Posted on | March 20, 2016 | 120 Comments
Here’s a headline:
What Happens to Journalists When No One
Wants to Print Their Words Anymore?
As newsrooms disappear, veteran older reporters
are being forced from the profession.
That’s bad for journalism — and democracy.
Please shut up. Nobody feels sorry for you, and probably nobody should. The idea that people are entitled to be employed in whatever field they choose to pursue, and that once they get hired, they then have a “right” to keep that job — that is what’s bad for democracy.
Newspapers were my life for more than 20 years. Deadline after deadline after deadline — from 1986 to 2008, that’s what it was about. From the day I talked myself into a job as a $4.50-an-hour staff writer at a tiny weekly in Austell, Georgia, until the day I quit the Washington Times after a decade as assistant national editor and Culture page editor, my life was all about deadlines. It was a job I loved except for when I hated it, but one scam I never bought into was the lofty illusion cherished by the Professional Journalism types who insisted that the rotten pay and miserable working conditions of the typical newspaper reporter were justified because we were doing What’s Good For Democracy.
We were doing what was good for the advertisers and the publisher, and any benefit to Democracy was strictly incidental. Long before the Internet made it possible to have “metrics,” as they say, of reader interest, I realized that there was a disconnect between (a) the average journalist’s conception of his job, and (b) what most readers actually wanted to read. Two or three decades ago, there was a lot of puffy nonsense — the kind of stuff you’d read in Columbia Journalism Review or the monthly American Society of News Editors (ASNE) bulletin — about “community service” and “investigative journalism” and so forth, all of which amounted to your mother telling you to eat your broccoli.
Every major metro daily in the country was piling manpower into the kind of five-part “investigative” series (or “enterprise journalism”) cynics used to call “Pulitzer bait.” This always seemed to involve a pet liberal crusade — racism, environmentalism, homelessness, etc. — that would appeal to the sensibilities of the Professional Journalism types who think of their jobs as What’s Good For Democracy: “Eat your broccoli.”
Supply, Demand and Lunatic Gibberish
OK, so what if the readers didn’t want broccoli? What if what they wanted was, y’know, actual news? Or sports — which was my gig for about five years, and I don’t mean to brag, but I was good at it. Developing reader loyalty requires thinking: What does the reader want to read?
There was a time, about ten years ago, when I could write like Grantland Rice. Not necessarily because I believed all that sporty bullshit, but because sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for. And none of the people I wrote about seemed to give a hoot in hell what kind of lunatic gibberish I wrote about them, just as long as it moved. They wanted Action, Color, Speed, Violence…. At one point, in Florida, I was writing variations on the same demented themes for three competing papers at the same time, under three different names. I was a sports columnist for one paper in the morning, sports editor for another in the afternoon, and at night I worked for a pro wrestling promoter, writing incredibly twisted “press releases” that I would plant, the next day, in both papers.
It was a wonderful gig, in retrospect, and at times I wish I could go back to it — just punch a big hatpin through my frontal lobes and maybe regain that happy lost innocence that enabled me to write, without the slightest twinge of conscience, things like: “The entire Fort Walton Beach police force is gripped in a state of fear this week; all leaves have been canceled and Chief Bloor is said to be drilling his men for an Emergency Alert situation on Friday and Saturday nights — because those are the nights when ‘Kazika, The Mad Jap,’ a 440-pound sadist from the vile slums of Hiroshima, is scheduled to make his first — and no doubt his last — appearance in Fish-head Auditorium. Local wrestling impressario Lionel Olay is known to have spoken privately with Chief Bloor, urging him to have ‘every available officer’ on duty at ringside this weekend, because of the Mad Jap’s legendary temper and his invariably savage reaction to racial insults. Last week, in Detroit, Kazika ran amok and tore the spleens out of three ringside spectators, one of whom allegedly called him a ‘yellow devil.'”
“Kazika,” as I recall, was a big, half-bright Cuban who once played third-string tackle for Florida State University in Tallahassee, about 100 miles away — but on the fish-head circuit he had no trouble passing for a dangerous Jap strangler, and I soon learned that pro wrestling fans don’t give a fuck anyway.
This is exactly right. Action, Color, Speed, Violence — write something the reader enjoys reading. He wants personalities and action, and your job is to find Kazika the Mad Jap, the star of the show. In Gordon County, Georgia, circa 1990, this might have been Timmy Star, power forward for Fairmount High, but in Rome, Georgia, circa 1993, it was a Floyd County commissioner who fought a tooth-and-nail battle over local sales taxes. All that ridiculous Pulitzer-bait eat-your-broccoli five-part-series crap that the ASNE bulletin and the Columbia Journalism Review took so seriously? Readers generally hated that stuff, and I didn’t blame them.
Does anyone remember Bill Kovach? He was Washington bureau chief for the New York Times before the idiots in charge at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution hired Kovach to turn their paper into . . .
Well, broccoli. Because broccoli’s Good for Democracy.
Kovach spent two years as editor and damned near ruined the Atlanta papers with his pretentious (but Pulitzer Prize-winning) ideas about publishing broccoli journalism. During his tenure, Kovach not only alienated many readers, he also lost sight of the fact that in Atlanta, the business community expects the local newspaper to act as a publicity agent. Atlanta was famous during the Civil Rights era as “The City Too Busy to Hate,” because civic leaders recognized that racial conflict was bad for business. Cynics observed that, in truth, Atlanta was The City Too Greedy to Care. If Jim Crow was good for business, Atlanta would be segregated, and if Jim Crow proved to be a net liability, Atlanta would integrate peaceably, but either way, what the Chamber of Commerce wanted, the Chamber of Commerce got. Labels like “liberal”and “conservative” didn’t have a damned thing to do with these entirely pragmatic and self-interested calculations. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, the only color that really matters in Atlanta is green.
Well, Mr. Kovach didn’t quite understand this worldview, and he managed to piss off the Chamber of Commerce, and in November 1988, he “resigned,” officially, but everyone knew it was more like he got pushed out the door, and there ensued all kinds of hand-wringing and moaning from the Good for Democracy types.
This drew a sarcastic retort from the newspaper’s most popular columnist, Lewis Grizzard, who wrote that the paper would be better off without Kovach, “with apologies to those who enjoy exhaustive series on what’s doing in Africa.” Grizzard’s jab was aimed at Kovach’s nutty idea that because (a) Atlanta had a large black population, therefore (b) the paper should have lots of coverage of news in Africa. This was deemed an enlightened and sophisticated attitude by the Good for Democracy crowd, or you might view it as condescending and vaguely racist.
Many white Southerners are of Scots-Irish ancestry, but Kovach didn’t start filling the pages of the Atlanta papers with daily updates from Belfast or Edinburgh. No, if the IRA set off a bomb, the paper would run a four-paragraph item from the Associated Press on page A7, and otherwise the only news from the ancestral homeland was the sports-page coverage of the British Open at the Royal St. Andrews.
Identity politics and liberal notions of “diversity” have so polluted the journalism racket that now even the sports pages are full of “social justice.” If there is a gay outfielder playing for some AA farm team anywhere in America, all he has to do is send an email to Sports Illustrated and they’ll run a 6,000-word feature about his courageous struggle against homophobia in Dubuque or Albuquerque or wherever.
Whether or not broccoli journalism is Good for Democracy, it’s not good for journalism, because people get tired of being told what to think.
A newsroom is not a pulpit, and editors are not theologians, and if you want to preach a sermon by disguising it as a five-part investigative series about homelessness or whatever, you might eventually find yourself preaching to an empty church, because readers are not entirely stupid. Your pretentious attitude as Our Moral Superiors™ is tiresome and obnoxious, and people won’t pay money to be treated like third-graders being scolded by their teacher. But I digress . . .
Blame Al Gore, Because Why Not?
When Bill Kovach decided circa 1987 that the Atlanta papers needed a bureau in Nairobi, he could afford to do it, because the paper was making a handsome profit from advertising revenue. The fact that advertising ultimately paid the bills — the source of revenue, whereas the salaries of the newsroom staff were an expense — was an aspect of journalism that a lot of Good for Democracy types never really figured out. Bottom-line considerations were far from the minds of most people in our nation’s newsrooms 25 years ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet, and then some guy named Matt Drudge became America’s Editor-in-Chief.
— FreeStacy (@Not_RSMcCain) March 20, 2016
Oh, the pages and pages of classified ads — help wanted, real estate, used cars, whatever — that were once such a magnificent revenue generator for newspaper publishers. Oh, the display ads from department stores, and the full-color advertising inserts stuffed inside that thick Sunday paper. Nearly all gone now — gone with the wind, along with the fat profit margins that allowed Bill Kovach the luxury of force-feeding readers in Atlanta their journalistic broccoli about the famine in Sudan. Gone, those glory days when newsrooms were so crowded, and every major metropolitan paper had an “investigative journalism” team of a half-dozen hotshots whose bylines rarely appeared in print except on those tedious five-part series written for the eyes of the Pulitzer Prize judges.
Yeah, once upon a time, every newspaper in every state capital in America — from Tallahassee to Juneau, from Augusta, Maine, to Honolulu, Hawaii — had its own local crew of would-be Woodward and Bernsteins who believed they were producing journalism that was Good for Democracy.
Gone! All gone now! And nobody gives a damn, except crybabies like Dale Maharidge, the journalism professor at Columbia University who wrote that idiotic headline: “What Happens to Journalists When No One Wants to Print Their Words Anymore?” Oh, the AFL-CIO to the rescue!
As digital journalism finds its place in the new-media landscape, helped by a crop of new web-only publications, younger journalists are beginning to demand the kind of work protections, decent wages and newsroom solidarity that many of their older counterparts once enjoyed. In the past year, workers have voted to unionize at Gawker, Vice, Salon and ThinkProgress, affiliating with the Writers Guild of America East, AFL-CIO. In January,The Huffington Post’s management voluntarily recognized the WGAE to represent 262 employees. The union negotiates “compensation, benefits, and job security” for its members.
Isn’t that nice? The “workers . . . voted to unionize at Gawker,” which just got hit with a $115 million judgment after former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan sued them for publishing a sex video of him. Delicious irony.
“Kazika the Mad Jap” could not be reached for comment.
Hulk Hogan Awarded $115 Million in Privacy Suit Against Gawker https://t.co/IRGA6ybNDh
— Christina H. Sommers (@CHSommers) March 19, 2016
ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS.
Say it again:
ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS. https://t.co/qK38RZnswF
It's like angels singing!
— FreeStacy (@Not_RSMcCain) March 19, 2016
— FreeStacy (@Not_RSMcCain) March 20, 2016
Is my blog Good for Democracy? Probably not, but please remember the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:
UPDATE: Welcome, Vox Day readers!
UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And, yes, Hunter S. Thompson had a very low opinion of journalism professors:
In the context of journalism, here, we are dealing with a new kind of “lead” — the Symbiotic Trapezoid Quote. The Columbia Journalism Review will never sanction it; at least not until the current editor dies of brain syphilis, and probably not even then.
Do we have a libel suit on our hands?
Probably not, I think, because nobody in his right mind would take a thing like that seriously — and especially not that gang of senile hags who run the Columbia Journalism Review, who have gone to considerable lengths in every issue during the past year or so to stress, very heavily, that nothing I say should be taken seriously.
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” George Bernard Shaw said that, for good or ill, and I only mention it here because I’m getting goddamn tired of being screeched at by waterheads. Professors are a sour lot, in general, but professors of journalism are especially rancid in their outlook because they have to wake up every morning and be reminded once again of a world they’ll never know.
The Great Shark Hunt, p. 286.
UPDATE IV: Linked by Larwyn at Director Blue — thanks!
— Daniel O'Brien (@DanielObrien42) March 20, 2016
— Instapundit.com (@instapundit) March 16, 2016