Can newspapers’ golden age be revived?

Jerry Bellune

Nov 1, 2023

I spent the first 25 years of my career in daily newsrooms, surrounded by fellow ink-stained wretches. It was educational as well as exciting.

I'm glad that I lived through the Golden Age of Newspapers. I feel for the young journalists who missed out on it.

I spent the first 25 years of my career in daily newsrooms, surrounded by fellow ink-stained wretches. It was educational as well as exciting.

I dropped out of college for a full-time newspaper job. The managing editor assured me I would learn more in six months there than two more years in college. I believe he was right.

I couldn't wait to get to work each day. I even came in on my days off if a big local story was breaking and added manpower was needed.

I'm with Maureen Dowd who said, "I never could have latched on to so many breaking stories if I hadn’t raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll go.’”

The last 35 years of my career were spent in weekly newspapers, and the last five of those years with depleted staffs and little of the camaraderie of those noisy newsrooms of the Golden Age.

I'm delighted to read that newspaper owners and editors are attempting to bring back those glory days of yore, as Mark Caro notes in his piece: Newsrooms on the Run, available at

More power to them. Collaboration is critical, especially for those who don't know what it is or its value to them and what they do as journalists.

What to do when they won’t talk with you

A write-around is a reporting technique in which your main subject won’t talk with you.

This is often true about people who are caught up in controversy or the subject of a law enforcement investigation.

They believe if they won’t talk or respond, you will become discouraged and go away.

If they rebuff you or say “no comment,” remind them that the story will be published without their cooperation, says investigative reporter Patrick Radden Keefe. You are offering them an opportunity to give their side of the story.

Keefe has reported on the Irish Troubles, drug lord El Chapo and the Sackler family involved in the opioid crisis. He says you will need cooperation from their friends or associates for a write-around.

Sometimes people will say “no” and then they are contacted by others they know saying, “I just talked to that reporter,” Keefe says.

Tell the subject’s friends you have already talked with others to make them feel less anxious about talking with you. They often change their minds and agree to talk.

“I try to be compassionate,” Keefe says. “I don’t come in with a big agenda. I want to be open with them.”
It helps if they get a sense from your questions that this is not going to be a hatchet job on their friend. They feel that you’re going to approach the story responsibly. That means giving more than one side.

Next: Write in your head first

Jerry Bellune is a writing coach and author of “The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 1.” Coaching your writers (and editors) takes time you might not have. An option is to order copies for them of my book, The Art of Compelling Writing, now available for $9.99 at
P.S. I am available online or in person for coaching sessions or seminars at your member's newspapers or press association events.