Imagine you’re the sports editor for a small 5,000-circ newspaper in rural Georgia. Perhaps you’re ambitious, you want to get noticed, but you’re trapped in journalism purgatory.
Sports Illustrated ain’t exactly beating down your door with a column offer, so you have to figure out a way to generate some buzz about yourself. Good, bad, doesn’t matter, because that’s how self-promotion rolls in the 21st Century. So what do you do? Well, if you’re Covington (Georgia) News sports editor Josh Briggs, you write a column that equates deer hunting with people hunting. Oh, yeah, that’ll go over real well in rural Georgia…
From this story in STLtoday.com:
_A column by the sports editor of the Covington News in north-central Georgia has brought national notoriety to the 5,300-circulation tri-weekly. Sports editor Josh Briggs wrote earlier this month that “hunting deer for sport is no different than hunting people.” In a column on CovNews.com, the newspaper’s general manager, T. Pat Cavanaugh, assures readers that Briggs wasn’t reflecting the view of the newspaper.
_And Briggs’ column can be read here, but his opening paragraph is pasted below…
“Imagine if you were sitting in your car in the drive thru at McDonald’s and all of a sudden, you get shot in the neck. How bad would that suck? With about 15-30 seconds of life left in your body, you manage to look over to your right and see a whitetail deer holding a rifle. If I’m going to run deer hunting pictures in my section, I can at least give my take on it, right? Fair enough?”
_Now before you go all apoplectic and start frothing at the mouth, let me explain why I think you shouldn’t. Let’s take a look at it.
Is the column deliberately inflammatory? Absolutely, in a juvenile, poorly-written, poorly-constructed, cliche-wracked sophomore journalism major sort of way (here’s a writing tip: using the sentence “How bad would that suck?” in the lede of your column isn’t the best way to engender yourself to readers and/or copy editors). Is the column patently stupid? Check. So stupid, in fact, that as I read the column my brain actually began to ache from the near-toxic dose of moron gas rising up off the monitor.
But here’s why Briggs’ column ultimately doesn’t deserve any sputtering outrage or even a cogent response. It was a stunt, plain and simple, a cynical, disingenuous word bomb designed to illicit publicity and garner Briggs the notoriety that only someone who’s toiled in the anonymous depths of the small-circulation newspaper industry can understand. You see, it used to be that aspiring journalists started out at small-circulation newspapers to learn the craft of writing.
They attended endless school board and city commission meetings, school plays and sporting events–they covered the local cops-and-courts beat, sat through never-ending chamber of commerce luncheon speakers and Daughters of the American Revolution meetings–they waded through reams of public records, got yelled at by angry readers, praised by others, and all the while, through every little community event, every little eight- or ten-inch story they published, they were learning their craft and paying their dues. That’s how you pulled yourself up the publishing ladder, one hard-earned rung at a time.
But we don’t live in a “paying their dues society” any more. Now it’s all about making yourself heard above the never-ending white noise, where everyone wants to be noticed and it doesn’t make a bit of difference what you do or what you say to get noticed. Journalism is no different. Briggs’ column is no different. And that’s why the only emotions we need to waste on it are laughter, and maybe pity.