On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite

My alma mater, the Baltimore Sun—though something of a fraile grey lady in this internet age—is nonetheless celebrating her 175th birthday this year. Sun alumni and other Baltimoreans were invited to contribute essays to a special edition to be published this weekend.

My offering is an homage of sorts to one of the metro desk veterans who raised me from a pup.


Thanks, Dave.  And no, I will never forget the First Rule of Rewrite:  “Shoot It Down.”  Or as you once sagely argued: “There are always salmonella outbreaks.  I don’t see why we have to write about this one.”


  • A lovely and concise snapshot of the professionals, the cornerstones, that go unsung and overlooked in institutionalized workspaces. I was fortune enough to have mentors like Mr. Ettlin. It’s frustrating that they weren’t truly seen, appreciated and rewarded. Usually the tale usually went the opposite direction.

    One of the things motion picture artists have that sets us apart is our power to elevate those bypassed souls by exploring or rewarding merit and the daily, necessary tasks that add up to excellence and quiet heroism.

    If a storyteller loves you, you will be immortalized. Somehow.

    Yet it is when we challenge our industry’s culture behind-the-scenes as well as on screen that we craft the best homage to those mentors who gifted us their direction, expertise and wisdom.

  • You know, I was just walking around Baltimore this very morning contemplating the vagaries of life (something walking around B-more is decidedly apt for, as you are no doubt aware) and one of the thoughts that struck me is how enormous the Sun building really is (nearly two city blocks with a walkway between) and how empty it must be. The paper is so slight nowadays…I can’t imagine every floor is anywhere near filled. What do they do with it? Do they rent it out? Use it for bowling practice?

    I never see anyone on the walkway or in the windows or at the picnic tables. Well, I have occasionally seen a homeless man that sleeps along the front curb wall, and a sparrow rather cannibalistically (?) eating a leftover chicken box (typical B-more nature observance & will make you contemplate life if nothing else will).

    The light glows sickeningly green from the windows. I tip-toed up to peek inside but saw no one at 7:00 a.m. I wonder what is in there. I picture stacks of hoarded papers and empty cubes and the smell of old carpet and dreams deferred. I want to go inside and ask if I can look around but I suspect they would be insulted or confused as to why anyone is interested.

    Anyway, this was a sweet and loving piece. I am impressed that the Sun powers-that-be ran it. But then, perhaps they recognize that they have got little room to hold grudges anymore.

  • I moved to Baltimore about three weeks before the last Evening Sun was published in September 1995, so I just missed that. And the daily Sun had already been purchased by Times/Mirror. I can’t remember if there was a substantial difference in quality under that regime than the truly awful Tribune five years later. Wish I had been in the city to read it before the media conglomerates took over.

  • Great Piece. Sad that newspapers aren’t like they once were. As you have said before, Halcyon Days for corrupt local politicians and government bureaucracies may be upon is soon, if not already.

    I know that now you produce more TV than write for newspapers, but I feel strongly that The Wire is in its own way journalism. Obviously, its not journalism as you once practice it, but important none the less. In my humble opinion The Wire asked tough questions and for a paper thin decade was one of the shining examples of great socio-political art.

    Just think of all the themes that were hit in 5 seasons. Just today I was watching a special on PBS from Frontline and I had an epiphany (I think I may need medical treatment). The special was on the economic collapse. What is ironic is that everyone missed the lead up and all the signs that pointed toward the then looming economic collapse. Those who did know had not the political backbone to do anything about it. Sound Familiar?

    So for 5 seasons team Wire projected this truth in images and sounds out on Sunday evenings. Ratings were low but over time DVD sales and On-Demand have expanded The Wire’s audience and yet even today people seem to get wrapped up in the show and focus on the micro. Not all of course, but I think that the zeitgeist most reflects an obsession of the micro. Yes, Omar is cool but the macro is ignored (as in the bureaucratic obsession with covering their asses and the triumph of institutions over the truth, individuals and humanity). Why not ask Obama why the drug war still continues? Why not challenge him on it if it is his favorite show? That I believe is an outcome of good journalism.

    With the crisis nothing was done until it was too late to prevent the biggest economic collapse since the depression. Who gets hurt the most?. Those who are worth less. After the meltdown those were worth even less. Austerity anyone?

    So I guess my question is does it get better? Do we wake up before its too late? I sure as hell hope so especially for my 7 month old’s sake and her generation, but I’m skeptical.
    Looking forward to Treme and damn HBO for making us wait til the fall but god bless those mensches for letting you guys have an outlet and a budget to tell such an important story.

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