Category Archives: Journalism

Bad day at the Big O: layoff blues

You’ve probably heard the news already. On Wednesday The Oregonian laid off 37 workers, 27 in the newsroom. The cuts have long been expected. Like the rest of the daily newspaper industry, the (not so) Big (anymore) O is trapped in a nightmare downward spiral triggered by landmark technological shifts, declining readership and, OK, its own reluctance to change with the times.

The Oregonian: a race to thrive and surviveI’ve waited to write this because even now I don’t know all of the names of the people who’ve been laid off. Lips have been tight, although The Mercury’s Matt Davis has ferreted out most of the hit list here. Predictably, a lot of online smart-alecks have been snickering about this. Don’t know what to tell them except they’re insanely stupid, and callous to the extreme. These are good, talented people, most of them extraordinarily dedicated to the public good, who are now out of work.

The possibly mortal weakening of the mainstream American press is nothing but bad news for our fragile democracy (or republic). Without the newspapers’ checks and proddings, who will speak authoritatively to power? In October of 2008 I wrote about the problems facing the news industry, and although that post offers no solid solutions (I’m no wizard), I think it lays out the difficulties pretty well.

Up until now, The Oregonian has managed the illness of its industry with remarkable grace. Maybe it hasn’t come up with answers (and maybe I’ve been frustrated by what’s sometimes seemed like a paralysis of will), but it has treated its people well, offering several generous buyout packages to its workers instead of just dumping them by the wayside, as so many other papers have. I took a buyout two years ago. My wife took one last May.

Pretty much everyone who was going to leave voluntarily has left. Now, the O has no real choice but to make the tough cuts by layoff. They’ve begun, and there could be more. I don’t pretend to understand how the decisions were made on who went and who stayed. Faced with the extraordinary difficulties of having to make these decisions about people’s lives and livelihoods, my own list would have been different in several particulars. But there’s no good way to do this thing.

Continue reading Bad day at the Big O: layoff blues

My fellow Scatterers: the state of the blog

English: Lithograph by Edward W. Clay. Praises Andrew Jackson for his destroying the Second Bank of the United States with his "Removal Notice" (removal of federal deposits). Nicolas Biddle portrayed as The Devil, along with several speculators and hirelings, flee as the bank collapses while Jackson's supporters cheer.

On this very day two years ago — on February 8, 2008 — a fine strapping lad was loosed upon the world, and immediately started yawping. Yes, its name was Art Scatter, and it was born right here in river city: in Puddletown, Oregon, brave bubble of liberality, Do It Yourself center of the universe, fearless exposer of itself to art, curious keeper of the weird.

Call us sentimental, but we’ve been thinking a lot about our friend Art, this thing we call a blog. For one thing, why is it still here?

A lot of blogs burn bright for a while and then flame out. Many are simply places to vent steam, or casual public diaries, or vanity projects. Well, almost all, including this one, are the latter at least to a certain degree. After all, nobody’s making any money out of this thing.

English: Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fun, 1897Art Scatter has changed a lot over its two years. It was the brainchild of Barry Johnson, my friend and longtime arts section compatriot at The Oregonian, who was looking for a way to explore new approaches to journalism outside of the print world. Barry brought me and his friend Vernon Peterson, a lawyer and talented literary critic, into the project, which was planned to be not too taxing on anyone because there would be three people to fill the virtual space.

Life moved on, and both Barry and Vernon departed for other projects. That left me wondering what to do with the thing, and wondering, sometimes, whether I was letting it eat up far too much of my time. In a very real sense my wife, Laura Grimes, saved the blog when she began to post her own witty and moving observations, eventually under the nom de plume of Mrs. Scatter. How could I not keep Art Scatter going? I was fascinated by how Mrs. Scatter’s adventures were going to turn out. Besides, she injected a bracing shot of humor into the blog, the humor that I have known and loved for more than twenty years.

Martha Ullman West, the noted dance critic who had written a couple of pieces for us, began to contribute more, and that added to the conversation. But I realized that if the thing was going to keep going, it was going to be largely up to me.

So. Why was I doing this?

  • First, writing’s a habit. I do it reflexively, if not always reflectively. Just can’t seem to help myself.
  • Second, it’s fun.
  • Third, it allows me scope to write about a lot of things in a lot of ways that were rarely possible during my years in daily journalism.
  • Fourth, it keeps me connected to my community and allows me to have a voice in a few things that go on in this little corner of the world. Good lord, I’ve made friends through this thing!
  • Fifth, it helps me discover my post-newspaper writing voice. I can feel that voice waking up inside me, gradually realizing that it’s no longer bound by the newspaper straitjacket unless it chooses to be. I can hear it trying out new things, even whooping it up now and again. Good for you, voice. Let ‘er rip.

Slowly, mostly accidentally, the blog has developed its own personality. The characters of Mr. and Mrs. Scatter just sort of announced themselves. The Large Smelly Boys pushed their way into the mix. OED, the Older Educated Daughter, made brief visits. We talked about word games and secret societies and oysters on the half-shell. The League of Tough-Guy Arts Observers had its brief day in the sunshine and then wandered off to sleep in a cave: perhaps it’ll wake up and elbow back into the action again. We found we were able to be serious, and flip, and amused, and reflective, and serious and amused again, and somehow get away with it. We began to take a very broad view of just what the word “culture” means.

I’m sure Art Scatter will continue to evolve. It’s already changed in surprising and often delightful ways. It’s opened doors. I know people will drop in and out. Mrs. Scatter’s day job has been busy lately, and I’ve been missing her brilliant reports. (I’m sure you have, too.) Can’t wait for them to return.

And I’ve become convinced of one thing: The blog has to work with my writing career, not against it. I love the freedom and scope that Art Scatter gives me, and I love that it lets me try things out with a regular and forgiving readership. But I also need to make a living, and I do that by writing. This is not a hobby. It’s what I do. So if Art Scatter is my professional exploratory laboratory (and also the locus of a great deal of my pro bono work) I want it to look professional.

Which brings us to Modern, the new design theme that we’ve adopted, yes, today. And which wraps up this semi-impromptu State of the Blog address. Thank you, my fellow Scatterers. Good night, and God bless.


Illustrations, from top:

  • Not Mr. Scatter delivering his State of the Blog address. Edward W. Clay’s lithograph celebrates President Andrew Jackson’s destruction of the Second Bank of the United States with his “Removal Notice” (removal of federal deposits). Well done, Andy! Wikimedia Commons.
  • Not Baby Art Scatter. Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fun, 1897. Wikimedia Commons.

Art Scatter’s new look: We have a winner

As you may have noticed, here at Art Scatter we’ve been stressing out lately about the way we look. We were feeling – frumpy. We wanted something fresh, something new, and came up with three possible visual themes to replace Artsemerging, the theme we’ve been using since the blog began two years ago.

Wikimedia CommonsWe asked for your advice, and a lot of you gave it. Thanks to Scatter friends and followers Charles Deemer, LaValle Linn, Charles Noble, Brett Campbell, Cynthia Kirk, Mighty Toy Cannon and others for chipping in with preferences and ideas. Each of the three candidates had its fans, and each had its detractors. I appreciate the energy that all of you put into this. And I appreciate that more than one of you noted that design isn’t why you visit Art Scatter, anyway: You come for the writing and the ideas. Special thanks to LaValle for her warning that Web designs can devour your time and sanity in the middle of the night if you let yourself get too deeply drawn into them: Perish that thought!

Still, we want the writing and ideas to be displayed well. The decision wasn’t easy. At least one of you listed the eventual choice as his least favorite.

And the winner is – Modern, designed by Ulf Pettersson, the design you’re looking at now.

It’s a clean, well-spaced, elegant design, a very professional-looking presentation, and that’s important. Its headlines are understated but big enough to stand out, and they look good running either one or two lines. Its serif type style moves serenely among bold, italic and roman type, making its point at each stop without leaping for your jugular. The type’s a little small in its pull quotes, but they still look good. The design handles splendidly such small but crucial matters as spacing and creating ample windows for inset illustrations: Nothing’s haphazard about it.

Is it too understated? We’ll see. If it turns out to be, we’ll switch again. Charles Noble touts the advantages of the premium design he chose for his blog Noble Viola, and it’s true that paying a little more can add a great deal more flexibility. I like the way that Charles’s blog can highlight several posts at once, for instance, and the way it can add “extras” such as promotional highlights and recent comments and still look crisp and inviting.

I’ve spent a lot of time inside these three designs, checking them out not just for looks but also for flexibility. When we began this journey I was drawn to the jazzy, stop-the-presses look of Copyblogger. (Mighty Toy Cannon points out its nice retro feel and homage to “legacy media,” meaning newspapers, the world from which both Mr. and Mrs. Scatter emerged). But although I liked its side panel perhaps the best of the lot, it had internal difficulties that made it hard to choose, including, but not limited to, poor spacing for its illustration windows, allowing type to bump right into the pictures.

In general I prefer serif types to sans serif types, although a good sans serif beats a bad serif. Veryplaintext 3.0 has my favorite typeface of any candidate, a distinctive and gorgeously assertive face. But it doesn’t like italic very much (what you see isn’t always what you get), and I consider italic type an integral tool in my presentational box. The real deal-buster, though, was its ragged, center-adjusted side panel, which to my eye (and LaValle’s, too!) looks haphazard and uncontained and, well, unprofessional. Too bad.

So that brings us back to Modern, which has an elegant look and seems the best compromise. Unfortunately, Mrs. Scatter hates it, and I understand her reasons. The blog title is small and pushed far to the right, and that bothers her. I’d prefer its type a little bigger, but its placement doesn’t bother me. She hates all gray boxes – that’s one of the reasons we defected from Artsemerging, which has a prominent gray screen – and Modern’s side panel is shaded gray. Plus, the panel’s wide, eating up a lot of space that could go instead to the relatively narrow main column. Like Mrs. Scatter, I’d like the side panel to include links to recent posts and possibly recent comments, and in general to be more flexible. Perhaps I can play around with it a bit and get some of those things to happen.

I deeply, sincerely hope this design grows on Mrs. Scatter – believe me, I deeply and sincerely hope this! – and I hope the design doesn’t prove to be too sedate. I’m convinced that it’s a stylish, visually pleasing design. Time will tell if it’s right for Art Scatter. For now, at least, it’s won the day.

Link of the day: ‘You are not a gadget’

This morning’s most fascinating read in Scatterville was Michiko Kakutani’s review in the New York Times of You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, the new book by Silicon Valley insider Jaron Lanier.

you_are_not_a_gadgetlargeLanier, one of the people who brought you virtual reality, has been worrying the past few years about something he calls “digital Maoism,” the sort of edge-polishing collectivism driving Wikipedia and the Google search engine. Lanier argues some interesting things:

  • Basic software engineering decisions shape how we use and think about the Internet, so it’s good to get them right.
  • Free is not necessarily a very good price: It can kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
  • Anonymity undermines the Web, and probably the culture at large.

Kakutani expounds:

“(A)nonymity has helped enable the dark side of human nature. Nasty, anonymous attacks on individuals and institutions have flourished, and what Mr. Lanier calls a ‘culture of sadism’ has gone mainstream. In some countries anonymity and mob behavior have resulted in actual witch hunts. ‘In 2007,’ Mr. Lanier reports, ‘a series of Scarlet Letter postings in China incited online throngs to hunt down accused adulterers. In 2008, the focus shifted to Tibet sympathizers.’ “

Lanier and Kakutani and probably all of you reading this know a lot more about these issues than Mr. Scatter does. The proprietor does not Tweet, does not have a Facebook account, and, let’s face it, basically publishes dead tree-style ramblings in cyberspace (for free). What Mr. Scatter does not understand about computer engineering and even the possibilities of his woefully underutilized “smart” phone is pretty much everything.

Yet parts of this argument make sense — the dangers inherent in the loss of authorship, for instance, in an online world in which the going price for any and all information is free. Or the triumph of marketing over value in a world where worth is measured in number of hits (although marketing has had a huge impact on intellectual and popular success since long before the Internet). Certainly in the sobering spectacle of new media eating up old media and spitting it out, even though new media relies for most of its content on the production of old media, which it is killing off. How much sense does that make?

The collectivism that Lanier sees in the cyberworld is reflected in our broader cultural and political lives, as well. Surely this sort of mob mentality contributed to our squishy, nobody-likes-it response to the global economic disaster: Good and possibly superior ideas from isolated corners were steamrollered in the rush to create something that the majority, or a majority of prominent stakeholders, could reluctantly agree on. Ditto for health care reform. Then again, is any of this new?

For a counterbalancing view on Lanier’s book, take a look at Michael Agger’s review in Canada’s National Post. Agger isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid, at least not more than a few sips:

Lanier has good instincts: We need to be wary of joining in the wisdom of the crowds, of embracing the growing orthodoxy that making cultural products free will benefit the actual producers of those cultural products. But his critique is ultimately just a brand of snobbery. Lanier is a romantic snob.

That’s the nut. But Agger’s overview is much more nuanced, and worth a look.


teddyGoodbye, Teddy Pendergrass: The great, smooth soul singer from Philadelphia died Wednesday night. He was 59 and had been treated for colon cancer. Paralyzed in a 1982 car accident, he never stopped bringing what Jon Pareles, in his obituary for the Times, called his “gospel dynamic to bedroom vows.”

He was a great popular singer, and he’s going to be missed in a lot of ways. How many children owe their existence to Teddy Pendergrass’s voice spinning on the turntable in the background?

Comings and goings, farewells and hellos

Odin, slayer of the Frost Giant, riding Sleipnir. 18th C. Icelandic, Danish Royal Library/Wikimedia Commons

Three days before Christmas and a day past Winter Solstice, our lives are a crazy mixup of anticipation and loss. The longest night has given way to the rebirth of light. Summer’s a bare blip beyond the horizon, but we’ve turned the corner. Old Father Time is creaking toward New Year’s Eve, when that perky bouncing baby takes over with all the foolish optimism of inexperience. Christmas presents? Yup, we’re looking forward to ’em. Midwinter indeed, but hope is on the rise.

It’s a season for goodbyes and hellos and reinventions, and as we say a few farewells we suspect the people involved are like the seasons: This is a passage to something invigorated and refreshed.


Fifty-two Pieces, one of Art Scatter’s favorite blogs, is about to enter its fifty-second week, and for its authors, Amy and LaValle, that will mean an ending and a beginning. They started their blog on Jan. 1, 2009, with the express intent of continuing it for fifty-two weeks and then letting a good thing go.

Each week this year they’ve chosen a single artist in the collections of the Portland Art Museum and explored his or her life and work in all sorts of fascinating ways. We’ve enjoyed the journey immensely, and now it’s almost over. We can hardly wait to see what comes next. God Jol.


Father Christmas riding a goat; origin unknown. Wikimedia CommonsOur good friend Barry Johnson, the original Scatterer, who had the idea for this blog and brought it into being before parting amicably to pursue his own arts column and Portland Arts Watch blog for The Oregonian, has come to another parting. Friday, Dec. 18, was his final day with The Oregonian: He took one of the buyouts that have become business as usual in the newspaper racket, following Mr. Scatter’s example from two years ago. Time to reboot, Barry said in his final column. Out with the old. In with new ideas.

Some of the newest ideas he’s packing with him. We welcome Barry with open arms into the outside world, where we’re sure he’s going to have a key role in reinventing arts journalism for the post-print universe. Have your people call Mr. Scatter’s people, Barry. We’ll do coffee. (Lunch, in the post-paycheck economy, is a rarer commodity, but hey, we might spring for that, too.)


As newspapers continue their freefall toward what every sane observer hopes will be a soft landing spot of shrunken but lively equilibrium, a lot of other former colleagues from The Oregonian have accepted their walking papers, too. Informed opinion has it that the 30-plus in the newsroom who accepted the latest buyout aren’t enough, and next time around, for the first time, it’ll be layoffs — maybe as early as February. Oh, yes. It’s midwinter, all right.

A few from the class of late ’09 (there was a spring class, too; Mrs. Scatter got her diploma then) I don’t know, or barely know, or in a few cases, such as photographer Olivia Bucks, don’t really know except through their often exemplary work.

Let me mention a few I have known and admired and enjoyed as colleagues. As the song says, the best is yet to come:

Inara Verzemnieks, a wonderful storyteller whose stories are only going to get bigger and better. We swapped ideas and talked about writing. I even learned how to spell her name without looking it up.

John Foyston, a terrific feature writer and a good amateur painter who was a bracing antidote to journalism by Ivy League degree. Not many newspapermen are also experienced motorcycle mechanics. Fortunately he’ll continue writing his yeasty beer column for the O.

Don Colburn, a damn fine poet; Jonathan Brinkman, who knows how to make business writing lively and engaging; Abby Haight, a model of journalistic flexibility; Gordon Oliver, quiet competence and all-around good sense incarnate.

Ralph Wells, an articulate gentleman and former cab driver (and husband of Carol Wells, a freelance theater critic who’s brought some sparkle to the O).

Copy editors Jan Jackson and Pat Harrison, who on many occasions quietly saved me from myself. Copy editor Ann Ereline, an Estonian who gave me good advice about visiting there 10 years ago. And copy editor and old friend Ed Hunt, who was at the O and its late sister the Oregon Journal even before I was, and who helped me through a post-merger crisis when a long-departed editor was gunning for me. Ed’s advice was stunningly simple and practical: Go over his head.

Photo guy Mike Davis, who fought for visual storytelling.

John Hamlin, who moved from news and design (he was once a managing editor) into the strange new world of computerization and ably helped the rest of us do the things we needed to do.

The brain drain in the newspaper industry has been swift and barely fathomable. While a few nitwits in the blogosphere celebrate this, it’s creating a crisis for the great American experiment in representative democracy.

But the days are getting longer. A whiff of hope is in the air. Some of these people will be finding solutions to the newsgathering crisis. All of them will move into fresh new lives. It’s cold, but it’s also kind of exhilarating.

Goodbye and hello, my friends. And thanks.



  • Top: Illustration from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript of Odin riding his steed Sleipnir after defeating Ymir, the Ice Giant. In the midst of darkness, let there be light. Danish Royal Library/Wikimedia Commons
  • Inset: Father Christmas riding a goat; origin unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

On mendacity, Earl Blumenauer and the free Web

Burl Ives as Big Daddy and Paul Newman as Brick, from the trailer for the 1958 film version of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Wikimedia Commons

“What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?”

That’s Big Daddy stating the unfortunate obvious in Tennessee Williams’ great American play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and although we all know Big Daddy had some pretty serious problems of his own, being mendacious about the widespread rot of mendacity was not among them.

More and more, American politics has become a particularly noxious form of theater: Mr. Scatter commented on the subject a while back when Joe Wilson, an obscure congressman from South Carolina, gained momentary celebrity by shouting “You lie!” at Barack Obama as the president was addressing Congress on health care reform. In that post, we traced a little of the history of a form of American theater that has in its time been literally a blood sport. (And also a curious concocter of doublespeak: Mendacifiers cry “Mendacity!” to reframe the public perception of truth.)

So this morning’s recommended reading comes from Earl Blumenauer on the opionion page of The Oregonian, where the Democratic congressman from Portland talks about the craziness of the “Death Panels” he most emphatically did not create and how his uncontroversial proposal for the health-reform package was twisted into an utter fabrication in an attempt to scare voters witless with visions of the Big Government Swamp Monster sucking out grandma’s brains.

Blumenauer’s proposal was for insurance coverage for discussions with a doctor about end-of-life care decisions. In the hands of the Tea Party crowd and their congressional enablers, that quickly morphed into government “death panels” deciding who would live and who would die — a particularly cynical, yet frustratingly effective, Big Lie. And it was notable for one scary fact: The charge was ludicrous and ridiculously easy to refute, yet people believed it anyway.

It’s old hat to compare the making of legislation to the making of sausage, and what we’re watching as health care reform winds slowly through Congress is a classic view of the sausage factory. It’s about compromises, a little bit of pork (naturally), political tradeoffs, industry pressure, vote-counting, and all those messy aspects of the process you’d rather not think about when you’re slathering mustard on your frank.

But what Blumenauer is talking about is different. It’s the hijacking of the entire discussion for the purposes of a rank power play — an attempt to bypass, and so destroy, the rational discussion and implementation of governmental process. It’s the anarchy of a new Monkey Wrench Gang.

Blumenauer speaks remarkably candidly for a man familiar with the artful evasion that has become the default language of elected officialdom, which relies for its continuance on its ability to offend as few people as possible and seem to stand in many corners at once. The congressman lays a good share of blame for the “death panel” debacle on the mass media, and I’m inclined to agree with him. When you breathlessly cover the wrestling match without emphasizing that the fight is rigged, you are legitimizing the illegitimate and further shredding the rags of your own reputation. What if the mendacifiers gave a press conference and nobody came?


And what if information was free? It’s a state that poet, academic and prodigious blogger Kenneth Goldsmith, in a post titled If It Doesn’t Exist on the Internet, It Doesn’t Exist, proposes is already beginning to happen. A provocative read, and many thanks to LaValle of Fifty-two Pieces, an inveterate devourer of the virtual library commons, for passing it along.

On the same front but more locally, a new group called We Make the Media is organizing a potentially exciting new home for online journalism in Portland, possibly with a nonprofit funding base.

As our mainstream news sources crumble, the need for new organizing engines for information becomes more crucial. Among We Make the Media’s organizers: Ron Buel, founding editor and publisher of Willamette Week; original Scatterer Barry Johnson; Jay Hutchins, vice president of news at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The group will hold an all-day conference from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, November 21, at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center, 70 N.W.  Couch St. in Portland. Check the Web site for registration and details. As the song says, this could be the start of something big.


Photo: Burl Ives as Big Daddy and Paul Newman as Brick, from the trailer for the 1958 movie version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Scatter becomes a lobbyist (with a laptop)

As the old joke goes, tonight’s the night!

This is not Mr. Scatter. Not by a long shot. It's Storm Large.
Art Scatter regulars might have noted that it’s been Philip Glass Week in Portland, and tonight at Keller Auditorium his 1993 opera Orphee opens in its West Coast premiere, performed by Portland Opera. Reports are promising: Glass liked the dress rehearsal so much that he whipped up a deal to have all four performances recorded and turned into a CD for Orange Mountain Music. It’ll be this opera’s first full recording.

And sitting in the lobby, along with his laptop and four other local members of the blogospheric chattering class, will be Mr. Scatter, there to file a continuing stream of instant analysis, much like a pontificating television face on a national election night:

“Orpheus has been caught on camera looking over his shoulder, and that could spell serious trouble for Eurydice’s chances in the tensely fought Afterlife race. At stake is control of a sprawling district that runs from the far shores of the River Styx to the lush meadows on the surface end of the cave opening. We’ll update you as we learn more. But this could be bye-bye to a once-promising career. Over to you, Storm.”

Here are my owlish teammates, and where you can follow their instamusings:

Storm Large. The rock diva and musical-theater star of Cabaret and Crazy Enough will post at You’ll recognize her. She’s the tall good-looking one, and her posts will probably be littered with Words Not Ordinarily Associated With Art Scatter.

Byron Beck. If Portland’s a town, Byron’s the man about it. He knows just about everybody, and just about everything, and dishes it out when and where the mood strikes.

Jim Withington. The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art has been one of Glass Week’s sponsors (it has a long relationship with Glass) and Jim will be blogging on PICA’s Urban Honking.

Cynthia Fuhrman. Portland Center Stage’s resident marketing genius is very smart and very funny and no doubt will be a lot of fun to read. She’ll be posting on the PCS blog. Rumor has it that while the other bloggers will be sipping beer as they type feverishly away, la Fuhrman will be pampered with cocktails, no doubt with colorful little paper umbrellas to pretty them up. It’s rigged. Florida election here, folks.

Marc Acito. BONUS PICK. The witty Portland novelist (How I Paid for College; Attack of the Theatre People) and playwright (Holidazed) actually has a role in the opera. But when he’s backstage he’ll be blogging on the show at The Gospel According to Marc. Amazing exploit!

That’s all, folks. Until tonight. News at … oh, 6:30, 7, 7:15, 8, 8:30 ….


PHOTO: This is not Mr. Scatter. Not by a long shot. It’s Storm Large. Credit: Laura Domela

Original Scatterer Barry Johnson takes a flying leap

… into the next great adventure of his life.

Barry, who had the idea of Art Scatter in the first place and was the doctor on duty who slapped it on the bottom in the delivery room and sent it off squawking into the world, has told his many friends and followers he’s leaving The Oregonian as of Dec. 18.

Barry JohnsonHe made the announcement today on his Portland Arts Watch blog, where for the past year or so he’s, well, kept watch on the arts in Portland. Lots of terrific ideas and elegant writing have spun out of PAW in its print and online versions.

Truth is, though, Barry’s been doing this sort of thing for the past quarter-century at the O, where he and I worked together pretty much all that time until I left two years ago. There are still a few editors there who can’t tell us apart. The biggest difference: Barry did a better job of keeping his cool when bureaucratic insanity struck.

Sometimes he was my editor, sometimes I was his editor, sometimes he rolled up his sleeves and cooked up a big pot of Kentucky burgoo. Always we were friends and colleagues, talking things over, parsing the paper and the arts scene, coming up with plots to Save the Journalism Business that never got out of the batter’s box, much less to first base.

Barry wrote — continues to write — about art, theater, dance, architecture, planning, music, books and other things with wit and insight. Art Scatter readers have seen plenty of evidence of that in his many posts here: Just click his name under “categories” at right and you’ll get a sense of the breadth and insights of his vision.

This is a big loss for The Oregonian, which like most newspapers continues to shrink precipitously. A lot of gloating’s going on about that in a lot of corners of the blogosphere, but in fact it’s an American tragedy. Without the good, hard, basic reporting that newspapers for all their flaws have done better than anyone else, this fragile experiment called the American Democracy stands a much lesser chance of thriving or surviving. And without the newspapers, where will all the blogospheric pontificators — me included — get our raw material?

Barry’s departure is also a big loss, at least temporarily, for Portland’s arts scene. But this is no retirement. It’s a recalibration. Barry has ideas — plenty of ’em — and we’ll let him spin them out himself when he’s good and ready. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even post something on Art Scatter!

Welcome to the outside world, Barry. The water’s fine.

Goodbye, PDX Writer Daily. Hello, Propeller.

This morning I discovered that the venerable (blogospherically speaking) PDX Writer Daily has closed shop and many of its perpetrators have begun a magazine, Propeller.

propeller1coverA project of the Portland State University Writing Center, PDX Writer Daily had taken a long summer sabbatical that stretched into fall, and so I hadn’t checked it in a while.

The new magazine, which you can flip through online, looks good, and I wish it well. But I’ll miss PDX Writer Daily, too. It was witty, just a little gossipy (in that discreet academic way), often insightful and usually entertaining.

I did a little random scrolling
and discovered this post, from April 11, 2008, the first anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s death. An excerpt (although you really should call it up yourself and read the whole, not-too-long thing):

“We’re also upset today about our discovery of the winner of the Diagram Prize, given by The Bookseller magazine for the oddest book title each year. We noted the list of finalists recently, and were clearly rooting for I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen. The winner, however, was a book called If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs. We’re not even going to dignify that with a link.”

Plus this, from April 14, 2008, in a discussion of American Book Review‘s list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels, which pegged the opening of Portlander Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love at No. 83:

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.”

imagedbThat’s #83? Hmm. Well…okay. It actually does feel kind of 83rd-ish, doesn’t it? They might be right on that one.

Personally, we would prefer to see a list of the “100 First Drafts of the Best First Lines from Novels.” Where is the piece of paper on which is scrawled: “There was a really loud sound way up in the air, moving kind of toward us through the sky.” Around which peasant campfire, after a long night of drinking, did Leo say (and Constance Garnett immediately translate): “Man, happy families are all pretty similar, really, but unhappy families seem to have totally unique ways of getting so screwed up, which is kind of interesting, don’t you think?” On which napkin might we find: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. By which I mean playing golf. I am developmentally disabled, by the way. I want to be clear on that, so you don’t get confused.” We want to see those 100 lines.

Art Scatter will add the link to Propeller to our links list on the right. But we’ll leave the PDX Writer Daily link, too, for your occasional strolls down memory lane.

Sweetheart, get me rewrite: We just hit an iceberg!

The Titanic, proud prowler of the ocean, steaming into history

Above: The Titanic, proud prowler of the ocean, steaming into history. Inset below: The Titanic’s bow, as seen from a Russian MIR I submersible. Wikimedia Commons.

As you may have noticed, American newspapers are in a spot of trouble these days. Bad economy, sinking circulation, this newfangled thing called the Information Superhighway … the troubles just keep piling up.

So I’m always interested in seeing what our best and brightest newspapering minds are doing to stop the bleeding. The New York Times has this thing it cleverly calls The New York Times Store, because it’s, well, it’s run by the New York Times and it’s a store. As in, a place where you can buy merchandise that you probably don’t need but that might be fun to have, anyway. A sort of readers’ boutique.

The haul is tasteful, and handy if you need to score a quick birthday present for a happily retired stockbroker uncle in Montauk. It’s a little New York-centric, but that’s OK: Derek Jeter memorabilia, Yogi Berra signed baseballs, Authentic Yankee Stadium “Freeze-Dried Grass” Sod (!), Babe Ruth baseball jerseys. Looking westward, Edward Curtis prints seem to be a popular item. So are crossword puzzles, executive-desk knickknacks … you get the picture. The store’s a good idea: When the ship’s going down, any little bucket on deck helps.

About that bucket.

The other day I flipped to the back page of the arts section and saw the latest come-on from the Times store.



the headline screamed, and there at the top was a photo of a splendid-looking model of The Titanic.

Ttitanic bow seenfrom Russian MIR I_submersible/Wikimedia CommonsJust $249 for the 32-inch edition, but let’s go whole hog: You can get the 40-inch model, complete with “accurate crow’s nest, metal propellers and railings, and intricate cranes, ventilators, ladders, funnels, steam pipes, benches and skylights,” for $379. It’ll look great on your mant …

Hold on: A newspaper’s selling a model of The Titanic!

Guys: Have you read your back issues? Is this really the image you want to put out there right now? How about a bronzed commemorative pile of molten debris from the Hindenburg? Have you been too busy rearranging the deck chairs to notice the iceberg out there in the fog?

Just sayin’, this might be a tactical mistake.

But I do like the idea of the company store. Lord knows, even in their current state of disarray the newspapers are raking in more money than this blogospheric whiz-bang buggy we’ve hitched our wagon to here at Art Scatter.

Anybody interested in a Mr. and Mrs. Scatter commemorative coffee mug?

How about a Large Smelly Boys minty air freshener for the car?