James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dawdling: The TV show and newspaper ediots

From time to time, I've tried to think of a metaphor or example that would readily explain the reasons for the contempt that I and many former and present employees and countless readers feel for the ediots who run the newspaper which employed me for 30 years.

Suddenly it dawned on me that they have for months been providing us the perfect daily example of their greed, stupidity and lack of responsibility to their readers, and their misunderstanding even of why people buy newspapers.

It is the appalling television show, “American Idol.”

Well, it is the Star Tribune's treatment of that piece of TV tripe.

The bosses have ordered that the Strib, as it generally is known, publish something about “American Idol” every day, and that at least once a week – actually, for months it has been two or three times a week – there be a substantial, preferably staff-written feature or “news” article about the show.

I surmised that two or three months ago, and had it confirmed by members of the paper's staff in the past couple of days.

All but a handful of American newspapers overplay sports, and the Strib is in the forefront of those that hugely overdo sports coverage. It has gone to ridiculous lengths on games played in stadia since being acquired by McClatchy Corp. roughly eight years ago.

But few newspapers have given over to such blatant pandering to the “no real information please” public as has the Strib with its daily thumping for “American Idol.”

Here's the stupidity of the thing:

The people who actually watch the show mostly are not newspaper readers, nor will daily stories – of which they are totally unaware – bring them to subscribe. A good many people may glance at the stories, because that is comparable to picking a scab even though you know you shouldn't. It requires more discipline than most people have not to peek or pick. But the disappearance of the daily AI piece would be a relief to most readers, I'm quite sure.

(You learn something about your audience over more than 40 years in the business, unless your a fool, a word that defines most newspaper executives these days.)

Given how much space in the newspaper is devoted to other subjects of little or no real value to the reader, and the vast number of important stories ignored by the Strib and others of it's growing type, the waste of space and staff time on “American Idol” is even more insulting to subscribers.

As I have said often, if newspapers die, it will not be because of the Internet but because those who own the papers are killing them.