Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Burning it at Both Ends

You know you're a writer when you light up a cigarette at the beginning of each paragraph. If you get through it - the paragraph that is - before the cigarette, you're plagiarizing. At least that seems to define my writing style. It's not much high-octane, pedal to floor; it's more like a trained meditation - inhaling the fresh-aire scent of bull shit.

In some fields, it doesn't matter where you step, you're going to plant one foot squarely into the gooey middle. It's the stench of familiarity, and the feel that I'm home. I've already stepped in it, too far out to turn back; what can I do? I wipe my shoes as best I can and keep going.

My posts are pure opinion. I link to interesting articles and sites throughout most, but it's to keep my brain straight on the theme. It's my take on whatever. And it's all bullshit really.

Maybe I should put this post in my 'about me' profile as a precursor to everything I write. I'm biased by my own observations and insights. And maybe, that's the way the "Media" is. Everyone is talking bias. Nothing is as "fair and balanced" as we all would wish it to be. But, what's truth?

Statistics can be skewn to fit any side of any debate. The trick lies in the bullshit equation. How well can you present your stats. What's been lost in the public eye is our own biases. We're such a letigious socity we're teaching our kids to look for loopholes. It's getting to the point that we have to sign liability waivers before we can drop our kids off for a slumber/swimming party.

Everyone is out to be patted on the back or wallet these days. Some get off on writing letters to the editor ranting their expletive viewpoints because the local paper chose to run Lance Armstrong's rebuttal against performance enhancing drugs above the story about Cindy Sheehan's Crawford protests. Dditorials will be editorials...if you're too ignorant to understand those are supposed to be opinionated and controversial, then maybe you need to go back to reading Dick and Jane.

I thought about all this last night after having been asleep for a couple hours. Bad journalism does run rampant in this country. When you're being paid to be invisible, it's hard for the public to identify you. Day-in and day-out, you jump all over town tracking down sources and information and documents to write a perfect story to turn-in by 5 o'clock, your editor tells you it's not good enough and tells you to re-write it...in five or ten minutes. It takes 10 positives to take away a single negative.

I'm not justifying bad reporting. I'm trying to understand why we take such pleasure in exposing a "biased" story. Is it because the reported facts speak against what we individually believe? Every time it happens, it's just someone who's not getting enough attention at their job or in their bedroom looking to shine in that 15-minute spotlight.

I don't know what the answer is. I'm just telling my computer how I see it from my office chair. Maybe it's the two-foot seperation. Or maybe it's that I smoke too much when i'm reading or writing. I take that moment to ash my cigarette, look away from the plasma glow and black script and remember that I'm killing myself - obviously a sign of imperfection. An addiction that I can only fault myself for having.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Esquire, the Associated Press, and me

The post begins like a Quentin Tarantino film...with a fetish.

fesish - n. 1, an object supposed to embody a spirit; totem. 2, an object of abnormal love or passion.

I put Esquire magazine on the same pedistal QT puts his beloved feet and gore. My fingers lead my eyes from word to word across its glossy pages, like the magnetic skin on a woman's breast. Magazines are exactly experienced like this...they are the Great Monthly Equalizers. Once a month, men and women both experience PMS - guys know what i'm talking about. (we tell girlfriends we love them, they tell us we should've said "you're the love of my life," so, the next month we say that and then we're called lying bastards and told to go to hell...wtf?) From now on, before I say "I Love You," I'm going to buy us both a magazine subsription that releases new issues that same week.

But why? I can get an online subscription to any magazine and literally read it before it even hits the presses. What is it about those glossy pages? A guy's fascination with a girlfriend's breasts?...It's tangible, they don't "belong" to us, yet we can see/touch them just about any time we want. We're a part of something. I read a magazine article and feel 1/8 writer, 3/8 subject, and 1/2 of something much, much greater...a community.

Communities know no town/state/hemisphere borders anymore. Everyone has internet friends - people you may, or may not have ever met - and you rely on them like the next door neighbor you borrow power tools from. Who does their own home improvement projects these days, though? We've lost touch with our neighbors. We get national/global news from cable tv and highlight local news from the 6 o'clock news right before a Friends re-run airs.

With all the information outlets for the "general consumer" the local newspaper is yesterday's news. By the time we read it in the morning, maybe half of it is still true. Media-watchers have been predicting the death of the newspaper since radio. Yet, newspapers remain.

But, the daily voices of the American Revolution are in danger of withering away if they continue to believe they can compete with real-time media. And it's the news industry's dependence on the double-edged Associated Press that has fucked things up.

I make a daily trip to 7-Eleven. Inevitably, i need cokes, smokes, beer, lunch, or just a Super Big Gulp of sweet tea. I walk in the front door and read the front page of every newspaper they have displayed. I've seen both the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman (both nationally respected newspapers) run the same cover photo and story - both story and photo were attributed to the AP. Count the number of staff-written stories, then you'll see just how dominant the AP is. Read the intro paragraph; read the intro to the like-minded story on other papers...here's an original, staff-written NewsFlash: they're the same stories.

Newspapers used to be written and published by laborors trying to earn a living and make a difference. They published posts, not unlike this one, and opinionated essays about the goings on in the community and across the sea. Merchants used to bring European stories to American soil, much like an Associated Press of sorts. But it's importance to the American audience, then, was like our current fascination with Entertainment Journalism like People and US Weekly. It was more of a hobby to read than anything serious.

While the local affiliates of ABC, CBS, & NBC are out there trying to give summaries of the big stories happening in every community within its rating area, the cities' local papers should be giving the stories not covered at 6pm. Instead, they're regurgitating AP stories.

A newspaper diet should be single-serving. There should be national and global news. Small-town papers cannot afford to send reporters to every corner of the world...that's where the AP comes in. But the newspaper should have a section devoted to stories such as this, somewhere other than the front page. How many small-town Texans are directly affected by the Israeli pull-out of Gaza? It's news, it's important, and it should be read, but that same Texas small town would need to know about a car wreck or burglary that occurrend two blocks from Main Street.

That's what the local network news outlets, cable news shows, and high-speed internet news organizations cannot provide. That's the new newspaper market. Only, no one's told the newspapers this. A few months ago, Chuck Klosterman, in his montly Esquire column "Chuck Klosterman's America" said that Americans have too many choices these days. America is no longer a solitary audience. Now, audience refers to niche or target audiences...25-36 y/o, single, working-class, sports enthusiest, outgoing males, etc. Demographics are everything. Location is no longer an option unless it can exemplify target-audience profiling.

Except in your local community. By default, all citizens of a particular town have location in common. Maybe you're a Democrat and maybe your neighbor is a Republican, but the fact remains that you both probably shop at the same Wal-Mart. Let CNN or Fox or any of the numerous economy-based blogs tell you about Wal-Mart's influence on the nation's economy; shouldn't the local newspaper write the story about the hometown grocery store that the new Wal-Mart is driving out of business?

Until newspapers change or until i can convince some newspaper editor of this reality, I'll read this month's Esquire magazine that i've been searching for since leaving college and wonder what Miss Right is reading on her period.