Hyenas salivate as journalism biz collapses

The NYTimes is threatening to shut down the Boston Globe unless it gets $20M in cuts from its unions. The Times is bleeding money and The Globe is a major and open wound.

newspaperBoth the NYT and The Globe are just some among the many newspapers either circling the drain or already down it. (The irony of Globe predeceasing the rival Boston Herald would be staggering. The Herald — a former employer — has been on its deathbed for at least 25 years. It has reportedly only survived the current downturn because the price of newsprint has fallen through the cellar.) The Rocky Mountain News is gone, both of the Philly papers are bankrupt as is the Chicago Sun-Times, The LA Times, the Detroit newspapers  … and the list goes depressingly on.

There are now so few papers with reporters in DC that the Washington press corps could hold its meetings in any moderately sized Dunkin’ Donuts (no way can they afford Starbucks). The journalism biz looks to be going the way of the domestically owned automobile companies. While I could easily get all gushy and nostalgic about newspapers, I won’t. I am clearly not an impartial judge on the topic. I had a lot of fun working for them and learned a lot reading them — let’s leave it at that.

The problem with the disappearance of something like newspapers may take a while to be noticed. It is hard to say what the impact of un-reported news will be. The immediate impact will actually be the lack of a threat. The worry that something might get into the press has served as a damper (however slight at times) of the excesses of business and government. Given the fiascoes of the last nine years alone — when we had a nominally well staffed and curious press — it is terrifying to think of what comes next. Much of the press blew the run-up to the George Bush Desert Classic but they all seemed to get it when in fact no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found and suddenly the nation’s population realized it had been hoodwinked.

The press fills an important niche in our information age and the end of it in one form means it will pop-up in another form. Some people want to turn newspapers or whatever they will be called into non-profits and have them run by foundations (I’m never quite sure where these foundations are going to get the $ from). Still others think something like the NPR beg-as-you-go model will do the trick. Still others say that blogs and citizen journalists will fill the gap.

I would have more faith in this last if I had not spend quite so much time watching novice journalists becoming accomplished ones. Just like any other craft, journalism consists of skills that must be learned. While a self-taught electrician may become as good as one apprenticed to someone else I do not want to provide my house for him to do his or her learning on. I do not know if I am a good journalist but I do know I am a damn site better that I was when I started out 24 years ago. I am better because I had people show me how to ask questions, how to listen to answers, how to spot a discrepency, how to verify facts and to face the facts even when it means the death of a really pretty hypothesis. Business and the government have entire departments devoted to nothing but spinning the facts, institutionally those departments are all living for the day when they only have to deal with “citizen journalists.”(See footnote)

Something will eventually take the place of all these newspapers which have trained so many reporters and kept an eye on those boring things most of us have no interest in. (Sewer committee and zoning board meetings — you don’t want to go to them. Hell, I didn’t want to go to them and they were paying me to do so but when those guys screwed up you certainly wanted to know about it.) What scares me is the interim. Ladies and gentlemen, the great barbecue is set to begin and you will definitely be served.

FOOTNOTE: None of which is to knock the phenomenon of the citizen journalist. My good friend Karen Gadbois is one such and she is one of the best there is. Karen lives in New Orleans and writes the truly excellent blog Squandered Heritage. What she does is listen to words of various pols and bureaucrats about what they say is being done to repair New Orleans and then goes to look and see if it is actually being done. Then she writes up any differences between promise and reality. Her work is good enough that she has been the source of information that other reporters have used to win some major awards — including one from the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization and a Peabody Award. (Why her name isn’t on the awards is a little beyond me — but never mind). It is more than a little sobering, though, that Karen has not made any money off her endeavor and is wondering how to keep it going.


Kennedy cancer making Right Wing crazy

The strangest places are saying nice things about Teddy K.

From Fox News:

Boston Herald: Kennedy becomes profile in courage
NY Daily News: How Ted earned our respect

The Washington Times simply reports the news and so far has avoided it entirely on the op/ed pages. (BTW, in my experience the Times news coverage is just that, so I am only surprised by the silence on the pundit pages.)

Sweetness & Light runs the Washington Post story and then grits their teeth to add, “We are as sorry to hear this news as we would be about any fellow human being.”

Michelle Malkin: Put aside your political differences and join me in keeping Sen. Ted Kennedy and his family in your prayers as they grapple with the news of his malignant brain tumor diagnosis

CNSNews (“The Right News. Right Now.”) hasn’t even run a story on it. Nor have Rush Limbaugh, Mad Annie Coulter — whom I’ve frequently suspect of having Creautzfeld-Jacob Disease — or The Weekly Standard.

My own reaction was one of total surprise. It’s not that I thought of him as immortal, but I did think of him as permanent. Some are positing that Ted will survive longer than most with this illness because of the amount of preservative he has consumed over the years. I would not stoop to such a low type of humor myself.

I must admit to being a bit put off with some of the hyperbole about the illness that has been heard on the airwaves. Our own Senator Kerry called it a tragedy and this has been picked up by much of the media. No it’s not a tragedy. The murders of his two brothers was a tragedy — young men killed during public service. The senator is 76 and has cancer. That is sad and worthy of concern and sympathy. However one would be hard pressed to describe the death of an older human of cancer as tragedy.

Newspaper runs Borowitz satire as news story

My former employers at the Boston Herald somehow managed to read Andy Borowitz’s story about Dick Cheney challenging La Hillary to a shooting contest as a real story. Here’s the top of what Borowitz originally wrote:

Cheney Challenges Hillary to Hunting Contest
‘Meet Me in the Woods,’ Says Veep

One day after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton professed an abiding affection for guns and hunting, her love of firearms came under attack from another sometime hunter in Washington.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Dick Cheney said that a hunting contest between him and the New York senator was “the only way” to determine whether Sen. Clinton’s tales of her gun prowess were for real.

The only thing that’s better than that is the correction the paper ran:

An article in today’s Herald regarding comments purportedly made by Vice President Dick Cheney was inaccurate and should have noted that it was based on a blogger’s satire and was not provided by the Associated Press.

The story about the non-story was broken by Boston Daily, the blog of another one of my sometime employers, Boston Magazine. (No matter what you might otherwise have been told, Boston is in fact a small town.)

We were bamboozled,” Herald publisher Kevin Convey told Boston Daily. He explained that the item got picked up as straight news in Google, and was folded into unrelated wire reports from the AP, and appeared online and in the print edition.

“We failed to double-check the item against the Meet the Press website, which we should have done. We have changed our policies a bit to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Convey added.

My sympathies, Kev, because you have to explain someone a mistake made by someone else but let’s make it clear: you weren’t bamboozled. That suggests malicious intent on the part of someone else. This one was self-inflicted.

BTW, Borowitz rightly makes a big deal of the fact that he is “Winner Of The First-Ever National Press Club Award For Humor” but I think this is an even better honor