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Don't tell me about "back in the day" ... no, really, don't

by Mike McFeely

Before I begin ranting, let me share a disclaimer: I've never met Jim Fuglie, but I like Jim Fuglie. His "The Prairie Blog"  is a must-read for those who care about North Dakota, particularly the western part of the state, as it hurtles hellbent into the 21st Century.

Jim is often ahead of the curve when it comes to reporting or raising issues that affect the state, especially when it comes to the oil boom. His passion for conservation and giving a voice to the voiceless (land, water, soil, critters) is unmatched.

That said, a recent blog post by Fuglie titled "Journalism 101"  stuck in my craw not because of its premise but because of its "back in my day" tone. Fuglie wrote about a half-hearted attempt by a Forum Communications Co. reporter to reach him regarding Fuglie's criticism of North Dakota attorney general Wayne Stenehjem. The reporter apparently called a number that wasn't Fuglie's, left a message, didn't hear anything from Fuglie and included a sentence in the article that said "did not return a message."

No doubt, the reporter (who I've known personally for about 15 years, is nearly 40 years old and is one of the better reporters in Forum Comm despite this misstep) could've made a better effort to contact Fuglie. That is not in question.

Where Fuglie begins to lose me, however, is when he starts veering into "back in my day" territory. It is a phenomenon I've noticed more as the media world has changed rapidly in the past 15 years. And it is not unique to former print journalists, as Fuglie is. It appears to be rampant, too, among former broadcast journalists.

I suppose this is common in any profession, the belief that things were better back when the person in question was in their prime. And there is value in remembering history. Experience counts.

But I'm particularly sensitive to the "back in my day" syndrome in former media types, because this is the world in which I live. I worked at a weekly newspaper nearly 30 years ago when I had to develop my own film and print photographs that would go in the paper. I've stuck with the industry to this very day (having moved from newspapers to radio), when I'm blogging, making videos, Facebooking, Twittering, Instagramming and doing whatever else I need to do in order to stay relevant.

In other words, I know a little something about media "back in my day" and in its current form. At 47, I've spanned a couple of generations of changes. And survived, by the way. 

Fuglie uses his blog not only to take shots at the "young reporter" (who, by the way, is 38 years old and has been a full-time daily newspaper reporter for 16 years) but to lament the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota today. To make his point about how bad the state's media are today, Fuglie shares an anecdote from more than 40 years ago when he, Jim Fuglie, made sure the Dickinson Press didn't go to print without complete election-night results because he, Jim Fuglie, directed a high school senior by the name of Clay Jenkinson to start calling bars to get the final election results.

The day was saved!

What Fuglie doesn't take into account is media in 1972 have no resemblance to media in 2013. Because of technological changes and the much different world in which we live, reporters now must be multi-taskers -- fluent not only in reporting and writing, but in audio recording, video recording, social media, still photography and a dozen other forms of modern communication I'm forgetting. Reporters also have time pressures to produce stories journalists in 1972 couldn't have dreamed of. With a 24/7/365 news cycle, newspapers reporters in particular are pressured by editors to file a story ASAP, so as not to be beaten by any number of wire service, newspaper, TV or radio Web sites. Not to mention blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook posts or text-message alerts.

Again, not to excuse the Forum Comm reporter's lax attempt at contacting Fuglie, but if the only thing holding up the story is a comment from Fuglie -- who already made his opinions known on his blog -- was there great harm in running the story? Fuglie himself admits he wouldn't have added much, even if the reporter had reached him.

I'm not sure this particular lack of reportorial duty signals the death of journalism in North Dakota, or anywhere else. I'd be much more concerned with the number of "soft" stories infiltrating Forum communications Co.'s properties, i.e. lengthy features about a local TV anchor's downtown apartment. 

Or I could be wrong. Perhaps journalism in North Dakota is in the toilet and I'm just not noticing because I'm tired of hearing stories from "back in the day."

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)