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TVNotes: From The Wire to The Hills

By Steve Rhodes

Bill Moyers recently interviewed The Wire creator and former newspaper reporter David Simon. Every journalist in the land ought to be paying attention. Here are a few excerpts with some commentary thrown in. But you should also go read the whole transcript.

SIMON: To find out what's going on in my own city I often find myself at a bar somewhere taking, writing stuff down on a cocktail napkin that a police lieutenant or some school teacher tells me. Because these institutions are no longer being covered by beat reporters who are looking for the systemic. It doesn't exist anymore.

And this is not all the Internet. This was a - you know, there's a lot of the general tone in journalism right now is that of martyrology.

MOYERS: Being martyrs, right.

SIMON: Yes, we were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn't in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet because I took the third buyout from the Baltimore Sun. I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time - those buyouts happened when the Baltimore Sun was earning 37 percent profits.You know, we now know this because it's in bankruptcy and the books are open. Thirty-percent profits.


RHODES: But some of us knew then - those who were paying attention to their own industry. Those who read trade journals and media criticism. It wasn't a secret, but a lot of folks just didn't care to know - or didn't care once they did.

SIMON: All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

RHODES: I don't know that that is the reason why the free content model rules on the Internet. Instead, it's the nature of the medium - the ability (and opportunity) to reach far more readers than ever through not only the Internet as a distribution system itself, but through the free marketing and advertising provided in the form of links from other sites. But an inferior product, yes. Media companies squeezing every additional half-penny out of newsrooms for ever-increasing (and grotesque) profit margins succeeded in eviscerating the brand authority of their product.

SIMON: I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It - it's even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That - it's analogous up to a point, except it's not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it's great for commentary and froth doesn't do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can't sustain that. The economic model can't sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn't - they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how do -

RHODES: Of course, I differ with Simon here. Online news organizations haven't yet replaced print reporting on a one-for-one basis, but that doesn't mean they won't going forward. And the vast majority of "reporting" in a daily newspaper is crap. A newspaper has one or two meaningful stories a day, at best. It is one of the most inefficient managers of personnel ever.

MOYERS: The publishers. The owners.

SIMON: Yes, how do you give it away for free?

RHODES: Of course, it's not free, just like TV isn't free. Beyond that, how do you charge people for news in a democracy? You don't have to give away every product you create for "free," but the news has never been paid for by readers. They bought the comics and the crosswords and maybe a sports section or the movie reviews. And advertisers subsidized the news by subsidizing the creation of sections like Travel, Real Estate, and Homes. Finally, does anybody remember the penny press? Newspapers have always charged "less" than their production costs. Now the Sun-Times wants 75 cents a day and it's not worth it.

SIMON: You know, but for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had - they had actually marginalized themselves

By the time the Internet had its way, I mean, they're down to 180 now. You don't cover the City of Baltimore and a region like Central Maryland with 180 people. You don't cover it well.

And the institutional knowledge of the place disappears. And so . . . there's going to be a wave of corruption until they figure out the new model and reestablish - the institutional memory of these places, there's going to be a wave of misbehavior.

RHODES: I'm skeptical that pols will see the decline of newspapers as new opportunities to misbehave; I don't think they need an excuse. But if that's the case, it's all the more reason to support new online ventures and get on with the future.

2. "Among M*A*S*H fans, the episode has taken on a cult-like status," New York freelance writer Douglas J. Gladstone wrote in the Sun-Times over the weekend in "In Search of Adam's Ribs."

Gladstone got it right. "Adam's Ribs" is from the early glory days of the show, when the scripts were priceless and the social commentary was delivered with the devastating effectiveness that can only come with a light touch.

According to its Wikipedia entry, the episode was the 11th of the show's third season - the 59th overall. It's certainly one of my favorites, right up there with "The Incubator" and "Deal Me Out."

3. Chicago nightclub hack Jimmy D'Ambrosio was recently on Millionaire Matchmaker. I finally caught the episode in reruns and, boy, douche or tool?

D'Ambrosio not only talks about himself (constantly) in the third person, but refers to himself as "Jimmy D." At first I thought it was a put-on - perhaps he's a Seinfeld fan - but it looked real enough after time.

" D'Ambrosio . . .has been featured on ESPN's World Poker Tour, playing with the best the tour can offer," according to Bukisa.

"Though D'Ambrosio is technically a 'millionaire' because of the money he's made playing in the World Poker Tour, he also owns many successful bars and restaurants in the Chicagoland area, like Citizen Bar, 364 W. Erie St. in Chicago. He attended NIU from 1995-1998, but after graduating he stayed until 2001 buying real estate and running many of his own businesses."

As TV.com says, Jimmy D wants a woman who won't just use him for sex.

I'm going back to the put-on theory.

4. I still can't get the theme song to The Hills out of my head. (I know it's not exactly new but for some reason it's finally insinuated itself into my brain.) It turns out it's actually a real song, with a real video. Plus, a friend sent me a link to the (only somewhat embarrassing) lyrics.

I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, oh, oh

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We've been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can't live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, yeah, yeah



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Posted on April 22, 2009


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