A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with author and heir to a local journalism dynasty, Emily Barth Isler. One of the most striking points she made was how she didn’t have to convince her father, former WMAR newscaster Andy Barth, that writing was not just a hobby, and could be more than “artsy and scary and not dependable.”

I concur. You have no idea how many times in the past 30-plus years I’ve had to explain that what I do isn’t some sort of whim to fill the space until I get a good government job or a master’s degree. When I wrote my first book, a well-meaning Facebook friend told me that it didn’t matter if it sold because at least I’d finished it, and I was like, “No, this is work for me. I trained for this. I’m trying to get a check, ma’am.”

I went into journalism partially because it combines two of my favorite things: words and a paycheck. It’s not traditionally a big check, but it pays the bills (hopefully) and cements that reporting is a real profession requiring some training and expertise. So can you imagine my amusement when I heard that the upcoming Peacock reboot of NBC’s hit sitcom “The Office” takes place at a “dying historic Midwestern newspaper” that hires “volunteer reporters” to keep it going?

Trick question! You can’t imagine it because I was not amused.

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There’s nothing funny about the sad decline of news — the thing I love — not only as a business now often run by hedge funds and hacks, but as a trusted source in the wake of disinformation and direct attacks from those who also wish to destroy democracy and the free flow of news. As NPR television critic Eric Deggens noted on X, “Journalists, prep yourself … Considering the first U.S. version [of ‘The Office’] was set at a soulless paper company in Scranton, this hurts a bit.”

Look, I know the newspaper setting might seem like a timely update of what made the original a hit: the droll observation of the everyday banalities of work culture, like bad bosses, weird grudges and messy romances. I imagine that the purpose of the Midwestern setting — like putting the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in a former Pennsylvania coal town — is to focus, and sometimes mock, what seems a lackluster existence in flyover country.

I’m sure if the creators follow that pattern, this newspaper will be populated with wacky characters whose enthusiasm about being involved in the dissemination of news is fed by all sorts of motives. Curiosity. Boredom. Targeted chaos. Chaos is certainly an ingredient for some forms of humor.

But at the center of this concept is a disregard for the thing that good journalism requires: money to keep it going. It’s not just funds to keep the lights on and pay for the internet or the newsprint, if we’re indeed talking about a print product. It’s salaries for the people doing the work, because good journalists cannot work for free.

The joke, obviously, is that the people this paper can get for free are not going to be good. They will be green, or desperate, or driven by some other motive. That might be hilarious as a concept to the layman, perhaps, but if you think at all about what journalism is, what it’s supposed to do, it’s a horror movie.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know some of you are in the “If you do what love you’ll never work a day in your life” camp, and I am here to tell you that is stupid. You may enjoy your job, whatever it is. It might be your calling, your ministry, your reason to exist on this earth. But make no mistake: it is work. It is time away from your family, pleasures and sleep. It’s energy and effort and leaving your bed and putting on shoes. It’s a push to get things done, to meet expectations, to maintain your reputation. To be taken seriously.

This is serious.

Unlike Michael and Dwight, we aren’t selling paper, another old-timey thing you might think is funny and antiquated because who needs it now? But the decline of those companies represents the death of a way of life for families and whole communities. I’m not saying this is always a bad thing. If the Confederate flag business went away right now, I’m not gonna cry about it. Some things need to die.

Journalism is not one of them.

Here is what I am afraid of: This show becomes one of those “Bad News Bears” scenarios where a ragtag group of nobodies Mighty Ducks their way into an industry where they have no knowledge or skill but a lot of passion, and wind up showing those big-city yahoos that they don’t need all that expertise! All they need is heart! They don’t even need money!

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Bunk. Hooey. Bad and angry words I can’t include in this column.

There is a “newspaper in danger” storyline on the charming ABC sitcom “Not Dead Yet,” in which Gina Rodriguez’s obituary writer character finds herself fighting for her job as the billionaire owner considers selling her publication for parts. It makes a real heartfelt case for why skilled reporters matter and why what they do is important, even in this economic reality. It’s funny because it takes what they do ― what I do — seriously.

I will no doubt be watching the new “The Office,” even though I hate the premise. I admittedly never liked the first version because I found it too mean-spirited and thought Jim and Pam were smug idiots who bonded over thinking they were better than everyone else. (Yes, I said it.)

I will be curious if the show can get over itself and its presumed wackiness enough to consider that there is something real at stake here. It’s not just “that’s what she said” jokes. It’s a democracy’s ability to stand with a record of what is important.

That’s what I said.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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