A newsman departee looks back on his career, and changes
Mike Himowitz, who left the Baltimore Sun last week after more than two decades of writing its personal technology column, was asked by Talking Biz News to reflect on his career and the changes he has seen.
Here is what he wrote in response:
“Although most people recognize my name from the tech column, that hasÂ never been my ‘real’ job, but an avocation of sorts. I spent my reporting career doing the usual things for The Evening SunÂ — cops, features, politics, local government, education, transportation, the State House and a stint in our Washington bureau. When I got interested in computers, my possession of a Radio Shack TRS-80 made me the newspaper’sÂ ‘expert.’ And since no good deed ever goes unpunished in aÂ newsroom, IÂ served a five-year sentenceÂ as the news guy on the team that installed and ran our publishing system — a period during which I launched my column and developed great sympathy for tech support folks everywhere.
“After parole, I returned to the newsroom as state news editor of The Evening Sun, then Baltimore County bureau chief after the morning and evening staffs combined. Then I became ‘electronic news editor,’ a rather vaguelyÂ defined new title that involved computer-assisted reporting and developing new ‘electronic products.’ I was also on the team that worked on the first iteration of The Sun’s Web site, known as Sunspot. During one of the two periods when Sun management killed offÂ my column to save a few dollars,Â I continued writing about computers and gadgets on a freelance basis for Fortune magazine — a great gig that brought a lot of exposure, helped put my oldest boy through college,Â and for which I’m enternally grateful.
“But given our location in one of the nation’s most important research corridors, our top management was committed to making health and science a ‘franchise beat.’Â That gave me a chance to work with aÂ superb team of reporters and editors who covered their beats with world-class authority. Once again,Â our Health & Science section generated excellent readership, but no ads, and it died after three years — replaced by a weeklyÂ Features cover.
“In particular,Â writing a weekly technology column allowed me to pursue an avocation/hobby thatÂ was great fun — and something I probably would have done anyway. It also kept me writing, which I think is critically important. As an editor, if you have to sit down and write something on deadline every week, it keeps you ‘alive’ journalistically — and you have maintain your empathy for the people who work for you and have to do it every day.
“What’s so awful to contemplate isÂ thatÂ this whole frameworkÂ is dissolving before us.Â I have a friend withÂ a real estate business in anotherÂ cityÂ who told me heÂ used toÂ spend $100,000Â a year with the local paper but has cutÂ back to a fraction of that because he nowÂ gets so many of his leads over the Internet — and most of them from CraigsLIst. How do you compete with somebody who gives away what you have to charge for?
“Here’s what makes me even angrier — even with this falloff in advertising, many newspapers can still generate a positive cash flow. But so many of them have been swallowed up in leveraged buyouts that they’re saddled with debt that they never would have incurred in their independent days.Â They’re not typical failed companies who borrowed too heavily toÂ finance new plants or ill-fated expansion plans. They’re creatures of a insane investment climate. It’s hard to see how they’ll survive, or in what form — but I have confidence that if anyone can do it, and if they’re given half a chance, the folks at The Sun will figure out a way.”