Searching for newspapers and the soul of David Carr

By Rod Mickleburgh

The late, great David Carr, media reporter for the New York Times, continued to value newspapers, even as he covered the rapidly-changing online media world that is threatening their existence with free, easily-accessible, short-attention span hits. Carr read two or three papers every morning before heading into work, and whenever he was in a new city, he relished reading the local newspaper. He said it gave him a sense of the buzz and mood of the place that no travel guide or web site provided.

I, too, always buy the local paper when I’m travelling. There is never a dearth of stories offering a glimpse of life outside one’s own navel-gazing metropolis (vote ‘Yes’).

So it was recently, as I passed through LA’s International Airport and the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. At both terminals, I seemed to be the only person reading a newspaper. The LA Times, a slimmed-down sylph of its former bulky self, cost a buck. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution set me back two American greenbacks, dollars, but I got to read a lot about the Hawks and Braves.

In compliance with the journalism-killing spirit of providing free information, herewith the top ten things I found interesting from the Atlanta and LA papers. As WAC Bennett used to say: “Nothing is freer than free, my friend.”


1. Besides the drought, guess what else Los Angeles is all in knots about? Yep, the ruination of longstanding neighbourhoods. More and more good homes are being torn down and replaced with much bigger residences on the same lot. Gee, that sounds familiar. In LA, they call this ‘mansionization’, and they’re actually poised to do something about it. City councillors want temporary restrictions on such teardowns, while city officials work at tightening the rules against ‘mansionization’. In some historic areas, teardowns would be banned completely. In other districts, rebuilds would be limited to a 20 per cent increase in size. Strangely, developers are fighting the plan to curb their right to make as much money as possible.


2. So you think Vancouver has a problem with low voter turnout? In LA’s municipal elections earlier this month, a measly 10 per cent of eligible voters managed to make it to the polls.


3. The State of Georgia has a big problem with crumbling transportation infrastructure. While we winge about a miniscule one half of one percent increase in the sales tax to pay for both road and transit improvements (vote ‘yes’), state legislators in Georgia have voted to help pay for $1 billion in transportation upgrades with a gas tax of 24 cents a gallon (that’s not per litre, that’s per gallon!). Other levies include a $5 tax on car rentals, $200 user fees for electric vehicles, and giving cities and counties the power to apply a sales tax on gasoline. Seems Vancouver isn’t the only place where elected representatives are struggling to cope with the fact that money to fund better services doesn’t grow on trees.


4. In the 8th fattest country in the world, it’s not easy getting people to move their ample butts. A fitness column in the Journal-Constitution advises some of the saddest excuses for physical activity I’ve ever seen. “Expert tips” include such strenuous huff-and-puffing as: drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up; hand delivering a note to a colleague instead of emailing it; walking while making a phone call; and, my particular favourite, varying your sitting position. So that’s how those 60-year old Swedes do it….It ain’t easy being lean.

(Reminds me of an excessively portly friend, who was also an inveterate chain-smoker. I once asked him why he didn’t just buy a carton of cigarettes, rather than going to the store across the street every few hours or so for a new pack of cigs. “I need the exercise,” he replied.)


5. Worst Sound of Music lede of the century: “The hills are live with the sound of a big lucrative anniversary.”


6. The drought in California. “Dry enough for you?” It’s been breaking bad for more than three years now, and getting worse. Consider. March 16 was the fourth straight day in downtown LA with temperatures over 90 degrees (F). That hadn’t happened in March since record-keeping began in 1877.

Under new drought rules, restaurants are ordered to serve water only on request, hotels must offer guests the option of not having their towels and linens washed, and landscape irrigation is banned for 48 hours after any rainfall, however miniscule.

Meanwhile, as well owners pull up water from ever deeper levels, parts of the San Joaquin Valley “are deflating like a tire with a slow leak,” the Times reported. Irrigation canals are cracking, roads are buckling and storage space in the valley’s vast aquifer is being permanently depleted. Attempts by water officials to curb irrigation are being resisted. “Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,” said one worried official. “Guys are going to get their guns out.”

Biggest immediate worry is the state’s mountain snowpack, currently a frightful 12 per cent of its normal level at this time of year. Yet Californians continue to fall short of water conservation targets. During the driest January on record, daily water use, while down slightly from the previous year, was 6 million gallons per person higher than December totals.


7. I love this LA Times correction: “In the March 17 Calendar section, a news brief about the live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” referred to the character of Mrs. Potts as a teacup. She is a teapot.” Short and stout, presumably….


8. Throwing caution to the winds, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a feature called “The Vent”, which allows people like me to be cranky in print. This was the angriest vent on March 18: “I am continually appalled at the number of men I see who leave the restroom without washing their hands. How disgusting and ignorant.” Thus, does civilization crumble…


9. Teachers are in court in Atlanta, too. Only not on something as picayune as classroom working and learning conditions, as in B.C. A dozen local teachers are accused of correcting answers on student tests to ensure higher scores, making them eligible for bonuses and raises. But their trial has entered the realm of Alice in Wonderland. Zealous prosecutors have charged the teachers with, of all things, racketeering, a crime normally associated with the mob and organized crime. “Teachers? Racketeers? Really?” thundered defense attorney Akil Secret. The result has been the longest and largest criminal trial in the history of Georgia. Several other teachers, who cut a deal and testified for the prosecution, were derided by the defense as “nothing but a menagerie of misfits and malcontents”. Not much “teachin’ the Golden Rule” on either side, it seems. (UPDATE: After three days deliberation, the jury has yet to reach a verdict.)


10. And finally, there was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s very merry “news quiz”. Question one: “A man reported as acting erratically and running naked through the neighbourhood was shot and killed by police in what county?” Question two: “After a customer was shot and killed in the parking lot, the Kroger on Ponce de Leon has offered an award for how much to find his killer? Perfect for classroom discusson. To say nothing of question three: “A sanitation worker in what local city was jailed for collective trash too early?” What a country. I’ll stick with Quinn’s Quiz, thanks.


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