I just hope that 40 years hence today's young reporters can say that journalism got a lot better during their career spans, as it did mine, and that the cynical distrust of earnest people who carry pens, notebooks and cameras will have disappeared into the ether as well.