Before he became the man behind “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Treme,” David Simon was a journalist, working at the Baltimore Sun City Desk for 12 years, an experience that would inform his TV masterpiece.
In honor of the paper’s 175th birthday, Simon has contributed an essay on David Michael Ettlin, the man who taught him to be a reporter and the man who was responsible for his “proudest moment ever as a newspaperman.”
Many years later, I had occasion to walk back into The Sun newsroom after a long time away. I was an apostate television hack, having taken one of the string of buyouts offered by the company over the last twenty years. The newsroom was half-empty, the remaining veterans a bit hollow-eyed at all that had happened to journalism and newspapers in particular. Much had been lost, and much wasted, and the banter was tinged with frustration and regret. But the news on that day was that David Michael Ettlin was finally retiring. As The Baltimore Sun’s night editor.
While few would argue that season five of “The Wire” represented the show at its best, it did serve as a pained elegy for the heyday of newspapers and for real reporting. “We’re going to have to find ways to do more with less,” the head of the show’s fictionalized version of the Sun told an unhappy newsroom in the clip from the episode “Not for Attribution” below, offering a variation on a speech about buyouts and cutbacks and COBRA that’s been given in the offices of many papers in the recent years. In Simon’s bittersweet celebration of Ettlin is more of that mourning for a passing era of newsgathering, and for the swiftness and accuracy with which copy had to be produced: “He had the gift for rewrite, a skill accurately described… as being able to string an endless series of clichés together at high speed.”