Leave It To Marketplace….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:38 am

Caught another fascinating article on my favorite evening-soak listening, American Public Media’s Marketplace. This was a look at the evolution of the newspaper. It is no news whatsoever to most of you that the American newspaper industry is in decline. Speaking personally, I am probably not the best person to be charged with the observation of this phenom: I have never had a subscription to a newspaper. By the time I was of an age where I was emotionally and financially prepared to give much of a shit about the day-to-day workings of the world, I already had a subscription to an Internet Service Provider (okay, America Online….gotta start somewhere) and was getting my regular dose of current events through the wire. To be frank, I don’t think I would have ever cleaved to a newspaper as a source of information, for one simple reason: they get my hands dirty. There is simply no excuse in this day and age for a medium that is so unwelcomely interactive. I want the daily news to leave its mark on me in an intellectual and emotional fashion, not physical. Imagine how small the viewing audience for television would be if the radiation emanating from the cathode tube inadvertently singed your drapes every time you turned it on (okay, so I’d probably still watch Ghost Hunters and the new season of Dexter, but that’s it).

Anyway, back to Marketplace. The article followed the recent innovations of a community newspaper in suburban New York, the Journal News. The JN has been going to great lengths to solicit reader input on the types of stories in which their readership are truly interested, and also the form which those stories should take. As a result, they have greatly expanded their offerings. The paper publishes a couple of glossy magazines, runs a blog, produces short videos and a television program. They offer podcasts, content for mobile devices, and online discussion boards. In short, they are doing anything and everything they can to attract and retain their reader base, and so far it seems to be working.

I’m having all kinds of trouble trying to decide what I think of this.

On one hand, if there’s one thing about this trend that truly appeals to me, it’s the idea of making the news as local, as personal as possible. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to make the assertion that the pool of information at mankind’s disposal has far outstripped our ability to process it. My very existence as a modern First World human is defined in large part by a continuous act of mediation and filtration. In this light, a local paper that follows every baseball game and high-school graduation—in addition to covering the “harder” news of note—can really help to ground the reader, to put everything in context. And as the saying goes, though one must think globally it is best to act locally. (I always liked Zippy the Pinhead’s rendition of this well-worn aphorism: “Think global, act loco.”) While we should all be expected to behave as though our actions have consequences the world over, it’s also practically axiomatic that our efforts are expended to greatest effect in our own community. From random kindnesses to charitable donations, it is when we brighten the corner where we are that we are often generating the greatest impact.

To that end, keeping in tune with the day-to-day life in our own community is a good thing. Having a local newspaper that makes the job easier through blogs, podcasts, video and print content is even better.

On the other hand, what the Journal News is doing might be seen as pandering. They take the pulse of the reading public and provide content based on the feedback they receive. This kind of responsiveness can be a real benefit….unless it turns out that what the public wants is an “Inside Edition”-style melange of celebrity gossip, perp walks and bikini-wax exposes. Fortunately that doesn’t seems to be what the fine citizens of the Hudson Valley want out of their local media, judging by the web site. Good thing too. The Journal News being a Gannett publication, were the local market to demand such coarse fodder, I have little doubt that they would be forced by their corporate masters to serve it up with a smile.

But it would seem only reasonable to assert that news, like nourishment of the body, may not always take a form towards which one might naturally gravitate. Just as my parents knew better than to let me dictate the content of my meals (and I thank the Devices in retrospect that they did not. I’m already an overweight diabetic with a bad back; I shudder to think what I’d look like today if I had been allowed to subsist on a diet of Redondo’s Hawaiian Winners and Freakies Cereal), perhaps the news media ought take it upon itself to elevate the menu, as it were. Give us the good stuff we really should be using to feed our heads, and the roughage we so desperately need to clear out the—well, let’s face it—the crap. A harmless tasty treat is a fine thing—reading Fark, say, or leafing through a People Magazine while waiting for the oral hygienist to call you in for your biannual plaque-blasting—but just as in the realm of the body, a diet of nothing but mind Twinkies is no good way to lead your life.

So there is a real potential drawback to appealing to the lowest common denominator in deciding on the content of one’s media….unless of course your community’s lowest common denominator is so far above the national average as to make it neither by comparison. As with everything, it’s necessary to maintain a balancing act, and I think I will be watching both local and national media just a hair more closely now, to see how they manage the tightrope.

8 Responses to “Leave It To Marketplace….”

  1. Tony Lenzer Says:

    Ah, Andrew…it is a joy to read your blog, and to see the many directions your curious mind wanders off in. As you are well aware, newspapers everywhere are supplementing print coverage with additional means of capturing the attention of the Young & Restless. Personally, we read the Advertiser, some news magazines, watch The News Hour, plus Joe Moore, (who has been on TV, in one capacity or another for 40 years),locally, plus NPR, plus Jon Stewart now and then, plus…I think it’s a mix such as this which keeps you pretty much in the loop. Send along any suggestions you may have, particularly any sources which you have found that sharpen political understanding.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Hey Dad! Well, if you’re looking for more good reading, I would recommend:

    The Christian Science Monitor
    The Daily Kos
    Crooks and Liars
    Media Matters for America

    Good thing you’re retired, or you’d never have time to take these all in. 🙂

  3. Tony Lenzer Says:

    Andrew: having scanned items 2 – 4 of your Recommended Reading List (above), I must say that I am Shocked, simply Shocked, at the nasty, irreverent tone which so many of these commentators take when describing the thoughts or actions of so many of our Beloved National Leaders! It is clear to me that you have fallen under the spell of the lefty-pinko-vegan blogosphere…I suppose that adding the CSM to your list is your version of Fair & Balanced Coverage?! Forsooth!

    PS I especially liked the clip of Pastor Hagee, Joe Lieberman and Friends at the Christians for Israel confab.

    PPS we skipped Passover this year; I’m afraid I am losing my connection to the “Jewish Race”

  4. Uncle Andrew Says:

    PPS we skipped Passover this year; I

  5. joe Says:

    Well, I still have my yamika and tallit but my father has all the copies of the Haggadah with Hebrew to English transliterations. And these days, that is as close as I get to the “Jewish Race” myself.

    However, if you are hosting a Sader my family has a kick butt recipe for Haroset that I could supply. Of course, if you are hosting, I would expect the horseradish eating competitions to be replaced with hot peppers.

    Needless to say, a Seder at my father’s house usually involved several bottles of Mogen David and much silliness.

  6. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Hey Joe! I don’t know how I managed to miss your post the first time ’round; just happened to notice it whilst trawling my logs.

    If I actually get my act together on this, you and Trish will of course be invited over for Seder. I think I’ve lost my Haggadah, but I’m sure Dad could spare another….

    BTW, what was your family’s tradition regarding the Afikoman? ‘Round our house we hid it and forced Dad to bribe us to get it back in order to complete the ceremony.

    Needless to say, a Seder at my father

  7. joe Says:

    Our family read from the Maxwell House Haggadah. Back in the 70’s grocery stores gave them away with the purchase of a can of coffee. Within the text of that Haggadah, after the completion of certain prayers, you are directed to take a sip of wine.

    By the time I was in college “take a sip of wine” became empty your wineglass. As I recall, and my recollection is hazy, you are directed to do this six or seven times. As for hiding the Afikoman, my father would find a time to sneak off and hide it during the meal or after while the dishes were being cleared. Recovery was the children’s responsibility, but since recovery of the Afikoman meant the end of dessert we stretched out the evening with the previously mentioned horseradish eating competition. The meal was considered complete and the service would resume when there was no Afikoman left.

  8. Uncle Andrew Says:

    It’s always fun to hear how other families do their seder. 🙂

Leave a Reply

All comments containing hyperlinks are held for approval, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up immediately. (I'm not editing for content, just weeding out the more obvious comment spam.)

All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.