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May 1, 2005 - Kiss her, you fool!

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World’s Laziest Journalist

May 2, 2005

By Bob Patterson


Remember the “screwball comedy” movies from long ago that featured a handsome leading man and young lady who was undeniably in the “good looking” category?  The two always seemed oblivious to each other’s charm.  Circumstances would have them working in tandem (and close physical proximity) and they would bumble along, completely unaware of the other’s “animal magnetism.”  (That’s what they called “sex appeal” back then, boys and girls.)  Eventually everyone in the theater would be urging the guy to “kiss her, you fool!”  Suddenly, the fellow would see that his pal was gorgeous and he would give her a short example of his skill at osculating (the Hayes code mandated that an intergender [guys kissing guys would have to wait until the Hayes code “bit the dust.”] example of necking must not exceed ten seconds in duration.)  At that point, they went to fade out and the audience was advised that they lived happily ever after.


Readers of websites about the craft of journalism, such as Romenesko’s Media News or the Columbia Journalism Review daily site might be reminded of the screwball comedy when they think about two of the most volatile issues getting attention these days.  On the one hand some folks are concerned about the future of newspapers and on the other, newspaper editors are grousing about the blog threat to credibility, truth, justice and the America way of life.


[These days comedies don’t win Oscars.  How many did It Happened One Night win?]


Some doom and gloomers see the end of daily print journalism.  Gimme a break.  When you go to another town, are you going to buy a copy of the local daily fifteen years from now, or are you going to sit down at the counter and feed some quarters into a computer to check out the local news website?  The Internet will never replace the local paper with the jumble of local crime news, social notices, and unbelievable bargains available this weekend only.  How about this.  It’s time for you to “sit on the throne.”  Are you going to grab a laptop or today newspaper?


[Was there real chemistry between Hepburn and Tracey or was it an example of “that’s why they call it ‘acting.’”?  Did folks pay good depression era dimes to see if they could distinguish the reality from the acting?]


Bloggers are not aware of the specifics of journalism, and that makes the corporate lawyers as nervous as a knickknack shopkeeper who sees Ferdinad (of Monroe Leaf fame) in his store shopping for a birthday present for his girlfriend.


Most bloggers are amateurs who don’t have a clue about real journalism.  The best bloggers are journalism veterans.  Most employees in any newspaper’s editorial department want to taste the heady waters usually available only to columnists.  Blogging gives them the chance to do that.  Folks like Matt Welch and Ken Layne will not suddenly disregard all their training and forget to fact check their own blog work, but amateurs don’t know about journalism’s first guideline: accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy.


Recently at a bloggers event, Los Angeles Times Opinion Section editor Bob Sipchen was called upon to single-handedly refute the premise that newspapers are a thing of the past.  He got off some good one-liners and handled the difficult predicament well.  He probably had dreams of Custer’s last stand that night.


Some bloggers are well founded in the basics of journalism, but many aren’t.  Some news organizations are beginning to cover blogging per se.  If newspapers want to make the point that many of the amateur citizen journalists don’t know the fundamentals, perhaps they should hire a journalism professor to be a critic of blogging?  Newspapers have staff critics writing about music, movies, and TV, so why not have a blog critic?  Initially some of the assessments might seem quite brutal, but how else are these citizen journalists going to learn what it’s like when a city editor rips a reporter’s best efforts to shreds?


Sometimes, it seems, bloggers go to cover an event and come back with a roll call list of their fellow bloggers who also attended the event.  They then link to a story (usually done by a paid journalist) online and then congratulate themselves for their performance.  A newspaper blog critic would not only be a good “self defense” move, but it would also, ultimately, speed up the evolution of blogs into a viable member of the news media family.


[How many comedies did Rock Hudson and Doris Day make together?  Were they distinctly different or were they rather formulaic?]


The presidential election of 2004 brought out a slew of bloggers who dittoed the conservative point of view and a lucky few got a plug on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. 


They lacked, however, the cynicism of real journalists.  Let’s say for example that an unscrupulous Snidely Whipsnade type got some genuine documents from his clients days as a Boy Scout that proved that the candidate did not earn his Eagle Scout merit badge.  Let’s say that hypothetically the Whipsnade strategy master took that documentation and forged copies.  Our fictional example then has Snidely duping a blogger eager for publicity into denouncing the patently phony documents as forgeries.  That way the issue of the validity of the candidate’s Eagle Scout merit badge is rendered moot, regardless of the veracity of the charge.  All the attention has been shifted to focus on the phony documents themselves.  Newspaper editors would naturally be reticent to use material provided by such easily manipulated online writers. 


Not all bloggers are so easily stroked, but hard-boiled city editors remain (as always) skeptical.  Bloggers tend to make categorical statements (such as this one?)  Wise old editor adage: “If your mother tells you she loves you; check it out before you print it.”


One of the joys of being a columnist is the option to be opinionated.  Duane Eddy rules guitar history!  Journalism avoids opinion (ideally) and relies on facts.  Who was voted the best guitarist by Dick Clark’s audience from 1957 to 1962?  In late 1963, the honors were won by an upstart from Great Britain, at the time when the expression “a hard day’s night” was in vogue.  Who was that fellow who won the title seven years in a row?  The answer is a fact not an opinion.


Back in the 1930’s, a fellow who had studied journalism in college, was assigned to drive around the USA and send back columns detailing his observations and reactions.  Talk about giving a kid the keys to the toy store.  The guy was free to wonder in the “any way the wind blows” manner and stop to see whatever caught his eye.  When WWII began, the fellow won a Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting.  This early practitioner of the “on the road” genre was named Ernie Pyle.


A few years back, some fellows embarked on a venture to foster awareness of Parkinson’s disease in a project titled “Drive Around the World.”  They drove through North and South America, Australia, and Asia.  They blogged their trip as it progressed.


Wild prediction time!  Eventually, some bold, daring, and a bit reckless city editor is going to have an Archimedes moment and (cue the cartoonist’s light bulb) realize that if a person (it could be a woman, eh?) with good foundation in the basics of journalism and a proficiency with a laptop, is sent off to emulate the Pyle mission across America, that publication might (just might, mind you) be rewarded with a massive expansion of the number of hits on their website.


Gee, maybe Pyle was an anomaly.  Have any other columnists been a big circulation draw?  Have the fact checker see if Drew Pearson, Earl Wilson, Walter Winchell, or Gloria Graham earned their paychecks. 


Dang!  In the golden age of “cost efficiency” the newspaper publisher wants to know why he should subsidize such a picaresque adventure. 


What if the traditional morning newspaper morphs into a combination of ads combined with capsulated items grouped together.  All the foreign news items could be printed together alongside the big ad from (say) Henshey’s Department Store.  The national stories would be capsulated next to the ad for the Broken Drum Restaurant.  [We are using defunct examples from Santa Monica History as examples of real advertisers for this exercise in forecasting the future.]  Then the local news items could be on the same page as an ad for Zucky’s.  The short items would give the readers of the hard copy the “headlines.”  The reader would have the option to read long detailed stories on the web site when there was time enough to do that.  Newspaper editorial writers are always crying for more space and the man (or is it computers these days) who dummies the paper has this cost effective motto: “tight, tight, tight.”  The writers always want “more space.”


Well, a tight (not much room for editorial content) print newspaper can guide the audience to a website where long literary reports can run until the complete story is told.  Links to long transcriptions of important speeches can be provided.  That way the skimming newspaper reader doesn’t get bogged down, and the sincere student who is writing a term paper late at night can click to the documentation he needs for his project.  With unlimited room on the Internet, both the quick reader and the detailed minded scholar are satisfied.


Similarly the luxury of a big eye-pleasing picture pages seems to be a thing of the past for newspapers these days.  If the photographer turns in a variety of great images, the photo editor tries to find the one that best tells the story graphically and the photographers lament the fact that some other very excellent images will not be seen by the public.


(Years ago this columnist worked for a well-known news organization [if you listed wire services alphabetically it would be named first] and part of the job was to take negatives from Pulitzer Prize winning photographers that hadn’t been used, and throw them away, usually six months after they were taken.  It seemed like a waste of history and an insult to the likes of Horst Faas, Peter (?) Arnett and Eddie Adams to do it, but a job’s a job and you do what they pay you to do.  Wouldn’t those Pulitzer Prize winners have been much more satisfied to have their work displayed online rather than unceremoniously dumped after a period of waiting in the “discard” file?)


Last week, Just Above Sunset’s beloved editor and publisher, Alan Pavlik, and this columnist went taking photos in the canals area of Venice in Los Angeles.  If we had been working for a print newspaper, the photo editor would have had to select just one photo to illustrate a story about the canals celebrating their 100th birthday on the Forth of July this Summer.  With the freedom of space that goes with online publications, the back shop (AKA Alan) was able to do all the HTML-ing and put 60 photos on display.


It was, he reports, relatively easy to do.  (People working in the back shop of a newspaper who align the four separate negatives with the hole where the color photo will appear in the publication were called “strippers.”  It’s called getting the plates in registration.  It was demanding work that required precision and a willingness to work overtime, but some folks actually thought it was fun to do that work.) 


Newspapers who want to make their photographers extremely happy could post many photos from one assignment online just as Alan did with the Venice photos.  Posting great images (will submitting URL’s for photo contests replace the tedious work of preparing tear sheets for those same competitions?) online may sound extravagant, but when one considers that it will put a big smile on the photographer’s faces, and draw viewers and photography fans to the publications website, it sounds a great deal more effective than throwing away negatives that some daring fellow took while contending with enemy fire.


Editorial departments hunger for more space similar to the way painters want big empty canvases.  The Internet is for space that greedy writers and photographers on the newspaper’s staff want, very similar to what the Rocky Mountains were for the Lewis and Clark expedition. 


It may take a bit of management skill to get bloggers to realize that “write about anything you want” assumes they have the self-discipline to know that it is a bit of hyperbole to say they can do that.  Responsible, and well paid, columnists give the illusion that they can and will say anything.  Magicians are well paid to give the illusion that they cut a cute girl in half.  A good hard-boiled city editor can help a paid staff blogger realize that there really are limits to “unlimited freedom” and the capitalistic philosophy mandates that the rookie staff blogger accepts the “you got to go along to get along” implications of the realities of the situation.


Sometimes some community newspapers would hire a columnist and he/she would get a feeling of omnipotence, which could lead to some ill-advised fire and brimstone directed at a loyal advertiser.  Economic considerations would be emphasized by the offended party and the errant writer would be reigned-in or fired. 


This week’s installment of the World’s Laziest Journalist’s column has run longer than usual.  If this was a print newspaper, there would be some radical editing and head-butting before it would be sent to the linotype (Egad! MS Word spellcheck doesn’t recognize that word.) operators, but since this is an online publication, it will take just a bit longer for the HTML-ing to be done and “So What!” if it runs long this week?


Eventually the publishers with the tight budgets and the space hungry editorial departments will find a hidden treasure by adding bloggers to their roster.  We say: “Kiss her, you fool!” 


This week we are starting a recurring shtick to be part of each column.  We’ll run some items of interest to our readers in LA and the ones who used to live here.  This week’s bytes of LA are as follow:


A B-17 and a B-24 will visit the Western Museum of Flying at the Hawthorne airport May 5 to 9.   The airplanes are from the Collings Foundation and will be hosted locally by the Western Museum of Flying.

Want to hear the traffic reports for LA?  One of the LA radio news stations has begun streaming online. 


“The treasure which you think not worth taking trouble and pains to find, this one alone is the real treasure you are longing for all your life.  The glittering treasure you are hunting for day and night lies buried on the other side of that hill yonder.”  - B. Traven


Note for younger readers.  B. Traven was for literature what Frankie Wilde is for the art of DJ’ing.  Young folks might not know about the Apache dance, either, but they do know about romance and the tango, so if our very own DJ will put on the song Hernando’s Hideaway we’ll grab our partner and dip and twirl our way out of here for this week.  Come back again next week, but before then, please make out a list of the ten things you’ve wanted to do all your life but haven’t.  Then start a blog and tell the world, what you’re doing to put a check mark next to those things.  Have a steamy and torrid week.  Olé!




Copyright © 2005 – 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. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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