"Minksy's," the new musical comedy wrapping up its run at the Ahmanson Theatre this week, is a delightful evocation of burlesque in the 30s. Based on the the 1968 film, "The Night They Raided Minsky's," the musical examines past efforts of the police to curb raunchy entertainment. Although "Minsky's" follows the fictional lives of show business denizens in New York, Los Angeles police raided a real burlesque theater at 337 S. Main Street in 1939 with comical results.
In October 1939, the New Follies Theater introduced a new show, which it advertised as a "daring, spicy burlesque...see the thrills before they are eliminated," starring "Red Headed Ball of Fire" Betty Rowland, Marcia, Frances E. Dahl, Jo Ann Dare, June March, Gay Knight and Rita Cummings. Apparently, patrons got such an eyeful that the police shut the show down for lewd and indecent acts on October 5th. Five strip tease dancers and four comedians went on trial in Municipal Judge Arthur Guerin’s court on November 21, 1939. A "shockproof" jury of nine women and three men heard testimony from undercover police personnel about hearing smutty dialogue and seeing racy choreography in the show. Deputy City Attorney Dave Hoffman also shared photographs of suggestive dances taken by undercover police photographer, George T. George, at performances prior to the raid.
The trial sounded even more amusing than the burlesque show. A courtroom packed with onlookers erupted in laughter when, as the Los Angeles Times reported on November 24, 1939, "Jerry J. Uhlick, the husky 200-pound police officer who participated in the raid on the theater last Oct 5, demonstrated to the grinning jury imitations of strip-tease dances and bump routines. He confessed under questioning that the burlesque "queens" performed the gyrations and wriggling more authentically."
Policewoman Cheryl Goodwin's testimony followed Uhlick. The Los Angeles Herald Express reported the officer's reaction when asked to testify to seeing indecent acts, scenes and dialogue in a "statue scene":
“Identify the girls in the picture,” said the deputy D.A., as a picture showing five of the Main Street glamor girls in a “statue scene” was displayed on screen. Policewoman Goodwin, who is a comely blonde herself, craned her neck and took a closer look. The jury of nine women and three men also rubbered intensely at the screen.
“Well—er—I—er” the witness hesitated and looked again. The picture showed the girls only from the rear.
After a second look the witness managed to pick out Jo Ann Dare, one of the house’s headline strippers as the “second from the end.” She admitted there was nothing distinctive enough about the others as that she could identify them without a frontal view.
The "statue scene" included comic byplay between the show's comedians about classic figures of history and mythology. As the Los Angeles Herald Express put it, " Such old stand-bys as Cleopatra and her asp, Caesar and March Antony figured in the comedy crossfire. Aphrodite was brought in as “queen of the waters” and Pluto, deity of the underworld, as just a king.”
Betty Rowland, ace strip teaser of the Follies, provided a stirring defense of her art. She described her act as the dance of the golden chain. It was an interpretive dance, she explained, of the Prisoner of Love. She's the Prisoner of Love held in his golden chains, which she starts to unwind to the accompaniment of "appropriate steps, undulations and movements." You get the picture.
Follies defense attorney, George Stahlman, presented a different view, offering magazine photos as evidence that the stage depictions were community standards of decency. Indecent jokes were explained as boisterous bits from vaudeville, a family entertainment.
The jury found the defendants guilty.
And Los Angeles has been free of smut and indecent entertainment ever since...
If you'd like to learn more about the Follies and the ribald history of Main Street, once L.A.'s Times Square and Bowery rolled into one, check out the Esotouric's downtown double feature "Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice," scheduled for March 21st.
Here's a video produced by the staff of the Rocky Mountain News on its last day. "They quit on us," a staffer says of Scripps, which owns the ever-shrinking Ventura County Star.
You can check the newspaper's web site for more farewell stories, as well as a gallery of some of the RMN's greatest hits.
Once again, a whiff of spring has brought out LA's chainsaw-wielding tree hackers, as epitomized in this piece in today's LA Times.
The most infuriating aspect of this ongoing outrage is that the main culprits are the billboard owners, who want to improve ad visibility, and who run roughshod over every city rule and regulation with little or no consequence. When is this going to stop?
Does LA have a black v. brown problem? If so, how do we identify and address it?
Hear from four big thinkers and writers on Tuesday night at USC. The panel discussion between Héctor Tobar, Dana Johnson, Helena Maria Viramontes and Erin Aubry Kaplan starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Davidson Conference Center on the main USC campus south of downtown. This is a free event (but there's no mention of free parking, so that will probably cost you).
From the promo:
In Los Angeles, the headlines continue to mount. A 14-year-old African American girl is killed by a Latino gang member. An African American bus driver orders Latino passengers off the bus. A 14 percent increase in gang-related crime is linked to interracial conflict. The Harbor Gateway community is divided by a black-and-brown border, turning corner grocery stores into racial battle zones. The Latino pro-immigration movement is declared a “new civil rights movement,” and there’s talk of African American “movement envy.” Black and Latino students are in conflict at Jefferson High School and Crenshaw High School.
How have Los Angeles–based African American and Latino/a writers dealt with race in their work? How have their backgrounds — family, community, neighborhood — shaped the way they see the city and the way they imagine the city’s racial future? Several renowned writers will come together to explore these and other questions around black and Latina/o relations in L.A.
You're misunderstood, not just in terms of how vital your newspapers are as news-gathering organizations, but for what you do, or, rather, what you don't do, or maybe just what people think you don't do on purpose.
Seriously, people don't get you.
Never mind what you know. Of course, you consider media conspiracy theories ridiculous, if only because your ranks are teeming with so many Type A personalities that even the mere whiff of a newsroom plot would result in a stampede for the exits with everyone vying to be the first to blow the whistle and win the Pulitzer.
Out there in the World Wide Web, however, it sounds like you're in cahoots to dupe the universe.
And that's not all. A lot of people also appear to believe you've got some mad desire to continue killing trees by maintaining paper as your primary news-delivery method, as though you're secretly addicted to those nauseating chemical solvent smells that so often waft from the press into the newsroom, as though you enjoy the added deadline stress of having some desk editor admonish you with statements like: "Those are union drivers waitin' out there, mister." As if ... as if ...
Paper? Good riddance.
No doubt, the Internet is both your industry's present and future, and you dominate the Web as much as you dominate the airwaves. Regardless of the medium, the overwhelming majority of mainstream news is first reported by newspapers, then followed by everybody else. Newspaper journalists mine the gold, and now you're getting the shaft.
The latest grim predictions are all but foregone conclusions. The former editor of The Des Moines Register Geneva Overholser, who is now the director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, recently stated her best bet during an appearance on the KCET program SoCal Connected:
"We're going to have major American cities with no daily newspaper within the next year. I'm willing to bet quite a bit of money on that. We have newspapers for sale around the country in cities from Miami, to Denver, to Seattle, to San Diego, and no one wants to buy them."
Still, there are countless other bright people blissfully waving you goodbye.
If it's sympathy and understanding you seek, you probably won't find it at blogs like Wonkette:
"What you’re so pathetically grieving is your fading culture, a masturbatory profession of over-educated overpaid typists who had a stranglehold on American journalism for 30 years or so ..."
Yet, as unreasonable as all that may seem to you, it's not the reason so few signatures have appeared on the petition that calls for a week-long blackout of all free-access newspaper Web sites.
The effort to emphasize your importance to society and democracy has gone viral.
The YouTube video explaining the petition's intent has logged more than 2,400 views. In addition, more than 45 different Web and print publications have either reported or opined on the petition's merits.
Some comments have even been favorable, though perhaps the most telling observation came from a journalist who blogs as scoopgirl. She says she expects to soon be counted among the casualties of budget cutbacks:
"Sadly, the people who run this industry (from the WSJ to the NYT to my own bosses) appear to be thinking in the short term for a new business model. The layoffs will help the bottom line, for now.
But with fewer reporters, there will be less news. We will lose those necessary eyes, for both our advertising purposes and our information purposes. It's a vicious cycle.
So, at the end of the day, I just don't know that I believe that a day without online news is the answer. Or maybe it is, for calling attention to a service many people take for granted."
So, why so few signatures?
It's certainly possible that the idea proposed by the petition is more ridiculous than, say, asking people to work for free.
Or the reason could be you -- newspaper journalists.
From the onset, the petition effort was sure to be a difficult sell simply because journalists are so averse to putting their mark on anything resembling a petition.
Admirable as that standard may be, it's nonetheless a stumbling block for those seeking to draw attention to your cause.
If you're waiting on the suits and CEOs to save you ... well ... the layoff rolls are filled with the names of former newspaper journalists who were waiting on the same thing.
You must get actively involved in this, but, rather than ask you to go against your own code, how about this: What if all you had to do was what you do best?
What if all you had to do was to take the time to communicate this complex issue to those closest to you, to explain why newspapers matter to your wives and husbands, your mothers and fathers, your brothers and sisters, your best friends and neighbors?
That's it. Just explain and encourage them to pass on that wisdom to their friends and family. And, of course, it couldn't hurt to point all these people in the direction of the official petition Web site at www.KnowNewspapersPetition.com.
No ethical standards stand in the way of any of that. And, no doubt, you've probably been doing plenty of that for years already.
Do more of it.
Of course, the alternative is to let everyone else sort it out, including those who don't want anything more to do with your sort. Unlike you, however, they don't seem to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
"No News" logo by Will Sweat.
Now that the California budget impasse has been settled, perhaps the Governor can help local magazine magnates resolve the mess paralyzing the magazine industry, leaving store racks empty. Last week, a judge in New York granted an antitrust temporary restraining order to Source Interlink, owner of Motor Trend and other SoCal automotive and action sports titles. The restraining order prohibits national publishers and some wholesalers from denying magazine shipments to Source Interlink's distribution business. Source Interlink filed an anti trust lawsuit claiming that Time Inc. and Hachette—“conspired” to force the company to sell its distribution business at a steep discount to rivals Hudson News and News Group. Court papers include the news that Source Interlink contemplated thousands of layoffs if it could not make payroll by February 13th. Time Inc. and Source Interlink reached a settlement yesterday.
Other defendants named in the complaint include American Media Inc., Bauer Publishing, Curtis Circulation, Distribution Services Inc., Kable Distribution Services, and Time Warner Retail.
This is all fallout from a price hike Source Interlink and fellow wholesaler Anderson News tried to pass on to publishers. The publishers pushed back and refused to pay. Anderson News subsequently suspended operations, forcing publishers to scramble for new distributors to service retail accounts. The result has been sparse magazine displays at the checkout stand. Weeklies such as National Enquirer, US Magazine and People have been the hardest hit by the changes. Folio magazine reports that the nation's printers such as Quebecor World are trying to cope. Quebecor has local offices on Wilshire Blvd.
Longtime television writer Oliver Crawford, who died on September 24, 2008, was memorialized recently at the Writers Guild. I recorded the memorial and compiled the following from remarks delivered by Crawford's daughter, Vicki Crawford, with a few additional comments from her sister, Joann Kaufman, her brother, Kenny Kaufman, and others who attended.
When my father died last fall at the age of 91, he was one of the last surviving blacklisted writers.
But when he was first summoned in 1953 by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he wasn’t quite sure what to do.
The only way to save yourself and your career was to name a name – to rat on a friend of yours who was supposedly a Communist or Communist supporter. If you did so you were a friendly witness and you could keep working. If you didn’t you were blacklisted, unemployable and banned from working in your profession.
He was at the beginning of his career and was under contract with a production company owned by Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht. He went home and talked to my mother, who said, “You will not enhance this family at the expense of another.”
So my family left Los Angeles and headed east, ending up in New York, in a place called Seagate. Life was a struggle, but my father was familiar with struggle. He was born and raised in Chicago -- my grandmother would wash the butcher paper the meat was wrapped in and give it to him to draw on. His mother named him Oliver after a traveling performer who came through her village when she was living in Transylvania. Years later she thought it was magical and mystical that my father, too, went into show business.
My father always interested in the arts. He studied at the Goodman Theater and the Art Institute of Chicago, and throughout his life he saw the world through the lens of an artist. In exile in New York, he took on many jobs, including designing window displays. He created a comic strip called “Oskie” and had a showing of his artwork at a local gallery.
After four years, in 1957, my father got a call to come back to Hollywood. He said, “What about the blacklist?” They said “Shhh. Don’t say anything.” So we returned to Los Angeles, and my father’s career never stopped.
My father was always writing. He penned novels and plays, as well as writing for dozens of television shows. When I would go out to dinner with my father, I always felt like the third wheel because my dad would be talking to himself, writing. My father once told an interviewer: “If an idea grips you, if you have something to say, write it, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t or that it isn’t any good. In due time you’ll come to your own conclusion as to what the material is.”
I joined my father on the sets of many of the shows that he wrote. I was on the set of “Star Trek” and stood where William Shatner said, “beam me up.” I was on the set of “Bewitched,” meeting my then-heroine, Elizabeth Montgomery. He took me to San Francisco to see Karl Malden when he was doing “The Streets of San Francisco.” I truly believe that I sailed through elementary school because my father would put my teacher’s names in his scripts, and they really liked that.
In many ways, my father was ahead of his time. His teleplay “Death Valley Days,” which he wrote in 1962, was about religious tolerance. Many of his television episodes also contained subtle and not-so-subtle social commentaries. His 1969 “Star Trek,” called “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” featured a man who was half black and half white. He was one of the first to write about cloning, in a 1969 “Land of the Giants.” His “Bold Ones” in the early ‘70’s dealt with surrogacy.
Even his episode of “Love American Style” in 1970 called “Love and Grandma” focused on a young woman whose grandmother was shacking up with another man at a retirement home. A novel he wrote called “The Execution,” which was made into a TV movie in 1985, featured five women who survived the Nazi camps and who later sought to kill one of their torturers. At the time he said the story appealed to him because, “You don’t have to explain the villainy. You don’t have to explain your villain. He’s there.”
My father received multiple Emmy nominations and a Writers Guild Nomination for “The Outer Limits.” He won the National Conference for Christians and Jews Brotherhood award for “Death Valley Days.”
He received two Morgan Cox awards for his service to the Writers Guild. He was the only member of the Writers Guild of America West to serve an unprecedented 26 years on the Board of Directors. He was never nominated. He was always a write-in vote. One of his proudest accomplishments was getting the anti-Communist loyalty oath removed from the membership application. Though he was one of the few writers who was able to overcome the blacklist, the experience profoundly shaped his life. He recently wrote a play called “Ollie, Folly and the Blacklist.”
My father was a survivor. He survived the Depression, World War ll and the blacklist. But what really impresses me when I reflect on his life is that he always found a way to enjoy life.
Last year my father and I were talking about the blacklist. This is what I recall of our exchange. He said: “My decision not to name is the same process for the person who decided to name. It’ self-searching and gut-wrenching, and we both feel we made the right decision.
I said, “Wait a minute, what if the person who named you was sitting right here at the kitchen table? What would you say to them?”
“Good to see you. Good to see anyone.”
“No, no, no, no, no. This person’s decision derailed your career, uprooted us as a family, and who knows what else.”
“No. Water under the bridge. I had a very good run, a successful career and a wonderful woman -- your mother, bless her.”
He then said, “I’d offer him a cup of coffee, but since I’m not stable on my feet, you’d have to get it.”
I said “Dad, you’re 90. Don’t mellow on me.”
And he said, “No regrets.”
Reported by Judy Muller, the segment included an interview with Geneva Overholser, former editor of The Des Moines Register and now director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism.
Newspaper journalists in particular ought to be interested in Overholser's prediction for the year to come:
"We're going to have major American cities with no daily newspaper within the next year. I'm willing to bet quite a bit of money on that. We have newspapers for sale around the country in cities from Miami, to Denver, to Seattle, to San Diego, and no one wants to buy them."
A year ago today the breaking news blog, LA Now, which the LA Times hired me to help create, went public. We'd been blogging in the dark for a month or so, first on one of my Typepad templates, then hidden away (but readers still found us) in a corner of LA Times.com. The idea was to live-blog breaking news, share the essential info about a wildfire or school brawl or political meltdown, then follow up with the fully reported and edited and bylined news story. In between we'd link to other blogs and newspapers, call reporters and bloggers by name, highlight the media landscape here in SoCal.
Jesus Sanchez (LAT Layoff Class of July '08), my partner in the blog, made it possible for LA Now to publish a new post every 45 minutes, from the early-morning news round-up until we signed off each evening. What drew readers? Taco trucks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Prop 8, grisly crime news, morbidly obese cats -- yes. Stories about budgets and zoning and the LA County supes -- not so much.
And then Jesus got laid off and I got laid off and, because LA Now was a great idea, an essential idea, because returning readers embraced it and new readers kept finding it, it grew. LA Now was 8 millionth in Technorati when we launched it. That means 8 million blogs were more popular than LA Now. By the time I got the boot, LA Now was ranked in the top 4,000 blogs, amazing growth. Today it's in the top 1,000 (No. 922, at this moment) and still rising.
It's not the same, of course, but a mere year later, neither is this world. Our LA Now was an ongoing conversation about California, with photos and links and context and commentary. The new LA Now is like a 21st century teletype, a flood of stories and snippets and alerts and updates coming from every corner of the newsroom. Our LA Now was like a mirror of the region, how we saw ourselves, how others saw us. The new LA Now is more like a membrane, passing along as much news as possible, as fast as possible.
What's next? Nothing very good, judging from the newspapers of all sizes crashing and burning all around us, but here's hoping LA Now will still be around to report it. Congratulations to the battered and beleaguered reporters and editors at the LA Times who have kept the blog going. And happy birthday, LA Now.
The Web blackout petition is scheduled to be discussed Wednesday afternoon on Crosstalk with host Jim Rondeau at KCLU 88.3 FM. The show airs from 1-2 p.m. and the segment about the petition is likely to occur during the last quarter hour.
Also scheduled to appear on Crosstalk Wednesday is Judy Muller, a correspondent for the KCET program SoCal Connected. Muller is expected to discuss her upcoming report, set to air Thursday evening, about the online newspaper Voice of San Diego.
Regarding the petition ...
Several publications have requested interviews. One published its story Wednesday at Journalism.co.uk, an edited Q&A conducted via e-mail by London-based reporter Laura Oliver.
Many other blog posts about the petition have also been published, though the variations are extreme. Online publications that appeal to the American journalism industry have represented the effort accurately. But some sites that write for a more general audience have misrepresented the petition's purpose as an effort to save newsprint, which is not the case. The goal of the petition is to raise awareness about the crisis facing the news-gathering organizations we call "newspapers." It's got nothing to do with saving the medium of paper. Clearly the future of newspapers is the Internet.
Such misunderstandings only serve to underscore the need to make online readers aware that newspapers account for the bulk of online news content, which is the goal of conducting a week-long blackout of all non-pay-access Web sites run by newspapers and The Associated Press.
Because most people access newspaper content online, where it's often stripped of its brand and repackaged by countless unassociated providers, the public perceives the news it consumes as being free, when, in fact, more often than not, a newspaper reporter either wrote the stories, or reported the original versions that some other entity rewrote. The news, like the water that comes out the taps in people's homes, does not inspire those who consume it to determine from where it comes, unless it is tainted, or fails to flow. I'd prefer not to wait until more newspapers fail and the news stops flowing.
More about the petition is at this link, including a list of links to the many other posts that have been published in response.
Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper
At long last, the provocative work of photographer Joseph Rodriguez has landed in LA.
Flesh Life: Sex in Mexico City, opens Saturday at the Darkroom Gallery in Glassell Park, providing an unorthodox option for your Valentine's Day celebration.
Joe gravitates to tough and tangled topics, and this one's a doozie:
From Nezahualcoyotl, the largest working-class suburb on earth, to La Condesa, Mexico City’s hipster hangout, putas and putos stroll the streets, cruising for johns and surviving on their wit, born out of true desperation. These men, women, and everyone in-between are sex-workers in a country where extra-marital sex is considered a mortal sin, and, confoundingly, where they ply their trade without official reprisal. In Mexico, macho husbands consort with other men, and virgencitas are anything but.
From the intro to the accompanying book, written by So Cal scribe Ruben Martinez:
Spirit, flesh: in the end the same quest, born of a crumbling economy and identity. The single most apparent sign is the proliferation in prostitution, an ‘outing’ of what has always existed, but furtively. The government has officially admitted that it is impossible to rein in the sex trade; Mexico City is not busy busting working women and men, but formulating legal and health guidelines for sex-workers.
Mexico loves to fuck, in a Catholic way. It suffers its fucking so much (¡pecado mortal!), that its pain becomes an inverted delight. We pick the forbidden fruit, we cum, we realize the sin, we confess, we are given absolution, we pick it again. Psychologists, feminists and the French can complain all they want, but the fact is that it is precisely the fact that we've contradicted our desire that has made it so, well, sexy.
Details on the show, the book, and Joe, here.
Isaacson makes a similar case to the one made in the petition to persuade newspapers (and the AP) to pull the plug on their non-pay-access Web sites for one week this summer. It's not about saving "newsprint." It's about saving newspapers as news-gathering organizations.
Jon Stewart's intro:
I couldn't think of a more worthy cause. I love the newspaper. There's nothing better ... but how do we do it?
A potential solution:
Jon Stewart: What about giving it more of a cable TV or a radio model ... because the aggregators are the ones. The Huffington Post ... the Drudge Report ... Those ones that link to the reporters, that don't do reporting of their own, but link.
Walter Isaacson: Right. The aggregators are getting the bulk of the ad dollars right now.
Jon Stewart: Right. Why not do licensing deals, like they're 'a radio station' and you're 'the artist.' Do it like 'hits' are 'spins,' and make those deals. Like it's a cable model. Or it's a radio model.
("The Daily Show" via The E&P Pub)
Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper
The Petition ...
Thomas Jefferson did not wish to become a wolf.
Odd as that may sound today considering all the good he did his country, Jefferson worried about the possibility, so much so that, while on a trip to Europe in 1787, one of his letters home became a kind of dissertation about the people he'd seen transformed into "wolves and sheep" along the way.
Cloaked in the garb of government, Jefferson wrote, the leaders of Europe had managed to divide their nations into two distinct classes -- "wolves and sheep" -- with the ruling class preying upon everyone else.
It was, Jefferson figured, the result of the public's inattention, an inevitability wherever government was permitted to exist absent a free press.
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Wolves and sheep. You don't have to be a Jeffersonian scholar to comprehend what it means.
Yet, here we find ourselves more than 222 years later in the midst of a newspaper crisis that TIME magazine says has reached "meltdown proportions," meaning our transformation into wolves and sheep may soon be a foregone conclusion, and still the majority of the American public appears oblivious.
Many newspapers have closed. Buyouts and layoffs have decimated once great institutions of American journalism. And despite all that, some of the craziest last-ditch efforts you ever could have imagined are being implemented in the effort to stave off death.
- The Los Angeles Times has killed its local news section.
- The Gannett newspaper chain has put its newspaper employees on mandatory five-day furloughs.
- The Detroit New and The Detroit Free Press have ceased daily home delivery.
These aren't sane measures. Indeed, had anyone suggested such things two years ago they'd have been branded a lunatic. But as we approach panic mode, even remotely plausible ideas seem worth a shot.
TIME magazine's cover story this week, a very thought-provoking piece written by Walter Isaacson (a former TIME managing editor, and president and CEO of the Aspen Institute), suggests the solution may be to charge readers for access:
"Under a micropayment system, a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day's full edition or $2 for a month's worth of Web access. Some surfers would balk, but I suspect most would merrily click through if it were cheap and easy enough."
Which brings us right back to where we've been for years while, in the meantime, another newspaper (Denver's Rocky Mountain News) rages against the dying of the light.
It's time to do something drastic.
It's time to do more than join another Facebook pledge group, or promote a campaign like National Buy A Newspaper Day, or to purchase some overpriced t-shirts emblazoned with the message "Save a journalist, buy a newspaper."
It's time to admit that, regardless of how many readers may be clicking through newspaper content for free on the Internet, newspapers don't matter to those readers because Jefferson's concerns aren't on their radar. They've got enough to worry about. They've got jobs of their own. They've got this much time to read blog X, Y and Z, and click their way over to the paper and back, or not, or whatever, but there's no compelling reason for them to stop and think about what would happen if the newspapers providing all that news ceased to exist.
To the average reader wolves and sheep are little more than characters in a fairy tale.
It's not that Americans don't care. It's simply a matter of human nature. Until the discomfort reaches the readers -- at which point it will be too late -- there's no motivation for them to get involved in finding a solution.
Clearly newspapers can't solve this alone. They've had years. They're lost. And, at this stage, asking for directions isn't enough to put them back on track.
Now is the time for newspapers to do something proactive; time for them to demonstrate what life would be like without them.
It's time for every daily newspaper in the United States, in cooperation with the Associated Press, to shut down their free Web sites for one week.
Yes. Shut it down. Blank screen. Nothing.
Of course, news would still be reported daily in every newspaper's printed product. No editor, or reporter or publication would dare shirk their watchdog responsibilities. This isn't about stopping the presses.
But the Web? People can do without news on the Web for a week. They won't like it. They'll complain about it. But, that's exactly what has to happen before they can be expected to care.
Pulling the plug gets their attention.
So, here's the proposal: At the stroke of midnight on Independence Day, Saturday July 4, all daily newspapers ought to switch off their Web sites until Friday, July 10.
Call it "A Week Without a Virtual Newspaper." Call it crazy. Call it costly. Call it whatever you want, but it's no more drastic a measure than asking people to work for free.
A move like this puts the crisis where it ought to be, front and center at the top of every newscast. It makes it impossible for anyone to deny where the majority of news content comes from, and why it matters. For without virtual newspapers, what would Drudge report? What would Huffington post? What would Google News and Yahoo News and all those cut-and-paste blogs that get so much of their material from newspapers have to offer if newspapers went away?
Not that there's anything wrong with public affairs blogs, aggregate news sites, or any other online entity that makes use of newspaper reports. The point of pulling the plug for one week isn't to harm them, but to emphasize the origin of all that news content, and why everyone should care about protecting that source.
Pulling the plug is perhaps the only way to make people outside of journalism sit up and take notice that this isn't about jobs in journalism, but American Democracy.
It's about wolves and sheep. Wolves and sheep.
The petition is available online at this link.
* Update: Similar thoughts from Jay Smith, former CEO of Cox Newspapers.
* Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper
51 Posts About the Petition:
- JOUR MO2
Scholars from around the world will gather at UCLA today for a three-day conference on invective called "Savage Words: Invective as a Literary Genre." How appropriate. There's a twisted logic buried in the notion of holding an academic conference about insults in a city that few have a kind word for.
Organized by UCLA's Massimo Ciavolella, Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian, and Gianluca Rizzo, Ph.D. candidate, the conference grew out of discussions between Dr. Ciavolella and his colleague, Dr. Kirstie McClure, about the decline in well-crafted vilification. He attributes this incivility disability to the decline in critical writing. Dr. Ciavolella agrees that the rhetorical tool is the victim of the Internet Age. "The Internet hinders the genre, " he says, "Everything goes so fast, there's no space [to savor a well turned put down] in public. Every thing is an insult and there's so much of it at the same time that it drowns out, floods the culture, diluting the sting, especially of political invective." Dr. McClure will address this problem directly in her talk, "Democracies, Discipline and the End of Invective," on Saturday afternoon.
As participants will show, verbal vituperation once flourished on the streets and the salons of the ancient world, early modern Europe and beyond. Dr. Ciavolella urges readers to consult the works of Petrarch and Ben Jonson for stellar examples of the age. Fans of contemporary philosophy should get a kick out of hearing Remo Bodei, Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Pisa and Professor in Residence at UCLA, take on "The Righteous Wrath." He's a star of the Modena Philosophy Festival which attracts 100,000 visitors each year.
While Professor Ciavolella agrees that it is hard to imagine that happening in Los Angeles, he has no harsh words for our crazy, dysfunctional city. "I can't say anything bad about L.A., " he demurs, "I love this city. It is a city always on the edge of disaster, fascinating. I don't have invective for it, though the political class of the city and state deserves invective, especially those more interested in their own interests than the welfare of the area."
Riddle me this:
If the Los Angeles Times kills the California section, where will the paper publish the section's obituary?
The setting: a scenic overlook somewhere in the Mojave Desert. A Ford Taurus is parked there. We see three of its four inhabitants: Mom (30s); Janey (14); and Joey (9), three-fourths of a typical family among the dozens of families currently finding themselves part of the 21st Century Hooverville along the highway.
As their old Ford Taurus is the worse for wear, so are the family’s clothes. Mom is in a tattered Anne Klein suit; Joey in a very dirty Sponge Bob T-shirt, baggy jeans, and Converse high tops with flapping soles; Janey is in fashionable teen slut garb, which is perfect for the homeless life. Dad, who appears later, wears what’s left of a Brooks Brothers suit. The fact is, if their teeth weren’t so white, they could easily be living under a freeway overpass.
A crude fire flickers; a bitter gust of wind sweeps through the camp. Janey is on the phone under the car. Joey puts several slices of bread on a stick, then moves closer to the fire to make toast. The family is relentlessly happy and cheerful.
JANEY: …No, living here isn’t so bad. I don’t have to make my bed because I don’t have one, there’s a cute, roving band of inner-city youths that prey on everyone, and --
MOM (checking her watch and looking under car): Young lady, get off that phone this instant –
JANEY: Call you later. Bye.
Janey crawls out from under the car, and hands Mom the phone. Mom takes it, protectively, examines it, gives it a light dusting, then places it atop a pedestal – on a pedestal on the hood of the car.
MOM: I’ve told you time and time again to stay off the phone when we’re expecting our call from the National Focus Group Survey. Do you have potatoes in your ears?
JANEY: Sorry, Mom.
MOM: Now go help your brother make toast. Your father’s been away all night and I’m sure he’ll be ready for a good, hot breakfast when he gets back.
JOEY: And appreciative of how thoughtful we are.
Janey moves to help Joey.
JANEY: It’s not like I was being negative, or anything.
MOM: I know you weren’t, Janey. You’re a perfect daughter and Joey’s a perfect son…
She moves to inspect the toast.
MOM (cont.): And this toast looks almost…perfect.
She becomes even more cheerful at the thought of her own little word jokes.
JOEY: Medium-brown, just like Dad likes it.
JANEY (nostalgically): Number four on the toaster.
The three of them ponder this for a moment.
MOM: Now that’s enough wallowing in the past! Let’s count our blessings…
Mom looks around, sees no blessings, looks again – this time it’s the desert, and immediately re-perks.
MOM (cont.): We live in…
JANEY/JOEY: …a scenic overlook.
MOM (cheerfully continuing the chant): Our life is backlit by…
JANEY/JOEY: …a giant postcard.
MOM: And we’ve never gone a day without toast.
JOEY: That’s because you’re the best mom in the world, Mom.
MOM (looking at ground and shuffling): Aw, thanks, sweetie, but let’s be fair. I owe it all to those calls from the National Focus Group Survey. (as an afterthought) And your father, of course.
JANEY (concerned): I wonder where he is. It’s not like him to be late for an appointment with a pollster.
MOM: Young lady, turn that frown upside down. I’m sure your father’s fine. Although you’re right. It’s not like him to be late for an appointment with a pollster.
JOEY: I’m sure he’s fine. (trying to be encouraging) Maybe he stopped off to sell blood, like last time!
They are buoyed by this thought. The phone rings. Joey leaps to answer it.
JOEY: Hello?...(annoyed) Bobby, I told you. I can’t talk Wednesday morning.
As she listens, Mom droops.
JOEY (cont.): That’s when the Survey group calls and asks for our opinion!
At the mention of “Survey group,” mom recovers, pretending that she is a puppet and pulling herself up with an invisible string.
JOEY (cont.): Bye!
He hands the phone to Mom and she inspects it to make sure it’s working properly, then puts it back on top of the car.
JOEY (cont.): Sorry, Mom. Some people just don’t understand the importance of being polled.
MOM: That’s right. Polls are important. Polls are used to determine important decisions. Polls tell us that…(now, a total change of character, apparently channeling Jesse Jackson)…We are somebody!
Janey and Joey exchange a look and Mom realizes that she just cracked, then quickly regains her composure and moves to the fire to check the toast.
MOM (cont.): Not a moment too soon!
She starts to wrap the toast in a towel. But the phone rings and Mom leaps to grab it. The toast goes flying.
MOM (mid-air): Children, make more toast. (into phone) Hello?...(excitedly) Yes, this is the Doakes family…The National Focus Group Survey?...Well, hello! May I tell you how synchronistic this is? I was just willing you to phone us…Of course I believe in synchronicity. Is that what you’re asking in today’s poll?...You can’t tell me because you need to talk to the head of the household?...(stalling and scanning horizon) Well, three out of four Doakeses are ready to be asked for our opinions, children, line up for the Survey people…
Jane and Joey line up.
MOM (cont.): …and say hello…
Janey and Joey ad lib hellos into the phone. It doesn’t help. Mom is almost completely unglued.
MOM (cont.): …You know, Mr. Doakes will be here any second, as you may recall, he’s got an impeccable record when it comes to being polled, he’s always on hand for your call, in fact, you could say, it’s the reason he gets up in the morning, that goes double for all the members of our family…
Janey and Joey cheerfully nod in agreement.
MOM (cont.): …Well, couldn’t you call back? Mr. Doakes has so many opinions, and we already know what they are, so of course he’s anxious to share them with you, in fact, the last thing he said to me was, “Honey, you know what really rings my chimes?”…(reacting to the line going dead) Hello? (shaking phone) Is anyone there?
Mom frantically takes the phone apart and quickly puts it together again to see if it’s working.
MOM (cont.): Did you kids do something to this phone?
JANEY: Of course not, Mom.
JOEY: I’m sure they’ll call back.
MOM: Well, the Bakers missed their call last week and then they lost their space at the overlook! Who knows where they are now!
JANEY: Don’t worry, Mom!
JOEY: It’s all good!
MOM (attempting to re-perk): Oh, I’m sure you’re right. You’re always right. Except of course when your father –
Dad now enters, shell-shocked. Mom rushes to him, grabbing the stick with toast and offering it.
MOM (cont., totally re-perked): Toast?
DAD (waving it away): Five-thousand men showed up to write one line of ad copy. It started raining. They wouldn’t open up the gates. Fights broke out. They sent in the dogs. It got ugly. I left.
A beat as Mom, Jane, and Joey frown.
DAD (not liking their frowns, attempting to re-perk): But I didn’t miss our phone call, did I?
Mom, Janey, and Joey now exchange angry, sullen looks.
DAD (cont., now deflated again): Don’t tell me. Correctly assuming that I would return jobless, Mom did a hoochie-koochie dance for the highway patrol, Joey broke down and sold his A-Rod rookie card, and Janey was tied up and tongue-kissed by that roving band of inner city youths.
JOEY (well-meaning): We couldn’t help it, Dad –
MOM (quickly cutting Joey off): -- The point is, honey, I’ve got some good news…
MOM (cont.): …And some bad news.
MOM (cont.): The good news is…
MOM (cont.): …They did phone, so that means we still count…
Dad does an end-zone victory dance.
DAD: Team Doakes!
MOM: And the bad news is…
Dad stops dancing, then frowns.
MOM (cont.): …they only wanted to talk to the head of the household and you weren’t here…
DAD (disbelieving): Well, couldn’t you get them to phone back? They’ve never asked specifically for me before…
JANEY: Maybe that’s because you always answer the phone.
MOM: Zip your lip, young lady. I won’t have any of that smart talk in this house.
Janey “zips” her lip and exchanges a look with Joey.
Dad starts pacing around the camp. Mom plants the stick with the toast over the fire.
DAD: I suppose I didn’t have to go off on another wild goose-chase job hunt…
MOM: Sure you did, honey, because that’s the kind of guy you are.
Dad re-perks, as Mom begins to deflate.
MOM (cont.): …I suppose I could have disguised my voice and said I was the head of the household….
DAD: But, honey, that would have been dishonest, and that’s not the kind of gal you are.
Mom re-perks, as Dad deflates again.
DAD (cont.): …Well, I suppose if I had a real head on my shoulders, I would have taken our family nest egg out of the bank, and put it in our king-size Serta sleeper and then removed it before the bank collapsed and the bed was repossessed. But thanks to my famous short-sightedness, I didn’t do that.
MOM: Hey, hey, hey, honey, you’re not Nostradamus!
Dad does not re-perk. Mom begins a cartwheel.
DAD: Well, I should have read Nostradamus. He predicted this whole shebang, didn’t he?
MOM (completing the cartwheel): Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but one thing’s for sure. Back in his day, they didn’t have toast!
Dad immediately re-perks, and the two of them move happily to the fire. The family huddles around.
DAD (picking up the toast stick and examining the toast): Mmmm…medium brown…Number four on the toaster. If you want my opinion, I like it!
Everyone agrees, anxiously waiting for Dad to start eating so they can follow.
DAD (cont., shouting into the void): The Doakes family likes medium-brown toast! Did you hear that, National Focus Group Survey? (now sheepishly, to family) In case they’re listening.
JANEY/JOEY: We’re listening, Dad. We like to hear your opinions.
The phone rings.
MOM (mid-air): It’s working!
They all lunge or it and pile up on top of the phone. Dad tries to keep the toast stick clear of the jumble. From under the pile we hear Dad.
DAD (excitedly): Head of the household. What can I do you for?...(dejectedly) Oh, yeah, sure, what the hey…
The group reassembles around the campfire.
MOM (hopefully): Well?
DAD: The Coopers in the blue Hyundai. They said they have some preserves so I invited them over.
MOM (looking around): Might as well start meeting our neighbors!
Dad finally begins to take a bite of what’s left of the toast. But a gust of wind blows it from his hand and offstage.
MOM: Children, make more toast.
The lights fade.