Point Reyes Light: Appalling hubris of a young editor (OR Take this internship and shove it right up your ass)
May 1, 2006 | Category: Uncategorized
Students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism bristled after receiving the following from Robert Plotkin, a 2003 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and owner/editor of the Point Reyes Light. Plotkin bought the PRL from the respected Dave Mitchell last November and was coming to the school “to interview for interns who intend on becoming the next Orwell, Kapuscinski or Didion”:
In the last 20 years, family owned newspapers have been gobbled by Media conglomerates, which have fired reporters and editors in order to attain piggish profit margins. Journalists are forced to report two stories from the desk rather than one from the field. Wire stories fill the papers – and circulation drops. In response to declining readership, newspapers fire more reporters and further diminish their product, leading to further loss in readership. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by a revolution in journalistic quality. To that end, I have purchased the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Point Reyes Light, a paper that is already considered the best small newspaper in the country. But I am in the process of selecting the Magnificent Seven; five literary journalists and two Magnum quality photojournalists that will be the revolutionary vanguard of editorial quality. Every scene piece will be of Talk Of The Town quality. Every story dense with information will be written with the sophistication and wit of the Economist. Every photograph will capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called, “The decisive moment.” We will serve as a model of what a newspaper can be, so that others may learn from our example.
So far, nothing intolerably offensive. Delusional, certainly, but otherwise harmless. Then it continues..
In the past ten days, I have lectured and recruited at the finest journalism schools in the country: NYU, Columbia, Medill, Missouri and now I am coming to Berkeley. Because the Point Reyes Light is famously insolvent, the internships are full-time and unpaid. But there is a decent chance that at least one paid position will be available at the conclusion of the internship. Let the meritocratic cream rise to the top.
One student jokingly called for a boycott of Plotkin’s recruitment visit the following day. To my knowledge, nobody went to meet him. The issue? Not his youth, not his credentials from a rival school, not even his legal scrap with the beloved Mitchell (who is, after all, beloved only in the relatively small circle comprising Point Reyes residents and older Bay Area journalists, and who probably barely nudges the Richter at the journalism school). Rather, it was trifecta of calling for New Yorker-quality articles and Magnum-quality photos, having the audacity to ask for them for free, and then—icing—to use so exhausted a cliche as the “cream = merit” metaphor in an anemic attempt to whip potential interns into competition for a paying position at his reportedly much-diminished newspaper.
What I have to say to Mr. Plotkin: If you truly believe, as you profess to, in the need for a revolution in American journalism, you might start with the less-than-revolutionary step of paying your interns from the get go. [NOTE: According to Yahoo! Real Estate, Point Reyes Station has a cost of living index of 261.7, more than twice the national average of 99.52.] Any graduate of Columbia should well understand what an insidious collusion between journalism schools and media organizations the unpaid internship is, and should also understand the frustration of working in an industry that increasingly requires its new members to suffer multiple rounds of the internship gauntlet before landing an actual job. A master’s degree in journalism from Berkeley costs over $20,000, not including incidentals like rent. We may be fools for getting the degree in the first place, but we are, most of us, well meaning fools. We want to do the good work. We also want to eat.
But perhaps Mr. Plotkin just can’t sympathize. If he has enough to purchase an newspaper at the age of 35, then he probably doesn’t have to worry about loan repayment. On the other hand, he probably also has enough to kick us students of the “finest journalism schools” a hundred bucks a week to cover the cost of commuting to his pretty little community so we can supply him with his Pulitzer-worthy material.
[NOTE: This post was previously published several days ago. By stroke of idiocy on the part of the owner of this site, the original was deleted, along with two comments—one that claimed to be from a sympathetic staffer at the Point Reyes Light and one from a former staffer challenging Plotkin's claims of the newspaper's "famous" insolvency, with additional revelation that its interns were, once upon a time, paid. I've republished the post in its entirety, minus a little photo of Plotkin, and humbly invite those who commented on it to comment again. Apologies for the mix-up.]