Chambers of Commerce are the same all over

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In the midst of an entertaining rant about supply and demand and journalism (which includes an even-more entertaining anecdote by Hunter S. Thompson about a period in which Thompson "was a sports columnist for one paper in the morning, sports editor for another in the afternoon, and at night [he] worked for a pro wrestling promoter, writing incredibly twisted 'press releases' that [he] would plant, the next day, in both papers"), R. Stacy McCain tells the story of the responsible journalist who briefly served as managing editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution:

Kovach spent two years as editor and damned near ruined the Atlanta papers with his pretentious (but Pulitzer Prize-winning) ideas about publishing broccoli journalism. During his tenure, Kovach not only alienated many readers, he also lost sight of the fact that in Atlanta, the business community expects the local newspaper to act as a publicity agent. Atlanta was famous during the Civil Rights era as "The City Too Busy to Hate," because civic leaders recognized that racial conflict was bad for business. Cynics observed that, in truth, Atlanta was The City Too Greedy to Care. If Jim Crow was good for business, Atlanta would be segregated, and if Jim Crow proved to be a net liability, Atlanta would integrate peaceably, but either way, what the Chamber of Commerce wanted, the Chamber of Commerce got. Labels like "liberal"and "conservative" didn't have a damned thing to do with these entirely pragmatic and self-interested calculations. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, the only color that really matters in Atlanta is green.

Well, Mr. Kovach didn't quite understand this worldview, and he managed to p[---] off the Chamber of Commerce, and in November 1988, he "resigned," officially, but everyone knew it was more like he got pushed out the door, and there ensued all kinds of hand-wringing and moaning from the Good for Democracy types.

Things are the same all over. I suspect the Chamber of Commerce's pull over the local paper is worse in cities where, as in Atlanta, the paper is locally owned, and the business people who control the Chamber of Commerce are part of the same social circle as the newspaper owner.

Way back in 1978, National Lampoon published their Sunday Newspaper Parody, an edition of the Dacron (Ohio) Republican-Democrat. As you read the news stories, photos, and ads a three-dimensional picture of the town and its social structure began to emerge: an oligarchy of city cronies (including the owner of the newspaper) and their irresponsible scions; neighborhood destruction in the name of "urban renewal"; and an editorial board that believed its highest duty was promoting the business interests of the owner and his pals. I remember wondering at the time if the writers who created this brilliant piece of satire had worked for the Daily Oklahoman. (Tulsa was still a competitive two-newspaper town in those days. The Oklahoman's rival, the Oklahoma Journal, was on its last legs.) I realize now that the satire resonated because Dacron's social structure was representative of small and mid-sized cities across the fruited plain.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 21, 2016 9:28 PM.

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