Category Archives: Memphis

It was gonna happen

I had a feeling this was going to happen. Yesterday a barage of opinions informed and otherwise exploded in Memphis when our local Scripps-Howard owned Commercial Appeal announced it was setting up a pay wall.

When I told my wife about the move she said, “Well, you knew it would happen someday.”Which is interesting considering everyone is supposed to believe that the web would be free forever.

I didn’t.

Making that big ol’ thing costs money. For too long subscription rates have dropped and website ad revenue has yet to make up anything close to the gap. Its just numbers folks. Its gonna happen.

The outrage on twitter was, as it always is, silly. People who are generally smart complained that the newspaper sucks (or more delicately, “Isn’t what it used to be” which can be said of any institution whether true or not and folks will click their tongues in approval) and they won’t pay for it. Which I find an odd argument.

First, if it sucks so bad that you won’t pay for it, why do you use it at all? And if you don’t, why do you care what they decide to charge?

Second, nothing is “what it used to be.” But many of the complaints that consumers have with their local newspaper have to do with the cheapening of news. The idea that corporate entities with their minds solely on the bottom line are slashing quality to make up for dwindling profit margins. This is true. So how then to stop the further cheapening? Certainly not by continuing with the free online / paid in print model that’s ruling the roost.

Its inevitable.

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The Kubler-Ross model of sportswriting.

Like most Memphians, I basked in the glory of media reports of the  beat down that our beloved Griz laid on the rapidly aging San Antonio Spurs. I absorbed more than my share of write-ups, blog posts and tweets about the game. Some where stunningly beautiful and full of talent and sweat yet others were utter shit.

From Clay Bailey’s spartan AP write up to Bethlehem Shoals artful GQ piece, I read it all. I read 3 Shades of Blue and I read Memphisport. I read the Ball Don’t Lie and I read the Basketball Jones. I read ESPN. I read Fox. It has been blog post bukkake (DO NOT GOOGLE, DAD) In the end,  that orgy of round ball writing left me with a sour taste.

I have now experienced the Kubler-Ross model. As first, I couldn’t believe it. Every word no matter how poorly drafted was amazing. I was like a man woken from deep sleep, struggling to be sure it was all real.

Then the glittery scales fell from my eyes and I began to see the truth. I became angry. “Why does this writing have to be so bad? Why are these websites so goddamn bad?” Then I began to bargin. “Maybe its not thet they’re so bad, maybe you’re just being overly critical because you’re so emotionally involved with the subject. You have no objectivity.” Then I was just sad. As I read yet another joyless piece about how awesome the Grizzlies are, I just lost faith. Finally I just accepted it. People who love to write also often suck at it.

I may, in fact, count myself among their number.

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The big announcement

Last night, I launched the first episode of my podcast “People I Know.”

I’m stupid nervous about it but also proud. Its rough in places and I have a lot to learn about interviewing, editing and shutting up when the guest is talking. I hope very much that you’ll take the time to listen to it and let me know what you think.

THANKS

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Analog Romance

This week, I had a brief article in the Commercial Appeal. Its by no means an exciting piece, but I enjoyed doing it. I had more fun than I would have guessed, actually.

I haven’t had anything published on dead trees in several years. The vast majority of writing I’ve done over the last 3 years (since ReZoom magazine was sold) is online only.

So the little extra thrill I got at my byline today was somewhat surprising to me and it carried me back to a recent Facebook discussion I got caught up in.

Two old DJ friends (Bobby Rainwater , Andrew Brandt) and I got caught up in the vinyl vs digital DJ argument that plagues those of us who got swept up DJ culture in the late nineties. While I won’t try to rehash the long discussion that this is, I think it comes down to the same feeling.

Its Romance.

Owning huge crates of vinyl just came along with the act of being a DJ. Regardless of the style of music, you had to commit to the sacrifice. Guys would take road trips to other towns for hard to find records. It meant something to have your crate of records. It was romantic.

Seeing your name on paper still has a certain romance. There’s a good chance more people read my posts when I was at the gadget blog than my fluffy profile today, but I never got the extra sense of attachment that comes along with a printed byline. Numbers be damned. it still feels like something magic happens when your name is in print, unless it’s on the police blotter.

When the availability and gateway to entry for the New Yorker website is the same as this lonesome blog, something seems less romantic about the New Yorker and yet they’d never employ a hack like me.

Somehow, there is a devaluing of the romantic notion of getting to the truth and writing about it. This same devaluing of the art of the DJ goes with its full digitalization as well.

I worry the translation of our works from physical to digital media will eventual cause us to devalue the whole system to the point where were have no idea what’s real and what isn’t because its all relative to your perspective.

I need a drink.

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Mistakes

The crime beat in Memphis must be a difficult gig. Clearly it’s the number one issue for the city. It is ever present, oppressive and depressing. It’s no surprise that those that have to deal with it develop a dark, gallows humor. Policeman, first responders and journalists all fall ill to it. It’s a coping mechanism and totally understandable.

The weekend crime reporter for the Commercial Appeal is Ryan Poe. This past week, he put together a story about a woman being drug from a car on Southern avenue by her hair. Luckily, she’s going to recover and the assailant (her boyfriend) is in custody. It’s a terriable but typical crime story in a city chock full of them.

What caught me was Poe’s lede. I’m afraid that the lede was yanked, so I can’t quote it directly. But in essence it said that the victim was “shaken to her roots” by the incident. I was pretty surprised that someone would try to crack a lame joke at the expense of the victim in an assault case. So I sent off a message via Twitter to both Poe and the Commercial Appeal.

“@memphisnews @ryanpoe the “shaken to her roots line” was ugly and inappropriate.”

I didn’t think much about it until the next day when Poe replied:

“@edlarnold I’m sorry to hear the line apparently shook you to your roots also. Thanks for the feedback though.”

Obviously, it was a pretty backhanded comment. So presented with opportunity to pick his brain about why he would write it, I asked:

“@ryanpoe how about “she’ll try to turn the other cheek after her boyfriend punched her in the face”? so what’s the difference?”

Sadly, Poe wasn’t mature enough to have this conversation and decided that he would once again try lame humor:

“@edlarnold Hey, that’s over the line, and I’m deeply offended that you would joke about such things. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

and I responded:

“@ryanpoe both are glib comments about the victims of violent crimes. Only you did it to an actual person. Congrats. Hope it was worth it.”

So in light of that, Poe decided to dig in:

“”Shaken to her roots” was definitely worth it. Learn to laugh a little Ed.”

I’m afraid the defense of “hey, lighten up” doesn’t really cut it. So I made my point clear as I could:

“@ryanpoe laughing at the victims of violent crime is the worst kind of “humor.” We can see how much you don’t want to be wrong on this. You made a mistake, it happens. But your obnoxious defense is really showing your true colors.”

During the exchange, the  official Commercial Appeal twitter feed informed me that:

“@edlarnold Thanks for getting in touch about the article yesterday. The line was shown to editorial and removed.”

Poe wouldn’t engage further in the subject though he did decide to tack some more snark on a few hours later, tweeting this after writing up a story about a headache powder robbery:

“I would say that they gave the company a migraine, but that might offend @edlarnold, so…”

I tried to put myself in his situation. I am completely sympathetic to the original lede. It was a toss-off line. One that he himself thought might be “too cheesy” (as his twitter feed showed). It could happen to anyone trying to find a good lede for such a story. I could completely see myself making this same mistake.

The problem comes in his reaction.

The newspaper by nature is a public service. Sometimes people find elements of the newspaper to be offensive or out of bounds. When these sort of conflicts arise, its the job of the reporters to engage with the readers and defend their point of view. The paper can get it wrong, the public can get it wrong, but it is the dialog that bonds the community to the reporters and the papers. If Poe had an intellectual underpinning to his argument, I’d have been glad to hear it and debate it. He didn’t have one that I could see. In essence, Poe wants me to lighten up, take the joke with its intended lack of malice and go away.

The victim of the crime might not ever have her name in the public eye again. She was attacked and brutalized, the last thing she and her family need to see is a flip joke leading the story about it. That’s why, in general, hacky jokes are frowned upon in the crime section. The only jokes that are appropriate are one’s that lampoon the criminal rather than the victim.

The sad part is, I think Poe’s decided that I’m some overly serious nitpicker who is just trolling for things to be mad about and that the paper’s decision to kill the lede within a day of its original posting was just pandering. So I’m fairly certain that he feels there are no lesson’s to be gleaned from this.

Mistakes happen all the time, we all make them. It’s how you deal with and react to mistakes that show your character.

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Decisions

If you’re from Memphis, then you know how gripped the city was during the shootout in West Memphis last week. It was a terrible and strange moment. Its beyond my little voice here to express how horrifying or tragic it all is. So far, there aren’t any real concrete explanations. Its just a great big violent mess.

Adding to the already confusing nature of the story is the uproar over the use of a  photo on the front page of the body of the gunned down 16 year old involved. Its use erupted into debate on the Commercial Appeal comments section.

I don’t find its use to be outrageous or beyond the pale or unethical. Its just a very morose picture wrapped up in a terribly violent story. I don’t envy the decision the staff at the CA had to make.

If it had been my call, I probably wouldn’t have run it. Maybe that makes me a coward or a hack, I don’t know. I just know that my gut reaction was not shock about the tragedy of it all, but a wonder about what context it added to the story.

Its arguable that it added fist-like impact to a story that was hard to convey without seeing the violence clearly.

I get that.

I just don’t know and I think that’s the important thing to remember. None of us do. Media outlets, even ones that seems so monolithic from the outside, are made up of people making individual and collective judgments about what’s important.

It is not easy. It is not simple and this again proves that it damn sure can be a messy and gut wrenching process.

Good luck guys.

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Bullshit columns and disengagement

Sigh…Geoff Calkins wrote a non-sports column today, and man does it suck. He lovingly conflates the very tragic stabbing of a brave Memphis Police officer and the city rule that requires police officers to live within the Memphis city limits. These two items have nothing to do with each other, and even if they did Geoff doesn’t bother to explain it anyway. Let’s enjoy a quote:

Like the requirement that new officers live in Memphis. What a dumb idea.

“If we want the very best police, why wouldn’t we want to draw from the biggest pool?’ Madalyn said. ‘Don’t we want the best people we can possibly get?”

Certainly not, what we really want is crappy police officers. Jesus Christ on a cracker, what a train wreck. If Geoff wants to write a column about the bravery of a police officer, he should do it. If he wants to write about how ‘dumb’ the idea of having local police officers, who pay local taxes and live in the neighborhoods that they police, he should do that. Instead, we get a Frankenstein column cobbled together and stitched up to resemble something that makes sense.

There’s no need to go into why having local police officers isn’t a dumb idea because the very first commenter actually does a pretty sound job of explaining.

“However, the city residency requirement for police officers has nothing to do with whether this officer would have or would not have been assaulted and injured. There are plenty of excellent police officers candidates from all over the country who can be recruited to apply to become a Memphis police officer and move within the city within 12 months. Officers living in the city which pays their wages can help to make the city a better place to live for everyone.

Police officers living within the city have a personal interest and perhaps a financial interest in making the city a better place to live and visit.

Being a law enforcement officer anywhere is a dangerous job, where you live versus where you work has no bearing on how dangerous the job is.

City residency requirement should mandatory for all city employees. If you don’t like living in the city, then don’t apply for a position in the city and certainly don’t accept employment in the city.”

I’d really like to hear Geoff respond to that. But because he’s completely unengaged with his audience, he’ll probably never have to defend any of this. Sadly, soon afterward the comment section descended into finger pointing and crass bullshit.

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