The Death of Journalism

Paul R. Byrne

Dear “The People,”

Raise a glass with me and let’s drink to the dead, to the still-warm corpse of a fine institution and all our high ideals. Journalism, you were a fine old thing — the bulldog now rotting under fresh dirt in the backyard and replaced by an irritating yipper which, for the purposes of this unhinged (but enterprising) piece of tour-de-force wacko nutjob screed, we will call News.

Which is not Journalism but some fresh and science-wrought creation sold as the same: names, dates, truthiness mashed in the great churning kettles of a Real News Company, pulped and separated and pressed into shapes of re-constituted headlines and gossip column pap — a facsimile of the facts and a brand new flavor-blasted look at the truth, “Now with less fat and fortified with vitamins A through G!” (Action, Blurbs, Celebrity, Drama, Entertainment, Fright, and Gossip), shipped for pennies on the dollar of the Real Deal with smiling cartoons on the box to boot.

How did we get here? What stopped the old dog cold? The official cause: megalomaniacal drivel spewed at breakneck speed. A steady gush of toiler-writ angst and unvarnished untruth that drove it mad, left it slobbering after loud, fast sound bytes onto undivided highways complicit in the misinformation, toothless and blind to the flash of tires, the screaming people, and the ultimate meaty crunch of fine Detroit steel.

If only something good had come in its final moments, some bold parting shot or pipe bomb of retribution instead of the slow, ad-filled decline that it was. But by the time anyone saw it was sick, the meta-state of outrage culture had been reached: breathless inches written not about events but reactions to them, reporters regurgitating Twitter outrage and copy/pasting pull-quotes with a 24-hour fever, the tail wagging the dog all the way up to Master’s big white house to wait for another morsel to drop, then swallow it greedily and spew another splenetic headline in the middle of the rug.

Who could blame it. Journalism wasn’t meant for times like these, the world today more unhinged, more unyielding, more thoroughly beyond the pale and pinker at the center than anyone could have imagined back when it began. It’s simply not up to the task in a mega-speed world where the truth has gone spherical and rigid with gas leaking juices on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue and catching more flies than the honey wagon mouths of part-timer DC residents—now nothing more than a bunch of sit, stand, sit-and-spin obstructionists who bloviate for a few months then jet home to glad-hand the gerrymandered, loosen their sphincters, and breathe deeply of their Own Brand.

No, this is no time for journalism. We need something stronger. Rotgut truth. The uncut stuff from the bottom shelf, handmade label peeling in the stench of turpentine fumes. A thing of real leather-eating power bottled heads, hearts, and tails by bent backwoods minds and guaranteed to turn even the most clear-sighted sycophant blind. A fresh product for the new true majority: of reasonable people living in unreasonable times, coverage unchained from every standard of moral or rectitude. Preferences stated proudly. Biases laid bare with raw transparency of mind. The groaning release of cognition hot onto the keyboard — a big, glorious, “Do us a favor and tell us what you really think, son!”

— Here the section in which the author describes his various predilections and weaknesses, a fondness for ripping off Hunter Thompson, an evangelical upbringing that grew malignant and left behind an un-washable hatred of religion and ambivalent soft-heartedness for its familiar, penetrating shapes —

To acknowledge that objectivity is a lie we outgrew as children and the best approximation its opposite: a thorough coming-clean about every secret thought, and through that the only real understanding of the warped lens through which the writer’s view is focused…

— Recounts his sickness at the monarchic spectacle of scepters passed between moneyed hands to bash the brains of rumpled people in honest suits, subterfuge to stamp beautiful ideas from the earth; words already beat into trite hash on the threshing floor, abattoir and the altar soaked alike and draining onto the earth —

A total giving-in, hand-flinging abandonment of pretense or purity. Recognition that any attempt at balance is a lie on the part of the writer, a disingenuous offering scraped together from measuring their stuffed-down distaste in a private room, doing battle with quantities of conflict no one can estimate or know…

— Describes his soul-nauseating unease and trenchant guilt for not breaking his knuckles on doors in the months before, crying wolf to the dog-catchers but sitting, smugly watching this fleshy child rise, climb ape-like to the stage to loose his bowels smoothly onto every idea of forward motion —

….What judge would we allow this of? What fool would we feed this to?

So the time has come to put aside reason and take a long pull. To drink deep of the hopeful cure for lessons learned too late in a confusing and camouflaged world, and for a clenched gut that will not loosen in this long night. A sure sign of desperate hours if not the End Times.

Because I do believe they could be here now. In the worrying way my bones whisper through the dark that it could be time to pack it in and call it a day for how it’s broken — smashed in a way we haven’t fully realized but screams in figures tossed like Jesus leaflets outside the world’s most tremendous party — the all-out banger of the century with velvet ropes and cash prizes for trading rounds of gonorrhea and HPV over cotton candy martinis cut with high-grade crystal antibiotics — 3 million worthless popular votes, 40% unaccounted for, mercury bulb open and dripping on tongues underneath, dripping, swallowing, dripping…

Which leaves things squarely in the hands of people like us. Writers willing to get stone drunk on a pure feeling and spew uncut honesty into the world. To bravely gas the fires of possibility and warm even the most cold, dead citizen from their stupor. To reach for a newer New Journalism, broadcasting in multispectral rage as beacons of god-honest subjectivity with a complete lack of guile, subtlety, or tact.

And this, a first attempt at that. An unhinged and insane thing written in helplessness and half-sense, the meaning of which will remain a mystery to most, myself included. But a first step nonetheless. To agitate, awaken. To raise a leviathan for the modern age — something ancient and vile and rancorous and depraved and true, blooming in hues from inky depths, something honest and world-right and convicted, convicting.

A last moment to stare into the ashes and steel ourselves for what must come next. The crack of the seal. The turpentine smell. The shake of pouring hands, the scent of fear and feel of pure adrenaline running down our spines, arms raised, mouths open, glasses tipped, dawn approaching the rim.

To us.

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