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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Newspaper Death Watch

Dave Barry tells the San Francisco Chronicle that newspapers are dead. And he's serious.

I first encountered Dave Barry's writing when I was in high school. His column ran in the Detroit News Sunday Magazine. I was a hard-core forensics geek — public speaking, not dead bodies, look it up — and I had to memorize various pieces of prose to use at tournaments. I sometimes read Dave Barry's columns when I competed in the prose humor category. Everybody else was reading James Thurber, or some other, stuffier, less memorable humorist. Sometimes the judges looked down at me for my lowbrow choice, but more often than not, they laughed.

I stopped reading Dave Barry long ago, when I realized that all of his writing is essentially the same — as in, "ha ha, but haven't I read this before?" But because I still associate him with long Saturdays spent reciting the same 5-8 minute piece of prose over and over again before sitting on a dusty tile floor to wait anxiously before finding out if I "broke" to finals, he holds a special place in my heart. So I'm linking to his thoughts on blogs and podcasts.

It's the same old stuff:

"It has to start with the kids," he said. "My son is 25. He's been around newspaper people all of his life. He doesn't get the paper. That's the first problem. The second problem is: We can no longer compel people to pay attention. We used to be able to say, there's this really important story in Poland. You should read this. Now people say, I just look up what I'm interested in on the Internet."

But it's Dave Barry. Does that mean anything to anyone else?

January 31, 2006 at 09:33 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink


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Hey forensics! I was the president of my forensics club/team in high school. I have a box full of trophies somewhere. My categories were prose and radio announcing.

Posted by: Bill Simmon | Jan 31, 2006 2:43:13 PM

Bill, I never knew! I was the president of my forensics club/team when I was a senior. Joined as a frosh. I did prose, poetry, impromptu, drama, multiples, duo, informative speaking, declaimation (memorizing someone else's speech) and storytelling. Never did radio announcing, though. We called it broadcasting in Michigan.

I loved forensics. Such a dork. But I really did love it. I even made it to the state-wide semifinals in storytelling when I was a junior.

My family never understood, though. It's a hard extracurricular thing to explain. Like, we used to go to this one tournament every year on Mackinac Island, and after I'd been a few times, my grandmother pulled me aside at a family gathering. "Where do you keep the bodies?" she asked. She thought we were dissecting bodies! Possibly why nobody brags about their grandkids doing forensics.

Posted by: cresmer | Jan 31, 2006 3:04:56 PM

When I started doing radio announcing (after a year of never winning in prose) I immediately began to win 1st place trophies. It was weird. There was this girl named Tamara from Lyndonville who was sort of queen radio announcer before I started competing. My first meet in the category was the state finals. I made it to the final round and then went WAY over time and came in 2nd place behind Tamara. The following year (my senior) I took 1st place at nearly every meet and eventually Tamara stopped competing. I didn't win state though. A girl who was local to the town the state meet was in won--she'd been competing all year and had never placed better than 4th--I'm inclined to think local pride on the part of the judge was involved but that sounds enough like sour grapes that I'll just shut up now. :)

Those trips around VT in a van full of speech nerds were fun! I should volunteer sometime as a coach or judge or something if they're still doing it.

Posted by: Bill Simmon | Jan 31, 2006 4:02:03 PM

I believe we called this debate. Never heard of forensics before.

Posted by: evening | Jan 31, 2006 9:16:34 PM

Dave Berry is always irreverant and often insightful. I miss his Sunday column. I still get him the Funny Times though.

Posted by: Walter Jeffries | Jan 31, 2006 11:48:34 PM

Debate and forensics are actually two different activities. In forensics, the emphasis is on speaking, and interpreting writing for an audience (however small). Debate is all about argument and persuasion. Good debaters speak so quickly it's like they're speaking in a different language. You can't really understand or follow them unless you've part of their culture.

Vermont has an active forensics league, with a website. In fact, their big state tournament is Saturday at the statehouse.

There's info on the site that shows how to get involved. Sounds like fun...

Posted by: cresmer | Feb 1, 2006 8:44:16 AM

Oops, I lied. That website has forensics info, but it's for the Vermont State Principals Association, and there's not a ton of info. But those folks *are* still active, and we *can* get involved.

Posted by: cresmer | Feb 1, 2006 8:46:11 AM

I was also part of the NFL (National Forensic League- www.nflonline.com ) in high school. I think debate is considered one of many parts that make up the whole of forensics. I was interested in extemporaneous speaking and traditional debate. My trophies came from drama tournaments, though, which are related, as they include many of the same categories (dramatic interpretation, etc.). The time I spent in the classroom debating nitwits and worthy adversaries was important in forming my notions of how to conduct a logical argument. Sometimes when I'm in the middle of a disagreement with someone I still call up a flowchart to try make sure I've carried all of my arguments through and responded to all of the counter-arguments.

Posted by: Brooke | Feb 1, 2006 12:17:00 PM

No, we just had one term for debate, interpretation, extemp, etc -- it was all called debate in my high school, and Steve's too.

Posted by: evening | Feb 1, 2006 12:19:32 PM

Oops! That's www.nflonline.org.

Posted by: Brooke | Feb 1, 2006 12:22:23 PM

Hmmm, interesting. In Michigan, debate and forensics were totally separate. I've written a couple stories about Vermont debate, and it's that way here, too, in that their tournaments are separate. When I was in high school in Michigan, the kids who did either one kept to themselves, and nobody did both.

Forensics was actually an oddly popular thing in Michigan. The meets I went to were huge, with hundreds of kids participating. Maybe it was because there were so many people involved, but there was a big difference between forensics kids and debaters. And within forensics, there was a divide between kids who did public speaking categories and the kids who did interp categories. I was actually the only person I knew in four years of competing who did both public speaking and interp. I didn't do debate because we didn't have a debate team.

I never did anything with the NFL. Their system was different from MIFA, the Michigan state league. Like, if you won at state's, you didn't go to Nationals, because MIFA wasn't a feeder for NFL. My large Catholic high school never actually sent anyone to nationals. And very few of the kids I competed against did anything with the NFL.

But I guess it's different in other states. Who knew?

Posted by: cresmer | Feb 1, 2006 12:54:14 PM

Bill and I were speech club teammates! And I'm proud to say that I was the 1988 Vermont State Champion in Radio Announcing. I still have the trophy. Oh, how I loved the trophies.

Posted by: Spine | Feb 2, 2006 11:48:42 PM


Posted by: Shari Smith | Feb 17, 2006 3:58:47 PM

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