This Didn’t Have to Happen

I talked to Lyz Lenz this week about what really happened to newspapers: 

Lyz: For so long, I made “subscribe to your local newspaper” a part of my efforts. And it’s why I took the job that I was fired from. But every once in a while, I hear from people who say, “I would love to subscribe to my local newspaper, but it’s run by literal, like, white supremacist apologists.” And you know what, good point!

Allison: I used to subscribe to both the Tribune and the Sun-Times when I was reporting, because I basically felt like I had to. And nine times out of 10, neither one of those papers would be at my doorstep before 9:00am, and we’re a commuter town. And this is not sustainable.

So you know, don’t call me up and tell me I don’t value journalism. In my nonexistent spare time, I raise money for journalism. But these newspapers literally didn’t do their jobs. If I go to a bagel shop and it poisons me, I will not go there again. And that bagel shop can put up all the signs that it wants about how you owe me your business because I’m local, but you gave me salmonella.

I thought it might be helpful, since a couple of folks skidded into the DMs to slap their resumes on my table, to point out that over at this here blog we’ve been on this beat a while: 

I laughed along with the rest of them, but: I know good people at Tribune Publishing. Friends, and ex-friends, people I know to be decent whatever assholes they happen to presently work near. I know lots and lots of good journos, and they deserve better than to watch the place they put their hands and their minds and their blood and their days turn into a national fucking joke.

I mean: 

For rich companies’ rich employees like Chuck Todd to rage on Twitter about the devaluing of the press, well, Chuckles and all his friends could pool their pocket change and buy six small city or suburban papers, staff them, and get them on people’s goddamn porches every day. THAT would be valuing the press.


I’m about done reading endless editorials about how this time, today, this go-round the newspaper is ALL ABOUT the Internet. It’s not like last time, with the paywall. Or the time before that, with the hyperlocal. Or the time before that, with the glitter logo and the shaky iPhone video of that one house fire/car wreck/pet show. This time, the newspaper is taking the Internet seriously and is really, truly gonna do something new.

The blathering is exhausting. These CEOs and MEs who loudly declare that they are “digital first” are the industry equivalent of that one friend you have who will not shut up about how someday he’s gonna go to Japan or join a gym or write that novel.

He never does dick, of course. Every time you’re over at his house he’s high and watching Honey Boo Boo, but damn if he doesn’t want to tell you his very detailed intentions at every fucking dinner party.

HI 2009: 

As the panelists talked about innovation, about making your own site what you want local news to be, someone behind me kept shouting out, “Who pays you while you do it? Who pays the rent?” and it’s not that some of the blithe “You just have to work for the love of the story and wait tables if you have to in the meantime until somebody hires you” didn’t come off as romanticizing the poverty-stricken artist’s life as one somehow more noble than any other. But what I think the panelists were trying to say was something we say around here all the time: If you want things to stop sucking you have to go make them not suck. You can’t wait until somebody just hands you a giant platter of not-suck and tells you it’s all yours.

Like, look. This stuff is hard. I’m not claiming to have all the answers. I am claiming to know some bullshit when I see it, and I have to believe that has some value in the world or I’ve spent the past 20 years doing nothing and teaching a shitload of other people to do nothing too.

THERE’S SO MUCH BULLSHIT. For the past four years we’ve been having some kind of extra-dumb crisis about teaching people to recognize FAKE NEWS and fourteen university panels despair of the Kids Today as if all of the fact-free-itude promoted and bankrolled by GOP-adjacent assets just sort of happened. Like a weather system swept in. (Like the Kids Today are the ones voting for fascism, anyway.) Nobody talks about the money behind these efforts, and the philathropically miniscule amounts behind actual journalism in places that need it.

A couple of people commenting on the interview were also like SO WHAT DO WE DO and, well, we let a lot of terrible corporations die, and then the people who care about this stuff have to rebuild it, from scratch, probably while doing other stuff. That sucks, too:

All of this is so hard but, as those of you who’ve been reading here a while know, the only thing harder than doing the hard thing is spending the rest of your life explaining why you didn’t.


4 thoughts on “This Didn’t Have to Happen

  1. For local papers, anyway, I agree with whoever said to stick to the big 3 – police blotter, obits, and HS sports.

  2. For the past four years we’ve been having some kind of extra-dumb crisis about teaching people to recognize FAKE NEWS and fourteen university panels despair of the Kids Today as if all of the fact-free-itude promoted and bankrolled by GOP-adjacent assets just sort of happened.

    Minor quibble, and you may accuse me of being a paid Russian troll for bringing this up. How about all the Democrat hyperbole, hysteria, overhyping, distortion, and lying including Russiagate? Entirely fact-free — or at least evidence-free. I’m not trying to say they have been as bad ad the Republicans, although I think they have been. I’m saying “both sides have been doing it.” I finally gave up protesting the use of the word “treason.” It’s become a tribal signifier to accuse the Deplorables™ of treason. Spitting on the sidewalk is treason if done by a Trump supporter. I’m glad Trump lost, but I’m pretty sure nothing is going to get better under Biden. Maybe the rhetoric will be a little less fabulist, but “If you don’t trust me, you ain’t black” and “I mean what I say when I say it” do not bode well. I hope Biden restores some of the regulations that the Trumpists trashed, and think that might happen, I hope he appoints people who will work hard to restore EPA, OSHA, and CFPA and undo the pernicious changes the Trumpists put in there, and I think he might. But the people he’s appointed to his foreign policy positions mean we’re going to be making bad policy choices in the Middle East and Asia for the next four years.

    1. “and lying including Russiagate” Lying, huh? Just because Mueller felt duty-bound to not go all the way hardly makes it lying. Dan Coats and the fucking Senate Intelligence Committee are all liars, huh? If it’s not gonna get better, look in the mirror.

  3. A decade or more ago, the local paper, the Sunnyvale Sun, was bought by the biggest newspaper in the South Bay, the Mercury News (owned itself by Knight Ridder? dunno). It was part of a buy-up of lots of local papers in the South Bay. After that, it stopped being delivered to our stoop. It’s just a weekly, so we called the paper, and they said they weren’t delivering to our neighborhood anymore (something something it’s where the brown people live something something), but we could PAY THEM a sub fee and they’d mail it to us. Or we could go downtown and pick it up. We opted for the latter. When we got a copy again, the bad editorial cartoonist we loved to make fun of was gone, and the guy who wrote shitty columns we loved to make fun of was gone, and the news was a blend of all the South Bay cities. Even the HS sports were regional now.
    Five years ago, we moved across town to a neighborhood where it is delivered to our stoop. It’s 90% real-estate advertisements, some HS sports, a very brief police blotter, and sometimes the occasional story about the construction going on downtown (the only big deal in town). I don’t even read it anymore. I put it in a pile to be used as kindling, right on top of the Epoch Times.

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