Throughout the country, local journalism wages an increasingly grim war against oblivion and, to better its chances of winning, is turning toward rather odd sources for help. Two county newspapers have launched GoFundMes as their newsrooms shrink and neighboring publications fold. Other papers plan to accept a total of $300 million’s worth of pledged initiatives from Google and Facebook, the two companies that bear most of the responsibility for siphoning ad revenue from those papers in the first place.
Local journalism, however, might be the only endangered species no one has any interest in photographing. Judging by the artwork that accompanies stories about newsrooms’ struggles, I have rarely seen what any of their reporters actually look like. A typical article features things like newspapers whirring through a printing press, the Gannett headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg’s crystalline face as he tries to commandeer a tractor, and newspapers. Somanynewspapers. It’s as if they expect to capture our imaginations based solely on the perk of averting corruption.
This is disappointing, especially considering another workforce, also frequently described as endangered, has managed to cling to survival thanks almost entirely to its look.
Compared to local newsrooms, the floor traders of the New York Stock Exchange face the opposite situation: photos suggest more of them exist than actually do. The picture that ran alongside an August 17 Washington Post articlefollows a well-hewn tradition of cramming traders as tightly into the frame as possible, this time between a row of flat screens and another trader’s back. Squeezing out almost all empty space like a Zip-Loc bag makes it easy to forget that, thanks to the industry’s overwhelming shift toward automating trading, the number of firms on the NYSE floor has shrunk from the hundreds in the 1990s to something closer to 35.
Nonetheless, it turns out our culture is so endeared by the thought of a marble room teeming with unstructured mesh-backed trading jackets that the New York Stock Exchange sees its floor traders as valuable branding tools. Even though the human touch’s actual advantage over automatic trading is disputable, the NYSE is convinced that investors feel more comfortable when a cast of familiar faces shares the same room as the stock ticker. Cable networks can slather their finance shows with a sense of legitimacy knowing Peter Tuchman lurks somewhere behind the news anchors.
The lesson is clear– local newspaper reporters need a look. Just like pandas attract more conservation dollars than, say, the Western Long-Beaked Echidna, local journalists might be able to turn to something other than questionably intentioned tech giants if they doubled the number of hearts they could capture. And we need not mimic the frightening standards and chin implants of television reporters, nor should we expect most reporters to have the budget to pull off a Tom Wolfe.
An obvious choice is the Rollable Paper Hat. First, it resembles most people’s idea of an old-timey reporter costume, lacking only the cardboard Press insert. With its casual shape and fabric, editors could dole them out one day in a t-shirt cannon, and the journalists could plop them on their heads without worrying about disrupting their outfit.
Second, since it’s rollable, journalists can keep them stored next to their laptops until the politician they’re trying to interview lets his guard down, and then oh no! What’s that on their head? They’re a newspaper reporter. What a ruse.
Thankfully, our bar is low. All this look has to accomplish is to out-compete pictures of stacked newspapers to be the most interesting possible image to use next to a story about local journalism. Then, the only challenge remaining for reporters is to lower the brim over their faces to protect their eyes from the oncoming torrent of dollar bills.