It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

Why it's good to live in a two (and a half/and two-thirds/and three-quarters) newspaper town

Every now and then a little nagging voice in the back of my head pipes up with "You know, you really haven't slammed your head hard into a wall in quite some time. Why not give it a go when it's next convenient?" This voice is easily ignored, but last night I was sitting in the South Station food court and just happened to notice a discarded copy of The Boston Herald ("The Newspaper You Don't Have To Actually Read To Read") on the table next to me. That's when the little voice piped up and compelled me to grab the paper and give it a look-see. Now Boston's a two-newspaper town; the right-leaning, blue-collar Herald goes up against the left-leaning, affluent suburbanite Globe ("The Newspaper You Actually Have To Read To Read") and I admit I'll more obligingly read the Globe (or at least its online counterpart) over the Herald, because it raises fewer hackles. I'll get to that in a moment, but first let's go back to the Herald, whose name isn't as funny as the Globe's when you drop off its last letter.

First off the Herald screamed at me in a big bold headline in big easy letters: DOOMED!

It was referring to the four local fishermen lost off the coast this weekend when their boat capsized. It's a terrible story; once rescue teams found the single lifeboat still lashed, unused, to the vessel, they knew there was no hope in finding survivors in the cold waters and made that grim switch from rescue to recovery. It's a real downer of a story to read about or hear on the news, especially on a bitter cold January morning. However, the Herald's big headline over pictures of the victims' smiling faces doesn't just tell you what's happening. It tells you how you should feel about it. It is specifically designed to provoke sympathetic reactions of "Oh, those poor men and their families!" The funny thing is, when I first read the story in the Metro ("The Newspaper You Don't Have To Read") I had sympathetic emotional reactions to the story simply by reading it. I didn't need such a blatant tug to feel it; the emotion's in the story. While every piece of writing is designed to provoke a reaction from the reader, it doesn't need to be so ... so nakedly blatant.

Further in I notice oh hey, the Herald's all about the bloggin' now, too. It's a nice way to get some columnists on the cheap and use the New Media that all the kids are jazzed up about these days. One of the blog-columns was quite provoking; it provoked a snort of derision from Constant Reader, that's what it provoked. It was entitled "The Lone Republican."

The Lone Republican? At the Herald?! Maybe the Lone Republican In The Herald Break Room Between 4:18 And 4:19 PM Last Thursday, sure, but the party that for twelve years held both the House and Senate and for six also had the Presidency can hardly play up the Disenfranchised Yet Noble Minority card. Sorry, you just don't get that whining right. It was a tactic I'd seen tried by some Republicans even while they were in majority power and this kind of childish complaining is really why I loathe partisan politics. When "They" becomes the nebulous straw group of Those Who Don't Agree With Us And Are Out To Get Us, and one's positions are defended with the mere posit that they're the outcast, the loner, so they must be right.

While the column didn't mention anything about its angle, I could see it really being "The Lone Republican Blogger In A Decidedly Blue State Bunch O' Bloggers." Fair enough, Boston (and more specifically, Camberville) is traditionally left-leaning, but even then there are certainly more than a few conservative online bloggers, many of whom feel like they're the lone red voice in a sea of blue. Well, band together, guys. You are not alone, that's for sure, and it'd be myopic to continue to believe so.

Once I'd sufficiently amused myself by coming up with the admittedly brilliant "Lone Republican In The Herald Break Room Between 4:18 And 4:19 PM Last Thursday" joke, I kept looking through the paper and I got to the Opinion section. Hoo boy. I'll forego talking about the knee-jerk rhetorical letters, as those transcend political groups, but instead I'll mention the political cartoon and lament its demise. Time was when Thomas Nast could draw up a caricature of ol' Boss Tweed in Tammany Hall sitting on a pork barrel, diamond stickpin aglow and whammo blammo, there'd be Social Change afoot. Political cartoons used to have some kind of rhetorical clout, an instant barometer of public opinion and lampooning of scandalous issues (case in point: The Standard Oil "Octopus", which quickly identified and illustrated the monopoly charges levied against the company, so much so that it was considered a little anti-trust victory when an artist subversively included an art-deco octopus in the cover art of one of Standard Oil's yearly prospectuses.)

Yesterday in Editorial Cartoon History, the Herald had a cartoon entitled "The GOP Writes Its 2008 Jingle" and featured an elephant at a keyboard saying "Hey, have you noticed that BARACK sounds like IRAQ and OBAMA sounds like OSAMA?"

Ha ha ha! Ho ho ho! (and a couple of tra-la-las!) The 2008 election isn't even on, and already we've gone to the namecalling! And it's not even a very original schoolyard taunt, either -- I'm sure it's been made before and I'm certain it will be made again by other people who think they've stumbled upon a great insight.

And what does the cartoon say about the GOP's stance, anyway? That instead of their jingle being "Hey, this is what we're for and why you should vote our line", it's "Hey, the other guy stinks"? I could see this being a subtle form of, oh, I don't know, satire and a statement being made to this effect, but do I think the Herald's readership is going to make that connection and go "You know, it is pretty silly for a political party to instinctively bash their opponent when they should be trumpeting their own praises?" Of course not. They're gonna say "You know, that cartoon elephant's right! Iraq Osama! Iraq Osama!"

By this time I had finished my food court meal of Something-Flavored Chicken and returned the Herald to the table from whence it came, and frankly I didn't need to read any more. Amazingly enough, I didn't feel it necessary to run right back into the lovin' arms of the gentrifyin' Globe, who reassures me that it's a good time to be affluent in the Metro West and that the new upscale Natick Mall addition with its logo "designed to resemble the flowing folds of a woman's skirt" is just what I need in my life, and that the MBTA's new Charlie Card system is an incontrovertible success and anybody who disagrees is just being a complainy complainer. Both newspapers are spinning in directions I don't particularly enjoy being spun in.

The point of this exercise, besides giving me a chance to go bangy-bangy on the keyboard and make funnies at the expense of people I may not always agree with, is to point out that when the "mainstream media" publications get all upset at their dwindling readership and quickly fling the Finger O' Blame at "the bloggers" (many of whom would eagerly accept said Finger and feel quite self-important about it) they really should consider the fact that many news-hungry readers are learning that there are ways to get their news online without having to endure patronizing spin or viewpoints that assume a lifestyle they don't necessarily share. No news is without its angle, of course, but by gum, it doesn't have to be laid on so goddamn thick.

And as much as I may complain humorously or cynically about them, I'm certainly glad Boston is a two-newspaper town. I'm glad we have the choice of which spin to read, instead of being forced just one. And I'm glad we have other methods to get the truly important news. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a luxury condo and think up funny rhymes for "Cheney."
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