Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Slow News Day

One of the benefits of a slow news day is being able to wander down the interesting by-ways of the news. Cruising Jim Romenesko's Media News site turned up this fascinating column on the difficulties and possible death of the local columnist.

It talks about the loss of columnists like Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin, how that particular kind of "guy next door" voice is fading. The article contains this gem of a passage:
Across the country, many metro columnists are polite or parochial or tend
toward soft-feature blandness. Some newspapers seem to dole out the slots
on demographic grounds -- fielding a white man, a woman and a minority --
who play to their constituencies. Few register on the outrage meter.

Unlike op-ed pundits, who often deliver opinions from Olympian heights,
metro columnists are supposed to be out in the streets, more reporters than
pontificators. But as journalists have become more firmly entrenched in the
upper middle class -- writing books, sending their kids to private school,
moving from market to market -- many readers have come to view them as
out of touch with the community.
Perceptive, eh? There's more:

As he churns out three pieces a week, Lopez says he gets the greatest
response on "politically incorrect" subjects -- the kind that other Times writers
must treat delicately because of journalistic constraints.

"You have all these people wandering around the building talking about the
truth, and the truth is not in the newspaper," he says. "Here you come with a
column where there are no such rules and restrictions and you can just let
loose. You can take this two-fisted approach and not have to worry about the
tone and whether this is appropriate."
That doesn't much sound like our Commercial Appeal, though, I must say. As does this:

"If you're writing for urban readers, you're going to be writing for blacks and
Hispanics," he [Sam Fulwood, a Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist] says.
If he were to invent the local equivalent of Slats Grobnik,
Royko's fictional, beer-drinking Everyman, "it would have to be some sort of
yuppie who lives in the suburbs. The Plain Dealer and most newspapers are
aimed at that reader."

Finally comes the passage that really caught my attention:
columnists tapped into "a certain idiom that
was largely white ethnic European life in neighborhood bars and pubs. That
was best captured by Breslin and Royko. That life has faded with the
assimilation of these ethnic groups. I keep looking for a new idiom to come
In other words, in the case of the Commercial Appeal and especially the Memphis Flyer, they need to start recognizing the 50% of the population that is black and not just the wealthy whites out East in the County and beyond.

Take a look at the masthead for both papers then look at their main reporters and columnists. Overwhelmingly, they are white and middle class (or better). Very, very few black faces. In a community that is half-and-half black and white, that's unconscionable.

I think there's a warning about stones and glass houses that applies.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

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