Friday, June 01, 2007

The Morning News: Back in 24 Seconds

Below: Parody from the Onion

Among my many complaints about the fatuous gasbags who can be found everywhere these days ruminating on The Media is that -- most of them never having actually worked in a newsroom -- they increasingly pontificate on the idea that all news must be delivered immediately. One lamentable result is you get half-baked stories rushed online and onto the airways even by respectable news organizations because reporters are expected to be "immediate," which means wasting valuable reporting time in a desperate rush to get something online that could maybe benefit from a little more legwork and thought.

One particularly god-awful Gannett newspaper (yeah, I know that's an oxymoron), the News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., even has its reporters carrying around video cameras, so they can pull off the road and rush that breathless report on the new Target opening to a waiting public. The poor devils also have to carry WiFi laptops so they can send stories right from their cars, thus instantly satisfying ostensibly insatiable demand for what the editor calls "really local news."

The paper also has a cadre of what it calls "volunteer citizen journalists" (in Gannett happy talk, of course, that means "We don't have to pay them"). Of course they have a cute name for them as well: "Team Watchdog." Whoooooo.

Please don't get me started on "local" news. All right, I'm started.

Nearly 30 years ago, I worked for a newspaper, the once-mighty and now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, that listened to some crackpot media consultant in the late 1970s and broke the paper up into multiple "zoned" suburban editions in which international, national and even regional news was demoted in favor of "really local" news.

As circulation plunged, the same geniuses who'd squeezed important news out of the paper decided to create a special New Jersey edition, in which Philadelphia news -- you know, the real news from the nearby big city with the crazy mayor and all the cultural institutions -- was practically banned, and in which the front page consisted almost entirely of stories from suburban New Jersey communities.

My father, who then lived in New Jersey and had been a Bulletin subscriber since the 1940s, promptly canceled his subscription. "What the hell do I care about Haddonfield?" he said.

The Bulletin died in 1982, and the gasbags called it a victim of fierce competition. I called it a suicide.

You know what "really local" news is on the block where my wife and I live?

Well, the guy across the street, a good soul whom I call Jingle Bells because of his extravagant front-lawn Christmas decorations, puts his lavish Easter display up a week earlier than usual. Talk ensues. What could this portend -- the festive July 4 decorations going up on Memorial Day?

You know what the top story in the 23 years we've lived here was?

About 15 years ago, a big sycamore tree across the street just fell down all by itself. No lightening strike, no collision with a car. The damn thing just up and toppled into the street without as much as a fare thee well.

Oh yes, this just in: A very nice man named Jose is painting our house and doing a very good job at it, too. There's talk about his pace, though, because Jose works slowly and meticulously. This morning, someone asked me when "Speedy Gonzalez" would be finished, which I think qualified as a possible hate crime. Hang on 24 seconds while I phone that in to the local paper.

Anyway, I'm glad I'm long gone from being a daily news reporter. Used to be, you'd go out on a story, spend the time to sort it out and get it right, and then come back to the office to write it and then be tortured by editors. But by 6 a.m. the next morning, readers usually had a pretty solid report.

Trust me, news moguls of America: On most stories (truly breaking major news aside), I as a consumer can wait till the next morning to get myself informed -- after reporting, editing and evaluation for placement are done.

Which is why this satire from the Onion strikes home.

Incidentally, I assume the quote from the worthy professor at the Rutgers University Center for Media Studies is a faux one. But imagine: there actually is something called the Rutgers University center for "media studies." Rutgers! Warning: Don't light a match in that joint!

But I digress. There's actual paid work to be done. And it can't be done in 24 seconds, not at these rates.


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