Saturday, January 23, 2010

My roast of Carrie Getty-Scheid

(If you don't know Carrie, a lot of this is inside material that won't be all that funny.)
Before I begin, I need everyone to take with me three great leaps in imagination.
First, imagine that I am Carrie.

Second, imagine that instead of running the Idaho Falls Arts Council, she is the lead flight attendant on an airplane preparing for takeoff.

And third, imagine that she is slightly inebriated and therefore, instead of saying only what she thinks she’s supposed to say, she also says everything she’s actually thinking.

I’ll wait for you to put yourselves into the appropriate mental state.

“Welcome on board Idaho Falls Airline’s rickety but historically significant airplane. Today’s flight is made possible through passengers just like you. The odds of successfully completing today’s flight are about 50-50, mostly because passengers like you haven’t given us enough money. I am so sick of asking you for money that I frankly don’t care whether the plane lifts off or not – if it doesn’t, it’ll serve you right.

“Before we start, let me remind you to turn off your cell phones and other personal devices. It’s hard for me to believe that, after years of bringing quality transportation to you undeserving people, I still have to tell you to turn off your damn phones. You’re just a bunch of rednecks.

“For you older folks who can’t go 90 minutes without taking a pee, there are bathrooms fore and aft. Also, for a modest donation, we will name a urinal after you.

“In the unlikely event that we actually make it into the air and should we experience any unexpected turbulence or a mid-air emergency of any kind, I will remove the pilot from the cockpit and fly the plane myself. I probably should be doing it anyway, but I like to let the pilot experience the illusion of being in charge.

“Today’s flight will take us to Winnemucca, Nevada. I know you’d rather be going to Las Vegas, but we’re in Idaho Falls, after all, so we must take what we can get. I know that when, or if, we land, you will be moved to break into what you want the pilot to believe is a spontaneous standing ovation. Frankly, this is embarrassing. Most of our flights are crap. A polite golf clap when we pull to the terminal, or, in this case, the edge of the runway where the mini-vans will meet us, is more than sufficient.

“Also, allow me to thank those of you sitting in first class who have sponsored this flight by giving away advertising that you otherwise couldn’t have sold. It pains me to give you credit for doing something when you really didn’t, but this is the game we all have to play, isn’t it?

“For the handful of first class passengers who have provided an actual cash payment to subsidize the peasants at the back of the plane, please allow me to express my sincere gratitude. It also needs to be said, however, that you haven’t given nearly enough, even though we have named both wings, the tail section, the cockpit, the galley and the first class section after each of you. We will be serving our first class passengers wine from a box and saltine crackers, while the rest of you can buy warm beer. If anyone spills anything on the carpet, I will personally kill you.

“There will be a brief intermission on this flight, in this case a stop in Twin Falls, where we’ll try to sell you more stuff. Not all pilots allow us to make this stop, so count your blessings.

“After the flight, a hand-selected few of you will be allowed to meet the pilot and co-pilot. This will involve an awkward period of milling about. At some point you will be expected to actually speak to the pilot and co-pilot. We recommend you say things like this:
a. “I was on your plane 20 years ago when you flew 747s. That was AWESOME!”

b. “Thanks for flying our plane today. We’re so glad you’d fly this little piece of crap. What will you be flying next? A bi-plane from World War I, eh? That’ll be AWESOME!”

c. “I particularly liked how you dropped the plane to 29,000 feet to avoid the turbulence. It was AWESOME!”
“For those of you who have flown with us before, perhaps I’ve mentioned that I’m from NEW YORK, where there is real culture and talent. Now, I ride horses and I have spent years keeping this airline afloat. I’m married to a Churchill-quoting sheepherder. My East Coast family and friends have disowned me. I hope you’re happy.

“Some of you might be embarrassed by some of what you see on today’s flight. For example, one of our flight attendants is wearing a skirt that shows a little knee. Our male flight attendant is, well, he’s gay. You may be required to sit next to someone who has Burgundy on his breath. We do all of this to expose you to cultural experiences beyond your myopic, narrow-minded, na├»ve and unsophisticated view of the world. It’s good for you, trust me.

“OK, so, sit back and enjoy your flight. If you feel the desire to want to complain about it in any way, stifle it. You can write a letter to the editor later.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Four percent

The Internet has changed the world, including the creation of innumerable new sources of original reporting never before available to the information consumer, right?

Wrong.

The Internet accounts for four percent – that’s four, not 14, not 40 – of original reporting in the Baltimore market, according to an in-depth study by the Pew Research Center. Pew believes this finding can be applied to other American markets.

So what’s happening on the Internet? Bloggers, aggregators, and similar sites are posting stories that originated elsewhere. Either that, or they’re simply writing commentary that contains no new information, just a personal spin.

Where is original reporting coming from, then? The same places it has for the past many decades – local newspapers (55 percent), local television (34 percent) and magazines.

In what should be an obvious point, the Pew findings conclude that the Internet continues to be a great way to disseminate information but its main contribution to news-gathering is to act as a tool for the traditional media.

In smaller markets such as ours, it’s all but certain that Internet sources provide essentially zero original reporting and that the percentage provided by newspapers (not just the Post Register, but newspapers in Rexburg, Blackfoot, Rigby, Shelley, Challis, Salmon, the Teton Valley and elsewhere) provide significantly more than 55 percent of the original local news reporting.

This illustrates, yet again, why it’s so important for the “legacy media” (local newspapers and television, mostly) to be even better at covering their home markets – because no one else is doing it, nor is any alternative on the horizon. Journalism is journalism, blogging is blogging and aggregating is aggregating.

And what is “aggregating?” It’s the service provided by web sites like Google News, The Drudge Report and Huffington Post (the latter combines aggregating and blogging) that simply entails combing the Web for news stories and placing them on their web site. In earlier days we’d call that copyright infringement, and we probably will call it that again someday soon.

Take this challenge – go to your favorite “news” web site that isn’t run by a newspaper, TV station or network, or other legacy news provider – and count the stories that site created on its own. Remember, blogging doesn’t count – that almost always is just a commentary about a news story that originated elsewhere. My guess? You’ll be hard pressed to find much, if anything.

My series of columns on the state of the news, and particularly of newspapers, might read to some like self-congratulation or perhaps whistling past the graveyard. What I intend by them is to make the point – repetitively, I confess – that while the Internet has changed many things, it hasn’t changed what we consider to be journalism.