Friday, May 14, 2004

Oh No

I have written for Toronto Life for many years, so I speak from first-hand experience when I say that their commitment to editorial quality is second-to-none. As John MacFarlane noted in his May 2004 editor’s note, they take their fact checking very seriously – to the tune of $100,000 last year. They treat writers well, and there’s a good reason they get buckets of nominations each year at the NMAF.

And so, as someone who not only writes for magazines, but occasionally edits them, my stomach actually lurched when I saw that something had gone horribly wrong in the current (June 2004) issue of Toronto Life. On page 72, it appears as though the wrong quark page has been printed. How do I know? First of all, it says June 2000 at the bottom. But more noticeably, a series of words and phrases are underlined, one word is bolded for no reason, and, worst of all, this:

Tanenbaum’s swerve [word choice?] proved less impressive set against Ken Thompson’s $250-million.

Since I’m a subscriber, I can only hope that the error was caught before the magazine reached the newsstands. (I think there’s a lag time between subscriber copies being mailed out and the mag hitting the stores, but I could be totally wrong.) My guess is the error was made by the printer, because the final proofing at Toronto Life is pretty airtight.

I offer my sincere condolences and I hope this bizarre mistake causes them minimal embarrassment.

* * *

Now, onto maximum embarrassment. It’s still early in the year, but I would like to cast my vote for the Worst Column of 2004. It’s in today’s Globe and Mail, in the real-estate section. Ladies and gentleman, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to introduce Michelle Osborne, and her column The First Timer. Take it away Ms. Osborne:

Life without luxury lettuce

There is no Boston lettuce at the grocery store.

It was my first dose of reality, a confirmation that we had actually moved to a different place, one that was devoid of my beloved leafy green vegetable. A perfectly innocent trip to the grocery store for salad ingredients had left me wondering if we had made the right choice by leaving our downtown lifestyle for the residential Danforth and Woodbine area.

After all, we were used to our usual Saturday routine -- finishing our lattes before heading to St. Lawrence Market to get the basic fresh ingredients, and a few specialty items we needed for a dinner party or particularly challenging culinary experiment. At the market we were surrounded by people like us. It was like church for yuppies.

Near our new two-storey, brick and frame home, there is no market, but we are very close to a grocery store and a butcher. Which is lucky, unless you are used to having one of the city's best markets within walking distance.

I tried to remain undaunted. I knew deep down that we would be making certain sacrifices for the luxury of having a detached home away from the downtown bustle, and I was willing to compromise. After settling for mesclun mix, we loaded up our groceries into our cart and continued our errands in our new neighbourhood.

We have the basics, including several banks, a couple of pubs, coffee chains and dollar stores. Street kids and hotdog carts have been replaced by strollers and dogs on leashes. Exactly what you want in what our real estate agent calls a "developing" neighbourhood.

By now, my caffeine addiction was nagging me enough to settle for the budget coffee at one of the local chains. I tentatively entered, expecting the seedy, downtown shop I usually avoided. Instead, I found a smattering of normal-looking people and a bright, clean counter. I walked up to the server, expecting a tired grunt as a form of acknowledgment.

"Hi there," the pleasant server said with a smile. "What can I get for you?"

Shocked, I almost forgot to order. The service almost made up for the less-than-spectacular coffee. Almost.

The butcher was next on our hit list. We had found a small, inconspicuous shop driving by a few weeks earlier. Our hope was that it would measure up to the market, or just maybe, the butcher who specialized in meat from naturally fed and raised animals and from whom we got steaks for special occasions.

It was a glorious sight. Friendly patrons were chatting with the owners, and marvelling at the cannolis sitting on the cooler, which contained numerous deli meats. We looked around to see tasty cuts of lamb, chicken and beef, along with various European-style cheeses. I knew we had found a gem with this shop when I spotted the imported balsamic vinegar and Italian espresso.

The lust died, however, once we got to the cash register. The bill for two steaks and two chicken breasts was the same as what we paid at the specialty butcher downtown, but they didn't come from naturally fed or raised animals.

Feeling a little defeated, Tim suggested we grab a bottle of wine before heading home. On foot, we were out of luck. Either we'd have to drive to the nearest LCBO, or settle for beer with our sirloins.

We opted for the latter and drove just a few blocks away -- too far to walk but a little too close to drive, it seemed -- and picked up a cabernet sauvignon for our dinner that evening.

There are some things I just can't sacrifice

I imagine her neighbours reading this column, grabbing the Frankenstein pitchforks and torches and chasing her snotty St. Lawrence ass right back from whence it came. I humbly request the Danforth residents association to give ‘er a good solid jab on my behalf.

And on a more serious note, I have been noticing this kind of nauseating expression of classist claptrap and entitlement more and more often in Toronto. Maybe it was always there and I found a way to ignore it, but lately, it’s becoming more and more in my face. For awhile now, I’ve been wanting to mention this article by Graeme Zielinksi that ran in the The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 28, 2004):

National media: Meet the Heartland

About five years ago, during my first weeks working at The Washington Post, the paper ran a front-page story in which, in the first paragraph, they misspelled Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous.

I asked an old friend who worked at the paper how this could have happened, since the story had, conservatively, been vetted by no fewer than eight sets of eyes.

His one-word response, "Ivy," as in the Ivy League schools from which many of the staff matriculated and where, presumably, Schlitz was not as in high demand as it had been at, say, a Machinists Hall in Cudahy.


I've whined about this before and been promptly slapped down by my betters in places like the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. The "working-class hero" stuff goes only so far in some quarters, since it oftentimes is personal and oftentimes is inconvenient. But I'm fed up since, as I saw recently covering the primary, the problem is getting worse and the stakes are getting higher.

Questions are not being asked. Meanings are not being interpreted. Certain neighborhoods are not being visited. Certain lives are not being explored in a meaningful way. And, through the prosecution of basic journalism, agendas are being set that do not reflect the way the other half, without the bulging 401ks, lives.

For instance, how many people on air or in print came from families that had walked a picket line? How many know how to bait a hook or gut a deer? (I'm bad at both.) How many have felt the economic insecurity that stalks the working poor? (And I'm not talking about the few weeks at college on the Ramen noodles diet.)

How many have had real experience with the criminal justice system, who have had home visits from social workers, who have scrambled to call the probation office, who know the awful taste of government cheese?

The second article ran on December 8 of 2002 in the LA Times, and was written by David Shaw:

Journalists losing touch with the man on the street

In an era when network anchors in tailor-made suits sign multimillion-dollar contracts, and some of their talking-head, syndicated columnist colleagues earn more from one speech than the average American earns in an entire year, it may be difficult to imagine, but journalism in this country was, until relatively recently, a largely blue-collar craft.

As recently as 1971, only 58% of newspaper journalists had college degrees; now 89% have degrees, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. But only 15.5% of the total population age 25 and older have finished college.

The median annual salary for "experienced reporters" working at newspapers with more than 250,000 daily circulation -- the 40 largest papers in the country -- was about $56,000 last year, according to a newspaper industry study. Pay for "senior reporters" -- and for top reporters and editors at the largest of these papers -- is substantially more. But median income for all U.S. workers over 15 is about $31,500.

In other words, many big-city journalists -- especially those who set the agenda for what gets covered in the rest of the media -- have moved away from much of the largely middle- and working-class audience they purport to serve. At best, they're out of touch. At worst, they've become elitists