Call me crazy — Hey! You crazy! — but in all the discussion of getting news online, my imagination is increasingly taken with the, shall we say, meta. Let lesser drones worry about delivery systems; I’m all about the voice. The syntax. The evolving grammar of a new language of news. (And if you can’t tell I’m being kind of snarky here, move along, you lesser drones.)
I can, and have, gone on for many zillions of words about this, but here it is in a nutshell: I once heard Nora Ephron speak, and she quoted Milton Glaser on car design. (I have looked high and low for the original citation of this, to no avail. So let’s trust Nora for a bit, shall we?) He said the look of cars mimics the prevaling mode of transportation of any era. When cars were first invented, they looked like buggies. As horses gave way to trains, cars started to look like locomotives (witness the Cords of the 1930s). As the interstate highway system began to spread, and cars came into their own, so commenced the glory days of car design, in the 50s, when they looked their most carlike. And then we were in the Jet Age, the come-fly-with-me years, and cars began to resemble airplanes.
(Yes, this train of thought begins to go off the rails in recent years, but I heard the speech in 1980 or so. Nowadays you’d say car design is tapping a deeper vein in the human subconscious. As the gap between the classes grow, we increasingly armor ourselves in quasi-military vehicles, the Hummer being only the most obvious and unimaginative example.)
Anyway, the same can be said for news media. Each technological advance starts by mimicking the one before. When radio news came along, it was little more than newspaper stories being read on the air; same with television. The telephone allowed radio reporters to give live reports on the air, something newspapers could obviously never do. As satellite trucks, ever-shrinking equipment and easy-edit videotape came along, TV news came into its own, fully exploiting its visual potential, and giving us the one-alarm house fire or two-car fatal as the lead story. We could write a whole book about the curious rise of the car chase as national news, but we won’t — I think the New Yorker had a pretty good piece about it earlier this year.
You could cite 1980 as the year newspapers finally acknowledged the obvious, when USA Today debuted with short-short stories, flashy graphics, throbbing color and, just in case you were still too stupid to get it, vending boxes that looked like televisions.
(So ends the in-a-nutshell version of my theory. A very fat nutshell.)
And now here we are in the 21st century, and online news is coming into its own. Newspapers are starting to figure out that putting the same old crap online isn’t going to make it, that you have to use the medium’s unique capabilities to craft a new kind of storytelling, and anyone who sits in a meeting and says, “But if we put links in stories, people will go away from our site and never come back” needs to be told to go make some more coffee. And as this is still a transitional period, occasionally you get a glorious mash-up. I give you this item from the Freep’s main page today, flagged as a “news bulletin:”
A manhunt is under way this morning after a prisoner escaped at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
According to a report from WDIV Local 4, the man, who police identified as Cortez Rogers, and a 17-year-old girl were pulled over on the city’s west side at about 1 a.m. Police suspected the car they were in was stolen.
WWJ-AM (950) said Rogers was taken to Receiving after he said he wasn’t feeling well and began banging his head on the wall of his cell.
Local 4 said the man slipped out of his handcuffs and wrestled a gun away from a police officer. Rogers carjacked an ambulance, police said, which he abandoned.
Police on the ground and in the air were searching the area of Canfield and Third.
The Michigan Department of Corrections lists multiple
Check back for more developments.
Now that’s immediacy, eh? The story’s main source is a TV report, which tells you the newsroom is still virtually empty but for a few website-updaters, who have the right idea but no staff yet, but screw it, cite the TV guys, information wants to be free. Yet note the language and imagery, which is right out of a Superman movie: manhunt, carjacking, police searching “on the ground and in the air” and then, that bang-up last line, cut off in mid-sentence — can’t talk now, deadline! You can almost hear Perry White: “Olson! You know about these newfangled machines. Get this story on DailyPlanet.com!” (Meanwhile, Clark Kent slips quietly from the room.) Check back for more developments! This story’s so hot we gotta get it out there now!
OK. Maybe I’ve had too much coffee.
I think I have. God, I love this French Roast stuff.
Slate caps its gallant crusade to promote “The Wire” with a lengthy interview with David Simon, the show’s creator. If you’d like, Wireheads may use this thread to discuss the penultimate episode, although I just watched the finale and can barely speak of it yet. It should win every Emmy and six more Peabodys, just for good measure, but it won’t. Ah, well. No one should go into any business to win awards, but still, some truths need to be acknowledged, and this is one: Best season of television, ever.
Jimmy Lileks writes five, or maybe fifteen, columns a week about nothing. Jon Carroll writes five columns a week about all kinds of things, and once in a while he tackles a real manageable topic that fits well in a 650-word space, like, oh, work and illusion and our lizard-brain fears. Enjoy.
I have no strong opinions about the six imams ejected from the US Air flight in Minneapolis. People are jumpy; these things will happen. Considering the things that have gotten people ejected from flights in this country — everything from having a buzzing sex toy in your luggage to defecating on the beverage cart — my policy is this: Give the folks a seat on the next available and chalk it up to experience.
However. Reading Debra Burlingame’s revved-up account of what got them booted — chanting “allahu akbar” at the boarding gate, bitching loudly about the war in Iraq, asking for seat-belt extenders for no apparent reason, I have to wonder if anyone thinks these things through. Sure, they were acting suspicious, at least as we consider suspicious behavior in a post-9/11 world. But they were acting ridiculously suspicious, at which point it comes around the circle and becomes non-suspicious again. Because really, if you were going to hijack a plane, would you stand at the gate with five other traditionally clad Muslims, chanting “allahu akbar?” Hell, no. You’d shave your beard, wear Western clothes, carry a briefcase and adopt the bored/irritated expression of every other air traveler. That’s how I’d do it, anyway. Just a thought.