Archive for May, 2009

You S’News, You Lose

By Steve Klinger

We just canceled our longstanding subscription to the Las Cruces Sun-News. This had been a long time brewing, and today we feel like liberated people.

A daily newspaper has been a long-engrained habit for my generation, but as much of the industry heads over the falls, it’s time for newspaper companies to do the only thing they have left (other than enhancing their online products), and that’s to try to salvage their remaining subscriber business by starting with a major mea culpa: They need to acknowledge they have been arrogant and complacent beyond all justification.

Yes, newspapers were pretty much the only game in town for certain types of news and advertising for about a century, but those days are about as dead as your 8-track tape player.

The service rep asked Kathy why we were canceling (a foolhardy question) and Kathy started to recite our litany of complaints:

1) The quality of the “journalism” has declined steadily, and it started from mediocrity
a) Lame, obvious, puff-piece “news” on the front page day after day, with recent lead stories ranging from Mother’s Day to Graduation to School’s Out, including a staged photo of LCPS students tossing their homework in the air in a recent edition
b) Ignoring or burying serious national and global news
c) Ignoring dissent such as anti-war protests, even at a time when hundreds of Las Cruces were marching through the streets
d) Constant rah-rah endorsement of military, veterans, local growth, the Spaceport, not only on news pages but in the self-serving propaganda pieces that masquerade as editorials
e) Non-existent copy editing, with so many typos, dropped stories and repeated stories that these “employees” would not have passed a high school English class back in the day

2) Utter lack of respect for readers and subscribers
a) Last week we got a Silver City edition delivered to our home in Las Cruces because apparently no one bothered to look at the front page before rolling it up and tossing it in our yard
b) The constantly shrinking page width, and the ridiculous 10-column classified and legal pages
c) This week, the point size of the type was reduced, without a word of explanation
d) Arrogant billing policies whereby our credit card has been automatically debited at six-month intervals without our consent (our own fault for not objecting immediately) so that we’re actually paying a higher rate for the “self-renewing” subscription we never ordered
e) Consolidation with the El Paso Times, which has resulted in pathetically early deadlines, a classified section made up mostly of El Paso ads, and a declining sense that the Sun-News is a local, Las Cruces publication. After shipping its press to Farmington and eliminating its Las Cruces copy desk, the latest move has been a near-complete style makeover that has left the paper looking just like the El Paso Times.

Kathy didn’t itemize quite all of the above, but she could have if the service rep had been interested in hearing more. We’re obviously not alone in rejecting this rag, as it’s clear that advertising has diminished along with news coverage, local classifieds and probably the number of subscriptions (we’d have to obtain an ABC audit to verify that, but I’m pretty confident).

The mainstream news media, and especially metro daily newspapers, are clearly an endangered species, thanks in part to the Internet; the trend in declining circulation and advertising has of course been exacerbated by the economy. But the years of inflated ad rates and an attitude that newspapers are above accountability and can put on a face of objectivity even as they further their own capitalistic agenda (promoting endless growth, militarism, insensitivity to social justice) has given us a media that does not serve the people. In hard times, the people will pull the plug, exactly as they are doing. And they won’t be plugging back in anytime soon.

It will be a shock to go cold turkey the first few days, but we’ll do more on-line reading, we’ll have less paper to deal with and our self-esteem will go up just from quitting that nasty, expensive Sun-News habit.

I believe in quality journalism. I’ve been influenced by it, I’ve taught it and I try to practice it. I believe there is still a place for printed newspapers, though mostly on the community level, where the local news coverage and commentary are less readily available by other means. Democracy needs the watchdog effort that newspapers and other media with integrity provide. You won’t find it in the Sun-News.

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On Pressuring Obama (and Heinrich)

By Jeanne Pahls

Lately we have received some criticism of demonstrations we have organized/discussed against Martin Heinrich and Barack Obama.  I’d like to suggest some food for thought on this.

We live in an empire, as all of us know.  Our new president has a past history of openness to many of our progressive issues, and is a president of empire.  He is a president of empire.  The best thing we can do for any elected official, especially one that tends to think in our direction, is to be out there shouting for what we think is right.  Hopefully we are not out there protesting decisions of the Republicans, but of the Democrats (or any elected official who is undecided or wrongly decided on an issue).  Do we think that the military-industrial complex or the Robber Class or any empire profiteer is not putting kubuku pressure on Barack Obama, Martin Heinrich, etc?

We need to be out there.  We need to be as present in every way as we were with W and his group.  We have a responsibility as citizens of this country who see the deaths in Palestine, the hungry kids in New Mexico, the destroyed families of Iraq, the unbelievable wealth of the military-industrial complex, to be persistent in our call for officials to do the right thing.  Our experience has been that elected officials are glad to be able to stand up for what we call for, and that they are willing to take courageous stands for these things IF WE ARE OUT THERE STANDING UP AND CALLING LOUDLY FOR THEM.

When President Obama began his inaugural address, these were among the first sentences he uttered:

“The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents. So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.”

When I heard these words, I heard him calling on citizens of the U.S. to continue to pressure and call for what their ideals call for, as any good community organizer would.  Wouldn’t any elected official with any kind of integrity hope that their constituency would call for the best of actions on his or her part?  That would free him or her up to do the right thing, even if AIPAC or Lockheed was breathing down his neck.  Even if the Democratic Party was directing him to do otherwise.  Even if “political expediency” or “pragmatism” was directing him to do otherwise.

Please, as a peace movement, let us not make excuses for our political officials:  “He’s being politically expedient.”  “He’s being pragmatic.”  A wrong decision is a wrong decision and it is our duty as citizens of conscience to point it out, directly, honestly, loudly.  If some of us want to be on the inside listening to a speech, or inside the office meeting with the official instead of protesting, that is good.  These things are needed.

But for those of you who criticize us who organize a protest to call for the elected official (be he Obama or Heinrich or anyone else) to vote now with integrity, please consider:

Almost all the money in the world right now is on the side of swaying both political parties, and therefore your elected official, to do the wrong thing in terms of human needs vs the military industrial complex/robber class.

You and we and some other financially strapped organizations and financially strapped families worldwide are what is on the side of urging our officials to choose for human needs and healing instead.

We will be out on the streets loudly calling for what is right.  We will not “give the guy a chance and wait” – time is short in a bloodthirsty empire and we all have a responsibility here.  We offer no apologies for our demonstrations calling for integrity on the part of elected Democrats.  We offer no apologies for calling for elected officials to vote with integrity rather than “political expediency” or “pragmatism” or “at the direction of the Democratic Party.”  We invite you to join us.

Jeanne Pahls is Co-founder and Co-director of Stop the War Machine, based in Albuquerque.

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The Great 2009 Swine Flu Media Pandemic

By Steve Klinger

The governor brought his traveling health SWAT team to Las Cruces on Monday, to give southern New Mexicans a New Mexico perspective on the swine flu and what the state is doing to monitor and contain the outbreak.

Other than a photo op and an amusing moment when Richardson jokingly tried to hand an off-topic question about the College of Santa Fe to HSD Secretary, Dr. Alfredo Vigil (it was a question, the governor said, about the health of the college) there wasn’t a whole lot of  compelling or new information. There were instead, a lot of expressions of concern and advice to practice good hygiene, keep sick kids at home and stay calm (which Richardson repeated in Spanish. There were repeated explanations about why all school athletics is being shut down, though only 14 schools have been closed so far. And one bright journalistic light had to have an additional point-by-point explanation of how schools that closed would be at a competitive disadvantage if other school teams could continue playing and practicing.

Most of the speakers somewhat defensively observed that some people think authorities are overreacting. Vigil insisted the H1N1 virus is a big deal, because it’s a new strain to which no in the world has immunity. Reminding his audience that 30-40,000 people die of seasonal flu annually in the United States, he said the swine flu “could cause widespread problems” even if it proves to be mild.

I don’t buy into theories that federal officials are magnifying the dangers of the outbreak as a “diversion” to distract the public from all the bad economic news, but I wouldn’t say the media can be so easily exonerated. Anderson Cooper has sounded like he’s describing the Black Death, and our own Las Cruces Sun-News has found a new purpose for its sleepy front page, blasting bold-faced headlines about the flu crisis along the border and carrying ‘expert’ opinions about a flu death rate of 10 percent – enough to send nervous readers right into their HazMat suits. When a six-year-old boy died after becoming sick at school last week, the S’news was fanning public fears it might have been the swine flu, even though neither school nor medical officials offered that connection in announcing the death.

What we do seem to have is a media pandemic: a newspaper industry on life-support and ratings-hungry cable news channels that seem to have been simultaneously afflicted by a control syndrome whereby they are compulsively driven to play the fear card to keep the public’s interest by scaring them half to death with a steady barrage of hyperbole, interspersed with reminders to stay calm, which in the border region must always be repeated in Spanish. It’s a little like yelling “smoke” in a crowded theatre; the f-word is painstakingly avoided but the panic button is being caressed if not actually pressed.

Well, I certainly hope you weren’t looking for any actual information on avoiding the swine flu or even washing your hands properly. This is a blog, damn it. And bloggers do what they want. Especially when the world is coming to an end and no one can afford a decent burial.

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