A Good Week for Little Guys

Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with examples of both good journalism and bad from the nation’s major news outlets that we forget to poke around the hinterlands, where, under the radar, many dozens of small newspapers are cranking out solid — and sometimes outstanding — work.

One such example, of course, was spotlighted yesterday when the Willamette Week, an alternative paper in Portland, Ore., with a circulation of 90,000, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, prevailing over dozens of nominations from vastly larger outlets. But there are others as well.

Our Southern bureau today calls our attention to Solares Hill, a free weekly published in Key West, Fla., by an editorial staff of six, and an outlet that consistently offers thoughtful commentary and textured news coverage not often found in Key West’s larger daily.

Consider the Editor’s Note from David Ethridge this week. It’s a eulogy, of sorts, to the late Terri Schiavo, wrapped into a scathing assessment of the political (and media) circus that preceded her death. As an indictment, it’s sorrowful, insightful, and head-and-shoulders above any such summary that we’ve seen from the punditocracy blathering forth from the corporate media that blanket the landscape. We’ll let Ethridge, long a community gadfly, speak for himself:

I can’t remember a story I hated as much as the Terri Schiavo one. It has been never-ending, rolling out day after day after week after week in endless litigation and intense emotions for 15 years.

The very last thing the world needs now is another person pontificating on the morality of her situation or tenuousness of her medical condition. All parts of those debates are sad beyond measure, and we will not join them. But what I find equally distressing is the cynicism of all those right-wing preachers and politicians who have jumped into the fray in an effort to further cement their positions with the mindless Bible thumpers of the far right. They will use any measure, no matter how crass, for the smallest political advantage. Already, the names and addresses gleaned from fund-raising efforts to feed the Schiavo lawyers have generated political fund-raising lists that are selling at premium prices per name, ready for the next round of elections. Well after her death, her name will be used for evil purposes, and that is certainly something more to pity.

May she rest in peace, not in the welter of political rancor.

Yet one more piece of fallout from this public trauma is that all of the news bunnies of local television seem to have rushed back to RTVMP school to learn how to squeeze every last drop of sanctimony and false sincerity out of their voices. From one end of the television dial to the other, young men and women, well-coifed, well-dressed and sharp-jawed, speak ever so unctuously about things they do not know. Terri Schiavo’s wretched condition has given them yet one more level of hyped emotion with which they can communicate their plastic understanding.

May she rest in piece.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.