Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Fence ’em out, not in

April 19, 2022

All in all it’s just another tree and a wall.

Good fences make good neighbors, they say. (Hint: Fences work best if the neighbors keep their gates closed.)

Fences, walls, and gates seem to be keeping deer and Russians out of the yard. But how do we keep the Russians — along with Elon Musk, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ron DeSantis, and the Kardashians, this last a species more invasive than deer, Russians, or kudzu — out of our heads?

A few of us were discussing this via email recently, and I chimed in thusly:

As a lifelong news junkie I hate to say it, but we should all try to pay a little less attention to what they call “news” these days.

Fully half of it is nonsense, and a quarter of it is something we can’t do anything about. The final 25 percent may have some bearing on you and yours, concerning something you can actually get a handle on. It will probably be local news. If you can find any.

What people like me used to call news 40 years ago was still pretty overwhelming on the supply side. We whittled it down and sold it in 24-hour doses, like allergy meds. It could boggle the mind at times, but most folks could take it, learn a little something, form a few defensible opinions.

Now anyone trying to keep up feels like a dog with his head out the window of a hopped-up Honda Civic doing 110 mph coming into the Big I at drunk-thirty on Friday. There’s just too much going on out there for one poor mutt to take in

Imagine my surprise when an industry bigwig agreed with me. Ken Doctor, a media analyst and consultant who is a longtime contributor to Nieman Lab, wrote that he too is trying to fence out the wider world with all its horrors while he focuses on nurturing a startup local news outfit in Santa Cruz, Calif.

I recently talked to an old friend about a project we were working on together. He could hardly engage, so troubled was he by the news from Ukraine. What’s going on in the broader world is bleak, more than enough to depress and deflate us. I’ve put all that in the back of my head because I have little time or room to address national or global issues on which I can have little impact. I’ve been working on Lookout now for more than three years, and it’s the hardest, most consuming thing I’ve done in a 47-year career. But as I, and my peers, focus fiercely on rebuilding our little parts of the planet, we focus on what we can change.

Well. Just goes to show you even a dumb dog can dig up a moldy Milk-Bone now and then, if he can just keep the deer and the Kardashians out of his yard.

Deadlines

March 21, 2022

Signposts are few and far between in the Deadline Forest.

I am a creature of the Deadline.

When I was cartooning for my high school and college newspapers in the Seventies the Deadline popped round once per week. From 1977 to 1991, it was in my face every goddamn night, except for the one time I worked for an afternoon paper, when it was in my face every goddamn afternoon.

And after ’91 … well, it got complicated.

By then I was a full-time freelancer and either had a lot or nothing to do, depending on whether anyone other than VeloNews was buying what I was selling.

I was a regular at VeloNews, which began its Boulder residency in 1989 with 18 issues per year and then quickly ramped up with additional issues, special editions, race guides, and whatnot.

When Bicycle Retailer and Industry News came along in ’92 I was a regular there, too. BRAIN was brand-new, and started off with just nine issues that first year. But it soon found its legs and took off like free beer at an Interbike booth, to 18 issues a year, plus trade-show dailies, Sea Otter specials, and all manner of other projects.

So, yeah. I wasn’t a daily newsdog any longer. But I still had me some Deadlines.

In the early days I did my share of straight news, race coverage, and feature writing, with a side hustle of copyediting and proofreading. But eventually I settled into the one-two punch of cartoonist-columnist: an editorial cartoon in every VeloNews, and a “Mad Dog Unleashed” column and “Shop Talk” comic strip in every issue of BRAIN, with extra-credit cartoons in the various Show Dailies and other special editions.

When I started helping run the VN website I added “Friday’s Foaming Rant” to the mix. That came around weekly.

At my peak I was choreographing a conga line of cartoons and columns, each of which had to give at least a wave and a nod to bicycling. This is a very small and shallow pool in which to fish for one’s supper. There are trees nearby, but all the low-hanging fruit was picked long ago.

Happily, I had the Deadline.

You can’t bullshit the Deadline. It is not an essay question, or even multiple choice. You either make it or you don’t; true or false, right or wrong. And a freelancer only gets so many wrongs before an editor figures you are all the way wrong and stops giving you assignments and/or taking your calls.

The Deadline is harsh, but fair. It has no patience with the sluggard, but can be merciful to the weak. Sometimes, when the Deadline rumbles up to see you staring blankly into your wordless word processor or blank sheet of Bristol board, it rolls its Eye and growls: “Christ on a crutch. OK, hop in.”

“Where are we going?” you ask.

“Fuck do you care? Sitting there with your thumb up your ass. Can’t catch a ride like that. Hey, you gettin’ in or what? Tick-tock, shit-for-brains.”

So in you get, and before you can buckle up or even close the door, zoom, off you go, with tires smoking, on a high-speed, no-brakes tour of the back alleys in your brainpan, bowling over trash cans to see what spills out and leaning on the horn to get the Voices hollering.

At this point you are no longer writing or drawing. You are taking dictation and having trouble keeping up. …

When suddenly with a squeal of brakes your ride slaloms to a stop, your door flies open, and the Deadline kicks you sprawling to the curb. Where, in one white-knuckled fist, you clutch the finished Work.

“You’re welcome,” smirks the Deadline. “Pay window’s over there. See you next week, bitch.”

‘The Last Copy Editor’

February 8, 2022

• Editor’s note: I first saw this Peloton story at NPR, and then went straight to AP to see if the original was this fucked up (it was). Buried the lede. (Who gives a shit about a hapless CEO lateraled over to a cushy gig elsewhere?) Confused “there” for “their” and “its” for “it’s.” It took two people to write this dreck and at least two more to put it online. When the nuts and bolts are this bad, one fears for the solidity of the “content.”

I should pitch a movie, “The Last Copy Editor,” about a tireless comma-chaser, usage Nazi, and AP-style maven who fights tooth and nail against the corporate vultures turning journalism into bung fodder.

I see either Jason Statham or Bruce Willis playing me in the title role, maybe John Goodman as the evil hatchet man from Corporate.

Issa Rae as the sharp young reporter who joins me in my quest for editorial excellence. Bill Burr as the comically inept city editor always hitting on her. Edward James Olmos as the burned-out slot man whose copy of “The Elements of Style” is actually an ingeniously contrived flask of bottom-shelf vodka.

Bill Hader as the online editor, a jagoff whose first language is jargon. Stephen Root as the clueless hack who frequently misspells his own byline and always waits until 30 seconds before deadline to file. Natasha Lyonne as the wisecracking dyslexic photographer who says writing captions is not part of her job description.

And as always, Jerry Mathers as “The Beaver.”

R.I.P., VeloNews

January 12, 2022

The first edition of VeloNews in which a cartoon
by You Know Who appeared.

VeloNews was found dead on Jan. 1. It was just 50 years old.

Was it murder? Suicide? Natural causes? (i.e., a slow-moving form of frontotemporal dementia?)

Nah. Darwinism. Nature red in tooth and claw, baby. Or, if you prefer your poetry in the original Sicilian, “It’s strictly business.”

• Editor’s note: A tip of the VeloNews cycling cap to Steve O. for the sharp eye on the velo-news.

‘Story!’ cried the Editor

June 3, 2021

My last piece for Adventure Cyclist.

It’s hard to retire when you don’t have a job.

It’s even harder when you have a couple-three-four of them.

Still, I keep trying to find that hole in the fence, because I am a persistent mutt.

I successfully “retired” from my last real job in 1991, when I bid adios to The New Mexican and took up the uncertain life of a freelance cycling scribe. I like to think I beat the rush to the door. The writing was already popping up on newspaper walls from coast to coast, and I wasn’t one of the lucky few who would be offered a buyout. Mine would be more like a “Get out!”

So, rather than wait for the shove, I jumped.

Other separations have followed in the 30 years since I hit that door running, or maybe cycling. Either the magazines have gone away or I have.

This month brings my departure from Adventure Cyclist. It was an amicable separation. Deputy editor Dan Meyer asked if I wanted to review a bike; I thought about it for a bit, then replied, “No, thanks.”

It may sound impulsive, but it really wasn’t. I have outlived Mike Deme, the editor who brought me aboard. His successor, Alex Strickland, has moved on to another job, as have colleagues John Schubert, Nick Legan, and others.

It’s been 10 years. The bike biz is moving in directions that mostly don’t interest me. I’m an old white guy who doesn’t need the work or the money and should really just get the hell out of the way.

Also, my last two pieces, about the New Albion Privateer and the march of technology, practically wrote themselves. This could not continue. Call it a premonition: By the pricking of my thumbs, something banjaxed this way comes.

So I jumped.

Mike and Adventure Cyclist came around at exactly the right time. I was in something of a rut, basically just going through the motions, and reviewing touring bikes forced me into new ways of thinking. Alex and Dan continued Mike’s generosity. I had big fun and made good money, and now it’s time someone else had a taste.

A thousand thank-yous to everyone who enjoyed my reviews. And if any of yis bought a bike on my say-so, may the road rise up to meet you. With the rubber side down, of course.

Lever action

May 7, 2021

Many’s the swab who dreams of being the cap’n, arr.

There was something of a “these kids today” thing happening on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast this week, and go figure — it struck a chord with me.

Maron was getting deep into the comedy weeds with fellow comic Mark Normand, talking about their backgrounds, their neuroses, how they became comics, standups they’ve worked with and admired, differences in style, the mechanics of jokes, lines and the crossing thereof, and whether the crossing is worth the caterwauling from a vocal subset of the audience getting their knickers in a twist over the outrage du jour.

They both agreed with Harry Shearer, who once told Maron, “The reason people do comedy is to control why people are laughing at them.” They both bitched about the gatekeepers with the God complexes who had the power to decide whether they would get any stage time Back in the Day.

And they both seemed astonished that anyone might think there’s a magical short cut to where they’ve gotten by dint of hard labor, some high-speed bypass that skirts the long and winding road.

Maron said it was his podcast that saved him in his mid-40s, at what seemed to be “the end of the line,” when he had no clue about what he might do next with his hard-won skill set.

And the idea that “we live in this world where it’s like all of a sudden everyone thinks they can do this” is “fucking annoying,” he added.

“We will all be immortalized as content.” — Marc Maron, “Too Real.”

“Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth,” said Archimedes, speaking of the lever. A lot of us feel the same way. With the right tool, we think, we can do anything.

Mmm … maybe not.

In my racket — and in Maron’s, too — it was the trickling down of technology from Olympus that led to delusions of grandeur here on earth. A MacBook Pro and Microsoft Office don’t make you a writer. A smartphone camera doesn’t make you a photographer. A microphone and a Libsyn account don’t make you a podcaster. The TikTok app doesn’t make you … well, to be honest, I have no idea what TikTok does to you. But whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Some of us who came to bike magazines through newspaper work used to give the old hee, and also the haw, to what we called “fans with laptops,” wanna-bes who thought devotion to cycling and/or the sport’s celebrities outweighed the craft of asking smart questions, remaining skeptical, and writing clean copy on deadline.

All you need is love? Not even The Beatles believed that shit.

“Podcasts are like babies. They’re too easy to make, and not everybody should have one.“ — Mark Normand on “WTF,” with Marc Maron

It’s one thing to play. We have all these cool toys now. We can blog, shoot videos, record podcasts, self-publish books, and broadcast email newsletters, all with a few keystrokes. Damn the gatekeepers, full speed ahead! Hold my beer and watch this! Slap it all up on the Innertubes, the modern equivalent of Mom’s refrigerator, the gallery for all your childhood scribbles.

But gigging is something else. Chops make a difference if you want to turn pro.

What annoyed me about fans with laptops — and what probably bugs Maron and Normand about amateur comics and podcasters — is that too many of them try to skip the whole boring learning-the-trade thing and step right to the pay window.

Sorry, man. No cuts. Maron got there ahead of you. And he ‘s not about to step out of line and go back to his day job. This is his day job.

“What am I prepared to do outside of show business? Nothing!” Maron said.

Preach, brother. Preach.

• Editor’s note: Incidentally, Mark Normand is a funny dude. He has a podcast or two, and you can catch his 2020 special “Out to Lunch” on YouTube.

Space cowboy

April 24, 2021

“Night has fallen on the desert.” That’s Ken Layne, beginning each episode of “Desert Oracle Radio.”

Daylight has fallen on the desert — and in celebration, I just dropped a few coppers into Desert Oracle Radio’s tin cup over to Patreon.

It felt overdue. I’ve been eavesdropping for free, the way you do when you can. But suddenly, while listening to this week’s episode, I thought: “If I’m gonna keep riding this old greydog through the Mojave, I should really buy a ticket.” So I did.

There’s a lot of talk lately about what new “technology platforms” are doing to “traditional media companies.” Yeah, I suppose. You get to write, or talk, or whatever, with a minimum of interference from “gatekeepers.” And if you’re lucky, maybe the audience will forget that information wants to be free, become subscribers, and kick a few Dead President Trading Cards your way.

Most of what I read about the newsletter boom centers on its threat to old-school newsgathering operations. But Will Oremus at Slate seems to hit the nail on the head when he notes that the Substackers are mostly about commentary and analysis, not straight, original reportage of the kind we used to get from our daily blats before Gannett snatched ’em up.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the commentariat has snuck off the reservation. Even in my little backwater, cycling journalism, management realized early on that “analysis” was a whole lot cheaper than sending staffers to the scene because it could be done on the cheap, at the office, where they could keep both eyes and at least one thumb on the indolent tippling slackers. No airline travel or rental cars, no hotel rooms or restaurant meals, no credentials, no worries. Plus the office has reliable internet. Crank up those MacBooks and pound out the thumbsuckers, bitches.

Now the commentariat has realized they don’t need management skimming the cream from their milking of the audience, assuming they’ve built one and can monetize maybe 10-15 percent of it. Good for them, and good for us, especially if it drives management at “traditional media companies” to think about actually suiting up for the game, which is to say covering the news.

As a bush-league blatherer myself I try to keep semi-informed, so I help nurture a variety of operations, from large to small, outfits and individuals I’d like to see thrive. The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Atlantic. Charles P. Pierce at Esquire. Adventure Journal. Padraig and the gang over at The Cycling Independent. And now Ken Layne at Desert Oracle.

Sometimes it’s about the news. Sometimes it’s about the commentary. I’m a sucker for a nice bit of writing, like I heard in last night’s Desert Oracle Radio episode. It put me in mind of some of the grumbling I’ve heard from Hal Walter lately as Weirdcliffe starts to seem a little too big for its Wranglers.

What if, some day … what if we stopped working hard and stopped doing what we’re told? What if we moved to little specks of towns all over the country? Not the places that already have an organic bakery and four coffee shops with more almond milk than coffee beans, but the places built for things that no longer happen and where nobody ever came up with another workable idea. Old mining towns, old cattle-ranch crossroads, the mostly abandoned towns on Nevada’s U.S. 50 or U.S. 6. The real Las Vegas, an hour east of the wealthy island of Santa Fe. Far-eastern Oregon and Washington state. Places where you could maybe afford a house for your family, your friends, whatever arrangement makes sense. Clean air; hopefully, enough water. Clean streams for fishing. Walk your dog out the back door and into the wild. Keep a garden to attract the bees and the hummingbirds. Why not? What are you waiting for?

Pocket change

February 22, 2021

Pocket should’ve changed its name to Sherwin-Williams,
because they pretty much cover the Earth.

Another day, another acquisition. Pocket Outdoor Media has snatched up Outside, Peloton, and athleteReg, and will be rebranding itself as Outside.

Here’s the story from Axios. Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, a POM product, has its own story here.

Robin Thurston, chairman of the new Outside, is said to dream of building “the Amazon Prime of the active lifestyle: a connected, holistic ecosystem of resources — including content, experiences, utilities, community, commerce, education, and services — that can be customized for each active lifestyle enthusiast.”

He’s certainly proven himself capable of financing his vision. Is bigger better? Is there strength in numbers? Depends on who’s crunching them, I guess.

Substacking the hay bales

February 11, 2021

Who is that masked man? Photo by Hal Walter.

My man Hal Walter is getting into the groove with his Substack newsletter.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, have a peek at the archives, and give it some thought.

His latest is about wearing the mask, something he was doing long before The Bug® came calling. When he’s not writing, editing, or wrangling his teenage son, Hal runs a jackass ranch, which means moving large quantities of hay around and about. Seems it helps to have something covering your face-holes to keep them from clogging up tighter than a bull’s butt in fly time.

In fact, everything I know about masks I have learned from hay. I’ve gotta figure over the years I’ve moved more than a quarter-million tons of the stuff by hand, and have eaten my share of dust, mold, pollen, fungi, actual grass and alfalfa, and no doubt been exposed to salmonella, tularemia and hantavirus in the process. At some point I started wearing a bandana, and then along came the face/neck gaiters. I’ve not moved any serious amount of hay without one since.

I mostly move serious amounts of words, which is easier on the snotlocker, and the lower back, too. Although I’ve thought on occasion while penning something particularly outrageous that wearing a catcher’s mask might be smart.

Poll dancing

January 15, 2021

My avocado toast is actually guacamole toast, but whatevs.

Some things should be a no-brainer.

This just in: Americans oppose militant dipshittery, though electing seditionists, traitors, and eejits is apparently A-OK.

Avocado toast, for example. You don’t need a Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,002 U.S. adults to know in your heart of hearts that a big-ass slice of homemade whole-wheat bread slathered with mashed avocado, onion, tomato, lime juice, and salt makes a delicious start to the morning.

And you’d think you don’t need a poll with an error margin of +/-3.5 percentage points to know that a riot is an ugly thing, especially when it involves the storming and sacking of the U.S. Capitol by the Village Idiot People.

But we got one anyway.

What the hell. Even Inspector Kemp was of two minds on the subject. You wanna know, you gotta ask, I guess.