REVIEW: NEW YORK TIMES

Delivered to the house was the magazine WIRED (March 2017). I’ve perused it and have comments.

On the cover is a photograph of A.G. Sulzberger, editor/publisher/owner of the New York Times. He appears to be middle age, is bald, mediocre posture of an undead person, and wearing dark clothes he is ready to conduct funerals. It looks very Nineteenth Century – pose, distant vision, presentation of person, but that’s it. None of that works today, 2017.

Inside Sulzberger says that everyone appear and be normal human beings. Nothing about Sulzberger suggests he is a homo sapiens sapiens. He looks like an android sent from another planet to scout out prospects on earth. He is less threatening than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but looks built by the same machine-owned firm that put Arnold together for those movies. Trying to soften Sulzberger’s image, they have him wearing eye glasses, circa 1935 frames.

There are many problems with the New York Times, the most basic ones are not identified in the article. Indeed, one paragraph in the article presents New York Times’ major flaws:

Four books after the election, Times chief executive Mark Thompson
told an industry conference that subscriptions had surged at 10 times
their usual rate. To Thompson, the likeliest explanation wasn’t that
the times did a bang-up job covering the final days of the election –
like everyone else, they failed to anticipate Trump’s victory – that that
readers were looking to hedge against fake news. He suggests a simpler
reason: “I think the public anxiety to actually have professional,
consistent, properly funded newsrooms holding politicians to account
is probably bigger than all of the other factors put together.” In other
words, the president’s hostility to the press and the very notion of facts
themselves seems to have reminded people that nothing about The New
York Times – or the kind of journalism it publishes – is inevitable.

This passage, page 53, like most most journalistic writing is overwrought. 1) It can be cut: ELIMINATE “In other words” and everything after it. 2) Another explanation (third line) is most likely: Democrats and anti-Trump persons believed they missed something, which The New York Times picked up. They ended subscriptions to other newspapers and started up with the gorilla on the block. 3) The admitted failure of The Times and everyone else to predict a Trump victory suggests a grave issue. The Times was believing its own press, it’s own sources, all its fans, it’s own wave. 4) Journalists are supposed to talk to the other side, which many people, Left or Right, have difficulty doing. One wonders if The Times talks to people on the right, or if their reporters have shut their mouths now that new immigration policies are being put into effect. Polls suggest those are popular measures among Americans. [Remember, don’t conduct any penetrating political polling in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania before the election.]

Other than who is being talked to and reported, what are the facts – misstatements, misconceptions, pure truth. No knows what that is sitting in New York City wondering about an Internet site at the New York Times offices. [This segment is greatly shortened.] All journalism comes from excellent writing, and that is where the Internet and word processing becomes a hinderance. Everything is spelled correctly; words appear to be in the proper order. There are too many words – say eight words where two will do. The Internet has space to waste, not the usual newspaper adage. All those reporters who grew up and got an “A” in eighth grade English, have pyramided that excellence into a newspaper career. They’re still writing at middle-school levels, with the juvenile, horrifying reactions to the unusual, the absurd and the foreign.

Every immaterial, irrelevant reaction part of perceived fad-culture is presented in an article. That is not journalism. What may be journalism is the fact that people believe such temporary moments as important, where as in the long haul, they are not. Newspapers hire journalists for their perspective, but most journalists hooked onto the Internet truly believe in these cultural misunderstandings – it might be 5,000 people without tickets to a concert and they are disappointed. Time to riot. Let’s feel sorry for them? [Is the story about the 5,000 standing around outside waiting for the concert to end? What else is on their mind? Is this the best thing any of the 5,000 can do with time?]

Are journalists trained and do they understand everything? The easiest thing to do is hand them a straightforward story, and learn how many cliches are included in the proffered article. The more cliches, the less understanding.

Keep reporters away from the two-pager in Wired. How to grow your own pot. That will kill initiative, except to cultivate and smoke, and wither away brain cells the user never knew were present. It’s not called dope for nothing.

This final most significant point in the Wired New York Times article suggests doom for the newspaper. It’s not that the Ploughkeepsie Times is stealing advertising dollars. It is not competition from the ankle bitters like the Huffington Post take a few bucks. The big player in the room came in a few years ago, new to newspapers but forever familiar with the internet. Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought The Washington Post, lock, stock and barrel, and likely The Post does not have the Internet issues complicating life at the NY Times. Instead, Bezos must only work to cultivate writing and writers, the most important part of any newspaper. If the Internet is presenting a new way at looking at the world (needs color, illustrations, pictures, cartoons), do it! Recognize newspapers are competing against the Super Bowl, World Series, the Best Voice, Great Dancer shows, Wiccan Conventions and every musician to touch a fiddle.

EDITION

A lifetime ago, longer as a writer, I wrote two novels: of Little Human Hearts and Bitch.. When I wanted them to be, neither were ready for publication. of Little Human Hearts is the first, and I’ll write about it here.

I self-published of Little Human Hearts, a story of the late 1950s in Mendocino County. A bright, intelligent eight-year-old boy has his first love affair with his third grade teacher and doesn’t know it. He tells the events of that school year.

I appreciated after self-publishing that the story was not ready. The text fit Mark Twain’s description: the spelling is “majestically lawless.” The word processing was done by a friend who cut and paste the same material twice to the same spot. I was impatient to get the book out and missed it and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The FIRST EDITION drew a review from the Anderson Valley Advertiser, Bruce Anderson: “ON SALE at Copy Plus is a book called “Little Human Hearts” by a youngish man named Karl Rauh. Mr. Rauh grew up in Anderson Valley in the late fifties. His book is based on events and personalities of the time, both in Anderson Valley and on the Mendocino Coast as seen through the eyes of an eight year old boy. I would think – based on my own quick reading – a number of the characters and episodes would be remembered by many old timers…”

I did not grow up in the Anderson Valley. I wrote the book, inserting characters into the setting and contriving events. I had no plausible marketing plan. I exhausted myself moving and trying to distribute the book to bookstores, some which didn’t pay after selling the inventory. I didn’t want to self publish again.

An opportunity came along. A new publisher was accepting submissions. of Little Human Hearts was accepted. I entered the text into word processing and caught a lot of mistakes, but not all. I made a few. Unknown to me the publisher italicized the jokes (humor) in the book. Rather than of Little…, the title became Of Little… The spelling was less lawless. The Second Edition was launched.

The characters were set; the setting was laid out, but the story. How did everything hang together, cogently? Was it coherent, at all? Unknown to me was a review by a reader on vacation, now appearing on Amazon: “This strange and curiously interestingly book I found tucked into the reading material of a Lake Tahoe hotel lobby. I wound up reading it for hours in that bed…Beneath the surface…are smoldering of adult trouble…It is very simply written, easy to skim quickly and yet it goes into such charming details…like hiking in a redwood forest, the sense of awe it inspires, the silence it brings to the visitors, all this he writes about with complete naiveté, like a child…Some readers may find the simplistic writing a bit annoying, but it is a valid style to convey the boy’s memories…”

This review indicates that I was able to advance the boy’s voice completely. But the story was wrong. The marketing of this edition was horrible. Not many people saw it. The First and Second Editions are online for sale at high prices.

In 2009 unprompted by me, the publisher relinquished all rights to of Little Human Hearts. I knew a Third Edition was necessary, but I had lost all feel for the book and the story. The setting was no longer attractive – Mendocino is cold, wet and humid. I’m a desert person – hot and dry. It took some concentration to contrive the energy to edit. What I brought were abilities to tell a story and better capacities to edit. I had to enter of Little Human Hearts into word processing again. While doing that I realized there were three sets of relationships – boy-teacher, boy-sibliings-other children, boy-parents. The emotional charges from one relationship had to enlarge, explicate, and  contrast with the other relationships for the book to develop and tell its story.

Along the way I believe I learned a few things: A daughter who talks to her father a lot, and he challenges her so she enjoys that engagement (female-male) is less likely to fall for the first creep who throws her a line. Next, children who squabble with siblings are doing what comes naturally: They emulate their parents; they strive for attention; they are learning to act and react within this small scale of society. The role of the parents are to limit certain activities and certain speech but never to end the squabbling.

I now sense that the emotional stimuli from the three relationships support and improve the story, allowing the reader to build and arrive at the denouement satisfactorily. I eliminated all the italics; no author needs a signpost saying, I’M TRYING TO BE FUNNY HERE! I was happy the Copyright Office gave me a copyright for the Third Edition, of Little Human Hearts, iBookstore, Michael Ulin Edwards.

READ ORWELL – I

I’ve mentioned that George Orwell is the best writer of the twentieth century, and most people never get past thinking, ANIMAL FARM(condemning Stalin) and 1984(condemning shrinking communications in a tri-polar world). Those are excellent books, each driving in demonic ways their points.

But Orwell wrote novels and books before World War II, and most of those make excellent reading. I recommend those. Where Orwell excelled was in preparation for the novels: essays. He wrote about almost everything with certainty and accuracy. He touched psychological and sociological issues beyond those found in novels and essays. Essays also discuss writing, business and politics. I wish I could write as well today, as topically, forcefully, completely and truthfully.

“The Prevention of Literature,” January 1946 is about the forces affecting writers and publishing. I’ll give background and a smattering. It’s the 300th anniversary of John Milton’s Areopagitica pamphlet in defense of freedom of the press celebrated by the group of British writers called PEN. Orwell is disappointed that this group of leftists are so far removed from reality they are dishonest. He’s a leftist himself but believes in personal liberty. The speeches at the PEN gathering include: Freedom of the Press in India; general comments on the goodness of liberty; no obscenity laws; and defending the Russian purges (1936-1939).

Orwell writes, “Of…several hundred people, perhaps half of whom were directly connected with the writing trade, there was not a single one who could point out that freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”… “There was nothing particularly surprising in this.”

The writing trade “is under attack from two directions…it’s theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and…it’s immediate practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy…”

Orwell goes on to define and tell why writers are the most exposed artists – not painters, musicians, poets, sculpturers. He has choice words or criticism about poets and poetry, which go beyond Mark Twain’s, “Poets are too lazy to write complete sentences.”

About the monopolies and bureaucracies affecting writers, in 1946 Orwell writes,

“…apart from newspapers it is doubtful…whether the great mass of people in the industrial countries feel the need for any kind of literature…Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio production. Or perhaps some kind of low-grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyer-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

“It would probably not be beyond human ingenuity to write books by machinery. But a sort of mechanizing process can already be seen at work in the film and radio, in publicity and propaganda, and in the lower reaches of journalism. The Disney films…are produced by what is essentially a factory process, the work being done partly mechanically and partly by teams of artists who have to subordinate their individual style. Radio features are….So also with the innumerable books and pamphlets commissioned by government…Even more machine-like is the production of short stories…Papers such as the WRITER abound with advertisements of Literary Schools, all of them offering…ready-made plots….algebraical formula…packs of cards marked with characters and situations…to be shuffled…”

Orwell wrote this in 1946, and for the most part the world has seen literary production fall off since World War II. A friend of mine wrote read the first Best Seller of well-known author a few decades ago. She read the second book, and stopped a third of the way through. It was the first book rewritten; that author was writing FORMULA: This happens on page 24; that happens on page 67; crisis by page 189.

Has anyone ever gone to a film class or tried writing a screenplay. First advice: Read this book which is complete nonsense, unreadable by anyone with any ability to understand this language and any readingcomprehension. All the screenplay books are poorly written and full of crap. FORMULA for film is everywhere; there’s even a preferred word processing “format.” Yet, FORMULA is killing film. Every year Entertainment puts out the same films, different titles, different actors, different production people. Advertisements and promotion rely on the people involved in the production, not on the quality of the production, an expensive experiment. Entertainment is also trying to mine TV programs for films which fortunately has been unsuccessful. They’re going after the comic books. Except for characters in costume on Hollywood Boulevard I want everyone to know that Superman, Spider Man, Batman, Iron Man, and others I don’t want to know of, are NOT REAL. No one will fly through the air and save you, not Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne in Tangiers, not James Bond, not the next sequel hero. 

Orwell talks about totalitarianism and shrinking liberty of thought and action, and in his day the Soviet Union was a target just as been Nazi Germany. Today the Russians are flirting with that type of government and certainly the Chinese are living with it. But people of other nations are  confined within limits or norms whether it be from a strict religions doctrine, from social controls, from ignorance, from commercial controls and financial limits. Many of the latter countries are obscurantist, which will put back human beings there 1000 years. The tragedy is the rulers of those latter countries, sometimes aided and abetted by the totalitarian regimes, have no concern for their own people of their futures.

I want to know whether someone among the powers that be, dropped George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century, let him look around and take all the notes he wanted. He was to return to his time to warn people: This is not the best use of human and physical resources to produce what’s coming (in society called civilization). Orwell is focused on the tradition he came from – Western Culture. He uses it as an example. In another essay he identifies obscurantist forces affecting us in “Pleasure Spots.” It is a short essay, January 1946. I’ll quote,

“The music…is the most important ingredient…The radio is already consciously used for this purpose by innumerable people. In very many English homes the radio is literally never turned off, though it is manipulated from time to time so as to make sure that only light music will come out…I know people who will keep the radio playing all through a meal and at the same time continue talking just loudly enough for the voices and the music to cancel out. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent, while the chatter of voices stops one from listening attentively to the music and thus prevents the onset of that dreaded thing, thought….It is difficult not to feel that the unconscious aim…is a return to the womb…

“The question…arises because in exploring the physical universe man has made no attempt to explore himself. Much of what goes by the name of pleasure is simply an effort to destroy consciousness…” 

Orwell describes more than half the people I know – whether they have the radio turned, whether it is DVD, whether it is a TV, whether it is at home, in the car, at the office or on the sidewalk.

Read Orwell.