Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stop the Presses?

Newspaper editors and and a national media survey defending newspapers against the Internet incurs the wrath of Daily's Kos, and the AP attempt to get paid for links to its stories inspires Arianna's huff. It's the New Media against the Old, supposedly, though it looks a lot like the same old same old, dog eat dog, pissing contests and dominance games.

Kos is caustic and dismissive. To the assertion that “News consumption depends on news production, and I don't see anything on the Internet that produces news—that is, detailed responsible empirical journalism—the way newspapers do (or did). ” he responds: "If you're in such a bubble that you haven't seen the dozens of news operations online that are producing 'detailed responsible empirical journalism', then you are hopeless." Dozens? Really? As much as daily and weekly newspapers and magazines? Even though Josh Marshall of the TPM sites admits: "If all the big papers disappeared right now and we replaced them with 50 TPMs, it wouldn't come close to doing the job."

I left a comment on this post challenging the site to operate for a full week without using links to newspapers, but only to those other "dozens of online news operations" using only their original reporting. Then we'll see where we are exactly.

Kos titles this post "More on Newspaper Executive Arrogance," but arrogance has a different source when in an earlier post he wrote, "But as I've already argued, why should newspapers cover sports when that's already capably covered in umpteen other outlets? Do they need to pay for David Broder's column? Do they need AP wire? Do they need a style or celebrity or business sections? A theater or architecture critic? Of course not. "

Of course not, because Kos knows best. And oh, he also happens to run sports blogs.

There's no doubt a lot of arrogance among newspaper executives and the corporate execs who started newspapers on their downfall by cutting "costs" (i.e. reporters, foreign news bureaus, etc.) just to squeeze out higher profits to finance their other corporate shenanigans. Some of them whine for preferential treatment because they feel it is their due, though others are just looking for some road to survival.

But come on, people like Kos and Arianna who are aggressively growing their sites and influence are not exactly arguing from disinterested objectivity. And they are doing so without employing very many people, and as far as I know, none in union jobs.

Arianna goes on about how the old models don't work, these old guys don't understand the Internet like she does, which may both be true. But to the key question of what the new model is for paying reporters to write the stories she aggregates on her site, is never answered. Huffington Post is at best symbiotic with established media, but mostly predatory. Plus it's no great improvement. A cross between the National Inquirer and the Nation, with heavy doses of Vanity Fair, it is replete with sensationalist and all too often misleading headlines. Which usually link to somebody else's reporting. What's wrong with asking Arianna to pay for it? She sells ad space. I have to deal with those jumping and moving ad images wracking my eyes and playing havoc with my computer whenever I stop there. (Huffpost does pay a monthly fee to the AP.)

Instead Huffpost has lots of opinion columns--I'm not sure they pay for those now, but they didn't when they started. But their writers are celebs or celebrity journalists who do it to maintain visibility, to publicize themselves for their paid media jobs. These days the media is run across all platforms--print, TV, blogocracy--by a relative few people, who may report or write a column for a newspaper while taking another paycheck for opining for a particular cable network, and possibly another for political or media consulting, another for books and and of course the speaking fees, then publicizing themselves and all these activities on "new" blogs and Twitter. Or they work for a think tank or advocacy group or university or some institution that benefits from their visibility--and if they become visible enough, they can move on up to more celebrity. It's the instant, interconnected media version of celebrity journalism--pretty much the only kind of journalism we're getting, and the only kind we're going to have if newspapers fold.

The Internet sites include lots of other voices offering their opinions in comments and diaries, all for free, while driving up readership and making money and careers for a very few people, like Kos and Arianna. Nice work if you can get it.

The problem is that the real news is not gathered by celebrities. It is gathered by plodders--reporters who may lack ambition and imagination, who just want a steady job with an income to help support a family and be a member of the community they cover. But they develop and follow leads, they do the work that may offend the powerful, which often enough threatens their steady job, or it would if there weren't unions and a solid tradition of newspapers defending their reporters. You can't consume what is not produced.

There should be more reporting, better reporting. We shouldn't be amazed at what it took one reporter at the LA Times to uncover about health insurance companies in California--dozens of reporters should have found it out earlier. But we are amazed, because she did it, she spent a long time getting the story, and it may eventually mean life or death to any number of people.

As for those other features of newspapers--I've already written about Kos, a resident of Berkeley, and his apparent hostility to the San Francisco Chronicle. But I happen to value pretty highly the theatre reviews of Robert Hurwitt there, the movie reviews of Mick DeSalle, the art criticism of Kenneth Baker, as well as Jon Carroll, my favorite columnist in the world.

This debate goes off on tangents--like the reporters and columnists people don't like, or the medium they prefer (newspaper, laptop, Kindle, etc.) Those discussions are meaningful in themselves, as are the fears that in-depth reporting or writing of any length is being killed off by Internet snippets and eye candy--but this newspaper crisis is a crisis because there is no apparent way to pay people to do what reporters and newspaper writers do.

I don't know the answer. I like free access to the information on the Internet, and I don't think a lot of sites demanding payment will work. But at least I acknowledge there is a problem, and it is serious. It seems to me people like Kos and Arianna are avoiding it.

It's additionally if also ruefully funny that while both of them defend the common man against Wall Street and big corporations, they have nothing to say about union jobs at their blogs. Maybe that's too little guy mundane for the Blogocracy. Or maybe it's just another in the well-established tradition of exploiting the labor of writers and reporters.

This economy is forcing the issue faster than the problems are being confronted, let alone solved. To some degree, these newspapers may be like endangered species. Once they're gone, they're gone. Even if it was a freak storm that wiped them out. We're going to miss them--and not just sentimentally, but in missing information-- and that includes the Blogocracy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Slickhorn Gulch on the San Juan River, Utah. Photo: uploaded to Flickr by Tim Tuttle.

Steady, They Say

Clambering up the rocks of a dry wash gully,
warped sandstone, by the San Juan River,

look north to stony mountains
shifting clouds and sun

--despair at how the human world goes down

Consult my old advisers

"steady" they say


(At Slickhorn Gulch on the San Juan River, 1999)

--by Gary Snyder, from Danger on Peaks (Shoemaker Hoard)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Earthquake in Italy

The earthquake that devastated L'Aquila is very far away from where I am, and yet it is not. Not far from L'Aquilia (80 kilometers) in the Abruzzi region of Italy is Manoppello, where my mother was born, and her parents met and lived until coming to the U.S., and where I still have relatives, although I don't know any of them. I know that some of them still live in the house where my grandmother lived. Since early news reports said that other towns and villages were affected by the quake, I tried to find information on Manoppello. I found only one article, in Italian. I'm told I was bilingual for awhile--when I knew few words in English or Italian--but I can't really understand, or certainly read Italian. Yet after staring at the article for awhile, I did begin to understand enough: though the earthquake was felt there, there were no deaths and no significant damage. That of course is not true of L'Aquila, where hundreds have died and many buildings devastated.
That I would feel connected to this distant disaster in a place where I know no one is not entirely goofy. I saw another article somewhere about efforts in the U.S. to collect money for earthquake relief by Italian Americans--someone said that it doesn't matter how weak the ties now, how distant the American life is from the Italian or the immigrant experience, the bond is still there. These connections occur in time as well as place; from another time to this.
That I live in a very earthquake-prone area now that (like L'Aquila until this week) hasn't experienced a quake in long enough time to forget the danger in daily life, has something to do with the attention I'm paying. The experience of such a disaster lasts well beyond it in time, as evidenced in an oped piece in the New York Times by Stanislao Pugliese, about a far worse quake in another Abruzzi town in 1915, in which "3,500 of the town’s 5,000 residents had perished in a matter of 30 seconds." Among the dead was the mother of Italian novelist Ignazio Silone. This immense event changed him and all his fictions, Pugliese writes, which"bear the often subtle, sometimes vivid imprint of the catastrophe."
Such a disaster changes or reinforces ideas about fate. "In a twist of fate that surprised no one, the only house left undamaged was uninhabited." In the disaster and the aftermath, much is also revealed about human beings and their institutions:
“In an earthquake,” Silone wrote decades after his experience, “everyone dies: rich and poor, learned and illiterate, authorities and the people. An earthquake accomplishes what words and laws promise and never achieve: the equality of all. But it is an ephemeral equality, for when fear had died down, collective misfortune became the opportunity for even greater injustices.”
“Only loss is universal,” he once wrote, “and true cosmopolitanism in this world must be based on suffering.”
Many of our lives are not hit so hard, though at any moment they may be. But we who have been relatively fortunate are not absolved from empathy. It is our role to understand and to act.

Monday, April 06, 2009

"The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer--
The swallow heart from wing beat to wing beat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world."
--William Stafford
April is National Poetry Month, a good excuse. This poem is one of many by many poets discussed in an excellent new book by John Felstiner: Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems (Yale.)

Prague Spring

"The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. Today, the Cold War has disappeared, but thousands of those weapons have not." President Obama commits to a goal of a world without nuclear weapons in a speech before a huge crowd in Prague. Click collage to enlarge.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Some images of the Obamas in Europe this past week from various sources. Click photo to enlarge.