Saturday, January 10, 2015

Top Of The Line, Bottom Of The Cage Reportage


We used to have two major newspapers in this town, but a long time ago one of them went away, and we were left with The Oregonian. I had a comfy enough relationship with it. The editorial staff didn't make me nuts--they more or less reflected blue-state values. Some of my friends complained that they didn't advocate strongly enough for dragging capitalists behind coal trains, or weren't completely on board with the free lunch program for migrant honeybees. But it was pretty good. They even employed a tame conservative columnist just for balance, although eventually he left out of sheer loneliness.

Sometime in the 2000s, though, it actually got pretty good. The newsroom employed some 315 reporters and many of them were permitted to do good work. Pulitzer prizes began to pile up. It was rated one of the top ten newspapers in the country, even being compared favorably with The New York Times, which edged out The Oregonian only in its more in-depth coverage of Portland, Oregon. Then something happened.

A new publisher rode in with some exciting new changes in his saddlebags. The previous editor left for a position at a fictional university. At first the only thing that looked different was a nice, modern, slim silhouette. You could read some of the sections through other sections, a real time-saver, and the world news section could double as a coffee filter. The bulk of the news staff was invited to explore exciting new opportunities elsewhere. An exciting new Online Presence was announced. A streamlined new look was achieved by trimming away news and substituting Content. The paper was to be not only fashionably thin, but also shorter and narrower through the hips. In a particularly exciting development, home delivery was to be reduced to four days a week. People were disappointed at first, until it was explained that this was to be Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, with a bonus paper on Saturday, when previously we only got a regular paper on Saturday.

A version of the paper was printed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays also, and readily available a few blocks away in a box next to Gimme A Quarter Guy.

We awaited the new version with much anticipation, and the first day it plinked onto the porch we ran out to fetch it before the wind kicked up. It was adorable. Parakeet owners were forced to get three subscriptions to maintain their former avian hygiene standards, but everyone else was pretty thrilled with the time they saved by being able to read the whole paper on the way to the recycling cart. We began to look forward to the wallet-size.

Further economies were achieved by reducing the 315 reporters to a nimble crew, Fred and Ethel, who distinguished themselves with a fearless focus on the proclivities of famous local penis owners. Meanwhile, content soared. A good half-page a day for the entire month of October was given over to a Candy Bowl bracket, in which concerned citizens were able to weigh in with their allegiance to Twix over Snickers. And we were soberly informed that fully half of pet owners were planning to dress up their pets for Halloween. Continuing topically into November, we were blessed with an entire page devoted to the advice that you should figure on one and a half pounds of turkey per Thanksgiving dinner guest. This was accomplished through a large graphic with human figures borrowed from bathroom doors on the left, and turkey outlines on the right. If you could get all your dinner guests to line up so you can count them properly, and you have a straight-edge, you've got a good chance of getting the math right.

Meanwhile, the editorials began to sour. First there was concern that local government kept trying to govern when there were still potholes to fix.  Then came the concern that the government was going to fix potholes by levying a tax. Tax bad. Environmental concerns were considered precious but immature. Graphics were trotted out to illustrate the concerns of the publisher, using oil-well icons that resembled spurting penises to represent, of course,  jobs. For balance, three-quarters of the front page was devoted to a photograph of a rainbow. Because we like rainbows. And the seven-day forecast on the weather page was replaced with a permanent seven-decade forecast in which each decade was represented by a sun and a temperature that does not change, with more little job icons at the bottom.

And then the paper decided that what the readership really craved was to have the comics printed in color every day.

That's where I draw the line. Pomegranates should be available only two months a year. Christmas lights should not go up until December. And comics should be in color only on Sundays. I don't want to live in a world where everything special is taken away.

51 comments:

  1. Our town newspaper has gotten smaller and smaller. The main features are the obituaries and the opinion page which constantly reminds us that working people voter Republican. I feel guilty not buying it because if it goes away another connection to the time before Google will be lost forever - and I use the pages to light my wood stove.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. That's what I used them for, too. So the recent addition of staples was extra special.

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  2. So that's what happened to it! I used to subscribe for years, then let my subscription lax during a time of economic hardship -- and by the time cash flow had improved, I'd discovered the internet. Several years later I encountered The Oregonian again, and was astonished not only at its apparent anorexia, but at its more figurative shallowness. Half the time the front-page headline was some sports thing, even when there was real news going on. The content discontented me. But a takeover by a new, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, whizz-bang-style management explains it all.

    Don't neglect the comics, though. Cartoons must be important, if the Islamotards are willing to kill over them.

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    1. They must be. Although I've been surprised at how little I've missed them, even though I read fully half of them. Now, if Cul-de-Sac were still around...

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  3. Oh, dear god! It's happening everywhere! Our paper here in Delaware has had the same thing happen to it. By any chance, has your paper been purchased by Gannet? They have USA Today-ed what used to be an okay newspaper. All sorts of color graphics, because we are too stupid or too lazy to actually read the articles. Lots of polls, because we must keep in touch with the ignorance of the mob. They downsized the reporting staff and get most everything from AP. I wouldn't buy the damned thing, except I really do need it for parrot cage liners. I actually priced other options, and the newspaper was the least costly. My husband suggested the New York Times, which he reads online, but I don't live in New York. I want a local paper. I want to know what's going on in my town. I need to know where the local garage sales are on Saturdays in the summer. I need to know what Bucky Cat is up to in Get Fuzzy. On the upside, I can usually finish the paper before I've even finished my breakfast. What a time-saver!

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    1. I think I read that paper six times a week until I was 18. Then I left Delaware only to return for an occasional visit.

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    2. It's a drastically different paper now, and not in a good way.

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    3. Ours isn't Gannet. I think it's Advance Publications. It must be a general epidemic. Sorry to hear about yours. I do get the NY Times delivered now. It almost works for me, too.

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  4. Once again you have perfectly brought the sanity down to earth! Portland? The last bastion of liberalism. The place where all those hippies went to die? Say it isn't so?

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    1. If it helps, we all hate the paper.

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    2. Wait a minute. DIE? Is that's what's next?

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  5. Substituting news with Content---perfect description of what is happening with papers everywhere, unfortunately.

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    1. I, as a sometime Content Provider, can recognize it when I see it.

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  6. Comics in color every day! Sign me up. I can get news on the internet. I don't need opinions, they always conflict with my own.

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    1. Really? I suppose you're on board with winter tomatoes too, huh?

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  7. I was railing at the on line version of the New York Time this morning giving it my best Robert Duvall / Great Santini treatment. My spouse then told me to go read Murr's blog. We are total agreement on news vs. content.

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    1. I'm getting the Times delivered now. I can see it's a little slimmer too, and there's some Content, but it's a world of difference. I hate reading papers on line. I suppose that's what I should do, but.

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  8. Doubtless one of the best reviews of a newspaper I have ever read.

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    1. I wonder if The Oregonian would publish it!

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  9. Your best post ever. Absolutely wonderful & truth in every word.

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    1. Well thanks! Did you just start reading last week? :)

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  10. Oh, well done, Murr.

    Quite honestly, the only reason I read our local paper is to know when the town is flushing the water hydrants.

    And for the funnies.

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    1. Now that's news you can use. I kind of miss the obits. I usually knew SOMEbody. Years of letter-carrying...

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  11. Local news has disappeared, but a lot of small towns still have it because they don't know about content. It takes a while for news to get to small towns, anyway. Television news is now owned by entertainment companies so their latest promotion passes for news. In depth now means speculation because we don't know any facts. Where do we turn? If all the papers go away what are we supposed to wrap our fish guts in?

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    1. Oh honey, do you have fish guts? Shouldn't you see someone about that?

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  12. Yup. Rather too much from the shiny magazines has infiltrated our newspaper as well. And the glossy content suffocates the news.

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    1. Gosh, we get color photographs and ads now on weekdays, too. Real classy.

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  13. On the other hand, the internet is changing the news dynamic, and sometimes even in a good way as it ups the competition and can even result in some decent factual investigative reporting. I have a number of sites bookmarked, and they aren't CNN, MSN, ABC, CBS … or even my local papers. People who crave real news have real options.

    But in the interest of full disclosure, I don't need to line any birdcages either … We just put feeders outside and let them fertilize the grass. Win win.

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    1. It is no doubt true. When I need to find out what's going on, I go check out Infidel753's blog.

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  14. Our comics are in colour everyday and have been for several decades now, but we haven't yet resorted to pictures of rainbows and turkey math as points of interest. We still have news. Real news, terrifying though it may be. Bushfires here and not nice happenings in Paris have been big features lately.

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    1. "Bushfire" would have a totally different meaning here.

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  15. I never get or read the Oregonian, but the once a week Oregon City news is delivered free.

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  16. Yes! Here in Charlottesville, VA also. Same story. It was never a great paper, The Daily Progress, but it was a lot better than it is now. Skinnier, shorter, devoid of content. And owned by some Group or other. Exactly what Ol'Buzzard says, pretty much - even in our little blue island in the middle of a reddish purple state (hard to tell which direction VA is going) the op ed stuff is often very Republican in nature. And to add insult to injury - for the past two weeks on Sunday there has been NO MAGAZINE SECTION. Either we personally are getting gypped, or they've dropped it to save money. And yet - we keep subscribing. Because. Well, it's the NEWSPAPER and we have to have that, right? And we need it for lighting fires.

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    1. Well, who writes the editorials is who owns the paper, I guess. Supposedly it doesn't affect reportage. Remember when I complained that our sizable Climate Change parade--that the governor spoke at--was ignored? Evidently it was a little slip-up. The last paper I read after I quit buying it was the one where they said they weren't going to spend much time on climate change issues because they prefer to editorialize on local stuff.

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  17. I went digital because the rural carrier didn't value dry, or "in one piece" and I really only read the funnies (black and white except Sunday) and some columns. I do get a print edition on Sunday. You can get funnies online, but not all together. I don't get the two small town papers, The Jamestown Post Urinal or The Dunkirk Disturber.

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    1. Man, we had a great deliverer. That sucker was right at the front door in its own little condom first thing in the morning. I made sure to send her a tip when I stopped delivery.

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  18. Two mentions of "penises" -- but no mention of "balls." Is this a veiled message?

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  19. It seems to be the trend, doesn't it? There are so many newspapers that were, if not great, at least competent at providing relatively unbiased news stories written by real on-site reporters, but which are now not worth the (smaller, thinner, greasier) paper that they're printed on. My hometown paper is still family-owned and reasonably useful (aside from their obsession with stories about dogs), but even they have downsized themselves, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before daily home delivery is a thing of the past. But I suppose that, by then, so will I be.

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    1. No you won't! The home delivery will be done long before you are, Sugar.

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  20. For the first time in my 70 years, I am without a daily paper. I cancelled it last year after discovering that when I went on vacation, I still had to pay for the papers I didn't get. They've stopped giving credit for vacation holds and it annoyed me enough to withdraw all my money from them!

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  21. I kind of want to get in touch with our old delivery lady to see if there's anything else she could deliver me. Pizza, flowers. She was terrific. Sorry about your vacation holds. They DID credit me for those.

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  22. For whatever good it might do, the AP needs to pick this up and share it world wide.

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    1. That would turn this WHOLE THING AROUND!

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  23. Yeah, even the Washington Post is getting a little anemic these days. Having grown up in the area, I'm hopelessly addicted to reading the obits, as well as the "paid death announcements". My fear is that the latter are becoming so expensive that I will no longer see all the salacious details of someone's life, and that the posting will be reduced to a photo and the funeral details...And yeah, I hate reading news on-line -- I miss the rustle of the newspaper and smell of fresh coffee. So far, we are getting the Post delivered 7 days a week -- so I can still indulge, at least for a while.....

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    1. I miss the obits. I love the obits. If I die, guys, which is highly likely, y'all have to make sure it's a really funny obituary.

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  24. They did the same thing to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and now they give us a version of the Sunday paper for free in desperation. There were wonderful graphics which I really miss. BBC news and NPR keep me up to date and comics you can get online, including the good old boys Opus and Calvin and Hobbes, but the whole deal of a tactile paper where you can keep your place and refer back or cross reference, without being sent to a whole new URL, or get some gobbledy gook about cross scripting, is something my iPad can never give me. You've got to wonder if dumbing down America isn't very much in someone's interests, someone with lots and lots of money...Conspiracy theory? What conspiracy theory?

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    1. Hey. Like evolution, it's just a theory.

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  25. Funny you should write about this 'cause I was thinking about the deterioration of newspapers earlier this week. My landlord gets the Manchester (NH) Union Leader each morning - I've noticed that even the Sunday paper is smaller than my quilt guild newsletter! Now, admittedly, the MUL is nothing to write home about and never was, but what I was thinking about was the NY Times. I can remember picking up a good cup of coffee, a couple of fattening donuts and the Times on a Sunday morning, spreading the paper out on the living room floor and spending 2 or 3 hours going thru it (putting aside the Book Review for reading during the week). It's not the same reading it on line - I keep getting powdered sugar in the keyboard!). There's nothing like newsprint on your hands after a good reading!

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    1. I never liked that part. I think they've been using non-smudging ink for years now, so that can be just a memory too. Stick with the powdered sugar though.

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