Monday, January 4, 2016

"Mixed Feelings"

There is one way I feel sorry for journalists, and one way I don’t.

First, the “don’t.”

In some ways, journalism is extremely easy.  The news does not have to be made up.  You look out the window and there it is.  “The Dodgers won; the Dodgers lost.”  “The Stock Market rose; the Stock Market fell.” “It’s going to be nice; better take an umbrella.” 

There is never “no news”.  Meaning, for journalists, there is always something to write.  The front page is never empty.  It’s simply one crisis following another.  Sometimes the crises even overlap, a current bad news story easing out of the spotlight as its successor materializes on the scene.


Not long ago, reading the Front Page of the L.A. Times, I experienced the journalistical equivalent of “two ships passing in the night”, yesterday’s “big story” proceeding seamlessly into tomorrow’s.  

Imagine you’re moving into a new apartment and the previous tenant has not quite departed the premises.  That’s what this felt like.  Only it’s two stories that are exactly the mirror opposite of each other.

The first story concerned the now years-long California drought.  The other story – printed on the same page – previewed the impending difficulties of the torrential El Nino

Can you believe that?  Front Page stories go from drought to deluge without missing a beat.  It’s like those cartoon sheep herding dogs, one “punching out”, and the other “punching in.”

“Hello, Harry.”

“Hello, Ralph.”

You just write the story.

“Will it ever rain again?”

“Will it ever stop raining?”

It’s as simple as that.  You can leave “Will it ever…” and simply fill in the blanks.

On the other hand, reading a journalist’s effort recently, I sensed a writer trying to inflate a beach ball with an identifiable puncture hole in it. 

As a writing assignment, that is really hard to do.

And a little bit stupid.

My specific example here is now “Old News.”  But as a prototype, it is a movie journalist perennial.  You are required to write it.  If you don’t, your boss tells you to.

The hardly “Stop The Presses!” idea but you have to write it anyway?


In this case, the movie was Steve Jobs.  The film had opened Friday night, and by Monday, its “failing to meet its projections” declared it “Dead on Arrival.”

It was now up to the journalist to explicate Steve Jobs’s demise.  With reliable auspices, highlighted by screenwriter-extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin, the film appeared to have a promising prognosis.  And yet it tanked. 

So what happened?

The answer is simple:

The audience did not enjoy the movie.

(Reminiscent of the story about a failed dog food – the manufacturers searching to understand what exactly went wrong, overlooking the explanation:  “The dogs didn’t like it.”)

The preceding explanation is not professionally acceptable.  One, because it is one sentence long.  And two, because journalists (or dog food marketing experts) are expected to provide “insider” insight into these matters, not stuff that can be easily gleaned from your Uncle Max or the guy sweeping out the theater. 

So roll up your sleeves, Mr. or Ms. Movie Journalist, and here we go:


“Why Did ‘Steve Jobs’ Flop At the Box Office?”

– It was the film’s unusual three-act structure.

– The Steve Jobs “brand” was over-exposed.

– The film’s marketing strategy was flawed.

–  They needed a “name” actor to play Steve Jobs.

The professional journalist puts their insight and understanding into their analysis.  And the story just lays there.


Because they egregiously missed the point.

“Why did ‘Steve Jobs’ fail at the box office?

Because the dogs didn’t like it.

I can imagine a frustrated journalist complaining,

I knew that.”

Then go straight to work on a story on why some other picture did great.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Speaking as a journalist who sometimes has to write those've picked the guy with the easiest job, because he can just make stuff up and who's to say he's wrong? The unpleasant job is to call the people involved and ask them what they think happened. Though their denial-explanations might be fun ("Apple isn't the powerhouse it was a few years ago", "Today's younger crowd don't know who Steve Jobs was any more", "Alex Gibney's movie poisoned the well," "The media is over-saturated with Steve Jobs", "Sorkin didn't have enough drugs."

The fun bit would be calling William Goldman for a quote: "Nobody knows anything."


Jan said...

How about Jobs was an asshole, I don't believe there's any debating that - and his bio is already known. He wasn't a charismatic personality and in fact, if not for his bank balance, his business accomplishments would've been confined to the tech/nerd world.

An aside: last night I was watching MeTV late into the night/morning when Taxi came on. I was going to turn it off and go head to head w/insomnia again when the screen flashed "Written by EARL POMERANTZ." I checked it out on IMDB in order to find a title...One Punch Banta, does that ring a bell? I enjoyed it a whole lot more than I would watching anything related to Jobs. Carolos Palomino is a pretty cool name, isn't it! Did you get to meet him? Oh, he was a heck of a fighter!

Unknown said...

thanks for shared...