Losing our storytellers

Blame it on “restructuring” or “necessary budget cuts,” but some of our greatest storytellers have been silenced.

As cities across the country learn to live without career copywriterssports writers and newspaper journalists, Sacramento is obviously no exception. Local legends like KFBK’s Judy Farah, the Sacramento Bee’s Chris Macias and ABC10’s Cristina Mendonsa (just to name a few) have been let go for various reasons from their respected news outlets. It’s my opinion that their absence is not just a bad move for the city, but also disheartening for those of us who have worked most of our lives to simply walk in their footsteps.

When you remove a particular group of people who are experts in a field as complicated as journalism, you’re hobbling a future generation of writers who, quite honestly, have no idea what they’re doing. I should know.

I’ve always been drawn to journalism. There’s something about taking an experience, doing your best to tell the truth, and being able to articulate it in a way that other people can relate–or at the very least start to actually form an opinion about something.

A big part of that is being able to look to people who are earnest, passionate and always striving to help perpetuate truth. But beyond that, just getting the job done, and having the steel reserve to not only take credit from a discerning editor–and sometimes the (occasionally) trolling public–takes a certain kind of conditioning that only the experts can show you how to live with.

There’s nothing worse than being asked to do something and you don’t know how to do it. You can’t send an intern down to city hall and expect them to make a successful public records request on the first try.

Arguably the best person I’ve ever come across who knows how to get things done is Cosmo Garvin, a reporter and columnist formerly with the Sacramento News & Review. No one can flesh out a story the way he can. His loss has proven to be detrimental to readers and writers in Sacramento, and we have yet to find another voice that’s willing to be unpopular among city officials and their minions, and to truly let the facts come first.

When we lose people who are this good, it makes those of us who have been trying to do what they do… simply not want to do it anymore.

Because why would we? Why would we spend hours, weeks, sometimes months to track down a story and help hold community leaders accountable, only to be walked down to an office 25 years later (if you’re lucky) to be told that “we no longer need your services?”

There’s no money in journalism. Quite frankly, I made more when I was a waitress. According to ONET, modern reporters only make about $38,000 a year. It’s also been my experience that it’s very rare for a major news outlet to provide you with things like health insurance and retirement preparation. Compare that to a similar public information or policy analyst position provided by the State of California, in which you could be making almost twice that much for what is essentially the exact same kind of work.

And I get it. In an era of steady layoffs and “fake news,” whatever you may have thought being a journalist would be, it clearly isn’t. Sure, you can contribute to hyper-local sites to start your very own Tumblr describing your daily angst, or sell your soul to the gods of public relations, but it’s not the same as preparing your whole life to be a news writer only to have to maintain a second–and even sometimes third–job in order to help keep your professional dreams affordable.

I’m still completing a lot of projects with little to no pay, such as guest speaking/mentoring for current college students and producing my own weekly podcast, The Ransacked Podcast. I’ve been at this for more than a dozen years, and I certainly don’t expect that to change any time soon.

Overall, it feels terrifying and gutting for those of us who have been trying to pursue the kind of greatness exhibited by those who’ve come before us. The passion these people have poured into their careers has been responsible for amazing changes in Sacramento, and has inspired those of us who want to be a part of that conversation.

I know that everyone will land on their feet, but I’m also sure most won’t ever work in another newsroom ever again. And while I do hope that new voices and leaders will emerge from these kinds of jolting changes, I mourn for our collective loss, and continue to wonder if passion for truth will ever mean anything anymore.

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker is a Sacramento-based multimedia journalist. She enjoys eating, drinking and complaining. She can be reached at CindyB910@yahoo.com.