Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Year of Reading The Wall Street Journal

Select sections from my year-long subscription to The Wall Street Journal.  I will hang on to this pile of papers for awhile, being a collector of sorts.  Does this make me a hoarder?  Should I seek treatment?
I recently let my year-long subscription to The Wall Street Journal expire. They were running a very special rate last year that put the historic daily newspaper in the same class with a subscription to The Economist.  I was also very much into following WSJ reporter Kelly Evans at the time and wanted to read her daily columns.  So, I spent the bucks in order to have an aesthetic experience that is fading fast in our digital age.

To sit in my reading chair and peruse a quality newspaper, opening it up with arms wide, head cocked back slightly, or while lounging on the floor, the paper unfolded like a small rug, crawling around reading various sections.  I wanted to experience folding the paper into un-neat quarters and reading a particular article of interest.  The smell of ink.  The feel of the pages as they partially rubbed off on my fingers.  The gorgeous printed double-page spreads expertly displayed as no digital medium can yet match.  For all these reasons I decided to reacquaint myself with the art of reading a newspaper, soon to be relegated to history or at least novelty.

Of course, I could have selected another paper.  My good friends Mark and Eileen take The New York Times, certainly a paper usually closer to my thinking in its editorial pages.  But, from what little research I did before my decision, there isn't that much difference between WSJ and NYT in terms of quality of reporting.  In fact, WSJ reporters might be a tad superior in what they do.  I certainly was not disappointed with the writing of the news stories featured in WSJ.  First-rate stuff.

Still, it was obvious over the course of the year that WSJ had a conservative agenda.  Toward the end of my subscription the Obama administration's Benghazi debacle was being played up as the biggest news of the day, perhaps an attempt to influence the election.  You could tell the paper was a Mitt Romney supporter from the way it covered the Republican primaries, the resulting general election, and from the editorials it carried, one even written by Romney himself.  Regular Op-Ed pieces by Karl Rove made me want to gag.  I often felt reading the WSJ editorial stuff was more like conducting covert research into the neocon mind.  In truth, I enjoyed almost every aspect of the paper except for its general editorials.

But, to be fair, there were other guest editorialists.  Al Gore even published a long piece on the "green economy" in the December 14, 2011 issue.  He wasn't the only infrequent and token liberal offered throughout the year.  The bottom line is that if you have a cause or a position, you haven't fully made the rounds in the media until you get published in The Wall Street Journal.  It is the only newspaper I know of that, in all capital letters, features a full-stop period at the end of its masthead.  A touch of subtle arrogance there perhaps.

Come election time in November, I don't know of another paper on the planet that devoted its entire editorial page to the personal by-lines of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as each candidate presented his closing arguments to the readership. Obama's was on the left side of the page, Romney's the right, fittingly enough.  A mark of journalistic distinction in my book.  Sitting presidents don't write for every newspaper do they?  Romney's headline read: "A New Direction for America."  Obama's: "Real Progress, But We're Not Done Yet."  Accurate briefs for both campaign messages, I think.

WSJ offered superb coverage of the government's polarizing deficit reduction efforts and the evolving euro crisis during the course of the year.  David Wessel was one of several staff reporters of note.  He corrected the rest of the journalistic community on how much credit/money the Federal Reserve had actually dumbed into the economy.  It was widely reported that the number was $7.7 trillion.  According the Wessel's research the actual number was about one-third that sensational and inflated total.  A journalistic coup.

Excellent featured articles included "The New American Divide", "Religion for Everyone", "The Top-Selling Living Artist", a informative front page series on the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, "The Trust Molecule", "Under Attack", the launch and subsequent debacle of Facebook stock, "Bionic Brains and Beyond", "Peacekeepers at War", "The Crushing Cost of Care", some really excellent coverage of the 2012 summer Olympics, a nice review of Neil Young's "Waging Heavy Peace", "Newsweek Quits Print" (a sign of things to come), and, of course, in-depth coverage of Hurricane Sandy as it slammed into Wall Street itself.

Once a month, the weekend edition came with WSJ Magazine, a very high-end publication filled with articles on fashion and art and lifestyle written for the very rich.  Definitely an elite periodical for the 1%.  Not something I could relate to personally, but certainly something I was interested in from the perspective of being exposed to the tastes of haute-taute snobs of the world.  I gave those issues to my daughter, who is very much into fashion.  I told her to look through the magazine and especially notice the ads.  Her creativity might want to aim for these types of people as she prepares to enter college...that's where the most money would be for her artistic talents and interests.

All-in-all I found my year of reading WSJ to be aesthetically satisfying and certainly informative.  I feel I have a better understanding of the orthodox conservative perspective and why I agree with it on some matters while differing from it on so many other issues.  My collection of choice sections from various issues will remain with me for awhile.  These editions represent for me a type of art form.  A high quality printed internationally recognized newspaper.  I'm sure newspapers will be around in 20 years, but they will most likely be delivered only in a digital format.  The word "paper" will become nostalgic.

So this is a piece of history, a means of experiencing information that is fading away with the growing popularity of computer tablets and the like.  Readers today want portability, information at their finger-tips, regardless of where they are, without the mess of ink and paper.  The new normal years from now in my old age will not include a relic like my stack of WSJ editions.  The printed word in books is slowly being overwhelmed by the tide of eBooks.  I will probably continue to purchase printed books, but I really see no need for a printed newspaper in my life.  I have been there and thoroughly done that.  Time to move on.  (Even though I receive The Economist and The Atlantic in printed form I usually read them in my iPad editions.)

As a side note epilogue, I am about to choke on the sickeningly stupid phrase "the liberal media." Sure there are plenty of liberal media outlets but the Media (big M) ain't totally liberal.  There is an extremely powerful "conservative media" as well.  The Wall Street Journal is no light-weight media source.  Fox News is the number one television news networkRush Limbaugh is the top radio talk show host in the world.  There are plenty of other examples.  Red StateDrudge ReportThe Weekly  There is a conservative media living large in America.  So, shut-up with all the crap of how "the liberal media" is somehow controlling or slanting the news.  Seems conservatives want freedom and competition in everything but news outlets.  Then they all turn out to be a bunch a whining pansies.  Grow up neocons.  Journalism is a dynamic field reflecting a multitude of perspectives.  To whine that one perspective outweighs and out-influences all the others available is simply naive.

An interesting map and stories from the front page of the November 8, 2012 edition.
A traditional style article from The Wall Street Journal.  For years the newspaper offered no color photographs and rather famously featured nice sketches of faces dealt with in various articles.  The original Talking Heads if you like.  I found this particular recent article fascinating because I myself have been guilty of mis-quoting Jefferson.  I did so in this very early blog post, to which a reader kindly corrected me.  I have since been much more careful about verifying quotes before blogging them.

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