I rarely toot my own horn, or that of my employer. My feeling has been the industry will make its own judgement about what we do here. If you all find the way we cover the market to be useful and truthful, we’ll prosper. If not, we won’t.
But given the news this week in the newspaper business—hundreds of journalists laid off nationwide by the Gannett newspaper chain—I thought it apropos to lay bare my motivations for doing this job, and the motivation that helps drive my colleagues as well.
Newspaper ambition formed early on
The report that the news gathering power of newspapers nationwide will take yet another hit hits home for me. I am a fellow refugee of the fading newspaper business.
As a tyke I more or less taught myself how to read with the comics pages of the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel (they were separate papers at the time, and my parents subscribed to both). I decided when I was nine years old that I wanted to work at a newspaper.
I achieved that dream, and, after a stint at a string of suburban newspapers in Arizona, I worked at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver for more than 20 years. The Rocky’s circulation peaked at more than 500,000 Sunday copies in the 1990s.
When the Rocky published its last edition almost 10 years ago, it was just a few weeks shy of its 150th birthday. At the time of its closing, the Rocky was the oldest business in the state of Colorado.
Journalism’s lost decade
The new round of Gannett layoffs caps what the Poynter Institute, a non profit that runs a journalism think tank as well as the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, has called the most difficult decade in the history of journalism in this country. According to the Pew Research Center, newspaper newsroom employment in 2008 stood at a little more than 71,000 (already well off its all time high in the early 90s) and had fallen to about 39,000 in 2017. In Denver, after the closure of one major paper and the gutting of the other, newsroom employment stands at about 60, down from more than 500 in 2008.
Almost no one who works at a newspaper gets paid very much money, relatively speaking. But there were other compensations, chief among them for me being the notion that you were engaged in a socially important enterprise, one vital to the health of a democracy. I loved it, frankly. To speak truth to power, as they say. It wasn't just a job; it was a calling.
I was very fortunate to land in this new industry, and fortunate in particular to get called up by NutraIngredients-USA. We pursue a model and adhere to a mindset here that is familiar to me from my years in straight journalism. We make judgements based on what we consider to be newsworthy, not necessarily what makes the most money.
I can’t be a newspaperman any more. I can no longer help influence the public debate in the city of Denver and in Colorado. But I can use the ethical habits I developed in that career in the service of a new community—the dietary supplement industry.
Ethics of trade journalism
Of course, we’re not The New York Times. We are still a trade journalism outfit, meaning if we can’t help our customers grow their businesses, there’s not much of a reason for us to exist. In that sense we are more like a community newspaper. Yes, we report the news, but we also live next door, so to speak, to the people and organizations we report on.
But in the end, the only thing we have to sell is the trust our readers have that we do our best to tell the truth. Take that away, and we could devolve into a pay-to-say outlet. Buy a nice ad and we’ll do a nice story about you. We don’t play that way.
I think the power of the brand we’ve built here at NutraIngredients-USA was on display at our new event, the Sports Nutrition Summit, which concluded yesterday in San Diego, and about which you’ll see coverage in the days ahead. The great feedback we received from attendees was informed I believe in no small part by our reputation for being trustworthy and transparent.
But, to paraphrase one of the great quotes from a great American movie (Cool Hand Luke), “The supplement industry is a — human — institution.” Try my best, but I don’t always get it right. I might from time to time inadvertently repeat something from a source that might bear only a loose relationship to the truth of the matter, and perhaps even look the fool for it.
But this job is like being a baseball player; you have to immediately forget your strikeouts because there’s always another at bat coming up. And while I’m able, I’m going to swing for the fences and make my reports as accurate, responsible and truthful as I can. By making that commitment every day I can feel good about what I do, and, I hope, you all can feel good about reading what I write.