‘I’m about to commit an act of extreme drive-by journalism’

Romenesko Letters

From BILL STEIGERWALD: I’ve been out of the newspaper biz for 18 months. Here’s my latest attempt to breathe some featurey life into our dispirited medium: I’m about to commit an act of extreme drive-by journalism for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

For the next six-weeks plus, I’ll be chasing John Steinbeck’s ghost around the USA for 10,000 miles and blogging about my travels/travails. As a reporter/columnist/journalist, not a Steinbeckie or a dog lover or a person trying to find/lose himself on the road, I’m going to retrace the journey he made in the fall of 1960 and turned into his 1962 “nonfiction” best-seller “Travels With Charley.” I’m not taking an iconic dog or driving an iconic pickup truck/camper hybrid, so I’m calling it “Travels Without Charley.”

The Post-Gazette, where my old friends run things, has been very kind and enthusiastic and it has done everything right. They are proof that all papers are not brain dead. They ran the Sunday piece and now, starting this week, I’ll blog and post photos/video and do Sunday travel pieces on the fly. They even scrapped some gas money together to subsidize my latest attempt at entrepreneurial free-lance journalism — I’m trying to prove Jeff Jarvis right about how the future of journalism will work, but I’m glad I’ve already raised my family; I sure couldn’t do it this way.

Anyway, that’s the scoop, as we used to say.

Background: After 18 months of so-called retirement, I’m still alive and able to pay my mortgage. I’ve done some crazy unremunerated things — a 12-part op-ed serial for newspaper websites in December about a polar bear who goes to DC to tell the Senate he and his kind are not endangered by global warming that didn’t exactly become a hit — and good things — a ghost-chasing piece about the great Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Sprigle, who disguised himself as a black man and sneaked around the Jim Crow South in 1948 and wrote a 21-part serial about it. It cost me 800 bucks to do and I got 150 from the Atlanta Constitution and 100 from the Post-Gazette. I sent more pitches and proposals for that piece to magazines and papers and that’s all I got. So much for Mr. Jarvis’ entrepreneurial model of future journalism.

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