Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Let Us Die

Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin proposed a bill to make newspapers nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, like public television. Newspapers could report the news and cover politics, but they would not be able to endorse political candidates. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt under the bill.
Funny that a politician would want to put the kibosh on endorsements.
Cardin’s bill, which has yet failed to gain co-sponsors, is the Newspaper Revitalization Act, and is geared to helping small, local newspapers.
Subscription and advertising revenues plummeted within the last few years, as readers head online for their news. Giants like The Rocky Mountain News, Seattle-Post Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle folded. The Tribune Company, owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy protection.
The Seattle-Post Intelligencer now produces an online version only, operating with a staff of only 20 reporters.
“We are losing our newspaper industry,” Cardin told Reuters. “The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy.”
Pardon me while I vomit.
I don’t know if Cardin means well, if he really believes that turning local papers into charity cases will help us create a better product, or he’s just a whore playing to his base.
My call to Cardin is: let us die.
The newspaper industry has been in a slow, gradual death spiral for years. The reasons are manifold: a crappy economy means advertising revenue is down, the plethora of online news outlets mean people aren’t subscribing to a dead tree product, and the quality of journalism leaves a lot to be desired.
The backlash against the media, especially journalism, has grown, with animosity directed at the “liberal secular media” by pundits who view reporters as brimstone-reeking scions of Satan.
I’ll be the first to defend the profession of reporter, but the more journalists I meet, the more I think the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities of the world may have a point.
The news is ridiculous, especially during elections, when objectivity takes a holiday, along with intelligence.
People don’t want objectivity anymore. They want commentary. They want bullshit. They want a validation of their worldview no matter how warped or narrow. Reporters can’t deliver that. Pundits can.
Again, I repeat: let us die.
The generational divide between young and old consumer reveals that people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who grew up with newspapers respect the product. Young people who were raised by computers and machines worship technology as the plugged in source for their media. They’re much more likely to get their news and information electronically than stain their hands with ink printed on paper.
Producing a newspaper is expensive. Printing operations alone caused my newspaper to shut down their in-house printing press years ago and have the paper printed through a company an hour away from our facility. In addition to production, you have editorial salaries, advertising salaries and day-to-day operation costs. With shrinking revenues from circulation and advertising, how will papers stay in business?
Let us die.
Let us roll over and expire and mutate into something else, something better. Cardin’s ridiculous bill would transform independent voices into slaves, muzzled by law. His persistence that the newspaper industry deserves a bailout like the automobile or financial sectors is laughable. Keeping this industry alive is like failing to pull the plug on a terminally ill patient, an empty gesture not helping anyone and certainly not advancing journalism’s cause of reporting the news.
The government did pass a law to save the news industry before. Congress passed and President Nixon signed, the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, which exempted competing daily newspapers in the same market from antitrust laws in the wake of declining circulation. This was largely because two daily papers could be produced in the same printing facility but maintain two competing news organizations.
Cardin’s bill is different and would smack of favoritism to the tinfoil hat brigade who say the Democratic Party is in bed with the media.
The bill is a disingenuous attempt to resurrect an industry that doesn’t need saving. People don’t weep when a newspaper goes out of business. They just don’t care.
This industry needs to die. The presses need to stop. We need to develop good reporting, solid writing and a better way of reaching our readers. If this is online distribution with advertising catered to particular users, if it’s content that can be viewed on handheld devices like mobile phones, so be it.
The dwindling number of newspapers reveals a sea change in the Information Age. We’re living to see the old newspaper’s swansong, a lyrical death scene played out with crashing finality, where the physical paper read on porches on Sunday mornings, is a relic of a leisurely past.
For those who believe the reduction in the number of newspapers means we’re a less free society, that’s total bullshit. Look online, where you see debates raging in a hideous display of misspellings, capitalizations and emoticons that resemble a million dyslexic chimpanzees with computer access. The Internet’s denizens include partisan hacks, nutjobs, conspiracy theorists, wanna-bes, publicity whores and teenagers with nothing better to do. But they’re more American than your average editorial board. Sure, they’re botched sociopaths, but that’s the price you pay with the Internet in a free society. All points of view, some more cognizant than others. Just like America.
If this cesspool of fiber optic cables and tubes is where American journalism will have to roost for the next 200 years, then it’s made the last 200 years seem like a comforting chapter in our profession’s history. This is another chapter. Bring it on.
Improving a newspaper’s quality, writing and image in the community is old school stuff. Pound the pavement shoe leather reporting. Investigative reporting by people who know how to write, who can play with words and keep readers coming back. That’s what we should develop, and it should be done online with video advertising customers can click and discover ways to reduce their mortgages, how to win the Liberian National Lottery and satisfy their lovers with Cealis.
So let us die, Senator Cardin.
Let us die for the good of our industry, for the good of America. We’ll be reborn bigger and better online where we can reach the entire planet and use Micromedia Flash animations. Maybe create a few clever memes.
I’d rather see newspapers online endorsing candidates than a dead tree product legally forbidden from doing so.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Writer Inside

It all comes down to stubbornness, resolve and guts. Maybe I shouldn't talk with such bravado, but when it's 11 at night and you've had Guinness, the red hot rush of anger fills you and you must cut the artery and let it bleed over the page. Journalism is reporting, not writing. By writing, I mean vocabulary, story, character and making the reader give a damn. Reporting is the $25 whore haunting the back alleys, waiting for johns and living an emaciated, wraithlike existence among the dregs. Little money, no respect, plenty of critics. The New Journalism experiment ran its course and dried up, blew away and consumed its staunchest proponents in a haze and puff of drugs, drink and temporary fame that would've made Andy Warhol proud.
The weight of the writer lurks inside. It's something primitive, something feral. It's the creature you let out to play when your live is devastated, when it's one in the morning and you're drunk and lonely and need it to come out and play with jaws gnashing and claws scraping across your heart. You want the words to spill out, the sentences to form and bloom like the films of flowers unfolding at super speed, blossoming rapidly and unabashedly. You don't give a damn about writer's groups filled with posers and dilettantes who profess Oprah's book club is the holy grail for the modern American writer.
The old school writer still beats his chest, half out of anger, half out of sorrow, mindful of his loneliness and still grinding on, fidgeting with his manual typewriter and ninth cup of coffee, cigarettes ground into an ashtray like a burnt offering in some pagan burnt offering made to appease a fickle muse. Good art must have sacrifice; must have pain. Call it cliche, call it trite and juvenile, but it's true. The misery, the void, it's all reflected in the human soul. It's a window into our struggling state as creator, wrestling with uncertainty, with alienation, with pain.
Writing is the drug, the booze, the fixation, the rush. It is the gulp of air in the lungs, the nourishing element that makes the writer feel alive and complete. It's the necessary insanity we need to slog through in order to feel. Our lives might be chaos, we might be depressed, miserable basket cases, but when the words hit those pages and take shape, when the right words are arranged in the appropriate order, it's like a symphony hitting the right notes or a canvas splashed with the right colors and shapes. It is perfection. It is miraculous. It is something nobody but the writer could have conceived or executed and no critic, no publisher or no commentator can take away or detract from.
It is our lifeblood oozing forth on the page, our thoughts put to language, our essence. It is why a kid with a funny last name wrote stories in his composition book in the fifth grade and started reading at an early age. It's why newspapers became a career. It's why every waking moment ushers in a new doubt about why he chooses to still write after so many setbacks and failures and rejections.
Then it dawns on the writer that he didn't choose writing - writing chose him. For someone whose friendships are scarce and love scarcer, writing became the way to communicate, the way to convey and entertain. It is a life thinking in letters, of seeing the words on the page in your mind, of sacrificing your Saturday nights and sitting hunched over a keyboard like a forlorn Quasimodo. Yet within this thing some dare to call a gift, there's self-doubt and angst. Have I done enough? Am I losing it? Why can't I write like I did when I was younger? Have I traded speed for wisdom, comfort for uncertainty? Why persist?
I want to be something great, something worthy of admiration. I want to be the Jack Kerouac for Generation X, a nomadic tale teller and shepherd of the disenfranchised. I want to be the guy with the nervous energy, with a thousand stories to tell and each time I tell them something new is added.
I want the blog to be something other than dull recounting of my day or what I thought of a particular bit of pop culture or what color I should paint the bedroom.
I need it to be about words, about ideas. I need it to be a dragon flying high into the sky, shooting flames that lick above everything. I need it to be a storm at sea, with dark clouds rumbling and the waves churning and cresting. I need it to be like a lost lover who drifts back to you, arriving on your doorstep with forgiving words and a bottle of Cognac.
I need to be a better wordsmith, more disciplined and skilled and not shirking from my craft.
I need to write.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do you want a side of POTUS with that?

A German company is capitalizing on President Obama with their latest product, Obama Fingers, frozen chicken fingers with curry dip.
Obama wasn't the only president to be turned into a snack food product. The top ten junk foods named after the President of the United States include:

10. Reagan Poppers
9. Mesquite Bush Nuts
8. Gerald Ford Trippy Bars
7. Deep Fried Nixon Stix
6. Buffalo McKinley Wings
5. Roosevelt Wraps
4. Chowder-Flavored Kennedy Crisps
3. Clinton Sucky Pops
2. LincolnSnaps
1. Rutherford B. Hayesburgers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Biased Journalism is Fun

During the 2004 presidential election, I wrote for a small, weekly paper in a conservative town. How conservative was the town? It was 2004 and the population still thought Reagan was in office. A lot has been made that journalism attracts educated northern liberals who enjoy bashing the establishment and ridiculing traditional American values. Most of the criticisms about today's media are dead-on: that this nation's major news outlets employ staunch Democrats who, between writing saccharine screeds about Obama and a one-world government, take a few moments to sip cosmopolitans, practice the Kabbalah and Twitter their liberal pals.
So there's naturally a distrust for all reporters and a vehement hatred for journalism, especially by conservative media critics. The only books these people don't burn are ones by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity.
I've heard all the muttered insults and watched their curled sneers whenever I entered council chambers.
True, most of them would make the sodomizing rednecks from the movie Deliverance look like Oxford dons, but it still bothers me that my profession is being maligned by a segment of the population who thinks monster truck rallies are cool.
And the hackneyed mantra "blame the liberal media" still rattles across the room, flung by people who view my profession as being out of touch with average Americans. Yeah, like the blue-blooded millionaires and limousine liberals who run this country can relate to anyone living in a trailer park.
It's not an issue of politics, it's an issue of wealth and renown. It's a new American caste system that says if you're not beautiful, glamorous or rich, you deserve to eat Ramen noodles and dwell in squalor, you filthy mullet-sporting peasants.
Back to 2004. Filmmaker Michael Moore made an appearance at a local college to promote his "Slacker Uprising Tour", an effort to get jaded college slobs to care about government, specifically, to vote for Democrat John Kerry. My coverage of the event was met with harsh criticism from many readers who thought the story was a "setup" and "biased". Most of the octogenarians who criticized me obviously had never read anything else I wrote before, because if they had, they would know that my entire career is marked by objectivism. I've never intentionally done a hatchet piece to demean or defame anybody. That's not how I roll. But apparently the Republican Women's Guild of the Victorian Manor Nursing Home felt differently and chose to unfairly lambaste me for the Moore story.
In response, I wrote the following story specifically tailored for conservatives. If Fox News and MSNBC can throw objective journalism out the window and provide news stories designed for a specific political position or worldview, then I could too. I didn't want anyone to feel alienated with our coverage. News that neatly fits their perceptions of reality and conveniently scapegoats instead of informs will one day be the norm.
What can I say? Bullshit is profitable.
However, news is news. There should be no positive or negative coverage, only coverage. Sure, you could put a spin or angle on it, but it's much better to just relate the facts because you're doing a service to the entire public, not just a faction within it.
Is Michael Moore a pompous, fat assclown? Yeah, he is. As much as the readers want me to write stuff like that, I couldn't.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Church of the Bunny

If the Church of the SubGenius and the Principia Discordia could have a kid, it would be the Church of the Bunny. Back in the heady, idyllic days of the early 1990s, there arose on CompuServe the first cyber-religion devoted to silliness. It was called the Church of the Bunny and was comprised of people from all around the country who came to the CompuServe religion forum to gripe and bitch about religion.
I posted stuff at COB from 1994 to 1996, and was known as Lt. Jr. Grade Pope Eric. The group's founder, Pope Rich, was a locksmith from Virginia. I enjoyed the utter goofiness of the COB and even designed the church's logo, wrote the sacred texts (The Book of the Bunny) and produced a newsletter I mailed to about 15 people all around the country. While most 25-year olds were getting drunk and laid, I was publishing this stupid newsletter.
Cleaning out the garage recently, I discovered a box filled with COB papers, including old pamphlets, printouts of CompuServe messages and newsletters. I literally hadn't looked at this material in 16 years and thought it had been thrown out. What a marvelous find! Re-reading it, I've come to the conclusion that not only am I a natural at writing comedy, but I have a warped sense of humor. And I was also a pretty good cartoonist back in the day.
As to the fate of the Church of the Bunny? That goofy cyber-religion folded in 1996, vanished when CompuServe buckled and the Internet took off. I think they all relocated to another planet somewhere, where they spread wisdom and nibble the holy carrot of joy.
What follows are sections of newsletters I mailed out that have been scanned and made fresh for the 21st century.
Enjoy, ya knuckleheads!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Obama's DVD Club

The second installment of Flog the Vlog.
Just what did President Obama get British Prime Minister Gordon Brown? A bunch of DVDs. Guess a gift coupon for Baskin-Robbins was just too tacky. At least Obama could've nicked something from the Smithsonian. It's not like people care about history in this country.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Relics & Rumors Released

Relics & Rumors for Ravaged Earth is now available. The supplemental product line includes the history, physical description, powers and a short adventure for each of the relics, which were slated for inclusion in my original draft of Ravaged Earth. Reality Blurs is releasing an issue of Relics & Rumors each month. Dave Olson handled the first four relics, while I tackled the Ark of the Covenant. Look for Relics & Rumors at

Here's the official blurb:

From the creators of Ravaged Earth comes Relics & Rumors, our brand new adventure line for Ravaged Earth. What's in store?

Each issue in the series spotlights FIVE of the greatest relics in all of history! Each artifact comes complete with its own history, powers, and place within Ravaged Earth as well as a supporting Ravaged Tale so you can immediately use it in your campaign! That's right, FIVE adventures in every issue!

Issue 1 features:

Aaron's Rod

Aladdin's Lamp

Amulet of Tiamet

Ankh of Osiris

Ark of the Covenant

So, put on your fedora, grab your rocket pack, or summon forth all your mystical might and prepare to explore Ravaged Earth!