Killing Journalism

Aaron Heisen
4 min readJul 10, 2023

In my farewell note to my favorite journalism teacher from the University of Oregon’s SOJC, I told her a story about this waiter from the Pacific Palisades. His name is Alvino. I first met Alvino when I was a kid, I don’t remember how old, but he waited tables at this mom and pop restaurant called Mort’s Deli on Swarthmore.

If you lived in the Palisades in the 1990s and the 2000s, you ate at Mort’s Deli on a weekly basis, and therefore you knew Alvino. He had this ability to make each person he interacted with feel like the most important person in the world. It’s an impact only a handful of people know how to create. For all I know, this skill might have been subconscious to Alvino.

When Mort’s Deli closed in 2007, Alvino transitioned to waiting tables at Mayberry’s — the cafe across the street from Mort’s. When that closed down in 2015, he moved to Cafe Vida, which remains the only restaurant from the Palisades that I knew as a kid. My family and I like to call it the Pre-Caruso era.

Rick Caruso, a billionaire property developer responsible for constructing The Grove, The Calabasas Commons, and a number of other bougie strip malls in Los Angeles, turned our beloved Swarthmore into The Palisades Village.

This project killed the sense of community that I felt so strongly growing up in the Palisades.

Locally owned shops like Benton’s Sports Shop, Village Book Store, and Mort’s Deli, turned into Alo, an Amazon Book Store (blehhhh), and Hank’s — where you pay $24 for a Reuben and a lemonade.

I’m sure the Palisades’ changeover mirrors a number of small towns across the United States. In many ways, this evolution can help explain the industry that I have such a deep passion for: journalism. Sports journalism, specifically.

The first day of my last journalism class at Oregon — narrative journalism with Brent Walth — we were asked to define journalism. The first part of my definition read: “To amplify the stories of those who can’t tell it themselves. The second part read: “To challenge comfortable people with questions that make them uncomfortable.” The third part read: “To serve and build a cohesive community.”

Each student had a different definition.

Journalism can mean so many things to so many different people. To me, it means writing stories and connecting with people. Whether it’s just gossip, or a tale passed through generations of one’s family, stories and people keep this world spinning. Journalism keeps them informed.

Sports journalism does the same. It tells the narrative behind a result: the characters who were responsible for it, how they hit rock bottom and decided to keep going, and ultimately reached the pinnacle, or in most cases, came just short. Growing up, quality sports journalism had me on the edge of my seat. I’d read the Los Angeles Times sports page every morning and when the Dodgers’ score wasn’t there because the game ended too late, I’d have to wait to find out. It was annoying, but that’s just how it was, and goddammit, I miss it.

As a 22-year-old college graduate who’s still naively passionate about that same industry I grew up idolizing, I’ve found my calling providing readers with quality sports journalism. At Oregon, I discovered The Daily Emerald — a community that fostered and empowered student journalists. And for that, I am forever in debt because I know the world that I stepped into the day I put on the Emerald’s thread, my maroon tassel, and green cap does not care about me as a person like the publisher Bill Kunerth did.

I learned that this past week when I was told I wouldn’t be hired by Fan Nation to cover the UCLA Bruins. It wasn’t a dream job by any means, but I had talked myself into the positives of it: covering a national brand, living with my parents, and some stability.

This coincided with much more devastating news, on a much higher scale, that made me think hard about my career path and the direction of sports journalism.

Close to 100 journalists — not the behind-the-scenes people — the storytellers, from two of the most major sports journalism companies in America — ESPN and The Athletic were let go. People I thought were invaluable, like Bill Shea, Bob Kravitz, Gene Wojciechowski, Jalen Rose and Jeff Van Gundy, just disposed of. I would keep NBA games on, that were blowouts midway through the third quarter just because Jeff Van Gundy was on color.

Now, they’re all gone.

This is the field of work I have chosen to go into.

And in moments like these, I try to remind myself what I said my goal was on Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year, “to be comfortable when I’m uncomfortable.” That was my motto for a year that I knew would include a graduation, a month-long trip to seven countries — six of which I had never been to before — a job search, and so many more unknowns surely to come.

Sports journalism is always evolving, and it’s usually not for the best. Therefore, if you don’t thrive when you’re uncomfortable you won’t make it.

I think I have what it takes, but journalism isn’t just evolving, it’s being killed.

I just hope we’re all aware that it’s not just the writers, or the readers, who will die off with journalism. It’s the sense of community; the people, who have done so many little things that have impacted others because it’s second nature to them. People whose stories deserve to have a platform.

Like my barber, Alex Garibay, who damn near styles half of the Oregon campus, or Lori Shontz, my journalism teacher who has reminded me time and again to stick it out; “that this is all part of the process.”

And, of course, Alvino, who represented what it meant to grow up in a community where it felt like everyone knew one another. I know my parents will probably laugh at this analogy, but it makes complete sense to me.

--

--

Aaron Heisen
0 Followers

Freelance writer. Former sports desk editor at the Daily Emerald. University of Oregon SOJC Alum.