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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Shut Up, Mike Miner! Shut Up!

What the fuck is this man talking about?

For those of you who are blessed to live somewhere other than Chicagoland, allow me to introduce you to Michael Miner, the most infuriating columnist in America. Miner purports to write weekly about the local press in the Chicago Reader, which is rivaled only by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the title of the nation's most dull, doctrinaire, and grotesquely oversized "alternative" weekly.

The alt-weekly press-critic perch is a useful and important platform--SF Weekly's DogBites, especially back when Laurel Wellman was writing it, was merciless in skewering the San Francisco Chronicle's smug, left-coast complacency and the San Francisco Examiner's spectacular ineptitude. When Jim Ledbetter was writing the Village Voice's Press Clips column, readers were assured to learn something from it beyond what Ledbetter thought about stuff. The New York Observer's seemingly endless succession of Off the Record columnists have all managed to elevate dishy media-world gossip into an ongoing chronicle of a highly dysfunctional and entertaining subculture while actually calling out the press barrons and their minions for failures, ommissions, inconsistencies, and all around stupidity.

In other words, it's an important function, and good alt-weekly (I know, the Observer is hardly an "alt" anything, but still) press critics hold their local newspapers accountable by reporting their fuck-ups.

Mike Miner, sadly, tragically--operatically--is not a good alt-weekly press critic.

He is an atrocious writer. He does not write ledes, he writes riddles, and if you think you have the vaguest idea what he's getting at by the seventh paragraph of his column, you will be proved wrong by the eighth. He lumbers up to a point like a Teamster contemplating lifting something heavy.

And lazy! The man has picked up a telephone precisely once in the three years I've been reading him--it's like picking a scab; I don't want to but I have to--and he celebrated the event by writing a column about how he was stymied by the Chicago Sun-Times' voicemail system:

"Please enter the first four letters of your party's last name."

I did.

"We're sorry. We cannot find the person you are trying to reach. Please try again."

I did.

"We're sorry . . ."

I heard the same message again. While I wondered what to do, the recorded voice broke in again. "Please enter the remaining digits of your party's last name, followed by the pound sign." So I did that.

"Please enter the first two letters of your party's first name." I was as compliant as a child.

"We're sorry. We cannot find the person you are trying to reach. Please try again."

At this point I decided to start over. I hit zero. I hit the star key. I hit other keys, hit them pretty hard actually, looking for a way out of this spell-your-party box.

This is Chicago. It is the nation's third largest media market, with two highly competitive metro dailies. At the Chicago Tribune: A new publisher is shaking things up; circulation is down drastically; the paper has responded by launching two wholly new weekday sections in a spastic bid to boost readership; one of those new sections' advertisers was recently the subject of a glowing profile in the newspaper; the number two management position in features has been vacant for months; the number two movie critic position has been vacant for a year; the state political editor was recently and suddenly shifted out of his job; and the paper has admitted focus-grouping editorial content prior to publication. At the Sun-Times: A new editor has taken over in recent months; the future ownership of the paper is uncertain; and its TV critic position has been open for a month.

That's just off the top of my head. And this idiot is writing about voicemail?