Just Above Sunset
January 9, 2005 - "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"

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World’s Laziest Journalist

Sunday, January 9, 2005

By Bob Patterson


The Chris Matthews show on the NBC TV network has a popular feature where the host asks the guests to tell him and the audience something they don’t know.


“Something I don’t know” is the basis for all journalism.  If the audience learns something new and interesting, they will return for more of the same the next time.


The “something” for his show’s audience has to be understood by a wide swath of folks from all walks of life and all intelligence levels.  The material provided must hold the interest for every viewer.  It cannot be some esoteric bit of information that only a few will understand.


Online sites, which can appeal to a smaller more specific group, can be more esoteric in their “something” nuggets.  James Romenesko provides industry “shop talk” for journalists.  The Columbia Review of Journalism provides criticism of the news industry.  The web site laobserved

provides their audience with media news relevant to the LA area.


When a columnist lands a gig with the coveted mission statement of “write about anything you want to” is this not a blank check for the writer to examine the areas he finds interesting and pass them along?  With some help from friends and an occasional plug from other sites, a readership will be built that knows what to expect when they “tune in” each week.


If it’s good enough, the audience will grow by word of mouth recommendations.  (Just Above Sunset online magazine doesn’t have ads, and doesn’t even have a pay-pal button.  That may change, but for now, all we ask is that if you like us, tell your friends about us.)  If it’s not, the columnist may wind up writing what amounts to a letter to his personal friends and relatives.  The revenue for a TV show depends on the size of its audience, so they want the biggest audience possible.


What type information passes the “pass it along” test for this column?


We saw that the blog writers and commentators were intrigued by the possibility that, during the election debates, President Bush had a lump visible on the back of his suit coat.  Some speculated that he was being coached via a radio connection.  We hear that it was a GPS device there for security reasons.  If he were kidnapped in some spectacular event, the security folks would know where he was via the GPS system.  


[Editor’s Note: see October 10, 2004 - George Bush's suits from Georges de Paris... And is told what to say by whom? for the earlier discussions.]


We hear that Chrysler Corporation is very satisfied with the PT Cruiser and that their next example of retro styling will revive the tail fin.


Sometimes a column has to get exclusivity by offering a unique point while speculating and interpreting a topic that everyone is discussing at the water cooler. 


When the New York Times ran an editorial titled: “Is the US Stingy? Yes.”  This columnist fired off a letter to the editor asking how much Al Qaeda was contributing to the tsunami relief effort.  They used a similar letter that wanted to know how much monetary aid Saudi Arabia was sending to their Muslim brothers.   


[Editor’s Note: See Saudis outdo government, giving 82 million dollars to tsunami victims - noting thirty million from the Saudi government and eighty-two million in private donations.]


The evening news has shown Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush visiting the tsunami disaster area.  Have any of the bloggers thought about this pair of related items: What is a “prince in waiting”?   Is Jeb Bush a “president in waiting”?


Speaking of the tsunami disaster, have the news organizations mentioned any effect it might or might not have had on the American military base in the Indian Ocean?


While we are at it, what happened in Antarctica when the wave hit.  Don’t want to see those cute little penguins get hurt.  We haven’t seen anyone on the Internet or major media ask that question, let alone answer it.  It probably didn’t have much of an effect and that topic doesn’t deserve much attention. 


Sometimes an online columnist, who knows the preferences of a few members of the audience, can drop in an item just to amuse one or two of the readers and hope that the rest find it interesting.  Did you see the New York Review of Books article about capital punishment in Texas, written by Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking)?


An online columnist can drop in an arcane item and hope that it sparks the readers to do a Google search and do further reading.  Who was Owen Wister?  Why was he known for the line:  “When you say that, smile!”?  Where can one read some of his short stories?


Other times, a columnist can put in some information that will leave the readers scratching their head and wondering:  Why on earth would he know that?  An example of that might be: One of the best websites on the subject of handcuffs is run by a guy named Yossie.



Another of this column’s recurring leitmotifs (Will William Safire, in his On Language, column in the Sunday New York Times magazine section say that “recurring Leitmotifs” is redundant?  I hope so.  We need the publicity.) is the use of On the Road, beatnik, fifties rebel, vagabonding writer items and so we were delighted to learn that the website for Greyhound Bus in Australia has an interesting offer concerning a pass for touring around down under.  If you get one, you could roam around, write about it.  Perhaps it’s a chance to become the Australian Jack Kerouac?


Some widely available information will eventually fade from the public’s memory and reviving it can provide a “something” (with some nostalgic value) that the folks didn’t know before they started reading the column.


In July of 1942, while the world’s attention was focused on Irwin Rommel and his posse in the African desert, the FBI arrested the former head of the American Bund at an obscure seacoast village in Mexico.  (Look it up in Time and/or Newsweek magazines for early July 1942.)  Back then it was not just a matter of getting an e-mail from the local sheriff.  Communications were primitive and making a call to Washington from that rural location must have been tricky at best.  How did they find out that the fugitive and his girlfriend were there?  Do you think maybe there was a tiff and she dropped the dime?


In July of 1942, the New York Times had a heading for listings of TV broadcasts but most noted that there were none scheduled. 


Punk rock in 1942?  Take a look at the film classic This Gun for Hire.  Veronica Lake is shown in one segment singing a song.  Was polyvinyl in use back then?  She seems to be wearing a dress that is either made of that modern material or it’s made of rubber.  Punk rockers would love it.  Punk could be older than their own parents.


[Did someone just say that it’s not bloody well likely that that movie will be showing in their neighborhood anytime soon?  It played in Westwood, last Friday night as part of UCLA’s Graham Green on film series.  Hah!  We love livin’ in LA!]


Sometimes the “something” can just be early use of a feature story that catches on with the mainstream media.  [It makes it look as if the columnist were “hep” (or is the more modern term: “hip?)]   How long until the New York Times does a feature story on the punk rock group, Hatebeak?   They use a talking parrot as the lead vocalist.  (Hey, Madigan, if you’re reading this, send this URL to your features editor.  Oh, yeah, let’s do lunch.)


How long until the mainstream media does a story on the rivalry between the two bands Taking Back Sunday and Brand New?  The one website that is following the friction between those two bands has been getting an incredibly high number of hits on their message board.  (Madigan, are you still reading this?) 


If you were born in a barn on Christmas, perhaps you would be used to thinking of things in terms of a Twilight Zone world.  It happened to George Clayton Johnson (his parents were traveling near Cheyenne Wyoming) and he gained some fame as being one of the writers whose work appeared on the famous television series.  He also wrote the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast (not the pilot), but he probably won’t read this, because he still does not use a computer to do his work.  (Just in case, belated Happy Birthday, George.)


Novelist, short story writer, and award winning editor Dennis Etchison has been quoted (by this columnist when he wrote it down on March 5, 2004) as saying:  “The only thing worse than a big bully is a little bully.”  That’s a very wise zen koan, in our estimation.


Now, this week, the disk jockey will conduct a rather time consuming closing ceremonies.  Some of this column’s older readers may not be aware of the karma energy released when someone plays the movie Wizard of Oz with the sound turned down, and instead has Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon provide the audio portion of the experiment.  If those aforementioned older readers were not aware of the synchronicity of the two separate items, then seeing the interconnection will be a first for them and possible “something” they didn’t know that will also amuse them.  Come back again next week, we’ll try to tell you something you might not know.  Until then, be like president Bush and the folks in Texas; don’t listen to any disparaging words.




Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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