The Columbus Dispatch was sold today. At times like this I am reminded of the words of the great Carl Hiaasen, in his novel “Basket Case.” Ahem:

When a newspaper is purchased by a chain such as Maggad-Feist, the first order of business is to assure worried employees that their jobs are safe, and that no drastic changes are planned. The second order of business is to attack the paper’s payroll with a rusty cleaver, and start shoving people out the door.

Maggad-Feist was plainly a fictionalized Knight Ridder, and “Basket Case” is old enough now that merely being shoved out the door has a certain chivalry to it, as it usually came with at least some form of severance. Our commenting friend Adrianne was a victim of the Dispatch’s new owner; here’s her experience:

These jokers bought my old newspaper, promptly laid off me and two other news editors, plus the entire photo staff. Six months later, they laid off the entire copy desk and moved all those jobs to Austin, Texas, where harried young graduates try to write headlines and design pages for the 60-plus newspapers in the empire. Reporters at their newspapers have not had raises in seven years, and do not get any overtime, no matter what the cause. They are owned by a hedge fund determined to wring every last drop of profit from their newspapers before selling out – I give them two years, tops. I didn’t think a newspaper chain could be worse than Gannett. I was wrong.

I left the Dispatch long, long ago. I don’t regret it. I had to leave to find my voice, which was waiting for me somewhere in Indiana, along with my husband and a lot of good people. The Maggad-Feist chain paid me adequately but never well, and when it all came to an end I could at least say the place had given me a lot to write about. But I was too young and ignorant to appreciate the good things about the Dispatch, mainly how goddamn flush they were, with cash — the sports team traveled to Ohio State away games on a company plane, and we’re talking reporters, editors, columnists, photographers and probably more — but mostly people.

The people! Oh my god, in these days of outsourced copy editing, it’s almost hard to imagine. There were so many people on staff. There were six writers just in the women’s department, where I started. Four of us were general assignment and two were specialists (brides, fashion), and we filled maybe a page, page-and-a-half a day, plus a Sunday section. There was a full-time editor for this department, and we were back there with sports and, oh, let’s just take a walk through that fifth-floor newsroom, shall we? There were four or five on the Sunday magazine, which used a lot of freelancers, too. A couple-three who only had to put out one Sunday page or fill a section with wire copy. Sports was packed with bodies, beat writers for all the big OSU sports and for Cincinnati baseball. (Kirk, help me out here: Did we have FTEs for Cleveland teams?) Let’s walk through photo (at least six or eight full-time shooters, plus a couple guys coasting toward retirement who handled scheduling and record-keeping and some studio work, and a secretary) and out into the main newsroom. There was the public-affairs editor, who filled a hubcap-size ashtray every single day. He was flanked by another chain smoker who edited the Accent front page — the features front, and only the features front — five days a week, and filled her own gigantic ashtray.

City desk? At least two editors on it at all times, frequently three. Reporters out the wazoo. Cops were covered 24 hours a day, lest mayhem break out overnight. There was a state desk, with just an editor in the newsroom, but plenty of writers who lived out in the circulation area and worked from home. And there was an art department, featuring actual artists. (One illustrated a lighthearted story about culture shock among the Japanese managers of the newly opened Honda plant. All the Japanese people in his drawings had buck teeth and thick glasses. Everything he knew about Asians he’d learned from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” apparently.)

And this is only the day crew. There was a slimmer but still robust night staff, including an overnight copy editor. He came in about the time I was leaving at 10 p.m., his skin the color of a fish that lives in the Marianas Trench. The guy sitting next to me watched him walk in, turned to me and said, “Creeeeeeak, and the coffin swings open for another night.” Plus there were people who had jobs I can’t fathom existing today. We had a copy boy, long after computers had replaced glue pots. He delivered papers to each desk as they came off the press and did miscellaneous other duties; maybe he washed the publisher’s car. There was a woman who kept the coffee urn filled and helped out in the basement test kitchen; yes, there was a test kitchen, a full-time food editor and full-time food writer. (Sample lead: “When I find myself out of ideas in the kitchen, I make muffins.”)

You might be getting the impression the paper was crappy. At that time, it most assuredly was. It later got better, a lot better. More on that in a bit, but a lot of this I now see was the result of a management that simply wouldn’t be brutal with people. They couldn’t be proactive about helping them improve, either, but I prefer it to cruelty. Alcoholics were tolerated, or helped through a full 28-day rehab, if they wanted it. For a time there was a copy editor who was blind. Seriously. A blind copy editor was a joke on some Mary Tyler Moore TV show, but we actually had one, a guy who leaned his white cane up against his desk. They could have booted him onto disability, but they didn’t. He edited the weather page, his nose pressed close to his monitor.

Half a dozen old men crafted editorials about Arbor Day and The Coming of Football Season and whatever conservative cause the publisher was on about. There were two — TWO — editorial cartoonists. I think that job has dwindled to about a dozen or so in the whole goddamn country.

I can see now this was a staff ripe for a management consultant to come in with a rusty cleaver, that we operated at near-Soviet levels of overstaffing, but honestly? Who cares. All those people collected their paychecks, cashed them and used the money to pay taxes, buy cars, raise families and otherwise keep the economy chugging along. If you think a belching factory smokestack is ugly, try one with nothing coming out at all.

The paper did get better, after I left. The deadwood aged out. A couple were broomed by the first halfway-decent, non-company man editor-in-chief the publisher hired; he’d already fired one in his previous job in Cincinnati. (A tart-tongued assistant city editor — we had a lot of those — said the victim needed to find his true employment destiny in a toll booth somewhere.) More smart editors did strategic hiring of good people, and little by little it was no longer the embarrassing paper in the state, but a pretty damn good one. Then the whole industry fell to pieces, and the last time I was there, they’d downsized the print paper to something about the size of a pamphlet. So sad.

Now it’s even worse, if you can imagine that. (I can. The one lesson the newspaper business pounded into my skull was to never say, “It can’t get any worse,” because it always, always can. And does.) I just heard a story today about a fine piece of newspaper watchdog journalism, and an editor’s dismissal of it, the next day: “No one read that thing on the web.” By this measure, Buzz Bissinger should get the Pulitzer for writing the Caitlyn Jenner story. I’m sure the newsroom was still a fun place to work during this renaissance, but it was also fun when I was sitting there on Saturday night, watching the clock and hoping I’d get out in time to enjoy a little bit of it, hoping the impossible drunk in charge wouldn’t get a wild hair up his butt and make me cold-call an address he’d just heard on the police scanner and ask why they were fighting so loudly that the police had been called.

I’ve worked at one other place with weirdos and characters like that: WGL, the AM station where Mark the Shark and I had our little radio show. I wrote about that place once already, but there are still more stories to tell. One of these days.

(A final note about typos here: A few of you have been correcting me, and I thank you. Autocorrect, in all my apps, is getting out of hand. I do this writing at night, mostly, and I’m tired and my eyes are tired and all the rest of it, but there’s a great deal of fucking autocorrect going on, too. Working on it.)

Finally, here’s one relic of the Dispatch I still have, and use often. Hashtags: #armwattle, #chinfat, #unflatteringphoto. This was something the photographers wore in the chemical-bath, pre-digital days, and I wear when I’m cooking anything splattery:


Happy Thursday, all.

Posted at 12:35 am in Media | 42 Comments

Abandon all effort.

The school year is waning here. As I’ve mentioned here before, the sole political achievement of one of my former legislators (term limits!) was to ram through a bill forbidding Michigan school districts from starting until after Labor Day. The idea was to give the tourism industry one last chance to squeeze a few dimes out of the summer, and in theory I don’t really think school should start in August, but it’s still a stupid law. (Although it always makes for a pleasant interlude to visit Cedar Point, the amusement park. It’s only about a quarter full, and everyone is wearing Michigan T-shirts.)

What it means for kids like Kate, who take advanced-placement classes, is that the tests are held in mid-May to accommodate the southern U.S. districts that will dismiss for the year in a few days. So what do kids up here do for the last three weeks of the year?

Not much. In one of her AP classes, they watched “Wall-E” last week.

Of course, this is just fine with the kids, although Kate would just as soon be shut of the whole damn place. She hasn’t liked high school pretty much from the beginning. I hope she likes college better.

So today we were promised overcast skies and rain, but it didn’t arrive until I was getting off the bus. I crossed the street in the downpour and, with two blocks to go, knew I’d be soaked by the time I got there. I ducked under the first street awning, a title company, thinking, “Right now I need just one person in the world to cut me a break.” And guess what happened? A Realtor and a client were saying their goodbyes under the awning, and the space was tight enough that I felt the need to announce I wasn’t going in, just waiting out the shower. The Realtor said, “I’ll take you home,” and she did, in a nice Cadillac. Then she announced my house was going to be worth its weight in gold, yes gold I say, in another three years.

You have to be an optimist to be a Realtor, but that was something I needed to hear.

The day also included a lunch. A lunch with a long wait for all to arrive, and then another long wait for the food, and I was ravenous enough to be borderline hangry, and my eyeline was on a TV turned to HLN, CNN’s dumber sibling. The show was something called “The Daily Share,” and even with the sound off I could see exactly what it was: A TV version of your Facebook feed, assuming that like everyone else, you have a few idiots in your network. So: Stupid viral video, a kid someone tried to smuggle onto a plane in a suitcase, another viral video, a nod to Serious News with the Sy Hersh/OBL thing, some Kardashian crap, and so on. The world’s dumbest newspaper, on TV, with anchors who bring to the table all the intelligence and insight of morning radio hosts, and I’m not talking NPR. Field reports were with aggregators — yes, the Daily Mail — via Skype, so the picture was pixelated and crappy and no one cared.

In other words, the future of news in Idiot Nation. I sat there with my smart, experienced colleagues thinking I’d better keep this job, because this is the alternative.

So yeah, it was sort of a Monday.

Bloggage? I want to catch up with “Veep.”

I used to be more of a pedant about the language, but I’m trying to become more flexible in my dotage. Gene Weingarten offers some cautionary tales of those who cannot let go, i.e., grammar and language rules of yesteryear:

“ ‘She married a man named Brown,’ is incorrect. … A woman, when she weds, is married to a man, but the clergyman or magistrate marries her.” — Josephine Turck Baker, 1899

“Moon here means month, so it is incorrect to say, ‘a week’s honeymoon.’ ” — Ambrose Bierce, 1909

“There is no such word as ‘balding.’ Why not ‘baldish’?” — Theodore Bernstein, 1958

I read Ruben Navarette’s column about Mark Halperin’s interview with Ted Cruz and could scarcely believe it happened. Evidently it did:

He told Cruz that people are curious about his “identity.” Then, the host asked a series of questions intended to establish his guest’s Hispanic bona fides. What kind of Cuban food did Cruz like to eat growing up? And what sort of Cuban music does Cruz listen to even now?

I’ve known Ted for more than a decade and I could tell he was uncomfortable. But he played along, listing various kinds of Cuban food and saying that his musical taste veers more toward country.

I kept waiting for Halperin to ask Cruz to play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz while dancing salsa and sipping cafe con leche — all to prove the Republican is really Cuban.

It gets worse, too.

Finally, an OID story with the sort of headline you can’t help but love: Police report: Naked Sen. Smith confronted ex before shooting. Her car, that is. He shot her car, 10 times, with a shotgun Rifle. BECAUSE, THAT’S WHY.

I know just how he felt. Some cars just won’t die.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 12:18 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments

Where I am today.

So here we are, in beautiful, warm, sunny Atlanta. For a wedding, but of course we’re staying with J.C. and Sammy. Who have some spectacular neon in their neighborhood.




We drove, and broke it into two days, leaving after work Thursday and spending the first night in Cincinnati. A question for the room: Whatever happened to Red Roof Inn? I recall it as the cleanest and safest of the budget-hotel segment, and given that we were staying for less than 10 hours, it seemed silly to pay for anything more. Alas, it was seedy and smelly and creepy. There were bloodstains — yes, bloodstains, falling well short of shotgun-massacre but definitely WTF-happened-here — on the wall of the bathroom, and the door of the room next door had dents in it, at precisely boot-kicking height: CHRISTINE! YOU BITCH! YOU AIN’T KEEPIN MY KIDS FROM ME! OPEN THIS DOOR OR I’MA KICK IT DOWN!

Well, we got shut of that p.d.q. Friday morning and had breakfast at Bob Evans. Another bad idea, alas.

But now we’re here and dinner last night was far from a bad idea. And it’s not cold, and the sun is out, and everything is groovy. Open thread, and enjoy the pictures. Because I’m a journalist, one more — Manuel’s, the media-hangout bar, doomed-but-not.


Happy weekending, all.

Posted at 9:40 am in Friends and family, Housekeeping, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 73 Comments


And so we lurch to the end of the week. I’m mailing out a few copies of a Deadly Vipers press release. It only took Alan and I, two professionals who have read thousands of press releases between us over the course of decades, about three days to bang it out. It was ridiculous, batting drafts back and forth like a couple of toddlers. I thought I had it nailed, but then realized I’d forgotten the social media and a goddamn phone number.

It’s early dementia, I’m sure.

Oh, well. Speaking of journalism, this was Thursday’s chuckle, Hank’s review of a vile new show called “Sex Box,” in which a couple sits on stage for therapy, and is then ushered into a bed-sized box onstage for, presumably, y’know:

While they’re in there supposedly having sex (in the two episodes shared with critics, duration in the Sex Box lasts anywhere from 11 to 31 minutes), the therapists continue to discuss the couple’s problems. The audience fidgets. The Parents Television Council issues another useless press release. We wait.

The musical cues in “Sex Box” are more suited to a reality show about sharks or avalanches. I mean, is the saxophone solo so out of fashion that it can’t even be put to use here, where we need it most? The tone and presentation make it seem as if something really awful is happening in there, in addition to the making of truly awful television out here.

More tragically, the Sex Box doesn’t move, shake, thrum, glow or give any indication of what’s occurring within. It would be such a better show if the Sex Box, once occupied, could then be lowered onto a shipping vessel bound for the Asian continent, or shot into orbit by Richard Branson, or driven to a storage unit in West Covina and stashed away. Something, anything to make up for the time wasted watching “Sex Box.”

People wonder why critics take so much apparent glee in writing pans. Because there’s so much more fun, that’s why. (I love the idea of lowering the box onto a freighter. I’d watch that show.)

Sigh. When I get up to hit the gym tomorrow, it is predicted to be 0 degrees, maybe lower. Should I skip? Perish the thought!

Have a great weekend.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media | 86 Comments

It was her party.

A shame about Lesley Gore — how the hell did this woman, whom I associate with the early ’60s girl-singer moment of sheath dresses and sprayed bouffants — come to be only 11 years old than me? Either I’m aging faster or she was the Lorde of her day.

I guess she was the Lorde of her day.

Something I did not know: She was a lesbian. No wonder she sounded so confident when it was Judy’s turn to cry. (Check out those Mondrian shifts on her background singers! I wonder if those were original YSL, or knockoffs. Either way: Specto-freakin’-tacular.)

You know who else was a lesbian ’60s girl singer? Dusty Springfield, although that link will take you to a piece about her life with this obnoxious lead:

Call me a crazy old physiognomist, but my theory is that you can always spot a lesbian by her big thrusting chin. Celebrity Eskimo Sandi Toksvig, Ellen DeGeneres, Jodie Foster, Clare Balding, Vita Sackville-West, God love them: there’s a touch of Desperate Dan in the jaw-bone area, no doubt the better to go bobbing for apples.

It is thus a tragedy that Dusty Springfield’s whole existence was blighted by her orientation, which explains ‘the silence and secrecy she extended over much of her life, and her self-loathing’. One glance at her chin should have revealed all — but the Sixties was not a fraction as liberated and swinging as people now assume.

Oh, blow me. Although the story isn’t terrible. I’ve been thinking of Dusty lately, ever since one of Kate’s homemade CD mixes revealed “Son of a Preacher Man.” I thought mainly she’d picked it up from “Pulp Fiction,” but she said it was for a friend who had decided this was the Best Song Ever, and made the entire car fall silent whenever it came on.

Well, it is a great song.

Some bloggage: My stories (and my partner Ted Roelofs’ stories) on what we’re calling “poverty in paradise,” i.e. the widening gap between the well-to-do and the left-behind, start running today in Bridge. Part one goes live around 6 a.m. EST, so if you’re reading this afterward, feel free to click on part one. Gracias.

I know I’m late to this, but I thought this piece on the online shaming that followed a single ill-advised tweet was very, very good.

Today I discovered it is, indeed, possible to get to an ISIS beheading video in three clicks. I don’t recommend it.

Have a great Tuesday, all y’all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media, Popculch | 81 Comments

Pants afire.

I don’t know what to think about Brian Williams. On the one hand? Almost certainly a chronic exaggerator, maybe an utter fabulist. Depressingly, none of this really matters in the performance of his job. The olden days when an anchor was a real journalist are pretty much over; while they might be trotted out to do standups here and there, the producers do the heavy lifting.

When Don Lemon, CNN’s barking idiot, tweeted a photo of his smallpox scar a few days ago and called it a measles scar, and this after speculating on the air that a Malaysian jetliner might have been swallowed by a black hole, I expressed frustration to a member of the NN.c commentariat. He replied:

I think Don Lemon is just fine when you put news stories on a teleprompter and ask him to read them in sequence.

I think William Hurt’s character in Broadcast News was just fine when you put news stories on a teleprompter and ask him to read them in sequence.

That, however, has long ceased to be the CNN “anchor” job description.

I think that’s true everywhere, with maybe a few exceptions. If you have the right look, a modicum of charisma, can read a prompter and are relatively quick on your feet in a live-interview situation, and as long as you have that elusive something that makes you one in a few million — you too can be a network news anchor. It’s not an easy bunch of qualifications to wrangle under one handsome head.

Of course, once you’ve attained this level, you have to deal with this sort of thing, i.e., co-workers trashing you anonymously:

“Brian is deeply disliked inside NBC—extremely unpopular. The people at NBC are loving this,” says someone in the know. Why? “Because he enjoys being a celebrity too much.” He also doesn’t pull his weight. “He never comes in in the morning”—as a managing editor, you should. “He calls in from his apartment and shows up around lunch time, has a fancy lunch with some important person, and then at the 2:30 production meeting—close to air time—he tears everything up.”

They pay him an eight-figure salary. I expect this is part of the deal.

And now Williams has been suspended for six months, effectively ending his career. Seems a big waste of…something, but I’m not sure what.

So. What sort of bloggage am I in the mood for?

This arrived on the radar yesterday, and nobody knows how it happened. Good for the Vipers, though.

The slut shot, i.e., the HPV vaccine, does NOT turn girls into whore-monsters. Such a relief.

An oral history of Laurel Canyon in the ’60s and ’70s. Love that Joni Mitchell.

Now, I must go to bed before I collapse.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Media | 33 Comments

Troll II: The entrollening, plus more.

So, something of a hodgepodge ‘n’ mop-up post today, starting with a continuation of yesterday’s subject.

Inspired by Lindy West’s story, it seems Twitter has grown a conscience. Better late than never, I say, and I hope other platforms follow suit.

A chapter of the Troll story I didn’t go into yesterday: As the fax gave way to the web, Media Watch of course moved online, and as easy blogging platforms took over from hand-coded HTML, they went in that direction, too. But in a very strange way: Rich Reynolds and whatever company he had didn’t post on one blog, or two, or three or four or even five. Rather, they scooped up Blogspot URLs willy-nilly, and to this day there are many out there with one or two or zero items on them, ghost ships sailing the online seas. A fellow blogger tried to count them all 10 years ago, but I’m sure there are many more. Certainly, he missed two: Why We Hate Nancy Nall and That Stupid Bitch, Nancy Nall.

Go ahead, click. He’s not making any money off this shit.

The second one gives you a pretty fine example of what I put up with all those years, but it’s the first one that I want to talk about. It features a picture of me that he stole from here (which makes all that wankery in the other one about my abuse of Fair Use that much more, y’know, ironic). I recall I posted it next to a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio making the exact same scowly face, as something of a joke.

I had some time on my hands the day I discovered it, and I sent an email to Google, which owns Blogspot, and asked them to send a takedown notice for copyright infringement. I don’t remember what happened, but I think it went down for a while, then back up. I sent another email to Google, and received a robo-reply encouraging me to take up my case with the blog operator. Nothing doing. The whole experience was like standing on the sidewalk outside the Willis Tower, yelling at someone in the higher-level executive suites.

One of my many frustrations with online publishing is this sort of bullshit, in which Google sits around on its vast piles of money and anyone with a complaint is encouraged to fill out a form and then go pound sand. There was literally no way to contact anyone in whatever division controls Blogspot, at least not without a lawyer. And it simply wasn’t that important to me. (I did find a high-ranking Google executive on Facebook and messaged him my complaint, signing off with “Don’t be evil!”)

A guiding principle of newspaper publishing, when I came up through it, was responsibility for your product. It’s the reason we had so many high-flying ethical codes about conflicts of interest and fairness and the like, and it’s why you couldn’t drop f-bombs in stories. It’s why Ben Bradlee said, “We stand by our story” and it’s – you get the picture. But today, you can offer a product, free of charge, that allows crazy people to rant and rave, to copy and paste and steal others’ work, to post photos of naked 19-year-olds made up to look 13, etc. And if anyone objects? Hey, we’re just the messenger!

I know there is a legal philosophy behind this, but it still chaps my ass.

And with that, let’s close this chapter and move on to cheerier matters, shall we?

This is delightful: Since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an old wingnut rumor has been dusted off, that Dearborn, Detroit’s heavily Muslim-populated suburb, is actually under Sharia law. A local wag — one of those terms I learned in the newspaper business — who happens to be a gay Buddhist, went around with a friend taking photos of Dearborn Sharia in action and they were published on the Huffington Post. (My favorite is the Honeybaked Ham store.)

One of these lunatics claimed Detroit police never go into Dearborn, because Sharia. My old colleague Jack Lessenberry has another idea:

It’s true that Detroit police never go to Dearborn. However, that might be because Dearborn is a separate city and has its own police force.

On a darker note, you might have to do some googling to understand the Wisconsin Idea — basically, it’s the crazy notion that Wisconsin institutions of higher learning should serve the people of the state that supports them — but Scott Walker is no fan of it. And how did the governor’s administration want the Wisconsin Idea rewritten? Do you even need to ask?

…(In) the proposed budget he released Tuesday, the governor made the UW System’s mission to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” He also proposed striking language about public service and improving the human condition, and deleting the phrase: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

Hey, he never graduated. WHO NEEDS COLLEGE, ANYWAY? It’s times like this I’m glad Charles Pierce is blogging.

OK, that’s enough for this week. Enjoy the weekend, all. I’ll be working for at least part of it, but it’ll keep me out of trouble, I hope.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media | 63 Comments


I don’t know how many of you caught Lindy West’s segment on “This American Life” recently, but she reprised and expanded on it a bit in this piece for the Guardian. It’s about her experience with her worst internet troll, a man who created a Twitter and Gmail account in the name of her recently deceased father, and used it to harass her. The story has an unusual ending, and it is most definitely worth your time. I thought I knew from hate mail; reader, I didn’t.

But I, too, once had a troll, a certain troll, a particular troll. For all I know, I still do. (I’ve long since stopped allowing him to stay rent-free in my head.) I’ve mentioned him in passing here a time or two. His name is Rich Reynolds, he lived in Fort Wayne when I did and for years, he insulted me without mercy in the guise of being a self-appointed media critic.

Here’s how it went: Starting in the early 90s, once or twice a week, sometimes more, he would send out a fax called Media Watch. It went to all the newsrooms in town. The librarian would take it off the machine and post it on the bulletin board. Everybody read it.

From the beginning it was pretty lame, and years of practice did not improve it. He seemed to base his authority on a claim to have once worked for my very own newspaper, phrasing it something like this: “When we” — he always referred to himself as we — “worked for Stewart Spencer at the News-Sentinel…” He was never on staff, although as I recall he had once been a stringer in “the region,” as the outer counties were called. You newspaper people know that stringers =/= staff, but whatever. I know Stewart Spencer probably couldn’t have picked him out of a police lineup, anyway.

As I said, he was no David Carr, or even Howard Kurtz. His criticisms were things like lists of who was cool and who wasn’t, who was pretty and who wasn’t, etc. Physical attractiveness was something of an obsession with him, and it was there that he always started in on me: “Why is the News-Sentinel publishing Nancy Nall, when she’s so ugly?” Yes, really. “She offends our aesthetic sensibilities,” etc. It’s standard practice for newspaper columnists to have their work run under a mugshot, and mine offended him. I was also regularly called fat and a terrible, terrible writer.

(When he devoted an entire issue to my awfulness, he was fond of illustrating it with one of Lucien Freud’s obese nudes. Like this one.)

I could go on, but the details are boring and rapidly fading from memory. I’ve always understood that writing a column is a special sort of job, and a certain amount of abuse and hate mail is part of the deal. Hey, I had a column! Some people would simply be predisposed to dislike me because they didn’t have a column. And I’ve always made a policy of not talking (much) about him, but for casual mentions here and there. But this passage from West’s essay stuck with me:

Over and over, those of us who work on the internet are told, “Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t talk back. It’s what they want.” But is that true? Does ignoring trolls actually stop trolling? Can somebody show me concrete numbers on that? Anecdotally, I’ve ignored far more trolls than I’ve “fed”, and my inbox hasn’t become any quieter. When I speak my mind and receive a howling hurricane of abuse in return, it doesn’t feel like a plea for my attention – it feels like a demand for my silence.

And some trolls are explicit about it. “If you can’t handle it, get off the internet.” That’s a persistent refrain my colleagues and I hear when we confront our harassers. But why? Why don’t YOU get off the internet? Why should I have to rearrange my life – and change careers, essentially – because you wet your pants every time a woman talks?

My friends say, “Just don’t read the comments.” But just the other day, for instance, I got a tweet that said, “May your bloodied head rest on the edge of an Isis blade.” Colleagues and friends of mine have had their phone numbers and addresses published online (a harassment tactic known as “doxing”) and had trolls show up at their public events or threaten mass shootings. So if we don’t keep an eye on what people are saying, how do we know when a line has been crossed and law enforcement should be involved?

To be sure, Rich Reynolds never threatened me (although he’s a person of interest in another matter I’ll get to in a moment) and confined his attacks to repetitive remarks about my looks, weight, arrogance, how much all my co-workers hated my guts and so forth, interspersed with demands that I be fired. In this matter, he was like a mental patient painting my picture with his own feces on the walls of his cell (an image my friend and fellow blogger Lance Mannion came up with). Never have I felt so deliberately misunderstood. I’ll cite one example, because I happen to have the column in these very archives. It’s the one I wrote about my retiring boss, Joe, and part of it went like this:

At work, unlike any other area in our lives, we can be almost entirely self-invented. We write the script of an endless movie starring ourselves: “The Receptionist No One Appreciated,” “The Secret Life of Tech Services,” and that famous documentary, “Payroll: What They Know About You, You Can’t Even Imagine.”

Everyone else in the office is watching our movie, perhaps coming away with a message different from the one the director intended. And we’re all one another’s supporting players; in one, we’re the sympathetic friend, in another, the villain. Sometimes both.

This, he said, was preposterous; now this woman considers herself a movie star? How big is her ego, anyway?

I know what you’re thinking: He’s crazy. I’m in full agreement! But at some point, it didn’t matter. Because as time went on, his targets dwindled until there were only a few – me, a couple people at the other paper, some others. More were singled out for lavish, generic praise, along the lines of “we’ve never read anything as smart as X, by Y. He’s as good as anyone working in Chicago or New York,” etc. And that is a very powerful thing, especially when you’re 23 or so.

See, Fort Wayne is an entry-level media market, and lots of people who work for the TV stations and newspapers are either fresh out of college or close to it. What do they know from a real media critic? Not bloody much. No one likes to be called awful names, even by a fool. And soon, it became obvious who came in for abuse and who for praise in Media Watch: If you talked to him and made him feel important, you were golden. If you wouldn’t return his calls or hung up on him (as I did, twice in one day; he never called again), he’d start with the needles.

I’ll never forget walking past the desk of a colleague whom I liked, a fellow sassy malcontent. As I came up behind her, I could see she was working on an email. Addressed to Reynolds. The opening line, “Dear Rich, Thank you so much for including me on your list of…” I was stunned. And there was one editor for whom I never had much respect, but the day I heard her tell a reporter on the phone, “The Media Watch guys think you’re doing a great job,” what shreds there were blew away like cobwebs in a hurricane. Conversely, there was a TV weather lady who was, y’know, a TV weather lady, and not someone I’d be naturally inclined toward. But she never would truck with him, and bore his insults with grace and humor. I had to like her after that.

I knew a TV producer who would chitchat with him as a form of insurance against abuse. He was tight with the wife of an editorial writer for a time. And I can only assume that one local TV anchor must have taken him out for lunch or something, because the encomiums he heaped on her blonde head would have embarrassed a Kardashian.

I really, really tried not to feed this troll. But on the day the column I linked above appeared, besides the by now familiar comments on my looks, he gave the shank a twist: I made a reference in the lead to the last years of my mother’s life, when she was in a nursing home. He thought a person who would put their mother in a nursing home deserved some abuse, and delivered. It wasn’t exactly setting up a fake Twitter account in her name, but it was close, in terms of the effect it had. I wrote a letter to my own colleagues, which I posted on the bulletin board. I said that I knew some people talked to him and fed him information, but that I wanted them to be very clear who they were dealing with. If you’re envious of my job or salary, that’s one thing, I said, but if you funnel it through this guy, please be aware of what you’re aiding and abetting: This is your friend. This is the shit he does.

It was a shaming letter, and I don’t know if it was effective. But damn, it sure felt good to write.

Back to Lindy West: I’m spoiling her essay slightly by telling you her troll eventually revealed himself to her, apologized, shut down the fake accounts and explained himself: He was abusive because he was in a miserable place in his life, and he came clean and apologized when he found his way to a better one. From the known facts about Reynolds – that he had some measure of family wealth, mainly – I can only assume something similar, that he found himself living in this D-list media market and couldn’t break in higher than regional-stringer level. Sometimes money provides a cushion so soft that you can find yourself spending the days watching local TV, reading the papers, and wanting to be part of the action. Even in Fort Wayne goddamn Indiana.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. But that thing I mentioned above, about never threatening me? A while back, years after I left Fort Wayne, a member of this blog’s commenting community was called into the boss’ office and shown a letter, purportedly from an “internet monitoring service,” calling the company’s attention to their employee’s commenting activity on this very blog, during business hours.

“And he copied and pasted, without any context, every comment I’d ever made at your site. Years’ and years’ worth,” the subject of the attack wrote me this week. (If he wants to reveal himself, he can.) We later heard from the proprietor of another popular Fort Wayne blog that the same thing was done to at least one of his commenters, too.

I’m not making any accusations, y’understand, even though right around the time this happened, Media Watch published a blog item complaining about internet goofing off on company time. I’m sure it was just a coincidence. And no, no action was taken against our commenter, nor the others.

Reynolds always styled himself a great scholar of the classics; I recall him mentioning a reporter covering some story “needs to read Aquinas” or some such. So I’ll sign off with a line from Miranda in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” but in the great tradition of Reynoldsian point-missing, I’ll twist its intent from the original:

O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

And aren’t we all the poorer for it?

Posted at 8:11 am in Media | 34 Comments

Cozy evenings.

You know a) you’ve been married a long time, and b) it’s January when, coming home on a frigid Monday when your spouse took a sick day, the thing you think when you pull into the driveway is, “We can watch ‘Jeopardy!’ together, and won’t that be nice.”

And that’s what we did. I don’t feel old, though; that will come when I think the same thing about “Wheel of Fortune.”

Man, it’s cold, though, and will be for the rest of the week. Plus, snow. Oh, well. This is the latitude we have chosen.

The week started with a radio appearance, one of those get-journalists-around-the-table-and-discuss-the-news deals. One panelist said, “Barack Obama has dragged the Democratic party far to the left.” Always good to start Monday on a high note, eh?

I have little bloggage, I fear. I imagine the big troll bait of the day will be the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-whine Harvard faculty story:

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

Raise your hand if your insurance plan is worse than this:

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

That’s what I thought.

We lost our local gourmet cupcake shop a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Maybe that a franchise based on a baked-goods trend is a bad bet. How’s your cupcake shop doing?

When one crazy man in New York City shot two cops in cold blood, the police threw a fit, and their union leader said the mayor had blood on his hands. When this man shot two Pennsylvania state troopers in cold blood to “wake people up” and “get us back to the liberties we once had” — crickets.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:46 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments

One-word resolution.

Today in yoga class, my first of the year, we were invited to set an intention for the hour. I normally ignore the woo-woo aspects of yoga, but I’d walked to the studio, and the mild exercise had already gotten me in a more yoga-ish head. All at once it came to me, not just the intention for the class but the one-word New Year’s resolution I’d been looking for: Balance. Verb, not noun. I think that’s going to be the goal.

(Credit where it is due: Laura Lippman came up with the idea of one-word resolutions, and usually announces hers to her social-media networks. I think hers, this year, is Model.)

And with that, the year is off and running. We did a balance exercise in that very same class — tree pose. As usual, I sucked at it. So, I have my work cut out for me.

Not much to report over the last couple of days, but I did find some good stuff to direct you toward, so let’s get to it.

I know we’re well past the death of Mario Cuomo — and on to that of Little Jimmy Dickens — but when Roy recommends something, I pay attention, and when he said Wayne Barrett’s Cuomo obit was the best of the bunch, I read it. And I agree, especially after this lead:

Predictably, Ed Koch beat Mario Cuomo in the New York Times obit contest. Until the Times changed it a day later, the front-page introduction to the Cuomo obit described him as a “prickly personality.” Koch’s 2013 obit branded him “brash, shrewd and colorful” in its headline. Ask anyone who knew both which one was more “prickly.”

And passages like these come only from deep knowledge of your subject:

He became the prison builder to compensate for his staunch opposition to the death penalty, which became the hammer Koch used to beat him in a primary, runoff and general election in 1977, when the Son of Sam, a serial killer who captivated the city with mad murders, was arrested in August. Remarkably, at a time when death was a bipartisan bromide, Mario stood against the wind for 12 years, until the governor who beat him, George Pataki, could gleefully welcome its return. If we are looking for a list of Mario’s accomplishments, start with an end to official revenge killings, a veto of the soul.

Continue on to his Notre Dame speech, when every word was a prayer for tolerance, a careful reconciliation of a church he loved with a constitution he loved at its point of collision, the abortion issue. “We know,” he said to Catholics, “that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might try someday to force theirs’ on us.” The convention speech he gave in San Francisco in 1984 was not so much “the tale of two cities” as it was the tale of two Cuomos—the one his soul yearned for, which he could express on a national stage, and the one who governed New York, where every dollar was a decision.

Woo, it’s been a fortnight for death, hasn’t it? And now Stuart Scott, whom I know mainly from watching his silent lips moving on the gym TV, but I’ll take others’ word for it.

I think I’m going to want to read this book:

The book is ambitious — verging on frenetic at times as it hops through the flotsam of our exploded economy and culture — but its central thesis is that the plutocrats of the Internet (the Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages of the world) have availed themselves of an astonishing spectrum of rights while wholly disregarding their responsibilities.


Amazon — which customers rightly love for its efficiency and ease — does not, in fact, want to make the world a better place. Neoliberals would argue that the company enriches our culture by upping access to content and products. But Keen argues that “the reverse is actually true. Amazon, in spite of its undoubted convenience, reliability, and great value, is actually having a disturbingly negative impact on the broader economy.” He points to what he describes as Amazon’s brutally efficient business methodology, which has squeezed jobs out of every sector of retail, according to a 2013 Institute for Local Self-Reliance report that Keen cites. The report says brick-and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for every $10 million in sales, while Amazon employs only 14. Perhaps the question Keen is getting at is this: Are we consumers, or are we citizens? It’s a frustratingly complex inquiry.

Man, I’ll say.

Anyway, I guess it’s back to the grind for those of us lucky enough to have some time off, and back to the week for everyone else. Happy Monday to all.

Posted at 12:01 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments