Your Weekend Reader for July 2-3

by | Jul 2, 2022 | Journalism, Miscellaneous, Weekend Reader | 1 comment

Happy Independence Day weekend. If the holiday prompts you to ponder the nature of patriotism, you’ll want to read a fascinating opinion piece on the topic that was called to my attention earlier today. You’ll find a link to it all the way down at the bottom of this week’s Weekend Reader.

In the meantime, I must confess that I’m still obsessing over the week’s bombshell sports news involving the Pac-12 Conference. As you know by now, the conference’s two Los Angeles schools announced on Thursday that they were leaving the Pac-12 beginning in 2024 to join the Big Ten Conference. Late Thursday night, I posted a stand-alone blog item about the news. (If this topic doesn’t interest you at all, feel free to skip over the next six or so paragraphs. I’ll issue an “all-clear” when I’m done talking sports.)

As of noon Saturday, there doesn’t seem to be any fresh news on this — although that could change in a hurry. I’ve been watching how the story is being covered by national college football writers, and a consensus appears to be emerging: The defection of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten hastens the transition away from the so-called Power Five conferences to two super-conferences, the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, and that, in the words of Paul Finebaum of ESPN’s SEC Network, “quite frankly, nobody else really matters.” Of the other three conferences in the Power Five (the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12), the Pac-12 is in the most precarious position, but the Atlantic Coast Conference might be right behind — especially if Notre Dame, a longtime football independent, aligns itself with the Big Ten, as rumors suggest it might.

Since I posted my blog entry Thursday, I’ve found other articles that offer additional insight into this. The best of the lot is likely this story from The Athletic, the sports website that recently was purchased by The New York Times. The Athletic reports that, even though the details of the USC-UCLA deal came together with astonishing speed, the Big Ten formed a committee a year ago to quietly explore expansion possibilities. Of course, this was about the same time that the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the ACC formed a so-called “Alliance” that was meant in part to offer some semblance of stability to the college football world after the defections of Texas and Oklahoma to the powerful SEC. So much for that “Alliance.”

There’s a lesson here: In the world of college athletics these days, statements like the one issued Friday by the Big Ten that it’s standing pat for now and has no plans to reach out to schools such as Oregon and Washington should be taken with the same level of confidence that we now know should be given to a Supreme Court nominee saying that Roe v. Wade is established law.

On Friday, the Pac-12 issued a statement that said the conference would “explore all expansion options,” but let’s be honest here: It won’t find replacements that will compensate for the loss of two schools in the nation’s second-largest media market. Jon Wilner, the Mercury News reporter who initially broke the story (more proof that he’s the top Pac-12 reporter in the nation), suggested in a Friday commentary piece that it might make sense for the Pac-12 to pursue some sort of partnership with the Big 12 and then essentially go begging to ESPN for whatever scraps it can collect when the conference renegotiates its media rights in 2024. (There is one teensy problem with that: When the Big 12 approached the Pac-12 just last year seeking a similar partnership, it was rebuffed by the Pac-12.)

Wilner writes this in his Pac-12 Hotline column: “The Pac-12 Hotline calls ‘em like we see ‘em, and we see the complete disintegration of the Pac-12 as a scenario that cannot be discounted. To be sure, it’s not the most realistic outcome for the conference. But ignore it at your peril.”

The Pac-12 might survive. But that raises Finebaum’s question: On a national scale, will it matter?

There’s been surprisingly little coverage of this in the Gazette-Times (as of Saturday morning, the G-T’s website has no mention of it at all, and the paper used an AP story in its Friday print edition), which leads to me to two thoughts: First, it could be that the G-T’s overworked two-person sports crew is taking some time off this week. Second — and this is just conjecture — it could be that the paper has decided that its primary sports-coverage focus should be on prep sports. To be fair, that’s a decision that sort of makes sense to me, but it does mean you’re routinely going to get beat on Beaver sports coverage by The Oregonian and other media outlets.

All clear. That’s it — for now — about this story. Let’s get back to some of our usual Weekend Reader topics.

The Oregon gubernatorial race made national news this week, when The New York Times’ “The Morning” newsletter included nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson’s comment that, because of the houselessness crisis, Portland was no longer the “City of Roses” and instead had become “the city of roaches.” As you might imagine, the “city of roaches” comment got Johnson into hot water, but she’s trying to pass it off as just another example of the straight talk she says is her trademark. I tracked down this particular edition of the newsletter, and you can click here to read it. My conclusion is that Johnson meant what she said, but that she intended (maybe) a little more nuance to it. In any event, Johnson will get plenty of opportunities to defend her “city of roaches” comment; the Oregon Capital Chronicle reports that all three major gubernatorial candidates will debate at least once, but the campaigns still are haggling over the details. (And see the bottom of the Weekend Reader for my special offer to those of you who don’t subscribe to the Times but would like occasional access to one of its stories.)

There is a bit of good news from the U.S. Supreme Court that you might have missed, given — well — everything else. Despite calls from at least two justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, for the court to revisit the landmark 1964 libel ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, the court has declined to do so, at least this term. You may recall that the 1964 ruling held that public figures must show “actual malice” before they can succeed in a libel dispute. The court denied certiorari for a case involving Coral Gables Ministry Media, which had been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Thomas said he would have granted certiorari in the case. CNN’s Ariane de Vogue had the story.

But it’s too early to pop open bottles of bubbly to celebrate the First Amendment: Jeremy Peters of the Times has a story about how the aftermath of the high court’s ruling in Dobbs sets the stage for conflicts about whether states can censor speech about abortion, which is (or will become) illegal in about half of the states. This isn’t at all an academic question: As Peters reports, one anti-abortion group already has proposed model legislation that it would make it a crime to pass along “by telephone, the internet or any other medium of communication” information that was used to terminate a pregnancy.

One potential result could be a big increase in the amount of misinformation about abortion on the internet. This opinion piece from Scientific American notes that the number of false and misleading statements online about abortion has grown since the draft Dobbs decision was leaked — and is certainly likely to increase.

And speaking of sources of reliable information: The website Press Gazette has just updated its list of the nation’s top 25 newspapers by print circulation, using new figures from the Alliance for Audited Media. The Wall Street Journal remains No. 1 by a considerable margin, with an average daily circulation of 697,493. The New York Times is No. 2, with an average daily circulation of 329,781. USA Today is No. 3, but appears to be losing ground fast to The Washington Post. More telling, perhaps, as newspapers work hard to sell digital subscriptions, is this fact: Twenty-four of the 25 papers reported year-over-year print circulation drops. (The only exception was the Florida-based Villages Daily Sun, which serves a fast-growing retirement community.) Overall, the top 25 papers reported 12% declines in print circulation for the year ending in March 2022. (Two Lee Enterprises newspapers were in the top 25 — The Buffalo News, with 56,005, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with 48,246. No Oregon papers were in the top 25.)

Joshua Benton of the Nieman Lab at Harvard University followed up that news with a piece that offers additional perspective on those circulation numbers — and explains why print still is the main moneymaker for most newspapers, even as they (justifiably) make the (very belated) transition to digital.

The Nieman Lab also reported this week on a new report from Northwestern University that found that the United States has lost a quarter of its newspapers since 2005, and that closures are continuing at the pace of about two every week. That works out to be 360 papers shuttering since 2019 — in addition to the 2,500 closures earlier. Most of the papers that have closed since 2019 are weeklies (this includes the Philomath Express, the Lee Enterprises-owned weekly), but they nevertheless leave behind additional news deserts — areas where residents have no access to credible news sources. In the case of Philomath, Brad Fuqua’s Philomath News website, which routinely scoops the Gazette-Times for Philomath news, helps cover that community. For another take on the report, here’s Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute. And click here to read the full 40-page report, written by Penny Abernathy, who’s studied local newspapers for years.

Speaking of the Philomath News, here’s a scoop from Brad Fuqua about dispute that’s roiling Philomath Fire & Rescue. (Full disclosure: I’m an occasional contributor to the Philomath News.)

The Weekend Reader culture desk calls a couple of pieces to your attention for this holiday weekend:

First, here’s a New York Times profile of Oregon-based Lidia Yuknavitch, whose new novel, “Thrust,” was published this past week. Yuknavitch lives in Otis, in Lincoln County. Her memoir, “The Chronology of Water,” is being turned into a movie by the actress Kristen Stewart, who will direct.

And here’s The Atlantic’s sharp Spencer Kornhaber, reflecting on the resurgence of Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” which burst back into prominence when it was featured in the fourth season of “Stranger Things.” The song recently hit No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard chart, Bush’s highest ranking. And it hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom, Kornhaber notes, setting a record “for the slowest-ever rise from release date to No. 1 on the Official Singles Charts: 37 years.” But it’s not just nostalgia, Kornhaber argues: It’s just an outstanding song and a terrific performance. We still know quality when we hear it.

Earlier this week, I noticed a banner in the neighborhood that said something like “My faith in America is hanging by a thread.” I understand that sentiment, but in the spirit of offering a slightly different view, here’s an opinion piece from the Times by Jedediah Britton-Purdy, a professor of constitutional law at Duke. Britton-Purdy notes the results of a recent survey that asked Americans whether they would fight or flee if the country were invaded: 68% of Republicans said they would stay and fight, compared with 40% of Democrats. Britton-Purdy argues that such results suggest “that some progressives are not so sure the country is worth saving, or at least risking their lives to save.” I’m not so sure about that, for a variety of reasons that I won’t belabor now — but Britton-Purdy takes off from there to offer a full-throated defense of patriotism, and one that he thinks can be embraced by both liberals and conservatives. Here’s his conclusion:

Patriotic feeling is always attached to some vision of the country’s future, and, inevitably, to some Americans who share that vision more than others. It doesn’t transcend partisanship, but enriches partisan struggle, making it always an invitation to others to join you. It is a way of saying that we will not give up on one another, because the country that ties us together also gives us the power to remake it — in a better way, and, a patriot may feel, truer to itself.

Chew over that as you enjoy Independence Day festivities. I’ll see you next weekend.

And a postscript: If you want access to some of these articles from the Times, but run afoul of its paywall, I can “gift” you a working link to any individual story — my Times subscription allows me to give up to 10 articles each month. If you want me to do that, leave a comment or send me an email.

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