Alt Control

The state of American journalism is more complex than we think. Print is not dead. Once-proud TV news institutions think we don’t notice that they produce entertainment rather than report hard news. And the alternative press is now the mainstream.
Last month I did interviews for two separate arts stories where I was told straight out by the subjects that they cared far more about print coverage than online. Traditional reporting rituals matter to them.
I listen to all the Sunday morning news shows. Last month, all of them mentioned the in-jokey Washington Correspondents Dinner which had happened the night before their broadcasts, but only Face the Nation mentioned that major journalism awards are given out at the dinner, and it’s not just a comedy nite. The CBS program even had one of the winners as a panelist. This is why Bob Schieffer will be missed.
Speaking of major journalism awards, Dan Perkins, a fellow native of Iowa City (whom I first met and befriended over 20 years ago in New Haven), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning, it was announced last month. Judging by tradition, this is as big a deal as actually winning the thing. Nearly all these prizes come through mainstream channels—major journalistic institutions, the biggest news syndicates and chains, or writers with agents or important supporters. Dan, who is better known as “Tom Tomorrow,” self-syndicates his weekly multi-panel strip This Modern World, and while he appears in a number of prestigious national publications, can’t expect to be championed by them the way a staff columnist or major syndicated writer would. This is a breakthrough of sorts, Dan being taken seriously in the sniffy, monocled big leagues. In the last decade, a lot of the alternative press publications which were credible contenders for Pulitzers have either ceased to be (like the Boston Phoenix, whose classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz actually won a Pulitzer in 1994) or no longer strive to be newsbreaking or highly analytical operations (like the three-time Pulitzer-winning Village Voice). In Connecticut, the main alt voice was always the Advocate papers, whose alums include Dick Polman, Gail Collins, Jonathan Harr, Beverly Gage and Paul Bass. Those writers and many others have moved into less “alternative” media realms without a dilution of their attitudes and outlooks. Dan’s much-deserved citation by the Pulitzer committee is an acknowledgement of principles which have guided a certain breed of journalist for decades, if not centuries. These voices are popular, acclaimed and necessary, but they seldom get the prizes. Dan came wicked close, and more power to him. Join Sparky’s List at http://thismodernworld.com

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