Monday, November 21, 2005

News Vulture
In 1999, I was working as an editor for a publishing company. For a period of several months that fall and winter, I had no assignments. Literally, actually, none. I would come to work at 8:30 and surf the web until 5--and I soon discovered that hours of diversion were available at Salon.com. Even six-plus years ago, Salon was positively elderly by Internet standards, having first appeared in November 1995. For years after I first discovered it, it remained a regular stop on my daily Internet rounds, and I became a paying subscriber to it--having sworn for years that I would never pay for online content--a few days before the September 11 attacks. This blog was born in March 2003, and I wish I had a nickel for every Salon article I've linked to since. (Maybe they do, too.)

Salon's actual 10th anniversary was yesterday. Executive editor Gary Kamiya--who is probably the best writer Salon has ever had on-staff--published an anniversary reminiscence last week, and it's worth a look. You might guess that the Florida recount and September 11 would rank as important moments in Salon's history, and they do. But Kamiya observes that the 1997 death of Princess Diana represented the first great evolutionary leap forward for Salon:
For the first time, we understood that Salon could play an important role in the media world as a kind of news vulture, not so much reporting on the big events as feasting on their remains. Fast, smart, opinionated stories making sense of events, or simply offering cathartic responses, were in demand, and we discovered we were good at them.
Kamiya also describes what it was like to be on the rising edge of the dot-com bubble--and the fall, during which the tax on the stock options he cashed in during the boom cost him $110,000--and how Salon survived and began to thrive (albeit with smaller, more manageable goals) during the Bush years. And as a kind of news vulture myself, I am grateful that it's still around to help me pick my way through the remains of each day. So salute, Salon, and happy 10th--well done.

Word Up, Word Down: Well, I didn't think it would take very long: Within days of the premiere of The Boondocks on Cartoon Network, columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson criticized it for its liberal use of the word nigger. I have opinions about lots of things, but when it comes to the word nigger, I am good and truly agnostic. On one hand, I tend to agree with George Carlin, who said a generation ago that there are no bad words, only bad thoughts. But on the other, I certainly understand how much of a bludgeon that word can be when used in certain contexts. The only thing I take a firm stand on is that I will not call it "the n word," which seems utterly juvenile. That euphemism actually works to make nigger seem even more forbidden than it already is, which in turn interferes with our ability to talk about the word and its connotations in a meaningful way. (And it leads to such rank stupidities such as the case of a city official in Washington, D.C., who was thrown into hot water a few years ago for using the word niggardly during a meeting, a word that means "grudging or petty in giving or spending" and has absolutely no connection to nigger.) But apart from that, I've got no opinion on whether the word should be banned for all time from all mouths, or just from the mouths of white people, or what. What do you think?

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