Newspapers, The Wire, Star Tribune, and the T-Wolves

Newspapers are on the way out. My friend Jules has been telling me this for years. I saw two more big pieces of evidence this week.

First, i read the fantastic article in Esquire called “A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back” by David Simon, the creator of The Wire. The article is a tribute to the paper he once loved and worked at and an inside look at how it came to suck so bad. In a piece of the article, he explains how he came to understand that the newspaper was dead. It reads…

Admittedly, I can’t even grasp all of the true and subtle costs of impact journalism and prize hunger. I don’t yet see it as a zero-sum game in which a serious newspaper would cover less and less of its city — eliminating such fundamental responsibilities as a poverty beat, a labor beat, a courthouse beat in a city where rust-belt unemployment and crime devour whole neighborhoods — and favor instead a handful of special select projects designed to catch the admiring gaze of a prize committee.

I have no way of knowing that for all of its claims to renewed greatness, The Sun will glean three Pulitzers in twelve years, as compared to, uh, three Pulitzers awarded to The Sun and its yet-to-be-shut-down evening edition during the twelve years prior — a scorecard that matters only to a handful of résumés and means nothing to the thousands of readers soon asked to decide whether they need a newspaper that covers less of their world.

I can’t yet see that what ails The Baltimore Sun afflicts all newspapers, that few, if any, of the gray ladies are going to be better at what they do, that most will soon be staring at a lingering slide into mediocrity.

I only know, as I hang up the editing-suite phone, that I’ve lost my religion, that too much of what I genuinely loved is gone. I turn to David Mills, my co-producer on the HBO project. He’d worked with me on the college paper, then at The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Washington Post. But we wrote that first television script together, and when I returned to the metro desk, he went to Hollywood, never looking back.

“Brother,” I say, “we got out just in time.”

This article is good and i’m a HUGE fan of The Wire and i’m plowing through season 4 right now. If you’re not familiar with the show, check out a season. I recently read a good article in Atlantic Monthly about Simon and how he’s sticking it to the Baltimore Sun. They had a good description of the show, saying..

The show hasn’t been a big commercial success. It’s never attracted a viewership to rival that of an HBO tent-pole series, like The Sopranos or even the short-lived Deadwood. It isn’t seen as a template for future TV dramas, primarily because its form more or less demands that each season be watched from the beginning. Whereas each episode of The Sopranos advanced certain overarching plot points but was essentially self-contained, anyone who tries to plumb the complexities of The Wire by tuning in at mid-season is likely to be lost. If the standard Hollywood feature is the film equivalent of a short story, each season of Simon’s show is a 12- or 13-chapter novel.

Some years ago, Tom Wolfe called on novelists to abandon the cul-de-sac of modern “literary” fiction, which he saw as self-absorbed, thumb-sucking gamesmanship, and instead to revive social realism, to take up as a subject the colossal, astonishing, and terrible pageant of contemporary America. I doubt he imagined that one of the best responses to this call would be a TV program, but the boxed sets blend nicely on a bookshelf with the great novels of American history.

But speaking of newspapers, the second piece of information i was sent this week was that my local Minnesota paper, The Star Tribune, is laying off 60 people (article here). I definitely rely on the paper for Timberwolves/Twins/Vikings scores and news. It’s my lifeline for inside and biased information. Luckily, i have recently discovered a few T-wolves blogs that are going to now be my go-to for sports news. If you’re looking for one, canishoopus is pretty good.


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