The newspaper industry has shed a fifth of its journalists since 2001 and revenues have plunged as competition from Internet media is squeezing print publishers into oblivion according to Pew Research and the Newspaper Association of America.
Florida’s Tampa Bay area which once boasted five daily newspapers just a few years ago is an example as it is now down to one — the Tampa Bay Times. Gone is the paper where I started my career as a reporter, the Tampa Tribune. Also gone are the St. Petersburg Independent, Tampa Times and Clearwater Sun.
What’s left of the newspaper industry’s readers are also taking a pounding with biased, sloppy, goofy journalism where even the slightest criticism of a black person makes you a racist, criticism of the women’s marches labels you a predator, and utter nonsense masquerades as news.
Locally the impact of editorial layoffs is palpable. For example, the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union has eliminated a number of full time editorial staff and outsourced its printing operations. The impact is obvious to what’s left of its readership. Sports writers obviously survived the cuts as the paper’s excessive, over-the-top Jaguars coverage continues unabated and has even seeped into the Lifestyle, Metro, Front Page, and what’s left of the business pages.
As Times-Union editors and reporters are handed pink slips it appears that news judgment and balance are following them out the door. When Gatehouse Media purchased the TU last year the paper took a sharp turn to the left. It’s Tuesday, January 30 issue that debuted its new look featured a one-page weekday trimmed down editorial section that included an anti-Trump cartoon, an opinion editorial headlined “Trump hurts the environment”, and a lead editorial that called for universal health care, increases in the minimum wage, and a screed on why wealthy families have an “unfair advantage.” Of the three letters published, the lengthiest was entitled “Can Trump’s comments pass truth test?” Of the two others one was about a recent school shooting while the other criticized a previous letter writer.
When the paper lost its balance it also lost its sense of humor. Or based on what I’ve been reading lately, if the editors have a sense of humor, it’s in the form of parody without being labeled as such.
For example, on Thursday, January 11, the TU Life section (And I am NOT making this up) ran a front page, lead story with a six column headline that screamed “Make hard-boiled eggs the easy, painless way.” Under the headline was a full color, four column photograph of a hard-boiled egg cut in half and remnants of its shell. This was followed by a two-column recipe headlined “Hard-Boiled Egg”, and a 14-inch article that accompanied the photo and recipe.
Fourteen inches of copy on how to boil an egg? The third paragraph of this 12 paragraph article read: “Place the eggs in a pot just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add enough cool water to cover the eggs by one inch. Bring the water to a boil and cook the eggs for three minutes.” To me that’s an entire boiled egg recipe. But there were 11 more paragraphs devoted to boiling eggs. What do the people that write and edit this stuff tell their families and friends they do for a living? They’re are useless as Tom Brady’s backup.
In my newspaper reporting days if an editor had assigned me to write 14 inches of copy on how to boil eggs, I’d be convinced he’d hit the bottle a little too hard before clocking in. Due to layoffs the paper now depends on other news outlets to fill its pages and apparently it isn’t too choosy. The egg article was written by someone named Noelle Carter of the Tribune News Service, an organization where talent and creativity are obviously not qualifications for employment.
Or maybe robots are taking the place of reporters and editors. Why not? They vacuum the house, drive cars, cash people out at grocery stores, perform surgery, and according to social media news reports they serve fast food, make pizza, mix drinks, and can even have sex.
When I started out as a reporter I had a manual Smith-Corona typewriter provided by the Tribune. The s didn’t work so I had to go through all my copy and add s’s with a copy pencil. The only other tools the Tribune provided me, and the only other items on my desk were a black dial telephone, a pair of scissors, and a jar of paste. There were six desk drawers and I didn’t have a thing to put in any of them, except a few cans of beer occasionally. That’s when newspapering days were fun and full of colorful people, like the woman who kept stopping by my desk to tell me her late husband was frozen and tucked away in her house, and that she was keeping him that way until medical science came up with a way to revive him. After a few visits I suggested to our police reporter that he might want to check her out or at least tell the local cops about her frigid spouse.
When folks ask me how I ever came to be a newspaper reporter I tell the truth — the guy at the liquor store never responded to my job application. When I started out as a reporter, flashing my Florida Highway Patrol press pass and getting into a bunch of places where I would never have been allowed otherwise was cool. It was like living with a nymphomaniac. The first three weeks were exciting and a lot of fun. I also thought it would provide me a job where I could work in the shade, until they assigned me to cover a golf tournament in August.
But back to today’s robot-written newspapers and boiled egg story.
January 11 wasn’t exactly a slow news day in Jacksonville or anywhere else, even for a novice news service robot named Noelle. And Congress hadn’t proclaimed it National Hard-Boiled Egg Day either.
In the first issue of the 2015 Amelia Island News-Wrecker parody newspaper I ran a food column on how to make toast, thinking it might spark a few chuckles. The only reason I selected toast is because I thought boiled eggs would be too much of a stretch.
And it gets sillier. Another large section of the TU January 11 page 1 Life section was devoted to a food column written by a woman named Prudence Hillburn (Again, I’m NOT making this stuff up) who authored a piece “cleverly” headlined “Chilly weather perfect time for chili on the table.”
Prudence, whose mug shot indicates she’s a doppelganger for 80-year-old annoying, busy-body comic strip character, Mary Worth, provided a recipe for what she calls “chicken chili” that ran just beneath the boiling egg scoop. Her recipe included chicken breasts, lots of beans, chicken broth, cream cheese, Velveeta cheese, butter and a number of other ingredients (except chili powder) that would get her instantly tossed out on her keister from any respectable chili cooking competition in America and incarcerated in Texas. What this lady described, is not even close to chili, but a disgusting chicken soup not fit for human consumption. According to a paragraph at the end of her column, Prudence is not a member of the TU staff, but a resident of Piedmont, Alabama, where they apparently know absolutely nothing about chili, or the folks there convinced their neighbor, Prudence, that it would be fun to perpetuate a chili con carne con on the readers of the Times-Union.
If this lady ever set foot in an authentic Texas chili parlor and asked for “chicken chili” she’d be hollered at by the cook, and the waitresses would all say ugly things about her kin until she bolted for the exit.
Between 2000 and 2015, print newspaper advertising revenue fell from about $60 billion to about $20 billion. It’s probably even less now. If what’s left continues with their boiled egg and chicken chili stories I figure revenues by the end of this year will be down to about the price of a Big Mac, without chili.
Speaking Of Newspapers: Despite the nationwide decline of dailies the somewhat conservative Wall Street Journal boasts 2.5 million subscribers while the declining liberal New York Times is about the same, but shrinking. However, they are competing with one of the most unusual, potent, and unexpected social media sources to ever appear on the news landscape — President Trump. He has 46.6 million Tweet followers and is growing by some 65,000 a day. I’m not a fan of his constant tweeting and a lot of what he says, but it’s hard to argue with success, when you’re cleaning the media’s clock by a ratio of 19-1.
Help Wanted: If you’ve ever been accused of treading water at work then here’s a job for you. About three weeks ago Weeki Watchee Springs, just north of Tampa, held auditions for aspiring mermaids. Applicants had to be at least 18, take a timed 300-yard swimming test and be able to tread water for 10-15 minutes. Applicants also need to be able to breathe through a rubber hose underwater and be satisfied earning 10 bucks an hour. But hey, how many people when asked at a cocktail party, “What do you do for a living?” can respond by saying, “I’m a mermaid.” I’m assuming guys need not apply.
Unanswered Questions Department: Why aren’t ”Do Not Disturb” signs in hotels written in the language of the housekeeper? *** Why isn’t there a “Northern Living” magazine?
Overheard At A Local Watering Hole Recently: First bar stool patron: “We have a crisis of leadership in this country. Where are the Washingtons, Jeffersons and Jacksons?” Second bar stool patron: “I’ll tell you where they are — they’re playing professional football and basketball.”
Why Nancy Pelosi Sucks Her Teeth: Following President Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday evening, CBS News revealed their YouGov poll approval ratings on it. Unsurprisingly, 97% of Republican speech watchers liked it. More surprisingly, 72% of Independents liked it. Staggeringly, 43% of Democrats liked it. Overall, CBS reported that 75% of Americans approved of the speech. For such a seriously divisive and polarizing President, who is currently languishing with just 39% personal approval ratings, these were sensationally good results. Interestingly, 8/10 Americans in the poll felt the President was trying to unite the country with his speech and two thirds of Americans said it “made them feel proud.” Except the Democrats in the chamber who all looked like their dog just died. Here’s what made them so unhappy and why they sat on their hands: Jobs, economic growth, tax cuts, defeating ISIS, anthem & flag, healthcare choices, veterans benefits, government accountability, unifying America, American dreamers, In God we trust, life saving medicine, low unemployment and black unemployment at an all time low, curbing crime, and the war on drugs. As radio talk show host and TV commentator Laura Ingraham said following the President’s SOTU: “Democrats have gone from ‘Hope and Change’ to ‘Nope and Strange.'”
Things I Wish I’d Said: “I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn’t park anywhere near the place.” — Steven Wright.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: The newly renovated Pogo’s, formerly Gourmet Gourmet at 1408 Lewis Street next to the fire station on Amelia Island’s south end, is just waiting for an OK from the Florida Department of Transportation to open its doors as management needs that in order to get water flowing to the new eatery. Once open the southern menu will feature some interesting main course options ranging from a low country boil and mole roasted chicken to pork grilled loin and crispy belly and smoked short rib of beef while “shared plates” will include boiled peanut hummus, lobster hush puppies, char grilled octopus, chicken fried chicken livers and much, much more. I’ve been told that because beer sales at the Tavern have “gone through the roof” and exceeded production and storage capacity dealing with that has become a number priority, and next door’s 316 Center Street, formerly Alley Cat, is now at the back of the queue. Sunday, February 4, is the Super Bowl and lots of places will be anticipating good crowds. Halftime Sports Bar & Grill on South 8th Street will provide complimentary wings all day ( I think you at least have to buy a beer in order to take advantage of this deal) while Main Beach’s Sandbar & Kitchen will feature a Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia Eagles) for $7.50 and New England clam chowder (New England Patriots) with cups for $4.50 and bowls at $7.50. Bud Lights will be a very reasonable $2.50 all day.