Friday, February 27, 2009

Journalism Droppings -- II

Rocky Mountain, Bye

Although my stories sometimes appeared on its front page, I never read the Rocky Mountain News. Now I never shall.

It became the latest victim not only of a depression in the newspaper industry but of Americans’ steadfast refusal to read or to care about the affairs of their nation, state, region or city. As long as Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Anniston dominate the Web, the American people are happy.

Of course it didn’t help that the Rocky Mountain News was owned by the same set of scabrous incompetent inbred nitwits that owned and then gave away United Press International for $1.

Bitch about the mainstream media all you like, but they serve(d) a purpose. No Internet site, no local and no national television operation could, or would dare to, investigate the government. An America balkanized by ethnic group, interest group and readership interest (golfing, pets, home improvements) will become dumber and truly get the government it deserves.

It is no exaggeration when the press was called the fourth branch of government. Sorry, folks, but it took the resources of money and time to produce journalism that changed the world. I’m not an MBA, but it doesn’t take one to see that the downfall came when publishers couldn’t figure out the Internet and began giving away their content for free.

And, as the sage, Mr. Kristofferson, sang, freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. And, boy, are we going to be free!

The Pull It, Surprise

One sign of the downturn in the fortunes of newspapers hit me like a ton of bricks the other day – well not quite as heavily, but still it was a hefty load I had to haul in from the UPS depot and into the house. It contained the annual entries I often judge for a journalism association I belong to.

In the past, our contest was kind of like the Director’s Guild Awards compared to the Oscars. Not this year. The entries in one of the categories I volunteered to judge contain a dozen or more from some of the biggest names in the industry; former Pulitzer Prize winners. People I have gone out of my way to read on my own; a few I have made the acquaintance of in the past.

So this will be a difficult chore for me to help choose one single winner in two categories of such stature that the winners will use the award as a marketing tool.

I have judged plenty in my life, both personally and professionally. I taught and gave grades, I served on prize juries for student, specialty and national journalism. The reality is there is no objective way to judge the best from a group whose every member you could make a case for.

All I can hope for is to wisely weed the pile,and then keep a representative sample of entries to judge from all circulation-size papers, men and women, minorities and not; trying to figure out if journalism about Iraq and the financial meltdown is of greater or lesser importance than the misdeeds of small-town judges and crooks.

How ever it turns out, I am humbled by the responsibility of advancing someone’s career and agape at the fact that the very biggest names in the field and their well known newspapers who never entered in the past are now trying to hold on to glory, and their jobs, by grabbing at whatever prestige remains.

Earmarker in Chief

Is it good journalism or not to find out and print that President Obama, who ran hard against earmarks and the old ways of doing business, was listed in the current omnibus appropriations bill (which began life when he was in the Senate) as a sponsor of special interest legislation of the kind he railed against before he became a virgin?

It is kind of silly and in the long-run meaningless, but my view is that everything you can find that is true and newsworthy is important to put before the people (stupid as they are.) The White House said it was not an earmark at all but nevertheless asked Congress to remove Obama’s name from the list that had to be made public as part of earmark reforms.

If you don’t run that kind of trivial stuff, though, do you run stories about a lobbying firm that gets defense appropriation earmarks from a power congressman, who then gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” from that company?

It’s the same story, and it’s one that my favorite young reporter is all over – like stink on a politician.

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