"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A rebellion that grew with an order of toast?

I recently posted on how many boundaries have come down in our society. These are boundaries that seem largely arbitrary in their origin or with underpinnings that have no application today.
I wrote about the line drawn between breakfast and later meals in the day, with restaurants thinking it strange if you inquired about a breakfast item after, say, 10:30 a.m. This line is still drawn in some places, probably for reasons of practicality more than anything else, but in many restaurants the breakfast menu is full-go all the time. At least the waitress doesn't wrinkle her forward in reaction.
Think this is a trivial example? Think back to the movie "Five Easy Pieces" in which Jack Nicholson as "Bobby" reacts to a ridiculous menu restriction at a roadside restaurant. All he wanted was a side order of toast with breakfast.
He was told "no, toast isn't offered as a side item." It defied logic and common sense. Bobby got belligerent and his group was eventually asked to leave. The movie was deemed culturally significant and is in the National Film Registry. Young people today would scratch their heads trying to realize the symbolism of the restaurant scene, I suspect. Us "boomers" were there, and we know.
In my earlier post I wrote about how women cosmetologists didn't cut men's hair. Hey, this was an actual law at one time! The archaic framework of rules and expectations, of which this law is strikingly symbolic, might be one reason the hippie culture rose up. This generation spoke up and said "do your own thing."
We talked about peace and love but what we really wanted was freedom and liberation. None of those forward steps was without some resistance. I'm sure there were those, who I suspect were conservative and Republican, who felt there was no need to implement full-bore girls and women's athletic programs in schools - on a par with men.
I could add that some cultural boundaries are defensible, like maybe a prohibition on Republicans attending lesbian/bondage nightclubs on party funds.
We accept the loosened boundaries today as if there could never be an issue about it. But there were definitely barriers years ago. Chris Voelz at the University of Minnesota was a women's administrator who gave no quarter and became controversial because of it.
Us boomers flip through pages of a 1950s or '60s high school yearbook, perhaps while waiting to see the dentist, looking at those photos which in our vernacular we'd call "dorky," and look with wonderment at how "girls athletics" was represented then. Typically you'll see a group of girls posed on some gym bleachers with the headline "G.A.A."
Girls Athletic Association. . . The only real evidence I've ever come across of that group's existence is those old group photos. I don't remember it functioning in reality. Of course, girls could always be "candy stripers." Today, girls are full-fledged in an array of sports and getting attention in the media that isn't merely bestowed as a courtesy or out of political correctness. I make the point this way because girls/women's sports did go through a novelty phase. Call it a growing pain.
It was definitely a pain because these athletes were starting from the bottom rung - sort of like learning to speak a new language as an adult. The capability was there but the usual building blocks (from a young age and with intense discipline) weren't in place. People in the "old media" could actually get annoyed (though they only cautiously expressed this) by demands for "equal coverage."
I'm sure that coverage was only grudgingly given sometimes. Whispers among these media people at the local watering hole could be condescending or worse. Newspapers have a finite amount of sports section space. The idea of bestowing "equal coverage" thus had practical limitations.
A constant theme in my writing is "Who gives a damn about the old media?" So pondering the challenges of old media institutions is sort of like looking at those old "dorky" photos. I'm so relieved not to be a "dork" anymore and now to be writing in the new media.
When I was in high school music, oh boy, there were boundaries and limitations there too. This gives me an excuse to write about an old friend of mine, Joan Force, because she was a pioneer as a prep musician. She's a lifelong Iowan and today plays in the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. What makes her special? She plays the trumpet. In high school she not only played in the male-dominated trumpet section, she was a strong and superior trumpet player.
Girls in those days flocked to the flute and clarinet sections. The few who tried brass might be expected to sit relatively deep in the section. The idea of a "first chair" female trumpet player might have been seen in the same category as a woman cutting hair. Remember, against the law!
Today the musical universe is just as liberated as sports. I frown when I realize that young people today probably take it all for granted. They should know that the celebrated "hippie phase" of their elders was about so much more than tastes with hair, attire and music.
All of those things were a "shot across the bow" toward our own elders, whom we felt had tried to force us into a world that was too confining and suffocating. We talked about "peace and love" but on a practical level we were demanding an end to the military draft. Really we just thought war needed to be pushed aside. Our elders couldn't sell us on the idea of communism being a bogeyman, or the triumphalist destiny (i.e. innate superiority) of the west.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC constantly cites the military draft as the common thread among so much of the cultural tumult instigated by the boomers when young. Today's young people should contemplate what it would really be like growing up in an America where young men would get the "greetings" letter from Uncle Sam, compelling them to take up a rifle and perhaps get killed in some jungle across the globe. That's the America I observed through adolescence.
I was a "media junkie" so it all sunk in pretty good. I was a bit too young to have to worry about the draft as a practical matter. I remember Nelson Rockefeller, considered the leader of the moderate (read reasonable) faction of the Republican Party, giving a celebrated speech proposing a "lottery" as a means of addressing the draft. Mr. Rockefeller could have taken that lottery proposal, along with the draft itself, and done something as suggested by a character in the original "Bad News Bears" movie: "Put it where the sun never shines."
The draft abated, women started cutting men's hair, restaurants served breakfast after noon and girls starting making three-point shots in basketball. What an enlightened new world.
Joan Force continues playing the trumpet with elan and flair in the Eastern Iowa Brass Band (typically abbreviated to EIBB). She's a resident of Marion, Iowa, a companion community to Cedar Rapids. She took only a one-year hiatus from the EIBB since she joined in 1986, and I suspect the hiatus was connected to her divorce, after which she took back her maiden name which is "Force." We all had female friends in our youth with whom we'll always associate their maiden names.
Joan began playing the trumpet from the get-go in fifth grade. She grew up in Cedar Falls and has a B.A. Degree in Music Education from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. But education hasn't been her career. She's a "professional organizer" today who deals a lot with "decluttering," especially for senior citizens who are in the process of moving to a smaller place, or senior citizens who lack close family around them to assist with such transition issues.
What a perfect calling for a baby boomer whose generation is noteworthy for, among many other things, having parents living especially long and presenting aging issues that require a special brand of attention.
Hats off to brass devotee Joan Force, musical pioneer and dynamic individual.
Now I think I'll go push some bread into the toaster.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Time" for a new blockbuster movie?

"Hot Tub Time Machine" is a new entry in an old movie genre - time travel - which has had a bumpy road. I haven't seen it, but I suspect it's one of those lighter attempts at representing time travel.
This is the approach most liked by iconic film critic Roger Ebert, with whom I often agree. Perhaps I don't on this point, because I think the serious time travel movies have potential which is as-yet unmined.
The late writing genius Michael Crichton probed the concept seriously. Too bad the Crichton book "Timeline" didn't yield the same kind of movie success as "Jurassic Park."
Crichton was considered to have the golden touch after "Jurassic." The movie industry is like that, looking with awe at any blockbuster movie and then trying to ape whatever appeared to inspire that movie. So we got a subsequent movie on a Crichton book, "Congo," which of course didn't have that magic.
Because, a true blockbuster in the movie industry is really like catching lightning in a bottle. Actually the insiders all know that. But they're always groping and figure that if they can latch onto something like Crichton's storytelling prowess, maybe they'll be onto something. A gravy train.
Even though they know the realities, it's a risk-averse industry.
An exact parallel is when a major league baseball team hires a new manager whose previous gig was as a third base coach (i.e. glorified caddy) for a team that just won the world championship. The team figures "this guy must know something about winning." Well, he does know how to cash the check for his World Series share.
The Minnesota Twins once hired Ray Miller along these lines, demonstrating merit behind "The Peter Principle." Make no mistake, Miller is competent. But he's a pitching coach.
There is no blueprint for a blockbuster movie or any blockbuster creative work for that matter.
The movie "Titanic" definitely caught that "lightning in a bottle" and became a sensation beyond what any reasonable person would expect. It had elements that mesmerized adolescent girls.
The subsequent movie "Pearl Harbor," which I eagerly went to see on its opening weekend, appeared to be crafted in exactly the same way - painstakingly, as if to catch that "lightning" again.
But there was no lightning for the new "Pearl," or even moderate thunder. Technically it seemed well made. But today it appears to take a back seat to the 1960s Pearl Harbor movie "Tora Tora Tora," made before CGIs (computer generated images).
"Tora" and its sequel "Midway" show up often on the cable TV movie channels.
The movie "Pearl Harbor," made on a grand scale almost remindful of "Gone With the Wind," seems relegated to the dust bin by comparison. Right in there with "Cleopatra" (Elizabeth Taylor), which almost sank a Hollywood studio such was the scale of its failure.
So if you need some consolation dealing with some of the failures that life dishes out, keep in mind those Hollywood professionals who can be so woefully off the mark (e.g. Michael Myers with "The Love Guru").
"Hooray for Hollywood" for reflecting the human condition!

Crichton story had potential
The movie "Timeline," based on the Crichton book of the same name, was tailor made for sequels because of the whole premise: time travel. If the movie is a smash, get the gang of actors back together and just go back to another time period. (But please, not the early 1970s!)
"Timeline" the movie got lukewarm reviews but I liked it. It provided a real glimpse into the Middle Ages and intrigued us on the possibility of actually going back to an era like that and sampling it.
Yes, there was conflict and killing. (What, in the movies?)
But "Titanic" was a smash even though we know what the disastrous ending will be all along: lifeless bodies white as sheets bobbing in the water. And young people flocked to that flick over and over. It must drive an industry insider to drink. (That's a non-P.C. reference so let's say the insider would see his therapist.)
Crichton's book was a page-turner for roughly the first half but it strangely lost steam as you approached what should have been the climax. I felt that a good "payoff" at the end, with a special wrinkle, would redeem the book. It didn't happen.
Crichton was a genius but maybe he was in a hurry to turn this book out. I was engrossed in this book at the same time as a co-worker of mine, Lynn Klyve. I would always want to reminisce on that with her. She has left Morris for the "big city" while yours truly stays in Mayberry. It would be neat to see her again someday.
Let's step into our imaginary time machine and explore an earlier time travel story. The movie "The Time Machine," made in the 1950s, was successful. It had those "Morlock" characters that exuded creepiness to the point that a young movie watcher might want to keep the light on in the bedroom for a few nights.
"The Time Machine" was in a group of movies that baby boomers were more likely to get familiar with through television (e.g. NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies) than at the theater.
Others in this group were "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (in which the giant robot instilled fear just like the Morlocks) and "The Lost World," a dinosaur-themed movie fascinating because of the risky special effects: small lizards filmed in such a way as to make them seem giant.
It was risky because moviegoers might well just think it was ridiculous. But it seemed to work, and this was shown often as a TV feature through the years.
Celebrated reviewer Ebert, who himself caught "lighting in a bottle" by getting on TV at just the right time, with just the right kind of movie review show, wasn't enthused about the movie "Timeline." Time travel movies bothered him, he said, because of the unavoidable problems of logic they present. Crichton actually talked about this issue in his book.
Ebert might ask: "If I could actually go back in time, couldn't I just warn people about the impending attack at Pearl Harbor, for example, and change history?"
Crichton said the major forces of history were too massive and powerful for any one person to change. A person suddenly showing up, waving arms and claiming something like this, would probably just be dismissed, or worse get viewed with suspicion.
Crichton also said it was extremely risky for his time travel characters to even step out of their travel capsules. And it wasn't just because of the major forces of history they might encounter. The minor stuff, stuff you'd probably never imagine, could trip you up.
"You just don't belong there," a character was warned.
Indeed, Crichton's characters ended up in a series of calamities and snafus, with one of them being killed just for being suspected of being a Frenchman.
The movie "The Time Machine" had a re-make a few years back that sort of came and went. I watched it on VHS tape and found it to be OK. It was a commendable Hollywood effort that took a chance with no big-name stars.
It toyed with the logic issue too. We learned, for example, that if a loved one died on a certain day due to calamitous circumstances, you couldn't just go back and change that. That person would just die in another way on the same day.
One of "The Time Machine" remake reviews took it to task on special effects, claiming that the movements of the Morlocks (not as scary as in the first movie) were not realistic. I did not find this to be true at all.
Reviewers sometimes grope to say negative things. I think the foundations of that snobbish fraternity (Ebert excluded because he's a regular guy) are crumbling due to the new media.
Time travel movies have been a pretty hit-and-miss proposition. Too much of the latter. One of the "Star Trek" movies succeeded with humor on the subject.
"Timeline" could have captivated us but it seemed to swing and miss. Crichton's imprimatur wasn't enough.
There's still a void there. Hollywood, pay attention. Maybe there's another "Titanic" out there just waiting to be made.
As for "Hot Tub Time Machine," perhaps it's entertaining but not a classic.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - morris theater mn - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Booze back on the table for U stadium?

Pure principle is unassailable. There ought be no reservations when it's well is tapped.
The story I should be telling here is one with the happy ending we can expect when principle is invoked. That ending looks muddy now.
Principle was asserted by the University of Minnesota president last year when the new on-campus football stadium was set to open. That stance left many people glowing as they could assume, presumably, that lesser motivations could be put aside.
The U president seemed unequivocal in announcing a policy for the new Gopher venue. It was greeted as if a breath of fresh air in the eyes of many. It pertained to alcohol policy, where enlightenment (as in eschewing these products) has been making inroads.
Let's look back a little. The boomer generation when young trumpeted principle and pushed aside "materialism" all over the place. Until us boomers aged to the point where we truly had a seat at the economic table and acquired assets. But we have long memories. And we still smile at the triumph of principle.
Today that allegedly narcissistic generation seems as conservative as any preceding it. The boomers have always followed a certain zeitgeist as exemplified by Minnesota politician Norm Coleman (who shifts amoeba-like). True, Minnesota does have two progressive (left of center) U.S. senators. But we have a cookie cutter Fox News governor.
The U of M president is Robert Bruininks. From day 1 since his elevation to the presidency, I've been perplexed at the spelling of his name, as it's impossible to pronounce as spelled.
"Oh, just say 'Brunix,' " an insider might tell me.
Well, then, why doesn't he just spell his name "Brunix?" Like how the spelling of Mao Tse-tung's name was finally modified for simplicity and logic (Tse-tung to Zedong).
Several generations ago my family name was "Williamson," I'm told. The last syllable was dropped, I suspect because it seemed superfluous. It's easier to handle now, like for writing checks etc.
Bruininks' declaration on alcohol last year seemed to have an air of finality. It was as if he trumpeted "we're doing the right thing, now let's proceed."
But as time passes, "stuff happens."
Year 1 is in the history books for the new Gopher football stadium. Was this stadium named in an inspiring way, invoking the name of an iconic public person who gave much to society in his/her life? The way the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome was named? No. Consistent with the ethos and the throbbing of that zeitgeist boomer element, the new stadium was named for an entity that supplied money. We can feel nostalgia but we still prioritize the do-re-mi.
Was this naming entity at least perceived as a benevolent voice beyond mere material aims? I don't think so. The stadium is named for TCF Bank. Stadium boosters immediately began promoting a shorthand way of referring to the place that would fit young people's lexicon: "The Bank." How neat. "The Bank."
But has it caught on? Does this name inspire warm feelings? It seems doubtful, because last fall the lack of student body support for this stadium was so marked, the Star Tribune devoted a front page article to it. What happened?
Lack of support for a shiny new toy like a stadium? I'm dumbfounded. Well, not really. The "comeback" of open air stadiums in Minnesota might eventually lead to consternation. In the meantime, the U of M is scrambling, trying to remedy shortcomings by putting principle aside. And how, exactly, is Bob Bruininks putting his imprimatur on that? His original statement of principle, so applauded in this post thus far, had to do with the alcohol ban throughout the stadium.
The Star Tribune quoted him saying of the ban that "it's the best, most responsible, most principled position we can take."
Mr. "Brunix" was reflecting the direction society was clearly taking with such vices as cigarettes and booze. We've come a long way since we all laughed uproariously at comedian Foster Brooks whose shtick was to behave like a drunk.
Booze is increasingly seen as an aberration rather than as an expected part of our lifestyle. The boomers' elders thought nothing of such vices. We love those people dearly but times change, I think. The March 24 front page of the Star Tribune revealed an unfortunate cynical turn in the University's stance about the stadium's alcohol policy.
It seems nothing is official yet but the camel's nose is in the tent. Why, oh why, would the U even consider a reversal on a matter where the asserting of what's right once seemed so refreshing. What could possibly cause this?
I would suggest that the stadium's apparent shortcomings to date are not based on the alcohol ban. And heaven help us if they are. They are based on the failed thinking that contributed to the push to get TCF Bank Stadium built in the first place. We felt nostalgic about a "return" to open air big-time sports, even though this is Minnesota and we have some, er, complications with our weather. The U was actually lucky from a weather standpoint in its first season at "The Bank." And still there was a void with student body support.
Should we cite a tepid performance by the Gophers? Nothing new there. It has been the norm throughout the adult years of the boomers, a generation which here has attached itself most decidedly to the NFL's Vikings. The Gophers have been the red-haired stepchild.
When my father attended the University - he's a 1938 graduate - the Gophers were totally big-time. They played at the now-razed Memorial Stadium, a quite fine facility built like a brick, well, like a brick football stadium. I'm sure that edifice would have needed only some internal refurbishing (like Williams Arena).
But no, we tore it down. Because promoters of the proposed Metrodome felt the Gophers would benefit oh so much. Then-coach Joe Salem was a visible advocate of the Dome. The bottom fell out of his program and he moseyed on down the road. Remember that Nebraska game (like covering your head with mortar shells coming down)?
Listening to an incumbent coach on anything is pure folly. They're here today and gone tomorrow. We listened to Lou Holtz when he recommended John Gutekunst as his successor in Gophers football. Harvey Mackay once wrote an entire chapter in a book on how you must never listen to an outgoing outstanding individual on who should succeed him/her. Because subconsciously at least these departing people don't want the successor to set the world on fire. Did Gutekunst set the world on fire?
Current coach Tim Brewster is hardly making waves competitively either. The Gophers were lucky to beat South Dakota State last season. And the Gophers lost to North Dakota State the season before. If we start falling behind the Dakotas in Division I football we're in trouble. Why can't St. Cloud State University, my alma mater, be built up to that level? Wouldn't it be great to have a strong in-state Division I football rivalry? Many states have this but we never have. Wouldn't it build interest in college football?
St. Cloud State has a still-new stadium where I attended a game once, in 2006. It's a larger version of our local Big Cat Field. These new stadiums are designed for serious football watchers with the idea being to just park your rear end on a (hard) bleacher seat and watch football. The old Selke Field in St. Cloud was like our old Coombe Field in Morris, with a much more informal air and with throngs of fans ringing the periphery, wandering at will and socializing almost to the exclusion of watching the game.
Did stadium designers suddenly feel these people were unimportant? Apparently so. Big Cat Field has had trouble attracting Tiger football fans in the number desired. I know because on the night of every home game, I take a gander from a vantage point to the east. I don't pay to get in but I ride my bike out to that general vicinity - very quiet, expansive and peaceful.
I make these excursions perhaps because I want to have my prediction affirmed that high school football would lose its luster at this location. And it has, but not for the late-stage high school playoff games overseen by the Minnesota High School League. Those late-stage games command attention just for the significance of the games. Parking your butt and watching them is justified.
It's harder to sell the regular season games of the Morris Area Tigers. And it's woeful that the MAHS pep band makes such rare appearances there. It's inexcusable really, and you'd think a few upperclassmen could at least organize a musical effort, which the fans would appreciate so much.
This community invested so much in getting the new school and Big Cat Field put up (for better or worse, likely the latter), we should be pulling out all stops, like insisting that a band play for Tiger games - all of them. But this community doesn't always follow the right script. Or zeitgeist. We had a county commissioner state publicly, in the wake of the horrible jail controversy, that he's glad none of his children live or work in Stevens County. Maybe this is the Twilight Zone.
"Booze" isn't even on the table for our local prep football games, naturally. Because those fans lack the needed "maturity?" LOL on that. . .
Why should the U of M even weigh the booze option now, no matter how much money is on the table? I'd laugh but Foster Brooks isn't funny anymore.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 26, 2010

More thoughts on Morris Theater, its future

Del Sarlette recently suggested that I didn't cover near enough ground reminiscing about the Morris Theater. Of course I appreciate attracting his eyeballs. And anyone else's.
How will this "sequel" post do? I hope better than "Grease 2." Sid Caesar says he doesn't even remember being involved in that movie. He has chemical abuse excuses which is a convenient thing to have when you've been involved in a cimematic trainwreck.
Ah, our local cinema: Mention the Morris Theater to anyone who grew up here and I'm sure they can instantly visualize the whole place. Maybe even smell the popcorn.
Every town has some oddball artwork in a few places and the theater is an example here. There's some art off to the side on both sides of the screen that I never understood, not that I'm knocking art. Art is of course notorious for defying understanding. The fact that I'm writing about this is probably a hats-off to the theater and its artistic wrinkle.
Most of all I'm curious whether other patrons through the years have seen an apparent (to me) "face" in those colorful swishes. I have never brought this up with anyone. Maybe Mr. Sarlette has had the like impression, I don't know.
That artwork is a defining twist for our aged theater in an age in which new theaters are built in cookie cutter fashion. When I was a kid our Morris Theater seemed perfectly current and acceptable. Today I use the the word "reminisce" (as in the opening sentence) in connection with the theater, as if the past tense is appropriate. For all practical purposes it may well be.
The theater is being kept alive in "bailout" fashion - a word I used in kicking off my previous theater post. Another reader (besides Del) suggested after reading that post that my feelings were overly conflicted - that I wasn't prepared to assert whether the old theater should be kept alive.
Indeed there is a lot "conflicted" in our community now. Do we believe in lawbreaking? I hope not, but there has been such a chorus of voices coming out on behalf of those brothers in the construction industry, brothers who - let's face it - did some no no's (and by their own admission, er, confession).
We seem to at least be overly expedient in addressing that untidy subject.
Other adversity has cropped up - the Coborn's closing, to name a notable one.
The Morris newspaper has basically been cut in half in terms of the kind of content that people presumably want in a paper: interesting reading material and not piles of ready-for-the-dumpster ad circulars (with many circulars promoting out-of-town commerce).
I doubt that our print newspaper will ever be the focus of the kind of bailout that resuscitated the Morris Theater. There is no harm done keeping the theater going. As for all the paper thrust at us through the absentee-owned newspaper and its "shopper" (Ad-viser), I don't believe the same can be said, not in our new green-conscious era.
Was I too conflicted when assessing the Morris Theater recently? The Cliff's Notes version of that post might be: "The Morris Theater appears to be our only option for continuing to get current movies in town, but aesthetically it has many issues."
I would have to know the movie business better to suggest whether a better option is practical. Aesthetically the movie watching experience is superior at the First Lutheran Church movie room. This is a converted Sunday school room by comparison to our specially designed theater which came on the scene in about 1940. There was deserved fanfare at that time.
Change is befuddling. Change is fundamentally why I ended up unemployed well before I could ponder legitimate retirement. But the job market has been unkind to a great many people. The "creative destruction" process of capitalism is healthy but unnerving.
Pondering that "destruction," here's a question: Has the "twin" theater gone the way of 8-track tapes?
My impression is that theaters today fall into two categories: 1) relics like what we see in Morris and in Paynesville, the latter being a clone of our theater (without the art, I think); and 2) the multi-screen (as in 7 or 8) cineplexes. Leave it to Alexandria to have an example of the current norm.
(I saw the original Austin Powers movie at the Paynesville relic.)
Alex's Midway Cinema (fill in the number) has grown so fast I called them about three years ago because I couldn't find their website listed in a Yahoo search - a glitch that turned out to be related to their growth (with the number hiked up).
I called them for one other reason: to inquire if the movie "W," the oddball biopic about George W. Bush, was coming. It's incredible, but not all well-known movies even make it to Alexandria. When I called, I got some inside-baseball answer indicating that "W" might not make it. I believe this Oliver Stone movie never made it "out here." Despite high-profile promotion. . .
I was only half-teasing when I asked the person on the other end of this call whether political reasons were involved (in not having it on the upcoming calendar). She readily answered "no." At the time I thought Stone's intentions were to pull the mask off President Bush and reveal him for his deficiencies. But I later learned that the movie had more of a measured, timid tone. It was "oddball" because of its reliance on flashbacks.
I never saw it but I read about it. A friend who watched it on DVD indicated that the flashbacks could be distracting and confusing. A confused movie about a confused man, I might surmise.
Maybe Stone would have had more "balls" making this movie if it was after the financial collapse.
Flashback to the '70s: I saw the movie "Jaws" at a twin theater in St. Cloud. I saw the movie "Star Wars" at a twin theater in Brainerd. The St. Cloud theater, where I also sat through "All the President's Men" twice the same night, has been razed. I don't know about Brainerd.
I suspect the "twin" theaters have given way to the 8 or 9-screen establishments, where one can end up in quite small rooms to see a movie. No problem, as I've learned.
I hope pure nostalgia isn't behind the push to keep the Morris Theater going. Even though all Morris natives can embrace tremendously warm memories of that place, we must recognize that it probably belongs in the dust bin of history.
Boomers will remember Bob Collins as proprietor for an extended time. Those memories aren't warm for men who may have been rambunctious in those theater seats as boys.
Collins was of course just being a responsible business owner. But he applied discipline like a stern fourth grade teacher. If a group of boys - it was always boys - were too hyper and distracting for the other patrons, Collins would take care of the situation decisively, coming down the aisle with that notorious flashlight.
A misbehaving boy wasn't likely to engage in that behavior again.
Toward the end of the Collins chapter there were definitely issues at the theater, the most notorious being your shoes sticking to the floor as you walked in and out. This was in the late 1970s and early '80s when there were a lot of deficiencies in America. Maybe that stickiness could just be attributed to the Jimmy Carter-induced "malaise."
By the late 1990s, when Curt Barber was proprietor (its last as a private venture), I was seeing movies at the Morris Theater mainly as a means of relaxing. I didn't hold out very high standards for the experience. Many of the movies were supreme letdowns, like "The Village," "Coach Carter" (two hours of rap music?), "8 Below" (a dog movie that couldn't have been made by a dog lover) and "Because of Winn-Dixie" (a dog movie that must have seemed great on paper but just failed miserably, despite Jeff Daniels).
The marquee sign out front shows the wear and tear of its existence.
I remember when as a kid, one of my peers, reportedly Bruce Christiansen, did some part-time work there and was able to pull off a prank: putting some school gossip on the marquee just long enough to step back and take a photo.
Bruce is the son of Lyle who has developed a passion for trying to prove his late brother Kenny was D.B. Cooper. So this is a family with no inhibitions - quite admirable to an extent.
Would this community be comfortable seeing "Morris Community Church" on the theater marquee? In other words, stepping aside to let the somewhat nomadic and fundamentalist church finally get a permanent home?
This was an idea that was bandied about when Mr. Barber let go of the theater. Its future was in limbo.
First of all, the idea of a church taking over an abandoned building in the "business district" (whatever that is nowadays) is the sort of thing which, justified or not, suggests "blight"
I have a better idea: Let's just have one ELCA Lutheran church in town - there's no excuse having two - and whichever of their buildings gets abandoned could be taken over by those great Morris Community Church people.
Having two ELCA churches, besides being excessive, encourages unnecessary competition. A fellow First Lutheran member told me once that their celebrated "New Wine" youth traveling group was good for "recruiting" new members.
"Recruiting" is a cynical term to use in connection with a church, an institution that ought to simply provide an inspiring experience for all who enter. The Synod should just step in.
I don't know what Morris will look like in 50 years, but I suspect there will be some kind of new theater experience, in a smaller setting, and fewer churches, helping the faithful build efficiency with resources.
And the newspaper? What's a newspaper?
Newspapers are dying because the commodity they sell - information - is becoming, with each passing day, free on the Internet. I mentioned this to friend Brent Waddell this morning at McDonald's and his response was: "Maybe they should get together with the bottled water people."
But we will always need movies.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - morris theater mn - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dr. Evil might be advising Republicans now

Lest anyone be confused about the difference between political parties, we're getting a textbook illustration now with the health care bill. The Democrats, following the ethos of "I am my brother's keeper," realize that the biggest source of our national strength is to ensure the basic health and peace of mind of our citizenry.
Life is messy. People struggle. People become dependent through a whole array of reasons. In many cases a crisis is temporary and in others more long-term. Democrats understand the fundamental importance of a safety net.
And in a country with no apparent overriding outrage over the abuses and corruption on Wall Street, involving dollar figures so wildly high we can't really internalize them, why can't more of us accept the idea of helping average folks along their health care road so anxiety doesn't overcome them? Or personal bankruptcy?
President George W. Bush said the bailout was necessary to keep our financial system from collapsing, but was it possible the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes? Do we really know what the consequences would have been, had Wall Street been forced to deal with the consequences of its shenanigans? Bush asked us to trust him, as with the WMD menace. He carefully phrased his reaction to the financial crisis so that it was based on what his "economic advisors" told him. An umbrella term for faceless technocrats. . . Convenient as scapegoats if needed.
In the wake of the health care bill's passage, Republicans have been predictably behaving like wounded animals. Even worse is the reaction of that party's sycophantic spokesmen in the right wing media. This is a paranoid chorus that treats a little redistribution of wealth like a plague. Congressman Michele Bachmann is a cheerleader.
All Western industrialized democracies are a hybrid of free market capitalist principles and yes, socialistic concepts. What people are getting schooled in now, in case they missed the primer, is the recognizable spots that differentiate the right wing ilk of the Fox News crowd from the more temperate, reasonable faction of the public. This is a faction that isn't mesmerized by political talk in the first place. Richard Nixon might have called them the "silent majority." That majority takes on a decidedly different hue now, granted.
These are people who concede that politics is messy business and that no elaborate framework for political change is going to survive strict scrutiny. Political intervention is flawed because it is enacted by flawed human beings on behalf of other flawed human beings. The old political "earmarks" are evidence of this. The scrutiny afforded by the new media may wipe out earmarks. Hopefully it won't damage something like the health care package, which could probably be tweaked further to help people.
We cannot allow scrutiny of the type laid out by Fox News to try to torpedo the president and the Democratic majority (or "the Democrat majority," as Republicans are wont to say in an imflammatory way, needlessly).
We must not allow the Fox News contingent to impede government intervention when such widespread need is demonstrated. That need has been burgeoning. A health care overhaul is overdue. And it most certainly isn't going to be perfect.
The time came for Social Security and Medicare to be embraced. And each had to climb past hurdles but nothing like Fox News and its hair-on-fire on-air personalities, who manipulate the paranoia that is always out there. It inflames and it's dangerous.
Maybe "Dr. Evil" should go on the air in place of Sean Hannity just to make things perfectly clear. In fact I'm reminded of a Dr. Evil line when I ponder the current behavior of Republicans and their salivating media sycophants like Glenn Beck. Although Beck is more of a loose cannon firing in who-knows-what direction.
As most of us gain the sense that this health care overhaul is "one of those things that simply must be done," the right wing blathers. Like it's scripted. Because really it is. This is just how these people are, defying logic and temperate, sober wisdom.
Why are they so predictable and annoying? Well, as Dr. Evil said to his son Scott when Scott used basic logic to question something his father did: "Let Daddy do his work." (Scott was questioning allowing hero Austin Powers to be escorted away by an "inept guard.")
"Let Daddy do his work" i.e. "This is just what I do, and what I'm expected to do. . . (knee jerk fashion)"
You could insert, instead, Rush Limbaugh and all those cut from that cloth.
Hats off on the herculean task of getting health care reform through, or at least started!
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 22, 2010

Old prevailing notions, divisions get "haircut"

Does it seem that in a bygone time, life was more ordered and compartmentalized? A sense of order doesn't equate with contentment, of course. If you were a boy you went to a "barber" i.e. a man. Would you believe that it wasn't that long ago, in the scheme of things, that it was "against the law" for a woman to cut a man's hair? "Dave the Barber" reminded me of this a while ago.
I was in my mid-20s when I realized I could consider a cosmetologist (woman) for cutting my hair. I proceeded to "bounce around" for years, never sticking with any one cosmetologist for very long, until I came back to "Dave" (Evenson). He seems not to have aged very much. He's fond of saying hello in Norwegian.
Hair isn't much of an issue for men sliding into their late 50s. You need it short to appear tidy and civilized, mainly, but we don't cultivate a certain look like in our "Wonder Years" youth (a reference to the maudlin TV series starring Fred Savage). Your hair had to be a minimal length to win basic acceptance among peers then, it seemed. It was among the many misguided trappings of the boomers' youth, up there with an inclination to smoke "pot."
We used to be compartmentalized in our meal habits. It's a relatively new phenomenon for restaurants to keep the breakfast menu active all hours. Pancakes for supper? Why not? There was a time when a waiter/waitress might stand there aghast if you inquired about breakfast fare after 11 a.m. I believe that Perkins restaurants were on the cutting edge of enlightenment.
The agrarian lifestyle of a bygone time demanded three enriching meals with breakfast having its own particular traits and expectations. Why? Simply for variety? For having a sense of structure or predictability? I don't know, but "bacon and eggs" was a staple associated with getting going in the morning, while somehow this fare was considered unusual to want the rest of the day.
In an earlier time there was no electricity on Minnesota farms - a deficiency felt at breakfast as explained by author Maurice Faust (Pierz native): "Toast could be made by putting a slice of bread into a wire long-handled holder and laying it on the hot iron top of the range. The process was tricky at best and usually resulted in a flaming torch. It was simply not worth the effort."
This quote is from the fascinating Faust memoir: "Remember - No Electricity."
I recall Perkins restaurants breaking ground by staying open all hours. I also remember when supply was woefully short of demand when it came to Perkins-style restaurants. It was common to enter such an establishment with taste buds crying out, and to join a crowd of people all on a waiting list to be seated. We would often opt to move on.
The free market in America ought to resolve a problem like this, and it appears to have been largely resolved now.
Most of us have memories of when the "bar rush" was a restaurant phenomenon, for those establishments offering the extended hours. We all laugh thinking of this. You'd act like a total idiot, and then the next day, when encountering someone else who was there, you'd share a knowing smile. I don't smile any more recalling times when I was an idiot. The idea of going to a restaurant at 1:30 a.m. now is about as alien to me as anything I can think of, inebriated or sober. I suspect that DWI laws along with some cultural shifts have rendered the "bar rush" as more a historical footnote in our culture than anything. (It's too bad Advil wasn't available in those old days.)
So women can cut men's hair and you can order eggs and bacon for supper. But where else has "compartmentalization" evaporated? Girls have the option of being serious athletes. Youth hockey is no longer just a "fringe" sport in most towns. Youth have so many more outlets for their constructive energy today - a shame when you consider that my "boomer" generation had such teeming numbers.
Girls sports had barely gotten off the ground when I was in high school. It was novelty at that time. It wasn't routine for girls to advance a basketball up the court, as turnovers and traveling calls were frequent headaches. I remember talking with an area referee, who's now deceased, who said the frequent traveling calls back then were depressing "but if you don't call it, they'll never learn."
They learned, all tight. I remember an area newspaper publisher (not of the Morris paper) who almost crossed the line to becoming offensive when, in the mid-1980s, he wrote of how impressed he was with how girls could play clean, competent basketball. Of course this was condescending. This old fellow meant well, of course, and everyone knew it. I was guilty of my own misjudgment when I underestimated the ability of girls, or even college women, to make three-point shots when that option was created. I never wrote anything offensive in that vein (I don't think) but I had those thoughts.
The overwhelming success of girls sports, along with the elevation of hockey above sandlot status, made it impossible for newspaper writers like me to keep up with it all. So they shouldn't be expected to. I have tirelessly suggested to youth sports advocates that they empower themselves by finding a voice, and blowhorn, on the world wide web. Progress in this regard has been surprisingly slow. Old notions are hard to knock down.
Even boomer parents who consider themselves to be so "with it" are deficient in this regard. They use the web for so many other things, but they feel they still have to get ink on their fingers reading about local school sports.
It looks as though the boomers will have to be upstaged by a younger generation. Actually the boomers are graduating into the ranks of grandfathers and grandmothers now. And I doubt they'll be experiencing many more "bar rushes."
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com - morris mn

Friday, March 19, 2010

Shorty's, the Del Monico and "The Little Man"

This post is about dining out but I'll begin with a little background: Springtime brings a heightened awareness of one's fitness, or rather, shortcomings in that regard. There are excuses to be sedentary through the long Minnesota winter. One can get neglectful of that "spare tire."
Now, with the rapidly receding snowdrifts, the (regrettable) news flashes about flooding in the Fargo area, and daylight savings time, the alarm bell rings for accenting one's fitness. This calls for some deprivation.
Fewer calories, to the extent one can withstand this. . .
The sacrifices actually make you appreciate and salivate over a rich meal more. So, I'm in the mood for reminiscing about old dining establishments in Morris.
Earlier this week I posted a reflective piece about the Morris Theater. Fewer and fewer Morris residents remember there was once a diner located smack-dab next to the theater. Boomers will remember it as Shorty's Cafe. I believe it had other names prior to that. There was nothing distinctive about it, and I mean that as a compliment.
Today we have Chinese and Italian fare that serve as the trademarks for downtown eating places. No disrespect intended, but the All-American main street diner (even if not right on main street) ranks higher for me. We have nothing that fits that exact description today.
DeToy's Restaurant is a fine American-fare establishment but it's a stand-alone building located not right at the heart of main street. Don's Cafe is an old-fashioned diner of the type that travelers on the old "Route 66" might seek out. But it too isn't right on main street.
I would suggest the existence of Shorty's might have even helped the Morris Theater. Shorty's was a magnet for many of the working types in the "business district." I was still in school when I was a customer. I believe they had a pinball machine and a vending machine for the Minneapolis "Star" newspaper.
Bob Foss would make his rounds as a delivery guy for the Star which was the afternoon Minneapolis newspaper. It was very feature-oriented in comparison to the Minneapolis Tribune.
Jim Klobuchar was a "name" writer for the afternoon Star. Today he's the second most famous Klobuchar in Minnesota. I recently discovered his current writing on the Minnpost website. He's still a practitioner of long-form journalism for which the demand is rapidly dwindling.
Jim, if you write something lengthy you'd better have some bombshell things to say.
I remember chatting with Mr. Foss as he dutifully made his rounds with his sack of "Stars." Those were the days of "The Little Man," the term used by Alan Jackson in a song about an earlier time before technology rendered obsolete so many "common" occupations, of which newspaper delivery guy is one. A shame, because so many of these jobs taught basic discipline.
Today you need some polished skills. But I fear a lot of people are going to be left behind. In fact I think it's already happening.
All the more reason to feel nostalgia about the "main street diners" of my youth, a list that obviously includes the old Del Monico. I'm thinking of the Del Monico before it moved to the east side of Atlantic Avenue. The Del Monico that had the Colony Room (the banquet dining area, where Kiwanians among others would meet). . .
In summertime I would ride the bike downtown, lay it down in the grass on the west side of the public library - I usually don't trust kickstands - and then stroll the two blocks to the Del Monico where the crew always knew what I wanted: two hamburgers and a chocolate malt. This was when the understanding of a "hamburger" was that it was the equivalent of what a plain hamburger at McDonald's is today. Not the fancy, higher-calorie stuff.
We never dreamt that Morris would someday have a McDonald's. McDonald's was too "big time." Eventually we got the "Quik Stop" which gave top billing to its "19-cent hamburgers." Remember?
Reflecting on the 19-cent hamburger would seem to call for a lecture from Ron Paul, the noted libertarian and maverick economic thinker. Mr. Paul lectures on the absolute necessity of a "strong currency" and the horrible perils of inflation. He sees the Federal Reserve as a shadowy, dangerous institution with aims not consistent with the welfare of common people.
Mr. Paul might argue that we could still have 19-cent hamburgers today.
We have to pay substantially more for food today, but there is one tiny asterisk to place next to that. Just go to McDonald's here - yes, we finally joined civilization and got one - and observe the soft drink dispenser. Unlimited refills? To this day, this almost blows my mind.
This was unheard of in my youth. If you wanted a little more "pop" (if that's how you referred to soft drinks), you paid for another glass. Also, McDonald's in that earlier era had but one standard size of french fries - relatively small, I might add.
Super sizing? There was no such thing.
"Jumbo" cups for soft drinks? No. Cars today have to be made with cupholders that accommodate the jumbo size. The 1991 Lincoln Town Car in our family doesn't even have a cupholder! Does that tell you something?
Has the average size of a human being gotten bigger in America? If there's any doubt about this, you could check out the size of chairs in the old auditorium of the now-abandoned (unfortunately) school in Morris. Those smaller chairs were actually becoming an issue a long time ago. I once asked someone about the practicality of taking out those old wooden chairs and replacing them.
The answer was that state codes would result in a much reduced seating capacity.
What a shame! I think it's practically a crime for that art deco auditorium to just be sitting there abandoned, crumbling away and apparently with no imminent hope of being put out of its misery with the wrecking ball. I would guess it doesn't help that the Riley Brothers firm is in such tense limbo now.
Ford could pardon Nixon but can the Rileys get a break?
Morris may be declining in just the way that Alan Jackson's "Little Man" is fading into obsolescence.
Bob Foss, where are you?
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com - morris theater mn

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Morris Theater worth maintaining?

Memories are abundant here: our Morris MN movie theater. (B.W. photo)

The Morris Theater got a "bailout" on an extremely micro level about three years ago. Certain civic-minded people apparently rushed in and gave it emergency life support.
Curt Barber got out of the business and apparently couldn't find a buyer who was willing to continue it as a standard for-profit theater. Which would have opened the door to something like a church moving in. Or perhaps plain old closed doors, like that haunted Coborn's building now, or Anderson Nursery.
The last movie I ever saw at our Morris Theater was "Tropic Thunder." It seemed like an interesting satirical movie. But an old bugaboo associated with the Morris Theater revealed itself: bad sound.
My theory all along is that the sound system itself was never really at fault for this. The problem is that the theater is too large. It's way too much space for the sound to have to fill, even with a good system.
I left the theater on the night I saw "Tropic Thunder" thinking "That was a pretty good movie but I'd like to see it again on DVD."
Who would have guessed back in the heyday of such theaters that any patron would actually "prefer" watching a major Hollywood release on a TV screen, over the theater? But today, not only does the TV seem preferable in many respects, even computer screens have become a preferred medium. Why? It must be because of the quality.
Size of the screen and size of the theater, one surmises, were never really the factors.
As with all transformations in our popular entertainment universe, the new reality sets in slowly. I remember when the Alexandria theater complex expanded and there were quite small theater rooms becoming part of the mix there. The first time I entered one of those rooms, I immediately felt let down. I was sure this was going to be an inferior experience. I almost thought "ripoff."
Then something interesting happened. When the house lights went off, I was no longer aware that I was seated in a small room. I believe the movie I saw that night was "Something to Talk About" starring Julia Roberts and Robert Duvall.
The revelation about theater design was more memorable than that movie. My old notions about what a "movie theater" was supposed to be like, had to be revised.
I still attended an occasional movie at our old Morris Theater, out of habit and because it was the only place locally I could see current movies. Seeing them in a small room, where the sound challenges are more manageable, would have been preferable.
Old legacy systems can hang on for a while, because that's just how we are. Old habits reinforce a sense of predictability about the world around us. But darn it, I want to hear all the dialogue!
First Lutheran Church in Morris has converted a bottom floor room to a movie theater. I haven't seen a full movie there but I checked it out during an open house. Not surprisingly the viewing experience in this old Sunday school room is terrific. Pastor Todd Mattson should be proud.
Pastor Todd and his wife Kris were at the Morris Theater on the night when I saw "Mystic River," the Clint Eastwood-produced movie that was critically acclaimed although I found it monumentally depressing. It's clear the theater was struggling if the turnout was so meager you can remember years later who was in the theater on the night when you saw a particular movie. (Garrison Keillor would chuckle at this.)
"Mystic River" was too dark, violent and depressing.
The tremendous strides in communications and entertainment technology have created the optimal viewing experience with the smallest of tools and facilities. Even a laptop computer. Or netbook, with headphones.
The youth of the 1950s wouldn't believe it. The Morris Theater was built in around 1940 and I would guess it had a heyday of about 15 years before television started chipping away. It held on quite fine through my younger days.
Many of us habitually watched TV in the evening but still looked forward to when Elvis Presley's name was on the Morris Theater marquee. You could always tell an Elvis movie was in town by the type of crowd that would stream across Sixth Street from the parking lot by the old Willie's Red Owl.
(Yes, it was a "Red Owl" store back then, not "Super Valu" as it is today, and Willie himself - RIP - might've punched you playfully if you slipped and called it "Super Valu." Super Valu back then was Juergensen's, located where the Aaron Carlson outfit is now.)
Those were "American Graffiti" scenes back then.
"If you don't remember that you're a rat fink!"
Should people have just gotten out of the way and allowed a church, perhaps Morris Community Church, to move in to the old Morris Theater? I sort of think "yes." But then people would have to make that (albeit routine) trip to Alexandria to see current box office smash movies.
Is there anything wrong with going to Alexandria? The automatic response might be that we need to support Morris businesses.
But this community continues to (apparently) support a newspaper (the Morris Sun Tribune, owned out of Fargo) that showers us with advertising circulars for Alexandria businesses. Those circulars, which even include grocery stores, scream at us: "Come to Alex!"
Unless the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce or some other prominent individuals speak out about this, I'll assume that Morris people are simply conflicted on the issue of spending money out of town.
I suspect that some of the community pillars who got involved "saving" the Morris Theater did so partly out of concern for the University of Minnesota-Morris. How would it look for this community, home of a prestigious branch of the U of M, not to have a theater for current big screen attractions? It's an amenity in this very amenity-starved town.
(That might be remedied if Wal-Mart builds here come spring, as is rumored.)
So does the preservation of the old theater serve these interests?
UMM students are in a generation that grew up with digital quality surrounding them, who have no problem consuming their entertainment from laptop computer screens with headphones. The Morris Theater probably strikes them as a dusty, clunky old relic.
I had my first movie experience there, for a western the name of which I don't remember. It was a western that fit the old mold with moral suggestions and clear delineations of right/wrong.
In the 1970s this gave way to more idiosyncratic stuff in the western genre like "They Call Me Trinity." Or of course, "Blazing Saddles."
Ah, what memories.
Click on the link below to read part 2 of my thoughts/reflections on our historic Morris Theater.


-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - morris theater mn - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can Howell Raines' criticism dent Fox News?

It used to be that only Bullwinkle was a dope on TV.
"Not that lesson, this one!" Remember?
A few lessons in journalism are in order for that festering sore of a news network: Fox News. Howell Raines, a former executive editor of the New York Times, stuck his neck out and wrote an extensive piece saying a few things that needed to be said about "Fixed News" (the moniker coined by another critic in the media).
The reason I write that he "stuck his neck out" is that any prominent critic of Fox News can get prepared to be eviscerated by the Fox on-air personalities. I've seen evidence of that already on Bill O'Reilly's show. They will do what any target of criticism will do when the intellectual arguments aren't in his/her favor: Question the motives, associations, background etc. of the critic.
Perhaps they'll try to find someone who claims you cheated on an eighth grade science exam. Around every corner you might be encountered by a Fox News "ambush interviewer," someone like Griff Jenkins. The ambush people have carefully crafted questions designed to leave their adversary stammering, speechless and just wanting to get away.
David Brauer of Minnpost wrote some criticism of Fox News not long ago and I emailed him - we have communicated periodically - warning him of the possible "ambush" danger. This has happened to the chancellor of Syracuse University, Nancy Cantor. It was perhaps the most embarrassing example of this disturbing Fox News phenomenon.
Robert Wexler, former Florida congressman, had this happen at the driveway of his home. Alan Brinkely, author and Columbia University professor, had it happen as he strolled along the sidewalk. I told Brauer that the ambush interview was probably "the most uncivilized thing that Fox News does." And I don't believe Howell Raines even wrote about it.
The Weekly Standard, a conservative mouthpiece cut from the same cloth, accosted moderate (RINO) Republican DeeDee Scozzafava in a menacing manner, a la the Fox tactic, and she had the police summoned. Fox News has incorporated the values of British tabloid journalism. This comes from their owner, Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp. which owns Fox News.
Howell Raines asked "Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?" Ailes is the notorious chief of Fox News. Ailes has taken a network which seemed interesting and innovative in its early days and made it sinister. Fox was initially refreshing because prior to that time, the old criticism of the "liberal mainstream media" did have some legs. I'll be the first to assert that.
As a lifelong media person myself, I'm quick to smell out bias and sense people's motives. I never liked the left-leaning media and I abhor Fox News. If Fox simply tried to present itself as a solid, professional news network with a perspective somewhat right of center, fine. There is no "perfect" perspective. If they had kept their labeled commentators in a more confined space, fine. But they call themselves "fair and balanced" while relegating their most impartial news work to the most obscure part of the TV viewing day.
As the evening hours approach, we see the heavy artillery begin to deliver volleys, first with the controversial (even in Fox's internal circles) Glenn Beck. Think Bullwinkle is a dope? Holy mackerel. Of course, Beck isn't really a dope, as he understands the media, TV, politics and the public paranoia that can be stoked by his orchestrated rants. I watch him occasionally out of pure curiosity. How much of his ratings success is due to non-fans like me?
I could watch the sane Chris Matthews on MSNBC but that might be boring. Savvy TV operators like O'Reilly and Beck understand fully that when on the air, if you do nothing else, avoid being boring. Call Barack Obama a racist (as Beck did). Suddenly you're the focus of attention among your peers and a good segment of the public. Think that helps you "break through the clutter?"
The media universe of today demands that you "break through the clutter" almost as step #1. Beck may lie awake nights pondering that objective. His name has become a household word that way.
O'Reilly too has gained great notoriety. I was struck by Mike Barnicle's comment a while back that O'Reilly, whom he has known for over 20 years, "isn't the ogre" that so many believe him to be. I'm quite sure that Barnicle, a sage observer and fundamentally good person who appears on the "Morning Joe" TV panel headed by Joe Scarborough, is right. I have worked in the media myself and you become a product of your environment. You learn to put out the appropriate product. O'Reilly does what Roger Ailes wants him to do.
I would want to ask O'Reilly if he wants to be remembered as the "ogre" or something else. Does he really have to take those "30 pieces of silver" from Fox News? Hasn't he been doing this "gig" long enough? When I was a kid, sitcoms on TV were canceled all the time so why can't the likes of O'Reilly, Beck and Sean Hannity just "mosey on down the road?" Why can't we get those fresh new faces that otherwise seem so important in television? Will the threesome just cited along with "Anything But Taxes" Neil Cavuto, still be on the tube doing their thing 15 years from now?
Media wonk Steven Brill once observed in his now-defunct "Content" magazine that the nature of cable TV news attracts "oddball" program hosts. Who in their right mind would want to go in front of a camera for an hour every weekday, live, sifting through the day's news, asking questions in at least a semi-knowledgeable way and advocating in some manner? The pressure, glare and intensity of the media lights would be too much for most normal people.
The ego-driven souls are the only ones left, and do we want them guiding our discourse on political issues?
Raines wants the older established media to rise up vs. the Fox News credo. But the old media are shrinking. Newspapers are dying. Journalists who want to climb the ladder probably feel they'd do better kissing up to the likes of Roger Ailes.
Raines writes about "Ailes' willingness to dismantle anyone who crosses him." Which sheds light on another problem of Fox News: a fierce aversion to criticism and an oftentimes petty, nitpicking way of dismissing such criticism and the people who voice it.
O'Reilly explodes at any suggestion that he or Fox News might be fallible. Maybe this is because, as Raines suggests, Fox News defends a "rigid universe" of thoughts. Health care reform is something new and thus something that Fox News views with suspicion and skepticism - hallmarks of conservative thinking.
Make no mistake: conservatives have their place. Skepticism can be an important attribute. But hardcore skeptics are not good at leading, not good at setting the agenda when the time finally comes for something like health care reform. Instead we get Cavuto grilling some Democratic congressman about some paltry sum like $4000 allegedly being misappropriated in the stimulus package - laughable when one places that issue next to the zillion-dollar type figures dancing around in connection with all the Wall Street shenanigans that caused the "financial crisis."
Raines assailed Fox News for its approach that is "dishonest in its intellectual process." Maybe Bullwinkle would have more credibility than Ailes and Fox News.
If the Fox people dissected this opinion post you're reading, I know what they'd do: look for a minor factual flaw which might be here because I'm employing my memory and I don't sit around all day taking notes in a spiral notebook while watching Fox News.
And if I said I consulted "Media Matters" (the online Fox News gadfly), O'Reilly would throw a tantrum dismissing me.
Bill, maybe you should take a pill of some type. If you're truly not an "ogre," get off the air and rejoin normal civilization. Take off the circus clown makeup and walk down the street proudly again. I think you can do it.
As for Beck, I'm doubtful. Hannity? He's just like a talking doll where you pull the string. He utters Republican boilerplate nonstop.
I do sense some humanity below the surface with Mr. O'Reilly. Come on Bill, have one of those life-changing revelations. Don't be a "dope."
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A new reason to advance school websites

I had one of those "WTF" reactions Saturday when tuning in to KKOK Radio for the Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta vs. West Central Area boys basketball tournament game (6AA West). The on-air gentleman (on KMRS) plugged the broadcast about a half hour prior. He noted the game was at the UMM P.E. Center. That's nice, I thought, but that's not the information that was published by the West Central Tribune.
That paper, which I consulted Thursday in search of the essential tourney information, had a pregnant error. They reported that the 6AA West semi-finals and finals would be played at "St. John's University, Collegeville." Well, I thought, that will be a hefty trip for a lot of the fans. But post-season preps play often involves substantial travel - too much in my judgment. We all accept that any state tournament might call on us to travel a fair piece. But not the rounds leading up to it. I remember one year when the Morris Area football team played in Fairmont, down by the Iowa border, in the very first round. The MA-CA boys basketball team was blessed Saturday playing basically "at home," at the local P.E. Center.
The play-by-play radio announcer observed that the fans were indeed packed in. But I had used the cockeyed info from the West Central Tribune in previewing this game on my site. I felt like I had been socked in the gut. Somehow, I guess, the fans get all the right information anyway. So I don't know why we're supposed to rely on the West Central Tribune. Good thing we don't, I guess.
This incident is another illustration among oh so many of the advantages of online-based information over the old spread-too-thin legacy media. Once a newspaper rolls off the presses, you have to accept it for all time. An error will be right there in front of you 50 years from now just like when the ink is fresh.
An error that is committed online can be corrected immediately. I could have corrected my piece if someone had just called me. But I have no idea how many people stop by this site. A local restaurant waitress told me she had come across my stuff when "Googling" for schedule information on the 6A South girls tournament. That encounter revealed for me that fans, no doubt in ever-increasing numbers, are going online looking for prep sports info. It seems unnecessary for them to have to "Google" to find it.
There should be well-established systems online that fans can depend on. Again, as I stressed in a previous post, the school websites could be developed consistently in this regard. There is tremendous inconsistency now.
The Alexandria school website serves as a "how to" example. It's still too much the exception to the rule.
Now, I should emphasize that it isn't necessary for a school employee to put together brackets or anything else substantial for the purposes of announcing a tournament. The people involved with organizing the sub-section and section tournaments could do that themselves. They could dutifully put it online, and then the school websites could just LINK to that. Linking is the currency of the new media. "Click here to view" or "click here to read" etc.
How much sports information is on the Morris newspaper website? I don't know because I've been asked so often to "log in" to read stuff there, I hardly ever check anymore. "Logging in" is so yesterday. So that website can just be crossed off your list.
"Logging in" is basically just a trick for someone to get your email address. Obviously they have some sort of commercial purpose for doing that. I'd rather get emails from my Nigerian friends. Reading their emails at least gives me the impression that someone cares about me (just kidding).
Incredibly, the Thursday error in the West Central Tribune was repeated on Friday. Did no one think to contact them to give them a heads-up? Or does no one rely on the newspaper, period? As a new media advocate I'd like to believe it's the latter.
On Saturday I paid no visit to the newsstand. I often get my West Central Trib at Casey's in Morris where I also get those most essential chocolate covered donuts.
You might be thinking: "How, Brian, can you suggest that newspapers are dying when you yourself buy them?" My answer: Newspapers don't make money on single-copy sales. They depend on advertising, and advertisers are finding more effective and better-targeted options.
The cost of printing and distributing the physical newspaper is becoming one of the biggest millstones around papers' necks. But they have to stay visible with their paper product in order to stay viable at all. I wince when I think of sports parents who will buy a big and bulky "weekend edition" of the Willmar paper, for no other reason then to get a four-paragraph sports article that might include their kid's name. Online is preferable. A parent could print off an article from here (this site) and the type size would be bigger than in a newspaper. It would be a better souvenir.
All these facts of which I speak are going to sink in over time. Gary Donovan of UMM once recalled for me a conversation he had with someone associated with the West Central Tribune. Gary told them "I'm sure you have a hard time getting everything right." He wasn't complaining, he was just indicating that he understood the pressures they faced.
Oh, of course it's hard. I've been there. You have limited time and limited space. The West Central Tribune seeks to cover a wide area, too, so it's a difficult mantle to wear.
Since it's so difficult, let's relieve them of that. In fact, let's just forget about them.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - Morris Area Tigers - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Newspapers getting slammed into turnbuckle

I have referred to Paul Gillin's Newspaper Death Watch once on this site, and I should explain that his popular aggregating type of site (with some similarities to this one, though with more than a minuscule following) isn't nearly as hard on newspapers as the name suggests.
Gillen is documenting the obvious i.e. the dramatically changing media landscape. And he actually says "we like newspapers!" He has been complimented for not merely joining in with all the "Internet triumphalist Kant" that is out there.
I'm not worthy of the same compliment, as you'll find all sorts of that Kant stuff here. Today's post gets going with a quote and it's a close paraphrase (not of Gillen but another media maven):

"I'm not saying that newspapers can't do great things. What I am saying is that their business model is dying."
- Michael Wolff, media analyst and biographer of Rupert Murdoch, on a CNBC panel discussion, perhaps a year ago

Newspaper industry observers are increasingly saying that the fixed costs in newspapering are going to start applying a Vern Gagne sleeper hold, soon. Papers have done about as much cutting as they can in areas where they have discretion to cut. When you consider that newspapers are competing with "free" (as in this website), the task is daunting, sort of like "The Always Capable Kenny Jay" taking on Vern.
The Morris and Hancock newspapers have been under chain ownership for some time. My impression of chain papers is that they're a lot like pink flamingos. There's no real "heart" to them. They inundate us with advertising which is their lifeblood. They have bean counters in high positions who don't hesitate to make austerity moves when the numbers dictate. Considering that newspapers have been in such a well-documented retreat, those bean counters are encouraging lots of belt tightening.
Locally the Morris newspaper has gone from twice weekly to once a week. And the newspaper office in Hancock has been yanked completely. Necessary moves? The owner, The Forum of Fargo, would say yes, but I would want to know what the company's profit expectations are. We're all entitled to seek a profit, even a fat profit, but we must provide a needed service and provide it well.
I remember when Forum owner William Marcil and some fellow executives visited the old Sun Tribune building one day during the purchase process. I was the first person with whom Marcil shook hands and said "hello." I'll never forget that. I also couldn't help but think: "Is this (acquisition) really a good thing?" For me, no, as I'd probably still be working for the paper if it were still organized according to the old model. Looking back to when that corporate entourage visited, I can't help but think of scenes from the old "Star Trek" TV series where William Shatner as Captain Kirk was confronted by the Klingons.
The Forum probably should have paused and taken a deep breath before buying the newspapers in Grand Forks and Duluth. "Sinking Titanics" is what former Fargo Forum columnist Mike McFeely called these two papers in a June blog post with his new employer: KFGO Radio. Marcil seems like a nice guy but he may just be rearranging the deck chairs.
Newspapers are in retreat because information is becoming free. People want information to be free. Information itself wants to be free (if you'll permit me to be anthropomorphic). Newspapers are trying to resist the forces of change, keeping those "presses running" in an age when we are in a sea of free information thanks to the new communications universe.
The community newspapers that are still family owned are probably rolling with the punches better than their (distant) chain cousins. An industry insider told me a while back that the mom and pop papers "are still doing fine as long as they have everything paid for and they have another source of income."
Chain papers don't accept retreat so easily. So these, in my estimation, have become unpleasant places in which to work, where people have grown sullen and prickly. Life is too short for that.
I was surprised and concerned recently when I noticed that the Morris paper suddenly included ad circulars for several businesses located outside of Stevens County. Incredibly, these included circulars for two grocery stores in Alexandria. Alexandria? A 45 minutes' drive away? I can't believe those stores would want to pay "full rate" for getting their flyers in the Morris paper, same rate as for, say, our local Willie's Super Valu.
I'm not a businessman so I can't really speculate on all the numbers. But something rubs me the wrong way about this. Perhaps others have agreed. After a couple of weeks, the circular for Pete's County Market disappeared. Last Saturday I didn't notice Elden's Food Fair either, so I thought perhaps both had been eradicated due to public pressure (i.e. pressure from people with brains).
Alas, the word on the street Monday morning was that the Elden's circular was still, well, circulating.
Ironically, most people from here who actually buy groceries in Alexandria probably do it at Wal-Mart. Which raises the question: Is Wal-Mart going to put up a new store in Morris this spring, north of McDonald's? Did Wal-Mart push certain buttons to get Coborn's out of the picture, so that the city would be more likely to put out a welcome mat?
Would Wal-Mart be good or bad for this community? Would it be good in the sense that it would fill a void in amenities deemed valuable by UMM students (and more importantly, prospective UMM students)? Would it make us feel a little, well, "micropolitan?" Fascinating questions. But in the meantime, do we want to push business to Alexandria? Should the Morris paper be a party to that by including all this advertising material?
I hope some street-level voices are in agreement with mine.
The Forum-owned Duluth News-Tribune has had a third of its workforce slashed in the last two years. Discontent in the Port City press has reached the point where informational pickets have appeared outside the building.
Forum officials hung up on an NBC affiliate reporter seeking to do a story, according to David Brauer of Minnpost. Maybe "hung up" is becoming a dated term so let's just say the enterprising NBC reporter "heard a click." Sheesh. Ink-stained newspaper folks have cried "foul" for years when movers and shakers have stonewalled on investigative media inquiries. But now that the story is the paper itself?
I'm reminded of the "sullen" and "prickly" adjectives again.
Someone with the initials K.O. posted the following on the "Northland's Newscenter" site: "The DNT (Duluth News-Tribune) has always been an uncomfortable place to work because it has a strong profit driven workplace, with employees being a dispensable commodity. We all should be thankful for jobs but we shouldn't be treated that way from employers. The DNT should be thankful for employees they have. At one time it used to be a good job in town, but I tell others to stay away from the DNT. Stop treating your employees like children and grow up."
I related all of this to a friend in the radio business in Willmar, quoting for him a union (or "guild") statement from that imbroglio. He wrote back: "What's with this union? 'We protest the layoffs and bring our concerns to the public.' That's like if the union for slide rule manufacturers back in the early '70's would have been shocked and upset about the layoffs then? Times change and so does business - but then again the union officials have to do something publicly to earn their keep."
I'd be willing to bet that the Forum-owned paper in Willmar will discontinue its Monday edition within months. Many communities of similar size have seen this happen. If Willmar's West Central Tribune follows the Red Wing model it will shrivel down to twice a week and eliminate much of the non-local news. People get their non-local news from myriad other sources now, so chopping down trees to duplicate it seems imprudent.
The newspaper is no longer a necessity because of the wealth of information available online - a body of information growing larger and more reliable with each passing day. As more people decide to pursue a green, paperless lifestyle, I suspect they might be affronted when a "free" shopper (like the Ad-viser) lands on their doorstep. Don't hesitate to try to have it discontinued. If you subscribe to the paper out of habit, try to re-think that habit. If you need to know what's going on in the community, get on the email list for the "Friday Facts" feature of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce and U of M-Morris. We are moving toward a more uplifting and eco-friendly communications universe.
Dwelling on newspapers' shortcomings is in the end fruitless, because I feel they are simply fading into irrelevance. Like the U.S. Postal Service. Recycling the paper accomplishes nothing more than starting the whole process over again.
"Going paperless," a popular and practical trend these days, should include getting rid of newspapers. E-coupons are now available through our terrific radio station website (kmrs-kkok).
Newspapers are a dinosaur. Let's leave this "Land of the Lost." (Will Ferrell, what were you thinking?)
-Brian Williams - Morris Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Teachers' unions starting to feel the heat?

"Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it."
It's a tired line, one having made the rounds so much, it has lost its humorous zing. Here in Minnesota we have to pretty much just hunker down and accept the weather anyway. It's March so things can only get better.
We complain about the complicated tax code the same way. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has some good ideas about that. The ideas might not see the light of day because, to use another tired old line, "they make too much sense." The folksy former governor of Arkansas has to be content just hosting a curious hybrid political/entertainment show on Fox News.
While weather and taxes seem entrenched as sources of annoyance, there may be hope in connection with another popular irritant: teachers' unions. Something seems to be in the air in terms of challenging them. There's the celebrated Rhode Island case of a school district telling its entire teaching staff to take a hike. Might this episode become comparable to Ronald Reagan firing the nation's air traffic controllers?
Ultimately it's about power and who can cultivate and use it. Our public school teachers' unions have been very good at this. Teachers are articulate and very good at advocacy. They talk about the most wholesome of objectives in our society - education - as if it was their charge to defend and build it. It is not their charge. All the broad and altruistic talk is a guise, but they emphasize it so much they end up believing it themselves.
As with all unions, their charge is to look out for the parochial interests of members. Teachers want what we all want: the highest salary that can be obtained, a work environment with minimal anxiety, and boundaries that allow them to enjoy a maximum amount of time off. Make no mistake, these are all admirable objectives. It's just that they are elusive for most of the rest of us.
I habitually watch the "Morning Joe" TV program in the early morning, and there is a drumbeat from the show's host (Joe Scarborough, former Florida congressman) questioning the teachers' unions. He is unrelenting. Considering that, along with the Rhode Island "shot across the bow," indeed maybe something is in the air.
I have always come across people who are disgusted with teachers' unions. One would think that the prevalence of such thought would start putting some chinks in the teachers' armor. But it has always seemed like complaining about the weather. Teachers have always been so mobilized to get their message across. Another problem is that nearly all of us have made friends with teachers in a way that makes us admire their personal qualities. Parents find that some teachers have been quite inspiring. No one intends to indict all teachers or even to indict them as a group. Rather, the idea is to disassemble the political, lobbying apparatus that pushes the teachers' most parochial and least idealistic/altruistic aims.
I'm writing this because there does seem to be a rising chorus. So I found it interesting that the March 9 Star Tribune included a lengthy op-ed piece that really went after Education Minnesota, our state's teacher advocacy organization. Three people teamed to write this: Don Samuels, Chanda Baker and Sondra Samuels. They put their toe in the water cautiously, predictably, because a frontal assault on teachers' unions is still somewhat rare. Right off the bat they conceded that Education Minnesota President Thomas Dooher cares about education and our communities. The second sentence stated "we all know many wonderful teachers in Education Minnesota's ranks."
After getting their toe in the water, they got more frank and direct: "Dooher stands defiantly in the school entrance, horn in hand, blocking any innovation" that would help kids who have socioeconomic limitations.
The discussion has ratcheted up a notch with Minnesota's failure to be a finalist for "Race to the Top" funds. This failure has been laid at the doorstep of the teachers' union, in the minds of many. Dooher stood firm on some narrow union positions, deeming them more important than the aim to get those funds (up to $250 million of the $4.35 billion competition). For crying out loud, the state teachers' union's stance was even contrary to President Barack Obama, who is judged so progressive that the right wing pulls its hair out constantly. Just watch Glenn Beck on Fox News.
Unions were a big part of Obama's rise politically. But Education Minnesota isn't impressed. Not inclined to compromise, this in spite of the fact that, as pointed out by the op-ed's authors, almost 90 percent of the state's school districts and charter schools supported Obama's education innovations.
That 90 percent wasn't enough to slay the state teachers' union dragon. In Rhode Island, the dragon was slayed in a draconian way. It's unfortunate that such a meat cleaver remedy has to be considered. Teachers' unions have historically found ways to get their rhetoric impressed on the public. Primarily this is by suggesting that the unions' overriding purpose is to look out for education. Hey, it's called "Education Minnesota," isn't it? What do you have against education?
There is a word for this and it's "naivete."
Joe Scarborough doesn't buy any of the union spinning. In today's media environment, which is so transformed by the new communications, it's harder to pull the wool over people's eyes. We may be seeing a momentum shift in favor of the people who demand more accountability and real world mechanisms in education.
It's nothing personal, teachers. Some of the people I most admire are from the ranks of you folks.
-Brian Williams - Morris Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One last gunfight for newspapers?

"Today is my birthday. Give me the best you've got."
- John Wayne as gunfighter J.B. Books, arriving at a saloon counter in the concluding scene in "The Shootist" (1976)

I celebrated my 55th birthday at the end of January and did so without alcohol. Turning 55 makes be eligible for the weekly senior citizens drawing at DeToy's Restaurant in Morris. The prize is a chicken dinner. It's a matter of time before my name will show up on the winners board (I hope).
"The Duke" as J.B. Books entered the saloon as a terminally ill man - an old, celebrated gunfighter who was being ushered into obsolescence by more advanced, civilized times. He took a quick glance at a "horseless carriage" just before entering the saloon, as if thinking to himself "we're entering a new age." And soon he was locked in an expected gunfight with some hombres. (This was Wayne's last movie.)
The fight went well until it seemed as though it was all over. Then, from behind, the forgotten saloon keeper raised a double barrel shotgun and filled Mr. Books with buckshot.
The young "Gillom" (Ron Howard), who befriended Books early in this story and grew close, retrieved the old gunfighter's iron, raised it and gunned down the saloon man. Then, after making pained eye contact with Mr. Books for several seconds, Gillom flung the pistol away, whereupon Books smiled, approvingly. . .and died.
A message from all this was that the gun, as with the horse (as primary means of travel) was fading into the past, replaced by a higher level of civilization.
And so it is today with newspapers, fading out of the picture while a new ecosystem of electronic communications advances.
It's my old profession - newspapers that is - but one that has become merely the fodder of memories. I suspect that the transition in that business has made many of its practitioners scared and cowering. The grim reaper might be around any corner, ready to announce "new efficiencies" or "restructuring." And the grizzled veterans of the trade, as I would have been had I stuck around, can end up getting filled with buckshot.
The "dead tree" newspaper industry, seemingly in a daze about the walls caving in, stammers about how its web presence can be transformative. About how color photos can be a significant facelift, despite the fact people view exquisite color photos on their computer screens all day.
Newspapers trumpet their websites but it's almost like Don Quixote lunging at the windmill. Newspapers thought in the early days of the Internet that their product would simply "migrate" to the new medium. The term "migration" implies business as usual, only in a different setting. Instead there has been a rude awakening for the "dead tree" profession as its practitioners (or I should emphasize its owners) realize their anticipated "soft landing" on the web is going to be a catastrophic crash.
The Internet empowers individuals. It is a bottom-up communications model instead of top-down. The new information ecosystem is a meritocracy. No longer must we wait for the gods up on Mount Olympus to decide "what's news" on a given day. No longer do a group of caffeine-injected middle-aged stuffed shirts in a New York City building dictate what the day's headlines will be. Shouldn't there be a collective "amen" to that?
The first shot across the bow might have been the Clinton-Lewinsky saga, which initially was a no-go journalistically in the minds of those stuffed shirts. After some (albeit panicked) deliberation they decided to pass, in the same way the press looked the other way with JFK's dalliances. But not so fast. The new media pioneers became entranced by the story and they felt no barriers. Indeed those barriers have been knocked over, more than ever in the year 2010.
Someday I'd like to see a movie about that seminal moment, when Internet mavens collectively decided that a story, however tabloid-y, needed to get in front of the public..
Lyle Christiansen of Morris once paid a private detective to get a movie script idea to Nora Ephron. His idea was about the D.B. Cooper legend and how his brother was likely the notorious fellow. (I admire Lyle's intrepid spirit but am puzzled why he would want to connect his family name to criminal notoriety.)
My suggested movie would begin with scenes portraying the "old media" - those boardrooms and harried men wearing white shirts and ties (neck loosened), many puffing on cigarettes (from days when it got a pass indoors) - men thinking themselves entitled. Scenes too of bundled newspapers, mountains of them, getting sacked and heaved into delivery trucks, etc., etc., etc.
Then I'd shift to the "geeks" (now considered normal people) ushering the new media out of obscurity, who with a few keystrokes and click could propel the likes of the Clinton-Lewinsky "scandal." And where did that take us? Perhaps nowhere in terms of political fallout. But the media landscape would never be the same again. As we were reminded again when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth bypassed a hesitant establishment media and got out in front of the public. The undaunted (but I feel needlessly venomous) Swift Boaters delivered a seeming roundhouse punch to John Kerry's presidential aspirations.
Continuing the theme of roundhouses, there was the one delivered to the jaw of old media stalwart Dan Rather. "Superscript" went right over his head. The blogosphere took the lead, advanced like army ants and devoured the veteran newsman who had almost been created by Watergate.
Nothing changes overnight. Old habits and systems can be stubborn in stepping aside for as long as any money is to be made perpetuating them. So "dead tree" newspapers and shoppers are thrashing about, trying to demonstrate their relevance in an age in which they more accurately could be described as pollution.
A couple years ago the Alexandria, Virginia, city council considered a "do not deliver" law as a way to confront a "free circulation" newspaper, the Examiner, that was the cause of frequent complaints. (I never checked to see how the issue was resolved, but the point is made.)
The newspaper industry is a plodding dinosaur while people like me (with "I Love Morris") are the little mammals scurrying around among the rocks while the behemoths go extinct. Frankly I thought the process of evolution would progress faster. But the current transformative process is partly generational, with the oldsters - and that increasingly includes baby boomers - clinging to papers largely out of sentiment and habit.
The dinosaurs are dropping and the mammals are getting bigger.
I notice that there's no longer a green vending box for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the south side of Stevens Community Medical Center. And so the fading goes, gradually, like splotches of sunlight during twilight.
The company that owns the Brainerd Dispatch has fallen into bankruptcy. That company, Morris Publishing Group of Georgia (Georgia?), also owns the papers in Pequot Lakes and Pine River (superb deer hunting country among the pines, I might add).
The St. Paul Pioneer Press has taken its turn in the bankruptcy line, following the lead of the venerable Star Tribune. A newspaper filing for bankruptcy isn't the man-bites-dog story it once was. It's a yawner more like the bulletin of Sarah Palin signing with Fox News.
The Pi Press is thus humbled, although I'm puzzled how these papers always spin their bankruptcy stories as if the move is a good thing. Typical: "Our day-to-day operations won't be affected and we can restructure now."
Oh good, everybody likes a happy ending, with emphasis on the word "ending."
The Pi Press was a favorite of mine in college mainly because of Don Riley's "Eye Opener" sports column. Don was an earthy sort who wouldn't have known the meaning of political correctness. As an example, he wrote of female golfer Laura Baugh that "she's the only golfer on the women's tour that I would care to share a rhumba with."
I'm not sure what's more dated in that statement: the sexism or the "rhumba." But I loved Don's uninhibited perspective. How, for example, he'd respond to a harsh critic by writing "And you'll love the view at Happy Acres." (Come to think of it, that's non-PC too.)
His intro lines for various topics were trademarks: "I'll talk, you listen". . . "Scattergunning from the catbird's seat". . . "Behind the lockers."
Here in the Morris area, it's time we heed the words of Stevens Forward! and expedite the recommended new "virtual community" in which we optimize new media.
I was ahead of my time four years ago when I went around tapping people on the shoulder, so to speak, suggesting this. I broached the subject with people I considered to be progressive and community-conscious, you know, "Blandin" type people. And they were nice and polite and little more. Their eyes would get glazed over, they would smile reflexively and say "thank you, Brian."
But now it's official with the proclamation from Stevens Forward! that we not take such a yawning attitude. We are in fact to pursue a new ecosystem of local information sharing and reporting. An example is the "Friday Facts" community schedule which is e-mailed to a host of people by the Chamber of Commerce and University of Minnesota-Morris. If UMM puts its imprimatur on this, it will have legs.
If Stevens Forward! succeeds in fostering that "virtual community," we may not need the traditional newspaper. We as a community won't need to heave tons of intrusive and unwieldy ad circulars (like for Alexandria businesses) into the local waste disposal. Well, maybe not tons. It only seems like it. Recycling? This only starts the whole process over again.
The outstate newspaper travails may be worse than in the metro. Does that surprise anyone? One reason we all seem to be screaming for the Riley brothers to get a break is that we're feeling such economic pain out here, right?
David Brauer of Minnpost, in writing about the Duluth newspaper situation, began a post as follows: "Over the many months I've done this blog, I've tried to bring attention to the newspaper meltdown in non-metro Minnesota. In some cases, the reductions are far worse than what's happened at our local dailies. Case in point: the Duluth News-Tribune."
The company that owns the Duluth paper also owns the Morris and Hancock papers.
Esteemed media analyst Michael Wolff, who wrote a biography of mogul Rupert Murdoch (available at the Morris Public Library), predicted last April that 80 percent of all newspapers would be gone within 18 months.
"A fool, a knave, heresy," were remarks of derision in response, in effect. But it reminds me of "Fulton's Folly" and other mocking, skeptical reactions to when change moved rapidly at our doorstep, propelled by the inexorable force of technology and how it chisels persistently. I have told some friends via email that I consider Wolff to be totally correct.
The idea of abandoning newspapers creates a level of discomfort with a lot of people, in the way any kind of major change creates discomfort. Change is unsettling. It means adopting new behavior patterns and a new mindset. But as with a toddler plugging his nose and going underwater in the pool for the first time, the initial trepidation gives way to a surprising new comfort level.
"Hey, that was no big deal."
-Brian Williams - Morris Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com