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Enough of David Simon, Give Me David Broder

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dave Kindred, Jan 20, 2008.

  1. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    David Simon is brilliant. He demands and is due attention. But I've had more than enough of the vitriol he spews on newspapers. What he thinks newspapers were, and what he thinks they ought to be, is unrealistic. Newspapers never were the all-powerful engines of social good that he so desperately conjures from the fog of the '70s and '80s; whatever good came of newspapers' work then was no different from the good they did in generations before. He suffers from the narcissist's idea that his generation was The First With a Social Conscience, a journalistic version of Halberstam's failed "best and brightest." Newspapers, even enfeebled by today's economic crises, are better journalistically than they were 30 years ago. Go to reference and look at a 1978 front page. Read the feature section, metro, sports. Everywhere, today is better.

    Few people love newspapers more than I do and few believe more in the ideals of journalism. But I am a realist. Newspapers are not literature. They are not art. They are not social engineers. They are journals reporting the news as they find it. They can not give a David Simon a year to do a change-the-world project. Newspapers come out daily, the cycle remorseless, the best metaphor that written by Ray Ring in "Arizona Kiss." He said being a newspaperman is like running in front of a giant threshing machine. Slow down, the steel blades chew you up. Your only hope is to throw stories into the maw, to slow the monster down a day or two. But then it starts up again, the blades coming to mangle your ass.

    David Simon's talent is breathtaking. But if we're talking newspapers, give me David Broder. In his 1979 speech accepting a Pulitzer prize for commentary, the Washington Post's man said that instead of the bogus promise, "All the News That's Fit to Print," he would rather have newspapers say:

    "The newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours -- distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the very process of compression that makes it possible for you to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour. If we labeled the product accurately, then we could immediately add: But it's the best we could do under the circumstances, and we will be back tomorrow with a corrected and updated version."
  2. Dave --
    Broderella passed his sell-by date when he contributed to the loathsome Sally Quinn's piece on the Clinton's with the memorable "They came in and trashed the place and it's not their place" line. He's spent the succeeding seven years eating quail on the porch with the execrable Karl Rove and wringing his hands over the fact that the country has not yet seen the wisdom of handing the government over to the hacks who still return his phone calls.
    I don't know anything about Simon, but Broder's been an enabler of the worst things in government for nearly 15 years.
  3. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    Not talking politics, Fens, talking journalism. And quoting the man from the height of his powers, 30 yrs ago.
  4. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    Dave, I have no idea why Simon is so mad at newspapers. He was out making a bundle with his talents in other ways long before the disasters of the last 10 years.
    I know where he's coming from, but I tend to agree with Chris Rock. The more rich and famous you are, the less I want to hear you complain.
  5. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    Is he mad at newspapers, or two guys?
  6. I think when you do journalism badly -- or worse, sycophantically -- you do the profession much more damage than the complaints of David Simon ever will.
  7. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    I'm not arguing Broder's journalistic performance.
    My argument is that Broder's view of newspapers, as represented in his Pulitzer speech, is more realistic than Simon's of today and more likely to produce good newspapers.
  8. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    Everything I've ever read or watched of David Simon's is pretty much brilliant.

    But, yeah, if I read one more big long breakdown of the spat between him and Carroll/Marimow, essentially over the question of whether we should do great work to win Pulitzers or to expose the deep, complex ills of society (and why can't we do both?), well, it'll have been one too many.

    That said, his essay in the upcoming Esquire is pretty beautiful.
  9. SockPuppet

    SockPuppet Active Member

    I think most of SportsJournalists.com nation have an idea what good journalism is and what good newspapers should be. And those in the daily newspaper biz understand _ and appreciate_ the daily feed-the-beast grind.
    The problem, folks, is the people who own/manage papers ain't got Clue One. We can debate all the other stuff but until that changes we're just wasting air and posts.
  10. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    And isn't that what we should be struggling against? Against that haste, incompletion and distortion in favor of trying to tell the real stories out there?

    This gets at what someone on here (or somewhere) wrote about The Wire recently, that it's kind of about a struggle between those who see the world as it is (Burrell & Rawls, the top editors at the Post, other bureaucratic interests) and those who want to change the way the world is (McNulty, the city editor, Bunny Colvin). Of course, Simon, being a world-changer, is almost pathologically sympathetic to the second camp. Which leads to shallow portraits of people in the first camp. Broder would likely fall into the "world the way it is" category.
  11. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I completely disagree, Dave, and the guy you reference, Ray Ring, is a great example of why.

    In the 1980s, Ring's midsized newspaper in Tucson allowed him the resources to spend months chasing great stories. With the permission of state prison officials, Ring went undercover as a prisoner (another reporter went undercover at a different prison as a guard) and got the holy fuck beaten out of him. (Today they'd probably want him to do podcasts from his cell.) The 40-page, no-advertising special section contained the F-word, I believe more than once.

    The other huge difference is that true non-conformists like Ring had their place in many newsrooms. Today what passes for "edginess" is the safe kind, personalities acquired off sitcoms. Anyone who is truly different is too threatening to the generally less courageous editors of today.

    Ring still works, by the way, and still wins some pretty good journalism awards. Except he's not at a mainstream paper. For quite a while, he's been on the staff of the High Country News. Here's his latest:


    Also, Ring's metaphor said that you can slow the thresher by throwing it a story too massive to eat whole. He got to do such huge stories. Not many people have that opportunity 25 years later.
  12. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    Frank, good stuff....I read Ring in the High Country News as recently as this morning...but answer me this: wasn't he the exception then even as he is now? Somehow, we've come to believe that newspapers 30 years ago were filled with super talent doing super work when the truth is the super talent doing super work was as rare then as it is now....Newspapers are lucky when that super talent shows up, luckier when it stays on the job rather than chase the fame and money the talent deserves...so it has always been with newspapers, or else Ben Hecht would have stayed, and Hemingway, and Talese, and, good God, Gabriel Garcia Marquez....to argue otherwise is to argue against the economic reality that has shaped newspapering for 125 years....you think Kornheiser would have chased ESPN if the Post paid him $3 million a year?....
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