Everyone loves summing up.

Saturday, December 12th, 1998

I wish I knew exactly what powerful generic encoding compels journalists to sum up the year past in December. We’ve got "the best of" lists. We have countdowns (Steve Craig on 99X :"Ooh, everyone loves countdowns!"—yes, he was kidding.) We’ve got men, women, and gerbils of the year. Bests, top tens, years in review—there just seems to be an overwhelming chronological imperative: "Sum up! Sum up!"

Let me let you in on a small secret: December is just another month. And 1998 was just another year. The next two years, alleged dramatic crossings of the millennial boundary, will be generic gatherings of a dozen months, just like this one; maybe rainier than the last, maybe with more hurricanes, maybe not. We won’t, three years from now, suddenly soar into orbit on the Pan Am Shuttle, dressed in 60s mod in 70s earth tones, listening to Strauss, chatting into picturephones. Our planet will continue to get warmer or cooler, depending on who you believe, and more and more viewers will defect from the three networks to Fox, cable, and what-have-you-per-view. Your car will not become electrified, or develop the ability to hover. Cable will not be priced at what it’s worth.

Hey, now that’s clear in everyone’s minds, let’s look back over the past twelve months, and discern some method in the madness that is the media in Atlanta. I think the first distinction I would draw from this past year’s emissions (spoken, printed, broadcast, and so on) would be that this really wasn’t the year for cataclysmic upheaval. We didn’t have dramatic anchor shifts from one station to another (OK, Ken Watts. Yeah, that’s big), and big heads didn’t roll at the Journal-Constitution.

Morning radio, cutting edge bad boys and girls all, seemed almost institutionalized, with Barnes, Leslie, and Jimmy (for example) cranking out shows that were, well, fine (which is my father-in-law’s way of saying "really not that good, but, whatever.") Gary McKee played the nostalgia card as long as he could at Z-93 (he’s leaving quietly.) Departed 96 Rock morning man Christopher Rude resurfaced…as their afternoon man. Fine, fine. Neal Boortz plumbed new depths of obnoxiousness on the AM band (especially when the subject turned to Clinton/Lewinsky), attracting inexplicable numbers of listeners who just plain hate him. Both Boortz and the Morning Xers have "Best of" CDs out—why anyone beyond their immediate families would want to hear these performances again and again is beyond my ability to explain.

Local television threw itself in to the coverage of the 98 elections, but most of the sound and the fury came from the staggeringly ugly negative ads in between the news segments. WXIA and WPBA came up with the great idea of pooling their coverage efforts, first during the primary (hmm, NBC and PBS did the same thing in 96), and did well enough that WSB and GPTV copied their efforts during November’s election night. WSB led the charge exposing Ralph David Abernathy’s problems above and beyond merely a drug-sniffing dog at the airport, and WAGA submerged their call letters behind the way-too-trendy "Fox 5" moniker; their Doug Richards continues to stand out as the best feature reporter in this market. And did I mention that audiences for local news—everywhere—continue to dwindle?

And then there’s daily newsprint. Which, as you know, in this town, is the one and only (and I mean only) AJC. I admittedly have had a problem with this paper since they lost Bill Kovach a decade or so ago, and throughout 1998, they’ve seem to have settled into a bipolar embrace of the two extremes of modern journalism. For every adroitly-written Ann Hardie look at governmental success and excess we have to wade past unreadable factoid-filled blurbettes that pass for news coverage. For every cogent essay by Cynthia Tucker we must endure endless amounts of cut-and-paste Peach Buzz. We’re forced to find the content in and around their Vent. So I’m closing one eye—and squinting—and, like living with a schizophrenic, I’ll celebrate the good that the AJC does, in and around that uh…other stuff.

So, squinting, grimacing, crossing my fingers, and gulping black coffee, I’m looking forward to another arbitrary 12 months’o’media. We’re in for a fine time.