Saturday, March 03, 2007

Oh, and the Reader Sucks

Hey friends. You may have noticed that neither I nor Mr. 'Cog have been posting lately. That's because critiquing the Reader, however purging it may be, has the drawback of requiring you to read the Reader. We just got fed up with it.

The stuff they've trotted out for the last few months hasn't re-piqued my interest. I'd like to cite a couple of cover stories as examples of badly-done stories about incredibly petty topics, but I honestly can't remember what they've covered lately. Something about a DJ? Maybe a couple of environmental-watchdog things that will have no effect whatsoever? I know there was something about Jon Burge. (If the mechanic who cooked up that telephone electroshock torture device had known how many Reader stories he was spawning, I bet he would have stuck it in a steamer trunk, wrapped it in metal cables, sailed out to the middle of the lake and consigned it to the watery depths.)

Looking back over this site's recent comments, though, it seems that we're helping at least a few people to feel less self-doubt when they realize that a market-dominating, big-city weekly can suck as hard as the Reader does. Yes, you out there in the darkness, you're not alone. It really does suck that hard.

I also noticed a stray couple of sentences in the comments for the Belletwits post. "See now this is a well written entry , actually going beyond a strained, one note 'sucks!' to make a valid criticism with (*gasp*) actual suggestions on how it could be done better. My goodness, y'all are actually writing like your age."

First of all, I'll have you know sir that I am seven years old and would like a lightsaber for my birthday. Secondly, are you nuts? "Actual suggestions on how it could be done better" implies that fixing the Reader presents some kind of puzzle. That's ridiculous. You want to fix it, ditch the fossils on staff and impose some journalistic standards. Fixed.

Anyhoo, I have some beefs with recent election coverage, and I notice that J.R. Jones reviewed the new Nader documentary, so I've got food for another couple of posts soon. Assuming I can read the actual articles closely enough to explain exactly why they suck without going comatose, I'll be rappin atcha soon.


Incidentally, coming back to this blog reminds me of exactly why Blogger sucks. I just spent 20 minutes deleting a bunch of comments about obscure pharmaceuticals and "anal enema photographs" from the Fertilizer post. (Apt.) You have to click through 3 pages each time you delete a comment. And then you're left with a comments page that's a long list of "Deleted by administrator" posts interspersed with the occasional actual comment. Oh, and there's a box on the "delete" page that you have to click if you want to delete the comment permanently. Which is one more click, albeit minus the load time. Well, fuck that. I guess I'll just let my invisible Blogger trash can fill up with links to webcam girls and car insurance scams. The sort of spam that's trashed *automatically* over at WordPress, BTW.


Sunday, January 22, 2006


I honestly just don't get the Reader sometimes. This week's cover story is about a great topic -- EarthBoxes, these plastic tubs that help you grow plants on sites with limited water or poor soil. But however ingenious the devices may be, do they really warrant a story that's essentially a retyped press release? Martha Bayne spends the entire article explaining how great these are, how many people like them, and how they're going to save the world. She outlines who's behind the "project" to encourage their use. (There's always a "project," isn't there? Lord only knows why it takes a whole "project" to grow plants in forest-green Igloo coolers. Bayne certainly doesn't tell us.)

She never exhibits even the most basic level of journalistic skepticism. Even the box makers' aim "to end world hunger, stimulate economic self-sufficiency, and foster cross-cultural understanding by marrying EarthBox horticulture and wireless communications technology" is presented as a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal.

Bayne obviously didn't interview anyone other than the people behind the "project." And as usual, the editors failed to call her on it. This thing is going to save the Earth, why should it have to inspire an interesting story, too?

This is an especial bummer if you've seen Bayne's other work. Her Reader and Baffler stories on Charlie Trotter's were terrific exposés of how Trotter's weird ideology governs even the smallest details of his operation. If only Bayne would do a similar exposé of the Reader itself. I bet that place's organizational ethos makes even Trotter's look sane.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


It's the Reader's annual fiction issue again, and once again it's an exercise in small-pond-ism. The idea of a Chicago-centric fiction issue sounds OK at first. But the Reader manages to make it virtually unreadable. They start with a groundless assumption: that Chicago writers will inevitably produce 4-7, and only 4-7, stories per year that the rest of us will want to read. In fact, Chicago writers produce a varying number, but the Reader only bothers to find and publish 1-2, padding the issue with 2-5 that aren't worth reading.

I'm assuming the authors are Chicago-based. The Reader doesn't bother to run an editor's letter or any biographical info for the authors, so I have to infer that they're Chicagoans. Actually, one of the authors got a bio: Hillary Frank, whose story "Arachibutyrophobia" is (coincidentally?) the only good one. Why does she, and she alone, get a bio? I got the feeling the editors stuck it in because they needed to fill up a few extra lines. Either way, it doesn't seem to have crossed the editors' minds that readers might want to look up other stories by these authors or just have a general idea of where they're coming from.

That said, there's no need to provide a bio for many of these people, since they're well-known members of the Reader's crumbling stable of regulars. The editors' lazy reliance on the same people year after year is infuriating considering how many bright young writers are out there, desperate to be published.

It would be so easy to fix this problem. They could make the issue regional in scope, publishing authors from Champaign-Urbana, Ann Arbor, Madison, etc. They could solicit stuff from the numerous local writers who have established national reputations. They could put the word out to the heads of creative writing programs at AIC, Columbia College, etc. Hell, they could even have a local first-time fiction contest.

But for any of these to work the editors would have to devote some time to putting the issue together. Since it seems to exist for the sole purpose of keeping the ad revenue flowing while the editors take a holiday vacation (raising the inescapable question: "Vacation from what?") I can't see that happening.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I have chosen to stay and suck

A flurry of scrappy contentiousness whipped up by a recent post reminded me of something that's confounded me for a while now: the irrational loyalty that low-to-medium-level Reader staffers cherish for their employer. I really feel for these people. Clearly they've internalized the ideology of their oppressors, and their careers are paying the price.

Look, if you're one of the non-sinecured non-dinosaurs on the staff, you have absolutely no reason to feel loyal to the Reader. Take a look around: How much turnover do you see among the higher-level positions? I haven't scrutinized the masthead, but if Rosenbaum/Joravsky/Margasek/etc are any evidence, there isn't a whole lot of turnover.

Low turnover in the upper ranks = few opportunities for advancement. So even if you're terrific at your job, you're never going to snag one of those top-level sinecures. Even if you're better than Rosenbaum/Joravsky/Margasek/etc -- and let's face it, it's hard not to be -- you're never going to rise to their level. Because they've got those jobs for life, or until a better opportunity comes along -- which it never will, because they suck.

Just something to think about.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A fun game

Q: How do you tell the difference between this story and this story?

A: One is parody; the other is self-parody.

(Also acceptable: The first was a timely critique when it was written five years ago; the first is entertaining and trenchant; the first has a clever illustration.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rosenbaum raves!

It's no secret that Jonathan Rosenbaum is a tough critic to please. Especially when it comes to mainstream Hollywood fare. The Hours? It "reduces Virginia Woolf and her art to a set of feminist stances and a few plot points, without reference to style or form." Grosse Pointe Blank? "An unholy mess that becomes steadily more incoherent--morally, dramatically, and conceptually."

But Rent... that's another story. Here at last is a film worthy of his precious regard. Those melodramatic plasticky pop songs that insult the aesthetic of the mid-80s East Village? They're "nicely realized, and fondly reminiscent of dopey early-70s musicals like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar." And how can you go wrong when "the property itself is a knockout, with great tunes and engaging portraits of bohemians"?

Those bohemians were just so exotic, weren't they? Seriously, I can see why he likes it. It was an homage (that means "rip-off") to a highfalutin opera, La Boheme. And it reminds us that AIDS is, like, bad and stuff. And you get to see Idina Menzel's pale white ass. What a hibrow treat!

You just know Rosey was tickled pink when the traveling production came here a few years ago. I can just picture him tapping his foot and doing the white-boy head-bob during "La Vie Boheme."

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Taste of Crap -- Miner bangs on his highchair

Miner's in fine form this week. He covers the Taste of Heaven Cafe controversy (Way to go, McCauley!) which, though a fun story, isn't exactly going to impact the fate of the republic. No wonder he's interested!

As a local press critic, you'd figure Miner would want to write about what's wrong with the Trib. Especially since the Taste of Heaven story is a perfect example. Both the Trib and the NYT covered it, but it was the NYT's story, not the Trib's, that got blogged all over the place and got the story onto CNN.

That's because nobody outside of Chicago pays any attention to the Trib. If you follow the most widely read blogs, you'll regularly see links to stories from papers with smaller circulations -- the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Sacramento Bee, even the freaking Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Not the Trib, though. That's because, though it serves one of the largest metro areas in the country, its coverage is as plodding and parochial as some single-stoplight cowtown's News and Shopper.

Of course, the Reader isn't exactly burning up the wires from coast to coast either. Has any blog, in Chicago or elsewhere, ever linked to a Reader story? I'm honestly wondering here.

Miner also doesn't talk about the Trib's claim to have covered the Taste of Heaven story first, and whether that matters, or any other issue that falls within his ostensible purview. He's found another angle: the relative kid-friendliness of Women and Children First's Storytime policy. Clearly, a burning issue, well worth the 10 paragraphs he gives it. Circle the strollers, ladies...