There is s**t in the newspaper. Literally.

March 4, 2009

Warning: This posting contains course language that may offend some readers. Parental discretion is advised.

It’s become painfully obvious that newspapers are quickly becoming extinct. They are sinking into a quagmire of debt and advertiser/reader apathy while destroying the careers of talented journalists in the process.I know — I’m one of those journalists.

Welcome to Job Oblivion, my fellow scribblers. We’re forming a line over there, right beside the Betamax repairmen.

But when there are no more newspapers, what happens to the little old lady?

Before you start thinking I’ve been sniffing my sweaty watchband again, let me explain.

I’ve worked at several newspapers in several countries, starting with the Langley Times. And, especially with the smaller, community-focused papers, there was always this great unspoken fear in the newsroom that something we produced would offend someone, somewhere.

A good production day would see the paper put to bed before the print deadline, filled with snappy headlines, eye-catching photographs and a minimum of typos. Oh, and nothing controversial that could provoke some shriveled bitty to put aside her darning, turn down the volume on Days of Our Lives, and ring the publisher to complain about the offending content.

This led to a morale-sucking creative paralysis among my fellow reporters. It didn’t matter how ground-breaking our stories, or how the committee should just hand over the Pulitzer now and be done with it, the perfect edition was one that managed to not upset someone’s grandmother.

It made for boring copy. It made for lacklustre, colourless copy. Just as long as it was harmless copy. That made the publisher happy which, in turn made the editor happy. And we all got to keep our jobs, at least until the next edition.

Being the sports editor, I seldom had to worry about complaints, unless it was the moms of figure skaters, who spent 11 years nagging me for more coverage. Otherwise, as long as I remembered to write that the home team “lost” and wasn’t “thumped,” “massacred” or “destroyed,” I was safe.

The one exception came after I quoted a high school athlete as saying something like, “Jesus Christ, that win was the best feeling in the world!” Sure, I could have omitted the Lord’s name and the quote would still have worked, but the kid said it with such conviction that it just felt right to include all his words.

Sure enough, the next day I was summoned to the front desk where a woman stood, ramrod straight. She had a look on her face that told me she had just sucked a lemon. And had another one tucked up her arse.

She wanted to know why I’d used the Lord’s name in the context of a sporting quote. Before I could explain, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. I assumed, after giving me a blast, the woman would leave. Instead, she continued to berate me on the sidewalk. Fortunately, I’d positioned myself under the alarm’s external speaker and when my visitor finally realized I could not possibly hear her over the siren’s wail, she turned on her heel and marched away.

She wasn’t exactly as I’d pictured the little old lady, but that was the exact response all my cringing editors feared.

Apparently, the little old lady does not live in New Zealand. This is evident by the foul language that sees the light of day in the pages of our two national newspapers, the New Zealand Herald and the Dominion Post. It is common, especially when a reporter is providing a direct quote, to see “pissed,” “bugger,” “shit” and “bullshit” staring out at me from the printed page.

I’m no prude. I can drop the f-bomb with the best of them. I’ve watched HBO. I’ve endured Quentin Tarantino movies. But to see such language displayed in what is still quaintly known as a “family” newspaper still makes me cringe a bit.

As a further underlining of this strange Down Under interpretation of freedom of the press, I read a feature in the the Herald’s weekend magazine which included a quote from Wikipedia in which someone is described as “nothing but a fat cunt.”

Descriptive? Oh, yeah. Pushing the boundaries of good taste? Ya think!?!

On another occasion, a movie reviewer openly referred to a film she disliked as being “shit.” I was a syndicated movie reviewer for 15 years. If I had a dollar for every time I was tempted to write the same thing, I would not be sitting in this tiny, under-insulated house. I would be writing this blog at Muri Beach in Rarotonga while shielding my keyboard from the juice of the grapes my Nubian wench-babes had just peeled for me.

Fifteen years of the good, the bad and the Good Burger. Fifteen years of door prizes and smarmy radio hosts and popcorn mixed with Nibs and stories like this one:

I once took a comely co-worker to dinner and a movie in Vancouver. The small talk over the meal went well and we seemed to be getting along just fine.

Halfway through the movie, the young lady excused herself and left the theatre. To buy more treats? To use the toilet? No — she went home.

I asked for an explanation the next time we met and she told me she hadn’t like the movie and so walked out. On the movie. On me. On the date. On our budding relationship.

The movie was The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

It was shit.

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One Response to “There is s**t in the newspaper. Literally.”

  1. Megan said

    In 10 years, everything will be shorthand or condensed. TTYL, LOL, BFF, ILY, POS, TMI…oh and others that I don’t even understand, with a curse or 2 thrown in. Watch Idiocracy, that is where we are headed.

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