Hope Springs on Wall Street, if Not South Seneca

This will be only a brief missive, as we’re writing it at the Lost Sock Laundromat on unfashionable South Seneca Street, and only have the time it takes to do one load o dirty clothes. It’s not much to look at, but the laundry comes out clean and dry and they generously offer free wi-fi. Our washer and dryer were knocked out some months ago by a sewer backup, and on Monday we found that our internet provider was overwhelmed by the traffic and the telephone message was saying “We are having hard problems,” so here we are in the wee hours of the morning.
We’re doing our civic minded best to stay at home, but we still need groceries and clean clothes, and figure that we’re not risking our health or anyone else’s any more than necessary writing in a mostly abandoned south side laundromat. There was one seedy-looking fellow who turned out to be quite friendly from a social distance, but he’s gone and it’s just me and the tattooed guy who works here, who was kind enough to turn on the wi-fi.
We had planned to write about Monday’s big rally on the stock markets, apparently fueled by expectations that the worst of the pandemic will be over sooner rather than later and things will get back to normal. The Washington Post’s headline was “Wall Street stages explosive rally, powering Dow 1,600 points as investors seize on morsels of good news.” We sure hope the optimism is justified, but have noticed that these recent rallies have been followed by sharp downturns, and worry that it might be what Alan Greenspan once called “irrational exuberance.”
The rate of the increase in infections has apparently slowed, but they’re still increasing, and the death toll is still expected to be high. We’re also seeing a cloud in every silver living about the economic, and can’t help but notice that the extraordinary number o people working home and watching Netflix and porn has overpowered a major American corporation, to the extent they explaining to frustrated customers that “We’re having hard problems.”
At the least the Lost Sock Laundromat here on South Seneca is still on the job.

— Bud Norman</p

Keeping Close at a Distance

Our internet access has been intermittent all day, which is frustrating in the best of times but downright infuriating in times like these. During the coronavirus scare, the internet is an essential connection to the world outside our house.
Lately our Facebook friends have been entertaining one another with parlor games, which are an interesting diversion from all the bad news we keep reading on the internet. In one game a person lists nine jobs he’s had and one he hasn’t, and invites others to guess which one is the lie. In another a person lists nine famous people he’s met and one he hasn’t, and the object is the same. Other popular pastimes include asking others to list 10 things they don’t like that everyone else seems to like, or name 10 movies they’ve frequently re-watched yet never grow tired of.
A hot topic of discussion is what to binge watch on the internet while stuck at home. The Netflix documentary series “Tiger King” is getting lots of rave reviews, but after binge watching that it goes on our list of 10 things we don’t like nearly as much as most people seem to do. The good folks at HBO have kindly offered a free month of streaming at its web site, and we’ve taken advantage of that to revisit “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” and unless you’re queasy about cinematic violence we highly recommend both. People are posting their favorite YouTube videos, too, many of which have been well worth watching, and as soon as we figure out how to post YouTube videos on Facebook we’ll be posting  Nicholas Brothers dance numbers and W.C. Fields’ great “Honest John” pool routine from “Six of a Kind” and other favorites from better times.
The internet also brings us the daily bad news, but we try not to be obsessive about it. We’re trying to get some walking in, but the weather’s not lately been conducive to that, and we’re ignoring that government doctor’s advice to not go the grocery store, as we figure that starvation is a deadly as the coronavirus. It’s good to know that the friends and family were in touch with from a distance are safe at home, although they’re all going stir crazy and some of them are now grieving the loss of a loved one, and we we sure hope the internet doesn’t succumb to the coronavirus. We wonder how anyone survived the 1918 flu epidemic without it.

— Bud Norman

What Is Black and White but No Longer Read All Over?

The McClatchy Company, which owns 30 newspapers including the Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Sacramento Bee and the Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday. Which is perhaps the worst news any of those papers will report today.
For one thing, McClatchy owes us a pension for the 25 years we spent toiling at one of the newspapers it acquired when it bought out the once-formidable Knight-Ridder Company. McClatchy has more than pensioners for every active employee, which is one of the many reasons for its bankruptcy filing, but the plan is to have the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation take over most of its obligations, and although that’s in negotiations we’re hopeful it works out.
For another thing, and of more importance to the rest of the world, the bankruptcy is yet another sign of the rapid decline of American newspapers, and we’re not at all hopeful that will soon change. All of McClatchy’s newsrooms will continue to operate for now, with help from $50 million of financing from a company called Encina Business Credit, and if the courts agree they’ll eventually be owned by a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management LLC, but they have no experience in newspapers and will surely find the business as difficult as McClatchy did.
Because of this newfangled internet machine your local newspaper no longer has the monopoly it once enjoyed on stock market listings and baseball standings and astrological forecasts and comic strips, and one can easily and inexpensively acquire the national and international news from such a wide range of choices you’ll be able to find one that only tells you what to hear. Worse yet, the internet has robbed newspapers of the classified advertising that used to be a lucrative revenue stream, and by now the internet knows enough about you that the big advertisers prefer to pay for ads that target the most likely customers. The business model that sustained American newspapers for centuries is suddenly obsolete.
This has resulted in severe downsizing at pretty much every newspaper in America, which has diminished the quality of the product even as its prices have steeply increased, and that naturally perpetuate and accelerates the industry’s decline. The mid-sized daily where we once toiled had about 150 newsroom employees when we started there, which wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with a mid-sized city such as Wichita, and these days they have about a dozen people on the job. They’re doing the best they can to be a watchdog, and have done some very fine work lately covering all the shenanigans that City Hall and County Hall are up to, but they’re getting most of their state news from the Kansas City Star, which used to be the rival they once competed with for statewide scoops, and most people aren’t willing to shell out a full dollar for local news, especially when the local sports news is a day old because the papers are being printed in Kansas City.
Since 2006 McClatchy’s advertising revenue fell by 80 percent and its print circulation dropped 58.6 percent, which is obviously the dire sort of thing that lands a company in bankruptcy court, and according to the Brookings Institute more than 2,000 newspapers have gone out of business in the last 15 years. There are cities larger than Wichita that don’t have a daily newspaper, here in Wichita the paper only comes out six days a week, and no one should think that it can’t happen where they are.
Some will cheer the demise of the “fake news” “enemies of the people” that told them so many things they didn’t want to hear, but they’ll miss it when its gone. City halls and county halls and state legislatures around the country will feel emboldened to pursue their shenanigans without a watchdog keeping an eye on them. The heroic exploits of your best local high school and collegiate athletes will go unsung, and the sorts of funny and touching human interest stories we used to write and the great photographs that went with them will go unpublished. The births and deaths of your fellow citizens and all sorts of public events will receive less notice, and your community will be poorer as a result.
There’s still a chance those newsrooms will somehow survive on the internet, but so far they haven’t figured out how to do that, as people don’t like to pay for content and advertisers are targeting very small markets among even a big-sized paper’s declining readership. The Salt Lake Tribune has recently been recognized as a nonprofit organization, and we expect other papers to follow, and several foundations have been funding journalism, which helps but also raises question about the foundations’ objectivity. For now its hard to find the proverbial silver lining on the metaphorical clouds that hang over the newspaper business.
There must be some civic-minded demand for local news though, and we’ll hope that the ingenious capitalist system will figure out some way to profitably supply the public. In any case, we’ll hope to at least get our pension for all the years of wretchedly ink-stained work we put in on a noble profession.

— Bud Norman

The “Memes” of a Mean Age

Although it’s by no means the most important story in the news, we couldn’t help noticing the latest brouhaha about “memes,” which is what they call those photo-shopped and pointedly political photomontages and videos that you encounter every time you venture onto the internet. The latest controversy concerns one that depicts President Donald Trump going on a bloody rampage in a “church of fake news” against against such political opponents as Democratic Rep. Maxine Walters and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and the late Republican Senator John McCain, as well as such media outlets as the Washington Post and the Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting System.
If it were meant as a satire of Trump’s violent rhetoric against his political enemies it probably would have gone unnoticed, but it’s clearly intended as a celebration and further provocation, and it got an enthusiastic response from the pro-Trump political convention at one of Trump’s golf resorts over the weekend. The White House has officially stated it didn’t hang anything to do with the showing, which is plausible, but Trump hasn’t yet “tweeted” a denunciation, and they don’t seem to mind if the video goes “viral.” Trump himself has “re-tweeted” video memes taken from his pro wrestling days showing him body-slamming a foe with the CNN logo superimposed on his head, as well as other “memes” showing him violently vanquishing foes, and judging by what shows up in our e-mail the Trump fans seem to love it.
Trump’s critics, especially those who see themselves being symbolically slaughtered on the “meme,” take a dimmer view of the “viral” video. Maybe they just can’t take a joke, or they’re the sorts of snowflakes who can dish out the heat but can’t take it, but we figure that maybe they’ve got a point. We have our own old-fashioned criticisms of everyone Trump is seen slaughtering in the “meme,” but in no case would we take it that far. We’d rather that our nation’s disputes be settled without any slaughter or body-slamming, symbolic or otherwise. If the damned Democrats prevail by such sissified rules, then so be it.
Our more up-to-date Republican friends should know that the damned Democrats are also pretty good at “meme” warfare, and oftentimes wittier. A Facebook friend recently posted a “meme” that showed Trump saying in a cartoon caption that “Sleepy Joe Biden is a poo poo pee pee caca faced loser,” juxtaposed against a photo of some teary-eyed rally fans saying “He’s just like Jesus,” which we had to admit was pretty darned funny. Those damned Democrats can be just as mean, too.
The video that sparked the current controversy was taken from the very violent and highly-profitable “Kingsmen” series of action-adventure movies, specifically from a scene that the depicts the putative hero slaughtering the members of a murderous cult’s services, and we once saw a “meme” that presented it unedited but out of context and celebrated the slaughter of evangelical Christians, which offended our evangelical sensibilities but got many “likes.” Even in their apolitical context the “Kingsmen” movies and the rest of the current bloody action-adventure genre have a corrosive effect on our culture, and we’re dispirited but not at all surprised that both sides of the political divide are affected.
It’s not the biggest story of the day, but is nonetheless well worth noting. These “memes” have supplanted the editorial cartoons of the Gutenberg age of mass media, which yielded an outsized influence on a too-busy-to-read public, and so far there’s no Thomas Nast to set a standard. So far, there are no standards at all.

— Bud Norman

The Post-Gutenberg, Post-Truth Era

The Pew Research Center has released its annual assessment of the state of the news media, and it should come as a surprise to no one that it finds the news business in sorry shape.
Newspaper circulation is down to the lowest level since 1940, which was when they started keeping track and there were 200 million fewer people in America, and naturally revenues are also falling. Viewership of local television newscasts and the over-the-air network broadcasts are also down, although revenues have somehow improved. Cable news viewership and revenue rose, but only slightly.
There’s no reason to expect any improvement in the near future, as by now the decline seems self-perpetuating and accelerating. Lower revenues lead to smaller newsrooms putting together less news, usually at a steeper subscription price, which in turn leads to further declines in readership and more layoffs and even less news. There are already large American cities such as Pittsburgh and Birmingham that have no major newspapers at all, and we expect there will be more of them in the next few years.
Those who regard the media as enemies of the people might be pleased to hear it, but they should be careful what they wish for. With no one keeping a close eye on your city hall and county building and state capitol the people inside will probably be more tempted by whatever corrupt bargains come their way, and you won’t be able to object to their dumbest decisions until after they’re a done deal. You’ll cast your votes to replace the bums without knowing much about who you’re putting in. Like it or not, you need the news, and you’ll miss it when it’s not around.
Go ahead and say the news media is in decline because of its dishonest “fake news” ways, and figure you can get your information straight from President Donald Trump’s “twitter” feed, but that’s bunk. Most people who go into journalism are left-leaning, to be sure, and that sometimes affects their reporting in infuriating ways, but they very rarely just make things up, are usually quickly caught by their colleagues when they do, and an astute reader can discern the double-sourced facts according to their own bias. In most cases, it’s more reliable than Trump’s “tweets.” The rapid decline in journalism’s fortunes, we believe, mostly isn’t the journalists’ fault.
Way back in the Gutenberg era when we broke into the newspaper racket as college dropout copy boys, newspapers were thick and cost a mere 25 cents, and it was a grand and essential bargain at that price. Your daily newspaper was the only way to know where your favorite baseball team was in the standings, how that hot stock pick you bought into fared on the markets, what the weekly weather forecast was forecasting, and there was “Peanuts” and “Blondie” and crossword puzzles and coupons worth well more than 25 cents. Newspapers were black and white and read all over, even by those apolitical types who don’t much care what’s going on at City Hall or in Washington, D.C., although they’d occasional read the stories as well.
This infernal internet machine changed all that, for both better and worse. It provides access to The Wall Street Journal and New York Times and Washington Post and a wide variety of publications closest to whatever local story has become national news, and you can read well considered opinions worth considering from across the political spectrum, along with all sorts of far-right and far-left conspiracy theorizing that might just turn about to be true, but the marketplace is so widely dispersed that profits are hard to come by for even the best of the news providers. There will always be a certain demand to know what’s going on, but it’s hard to build a business model on it.
We’ve also noticed there’s less demand to know what’s going on in the big, wide world. People seem more interested in what’s on their text messages and the Facebook pages they’re constantly looking at on their hand-held mesmerizers, and care less than ever about what’s going at city hall or the county building or in Washington, D.C.  Even talk radio is seeing a decline in ratings, and Trump is fuming that that his “Twitter” following has been cut down by the period attempts to eliminate “bots.” Perhaps that has something to do with the rather dull prose and apparent biases of so many journalists, but it’s also a failure of America’s educational system and our self-absorbed culture, and the politicians who encourage cynicism about the very possibility of objective truth aren’t helping.
Keep your eye on the news, we urge, and don’t be such a cheapskate that you won’t pay an inflation-adjusted price to keep it going. Be skeptical about whatever you read, whether it’s in a newspaper or internet publication or a presidential “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

Technical Difficulties and the The Rest of the Damned Modern World

No new essay was published at the Central Standard Times yesterday, the first time we’ve ever failed to provide readers with our freshest working week day outrage in the past seven-and-a-half years we’ve been doing this, and we apologize for that. It’s not that the spirit was unwilling nor that the flesh was any weaker than usual, but rather a problem with this damned computer gizmo we write and publish on.
The intermittent problems with these damned computer gizmos are just one of the many things we find infuriating about this modern age of technological miracles. We also hate the way those “smart phone” thingamajigs seem to so mesmerize people that even the young lovers sitting across from one another in the booths of the dives we frequent are staring at their machines rather than one another, and we even resent our suddenly old-fashioned flip phone and miss the good old days when our bulky and murder-weapon solid phone was tethered to the wall instead of us being tethered to the gadget in our pocket. Don’t get us started about those computerized drum machines the modern music recordings use instead of Gene Krupa or Baby Dodds or some other more brilliant and real live drummers, or all the computer generated images that modern movie makers use instead of plot and characters and dialogue and making some point.
Worse yet is the way you can’t live without it. Due to our stubborn and cheapskate resistance to “smart phones” we can’t summon an Uber or Lyft driver in case of some emergency, and would be hard-pressed to find the phone number for a taxi, and we can’t rent one of those bicycles that are suddenly all over our the prettier parts of our town, nor participate in any of the local radio stations’ promotional contests. We’d get along just fine without those drum machines and computer generated images in the comic book movies that dominate our currently sorry popular culture, and still enjoy our freedom from those “smart phones,” and otherwise enjoy our proudly Luddite existence, but we have to admit that the 24 hours we endured without internet access left us feeling like our heroin junkie friends who were occasionally forced to go cold turkey.
It’s bad enough that we couldn’t vent our spleens to the world wide web about the latest outrageous thing that President Donald Trump said or did or “tweeted,” but without access to the internet we didn’t even know what it was. Our television hasn’t worked in years, and we’d lost interest in the once-amazing gizmo long before that, and the local AM radio stations are disinclined to say anything negative about Trump. There was yet another threatening storm cloud to the west, and we were unable to track it on the radar at the essential wunderground.com website. These days the local newspaper is printed up in Kansas City and trucked down the interstate, and is therefore always a day late with the baseball scores, so we had no idea where the New York Yankees stood in the American League’s eastern division, which is also a matter of personal importance.
For the first third or so of our surprisingly long lives there was no such thing as an internet, and we can’t recall ever missing it in those halcyon days. The then locally written and printed morning afternoon papers kept us updated on President Richard Nixon’s latest craziness and the Yankees scores, the local television and radio meteorologists told us when to take to the basement during a storm, the radio stations were pumping out groovy soul music and rock ‘n’ roll with real live drummers, the local bijoux had movies full of plot and characters and dialogue with some pretty good points to make, and we rather liked it, even if the Yankees didn’t always win.
As you can see we worked out our internet problems, for now at least, and that’s mostly attributable to our aging Dad. He grew up in an Oklahoma oil patch during the Great Depression and World War II in the early years of rural electrification, but he got an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma and started working on computers when they were room-sized Rube Goldberg machines back at the beginning of his illustrious avionics career, and to this day he’s more up-to-date on the modern world of miracles than we’ll ever be. He had no more idea how to solve our problem than we did, but he did know the right phone number to call, which was hand-written in his old-fashioned notebook, and with help from a very friendly and knowledgable and young-sounding woman in some far-away location and a few mouse clicks we were once again back in the blessed bosom of the internet.
The moral of the story, we suppose, is that the modern world provides pretty much the same frustrations and satisfactions of our much-missed old world, when those then-newfangled automobiles used to die on the side of the road the way the horse-and-buggies usually didn’t. We surely hope so, as come Monday we’ll probably have something nasty to say about whatever our president said or did or “tweeted” over the weekend, and will be eager to publish it to a world wide web.

— Bud Norman

Googling and Binging and Trumping

Around this office we never “google” anything, as we prefer the Bing search engine for our internet queries, but that’s partly because we hate these cacophonous neologisms that make a verb out of everything, and mostly because we find the soothing photographs on the Bing.com search engine’s home page more appealing than Google.com’s always garish and too-often annoyingly didactic artwork. Both search engines have always answered our arcane questions well enough, but President Donald Trump is recently complaining that Google is rigged against him.
In a couple of conspicuously early morning “tweets” this week Trump has griped that if you type in “Trump news” in that box at the Google search engine you’ll find the first several pages of links are to stories that reflect unfavorably on his presidency. He even hinted that perhaps some government regulation is needed to correct this, although he later seemed to back down from that in a chat with reporters, even as he continued to condemn Google for its obvious bias. There were also some reiterated complaints about various social media companies silencing conservative voices, but that’s another and equally weird post-modern matter that we’ve already commented on.
Trump didn’t mention any other search engines, but when we typed   “Trump news” into the box on the Bing page — for the very  first time, as our queries are usually far more specific — they featured pretty much the same first few pages of links. There are probably other search engines available on this newfangled internet thingamajig — we’re old and not at all hep to the young whippersnappers’ high-tech lingo, and are too tired to “bing” it, so we can’t name them — but our guess is that most of them would yield pretty much the same desultory results.
Trump blames the internet’s bias on its reliance on such left wing media as The New York Times and The Washington Post and the few other remaining big city newspapers, as well as the over-the-air newscasts and a couple of long established cable networks, and although they all do seem to relish in bad news about Trump it’s not “fake news” in almost every case, and for now they’re still so widely read and watched that they turn up on the first few pages of any old internet search about “Trump news.” Perhaps there’s an algorithm that would pop up only reports about the low unemployment rate and the the recent rains here in Kansas, with news about vanquished Democratic foe Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama and their “deep state” conspiracy to depose Trump, but it would have to compete with a lot of more convincing noise from that establishment media.
The death of bona fide war hero and former Republican presidential nominee and lauded-as-a-statesman on both sides of the aisle Sen.John McCain couldn’t be kept out of any honest accounting of the recent news, and it would have been hard to come up with a front page link to a story lauding Trump for courageously continuing his express his disrespect even after the hero’s untimely death. Somewhere out there on the internet or talk radio you’ll find a full throated explanation of why Trump’s campaign manager recently being convicted on eight felony counts and his former deputy campaign manager and national security advisor pleading guilty to felonies and his former lawyer and longtime top business executive cooperating with an ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing” is just proof of that “deep state” conspiracy,but it would take some doing to put them at the top of a search engine’s priorities.
Our understanding is that these so-called “algorithms” are so called in honor of Vice President Al Gore, inventor of the internet, and we don’t claim to at all understand how the heck they work, but we’re not the least bit surprised that Trump is displeased with the news they routinely come up with. Our advice to the president is to stay out of the news for a cycle or two, starve them of anything to report about but latest unemployment numbers and the absence of any recent wars, and hope for a bombshell report about the Democrats and their dastardly “deep state” conspiracy, but even in these crazy days either possibility seems unlikely.
We have our own complaints with these danged newfangled search engines, which never seem to put such an august internet publication as The Central Standard Times on the first few pages unless your queries are pretty darned specific, but we’ll not call for any governmental regulations to address this grievous error. With all due respect to the office of the presidency, we hope Trump will do the same.

— Bud Norman

Hard Times at Your Hometown Newspaper

Have you noticed lately that your hometown newspaper is a mere shell of its former self? That seems to be the case all over, and it pains us to say that the situation is particularly dire around here.
A couple of days ago we were taking home some blue-hot Khao-Paad chicken fried rice from the terrific Thai House joint over on West Street, and we ran into a fine old newspaper colleague who glumly told us about the latest round of newsroom layoffs that had come down earlier in the afternoon. We long worked with all three of the victims she mentioned, and well know all of them as good guys who did good work, and it occurred to us that they’re the kind of ever-loyal employees a business lays off right before it goes under.
Our friend told us there were still nearly 20 newsroom employees left, between the writing and editing and photographic and clerical staff, but that’s hardly enough to cover all the daily newsworthy events in a fascinating metropolitan area of half-a-million complicated souls, much less a fascinating state with some two-and-half-million complicated souls. Back when we first started as college drop-outs at the very bottom of the newsroom hierarchy, way back in the year President Ronald Reagan was first elected, the newsroom had well over a hundred extremely complicated employees we dealt with, and even then that remarkably talented group was never quite up to the task.
That was before the epochal internet, however, when the only way to get stock quotations and baseball scores and maybe a few relatively in-depth paragraphs about the latest local and state national scandals was by paying a full 25 cents for a thick and full-sized ad-filled copy of your hometown paper. Our hometown paper was printing money almost as fast as the basement’s presses churned out the state and county and hometown editions, and lavishly endowed its newsroom with well-credentialed new hires and generous expense accounts for statewide travel and even the occasional visit to Broadway for the theater critic and the Paris Air Show for the aviation writer, and it was an exciting time to be in the newspaper racket, and we’d always walk home through the empty downtown streets of early morning downtown Wichita with satisfaction that we’d helped to put out a pretty damned good newspaper for our hometown, and that it was at least worth one measly quarter from a Wichitan’s spare change.
These days the up-to-the-minute stock quotations and baseball scores are just a couple of free clicks away on the internet machine where you’re reading this, and high-tech targeted job sites and the clunky-looking Craigslist and various other for-sell sites have stolen all the once lucrative classified advertising business, so the old business model is no longer sustainable. Which leads to the lay-offs that devalue the product, which then goes up in price, and these days the paper is literally smaller — not quite tabloid-sized, but less than the full broadsheet of the glory days — and the remaining staff is stuffed into a start-up sized office space in Old Town and the rag now costs a full buck and a half. There are still some capable journalists left, but as much as we admire their daily efforts they’re hard press to come up with a full buck and a half’s worth of journalism from a dwindling number of readers every day. The news out of Topeka is mostly reported by the skeletal crew at the fellow McClachy-owned Kansas City Star, which the hometown paper once tried to scoop on any statewide story, the national stuff is all from the decimated wire services, and now that the paper is printed in Kansas City and trucked down the turnpike all of the Royals’ west coast baseball scores are a full day old.
By the time we’d scratched and clawed our way from the copy boy’s desk to a front-page by-line things were changing, but it was just in time to get in on the last of a golden age of local journalism. The expense accounts were no longer so generous, but we still spent an entire legislative session in Topeka, and routinely a couple of fill-ups in the western expanse of Kansas, There was plenty to gripe about with our local newspaper, but its crusty old executive editor frequently feuded with his corporate bosses and allowed us to freely vent during the daily staff meetings, and the paper did a lot of good work. Most of our colleagues had been inspired to enter journalism by the movie “All the President’s Men”, and wanted nothing more than to bring down the local equivalent of President Richard Nixon, whereas we’d been inspired by the movie “His Girl Friday,” and mostly wanted to wear fedoras and shout into candlestick phones and wind up with such a hot sassy gal as Rosalind Russell, but between us we came with a full half-bucks worth of daily reading.
Those crusading left-wing baby-boomers did uncover a lot of shady dealings by both Republican and Democratic officials, and  for a couple of decades we enjoyed a middle class lifestyle by filing factual accounts of some obscure public  another as well as some occasional right-of-center commentary and numerous well-told New Journalism tales of what it was like for some folk artist recreational vehicle owner to be alive on the Kansas plains on a certain day. Despite the occasional corrections and the numerous times that the factual reports largely missed the point, none of it was “fake news,” except in a couple of cases the paper fully confessed while firing the offending reporters, and we still say it was well worth the two or four bits you’d have paid for it.
There was always a certain left-wing tilt to paper, and those out-of-town editors the corporate owners brought in never did get the hang of a place like Wichita, but it wasn’t “fake news,” and we mostly blame the internet and Craig’sList and those high-tech targeted advertising sites and the creative destruction of capitalism that has also wiped out coal-mining and the photographic film industry, as well as the growing indifference and illiteracy of the reading public. We can’t at all blame any of our three recently laid-off friends, and only wish them the best.
The three most recent lay-off victims are just the latest in a decades old decline, which has seen the defenestration of several dozen top-notch reporters and writers and photographers, and reduced our hometown paper to its current sorry state. The paper had already laid off several worthy staffers when we quite in disgust, and we’ve been astounded about who’s been laid off since, and we wonder how long the rest of the emaciated staff will stay on the job. We put in enough time in the corporate chain to be vested in a pension, which assured is not invested in media stocks, and we hope our erstwhile colleagues will eventually enjoy the same benefit, although we don’t know what kind of deal offered when they came on board, and we wish all of us the best.
Which is bad news for everyone who used to enjoy a middle class lifestyle by working in daily journalism, and bad news for the rest of our prairie hometown and everyone in your locality as well. Those public officials can now pad their expense accounts with less worry, the state legislature can more comfortably do something astoundingly stupid with less public notice, and voters will wander into voting booths less knowledgable about the scoundrels they’re voting for. It should go without saying, but these days we feel obliged to vouch that our three recently unemployed friends are by no means enemies of the people.

— Bud Norman

The Curious Case of the “QAnons”

A while back we were sharing a beer at our favorite dive with a friend of ours who’s a well-regarded local heavy metal and punk music drummer, and during a discussion of the day’s news she told us that we needed to get on the internet and find out what “Q” was saying about it. Only then, she assured us, would we truly understand what was really going on.
Our friend is a sweet enough gal, but she drinks her beer through a straw, and believes that Hillary Clinton died on Sept. 11 in 2016 and has been replaced by a body double, and that the Illuminati have shape-shifting reptilian aliens who secretly cause everything from the stock market indices to the baseball scores to your own personal and financial problems, so we were skeptical of the claim. We love a good conspiracy the way other fiction lovers enjoy a good murder mystery or cloak-and-dagger novel, though, so we looked up the “QAnon” theory, found it’s plot entertainingly complex but a bit fanciful, and then gave it little thought.
We were reminded of the of the amusing anecdote, however, by President Donald Trump’s latest campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. There was the usual schtick about all the enemies of the people that Trump has lately been vanquishing, and more than the usual booing of the “fake news” media, but we couldn’t help noticing all the white t-shirts with emblazoned with a “Q” rather than “Make America Great Again,” and all the waved signs proclaiming that “We Are Q”.
Which obliges a weary news watcher to familiarize himself with this whole “Q” and “QAnon” craziness, and what it means amidst of the rest of the craziness you find daily even in the most respectable news outlets.
To put it as succinctly as possible, “Q” is the “internet handle” of someone one or another out there who often posts on a couple of internet message boards largely devoted to conspiracy theories, and purports to be a high-level federal official with the ultra-top “Q level” security clearance, and “QAnon” is “Q” and all the anonymous internet “Anons” who are believe his claims and are thus deciphering his cryptic messages to discern what’s really going on. What’s really going on turns out to be pretty much every crazy-ass conspiracy you’ve ever heard, from the Masons to the Rothschilds and certain other Jews and some shape-shifting reptilians and annoyingly liberal Hollywood hot shots and other child-molesting Satanic sorts. According to this unified field conspiracy theory, these evil forces have been running America and the world for decades. The good news in the theory, and what accounts for all those “Q’ t-shirts and signs at the Trump rally, is that the military recruited Trump to run for president, and they are now setting things right.
According to the theory even that special counsel probe into the “Russia thing” is a ruse, and that the special counsel is using the cover to investigate the child-molesting Satanic cults that have wrought such hell on America for so many decades, will ultimately lock up such enemies of the people as President Barack Obama and vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with Trump’s grateful voters chanting gleefully as the cell doors clank. A long ago “Q” posting was interpreted by the “QAnons” to mean that Clinton and several of her subordinates would be locked up a short time later, and that a general crackdown on Satanic pedophilia would shortly follow, but the faithful still believe in final delightfully vengeful denouement when that smug movie star Tom Hanks and everyone they dislike is rightfully behind bars.
Trump’s more mainstream defenders will rightly note that he can’t be held accountable for the t-shirts some people wear and the signs they wave at his rallies, but they can’t say he’s done anything to discourage such crazy-ass conspiracy-theorizing. Trump has congratulated radio host Alex “THEY’RE TURNING THE FRIGGIN’ FROGS GAY!” Jones on his “excellent reputation,” recommended The National Enquirer’s dubious scoop that Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad was in on the Kennedy assassination for a Pulitzer Prize, use the same language of “globalists” and “elites” and daily insists that everything you’re seeing and hearing about that “Russia thing” is “fake news” about a nefarious conspiracy against him. For now, at least, the “Q” t-shirts and signs will be more welcome at the Trump rallies than the crew from the Cable News Network or the New York Times.
We have our own conspiracy theory that Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russian government’s now undeniable attempts to influence the election on his behalf, and has since obstructed the Department of Justice’s efforts to investigate the matter, but we base that on Donald Trump Jr.’s own “tweeted” e-mail chains and sworn Congressional testimony by various campaign officials and the indictments and guilty pleas that have already resulted from “Russia thing” investigation and everything else that’s been verified. Even with all that to back us up, we’ll still only say that it looks pretty darned suspicious, and we’ll hope that the Trump’s more mainstream and fringier fans will be just as agnostic, and that the special counsel is allowed to conclude his investigation no matter what it concludes.
It would be fun to eventually find out who “Q” really is, especially if he turned out to be some 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, which is a sly allusion to another one of Trump’s conspiracy theories.

— Bud Norman

All the News That Fits in a Day

Tonight is opening night for our annual amateur theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show, a satirical song-and-sketch revue that the local media types put on to raise money for the lost cause of journalism scholarships. That means last night was an exhausting dress rehearsal, followed by a cast gathering at Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill, so it’s been hard to keep our usual keen eye on the news.
While working with our news-mongering friends, though, it’s been hard not to notice some worrisome stories about the news business. Foremost at the moment is the Sinclair Broadcasting Company’s attempt to add another 42 local television broadcasters to the 189 it already owns in 89 markets by taking over the Tribune Company’s television markets, which would give Sinclair access to 72 percent of the nation’s households and make it the largest local television operator in the country.
We’re usually not inclined to worry much about media monopolization, as the internet and the proliferation of cable channels and other market innovations a offer wider and more diverse range sources of news than ever, but this is troubling. Sinclair recently made news by forcing all of its news anchors to read from the same script criticizing other media for their biased “fake news,” a criticism frequently made by President Donald Trump, its outlets have a well-earned reputation for bias toward Trump, and there’s worry that it might be meant to curry favor with the Trump appointees on the Federal Communications Commission that has to give approval to Sinclair’s buy-out of Tribune’s local TV holdings.
Sinclair is certainly entitled to its pro-Trump point of view, and there are historically valid reasons why the federal government has the power to regulate over-the-public-airwaves broadcasts, but there’s something smelly about this.
The FCC gets to regulate the rather narrow range of over-the-public-airwaves radio and television broadcast frequencies because the radio stations used to amp up their broadcasts to the point they overwhelmed their competitors, and in the early days of television there were only four players, but even then there was a First Amendment and a broadly recognized understanding that the federal government did not have the right to regulate the content of whatever news any old news disseminator might disseminate. Networks rose and fell, newspapers rose and fell and merged, new news media emerged through some market innovation or another, but somehow the First Amendment always survived.
This time around, though, despite our preoccupations, we can’t help noticing Trump’s thumb on the scale. The president has lately “tweeted” Sinclair is far better than the “fake news” Cable News Network or the even more “fake news” National Broadcasting Corporation, along with his ongoing criticism of any print or radio or televised or internet critics as “fake news.”
At the same time, he’s been especially harsh in his criticisms of the Cable News Network, and “tweeted” misspelled insults against its chief executive officer, who used to head the news department at NBC, where Trump had once had a hit reality show and there expected better coverage. The gigantic media conglomerate that owns CNN is in the process of being sold to an even more gigantic entertainment-and-news media conglomerate, that also requires the approval of several federal regulatory agencies, including the Trump appointees, and that seems to be dragging out more than usual.
The big-media conglomerate that owns CNN is just as constitutionally entitled to it’s to anti-Trump views, as far as we’re concerned, and we don’t see any reason the government should be any more averse to its acquisition by by an even bigger media conglomerate than it should about Sinclair’s acquisition o the once-formidable Tribune company’s holdings. Let Sinclair buy up those local television stations, too, and in any case let the buyer beware.
In the long run we’ll let  the buyers beware, and after the past few weeks of rehearsal with our fellow local media types we’re heartened that they’ll also do their best.

— Bud Norman