Waiting for Bob
June 7, 2000: The Most Dangerous Game (Day 13)
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The House of Mirrors

or, the story of the story behind the story

I've covered my misspent youth and my technical prejudices. I've even talked about television, the bastard child of all the arts (except, of course, for comic strips). Now it's time to write about reading. (Anyone who harbors even the least hope I have something significant to say about the media, please, just go visit Goats. It's for the best.)

I have a shameful secret: every day, I read all about magazines I will never buy or even look at twice. Compulsively. And I blame it all on Jim Romenesko.

For those who don't know who he is, Jim is the person behind MediaNews. MediaNews is one of those head-slappingly simple ideas: it's a log of media coverage of the media. Every day, Jim scours Web sites looking for stories in the news about the news, and he links to them and writes short summaries.

It's insidious, and fascinating. I've never been a big fan of insider talk - for me, hell is "Entertainment Tonight", and purgatory is "Variety". But there's something about the curtain being pulled back on newspapers and magazines that enthralls me. I'll never pick up a copy of the Chicago Tribune or the San Jose Mercury News, I accidentally lost my complimentary issue of Fast Company, and I'd sooner eat a fishhook than watch WGN Chicago's local newscast. And yet, point me at news about any of 'em and I come running.

I think it's because the newspaper and magazine business is inhabited by personalities, and when you look at successful dead-tree media that word takes on more than one meaning. The world of MediaNews is inhabited by artists who long ago stopped needing last names. I've gotten to know the legendary Tina, who has a reputation for spinning straw into gold. Kurt the maverick, who's laughing all the way to the bank. There's even a clear picture in my head of Uncle Si's Money Store. And don't get me started on Talbot and Kinsley, the two fighting bulldogs of Web journalism. Watching the whole thing is better sport than fifteen circuses and a ride with Batman.

I'm not alone here - Romenesko's site often hosts email responses from the people who are written about in the stories he points you toward. And there are always third parties who are happy to comment on anything at all - the MediaNews coverage of Salon's redesign probably did more to get the design fixed than any amount of negative mail to Salon's webmaster. Welcome to the Internet age, where reporting about reporting (which is sometimes reporting on someone else's reporting) can actually be a media institution.

There are plenty of other sources for this sort of news - for example, Kurt "maverick from the last paragraph" Andersen's inside.com overlaps with MediaNews a bit. And I'm sure there are trade rags like Editor & Publisher or Reporter & Editor or Guy Who Is Gonna Win A Goddamn Pulitzer, Damn You, A Pulitzer And Then We'll See Who's On The Dog Show Beat & Guy Who Put Him On The Dog Show Beat or something. But compared with the best-of-the-best concentrated juice I get from good old Jim, they're dry and boring, too full of numbers and shy on personalities. Good reading if you care about the business of publishing, but not if you care about the publishers in the business.

Or so I gather, because it's not like I'd know firsthand. Jim does my reading for me.

- Doug

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