Today was the last day for longtime Waco Trib newsroom jack-of-all-trades Freida Jackson, who leaves us after — sigh — 34 years.
She started as a copy editor, responsible for proofing stories before publication, writing headlines and laying out pages. She moved on to learning software languages and code to guide our transitions through various story and layout systems, internet platforms and more, spending tedious and long hours writing the code that connected the words we produced to readers in print and online.
She shepherded reporters and editors through the use and upkeep of our writing hardware, kept an eye on newsroom printers and wireless hot spots, and chided us for inattention to these things that caused extra work for others down the line.
Freida was one of the go-to people in the newsroom when we lost internet access, had software issues, forgot passwords and things went wrong in general.
It's ironic that in a business whose lifeblood is words, we have none to describe her job other than necessary.
Like dozens of copy editors and assistant editors before her, Freida's name rarely, if ever, appeared in our paper. Reporters like me and top editors have their names attached to their work, but not those working behind the scenes to catch mistakes, design our product, work with readers and advertisers, and keep systems running.
Think of comparing a movie's opening credits with the final ones that scroll past after a film ends: A handful of names for the former, hundreds of the latter, but all are needed to produce, create and distribute. My name is on a story, but you didn't see the times that copy editors like Ron Howell, Paula Blesener, Joseph Abbott and Chris Oliver — all no longer here — kept you from seeing my stupid and embarrassing mistakes.
Freida leaves not because she wanted to or any of us in the newsroom wanted it. To management far away and above, it was all about the numbers. Our local management, and all newspapers in our chain, got orders to cut payroll. We lost an important, but vacant reporting slot — and Freida.
This is our reality in the newspaper business these days, a death by a thousand cuts. For most of my career in newspapering, the nuts and bolts and dollars were things we normally didn't share with readers — information we didn't want our media competitors to know, information we thought might shade readers' perception of us and the work we do.
Readers like you have seen the changes over the years: a smaller physical newspaper, earlier deadlines, shrinking distribution and delivery areas, shrinking coverage. What they may not see is the disappearance of what once was robust newsroom support in copy editing, page layout, art, photography and the human intangibles of institutional and community knowledge, a sense of our readers and multiple viewpoints.
I'm proud of the work we do, but wish more could appreciate the personal cost my colleagues are paying to pursue a job that none of us got into for money or fame. We have salaries and benefits and are deeply grateful for both. At the same time, it's been years without pay raises, pensions of an earlier generation are gone, and the career ladder that once existed for young reporters hoping to move on and up no longer supports planning — or career dreams.
News media has always been criticized, but the salt in the wound these days, outside of aggressive and public attacks by the leader of the free world, is what seems to be a shrinking value put on verifiable facts, whether from journalism or science, and increasing importance on tribal identity.
Pity party or mild rant over — time to return to the beginning of this piece.
Reporters often shine their lights on some in our community known beforehand only by friends and family. The exception: our own who don't have bylines.
Journalist Edward Morrow signed off his radio and television broadcasts with "Good night, and good luck."
I'll leave this with "Best of everything, Freida, and thanks."