Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rejected list: The Elements of Doggystyle

This list was I think my fourth rejection from McSweeney's, and probably with due cause. But that means I can publish them here, and really, what is the point of a blog other than to give space to the inane ramblings no one else will publish?


My dog
Your dog
Ways my dog is different from your dog
Ways my dog and your dog would act if they were in the same room together
Things my dog did that I told her not to
Things my dog ate that I could not identify
The stray dog I found under the stairs the other day, and your interest level in its cuteness
Businesses in which to purchase dog accessories you were previously unaware existed
Discourse on the ethical ramifications of spraying Febreze on your dog
Ways that anecdote about your dog is the cutest damn thing I’ve ever heard
Amateur assessment of flaws in the Westminster dog show judging process
Positioning of dog pictures on desk
Moral and financial valuation of bidding at upcoming shelter puppy auction
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Doggy Style

All based on true events. True events that happened in the span of a single day.

Slate to newspapers: you're killing us

Despite all the obvious reasons newspapers are likely to die off in my lifetime — the lumbering pace of innovation in newsrooms, the attrition of readers who care more about Britney Spears' dedication to promoting venereal disease than real news, cataclysmic led poisoning in Chinese-made spiral notebooks, etc. — I've been wondering for a while now if environmental concerns would eventually become a factor soon. Today, Slate's Green Lantern (did DC Comics sign off on that name, btw?) tackles the question of whether ditching the paper versions is the greener choice. The answer: a hazy yes, for now.

It only seems logical that this big log of dead tree that arrives on your (well, probably not your doorstep, according to circulation figures) will eventually be seen as much an tenet of the Luddites as people who still pay with checks at the grocery story. It's called a check card, people, and it makes all of our lives just a little easier.

The newspaper itself has so far been spared by the wave of green consciousness that has swept the country in the past few years and awakened even the most stubborn of folk to the need to be even a tiny bit less wasteful in their daily lives. For example, one of our openly conservative reporters recently confided he's started buying organic and shopping with reusable canvas bags. The horror!

But the physical newspaper is a paragon of inefficient paper usage, in that most readers, including me, rarely read 100 percent of the paper and will often just toss out things like ads, stock pages and — dare I say it? — the sports section. So then my living room looks like a paper refinery explosion by Sunday thanks to the two local papers we get and the Sunday New York Times. Add to that the fact that some 31 percent of newspapers aren't recycled, according to Slate, and you've got a mess of bylines and enterprise art relevant for all of 24 hours now rotting in a landfill somewhere. Which is how I felt about my high school dating record.

So will environmentalists soon come knocking on the door of newspapers across the country, demanding that we stop our genocide of old growth forests? And are they right? The internet is a slightly less environmentally abrasive method of information delivery, and by far a more convenient one than having to track down 50 cents for a newspaper box. Newspaper boxes should accept check cards. As should everything else, including people I owe money too, but that's a different blog post.

It all comes back to the internet and the attempts to adapt the ink-and-paper tradition of news telling to a fluid and ephemeral medium. The bigger mystery: how do we make money off it, when everything is free and everyone has pop-up blockers? But let's be serious: they still have to make a screen that doesn't hurt your eyes after a few hours first.

(illustration by Slate)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don't get even; get angry

I saw this web site today posted on a friend's Facebook: Angryjournalist.com. I appreciate the sparse minimalism of this site. It's exactly what it says it is and nothing more.
Anonymous journalists deciding to identify and enumerate the exact catalyst for their most recent frustrations. If you couldn't guess, a plurality of the anger is addressed at the atrophying of the newspaper industry and the awfully powerless feeling we all have of being trapped in the basement of a collapsing building. Here's one that rings particularly true today:

Angry Journalist #846:

I’m angry because people who are three times my age and don’t know how to do much more than check their e-mail are pushing for video, which is most likely subpar. Since when are we in the broadcasting business? Readers want quality journalism, and it’s hard to dig up good stories when we’re trying to fiddle with Final Cut to boost page hits by .2 percent.

Our newsroom was marked today by what might be called the opening salvo of a boiling coup plot to take over the web site and wrest it away from the people who want to turn it into a dumping ground for extraneous video. Quite frankly it's fascinating to watch a management full of an older generation try to break new ground with a web site without ever asking the opinions of the two-dozen tech savvy, internet-raised 20-somethings in the other room.

Here's another:

Angry Journalist #778:

Oh boy, let me light into you old folks for a second while you wait for your buyout to materialize.

So much venom for young journalists, post after post about how stupid and coddled young reporters are.

Yeah, maybe we do need some coddling and reassurance. But maybe that’s because your complete lack of foresight has destroyed this industry to the point where every person on your staff is fresh out of j-school and is covering five different beats to begin with.

Yikes. But this gets to one of my main concerns, and perhaps an underlying theme of this blog: is there a major generational rift developing right now in journalism? On one side are the well-trained young writers, moribund to the tail end of an industry that has all but declared it will never invest in them. On the other side is the fore bearers of this problem, the ones who remember the days when newspapers had a monopoly over the information business and the desire to innovate was on par with the desire for physical labor. The thought of a shift worries me because I believe our ideals are the same. The true believers of those of us now coming up in the industry understand the need for top-quality, insightful reporting is only increasing, and that the effort that goes into reporting a newspaper still isn't reflected in other media.

And one more:

Angry Journalist #755:

CNN has dubbed the current election cycle BALLOT BOWL. The terrorists have won.

At least it wasn't "Ballotstock" or "Balloroo."

So what are all of us angry journalists going to do? Watch as the building crumbles around us, or find a way to crawl out of the basement and start a new construction site next door?

Here's a statement by the site's founder, Kiyoshi Martinez, who according to his bio is a Web site assistant for 22nd Century Media, a group of community weekly newspapers in the south suburbs of Chicago.

I created this site for several reasons. In private conversations with friends I sensed that there is a growing angst among the upcoming crop of journalists entering the field right now. Journalism-school graduates have the odds stacked against them.

More than likely, their education was inadequate — it’s rare that new media skills were taught or were de-emphasized — making the majority of them less competitive. The job market is terrible. More companies are having hiring freezes — or worse, layoffs — meaning fewer opportunities are available. It’s an instance where supply greatly outnumbers demand. And of what jobs are available, these entry-level jobs pay poorly. It’s even worse in broadcast media.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Powers of Inversion

Hello and thanks for coming. I hope you wiped your feet, as we keep it very clean in here. This is a serious place for serious business, and serious business means cleanliness at all times. We don't have carpet yet, but we're working on it. This is still in the early renovations process. Did you see what the floors looked like before this? Good lord, what a travesty. It was like the basement of a Myspace dungeon here. Ten-year-old gifs gathering dust in the corner, wallpaper peeling so bad I had to reboot my Windows 95 just to see what the picture was.

At any rate, we're sitting at a bar right now at happy hour, which doesn't seem like a major occurrence for you, but I have to admit it's a rarity to actually get out in time to soak in this $2 beer frenzy on an average week day. This is part of the schedule newsrooms work on -- late nights, crunching deadlines and always something lingering to be attended to that makes it hard to peel the hands away from the computer at the end of the day. So the concept of walking out of the building at 5 p.m. every day seems as ridiculous as if I told you they had installed a waterslide at the Merrill Lynch headquarters (They didn't. It was a Moonbounce, I think).

Which is funny of course because journalists are some of the hardest drinking people I know, and some of the people who deserve it most at the end of many days, just from the sheer amount of obscure complaints from septagenarians who think its somehow my responsibility their newspaper was wet this morning (it isn't). And since we can't make it to happy hour, we have to pay full price for our liquor, which again isn't fair since — and this is a fact you probably didn't know — journalists are actually only paid in biweekly satchels of shiny glass beads, only redeemable for buffalo hamburgers at the Solstice Native American Reservation outside Akron, Ohio.

But then of course the bartender here, an attractive young woman maybe 30 currently smothering under the undue attention from the sports jacket wearing businessmen lining this place, just said she doesn't have health insurance so she hopes she's not getting sick. So at least we have that going.

Which leads me to the point of this posting, which if you haven't noticed is the moment I've lost my blogging virginity. And it's to you! How nice! Um, so ... do you want to get some breakfast or something? Oh, ok, well you have my number, so maybe I'll see you around sometime.

The point is, there's a ubiquitous sense among journalists, particularly us young and foolishly optimistic bunch.

(I have to interupt here and explain that the main in the pink shirt sitting next to me just drunkenly asked me exactly what I was looking for "on that internet?" I told him I didn't exaclty know; what's anybody looking for out on the internet, I asked?
Joe — that's his name — said I type too fast. "You need to slow down. You can't always move forward. You won't catch anything by moving forward. It will fucking find you. It will FUCKING FIND YOU." Now he's hollering at girls 40 years younger than him who just walked past. Happy hour is fantastic!)

As I was saying, there is a ubiquitous sense among us that our talents are being aggregiously underappreciated in the very sphere they are most suited for. It is not that the jouralism industry is dying (it's coughing up blood, but not dying yet) or even that newspapers are dying (they are). But it's the radically maddening feeling of watching a rocket ship launch from the back of a steam-powered train but being onboard neither. So here we stand, a backpack full of training in the old ways and a head full of instincts about the new but being neither asked nor relied upon for our opinion on either.

And all I can think to do is sit at a bar after escaping the newsroom a few hours early and hack away in digital bits while a man named Joe slaps my back and tells me I'm a good kid while asking the bartender a half dozen times which receipt to sign.

I don't really want to be in the happy hour crowd, bookmarking my workday with a buffett of beer and rote recitations. That's where this comes in — welcome to my stopgap outlet, the placeholder until somethiing new emerges. It's a big gap — a really do hope you wiped your feet. We need to keep it clean in here people.

(Moments after I posted this, another guy standing next to me just refered to my newspaper as a "rag," then railed against illegal immigrants and how we need to be worried about the future of our young people. "Just like this young guy here, how old are you?" I told him my future was OK. "Well, you must have a rich daddy or something." No, actually. My Dad's dead, but I didn't say that. Then he went on about how we should be shooting first and asking questions later. Yikes.com.)