Celebrating John Archibald’s Pulitzer while mourning the lack of talent in most newsrooms

[Photo Credit: Charles Birchmore, courtesy Tilney Shane via AP]

Journalism is a strange beast. I’ve thought that for years, even before I started on this crazy adventure that is Alabama Today.

What I want from those covering hard news is facts. What I want from a columnist is a fact-based argument or story with an emotional or personal hook. I don’t just want to read your opinion; I want your opinion to move me even if the emotion I feel isn’t a positive one. AL.com’s, or more aptly Alabama Media Group’s, John Archibald nails that nearly every time. Which is why he deserves his newly minted Pulitzer Prize.

I like to think that my news taste are like most readers or consumers. What I want from a news story is straight down the middle, facts. If I can tell what the reporter thinks about a particular subject by time I’ve reached the end of an article, then I feel as though they have failed. If I get to the end of an article and have to pause to reflect upon my own position, or consider the story to be just a neutral factual telling of events, then the reporter has done their job. Most days I can simply look at the headline, the by-line, read a lede, and can guess exactly where the reporter is headed with their story and how they feel personally about the topic. That’s what I consider a failure by both the reporter and the outlet running their story.

One of my favorite reporters of all time (doesn’t everyone have favorite reporters?) is Brendan Farrington of the Florida bureau of the Associated Press. I’ve known Brendan personally and professionally for many years, and yet I still have no idea what his politics are. That’s a dang good reporter. When I was in Florida I read nearly every story he wrote because I knew that it would do exactly what journalist are taught to do in school: write straight down the middle.

Wait, are they still taught to report straight down the middle? Hard to tell these days.

I resent the current state of journalism where news stories and content is heavily weighted with bias; which is part of the reason I started this site.

Journalism is hard which is why it’s a profession that used to be revered instead of mocked. It’s hard to explain a topic or situation and stay reasonably objective from your own opinions when writing. Beyond that, good journalists live by an ethics code whereby they have a duty to the public to be honest and loyal, even when they fundamentally disagree. Frankly those with the skills to do so can usually avoid journalism altogether and take jobs paying better money elsewhere. A good journalist is like a good teacher they do it for the love of the job not the accolades or pay.

In fact, Mike Rosenberg of the Seattle Times yesterday tweeted, “One of today’s Pulitzer winners has already left the paper to run a brewery’s social media account. This is at least the 4th Pulitzer winner since 2015 who left for PR by the time they won. PR pays 2x more & has much more job security than journalism.”

Nevertheless I believe readers need to demand more from Alabama’s newsrooms.

While I do realize I live in a football state — football, crime and feature fluff-stories dominate the majority of content across most well-trafficked Alabama sites these days. I mean I love knowing the best place for burgers, hotdogs, nails, blah, blah, blah, but I find the constant lists and photo galleries lacking. I get it. That stuff makes for great click-bait, but no one’s winning a Pulitzer for 99% of the content showing up on news sites these days. And when there is award-winning journalism happening in our state, how could one be expected to find it in the stream of constant shhhhhhttuff.

Back to what got me writing about the state of things, Alabama’s own John Archibald, his column nails it, most days. Even when I don’t agree with what he’s writing, which is fairly frequent, I appreciate his investigative skills, his passion and his consistency. I appreciate that every column is well-researched, well-cited and covers every base a real journalist should. He doesn’t traffic in click-bait or TMZ style gossip. Lord knows there’s plenty of that around the state to publish if he was so inclined. He focuses on issues that matter. He shapes conversation and leaves those skirting the law or ethics rightfully shaking in their boots.

I know a handful of people celebrating John’s win and you can count me among them. He’s the best in Birmingham and probably in Alabama. It’s is a well-deserved award. I just wish Alabama had more of them coming our way.