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The Day Michael Miner Killed Commentary

(Graphic: Shot through the notepad and he’s to blame, last week Michael Miner gave reporting a bad name.)

Find a video follow-up to this post here.

The following is cross-posted on my Huffington Post Chicago byline.

Last week, the Chicago Reader‘s Michael Miner committed a despicable act unworthy of a journalist. In an article entitled “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Columnists,” Miner told newspaper commentators that their opinion-bearing work was expendable. He suggested dying papers like the Chicago Sun-Times could save themselves by “refocusing” columnists as news analysts, jettisoning social commentary in favor of playing the angles of hard news items reported by journalists. In Miner’s diatribe against commentary, he even went so far as to call out some local columnists by name, essentially inferring their work to be inferior to the work of journalists.

That’s unacceptable.

On Monday, in an analysis of the Sun-Times‘ ongoing buyout controversy published to my Chicagosphere byline, I noted the stupidity of Miner suggesting that the cash cows of the news business–opinion bearers with the star power to sell newspapers–be forced to produce output other than the commentary at the heart of their profession, not to mention at the heart of their fan bases. You can click through to read that argument in detail. Suffice it to say here, as Newspaper Death Watch noted last week, news is a commodity, anyone can provide it. Newspapers are bought–and TV news programs watched and blogs read–for the added meaning they provide to people’s lives. Much of that meaning comes from the work of columnists.

My aim here, however, is not to re-address Miner’s argument. Instead, I have a few choice words to say about Miner’s act. Besides the aforementioned despicable and unacceptable, a couple of other key adjectives deserve to be at the forefront of discussion today.

In my above-noted commentary from Monday, I suggested that some journalists in Chicago and elsewhere, rather than truly caring about the future of American reporting, are instead myopic, self-interested, and increasingly desperate individuals, prone to point the finger of blame for the failure of the the print news industry at everyone and anyone other than journalists and journalism, themselves. My words sparked a heated comment debate about the future of local reporting and generated several private thank-yous from industry insiders, including one email from a newspaper editor who told me my words rang true–but that being too close to the issue, no local journalist would likely have had the guts to write them.

Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean local journalists are faint-hearted. It takes a lot of chutzpah to stand up in front of your local colleagues and declare dozens of them to be feckless, as Miner did in last week’s Reader. But I wouldn’t call that courage. Far from it. Instead, Miner’s less than well-meaning suggestion to dispense with commentary and turn columnists into service-oriented seat-warmers for journalists was nothing short of cowardly.

How fearful of change and desperate to return to a defunct status quo of healthy print readership does one reporter have to be to declare that the furtherance of his profession may depend on–or in fact, even deserve–the decimation of another profession? I could go on at length about the societal worth of good columneering, but this being Chicago, I think I can nail all that in two words: Mike Royko. Would Michael Miner call the patron saint of American commentary feckless, too?

Of course not. And he doesn’t deserve a pass on calling the rest of this town’s commentators expendable, either. For far too long in morning newspapers, on the evening news, in virtual flame wars, and at real-life media conferences, Chicagoans have been treated to a persistent, plaintive moan from local reporters crying out for the way things used to be. I felt sympathy at first. Change is never easy, especially when that change involves your livelihood.

Miner ended that sympathy for me, however. His article made me realize how tightly circled the local journalistic wagons have become. He actually thought it was okay to demand that a cornerstone profession of the American news industry be dismantled in order to try and turn back the clock for his own–and worse, many reporters opining on his column thought his suggestion was okay, too. What’s going to be the next desperate proposal to emerge from the pens of scared journalists? Refocus the sports writers? Request a federal bailout? Kill the bloggers?

This wretched culture of blame that seems to infect Chicago journalists, causing some of them to lose all sense of objective responsibility for their own occupational futures, is unworthy of journalism. On behalf of commentators everywhere, I’m here to cry foul. My ability and that of my columneering colleagues to analyze a situation strategically, recognize significance, and write words infused with meaning that elicit understanding from third parties is in no way subsidiary to the work of journalists–no matter how deeply ingrained the belief is among some journalists that theirs are the only voices that matter in American media.

If that were the case–and patently it is not–how come after the seeming daily quota of finger-pointing is fulfilled, the best that some reporters can come up with is a feeble plea of, “Save me”? Occasionally whimpered, as was the cast last week with Michael Miner, with a gun in their hands.

Enough, already. The public petulance is wearing thin. Being career investigators, it’s about time reporters dug deep for another argument. Get a new act. Get a life. Get a clue. And if all else fails–like, for example, your newspaper–get a job.

Not mine.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


8 replies

  1. W. Page:
    You don’t have the background or the time in grade to hack at working journalists such as Miner and Campana.

    What does it take, in your opinion, to disagree with people like Miner and Campana? What is “time in grade?” Does the fact that a writer is anonymous necessarily make their observations less worthy of note?

    Obviously, I have a personal stake in your answers and I look forward to them.

  2. Dan, you’re consistent in your use of tired Chicago debate ploys, I’ll give you that.

    You’re actually using two of the most common here:

    1.) Telling someone opining on a Chicago issue that their opinion doesn’t matter because they’re not a “real” Chicagoan–as if Chicago is an entirely inscrutable place unless you’re born here; and

    2.) That, by dint of living in Kane County at the extreme edge western of the metropolitan area, you somehow are a Chicagoan. (I chuckled when I read that, then I gazed out my apartment window at State Street.)

    For my full response to your and similar baiting, however, feel free to refer to today’s video post on Chicagosphere.

  3. Slow down, Ignatz…
    You don’t have the background or the time in grade to hack at working journalists such as Miner and Campana.
    Having a “blogger” call out Mike Miner is laughable, but what isn’t funny is your unrestrained ranting. Campana’s post runs a couple of paragraphs, your vitriolic response runs on and on – attacking Campana, but never answering the basic questions he poses.
    From what I can tell, you have no background, no body of work, and no experience. The ability to post a blog isn’t exactly the same as actually being in the trenches. And doing freebie work for Huffington doesn’t elevate your skills, either.
    I don’t need a New Yorker telling me how things are in Chicago. And that’s “Chicago,” by the way, not the “Windy City,” which is a name only outsiders use.
    But to be fair, I may be wrong, so please post a list of your work that has appeared in some other place than an online blog. More specifically, any writing you were actually paid for. And while you’re at it, would you point the way to your experience as a “public relations consultant.” I can’t seem to find your name in any such capacity.

  4. Over blown, uninteresting response … again.

    And missing the point … again.

    No where do I say opinions of non-reporters don’t matter, I just said spewing them on a blog doesn’t make you unique.

    No where do I say that professional journalists are the only voice that matters.

    No where do I suggest you have no right to be skeptical.

    What I did say is that for you, someone who has known Chicago for six years, to use bluster to say Miner has committed heresy against journalism is nothing more than bomb-throwing for bomb-throwing’s sake.

    Yell fire in a movie theater you are sitting in, you’ll at least have more credibility there.

    Here’s what I find “despicable”: You invoking Studs Terkel and Mike Royko, the latter of which you wouldn’t have seen in print, in a Chicago paper, given the newbie you are.

    Second, is it only critical commentors that get your “anonymous poster” rant or their original posts removed? I ask because I’ve tried to find “rosemary’s maybes” on Whitepages with no luck.

    Maybe you’re simply offended that boy-toy Roeper was digitally dismembered to make a point?

    Again, I ask, why should we (and I use “we” loosely, since it looks like only you and I read this post) care what you have to say?

    Seriously, give me one reason to believe you’ve made a sound argument on the Miner topic.

    Or … you can just mischaracterize my posts and avoid my questions again.

    Oh, and you should have looked deeper in your Google search for my newspaper biography: I also spent three years and half years at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb.

  5. Dan, you’re obvious. Let me show my readers just how obvious you are. So that they have all the information I do, your original, anonymously signed comment appears below:

    NoOneKnows |

    Another example of self-involved blogging (could you put a few more references to yourself and your e-bylines in here?) with no context. I see nothing in your profile to indicate you have any more expertise on the subject than my 5-year-old son — except he’s lived with a reporter/editor his entire life.
    How you get to judge Miner is beyond me since, A) He’s actually spent many years in the newspaper industry, B) He actually uses sources to guide his writing and form his opinions.
    Thank you for typifying what is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception when it comes to bloggers.


    It’s always amusing the ways that journalists seek to immunize themselves and their colleagues from criticism. Usually–as with Dan’s two comments–the tactic begins by accusing the person leveling the criticism that because they aren’t a journalist, themselves, they (take your pick): a.) have no right; b.) have no capacity to understand; and/or c.) are simply too uninformed to ever (horrors) question the words of a “trained” reporter.

    Frequently–again as with Dan’s comments–you’re also told that because you aren’t a journalist, you don’t have the ability to present a cogent argument, even if you had the right, intellectual chops, and a treasure trove of (here’s a buzz word reporters love) “context” to reference, so you should just shut up.

    This highly facetious criticism-­deflecting shell game has one goal: to try and get readers to believe only journalists have the right or ability to criticize other journalists. It’s a symptom of journalism’s high self-regard.

    Unfortunately for journalists, it’s also baloney.

    Everyone has a right to share their opinion. Everyone also has a right, if not a duty to oneself, to question everything they read, take it with a grain of salt, try it on to see if it fits, and call it out if seems to be less than kosher. What’s most pathetic here is that this main tenet of journalism–to be skeptical–is always rescinded by journalists when said skepticism is aimed at them.

    Thanks to the Internet’s diffusion to the masses of the means of disseminating news and opinion and, again, unfortunately for journalists, reporters no longer have much standing to claim theirs are the only voices that matter. My, how many of them don’t like that state of affairs. My writing is called inexpert, yet Michael Miner’s article was led off by a graphic of Richard Roeper’s disembodied head in a guillotine basket and called out local columnists by name–saying it was time to end their “star turns”. I find that more than despicable.

    I find it pretty jealous sounding, too. Makes you wonder who the real outsiders are here. Doesn’t it, Dan?

  6. Wow, you went to the “anonymous commentor” attack angle. Very clever, learned that in grade school, too, did ya?

    Funny, you mention your ability to read, but somehow understood my original post to say Miner is never wrong and you should believe everything he writes.

    My actual point is you don’t assert, report or pretend to have any authority on which you write. Having an opinion, a blog or the ability to turn a phrase is not unique.

    Miner has a history and the credentials to do what he does. All I can gather about you is that you’re a firestarter and an outsider … typical blogger.

    Show me, us, anyone otherwise, please.

    [Ed. Note: Dan Campana is a Fox Valley journalist, formerly at the Kane County Chronicle and currently working at the Aurora Beacon News.]

  7. Anonymous alleged journalist had these positively inflammable comments to say about the above post…


    Funny how some cultural gate-keepers like to don identity-hiding virtual gloves and ski masks before throwing stones. Great example to set for your five-year-old, Anonymous. Feel free to re-submit your comment with your name attached to it.

    Although as for your (here paraphrased) question as to where I get off judging Michael Miner’s words instead of accepting them as gospel? Funny thing–I don’t believe everything I read. Neat trick, I know. Learned it in grade school.

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