Journalism and Mental Illness
What Makes Us Nuts
Ten o’clock on publish day is a watershed moment. By ten we’ve usually been working for four hours, outlining the edition’s content and even thinking about the layout, and we have at least the bones of two articles and a press release or two. If we have to check facts or (God Forbid) call a government or corporate liar for information, we start calling at 8:00 even though at that hour their hands are clutching coffee and a muffin so all you ever get is voicemail. The exception: Sierra County offices. The chances of getting a human if calling during normal business hours is about 85%.
Calling a corporate or government official is “pumping a dry hole”. Calling a government or corporate spokesperson is usually an artesian well of bullshit. If you want to be lied to and treated like an idiot I have a list of numbers to call at SPI, NVE and many others.
It’s ten o’clock now and we have almost nothing. The Board of Supervisors meeting was stupefying, and not in a good way. The wheels of government crept forward a notch. We can whip some of it and make it whinny like news, but it won’t race. We’ll be lucky to get 200 words and a link or two out of the board meeting.
That leaves two choices: The Press Release Mill, or analtainment- analysis and entertainment, in other words, pull something out of wherever.
Gleaning press releases is humiliating, it’s an admission that the creative staff are so devoid of energy and ideas that they’ll put up government propaganda, or worse, re-write it to look like a reporting piece. Journalists who do that sell their blood to buy cheap wine, or occasionally cheap scotch.
That leaves analtainment. There are a couple of sources of grist for this mill; local politics in which nothing has recently happened but for which we’re all waiting; recent bug-nuts regulations from the feds or state; election updates from Secretary of State Debra Bowen, which have to be rationed until we’re closer to November.
At 10:10 none of those look great. Back at 9:45 I stooped to sending this email to Don Russell, at the Mountain Messenger Newspaper:
OK, I have:
150,000 for the general plan; public input, whatever
FEMA too freaking late, sorry
dirty nv power claims
something else from the board i forget what
You got anything better than that you'd like to reveal?
I hate to do it, if he has something and shares it with me, I’ll owe him. If he has nothing, he might blow smoke up my skirt and send me all over the county asking stupid questions about something he made up. Doing this kind of news business with Don is like buying cocaine from a shadowy figure near the source in the Andes; you might end up with pure stuff, or your bones might feed the worms at the bottom of some endless rumor canyon.
I check email at 10:16. Viagra over the internet? For a second it’s tempting but then I realize it would only be a momentary diversion at best, and wouldn’t produce anything I could go to press with.
With nothing to interest me I become frantic: if I can’t get interested in it, how can I interest you?
I check the press releases. Governor Schwarzenegger called the legislature’s futile dry humping over the budget “kabuki,” referring to the deeply ritualized style of Japanese dance theater. If Arnold is coming up with this stuff himself, he’s smarter than he looks.
But, it isn’t news that the legislature can’t agree on a budget, nor is it news that Schwarzenegger wants to take the money from pensions, and from the people who can least afford to lose state support. He even blames pensioners and the state unions for taking food out of the mouths of the poor. Now, we’ve shifted from kabuki to Noh, where there is one central actor who defines the play. With Arnold in the lead role it’s Meh theater.
10:38 Email check. Work from home on your computer. Right, great idea.
Like doctors, many journalists drink and do drugs. Moments like this are why, but instead I look for a bag of salt and vinegar chips I stashed.
I look through the news feeds. Some right wing Christian fundamentalist wants to burn the Quran on 9-11, as though it were patriotic and pleasing to God to burn the religious books of other people. The irony is that Muslims view the Quran not as standing alone, but as the final in a series of holy books which include the Torah and the Gospel of Christ. Not really news that there are nut cases who can’t live without viewing the world in black and white. How much more comforting it is to have someone to hate and fear, instead of living with the more complex concerns of the real world. Still, I did a piece on hatred and stupidity recently.
What a blessing the Sierra Nevada Conservancy visit was. I’ve already milked that coconut, though.
Eleven o’clock; email check. More Viagra? Does someone out there think I’m horny and frustrated? Writer’s block isn’t the kind of limpie that can cure.
Secretary of State Barbara Bowen. Prop 19; pot bill, have already done it to death. Prop 20 redistricting; affirms what’s already happening. Prop 21, steal $18 bucks from everyone with a car to give to the state parks; kiss my bumper. I’ll rag on that in October. Prop 22, a law to stop the legislature from stealing from the counties. Ha ha ha! Why not pass a law prohibiting farting on elevators? Whatever, I’ll probably vote for it. Prop 23, the anti AB32; know-nothings put money today ahead of an economy tomorrow. It’s what happens when you get a job instead of going to school.
Quarter after eleven. Fish and Game press releases. $2.85 Million Released to Restore San Pablo Bay Marshlands; Chevron Provides Funds to Compensate for Historical Contamination. How can I make that sound like it happened in Sierra County?
Finally, an email from Russell:
Not that I'm aware of, but what little awareness I had got killed at
that really boring meeting.
Two-thirds of the local press, stupefied by a Bored Meeting. Photo by Lee Adams
At least the Viagra ad suggested I’d have sex with a hot older gal.
Well, there’s little point in delaying the inevitable, I have to write about something.
I know… Cultural Imperialism.