Three charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.
A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.
The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.
Even the music that has comforted me, inspired me, brought sanity to a broken world time after time, kept me company, kicked my ass into gear, healed other wounds … even that is of little help now.
May 15, 2002, the day after graduating from college, the Dave Matthews Band cover of “In My Life” made me cry so hard I had to pull over on the side of the highway because I couldn’t see the rainy road through the sobs.
May 18, 2017, driving into work on an overcast Thursday morning, the tears came again, probably the second wave of the 90 minutes I’d been awake. One of the guiding voices of my life was gone, unexpectedly and without any kind of reason that made sense, and there was nothing to do but go to work and try to stay distracted for nine hours.
In the intervening 15 years, there were cross-country moves, more than a dozen jobs, two seriously broken hearts, the deaths of my beloved mentor and grandparents, the births of my seven (soon to be eight) nieces and nephews. Through it all, the music was there to keep me tethered.
The album was king, thanks to male singer-songwriters (Crosby, Stills, Nash, James Taylor), female singer-songwriters (King, Simon, Mitchell) and bands like Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) andThe Eagles (Hotel California).
“You take the risk of being rejected. If you have pretensions to be an artist of any kind, you have to take the risk of people rejecting you and thinking you’re an arsehole.” – Roger Waters
Pink Floyd suggested that Newton’s theory of light composition has validity (image courtesy Wikimedia)
After the artistic (and influence) success of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the stupendous artistic and commercial success of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the appetite of record buying audiences for “full length works” was well whetted. Musical artists of the next decade or so found themselves faced, however, with a choice. Did they, as many bands did, follow the “concept” approach introduced to rock audiences by Brian Wilson? Was there another path?
Under normal circumstances that “other path” might have been to follow the example of Bob Dylan, choosing to record albums of original songs without any overt conceptual framework. Certainly Dylan was pointing out that “other way” with his albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
Dylan had retreated from the world after his motorcycle accident in mid 1966, but his work still cast a long shadow. Continue reading →
I don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.
Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).
These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:
10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn
Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes
THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]
Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.
Dylan gonna be Dylan. But in his memoir he reminds us why he’s Dylan.
“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.” – Bob Dylan
Early Bob Dylan (image courtesy CBS News)
Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Part 1 is a book I came to with a good bit of skepticism. One reason for my skepticism that comes from having read Dylan’s novel Tarantula, a book I found self-indulgent and (perhaps) purposely off-putting.
Another reason for skepticism comes from having read David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street, a well researched book whose view of Dylan is less than sanguine, portraying Dylan as opportunistic, self-centered, and callous.
My last reason for skepticism comes from having seen a number of interviews with Dylan where he is evasive, defensive, and at times downright hostile to reporters and interviewers asking him questions about his life and work. Continue reading →
The New York Times estimates there will be 1.3 trillion photos taken this year. Granted, the signal:noise ratio is low. A vast majority of these images will be captured with mobile phones of varying quality. Most will be selfies and casual users curating the moments of their lives, and if you want to insert the word “banal” in that description somewhere I won’t argue. I learned not long after buying my first camera that there’s a big difference between doing photography and merely taking pictures.
All that said, 1.3 trillion – that’s a huge number, and it must be acknowledged that digital technology has exerted a democratizing force on creativity. New tools have provided those who can’t afford an expensive DSLR with a means to capture, process and interpret their worlds in remarkably inventive ways.
If you can afford a nice digital camera, as well as increasingly accessible top-end digital editing tools (I use Lightroom, Photoshop and several of the functions in the Nik suite), the options are, for all practical purposes, infinite. Continue reading →
A free press won’t amount to squat as long as it has audiences who hear only what they want to hear, read only what their Facebook-sculpted algorithms tell them to read, and worship blissfully at the Church of Confirmation Bias.
It’s nice, I suppose, in this era of Trumpian Twitter bashing of the press, that journalists trumpet right back about bolstering freedom of the press, citing its absolutely necessity to the survival, let alone the maintenance, of democracy in the Republic.
It’s nice, I suppose, that a satirical comedian hosts a “Not the White House Correspondents Association Dinner” (in prime time, no less) to, as she said, “celebrate the freedom of the press.” (She did this, of course, while occasionally mocking pack journalism and chiding CNN for not “setting free” its high-priced on-air talent to be journalists instead of entertainers).
In early April 1970, I walked into the newsroom of my hometown newspaper and asked the editor if he knew anyone at the state department of natural resources. I’d just received my undergraduate degree in geology. I could do that kind of work for a while before I returned to university for master’s and doctoral degrees and to eventually live happily in Alaska as its state geologist.
I walked out of that newsroom as a journalist. (I lied about being able to type.) The editor needed another sportswriter but couldn’t hire one full time. He needed an environmental writer (the first Earth Day was two weeks away) but he couldn’t hire a full-time one.
I could do both, he judged. He hired me. I wrote about Sen. Gaylord Perry’s first teach-in on April 22. For the next six weeks, I wrote “green” and follow-up Earth Day stories in the afternoon, and local sports in the evening.
But come June, the editor asked for fewer “green” stories and more sports stories. By July, I’d more or less become a full-time sports writer.
In March 1975, five years later, I was asked to produce a slew of Earth Day anniversary stories. Then, a few weeks after Earth Day, no more stories. Ditto 10 years later and 15 years later.
That introduced me to anniversary journalism. I witnessed that with the rise of fall of Earth stories every five years in my newspaper and many, many others.
It’s spring in Ashland, Oregon. Winter in the west has been long, cold, and snowy. Most people are over it.
Walking through town yesterday, I stopped to enjoy the magnolia blossoms that are about to explode. They have escaped their protective bracts, but are uncertain about fully opening to the tepid sun. A massive camellia tree stands next to the magnolia. Camellia flowers are a color never seen anywhere else, red and pink and raspberry, but none of these.
As I stood admiring the tree, a man walked up next to me and commented on the flowers. I responded, “They’re beautiful.” He impulsively reached over, snapped one off, and handed it to me. Continue reading →
It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”
President Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.
He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?
President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.
An inability to focus on consequences that do not center on him. Check. An absence of empathy for others. Check. A lack of impulse control coupled to a need to lash out at perceived offenses (and offenders). Check. A vainglorious view of himself. Check. An ever-present, almost childlike, need for praise. Check.
President-Elect Donald is a narcissist. That’s the conclusion of Alan J. Lipman, a clinical psychologist, chronicled in a commentary on CNN. But we already know that, don’t we? We’ve seen it repeatedly at his rallies and in his Twitter rants. But so far, he’s insulated himself from the consequences of his narcissism. Even past Republican critics, such as the speaker of the House, and big-money donors who did not support his candidacy are falling in line, creating an imaginary unity.
President-Elect Donald’s egregious behaviors have become acceptable because so many legislators and donors have too much at stake (power, influence, government contracts, etc.) to suggest the emperor-elect is naked.
But there’s one judge of presidential behavior, character, and leadership President-Elect Donald has yet to face — George Gallup’s question:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way ____ is handling his job as president?
No, famous people won’t stop dying on January 1. But we lost too many bright lights this year and we hope that 2017 will be better. Here’s a list of noteworthy people who died in 2016.
For the past several months a lot of us have been saying we can’t wait for this damned year to be over.
2016 gave us the worst election season I can remember, and every ten minutes or so another beloved artist would die, it seemed. Any year that gives us Donald Trump and takes Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince in return has done more damage than some decades.
No, people aren’t going to stop dying at the stroke of midnight tomorrow. Continue reading →
When I was in third grade, the elementary school principal came into our class to speak with the students. I don’t now remember what the primary reason was for his visit; what I remember is only a fragment of his lecture.
He stood at the chalkboard and wrote in large letters:
M A N
Stepping to the side so everyone in the class could see the letters, he said, “Without man,” he stepped back to the board and wrote “wo” before completing his sentence, “you cannot have woman.”
On the board was the word:
Almost 50 years later, I can still see this man saying these words, spewing ignorance and sexism across a new generation of children. Continue reading →
Statistics prove that there are 25 bathtubs sold to every Bible… and 50 to every dictionary, and 380 to every encyclopedia… proving that while we may be neglecting the interior, we are looking after the exterior…. – Will Rogers
In the early afternoon of Election Day 2016, I traded messages with a good friend, heart swelling with hope.
“To think … maybe, just maybe, the kiddos we love who are little right now …they’ll never know a world where a person of color or a woman couldn’t be president.”
Within hours, I watched the country turn a deeper red, crimson spreading from coast to coast, revealing the true colors of the United States.
Despite winning two million fewer votes from the American people than his opponent, Donald Trump secured more than the required 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency, effective January 2017.
‘Shall I betray my best friend…? He is all that I have in the world. He saved me from the bear when its claws were already at my throat. We have suffered hunger and cold together. He covered me with his own garments while I was ill. I have brought him wood and water. I have watched over his sleep and led his enemies off the trail. Why should they think of me as a man who betrays his friend?’ – Selma Lagerlof
Selma Lagerlof (image courtesy Wikimedia)
In my essay on volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, the volume devoted to stories about women, I bemoaned the fact that eight of the ten stories in that volume were written by men. In this, volume 8, a collection devoted to stories about men, only one of the ten stories is by a woman, the Swedish author and the first woman Nobelist, Selma Lagerlof. Lagerlof’s story is the best description of what male friendship is like in this volume.
Life is full of ironies, isn’t it?
Among the stories in this volume is one by another major literary figure, Fyodor Dostoevsky. That story, “The Thief,” is also an interesting depiction of male friendship, though its real focus is, as is often the case in the great Russian’s work, identity. And, as one might expect in a collection of stories about men, there are stories about sailors and cowboys and duels and war. So, as anyone who knows a little psychology and/or sociology would expect, these male centered stories are about men doing things together. You know, like fighting and shooting at each other….
Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.
In the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.
That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.
Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content.
“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)
Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I have been struggling with how I feel about that. Like many, my first response on being told the news was astonishment. It felt to me momentarily as if it were 1967 again when TheTimes of London gave a full page, serious, and respectful review to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in an editorial in that same newspaper William Rees-Mogg, less than a month later, excoriated the British criminal justice system for its heavy handed treatment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to maximum sentences for a minor drug bust in a now classic editorial titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”
It felt, then, like the counter culture was winning, that finally, to use a truly quaint term, “the establishment” was seeing the world as my g-g-generation saw it. Mick and Keith should be set free by “The Man” to make more music and Sgt. Pepper was great art.