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Quite the World, Isn't It?

So, where'd they all go?

Well, as long as we're getting all nostalgic about loss of income, family stresses, careers under threat and the occasional bruise and run-in with pepper gas (see posting below), I thought it might be useful to give a sense of where some of the Detroit striking journalists went.

I've wrestled with the concept of measuring a void, which of course is damn near impossible. How can one quantify what isn't there? I look at current coverage of the California budget crisis by a capital press corps that is a shadow of what it was three years ago. Given the breadth of the crisis, there is much in the way of enterprise reporting that is not even being conceived. How does that lack of outside spotlight affect our democracy? Darkness has never been good for the public welfare.

There really is no way to measure the impact of the Detroit newspaper strike on journalism in Detroit, except to note that about half of the striking Newspaper Guild members crossed the line and returned to work, and scores more -- such as recent Pulitzer winner Jim Schaefer, music and pop culture writer Sue Whitall and investigative reporter Norm Sinclair -- went back in good graces as the strike ended. So some of the institutional memory and reporting chops of veterans were there.

Others left, myself included. I wound up at the Los Angeles Times until this past fall, and had a good run of interesting stories and assignments (and, as with every career, some dogs). Now I'm in a hybrid role of freelance journalism, writing history books and teaching journalism at Chapman University and a nonfiction storytelling workshop at UC Irvine (both part-time).

I'm not sure what my individual departure meant for journalism in Detroit -- some might argue it improved things. But I tried to focus there on the stories others weren't telling, the narratives that helped explain Detroit to itself.

I think other departures were probably more significant. These are focused on former Detroit News writers, because they are the ones I know best. Allan Lengel, who went on to the Washington Post and now runs his Tickle the Wire site watching federal law-enforcement, was wired in with the feds in Detroit and broke many stories. Bob Ourlian, now with the Tribune's DC office, did great journalism in Detroit on development issues, among other things. Philip Kennicott has become an influential culture critic at the Post and now a blogger, as well -- after being a Pulitzer finalist in editorial writing in St. Louis. Paula Yoo went to People magazine for awhile but now writes children's books and young-adult novels. (*I was reminded, watching a couple of old West Wing episodes tonight that Paula also was a scriptwriter there and for a few other TV shows). Robin Mather Jenkins worked at Cooking Light and then the Chicago Tribune before getting laid off recently, and now is starting a freelance career.

Janet Wilson, Reed Johnson and Marla Dickerson all wound up out here at the LA Times, as well, though Janet has since been laid off, too.

It's a long list of ex-patriates and there is no way of knowing what was lost by the departures, beyond the financial stability of a few bars. But we, and Detroit, are different because of it.

Feel free to add "where are they now" [*former strikers only, please] updates in the comments section ....

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