Back in the saddle after the newly departed hollowdays, among my favorite times of the year. Not for the usual reasons, mind you. While Christendom celebrates the wrong day, wrong guy (Santa sharing the same letters as SATAN) we malcontents receive a few days of relative, welcome respite from annoyances like dumb-ass BOOMP BOOMP BOOMP mobile stereo jockeys, sirens, dump truck traffic and the ceaseless, infernal beep beep beep, crunch from the fuggin’ prison job over yonder. Nothing but the wind in the trees amid muffled sundering of wrapping paper and accompanying delighted squeals of the children.
So there I was, XXXmas day, couchant on a couch amid soothing tendrils of smoke, surveying the distant ridge over Dix. Then I heard it—strident, massed voices. As I looked out, I caught a glimpse of a group of people seemingly entering Central Prison property. Wheee-doggy. I saddled up and rode.
Then I saw the signs, actually several of them, bedraggled, corrugated cardboard, white-painted with red letters, together reading MERRY CHRISTMAS. This was the annual massing of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, whose mission remains focused despite that the correctness of the group’s cause seems to have sunk into the State’s collective heads, i.e. what amounts to a de-facto moratorium on that misapplied, presumptuous, ineffective “deterrent,” cum bragging rights for zealous prosecutors and/or final call for botched police evidence.
As I worked the crowd, Patrick O’Neil hove into view, a legendary voice for those who have none, whose courageous, compassionate words have been a part of the weft and weave of The Independent for years. My death vigil hunch was correct—for different reasons, turned out. I don’t get signals from the great beyond on this stuff, but invariably it seems what I publish preludes the real-deal days later, as with my last piece on the news business.
“They told me this was my last column,” Mr. House and Kids said, he fairly sanguine considering the situation. Then I learned about the newest poison: a slashing of the Indy’s freelance budget along with the layoff of Vernal Coleman, a fresh hire who could actually write, more of the sad tedious ritualistic self-disemboweling-for-profit dance. Suicide is hard to watch.
“I told them I’ve probably been making 4 dollars a day,” O’Neil told me this morning during a follow-up call.
“I think the Indy’s being penny wise and pound foolish,” O’Neil said, he, a reliable, authentic voice of the seldom-sighted religious left, there for the readers since the Indy was founded. Editor Lisa Sorg responded to his email that money was key. “Every penny counts,” she wrote him. O’Neil rightly pointed out the incongruity of an editor concerned soley with the bottom line, territory that is (or should be) the publisher, Sioux Watson’s concern. Again, the all-important “money” thing, taking precedence over that pesky content stuff. Then he complimented me—“You were a voice that made the Independent independent.”
Three days after the prison demonstration, the N&O published a piece by one Kim Metcalf of their “Community Panel,” an apologia citing some obvious-as-a-brick “wisdom” about the sagging newspaper business that, again, I had already harped on: reader and advertising defections by way of anorexic content resulting from layoffs, sacrifices to the bloody god of profits-profits-profits.
If “they” somehow missed my last column on the matter, I’ll say it again: the intractable, zealous standard of maintaining double digit profits while the house burns is either (1) bungling, lock-step adherence to an obsolete tar-pit business model or (2) a deliberate ploy to write off the newspaper business.
Whatevuh. Metcalf predicted “plenty of reader support for the Forth Estate” for ‘09. That support, coupled with the awkward, fumbling demise of newspapers, bodes well for the growth part of the industry. As the standard print newspapers rise in a column of smoke and ash, there are fresh voices available to fill the demand for timely, local information. If “they” won’t do it, smaller publications and the online community will. Sorry guys. Someone has to be the bearer of the bad news. The following is part of a longer communique I wrote to the Independent when I was axed in ‘07.
“I say this not to be negative, but as a prediction. The Independent, as things stand now, is doomed – I guarantee. By the time the mistake has been identified, it will be too late. Watch your circulation figures.” I stand by my prediction. A fellow writer called the Indy’s latest desperate move “the cough before the death rattle.” Then there is the word on the street this morning (the 6th) that N&O owner McClatchy is in a last-ditch scramble for investor money amid warning lights, horns and the grinding of ice.
While some may miss newspapers (if things go as it looks as though they are), there are and will continue to be sources for information out there as well as less of a haul to the curb on recycling day.
As evidence, it would seem that a vocal, energetic crowd of 250 to 300 people massed at the NCSU bell tower for several hours, protesting Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip, would be the sort of occurrence that would count as “news”—apparently not the case. While the next morning’s issue of the News & Observer displayed front-page newsworthy interest in five new Hemi Chargers for Wake County paramedics, the demonstration rated not a single sentence.