It’s daily-newspaper subscription-renewal time here at the Plaisted household. The Journal Sentinel Inc. wants $75.05 to deliver its dwindling product to my doorstep (what once landed with a thud now floats to the ground like a wounded butterfly) every morning for the next six months. Hmm...what to do, what to do....
This week’s purge of some of the paper’s best veteran writers is not a good sign. Coverage of the arts took a disastrous hit in this round with the loss of Dave Tianen on music, Tim Cuprisin on TV/radio, Tom Strini on classical music and Damien Jaques on theater. I assume they are folding that local arts tent altogether – look for more wire-service Brittany updates on the back of the Local page (for as long as they keep up the facade of separate sections). The business page is losing its most high-profile voice of diversity, Tannette Johnson-Elie, and they are going to have to find someone else to shill for the school "choice" industry with the loss of Alan Borsuk. Even the Letters editor, the lovely and talented Sonya Jongsma Knauss, is getting shit-canned or reassigned.
The decimation of the paper’s staff has had a dramatic effect on the simplest of journalistic tasks. I was shocked this morning when I saw a story on page 3B about the preliminary hearing for a man accused of shooting two police officers in Walkers Point early this summer – an event that caused quite a bit of hysterical coverage when it happened. The paper couldn’t even get a reporter to the courtroom to cover the hearing in person.
- "A Milwaukee police officer testified in court Friday that he felt a burning sensation and immense pain in his shoulder and leg after he and another officer were shot on the city’s near south side, WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported."
Wha? As "WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported"? "In testimony recorded by Channel 4..." the story continued. "Burton was bound over for trial and pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to on-line state court records." Where the hell was the J-S reporter? Obviously not in the courtroom, from which newspaper reporters have always reported their stories since the beginning of time. What is going on here? The entire article was apparently generated from the reporter’s desk, as he (Jesse Garza) watched TV and CCAP’ed the proceeding on the internet. This isn’t reporting – it’s tweeting. The late, great courthouse reporter for the paper, David Doege, would never have put his name on such impersonal, second-hand drivel.
While the paper abandons any pretense of basic crime reporting and arts coverage, it is more than willing to hand over acres of its shrinking editorial real estate to right-wing nuts like Patrick McIlheran, Mike Nichols (who doesn’t even have a desk there anymore), and nationally-syndicated cartoonists like Michael Rameriez (including gems like repeating wing-nut talking points about who doesn’t have health insurance). It seems the Kings of State Street think they can make it through another Packer season (there is a reason why, in the midst of all this staff-cutting, they maintain five Packer beat reporters) before they have to face the ultimate consequences of the deadly combination of the death of the newspaper-industry economic model and their own bad decisions and incompetence.
The reasons to keep this charade I have going with the local newspaper are getting fewer and fewer. Just because I need a newspaper in my hands while I drink coffee in the morning, is that worth throwing more money at an institution that is committing corporate suicide right before my eyes? And what good is it if the paper is so thin and the substance so worthless that I am done with it before the first cup is cold? Besides, can’t I get something still-decent like the New York Times delivered? (Answer: Yes.)