D.L. Hughley Didn't Break the News: It Was Already Broken

05/25/2011 01:10 pm ET
  • Brian Ross Managing Editor, and pioneering ezine editor of the first sports ezine, MLNSports

I was sitting in my buckboard outside of the general store waiting for the wife to pick up a few yards of gingham and some kerosene for the kitchen light, while mulling over the last newspaper that the stage brought out of Denver.

Says here that the Rocky Mountain News is closing it up. Guess I'll have to take the Cincinnata paper off the Eastern stagecoach...

If that's old news to you folks, my apologies. The stage took it to the nearest telegraph station, who sent it from there to some nice young feller with a laptop in a big city to upload it to the Huffington Post on that newfangled Internet.

This, unfortunately, is the world in which newspapers still think they operate, and we live.

As the publisher of the first digital sports magazine in the world, cover and all, celebrating his first decade in digital media publishing, let me lay before you my screaming bias that I have known for the last decade:

Print journalism is dead. Long live journalism!

In a February 28, 2009 article, the Pew Research Center writes:

The trend is unmistakable: Fewer Americans are reading print newspapers as more turn to the internet for their news. And while the percentage of people who read newspapers online is growing rapidly, especially among younger generations, that growth has not offset the decline in print readership.

From Time Magazine, whose sleeping with the fishwrap proposal for the revival of newspapers is the wishful thinking of a horse-and-buggy press in the Sixth Sense days of its existence, to the papers great and small who are having their freak-outs over the digital floodwaters of Internet reading, it could not happen to a nicer group of journalistic snobs.

In the early days of our digital magazine, I would meet fellow journalists working a ballgame or a day at Spring Training, and the conversation would go something like this:

Journalist: Who do you work for?

Me: Minor League News.

Journalist: Haven't seen you on the newsstand...

Me: That's because we're a digital magazine.

Journalist: (Condescendingly): Oh, you work for a website...

Spitting cobras could not throw out more venom than a print journalist uttering the word "website."

Legendary television comedy pioneer Sid Caeasr told me once that: "We always wanted to be better than Broadway. We wanted their respect, and it was a long time in coming."

Back in those days, when I wanted these status quo savants to respect our hard work and brotherhood in quality journalism, I would politely point out that, just as a piece of paper can be a newspaper, a magazine, a greeting card, or a hamburger wrapper, the electronic media is capable of producing everything from newspapers to citizen newsletters to the blog rants of millions.

It did little good. Paper snobs seem to feel that the public cannot discern the difference between a professionally written journalistic publication and Aunt Sarah's rants on the latest banking scandal. Their criticisms mask a more deep-seeded fear that the New York Times opinion section gets to be a little irrelevant when stodgy old-line commentators are being replaced in the public opinion stream by voices from the faster-moving and more modern Huffington Post and the Daily KOS. Flat out, new media are getting more airtime as media resources on television and on the same radio often criticizing them.

Most print publications have done little to distinguish themselves on the web. If you surf newspapers online, most of their web outlets use a handful of canned software that is so visually unappealing that, were it in print, they would not be able to get birds to use it as cage liner.

Newspapers could have lead the charge into the brave new world of electronic publishing. Instead, they have ceded advertising to the behemoth Google, which has burned the pricing system to the ground. They have let the web geeks and the programmers tell them how to make everything fit into bland busy boxes, rather than redefine the space, as they would in print, from a design/style edge first, and make the geeks do their bidding. They tried to marginalize the Internet, and hoped that it will all go away.

It didn't. Now, they are still not willing to migrate to the web, and, trapped in their own conceptions of publishing, they are sinking into the digital tar pits like wailing beasts.

The end of print publishing reminds me of a very sad photo that I saw once of a group of Vaudevillians, old theater performers of short sketches, dancing and oddities, starting into the window of a television store.

"It will never replace Vaudeville," you can almost hear one of them mutter under their breath, feeling the dark cloud of Sid Caesar's "Show of Shows" sucking their audiences back into their living rooms.

Webaphobia is by no means limited to our print cousins. Broadcasters are likewise tweaked and freaked.

I found old-school Joe Mathieu of XM/Sirius' "Press Pool" on the POTUS channel quite amusing a couple of weeks back when President Obama held his first news conference. He was put out by the fact that the Huffington Post was given a seat at the event, and turned his nose up at the upstart new media.

Apparently while American news media are racially tolerant, digital media is still supposed to ride the back of the bus, if the old-guard mike jockeys and TV talking heads have their way.

They don't though. Vast numbers of the public continue to move to the web to get their news and entertainment. The web has caused such an exodus from television viewing to web viewing that Fox News may be the only television network not feeling it. They are largely immune because many of their red state minions are somewhat afraid of the bogeyman Internet ...

"They have 'funny' ideas out there, Margaret... funny ideas..."

CNN has done everything to court these folks short of putting a clown suit on Wolf Blitzer to attract this crowd. Hey... That's not a bad idea! No.. No. Wolf is a serious news man. Maybe a pony and a blue balloon... Yeah. That's the ticket to Nielsens, baby.

Of course I cannot be outdone by the geniuses in programming at CNN, though, who did me one better: They put on comedian D.L. Hughley.

D.L. is very funny. I thought his Studio 60 got short-shrift from NBC just as it was starting to let the characters of the ensemble show about life behind the scenes at a Saturday NIght Live-esque show really develop.

Still, his "news" show, "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News," really would have been more at home at Comedy Central, where he could really let loose. He would have also been in the company of Stewart and Colbert, where, sadly more real news interviews keep happening than at stodgy CNN.

"Internal Memo: Project Out-Stewart the Daily Show Fails" must have made the rounds prior to CNN, which may stand for Comedy News (Not), canceling Hughley's show.

D.L. didn't break the news at CNN, though. It was already broken.

Gone are the Bernard Shaws and the Bob Frankens. In are the Kewpie-doll talking heads and the happy chat babble that has replaced substantive news at the once-giant of the business.

It is truly sad. Blitzer has the gravitas of Soupy Sales, and Campbell Brown may have no bias or bull, but she also lacks depth and distinction.

Until newspapers can migrate to the web and put out a piece of content that is visually as appealing, and learn to charge grown-up prices for subscriptions and advertising they are as doomed as the Rocky Mountain News.

A few newspapers get it right. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have continued to explore and optimize the digital newspaper. Both have evolved significant styles online. The San Jose Mercury News has been at the forefront of the digital age and held its own reasonably well. The majority of newspapers though treat their websites like diseased poultry, and hold them at arm's length.

Sadly though, for too many newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, the web is a hodge-podge, a publishing a mush of random content often lacking both substance and style.

At its best the Internet provides is immediate and highly cross-referenced news that synthesizes and synergizes. It also mixes media into a powerful information cocktail.

Come to the Huffington Post and read an original thought like this, and you might find some easy connect in it to a piece of video on Jon Stewart's take-down of CNBC "Mad Money" host (BYE-BYE-BYE!) Jim Cramer.

Just don't jump on that link until you are done reading here, okay?

(I'm just going to give the horse some hay before we head the buckboard on out...)