Today’s column will come as a shocker to some folks. I’ve thought long and hard about this as someone who regularly offers up analysis of current events.
I grew up as a writer steeped in loathing for the establishment press. The hostility displayed towards the ideals and dreams of a generation that thought they could change the world needed to be answered. And our Smith-Corona typewriters were going to get it done.
Now I’m going to tell you the time has come where this attitude is counter-productive. A relentless assault on reason has led me to the conclusion that the best defense against propaganda is a flood of facts, even when the messengers aren’t on the same page as we are.
I started out in 1969 as a writer for the OB Liberator, printed in Norm’s garage and sold on street corners. The cops hated us. So did the good citizens of Ocean Beach, who knew even 50 years ago that our aggressive panhandling was going to ruin the place. Walking down Newport Avenue with the latest issue was an open invitation for ye olde field interrogation and pat down. The Nazi at the fried chicken place refused to serve us.
I went on to work with the old Free Press/Street Journal folk after a stint as editor of the–drum roll–City College FortKnightly, came back to help out with the OB Rag when Frank had to go underground for a while, and ended up being one of the editors at the San Diego Door.
There was another side to this story, one that was closely held. Some our best sources during the muckraking era at the Door were reporters for the Union and Tribune (Back then they were separate papers.) We’d started hanging out at the bar next to the U and the T‘s old downtown location, one thing led to another, and heard tales about stories falling through the cracks, or re-written to protect the owner’s social class.
We needed them because us scruffy types lacked access to the halls of power, and they needed us to make amends for what they perceived as the suppression of the truth. There was only so much we could learn from the Polk’s City Directory, and they had families to feed.
Fast forward fifty years (!) and I’m realizing those really were the Good Old Days of Journalism in San Diego.
The UT‘s been bought and sold, stripped of its dignity and its assets, left alongside the road of broken promises only to be used and abused by the next wannabe William Randolph Hearst. The public relations industry –mostly employing ex-newspaper types– now dominates the local information market.
The local daily paper has a new owner, one who promises to treat the organization as a community institution. I can’t say if this guy will keep his promises. What I can say is that what’s left of the paper is worth saving. Hear me out…
It is becoming increasingly obvious the expanded choices in news coverage many thought would come with the golden age of the internet aren’t happening. Monetizing information has, if anything, made our options fewer.
As ad revenue has shrunk for legacy media, so has their ability to inform. The aggregators of the ‘oughts have a diminished pool of ‘content’ to draw from, and apparently mostly lack the patience needed to create meat and potatoes coverage.
One need look no further than the ‘above the fold’ part of Huffington Post to see the failure of the genre. The scope of what’s considered newsworthy has shrunk to a baker’s dozen stories, wrapped around celebrity nonsense and tales of the bizarre.
Self-generated content at Huffpo, some of which is excellent, must compete with stories about shark swarms and recaps of late-night tv. A window to the world of news has been replaced by a peep-hole. Links to other outlets from around the world are gone. Heck, I remember when HuffoPo put one of my dispatches from the Caribbean on their front page.
I’m having this rant because reading the stories of doom and gloom in the newsroom, the latest being the gutting of the Denver Post, has made me nostalgic for the days of dead tree media.
This revelation is coming from the guy who told middle school students at the OB Free School in the early 70s that people would be reading their news on their phones in the future. (They thought I was crazy)
Now I find the algorithms of my content providers to be shallow and stupid much of the time.
The March 23 story Google wants to serve me today about a forum in Ramona isn’t news or entertainment. Despite being a total news junky, Facebook can’t be bothered to share much beyond prepackaged pablum from providers who’ve never heard of climate change, racism, economic injustice, or the death throes of the patriarchy.
My Twitter feed (it’s figured out I’m a lefty) gets clogged with people sharing political minutia with clickbait headlines written by high school juniors.
The future of news has failed me. I want my newspapers back. When I lived in Washington DC in the days of Nixon, I had subscriptions to five daily papers. I want ink smudges on my fingers. (Truth: I bought a digital subscription this time, so no trees will be killed in the process of living out this story.)
This revelation is coming from a guy who loathed the Copley-hued vision of the world. If I had a subscription during the Copley era or the Manchester era I would have canceled it.
I understand any mass media will inevitably incorporate the biases of its bourgeois backers. I just think we should not blindly accept the takeover of information by the state or its apologists.
Now I’m just happy to have a local choice or two or three. And I fear the time when the Sinclair/Fox/OneAmericaNews outlets are the only things on the menu.
Do me a favor: starting paying for your news again. Pick one outlet (or more) and subscribe. Voice of San Diego has its moments. KPBS keeps me company in the morning. Or donate money to the Guardian if you can’t stomach any local outlets.
Today I added the Union-Tribune to my paid list.
This does not mean I necessarily approve of anything posted there.
I don’t have to love everything served at a restaurant to eat there. They just have to offer something I can’t get at home. Same day service helps. Cleanliness (coding!) is important.
It does mean the efforts of the reporters and editors at the UT deserve to see the light of day.
But what about the alt-press? The blogs? Or even the San Diego Free Press? What about the OB Rag?
I say read and appreciate ’em. Like and share ’em on Facebook. Give ’till it hurts when they ask for cash. The freedom they/we offer is precious.
And they, along with a few locally-based news outlets need to be part of a complete information diet. Citizen-based journalism will always be needed. The implicit bias and questionable motives of mass media organizations still need to be challenged.
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