The Tardy Times
 G A Z O O T   E D I T O R I A L S  (FOUR)

That giant sucking sound: It's the

War? Not on MY front page,

    3.  The Daily Mistake.
    4.  Legalized prostitution: Page One
         for sale.

1. It sucks
IN AN OP-ED in the Chronicle, of all places, Peter Scheer wants to help the survival of money-losing metro newspapers. The executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition has a plan. Instead of posting locally produced stories on the web site, he says, the editors should wait 24 hours. People with a hunger for the latest news would thus be more likely to buy the print version, and advertisers would follow.
    Although well-intended, that's pure skimble-skamble.
    Let's hear instead from newspaper analyst Alan Mutter. A onetime city editor of the Chronicle, he is now a “newspaper industry analyst.” In his blog, Mutter is upset because Google plans to offer the Associated Press wire free to news-hungry net surfers. That would steer Googleites away from SFGate and other newspaper web sites. In turn, that would reduce ad revenues to the newspapers.
    It's almost impossible to discuss Alan's views without muttering that his suggestion doesn't go far enough. The Associated Press, as he says, is the key. But the wire service is killing its parents, the newspapers.
THE INTERNET sucks. Literally.
   It's a parasite. Like the blowfly that infects a sheep and evenually destroys its host, Internet news sites feed off the work of the newspapers. Like sheep, the newspapers can still bleat – but they don't know why they grow weaker every year.
      You can scan the journalism reviews, listen to media experts and read blogs until you pass out, but you won't find much comment on a basic fact of news distribution, to wit: Reporters and editors on daily papers produce virtually all the news found in online news sites and the non-local segments of radio and TV broadcasting. Then the news reports are given to the Associated Press and distributed cheaply to rival subscribers.
IT WORKS like this: When you see an AP story about big trouble in Paradise, for example, it will probably have originated with the notebook of Terry Vau Dell of the MediaNews bureau in Butte County. After he checks facts and reviews his notes, he types the story into his computer and sends it to the  Mercury Register in Oroville. The editors send a copy immediately to the AP bureau in Sacramento. After it's rewritten,  usually with no further checking, the new version goes to the San Francisco bureau and then to the regional headquarters in Los Angeles. There the story is edited again and added to the California Report. Another version is rewritten (and probably shortened) just for radio-TV broadcasts. If the story  is  sufficiently newsworthy, the report is shipped to New York for inclusion into the national and worldwide reports. The progression from one computer to the another is about as exciting as a journey down Interstate 5, but it's very important to know that it all begins with Terry Vau Dell's notebook. The Internet has yet to cover anything.
IT BEGAN like this: In the 19th century, when newspapers routinely stole stories from each other, the big publishers finally got together to share their output via a non-profit cooperative they called the Associated Press. Today the agency is owned by 1,500 member dailies. More than 5,000 broadcast stations are paying customers. So are commercial online operations and web sites. Dean Singleton is current chairman of the board. Directors include the CEOs of the Hearst Corp., the McClatchy Company and the Washington Post.
  In addition to the AP, many news operations also subscribe to Reuters, CNN and what's left of the privately owned UPI (a 1950s merger of United Press and Hearst's International News Service). The AP also has its own worldwide staff of reporters, photographers and stringers who originate reports, features and backgrounders. But the agency relies for the bulk of its output on stories gleaned from the nation's 200 largest papers.   
  In theory, the agency can take stories from its members among suburban dailies, special-interest newspapers, radio stations or television news reports. It's rare. Rightly or wrongly, AP news editors prefer to rely on the supposedly more accurate news that the metro dailies have written, vetted and checked. The wire agency isn't allowed by the courts to withhold the service from business competitors. So it sells the news wire to anybody, including broadcasters, suburban dailies, freepapers and Internet web sites.
PREPARE for a big surprise when the metro dailies die off and stop feeding the original reporting of their staffs to what’s left of the Associated Press.
  Will the wire service survive gradual loss of support from an ever-dwindling number of the daily newspapers that own and finance the AP?
  In that case, who is going to pay for experienced reporters to cover beats and events?
   Not television, which has enough trouble sending its small crews to traffic accidents and press conferences. Not Reuters, which has two reporters in its San Francisco bureau to cover Northern California (instead, they peruse the Chronicle).
  Not the Internet, which has yet to send a reporter to roll on a triple homicide or to cover the Permit Appeals Board.
  Not the small dailies, which can scarcely afford someone to answer the phone.
  We hear often that paying 50 cents for a newspaper is folly because, we're told, “I get my news from the Internet.”
  Enjoy it while you can.      


2. Denial
“The war in Iraq has gone on for five years now, but there is almost no sign of it in the Bay Area. . . ”
  That was the scolding start of the Page One lead story on March 16, 2007, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Omitted from the report was any mention of how the region’s dominant daily has kept its front page completely unstained by the blood of an unpopular six-year war.
    Take a look. For at least six months, probably longer, you could read a rare Page One story about the home front but nary a dateline from Iraq or Afghanistan about bombings, assassinations or military successes. Instead, teaser boxes below the fold sometimes inform the readers to thumb past the soft features to the hard news on the inside about a hard war.
    The Chronicle isn't alone. Many a page one editor has received the same stone tablet from on high.
    War? What war?
    “The war is far away and out of sight,” said the Chronicle report. 


3. Mistake, Calif.
WHAT COULD BE WORSE than the possibility of putting the Chronicle newsroom near the produce market in San Francisco? Or the Tribune offices across from the Oracle Arena in Oakland? Or the existing bunkers of the Mercury News, isolated in an industrial park near Milpitas?
   The answer, dear survivors of downsizing, is easy. If you last long enough, perhaps you'll wind up in Fremont.
    That’s where the Chronicle plans to install monster presses now being built by a Canadian company. The non-city of endless subdivisions (pop. 200,000) was cobbled together in 1956 from Niles, Mission San Jose, Centerville, Warm Springs and Irvington. It was a case of civic identity theft.
    Accordingly, it’s not paranoid to speculate that surviving Bay Area dailies will someday be consolidated, like the former towns, into one merged paper.
    Someone bereft of history named the misbegotten city for John C. Frémont, the incompetent glory-seeking Civil War general, failed politician, unsuccessful businessman and convicted swindler.
   Worse, a murderer.
   In 1846, while leading a U.S. Army map-making party in Mexican California during the Bear Flag Rebellion, Frémont camped at Point San Quentin. Allthough his unit was yet not at war with anybody, he ordered his scout, Kit Carson, to execute in cold blood three captured Californios – Jose Berreyessa, the elderly Sonoma alcalde (mayor), and the 19-year-old DeHaro twins from Yerba Buena (now San Francisco), sons of the former alcalde Francisco DeHaro. No room for prisoners, Frémont said.
    Perhaps the city of Fremont could change its unfortunate name, being careful to not increase the number of place names that honor Kit Carson's whitewashed reputation.
    How about Mistake, Calif.? It would memorialize Dokdokwas, a Klamath Indian fishing village in what is now Oregon.
   Frémont's survey troops massacred most of the men, women and children.
   It was in reprisal for the deaths of three of Frémont's men in an attack by a band of Modocs.
   They must have laughed when the vindictive Pathfinder surprised and slaughtered their bitter enemies, the Klamaths, by mistake. But back to the future.
   What to call the consolidated newspaper?
   How about The Fremont Chronicle Tribune Times Mercury & Argus?   
   Or, better, The Daily Mistake.   

4. Prostitution
AS IF NEWSPAPERS didn't have to cope with the Internet, the smug incuriosity of young people, the constant denigration of “mainstream media” and the rising price of newsprint, nervous  publishers have hit on short-term profits with long-term credibility damage. 
    Advertising now appears like bedsores on the front pages of ailing daily newspapers. At the Contra Costa Times, Executive Editor Kevin Keane wrote, “Some readers accused us of selling our collective news souls to the highest bidder, while others thought we were 'cheapening' the day's headlines by running them alongside a paid promotion."
   How true.
   Take a look at the cravenly San Francisco Chronicle.
   The publisher, an out-of-towner, began in April 2007 to sell the front page's lower right-hand corner last year to PG&E's cynically mendacious campaign to color itself green.
   Similar retreats from past proclamations of purity have adulterated front and section pages at the Mercury NEWS, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, USA Today, New York Times, etc. etc.     
AS SLIGHTLY SOILED  doves, these ex-virgins have tried to explain their fall from grace (“We do it for the money”). But they look like bluenose Victorians compared to the once-proud San Francisco Examiner.
   The Anschutz tabloid on Nov. 16, 2007, sold the entire front page, complete with eagle, as an “advertising feature” (the warning appeared in tiny type below the flag, almost invisible). The page became a shrieking poster for a children's holiday movie topped with a quote in red 48-point caps from publicist and alleged critic Gene Shalit.
   More advertising wraps would follow. When a free paper is tossed on your doorstep, how do you cancel your subscription?
   Even the New York Times let it be known last year that advertising would be sold on the front of section pages. If the Gray Lady puts on rouge and wiggles like a streetwalker, it's not prostitution. No, it's the latest fashion.
IN A NOTE to the Chronicle's disillusioned staff, publisher Frank Vega explained the Chronicle's front-page sales by writing that advertisers are attracted by the Chronicle “brand.” (He actually said “brand.”)
  Then came the chutzpah: “The Chronicle will continue to produce the quality newspaper our readers expect. We are committed to delivering important news, information, and advertising using the variety of platforms that our readers are accustomed.” (He actually said “platforms.”)
  The platform that comes to mind is the Sheridan Whiteside character in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the 1941 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. In the imperishable opening line, he says:  
          “I . . . may . . . vomit.”              

The Geezer Gazoot

Website Builder