Just last week, it seems as if Your Weekend Reader was wondering if January 2024 was potentially the worst month on record for print journalism — and, truth be told, it was no fun. But the month ended with a bit of good news, from Eugene — where the Eugene Weekly, devastated by embezzlement that had gone on for years, announced it would resume printing the paper.
The week’s journalism news wasn’t all good, as the much-hyped “unbiased” news website The Messenger shut down, throwing another 550 or so journalists out of work. But, as Joshua Benton notes in this piece from Nieman Labs, it wasn’t “economic headwinds” that took down The Messenger: It was owner Jimmy Finkelstein’s “blindness to his own bad ideas.”
In a related piece, Shawn McCreesh, writing for New York magazine’s Intelligencer, reports that working journalists are increasingly blaming executives — publishers and the like — for their inability to find a business model that works. It’s not as if this is a new problem, McCreesh’s piece suggests — it’s just that the abyss seems to be a lot closer these days. (Advisory: The piece contains salty language.)
It’s gotten to the point at which late-night TV is paying attention to journalism’s woes: “Late Night with Seth Meyers” weighed in with this piece earlier in the week.
The Oregon Legislature convenes on Monday for the 35-day short session it holds during even-numbered years. The focus of the session likely will be proposals to overhaul Measure 110, the drug-decriminalization and addiction-treatment initiative Oregon voters passed in 2020, and Gov. Tina Kotek’s $500 million proposal to boost housing production. But other issues likely will generate news, including two competing proposals to raise additional money to pay for fighting wildfires. One proposal calls for taxpayers to pay an additional $7 million annually; the other proposal would increase taxes on timber. Rob Davis of ProPublica outlines the proposals — and offers some insight as to who’s supporting which proposal and why.
Speaking of the Oregon Legislature, the state Supreme Court this past week ruled that the Republican senators who logged more than 10 unexcused absences during the 2023 session were barred from reelection under the terms of Measure 113, an initiative voters approved in 2022. This Oregonian piece examines the implications of the court’s ruling — but my gut tells me that the long-term political ramifications will be less than some people expect, because most of the affected seats represent solidly Republican districts. Also, I don’t think this will be the end of legislative walkouts — although I don’t expect any (right now) in the short session.
If you love stop-motion animation as I do, you’re mourning the Thursday death of Portland animator Mark Gustafson at age 63. Gustafson started his career sweeping the floors at Will Vinton Studios (now Laika, co-owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight) and eventually became one of the world’s most accomplished stop-motion directors. He was the animation director for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” and won an Oscar for his efforts. Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian/OregonLive has this obituary; the link is free for seven days. Rogoway and Kristi Turnquist at The Oregonian followed up with this story, which looks at Gustafson’s career in more depth.
In the mood for something fun, yet terrifying? Then check out this quiz, in which The New York Times posts 10 photos of human faces and then asks you to guess whether the image depicts an actual human or was created by AI. I got about half of them right. Welcome to the era of the deepfake. (The Times, by the way, said this week it was forming a team to explore how AI could be used in newsrooms — although it emphasized that news stories still would be written, edited and reported by humans.)
More from the fakery beat: A forthcoming academic paper finds that 3 out of 4 Americans are able to discern fake political headlines from real ones, which is heartening. But the paper adds several important asterisks to that finding.
Are you worried — as we all should be — about whether Taylor Swift, who plays a concert Feb.10 in Japan — will be able to make it to Las Vegas in time to watch her boyfriend, Kansas City Chief tight end Travis Kelse, play in Feb. 11’s Super Bowl? Relax, The Athletic reports: Swift has plenty of travel options that might not be available to those of us who are not among the world’s biggest pop stars. (I would expect CBS, which is airing this year’s Super Bowl, to have some sort of “Taylor Tracker” in place for its pregame show — just like NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve.)
Here’s a piece I should have added to last week’s Reader, but spaced out: 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which means you’re likely to hear it at least a couple of times during the year. Jazz pianist Ethan Iverson writes for The New York Times that the work is “the worst masterpiece,” and compares it to “the best cheesecake, or something else attractive yet unhealthy.”
That’s all for this weekend. We’ll convene here next weekend to see if the abyss appears to be any closer. In the meantime — hey! a sunny weekend!