Archive for news

THE YESTERDAYS OF OUR LIVES

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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YESTERDAY, for one day at least, everybody had to have a copy of their newspaper. People waited in long lines to buy them, newsstands ran out of copies early in the morning, and subscribers had their papers stolen from their doorsteps. Everybody had to have a memento from this historic election — proof that it indeed happened, proof that they were there when it happened.

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

It was a reminder to me of what newspapers mean to people, and of what they really do best — document in words and pictures the history of our world, the history of what happened the day before. They are a daily souvenir of our life. And when our favorite team wins a championship, when the nation is attacked by terrorists, when voters elect their first nonwhite president, we want the hard evidence in the form of a newspaper. DVR’d newscasts and Web printouts won’t do.

Newspapers are the greatest medium for recording this incremental history as it happens, day by day. But, for some reason, the executives running newspapers decided a while back that people already know what happened yesterday and don’t need to read all about it, and that they would rather have a daily crystal ball that tells them what’s gonna happen next. (I’ve written about this upsetting trend before.)

At The Hartford Courant, where I worked for nearly 10 years, we couldn’t write headlines or stories that told people what actually happened. We had to be “forward-looking” and stir up emotions with overblown, melodramatic and preferably alliterative headlines. The argument was that “readers already know what happened by the time the paper comes out, so you have to tell them something new.”

Therefore, “8 Die In Mall Shooting” is an unacceptable headline, but “Mall Massacre” is great, as is “Could It Happen At Your Mall?” I remember the day of the Madrid train bombing in 2004 — another historic day. I wasn’t allowed to write the headline “191 Killed In Train Bombings.” The front-page banner headline we used was “Al-Qaida Or ETA?” Huh? ETA? What did the train’s arrival time have to do with anything? Oh, ETA was a terrorist group suspected in the bombings. So, we went with a screaming question head that told readers little, even if they knew what ETA was. I asked then and I ask now: What is wrong with documenting, for history’s sake, exactly what happened yesterday?

I haven’t seen yesterday’s Courant (I still haven’t looked at a Courant since its redesign), but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a headline like “2012 Campaign Gets Underway” or “Is America Now Ready For A Latino President?”

I remember finding old, yellowed newspapers in a bedroom closet when I was a little boy. I vaguely remember them, but I think they were about Kennedy’s election or his assassination. In any case, they were historical records of historic days, saved by my parents for posterity.

That is what newspapers are to people. Unfortunately for newspaper publishers, every day isn’t as monumental as this Tuesday was. But that’s the cool thing about documenting history — you never know when the next monumental day is coming. Newspapers have to be ready, with the best writers and editors and photographers on hand, because history can happen at any time. And what happened yesterday can really matter to people.

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THE ALTERNATIVE (UNIVERSE) PRESS

Posted in The News, The Popular with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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SIXTY more of my former co-workers at The Hartford Courant lost their jobs this month as the newspaper business continues to self-destruct. Thousands of newspaper writers, editors and columnists across the country have lost their jobs this year. A friend of mine who quit the business several years ago to go into teaching just told me his school can’t even afford to print the student paper anymore (now there’s a lesson for the kids…)

But I’m here to tell you that there is a place where journalism is still alive and well, where reporters are plentiful and leaders are held accountable for their actions — unfortunately it’s on “Battlestar Galactica.”

The Sci Fi Channel show takes place in a parallel universe mostly identical to ours, except for the cornerless paper, the gods-damn frackin’ swear words and those pesky killer Cylons. And one other thing — all the reporters.

Now, I love the show and I know it’s science fiction, but I can’t figure out why every time President Roslin holds a press conference, dozens of reporters show up, clamoring to ask the next question. Who are these people?

This is a society that has dwindled down to 40,000 or so survivors (the number, shown in the opening credits, typically decreases from week to week) living aboard a fleet of ships, looking for a new home planet (possibly Earth.) Seriously, does this small group of people really have 30 or 40 news outlets? How come I never see anyone reading a cornerless newspaper or watching TV (do they even have TV?) If you do the math, there’s a reporter for every thousand survivors. Yet, far as I can tell, they have one doctor.

Whatever. The show is allegorical, using sci-fi to address modern-day American issues such as terrorism and war and torture and other big stuff we’d rather not think about unless cool spaceships are blowing up. But as “Battlestar Galactica” goes on, the unstoppable evil killing machines out to destroy humanity seem to reflect our real world better than the huge press corps trying to get to the bottom of things.

Not necessarily the news

Posted in The News with tags , , , on June 4, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

Walter Cronkite must be rolling in his grave. He is dead, right?

OK, I Googled him, and it seems he’s still with us. But I’d prefer to hear it from him. I trust him. At one time, every American trusted him, back when there were only three channels, back when people with gray hair were allowed on TV. Legend has it he delivered the news to a whole generation with a grandfatherly voice of authority.

These days, where do we turn for the truth? CNN.com? Wikipedia? Tila Tequila? The democratization of the news by the Internet is all well and good, but with everybody and his blogger chiming in, it’s hard to find someone you can trust.

The rise of the blogger has had every newspaper in the country running scared for years and trying to copy what the most popular sites are doing. Squandering their reputation as papers of record rather than capitalizing on it, they’re getting rid of reporters, sports writers, book reviewers and movie critics because “readers can get that information elsewhere.”

Unfortunately, this “elsewhere” that newspapers are surrendering to is a mess of nameless, faceless bloggers spouting opinions as facts (imagine!) and attention whores posing as journalists. If the Titanic were to sink tomorrow, would we go to Perez Hilton for the story (and the requisite “going down” jokes)?

It’s not easy to navigate through the bullshit online. Just today I found several “news” stories saying Hillary Clinton has not conceded! As preposterous as that sounds, I bet there are a lot of gullible people out there who believe it’s true.

I know the trustworthiness of our nation’s newspapers has come into question over the years, and that the mainstream media completely failed us on Iraq. And I know there are respected voices on the web — the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, Matt Drudge. But now that everybody is a writer, a journalist, a commentator or a critic, how will we find the Walter Cronkites of the web?

“We are all newsmen now,” Drudge famously said. Problem is, if anybody can report the “news,” can we trust any of it? I mean, a minute ago Cronkite was dead.