Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How It Ends

As Republican lawmakers give their tongue bath to poisonous SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, this piece by legendary journalist Bob Woodward drops that paints an even more terrifying picture of the Trump White House than previously known.

I mean, I'm glad some folks in the administration are trying to prevent greater catastrophe by simply hiding stuff from Trump, BUT IT SURE WOULD BE NICE IF SOME PEOPLE COULD GROW A SPINE AND SPEAK OUT PUBLICLY ABOUT THIS.

Don't just retire and then get loud. Don't stay off the record and behind closed doors. DO SOMETHING, YOU COWARDS. If Trump truly poses this much danger to our country (and I believe he does), it is not enough to merely sabotage a little bit here and there behind the scenes.

(it also makes it all the more galling to see those who are still happily kissing the ring at this point, and so focused on preserving their fleeting sense of petty power that they would install a monster-enabling judge to a lifetime appointment on our highest court to do it, consequences be damned)

Further reading: Why Brett Kavanaugh's nomination and potential lifetime appointment to the SCOTUS is a real and present danger to everything from reproductive rights to the environment to LGBTQ rights to our very democracy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A chapter closes

This past weekend saw the publication of my final opinion column with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

It's a bittersweet ending, to be sure. I'm ready to move on to new and different kinds of writing (having an Opinion on a weekly schedule can get to be a little exhausting), but I also recognize that their decision to end the section entirely is sadly indicative of larger problems and challenges facing newsrooms across the country.

The MJS was locally owned for decades before Gannett (which owns USA Today and 14 other papers in Wisconsin) bought it out in 2016. There have been several rounds of layoffs and budget cuts over time, as old school attitudes toward the news business have become increasingly obsolete - but the people with power over them continue to make poor and/or desperate decisions that see deep cuts being made to substantive local reporting and dedicated, knowledgeable reporting staffs.

Fewer people are being made to do more with less. More wire stories run, creating duplication between newspapers and gutting any real local connection (or reason for people to subscribe to/read something that's ostensibly locally printed because all they see in it are national wire stories and, too often, forcibly syndicated op-eds and editorials that reflect the corporate and political interests of the owners, not the actual staff).

I've had the privilege and pleasure of working with truly supportive and hardworking editors during my time with the MJS. They never once tried to influence my choice of topic or opinion, only offering light copy editing and fact-checking as needed. They and many other reporters at the MJS do truly great work with very little support. I honestly hope the pivot toward "solutions-based journalism" reaps rewards both in terms of community engagement and financial sustainability - but I also recognize that it's an increasingly uphill battle for the latter in particular.

I don't have the answer yet for how to make quality news reporting a sustainable endeavor again. I've been part of a start-up non-profit media outlet that attempted a grassroots approach to the problem, and we managed for about 8 years before throwing in the towel. It was an eye-opening experience. Lots of well-meaning liberal/progressive people and organizations assured us that by becoming a non-profit we would reap financial support from sympathetic sources, but we quickly learned that 1) most of the money is on the other side, and 2) the money that is ostensibly on the side of progressive causes is tightly held and often narrowly applied to groups/people working on issues near and dear to the already well-off. Surprise!

Anyway, before this becomes an even more unwieldy post, I mostly just wanted to say that, despite all of the examples of really nasty feedback I received during my time writing for the MJS, I got at least as much in the way of positive and supportive emails and personal comments from folks all across Wisconsin.

I learned about folks living in far-flung rural communities and other medium and large cities about their experiences and frustrations trying to do the right thing for the greater good in the midst of such a divided and often vitriolic public discourse.

We remain a very purple state, in point of fact.

As far as I could tell, however, the vast majority of the feedback I got came from folks in their middle age and up. I think that's telling about the struggle news outlets like the MJS have to remain relevant to younger people - who, despite what some pearl-clutching pundits might have you believe, are by and large incredibly engaged in their communities and driven to do good work to build a better world. They are, in my experience, light years ahead of us in several key areas. I have hope.

Part of that hope includes eventually figuring out newer and better ways of sharing information and ideas, and collaborating on work that lifts us all. That will mean some things many of us have always known or grown used to will have to come to an end, and that can be scary/painful. But we have to learn how to let go of certain things in order to make space for new life to grow and flourish. Let Millenials kill Hooters and diamonds and even consumerism. Let new generations cast off old institutions that reinforce gatekeeping by one narrow demographic, and embrace a messier, more diverse, more inclusive public sphere. Let's use our big ol' brains to figure out new and different ways to support one another.

Some things must burn, so that greener shoots may grow in their place. We just have to make sure the outgoing regime doesn't fully poison the ground behind it.
The Lost Albatross