Tuesday, February 28, 2006

John Grogan Dogs The B.S. List

I swear to God on a stack of King James-version Holy Bibles that I was already calling John Grogan’s book “Tuesdays with Marley” and was planning to post about it today or tomorrow. But Romenesko showed me this morning that Philadelphia Magazine beat me to the punch.

I noticed on Sunday that Grogan, a former Sun-Sentinel Metro columnist, was No. 1 on the New York Time bestseller list. His book is titled "Marley and Me" and it's a cute little heartwarming story about his now-deceased dog that he began writing about in the Sun-Sentinel in 1993. The subhead of Jessica Pressler's article in the Philly Mag sort of sets the tone: "How a not-so-good Philly columnist became America's best-selling author." Pressler points out that in his newspaper work he doesn't do a lot of reporting and tends to state the obvious (an actual quote: "murderers = bad, especially men who murder women and children"). And she describes his weird 1950's sitcom aura. Put it this way: If the Body Snatchers came back, Grogan would quickly be writing about the joys of putting his children to bed in their new pods.

He was a Sentinel columnist when I got to town. He wasn't horrible, just not-so-good. Take this line from a 1994 column: "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and most of us have more blessings to count than we may realize. Sure, things could be better; they could also be a lot worse."

Okay, that is horrible. But Grogan always was a mix of Reader's Digest and Family Circus. And when you think of it like that, it's not surprising that he's captured America's heart. Now if only the damn place would grow a brain.

Feeding The Beast

Been negligent on keeping an eye on Herald Web duty. Looks like reporter Theresa Bradley has taken over for Jasmine Kripalani on the popular morning Internet beat. This morning she had a hot one though: An ice cream guy gets shot by robbers in Miami Gardens. Naw man, that's cold.

Story of the Day

I liked the story by Elinor J. Brecher in the Herald about the smoking guy but I'm giving it to Bill Hirschman's little ditty in the Sentinel about protesters picketing a new spoof called Date Movie, which depicts a young couple beating a homeless man for kicks and giggles. It's nothing more than a serviceable short article but Hirschman is damn near heroic in his description of the homeless protesters' tools of destruction: "Picketers held electric pink and chartreuse signs urging a boycott." That's writing, people. I mean, he could have used a simple and identifiable color like "green." Or maybe it was more yellowish, as some variations of chartreuse can be. And the other signs weren't just pink. No, they were electric pink. This wasn't a demonstration, it was a disco. Who knew a small mob of angry street people could be so fabulous?


Anonymous sam eifling said...

I haven't read Grogan's work before, but the Philadelphia story on "Marley" paints this journalism thing as a depressing business. What's the formula for commercial success? Reach for the immediate. Avoid complex ideas and reportage. Recycle the most Hallmarkian of themes. There's a lesson in this for newspapers: To move papers, replace hard news with treacle for the autopiloted narcissism of middle-income bobos. After all, people want to read what they're already thinking. That's why I'm announcing my new literary project, entitled "I Really Like Watching Sports, Drinking Beer and Getting Laid." Pending my actually writing this 120-page tome, I hope, in the Grogan mold, to sell the movie rights to the producer of "Dude, Where's My Car?"

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh c'mon folks: grogan may not be no carl hiaasen (or frank cerabino), but i think i detect a little jealousy in all this...

not everyone thinks that great journalism is all about the alt-weekly snideness that runs rampant throughout this blog (which i admit i still enjoy thoroughly). a newspaper can be many things to many people.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

What do we have to be jealous of? A few million measly bucks? National fame? Who would ever be jealous of that?

Actually the truth is that I'm not jealous. The reason is that I don't generally roll that way, but another reason is that I know that everywhere Grogan goes from now until doomsday people are going to talk about that infernal book with him. At every airport and every bar, people are going to tell him their awful, numbingly dull pet stories and he's going to have to sit there, smiling like a statue, nodding his head, pretending like he gives a shit.

"Oh, I wish I would have gotten a chance to meet Fifi," he'll say staring ahead but seeing nothing. "Sounds like a wonderful dog. I'm sure she made everyone around her feel more human."

That's a version of hell, my friend, that I wouldn't wish upon anyone, Grogan included. And I honestly hope he's enjoying his 15 minutes. The man has a talent. That's certain. And you're right, he's probably warmed the cockles of many a heart, and there's nothing really wrong with feeding Mr. And Mrs. Joe America their nightly cup of treacle.

The edge you detect, I think, comes from the fact that we know that Grogan's good fortune positively reinforces the maddeningly syrupy writing of a lot of really bad newspaper columnists out there. And we're just a little bitter that we'll inevitably wind up reading them.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's clear that journalist's disease is alive and spreading. Someone killing over crack cocaine becomes your story of the day, while reporters who dare to write about the people who actually buy the damn paper are scorned as lightweights. Frankly, most folks who live out in the real world don't care a whit about the latest drug murder, no matter how exciting you think it is to cover, or the bulk of the inside politics that eat up so much newshole. But newspapers continue to fill their columns with this crap because it is easy and cost-efficient to gather. (Quick, how many BSO press releases can a rookie reporter rewrite in one day? How many stories can a reporter churn from one commission meeting? Is this why the same six or eight reporters seem to fill up the local sections every day?) This focus on everyday crime and minor politicians is a big reason why so many people no longer view the newspaper as an essential daily habit. Give Grogan a break. If you scour over anyone's writing -- including yours -- it won't take long to find some errant phrases and clunker stories from bad days. Overall, he was a good columnist at the Sun-Sentinel. But he is suffering from the slings and arrows of jealous people who think covering a crack murder is the height of local journalism.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous sam eifling said...

I couldn't disagree more. Which is more time- and cost-effective: Drilling into crime and politics? Or color stories on festivals, sick kids, firemen, job programs and, yes, happy pets? I don't know whether "fun" is the word I'd use to describe the job of calling fathers of the wrongly dead, or the mothers of the freshly encarcerated. But it certainly is more gratifying. Maybe the journalist's sense of duty and of story is at odds with the preferences of the average reader, who more and more, I suspect, really doesn't have time for anything except his own little world, and making money to pay off his $300,000 two-bed, two-bath. I feel that if we decide our mission is to tell people what they already know, though, that we become the stenographer of the sheltered, the reinforcer of prejudices, the intellectual comfort food of the damned.

To some extent, this is an ersatz debate, because the fact is a newspaper should strive to cover all these things, and cover them well. I think that if we're trying to choose between hard news (so-called for a reason) and tales of happy suburban life, I choose the former. And in the case of "jealousy" and Grogan, I don't think it applies. I'm no more jealous of him than I am of any other person in any other field who strikes upon a million-dollar idea. What probably has his colleagues at the Inq banging their heads against their desks is the apparent ease with which he succeeded.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comments today. Meanwhile, for an interesting Metro column right here in So Fla, check out Ana Menendez' piece today in the Herald, in which she contrasts the lifestyle and wishes of an about-to-strike uninsured janitorial worker at the University of Miami with the answers to the same questions given by UM president Donna Shalala in a fabulous NY Times magazine spread a couple weeks ago. My husband thought it was a bit of a cheap shot, but I thought it was funny and apt. It also appeared to require Menendez to leave her desk and find an actual human being, a plus for any columnist.

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Shalala's been getting heat for this political blunder ever since the mag came out.
Even cheeky Wonkette weighed in on Feb. 17. Miamity had this on the strike. And it appears that Zoila is a popular name among janitors. Neat, they both are 51 as well...

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