Your Weekend Reader for March 23-24

by | Mar 23, 2024 | Weekend Reader | 1 comment

This past week was — well, let’s just say this was an interesting week for journalism, and that usually augers poorly. But it might take a little bit of time to sort out some of last week’s developments. Let’s dive right in:

The big journalism story of the week was the announcement from two big chains — Gannett and McClatchy — that they were going to stop using content from The Associated Press. But, as Rick Edmonds of The Poynter Institute explains in this piece, the news isn’t quite as shocking as it first appeared. First, as Edmonds notes, a full-strength subscription to the AP wire is, as he says, “back-breakingly expensive.” For Gannett, which has said it wants to rebuild its local newsrooms (which, of course, it has gutted), it makes a certain amount of sense to reinvest that money in those newsrooms. (For the record, though, I’ll need to see the evidence on the ground about its renewed commitment to local newsrooms.)

For national and international news, Gannett papers can turn to the chain’s USA Today Network. State news is a different animal, but times have changed: AP used to boast that its state bureaus were the jewels in its news-gathering crown. When I worked in Montana, that was certainly true: the AP bureau boasted some of the state’s best reporters. But that wasn’t the case everywhere: When I came to work in Corvallis, I was shocked by the thinness of AP’s Oregon report — and it hasn’t improved since then. In the case of Oregon, Gannett (just like everybody else) can freely reprint stories from the excellent Oregon Capital Chronicle, one of the many nonprofit newsrooms that have been established in state capitals by States Newsroom.

So if you’re a top executive at a newspaper, and you’re looking for ways to pay for improved local reporting, it’s not necessarily a crazy idea any more to think seriously about dropping your AP wire. (I don’t expect Lee to follow the Gannett example — Kevin Mowbray, Lee’s president and CEO, sits on the AP board of directors, and it’s not at all unusual to see a Lee top executive serving on the board.)

As for the AP, there’s no doubt this is a big blow, and the organization said it was hoping to continue negotiations with Gannett and McClatchy. But the AP has been working to diversify its revenue sources: Only about 10% of its revenue comes from U.S. newspapers, Edmonds of the Poynter Institute reports.

Gannett, by the way, has closed six of its newsrooms in Massachusetts; those papers continue to publish, but everyone works remotely. I would expect to see more of that, and not just from Gannett, in the coming years.

Speaking of journalism and truth, here’s the most depressing news story I read all this week (and I swear that I did not start the Weekend Reader solely to share these double-bummers): Remember the war on disinformation? The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers are here to report that it’s over — and that the enemies of disinformation have been routed.

For some reason, this next item didn’t get as much attention as the AP news, or — for that matter — the lost war against disinformation — but here’s a Washington Post story about how newspaper chains (such as Gannett) are working to standardize their comic-strip offerings as a cost-cutting measure. Intentionally or not, these standardized offerings appear to be giving short shrift to strips created by female artists. For example, as Georgia Dunn of “Breaking Cat News” put it in a recent strip: “There are more dead men than living women in the funny pages.”

That’s partly because syndicates still make a fortune by offering “legacy” strips like “Peanuts.” Now, I suspect that if Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” were still alive, he’d be appalled that his rerun strips were crowding out space that could be given to newer strips. (To be fair, though, I often thought about canceling “Peanuts” when I was at the G-T, bit didn’t much like the thought of dealing with the phone calls the day after.) I suspect this is part of the reason why Bill Watterson doesn’t let newspapers run old “Calvin and Hobbes” strips, because — believe me — we would if we could.

In any event, Dunn has a sharp point — and, even though I know some G-T readers never warmed to “Breaking Cat News,” I would sign up for it again without a second thought, although I do think the strip is uneven. (It could use just a little more — not too much, but a little more — of the bite that Dunn showed with her recent series about comic strips.) Not that you asked, but I think perhaps the nation’s most underrated strip is Dana Simpson’s “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” consistently imaginative and funny. But I think the best current U.S. strip is Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine,” which I see relies again in Saturday’s edition on a brilliantly executed pun.

Perhaps this is clear by now: Don’t get me started about newspaper comic strips. We’ll be here all day.

Speaking of the media, here’s The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis reflecting on the media and internet blizzard that forced Kate Middleton to reveal her cancer diagnosis this week. (Not quite so funny anymore, is it, Stephen Colbert?) The headline of the piece nicely captures the tone: “I Hope You All Feel Terrible Now.”)

In other bits of news this weekend:

Eight out of 10 Americans believe religion is losing its influence in public life, the Pew Research Center reports. Whether this is a good or a bad thing or just interesting is for you to decide. As they like to say at Fox News, the Weekend Reader reports; you decide.

A reimagined version of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” opens next week on Broadway, prompting this New York Times interview with Pete Townshend, now 78. He’s always been among the most thoughtful of rock songwriters, but it looks as if his thinking about aging has evolved somewhat since “My Generation.”

If you’re familiar with the NFL Network’s “RedZone,” you know how cool it is: The idea is that instead of focusing on one game, the live show whips around to show key plays from all of that day’s games. It’s a terrific idea — and a great way to discover that you’ve just blown seven hours of your Sunday watching “RedZone.” So I was excited to see that NBC is going to try something similar at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris: From July 27 to Aug. 10, the streaming service Peacock will show “GoldZone” — live coverage of Olympics events — from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific each day. (The time difference between Paris and the U.S. West Coast explains the odd scheduling.) If you’re a fan of the Olympic events themselves — but not so much the packaging that NBC gives the events, at least in the prime-time slot, this may be something you’ll want to check out. (I first read about this in Tom Jones’ daily Poynter Institute newsletter; you’ll need to scroll down a bit to get to the GoldZone item.)

The Gazette-Times wasn’t able to cover last Friday’s Celebrate Corvallis, judging by the fact that it ran a press release from the Chamber of Commerce about the winners on Tuesday. (Confidential to the G-T: Unless Ben Danley, the winner of the First Citizen award, grew that remarkable beard between Friday’s event and Tuesday’s newspaper, you might want to try to get a more recent shot of Danley for the files.) No mention in the G-T about the co-hosts, and that’s fine with me, although I can’t speak for my fellow co-host, Christy Wood, the new head of the chamber. I will say this, though: That event wouldn’t happen without the efforts of a small army of volunteers, so thanks to them. And, personally, it’s always a blast to work on an event with John Harris of Horsepower Productions and his partner, photographer Jodi Herrling.

That’s it for this weekend. Let’s hope we all feel a little less terrible next weekend.

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