CRAWFORD: Why I walked away from the only job I ever wanted growing up
By Eric Crawford
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I wanted one job when I was growing up. The job I just walked away from.
I loved being in the newspaper. The first byline story I ever wrote for The Courier-Journal, I still have in my basement, a Neighborhoods section story about a man in La Grange, Ky., who owned a Model-T Ford.
Right beside that one are my first sports stories. I remember waiting for the high school basketball season preview that contained them to come up to the sports desk from the pressroom. Assistant sports editor Gary Schultz saw me open the pages and narrated from across the room, "Young Mr. Crawford opens the paper to inspect his first byline."
The chance to write a Sports column in The C-J, a job held by not more than a handful of men in my lifetime, was almost too much to hope for, yet for the past seven years, I've had that opportunity.
I covered Final Fours and the Masters, the Ryder Cup and Orange Bowl. I've been in John Calipari's living room and in private planes with Rick Pitino. When my boyhood heroes, the Cincinnati Reds, won their division two years ago, I was in the locker room. I had an office with a window that looked out at the corner of Sixth and Broadway. It wasn't a good job. It was a great job.
And today I walked away.
I loved being in the newspaper. I did not love the newspaper business. Sportswriters get front-row seats. But the shrinking of a newspaper I grew up with and loved was not something I cared to watch from the inside any longer.
There were too many meetings run by executives in McLean, Va., too many "news" initiatives dictated from afar that detracted from news needs on the ground here. And in the end, there were too few of my colleagues left in the building, too many gifted people with productive years left being spun back into the community instead of staying where they belonged, inside that building to cover it.
It wasn't the fault of local editors and publishers. They could no more stop the slide than they could stop severe storms. If left to call the shots on their own, I have no doubt that a different course would have been set for the newspaper long ago, and its status today would have been far different. But no one in Louisville, ultimately, is calling the shots for Louisville's paper.
In fact, no one in Louisville, largely, is calling the shots for any major daily news operation -- except for one.
The one I began work for today.
WDRB is Louisville's lone remaining locally run major, 7-day-a-week news organization. It is owned by an out-of-town company, yes, but it alone, more than any daily newspaper, television or radio station, has the ability to plot its own course.
As other news organizations have grown leaner, WDRB has maintained its personnel strength and even expanded. While others have cut back on resources to local sports, WDRB has added staff and increased its travel. While everyone else is waiting for corporate orders on what to cut next, WDRB is going the other direction, emphatically.
I am living proof. It's why I am here, and why my longtime C-J colleague Rick Bozich is here. Sparked by the success of broadcast-based websites like ESPN.com and others, Bill Lamb, Barry Fulmer and the leadership at WDRB have made a bold statement about where they want this news organization to go.
It is a new beginning. In the coming months, in addition to columns and blogs on WDRB's website, Rick and I will launch new video features and work alongside WDRB's television news staff to create the city's destination website for sports at all levels.
Around the nation, especially in cities like New Orleans, Birmingham and Mobile, which soon will see their newspaper circulation cut to three days a week, people are re-examining the importance of local media to life in their cities. In New Orleans, the owner of the NFL's Saints appealed to the out-of-town owner of The New Orleans Times-Picayune to continue daily print publication.
In more cities than this one, out-of-town corporate interests dictating major media decisions is the norm, as is the reduction of reporting staff, furloughing of employees and, soon, the sharing of news operations among competitors.
These are trends WDRB has rejected, and has had the freedom to reject because of a largely autonomous Louisville-based leadership.
I was born in this city and grew up here and in neighboring Shelby County. Its institutions, including and especially the newspaper, have meant a great deal to me. I want to work for a news organization whose decisions are made in this city by people whose primary concern is this city and region, from Southern Indiana to the outlying counties it serves.
I loved being in the newspaper. But the time has come to turn the page, and I do so with anticipation.
In the city of Louisville and this region, for a truly locally run and directed daily media organization, there now is only one horse to bet on.
It's the one I climbed aboard today. I expect it will be no ordinary ride.
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