Black and White and Dead All Over

Posted by on May 9, 2013 in culture, movies | 2 comments

Last weekend, we headed down to the Newseum for a new documentary, BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER.

Having attended Silverdocs (a film festival that exclusively shows documentaries) last year, and having watched dozens of them on our own, outside of the festival, we have become something of documentary snobs.  We talk a lot about whether the subject is worth the investment of time, whether the story is told in interesting ways, whether new facts were illuminated, whether the movie itself was enjoyable as a movie.  We have pretty strong opinions — and sometimes they differ from the critics’.

BAWADAO got a solid B from us.

It is subtitled “A Film About the End of American Newspapers”.  As a unifying features, it shows a map of the United States, with dots placed to show cities where newspapers have been severely curtailed or, in some cases, shut down forever.  The film cites various statistics, including the average age of readers (55, and growing older).

But that’s not really what the film is about.

BAWADAO is about the death of *investigative journalism*.  It’s about those reporters who invest months — sometimes a year or more — in developing a story, ferreting out injustice, exposing bad government.  Investigative journalism is very expensive for newspapers; it requires fronting salaries for months, along with the costs of the actual investigations.  It is the very opposite of tweets and Facebook and other social media news.

BAWADAO tracks two investigative journalists from the Philadelphia Daily News, telling their story — both the Pulitzer-Prize-winning series that they wrote and their precarious job position.  The film spends a *lot* of time talking about Philly papers, about how they’ve been bought and sold five times in six years, about how hedge fund managers make lousy publishers.

These are all part and parcel of the problem.  But ultimately, the film claims too much when it says it’s about the (absolute) end of (all) American newspapers.

The Newseum welcomed us to the screening, handing out totebags with the slogan from the movie (“Democracy dies in darkness”.)  The bags also contained a copy of that day’s Washington Post, a bottle of water, and a bag of SmartFood popcorn (you know, so we could enjoy popcorn and a drink at the movies.)

In fact, we’d already read that day’s Post (even though we’re younger than the 55-average-age.)  How about you?  When was the last time that you read a print paper?  How about a mainstream paper, online?  From where do you get your news?


  1. For me, the beginning of the end was when my beloved Rocky Mountain News shut down in 2009, forcing us to switch to The Denver Post.

    I never liked the Post much, but initially they picked up a number of the columnists from the Rocky, and all of my favorite comics. So, for a year or two, we read the Post, buying it out of the box rather than subscribing.

    Then a funny thing started to happen. The paper kept getting dumbed down. There were more and more ads, and less and less actual content. The newspaper boxes started to disappear, making it harder and harder to find a paper to buy to begin with. The old movie reviewer retired, and now reviews came “off the wire”. They dropped movie listings for AMC Theaters, forcing me online to find AMC showtimes.

    The final straw, for me, was when they dropped most of the comics, encouraging us to go to their bloated, slow-loading web site instead.

    If they’re forcing me online, I reasoned, why bother with the Post at all? I do most of my news reading on a first-generation Nook Color, and it absolutely chokes on those bloated comic pages.

    So now, once or twice a week, I boot up my desktop and go out to the various comic websites. It takes me ten times as long to read my favorites as it did when I could just flip through the paper. Reading comics is now a chore. I actually read them in reverse chronological order, because it’s faster that way. Forget discovering new comics. It’s just too much trouble.

    I feel a great deal of animosity toward the Post, and they still don’t have any real news content. So, nuts to them.

    Bob Shepard of Denver

    • Interesting… I hadn’t thought about it before, but the newspapers that go to an all- or mostly-electronic presence very much chance losing readers to other online publications that better meet their needs.

      The Washington Post used to have three pages of comics — printed in relatively large size with the feeling of luxury and “specialness”. We’re down to two cramped pages now. Of course, print newspapers don’t provide much opportunity to discover new strips… (I continue to be annoyed at their re-running Peanuts…)