Posted by: mbtrotter | October 20, 2010

Just where are the journalism jingles?


References to news media are easy enough to find in TV and movies — except for this week, thank you, Major League Baseball, which is why it’s time to talk about songs of the journalist. (I can’t believe Whose Line is it Anyway? never had journalists in a Greatest Hits game. Accountants, mechanics, butchers, postal workers … no reporters, though.)

Sure, songs have mentioned journalists in passing — Eminem’s “The Way I Am” in 2000 or Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” in 2004 — or have ties to journalists — the mugging of Dan Rather gave us Game Theory’s “Kenneth, What’s the Frequency?” in 1987 and R.E.M.’s more popular “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” in 1994 — but it’s been a long time since a song has been mostly about the news media.

In May 2009, Mark Kemp of Paste Magazine blogged a list of 10 songs about print journalism, the most recent of which is 1991’s “A Letter To The New York Post” by Public Enemy.

Fans of The Kinks will argue for the inclusion of “Mr. Reporter” on that list, but Kemp probably had the same problem making that list that I did writing this blog: it’s hard to find a download of the song because it was on a UK reissue of Face to Face. The song is, however, on YouTube.

So what does it take to get a song written about journalism? Terrible reporting. On Kemp’s list, 80 percent of the songs address negative perceptions of reporters and the news media: they exaggerate, don’t tell the whole truth, are arrogant and prize salacious stories.

When Public Enemy came up with “A Letter To The New York Post,” the rappers were angry about being heralded by music press as the saviors of rap one day then attacked by mainstream press for anti-Semitic statements the next. The New York Post just proved to be an easy target due to a long reputation as an outlet for tabloid journalism. Compare its front page today with the New York Times’. See? The Post could easily have a cover story about Elvis being alive, and probably no one would bat an eye.

Perhaps The Post’s saving grace is that columnist and editorial writer John Wilson, who recently left the paper to become a priest, said the paper’s “reputation for racy headlines and occasionally bawdy humor had little to do with his decision to seek a life of celibacy and the spirit.”

“The phrase you hear a lot of in priestly circles is ‘Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable,'” he told The New York Observer. “At the very least I hope I’ve managed to afflict some powerful and comfortable people at the Post.”

That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of The Post’s content, but OK.

If singers have been so critical of journalists in the past, why are they taking it easy now in the era of Fox News, TMZ, infotainment, opiniotainment and newsroom cuts? Maybe journalism is too easy a target right now.

“A Letter To The New York Post” is the copyrighted material of Public Enemy and Def Jam Recordings. and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.

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