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Reflections of a departing Globe veteran

Just had an interesting conversation with David Mehegan, who's taking the current newsroom buyout and leaving the Globe after 33 years. Mehegan currently covers publishing and literary affairs for the paper; he's previously been book editor, a writer for the Globe's Sunday magazine, a copy editor for the op-ed pages, and a part-timer on the night desk.

During our chat, Mehegan had some interesting things to say about the state of the Globe, where the newspaper business is headed, and why--despite the undeniably miserable Zeitgeist--those of us who get paid to do journalism are actually pretty fortunate. Here's an edited transcript:

It just seemed to me that I’d had a really good run here, and I wanted to make the move before I was too old to do something else. I didn't want to just go on until I was exhausted; that's part of it. My hope is to write books, to teach, to do things in editing and publishing.
Also, of course, the atmosphere around here is pretty grim. It just didn’t seem to me to make sense to hang on and hold out until the last possible paycheck, before they chain the door shut, or whatever is going to happen. Nobody knows; I sure don’t.

The other thing is, when they made this buyout offer, they made plain that what they didn't get through buyouts they'd get through layoffs. That meant that everyone who doesn’t take the buyout is one more layoff. And I just didn’t like the idea that somebody who has kids in college, or really has no other options, might get laid off, when I can do other things. I'm eligible for a pension, but I'm not going to take it yet; I can still do other things.

[The publishing and literary beat] is a great one; it was right for me. But things are changing. There's no Living/Arts section. I used to write these great profiles that were combined with great art and design, and now the section's gone. In many ways, I feel as if the paper I used to write for has already departed. We can't do the stories we used to do, and we don' t have freedom to write in the way we used to; everything has to be shorter and tighter. I don't know what they're going to do with my old beat, but I do know it's one people are intenseley interested in.

I think [Globe editor] Marty Baron's done a wonderful job under very difficult circumstances. I have a lot of respect for him. But the old business model's broken, and it's not coming back. Somehow or other, I believe there will be newspapers, and there will be journalists. But we have to figure out a new way to pay for it, and we haven't figured that out--who's going to pay what it takes to do excellent reporting and careful writing, and who's going to buy it in what form when it's done.

If the Globe were to disappear, I think there'd be such shock--it'd be like the Red Sox disappearing. It's hard for people to imagine. And I include the Herald in that, too. Once you don't have a newspaper--the San Francisco Chronicle may disappear at any moment!--it's going to take a while for that to sink in. When politicians are corrupt, and you don't find out, I think that's going to create uneasiness in the minds of many people in many cities.

We may see some innovative way to bring papers back, either on a nonprofit basis or a co-op basis, like what the ex-Rocky Mountain News people are trying to do. There's a lot of innovation that's going to go on. I just don't think it's going to be done by the management of papers as we now know them. I don't think they have the imagination. I shouldn't make a sweeping statement, but so far, what I see is just cutting and cutting and hoping some kind of miracle happens. I don't mean that that's the character of this company more than it is the character of any other. I just think that, for the most part, most newspaper management is in a state of shock. They're not really going to be the ones to do it.

But I have nothing critical to say about the Globe. It's really been a great run, and I've been very grateful to be here. As I've often said, there aren't many lines of work in this world where you get paid to tell the truth. That's what you're supposed to do: find out what happened, what really happened, and put it out there. And we get paid to do it. You can't beat that. 

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