A kind of truth

Michael Connelly and his greatest hero, police detective Harry Bosch, have hit me in the heart again with a random note in the middle of a story. You may recall I recently wrote about Harry’s observations about the newspaper industry.

In Harry’s latest adventure, Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is reflecting on his new role as a part-time detective with the much smaller San Fernando Police Department after an awkward parting of the ways with the Los Angeles P.D.

“Most of all, the offer came at a time when he felt unfinished. After all the years he had put in, he never expected to walk out the door one day at the LAPD and not be allowed back in. At a period in his life when most men took up golf or bought a boat, Bosch felt resolutely incomplete. He was a closer; he needed to work cases, and setting up shop as a private eye or defense investigator wasn’t going to suit him in the long run.”

As I drove down the highway “reading” the book with the help of Titus Welliver, who performs the audiobook, I realized how much I have in common with Bosch. The only difference is I kind of expected to walk out the door one day at the job I thought I was born to do and not be allowed back in.

But like Bosch, I didn’t feel like I was finished, and it didn’t make a lot of sense to pursue something dramatically different than what I’ve been doing for 42 years – community journalism.

I was the guest Tuesday of the Algoma Optimist Club, who asked me to talk about community journalism. I came across the Bosch quote as I was thinking what I could share about myself and the good work being done by community journalists in a lot of places.

More and more I realize the best journalism is local and independent, where the decisions are made by someone who lives in the community being covered. It’s that simple.

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A dose of reality jumps off the page

dejah and newspaper

Every so often a character in a book will make an observation that you have to believe is coming from the author. And so it was as I was reading The Burning Room by Michael Connelly, in a scene where detective Harry Bosch is researching a horrific fire at a child care center that he is now discovering was a homicide.

Harry is reading an extensive report in the Los Angeles Times that covered several pages the day after the 1993 homicide. On one page is a box listing all of the journalists who worked on the story.

Bosch counted 22 names, and it made him miss the old Los Angeles Times. In 1993 it was big and strong, its editions fat with ads and stories produced by a staff of some of the best and brightest journalists in their field. Now the paper looked like someone who had been through chemo – thin, unsteady, and knowing the inevitable could only be held off for so long.

While Connelly was writing about Harry Bosch’s hometown paper, the description fits almost every publication in the U.S. news business – and, frankly, not only those outlets that still employ a conventional press. Ever since some bean counter somewhere decided that newsrooms must turn a profit, it’s been heading downhill.

My first boss said the news department was a public service, not a profit center, and he expected the other parts of the radio station to raise the money to support the newsroom’s expenses. You don’t hear that in the boardrooms that control most journalism enterprises these days.