Your Weekend Reader for Aug. 19-20

by | Aug 19, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

As a newspaper editor, you hear it all the time: You never publish any good news. Your newspaper is too negative. A newspaper needs to be a booster for its community. (My response to these points essentially always boils down to, in order: That’s obviously not true; just look at the paper. It depends on how you define “negative.” And, yes, but let’s discuss what we mean by “being a booster for your community” — in my book, it means celebrating what’s going right, but also casting light on the things in the community that aren’t going so well.)

Obviously, I’m thinking about the Marion County Record in Kansas, which became national news this past week in the wake of a bizarre raid of its offices by local law enforcement officers. The officers seized computers and phones, saying they were investigating possible identity theft and computer crimes. Later in the week, the local prosecutor returned the devices, saying there wasn’t a “legally sufficient nexus” to justify the searches. The Record, to its credit, still managed to produce the next issue of the paper — despite not having access to its computers for much of the week.

The raid, of course, was outrageous — the sort of event that happens in totalitarian countries, not in a small town in Kansas. But, in its wake, a number of residents said they had been troubled by the Record’s aggressive coverage of local government and what they saw as excessively negative coverage. It all raises the question: What is the role of a newspaper (especially a small local newspaper) in a community?

That’s the question Kevin Draper poses in this new story in The New York Times. Personally, I found the story a little frustrating and incomplete — but it’s still well worth reading. And, if you’re just catching up on the byzantine series of events that led to the raid, the story is a good place to start.

Speaking of meanness in general, there’s a provocative new essay by David Brooks in The Atlantic about “How America Got Mean” — and what we might be able to do about it. Brooks points his finger at the usual suspects — the rise of social media, the decline of community organizations (which, by the way, parallels the decline of community newspapers, but that’s another story) and big changes in the country’s economy and demographics, which have left folks feeling cantankerous.

But Brooks thinks a bigger issue is in play: “We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration,” he writes. “Our society is one in which people feel licensed to give their selfishness free rein.” He calls, in essence, for reinstituting moral education. Now, I like Brooks, but I have to admit that there’s a whiff here of “Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn … and learn some manners!” Still, if you have access to The Atlantic, the essay is worth your time — and, if you don’t have Atlantic access, I can lend you my copy of the September 2023 issue. It seems like the neighborly thing to do.

What lessons can we learn from Oregon’s devastating Labor Day 2020 wildfires? A new 147-page report from the Oregon Department of Emergency Management has some suggested answers, including better communication between state agencies. Ben Botkin of the Oregon Capital Chronicle has a story about the report. Let’s just hope we don’t need to learn the same lessons all over again this summer.

“Coraline,” the 2009 movie that marked the first release for Laika, the Hillsboro-based studio that specializes in stop-motion animation, recently was re-released to theaters for just two days, Aug. 14 and 15. And it cleaned up at the box office, earning nearly $5 million — and on a Monday and Tuesday, no less. Fathom Events, the company that worked with Laika on the re-release, took notice, and is planning to roll out the film for another two-day run, Aug. 28 and 29. Unfortunately, the only theater nearby that’s planning to show the movie is in Independence, but that’s a very pleasant drive from Corvallis. (Raise your hand, by the way, if you knew that Independence had an eight-screen movie theater. That’s what I thought.)

The New York Times has a story listing the essential works of the beloved Portland writer Ursula K. Le Guin. If you’re just diving into Le Guin’s works for the first time (you lucky dog), this piece offers many great places to start. I was a little ticked off, though, that the piece had no love for her “Catwings” series, which I read to my daughters over the course of many wonderful nights.

I’m almost embarrassed to once again delve into the latest doings around the Pac-12 Conference, soon to embark on its final year, but it just wouldn’t seem to be a Weekend Reader if it didn’t have something about the conference. Of course, this week, there wasn’t that much actual news, but that hasn’t stopped me before. Here are this week’s highlights from the Pac-4:

Oregon State University athletic director Scott Barnes made the interview rounds this week, chatting with Nick Daschel from The Oregonian and John Canzano and even Brian Hamilton from The Athletic, the sports-news website owned by The New York Times. One of the consistent themes Barnes hit on in those interviews was that OSU’s preference would be to rebuild the Pac-12. (NCAA bylaws require eight members in a conference, although there is a two-year grace period for leagues that fall below that mark.)

Of course, that hinges on what Stanford and, to a lesser extent, Cal, choose to do: If those schools bolt for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the idea that OSU and Washington State by themselves can rebuild the conference seems like just too steep of a hill. The Mountain West likely would beckon in that case, but that would involve a considerable financial loss in terms of money from a media deal.

To that end, Daschel made an interesting point in his conversation with Barnes, noting that the OSU Athletics Department has a annual budget of about $95 million. It’s not impossible that when the dust settles, OSU could be losing $30 million a year in conference payouts. That’s a big hit. “We need to understand that we’ll be dealing with less resources,” Barnes said. “How much less, I have no idea.”

Finally this weekend, here’s a news item from deepest space: Is that an actual question mark that appeared in yet another sensational photograph from the James Webb Space Telescope? Probably not, astronomers say, just an optical illusion of sorts. Now, I don’t know all that much about astronomy, but I know something about punctuation, and I have to say: It sure looks like a question mark to me.

Take some this this weekend to ponder that and the numerous other mysteries of the universe, and we’ll gather back here next weekend.

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