Friday, December 4, 2009

Stroking the Keys

Recently the Federal Trade Commission held hearings on the future of journalism. The focus was primarily on newspapers. I didn't attend but watched a few webcasts. My takeaway: someone bashed Google. Then someone bashed the basher. And finally a professor said that is was unclear whether the newspaper model of the future would be more like the typewriter or the bicycle.

For a professor, you'd think that would be a no-brainer. But since I have both a typewriter and a bike, I listened intently.

To my dismay the metaphor was left hanging in mid-air, like a participle in mid-sentence, So I did what every red-blooded writer does: I extended the metaphor even through I had absolutely no idea where it was going.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I have a typewriter, to be sure, but it is stashed in a closet under a well-used altar cloth. And my modest wine collection is parked in front, serving as both inspiration and camouflage. You don't have to be an English major to know this is a monument to Old Media and the pre- PDF days of multiple key strokes and powerful secretaries. The typewriter is hidden because my more progressive family might take it to the recycling center. The altar cloth says I take this homage seriously. The wine suggests I know when to cut my losses.

But this is poetry and therefore everything matters and nothing matters. The best poetry exists in a syntactical tension that drives the hell out of anyone who wants to get off that slow-moving, directionless bus. If you have any questions, please read John Crowe Ransom's "The Equilibrist."  JC has left a guy on a high wire for more than eighty years.

I figure as long as I hide the typewriter from my family and don't drink all the wine, journalism will be safe. But just in case, I'll make the case for the Bicycle Business Model of Journalism because I've always liked to do what pleases the professor. Full discloser: I have ridden more bikes than I have owned typewriters. Also, I was editor and publisher of "Bicyclng" and "Mountain Bike" and have written books about these subjects on my computer. So I know slightly more about spokes than keys.

The professor seemed to favor the bike because after it was pushed off the road by cars on June 17, 1899 and languished in toy boxes for generations, it was rescued by fantatics in California who thought the machine was actually a way to health and fitness. For the first phase this fantasy was fueled by names like Fuji and Univega until red-blooded American names like Cannondale and Trek came out of the west with bikes that better fit the body.

So everyone was happy in the land. In a given year 11 million bikes were sold and we came damn close to pushing that over-sized Pontiac off the road. At "Bicycling" I declared victory and took all the credit. And with that declaration I became happy and fat.  When I was feeding my face, metaphorically speaking, a home-made, clunky mountain bike roared down the slopes of Marin County, CA and ate my lunch.

The moral of the story: it is precisely when your local newspaper is rotound and happy with a a ROI of 30% that techies from the mountain top will descend and take a bite out of the community pie.

The professor, as usual, is right. "Bicycling" purchased "Mountain Bike" and the older son coaxed the renegade, dressed to the nines in his tattos, nose rings, and pony tails, into town to meet mother and family at Sunday brunch.

We tell mother that it's alright if our outlaw cousin is a little rough and smells a lot. That is, after all, how he keeps the other bikers at bay.

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