FUNNY BUSINESS: One paper goes Britney-free-it's a darn good start

March 17, 2008

With the possible exception of the people who run this newspaper and either allow me to write for it or haven't noticed that I do, David Little is the greatest newspaperman in America today.

Little is the editor of the Chico (Calif.) Enterprise-Record, who declared his paper a Britney-free publication-No Spears, None Of The Time. He wrote in his column:

"This is a woman who seems to have mental health issues, shall we say. We'd never make light of a local citizen with the same problems, yet it's somehow OK because Britney's a has-been star?

"We don't write about child-custody cases, either, but Britney's family fight is somehow elevated to newsworthiness?

"This is beyond pathetic. The woman needs to be left alone, for her sake as well as her children's. If the media circus quits trailing her, maybe she'll get help. Maybe she won't. Maybe it's none of our business."

Preach, Brother Little-even though we live in a world where the assistant chief of the Associated Press Los Angeles Bureau told his staff, "Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal."

Or a world where People magazine pays $1.5 million for exclusive photos of Christina Aguilera and her baby-and reportedly was bidding $4 million to $6 million for photos of the twins born to Jennifer Lopez and her husband, Mr. Jennifer Lopez.

Or a world where the once-esteemed Wolf Blitzer reported almost nightly on the death of celebrity/model/parade balloon Anna Nicole Smith.

Or a world where a good deal of the media seems to have taken the scrutiny and judgment (if we may call it that) it uses for celebrity coverage and applied it to presidential campaigns, God help us.

Little took a stand against it when the Enterprise-Record became Britney-Free-at first for a month, and now indefinitely.

"The media's fixation on America's favorite unnatural disaster will have to go on without us," he wrote.

Now, guess how many readers complained. Here's a hint: It's fewer than one.

Evidently, the people in Chico (hometown of Phillies catcher Clay Dalrymple, who showed up in every pack of baseball cards I purchased in 1963 at Brosnan's Drug Store) know a good thing when they see it. No, wait. Evidently, they know a bad thing when they don't see it. No, that doesn't work, either. Ah. I have it: Evidently, the people in Chico know that not seeing a bad thing can be a good thing.

"I'm not entirely sure what the people of Chico think," Little said in an e-mail. "Maybe they haven't noticed. Maybe they don't read my column (it is, after all, a community with exceedingly good taste). Of all the people I've heard from, nobody thinks it's a bad idea. Nobody's clamoring for more BS. Nobody has canceled the newspaper because we're a Britney-Free Zone."

The rest of us are stuck with the kind of journalism that, in desperate attempts to (a) attract the 18-to-34-year-old nonreader while (b) slashing resources and staff so as to (c) keep the profits high for its corporate overlords, has gotten sillier and sillier. It's widely assumed, you see, that younger readers aren't interested in actual news but can't get enough about celebrities-especially celebrities who run off the rails like Ms. Spears. No wonder they don't read newspapers, if that's all newspapers think of them.

As for David Little's Brit Ban, I see it as the proper, grown-up thing for a newspaper to do-even though it flies in the face of the popular practice of letting readers decide what is news, a practice that so far has resulted mostly in pictures of dogs in costumes.

Besides, it's not like the readers can't get ANY Brit news in Chico. It's on the paper's Web site as part of the AP feed. The ban applies to the print product only.

Hey, it's a start.

"Will it make a difference if one newspaper in little ol' Chico quits running news about Britney Spears?" wrote Little. "Not one whit. But it will make me feel better. It will make me feel a little less disgusted with my lifetime profession."

Amen, Brother Little.

Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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