Dark as a dungeon, damp as the dew

By Andrew Jenner, publisher

With Christmas so near, it seems as good a time as any to talk about coal. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot this year, actually, as my 13-year run as a full-time journalist came creaking to a halt. Opportunity was feeling scarcer and scarcer, and I was running painfully low on gumption – the #1 requirement for a freelancer like me. The entire industry was grasping at straws as it twisted in the breeze. I once got a press release about a new journalism startup whose business model involved blockchain, and I bet you good money it’s long since gone the way of dozens of other exciting next-best-things in modern journalism. Blockchain!

Plain old arithmetic, though, was what made the decision for me. Income was no longer keeping pace with expenses, and all of a sudden, I was doing what not that long before had seemed unthinkable: applying for a regular old job. It scared me.

When I started that process in the spring, I began seeing new parallels in the experiences of all those countless coal miners in all those countless dispatches from coal country. You know the ones, about shuttered storefronts and creased faces and wistful talk about the good old days when people’s dads and grandads made honest livings underground. Now, though, the mines are shutting down and a whole way of life is ending.

As you probably know, this is the age of shuttered newsrooms and ex-reporters taking PR jobs and wistful talk about the good old days when local papers were thriving. Liking being a reporter, and being somewhat good a being a reporter, were no longer enough. I have no doubt that many former coal miners were committed and skilled themselves.

But where does this whole metaphor leave The Citizen? Maybe this website is a sort of artisanal, small-batch mine, where some idealistic miners gather in the evenings to chip away at seams of coal, even though there’s no real market for it.

We journalists like to imagine that our profession is a special one, indispensable even. I’m sure coal miners and coal magnates feel the same way about theirs. From the outside, it’s easy to understand that we’ll all be fine without coal. Hopefully we’ll all be fine without journalism, too, because that day is coming soon.

And yet, and yet, The Citizen is chugging along. It’s fun to break the occasional story, and stay up late on election night to “publish first drafts of history” (one of the many self-important catchphrases in the industry)  and occasionally send out FOIA requests. And it’s enormously fun to do it with other people who, for some reason, believe just as much in our plucky little coal mine. And finally, we’ve learned over the past 15 months, it’s not technically true that there’s no market for the fresh & local, hand-crafted lumps of hard anthracite coal that we’re digging up, and reflecting back on this year that’s been so full of change, it truly does fill my heart with joy to be a part of this quixotic project.

So, thank you for reading and supporting The Citizen, for writing in with your ideas, for putting up with strange little essays like this, and everything else. And thanks especially to my growing crew of friends and colleagues involved in some way with The Citizen. We’ll be spending next week with our friends and families and will return on Dec. 30. We hope no matter what you’re celebrating this holiday season, that it is joyous, rejuvenating and full of laughter and warmth.

Journalism is changing, and that’s why The Citizen is here. We’re independent. We’re local. We pay our contributors, and the money you give goes directly to the reporting. No overhead. No printing costs. Just facts, stories and context. Thanks for your support.

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