Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fishwrap's End

No One To Claim The Body...No Tears To Wet The Graveside Earth

Let me state right here that unlike my blogfather Steve Gilliard, I have never been an actual journalism student.

I have though, for most of my life been, a student of journalism

And avid one at that. Maybe even a news junkie. I was taught to read when I was three years old by my father, who would take me to Mount Morris Park in Harlem, and sit me on his lap and read The New York Times to me. Every other paragraph, him—those he did not read, I did.

There is still a certain rush I get out of picking up a newspaper—that little anticipatory glee you get when you read a story to the “jump”...never knowing how it's going to end up as you thumb past pages and sections to the “continued from” blurb.

I cited my newspaper love here recently:

I grew up as did our blogfather Steve, a child of to-the-rest-of-the-world “Horrible” Harlem, NYC... reading the journalistic likes of Tom Wicker and R.W. Apple. Jack Anderson and Murray Kempton. I read Gay Talese and the great Jimmy Breslin, (who probably won't remember me doing so, but I nuked a taped segment of his briefly shown ABC show when he did a man-on-the-street segment showing how Americans didn't know their politicians—and I immediately knew who the pictured Tip O'Neill and Caspar Weinberger were. They turned the camera off) as well as Mike Royko, Pete Hamill, and Sydney Schanberg.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who I met two nights ago in Manhattan at a large specialty store) were names in my family household before “All The President's Men”. I mean Goddamn, sportswriters? I'd read about Grantland Rice and his renowned “Four Horsemen” piece in a book on early 20th century American History. I followed the dugout and sideline talk of the creepy Dick Young, the brassy Jerry Izenberg, Beantown's Bob Ryan and the thoughtful Dick Schaap. I even read the execrable Mike Lupica for shits and giggles.

I remember The New York Post from when it was a left-leaning paper, pre-Murdoch, and mourned the demise of the original Long Island Press, whose plant and newsroom I walked and rode my bike past several times a week while mucking around the then El-shadowed Jamaica Avenue shopping strip for fun.

The city is full of huge, now alternately-used hulks that once housed a battery of newspapers you've seen spinning into view in many an old movie montage. The old World Telegram, The Journal-American, Herald Tribune, Daily Mirror—those memorable names were almost all casualties of the ruinous city newspaper strike of 1966. Said strike left the city with but three bigs—The Times, the Daily News and The Post, and the limping, aforementioned Long Island Press which would succumb in 1977.

Being a news junkie, I mourn newspaper deaths. Startups like the short-lived “Trib”, or the Black-run and oriented City Sun left me saddened when they faded out. Note that I said “newspapers”...not naked propaganda arms and shit-stirring cage-liners. Those I don't miss. When the Post flirted with (and practically fellated bankruptcy) under Murdoch before his empire solidified enough that it could continue as a promotional “loss leader”, I cheered on its demise, as it was (and still is) a race-baiting cave-drawing pretending at newspaper-dom. I've boycotted it since the early eighties, when it was infamously ripped by Bloomingdale's chief Marvin Traub, who supposedly told Murdoch when asked why his store would not buy ads “Your readers are our shoplifters.”

The city's Daily News has taken a rightward tack in the last fifteen years as well, with its obvious dogging the steps of any Black politico in town who dares a hundredth of what his White counterparts do. They also get rockage off on dumpster-diving on organizations run by people of color, but their saving grace is their Nixonian tendency to do just enough halfway decent stuff to keep the people guessing. The Post has no such play at balance and revels in its ink-smudged assholery.

Said New York Post was pretty much this city's lone purchasable purveyor of high-grade wingnut stupid.

Pretty much...but sadly, not quite alone.

A newspaper died in New York last week, and not only did almost no one notice, but the thing went unclaimed P.R.-wise and was laid to rest in a journalistic “Potter's Field”. Unlamented by anyone who mattered and unmissed in a city of eight million-plus people. That paper was the temporarily revived (from a previous prestigious incarnation) New York Sun.

You probably never heard of it. That's okay—millions of New Yorkers didn't either. It was a broadsheet, not a tabloid like the News and Post, and it positioned itself to be a conservative counter to the “liberal” Times. (Somewhere, with someone else's husband I'd surmise, Judith Miller's face makes a cracking sound as she smiles over that one.) I saw The Sun all the time. Every day actually for a couple of years, in fact. Not because I bought it, but because it was practically thrust into my hand or bag by hyper-aggressive “vendors” giving the God-awful thing away for free.

The conservative New York Sun announces on its front page each morning that it reaches “150,000 of New York City's Most Influential Readers Every Day.” I read in Scott Sherman's sympathetic April 30 profile in this magazine that the Sun says it is selling 13,211 hard copies a day and giving away more than 85,000.

But if my experience is any guide, these numbers are about as reliable as a Bush budget briefing. I have twice received free Sun subscription offers, initially when the Sun began publication, in the spring of 2002, and more recently this past winter. Both times I signed up. In 2002 I got bupkes, though I called about it more than once. Between January 1 and Memorial Day, I not only hassled the circulation people myself; so did my intern, Mike, many times over five months. Over and over, the Sun's staffers insisted that I was getting the paper and just didn't know it. Eventually about eight copies showed up one morning addressed to different apartments in my building. That lasted a day. (Ironically, one more showed up Tuesday morning, May 29, as this column was due.)

I have similar reservations about the paper's purported sales figures, however meager. I did no sleuthing myself, but not only is this a business rampant with fraud, it's also characterized by more shady-but-legal tricks of the trade than a border-based bordello. According to William Breen, for instance, who says he worked for a New York City wholesaler (and wrote a 2004 letter to Jim Romenesko's blog, MediaNews), city news dealers paid just a penny per copy. That means it makes no economic sense to return the leftovers. The result, Breen claimed, was “their circ figures look great. Virtually every copy they print is 'sold.”

I will vouch for that chicanery. And what's doubly funny about it is that the wingnutty rag was often handed out at the subway entrances of stations in various “Hoods” in New York. There was an intensely aggressive hawker at my home station for two years. I never saw this person sell a copy. She simply yelled “Free newspaper! Free New York Sun!” And when the takers were few (as it often was) because the other freebie papers being handed out were smaller, easier to handle tabloids, this person would get downright nasty, hissing “It's free, dammit! Don't you understand free?” I saw this at my station, at the Utica Avenue station on the A line, at 125th Street on the 4, 5, and 6 lines and at 116th St. outside the 2 and 3's IRT station. That “sold” to “given away” ratio they combined to get a circulation number holds serious weight, as the secondary benefit of handing them out in the “hood” would become apparent when one rode home late nights and left those stations.

I'd see discarded broadsheet bits to and fro, and almost always a large stack of 'em plopped into the nearest wire trashbasket. Thirty...forty of 'em at least, being perused by their proper readers—empty soda bottles and coffee cups...with stale buttered-bagel halves peering over their sticky shoulders. What I hated about this was more than the mess of the paper's physical detriitus, but the reasoning behind it. I remember seeing it being given out for free in the financial district and “better” neighborhoods early on, with few takers as the aforementioned more compact freebies won the day. That soon stopped. By choice, the powers-that-be deemed the inner-city the new free distribution zone, not because of any bold outreach—but clearly because they were playing on a perception of poor folks' being willing to take any-thang given out free. And when they couldn't give the craap away, they could callously dump the remainder around the neighborhood. A stack of forty Suns would catch a lot of attention somewhere that media folk may trod.

Not so much 'round the way, though.

Eventually, even the giveaway hawkers were gone, and I, along with everybody else in town went back to giving less than a hair on a rat's ass about the paper. The only time recently I recall anything from it was seeing links at winger websites to it as The Sun had gamely tried to position itself as the high-falutin', poly-syllabic (as opposed to the Post) defender of all things Giuliani as his campaign sagged and finally ruptured under the weight of newly-exposed skullduggery earlier this year. A task probably only superceded in futility by a kids party booking agent shopping a post-conviction John Wayne Gacy as a baloon-animal clown.

That lonesome tack may well have been the death-knell, as even the skeevy Post joined in on the fevered dogpile on the discovered-to-be-perpetuallly-in-heat Rudy.

And perfectly, the one right-wing nut who constantly linked to the mediocre little scat-sheet is the one who cried the loudest over it's going gills-up in the journalistic fishbowl—namely, the mirror universe's answer to Atticus Finch, Glenn “Instahack” Reynolds, who mewled a pissy eulogy thusly: (No direct link to the creep, thank you very much—Sadly No's little rip is fine, though.)

“...But if you really want improvement over the longer term, you need to support competition that isn't an arm of the Democratic Party. The New York Sun folded yesterday. It was a serious, right-leaning newspaper in New York City. It was undercapitalized, and its shutdown is probably symptomatic of what's going to happen to a lot of bigger newspapers soon, but if even a fraction of the people who are unhappy with the Times had subscribed it would still be in business.


And if you're one of the people with creative interests, start making alternative stuff. Not just news and punditry, but entertainment, documentaries, etc. If An American Carol does well this weekend, it'll make it a lot easier for the next film of its type to be made.

You'll excuse me if I don't get all teary and whatnot. This mendacious git has spent the better part of the last six years cheering for The New York Times' going down the tubes, whooping it up for every circulation or stock dip, and frantically bulking up his forearm—“exercising it” over Air America's troubles, and we're supposed to get all verklempt because his favorite freeper paper not run by a megalomaniacal cult leader is worm food? Please. Although I do love his call to the masses (the same people who were apparently supposed to also help “overwhelm” Daily Kos when the bat-shitteous Townhall was relaunched in '06) to do their part by skipping the crystal meth every once in a while and supporting whatever right-wing crap needs to make payroll that week.

It was a rag, plain and simple, and it failed in a teeming city of eight million people—the “Media Capital of The World”—because it had as much integrity as a jailhouse “trusty” and all the hard-hitting journalism of the moon-phase page of GRIT. The thing was a vanity project run by a coterie of “American Psycho”-type neo-yuppie moneybags who in a post 9-11 world presumed with great hubris it would be “GOP...Now and FOREVER!” like their myopic pundit-class paterfamilia Hugh Hewitt...who after the scintillating clairvoyance of his books “Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority”(2006) and “A Mormon in the White House?” (2008!!!), has now found pickins' Coulter's-hair thin for his latest bit of terlet-typing “How Sarah Palin Won the Election ...and Saved America”—I shit you not. Thus proving that even The Devil himself has a credit limit. Any hint of credibility was ash-canned and land-filled with their sniffy defending of Rudy as tales of illegal dog-walks and illicit doggy...well, you get the picture...illicit doings dandelion-ed all over his not-so-tidy lawn of a track record. Throw in their hackneyed efforts at “cool”, and a counter-intuitive marketing approach—did anyone really think that a paper playing at conservative “elites” while...oh, staunchly defending the uniformed murderers of Sean Bell wouldn't end up with stacks in the trash when they tried to hand 'em out in the 'hood?


See, times are tough all over for my beloved newspapers. There is a contraction on in the business, and papers who can't cut it, or don't have decent secondary revenue streams will either merge, downsize drastically, or die. Even the grey lady Times is finally physically manifesting the pinch, having shrunken in its folded-out size and merging once-separate sections into “two-in-ones“ (“Metro” now part of the “Main” just before the Op-Ed, and “Sports” now the wagging tail of the “Business” section) just to save on newsprint and bundling costs. They downsize staff-wise too, trimming newish folks and some who've seen the days when cigarette smoke hung in the ceiling lights like an upper layer of atmosphere. The super-aggresive hawkers would eventually disappear too—even they've got to be paid. And yes, sometimes a paper dies. You feel for the workers left to founder in an inhospitable employment universe, and a tougher-still journalism world.

But I'm having a tough time mustering a lot of pity for The Sun's people. That's the fault of management and the supercilious tack they took. The paper came swaggering into town like an obnoxious, “Benjamin”-tossing new-jack bogarting his way to the rail of a neighborhood bar full of regulars. No humility. Just brag and bucks. And said new-jack's attitude didn't help him on the pick-up level either—no matter how many samoleons he flashed. The regulars froze him out. The wallet empties out. The new-jack bottoms out. And when the tab doesn't get paid, the bouncer throws him out I do feel for the little guys. The pressmen and drivers (what there was of them, evidently). The inky-handed humps who busted it so the damn thing got out—to who, who knows...but those folks I feel for.

It's the jerks at the top who ran it into the ground with a daffy, “we're-too-cool-for-school” marketing strategy, assuming everyone in town were bigoted, macanudo-smoking wannabe “big swinging dicks” like they were who I don't give a rat's ass about. And for all their flowery, end-game “It has been the honor of our lives to have been in harness with you” pap on the editorial page, and “we were screwn” talking points / excuses, “SuperChicken's” infamous riposte comes to mind. “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it”. Mourn for the little guy, yes I will. But I'll never bitch when “death” swings his steely scythe at egomaniacal shitbags at the top. People who got off on things making said little guy's life that much harder in an already tough-ass town to live in.

This bit of foolscap and fishwrap we'll get along without just fine, thank you very much.

So fare thee “eh”, O' New York Sun. We hardly knew ye. All 13,211 of us New Yorkers who “bought” you every day. I suppose they'll miss you. As will the tedious Instahack, Lou Dobbs, Brit Hume and the remainder of the clutch of knuckle-draggers who linked you / touted you / tried to legitimize you by propping you up with half-assed publicity.

Me? Shucks...I'll just bid you adieu in a language right wing nuts can understand—from a classic Western movie.

No, nothing as treacly as “Shane! Come back, Shane!”

Powers Boothe's “Curly Bill” from “Tombstone” is more like it. When a defeated enemy was pretty much run out of town, Curly Bill sat back, watched the sad procession and simply said...