Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 30, 2010

Journaling Down

Wonder what ever happened to a good newspaper? As a delivery guy from the day when guys rode bicycles with baskets on either side of the rear wheel to get the job done either in the evening and/or early morning… I miss a good read. I especially miss competitive papers gunning side-by-side for the best headline to a story. A few cities still have this, but for the most part, the only place we still see this is at the checkout line where celebrity rags scream about how poor old Lindsay Lohan’s gonna make a zillion on her prison journal. Yipes.

Seems we’re left with only one version of the facts, and anyone who’s ever tried to assemble a story from a crowd of thirty witnesses surely knows there’s more than one way to tell it. And with all the pay-for-play and corporate media where it’s harder and harder to reconcile real journalism, depth, writing quality, and care for getting the story’s facts right, journalism and its “service” to the public is increasingly under siege. Even seems as if today more often than not a lot of the ink simply comes from press releases with a changed byline. Papers still supply the opinion pieces, the obits, and high school sports, but less and less gets written in-shop.

I guess the good news in this is that with the doubling of our population, we’ve somehow managed to reduce our need to know and the complexities of our lives and society where there just are fewer and fewer stories to tell or worth telling. Heck, most are simply told for free and read for free… so why bother? Of course I’m being facetious. I happen to believe that a functional democracy needs an active press where press means gumshoe cub reporters. No one visits the morgue, the police station or even bothers to read the rap sheets and ask a few questions… much less know how. Celebrity news, celebrity stories, and the same old same old. Should we surprised that with this low level of awareness and interest the level of fraud in so many aspects of our lives is off the charts? Yes, I’m a big believer in the unsung anonymous saints in our lives. But I am also a big believer that there is a lot of nefarious activity under the rug that a little daylight might rapidly reduce and help restore a level of public virtue we feel long lost. I don’t think it’s lost for good by any means.

I read the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times (on Sundays), Barron’s, and some wanna be called the Investor’s Daily. It’s a lot of paper. The Financial Times is without peer the best there is, and increasingly replaced both the WSJ and NYT as the business and political paper of record in the AngloSaxon world. It’s where you go to find thoughtful commentary and/or stories and facts about the wider world. The NYT is still well written, but auto-spell and auto-grammar has gone a long ways to narrowing the Washington Post’s glaring deficiencies. The NYT still has a better vocabulary, but hey… politicians are a bunch of frat boys and such, so you the language is going to be… uh… well a bit more pedestrian.

But today, no matter where you read, the more you know, the more you become aware of how commonly most editors follow the Casablanca’s “Louis” in rounding up the usual “take” on whatever story is under consideration. I understand how deadlines force conformance to type, but the sort of cross-checking that used to be routine is less and less so. The infrequency with which papers actually bother to check facts for themselves means that increasingly these sorts of stories appear only as “Specials” or “Features”. And the increasing infrequency has allowed a reduction in staffs to a point where the sheer lack of familiarity with the process tends to color the capabilities and potential of projects of precisely this sort. And in fact, the likelihood of being led astray rises rather than falls. As these days, errant journalism can result in lost sales, suits, and all the rest, the decline of news in newspapers increasingly looks like a “smart” decision.

And then there were none. Of these papers, only the Financial Times seems to be doing well both in sticking to its original market and in making money. As they say, they’re the only paper that has been profitable in it’s internet from the beginning. The NYT charges here and there on-line but the rest don’t, and the rest are rapidly declining businesses. Same with the newsweeklies. I think few expected that the decline in revenues would lead so rapidly to a decline in quality, but it has in the same way. And though we bailed out Chevrolet, there’s a basic incompatability with the idea of the government bailing out newspapers and a free press. On the other hand, for the most part, a press that’s free and a free press remain a puzzle the industry generally can’t seem to figure out, and increasingly, it seems the public is sufficiently confused as well… and inclined not to care.

Is the Finanical Collapse of 2007-2009 a product of under-reporting? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accomplished in the face of sycophantic journalism? Has political discourse sunk to a level that amateurs can follow and be misled from the real stories? Fair enough. And so our electorate gathers news on the pecadillios and personal preferences of their candidates for office, but learns little about their votes, their financial interests, their friends, and what policies their presence as part of a legislature might conjure. Like our friend in New York who will marry you to a shoe if you want, I don’t care for the distractions. Come Tuesday, I’ve got to vote for judges, for attorney’s general, for representatives, for senators, and all the rest. I don’t know much about what they do, their record, or how to evaluate whether they’ve done a good job. Did they show up? Whose taking roll call? Whose compiling their votes in a cross-section that shows where they stood out in a way that lets you understand their character in their role? There is precious little information on these folks… a problem made worse by the disappearance of the once-helpful watchdog publications of the Women’s League of Democratic Voters. And so a good sounding name… or a vote against the incumbent… heck… that sounds like a good solution.



  1. We have one paper newspaper left in town, but then the morning paper paper and evening paper paper were both owned by the same company back when. The only investigative work done anymore is by the “New Times”, a free once a week, car stereo and adult services advertising supported rag that has done some pretty groundbreaking reporting. Maybe to get the real deal you have to be supported by people who don’t give a damn about demographics and politics because their clientele doesn’t either. sigh.

    • Know what you mean. We have the Post, and then the Washington Times… the Moonie paper. Not bad I’m told.
      But back when I was making decisions on these things, no Bloom County or Calvin & Hobbs. Essentials ARE essentials. 🙂
      Yet the Rev. Moon’s backing did allow for a different voice for a time.

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