This week I lugged 4 bags of camera equipment from NYC to D.C. on the megabus. Then hauled it at a snails pace to an international hostel (don’t ask about the German guy who was snoring across the room all night). The following morning I collected a fascinating interview with U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin. A little over a year ago the Senator had introduced a bill called the “Newspaper Revitalization Act”, which was designed to help save the newspaper industry by allowing eroding newspapers to become non-profits.
Once I was able to get off the Megabus from NY to D.C. after nearly 3 hours of a crying baby who was sitting directly across from my seat, I needed a drink. So I checked in to Hosteling International (a cozy little place if you like bunk-beds designed for midgets). I locked up my four bags of camera and sound equipment, headed around ‘downtown’ D.C. and landed at a random kabob joint/bar where the owner and I talked for an hour about the rules of the game criquet (a conversation which started after I noticed a criquet match being played on some foreign sports network). “Team Pakistan is good this year”, the owner told me as we watched Pakistan take on England. After his broad explanation of the game (which I still don’t understand), he asked me if I was a tourist (I guess I’m that obvious). I told him I was in town to interview a Senator the next day for a documentary on the newspaper industry. With a cynical laugh he said, “Good luck with that. Politicians practically own the news these days.” I asked, “What about all these new grassroots journalists out there?” ….he gave me a long stare as if to say, “Are you serious?”
I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion. But the following day, I strapped my four big bags over my back, neck and arms, schlepped 10 blocks down to the Hart Senate office building and collected an interesting interview with Senator Cardin, who came off as just another guy concerned about the state of the newspaper industry right now, and not some politician with a hidden agenda.
The Senator’s assistant, a very sweet woman who gave me iced-tea after noticing I had sweated through my dress shirt, seemed to be very in control of all the happenings within this place. A place which I had imagined would have been as chaotic as an E.R. wing. Instead, Senator Cardin’s office seemed more like a cozy den. As I was ushered into a backroom, waiting for the Senator to arrive, I sat in a big office with various awards Cardin has collected over his career. I stood up and began browsing around, looking at all the framed photos that were on his wall (Cardin with President Obama, a bunch of other old guys who are probably important and even Bono). Just as I was reaching in to pick up a matryoshka doll of former President Bill Clinton which was sitting on a shelf — the door swung open and Senator Cardin looked at me and laughed. “Betcha never seen Clinton like that before”, he said. “No, I haven’t. I just wonder if they make a Monica Lewinsky version.”, I said.
We sat down and began the already delayed interview. I was imagining Cardin would have given me the usual run-of-the-mill answers to questions he’s already been asked about the Newspaper Revitalization Act. He did. At times, that is. Towards the end of the interview I managed to get him to speak outside the lines a bit. I asked him, “Why now? Why introduce this bill now, after decades of the newspaper industry being in decline?”. He sat there for a few moments, pondering. “Good question. That’s a great question actually.” From there, he provided a fascinating explanation about his concerns over the transition between legacy newspapers and start-up news sites. “It’s an echo-chamber”, he explained. “News is being homogenized online right now. I have a real problem with the type of content that is being produced out there. My legislation is an option, that’s all.”
Currently that option remains dead in the water. The bill has not been placed into action.