Friday, May 8, 2009

The Last WORD, 2008-2009

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium—St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.*

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season—the WORD’s 13th—peters out.

It’s been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that’s below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and—of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded—dozens of daily newspapers (“I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying—it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it’s hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe—we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods—like tapioca and salmon—while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.

This seasonal navel-gazing is essential to the process, of course. As deep-thinker John Alston once observed, “If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.” And since the WORD’s fondest hope is to control and corrupt the impressionable and fragile minds of its faithful subscribers worldwide, preparation and planning are required. Because as seamless and easy as it seems, “Simple English is no one’s mother tongue. It has to be worked for,” as Jacques Barzun said—harassing an unsuspecting planet 170+ mornings a year takes forethought. Well, it takes something....

Because the WORD’s dearest hope is not, in John Kenneth Galbraith’s terms, to offer “[t]he conventional view [that] serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking,” in fact, the WORD was born and designed to cultivate cerebral discomfort. It is too easy and much too tempting to tune out all the noise that assails us these days (what was Hannity blathering about the other day? —“Apples of Liberty” being plucked by Obama into the “Crate of Socialism“?—who wouldn’t need to tune that crap out?). But there’s no easy out for devoted WORDsters: “There are two ways to slide easily through life,” Polish logician Alfred Korzybski wrote, “to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.”

As the WORD recharges its soapbox for the summer, devoted WORDsters know that it’ll be back in August. To paraphrase the late-lamented Molly Ivins, “There’s nothing you can do about being born a WORDster—fish gotta swim and hearts gotta bleed.”

So as the WORD trundles off to its halcyon summer of reflection and conjugation at St. Mumbles, we wish you all, devoted whacko readers, a safe, warm, pleasant and productive summer—with generous hammock time. “Be who you are and say what you feel,” as Dr. Seuss instructed, “because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don't mind.”

But Season 13, like all good things, must come to a —30—. As Karl Marx, the famous philosopher-comic, said, “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” So this isn't a Last WORD—Lord knows there are always more!—but just the end of this episode. Look for the WORD’s escape from St. Mumbles in August, once again to afflict, merrily, gaily, happily, an unsuspecting world

Summer well, friends.

* (See early column on the Birth of the WORD.)

Editorial Comment: That’s a wrap.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Press ‘Survivor‘?

New Reality Shows

“License, or the abuse of liberty, may creep into a press which enjoys liberty. Anti-social practices complained of in England and the United States include sensationalism, coloring or distorting the news, propagandizing in the news columns, ‘trial’ by the newspaper of accused persons, triviality in the news, and ‘lying’ or falsification, especially in politics.”
—George Fox Mott, journalism professor, in An Outline Survey of Journalism, 1940

Editorial Comment: So?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's All This Crap?

Waste of Space, and Trees!

“Every single journalism class at NYU has required me to bring the bulky newspaper. I don’t understand why they don’t let us access the online version, get our current events news from other outlets, or even use our NYTimes app on the iPhone. Bringing the New York Times pains me because I refuse to believe that it’s the only source for credible news or Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and it’s a big waste of trees.”
—Alana Taylor, student journalist, 2008

Editorial Comment: And this dumb Moby Dick! It's like a whale! Can't I bring my Kindle?

News Note: “The Boston Globe and its largest employees union reached a tentative agreement early Wednesday morning on concessions that will keep the 137-year-old newspaper publishing, the union president said.”--Associated Press 5/6/09

RoxyWatch: Imprisoned U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi halted her hunger strike Monday, her father reports, after she was moved to the prison hospital in Iran. The 32-year-old journalist's appeal of her eight-year prison sentence for espionage is scheduled for next week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Times Co. Pimps Out The Boston Globe

Newspaper News Note: “The Boston Globe will survive for at least another day, but the economic problems dogging New England's storied newspaper are reflective of an entire industry in the midst of a historic, wrenching transformation.”
—Christian Science Monitor 5/5/09 (Story here.)

Good to the Last Drop

“From the moment the Times Co. purchased The Globe in 1993, it has treated New England’s largest newspaper like a cheap whore. It pimped her out for profit during the booming 1990s and then pillaged her when times got tough. It closed her foreign bureaus and cheapened her coverage of everything from the fine arts to the hard sciences.”

Eileen McNamara, Boston Herald (and former Globe) columnist,
April 7, 2009 (Column here.)

Editorial Comment: As a 10-something newspaperboy, I trudged through snow and biked the Globe to subscribers for years. This is agonizing—like hearing the death rattle of a beloved grandparent.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kiss a Pig

Fox News Has It Wrong!
Mexicans NOT to Blame
for Swine Flu Epidemic


Where's Hunh?

Forget Iran—Most Americans
can’t find THEMSELVES on a map


Not Grampa’s Twitter

Like ‘Clay Tablets”

“The newspaper industry is hurting. I should explain that term to my younger viewers. A ‘newspaper’ is like a blog that leaves ink on your hands and covers topics other than how much you love Fall Out Boy.”
—Stephen Colbert, host, “The Colbert Report,” advice to John Sturm of the National Newspaper Assn., March 31, 2009

Editorial Comment: What else is there?

Friday, May 1, 2009

World Press Freedom Day 2009

Global Interdependency

“We must strengthen our efforts to build a media that is critical of inherited assumptions yet tolerant of alternative perspectives; a media that brings competing narratives into a shared story of interdependence; a media that responds to diversity through dialogue. . . . On World Press Freedom Day 2009, let us all commit to furthering press freedom and freedom of expression worldwide. . . . A free press is not a luxury that can wait until more peaceful times. It is, rather, part of the very process through which they may be achieved.”
—Ko├»chiro Matsuura, UNESCO director-general,

Editorial Comment:
Where can a planet get together and talk?

Vittorio de Filippis (top) at a 2008 Paris protest of his arrest, strip-search and detention in relation to a libel case. His account of the arrest provoked general outcry in the media and political world. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK KOVARIK

Palestinian journalists (at right) light candles after burying Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, 23, in 2008 in Gaza City. Shana was killed by an Israeli tank shell during a military incursion into Gaza. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS

More photos at World Press Freedom Day.