The Grosse Pointe News was sold last year, its longtime family ownership getting out while the lifeboats were still above the waterline. It wasn’t a very good paper when they owned it. It’s safe to say they set a pretty low bar. Our friend JohnC stopped subscribing when he couldn’t figure out what was happening at a big economic redevelopment project three blocks away from his house — they just couldn’t seem to explain it in a way he could understand. This was par for the course.
They also had lots of eccentric touches. There was a column on the editorial page, called Offering From the Loft. It was written in the first person. But there was no byline. Ever. It was the mystery column.
Needless to say, they honored the traditions of small-town journalism, the three Bs — boosterism, b.s. and bad writing. They sent one of their best guys to write about the Annie Leibovitz photography show at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This was his lead:
Sho’ as grits ain’t groceries theys doins t’night at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge.
Huh? Eight paragraphs of apostrophes later, here’s the nut:
Po’ Monkey’s place is among 70 of Leibovitz’s photographs gathered as “Annie Leibovitz: American Music” at the Detroit Institute of Arts through Jan. 7.
I’m being a little unfair. In the triple-A minors, they really don’t have the editors to rein in the writers who want to do stuff like this. But it isn’t too much to expect an editor who knows what the main issues are in a cluster of five municipalities encompassing 50,000 souls. I don’t expect a multi-part series on racism, but I do want them to stand up to the police departments once in a while. In return for their cooperation in sharing public documents, the police require that no names be attached to their reports. This isn’t entirely unjustified — there are many times when it would only cause more trouble for the involved parties, and there needs to be some sort of policy — but in the pages of this paper, it gets ridiculous. Last week’s police briefs contained a reference to police being called to “a high school on Vernier Road.” There is only one high school on Vernier Road. Like that.
After the paper was sold to a local businessman, I hoped a little fresh blood might enliven it a bit. Not a chance. It’s even worse. The Offering From the Loft might have been a puzzle, but at least it was written by (I think) a soul residing somewhere in this zip code. Now the editorial pages are full of syndicated material and canned op-eds from the Mackinac Institute for Public Policy, a conservative propaganda outfit. Local news coverage is weaker than ever; the police briefs are frequently the only real “news” in the paper, and yes, they’re still not identifying public buildings.
This was the lead on yesterday’s guest editorial, headlined “Broadcasting Rights Applied.” It’s by James H. Quello, a former FCC commissioner:
The recent Federal Communications Commission Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on localism released with the report and order regarding revised Form 355 — mandating more detailed programming and ascertainment than ever required before — represents a grossly untimely and blatant government mandated violations of the First Amendment.
Huh. It goes on:
The excessive burdensome additional governmental FCC requirements are counter to the urgent need to update regulatory and ownership rules of the past.
I read the whole thing twice. I have no idea what he’s talking about, or why I should care.
But there was still room for more suckitude, and it came in a King Features syndicated column from National Review editor Rich Lowry, who in 500 words or so tells us what Detroit’s problems are. In the interest of brevity, I’ll boil it down to one. Ready? “Liberalism.”
OK. The decline and fall of Detroit is a big, big story, an epic, encompassing so many titanic themes Cecil B. DeMille couldn’t get his arms around them. Economics, race, class, hubris, fear, greed — I could go on. It has defeated greater storytellers than Rich Lowry, but few have dismissed it with such a casual wave of the hand. I’m all for vigorous commentary on Detroit’s problems, especially by one of its closest neighbors. But is it too much to ask that it not be by a syndicated scold who, I’d be willing to bet, has never even set foot here? (It wouldn’t be a big bet; Detroit does a fair amount of convention business, and there’s a good chance Lowry overnighted at the RenCen at some point in the past. But the guy grew up in D.C., went to college in Virginia and lives in New York. So much for boots on the ground.)
But wait! Here’s a local column about Detroit’s problems. The writer objects to the mayor’s friends collecting money for his legal defense. She tries that “humor” thing all the blogs are about:
People who know me well, know I am a good cook and I enjoy it, so I deserve that $150,000 kitchen. I’m creating a “Karen’s Kitchen Kache Fund.” Anyone who wants to donate can.
It goes on from there. It doesn’t get better.
It’s unfortunate that this week’s issue arrived with the annual subscription-renewal mailing. It’s not expensive. I hate to cancel any newspaper subscription; they’re all struggling. But at some point, you have to make a statement about what you’re willing to pay for, and I’m drawing the line. I might reconsider if an editor can explain to me, in two concise sentences, what that FCC editorial was about and why they ran it. Otherwise, we’re letting it lapse here.
ADDED: No writer tackling Detroit should have to make weak jokes when reality is so much funnier. Note the photo. Note the caption. Note the goddamn TIARA.
OK. While we’re on the subject, a little more media bloggage:
I didn’t flip Wednesday night’s debate on until more than halfway through, so I missed the fun part. Thank God for Jon Stewart, because if he hadn’t had video I never would have believed it:
I mean, not even. I am ashamed for Charles Gibson. George Stephanopoulos isn’t really a journalist, but Gibson has no excuse. (And he’s a Michigan fellow! Argh.)
OK, time’s a-wasting. It’s a gorgeous day, and I’d like to enjoy it, even though it’s now Leaf Blower Season. My neighbors two doors down employ a lawn service that does every task with extra-loud leaf blowers. Seriously. They’ve been down there for a solid hour, drowning out the birds. Think I’ll ride by and glare at them.
Have a great weekend, all.