I was Les Nessman, but not at WKRP…

November 30, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

A former editor-boss of mine e-mailed me a story about how a television station in Cincinnati adopted the call letters WKRP in a promotion that references the TV situation comedy popular in the 1970s about a small time mid-western radio station, WKRP in Cincinnati.

The reason he would send it to me is in reference to the character Les Nessman who was the newsman for WKRP and loved to do his farm news, reporting, among other things, the price of hogs. Old Les was a geeky-looking fella, wearing a bow tie, who took his news, to include the farm reports, quite seriously.

Maybe my former boss thought that fit me. Maybe it was the fact that my job at his newspaper was that of the “farm editor”.

And maybe it was the fact that, strangely enough, not long after leaving that job, I found myself portraying a real-life Les Nessman at a small-time radio station in the town where I went through high school. I even did my own farm report, among the rest of the news.

In a show I created myself, I did regular interviews with farmers and others connected to local agriculture. I simply used a tape recorder, gave a little intro, did the interview, and then closed it out, all off the cuff, no script.

In fact, the best one I ever did was at the nationally famous Red Bluff (Ca.) Bull Sale, where I interviewed an auctioneer. I asked him to explain what he was actually saying in the chant he did and why it was done that way, along with other such questions. I closed out by asking him to give a demonstration, and he did. Not a flub in that tape, as smooth as can be. The owner of the radio station gave it a rave review and then told me I had no more job. They decided to change their format and cut down on personnel.

I had hoped to last long enough to beat out Les Nessman for the coveted annual Silver Sow Award.

Pondering about why we all can’t be rich…

November 28, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

“Why can’t everyone have money? Why does there have to be the rich and the poor?”

That is what my granddaughter asked her parents who were over for Thanksgiving.

I chimed in something, but it was not much more than her parents offered. We all told her something to the effect that if everyone had as much money as they wanted, money wouldn’t be worth anything.

And now that I think of it, that is about as good an answer as there could be.

It may well be what we are going through right now. With no-money-down houses that could be bought for nothing and then flipped and sold for a profit and with paying for everything with plastic cards rather than money earned, our economic system became some mutant form of capitalism that in effect tried to make everyone rich. It was as if money were virtually being distributed to everyone.

But then something pricked the inflated economic system with a pin and the air was sucked right out of it. All that money, measured in equity never paid for in the first place and inflated mortgage securities based on money that could not be collected, was worthless.

I suppose if we really did live in the fabled Land of Milk and Honey and there was an abundance of everything for everyone, money would not exist.

But reality is that there is not enough of everything to go around in this world and in some cases even if there is a sufficient number of a certain type of thing people want, human nature being what it is, someone will want more than everyone else. So in order to allocate all the stuff we use money. But, I guess to make sure that money has value, it isn’t just distributed evenly. We have to offer something of value to the holder of money in order to get some of that money.

Realize that I’m doing this all off the top of my head, but it occurs to me that Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels thought a working man’s labor was the measure by which all things should be valued. Exactly how they thought one would determine that, I don’t know.

But capitalists see the working man’s labor as worth simply what it costs to get it, but the product that the working man makes is worth not what the working man put into it, but again, how much can be got for it. I realize not everyone actually makes something. Some supply a service, but it’s still effort, and the Marxists I suppose would attempt to put a value on that effort. So do capitalists, but again, the value is what can be had for the product or service, not necessarily what was put into it (although that will be used in part to justify an asking price).

The capitalist system seems to be the natural system. The Marxist system is, to say the least, contrived. I mean one caveman has a pile of rocks he has gathered to throw at dinosaurs and the other caveman wants some, so the first caveman says: “what are you willing to give me for some of my rocks?” The second caveman had an argument with his nagging, but good-looking wife this morning, so he says, “I’ll give you my wife.” Deal. The second caveman did not inquire how much effort went into gathering those rocks and figure on that basis how much the rocks were worth. Okay the quibblers, maybe the Marxists, and even the capitalists would say the second caveman may have considered that although he could gather other rocks himself, it was not worth his time and effort if he could simply buy them from caveman number one (something about opportunity cost?), but that in a way spoils my example – no wonder I’m not so hot at economics.

Some people are either made to be, content to be, or have to settle on being workers. They will be paid for their efforts, but not necessarily according to their efforts, but more likely according to how much they are willing or able to demand for their efforts.

On the other hand, some folks take money for work, but save some of that money back until they accumulate enough to make it work for them by putting it out at interest (letting others pay them for the cost of using it) or investing it into something with the plan that they will reap profits beyond what they have invested. That money they save back is capital, thus they are called capitalists.

Neither the pure capitalist system nor the pure Marxist or socialist systems seem to satisfy whole populations all at one time. So we have the phenomenon of socialist systems incorporating forms of the capitalist system (China and Vietnam as examples) and capitalist systems incorporating forms of the socialist system (Western Europe and the good old USA).

(And yes, for the record, I realize Marxism is a form of socialism and not synonymous with socialism.)

The purists of both ideologies will complain bitterly when their respective governments stray from the preferred system, and the rest of society seeks what offers them survival at the time.

All the foregoing was a gross oversimplification and perhaps not totally accurate, I’m sure, and was not meant to teach anyone anything. It was more thinking out loud.

The public schools really need to instruct the young (everyone) about the theory of economics and the real meaning of money.

Unfortunately, by watching some of the top brains on that subject these past many months, I’m not sure those supposedly in the know really understand much more than I have just written.

P.s. Again, capitalism seems to me the more natural system, and being as it is natural, it allows humans to live life as nature would lead them and not by the rules of authoritarianism that would set up an unnatural model that would inhibit personal freedom. The natural capitalist society, though, requires some rules for civilization and self protection. We’ve seen what happens with a lack of control. And we may find out what happens with too much control.

Thanksgiving for cancer support and prayers…

November 27, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

The one thing we all face together in this thing called life is that none of us are going to get out of it alive.

Once one faces that fact, maybe it is a lot easier to face the future. I’m 59 and was diagnosed with a treatable but incurable type of cancer almost a year and a half ago.

For me, if often seems the future is already here or maybe it has come and gone. I mean I always spent so much time either thinking things would be better in the future or putting things off till the future.

When I was first diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia (WM), I was told that the average life expentency after diagnosis was five years. But the problem is when did the clock start running? No one knows when he or she first got it. I litterally thought I was a goner when I was first diagnosed. Then I read some blogs and some info on the net that indicated that my life expectency could be somewhat longer or in fact that it was really unknown how long I might live. One doctor suggested I might even live to be a relatively old man (I doubt it, though).

Cancer never shows up at a good time, but for me it seemed particularly inconvenient. I was not long into the best job, at least pay wise, that I had ever had. I have four years of college, but pulling double freight trailers up and down the highway was paying me more than I had ever seen. In fact, I was always happy to note that my wages were as high or higher than a lot of those listed for beginning professional jobs in my area of the country. Of course beginners in the professions can make a lot more eventually, although they have to better themselves and move on to do it. Or as my former oncologist not so delicately put it, those doctors down at the urgent care clinic do not know what they are doing, if they did, they wouldn’t be working there (hopefully I don’t have to go to an urgent care center and hopefully if I do the doctor didn’t read this and besides I was just paraphrasing my egotistical former oncologist, who as far as I know did at least save my life at one point).

And I get off track so easily…. anyway, I got cancer and that put a monkey wrench into the works, to say the least. If you have WM you know or will soon find out that it is a watch and wait thing either before they decide to do treatment or after. It is incurable, so you always have that feeling of doom hanging over your head. But, remember, we all had that anyway.

I would advise joining a cancer support group – and I know if you are like me, you think, support group, no not for me. I don’t want to sit around listening to people moan about their misery. It’s bad enough I have this thing, without listening to the woes of others.

But my wife talked me into going recently, and the best thing for the both of us, is that we both go. She has gotten as much out of it as me. She’s the care giver. A lot of the spouses or care givers are in our group. One member does not have another person and others can’t get their significant others to attend. In some cases the non-attending others are the actual cancer sufferers and in some cases the spouse or care giver.

And it’s not just moaning and groaning — there can be some of that, but there is also happiness and joy, and education, and most of all, just normal every-day people sharing their lives and thankful they have others to share with.

What I really wanted to say in this blog was that I am thankful to be alive and thankful that I have a family and thankful that I can spend another Thanksgiving with them.

Through my family and friends a lot of people have said prayers for me, most of whom I do not even know. I thank them and the one to whom they are addressing their prayers.

The cancer has been a heavy burden, but at least it has allowed me to appreciate the good things the Lord has bestowed upon me and us all.

This truly is a time of thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Unexpected drama part and parcel to presidency

November 25, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

Most or all of my knowledge of President John F. Kennedy’s administration is like a video tape rolling in my head. I watched so much of it on TV as an adolescent. But that doesn’t mean that everything in there is accurate. I just got through madly searching Wikipedia and anything else I could find on the web concerning Kennedy’s immediate public reaction to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and didn’t have much luck.

Even though several sources indicated that he took “full responsibility” for the failure, I did not find what in my head I always assumed to be fact. I always have pictured him making one of those solitary oval office television addresses, such as the one on the Cuban Missile Crisis, acknowledging his mistake concerning the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. But nowhere could I immediately find that.

So, maybe I’ll get back to that point later after more research.

History tells us, though, that the fiasco was not only covertly supported by the U.S., but that it was what you might call an open secret at the time. It had been set in motion by the Eisenhower administration, who informed the incoming president Kennedy of the plan. Kennedy went along with it, but apparently decided that he would not get our armed forces involved in it should things go wrong. Unfortunately, that was not what the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed Cuban expatriates who invaded were told and the end result is that they were left stranded on the beach with not so much as air cover (that they expected), eventually being killed or captured by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s forces. The U.S. was at odds with Castro, who had become a follower of the Soviets.

It was an embarrassment for the new administration, but it moved on. Later the Cuban Missile Crisis came along and Kennedy redeemed himself by standing up to the Soviets.

Some conspiracy theorists think that the CIA was so mad at Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs and for the purported notion that Kennedy was ready to pull out of Vietnam (the U.S. still being in an advisory role in that fight against the communist insurgency) that they were behind his assassination. Kennedy of course was assassinated on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, 45 years ago.

Faulty memory or not, I can tell you this, the assassination was one of the most bizarre things I have ever witnessed (via TV and newspapers). The president was shot while riding in an open limousine on the streets of Dallas, and then the apparent shooter was assassinated by a gunman as he was being taken on what we might call today a “perp walk”, one of those contrived occurrences where a criminal suspect is marched in front of the cameras, usually in shackles. In this case they were moving Lee Harvey Oswald from one jail to another though a crowd of newsmen and others (how much sense did that make?).

Over the weekend I saw a clip from an interview with the cop that was escorting Oswald. He said that just before they started on the walk he remarked to Oswald: “If anyone shoots, I hope they’re accurate,” meaning he hoped they hit Oswald, not him (and how weird is that? that he would think to say such a thing). Shooting point blank, Jack Ruby couldn’t hardly miss. And he had no trouble getting into position, both because of the mob scene and the fact he was a well-known fixture around the police headquarters, being kind of a groupie. The hand gun Ruby used had been purchased for him by a policeman friend, although reportedly not for killing Oswald but for Ruby’s protection as a nightclub owner who carried large amounts of cash to the bank.

(And come to think of it, I think the live-on-TV shooting of assassination suspect Oswald by Ruby was the first time I ever remember of a news clip being played constantly over and over again for a day or more. In fact, I understand the now archaic technology used to replay that video (or film?) led to the modern instant replay used so much in sports. The next news clip that got possibly even more play was the space ship Challenger blowup on Jan. 28, 1986. Nowadays all kinds of clips are on YouTube and elsewhere for constant replay.)

I think a lot of people wondered if we really had gotten out of control as a nation when after just enduring the assassination of our president we witnessed live on TV the murder of the suspected assassin.

And while the evidence is clear that Oswald shot from the upper story window of the Texas School Book Depository, just who were those mysterious characters on the grassy knoll? I am sure I recall hearing something about them in the original news reports. I have a book written by a woman who claims to have been Castro’s girlfriend at one time and also a CIA agent. She claims she went on a mission to Dallas just before the assassination (of which she apparently did not know what the real reason was for), but went back home to the east coast after she got sick. But she claims or implies that her CIA cohorts were in on the Kennedy assassination. Now obviously I think it is just as likely she has a good imagination and had a need for a story to put into book form to hopefully make some money.

But the point of this is that the whole episode was bizarre – oh and my memory still seems to be hazy about Kennedy’s mea culpa on the Bay of Pigs. I’ll have to do more research. Can anyone offer suggestions on that?

P.s. If Kennedy had supported the Bay of Pigs invaders we might have been able to wipe out Castro. I’m not sure why that would have been a good thing, though. I think Kennedy was afraid the Soviets might use our action as a pretext to cause troubles elsewhere. But my observation is that every time we stood up to the Soviets they backed down (is my memory faulty again?).

P.s.  P.s. Kennedy came into office and was almost immediately faced with the Bay of Pigs. George W. Bush was faced with 9/11. I have a feeling Barack Obama’s first big crisis, besides the already-known one, the economy, will come early and will be something off everyone’s radar screen.

A New Deal, an Economic Recovery Program…

November 23, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

My 98-year old mom just told me on the telephone that when Franklin Roosevelt began his presidency at the height of the Great Depression he was a “breath of fresh air”. But not everyone shared her delight, she noted. My late aunt, who spent nearly all her adult life on a 60-acre farm out west of Modesto, Ca., and who worked for many years at the Farm Bureau office (not a government agency as the name might imply) never did have any use for Roosevelt, according to mom.

You can’t please everyone.

But to me, Barack Obama with the announcement in a radio address Saturday that he plans to hit the ground running when he takes office in January with a major stimulus program that promises to create 2.5 million jobs (after seeing 1.2 million lost this past year) sounds good. Via what he calls the Economic Recovery Program, he is proposing in general to stimulate the economy with public works projects to fix our ailing infrastructure – roads and bridges and schools – and develop “green” technologies to deal with our environmental crisis and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Incentives would be offered to the business sector for green technology development.

And according to an article I read in the New York Times online, he plans to keep his promise to cut taxes for lower and middle class workers, but may delay tax hikes on the wealthy by letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011.

While I always believe private enterprise is the best system, I feel government can and should help lead the way, and it appears that is what Mr. Obama has in mind.

Just to keep things straight, the remainder of this blog is composed of my personal view and not directly descriptive of Obama’s proposals:

There’s really no reason every able-bodied person could not have a job in this nation. We have the natural resources in abundance for the raw materials for heavy industry. We have huge agricultural resources. We have the brains for high tech. And we have a tremendous labor force (we are not dependent upon immigrants, but certainly legal ones should be welcomed to the promise of liberty in America at the rate of which we can absorb them).

We have a crumbling infrastructure that needs immediate attention – that means jobs galore.

For the most part, these jobs can be supplied by private enterprise, but where they can’t, we do have a government, and the unions and private interests need to stand aside and let the government provide employment. I think the private interests probably would not mind at this point. The unions might be a different story. I would rather see millions or billions of public dollars poured into public projects than into bankers’ vaults for safe keeping.

I think private enterprise would welcome public works projects to get people employed and spending dollars.

Now when I write about public projects to repair the infrastructure I mean both projects that would utilize private contractors and skilled laborers (often union), as well as the good old government make work projects, ala FDR of the 1930s. Make work has received a bad name in the past. There’s nothing wrong with make work if the made up work provides something useful. And it’s alright that the government provides work for the unemployed because it is our government. We are employing ourselves.

If the economy were moving along better private enterprise would be taking care of the job problem, but we are in a kink (okay, more than a kink).

In general I would think that it is not a good idea to have government compete directly with private industry. But even if times were good, government could still supply jobs, having folks do things that might not otherwise get done – building and maintaining parks, as an example – but nonetheless would help support our quality of life. And those things should be done in these bad times as well.

Supplying the populace with what it needs and wants through the incentive of the profit motive is usually the most efficient economic model. But poor management can bring any industry down – witness the big three auto makers (I know, the management blames the unions and the unions blame the management and meanwhile the non-union foreign-owned plants in Ohio and Tennessee and elsewhere keep rolling them out – and I’m not necessarily anti-union, but there is such a thing as killing the goose that laid the golden egg).

The old Soviet Union tried a totally state-run bureaucratic production model and it failed miserably in improving the quality of life for its citizens. Communist China never made much progress until it adopted more of a free enterprise approach. Communist Vietnam is having much better luck with its use of the capitalist model as well.

I took a college class called “Economic Geography”. I recall the professor telling of how the Soviet Union at one point had a disastrous wheat harvest not because of bad weather, but because their harvesters kept breaking down. It seems that the parts factories were not producing the right parts needed for the harvesters. In the Soviet model, all that is decided by a commissar somewhere who may have no idea of what is needed. In our model, private companies do their best to meet market demand in order to both stay in business and to reward themselves with the highest profits.

On the other hand, a concentrated effort by the government comes in handy in times of emergency.

During our Katrina there was not enough government concentration and coordination on the human disaster in New Orleans.

But, during the recent Chinese earthquake a much larger disaster, the swiftness with which the communist Chinese government moved in to aid its citizens was impressive, a certain level of propaganda aside.

Government is not always the enemy — unless you live in Myanmar.

Forty five years ago today an ugly time…

November 22, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

Forty five years ago today I was 14 years old. I was stacking firewood outside my house before school, and my mother called me inside and said President Kennedy had been shot.

We soon learned that it was fatal. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

I was attuned to current events and even politics at some level of understanding from an early age, mostly because my mother always had the Today Show going in the morning and because she kept up on such things. And it helped that my father was a newspaperman who had worked on everything from country newspapers to big city papers to the Associated Press news wire service San Francisco bureau.

But on that fateful November day in 1963 I was a freshman in high school, an adolescent just beginning to develop into an adult frame of mind.

I don’t think that I was exceptionally mature for my age, but at least I was a little more advanced than one of my friends at high school. As I was walking down a corridor at school that day, he was coming down the other way and looked at me and with his fingers put a mock gun to his head, in reference to the assassination. Whether I laughed or smiled in reaction to his gesture, I don’t recall.

I doubt that he was anti-Kennedy or even had any opinion. At least he knew something had happened. I don’t recall there being much discussion among the students about the event of the day, although there must have been some. I recall reading news accounts that students at a Dallas school had actually cheered. The world can be an ugly place.

Meanwhile, the news that the president had been shot came at a bad time or a good time at the newspaper where my father worked, depending upon one’s frame of mind.

It was an afternoon paper and they had just hit the final deadline when someone came in and said that they had heard on the radio that the president had been shot. About the same time bells started ringing on the teletype machine and its constant loud clatter that one got used to in the newsroom took on a special significance. My dad that evening gave me a copy of the first dispatch that came over the wire. To the best I recall it read: “President Kennedy shot today in Dallas, perhaps fatally.” I kept it in a drawer throughout my high school years, but it got lost along the way since.

According to a cub reporter who worked at the newspaper at the time and who wrote a column about that day that was published a few years ago, the events at the newspaper came down like this: the editor at the time was a man who had the use of only one hand. He could type as fast as anyone with that one hand (I know. I saw him in action). Although he may have been a fairly competent country editor, he apparently wasn’t up to handling real breaking news. He froze. He didn’t know what to do. But there were two old hands in the newsroom, an old bachelor that hung out in the local bars when he was not covering his beat, and my dad. That old bachelor automatically took over and with the help of my dad they redid the front page and got the local reaction story and that afternoon had some real news, albeit sad, in the paper, beating the morning papers by some 12 hours.

As I recall there were no television commercials or regular programing for the next week, only somber music and news reports and the funeral for the fallen president.

President Kennedy did not have the time in office or the cooperation from congress, as I recall, to get done all the things he wanted to. And in no disrespect to him or his memory, I think his assassination makes him stand out in history more than he might have.

But he was our first charisma president, and yet he seemed not to be all show, but sincere. I can remember the reassurance he gave us in his nationwide address on the Cuban Missile Crisis when it looked as if we were on the brink of nuclear war (history shows we were even closer than most knew). I also recall him admitting on nationwide television that he had erred in the aborted Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He took full responsibility. Who would do that today?

As I look back on a time when we had someone to believe in at the top, I am hopeful that we once more will have that come the new year and that it works out better for all concerned this time around.

Palin’s animal gore, ballot blots, news biz…

November 21, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

There’s more to this blog than Sarah Palin, but I just have to comment on this:

Sarah Palin did one appearance on Saturday Night Live. I think now that she didn’t get the vice presidential gig, but has tasted fame, she wants a permanent gig on SLN. I mean that absurd video that anyone who watches cable news or surfs the web cannot have missed with her talking glibly but in that weird syntax while turkeys are being slaughtered in clear view of the camera just in back of her beats anything that SLN writers could have even conceived of. Apparently she was oblivious to what was going on.

I’m so happy her ticket lost and that U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska who was in danger of being kicked out of the Senate over felony convictions lost too so she can’t appoint herself senator. Please Sarah, go back to your governor’s office and don’t bother us again (somehow I think she will be back, though, she hasn’t even left yet).

And just how does that terrible funnel contraption they were stuffing the turkeys into work? It seemed that when they pulled them back out they still had their heads, but there sure appeared to be a lot of blood running.

I’m not that big on animal slaughter, but I accept it, and I sure am a meat eater. My dad used to tell me about how his mother would use a cane to pull in a chicken from the yard and then swiftly chop its head off – her version of dinner prep. Somehow that seems more humane than what I saw on the Palin Thanksgiving horror video.

I also once toured a meat packing plant and watched the whole process from the killing to the hide being mechanically stripped off to the cutting and so on. The tour guide said that in most tour groups the men were more squeamish about the whole thing than the women.

– Al Franken was a good comedian, I suppose, not so good of a left-wing political talk show host on the liberal Air America Radio network, I thought, and I’m not so sure that he would be a good U.S. Senator, but I guess that’s up to the folks in Minnesota. I saw some of the disputed ballots on TV and I think the whole thing is absurd. One ballot showed that the voter clearly filled in the bubble for Franken, but there was an ink line that went to the name of Sen. Norm Coleman (Franken a Democrat, Coleman the incumbent Republican). On other ballots voters marked in the wrong places – skipping the bubbles. Whatever – instead of puzzling over the intent of the voter (or examining hanging-chad style as in Florida eight years ago), it seems to me those contested ballots ought to be thrown out. I mean I always have supposed that if I did not follow directions on my ballot that it would not count. That is why we have rules. If you can’t figure out how to clearly fill in a bubble next to the name of the candidate you are voting for and not at the same time mark in or around another candidate’s name, you shouldn’t be voting in the first place.

– Okay, so the internet is cutting into the profits of the traditional news media and in the process journalists are losing their jobs. My question is: where do people think the news comes from? Sure there are some on-site bloggers and folks are forever posting things on Youtube, but these are not always coherent or accurate and complete and reliable news sources, although they certainly can add (or in some cases subtract) from the volume of information. The first time I ever scanned the internet I asked myself and my wife who in the heck pays for this? I think I mentioned in a previous blog that after losing my last newspaper job in a corporate downsizing I thought I might freelance or put out my own newsletter – but who was going to pay me to do this while I built up a circulation and would people pay for this anyway? Then I read today that Associated Press plans to cut its workforce down by 10 percent over the next year due to declining revenues. But as the story I read pointed out, if you scan internet news, the source is often AP. Once the paid journalists are out of the picture, your news really will be The Daily Rumor. Maybe when people can no longer get advertising-financed free news they might actually be willing to pay for news directly or maybe they’ll just be happier in their ignorance.

(And remember when they first tried to push what was called “pay TV” back in the 60s? Folks wondered why pay for TV when it’s already free (thanks to commercials). Then along came cable and people did pay for it. But wouldn’t you know it, along with it came commercials. And now thanks to the conversion from analog virtually everyone is forced into cable or dish. And we still can’t get rid of the commercials. On the contrary there are more and more of them crowding out the actual programs, such as they are. The only quality TV is on Public Television, but even it has its own version of commercials now, and the fund-raising is annoying too.)

But back to AP, I sure hate to see AP in trouble. When I even get an inkling something has happened I go to Google and type in a subject and the letters AP and invariably I get the full story as it is known at the time.

And as a matter of fact, as I was working on this blog I heard a TV report on FOX, of all places, that there was a shooting at Savannah State University in Georgia, but there were no details. Switched to other channels, nothing, then Googled in Savannah State shooting, ap, and got several paragraphs from AP.

And now one of my newspaper memories: the first newspaper I ever worked for, the Red Bluff (Ca.) Daily News, used to subscribe to the other major domestic wire service United Press International and then switched to AP. The first 24-hour period we were on AP I got a phone call in the middle of the night from the AP San Francisco bureau. The guy at the other end in rapid, wide awake fashion fired off something at me that I did not comprehend in the least. I was still basically asleep. He repeated it several times. Finally, I understood. There had been an Amtrak derailment several miles to the south of Red Bluff and he wanted me to get down there and get photos and a story. As it happened, my boss beat me down there and back to the office. He did the lead story and he ran a photo he had made. But the paper also ran a photo I took of a rail coming right up through a train car (come to think of it, I’d have to see that old newspaper, but I think that would have been the better lead photo anyway – ahh the jealously among journalists). I also went to the Corning (Ca.) hospital where the injured had been taken and got a good sidebar story.

(To describe how backward we were then, in order to get a photo to AP we had to ship it on the Greyhoud bus.)

Now certainly that would have been an instance where freelance journalists could have been helpful, but during most of my so-called journalistic career freelancers (many of them photographers wanting to get publicity for their own businesses) often approached us for work, but turned out to be unreliable.

I did see a fascinating piece on C-Span the other day about a guy who teaches folks how to use these modern miniature hand-held video cameras, complete with sound, that are fully automatic (point and shoot) and then how to use the latest software to edit. It works both for conventional news organizations and amateurs. As an example, he worked with BBC and replaced 80 high-paid cameramen with 1,000 low-cost video recorders. Not only do you not have to pay as much for the operators, but you expand your coverage capability in the process at a lower cost. I remember seeing TV news shot the old way back in the 1980s. I saw a network TV news guy, followed by a camera man, followed by a sound man tethered to the camera man, followed by a man with a stopwatch (the producer). That was at the Harvey’s Hotel-Casino bombing incident at Stateline, Nevada (South Lake Tahoe). All that for a two-minute report on the nightly news. Fast forward and the other day I saw a good video report on the devastation of a trailer park in the LA area from a wildfire. The news media was not let in, but the network gave a resident one of those newfangled light-weight videos (you can hold one in the palm of your hand).

Where am I going with all of this? I don’t know for sure. Well, let’s see. Back when I took my first journalism class in the early 70s (and I’ve written that line before, sorry), my instructor thought that the new comparatively cheap offset printing process (as opposed to the old hot lead type process) would revolutionize or democratize the newspaper business because people could economically paste up their own newspapers (instead of having the old time lead type composing room with men with eye shades). Of course the catch was and remains: you still have to have access to a very expensive thing called a web printing press. Well, things did not work out as he had hoped. But I do have to admit that this new relatively inexpensive and user-friendly video technology could democratize and even improve the electronic news industry. Nonetheless, few people can afford to work for free even when it is a labor of love.