By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
IN THE BEGINNING
Conventional wisdom says it's not wise to rage against a former boss-a corollary to the don't-burn-bridges rule-lest you're forced to crawl desperately back someday, begging for work. But my former boss is The Orange County Register. I'd rather take back the old video-clerking gig I landed after high school, renting sticky porno tapes to lonely old men, than scrawl for the Reg or any other paper owned by the Register's misnamed parent, Freedom Communications, again.
So anyway, here's what happened:
In late 1992, armed with a wad of award-winning entertainment writing from my college paper ("clips," they're called in the biz), I set out to see if one of the local dailies might let me rant about rock & roll for them. I didn't try the Los Angeles Times, where I knew I'd be low on the corporate pecking order-stuck writing about crap bands with names like Psycho Crotch Monkey who, because they're from England, are deemed review-worthy.
But the Registerlooked as if it needed help. Badly. So I shot them some of my clips.
Growing up, I rarely read the Register. My dad worked for the Times; we were a Times family. Sometimes, though, he'd bring home the Register's Sunday edition so I could have the kid-geared Mini Page. Twenty-five years later, the Mini Page is often still the best thing about the paper.
A week went by, and an editor from Show, the Register's flaccid entertainment section buried behind the classifieds, rang me up.
He liked my writing!
He wanted to use me! I was about to get my byline in 350,000 daily papers!
Free tickets and CDs and notebooks and stuff!
Hmmm . . . maybe I better take a closer look at this rag and find out just what I'm getting into.
I had friends who worked at North County News in Anaheim, the Freedom-owned group of community weeklies the Register distributes. My older brother briefly worked there, too, before quitting in disgust over how disorganized and chaotic the place was. From them, I'd heard horror stories of life under Freedom: shitty pay, long hours, soul-killer workload, and the carrots of permanent Register employment that editors teasingly dangled before-but rarely fed-the slaves in the weeklies.
But, thank gawdamighty, I wasn't going to be a part of that scene. I was to be a freelancer at the Register proper, able to refuse or accept assignments at my leisure. That fact made me less comfortable, however, when I began to familiarize myself with the paper's editorial pages. There I discovered what a bizarre, right-wing mouthpiece the Reg was. The syndicated columns they ran were always by far-out, freak-boy conservatives like Thomas Sowell and Don Feder. Especially weird, though, was Talk Show, the paper's letters-to-the-editor section, where the most rabid Register reader could wildly spout off about anything.
"I have just read the story of a pair of multitalented criminals. . . . Where is Dirty Harry when we need him?" read one.
"Lord knows the people of Mexico would be far better off if our government had taken the whole country after we won the Mexican War," read another.
Through my years at the Reg, the letters continued, streaming in from some dark, secret place: "Black Americans [should] be grateful for the fact that their ancestors were rescued from the horrors of African tribal warfare [and were] brought here by our Southern states, albeit as slaves."
"Put women back into the home with their children, and allow men to remain king of the household."
"Homosexuals' only contribution as a group in society is the scourge of the worldwide spread of AIDS."
These fanatical diatribes were so much fun to read that I started clipping and saving them. I collected so many that, two years ago, using a pen name (since I was still freelancing for the Reg), I wrote a First Person piece for the Weekly about my stash of the freakiest Register reader bile. Now, at last, I can proudly out myself.
My first assignment as a rock critic for The Orange County Register was a Bob Weir/Rob Wasserman show at the Coach House, which was cool, since I was a pretty big Deadhead back then and probably would have bought tickets anyway. Not only were these tickets free, but I was also getting paid 50 bucks to write about the show.
Three days later on Sunday, when the review came out, I put $1.25 worth of quarters into a Register rack, took about five copies, flipped to the page, and stared at my story. I read it once.
And then I read it again and again.
I had made it into one of the 25 biggest dailies in the country.
With my second review, an Allman Brothers Band gig at the then-active Pacific Amphitheater, I got a taste of how overly sensitive some editors were. I wrote that the Allmans were "the greatest white-boy blues band ever." But when I saw the printed version, the word "boy" had been cut. Whoever edited my story was apparently afraid of offending the Register's vast redneck readership. I laughed it off-and laughed again last year when I noticed Barry Koltnow, the Reg's nightlife writer, using the "white-boy" term. After four years, even the Register can evolve.
A few weeks later, it was time for me to formally visit the Reg compound in Santa Ana, grab some face time with the editors who mattered, and get an important-looking photo-ID badge.
Some months earlier, I'd quit working at the LA Weekly, which had a decidedly laid-back atmosphere, where people had tattoos and piercings and weren't shy about showing them. The Register, by comparison, was a surreal world of suits and ties, the sartorial embodiment of the phrase "quiet desperation." As an editor led me around the crypt-like halls, I couldn't help but feel that this was what life must be like working for one of those other No-Fun-Allowed, zombiefied corporations that advertise in OC Metro.
The cavernous, third-floor Register newsroom was pockmarked with that telling sign of corporate culture-perfectly aligned, neat little cubicles, where employees ("associates," in Orwellian Reg speak) tacked up personal mementos to remind themselves that they indeed had other lives outside the office.
Some apparently had other lives inside the office, too. During a men's room pit stop that day, I noticed some tiny writing on the caulking between the ceramic tiles: "Meet here for B.J., 11:30 p.m."
Despite that intriguing bit of graffiti, though, there never seemed to be very many happy people working there, just lots of long faces connected to people who slogged along day-to-day, taking up space and biding time until that glorious moment when they get a better job at another paper. Everyone I met who worked on the Show section had odd, glazed looks, like they'd just been to the front, and this wasn't Santa Ana in 1993, but the Somme in 1916.
As an attempt to lift away this depressing miasma, someone had tacked on a newsroom wall an altered banner from an old Register ad campaign. "What's the hot play in town?" it asked and then answered, "Show knows." Some rebellious Reg urchin had covered the "p" in "play" (you can figure the rest out). It remained up for most of my stint as a Register rock critic, a pointed, pained cry for help from a desperate worker seeking to breathe life into an eternally moribund existence.
The pressure was apparently too much for one Register associate. A few months after my first visit, I was told that an ex-employee had made "a threat"-what kind, I never found out-and everybody, including freelancers like me, had to come in and get new ID badges made as a security precaution.
Clearly, the Register compound was not a place I would have wanted to work in five days a week.
OF BUTTHOLES AND BROKEN LEGS
In July, I was assigned to review a Stone Temple Pilots/Butthole Surfers concert at Castaic Lake, a good 80-mile drive. I took the gig because the distant locale meant more money-$75, as opposed to the usual $50 (the Reg also paid $75 for daylong festival reviews; if you're curious, the answer is no, I can't retire off the money I made writing for them).
Things got interesting even before I left for the lake. A Show staffer told me that some editors had a meeting to discuss a very serious matter about the write-up I was doing: whether they'd allow me to write the Butthole Surfers' full name in the review. In the end-so to speak-"Butthole" won out; I assumed the controversial word wasn't "Surfers." It was a landmark moment in the Register's slow slouch toward cultural enlightenment.
On Monday, when the review ran, I got a call from an editor who wanted me to explain why I failed to mention anything about a girl who had broken her leg in the mosh pit-something the Times reviewer thought was a very big deal.
Not me. If you mosh, you know that shit can happen. Though I remembered the event, I thought it was insignificant, especially since I only had so many inches of space to pen my review of the actual music. But because the Times guy opted to go nuclear over someone's stupid busted leg 80 miles away, the Reg editor thought I should have, too. With priorities like these, it's no wonder the Reg-following the Times-would totally miss the OC bankruptcy story a year later.
The Broken-Leg Incident, I'd eventually learn, was indicative of the Register's pack-mentality approach toward competitive journalism, an Ür philosophy that continues to this day: if the Times prints something, then the Reg must follow up on it, no matter how trivial.
In October 1993, I was assigned to review a thing called Orange Jam, a music festival at UC Irvine's Aldrich Park. It was obviously an event cooked up by wags in the Register's marketing department who had gone so far as to subtitle it "The Orange County Register Jazz & Blues Festival." I was leery about having to basically serve as a cog in the Register PR machine, but I needed the $75 badly enough to be their whore for an afternoon.
The show was pathetic-a disaster. Area blues fans had been sated by no less than three major shows the month before-a B.B. King/Buddy Guy bill at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the annual Long Beach Blues Festival, and the debut of the Orange County Blues Festival in Dana Point. That-and rainy weather and mostly B-level talent-kept crowds away. Some artists who were scheduled to play never even performed.
By late Saturday afternoon, at what should have been the peak attendance point, I could actually count everyone in the "crowd": 70 people, not including me, spread out on a grassy hillside that could've held thousands. There were ropes assembled in a T-shape on the grass in front of the stage, clearly designed to form pathways when the crowds got too large. The entire day, nobody sat within 20 feet of them.
I had to speak the biting truth, no matter how badly it hurt the corporate hand that fed me. So I wrote the first sentence of my review: "What if they gave a music fest and nobody came? Well, that's basically what happened at Saturday's Orange County Register Jazz & Blues Festival."
Big mistake. When I opened up Show the following Monday, I saw that an editor had changed my lead to the far less embarrassing "Dark skies and threatening clouds may be just the thing for getting in the mood for jazz and blues music. But when it comes to an outdoor festival, it brings problems. That was the case for Saturday's half of the two-day Orange County Register-sponsored Orange Jam. . . ."
Obviously, whoever did the edit was looking over his shoulder. After that experience, I promised myself I'd never review their damn festival again. But there was no need to: the event was such a washout, it was discontinued.
BLOTTO FOR BOINGO
Being a rock critic ain't as glamorous as it seems. Sure, we get free tickets and decent seats and are paid to express our honest, savage opinions. Sometimes, though, you gotta wonder if it's worth it. You frequently endure concerts you really wouldn't want your friends to know you witnessed ("You had to go to the Bon Jovi show last night? I'm so sorry"), concerts that if you were a ticket-buying civilian, you wouldn't be caught dead at if all it cost you to get in was a shoebox full of dog turd.
Even when you're reviewing your favorite bands, you can't enjoy the show as you ordinarily would-you gotta work, gotta think, gotta scribble down notes in the dark that you hope you'll be able to decipher later. Daily deadlines are fairly tight, so you can't just go home and sleep afterward; while the rest of the world is in bed, you have to sit in a terrifyingly empty newsroom and write about the cultural significance of the Backstreet Boys and then file the thing by morning.
Probably the worst time I had reviewing for the Register was in October 1993, just days after the Register Jazz & Blues Festival debacle. They sent me to Oingo Boingo's annual Halloween show at Irvine Meadows. I've always hated Oingo Boingo-basically the KROQ crowd's version of the Grateful Dead, but with beer instead of acid.
I was just coming down with a bad case of the flu, which didn't bother me so much. What did was the extremely drunk girl in the next seat. She had apparently filled her tank in the parking lot and was out of it before the first song.
As Boingo's set droned on-and on-this slovenly wench started getting really nosy with me, which is what happens when you're the most sober person in a crowd of 15,000 and you're taking notes. She peppered me with questions: Could she read my notes? What was it like writing for the Reg? What did I think of Boingo? Where did I go to school? What beer did I drink? I ignored her, which, of course, made her more belligerent. She tried to grab my notebook. She tried to grab my pen. She tried to grab the pink pen I keep securely inside my pants.
I began to wonder if this was worth the 50 bucks.
And then, the inevitable: "BLaaaAAARRRFFF!!!!"-and she passed out.
I actually gave Boingo a fairly nice review, probably because Ms. Party Animal kept me distracted from the really awful parts.
Two days later, I opened the Register and stopped cold at the headline some editor had typed in: "Oingo Bongo Returns to Its Old Haunts for Halloween."
No, it wasn't worth 50 lousy bucks.
TALKING LOUD AND SAYING NOTHING
One of so many, many irritating things about writing for the Reg was the fact that I was scrawling alongside crusading-moralist staff editorials and boneheaded opinion columnists. The situation was strangely ironic-Show writers would be trumpeting the hot pop-culture icon of the month on their cover one day, while a few days later, the paper's troglodytic columnists would be farting out a diatribe about how that same pop-culture icon is Satan's wicked instrument. No wonder the budget for Show has always been so sickly.
One morning in the fall of 1993, I flipped to the editorials to find this headline: "The Pearl Jam Schools." A few days earlier, a Huntington Beach boy had made news by bringing two loaded guns to his middle school, allegedly because he had planned to take a teacher and a class full of students hostage. In the Reg news story, the boy's relatives, rather than blame themselves, instead pointed fingers at Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video, apparently one of the kid's favorites.
"That type of music has such an effect on young minds," the boy's mother protested.
"I never really thought that television has that effect on kids," said his sister. "But now I know it does. . . . He was influenced."
That's all some anonymous Reg editorial scribbler needed to know. So, under "The Pearl Jam Schools" was a rambling screed that ran the entire length of the page, getting all the facts about the video wrong, calling it "violent" (though no violent acts are seen) and saying that the boy in it "takes a classroom hostage" (wrong again). Obviously, whoever penned the editorial hadn't seen the video.
The gun incident was great for the Reg. It was an editorial three-bagger: it gave them the hook for a sanctimonious harangue against the public-school system they've always abhorred; it let them deliver a page-length plug for Proposition 174, the school-voucher initiative on that November's ballot; and, of course, it allowed them to criticize pop culture.
I was so pissed I fired off a letter to the editor using a pseudonym, figuring the Reg would never print a missive from one of its own freelancers.
They didn't print it-that time. But in April 1994, I ran across a column about Kurt Cobain's suicide by cultural bluenose Marilyn Duff, a regular contributor to the Reg's editorial pages. Lamely written as an open letter to Cobain's daughter, Duff suggested that Cobain would still be alive if he had just combed his hair, taken up gardening, gone on a few brisk walks, and-oh, yes-found Jesus. I phoned Mark Brown, then the Register's full-time pop-music reporter, and asked him if he'd seen it.
"Oh, great," he groaned. "What did they print now?"
Duff's column was so insipid I couldn't let it pass. So, using another fake name but my real phone number, I faxed the Reg a letter about how full of shit Duff was, expecting to get a call from them so they could verify I was the author.
Nobody called, and I almost spat my breakfast up when I opened the paper a few days later and saw my letter-fake name and all-basically exposing how easily the Register's letters page can be manipulated. I flashed on a grand anarchist vision: I could write letters to the Reg advocating cocaine smuggling, zit popping, booger chewing, poodle screwing, turd eating and the use of aborted fetuses in hot-dog meat, sign them with names like "Bob Dornan," "Dana Rohrabacher," "Pete Wilson," "Christopher Cox," "Louis Sheldon" and "Ronald Reagan," and nobody from the paper would bother to find out if they were real. What a great idea!
After I settled down, I decided that probably wouldn't be a very nice thing to do.
A year later, Duff surfaced again with yet another clueless column, in which she called Beck "a group," took videos by Tupac Shakur and TLC out of context, and called for the removal of MTV from basic cable programming.
That moment was an epiphany: I finally realized why so many Show staffers always looked depressed.
The concert-reviewing routine was going well, but by July 1994, I was looking for something bigger, a meatier clip. When I found out that the Lollapalooza tour would be kicking off in Las Vegas, I pitched the idea to a Show editor, who green-lighted it.
All I needed was to borrow a laptop. I expected something like a spiffy Powerbook, but what I got-what all Reg reporters got when they filed stories from out of town-was this pathetically outdated Radio Shack portable, model TRS-80, which Show staffers unaffectionately nicknamed the "Trash-80s." The LCD screen only let you see four lines of your story at a time. The modem was one of those ancient phone-coupling things.
I lugged the antique to Vegas, drove my own car, got my own hotel room, went to the show, wrote up the review, called the Reg the next morning, dictated the story over the phone (the modem didn't work), and drove home-all at my own expense. For my exclusive piece-an article that Robert Hilburn covered in grand fashion for the Times, an article the Reg wouldn't have gotten otherwise-I was paid $75 and reimbursed for the $6 phone call.
In May 1995, out of pure, virginal goodness, I faithfully went on the road for the Register again, once more out of my own pocket. This time, it was to San Francisco for the opening U.S. date of R.E.M.'s Monster tour. I went to the Reg office expecting to borrow a Trash-80. But-oops!-an editor told me that it was "against company policy" to loan their crappy portables to freelancers and that I never should have been given one the year before for the Lollapalooza assignment. I still wanted to do the story, though, and the Reg still wanted me to cover it, if I could-they just wouldn't give me the tool I needed most.
I drove up anyway, crashed at a friend's house to save money, went to the show, wrote a rough draft longhand on a yellow legal pad, went to sleep, woke up at 5 a.m., went into my friend's room (waking him up, too) to organize my bleary-eyed scribblings on his e-mail-less computer, fine-tuned it, called it in, went back to bed, and woke up later that afternoon and headed home.
A month later, I made the Reg look pretty again by driving up to Sacramento to review one of Pearl Jam's few shows on their aborted summer tour. But this time, I made it clear that I absolutely needed a portable, so a sympathetic staffer actually had to smuggle me a Trash-80 out a side door of the Reg's Grand Avenue complex. He looked around nervously to see if anyone was watching. Apparently, Register busybodies were everywhere.
I made a not-very-whopping $75 each off the R.E.M. and Pearl Jam reviews.
But by then, I'd figured out where the Reg was spending its money. One night, looking for some mindless laughs, I flipped to the Freedom-owned Orange County Newschannel on the tube, which was always way funnier than Seinfeld. But when a commercial break came up, I stopped laughing. A spot for the Register flashed on the TV, screaming something like, "YOU CAN WIN BIG MONEY IN THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER'S NEW CLASSIFIED CASH GIVEAWAY GAME!" Then they showed a woman grabbing for a flurry of dollar bills swirling around her, falling from the sky.
BAD, BAD EDITING
One November 1994 morning, I noticed a review in the Reg of a Pretenders concert at the Wiltern Theatre somebody had written. It was horrible. Not because the critic didn't like the band-he gave them a good review-but because, in just a 6 1⁄2-inch write-up, he managed to make no less than eight punctuation typos, spelling errors, factual gaffes and grammatical tragedies. Among other things, he spelled the band's name "Pretender's," making it possessive, and he based his review on erroneous info, stating that "Joni Mitchell recently said we need Chrissie Hynde back" (um, actually, it was Hynde who'd been widely quoted saying the world needed Mitchellback). The review was such a sorry sight that I clipped it out, corrected it with a red Bic, and tacked it up on my bulletin board, a grotesque example of deplorable Reg editing.
I thought, well, that's the last time this guy writes for the Show section. Then I looked at the byline again; shockingly, the review was penned by none other than Show's main big-cheese editor.
CLOSE ASSOCIATE ENCOUNTERS
I didn't know the editor very well, even though I'd been writing for him for almost two years at that point. He was one of those unhappy-looking people I met on my first expedition inside the Reg building, all stone-faced and unemotional, like Spock in a dress shirt and tie.
I had more memorable encounters with other Reg "associates." There was the rent-a-cop who stood in front of my moving car-hell-bent on doing everything in the power the state had vested in him and backed by the full fury and authority of the Reg itself-to bar me from the Register parking garage (or, God forbid, the "Associate of the Month" space) because I didn't have the proper-colored permit, even though I'd been parking there since I started writing for them. Turned out that all that time, I was supposed to have been parking in the open lot just south of the Reg building, along with the other commoners.
One Sunday morning while typing up a review, my newsroom computer, a hopelessly out-of-date ATEX machine, froze. There was only one other person in the newsroom, someone I didn't know, and he looked really wrapped up in something. But I had a deadline, and I was desperate, so I nicely asked him for help. For some reason, he exploded, grumbled a bunch of naughty words, stomped over to my terminal, fiddled with some keys, took care of my problem, stormed back to his desk, and finished seething.
"Poor guy," I silently sympathized. "He's a prime candidate for a coronary. Must be a long-suffering staffer."
Call me Nostradamus: a few months later, he had a heart attack. And he died.
THE LAST WORD
Things began to change when 1996 rolled around. What had been a steady stream of assignments dried up considerably, mostly because the Reg had found someone in-house willing to write reviews for little or no pay, so the skinflints saved money. I only had six bylines that year.
I figured it was getting to be about time to move on, anyway. By this time, the Weekly was fully operational, and it was staffed by nicer, sexier people who actually seemed to enjoy their jobs. There were other signs, too, like when I found out that Times freelancers got paid more than twice what the Reg had been giving me all this time. Then I really felt like a slave.
What really did it for me, though, was the last photo-ID badge I was issued, which had a big, ugly "V" stamped on it. When I asked a security guy what the "V" meant, he said it stood for "vendor," since I was considered an "independent contractor." It made me feel like I should have been roaming the halls of the Reg wearing a striped uniform, hawking peanuts, beer and snow cones. I decided I'd do a few more reviews and then leave.
Then came the Marilyn Manson incident.
In January 1997, I rang the Reg and told them I was interested in covering the Marilyn Manson ghoul-o-rama that Saturday at the Santa Monica Civic. On Wednesday, I was told I could, but there was only one ticket available. No prob, I thought; I've done the lonely-guy thing many times before on Reg assignments. On Thursday, an editor called me and left a message that there were two tickets after all. I buzzed him back and left a message to confirm this, but he never rang me back. Assuming I had two tickets waiting for me at will call, I took my friend Viv along.
It was peeing down rain, and we parked on a dark side street to avoid paying the lot fee, since the Reg wouldn't reimburse me the lousy $5. I stepped up to the window, flashed my ugly-ass photo ID, and the guy working the counter handed me an envelope with . . . one ticket.
The show was a solid sellout, so I couldn't have just bought another ticket. And I wasn't about to make Viv go wait in the car alone for three hours in a sketchy Santa Monica neighborhood. I tried talking our way in but got nowhere.
As I mulled around in front of the ticket windows trying to figure out what to do next, four years of bad Reg flashbacks started hitting me. The stupid letters to the editor. The girl with the broken leg in the mosh pit. The lousy pay. The idiotic edits. The slob at the Boingo show. The lousy pay. The insane editorials. The R.E.M. and Pearl Jam hoop-jumping. The dreary "associates." The downsizing of my assignments. The lousy pay.
I couldn't deal with it anymore, certainly not for another paltry $50, which I nearly spent just getting to the Civic (I had to stop off and buy the Manson CD to brief myself). I gave the ticket to someone who looked like a real fan, found a phone, called an editor at home, and left a message on his machine explaining what happened, figuring they'd cut me some slack. Viv and I went for coffee.
The next morning, another editor called to know what was up, obviously irked that he suddenly had white space to fill, which I knew would be no problem, since the Reg regularly runs material off the newswires. I told him the whole sordid story. He wanted to know why I didn't just buy a ticket from a scalper. I told him that scalpers are scummy vermin, that they were looking to buy tickets, anyway, not sell, and even if they were, I don't usually carry around the big bucks that the scalpers would have been demanding-after all, I pointed out, I wrote for the Register.
I apologized. He growled, "Fine," and hung up on me.
And that was the end of my Register slavehood.
WHAT I LEARNED
Really, I'm not bitter. I had a mostly good time writing for the Reg. I got to cover two South by Southwest fests. I discussed the finer points of Tibetan gamelan music with Mickey Hart. I rapped with George Clinton about Lollapalooza hairstyles. I chatted with a very gracious Eric Burdon, a humble Joshua Redman, and a gentlemanly John Hammond, who answered questions I know he'd been asked zillions of times before as if he were hearing them for the first time. I overheard the fake name that Reg food critic Elizabeth Evans uses to reserve tables incognito. Earlier this year, when a short-lived anti-Register employee Web site, run by the mysterious Slave4OCR, claimed that the Reg offices were infested with rats, I was honestly surprised: I'd never seen any rats, but I did once share an elevator with grumpy editorial cartoonist Mike Shelton.
The Register name even provided me with brief, fleeting moments of celebrity. I had stories blurbed on the Orange County Newschannel's "Tomorrow's Register Today" spots! KROQ's Kevin & Bean dissed my Weenie Roast '95 review on their show! Someone claiming to be me used my name to get in free at the old Randell's jazz club in Santa Ana!
And I had fans. A woman I met at a wretched country show at Irvine Meadows had unbelievably remembered a review I penned four months earlier. "Oh, I know you," she said. "You're the one who wrote about Lou Reed acting so bored onstage that he looked like he'd rather have been pouring salt in his eyelids."
Sadly, I found that not everybody loves the Register. Once when I was getting a blood test, the nurse tried to calm me down by asking me what work I do. After telling her I sometimes wrote for the Reg, she got this crinkly look on her face, as if I'd just admitted to being in the Klan or something. "Oh, God, I hate that paper!" she blurted, and then she jammed the needle in my arm so deeply that I swore I could feel it come out through my elbow.
In May 1997, they added a section to the Sunday Show called Encore, which is meant to focus on "fine" arts like dance, classical music, theater and art exhibits. It's pathetic, elitist twaddle, segregating culture into separate camps, as if rock, jazz, film and television were somehow less worthy.
Standards of what editors will and won't allow to run in the paper are wildly inconsistent. For two weeks last year, the Reg censored the title of Meredith Brooks' hit "Bitch" from its Friday Billboard chart listings, renaming it "B----," despite the fact that radio stations, DJs, MTV and virtually every other print medium in the country had no problem with the word. Yet they'll let humor columnist Jeff Kramer pen a double-entendre column about "presidential seamen" that reads like it was lifted from an old Three's Company script.
I feel especially for Show, though, which has always been the Register's idiot bastard son compared to, say, the paper's sports section. The sports department is blessed with what seem to be bottomless pockets, judging purely by the locales sports reporters have filed from in the past year and a half: Jeff Miller in St. Louis for the McGwire-Sosa shootout; Janis Carr in New York for the U.S. Tennis Open; Steve Bisheff in San Diego for Ryan Leaf's quarterback debut; Cammy Clark in Tokyo for a Mighty Ducks game; Earl Bloom in Cooperstown for Tommy Lasorda's Hall of Fame induction; Larry Bortstein on the road with the Mission Viejo Vigilantes.
Columnist Mark Whicker is the most frequent flier of the bunch, jetting off to places like Washington; South Bend, Indiana; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Chicago; and Minneapolis-all in just a few months over the summer.
None of this traveling is bad, of course. It's what you should expect from a major daily paper the size of the Register. Show's coverage of entertainment issues and events could easily be as widespread as sports, if only the Freedom Communications suits who hold the purse strings would allow it. Why not send pop scribe Ben Wener to Austin for South by Southwest? Why not send film writer Henry Sheehan to Cannes, or theater critic Paul Hodgins to New York to cover the Tony Awards?
The Reg is a 45-minute drive from Hollywood, and if the Register powers that be really wanted to make the effort, they could come up with a tab that's every bit as informative as the Times' Calendar section. But until the Register gets serious about its arts coverage, Show will continue to be the anemic rag it's always been.
But nobody buys the Register for its entertainment section. People pick it up so they can prop up their own smelly little orthodoxies. Until that changes, the Register will continue to trudge along as it always has, their "associates" and freelancers will continue to grumble, and eventually, another rebel-like the one who produced the Slave4OCR Web site-will unfurl a bloody flag.