Friday, May 1, 2009

Maureen Dowd, Stop Your Damn Crying!

Things change. It’s a basic fact of life. Things that were once popular become niche-ridden fads. The last ten years have seen the evaporation of record stores, the rise and fall of five-dollar lattes and the end of VHS. Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain. Most clear-minded individuals understand this circle, with a notable exception. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has spent a good part of this year whining about the potential demise of the newspaper industry. This has required little journalistic or literary skill, just complete jealousy toward the media that is supplanting her. The collapse of the newspaper industry has happened at a remarkable pace, a thought that probably never occurred to the Pulitzer Prize winner as she toasted the construction of the massive New York Times building almost a decade ago.

It should be noted that Ms. Dowd is a wealthy woman. If her precious position at the Times is eliminated, her life (but possibly not her influence) will go on. Most likely, you will not see her at the local food shelf or selling her belongings and property to raise money just to survive. She can use her decades of connections and awards, land another book deal, become a talking head on a cable news network or God forbid use her exceptional writing ability in another format. I hear “Marmaduke” is in need of a good ghost writer.

Ms. Dowd’s incessant criticism and mocking of Twitter and Google News reveals her to be nothing but a spoiled, grown-up brat who is always used to getting her way. Nobody likes having their baby taken away. Be it the moronic hair bands of the eighties getting their party ticket crushed by Nirvana, auto companies discovering their monster trucks are no longer saleable to the masses or political parties realizing their ideology appeals to an ever-shrinking minority, everyone cries a little when the tide turns against them. Most people realize they have to buck up, find a way to reinvent your product and hope your message resonates with a modern audience. Apparently, Ms. Dowd believes she is entitled to her position regardless of any major economic shifts and has chosen to use her over-inflated salary to defend her soon to be extinct industry and her own status as a member of the elite media. There is a reason Bob Dylan never writes songs about his lack of record sales. It is insulting to the audience and pathetic to endure.

There are bigger issues to discuss regarding the newspaper industry than Maureen Dowd’s precious employment. Is it really so awful that the internet has provided almost infinite sources to get the news, leaving the reader to choose the medium to get content? In a supposed free-market society, shouldn’t this “evening of the playing field” benefit journalism as a whole? Why isn’t Ms. Dowd invigorated to have to compete for readership alongside the likes of Meghan McCain, Harry Shearer or Nikolas Sarkozy? Competition should bring out the best in people, except for those who prefer that there is none. Maybe Ms. Dowd is afraid of losing all those sweet business expenses; the free plane rides, lunches and dinners with the political elite? When she flies across the country to interview a person for a column that is is not long enough to qualify as an undergrad paper, I have a good assumption she is not paying for a darn thing.

The hubris of the newspaper industry is staggering. Most of these dinosaur papers believe they have the inalienable right to make the news rather than just report it. They take sides, show bias on one side of an issue over another and pay themselves handsomely in the process. This philosophy used to enable writers to get scoops and favors, which help in attempting to garner the almighty Pulitzer. However, this concept has devolved into a sense of pure entitlement. The inauguration of President Barack Obama was covered by every news network in the known universe, yet most major newspapers forked over thousands of dollars to send correspondents to witness the event live even as their parent companies stock value continued to disintegrate. This sense of entitlement in a Web 2.0 world is laughable. The belief that a newspaper can provide an authoritarian influence over public opinion is the same as General Motors’ fallacy of Hummer-hungry humanoids willing to pay five bucks for a gallon of gas.

This “same as it ever was, same as it ever was” attitude has doomed newspaper as well as big auto to almost certain devolution, if not all-out extinction. Maureen Dowd’s columns are not just printed in the New York Times, but are circulated nation-wide to an ever-dwindling readership. Papers have made the ill-fated choice to circle the wagons and protect their own, rather than publish op-eds by local writers. Similar to General Motors’ attitude toward Japanese automakers like Toyota, if they pretend there is not a threat to supremacy, than the threat is nonexistent. However, why should I (or any other reader) take the time to read the old-school columnists when I can pick and choose from an almost infinite amount of websites and blogs which have writers who are taking more chances, handling more controversial subjects and are just plain better. I can read columnists such as Ken Rosenthal and Jim Ross who cater to subjects I am interested in rather than be forced to ingest overrated writers like Garrison Keillor and Ms. Dowd. Given the choice, I’ll take the literary smackdown of Good ‘ol J.R. any day.

The one fundamental difference between the plight of Ms. Dowd and the thousands of unemployed (or soon to be unemployed) autoworkers is sadly economical. Displaced autoworkers have not only lost their job, but may lose their pension, healthcare or even their house. Whether she chooses to admit it or not, Maureen Dowd has influence and affluence, something most other folks could only dream to possess. Yet her pain is somehow more important, as she has chosen to broadcast it all over the country while the guy that just received his pink slip from Chrysler has little time to complain as he figures out a way to provide for his family. This lack of understanding and empathy is unfortunately typical for the newspaper industry, which only sees the plight of others through a champagne glass. The millions of individuals getting their news through the internet have recognized this arrogance and have responded with click after click to new forms of media. The internet is not to blame but the failure to recognize and adapt to a 21st Century society most certainly is. Maureen Dowd, stop your damn crying! Welcome to the future. Deal with it.

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