Skateboarders are Great Americans (and other reflections on current media)

1. 

Thanks to the Times, we learn that skateboarders in California are newly responsible for some great civic contributions. This winter they’ve been cleaning out the abandoned swimming pools of foreclosed houses, refusing to add graffiti or trash while they’re trespassing, and they even only skate for short periods during the day to avoid disturbing neighbors. How considerate!

But here’s the real story, revealed in the third paragraph:

Across the nation, the ultimate symbol of suburban success has become one more reminder of the economic meltdown, with builders going under, pools going to seed and skaters finding a surplus of deserted pools in which to perfect their acrobatic aerials.

Unfortunately for thrill-seeking readers, most of the article is about that stuff, or actually even more boring stuff. We learn about pool builders in Phoenix and fines for homeowners who leave standing water in their pools — things related neither to skateboarding nor the economic meltdown, as if people are reading the article because they just love pools.

The article’s kind of cool overall, and it’s helped out by some choice quotes — “God bless Greenspan,” the post [on skateandannoy.com] read, “patron saint of pool skatin’.” — but it drifts from the good stuff. It should focus on the skateboarders, both because they’re the most fun part of the article and because simply recording the color of their hobby right now will tell the economic story most vividly. Strengths and weaknesses aside, this article also highlights the inherent limitations of print journalism and written storytelling. This isn’t a story to be written; although the article is accompanied by a slide show, we need to see action and panoramas. We need video: we need to see the skateboarders moving, not just through pools but among them, hitting pool after pool and wandering newly abandoned neighborhoods. Let’s see those foreclosed homes, not just read about them. New media, where are you?

2.

The Post tells us that Virginia Senator Jim Webb is set to introduce legislation to “reform” our prison system. As a citizen long interested in the subject, and as a current employee (sort of — well, not really, but more on this later) of the correctional system of the State of Connecticut, I’m personally invested in this topic. Too bad for interested readers, the article doesn’t hint at how Webb envisions this reform, or even whether he’s gotten that far. What we get instead is that Webb thinks we have too many people in prison (as everyone agrees) and quote after quote from people skeptical to critical of his forthcoming effort, rebutted only by assertions of Webb’s fortitude and maverickyness. Get ready for a showdown! But don’t hold your breath for meaningful reform. If there’s any on the way, this article won’t help shed light on it.

3.

Popular sportswriting often approaches oxymoron territory: it’s writing only in the technical sense of involving letters, words, and sentences in a single language. The “writers” for MLB.com and its daughter sites devoted to the individual teams are as guilty as any others of this butchery. But I was positively struck by this lede in an article today:

Whatever interest the Mets might have had in diminished center fielder Andruw Jones had a rather short shelf life.

The “rather” could have gone, but the sentence is informative, descriptive, and even poignant. It evokes some humanity deeper than that commonly found in front offices. Just from this sentence, I feel for Jones and even the Mets, though I don’t know why. I could be alone on this.

4.

Yeah, I always saw the Fall of Bush this way. Cool to know I agree with him and his people on something. Plus those are some sweet quotes. Props to Vanity Fair.

5.

This is now a week old, and, like Josh Marshall, I’m hesitant to cite Tom Friedman positively in the blogosphere, but give credit where credit’s due. Or at least acknowledge that which you dig. And I dig this recent column. I think Friedman’s right on the money. Don’t expect me to say that again soon.

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