The Vanishing TV Critic: What to Do When Your Life's Work Disappears
LOS ANGELES -- She hasn't set foot in the Beverley Hilton hotel this month, but onetime Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister remains a ghostly presence here at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.
For those of us who cover TV for a living, she is becoming the symbol of our worst fate: despite reaching the top of our field, breaking big stories, gaining a national reputation and never slowing down over decades of work, we can be told our efforts are no longer needed.
Many of us knew of Gail's struggles at the Philadelphia Inquirer long before this year's summer tour started. First we learned she wouldn't be joining the rest of us in Los Angeles; then she lost her regular column on TV issues despite breaking important stories about the TV news biz; then, just before tour started, we heard she had been re-assigned to a job on the metro desk.
As with any personnel story, there are likely aspects the public will never know. But a recent story in Variety highlighted the problem nationwide, providing a depressing list of firends past and present who may be losing their jobs. From Mark McGuire at the Albany Times-Union to Jill Vejnoska at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ed Bark from the Dallas Morning News and Larry Bonko at the Virginian Pilot.
I wanted to congratulate old friend Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic for his recent placement in the American Association of Sunday Feature Editors awards contest, but he's been reassigned as a pop culture writer. And I wanted to congratulate buddy Neal Justin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for his penetrating questions during a press conference, but Variety reports that his job may be in jeopardy.
And we all miss Shister, who pursued sources here with such intensity that no one else could get a question in edgewise, peppering subjects with a fussilade of questions until they finally gave in and said something substantive. Busy as we all are during press tour, longtime TCA members can't help exchaging tales of cutbacks, reductions and retrenchments. Everyone, it seems, has a story about how financial constraints has limited their work.
It's easy to see this as the compalning of a priviledged cadre of journalists. But one thing you quickly learn here at press tour is that 50 people can interpret an occurence 50 different ways.
When it comes to tracking the impact of the world's most influential medium, you want more than a handful of people standing at the gates.