An idiot sitting in her underwear in the basement, blogging

Posted on July 25, 2009


Always fresh-always ours

Ken Kamp’s signs at his Good Nature Farms farmstand on US 31 say Always fresh-always ours. A sound motto. I subscribe to it. It could be the motto for Torch Lake Views, but Ken got there first.

I am musing on this because former Detroit Free Press columnist Harry Cook, in the course of a talk on the subject of the death of newspapers, disparaged The Blogger in no uncertain terms.  According to John Tarrant, the publisher of the Antrim Review, the exact phrase was “an idiot sitting in his underwear in his basement blogging.”  (While I was working on this post Louan Lechler dropped by and commented that it should have been “in his mother’s basement.”) My ego reeled from the blow. Then I thought better of it. At least what’s here is Always Fresh and Always Mine.

When I lived in Detroit and the Free Press was the flagship of the proud Knight-Ridder empire, I read Cook’s columns with pleasure.  I read Remer Tyson’s reporting from Africa, too, and Jim Fitzgerald’s columns about Lum, and Mitch Albom’s sportswriting, and the musings of Judd Arnett, my neighbor in Grandmont.  I pretty much read the Free Press–and the Detroit News, they were different then–all the way through every day. 

But that was then and this is now.  The newspapers I loved are shadows of their former selves, and it has been a long, long time since enterprise journalism was the norm there.  “It’s just too expensive,” publishers say. “Print can’t compete with the internet.” In my view, it wasn’t the internet that put newspapers in their current predicament. The decline began with the advent of USA Today–television in print–and with the shift from Walter Cronkite to Entertainment Tonight on the tube, and the shift from J.P. McCarthy on WJR to rant radio all around the dial.  Newspapers chased the lowest common denominator, focusing on celebrity over substance, haring after the weird rather than the significant, filling space with generic AP stories rather than solid in-house reporting.  People could read endlessly about the exploits of some “entertainer” but search in vain for a helpful story on what the heck the local school board was up to.  So was that the newspapers’ fault or our own? Did they misread us, or did we stop reading them in favor of junkfood for the mind?

If good newspapers die, we will all be the poorer for it.  Meanwhile there are plenty of laid-off reporters and editors who are trying to figure out how to make a living in the new online environment.  There are trivial blogs, just as there have always been trivial newspaper stories and silly magazines.  There are also wonderful blogs about real news, real people, real places.  A lot of us are writing online columns rather than hard news, but we take them seriously and work hard on them. Blogs offer self-serve stories. You pays your time (and your ISP) and you takes your choice.


So here I am, sitting in my underwear–pajamas really, the kind that can, in a pinch, be worn to walk the dogs of a morning. And the basement part, well, that’s wrong too. The Writing Studio & Bait Shop is on a crawlspace, and it’s much nicer to sit at the desk and look out at the wooded drumlins and ponder what to write next. It takes a long time, as I am an idiot. So, um, that’s two items out of three that Cook got wrong. Maybe dinner speakers should have editors, too . . . or at least fact-checkers.

I agree with Cook that the fundamental weakness of the blogosphere is that–right now–there are few trustworthy arbiters of ethics, accuracy, taste. Bloggers do not have editors. It is not much like the journalism I grew up with. Or maybe it’s exactly like the journalism I grew up with, ranging from excellent to appalling, challenging to absurd. It is the reader’s responsibility to read critically, to decide how much credence to give any story in any medium. Test, weigh, compare with other sources and with our own life experience.

The people I write about know me and know where I live and where I work at my day job and where I work at my other day job. They do not hesitate to tell me when I have gotten it wrong.  I care about them and about all of us as a community and while I often write in what I consider to be a humorous vein, I take my responsibility to them–to us–very seriously.

End of rant.  Tomorrow, another Photo by Babs, another odd corner of Antrim County explored, another weed, another tale about Miss Sadie and the Cowboy.  Who knows?  But you can bet your underwear it won’t be a rewarmed story from a national syndicate.  Instead, it will tell you some little something about who we are at this moment in history in this little Township in northern Michigan–with the occasional little daytrip . . .

Who we are