Why can't we have a hunger games for journalists? We'll take about 20 members of the fourth estate, drop them in the Blue Ridge mountains, and let them fight until death. Winner keeps his job.
For an industry that is in a financial free fall, journalism is stupefyingly reluctant to trim the fat. Katie Couric, the narcissistic teenager who never grew up, bombed as anchor of the CBS Evening News. She never had much talent and is well over the hump age-wise. So naturally, she has been offered a guest spot on "Good Morning America."
Keith Olbermann was just canned by Al Gore's Current TV. It's about the 14th journalism job Olbermann has had in the past ten years. They just can't help offering this ratings poison a highly visible and prestigious position. He will no doubt be hired by yet another network and promoted.
Here is a list of ten names. Imagine there was a journalistic hunger games and these people didn't make it: Richard Cohen, Harry Smith, Brian Williams, Ann Curry, Geraldo Rivera, Eugene Robinson, E.J. Dionne, Maureen Dowd, Mike Barnicle, Cal Thomas.
That's ten names off the top of my head, just for starters. Together they probably represent 10 million dollars in salaries. You could dump them, then go right down the journalistic food chain and hatchet an additional 50 percent of "working" journalists and no one would blink. I can think of three examples in my own backyard: Erik Wemple, and Arch Campbell. Wemple was an editor at TDB.com, a new media venture that tanked after six months (before that he was at the Washington City Paper). After the TBD flameout, Wemple was hired, naturally, by the collapsing Washington Post (a liberal columnist! Brilliant!).
Jack Shafer has been cracking the same jokes about Rupert Murdoch for years, and was at the center of the famous 1996 monkeyfishing hoax. That blunder cost him the editorship of Slate (which is itself irrelevant), but not his job there. Only Recently was he canned, but was quickly picked up by Reuters, where he...writes incessantly about Rupert Murdoch. I mean, it's a wonder Art Buchwald still isn't at it. Yes, I know he's dead.
But the absolute worst, the Holy Pope of Coasting, has got to be Arch Campbell. Campbell has been on television for almost 40 years. He started in Texas and then in 1974 moved to WRC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Washington, where he became a movie reviewer and entertainment reporter. Campbell, who is marginally less intelligent than Megan McCain (another should-be hunger games wipeout) and whose interviews are known for their dead air was shown the door by NBC in 2010.
Time to shuffle off to Ocean City and watch the sunset, right?
Nope. Campbell was given a job at WJLA, the Washington ABC affiliate.
At this point I should make a few things clear. I have nothing against older journalists. But they have to keep moving it order to keep my interest. They have to have an active intelligence that pursues new challenges and brings fresh insight. One of the major influences on me as a young journalist in the 1980s was Hunter Thompson. Thompson is now remembered for "gonzo," his drug-fueled and biting style of writing. Less recalled is how truly talented the man was, and how diverse his interests. His first major work was a book -- not a column, a book -- about the Hell's Angels. He wrote about the beatniks, the Super Bowl, and Hemingway. I still remember in 1983 when I heard that Thompson was about to publish a new book. Would it be about Nixon? Reagan? It was "The Curse of Lono," about the Honolulu Marathon.
What has Jonathan Capeheart ever done? Can you imagine him producing an interesting thought in the next 50 years, where he will gather dust at the Washington Post?
Will Keith Olbermann ever expand his worldview, write an important book, do something notable? He'll be ranting about the right-wing when he's using a walker.
In the past, journalists kept learning, growing, and pushing themselves. H.L. Mencken produces a multi-volume study on the American language. Chesterton wrote novels, poems and plays. Well into old age, David Brinkley wrote "Washington Goes to War."
For me, it's not even an ideological issue. Andrew Sullivan has a deep-seated Freudian freakout at the mention of Sarah Palin's name, but his blog is consistently interesting with what it links to. It reveals an active intelligence and curiosity about a lot of things.
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, has published books about both Barack Obama and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Jon Stewart is liberal, but his show is consistently smart. George Will and Charles Krauthammer frequently write about topics other than politics (Krauthammer is a Washington Nationals fan); Cal Thomas -- celebrating 25 years of syndication! -- does not.
And as for Arch Campbell -- well, God love him. I'm a DC native and in criticizing him I feel like I'm kicking a puppy. But his station is pouring money away. I grew up watching Arch, and I'm a big fan of low-rent TV. But I am a fan because cheap local TV, like free weekly papers and now websites, can bring forth quirky talent (Tom Green) and offer enough airtime penetrating discussions about current affairs. Arch, like the rest of the people on the hunger games hit list, is just plain out of gas.
Although I pretty sure he'll be able to take Couric in the wilderness.