I'm sure you're familiar with Potter Stewart's concurring opinion on a 1964 pornography case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sure, you remember. Stewart wrote, in Jacobelis v. Ohio, about an explicit French film that had been deemed obscene in Ohio and its exhibitor fined $2,500:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."Similarly, I think we all know bullshit when we see it. Particularly, we know it when we smell it. But do you know bullshit when you hear it?
Like Justice Stewart, I might never intelligibly define bullshit -- the figurative kind that assaults truth, as opposed to the literal bovine kind -- in all the fullness of its being. But I know it when I hear it, and I just hope the Gambit writer wore his cowboy boots when he covered an appearance by NOLA Media Group head Ricky Mathews and NOLA.com editor James O'Byrne at a New Orleans tech gathering last week:
Word of the digital plan had leaked out before the paper had planned to announce it (ironically, in digital form -- a blog item by The New York Times’ David Carr), and O’Byrne and Mathews were still batting cleanup, trying to get hold of what Mathews called “the master narrative.” Despite the civic shock, Mathews said, the NOLA Media Group had known all along that cutting back The Times-Picayune would be a tough sell in a traditional (if not hidebound) city that loves its institutions -- even if it doesn’t always support them.HAD ENOUGH? No? Well, you little masochist, you!
“We could have had this play out exactly the way we wanted to, which is announce a new company and talk to your employees simultaneously, and we’d still be in the same spot -- with a really visceral reaction from the community,” Mathews said. “The way to change that is to be talking. I’ve been talking till I don’t have a voice any more, explaining to people what we’re doing.”
(None of that talking has been done in The Times-Picayune newsroom, where 48 percent of the employees were given severance papers last week; 200 people from around the company are being let go. Mathews and O’Byrne have yet to address the staff in person, though Mathews said he had met recently with Mayor Mitch Landrieu for “about three hours, and he [Landrieu] got it immediately.”)
[UPDATE, June 21, 1:15 pm: A source in the mayor's office said the office "wouldn't characterize the meeting in those terms, either in the amount of time spent or in the mayor's takeaway (from the meeting)."]
“This is an entrepreneurial effort on our part,” O’Byrne told the New Orleans tech group, which was enjoying light hors d’oeuvres and complimentary craft cocktails by mixologist Alan Walter. “Because of the leaks that happened in The New York Times, we lost control of the narrative, and for two weeks we really had to focus all our efforts on what we had to do as a company [which] was to tell all our employees where they stood.
“I know that the layoff at The Times-Picayune seems significant,” O’Byrne added, “but it’s important to realize that we’re advertising for about 50 people in the new digital company. So you end up in a space where you’re going from about 165 down to 140. But you’re eliminating four days a week of print, and a lot of that labor existed to get that seven-day-a-week product.”
“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment,” Mathews told the group. “It’s our goal to create a world-class digital work environment for the journalists who are going to work for us, because we can attract the best and brightest from around the country. They’re going to want to come to New Orleans when the real story starts to get told. … We’re going to be a cutting-edge new media company with a print component that is still extraordinarily powerful. That’s our goal. So that narrative’s not been fully told yet; it will get told. You don’t tell it by being defensive, you do it by doing it.”OH, BROTHER.
Mathews also addressed the issue of broadband access, which is not as widespread in New Orleans as other cities and has raised concerns over who will be able to get the new digitally focused paper. “New Orleans is quite a wired community, but there are certain parts of the community that are not wired,” he said. “So we’re going to invest money working with the Knight Foundation to begin to make a dent in it.”
“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment”? Really? When somebody says something like that, it can't NOT be bullshit. That's such a red-light indicator of the presence of bullshit that mere language loses it power in its presence.
See, I told you. My mouth is still agape and, obviously, so is my keyboard.
These people are just making this stuff up. It's the inverse of what people tell bums panhandling downtown -- no, I don't happen to have any cash on me right now. Dang.
Instead, Mathews and O'Byrne are out there trying to convince Crescent City techies that they're loaded when, in reality, they got nothin'. My God, it's like a couple of frat boys desperate to get laid. They'll say any damn thing, so long as it sounds good and halfway plausible. They'll make stuff up.
Unfortunately, the mass firing of Times-Picayune staffers, they didn't make up.
Perhaps they'll sleep a little better in the long months ahead knowing it wasn't the economy . . . or the death of newspapers . . . or random fate that did them in and will leave their city with "three Sunday newspapers a week" . . . and a crappy website. No, it's because -- Pulitzer prizes notwithstanding -- they're just not among "the best and the brightest from around the country."
The sort of folk worthy of "a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment."
DISCLOSURE: I went to college with James O'Byrne at LSU, where we worked together on The Daily Reveille in 1981. I'll just say that I don't envy him, and that life do throw some mean-ass curveballs at people as time goes by.