In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.
That didn’t go well.
So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.
Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.
That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.
As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.
In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.
Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.
But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.
Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.
“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”
He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
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No red, white, and blue adorn my flagpole. No patriotic bunting arches over my front door. No fireworks await their flaming demise. I no longer enjoy the nation’s formal parting from Great Britain (which was on July 2, anyway).
I suppose, at one time, July Fourth carried great meaning to all Americans. After all, because of the acts of the Continental Congress and subsequent versions of it, I can (and do) criticize my government without fear or favor. I can own a weapon. My home and person cannot be searched or seized without cause. I am not obligated to incriminate myself. I can practice the religion of my choice — or decide not to — without government coercion. I can peaceably assemble with others to protest almost any damn thing I want to. I can vote to select who will govern me. And Congress cannot prevent me from owning a press in which I tell others what I see and what I know and what I feel.
I love my country because of the ideals inherent in the Constitution and especially in the Bill of Rights.
Sometimes when you’re driving in the West, you see a thunderstorm. It’s far off, still nascent, an indistinct dark smudge on the horizon perhaps a hundred miles away.
In the East, you don’t see a storm so far ahead. That’s because you can’t see the fullness of the storm until it’s literally over your head. In the East, the sky is smaller — topography, tall buildings, and trees obscure the horizon.
In the West, you keep driving toward that still-small gray mass. You look to the side through the driver’s window and see blue sky dotted with puffy cumulus clouds. You look out the passenger window; you see the same pastoral placidity. There’s psychological comfort in those little white pearls floating in the blue sky beside you. But in front of you?
Newsies dread this time of year. It’s when the Pew Research Center releases its annual State of the Media report. And the findings, for print newsies, are bad, bad, bad.
Ad revenue down. Trust measures down. Newsroom staffing down. Circulation down.
Oh, look — digital ad revenue up. You remember back in the early Oughts when newspapers began to chase that digital ad revenue, right? They were hoping as print ad dollars fell, digital ad dollars would offset the loss, maybe even bring the same high profits. All would be good.
Well, Pew says digital ad revenue is up 20 percent to nearly $60 billion. Wow.
But that digital ad revenue isn’t going to news companies. It’s going to … (drum roll) … Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter. Technology companies that rarely hire journalists and practice accountability journalism are getting nearly two-thirds of the digital ad money newspaper companies once thought they’d get.
Worse, readers are now rarely paying news companies for the products the readers consume. That’s because news companies gave away too much of their “content” (no one says “stories” anymore) for free. Readers got used to that license to steal. In its Digital News Report 2016, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows data that in America, only 9 percent of those surveyed paid for digital news — and only 4 percent of those from 18 to 24 years old.
In the blink of an eye, an audience was lost.
I took this photograph on May 30, 2015. This old truck sits beside Route 93 north of Ely, Nevada, at what was once a Pony Express station. But what caught my eye is not the truck; rather, what’s on the passenger door. Please look at it carefully. That work of art depicts the scene of my photograph (and others I took).
[first published at Scholars & Rogues 5.28.2016]
Warren Buffett, the newspaper-loving Oracle of Omaha, isn’t loving newspapers quite as much these days. Speaking of the industry’s attempts to create a viable business plan, he told USA Today’s Rem Rieder, “We haven’t cracked the code yet.”
Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace. The easy cutting has taken place. There’s no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way.
Well, duh, Mr. Buffett. We’ve known about your first two sentences for a decade. And the third? The New York Times is the only “national paper” I pay to read, as a digital subscriber. But I routinely read stories in The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — as I’m doing this morning over breakfast. The Times gets a ten spot from me every month. Everyone else gets squat.
Unlike millennials, for whom all information must be free, I’m willing to pay. That’s because at my age, I have a long history of paying for news. That’s how newspapers operated: Pay us and read our ads, and we’ll provide you the news you want and need. That was the fair exchange under the previous, and now failed, business model newspapers rode to riches (well, at least their owners) for more than a century.
[first published at Scholars and Rogues 5.19.2016]
One morning a few weeks ago, I sat at the end of the counter in my favorite diner, Robbins Nest. Lisa brought tea, Jessica asked, “The usual?” and owner Crystal badgered chef Anthony (as usual).
I set up my iPad mini to read. I noticed, however, the house copy of the metro daily from the big city two hours north. I picked it up and leafed through the 10-page front section. You know, the section with meaningful news for someone who lives two hours away.
I looked at story after story, page after page. I saw the metro had 11 — that’s 11 — stories from The New York Times in those 10 pages. That’s not unusual: Newspapers subscribe to wire services. Such services act as consortiums to provide newspapers with material they could not afford to report, write, and edit on their own. My own paper subscribed to The Times’ wire service back in the day. So seeing 11 Times stories in the local metro daily wasn’t a surprise.
But I had read each of those Times stories 12 hours before on my little iPad mini — because I’m one of The Times’ million-plus digital-only subscribers.
How does this metro daily — and others — fare financially if it prints stories many of its readers may have read online the day before?
[first published at Scholars & Rogues 3.17.2016]
I began 2016, the year in which I turned 70 years old, so damn angry.
More than sufficient reasons exist for all that anger. I, like many of you, am unwillingly steeped daily in the raw, heavily mediated sewage of billionaire-induced partisan politics; increasing and intolerable economic inequities; a deeply flawed educational system; conflicts in law, society, and government spawned by religion-fueled hostility; assaults on racial and ethnic sensibilities; the slow, agonizing death of democracy; and the decades-old rise of greed-driven, power-hungry oligarchy.
That’s just the background noise obscuring intelligent discursive signal about so many more problems — local, national, global — that the billions of us ruled by oligarchical forces sense are beyond our control or, often, our comprehension. Read the rest of this entry »