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I hear it over and over again, most recently on our own editorial pages in a column by a former Montana Supreme Court justice: The content of this newspaper is controlled by the big, mean Iowa corporation that owns us, the same corporation that stamps out dissenting voices while kowtowing to its big advertisers at the expense of good journalism.

Don't you think that line of reasoning is just a bit of a stretch? If it were really true, why, gosh, I'd probably use this space to mention all the good deals that Dillard's has going on right now. And how about the Bon? Have you seen some of the high-quality, inexpensive brand-name apparel at those two beautiful, convenient stores? You really should check 'em out if you need some new threads.

Let's face it: The critics are absolutely right. Of course everything's controlled in Iowa. What, do you think we can just run any old story we want? Over the last year or so, we've had some reporters and editors who let a few hard-hitting investigative reports slip into the paper, but they were reprimanded, flogged, hosed down with vinegar and sent to re-education camp.

No, in fact, we cannot run any old story we want. Not since we installed the NewsTronic 3300 in Davenport. It's really a neat-o system guaranteed to ferret out offending stories, bloat our bottom line and ensure safe and bland reports for all our readers, like the series of stories we have coming up about how to stir yogurt.

For instance, check out what I have to go through every single week:

Rrrrriiiing!

Me: "Hello, corporate masters. The passkey is: knock-knock nanu-nanu schleb zank. This is employee No. 867-5309, retina scan confirmation No. 051068. Can you log me on to the NewsTronic 3300?"

Corporate: "One minute please. Š OK, 867-5309, go ahead."

Me: "Ahem. Š Hello? This is employee 867-5309."

NewsTronic: "Continue, pawn."

"Greetings, emotionless yet somehow sexy futuristic computer-generated female voice. I'm submitting this week's column ideas for your approval."

"You may upload."

"I thought it might be funny this week to write about taking my rambunctious little beagle to the Bark Park."

[Silence]

"And all the hilarity that ensues."

[Silence]

"You see, the beagle runs around sniffing other dogs in their -"

"Content alert. According to NewsTronic data, you have already noted your levity with the cherished companion on six occasions over the last 28 months. Risk of ridicule from competing news source is elevated. Please select another topic."

"Oh, I see. OK, I have a couple of backup ideas. I was thinking about skiing and how I'm really bad at it. See, I live in Montana, so how about a column on the irony of a local boy who never learned how to -"

"Content alert. Personal recollections of childhood decrease reader interest by 12.4 percent. Census data from your location indicate high interest in recreational outdoor activities. However, probability of offending local vendors of recreational equipment is unacceptably high. Please select another topic."

"Another topic? Wow, I'm not sure I like this system."

"Employee demerit, subtract 3 cents per hour and dental coverage."

"Rats. OK, how about this: The nightlife scene here is -"

"Content alert."

"How about women who -"

"Content alert."

"Beer and -"

"Content alert."

"Shaving -"

"Content alert."

"OK, NewsTronic, is there anything that corporate can recommend? I'm on a deadline."

"System analysis reveals requirement for more content on laughter, motherhood and children who say the cutest things."

"Anything else?"

"Former Supreme Court justices whose beliefs about the media border on paranoia."

"Thank you, NewsTronic 3300. I hope everything goes smoother next week."

"I find your lack of faith disturbing, 867-5309."

Jamie Kelly's DNA, taken from a forcibly removed toenail, is in a computer database in Davenport, Iowa. He can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com, or at jamiekelly@montana.com.

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