Friday, May 08, 2009

David Simon on the future of newspapers

It's bleak, unless someone comes up with an economic model breakthrough, and fast.

Simon, creator of "Homicide" and "The Wire" on HBO, was also once a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. In his testimony to a Senate hearing chaired by John Kerry last Wednesday, he skewered corporate newspaper executives for their greed and hubris as well as those of us in the so-called New Media for our cheekiness and scavenger-like use of the work done by the gumshoes. He also dismisses the idea of a non-profit status for newspapers, one I thought had some merit.

Read the entire thing, but here's a snip:

My name is David Simon, and I used to be a newspaperman in Baltimore. What I say will likely conflict with what representatives of the newspaper industry will claim, and I can imagine little agreement with those who speak for new media. From the captains of the newspaper industry, you may hear a certain "martyrology", a claim that they were heroically serving democracy, only to be undone by a cataclysmic shift in technology. From those speaking on behalf of new media, weblogs and that which goes “twitter,” you will be treated to assurances that American journalism has a perfectly fine future online and that a great democratization is taking place. Well, a plague on both their houses.

High-end journalism is dying in America. And unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the web or anywhere else. The internet is a marvelous tool, and clearly it is the information delivery system of our future. But thus far, it does not deliver much first-generation reporting. Instead, it leeches that reporting from mainstream news publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth. Meanwhile, readers acquire news from aggregators and abandon its point of origin, namely the newspapers themselves. In short, the parasite is slowly killing the host.

It’s nice to get stuff for free, of course, and it’s nice that more people can have their say in new media. And while some of our internet community is rampantly ideological, ridiculously inaccurate and occasionally juvenile, some of it’s also quite good, even original. Understand, I’m not making a Luddite argument against the internet and all that it offers. But you do not, in my city, run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars where police officers gather. You don’t see them consistently nurturing and then pressing others—pressing sources. You don’t see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.

Why? Because high-end journalism is a profession. It requires daily full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out. Reporting was the hardest and, in some ways, most gratifying job I ever had. I’m offended to think that anyone anywhere believes American monoliths, as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives, can be held to gathered facts by amateurs presenting the task—pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care who it is they’re lying to or who they’re withholding information from.

Indeed, the very phrase “citizen journalist” strikes my ear as Orwellian. A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor; he is not in any sense a citizen social worker, just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to trained social workers and firefighters.

Much more, all of it cogent, here.

Update: The Salon of Somervell County has a rejoinder to Simon in the comments. (I promise to work on commenting here much easier very soon.)

Jane Ely 1940 - 2009

Longtime newspaper reporter Jane Ely, a steely-eyed, salty-tongued political insider whose telephone calls could make elected office holders tremble, died Monday of lung-related illness. She was 69.

Ely, the younger daughter of Fort Worth banker and cattle broker William Ely, began her Houston journalism career in the mid-1960s as a police reporter for the Houston Post. She remained with that publication, working as a political writer and assistant city editor, until joining the Houston Chronicle in 1988.

At the Chronicle, Ely first covered national politics, then joined the editorial page staff as a columnist. She retired in August 2004.

"She was sharp as a tack, hard as nails and as subtle as a ball peen hammer," said former Chronicle editorial page editor Frank Michel. "She was just what you want in somebody like that."

I met Ms. Ely only briefly, and only recently -- on election night last November, at Beverly Kaufman's office to observe the election returns. She was quite gregarious although barely ambulatory. I would love to have heard some of her stories. Here's more from a few who did ...

Margaret Downing:

By the time I joined the Post in 1980, Ely was legendary not only for her political writing that brought her into regular contact with politicians and officials at all the levels of power, but for her ability to tell a story to a listening audience, either around a city desk, or at a bar after work. ...

(Harris County tax assessor/collector's office employee Fred) King remembers one of her best ones, from a few years spent sitting next to her at the Post.

"Jane, a candidate and a pilot were in a small plane hopping around the state to campaign stops. Always late, of course, the politician wanted to get to some spot despite the weather.

"The weather started tossing them around. The politician was either in the back seat or too sick to help or both. Jane got some clothing from a suitcase and kept the windshield clean enough for the pilot to see. The INSIDE of the windshield. The pilot was sick and hurling on the windshield."

As King puts it: "Then and always, Jane was fearless."

Democratic activist Carl Whitmarsh, as shared with his e-mail list:

I think one of my great memories of Jane was back during the general election of 1978 when John Hill and Bill Clements were running against each other for Governor. I was ED of the County Party and the Hill headquarters were next door to us at 2016 Main. That year was absolutely wild for any number of reasons, but this one morning I look up from my desk and here comes John Hill followed by the press contingent which included Jane. Clements had just thrown a rubber chicken down on a banquet table at Hill and everyone was aghast. She stopped by and grabbed a piece of candy -- just long enough for me to make some sort of wise crack about this sealing the election for Hill. Jane stood straight up and looked down on me thru her blackhorned rim glasses and said "Toots, I wouldn't count on that. I think the folk are buying what Clements is selling". I thought I would fall over since everybody and their dog still thought Hill was a cinch and we hadn't elected a Republican Governor since reconstruction. On election night, Jane proved to be one of the few who picked right as we all know the results. The morning after when you lose is not a pretty sight, but here the press and State Party Chair Billy Goldberg come thru the office on their way to a post election news conference in the Press Club and Jane just stood there and said ...You'll learn to listen to the old girl.

And GLBT activist Ray King (also from Whitmarsh's listserv):

...and do not forget that it was Jane Ely whose column (titled: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?") in The Houston Post gave us advanced warning that Anita Bryant was appearing at the Texas Bar Association Banquet. That gave us enough time to organize the event that changed our lives more than any other. When I described what happened here the next day to Harvey Milk, he wanted to bring her to San Fransisco. It is in the movie.

Zippity Doo Da also has a take.

The final edition has been put to bed, Ms. Ely. They're waiting for you at the bar, with a full shot glass at your place.

Here's to you.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Eric Cantor: pathetic "Douchebag"

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who apparently falsely claimed he was one of the finalists to be John McCain's running mate last summer, added to his embarrassment this week by being publicly rebuked by the leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh.

Following the inaugural convention of the National Council for a New America -- which consisted of Cantor, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and fifteen other good GOP folks at a pizza pub in suburban D.C. -- Cantor commented that the Republicans would embark on a series of town halls across the nation in order to begin "listening to the American people". But Limbaugh said on his radio show shortly after that "a listening tour wasn't needed", so Cantor then promptly said it "wasn't a listening tour." Watch it:

By virtue of these two sad attempts to show himsef as a GOP leader -- only to be shown that he isn't -- Cantor emerges as a "Douchbag of the Week" finalist.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Weekly Wrangle

It's Monday -- time for another edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance's weekly blog roundup.

How would Republicans handle a pandemic? CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme knows. They'd hunker down. Get out their guns and shoot anybody with a runny nose.

After a record 3 weeks without a post in his six years of blogging, Easter Lemming has a very brief round-up of the Pasadena elections.

Off the Kuff writes about the resolution to impeach Judge Sharon Keller as submitted by Rep. Lon Burnam, which received a committee hearing last week.

Vince at Capitol Annex tells the sad story of how a fundamentalist "historian" and evangelist who believes that hurricanes are God's punishment on society for tolerating gay citizens will guide the writing of Texas' new social studies standards. If you thought Darwin versus Don McLeroy was a train wreck, wait until it is the treatment of American Indians, what labor unions have done for America, Islam, women's suffrage, 9/11, the free enterprise system, and the civil rights movement versus David Barton. First one who catches one of the new "experts" complaining about too much information about minorities in textbooks wins a prize!

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posted this week on the latest transportation funding scheme the Lege came up with ... a "transportation bank": Texas Transportation Revolving Fund?.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote a helluva post about the inability of the Republican Party to return to its pre-1929 stock crash numbers in the U.S. Senate. He also wrote about the albino buffalo in Kenya. Texas Liberal passed 600,000 total page views this week and is averaging 1570 a day for 2009. Thanks blog reading public!

Why on Earth is the Texas Senate, working with TXDOT, trying to turn the public pensions trusts into another AIG? McBlogger would really like an answer.

Arlen Specter's political deathbed conversion didn't strike PDiddie at Brains and Eggs as something wonderful. And Burka's conflating Kay Bailey into the conversation was greeted with even more derision.

BossKitty at TruthHugger wonders about those poor souls on death row who depend on the passion of protesters and technology for hope. Whether they know they are guilty or innocent, at least they know they'll get the needle instead of the chair or the noose. Those death row inmates now have the best chance ever, and with revelations about bias and legal system misconduct front and center, death penalty question marks are getting bolder. Take a look at Killer Texas Laws and Lawmakers Continue To Amaze with many historic reference links to click.

Over at TexasKaos, Boadicea says no to Fake Reform. See what she has to say in her posting: "Transparency"-I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means...

After much talk about secession, Gov. Perry has found yet another reason to keep the federal government around. The Texas Blue notes that the guy who wanted American troops to defend the border and asked for money -- and then more money -- to help the Hurricane Ike cleanup shortly before talking about leaving the Union now wants the Centers for Disease Control to give us 37,000 doses of Tamiflu to help with the swine flu virus.

WhosPlayin is neck-deep in the local (Lewisville) mayor's race, and examined candidate Winston Edmondson's wacky ideas to increase police morale by giving them more patches, and finding corporate sponsors.