Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Quick Stuff

No time to dawdle today. So off to the races we go...

Amid the mind-numbing volume of post-election analysis, I thought an editorial in The Nation may have said it best: 'The fight is over. Let the fight begin...' And columnist William Greider, about whom I've enthused before, gets the nod for best George W. coinage: he calls him "Little Caesar" on his weblog. Now why didn't we think of that?? As long as you're reading radical, underground stuff (like the century-and-a-half old Nation, whose subscriber base has exploded to nearly 200,000 during the Bush years), why not give some of these Utne best of the progressive press award nominees a try sometime as well (though not on company time)? And don't feel too bad if it takes you a few more years to remember that it's no longer the Utne Reader, but now Utne Magazine...

Most Nauseating Spectacle of the Week: Watching faux-Democrat Joe "I'll Grab at Any Straw to Finally Break Out of the Senate" Lieberman grovel on the sickening Shawn Hannity Fox show last night, agreeing about how dumb the Dems were for veering from his winning centrism. The underlying drama: slippery Joe--who's actually a thoughtful man in the tradition of the old non-partisan Senate lions who are mostly gone now, a victim of reductive TV coverage and a sickening attack culture in politics--is said to be hopeful of a Bush Cabinet seat, where the neo-cons can use him as a show poodle. But let's be clear on one thing: if Dems want to vote for a Republican, they can do so by pulling the lever for a real one. There's a good reason why Joe sank like a stone in the primary season earlier this year: many Democrats sense in him a guy who's trying to revive Clinton's vaunted triangulation strategy, only without the polish or a recognition that the world has changed considerably since then. Meanwhile, we have the melancholy spectacle of John Kerry returning to the Senate yesterday, where he resumes being just one of 100 large egos. If we had a smarter governmental system--say, a quasi-parliamentary form--he would remain leader of the party, where he could continue to fight for the ideas he's honed to a fine edge in the last two years. Instead, we get a low-wattage, possibly weak Senate minority leader from Nevada, who's on a friendly basis with Little Caesar! I don't think Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are causing Karl Rove much lost sleep. Anyway, today's Times piece nicely captures a Kerry theme that arose in the media some months ago, but which hasn't been heard much lately: the inescapable fact that he's a loner. Which of course is a kiss of death in politics, and for Kerry it can't help but raise contrasts with Clinton, who couldn't stand to be alone for more than 13 seconds. As for Rove, meanwhile, the annual guessing game over who will be Time Magazine's Person of the Year have begun, and early leaks say Rove is on a short list. As well he should be. He's as big an architect of this mess as anyone.

We Regret to Inform You that Your Demographic is Being Folded. Amid all the disaster and catastrophe, the news that American Demographic Mag is being bought by Crain Communication and will be folded into its Ad Age hardly qualifies as an earthquake. Still, I find it sad, given how wonderfully the magazine covered its unique niche, which is vital to understanding so many other subjects (differing trends in birth rates, for instance, explain why Europe is steadily losing global influence and why Islam is on the rise; it's also behind much of Israel's aggressively defensive posture with its Palestian population, which won't stay a minority for long. And of course it explains much about red and blue states). That is, the magazine did a good job until it was bought by a soulless giant of a walking junk bond-media holding company, Primedia, pretending to be a magazine publisher. At least Crain pubs have a high degree of journalistic integrity, however dull and humorless they can sometimes be (though in its recent overhaul, our own Crain's Cleveland Business has injected some much-needed personality with its back-page Reporter's Notebook section. Good for them).

Lampooning Bubble-Headed Mag Editors. And speaking of soulless media, this wickedly brilliant essay in the writerly community site Mediabistro nicely explains why so many veteran writers contribute only to a handful of the best magazines these days. Mostly, having lost the motivation of seeing their names in print (and realizing there are far easier ways to make a dollar) they refuse to put up with the antics of weakling editors increasingly under the thumb of the advertising department, who edit not with readers in mind but out of slavish obediance to drearily reductive formulas. The piece may read like a campy spoof if you haven't had any recent experience with these numbskulls, but I'm here to tell you that it's not far off (some of the details, though, may well be a tad embroidered for dramatic effect). Anyway, all of this only makes me that much more thankful for my cherished connections with a handful of sublimely gifted, writer-friendly (because they are reader-focused) editors. And none takes a back seat to Northern Ohio Live's Kathy Delong, who works impossible hours in cramped conditions (space and budget) trying to keep a small journalistic pilot light on in this area amid the collapse of most serious print journalism. Only in this magazine could a piece like this be published (sorry, only part of it's online). It's an idea that follows no formula, and would be unrecognizable to a focus group participant. Still, when I verbally outlined it over lunch one day (at a writer's conference where we were both speaking, in fact), Kathy's ears pricked up and we quickly agreed to proceed, on nothing but mutual trust. It's the way journalism should work, but seldom does anymore. So a special hats off for those remaining pockets of serious craftspeople devoted to the word and to unimpeded-by-the-market storytelling. Which of course is what Working With Words is all about. Thank you Bartimole, Gunlocke, McGunagle, Roberts and the double Z's (Zinsser and Zuiker), and a host of lesser mentors and models in the language arts. Your example provides daily nourishment.


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