You Can’t Prostitute Bad – The Happy Hour TodCast

By Tony Russo
Although I’d rather watch a movie about it than have it happen to me, there is something to be said for the experience of being in the newspaper business as it slides into irrelevance. It is a lot like watching a character in a monster movie descend into a basement. Objectively, it isn’t going to end well but there’s no communicating with someone who is following a script. In case you’ve missed it, bad things happen to newspapers in the current script.

Every now and then I have a Matrix moment, when things are slow and clear and horrific and serene, I can see how history all plays out for a moment. When this happens I want to grab the powers that be and shake them. I want to ask them if they’ve ever even SEEN a Don’t-go-into-the-basement-type movie.

I had such a moment this week:

The name of the website escapes me, but it’s in what I’ll call the “Savvy” family and includes (I think) Eastern Shore Savvy, Easton Savvy, the Talbot Spy and the Chestertown Spy.{{1}}[[1]]If you’ve clicked on any of the links, you’ll see Savvy’s sites are much prettier than Sea Level Magazine, save for the ad clutter.[[1]]

The Internet is a relatively new phenomenon here on the Eastern Shore in that it is still pretty rare to have a diverse blogging site of local writers working together to produce content. I discovered the Savvys while looking for a project to join. The main problem with the Savvys, though, was they were unreadably bad. Made up mostly of press releases and experiential, “literary” blogs, it was obviously a cadre of retirees, bored housewives and PR advisers between gigs. I crossed them off my list of viable projects and eventually fell in with the folks here at SLM for better or worse.

I first happened across the Savvys maybe two years ago. They reeked of momblog{{2}}[[2]]I expect I don’t have to tell you why momblogs are abominable.[[2]]and, as a “serious” reporter, there was no call for me to be involved with them. That all changed this week when a colleague of mine accidentally tweeted out one of their stories. Strictly speaking, it is a bad policy to promote any publication (digital or print) with which your company directly competes for ad dollars. My colleague didn’t identify Savvy as competition and didn’t have any problem promoting its posts.

I clicked on the post and had my Matrix moment.

The Savvy in question had gone from bad to mediocre. There were even several stories that were actually engaging. It was still press release-heavy and the press releases weren’t (as we say in the newspaper business) “cleaned up,” {{3}}[[3]]Rewritten to conform with generally accepted practices in the English language.[[3]]but for the most part it was perfectly acceptable. Moreover, it was covering community news that our paper wasn’t.

The Savvys take advantage of the fact that they don’t have printing overhead, sure. But more importantly, they take advantage of the fact that so many professional writers are tied into an outmoded system focusing on putting gray stuff in between whatever ads there happen to be. So much so that, when a newspaper person wants to provide her Twitter followers with original content, she is forced to look to the Savvys. In my vision, the Savvys (and pretty much anyone who doesn’t get a paycheck from selling print ads) understand connections, and not traditional notions of quality, are the legal tender of the next decade of journalism.

Fortunately, though, if you’ll stay with me, I believe I can show how the Savvys herald the end of the great momblog bubble. {{4}}[[4]]I’m using “herald” ironically. I understand no one should ever MEAN herald unless they’re doing community theater Shakespeare.[[4]]

Moms have gotten, in must be said, a lot of undue credit over the last decade. Being a “mom” isn’t the hardest job in the world. Rather, it is a patronizing thing men say to convince women who have choices beyond childbirth, that staying home is valuable.

To be clear: staying home is not only valuable but also critical. To be clearer: staying home to raise children isn’t difficult; it is shitty. It sucks, and men, generally, would rather do anything than stay home and fight off insanity and boredom every day.

The only thing more blatantly patronizing than men talking about motherhood being the “hardest job” is women doing it. The only think more offensive than both of those things put together is the momblog culture; a culture dominated by women who, by virtue of their ability to open a gmail account, become self-styled experts at the hardest job in the world. For a woman, it is as counterproductive as stripping for a living.

That is the bad news. The good news is, it’s ending.

On this week’s Todcast we discuss, among other things, the imminent bursting of the momblog bubble. Contrary to what too many people have been led to believe, writing takes practice. It is not an art without rules, so much as a technical skill. Many Savvy writers have begun to develop this skill which means they are about six months away from being as arrogant and obnoxious as I. As mombloggers and other would-be professionals come into their own, the first thing they will do is cull the poseurs. The second thing they’ll do is recognize how, with just a little focus, they can rise above the echo chamber they’ve created for themselves.

And this is my Matrix nightmare.

While the print people are spending their time reconstituting press releases and pleasing advertisers, the Savvys are learning how to engage an audience that is not made up of their friends. If they ever have the sense to adopt standards and establish credibility, time could be shorter for print than anyone imagined.