Eyre said he doesn’t even know where his Pulitzer award is now, tucked away in some drawer. Winning the award helped put more of a spotlight on the opioid epidemic, and he feels proud that the attention shifted the focus away from the addicts and onto the suppliers.
Asked his advice for young journalists, Eyre said he would steer them away from working at a traditional newspaper because the advertising financial model no longer works.
Eyre recently resigned from the Gazette-Mail, but he declined to talk about his next steps. He reveals in the book how he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease while covering the opioid story, and he said tremors make it hard for his right hand to keep up typing with what his mind wants to write.
A former colleague at the newspaper, Ken Ward Jr., an environmental reporter who had won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2018, quit the newspaper too, in February right after the Gazette-Mail fired its executive editor.
Ward has been writing for ProPublica, the national nonprofit news outlet, and he recently helped start Mountain State Spotlight, a nonprofit newsroom focused on West Virginia. Mountain State Spotlight has hired four Report For America reporters, and it will start producing stories in June.
I would bet that Eyre hasn’t giving up on digging for news stories either.
“The process is sometimes more interesting than the end result,” he told me. “The digging part of it, the going through the records. I actually enjoy that, finding connections, finding clues. It’s almost like solving mysteries.”
Even as reporters face uncertain times, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, I hope that many of them will keep that spirit alive in their own work.
Any journalist can quickly turn press releases into short stories to “feed the beast” and chase internet clicks. The enterprising ones are asking difficult questions, going to obscure government meetings and digging for the stories everyone else has missed.
Too often, we think it has to be one way or the other. I was fortunate to work as an investigative reporter for several years when I could take weeks or months on a story, but before that I covered many ordinary beats and always tried to look for the larger stories while sitting through boring meetings.
If local journalism not only survives but continues to play a vital role in our communities, reporters have to cover the stories they must to make the economic model work — and they also have to pursue the enterprise stories that uncover corruption and hold powerful people accountable. The job demands both.
Comings & Goings
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Newsroom employees have been told that they will be presented with a buyout proposal on Monday, May 18, with the company offering one week of severance pay for each week of service up to 16 weeks, Michael Fuoco, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, told me. The deal includes three months of healthcare.
Employees will have until July 3 to accept the offer, and then another week to change their minds, he added. Union leaders met with the company’s human resources directors to go over the terms, and then they informed their 139 members.
“In the middle of a pandemic, I’m not sure what people will do,” Fuoco said. “I’m sure some people will take it, but I don’t know how many.”
Fuoco said the company is looking for 24 people to take the buyout, and management declined to say whether layoffs could follow if the target isn’t reached. The union’s contract mandates that people with the least amount of time must be let go first. The soonest a layoff decision could occur is August.
The newspaper has not laid off newsroom employees in recent memory but it has offered multiple rounds of buyouts. At a recent peak of about 15 years ago, the Guild had more than 300 members, Fuoco said.
Reached by phone, Tracey DeAngelo, the newspaper’s vice president and general manager, said she could not immediately provide a comment.
Pittsburgh Current: Editor Charlie Deitch says the publication might not be around next week if it cannot pay its bills. A $5,000 Facebook Journalism Project grant helped the biweekly newspaper stave off the end for a little while, but with most of that money gone, Deitch wrote that he does not know how much longer it can keep going.
“We are at the point where forward momentum is impossible to gain,” he told readers this week. “We, like a lot of businesses, are running out of time, running out of money and running out of options.”