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.
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Circling back to Lake Superior State University’s ‘banished words’ list, at the end of the day, it makes the new normal tolerable

Lake Superior State University publishes an annual list of “Banished Words.”

The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, school doesn’t really want to ban words. It wants to curb cliché.

Clutter is the greatest enemy to clarity in language use.

I support any effort to stamp out cliché. Having people saying all the same phrases all the time makes conversation exceptionally dull.

Clichés also give people who are decidedly not clever the impression they are.

Lake Superior State’s 2022 list of words banished “for misuse, overuse, and uselessness” include the phrases “Circle back,” “Asking for a friend,” No worries,” “You’re on Mute,” “New normal,” “Supply chain,” “Deep dive,” “That being said,” and “At the end of the day.”

My favorite banishment on this list is “new normal.”

New normal reminds me of the world “morale.”

Nobody asks people what the morale is of the youth baseball team at the ice cream store.

They ask about morale during war, when people are breaking things and killing people — and being killed — to enforce the political will of their government.

Morale, like new normal, should be governed by the lyrics to a terrific Bruce Cockburn song: “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

Lake Superior State started banishing words in 1976 when a public relations person put out a satirical press release that caught the attention of bored newspaper reporters desperately trying to avoid another story about tax increment financing districts.

The university’s website includes an archive of previously banned words. I poked around for important dates in my life.

I looked at their first edition, 1976, when I was 1.

Banned by Lake Superior State included a “Call for resignation of all sports writers who fail to state clearly in the lead: The winner and the score.”

This was the advice I got as a young reporter in the early 1990s.

Today’s sports writers are writing for an audience who’ve known the score for hours and hunger for analysis that will help them make better fantasy football roster choices.

The university tossed “at this point in time,” which warms my heart.

Winterset had a biology teacher with a habit of repeating this phrase. Some of us kept score on our notebooks how often he said this. He was not amused.

Lake Superior State derided “macho” as “seldom pronounced properly and therefore lacks meaningfulness.”

I always associated the word positively with Burt Reynolds.

Today, “macho” is closely associated with “toxic masculinity,” which is one in a long series of social justice words I hope to see on future lists.

Lake Superior State wanted to trash “Star Wars” in 1985. The school referred to a proposed nuclear defense system that was as much science fiction as the films that preceded it.

In retrospect, I wish they had applied it to “Star Wars” itself, given the low-grade return on most of the movies that followed.

Someone borrowed from George Carlin’s material for a quip about “near miss,” arguing that it should be a “’near hit’ because it didn’t nearly miss, it actually did miss.’”

I was 10 years old in 1985. Ages 9 to 12 are the years, at least in terms of entertainment and friendships, that I look back on as the most halcyon of my youth.

I was too distracted by Nintendo and “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” to get caught up in pedantic arguments about banning the use of “read” as a noun or the esoteric “In diesem unseren lande.”

The school says the phrase means “in this, our country,” and was used by German Chancellor Helmet Kohl too often.

Most Americans today couldn’t tell you who the German chancellor was without a Google search.

Even then, I’d wager a dime that they get distracted by texts or the latest outrage video.

Maybe I’m right to romanticize the age. These banished words were more thoughtful than when I graduated high school in 1993.

I cringe at how many of the banished words I used in my life, such as “went ballistic,” “victimless crime,” “win-win” and “bonding.”

Some words refused to their banishment. Political animals still use phrases such as “grass roots” and “gridlock” to describe political movements or lack of political movement.

Some banished words just took on a different spelling. “Downsizing,” for example, became “right-sizing” briefly, and currently lurks through greedy hustler corporations as “separation.”

Sneaky your-out-of-job talk continued in 1997, the year I graduated college.

The university banished “out-sourcing,” which really means firing the people who were doing work for you and hiring another company to do it cheaper, thus unburdening the shareholders with the responsibility to pay people a decent wage with benefits.

“Get a life,” “phone tag,” and “down time” all made the 1997 list, but perhaps I am of this generation, I still use them.

I don’t know how banned “You go, girl” would play in the age of intersectionality. My personal policy is to tread carefully when it comes to race, politics, and gender issues lest I unleash the wrath of bloodthirsty extremists.

I hope we can all agree that banished list from 1997 got one thing right: “La Macarena” should never be heard or seen again unless at a 1990s theme party for children who did not have to live through that novelty song.

Scroll through the lists and find the phrase that seem like you just said or heard them five minutes ago.

“Metrosexual?” Banned in 2004.

“Blue states/red states” and “… and I approve this message” unsuccessfully ejected in 2005.

“GITMO,” a military shorthand for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison where suspected terrorists are being held. President Barack Obama’s first executive order closed GITMO in 2009. It remains open.

Neither “tweet” nor Twitter came to an end in 2010, but one could make a case the microblogging website continues to contribute to the downfall of our democracy.

The list knocked out a couple of my least favorite cliches with “baby bump” and “pet parent” getting tossed in 2012 and “bucket list” and “trending” (as in social media trends) from 2013.

By 2017, I was too old for trendy words. Lake Superior State stayed on top of things, banning “831,” which apparently means 8 letters, 3 words, 1 one meaning: I love you.

I am not a dad but have a “dadbod,” which the school clipped in 2017 as well.

The pandemic dominated 2020 and 2021’s word bans. “Unprecedented,” “In an abundance of caution,” “social distancing,” “In these uncertain times,” and “we’re all in this together” got the hook last year.

I won’t guess on what words get the Lake Superior State ban in 2023, but here’s a few I hope never to make the list:

  1. Read a book offline.
  2. Gather with friends and family and without devices.
  3. Embrace silence.
  4. Observe nature.
  5. Tell people you love them often.

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.