Track marks from my Wire addiction?

Upon reflection, it seems I rode my way through a cliché on September 16 of last year. That day of fatigue started in Washington, D.C. The previous day’s antiwar march with the folks of the Eschaton blog had been fun, maybe a little too fun, and I hauled my tired, dehydrated self through Union Station onto a business class train to New York City. I was sitting on the left side of the “quiet car” as I sipped water and ignored my book. It was a bright, sunny midday trip passing through scenic parts of the Northeastern corridor I had never seen before.

Not long after the trip started, we were going through Baltimore. I was looking off to my right at the tall downtown buildings, and a prominent Johns Hopkins structure in particular caught my eye. I was probably wondering how snobby the doctors must be in such a place, perhaps what newer procedures they performed that would make their way to my hospital in a few years. At some point I looked back to my left, at the western side of the city, and there it was, a distinct, unmistakable urban portrait right in front of me. Blocks of row housing, old and falling apart, with a peculiar architecture I found familiar to memory. I was looking at “The Wire” just outside my train window. I even said “it looks just like ‘The Wire’ ” to the young black woman sitting in the seat next to me. She looked out, smiled back at me and returned to her text messaging without saying a word. Not a fan of the show, I guess.

The cliché I referred to at the beginning might be obvious now. I’m riding a train through Baltimore, and on one side of the tracks is a shiny city, on the other side of the tracks is block after block of poverty. The “wrong side of the tracks,” indeed.

Season 5 of The Wire takes us into media institutions and journalism. For the last season of this Awesome Show, in an election year, I am particularly looking forward to the media theme. This is the age of corporate media and “shareholder worship.” We see media consolidation and less investigative journalism at the institutions that are remaining. The media business, like every other business, is using that godawful phrase “do more with less”… that’s even the title of episode 1 (and damn, I hate that way of thinking). As David Simon points out in one of the S5 “early glimpse” shows, the newspapers aren’t losing money – they just aren’t making enough to satisfy the shareholders. Is shareholder profit a priority you want reflected in your local headlines?

The press is one of the few institutions mentioned in the Bill of Rights, an acknowledgment from the very beginning of our nation that there is a sacred, pivotal role for those who seek to publish news and opinion. By golly, when it comes to freedom, the press is right up there with churches and guns. Like the other institutions dramatized in earlier seasons of The Wire, the press is fundamentally altered by outside forces, corrupted even, with raw capitalism and corporate greed taking most of the blame. Unfortunately for us citizens, the protections against corporate excess in the media have become almost nonexistent. We now have media giants that increasingly ignore the problems and realities most of us see, and the fight for a voice in the media has practically become part of a struggle for democracy itself. In this struggle I find most of us, whether we realize it or not, are right there with the “hoppers” on Baltimore’s west side… little voices with little influence, screaming from the wrong side of the tracks.

What to do? I’m looking forward to tonight’s premier. Let’s have a great Season 5!

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4 Comments

  1. In this struggle I find most of us, whether we realize it or not, are right there with the “hoppers” on Baltimore’s west side… little voices with little influence, screaming from the wrong side of the tracks.

    While the media abdicates the charter you point out and simply becomes yet another “indifferent god” (to quote DS) among the scores of others.

    This is particularly resonant right now: I just watched the Sarkysian family on Cspan describing watching their daughter die slowly. A child of immigrants dies in 2007 America even though her entire healthcare team was fighting on her behalf for a medically necessary transplant, because an insurance company wouldn’t pay for it.

    “Little voices with no influence” indeed.

    You so rock, RM.

    (I’m glad you told that story about the train ride-I was hoping you would)

  2. Is shareholder profit a priority you want reflected in your local headlines?

    Not just reflected in your local headlines but BY your local headlines. If the people who are tasked in this country with putting out the paper side with the great against the powerless, everybody’s damaged, everybody loses. The disconnect between lower-level newsroom types (the ones fighting to tell the stories, after all) and upper management and ownership is huge right now. Gathering news is hard enough, without being hamstrung by your very own bosses who are supposed to be supporting and helping you, not sabotaging you by cutting off funding for a special project or denying you use of company resources, effectively shutting you down. And then when job cuts come, it’s the newsroom that gets sliced and diced, blamed for the failures of those upstairs. It’s disgusting and people should, among all the other causes out there for outrage, be incensed about it.

    A.

  3. A.,

    re: not just in the headlines, but BY the headlines.

    Nice touch that takes the point to the next level.

    As goes the free press, so goes our democracy.

  4. Heh. I feel double schooled. The distinction between IN the headlines and BY the headlines is brought home further by the senior reporter pointing out that buildings are evacuated, not people… unless we are talking about enemas.


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