A Virtual Convention

The Democratic National Convention started on Monday, but like the 2020 version of everything else it was far different than usual. There were no ballrooms filled to the brim with button-wearing delegates, no bands playing campaign theme songs, and no network cameras or press scribes filling their notebooks.
That’s because the coronavirus version of the convention is “virtual,” with the candidates and delegates and party officials spread all over the country but connected by the modern miracle of the internet. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same old show.
Otherwise, it was the same old show.Some very famous celebrity we’ve never heard introduced four speakers, all of whom spoke on behalf of presumptive nominee. The choice of speakers, though, was a bit unusual.
Up first was Vermont Sen. and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, the darling of the Democratic party’s sizable bolshevik faction and the runner-up in the last two Democratic primary races. He spent the first part of his speech castigating Biden as a corporate sell-out for not endorsing Medicare for all and other far-left pipe dreams. This was a big favor to Biden, as it reassured swing voters that Biden’s not the looney left figure that Trump hopes to portray, and Sanders finished by imploring his followers to not let Trump win. He was followed by Michigans constantly upbeat and staunchly centrist Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who gave the impression of a fully unified Democratic party.
The next speaker was highly unusual because he’s a Republican, former Ohio Sen. and Governor John Kasich. Kasich has been one of the very, very few Republicans willing to criticize Trump, and eventually the criticisms mounted to a point that he’s endorsing the Democratic nominee. He can expect to be reviled by his erstwhile party, at least until he’s called upon to help revive it. The finale was by former First Lady Michelle Obama, whose famously heartfelt style came through as she described her personal relationship with Biden, but was able to strike a far harsher term when criticizing Trump.
All in all, a pretty good start for the Democrats. Assuming anyone was paying attention.

— Bud Norman


Yeah, Right, Like He Was Being Sarcastic

Even President Donald Trump’s most staunch apologists, who are an extraordinarily staunch lot, occasionally have to admit he can say or “tweet” some pretty damned stupid stuff. When there’s no plausible defense for it they either flatly deny that Trump said what all the video evidence clearly shows he said or raw saved screenshots screenshots show what he wrote in a hastily deleted “tweet,” or they fall back on the explanation that he was obviously joking and his stupidly humorless critics just didn’t get it.
Late last week Trump invited a considerable amount of ridicule by asking the government’s scientists to investigate that COVID-19 could be cured by somehow exposing a patient’s innards to “ultra violet or some other powerful light” or perhaps injecting the sort of disinfectants that have been proved kill the coronavirus on surfaces. No, he didn’t say that people should drink bleach or shoot up Lysol, as many internet wags giddily  paraphrased it, but enough people took the idea seriously enough that the poison control center hotlines in four states saw a spike in calls about it and disinfectant manufacturers felt compelled to issue public warnings agains ingesting their products, and asking the government’s scientists to waste precious time and resources on such an obviously absurd and unscientific spur-of-the-moment idea was an indefensibly stupid thing to say. Which initially led to White House spokespeople denying he’d said what all the evidence even on Fox News clearly shows he said, or that at least it had been taken out of context, even in reports that showed the whole thing from beginning to end, and they rightly noted that some internet wags on the fringes of the internet were falsely implying Trump had urged people to drink bleach.
Trump was nonetheless clearly losing the news cycle and all the late night comedy shows still airing, what with all the damning videotape from all of the networks including Fox News were obligated to run, so by Sunday he had switched to saying that yeah he’d said what they said he’d said but was just kidding. He explained that “I was asking a sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen. I was asking a sarcastic and a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it and would kill it on the hands, and it would make things much better.” Alas, none of this utter nonsense is likely to save the news cycle for Trump.
Trump told one of the assembled reporters he was looking at him as he made his joke, but the reporter replied with the provable fact he hadn’t been at the news conference and that Trump was looking at a government scientist in apparaent earnestness, and the all the videotape even from Fox shows that Trump was looking at his coronavirus coordinator when he touted ingestion of disinfectants as a possible cure. As avid students of the cynical art of humor who appreciate a subtle wit we can also say that if Trump was only kidding he is by far the most deadpan comedian we have ever encountered. As empathetic human beings, we will also venture to opine that right now isn’t an appropriate moment for presidential sarcasm even if that s the official explanation..
Somehow Trump found time over the weekend to “tweet” that all the reporters who’d won “nobles” for reporting on Trump’s contacts with Russians during his presidential campaign should return them, and the that the “nobles committee” should instead confer the honor on the reporters who reported the story more in line with Trump’s version of events. As avid students of the cynical art of humor we were able to deduct that Trump meant the Nobel Prizes, which honor scientific and diplomatic and literary achievement but not American journalism, and that by “Nobel Prizes” he meant the Pulitzer Prizes, which do. After deleting the “tweets” he “tweeted” that deliberately meant to disrespect the Nobel Prizes he’s never won and never will win by ironically calling them the “noble prizes,” which is not bad if he’s really that subtle, but he was still mixed up about the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and seemed to be losing yet another news cycle.
Trump’s astoundingly staunch apologists always wind up saying to forget anything Trump stupidly says or “tweets,” and to watch what he does, We’ll do exactly that, and hope for the best as America gropes its way through the worst public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, making difficult decisions about how to balance both problems based on incomplete data, but we’d feel slightly better about it if the President of the United States refrained from saying stupid things even if he was just being sarcastic.

— Bud Norman

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