Lewis Grizzard once titled a book he wrote “Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.”
Grizzard published 25 books, spent his early years as a newspaper sports writer and editor, became most well-known for his columns smothered in southern humor published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was dead at 47.
He became famous because of his writing, but it was the newspaper business that made him known.
The late Owen Hall, former news director of WMVA put me on to Grizzard. By then he had evolved into a popular stand-up comedian and clips of his routine became a regular part of my radio show.
25 years after Grizzard’s death, I became a newspaper reporter after spending the first 40 years of my media career in radio and television.
I’ve thought recently about how Grizzard might have mused about the turns of my career that began as a radio announcer in 1979.
Local radio is a tough business to be in today — really tough. I know because I’m still keeping the last two Martinsville radio stations left on the air and it’s a struggle.
Local television is losing to the ever increasing options being thrust upon us via social media, YouTube, Vimeo, Roku, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon — just to name a few.
After six months on the job I was told the Virginia Press Association had awarded me first place for one of my stories. The following day I was furloughed.
My second day of furlough I was listening to the news on the radio and learned the New York Post laid off a dozen workers Wednesday. One of those workers said the paper was dying. The publisher told his staffers the company is undertaking significant cost-cutting measures to keep the publication afloat after a significant loss of advertising.
Reporters at the Post have already been on months-long furloughs without pay at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post and the publication has put a freeze on all new hiring and eliminated most of its freelance budgets.
Then word comes of the 104 year-old Bolivar Commercial in Cleveland, Mississippi. It’s throwing in the towel and going out of business at the end of the month. Nine full-time and one part-time employees will be let go.
Jim Krasula with CBS Radio News said in his report that the “newspaper industry has suffered huge declines in ad revenue because of the cornonavirus, prompting furloughs, layoffs and print reductions.”
The paper I work for has been in business for 130 years and the two radio stations I own have been serving the same community as the paper for a combined 145 years.
I have been blessed to be afforded a livelihood from them.
I often read with amusement, disappointment and sometimes frustration the comments people make about the stories we write for the local paper that get pushed to Facebook. They are overwhelmingly critical of what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and when we’ll stop.
For the first time in the history of the paper, 16 awards went to its writers. The same writers that are lifted up to daily ridicule by the commenting public it serves.
The story of the awards did silence the critics for a day, but no one – not one person – bothered to offer the smallest congratulatory remark.
Obviously none of us in the business are here because of public accolades, otherwise we would all be gone.
The public ultimately determines what stays and what goes – what survives and what doesn’t.
Grizzard once said “You can write the best column in the world on Monday, and it does you absolutely no good on Tuesday. There is no way to win. You just write until you are tired, they fire you, or you die.”
It’s not in our nature to appeal for help, but the industry as we know it is on life support and if the communities they serve fail to support them they will die.
Local newspaper, radio and television will become nothing more than a historical curiosity.