Ospreys in Chicago, anyone?

As someone who still, inexplicably, loves newspapers, and who has enough remaining ink coursing through my veins even 10 years after leaving the trade (or is it all the fumes from the presses I inhaled?), seeing what has become of the Tribune properties in the last few years has been enough to make you want to cry. But after reading David Carr’s excellent article in the New York Times alleging management’s failings, harassment, indulgence, bullying, and culture of entitlement under Tribune owner Sam Zell and his cronies, I feel like the men-children responsible should be, in the words of the National Gonzo Press Club, lashed to an oceanside cliff so that ospreys could feast on their eyes. You think that ad executives of the ’60s Mad Men behaved badly? You think the ’86 “Scum Bunch” Mets behaved badly? These pigs can go spit for what they did to great newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles, and for all the lives they ruined of toiling reporters and editors (with no other journalism job prospects).

Newspapers may have always encouraged a culture of controlled insanity (see, Thompson, Dr. Hunter S.). It’s been something that’s been missed (or muted, at least) for a generation or more in the era of the J-School-trained Master’s of Journalism Journalists (don’t demean them by calling them “reporters”) or the MBA-holding Managing Editors (or Directors of Content and Audience Developments, or whatever they’re called now).

As Pete Hamill, in News is a Verb, wrote:

“Reporters in those days were not as well educated as they are now. Some were degenerate gamblers. Some had left wives and children in distant towns, or told husbands they were going for a bottle of milk and ended up back on night rewrite on a different coast. Some of them were itinerant boomers who worked brilliantly for six months and then got drunk, threw a typewriter out a window, and moved on. Some were tough veterans of the depression and World War II and were sour on the whole damned human race. But all of them were serious about the craft. And oh, Lord — were they fun.”

Sure, there were drinkers like Hamill and Jimmy Breslin and Steve Dunleavy, gonzo writers like Dr. Thomson. But those old-time reporters produced (and, admittedly, the new school reporters sometimes do, too, as soulless as that production might often be).

But had the old-timers behaved as the Tribune management is alleged to have behaved, particularly in the new century, production would mean nothing.

There is Gonzo journalism, and then there is using journalism as an excuse, a crutch, and an entrée to contemptible behavior.

And then, on top of it, there is rewarding yourselves financially as Rome burns, as Carr reports.

Dr. Thompson once said: “Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”

Back to the zoo-cage, eh?


Mad Men and the Mets

With Mad Men kicking off its fourth season on Sunday, it’s time to celebrate the Mets-Mad Men connection.

Mad Men takes place at a point in history, to cite a 2008 New York Times Magazine article, when ad men were rock stars of an era, when “the creative revolution in advertising was taking off.”

The Mets were born in 1962, in the heart of the Mad Men era (and the year in which season two of the series takes place). They were New York City’s new team in the National League after the Dodgers and Giants left town, and much of their essence, which survives today, is — at least in part — a product of early Sixties advertising. The “Meet the Mets” song, as much an effort by J. Walter Thompson as it was of the Mets’ execs themselves, has that fun, zippy feeling of the early, swinging part of that decade.

The Mets even garnered passing references in two episodes of the show, both from junior executive Ken Cosgrove. He tries to use the lure of Mets tickets (“great seats for probably a terrible game”) for a date with Jane, the new secretary — and future second wife of partner Roger Sterling — in season two (1962), then drops by Pete Campbell’s office with an offer of Mets tickets, which Paul Kinsey takes him up on, in season three (1963).

Even the Mets acknowledged the connection as much (or merely latched onto a popular show, or both), with a promotion last year related to Mad Men at their new, new modern stadium.

Jimmy Breslin, in his own way in his 1963 book “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?,” links advertising and the Mets’ birth:

“As noted earlier, it took more than baseball people to create the Mets. One of the biggest culprits, for example, is a beer company called Rheingold. This company, based in Brooklyn, put up, on the advice of an advertising agency, $1,200,000 per year on a five-year contract to sponsor the Mets on television and radio. The bid was made and accepted in the fall of 1961. The Mets had not yet signed a player. By December, the Mets had signed players and the Rheingold account was taken away from the ad agency and placed with another organization, J. Walter Thompson. …

“‘We didn’t like losing the account at all,’ one of the admen said over a martini.
“‘How come you lost it?’
“‘Somebody gave the client a bad report.’
“‘What was it?’
“‘They told the sponsor who was going to play third base for the Mets.'”

The “Meet the Mets” song and the Mr. Met mascot fit in perfectly with the early Sixties. It’s something that perhaps Don Draper wouldn’t have thought of — Draper, socially climbing, image conscious, would probably have been a stodgy Yankee fan, and possibly would have dismissed the Mets ad campaign, the way he is both intrigued by and then dismisses the ultimately iconic “lemon” Volkswagen Beetle ad in the first season.

Though who knows? Would the 1960s version of J. Walter Thompson, which was involved in the “Meet the Mets” song, have had more in common back then with Sterling Cooper (though certainly not today) than Doyle Dane Bernbach, which came up with those “lemon” and “think small” ads? Or perhaps the Mets’ early campaigns fell more in the category of “traditional” (for 1962) advertising rather than DDB’s ironic VW Bug ads.

Either way, perhaps the mysterious, slowly adapting Don Draper might have come up with the Mets’ catchy, enduring ad campaign, after all. Along with the upheavals of the Sixties, perhaps we’ll see more changes in Don Draper, with a new firm to run (as set up in the final episode of Season Three) and presumably new life away from his wife and children (we’ll see, beginning Sunday night). Of course, this might come down to where you feel the Mets’ ads of 1962-1964 fall in the traditional-ironic advertising divide.

Author Dana Brand describes in his Mets Fan book, how, as a child in the early Sixties, he loved the “novelty of the blue and orange colors, and the cool, contemporary brevity of the name” of New York’s new team.

(And, come to think of it, orange surely must have seemed to be the “new” color for the Sixties. Along with the Mets, think of the orange adopted by new teams like the Astros in 1965 and hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. Or, put another way, think of teal and purple as the new “orange” of the Nineties, with the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.)

SNY’s chipper “Mets Yearbook” TV commercial — with the bobblehead doll, clips of Casey Stengel and the Polo Grounds, an easy-to-whistle tune, and the 8mm filmstrip feel — pays homage to those days.

Brand, later in “Mets Fan,” writes in a piece about the “Meet the Mets” song:

“It fits with Mr. Met (who would think him up now?). It fits with the apple that comes out of the hat every time a Met hits a home run. It doesn’t come out of the twentieth-first century … It is the tone of the team. It brings us back to the smiling sixties. It draws us into the Mets-happy universe.”

How correct he is. It is a team for the Mad Men era, both then and now. New York was changing, New York baseball was changing (even the Mets themselves, who moved from the old Polo Grounds to the modern Shea Stadium in 1964), and, of course, America was changing. The orange-and-blue Mets were, and still are, the baseball baby born of the Mad Men period.


Addendum, August 30, 2010, 12:24 a.m.: Another Mets reference in Mad Men — an orange Mets pennant appeared in Lane Pryce‘s 1965 office in the Week 6 (season 4) episode that aired earlier this evening. A nice touch, and a humorous one, because why on earth would the dry British Pryce have a Mets banner in his office? Is he merely trying to immerse himself deeper in his newly adopted country by following the Mets’ eventual 50-112 season? Or did his secretary add that to his decor, with Pryce — distracted by his constant concerns over the ad firm’s finances —  not even noticing it?

Addendum, October 8, 2010, 9:55 p.m.: No, Pryce is certainly a Mets fan. Witness his love of America in the episode of two weeks ago, when he comes out with a Teddy Bear and red, white and blue balloons to greet (he thinks) his son. Pryce, the stuffy Brit, has embraced his new country, and what was more 1960s American (well, more ’60s New York, anyway) than the lovable underdog of the Mets of that decade?

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Jimmy Breslin and Steinbrenner

This is all kinds of awesome (h/t Deadspin.com and Jerry at Defiantly Dutch).

Rooting interests

Was in Barnes & Noble the other day on my lunch break,and I flipped through Joe Benigno’s book Rules for New York Sports Fans. Well, hell, I’m almost 38 years old, and My Old Man had me reading the sports pages since I graduated from picture books (I grew up thinking that newspapers were read backwards, starting from the back page). So I hardly need to read about “rules” for being a fan. On the other hand, I live too far upstate to get WFAN’s signal, and Benigno is nothing if not a passionate sports radio host, so I gave the book a look-see.

Benigno writes that you can’t change fandom after you’re 13 years old, that there’s no divorce in fandom. I don’t think I saw it, but I suppose he might as well have added that there’s no converting religions (through marriage or otherwise) in sports fandom and no equivalent evolving of your politics as a fan, either (I’d probably agree on that one for professional politicians).

Well, I’m not divorced (despite my friends frequently referring to my wife as a Saint). I’m still a Catholic (though, to paraphrase Jake Barnes, I’m a rotten one). I’m still fairly Center-Left. And I changed the team I root for at the age of 36.

It’s been nearly a year since I came out with this, but let me explain and expand.

I was born into Yankee fandom — my father idolized Mickey Mantle, and my grandfather (from Italy by way of Yonkers, or is it Yonkers by way of Italy?) took me to my first ballgame, at age 7, at Yankee Stadium in 1979. I rooted for them until I was 11, became disillusioned at that impressionable age, came back within a few years, and slowly had that cynicism build up until I left the Yankees to root for the 2009 Mets. The Yankees won the World Series that year. The Mets won an early start to fall golf.

The year I turned 11 I rooted for the 1983 Yankees more than any team in my life, past or present. If you remember, that was the season that Billy Martin came back to manage the Yankees (Oh, right, that one? No, not that one. That one? No, that one.). The Yanks’ game program had a picture of Martin from behind pointing his thumb over his shoulder at his No. 1 with the words “Billy’s Back.” The team yearbook had a photo of Martin kicking dirt on an umpire, which surely did wonders for the Yanks getting any leeway on close calls that season.

My favorite player was Graig Nettles. I adored him. I modeled my batting stance on his. I sought out his model baseball glove, his model spikes, his model bat. I sought out his baseball cards. I bought his book. I loved Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” music video (remember those?) because he mentions Nettles at the end of it (the end of the video, that is, not the song).

And the Yankees traded their two-year captain and Gold Glover in spring training 1984 and named Toby Harrah their third baseman.

I was crushed. A few days before the deal, I remember seeing the back page of one of the tabs with a story about the potential trade of my hero. I threw the paper down the stairs in my house in anger.

Nettles went to the Padres, and the Padres went to the World Series that year. I bought and wore a Padres hat that year.

Eleven is pretty young to become a budding jaded cynic, but hell, I experienced a strike shortened season when I was 9. No wonder my generation grew up jaded, for God’s sake. It’s one thing to have grown up a decade earlier, when your President leaves a season (or two) early. It’s only politics, government, and the future of the free world. It’s quite another to have your baseball heroes out for the summer. We’re talking about something much more important. (Though at least they came back that year. I wonder how fans who were 9 years old during the 1994 strike-canceled season feel today).

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Random fandom thought

My fandom in sports peaked between 1982 and 1985 when I was between 9 and 13 years old. For what seemed like the next 15 years, though, I felt a waning of rooting interest in sports. At first, it was a natural movement toward other interests. Later, when I realized I wanted to be a sportswriter, it was a conscious decision to be more Spock-like — rational, unemotional, unbiased, as I felt a good journalist should.

Even after I left the sportswriting world (at least, on a full-time basis), a decade of decidedly unlikable Yankee teams — from raging Clemens throwing a bat shard at Mike Piazza to the execrable Randy Johnson and his love of the camera to A-Rod’s mere existence in pinstripes — found me uncomfortable rooting for such an unlikable organization.

Perhaps the only blip in this sports fandom desert was in 2001-02 during the brief resurgence of the New York Islanders in their first year of Michael Peca as captain, with Alexei Yashin as their leading scorer and Chris Osgood and his red leg pads between the pipes. I took my dad to Nassau Coliseum about a month after 9/11 to see a game against San Jose that went to overtime, and I’ve never been to a hockey game in October where it sounded like the roof was about to come off.

And then, for me, came the Mets.

I haven’t been this interested in following a baseball team on a daily basis since I was 12. I’m trying to write in a coffee shop on the weekend, and instead I’m following play-by-play on MLB.com. At work, I’m sneaking out to the car to listen to an afternoon game on my radio in April during this 9-1 streak that seems to have been sparked by that 20-inning win, solidarity led by a smiling right fielder from Georgia sticking up for his manager, and the slugging son of a skinny bespectacled Eighties reliever.

Whatever the cause, this delightful turnaround has me cheering while drinking my Stewart’s coffee in a parking lot on a late lunch break as Angel Pagan hits a triple to drive in two runs (is there a more exciting baseball play than the triple?) Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, at home, my toddler son is singing “Meet the Mets” (somehow to the tune of the Ramones singing “Spiderman”) and I feel, suddenly, a little like the anonymous New Yorkers from 1962 as quoted by Jimmy Breslin in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? in the middle of the Mets’ lovably losing (in retrospect, perhaps) inaugural season:

“I’ve been a Mets fan all my life.”

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Degrees of journalism

Jack Shafer is one of those reliably irritable writers who gets it right more times than not (his crusade against Bill Moyers was one of those times that are not, but other than that, I can’t think of any others right now). He’s the prototypical cranky journo, and the world is better for it.

Right now, I tend to think Shafer is absolutely right about the future of journalism, and the fact that the downturn of today could portend a rise tomorrow. To wit:

Let me say it another way: The barriers of entry into the journalism business have been battered down, making it easier than ever to enter the profession. That will read as small consolation to the journalists who have had their publications shot out from under them—the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Ann Arbor News (come July 23), and magazines too numerous to tally. But please notice that I’m not saying there has never been a more lucrative or prestigious time to become a journalist. The cash and status associated with the profession are fairly recent. Until the early 1970s or thereabouts, the average journalist made an average salary (if that), and his societal standing was modest.

If the downside of the battered-down barriers to entry is less pay and lower status, the potential upside is that a flood of new entrants into the field could portend a journalistic renaissance.

This hardly aids journos of my generation and the Millennials. Our bosses, most of them Baby Boomers, sold us a bill of goods that said we needed more and more college degrees to be “real” journalists, even though many of them didn’t have Master’s degrees when they entered the field. This isn’t exactly what Shafer is saying in his recent Slate column, but it got me thinking.

To me, this touches on something Laurie at Punk Rock HR wrote about recently regarding MBAs in the work world in general, and what Jimmy Breslin has long said about the reporting world in particular — why the hell do you need a Master’s to be a journalist, or for that matter, a degree from a Journalism school when you should be learning about history, literature and the like in school (with a healthy re-up of grammar lessons, but I’m hardly one to call the kettle black on that one), and learning the how-to’s of journalism as a cub reporter under the tutelage of a seasoned veteran? It’s real-life experience that matters, and that makes good writing.

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What am I missing?

Is it me, or, unless you’re networking for professional reasons or you really want to get in touch with that chick that blew you off in high school (to remind her that you’re still a dork, apparently) does anyone else find Facebook a supreme waste of time?

Maybe its my insular tendencies and the (to paraphrase from a buddy) clannish ways of my friends. It just seems so easy to start using, and then maddening to use after that (blogging on WordPress or Blogger, by comparison,  is entirely intuitive). Or maybe what I’m saying is, compared to publishing you’re own little-read (read: not read) blog, it seems like you have virtually no control over the presentation. I’m not talking about control over who sees your profile and stuff (yeah, yeah, there’s various privacy settings and whatnot). And no, I’m not talking about whatever 18 pieces of flair you want to add.

No, I mean there is precious few ways to customize your “home page,” such as it is on Facebook. I had more control over (and more ways to customize) Geocities and 20m sites from the late Nineties. I’m not talking anything fancy, either. For God’s sake, I just spent 20 minutes trying to embed a link within the text of a comment (like this) to no avail. The comments wouldn’t read “a href” codes (it would create a hyperlink if you pasted in a Web address, like this: https://theicepickcometh.wordpress.com, but not if you wanted to embed that into a word or phrase, as in the above example). Which makes me think, Facebook merely wants to drive you to more Facebook content, it seems.

Am I missing something rather obvious? (That wouldn’t be the first time.) Or am I just too aged and crotchety for my own good?

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I probably am out of step with my fellow Gen X’ers, who have also flocked to Facebook and related sites as much as any other American from 6 to 66.

I’m not a fan of Readers, RSS feeds, or other applications that “push” content to me. I’d rather go seek it. I sincerely enjoy surfing — knowledge by walking around, to cop (and update) a phrase from, I believe, Jimmy Breslin (who most certainly was not referring to the Internet).

Look, I like being able to easily share photo albums with friends and family, to show off pictures of The Baby (though the image uploading system is clunky and slow, at least for me). But beyond posting links to stories I like on my “wall” — sort of like a way to microblog, without bothering to build a semi-intelligent post around said links —what’s the point? (beyond the aforementioned professional networking opportunities and chance to “catch up” with people you never had an intention of catching up with before. And Christ, don’t get me started on Twitter.)

Of course, it took me two days to try to figure out how your name and photo appears in a person’s friends list — I couldn’t understand that all that appears, apparently, is your photo, name and “networks,”  rather than your hometown (which seemed to be the obvious thing to display to this luddite).

So either I’m slow, or Facebook is just a way to cede some control of your life’s information in order to Socially Network. Is that sort of like Benjamin Franklin’s quote of giving up essential liberty for temporary safety?

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