What Is The Goal?

The media business is a crass goblin and if you stay in it more than a couple years you’re likely to develop a thriving case of Stockholm Syndrome. The mechanics of it are disorienting for journalists who came to believe, long ago at some tender age, that the key to a long and satisfying career in journalism was to be a good journalist who reported thoroughly, fairly, accurately, and with at least a little charm.

Gary Bedore is such a journalist, and the bastards ran him off anyway. After what must have been 30-some years of loyal service to the Lawrence Journal-World, an old man sold the farm and that farm’s new ownership group, Ogden Publications, has gone in cluelessly to draw red lines through some numbers on the balance sheet, and that’s that. Somebody else’ll cover the Jays now.

I’m sure the job done will be totally adequate.

We in the journalism business are deeply familiar with this sort of thing. If you worked at a newspaper during The Great Bloodbath (roughly 2007-11), a wage cut was a bullet dodged. They kept telling us about the debt, the debt, the debt. Lotta bad debt taken on during the fat years in the 80s and 90s. Gonna have to dump some salary, outsource the printing, turn the furnace up just a little, but once we get through the bankruptcy proceedings …

What everybody knew, though, was that every newspaper had certain franchise beats. The Kansas City Star was never going to can the Chiefs writer. The Topeka Capital-Journal would always cover the statehouse. And the Lawrence Journal-World would have Gary Bedore covering Kansas basketball til death did they part.

If you know Gary, you know that I am underselling it when I say nobody cared more about getting Kansas basketball information to his readers than Gary did. Nobody took more precautions to avoid getting scooped. Nobody was more diligent about asking questions or more sure that everything there was to know made it into the paper. These are the goals of a daily newspaper, but not necessarily the goals of every newspaper reporter. A lot of us think we’re going to be Tom Wolfe. Gary never took a day off, even when he was on vacation. As a beat writer who competed with him for four years, this is easily his most aggravating and admirable quality.

Yet he did this — he pushed and pushed and asked and asked and asked — without any loss of humanity, his or the people he covered. On Twitter last night former Kansas basketball players expressed shock and sadness at the news he’d been let go.

This is partially because Gary was omnipresent so far as Kansas basketball is concerned, but I think more because he treated them all fairly. Gary has a direct and amusing way of asking questions. It takes some players a while to get used to it, but what they all eventually understand is that he isn’t coming at them with an angle, he’s just asking, and when they answer him, they know they won’t later find their quotes advancing a narrative they knew nothing about. He is a reporter, reporting.

Several years back we were all gathering quotage the day before a KU exhibition game in Allen Fieldhouse. Nobody ever knows what to say about those games, so usually reporters will come up with some dumb little angle to advance the game — MARIO LITTLE LOOKING FOR MORE MINUTES IN THE POST — and we were all working whatever our dumb advances were.

So we’re all sort of poking around at Cole Aldrich about this dumb game when Gary goes, “What is the goal?”

The question made me laugh then and a thousand times since then, and it knocked Aldrich off his balance. It observed the absurdity of trying to tell a meaningful story about an exhibition game while simultaneously asking a universal and interesting question. What are we trying to accomplish here?

And so if you’re buying yourself an American newspaper, and you’re dumping that newspaper’s most loyal and dedicated reporter, it really makes you wonder.

What is the goal?

To merely exist?