11 August 2016

The Census-Taker's Tale

Dear Mr Oliver,

Your main story this week — extolling the virtues of local journalism — may have been just a bit overenthusiastic about the "local" part. It's one thing entirely to praise the Portland Oregonian and its investigative staff, but it hardly counts as a "local" paper to most Americans. For one thing, the Portland metropolitan area's population of slightly less than 2.4 million is twice that of Birmingham, England; that it's a quarter of the size of London hardly makes it "local" so much as "geographically separated from the national government." Instead, "local" publications in the US

  • Make the early 1980s Grauniad look a paragoon of accurate proofreading
  • Employ headline writers who think "Trump Stirs Things Up" (in yesterday's local paper... on the front page) just might be informative
  • Manage to simultaneously employ racial slurs and advocate cannibalism: "It comes with a variety of types of meat, including round-eye, brisket and chicken, but vegetarians don't despair, there's an option for you, too," in a review of a Vietnamese restaurant (no confirmation of either fava beans or chianti on the menu, though)

Perhaps part of the recognition problem is that you grew up in a nation that really has not had significant "local journalism" during your lifetime. One could see what passed for local journalism committing anti-immigrant seppuku in East Anglia and Northampton and Leicester in the mid-to-late 1980s as even the Grauniad itself moved to London from Manchester. And you didn't grow up with the Ratched (or Wretched) Chronicle (dead over three decades now, don't bother looking for it), or the American-Psycho, or the Post-Intelligibility — or any of the Indiana "newspapers" owned by the Quayle family, let alone the Nazi-Zeitung — as the "local paper."

And then there are the ads in local papers, which tend to be just slightly less credible than those appearing in national publications appearing in the checkout lanes at supermarkets. I'll pause while y'all shudder.

Yes, there's a crisis in journalism in the US, because the audience hasn't figured out the difference between "information" and "expression" (nor has the advertising industry yet admitted that it's a parasite, not a symbiote). But "local journalists" are not the bearers of the flame for any reasonable value of "local." Too often, local papers are poorly-executed fantasies of becoming SauronMurdoch... who, one should recall, got his start with Australian local papers.