I just looked at my calendar for this week and groaned, although not entirely with misery. Any week with a to-do list including “build props for zombie movie” and “escort French journalists through bad neighborhoods” can be many things, but not boring. One of the things I wanted when I left Indiana was a more interesting life, and it looks as though I got it, at least this week.
On the other hand, I’m glad I stocked up on coffee last week.
My perambulations this week took me far from my east-side nest, which is always interesting. In any city that sprawls the way this one does, people tend to get a little dug in. Yesterday I went to Warren. Among the bumper-sticker descriptions of Warren: Second-most corrupt city in Michigan and Hometown of Eminem. I found myself in a dollar store, when three or four Eminem clones walked in: Elaborately carved but badly maintained facial hair (those multi-prong goatees), tattoos that climb up the neck, cocked ball caps, baggy everything.
One had a girl with him, who was apparently leading the shopping expedition. She wasn’t in a good mood, and it was easy to see why: Her boyfriend, one of the Em-ulators, liked to swat her with random objects. Not like he was seriously trying to hurt her, but not friendly, either. He’d pick up, say, a roll of wrapping paper and slap at her legs with it. “Whaddaya think of this? (slap) Huh? (slap) Huh?” She’s ignoring this, but with the pressed lips employed by parents trying to remember the baby-book advice on how to deal with toddler temper tantrums. I’m watching this, thinking, I don’t care what kind of union job that guy has, I don’t care what he does in bed, I don’t care if he has a nice car. You can do better.
What happened to young men? It’s like women got a little autonomy and they fell to pieces. I’m reminded of George Clinton’s comments, which I quoted here before but bear repeating:
Though he’s popular with rappers, Clinton says he doesn’t completely understand the hip-hop culture. “I can’t get used to [rappers] saying the things they say to girls and then expecting them to make love to that,” he laughs. “One guy was cursing this one girl out and I said, ‘Man, don’t talk like that to that girl,’ and she said, ‘Oh, here comes Captain Save-a-Ho.’”
Anyway, that was Warren. Dollar-store Warren, granted, but still.
Just got an e-mail from a reader:
Looks like the Chicago Tribune has redesigned its way into irrelevancy as unveiled today by Publisher Tony Hunter and Editor Gerould Kern. We’ve seen it all before: So many over-sized graphic elements that there is no room for the news, bullet points, “consumer” stories, Hollywood gossip, stories reduced to charts, graphs and other elements (except, of course, copy), etc. etc.
The “new” Trib’s take on one of the biggest stories of the decade, the bail-out plan hammered out by Congress? Well, you won’t find it on the front page (no space, what with the top half of Page 1 taken up by the two-line name plate, reefers and giant photo). No–this major story only merits Page 4. And after discounting the big photo, breakout box of bullet points, head and tagline (“News Focus”) you get — not much information, that’s for sure. The story is paired with a piece by the paper’s “On Money” columnist opining on how the Wall Street debacle will impact the nest eggs of soon-to-be-retirees. So much for actually informing the public.
It’s the second paragraph I want to discuss. I’ve had it up to here with redesigns, and did long before this. Every top management change I’ve witnessed seems to be accompanied by a sweeping redesign of the paper, and it took me years to figure out why: Because it’s easy. It’s easy for the people who order them, anyway. (It’s hell on the people who actually have to do the work and live with the result.) For the first year of the new team’s tenure, they get to spend large chunks of time doing what they like best: Going to meetings and marking up page proofs. It’s not that expensive, and then they get to write a big Page One column talking about how wonderful and reader-friendly the new design is, before collecting their MBO bonus.
I count graphic designers among my best friends, but many are not journalists, and someone needs to ride them with a curb bit, lest they claim one-third of the front page with a great sprawling promo for “Spider-Man 3,” and yes I’ve seen it.
Anyway, it’s the part about the bailout package being buried inside that interests me. It seems newspapers are truly in a no-win situation with some of this stuff. At my old paper, we used to make fun of our competition, which was edited as though every reader had one source for news — the competition. When the first space shuttle exploded, it happened at 11:30 a.m. Our little afternoon daily was able to get something in the home edition, but it was badly outdated by 5 p.m., when not only did everyone know, but had been watching saturation coverage of the tragedy on TV all afternoon. The coverage continued all night, too If ever a story called for a second-day headline on a morning daily, it was that one. And yet, their head was? Yes: Space shuttle explodes. Duh.
Today it’s a whole new ballgame, and not only are readers looking for immediacy, they’re looking for expertise. I haven’t even glanced at the bailout stories in today’s Detroit News, because I’m reading the NYT and WSJ for my primary source. If there’s a terrorist bombing in London, I’m not relying on the AP to keep me posted — I’m going to the London dailies. And so on.
Granted, I’m an early adopter, and probably one of the savvier readers in the circulation base for a local daily. I have fast web access, and time to spend reading it. Others don’t, and what they read in the Detroit News or Chicago Tribune will be the bulk of what they know about the situation. The challenge for editors planning a news budget for today is, how do you edit for both groups? This has always been the challenge, but it’s much more profound now.
There are also staff-development issues. Ambitious business reporters dream of landing at the Journal or at the business desk of a national daily, but those jobs are scarce. Some very good ones are at large metros or regional dailies, doing a very good job, and think this is a story they should be covering. For all this talk you hear at journalism conferences — we stopped covering earthquakes in Tokyo, and now print all soccer team pictures submitted by readers, and it’s a huge success! — you have to ask what sort of reporter wants to spend their career writing cutlines for soccer team pictures. Answer: Not bloody many.
So I’m not so bugged by the bailout being inside — as long as a movie promo isn’t outside — but I’d be interested in seeing how good the story is. And I want to know what others think.
Meanwhile, I have to get to work. Perhaps you’re asking yourself: But Nance! Did you make a pie this weekend? Why yes, yes I did:
That’s apple, with a crumb topping. Dee-lish.
Armchair media critics welcome. Get crackin’.