So, I continue to write a column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle, this month focusing on Miss America 2014, the Miss America Pageant Organization, and local media (the 2014 winner, Nina Davuluri [she's the one on the right], is a U-M alum and was in Ann Arbor on Nov. 1 for a business conference, where I interviewed her).
The column begins by asking why I was the *only* member of the media who showed up to report on this--U-M, who hosted the event, had sent several different branches of its own internal and alumni media to cover the event, but no local paper or blog was there, nor were the Detroit Metro area papers. The column ends with me pointing out that the job of the media is to show up places and tell us what they see so that we can draw reasonable conclusions about the state of the world. In the middle, we have about 16 pages of Miss America history and analyzing Ms. Davuluri's business and marketing tactics, as well as American "diversity."
Anyway, here's a nice two-up of reactions to the column:
The upper tweet is, obviously, Miss America. The lower tweet is from someone who writes for the local paper I called out for not showing up.
Man, I don't know where to start with this. First off, what's with using the passive voice, Ace? The column wasn't twisted by some unknown force; I twisted it. I wrote the damn thing. See, that's the second line of the job description at the Ann Arbor Chronicle. The first line is Show the fuck up and the second is tell us what you saw.
Beyond that, this article didn't *twist.* It isn't like I started out *OMFG IM SITTIN WITH A BATHING BEAUTY!!1!* and then in the final graff pulled this wicked 180 and stabbed you in the back. I started out saying "Hey local media: Get off your fucking duffs and come see what's happening!" and then ended up saying "Hey local media: You are violating your contract with the readers by not showing up to report what's happening!"
I the last week I've thought about this a lot, because it's been a good week to reflect on how far new media has drifted from The Job (i.e., "showing up and saying what you see"). 50 years ago a barrier-breaking US president was murdered in Dallas. The reporters who showed up to watch his parade, they could not have expected a story: There was no speech scheduled for the damn parade route; it was just a dude cruising by in a convertible. But they showed up--because that's The Job--and something so terrible happened, something that fundamentally shook this country like nothing would until a clear-skied September morning in 2001.
No one knew that would happen--even Oswald must have had his doubts that he'd pull it off--because none of us know what is going to happen. That's *why* there's a job that consists of showing up and saying what you saw, because who knows what will happen where. Like a Boy Scout (incidentally, JFK was the first Scout elected PotUS), we must Be Prepared.
Likewise, no reporter could expect there to really be a *story* at Oswald's funeral: Assumed murder goes in box, box goes in ground. But they showed up, 'cause that's The Job--and several of them wound up being pall-bearers, because the funeral was so sparsely attended, and the attendees were almost all women and children.
That's a remarkable, weird, gonzo story. And it's a human story. And it is a story that allows us to reflect on what it means to be American and human, and to live in the age in which we live.
That's the result of doing The Job, and it is why The Job is a sacred Job, just like preaching and teaching and standing next to the bed for someone's beginning or end.
And I was the only one who showed up to do The Job--but not because our town and our county and our region lack for people paid to do something very much like The Job. It's just that the media has abandoned The Job, because they think they already know all the stories there are to tell, so why bother showing up? Why bother seeing what you see if you already know what you are going to write about it?
Incidentally, it's worth reading the comments to my column, too, because a Miss America volunteer wrote in with a counter-narrative. See, even though I did The Job, I still fell down--because I'm human, and because I'm living in the same 21st Century as all the other media people, the ones I excoriate for abandoning the Faith, and because I struggle under the same constraints of time and money and energy as every other ink-stained wretch since the dawn of the damned printing press. Just like the rest of the media, I retold a story about Lenora Slaughter--an early Miss America reformer--and racism in the pageant, a story that I'd gotten from *other* media folk. I parroted this line--because it was just *too* good not to repeat--without chasing down primary sources for verification and without digging deep enough into what I had to realize the limitations of what it really said. And so I missed one more really interesting facet to this story, and failed to give you all one more bright shard of what it means to be American then and American now.
But still, I did The Job, and despite the title of my column, I didn't do it for the money; I did it because it's what I owe you for agreeing to take The Job at all. You do The Job because, in the absence of The Job, this shit is just words, words, words, full of sound and fury, but signifying fuckall.