erik lundegaard

Tuesday December 29, 2009

Lancelot Links (Votes for Edgar, Worries over the Future of Journalism)

  • A good piece in The New York Times on the established media attempting (yet again) to put up fences and charge $$ for online use. Much of the back-and-forth is same old, same old (“It has to be done or we die” vs. “It's already too late, suckers”), but the money quote, near the end, comes from Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU: “People who really think we have to charge or the industry is sunk would be more persuasive if they said at the same time we have to add more value than we’ve been adding.“ Exactamundo, Rosen. But value's a tricky business. Rupert Murdoch says the following in the article: “In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.” I got sad reading that because people don't want good journalism now. They want gossip, sports, biased politics. Asking people to pay for good investigative journalism is like asking people to pay for vegetables when hamburgers are free. It's like asking people to pay for ”The Hurt Locker“ when ”Transformers 2“ and ”2012“ are playing at the same cineplex for nothing. That's the true dilemma. Beyond starting over from scratch, with better civics lessons at every level of school, I don't know a way out.
  • Another stats-head vote (from David Schoenfield) for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. I'm on board, of course. I've been on board forever. I wrote the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, back in the late '90s and early '00s, and Edgar's numbers were just amazing. Schoenfield references some of them: ”Edgar hit .311/.423/.517 at home, .312/.412/.514 on the road,“ he writes. But it's not just home and away. He hit everywhere, against every team. He's not just a manager's dream, he's a mathematician's dream. This is from his player profile in April 2000:

In Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, columnist George Will put the cherry on top of Stan Musial's remarkable consistency with this fact: of his 3630 career hits, 1815 were at home and 1815 were on the road. ”He didn't care where he was,“ Will says, ”he just hit." For our own Seattle entry into baseball consistency, we present Edgar Martinez. Last season he hit over .300 at home and away. He hit over .300 before and after the All-Star break, versus lefties and righties. He hit over .300 every month of the season except for April and June, when he slumped to .298 and .297 respectively. For his career he's batting over .300 against every AL team except Toronto (a meager .297). The sunrise should be so consistent. And don't even get us started on his on-base percentage.

On the gift of 12 hours
We weren’t cynical about having been given ten, 12, 13 hours—whatever we had for any season from HBO. All of that was an incredible gift. The Godfather narrative, even including the third film, the weak one, is like… what? Nine hours? And look how much story they were able to tell. We were getting more than that for each season. So goddamn it, you better have something to say. That sounds really simple, but it’s actually a conversation that I don’t think happens on a lot of serialized drama. Certainly not on American television. I think that a lot of people believe that our job as TV writers is to get the show up as a franchise and get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, as we can, and keep them. So if they like x, give them more of x. If they don’t like y, don’t do as much y.

On mistaking capitalism for a social framework
It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included.

On health care
We live in an oligarchy. The mother’s milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can’t reform financing, the reason that we can’t have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.” ... And of course it’s socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, “Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan...” That’s fuckin’ socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.

On choosing personal ambition over a moral imperative
But all the characters who are serving the institutions, who are so self-preserving and self-aggrandizing, they are rigorous about always making the wrong choice when it comes to a societal good, to a communal good. And you know what? I was a reporter for a lot of years. I actually believe that’s how the city works or doesn’t work. I wrote a book about what was wrong with the drug trade, the drug war. It was very carefully researched and it made clear that this was a fool’s errand. I watched a councilman who was running for mayor go to the corner where I wrote the book, hold a copy of the book up in front of the TV cameras, and say that if he were elected mayor he would fight the drug war for real and he would win it. Well, he became mayor and he fought as a drug warrior and he clipped the stats and he made it sound like crime was going down when crime wasn’t going down and now he’s the governor of Maryland. ... And he didn’t like The Wire. He didn’t think The Wire was a good thing.

On the stories we tell ourselves and why
Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. ... Now the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody [rises agains the odds]: “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.

On the death of journalism
What got asked at the Baltimore Sun was, “How can we bite off a little morsel of outrage and run with it?” Yeah. “Let’s do 50 stories on lead-paint poisoning between January and December. We’re not going to do any more the next year because that’s past the Pulitzer year. But we’re going to show you how bad lead-paint poisoning is. In fact, we’re going to show you that if it weren’t for lead-paint poisoning, these kids would all be at fucking Ivy League schools. Never mind that their family lives have been decimated, that they’re in a school system that’s utterly dysfunctional, that the drug trade’s the only industry where they live. Never mind all of that. If they’d just stop eating the fuckin’ lead paint, they could all be at Princeton.” You would look at that and you would say, “This is the highest ambition for journalism? This is what you got? What the fuck happened to us?” 

Posted at 11:00 AM on Tuesday December 29, 2009 in category Lancelot Links  
« Avatarnation!   |   Home   |   Review: “The Blind Side” (2009) »

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard