TV Club

Week 3: Does the Baltimore Sun Not Have a Web Site?

Dear David,

Since you won’t take on the newspaper subplot, let me.

But before I do, let me attach myself to your comments re: the terrible difficulty of leaving the familiar. There is one other Sopranos analogy here, in this case, having to do with Adriana’s disappearance. You’ll recall a meeting at the offices of the FBI, when one of the agents suggests that Adriana might have not, in fact, been murdered but had instead taken off to China. This suggestion was met by looks of absolute incredulity from her colleagues. It was an absurd notion, the idea that Adriana had the will, knowledge, and wherewithal to escape North Jersey. I thought of this scene while watching Marlo at the bank. Here is the lion out of his den and, without any defenses, just a shmuck who can’t speak French (which is also an apt description of me). It’s a useful reminder of the completely circumscribed lives these characters lead, though I do prefer to take my Marlo straight up and affectless—I like my gangsters cold. What next? Scenes of Snoop playing with her American Girl collection?

Unlike you (presumably, since your tight-lippedness on the matter of the Baltimore Sun has me guessing just a bit), I found the newsroom scene moving, perhaps because I had just read about the latest coup at the formerly great L.A. Times; the “fellows” from Chicago—as David Simon calls them in his latest elegy to the lost world of the Sun papers—have taken to murdering their own now, firing a corporate-shill editor who wouldn’t shill enough, apparently refusing to carry out more newsroom head-chopping during the labor-intensive presidential campaign.

That scene in the newsroom was near perfect because it had the power of truth, right down to the moment when the patrician executive editor, Whiting, forces his sweaty, ferretish managing editor, Klebanow (sounds like …), to deliver the actual bad news. How can your heart not break for 40- and 50-year-old reporters, with no discernible skills other than the ability to work the phones, who are cast adrift by a newspaper company that still makes barrels of money?

The problem, of course, is that these realistic scenes of newsroom life circa 2008 are undermined by deeply unrealistic scenes of newsroom life circa never. In other words, why does Roger Twigg, the discarded police reporter, have to be so encyclopedically perfect? Why does Scott, the unpleasant upstart, have to be so ostentatiously Glass-ian (or Blair-ian)? And why is there no reference whatsoever to the newspaper’s Web site? Simon makes it clear in his Washington Post Outlook piece that he neither knows very much nor cares very much about the Web, but doesn’t reality demand that we see the newsroom of the Sun feeding the beast? All this talk of finals and double dots is so archaic. Are you telling me that the cub reporter, Alma Gutierrez, would run all over the city looking for an early edition of the paper before checking to see how her story was played on the Web? I just looked—the Baltimore Sun actually does have a Web site.

All this raises a larger question: Just how good was the Sun in David Simon’s day? Was the golden age really so golden? I’m not equipped to answer this question. Perhaps there’s someone out there who can.