Las Vegas Ink: A Lilliputian Shoots Back

Feb 20th, 2009 | By | Category: News from ME
Las Vegas Review-JournalFront page of the Las Vegas Review-
Journal
, February 15, 2009

First, there was last Sunday’s paper. Yes, I subscribe to a print newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. While it’s true that most of the stories I read while I eat my non-virtual breakfast are already familiar to me because of speedier delivery systems, I still like ink.

But even though I enjoy newsprint between my fingers on a daily basis and especially on Sundays, this particular edition of the R-J didn’t have me at hello. The front page was dominated by a high school yearbook-style array of 22 prostitutes, complete with their names, ages, and reasons for arrest. The accompanying article described recent efforts by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department to crack down on prostitution on the Strip.

I have no problem with the police department enforcing existing laws or reporters writing stories about it. I am not alone, however, in feeling unhappy about the daily paper printing mug shots of women on the front page of the Sunday paper when the story connected with them is of minor newsworthiness.

Which brings me to the next chapter of my own story. Although I rarely retain old newspapers because digital archiving is so far superior and less space-consuming, I kept my copy of the February 15th Review-Journal. Why? I’m not really sure. There was just something about those faces, and an unshakable feeling that putting them on the front page of a Sunday paper was — for lack of a better word — mean. It was exploitative and unnecessary, except…

On to chapter three. Yeah! This is a story with legs! Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, posted a piece on his blog titled “Newspaper draws fire for daring to commit act of brazen journalism.” Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who had found the front page photo array disturbing. Mitchell had been getting it with both barrels from all over, and he was shooting back valiantly from his bullet-ridden old-school bunker. “We are a newspaper reporting on important issues,” he wrote. “The photos dramatically illustrated the story.” Perhaps he should have stopped with that, but he went on with a line that kind of makes my point: “We are in the business of selling newspapers.” Because Mitchell’s blog invited comments, I decided to post one. It was only after I sent it off into the ether that I noticed a box at the bottom of Mitchell’s blog. “Comments will be reviewed within 48 hours.” In Web hours, that’s like…too long. Which brings me to…

Chapter four! Without allowing any of the — no doubt — numerous comments to appear on his first post defending his “editorial decision” to print 22 news-unworthy mug shots on the R-J’s front page, Mitchell posted another rant. This one has the headline “Suffering the Slings and Arrows of the Lilliputians on the Web.” As one of those Lilliputians, I feel I owe it to my countrymen to load up my slingshot.

First off, here’s the comment that I doubt will ever appear at the bottom of Mitchell’s first post:

“My reaction to the story illustrated with mug shots of prostitutes had more to do with the sorry state of newspapers than it did with the crackdown on prostitution. Recently, I’ve noticed a distinct trend toward sensationalism on the part of print publications that maintained much higher standards before the digital revolution eroded their revenue to life-threatening levels. Just like the women pictured in the article, newspapers are out on the street, desperate for someone to pick them up. In these death-rattle days, I guess I can’t blame a paper for doing whatever it takes to turn one last trick. But I don’t have to respect it.”

Secondly, I can’t help thinking about that good old quote attributed to Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” As somebody who has been a Lilliputian on the Web since 1994, I’ve been ignored plenty. I’ve been laughed at more times than I can count. It’s almost refreshing to be fought, now that the outcome is so apparent. I just think Thomas Mitchell should be looking at a new metaphor for future headlines about the threat posed to traditional media by the Internet revolution. Something about Custer at Little Bighorn might be appropriate, but actually, Gulliver’s Travels isn’t bad. If you actually read the book, you find out the Lilliputians didn’t lose. They voted Gulliver off the island.

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7 comments
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  1. One could call the paper in question, oh, tacky, if one wished. Or maybe tasteless. Or perhaps even dangerous for the women involved, who had been arrested for, if you can believe it, “trespassing,” not a sex crime, but you could never call the story, or the RJ as an entity, responsible journalism. I’m not sure why I support trees getting chopped down for that rag, maybe it’s just the comics, but the editorial staff is the biggest bunch of bleep bleep bleep bleep I’ve ever caught writing a journal.

    But, that’s just my opinion, I could be . . . no, no joke, I’m right about this one!

    Steve

  2. I really expected to subscribe to the paper version until the last tree died for it, but now I’m having serious second thoughts. On the other hand… as you point out, there’s still the funnies page…

  3. Many newspapers have been involved in the publishing of the names and pictures of ‘johns’ in the past as a means of combating prostitution. My first thought upon reading this is that it represents some bizarre form of turn-about-is-fair-play, anti-feminist sexism. Try saying that 5 times really fast.

  4. The ads in the print edition are also quite useful. I learn about events, stores, deals, etc. from the advertising that I would never learn about otherwise.

  5. I’m hoping sales of the RJ’s Feb 15 edition spiked significantly enough to bring us more such “journalism” in the future (if not, maybe Mark will accept this as my Summer line-up?):

    Locals Who Like Casino Buffets (w/22 casino security-cam shots)
    Sexiest Jay-walking Moms (w/22 pedestrian-cam shots)
    The Ugly Baby Epidemic (w/22 hospital nursing room mug shots)

    Perhaps Mr. Mitchell needs to consider this quote as well:
    “The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.” ~Paul Valery

    Nice rant, Megan. I like ink too and I agree with Jacqueline about the print edition being more useful and the ads more effective. Although since the demise of “Calvin & Hobbs”, “The Far Side”, “The Phantom” and of course, “Doonesbury” I am no longer a fan of the funny pages, I do still enjoy the crossword and sudoku puzzles.

    Plus, didn’t one of our great leaders once say “trees pollute” – maybe we just need to make the RJ a supplement of the Las Vegas Sun?

  6. Dang, Eric! The R-J should hire you as a consultant. I was going to say I’d love to see those ugly babies, but pics of local chowhounds & jay-walkers with cleavage would also force me to buy a paper. With someone like you on staff, the R-J might survive a whole extra year!

    I agree that print ads are a nice feature of newspapers — and probably a major reason they’re still chugging along as well as they are. I really do still like rustling pages while I drink my coffee. And cutting out $$-saving coupons. And having easy kindling when lighting a fire and effective insulation when I’m taking a casserole to a potluck. Yep, we’ll miss those print rags when they’re gone. What will all the bird owners use to line their cages?

  7. The best vote you can cast is with your wallet. Don’t support RJ’s questionable practices by continuing to subscribe to their paper. I think you could probably find an alternate source for the funnies content. Without readers, the ads will lose their value and the advertisers will resort to new methods of reaching their audience.