Last week in the middle of this volcanic News of the World/Murdoch scandal, a middle that will soon enough be just the beginning, I went to see the documentary Page One. It’s about the New York Times. I’d feel like you all know that, but the doc made it seem as if no one who likes the internet has any fucking respect for newspapers anymore.
Otherwise, it was really good. David Carr, the NYT media columnist/former crack addict, is a gem of mankind. He went to this fraternity, for example, I forget what the Latin name of it was, something like Vice? Anyway, he schooled the frat bosses so hard I think fake-butter came out my nose. He also “flipped” through an iPad reading app and said guess what it reminded him of? A newspaper.
In between those two moments of genius, he did funny-strange things like “call people on the phone,” and “ask tough questions,” and “sit on the porch thinking.” Shit so bizarre I wonder if “former crack addict” wasn’t a bit of a hasty unjournalistic assumption on my part. Clearly he’s still smoking something. The phone?!
Least to say, this documentary was a re-illusionment. Lately the business of news has been as depressing as the news itself: advertising revenues dropping, aggregators rising, papers folding, content outsourcing, Twitter reactions replacing commentary, celebrities interviewing celebrities and journalists just rolling over and playing it safe. Anyone know what brand of eyelash curler Kate Middleton uses? Let’s run with that.
And then when the news orgs aren’t choking and dying, they’re lying, like Fox News, or committing galling illegalities, like News of the World.
Also last week, Canadian TV-news bureau chief Kai Nagata posted a 3,000-word screed on why he’s leaving the dirty, compromised and stupidity-enforcing business of broadcast news to follow “the river” into a clean and mythological future in which he gets better in every way all the time and helps others in meaningful ways and, I don’t know, drives a unicorn.
Here I should say that, when I’m trying to get in a country, like not a dangerous one, I’m a journalist myself. It makes me cringe suspiciously when I say it, but that’s not because I have some malignant disdain for the profession. It’s because, in all my interview-conducting and impression-gathering and fashion-party-attending and society-observing and bullshit-trend-analyzing, journalism isn’t really what I do. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and that tendency just gets in the way of what we like to call “real” journalism, which is the business of telling you everything that isn’t true so that we might one day know what is.
Real journalists comprise a boggling range of humanity. The aspiring/working journalists I know, or have met, or regularly read, are mostly secret loners who have all sorts of agendas, agendas so diverse they can’t possibly be in collusion in that mass way you learn about in first year uni. Probably the only things they have in common are curiosity, a basic belief that things can and should be known and possibly the romantic, ancient-human idea that stories keep us alive—an idea I personally have stretched all the way into an ideal.
I agree with most everything Kai Nagata said (read it if you haven’t) and love his idealism, too. He’s 24 and he’s not going to take it anymore. I hope he does something amazing. And blogs about it. But in terms of something to wake up to, I don’t care so much that some kid my age is out there following the river. It’s way more affirming to know that on the beleaguered and sinking ship of old-school news there are still crazy old captains like David Carr who aren’t gonna go down without a story. Heroes are the ones who stay and fight, and no matter how post-moral and spiritless I or we sometimes feel, I’ll bet we always need stories, true ones, with those weirdo heroes in them.