…more on the disappearance of newspapers

I walked out to fetch the morning paper this morning, and the news hit me before I had even slid the thin paper from its plastic sleeve, for the paper was so slight, surely the headline would say something more about the disappearance of newspapers. Almost. The headline in today’s Oregonian heralds the coming forced disappearance of the city’s elderly elms. But the paper continues to waste away, this morning much thinner than my MacBook Pro, possibly a record for the thinnest Oregonian newspaper ever.

Related: The amateur spirit in writingWhat we will miss when newspapers disappear

Yet More on the Disappearance of Newspapers; or, Welcome to Spring Training!

I went out this morning to snag The Oregonian from its usual pitch somewhere across the front drive area, but it was nowhere to be found. It was a lovely, solid gold morning. The car windows were a bit frozen still, but the blue and yellow sky was promising the answer e. e. cummings suggested the earth provides to the “how often” questions posed by the “prurient philosophers…,” “science prodded…,” and “religions…squeezing…”: “thou answerest them only with spring,” cummings said.

So I took his answer and coffee cup and sauntered off into the back yard to soak up some morning rays. The grape I had moved yesterday from the back fence to the old patio looks like it likes its new home – more sun!

After a few Thoreauvian moments spent contemplating the grape, the sun, the greens, blues, and yellows of the fine print spring morning, I went back inside to report to Susan the disappearance of the newspaper. She of course, in her offline logic, accused me of cancelling it. I did not cancel it. I like the newspaper.

Susan tried the phone to circulations or delivery or somebody, got busy signals, but then, looking out the nook window, exclaimed, “There’s our newspaper!” “Where?” “On the car window!”

“Wow, what a pitch,” I said, “and Spring Training is underway!”

Related:

What we will miss when newspapers disappear

Where Richard Rodgriguez meets Bartleby, the Scrivener

More on the disappearance of newspapers…

More evidence of the disappearance of newspapers: page 2 of the “a&e” section of last Friday’s Oregonian contains a small announcement: “Regal Cinemas discontinued its movie listings, which were advertising, from The Oregonian.” Regal has a full menu website with links to Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, 200k likes on facebook, 24k tweeters…; what does it need The Oregonian for? Now playing: “What we will miss when newspapers disappear.”

Common Earworm Remedies and the Mutant Earworm

Thanks a compost heap to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg (April, 2011) for re-infecting readers with a term we already could not forget – earworms. Earworms are snippets of jingles or songs that unwanted, uninvited, and unannounced crash the polite party of our otherwise peaceful thoughts. We now have a mutant version that has crawled through our ear producing an image of the brain as a worm farm, a compost bin of electric eels. Our previous version of the insidious virus was bad enough, a sponge soaking in brine. Our brain plays host like a seashore shell to homeless snails that worm their way in, and no Q-Tip can reach them.

It’s like the kid whose mom washes his mouth out with a washrag and a bar of soap, for she overheard him let slip with a playground ditty, a mouthworm, a dirty word, and she hopes to get to his brain by way of his mouth, but no amount of mouthwash can clean the miscreant tongue. Just so, Q-Tips cannot reach earworms.

The mutant earworm is a strain some think threatened by the current reading crisis, exemplified by the pending disappearance of newspapers. But its mutant capabilities seem to make full eradication unlikely. The very word “earworm” is a classic example. We now think of the brain as a mass of worms electronically touching ends, randomly sparking the dull slow mass to inexplicable thoughts, thoughts like thinking of the brain as a mass of worms…. The mutant earworm invades without benefit of the jingle or song. The word is enough, and it seems to infect readers more than non-readers.

Neurologists don’t know where earworms come from, and given the current health care crisis, cries for help are being ignored.

There are of course two kinds of earworms: the bad kind, and the good kind. They often travel in pairs, but it sometimes takes two or three good earworms to outwit the bad earworms. To outwit a bad earworm with a good earworm, it helps to have a ready list of songs you can stick in your ear, common earworm remedies, household cures. A few bars of any of the following should reduce your bad earworm to compost dust after a few bars:

  1. “Hear Comes the Night” (Bert Berns, 1964). Van Morrison with Them, 1965.
  2. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1949). Hank Williams.
  3. “Walkin’ After Midnight” (Block & Hecht, 1957). Patsy Cline.
  4. “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (Handman & Turk, 1926). Elvis & other versions.
  5. “Skylark” (Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael, 1941). Many versions, one of the best is K. D. Lang’s for the soundtrack to the film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
  6. “Oh Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson & Chet Atkins, 1958). Johnny Cash 1961, Neil Young 1970.
  7. “All of Me” (Marks & Simons, 1931). Many versions.

Wall Street Journal Springs Honorifics from Sports – Cut in Pay?

Messres and Mesdames: Fans at Chicago Day at White Sox Park between ca. 1908 and ca. 1925.

Mr. Jason Gay, sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, has just announced that The Journal this week will begin dropping honorifics in its sports section pages.

This means that instead of “Mr. Piniella, after kicking his hat and dirt in the direction of the first base umpire, then pulled the first base bag from its mooring and tossed it down the right field line,” we’ll get “Piniella,” without the “Mr.,” and then the rest of it.

The timing of the WSJ decision seems right as we enter baseball spring training season, and we wonder if the WSJ editorial style change, yet another concussion to the prestige of sports, will change baseball’s position as the country’s number one sport honorific – its status as the national pastime.

We briefly entertained the idea of honorifics here at the Toads blog (Mr. Dylan; Mr. Shakespeare), to pick up the slack, but Mister isn’t much of an honorific after all if you consider that it originally was used as “A title of courtesy prefixed to the surname or first name of a man without a higher, honorific, or professional title” (OED). In other words, to designate the bleacher bums. “Hey, Mister, mind gettin’ your dog out of my beer?”

The word Mister used to refer to one’s occupation: Shortstop Mister. But that shouldn’t mean that we need to call Derek Mr. Jeter. In any case, only in some special cases is the use of Mr., or Mister, or Sir, an honorific, for Mr. adds distance and denies familiarity. More from the OED:

1722 H. Carey Hanging & Marriage 8 Squeak: Pray ye, Mr. Stubble, let me alone. Richard: Ay its Mister, is it?

1888 J. W. Burgon Lives Twelve Good Men I. 440 ‘Well, Mr. Burgon?’‥‘Mister at the end of 20 years!‥I wish you wouldn’t call me Mister’.

1993 S. McAughtry Touch & Go xxii. 174 Well, Mister Bighead, we’ve both been there, Bucksie and me both, so up yours.

We wondered too if WSJ writers get paid by the word, and, if so, if dropping honorifics means a cut in pay, yet another blow to this country’s number two waning national pastime, newspapers.

Photo “Messres and Mesdames,” at Library of Congress.

Hybrid Reading and “Sex and the vote”

Newspapers are dying, but as they slide into immateriality, they’re looking for ways to merge into Internet traffic. Regular columnists are forced to blog to establish stronger and closer connections with their audiences. No doubt many regular columnists are already longing for the days when they had the highway to themselves. Blogging, of course, invites comments, which multiply, and comments are easier to post than letters to the editor, which often go unpublished, while comments, rarely edited for clarity or decorum, bring the commenter instant gratification, however short-lived or inconsequential, yet columnists don’t seem to be completely ignoring them. Stanley Fish regularly gets hundreds of comments to each of his posts at the Times Opinionator, as does Nicholas Kristof. Print periodicals are also struggling, but we are beginning to see engaging hybrid forms, offering a kind of communication in the round for readers, with several noteworthy add-on benefits. These benefits go beyond simply allowing on-line access, or putting the print copy on an e-Reader. At the New Yorker, added value on-line features include interactive live chats with authors, videos, audios, podcasts, and slide shows (some of the on-line features do require a subscription).

The newspaper is a mosaic with boundaries, the Internet a mosaic without boundaries. As the newspaper continues to get watered down daily in new irrelevancies suggested by the instantaneous availability of information via the Internet, it continues to lose revenue from defecting advertisers and subscribers. Yet the hybrid forms suggested by the New Yorker have the potential to renew and revitalize public discourse. At the Oregonian, The Stump is essentially a group blog produced by the editorial board. The Stump is an on-line extension of the newspaper’s Op-Ed pages. We begin to see that the salvation of the newspaper may come from removing the mosaic’s traditional boundaries with a hybrid form that will include more interactive reading opportunities.

One of the difficulties of programming the hybrid link from newspaper to Internet is still the newspaper’s limited space. The Stump, for example, prints the beginnings of articles on the editorial page, but readers must go on-line if they want to read the whole article (where they can also comment). I didn’t know my “Sex and the vote” (Nov 4) piece had made it to The Stump until a friend emailed me saying he had enjoyed my little piece in the paper. I wasn’t sure if he had gone on-line to read the entire piece or not. Then again, how often do any of us read to the end of a piece? That’s part of the nature of the newspaper. The mosaic character and layout encourages it; the hybrid link, a link frozen in hard copy, continues the tradition.

John Cage and Attitudes Toward Reading Today

In John Cage’s A Year from Monday, a 1969 collection of his then New Lectures and Writings, we find a delightful, short piece titled “Seriously Comma,” and we are told the article was in answer to an inquiry regarding “attitudes toward Serial Music Today.” We find it difficult to pass on articles with the word “comma” in their title, seriously. In addition to our interest in commas, we are still concerned with the “reading crisis” topic The Coming of the Toads jumped on at the inception of the blog.

“Seriously Comma” is an arrangement of 18 paragraphs separated by irregular spacing and layout and given further unity using Cage’s rhetorical mode of varying type font. Each paragraph might be read as a different voice in a contrapuntal arrangement – the piece might also be seen as the mosaic layout of a newspaper page. The second paragraph, quoted in its entirety (italics Cage’s):

McLuhan insists on the newspaper front-page as the present existence type. Reading, we no longer read systematically (concluding each column, or even turning the page to conclude an article): we jump” (26).

McLuhan’s work sums the effects of technology on the human sensorium – technology changes us. For McLuhan, the great example was the printing press. For Nicholas Carr, it’s the personal computer. Carr believes that internet skimming is changing our brain for the worse; the idea is getting ink, but it’s still a hypothesis. Do we read differently on-line? Yes, but as Cage on McLuhan illustrates, our jumping around somewhat skittishly while reading predates the personal computer. Perhaps the mosaic of the newspaper prepared us in some way for the mosaic of television and computer screens. What will happen next? The disappearance of newspapers and our adaptive brain evolving to a new way of  reading:

“Invade areas where nothing’s definite (areas – micro and macro – adjacent the one we know in). It won’t sound like music – serial or electronic. It’ll sound like what we hear when we’re not hearing music, just hearing whatever wherever we happen to be. But to accomplish this our technological means must be constantly changing” (27).

We are all musicians whenever we make noise; what are we whenever and however we read?

“Dealing with language (while waiting for something else than syntax) as though it’s a sound-source that can be transformed into gibberish” (29).

What is “computer literacy,” and how does it differ from traditional reading? In the late 30s and early 40s, the WPA produced posters encouraging, among other activities and ideas of benefit to local communities, reading, traditional reading, the book you’ve always meant to read. We agree with Carr that traditional reading slows things down; why not kick back and enjoy a slow Spring with a book? When we make noise we make music; when we read, we make time.