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Late Night: Journalism Is Declining to Lead

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On the one hand, good, less of George Will and every other syndicated asshole out there, and fewer Letters to the Editor about how Kids Today twerk too much.

On the other, really?

Publisher Bob Hall said that although the Inquirer has endured repeated rounds of financially induced cutbacks in recent years, the decision to eliminate the op-ed page “was not done at all for cost-cutting purposes.” Hall said that in focus groups, people said the paper had “too many editorials, too much bias” and that some, but not all, of the space will be made up with an extra page on Sundays. Still, Hall acknowledged that many readers have complained about the cuts.

If you’re listening to focus groups you’re already lost.

OF COURSE readers are telling you there’s too much bias, because everybody who talks about media talks about bias, because almost everybody talking about media is a goddamn moron. Don’t believe everything you read in the paper, that one’s been around a while, despite us wanting to blame the Internet for all falsehoods in history, and media bias has been a wingnut refrain for at least 30 years if no longer. Some of it’s sunk in by now.

(Also, “bias” is not the same thing as opinion, and if you can’t differentiate between the two you have no business publishing a newspaper.)

Focus groups are bullshit. The seven dollars per person you spend feeding them lunch could be better spent on almost anything, including feeding your maintenance staff lunch. Focus groups are gonna tell you a bunch of half-educated shit about how to do the job you already know how to do, or should know how to do, and for God’s sake, talking about them openly is an admission to the general public that you have no fucking clue what you’re doing.

If you must have them, if you must have useless surveys of people who already don’t read you and are happy to provide you an excuse that involves you doing more work and them doing nothing, at least go over what they say and see if it’s based in the same universe as reality. Take what’s useful in there and use it, and screw the rest.

Trust your goddamn instincts. Set your own agenda. That is, ideally, what your opinion page should do: Set an agenda. Tell the community, not just your readers but the whole damn town you cover, what they should be thinking about and how they should be thinking about it. Fuck the feedback you get. Fuck the assholes who call up all, “Imma cancel my subscription and the Sunday coupons be damned.” Nine times out of ten they never read you anyway, they just wanna make a big noise. Take the way things have always been, take the way things are, and take them apart. Make your readers think, make them happy sometimes, but more often make them mad. At you if you have to, but try for making them mad at what you want them to be mad at.

I’m all for fewer editorials about how the sweet corn is really great this year and the local sports franchise is subpar and Both Sides Do It, but I’m not for fewer editorials because people don’t like opinions and it’s rude to stir them up and let’s have less “bias.” That’s not some editorial choice. That’s cowardice.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.