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.

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.

We should all delete #Facebook. Here’s why we won’t.

A made acquaintance with author Ramsey Hootman through Twitter several years ago. She followed my weight loss journey, which I chronicled in painful (and perhaps boring) detail for the local newspaper for several years.

Ramsey told me she modeled one of the villains in a book after me. It’s nice to be inspire art, regardless of how the final piece turns out.

One day, I made a negative (probably several) comments about how terrible I think social media is.

Ramsey took this personally. She sent several pointed tweets about how she met her husband through social media and her kids wouldn’t exist without social media.

I did what reasonable people who believe in polite discourse do when confronted with an opinion different than their own: I blocked her.

That was mean.

I should have just gone with mute.

I’m kidding.

What I really should have done is never typed the tweets in the first place. Everyone has an opinion about social media — good, bad, or indifferent.

Many people use social media to express those feelings, which feels ironic, possibly stupid.

If you hate social media so much, why are you spending so much time on it?

I thought about this predicament as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times dissected the Facebook Files, a series of internal documents that show just how rotten Mark Zuckerberg’s empire is.

A lot of the reporting tells us things we could have guessed: Instagram, a product of Facebook (who recently changed the name of its parent company to Meta), creates damaging anxiety in young girls.

Facebook’s own data crunchers produced a report on how toxic the service was. The pooh-bahs at Facebook shrugged. So? People keep clicking, don’t they?

Facebook programmers have created an algorithm that takes advantage of every human weakness.

Facebook discovered people responded more often to stories that made them angry or sad.

So they pushed content at users that was more likely to make them react with extreme emotion.

Human beings are rotten at rational communication. We excel at tantrums, giggles, and sobs.

Thoughtful discussion requires calm to explore nuance and detail.

Facebook doesn’t care about nuance. Get angry. Comment. Get other people angry. Just keep clicking.

The longer your eyeballs are on Facebook, the more they can push ads, paid conspiracy theories, and pure lies at you to keep your mind inflamed, enraged, or depressed.

Here’s how insidious Facebook really is: The American newspaper, a nearly extinct medium, is so dependent on social media that even the pillars of the trade — the Times, the Journal, and the Post — use Facebook to promote and distribute their content.

That means their big scoops on the Facebook Files were posted and promoted on Facebook.

Every time someone clicked on a Facebook post by a newspaper about what a rotten, amoral monstrosity Facebook is, Facebook made money.

This is like firefighters arriving at the scene of a five-alarm fire at high-rise apartment building to find the hydrants pumped only gasoline.

If ever there were a company too big to fail, it’s Facebook.

Facebook and its sundry products, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger have 3.51 billion monthly users.

That’s almost 45% of the world’s 7.87 billion population. They would have more, but China won’t allow them.

It’s a dark day in America when you kind of envy the Chinese media landscape.

If any of us had any guts or principles, myself included, we’d quit Facebook forever. Delete the apps. Never get involved in whatever the hell the Metaverse is, which promises to be even more immersive.

But we won’t.

I won’t either.

I won’t because I like an audience.

I’m just as weak and vulnerable to the algorithms as anybody else. I obsessively check to see if people have liked my post or clicked through to read the columns, listen to my podcasts, or other media dalliances.

Sometimes they’re moved enough to send a donation (always welcome, by the way) and that feels pretty good, too.

Somehow, I believe that if a few people read my paragraph stacks, I’m still a city columnist and not a castaway from the news trade that I loved (and hated) so much for so many years.

That’s my weakness. I’m sure the algorithm knows that and other sad truths about this middle-aged fat man.

I may delete Facebook and Twitter when it comes time to look for my teaching job. I don’t think I’ve said anything terrible.

But those emotive communicators play for blood. They don’t just want an apology; they want a person’s livelihood and maybe a public execution, at least that’s how it feels.

To be fair, Ramsey Hootman was right. Some positive things come out of Facebook. My friend Mary raised a lot of money so I could afford knee surgery this summer and people continue to support me while I wait for word on training extension benefits.

I’ve got some time before I have to decide about Facebook and social media. I built up quite a following on social media. It seems like a waste to throw that audience away.

Then again, that’s the rub, isn’t it? They keep playing off my confirmation bias that it’s important to have an audience, that my writing isn’t valuable unless published, and on it goes.

The algorithm is all powerful. I am helpless to resist it.

Just like every other addiction.

Still, I’m glad social media’s algorithm helped Ramsey Hootman find love and have kids.

For what it’s worth, Ramsey, if you’re out there, I’m sorry I blocked you.


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.