Everyone's a Critic

For that and related reasons, Voice editor Don Forst believes Press Clips should be a creature of strong original media reporting, rather than criticism or commentary. I largely concur, though I've tried to create a hybrid breed.

Theoretically, a fully functioning Internet would alleviate some of this mission creep. Through hypertext links, Press Clips could provide instant access to whatever story or broadcast was being written about. In such a version, it would probably make sense to publish items several times a week--as close to a real-time reaction as possible--and to invite instantaneous reader response; an edited version of the whole mix could then be published weekly in the paper. This is the model used by several columns in Slate.

That vision is, however, several years away from being realized--and I say that's a good thing. Because for the time being, the old-fashioned, weekly-newspaper model helps ensure that the Voice stays in touch with the New Yorkers who need it most--the ones without audio players on their PCs, maybe even the ones without home phone lines.

After all, it's not as if there's a shortage of media reporting and coverage for the elite; on the contrary, this decade has witnessed an absolute explosion of the genre. Remember that in 1990, New York Times media reporting was tame, minimal, and late; the Post had not yet ceded almost its entire business section over to media stories; the Observer and New York Press carried media stories, but mere trickles of what they do today; Ed Diamond's New York work was spotty and infrequent; there was no CNN Reliable Sources, no NPR On the Media, no Spin Cycle on the bestseller list, and certainly no Brill's Content.

So the amount of media coverage and commentary has expanded (probably even more than the audience for it--those programs and publications have a lot of overlapping consumers). And yet, very little of that newfound attention raises questions beyond the coverage of individual stories; very little examines politics beyond the next election; very little advocates any change at all, in media or anywhere else.

This leaves room for a truly alternative press column. Two weeks ago, the Observer labeled me "the city's most prominent leftist media critic." That's awfully nice, but the fact is that very few are vying for the title. We can bemoan the lack of competition as an index of the left's decline, or we can take advantage of it. The Voice can make this column a depoliticized mirror of press coverage available elsewhere, and probably get a scoop now and again. Or it can assert its uniqueness--for political purposes, yes, but also because there's a genuine market there, a thirst for media writing that engages with the real world outside media. Maybe we shouldn't assume our readers share progressive politics, but we ought to write as if we believe they can be persuaded.

That's it. To my Voice colleagues, past and present; to my readers; to the countless sources, snitches, spies, and soul mates--I can't name names, but you know who you are--I leave my deepest, most heartfelt thanks. I couldn't have done it without you, and wouldn't have wanted to.

For the next several weeks, Press Clips will be written by Andrew Hsiao, who has deftly edited the column for many months. To him and to the column's future stewards I leave a few dusty files, and Gramsci's oft-repeated but permanently relevant watchwords: "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

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