There's a reason I opted out of syndicated print editorial cartooning years ago, even though it was cool, at one point, to be one of only four women in America doing it. There came a point where trying to gain, and keep, a panel on the opinion pages of newspapers was like being the world's greatest juggler, standing on one foot while spinning plates: by any name, folks, vaudeville is dead.
Newspaper reality in June 2013 is the huge, iconic Miami Herald masthead, rendered in neon and pegged to the exterior of an urban monolith, being removed -- letter by Gothic letter -- a few weeks ago ahead of the entire structure itself being razed. The prime Biscayne Bay real estate was sold to a Singapore casino and hospitality consortium in 2011 because the Miami Herald's owner, the McClatchy newspaper chain, needed to raise cash. Again.
Not dead yet. Florida's most important newspaper is still publishing, inland, on a defunct former military base out of unfinished cubicles and unopened crates under the flag of "going digital" which, 20 years after the advent of good old America Online, is no longer considered a gamble.
The Oregonian, the single most important daily newspaper in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, is weighing whether to either go digital-only, publish a mere three times per week, or some bastardization of both.
There's been a Page One notice on the Washington Post website for many days that it's going to "phase in," as of June 12, the same online access model implemented by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the desperate Los Angeles Times. In today's incessant reinvention of jargon as a device to imply the keeping of pace with technology, this online access model is no longer referred to as online subscription but, now, a "paywall." In the case of the Los Angeles Times, yet another 9-1-1 call before it gets whittled into a propaganda arm of the right-wing Koch brothers, who have a bid in play for the entire Tribune Media Company, of which the Los Angeles Times is but one property. The Chicago Tribune is another.
When Reed Hundt, the chairman of of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), says, "I'd rather have Murdoch than the Kochs own The Times, if it came down to that choice," it's time not just to lean in but take up a low-tech Magic Marker, hand-letter a sign, nail it to a picket and march the sidewalks.
Over the past twenty years, only a few major media players remain. We consumers are responsible, by way of the voting booth or absent it -- but that's a column for another time. (This also applies, equally egregiously, to the banking industry.) Those players are typically either enormous conglomerates holding entities of numerous familiar brands (almost always of tangentially-related industries: think Procter & Gamble), or Oz-like corporate chapels manipulating a chain of media properties from newspapers to networks in service of a mogul's agenda.
The sacrosanct PBS Newshour, 32 percent of which is still owned by founding co-anchors Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer (the rest, by giant Liberty Media), is the latest to suffer the squeeze of corporate sponsors and "studies" (from what I have been able to discern, nothing more than elaborate polls -- funded, we may well ask, by what vested interest?). Last year, one such study sharply criticized this oasis of objectivity because, as an apparent fossil, it "doesn't excel for having reporters and personalities that viewers enjoy," finding it "old-fashioned, slow-moving, even boring."
The same report admitted that viewers found the program "'smarter' than other network news sources, and appreciated its 'fairness, depth, original content and overall sense of purpose.'" Layoffs have been announced for the first time in 20 years, as the program faces a loss of some $7 million at its fiscal year-end June 30.
I've been increasingly tuning out and turning off what passes for news, because I've had enough of being mentally grabbed by the lapels and thrashed with opinions costumed as "breaking news." Now, my hard and respected journalism of choice is being reduced to "paywalls." I'm weighing whether to go without fresh produce to pay for it.
I don't know which is more frightening: Fox's blonde template, CNN's lineup of sexually-ambiguous studs and the likes of former alien-baby mongering, royal-hacking News of the World editor Piers Morgan -- and everywhere, proliferating Salma Hayek cocktail-waitress clones, so-called "iReporters" of smartphone video and Twitter, or having these swingy personalities jabbing me every few minutes with "Take a listen."
Baby boomers now own the major media, and I'm thinking that the accelerating rush to say a service over any vestige of AM radio, shag carpeting and printed paper and bury it once and for all isn't life support for the news industry but some kind of AARP-avoiding, death-defying act.
Broadcast is not blogging, news media is not New Media, and serious reporting is not riffing. Considering the age and attention span of the mobile and smartphone demographic, why is media in such a panic to cater to them?
Because it's no longer journalism -- it's just another app.
Unfortunately, as HBO's queasy Liberace taxidermy is reminding me, even the most obvious pretenders can keep pulling in big audiences, and big bucks, with a bad toupée.