White Noise: News from Inside the Media Bubble
Our industry in crisis
Journalists and politicians are natural enemies on the order of cheetahs and gazelles, though sometimes it’s difficult to discern which is predator and which is prey. Last week in the Florida community of Miami Lakes, virtually all of the copies of the Miami Laker, a decades-old free community weekly, disappeared from town hall. Vice Mayor Nancy Simon admitted her complicity in the case of the disappearing newspapers, saying she herself removed some papers from area racks. “[T]he paper is free,” she said to the Miami Herald. “I could take them all to line the birdcages if I wanted to.” Which, of course, is not true. Someday, perhaps, someone will explain to Simon the meaning of an implied contract. At any rate, her disdain for the local paper stems from a story they ran about her real estate business and the fact that she has actively been showing homes even though she hasn’t had a broker’s license since 2004, a third-degree felony. But as a result of the hoofaraw, and under pressure from the paper’s owner, Stu Wylie, whose company built and sold the homes in the community, the Laker has decided to discontinue its political coverage, even though there is a municipal election campaign going on. Though legislative actions will be summarized, no town council members’ names will appear in the paper, nor any photos of them. In essence, the only paper that covers this community has ceased its coverage of local politics. Nice.
The eye of the beholder?
So I’m sitting here in a Long Island coffee shop cruising the internet for something to write a media item about. I hit the usual stops: Poynter, the New York Times, Gawker, Media Matters. Not much out there this week. Then I type in “aan.org,” the website for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and I get a blue screen with a warning, saying this website has been blocked by something called SonicWALL content filter. A few more clicks reveals the reason: The AAN website is considered pornography. Which is news to me. Sure, alt-weeklies often tackle mature subject matter, and some of them run risqué ads in their back pages. But pornography? Hardly. In this day and age, alt-weeklies are big business, as evidenced by the New Times’ takeover of the granddaddy of them all, the Village Voice. Alt-weeklies win Pulitzers, steal key personnel from mainstream press, penetrate communities like no other print medium and, in an age when daily newspapers wonder what their futures will look like, occupy a solid, firm position in any media landscape. It’s freakin’ ridiculous. There are plenty of pornographic websites on the internet – more than 90 percent of them, by some counts – but aan.org is not one of them.
A dry goodbye
The Cincinnati Post, the afternoon newspaper serving the other Queen City, closed up shop on Dec. 31, and according to a leaked internal memo, it did so in a uniquely sober fashion. The Post, one of about 600 remaining afternoon newspapers in the country, had suffered declining circulation and staff cuts for years before its competitor, the Cincinnati Enquirer, announced that it was terminating a 30-year agreement to handle the Post’s business affairs. The paper explored its options and chose to cease publication, according to the Associated Press. Extra copies of the final edition were on hand that final morning, and departing employees could take up to six. Editor Mike Phillips closed the newsroom to outside journalists during the last few days, and implored his staff to go out with class. “Tempting as it may be, please do not bring any alcoholic beverages into the newsroom Let’s go out like the professionals we have been these last, difficult weeks.” Since the Post is an afternoon paper, the editor usually sends pages to the printer at 9:25 a.m., an hour that should have made the prohibition a little easier to swallow.