In Marion County, the revolution will be printed

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Steve Woodhouse sent me a message on Twitter a few days before Christmas.

His message revealed he was crazy.

I’ll elaborate.

He bought a relatively new newspaper called the Marion County Express — a real paper printed on newsprint that can be spread out on the breakfast table or taken to the bathroom to be read on the throne.

Being a journalist in the 21st century is like being an endangered species that is actively hunted. Newspapers aren’t dead yet; they’re more like a hospice patient denied their fentanyl drip.

Greedy Wall Street hustlers gobble up the remains of newspapers large and small. Their finance vampires suck the last of the blood out of papers and let the bodies hit the floor.

Institutions that served their community for 150 years or more die so some billionaires can become fractionally richer.

I don’t blame the corporations or the hedge funds entirely.

I worked for the local newspaper in Des Moines for most of my career.

The digital tools available to editors of newspapers and websites tell people exactly what kinds of stories people want to read.

Here they are:

1. Sports — just the two big universities, not even high schools.

2. Politics, national not local, but the meaner the better.

3. Food and beer, the snobbier the better.

4. Pets, which are the children of the generation that refuses to have children.

5. Salacious crime, especially the kind that can ignite a good race argument or involves a young white woman.

That’s it. Some other stuff will occasionally light up the spreadsheet, but not often.

I tried to do it for four years as a columnist and had so little success that it ripped my guts out.

I took leave several times to sort out my mental health because I truly wondered if I was worth anything at all if I couldn’t be a successful newspaper writer.

The bosses took the column away at the end of 2019. The took my job away in early 2020.

I grieved. I felt like a failure. Then I got some therapy and squared up my head.

I enrolled in graduate school; I start student teaching in a few weeks on my way to becoming a language arts teacher for the second half of my working life.

This brings us to Steve’s message.

I stand by my assessment: He’s whacko.

Newspapers are heartbreakers; this is a heartbreaking time to get into the game.

Half of all journalism jobs disappeared between 1990 and 2020.

Newsrooms cut a quarter of their jobs since the pandemic began.

And Steve wants to dive into the headfirst? Bonkers.

I’ve come to believe newspapers were never as good as I thought they were — and certainly never as good as they led everyone to believe.

I believe in an informed citizenry. I just don’t know how to cope with a citizenry that doesn’t want to be informed.

I remember watching MTV in 1989 when the network was doing a bunch of year-end specials.

Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the band Aerosmith, told an interviewer: “If we had a button on our chest that gave us an orgasm, we’d all press the thing until we passed out.”

That seems to be the republic we want.

News is fine if it confirms what we already believe or makes us angry or keeps us afraid. Put your local TV news on mute sometime and watch the contortions of the anchors’ faces. They look maniacal.

Listen to a weather report about snow. The talk is apocalyptic. It’s all a show designed to keep you watching and clicking.

News should be telling us about our school districts, city councils, and county governments.

Local officials control your schools, police, fire department, paramedics, roads, sewers, libraries, hospitals, and scores of other things that have direct impact on our daily lives.

Presidential politics are important, but it’s not Joe Biden who is going to press the defibrillator paddles on your chest after a heart attack and zap your heart back into rhythm.

One might assume people would care about how well local government is maintaining that equipment and offering training to its departments.

The assumption is wrong.

Instead, we follow presidential politics, where the reporting on the candidates is little more than celebrity gossip mongering.

The idea of issues guiding a campaign is antiquated to the point of absurdity and has been since at least 1960.

Go on YouTube and look up the classic Bob Newhart stand-up comedy routine “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.”

After you stop convulsing with laughter, think about presidential elections and you’ll realize his fanciful jokes from more than 60 years ago are our reality.

And yet again Steve wants to buy and run a newspaper in the middle of this nation of hedonists? Looney.

But God bless him, he’s my kind of crazy.

He’s trying to right a wrong. Marion County lost the Pella Chronical and the Knoxville Journal-Express to corporate cutbacks.

He wants to roll up his sleeves and get ink under his fingernails.

So why did he reach out to me?

He wondered if I’d be willing to write a column for the paper.

I said no.

I’ve put that part of my working life to rest.

However, I am a writer. And I have this blog at paragraphstacker.com.

If Steve wanted to pick up posts from my blog, he’s welcomed to publish it.

Maybe you folks in Marion County will like it. I hope so. It’s nice to be liked.

Consider this column just another feature of a great experiment: the Express.

Subscribe and see how it goes.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

To Santa or not to Santa and other serious topics of great importance on Christmas Eve

I stood in line to pay at a now-defunct comic shop years ago around Christmastime.

A young couple in the shop debated whether they would tell their children about Santa Claus.

The mother worried about lying to their kids and what kind of message that sent.

I suppose one worries about everything when you are a young parent. I am not a parent and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, shall always try to do right and be good so God will not make me one.

I said nothing, which is the wisest policy in things that are not your business.

Still, I couldn’t remember any mass shooters or serial killers whose stories began, “When I found out about Santa Claus not being real, that’s when everything went to hell.”

Then again, I don’t have much use for the people who so zealously guard the myth of Santa Claus that any mention of the reality that Santa isn’t real sends them into a fury.

I once mentioned Santa wasn’t real in a column at the local newspaper. The editor cut the line. I asked why. The editor said a child might read that and we would get a lot of angry calls.

I argued we should do it anyway. If we got a lot of calls from people who said their children saw this, we could stop worrying about attracting young readers.

I was overruled.

I don’t think much about Santa Claus as an adult. It’s a fine myth. I’m surprised the character hasn’t gotten caught in the culture wars.

Santa is an obese, cisgender heterosexual white man. His very existence makes patrons of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Victimhood itchy.

Maybe that’s Santa’s real magic. People aren’t immediately ticked off at the sight of Santa the way they are everything else that turns up in the news.

I try to avoid the news these days, especially since the news industry kicked me out for good.

But I’ll peruse the headlines a couple times of day so that I’m not surprised when we go to war.

That happened once to Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died.

This was before I came into their lives and wrecked their schedule. They were off camping somewhere on vacation.

They went into the nearest town to get some groceries and supplies. Everyone was huddled around the TV.

Dad 2.0 asked what was going on.

“Don’t ya know? We’re at war!” I imagine the clerk said.

The first Persian Gulf War had started. I don’t know if my folks bought a newspaper to catch up, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They had plenty of newspaper for kindling.

In modern times, I scroll the headlines, and everybody is telling me what’s wrong with everything.

The president isn’t popular. Has he ever been?

The economy stinks. It usually does, especially if you’re poor.

Everybody has COVID, is going to get COVID, or has already died of COVID.

Your favorite TV show stinks and here’s a list of five reasons why you’re wrong to like it.

Newsweek published a real winner the other day about the new “Spider-Man” movie: “Andrew Garfield and Charlie Cox Didn’t Tell Us the Truth — And We’re Not Okay.”

The headline references actors in the movie who mislead the media about being in the movie about their roles in the movie to avoid ruining a surprise for viewers before the movie was released.

But just look at the emotion in that headline: “And We’re Not Okay.”

Can’t you just feel the existential angst? There must not be an adult within six blocks of Newsweek.

The pain these poor Newsweek staffers must have endured by what amounts to a Hollywood game of three-card monte.

I wonder if whoever the “they” is in that “we are not okay group” grew up believing in Santa Claus and, upon learning he wasn’t real, swore an oath in their grief to seek truth and publish, not necessarily in that order.

They fought to become journalists in the age when if journalism isn’t dead, it’s at the hospice without the morphine drip.

And, finally, they unearthed another lie, one that rivaled the untruths of Old St. Nick: Some actors said they weren’t in a superhero movie when they were.

They reported the truth like 14-year-old kids texting about the girl they like from Algebra class flirting with the captain of the boys’ basketball team.

God bless these American heroes at Newsweek. Democracy dies by dimwits.

Santa Claus is probably triggering or a micro aggression. He might be the worldwide distributor of intersectionality.

(To readers who don’t know what that last word means in today’s political climate, the only thing I can tell you is that if someone brings it up, find a graceful way to exit the conversation before a protest breaks out.)

I know if I were to become a parent, I would not introduce the myth of Santa Claus.

This has nothing to do with the welfare of my non-existent child.

I’m just selfish.

I want my never-will-be kid to know that I worked some job I hated 40 hours a week or more for the money to buy this stuff that will be broken, lost, or forgotten about three days after Christmas.

You want to thank somebody with milk and cookies, kid? Thank your dear, old dad — and make it a sipper of Tennessee Fire while you’re at it.

The other reason I wouldn’t do Santa Claus is because the one good thing you get out of it is a disciplinary tool that relies on the phony surveillance of an all-seeing distributor of toys.

“You’d better stop acting like that because Santa will see you being naughty and leave you a lump of coal,” Mom 1.0 sometimes dropped on me if I was acting foolish.

I would straighten up and beg forgiveness of the Great Pumpkin, er, I mean Santa.

But as a disciplinary tool, this only works from Black Friday to Dec. 24. Try trotting out the “Santa’s watching” when your son is blasting your daughter’s Barbies with his new rapid-fire Nerf gun on Dec. 25th.

Santa? That fat fool won’t be back for another year. On my signal, unleash hell on Barbie’s Dream House.

I favor year-round discipline by surveillance.

Modern Americans are so terrified of each other that they line their homes with cameras from their kid’s teddy bear to the doorbell.

They can review six months of recordings to find out who left the toilet seat up or who put the milk back in the fridge when it was basically empty.

Do Santa. Don’t do Santa. Either way will probably be fine.

But let’s not forget to say a big thank you to the people who really make Christmas happen: Amazon delivery drivers.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Grad school enters final lap soon, student teaching awaits, and the effort to stay afloat despite more bad news from the state

Honestly, I’m not depressed. I just thought it would be funny to wear this necklace with a frowny face. Don’t call in the troops. I’m OK.

Dear friends,

I’m sorry I have not written much in recent weeks.

Below is the latest update on my fundraising efforts to stay afloat while I recover from knee surgery and finish graduate school at Drake.

If you’re of a mind to donate to the cause, the details are at: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5ek08z/updates/.

Read back through for the full story. I won’t bore people who know with it now.

I am plodding forward through what will be, I hope, the last of my classroom finals. There are a lot of papers and presentations to finish before the semester ends on Dec. 17. I am tired and welcome the coming holiday break to clear my mind and prepare for student teaching. I have a Zoom meeting with my mentor teacher Thursday, which will be my last activity of the semester.

Over break, there are a series of online courses I need to take, including lessons on blood-borne pathogens and the state’s mandatory reporter law.

The fight to claim benefits remains stalled. I applied for a program called Training Extension Benefits, which extends unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks or the end of your training. In my case, it would get me through the end of graduate school in the spring.

I won’t rehash all the stressful difficulties other than to say this has been going on since early August. I was given incorrect information by my caseworker which mucked up my appeal. After a time, I finally got proper advice to appeal.

My appeal is in the system, where it’s been since late November. I called the appeals office last week. They said they were just getting to October appeals. I had a minimum of a two-week wait to get on the calendar. That puts us during the holidays. I don’t expect to hear anything for a month.

Sigh.

In other terrible news, I received a letter from the Iowa Department of Revenue that they had refigured my taxes and I somehow owe almost $700. The letter arrived on a Friday and it was too late to call, so I’ve been stewing about this all weekend. I wonder if this has something to do with the identity theft I had that mucked up my unemployment benefits this year. Who knows?

One of the struggles I have with anxiety is knowing there’s a problem, not being able to immediately fix it, and then mentally grinding that a parade of horribles is going to march through my life. I will say this much for the last 18 months, I have learned some measure of patience. Most problems I can’t fix right away, especially the ones involving the government.

My mobility continues to improve. I still use a walker for long distances. Your donations helped me get a new set of wheels that offer more stability. They’re much better at negotiating variations in pavement. This will be key if we have a lot of snow and ice this winter.

It has been a long 18 months, but I believe I’m right on the edge of something great. I just have to make it through student teaching. Then, hopefully, I’ll get on contract with a metro district and begin Daniel 2.0’s life. As always, I thank you for your patronage.

You have kept this march going both financially and with an immeasurable amounts of emotional support. I have asked a lot of you. You have always responded.

I want you to know I hate this. As appreciative as I am of all your support, I hate that you hear from me with my hand out.

Perhaps when this trail is over, we can have a gathering at a shelter house in Union Park after my graduation. I can meet some of you in person, say thank you, give a hug to those who will take it. Then, at least, my gratitude would have corporal form.

I know how expensive this time of year is, but if can spare a few dollars, as always, everything helps. I’ve got to get back to my finals. I’ve got two left to write and a final presentation. I love you all. You have taught me about unconditional love almost as much as Parents 2.0.

Bless you for your contributions and your kind, kind hearts.

With love and hope,

Daniel P. Finney

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: 515-371-9453.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.