Who Killed The Daily Papers?

There’s been lots written on-line this week about the foolishness of the Minnesota Star-Tribune. It started here with James Lileks Monday blog entry.

The buzz all week long is that papers are killing themselves by mis-handling their opportunities with this new media – the internet.

Maybe. I blame Lou Grant, myself. Actually, the first incarnation, the character played by Ed. Asner in the Mary Tyler Moore sit-com was pretty funny. But in the second incarnation the same character, played by the same actor was exactly different. Um, humorless, self-righteous, a sanctimonious blow-hard who’s preachy attitude became mostly unwatchable. And that was on a good day.

I appreciated the show, and in fact, I thought the cast was generally fabulous (especially Nancy Marchand, who lated went on to play Livia in The Sopranos. Hard to believe the same woman played both characters so well).

But that great cast made the serious mistake of portraying the people in the news industry accurately. Perhaps it was Watergate, or Bernstein and Woodward, or maybe it was the movie version.
The press changed. Look at how the press was portrayed in this trailer, or in this. Now in both stories, you may remember that the press plays a not-insignificant role in the story-line. In Mr. Smith, the press plays the James Stewart character for a fool and rube, propelling him to action. They do this the way junior high-schoolers spur each other on, with cheap lies and easy flattery. Through the Thin Man series, the press is used, along with petty crooks and bar-keeps, to highlight Nick’s low-class origins. They (the press) are of that ilk, and were assumed to be by nearly everyone in the 20s, 30s and 40s, when those movies were made. That’s why those movies did so well. People bought the portrayal, and it was an easy sell.

But by the time Lou Grant aired, 60 Minutes represented journalism. It was now a profession, and its chief practitioners were celebrities.

So who was more correct? – The images of the press in the 30s? or the Dustin Hoffman portrait in the ’70s? That’s a bad way to put it. They’re probably both right. The press is just reverting to type, that’s all.

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One Comment on “Who Killed The Daily Papers?”


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