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Boys go to ESPN to get more stupider:

In my December 13 column for the Rocky Mountain News, I pointed to declining interest in reading as one of the reasons for the financial problems of newspapers. One response I received was from a professional sports journalist. I've edited it a little bit, and omitted some details. The writer's point of view is strongly stated, but, I think, basically correct:

...It was nice to see the word "cretin" to describe the vast numbers out there who don't think reading is important.

All I can say to people who don't care right now about whether there's a local newspaper or two in town - or don't think it's important to democracy - is: enjoy living in a Big Brother, oligarchy some day real soon. Because if there is no independent, operable press keeping a check on power and exposing its wrongs then that is for sure where we'll be headed as a country.

I also think it is NO coincidence that our country is where it's at right now, because people aren't reading enough - and newspapers, included.

Everybody just wants to be "entertained" now, and for them that means having nothing to do with books or newspapers and everything to do with stupid video games, "reality" (there's a laugh, there's nothing real about it) TV and other total wastes of time.

Now that many of these people are out of a job and wondering why, because they often didn't/don't have the intellectual capacity to do think themselves out of their predicament and why they got into it in the first place - my response is: maybe you should spent more time reading newspapers and learning about your world and your community, instead of wanting to be "entertained" all the time by stupid stuff.

And I'll also freely admit that sports has played a large role in our great dumbing down of society. ESPN is a great, wildly profitable business. It's also a killer of young men's minds. People who might normally spend a day reading or going outdoors and meeting people and learning more about the world instead stay shut indoors watching crap like televised poker and two-hour long NFL pre-game shows and moronic round-the-horn gasbag, sports "debate" shows.

Add in all the dumb radios sports talk, regional 24-hour sports networks, and you've got a lot of absolute crap that young guys spend their time watching instead of picking up a good read.

I work in the sports media business, so I sound like a hypocrite, and maybe I am. But I think I'm telling the truth. I TRY to at least engage my audience a little bit, with some humor and intelligence, and not just blowhardedness, like many TV sports media types do.

Tracy Johnson (www):
Volokh Conspiracy needs a "print friendly" of the primary post (only) without the comment section, so they can post anonymously on bulletin boards!
12.22.2008 1:30pm
Mhoram:
Preach it, brother.
12.22.2008 1:30pm
Not so fast, my friend (mail):
"Look at me" "journalists" such as Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith indeed make their viewers dumber. The same can be said of the 24-hour news cycle and its incessant infatuation with the latest cute little white girl gone missing.
12.22.2008 1:32pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Accurate interpretation, I think, with the caveat that some wonderful, thoughtful, people have left sports journalism to earn high marks elsewhere in the world, and others have written great sports articles and books.

The underlying problem, of course, isn't the drug of sports, but the mistake that subjects well tested in schools lead to people who can think for themselves.
12.22.2008 1:36pm
Fidelity (mail) (www):
I love it.

"And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.
12.22.2008 1:44pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I'm not sure how one determines there is a declining interest in reading. How is it done? Newspaper sales may be down, but internet consumption is up. I don't dispute the claim, but would like to see more than declining newspaper sales as an indicator.
12.22.2008 1:49pm
NaG (mail):
Yes, sports talk is pretty dumb stuff -- fluff padding fluff, really. But please don't pick on televised card games. Texas Hold 'Em is a very intellectual game. People can learn a lot watching real people playing that game live.
12.22.2008 1:50pm
Fidelity (mail) (www):
Oh, and I would like to add too, if you agree with the letter, you should invest in desktop publishing, in case things get bad, you can always start and distribute your own publications. I think in the same manner a Patriot might wish to own a gun, they ought to own a printer as well.
12.22.2008 1:52pm
LG:
Just clicked over here after my daily read of ESPN.com and CNNSI.com. Am I a cretin?

What a thoroughly non-libertarian, blowhard post -- both the post itself and the sports writer's hapless flailings at the stupid "readers" who are bringing about the demise of his industry. Oh, those lovely olden times, when things used to be so much better... how I wish they could return. Waaah!

Listen -- is there crap on TV and the Internet? You betcha! But even though the content is different, the lament is the same retread we've heard for decades. Is Johnny really watching that much more TV now then when Family Ties was on, or The Brady Bunch? I remember playing hours of video games with all my friends back in the '80s, instead of reading; we're now all doing pretty well (professionals; married, etc.), thank you.

If you don't like the content of what's on -- you can choose something else to watch or do; choice is more plentiful then ever. And as a parent, you can exercise some real influence and control over your children, rather than complain about the terrible influence of new media.

The world is not all going to hell. Really, it's ok.
12.22.2008 1:58pm
Awesome-O:
All I can say to people who don't care right now about whether there's a local newspaper or two in town - or don't think it's important to democracy - is: enjoy living in a Big Brother, oligarchy some day real soon.

I guess it all depends on what you mean by "local newspaper." Important local news needs to get covered, but if newspapers are little more than aggregations of wire stories, padded out with fluff sections like "Outlook," "Vista," "Panorama," etc., who needs them?

And since all that really matters to me is that local news gets covered, I don't care what form that takes. There's no reason that city council meetings can't be adequately reported on a website.
12.22.2008 2:00pm
Jim M (mail):
He's right, of course, but I wonder what the commenters on the Pragmatism piece do with their time. No one mentioned John Dewey who, I think, stole the term from Charles Peirce (yes, it's 'ei'). Dewey, who gave us "Progressive Education", is probably the source, along with Dr. Spock's progressive parenting, of today's failed educational system, and the reason so few people read. Peirce, bless his heart, was so revolted by Dewey that he renamed his philosophy "Pragmaticism".
12.22.2008 2:01pm
Awesome-O:
[I]f you agree with the letter, you should invest in desktop publishing, in case things get bad, you can always start and distribute your own publications. I think in the same manner a Patriot might wish to own a gun, they ought to own a printer as well.

Your analogy works better if you change it from mere gun ownership to becoming proficient in gunsmithing
12.22.2008 2:03pm
Jim Hu:
This post makes me think of a possible sunday song.
12.22.2008 2:03pm
Sagar:
"... more stupider" ?
12.22.2008 2:09pm
Sarcastro (www):
I lament the passing of scrolls. With the death of mainstream scroll-based media, I fear this Republic may fall into ignorance and then tyranny, as happened with the Greeks and Romans before us.
12.22.2008 2:10pm
BRS (mail):
Based on the fact that the journalist openly complains about ESPN debate shows, I will assume that it wasn't Woody Paige who wrote this comment. I do have to say, though, that I think that there is probably more intelligence and wit in Mr. Paige's column than most in the paper (but he is clearly an outlier).
12.22.2008 2:17pm
keithwaters (mail):
Our Raleigh newspaper recently did an in-depth series on the failures of the state probation system. It was prompted in part by the killing of the UNC student president by a person on probation. How many Internet outlets would have the resources for such an investigation?

What is most disappointing to me about the Internet is the failure of the citizenry to use it to its full potential. o you think people are much better informed than they were twenty years ago? Look at all the ignorance displayed by voters when it came to their knowledge about the positions of the presidential candidates.

Finally, I don't think those people who are willing to sit through two hours of pregame NFL shows and the sheer idiocy of Around the Horn are that interested in reading Volokh, Instapundit, Daily Kos or anything else along those lines. On the other hand, I went to a sports bar yesterday, watched all the games and spent my evening reading sites such as this.
12.22.2008 2:18pm
Nels Nelson (mail):
Sagar, the title is a play on a schoolyard chant.
12.22.2008 2:21pm
Jody (mail):
Apropos of nothing, I assumed from the style of the comment that it was written by Woody Paige.

Sure the author denigrates around the horn, but Woody has always seemed like the one who took ATH the least seriously.
12.22.2008 2:28pm
krs:
The author had me until this bit at the end:

I work in the sports media business, so I sound like a hypocrite, and maybe I am. But I think I'm telling the truth. I TRY to at least engage my audience a little bit, with some humor and intelligence, and not just blowhardedness, like many TV sports media types do.
I'm curious as to precisely how the guy would distinguish himself from the other "absolute crap" out there. I would guess that the people on "moronic round-the-horn gasbag, sports 'debate' shows" probably also think that they're "engag[ing] their audience a little bit, with some humor and intelligence." But of course, they're mistaken.

The general view is probably right when you pull back by enough levels of abstraction. There seems to be an inverse correlation between intellectual stimulation and the popularity of a TV show. And people should definitely read more.

But I doubt it's ESPN's fault. One of the things that gets kids into sports is seeing the amazing things that professional athletes can do. I've heard that swimming is much more popular after Michael Phelps's performance at the Beijing Olympics.

Like many other things, sports TV (and bad TV generally) is a vice that may actually do some good if it's enjoyed in moderation.


The rest of the stuff in there... I'm not sure how to respond to it. The increasing homogeneity of the sort of reporting that keeps the government accountable probably has more to do with what people read than how much they read in general, and probably next to nothing to do with ESPN. And it's also a mistake to suppose that people would find more productive things to do if they didn't have bad tv or video games. Some kids would exercise or read and others would probably throw rocks at animals. I got into reading because of my parents.
12.22.2008 2:29pm
Sagar:
Nels,

Thanks. just googled the expression (without ESPN) and this post was the first hit!

apparently "boys go to jupier to get more stupider" is very popular and I need to come up to speed.

well, people go to VC to get less stupider :)
12.22.2008 2:31pm
deathsinger:
Sarcasto obviously learned all of history from the theater. Everyone knows that in Roman and Greek times all the hard news was published on stone tablets. Those johnny come lately scrolls were the downfall of the old media, thereby causing the end of the Greek and Roman Empires.
12.22.2008 2:38pm
Houston Lawyer:
Maybe he hasn't noticed, but the vast majority of papers and magazines are written for those who have an 8th grade education. Pile that on top of the fact that the vast majority of publications in this country have the same point of view and are only interested in investigating the players in one political party. How are these purile publications supposed to be the bulwark of democracy?

The good news is that with Wii and similar products, video games are becoming something you can play and get exercise.
12.22.2008 2:40pm
pmorem (mail):
Boys will be boys, as they must.

The question at hand is whether or not the process involves things like education and girls. There's not a whole lot of payout in either of those, so it might as well be sports and violence.
12.22.2008 2:41pm
autolykos:
While intuitively, I like the idea that we're experiencing a great dumbing down of society (because it explains why there are so many complete and utter morons out there), I'm just not sure that it's an accurate representation of reality.

Different people choose to entertain themselves in different ways. Some choose more enriching pursuits. Some choose less enriching pursuits. We've just replaced the tripe people used to watch with a different kind of tripe.

For example, you can't tell me that Survivor or Around the Horn is that much less intellectually stimulating than Dallas or Three's Company. Maybe we've slightly expanded the number of people who pay attention to this tripe instead of reading a good book by making more tripe available, but you can't tell me the average American was curling up with a copy of Plato's Republic prior to the invention of the cable tv.

As for newspapers touting themselves, leaving aside the fact that average newspaper reads at a 3rd grade level and many editors, even in big city dailies, exhibit the reasoning ability of a high school senior, people who aren't interested in reading would just flip to the sports page anyway. Newspapers serve a useful purpose, but let's overstate it.
12.22.2008 2:42pm
deathsinger:
krs,

I wonder if the author is talking about some of the non-sports programming on ESPN. Doesn't ESPN have several afternoon shows where people blather on and on about some topic trying to make ever more ridiculus assertions?

ESPN does have one feature that I don't think has been helpful, that of dragging out the programming. You can now watch football all day Saturday and Sunday. There was a time not so long ago that wasn't the case.
12.22.2008 2:43pm
deathsinger:
Elliot123

Does increased usage of the internet necessarily include reading? Maybe people are watching the news on Yahoo or maybe they just looking at porn.
12.22.2008 2:45pm
Garth:
sour grapes.

newspapers suck. repeat after me, they suck. you should ask yourself why newspapers can't compete. they suck. they lose out to the mindless of content because they suck.

i'm probably in the upper 1st percentile of those who spend money on books and read. i get all of my news from the internet and i will not open up a paper. it's so much nicer to go to trusted sources, that cover topics that interest me, in depth.

thank media consolidation for ruining your product by subjecting everything to formulas and bottom lines, but the problem my friend is newspapers suck. even their sports pages in most cases...
12.22.2008 2:46pm
frankcross (mail):
This seems awfully paternalistic. I presume people know their best interests. Now, I have my own opinions about others' habits. Though I would put MSNBC and Fox ahead of ESPN on my list of bads. However, I also think that, overall, individuals choosing their own paths will produce a better world than them relying on me to choose their paths. Hayek and all that.
12.22.2008 2:48pm
autolykos:

newspapers suck. repeat after me, they suck. you should ask yourself why newspapers can't compete. they suck. they lose out to the mindless of content because they suck.


I agree with this point as well. It's amazing how bad the content in many big city dailies is. The AP is flatout disgusting.
12.22.2008 3:16pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Did someone find an article from Life from 1960?

Re-work it a bit:

"People who might normally spend a day reading or going outdoors and meeting people and learning more about the world instead stay shut indoors watching crap like" My Mother the Car, Edge of Night, As the World Turns.

Probably find similar rants about Fibber Magee &Molly or The Shadow from the days of radio too.

Or about Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton from 1915.
12.22.2008 3:17pm
Wayne Jarvis:
So a local sports writer thinks everyone in America is stupid because his local rag is down on hard times?

Go figure.
12.22.2008 3:17pm
Leland (mail):
Local newspapers prevent oligarchy? I think someone has already spent too much time covering sports and not reading history.
12.22.2008 3:19pm
Cold Warrior:
So it must be one of the soon-to-be-unemployed Rocky Mountain News sportswriters.

Dave Krieger? I do read him most of the time. He's a talented writer, but I think I've seen one too many of his lazy phoned-in commentaries based ok the conceit of "the dude's" (his son's) take on sporting events.

Bernie Limcicome? Utterly useless. Weak writer, weaker knowledge base.

Tracy Ringolsby? Good baseball man who's spread too thin (although "thin" isn't typically a word associated with him). He's my guess, because he is most closely associated with criticism of new media.

Here's the kicker: all of these guys desperately want to establish themselves in the new media. And they all exemplify why newspapers are going broke. I receive far greater baseball value per minute reading baseball blogs than reading Ringolsby. And it is ridiculous that in this day and age that the RMN has several regular sports columnists on its payroll, not to mention beat writers covering all major Colorado sports teams.

I'll miss having 2 major local dailies in Colorado, but let's be honest. I won't miss them enough to buy a subscription to the KriegerBlog, or the RingolsbyReview, or whatever they may move on to.

Just more creative destruction. And I'd much rather have my kids read Gregg Easterbrook and Bill Simmons on espn than Bernie Lincocome in newsprint. They'll write better and be smarter for it. Of that I'm certain.
12.22.2008 3:20pm
Awesome-O:
Okay, it's time for Awesome-O's Second Law: "Society appears to be getting dumber because the observer's intelligence and/or knowledge continuously increases relative to that of society's average member."

This isn't really an example of Awesome-O's Second Law, but I always like to use Doonesbury as an illustration of the naivety of youth.

When Gary Trudeau started the strip, the older character were dumb and unenlightened, and the college-aged characters were brilliant and insightful. Now that the strip is what, about 40?, the older characters are wise, and the college-aged characters are mouth-breathing dolts. It turns out that whichever age cohort Trudeau is in is the smart one.
12.22.2008 3:24pm
Garth:
The AP is flatout disgusting.

i assume this is snark. the ap is fine, but, i would rather read it online where it's presented along with other articles of interest and i don't have to wade through a daily ration of msm crap.
12.22.2008 3:27pm
Awesome-O:
Probably find similar rants about Fibber Magee &Molly or The Shadow from the days of radio too.

Or about Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton from 1915.


These dumb kids and their lithographs! Why, in my day, all we had were woodcuts. We didn't have any of this fancy metal lithography crap, and we were smarter for it.
12.22.2008 3:31pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
All I can say to people who don't care right now about whether there's a local newspaper or two in town - or don't think it's important to democracy - is: enjoy living in a Big Brother, oligarchy some day real soon.

Ha ha!! This said after no newspaper in the country dared investigate the past or connections of The One (BHO) who will be creating for us a Socialist Paradise!
12.22.2008 3:32pm
ForWhatItsWorth:
autolykos: "...even in big city dailies, exhibit the reasoning ability of a high school senior,..."

I think you are being incredibly kind. I haven't read anything in a newspaper, in recent years, that had any actual reasoning in it. Pick the paper's political leanings and you know what they are going to say, without fail. "Investigative reporting?" Say what? Since when? Like I said, I think people here are being quite kind to the newspapers, in general.

So, what this sports writer says is his "worthwhile" column is more important than the pre-game shows? Really? Seems to me that most of those shows actually have long-experienced players and coaches as participants, rather than some newspaper writer who is really a sports wannabe..... someone who couldn't actually do it, so they just write about it. Boy, did this guy open a can of whoop-a__ on himself. Sheesh!

In all seriousness, I have found more typos, terrible grammar and redundant speech in the newspapers than I have while listening to the local news..... and that is really saying something, since most of our local newscasts are loaded with them every single day. Why on earth would I want my kid reading a newspaper? OYE! Books, yes.... newspapers? Don't make me laugh, Mr. Sports writer......
12.22.2008 3:36pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Does increased usage of the internet necessarily include reading? Maybe people are watching the news on Yahoo or maybe they just looking at porn."

I agree. I don't know how one determines if reading us up, down, or unchanged. We can see the population is losing interest in reading newspapers(based on sales), but generalizing beyond that appears to be a stretch.
12.22.2008 3:38pm
autolykos:

i assume this is snark. the ap is fine, but, i would rather read it online where it's presented along with other articles of interest and i don't have to wade through a daily ration of msm crap.


It's not snark, and yes, I am serious. I am focused most on their election coverage, which I found to be so ridiculously one-sided that it wasn't even worth reading. That's the great thing about the internet though. If I don't like one source's coverage, it's easy enough for me to move on to another.
12.22.2008 3:39pm
c.gray (mail):

Probably find similar rants about Fibber Magee &Molly or The Shadow from the days of radio too.


There were moral panic rants against dime store novels before the first commercial radio broadcast was ever made. And the novel itself as a literary format was often denounced as feminizing and/or anti-social throughout the 18th &19th century.

/shrug

200 years from now, critics will be blasting holosuite reenactments and implanted memories for dumbing down the populace, when compared to the engaging and intellectually challenging virtual reality games of the virtuous 21st century.
12.22.2008 3:57pm
hawkins:
I think Sean Hannity and the like are at least as responsible as the brainless sports journalists.
12.22.2008 4:04pm
Duncan (mail):
I agree with parts of this. I think it is true that a good free press is a necessary thing. On the other hand, this reminds me a bit of arguments that it isn't really rational for voters to be very well-informed. I'm not invested enough in my community to care enough about it to follow local news very closely, but I do want other people to care enough about it to follow it, and police it a bit. I'm not interested in my local newspaper, but I want other people to be interested enough in it that it continues to exist.

But this is somewhat independent of whether or not people read, and of whether or not they seek out only the sort of "entertainment" that this guy is disparaging. I read a great deal, and some of it is pretty heavy-going. A while back. for reasons I can't adequately explain, I got very interested in what I would call the biology of the small.. basically molecular biology/genetics/related organic chemistry. And reading about that has required me to learn about, or relearn about some related things.

So I've been doing a great deal of reading, and have too much to read- the difficulty lies in pruning the tree. I'm not sure that this is any more rational on my part than being an informed voter would be, but it is more entertaining than following the local zoning board, and I don't really have room for both.

I have also been interested to see how useful combining reading with other means of representing information is in this context- being able to actually see and manipulate representations of molecules as they exist in space is tremendously helpful in a discipline that relies on understanding them as they exist in space. I've always liked print, and been a bit down on "multi-media", but I'm beginning to think that this is just because we have less experience with more varied representations than we do with pure print and are therefore a bit inept at them except in cases where they are obviously useful. Even when it comes to "print" (I include electronic text here) I am beginning to see how useful it is to have everything you read be readily manipulable- I don't really read linearly anymore, when I read for information, if I can find a decent source in a digital format. Instead I am always snipping things up into "collages" of snippets and restatements that I manage with software.

Even if I wanted to follow the antics of my local government it would require single-minded devotion to do so with the print edition of a newspaper. Think the crazy-haired old crank with an axe to grind and an unwieldly set of scrapbooks from which peep the corners of yellowed newspaper clippings detailing the misdeeds, real or imagined, of local government... he can keep track of them because he is obsessed enough to pore over them until he understands how each relates to each, how each fits into his model of the world of local zoning, and until he has memorized their location in his scrapbooks so that he can retrieve any wanted clipping without ever removing his glittering eye from you.

I lived with my great-aunt for a while when I was 10, and she actually had several decades of the Rocky Mountain News in boxes in her basement (I believe my grandfather- Duncan C as a matter of fact- was an editor of your august publication in.. maybe the late 30s?) They were meticulously organized- like microfiche, but a bit larger. I used to go down and follow certain serial comics through a few years when I was bored on a Sunday afternoon.

I am not at all sure that I could have followed a story about local corruption from its beginning to its denouement given those archives. And I don't see how I could have discovered that some seemingly innocent story from 1953 was actually related to a scandal that blew up in 1958, and implicated a number of local figures. Facts are what newspapers do well (or ought to), but facts are are like telephones... they are not very useful if they are not connected to other facts.

So, I actually do have a point. Newspapers could both better serve the interest that your correspondent is high-mindedly arguing the importance of and increase the value of the product they provide by exploring better ways of organizing the facts (even the very routine ones) that they publish. I don't know how they would go about making that profitable- I imagine Google would find some way of aggregating the information and extracting all the profit from it until your golden goose were cooked. So it's a hard problem.

But it doesn't seem to me that the papers are actually trying very hard to solve it anyway... perhaps journalists and publishers ought to think about how to respond to the ways in which the world has changed before damning it for having changed, and damning the populace for having changed with it. If there's one thing I've learned over the years it is that you can damn an individual for his actions with some effect but to damn a crowd is to be like Old King Canute- better to be a merry old soul than a wet blanket, even when the tide rolls in.
12.22.2008 4:08pm
hawkins:

brainless sports journalists


By this I meant the Skip Baylesses of the world.
12.22.2008 4:14pm
TerrencePhilip:
Hyperventilate much, Mr. Sports Journalist?

50 years ago, more people read newspapers and newsmagazines. But life was also more boring: there was less interesting stuff on TV, no internet, no VCR/DVD, music was more expensive and harder to find . . . . etc. Compare the prevalence of anti-semitism, open racism, attitudes toward discrimination, attitudes toward other nations with whom we clash culturally. I daresay if you compared these metrics today with those you've have gotten 50 years ago, you'd have plenty of evidence to suggest we are not dumber today.
12.22.2008 4:23pm
autolykos:

By this I meant the Skip Baylesses of the world.


Yes, in Chicago we used to call him Skip Clueless when he wrote for one of the local rags. There was no small amount of celebration when he went national and we were able to foist him on to the rest of you. As an aside, Skip's brother is noted restauranteur Rick Bayless, who I actually find rather pleasant (even if I'm not a huge fan of his extremely authentic style of Mexican cooking). I don't know if it's just a difference in temperment between the brothers, but I've always suspected it has more to do with being a sports journalist that makes Skip so intolerable.
12.22.2008 4:23pm
hawkins:

As an aside, Skip's brother is noted restauranteur Rick Bayless, who I actually find rather pleasant


Wow, I never knew that. I guess there is some resemblance now. Is Skip much shorter, or does he just appear to be because he's often sitting next to athletes?
12.22.2008 4:28pm
autolykos:

Wow, I never knew that. I guess there is some resemblance now. Is Skip much shorter, or does he just appear to be because he's often sitting next to athletes?


I've always gotten the sense that they're about the same height, but have never really thought about. Both strike me as about the same height, but it is interesting how sitting next to 6'8" guys makes you look tiny.
12.22.2008 4:45pm
Duncan (mail):
TerrencePhilip:

I'm not sure that the metrics you describe have anything to do with being dumb, or not being dumb, and you are very vague in some cases. Let's see: "anti-semitism, open racism, attitudes toward discrimination, attitudes toward other nations with whom we clash culturally"

OK- though you don't actually state your position I'll assume you are against anti-semitism. I am too. But I don't see how this is a matter of being dumb or not... I've met some dumb Jews (though I have to admit that there seem to be _less_ dumb Jews than there are dumb people who are not Jews) and I imagine they were not for the most part anti-semites. There is also a lot of historical evidence of very smart people who were anti-semitic enough that the word feels like a euphemism.

Open racism is even more that way- we could refer to almost everyone smart white European born before about 1900 or we could just take a look at James Watson. I sometimes think that people have confused their terms a bit- what they call racism often isn't- but what Watson said was clearly racism and _it would be so even if it were true_. At any rate there have been many very smart racists throughout history, and there are clearly still are some smart racists.

And I'm not at all sure how you could determine some sort of delta of smartness from changes in attitude toward something as vague as "attitudes toward other nations with whom we clash culturally."

Have you considered the possibility that you are using a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of smart? One that means, basically, people who agree with me on most substantive issues?
12.22.2008 4:51pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Awesome-O. Comments so great I'm using them in my own posts tonight.

I have been hearing how badly educated American kids are since I was a kid, and I'm 55 now. Selection bias and confirmation bias drive the impressions of the old. We've been going out and running the world for generations because we teach an intellectual adaptability that is very useful. Students learn something for the test and forget it unless it has some ongoing application. That's not a bug, it's a feature. I recommend Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You as a corrective.

Video games are pretty complex these days, BTW. It's not Space Invaders anymore, dude. And as a point of comparison, try and remember what your highschool classmates read that was so uplifting.
12.22.2008 4:53pm
BGates:
Because if there is no independent, operable press keeping a check on power and exposing its wrongs then that is for sure where we'll be headed as a country.
Which is why I'm proud to know that if a journalist gets a tip that a Cabinet secretary has a better jump shot than the President, he'll seriously consider whether he can pursue the lead without damaging the reputation of the latter office or the great man who holds it.
12.22.2008 4:57pm
Prof. S. (mail):

maybe you should spent more time reading newspapers and learning about your world and your community, instead of wanting to be "entertained" all the time by stupid stuff.


He's obviously not read my local newspaper, the Star Tribune. That rag is hardly teaching me anything about the world and does nothing but pander to the idiotic masses. I doubt they are unique in that capacity.
12.22.2008 5:13pm
Duncan (mail):
BGates:


Which is why I'm proud to know that if a journalist gets a tip that a Cabinet secretary has a better jump shot than the President, he'll seriously consider whether he can pursue the lead without damaging the reputation of the latter office or the great man who holds it.


This is part of what I was talking about above. I don't really hold the prolonged swoon our press has fallen into (by the way is there any other useful terminal phrase for swoon in English?- I am curious about the usage of the word swoon all of a sudden) for him against Obama (would you reject their ardency in his position?) but it does seem to me like a form of "entertainment". As such, it should not complain when other forms of entertainment (American Idol) prove more entertaining.

But the truth is that, as inadequate as the US press is, journalists do actually go out and discover facts that would not otherwise ever see the light of day. That they do not do so as much as they ought to is not a reason to be glad thaty they are going out of business. The apposite phrase is "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." The other one is "Cutting off your nose to spite your face."

I understand the schadenfreude but it will be short-lived. We really do need journalists who are not subsidized by the state, even if they are largely idiots. Some actual professionals will find their way in, somehow.
12.22.2008 5:19pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
Why buy a newspaper?

I built a better sports page by an RSS feed of football, baseball, basketball writers who love the games and deliver knowledgable opinions. Plaschke and Kurt Streeter can't compete with that while they try to befriend millionaire athletes &owners and secure TV spots on ESPN.

The same goes for international news, political commentary, arts and economics. And, of course, legal research.

And it can all be printed when for travel.
12.22.2008 6:16pm
Duncan (mail):
guy:

I have a million dollar idea that I think the papers ought to have implemented years ago. I call it StatsMonster. Basically, I am enough of a guy to know that guys watch games because they like hanging out and watching games, but they memorize stats in order to win arguments. StatsMonster is.. well I've said enough to give the idea away so...
12.22.2008 6:42pm
TerrencePhilip:
Duncan,

the decline in such trends as racism and anti-semitism is largely correlated with better education- few people in this country today believe Jews have horns (I have heard some from other countries say this seriously) or are inherently evil or that black people "bear the mark of Cain" or "have flat bones and cannot swim" and other such nonsense that was once widely believed. Racism may always be with us but to a great degree, it is less so today because what was once received wisdom is now regarded as a collection of crackpot folk legends.
12.22.2008 7:20pm
Edward Lee (www):
Yes, sports talk is pretty dumb stuff -- fluff padding fluff, really. But please don't pick on televised card games. Texas Hold 'Em is a very intellectual game. People can learn a lot watching real people playing that game live.

Not on ESPN, they can't. (NBC's Po-ker After Dark and GSN's High Stakes Po-ker are better, but that's faint praise.)
12.22.2008 8:06pm
Duncan (mail):
Tereence: "The decline in such trends as racism and anti-semitism is largely correlated with better education- few people in this country today believe Jews have horns"

OK, so let's break this down. You say that people have become "smarter" in the last few decades because they no longer believe Jews have horns? OK- you got me. You are a troll's troll ;). Good job.
12.22.2008 8:15pm
Duncan (mail):
Anyway, trolling aside, it is wrong to confuse "smartness" with moral rectitude. J Mengele was both smart and educated. At the least I am sure he knew that Jews don't generally have horns.
12.22.2008 8:24pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
Duncan-

Is StatsMonster a little like basketballreference.com and baseballreference.com or entirely like them?

Sorry to foil your investment scheme, but I'll let you have my At-Home-Phrenology Test idea.
12.22.2008 8:54pm
Lex:
Serious question: Is political ignorance increasing these days as newspaper subscriptions and/or reading goes down? I'm curious about whether this sports journalist is proposing an explanation for a real phenomenon, or just spouting off.
12.22.2008 9:31pm
IB Bill (mail) (www):
I used to love newspapers. But as a commenter above said, they suck now. The failures are many, and not just the obvious, public fellatio of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and every Democrat before that. It's a question of style -- which is created by outstanding writers. There was also a no-bullshit attitude that used to be common in newsrooms. (I say this as a former newspaper reporter.) Newspaper reporters used to be willing to turn on anyone and were fiercely proud of their independence. Not so much anymore.

There are many reasons -- some of it has to do with hiring practices. Specifically, major newspapers insist on higher from "minor league" newspapers, which means that its journalists tend to be from out of town, not from the neighborhoods. (Yes, Inquirer reporters, East Falls is part of Philadelphia.) Some of it has to do with, and this is gonna sound weird, but many reporters are over-educated for the requirements of the job. Good reporting is mostly hard work. It's a little like sales that way -- you simply have to make the extra call, talk to the extra people, and while you develop a range of well-known sources (or customers), you still simply have a lot of work to do.

There's also a class-ist attitude -- newspaper reporters often have expensive student loans or went to school with professionals who are making real money, and they feel they have to justify it somehow.

There's also a problem with writers in general. (I say this as a professional writer with 20 years experience.) Writing is only half a profession -- the other half is actually knowing what you're talking about. Most of the reporters I know and interview are, frankly, far less aware of what's really going on than almost any profession I've seen. Your average sales manager has a far greater clue than a big-city newspaper reporter. Not everyone, of course. But a lot of reporters are really ignorant people -- that dangerous, well-educated ignorant. It's hard to explain how disorienting today's newsroom can be and can cause people to think they know because they've talked to ...

Bloggers, meanwhile, usually bring real subject-matter expertise to their posts, the kind of knowledge you only get by immersing yourself years in an activity. Those that could write and have style quickly rose to the top of the pack. And that makes it hard for a generalist writer to compete.

I think that in all likelihood, the Internet would have crushed mainsteam journalism. But the newspapers could have done a better job of making it more difficult.

Another issue is corporatism -- and by that, I mean an insistence on fulfilling formulas that have worked in the past. I don't know how many arguments I've had with marketing people trying to explain that good journalists are ahead of the market and plowing new ground, and not repeating what's been done before. I'd have a best-selling issue, and a marketing guy would tell me, do that again. I'd be like -- I thought of this story the first time, and I'll come up with something good. And they'd fight me because it was different or new, and hadn't been done before. Fortunately, that's no longer a problem, as I've switched companies.

FWIW.
12.22.2008 9:37pm
Brown (mail):
Would someone tell me why it is important to read the NY Times in print? Is print propaganda any less misleading and brain tainting than "big screen" propaganda?

Goodness people, the "free" press died decades ago, what defines "cretin" these days is a matter of fashion and popularity not substance.
12.22.2008 9:46pm
Duncan (mail):
guy in the veal calf office:

I went back and read Feynman's book a while ago, actually. He talked about the urgency that they all felt when it came to making the bomb that ended WWII. The older I get the more I want to work at cancer. To me, it is just as urgent, but.. much harder.

Cancer is a bomb inside us all. I quit my job (giving porn to the masses) even though it paid 6 figures. Now I study organic compounds...

Quite simply, I asked myself.. what matters? I have a good brain- I can do math, or physics, or whatever is required. Maybe I should stop with the porn and start with the cancer...
12.22.2008 10:05pm
Crimso:

I think Sean Hannity and the like are at least as responsible as the brainless sports journalists.

I guess that makes Olbermann doubly responsible.
12.22.2008 10:07pm
Crimso:

I quit my job (giving porn to the masses) even though it paid 6 figures. Now I study organic compounds...

I would love to pass you going the other way.
12.22.2008 10:09pm
Duncan (mail):
Crimso:
:I would love to pass you going the other way.:

Well, it's not that hard actually. You can make quite a lot of money in internet pron if you are sharp. It's not that hard but it takes a _lot_ of work, like everything else.

But- I had a funny experience with it... I got hired by an AOL executive who invested 300k. Then.. well we did the most famous thing ever done by a porn company.

But now- I guess they made money. I never got a payout, but it is irrelevant. Cancer is relevant. Porn is not, even if a lot of money is attached. Shit.. if I wanted money...

My Mom is getting old now... I care about cancer.
12.22.2008 10:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Most of the reporters I know and interview are, frankly, far less aware of what's really going on than almost any profession I've seen."

How can that be? They interview each other as experts.
12.22.2008 10:37pm
RMN ex-subscriber (mail):
I also think it is NO coincidence that our country is where it's at right now, because people aren't reading enough - and newspapers, included.

Everybody just wants to be "entertained" now, and for them that means having nothing to do with books or newspapers and everything to do with stupid video games, "reality" (there's a laugh, there's nothing real about it) TV and other total wastes of time.


Puuuleeease. These newspaper men crowing about how great and noble they are, are a joke. When I unsubscribed the RMN was full of fluff. Cooking fluff. Travel fluff. Horoscope fluff. Diet fluff. Movie star fluff. With wire service national headlines and lefty "news" about how great Denver's mass transit light rail would be, and boondoggle DIA, and how we ought to vote -- for the 92d straight election -- a Democrat ticket. Yeah boy, those guys really spoke truth to power. Not.

Like shared-monopoly local TV, big city newspapers have enjoyed competition-free markets. Read the one paper in town, or don't read anything. The logical response is to put out low cost fluff.

The RMN is dying? I couldn't care less.
12.22.2008 10:42pm
Duncan (mail):
Crimso: also, it's not a matter of passing the other way. It'd not actually that hard to make enough money to live on if you combine...

Anyway people make mad bucks from this shit. Ask for a few bucks in return.
12.22.2008 11:00pm
Duncan (mail):
But anyway, if you are "smart": let's cure cancer first
12.22.2008 11:17pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
To me, that quote sounds like Kiszla. (Note: If it wasn't written by Kiszla, that anyone got that impression should be a source of considerable shame for the writer.)

"Dang kids these days; won't support my in my sinecure ... and always on my lawn."

I will cheerfully admit the value of a newspaper that would cover local issues honestly and timely. When Denver gets such a newspaper, I'll subscribe.

Until that time ... well, lets just say that the utility of the Denver Post was enough lower than the cost of throwing the paper out that I chose to cancel a free subscription.
12.22.2008 11:57pm
Greg Q (mail) (www):
Because if there is no independent, operable press keeping a check on power and exposing its wrongs then that is for sure where we'll be headed as a country.


Gee, you mean like the "independent, operable press" that can always be trusted to do what's best for the Democrat Party, which is what we have now? After all, the press did such a good job covering (up for) Obama, and his history of associating with criminals like Blago and Rezko. And they've done such a ood job covering (up) who the Democrats in Congress pushed for the housing mess to happen.

And then there's the game of "Name That Party" that gets played whenever a Democrat politician gets caught being a crook.

An honest press would be worth saving. The dishonest left wing crap we have now deserves nothing but destruction.
12.23.2008 3:05am
Mr. F. Le Mur2 (mail):
"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers. " - T. Jefferson
12.23.2008 8:02am
Crimso:

But anyway, if you are "smart": let's cure cancer first

I've spent the past 20 yrs doing research on chemotherapy drugs. I'm getting tired and I'm broke. In more ways than one. I'd get a job as a talking head on ESPN but somehow I don't think I'm qualified.
12.23.2008 8:19am
Fedya (www):
I'd get a job as a talking head on ESPN but somehow I don't think I'm qualified.


You're no less qualified than the folks currently on ESPN.

(The same holds for most people here.)
12.23.2008 8:29am
Toby:
I'm astonished by the assertion that Duncan spent 300K on Two Girls One Cup and not surprised that the payouts were low.
12.23.2008 8:56am
shawn-non-anonymous:
Independent newspapers? In a world dominated by Rupert Murdoch and folks like him, there is no such thing.

My "local paper", the Tampa Tribune, is run by a corporation out of Denver called Media General. The big news around here right now is a story about the guy who runs the local zoo. The general formula for our local news can be boiled down to "he said/she said" where there is no attempt to discern the facts, the history, or any other scrap of information a reader might use to form an opinion. Reporting on only what was said is safer.

The internet provides better information, even if I have to do more work sorting through the large amounts of bad data to get to it. That's what reporters are supposed to be doing for me, right? As they have ceded that roll back to their audience, perhaps they are no longer worth paying for.
12.23.2008 10:22am
JGUNS (mail):
"All I can say to people who don't care right now about whether there's a local newspaper or two in town - or don't think it's important to democracy - is: enjoy living in a Big Brother, oligarchy some day real soon."

Hmmm.. I would argue that we are already living in the age of Big Brother and Oligarchy and it is due in no small part to Newspapers. Newspapers, instead of being critical of Government, are entirely too COZY with Government.. well, unless it is a Republican of course. Interesting when a journalist says this, but does not recognize that what he is speaking of is EXACTLY what newspapers seem to support. I would argue that THIS is a bigger reason for declining interests in newspapers, right behind the factthat many people get their news on the internet now. Reading interest is a distant third or lower.
12.23.2008 12:32pm
hugh (mail):
It was Dan Le Batard wasn't it?
12.23.2008 1:58pm
EXTRA: Denver newspaper customer bails out:
Oh sure, newspapers have been guardians of Truth and without them we'll soon be enslaved. I live in Denver and don't bother with either local paper because I got sick of being lectured by painfully earnest liberal reporters who can't help but do a TV review without making it about their politics, as if anyone cares.

When I'm not being lectured, I can count on the local paper to shill for their big advertisers, usually real estate developers. (That worked out great for them!) The ads weren't that effective, anyway. I would bring in the paper and sort if out over the recycling bin, discarding between 70% and 90% of the paper before it ever came into the house. Parade? Gone. Classifieds? No way. Circulars? Filed. Sports? Adios. The Chick Section? Oh why not, I like Dilbert. Business? Oh, it was one page on the back of the Sports section, and I get the WSJ anyway. Not worth bending over for.

Newspaper reporters need to get over themselves. I would get the paper if it was worth reading. Better alternatives abound. I felt bad when the Denver Post sales guy called and offered a year subscription for $1.50 and I couldn't get worked up enough to buy it. He seemed crestfallen, like no one was taking it. Maybe more Maureen Dowd would do the trick.
12.24.2008 10:56pm

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