Commentary: On Newspapering and Journalism

On Newspapering and Journalism

Nightcops

Following is an excerpt from a new compendium of essays about the life and history of my alma mater, the old Baltimore Sun. “The Life of Kings” is edited by my former colleagues Frederic B. Hill, Stephens Broening and is being released by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. This essay is reprinted here with permission of Steve, Fred and the publishing house. Available to purchase online. *            *            * Nightcops Behold, a prince of my city, or so I imagine myself, resting next to Ettlin and before the algae-green glow of the Harris terminal, dialing through the long-call list of Maryland State Police barracks and city districts, hunting down the brutalities and miscalculations of a reckless, teeming metropolis. “State Police, Glen Burnie barracks . . .” “Hey, how’re ya? Simon from the Sun. Anything going on?” “Nope. Quiet.” Right then. Next call. “State Police, Waterloo . . .” “Afternoon. Simon from the Sun. Anything up?” “Quiet today.” Quiet. Okay, next...

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Drug War Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism On the Drug War Policy & Law

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

In light of the frustration that many feel in the wake of this week’s mistrial in the first Freddy Gray prosecution, I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper clip. Written by veteran police reporter Roger Twigg and myself, it is an account of another Baltimorean who died in the back of a police wagon, and the early stages of an investigation that went nowhere once prosecutors, a city grand jury and police union lawyers did their business. In this instance, now nearly a quarter century old, the sustained injuries were not to the victim’s spinal cord, but to his spleen and his ribs. In this instance, the prisoner was also clearly in distress and ignored.  In this case, the wagon man rode the victim around Baltimore not for 45 minutes without medical assistance, but for a full hour. In this instance, the wagon man actually told other prisoners not to step on the prone victim, because, he said, the man had AIDS. And in this case, too, as with Mr. Gray, there was...

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Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism Writing

Libel per se – UPDATED TWICE

UPDATE:  12 p.m., July 4 I am informed that the Huff Post piece has now removed the reference to my having been fired.  Instead, apparently, my revenge was had upon editors who spiked one of my articles because my writing wasn’t “Dickensian” enough.  They never said anything of the sort to me or anyone else, and that is not actually the reason that particular article was spiked.  I carefully related the actual sequence of events to Dr. Williams in my April memo as a discussion of  that particular article and its fate features throughout her manuscript, but no matter.  With regard to the Huff Post essay at least, I am libeled no more and I thank the author for her apology at the bottom of the essay. A brief word on the non-performance of the Huffington Post in this matter, on their publishing ethic, and on the manner in which this institution conducts its business: The abdication of editorial responsibility in the case of aggregated sites such as Wikipedia or barely...

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Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism

Columbia Journalism Review: Free For All

For the last few days, I’ve been heartily engaged in the comments section of a couple CJR items that originated from the New Orleans Times–Picayune‘s travails.  I advocate for the industry-wide adoption of online pay walls to sustain high-end journalism. Others regard this as a disastrous suggestion. As the comments began to pile up, I saw some insight and a lot of argumentative fallacy.  People do love to call names. But I kept at it, hoping to draw others into the fray.  Maybe even get CJR to use their publication to revisit at this moment the idea of news as a product and whether that product can — in any environment, and under any conditions, not merely today’s dystopic newspaper dynamic — command a price commensurate with its cost, or much of its cost  (residual advertising revenue still being present  both on- and offline).  The New York Times just reported that Wall Street analysts are saying subscription revenue from the paywall adopted by...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite

My alma mater, the Baltimore Sun—though something of a fraile grey lady in this internet age—is nonetheless celebrating her 175th birthday this year. Sun alumni and other Baltimoreans were invited to contribute essays to a special edition to be published this weekend. My offering is an homage of sorts to one of the metro desk veterans who raised me from a pup. www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/sun-magazine/bs-sm-david-simon-20120513,0,5336130.story Thanks, Dave.  And no, I will never forget the First Rule of Rewrite:  “Shoot It Down.”  Or as you once sagely argued: “There are always salmonella outbreaks.  I don’t see why we have to write about this one.”

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

“Homicide” cop battling life on the streets once again

Former Sun writer tells how a character in his book faces another reckoning with the bullets he survived 25 years ago From The Baltimore Sun, March 11, 2012 Reprinted with permission. Photo by Gene Sweeney for the Baltimore Sun. Seven-baker-twenty-four unit turns at Mosher and rumbles past that stretch of Appleton Street where Gene Cassidy took two in the head for the company, the first one stealing his eyesight, the second lodging in his brain beyond the skill of a surgeon’s knife. Cassidy was 27 then, not even four years on the job, strong and lucky and hard-headed Irish enough that he refused to do the obvious and inevitable thing. He did not die. At University Hospital that night, the other patrol officers and detectives were told it was certain, that their friend would not make it. But Cassidy breathes still, and Appleton and Mosher looks much as it did in October 1987, when Cassidy tumbled out of his radio car to jack up a man wanted on an assault warrant. The same...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Build the Wall

Note the date that this ran in CJR – and even that was late for the industry to come to a reckoning.  The New York Times has now embraced a pay model as its future and is beginning to see a profit from its subscription base.  True, the NYT is a unique entity, in terms of content, but that’s why it needed to jump first.  The next step is for other papers with a national presence  – The Washington Post, the L.A. Times – to follow suit.  What they are waiting for, I have no clue.  If you can’t charge for your product, you have no product – a freshman marketing major can tell you as much.  And again, content and copyright have value.  They matter. –DS/em> [hr] The Columbia Journalism Review, July 2009 Reprinted with permission. Most readers won’t pay for news, but if we move quickly, maybe enough of them will. One man’s bold blueprint. To all of the bystanders reading this, pardon us. The true audience for this essay narrows necessarily to a pair of notables who have it in...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

Testimony, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, Hearing on The Future of Newspapers

David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of the HBO series The Wire, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on the future of journalism. These are his prepared comments. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet Hearing on the Future of Journalism, May 6, 2009 [hr] Thank you all for the invitation and opportunity to speak on this issue today, but I start by confessing reluctance. My name is David Simon and I used to be a newspaperman in Baltimore. Head and heart, I was a newspaperman from the day I signed up at my high school paper until the day, eighteen years later, when I took a buyout from the Baltimore Sun and left for the fleshpots of Hollywood. To those colleagues who remain at newspapers, I am therefore an apostate, and my direct connection to newspapering –having ended in 1995 – means that as a witness today, my experiences are attenuated. Ideally, rather than...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

In Baltimore, No One Left to Press the Police

By David Simon Sunday, March 1, 2009  Reprinted with Permission, The Washington Post BALTIMORE In the halcyon days when American newspapers were feared rather than pitied, I had the pleasure of reporting on crime in the prodigiously criminal environs of Baltimore. The city was a wonderland of chaos, dirt and miscalculation, and loyal adversaries were many. Among them, I could count police commanders who felt it was their duty to demonstrate that crime never occurred in their precincts, desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon. Everyone had very good reasons for why nearly every fact about a crime should go unreported. In response to such flummery, I had in my wallet, next to my Baltimore Sun press pass, a business card for Chief Judge...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

A Lonesome Death

William Zantzinger’s business card says he is an equal opportunity realtor. DS [hr] From The New Yorker, January 26, 2009 Reprinted with permission.  In February of 1963, twenty-four-year-old William Zantzinger, armed with a toy carnival cane and wrecked on whiskey, made a spectacle of himself at the Spinsters’ Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. He was a drunken country mouse in the big city, at a time when the notion of racial equality had barely shown itself in the neighborhood of his father’s tobacco farm. When the hotel’s black waitstaff was slow to serve Zantzinger another drink, he yelled racial epithets at Hattie Carroll, a barmaid and a fifty-one-year-old mother of eleven, and he rapped her on the shoulder with his cane. She became upset, then collapsed and died of a stroke. Bob Dylan read about the case in the newspaper. He wrote the magnificent “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” with the paper splayed on the table of a Seventh Avenue luncheonette. Zantzinger was...

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On Newspapering and Journalism On Television

The Wire’s Final Season and the Story Everyone Missed

From the Huffington Post, March 17, 2008 Reprinted with Permission Well now, it’s been a week since The Wire‘s final episode and a certain calm has descended, leaving a little less agita and a little more reflection. A moment for one last question: That wasn’t too vicious, was it? Sure there was a fabulist and, yeah, he snatched the big prize. Couldn’t resist, sorry. That was a bit beyond the historical reality; at the historical Baltimore Sun, he was a mere Pulitzer finalist. And okay, the city editor, the honorable fellow, the one for whom journalism was an ethos, he got slapped down and thrown to the copy desk. We did that, too, because hey, to criticize such a newsroom culture did indeed carry those risks in Baltimore.

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On Newspapering and Journalism

A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back

Esquire, March 2008. Reprinted with permission. To this day, I can — if I suffer to think on it — stand apart from the moment, watching as I try to slip my own skin, to disappear myself. I have hair and forty less pounds. I’d pressed my pants for the first time all semester, even worn a tie, though I took it off in the car, thinking it made me look presumptuous. Shit, I am in that newsroom looking like the college kid I am, a fifth-year senior anyway, surrounded by the battle-hardened professionals of a delicate, precise craft. They know I am ridiculous. They’ve read it, in fact. At the four o’clock meeting in the conference room, there is revelry — at my expense no doubt. From my perch on the metro desk, I hear Phelps, the state editor, say something, his words followed by a burst of laughter. Fuck, shit, fuck. That week — my first as a Baltimore Sun stringer — I had done something remarkable. I had managed to declare that oral sex was no longer a crime in Maryland...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?

From The Washington Post Sunday, January 20, 2008 Is there a separate elegy to be written for that generation of newspapermen and women who came of age after Vietnam, after the Pentagon Papers and Watergate? For us starry-eyed acolytes of a glorious new church, all of us secular and cynical and dedicated to the notion that though we would still be stained with ink, we were no longer quite wretches? Where is our special requiem? Bright and shiny we were in the late 1970s, packed into our bursting journalism schools, dog-eared paperback copies of “All the President’s Men” and “The Powers That Be” atop our Associated Press stylebooks. No business school called to us, no engineering lab, no information-age computer degree — we had seen a future of substance in bylines and column inches. Immortality lay in a five-part series with sidebars in the Tribune, the Sun, the Register, the Post, the Express. What the hell happened? I mean, I understand the...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

Michael Olesker Is A Plagiarist? Who Isn’t?

From Baltimore City Paper, Jan. 16, 2006 Reprinted with Permission IN THE SMALL NEWSROOM OF THE COLLEGE NEWSPAPER where I learned rudiments of craft, there was affixed to one wall a parody of Edgar Allan Poe, which began, “Once upon a deadline dreary . . . ” The author, an alumnus of the University of MarylandDiamondback, had butchered “The Raven,” evoking the gothic plight of a journalist trapped at a typewriter, trying to keep his work fresh as he exhausted new developments in the top few paragraphs and was reduced to recounting backstory. To conclude each stanza, the haunting voice came to him: “Rewrite the background, ever more.” “No,” wails the reporter, “I will not burden my tale with all that came before.” “Rewrite the background, ever more.” Funny enough when I first read it, but when I landed on the city desk of The Sun, that doggerel became prophetic. On the police beat, on general assignment, and especially on the rewrite desk, you were usually reacting to new developments...

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On Newspapering and Journalism On Police/Crime Published Elsewhere

The Reporter I: Cops Killers and Crispy Critters

Published in the Media Studies Journal of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, this was an argument for a return to narrative as a means of humanizing crime coverage.  I’d just published my first book and contemplating the second.  At this point, though, this is a rather amusing artifact given how the argument for narrative led me, kicking and screaming, out of journalism entirely. At the moment you begin reading this, some poor bastard three years out of journalism school is sitting at a video-display terminal in a newspaper office somewhere in these United States, fingers darting on a keyboard. No doubt a cursor flashes through line after line of the same simple, tired equation: “A 17-year-old West Baltimore youth was shot to death yesterday in a murder that police say is related to drugs….” Or, perhaps: “The battered body of a 25-year-old Queens resident was found by police along the shoulder of a Long Island expressway….” ‘ Or: “A...

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