Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we receive each week. Think we’ve missed something? Well…comment! (Some comments shown here have been edited.)
Lou and Me
Ex-Chicago Tribune scribe Don Terry’s essay on his departure from the newspaper business—and how the Lou Grant television show helps him cope—prompted a mix of sympathy, criticism, and career advice.
“Don: I took a buyout, so I jumped and didn’t get pushed. I did a blog and it didn’t feel like either reporting or writing. Mostly I hated it. I’m writing a book and the loneliness is beyond description. Much to be grateful for, yes. But, they also tell me this grief thing takes two years. If that’s true I have 4 months left. Oy. The one mantra that works, for me, is that what I miss, every day, no longer exists. With the New York Times, that’s a physical as well as a “spiritual” fact. I miss 43rd street. I wish I’d thought of watching “Lou Grant” under the covers. A reminder that we had “it,” however you define “it” at the best and brightest time. All best, Jane”
“It’s nice to see my feelings in print, attributed to someone else. It belies the silent accusations that bitterness spurs my criticisms of the newspaper that laid me off 10 months ago. I was in the second wave, which got 15 people, only three of whom were under 50. The managing editor, who made the picks, prefers younger people for more than the obvious reasons. Since I was downsized/right-sized/laid off/axed/fired/booted, he has hired two new college grads and four interns. I can’t help but see my newspaper in one description - “dumb in the content they put in the paper, dumb in trying to appeal to the wrong audience, dumb in the way they market themselves.” I’m sad for the demise of what was a good, solid paper, and also sad for myself, that someone could take my career, my passion away from me just because he liked younger, more impressionable people. I try to read the paper but too often there’s too little in it. Now that I no longer work there, people feel free to tell how irrelevant they find it to their lives. That’s how it goes, I guess. But it’s not bad to be lumped in with Lou Grant et al.”
“Don, this is like something out of The Onion. Come on, Lou Grant was a TV show. It’s like a World War II vet taking solace in John Wayne movies. Lou’s world never existed. It was made up, just the like the sad story you’re now buying into about your career/life. It’s all in your head. Forget Lou Grant, and create a new, positive story about your life. It will work. You’ll feel better. I promise. By the way, you’re a really good writer.”
“Don, thank goodness you wrote this essay — how else would you get the unsolicited career advice I’m sure you’ve been dreaming of?
“Folks, whether you like how he’s spent the past year or not isn’t the issue. This is a thoughtful piece of writing; bittersweet, creative, well-crafted. The sort of thing I wish I found in newspapers on a regular basis, but don’t anymore. I’m glad Don found an outlet for such work elsewhere.”
—Emily Achenbaum Harris
”SUPPORT THE JOURNALIST”
Megan Garber wrote about “Radiohead journalist” Paige Williams’ self-funded piece, “Finding Dolly Freed,” and Williams’s request that readers donate what they can so that she recoup the cost of producing the piece. So how well does this model work?
“I thought this was an interesting experiment. I especially liked the comparison to Radiohead (the greatest band of the last 20 years - not an opinion - it’s a fact!).
“I do think the retrospective model has its merits. In the end, just like Spot.Us - I don’t think it’s a silver bullet or THE solution.
“While Spot.Us has raised as much as 10k before (and tomorrow we are going to put up our third 10k ambitious sized pitch) - the average pitch, as you note, is several hundred dollars (between 5-7). That can be decent money for some - and chump change for others. All depends on your point of view.
“But since it’s arguable - I don’t think retrospective donations (or prospective) can sustain an entire individual’s career.
“But just as Radiohead gets kudos - so does Paige. It takes a LONG time to get 1,000 true fans - but if she can do it - she will have something to stand on. Or so says Kevin Kelly (part of the inspiration for Spot.Us is his theory of 1,000 true fans: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php ).
“Anyways. Will be interesting to see if more take the plunge or if this is an isolated incident.”
“Halfway through this, I hit on the multiple awards (& job) the writer has had and thought, “No. Entitled ____”
“Although her predicament is timely, her bid for payment made me wonder how she got into this in the first: certainly someone with all this experience would know a brief, graph length PITCH was the way to go. Instead, she set out and followed her bliss. And that’s all fine and good except she wants to continue both her accumulation (of mainstream awards, recognition, etc. - and, oh, yes, money) while going commando. Or indie. Or, whatever distorted notion of hip she’s cultivated in her head.
“There’s another irony at work here, too: the writer’s chosen topic is a counter-cultural figure who eschews (or, did) consumer culture. Yet, the writer seems clueless as to how topic and act (of writing, publishing) are interrelated.
“People have been writing and publishing - yes, in America - for decades, if not centuries. Apparently, this has all happened off the radar of Neiman Fellows who are widely published in magazines supported by de Beers and car company advertising.
“Far from seeming like a progressive “solution,” the writer’s big [idea], though practical on one level, reeks of a certain cluelessness. She went out, & reported this story w/out a contract in hand. Lesson learned. Don’t foist bad judgment on the rest of us and try to pass off your depleted checking account on the rest of us. The writer hasn’t lost her job, isn’t on the verge of (fill in current disaster), she’s just a little poorer for the experience. And keen on advertising her stupidity.
“Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too.”
“Wow, quite the harsh bunch of critics here in the comments! I say bravo for Paige for giving this funding experiment a shot. I find the criticism that since a bunch of established NY publishers rejected her story it must not be that great to be a false assumption. How many publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s pitch for the Harry Potter series? How many newsrooms rejected applications from journalists who went on to be stars elsewhere?
“A couple quick points on retrospective funding:
“1. It’s probably a dangerous route other than for writers with very big reputations. If Thomas Friedman quit his op-ed gig at NYT and continued writing independently using the retrospective funding model (and other revenue sources like his books, speaking gigs, smart use of social media, etc.), I suspect he’d make a decent living.
“2. More likely, the power of the network when applied to retrospective funding will generate more revenue for quality writers. Lyn Headley at UCSD is working on that, and I’m one of those who’s volunteered to help out with his exploration.
“Traditional publishers can’t afford as much for staff or freelancers these days. What the hell’s wrong with trying new experiments in crowd-funding now that the Internet affords us a way to target our stories to those most interested in the topic far and wide? What would have been an absurd strategy for attracting money in pre-digital days has potential now. But we’ve got to try new approaches and experiment.”
Flatlining Despite Healthcare Overhaul
On Monday, Curtis Brainard took a look at schools that were suspending health and medical journalism programs, at a time when the politics and policies of the American health care system are constantly in the news. Readers wrote about the need for well-informed health journalism and its relationship with science journalism.
“As a physician and cancer survivor, I see an essential and largely unmet role for well-trained health care journalists who really understand medicine.
“Doctors need to do a better job talking to their patients, but that’s not enough. In an educated society such as ours, people should enter the emergency room or physician’s office with some real knowledge – of biology, genetics, immunology and other areas of science in medicine – already assumed. When faced with serious and sometimes urgent decisions in health care such as upon a stroke or a new diagnosis of leukemia, many individuals don’t know enough basic science or medicine to understand their options in a meaningful way. The problem stems, in part, from sub-par education in the sciences.
“Well-informed health journalists help fill the informational gap and should, in principle, be a good source of objective information that patients need. Sure, we need journalists to cover health care reform and to mind the dollars and cents of industry, but we also need good writers who’ll keep the public apprised of medical developments. Reduced training of health care journalists will only compound patients’ difficulty in finding reliable sources apart from their personal physicians.”
—Elaine Schattner, M.D.
“As a science writer, I’d like to agree with my friend Paul that a closer marriage between science and health journalism would help both. It might also help sell students on any educational program if you get a two-for-one deal. But I don’t think it would help the health reform discussion. In fact, I think there’s an argument to be made that the U.S. media tends to spend too much time on incremental medical research findings (Breakthrough!) rather than on the health care issues that really affect most people. As a science journalist who also covered reform during the Clinton Admin. and then lost my job when my newspaper (Seattle PI … not really mine, actually) closed last year, I am now buying my own insurance. Holy crap! If I was actually buying financial peace of mind and better health, I might be okay with this huge chunk of flesh cut out of my withering financial corpus. But I am really just supporting a massively inefficient and unfair system that, according to most statistics, is only getting worse at improving our health and welfare. The problem with health care is mostly a matter of money and politics — and the long, sad tale of the success of spin. Unfortunately, a big part of that spin has been claiming that our prowess in medical science is evidence of a superior health care system. Apples and oranges. We science journalists have, uh, been part of the problem in this conflation.”
Also Monday, Greg Marx examined the great debate of whether reporters should simply report a controversy, or attempt to resolve it, in tje context of Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s 2008 comments about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s “light skin” and lack of “Negro dialect” and the varied media coverage that the recently-published remarks have elicited (including some Trent Lott comparisons).
“Greg Marx is correct. This sort of thing is getting ridiculous. People are mistaking manners for morals when it comes to this PC stuff - something the Republicans didn’t start, but are foolishly trying to emulate.
“Marx could possibly have avoided the instinctive ‘attack the GOP’ reflex and noted that this sort of thing was invented as a form of race-baiting by racially-obsessed left-wing Democrats. It was as recently as 2008 that similar comments by VP Biden and Bill Clinton were parsed and sniffed for any possible ‘racist’ content - something not recalled above.
“The lesson is - don’t set the bar too high, because sooner or later your own team will not be able to clear it. I don’t think the average voter cares a bit about this little dust-up; it’s just Washington culture.”
“May I point you to the exact words Trent Lott said?
“ ‘When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”…
“Reid’s comments were racist (in the sense that they make distinctions between race) but are nowhere near Trent Lott’s implied support of segregation. Moreover, Reid’s comments were a very astute observation about the horrible racist state American society is in, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“Also, the “MSM” didn’t sit on this information, mainly because no one actually cares what politicians say behind closed doors. People only care what their elected officials say when the major telecommunication companies tell them what to care. To give another difference, Reid said this behind closed doors. Lott said his comment unabashedly and unashamedly in the public eye, knowing who Strom Thurmond was.
“Try as you like, the “MSM” simply doesn’t work like you would want it to, as the liberal specter dictating policy. It rather works like a money specter, covering stories when it is beneficial to the company’s pocketbooks, rather than the welfare of the public.”
—DVBThe Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.