Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The State of Local Journalism in the Hudson Valley: Prologue

My dreams are not usually good, nor are they usually bad. They're almost always weird, kinda like David Lynch is artist-in-residence in my subconscious. Usually if I remember anything about them, it's snippets - like the still-open bar (with Genesee Cream Ale on tap!) in a side room of a long-abandoned church off Main Street in Poughkeepsie, or traveling up and down Route 9 on my belly on a piece of cardboard, or exploring a weird jet-black derelict mansion somewhere in Red Hook, or realizing as I'm driving back from Connecticut that I have Pink Floyd tickets for Albany that day.

But sometimes I have really elaborate and highly action-movie like dreams. (Often they involve the Cloverfield monster - odd because I have never actually watched that movie - or some kind of weird menace to Hyde Park, like zombie armies or Vietnamese submarine aircraft carriers sneaking up the Hudson to attack HP to avenge the Vietnam War. But I digress.)

There is of course plenty of debate and theorizing about why we dream what we dream; that "why" may remain an impenetrable mystery of the human experience. While I don't really dream straight prophecy, there is one I had that maybe had some kind of premonition, like a backwash of the fluid of time, to it.

Remember this? I really don't but my subconscious mind does. (Wikipedia.)

In the dream, a squad of commandos had been assembled to destroy the Internet. (Why, exactly, was unclear but it was understood to be imperative that this be done.) A vital part of the Internet was kept up in the International Space Station, which had not been up there that long at the time this dream was dreamt, circa Y2K. My job was to take that part out and to do so, I had to hijack the space shuttle. (This turned out to be not that hard at all - this I think was a reference to "Far Out Space Nuts", a kids' show from the '70s where Gilligan and some other dude launched themselves accidentally into outer space while loading chow onto a rocketship.)

Once I got to the ISS and got inside - again, not hard - I found myself in a laser-gun battle with its inhabitants as I fought my way to the part of the Internet I had to destroy. What was supposed to have happened next I'll never know. As so often happens, the alarm went off and I woke up.

But it was about the same time of that dream that I started to hear a disturbing prediction: "One of these days, the Internet is going to put newspapers out of business ..."

Monday, March 30, 2020

By way of introduction

So, when I was interviewed by editor Brian Mahoney the other day for a story in Chronogram about Ulster Publishing's radical COVID-caused contraction, he asked me for a pocket bio. Not having already done this really, this is what I wrote:

A freelance writer and photographer, Dan Barton grew up in Hyde Park [Roosevelt Class of 1985, but you knew that], where his journalism career started on an underground newspaper in high school. He got his English degree at SUNY New Paltz [Class of 1990], where he took a lot of journalism classes and wrote and edited for The Oracle. He then went to work in local journalism - first for the now-defunct Taconic Newspapers, then as a copy editor at the Daily Freeman. In 2004, he joined Ulster Publishing, where was first editor of the also-now-defunct Highland-Marlborough Post Pioneer and then editor of the Kingston Times and part-editor of the Saugerties Times until 2020.

Stated another way, this is my 30th year of doing journalism in the Mid-Hudson Valley, some of it a long time ago in Dutchess, most of it in Ulster and until middle of last week all of it for a weekly paycheck.

This pic I took at Bop to Tottom on the last day
I was in Kingston sums up much.
Enter the virus. While given the state of affairs of the local news industry (a deeper dive into that state is coming in the next post) I did not expect to work full-time for a local outlet forever, I really did not expect my job, along with the jobs of millions nationwide, to be wiped out by a global pandemic. But that's history - it's full of examples going back far before humans, even, of shit happening that no one saw coming AT ALL, coming in and changing everything. Deus ex machina - "God out of the machine" - is one way (in Latin) to say it. In 2020, it's the virus ex machina.

(A note about language/curse words: There will be a few in this blog. Now, those who know me in real life know that when I get really torqued up about something, literally every other word out of my mouth is an F-bomb: "I [expletive] cannot [expletive] believe the [expletive] Mets [expletive expletive expletive expletive] bullpen [expletive] blew it [expletive] AGAIN!" I don't anticipate doing that on this platform; as a writer my view now, as opposed to some years ago, is curse words lose their effect if they're overused. I kind of like the apparent rule CNN had with the Anthony Bourdain show - he got to say "shit" twice an episode and the F-word was bleeped out.

And another note - in journalism sometimes one makes enemies. If you see some kind of post with gross sexual content made to look like something I wrote on this blog or elsewhere, that wasn't me.)

It's clear we're now past the point where we might have expected the coronavirus crisis to be a blip on the timeline, the kind of thing that's a trivia question 10 years from now that most people get wrong. Every day, as the numbers of cases and deaths go up, as field hospitals get set up in convention centers, city parks and college dorms; as refrigerated trucks are lined up and ice rinks repurposed to warehouse the dead; as people we know and love are stricken, sickened and lost, it becomes clear that a bright red dividing line is being drawn right through us like a Sith lightsaber through soft Bantha butter. Instead of BC and AD, or BCE and CE, it may well be "Before Coronavirus and "After Coronavirus." But more on that later.

This blog's goals are varied: To keep me sane. To keep me busy during this Great Confinement/Open-Ended Hunker Mode. To reconnect with my writerly self, which got sublimated as things became busier at Ulster Publishing. (When you spend all day working on other people's writing, getting it up to do your own was, for me, a challenge I could never consistently meet.) To entertain my friends who choose to read this blog. (Thanks in advance, my friends who choose to read this blog!)

Topics will vary, widely. I am fond of saying that a good journalist tries, at least, to know a little bit about everything. I was also fond of saying that doing front-line community journalism meant that you were on the hook to produce a story about anything that happens in your coverage area, from presidential visits to UFO sightings to ex-town officials turning up dead in the river. That said, I'm looking forward to writing about stuff that didn't really have a place in the local news - pro sports, religion, art, history, philosophy, movies, music, gaming (tabletop RPGs and boardgames; my struggles with video games will be a topic of a future post), etc. Politics, from local to global? Sure, why not, as the mood strikes. And feel free to suggest topics; like Rod Stewart sang once upon a time, I'm always open to ideas.

So thanks and until we meet again, may we all remain ever asymptomatic. - Dan