What would Gretzky do?

I recently drove to Minneapolis to hear Kevin Smith, of Clerks fame, give a three-hour talk on whatever was on his mind. The topic of conversation drifted naturally — amazingly enough — from Hollywood feuds to sexual intercourse between a man and a horse before finally settling on Wayne Gretzky. Yes, Gretzky, the hero of Brampton, Ontario, saviour of the Oilers, “the great one” and the current focus of Smith’s adoration.

Smith began his story about Gretzky with a prologue summarizing his disappointment with his underperforming movie, Zach and Miri Make a Porno, and the realization that it is disingenuous making movies about struggling 20-somethings while pushing 40 and living in an LA mansion. Riddled with despair over potentially loosing his livelihood, Smith spent months inside his home, until he discovered Gretzky on Youtube.com. That is when Smith found his new idol.

The director, an idol himself to “gen-Xers” everywhere, pegs his respect for Gretzky on one inspiring line uttered by the man himself: “Don’t go where the puck is, go where the puck is going to be.” Simple words no doubt, but like all great words of wisdom, seemingly applicable in daily life. Although, not if your chosen career, like mine, is that of stegosaurus.

At first, I too was moved by the words, so simple, yet so deep. In order to succeed in life as in hockey you don’t go where the opportunities, jobs or money are, you go where they will be. And I was inspired and determined to follow Gretzky’s advice myself — until I remembered that I am starting a career as a newspaper writer.

In case this is the first newspaper you have picked up in the past two years, there has been a bit of a financial crisis and newspaper stocks are down 90 per cent from where they were a few years ago. Some publishers have been going bankrupt, laying off staff in a desperate attempt to avoid destitution, destruction and the unemployment line.

While the economic collapse can be blamed for many of the short term troubles papers are experiencing, with companies like

Craigslist.org offering classified advertisements for free. With a significant source of income for many newspapers now gone, solvency in the long-term is far from guaranteed. Couple this to the trend of Internet-ers demanding quickly refreshing and up-to-the-minute content — for free, mind you — and saying that it isn’t a great time to be a newspaper or a newspaperman starts to look like a bit of an understatement.

So, in essence, I’m in the same place as Smith when he was forced to recalibrate his failing career, and as Gretzky, now that he’s forced to move on from his pet project, the Phoenix Coyotes. If I were to adapt Gretzky’s quote to fit what I’m doing, it would be, “Don’t go where the puck is, go where the puck was 24 months ago.” And, dammit, that’s what I’m going to do.

If you’re my mother, you might think that I have just pounded that final nail into the coffin of my success, dooming my family to a diet of Spam and Kool-Aid, but I choose to look at it differently. I have always, to my determent, valued happiness over financial comfort. And new media be damned, I’m pretty happy writing for a print newspaper. I have had a lot of jobs in my day, some with fairly impressive titles, but I have never felt better than answering the question: “So what do you do?” with, “Oh me? I’m an editor.” If everybody did the same, dare I say the world might be a better place?

Furthermore, and I’m completely willing to accept the fact that this might be self-delusion, but perhaps this difficult time we’re going through right now isn’t so much the extinction of print journalism as it is the dawn of a new era, not dissimilar from when the mammals took over from the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Where newspaper editors of the past were cold-blooded, lumbering grumps, these days they are warm-blooded, fuzzy, blogging bloggers.

Maybe I have doomed my family to a life of mechanically-separated meat products and juice crystals, but I figure my family would rather eat spam with a happy dad, than filet mignon with a miserable asshole.