Thursday, April 2, 2009; 12:00 PM
Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Thursday, April 2, at Noon ET to look at the District's move to slap a tax on plastic bags, Virginia's proposal to close highway rest stops, and the demise of Washington's last classic rock radio station.
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. Busy news week, with lots to talk about here. The increasingly cynical effort by the plastics industry to kill the D.C. Council's bill on slapping a fee on plastic (and paper) bags at grocery stores and other retail shops is the subject of today's column and is generating lots of comment from readers. My piece earlier this week on the proposal to shut down highway rest stops in Virginia looked at the laws that prohibit commercial establishments on Interstate highways--except in places like Maryland, where some such complexes are grandfathered in. And there was a big response on the blog this week when I wrote about the demise next week of the region's last classic rock radio station--another sign of both shifting tastes in music and growing panic and conservatism in declining old media.
Some of the early birds among you have already sent along questions and comments on the latest twist in the D.C. voting rights soap opera, the prospects for the Washington Nationals in the baseball season that opens next week, and the Virginia governor's race. Any thoughts on the talk in Annapolis about spending Maryland taxpayers' dollars to buy the Preakness and keep that legendary horse race in the state? Is it time to just let natural market forces determine the future of horse racing, or should the state cling to the Preakness at all costs?
On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the D.C. inspector general for what at first glance (it was just released moments ago) looks like a good, tough accounting of who was at fault in the tragic deaths of Banita Jacks' four children last year. Mayor Adrian Fenty sacked six social workers after the bodies of the four children were found in Jacks' apartment, but the report says it was not only the Child and Family Services bureaucracy that failed the Jacks children--blame rests as well with the police, schools and non-profit agencies, all of whom had repeated contact with the family and saw that there were severe problems there, yet no one interceded with enough energy and interest to make a difference.
Nay to the District for clinging to what is by now clearly a dead project--the Anacostia streetcar that has been repeatedly delayed, even as the trolleys the city foolishly bought sit in storage in the Czech Republic. (Streetcars in Eastern Europe, an ambulance in the Dominican Republic--your capital city turns out to be a supplier of heavy goods all over the globe. Who knew?) This feel-good bit of transit experimentation was a lovely little idea in flusher times, but despite former mayor Tony Williams' fascination with reviving the era of the streetcar, there is not yet sufficient development in Anacostia to support a streetcar, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have one little stretch of a neighborhood served by trolleys when there are plenty of far more densely populated parts of the city that would be better served by that transit alternative. It's all well and good to try to spread the wealth and boost low-income parts of the city, but this project was poorly conceived and seems destined to go away--better to decide that sooner rather than keep pouring millions into something that's not going to happen.
Your turn starts right now....
Lincoln Park, D.C.: As a consumer, I've got no problem with the attempts to reduce the random disposal of plastic shopping bags (or any shopping bag, really). I already carry a bunch of reusables when I hit the store.
However, living near a park that is frequented by so many dog walkers, I dread what will happen should the pay-per-bag legislation go through. A good number of the owners (not a majority, but enough to keep me from wandering far off the sidewalks) already have poop collection issues both in the park and along the streets. Those that do the right thing are frequently seen carrying a handful of Safeway (or Giant or Teeter) shopping bags for collection and disposal of said fecal remnants.
Which begs the question; Where does the Association of District Dog Owners stand on this issue?
washingtonpost.com: You Can Wrap That Red Herring in a Plastic (or Paper) Bag (Post, April 2)
Marc Fisher: I don't know where dog owners stand on this, but hey, this is another reason to subscribe to the good old dead trees edition of the paper--your plastic wrap bag will still be free, even if the District imposes a fee on plastic bags at the grocery store.
Crystal City, Va.: Marc, I just don't get the thought over idea of a bag tax. They should just be completely outlawed. I still have not heard one compelling argument as to why they should continue to be available. People don't recycle, it's clearly evident in our trees and streams. Make it easy, and don't give people a choice on whether to be responsible. As long as the bags are available, tax or no tax, the bags will be used. It shouldn't be this complicated. Just get rid of them! If the people are okay with the big brother red light and speed cameras, I would think that outlawing plastic bags for most uses would be easy to pass.
Marc Fisher: The experience in San Francisco, which did impose a ban on plastic bags, is not an encouraging one for folks who share your view. And consumers, who for years were given the choice between paper and plastic (that infernal question at the checkout counter), have voted overwhelmingly for plastic--at Safeway and Giant, the answer to that question has consistently been plastic, from well more than 90 percent of customers.
Washington, D.C.: Is there a date set for the council to vote on the bag issue? Do you know which members support or oppose the fee?
Marc Fisher: No date set yet--that will be up to council member Jack Evans, who runs the committee handling this, and other members of the council say he's in no hurry to move ahead on this.
The bill originally had 11 sponsors, which on a 13-member council is pretty impressive, but the plastics lobby is working hard to pick off those sponsors, and Harry Thomas Jr. (Ward 5) has already removed his name from the list of sponsors. The lobbyist told me that at least three more council members are considering dropping their support for the measure.
Hill East, D.C.: Poor will pay more... gotta love it. People are giving out bags left and right. In your reporting, did you come across any cost/benefits-type analysis looking at how reducing the influx of trash might reduce our water bills? Or other city service "fees" or taxes. The plastic bag gives an economic incentive to change behavior and people can get out of it by collecting up bags to use. But, add a fee to your water bill and there isn't really a way around it.
There seems to be some sort of irony to of rallying the people living closest to the river against a measure to clean it up. Or making it a class issue, when it seems that the poorer you are the more likely you are to have some sort of environmental/health disaster in your neighborhood.
Marc Fisher: Right--the fact is that environmental dangers tend to run a good deal higher in lower income areas, so the folks in favor of the fee on bags are trying to persuade residents in such neighborhoods that this bill would not impose a financial burden on them. As Tommy Wells, the sponsor of the legislation, says, the ideal is to have the city collecting hardly any money from this at all--just to use the fee as an incentive for folks to use reusable bags.
You missed out on a little yet interesting aspect of the Virginia rest stop debate. Truckers are not only concerned about the closure of rest stops, but even if the rest stops remain open, claim it is their God-given right to use any patch of pavement to park and rest. Their cynical argument: "If you don't let us camp out whereever we want, we'll be sleepy, crash and kill people. That's right, if you don't want us killing people left and right, you'd better let us camp out wherever it strikes our fancy." Mob tactics.
To which the Virginia State Police has responded: 1) No. 2) Prepare to be fined. 3) If you have to stop and rest in Virginia, it likely will be for one night. GET A ROOM!
Marc Fisher: Why is it cynical for truckers to say that they really need to pull over to the side of the road and take a nap before continuing on? Should they just shell out the bucks and get a room? Maybe, but truckers have to make time, and since they often cannot afford to take a full night off at a motel, it does make sense for the state to accommodate them with rest areas, especially since those areas can be and are used by all other motorists as well.
washingtonpost.com: Review Finds Agencies, Nonprofits Failed to Coordinate in Jacks Case (AP, April 2)
Washington, D.C.: While I have no desire to impeach Mayor Fenty, Mr. Nickles's approval of the Dubai's government paying his and his family's travel expenses at 8 p.m. on a Friday night definitely does not pass the smell test. It's really infuriating how few public officials realize how this looks to the general public -- or do they just not care?
Marc Fisher: Fenty is in a curious and seemingly uncharacteristic phase right now, playing hardball on an issue he cannot possibly win. A guy who gets elected as Mr. Transparency cannot then turn around once he's in office and argue that the public has no right to know where he's going and what he's doing. Fenty seems downright peeved about all the questions he's getting on the Dubai trip and the subsequent mystery disappearance, but he's the one who set himself up as a paragon of openness. Shouldn't he be held to his own standards?
Annapolis, Md.: Marc, what is this nonsense about using "PG" to refer to Prince George's Co. is disrespectful? Our local paper, the Annapolis Capitol, uses AA for Anne Arundel Co., QA for Queen Anne Co., KI for Kent Island, but always spells out Prince George's. Doesn't the County Commissioner have better things on which to spend is time?
Marc Fisher: It's always mystified me. This is a real phenomenon--as far back as I can remember here at The Post, we've regularly received calls--often angry ones--from readers who live in Prince George's and, for some reason, deeply resent having the name of their county abbreviated in exactly the same way we might abbreviate the District (DC) or Anne Arundel (AA). They claim that it's a racial matter, a sign of purportedly deliberate disrespect. There's nothing wrong with an abbreviation if it's generally understandable, but for many years, this paper and many other media outlets have been cowed into submission by the allegation of racial prejudice. Seems absurd to me...
Baltimore, Md.: I teach in a Baltimore inner city HS, and I can tell you that MD's claim that 97 percent of all MD HS students graduate withiin 4 or 5 years is completely laughable. At our school the number is 50 percent at best, and I think we're fairly typical for the city. I doubt the figures in Prince George's Co. are too much better. Schools in other counties would have to graduate well over 100 percent of their students in order to counter this trend.
Marc Fisher: Yes, that number jumped out at me too; this was in a Post story comparing dropout rates across the region. The numbers were quite low overall (10 percent in Virginia, far lower in Fairfax alone.) But 97 percent seems completely out of whack. As with all education stats, you have to watch carefully to see if you're getting the same basis for the stats in different jurisdictions.
Is it time to just let natural market forces determine the future of horse racing: Well if you feel this way Marc, then I'm assuming you feel the same way for all of the banks, financial firms, AND the auto workers right? Let the market kill them all? If we went by your thinking unemployment would probably hit 30 percent.
Marc Fisher: Yes, I'd let GM go, and the banks too. These are basic needs that will be filled, and I'd argue that if companies have failed consistently over a very long time to serve customers properly, then it makes no sense to prop them up artificially. Someone will make cars to serve the continuing need that consumers have--perhaps the Japanese makers will expand their plants here, perhaps American entrepreneurs will buy up the GM plants or create something new from scratch, but the consumer demand would assure us that an industry existed, and ideally, the replacements for the failed ventures would be an improvement. There's no such guarantee from a failed company that's getting a boatload of free money.
Arlington, Va.: With regards to plastic bags: One thing I find frustrating is trying to refuse a bag for items that I can easily carry or shove into my pockets. There is no problem when I tell them I don't need a bag -- rather, I've had clerks wad up the bag they were going to give me, and start to throw it away! Totally defeats the purpose. I mean, what? The bag is no loger pristine enough to use for another patron? The mind boggles.
Marc Fisher: I've heard from at least two dozen folks with exactly that same complaint, and I share it: Even if you're buying a single item and just want to put it in your pocket, the clerk pulls out the plastic bag (or two) and discards it when you reject it, rather than using it for the next customer.
It's almost as if the clerks are paid by the bag. (That cannot possibly be the case, can it? I mean, the stores all complain about the high cost of bags, so there's no incentive for them to be profligate about handing the bags out, yet that's what they do, seemingly everywhere. Anyone have an explanation for that?)
Oakton, Va.: Here's an idea for Giant. In addition to selling reusable bags, they should give them to their regular customers. Since they are keeping track of us via the BonusCard, they could print a coupon for a free bag at every $1000 spent or so.
Marc Fisher: Interesting idea--Giant spokesman Barry Scher told me that the company recently cut the price of reusable bags by two-thirds (they got a new vendor to supply slightly smaller bags at one-third the cost.) So they're searching for ways to get more of the mesh bags out to folks. But the stores don't want to give them away. The city does plan to do that for low-income families.
Olney, Md.: Hey, Marc. We use plastic grocery bags when we scoop the cat litter, but it only took a few second on Google to find biodegradable "plastic" bags made from cornstarch that I'll be ordering today. There's no reason to be putting all that plastic in our landfill...or in our rivers!
Marc Fisher: Or you can use those handy-dandy newspaper bags (ok, I'll stop now.)
Washington, D.C.: Why are plastic bags from grocery stores for food (an essential item) going to be taxed, and the plastic bags from the Post (which is not) are not going to be taxed. They both pollute, no?
Marc Fisher: No, ours magically disintegrate into thin air.
Really, I don't know that there is much of a reason for taxing one and not the other. The D.C. bill does cover a lot more than just supermarkets--it's aimed at all retail outlets that distribute bags.
Washington, D.C.: The bag issue has nothing at all to do with the economic level of the people who use them. The fact is, even if properly disposed of, bags make it into the river.
The problem is with the bags themselves, not the users.
Nevertheless, it's good that the dog owners reuse the bags, but let's just bear in mind that it is a one time only reuse. It's not like they are recycling the bag over and over again.
And then of course, that bag ends up in the river (along with its contents).
Marc Fisher: So are you saying that the old ways, before poop scoop laws came into effect, are better--that dog waste should just be left on the street to be washed into our sewers and directly into the bay, without the plastic wrapping?
Arlington, Va.: So, who pollutes more -- the person who drives to the store and takes out their three bags, or me, who walks to the store after work and gets a few plastic bags?
Like it or not, this is an issue for poor people, who are more likely to bus to the store and who will find it difficult to carry yet one more thing to and from work.
Marc Fisher: I was with you on your question, which is a good way of turning the issue on its side to see what we're really weighing here. But then you lost me with the idea that it's somehow a hardship for anyone to carry a lightweight mesh bag on the bus or on their walk to the store. Many millions of people in countries that have never bought into the disposable bag idea have always carried their bags with them when they go shopping and you don't hear of any hardships connected with that.
washingtonpost.com: Report: Blame Widespread in Deaths of Four Girls (Post, April 2)
Rockville, Md.: I am SO SAD about the changes being made at 94.7. That was my go-to station, the first one I tuned to. I really liked the music, the variety, and the DJ's. I feel like I was always learning something with random facts they provided (like the other day, "John Mellencamp is actually a very accomplished painter"). 100.3 is an OK alternative but I feel like I would rather not have my radio on at all than bounce between constant Pearl Jam on 101.1, Lady Gaga 24 hours a day on 99.5, and the occasional good song on 100.3. What have we come to?!
Marc Fisher: Radio stations are in something of a panic, cutting costs like crazy and searching for some way to compete with music blogs, online radio and the i-Pod. Sadly, what we're seeing is not a flowering of creativity--good, smart, innovative programming that focused on the expertise of talented deejays and the ability to break new music in a local setting would draw a real audience--but rather a cynical and desperate effort to grab a piece of the generation that's young enough to attract some advertisers, but old enough not to have completely abandoned radio already. That's why you're seeing 94.7 switch from classic rock to lite pop that's palatable at the office.
Alexandria, Va.: Are you heading out to the ballpark on opening day to see Obama throw the first pitch? The Plan is coming together with a great young starting pitching rotation this year, get your seats now before everyone else figures out how good this team is. (Sales are so slow the Nats are offering season ticket holder prices for individual games by using coupon code: NATSSTH.)
Marc Fisher: I plan to be there. Sadly, ticket sales are very slow. Part of that is disenchantment with last year's lousy performance, part is a failure by the Nats to live up to the franchise's promises to spend like the big market team they are, and part--a big part--is something not at all unique to Washington: An expected drop of something like 20 percent in attendance at all pro sports games (as ever, with the possible exception of football, which remains an exception because they play so few games each year.)
Silver Spring, Md.: Marc,
Isn't the Anacostia Streetcar line supposed to be a test run for lines in more built-up and transit-friendly areas (such as H Street, NE)? You can quibble with the utility of building a multi-million dollar "test run" that won't get used by anyone except government workers, but street cars are a good, relatively affordable way to bring "high end" mass transit to neighborhoods that aren't served by Metro.
washingtonpost.com: Anacostia Streetcar Plan Runs Into Delays (Post, April 2)
Marc Fisher: I don't get the idea of pumping mega-millions into a test run. If the area is so marginal in its potential support for transit, then surely a market survey would determine rider interest as effectively as the huge expense involved in actually building a transit line. Street cars are indeed a terrific form of transit, and their revival in a number of cities around the country has been a big success. Washington has lots of routes that would be perfect for streetcars--Georgia Avenue springs to mind, as do H Street NE and M Street in Georgetown. But I've not seen any stats that show that Anacostia has the density or the potential to make such a route a big success.
Preakness: If TV wants programming let them pay for it. They spend millions on dramas and comedies, let them pay for the races.
Marc Fisher: Right. Why is there such reluctance to let popular tastes, whether in sports, cars, media or anything else, evolve? Rather than throwing good money after bad, why not focus on the next great thing?
Arlington, Va.: We're in the midst of an economic crisis. Why are we having a debate about plastic bags anyway? If plastic bags are 20 percent of the trash in the Anacostia, then what about the other 80 percent? Let's focus on the bigger problems, whether it's the economy or the 80 percent.
Marc Fisher: Bags turn out to be one of the--and quite possibly the single--largest sources of trash in the river, so it's natural to focus on that, especially since it's a relatively easy fix.
So are you saying that the old ways, before poop scoop laws came into effect, are better--that dog waste should just be left on the street to be washed into our sewers and directly into the bay, without the plastic wrapping?: It is very odd that we take something that will naturally decompose and wrap it up in a plastic bag to dispose of it. I don't want to step in dog poop myself, but I do find it odd.
Marc Fisher: True, it's odd, but those laws responded to a real and totally justified public outcry against the minefields that public streets, sidewalks and parks had turned into.
Talk me off the ledge: Marc, I am seriously considering canceling my subscription to the paper. Until this past Monday I never thought that I would come to this. The comics are the one area that does not translate well to the Web, but the Post just screwed it up. At first, I was mad that they were dropping Zippy, but after seeing the squashed panels, I realize that Bill Griffith's work would be lost in that format. Penny wise, pound foolish.
Marc Fisher: I am totally with you on Zippy--the only comic I read religiously. Now, there's hardly anything to make me want to open the comics pages. As with the car companies and the Preakness, clinging to the recycled Peanuts comics seems like a desperate attempt to grab onto the past because the future is too frightening.
That said, I hope you won't cancel your subscription. If you find any pleasure or even the occasional revelation in the paper, you ought to keep it going. We don't have a readership problem--we have more readers than we've ever had before--but since many of them are now online, we have a big-time business model problem, as do all of the old media. So you'll continue to see changes in the print paper, and unfortunately, some of those will involve losing features that you really liked. But my hope is that we will grab this opportunity to redefine the paper and focus more of our resources on the most essential and distinctive aspects of The Post's coverage, providing readers with new ways to get deeper into the news, even as we continue to provide some of that fun stuff. And I wish Zippy would come back into print--somehow, it just doesn't work online.
Bristow, Va.: I too am sad to see 94.7 go away (again -- never really got into the whole "The Globe" thing). However, I have to admit that I haven't listened to it much since getting a car with XM, which offers five reasonable stations for a person with my taste (the 60's, 70's, 80's, Classic Vinyl, and Classic Rewind channels) with no commercials. If XM Sirius goes down, however, I'll really be hosed.
Marc Fisher: I understand that, but I wouldn't be all that confident about satellite radio's future. Its finances are actually in far worse shape than are those of broadcast radio. And the quality of the programming has taken a sharp downward turn since the merger of XM and Sirius (I'd say I told you so, but that would be too annoying.) So the challenge for XM Sirius is to find ways to parlay their programming into revenue-producing content in other media--mobile, cable, web, wherever.
Classic Ro,CK: What station is ending? 94.7? Crickey. There's nothing left to listen to! The station wasn't even all that good, but at least occassionally, it would play Zep or Springsteen. And with DC 101 perpetually stuck in 1997 (seriousy, we've heard enough Alice in Chains), there's nothing left to listen to.
This is the last straw. I have to get XM.
Marc Fisher: They'll be thrilled to have you. And I think you'll like what you hear, despite what I said in the last item.
Why is there such reluctance to let popular tastes, whether in sports, cars, media or anything else, evolve? Rather than throwing good money after bad, why not focus on the next great thing? : Like another CSI show, or another reality show.
Marc Fisher: Of course, the response from marketers and all the folks in those old industries is always that hey, we're just giving people what they want. Well, that worked for a long time, but now that all these companies are in trouble, and audiences are vanishing, it's harder to make the McDonalds argument.
It's almost as if the clerks are paid by the bag.: No, but a lot of places like McDonald's DO instruct their employees to throw away an "improperly opened" bag immediately. I'm serious; if you shake the bag open, rather than putting your hand inside to open it out, that bag has to go into the trash. Maybe supermarkets do the same thing.
Marc Fisher: Sounds like the kind of rule that some management types would come up with. Makes no sense, but totally plausible.
Gainesville, Va.: The baggies that the Post comes in are a little on the narrow side to use for kitty litter disposal, given how wide the scoops typically are. They are ideal, however, as single-use bags for dirty diapers, since they are long enough to be doubled over for additional smell containment.
Marc Fisher: I can't believe we're really talking about this. Aren't some of you eating lunch even as we type?
I think I would go see a band called Smell Containment.
Paper/Plastic/Reusable: We have a bunch of reusable grocery bags, including nifty wine six-pack bags free from HT with wine purchase. We (try to) distribute them between our cars, so they are handy. That said: when I forget, I have to ask for paper bags -- the sacker just automatically reaches for the plastics. Not one asks. The plastics don't work nearly as well for recycling the DT version of the Post plus the accumulated junk mail and magazines we generate.
Marc Fisher: The folks at Giant are talking about installing big reminder signs in all their stores' parking lots, prodding folks to open the trunk and bring those reusable bags into the store with them.
And you're right: The stores have changed their policies and the clerks no longer ask "Paper or plastic." The major chains decided it no longer made sense to ask the question when far north of 90 percent of customers said "plastic." But they continue to stock the paper bags for people like me who prefer them.
Downtown: But did you hear that WJFK 106.7 is dropping its guy-talk format and becoming WHFS, with DJ's picking the music, not computers? That's a good thing, no?
Marc Fisher: Hate to break it to you, but that was an April Fool's joke perpetrated by a blogger. No format change has been announced and if you believe the suits at WJFK, none is forthcoming.
washingtonpost.com: D.C. April Fool's Roundup (Raw Fisher, April 1)
Help Nats Ticket sales: by advertising that Opening Day (well, home opener in this case) is nearly here! I've seen NOTHING. the Capitals have ads up all over the place -- including banner ads here at post.com -- and lord knows they don't need help in ticket sales, a marked contrast to the Nationals. I just cannot for the life of me figure out this ownership.
I live 3 blocks from the ballpark, attend a numebr of games each year, and never once get anything form the Nationals. Contrast that to the Orioles, who aren't exactly a paragon of stellar ownership themselves, who make sure I get multiple notcies about various ticket offers and reminders that tickets will go on sale. And I only make it to about 6 Os games a year, but they still reach out to me.
Marc Fisher: That's odd that you haven't seen anything. We've gotten several solicitations in the mail in the past week, and calls from the sales office, which is apparently randomly calling anyone who bought a ticket last year. But it's true that we're not exactly seeing a big, broad, regional campaign. Maybe they've decided fans need to see some wins on the board before they'll jump back into the water.
Alexandria, Va.: Marc - Whatever happened to people being arrested and fined for eating and drinking on the Metro? I watched one of the high school hoodlums bring on a bag of McDs and a drink into the station. I asked the station manager, who pointed out that since the child wasn't in the act of consuming the food, he couldn't do anything. So, the kid gets on my train, proceeds to eat some of the food, then leave the bag on the train, including spilling the soda.
Between this and the evening onslaught of, let's politely phrase it as rowdy teenagers, the Metro experience has really taken a nosedive.
Marc Fisher: I hear this complaint quite regularly--but I don't know if there has really been a decline in enforcement of the no-food rules. I'll ask our Metro reporter and see if I can get back to you on this....
Maryland: Born and raised in PG county, and I never heard anyone around me object to using the term. I have used it myself. My parents still live there and call it "PG." Where is this objection coming from?
Marc Fisher: It's definitely out there, but you're right--there are also lots of folks who live in the county and refer to it as "PG" themselves and have never heard that they were supposed to be offended. Luckily, it still takes all types.
Southwest D.C.: In your role as a contemporary media critic, do you have an opinion on the new format of the Washington Post? I think that they have destroyed the Sunday Outlook as a useful and (at one time) important reflection of opinion. And if they had to reduce the TV schedule from a page to a half page, the Post must be closer to bankruptcy that anybody imagined. It is dangerously close to USA Today without all the color and snappy title headings.
Marc Fisher: I like some of the changes and don't like others. But I don't see much point in lamenting the changes because they are just the beginning of what must be a wholesale change in the nature and look of the print newspaper. For print papers to survive, they are going to have to find more compact ways to get news and features across to readers who are ever more pressed for time and who have all manner of choices in media. If I were starting a paper or re-creating one, I'd focus on three things: 1) The advantages of paper and the big wide pages we have--using photography, graphics and design to present big ideas and crucial details in big spreads that cannot be replicated online. 2) The leisure of taking a paper with you and settling in to read it in a less time-stressed way than people tend to read online. That means giving readers at least one or two long, meaty, satisfying reads a day. And 3) Newspapers are nothing if not a habit, so I'd focus on developing and touting the personalities who are out there digging for news and presenting news and analysis in ways that are not duplicated anywhere else.
Do you really think the TV listings are what a newspaper is about? Aren't those listings right there on your TV screen? And I don't see any diminution of Outlook--everything that was in it previously is still there, with the addition of a few pages of book reviews. What's the bad part of that? I'd rather have the editorials back in the same section as the Outlook essays, I grant you that--but now they're where they are all the other days of the week, and that makes sense too.
McLean, Va.: I canceled my fish-wrap Post subscription when the Post axed Zippy. Night before last I get a call from Post circulation, wanting to know if I'll consider resubscribing for 99 cents a week. I think for a moment and say, "Sure." I figure that the Post will lose money on me for the next 26 weeks, until I again cancel my subscription.
If the Post wants me to subscribe at their regular rates, they'll have to bring back Zippy and inflate the comics back to their previous size. Your colleague, Mr. Weingarten, wrote some well-considered criticism of the "comics editor," and compiled a list of dead-artist comics that should be dropped.
When will Post management realize that comics are one of the few aspects of the print edition that make subscribing worthwhile?
Marc Fisher: I agree, but also consider than no other daily in the country runs as many comics as we do. But hey, I'd pay extra to have Zippy back too.
You Don't Like "Brewster Rockit"?: That's become my new favorite comic of the five I read regularly, but its new placement in the lower right of page 2 of the 2-page comics section has me thinking it's on the chopping block. Is there anything to my theory? Do lesser read strips get the lower-right treatment when it comes to placement?
Marc Fisher: I don't believe there's any connection between placement on the page and vulnerability to cutting.
And no, I see no value in Brewster Rockit. But tastes will vary, as they say.
I think I would go see a band called Smell Containment. : Washingtonpost.com already has The Gene Pool.
Marc Fisher: I don't think I qualify to enter that pool.
Rockville, Md.: Food on the Metro?
New York does fine with food.
Why not charge a fee for all the food sold in Metro stations and let it pay for clean-up crews. The net result might be a cleaner Metro and some profit and some way for famished people (yes there are a few) to eat on time.
Or will we have selective enforcement with celebs and children in the news?
Marc Fisher: Unlike Binary Man, I feel free to take grey and even contradictory positions. Therefore: I like both the NYC system of food in the subways and the D.C. system of focusing on cleanliness. And I have to say, I don't see any difference in the rat populations between the two systems. Both of them seem to have ever-burgeoning rodent colonies, despite the rising fare prices.
Washington, D.C.: Nats: I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I'm tired of paying major-league prices for a minor-league team. I had season tickets for the last 3 years, but am not renewing this year. Why should I? I can always find tickets on craigslist for less than I'd pay the Nats, and this way I'm not supporting their loss of 100+ games directly.
Marc Fisher: Unquestionably, you'll be able to get cheap seats easily this year, so I think a lot of folks will be doing as you are. In fact, I'd be surprised if we don't see some strange looking crowds at the games, with the $10 and $5 sections sold out while the better seats show lots of empties.
But I do think, as Boswell has also concluded, that this year we are going to see a significantly better team--still a loser overall, but not an embarrassment as last year's was. And if they can parlay that surplus of outfielders into a couple of decent pitchers, they might be getting close to a .450 team.
Fort Washington, Md.: What is going on with Marland Bland and Samuel Dean re: the D.C. United socceer stadium? Most of the council is not feeling the stadium and are not supporting it. Why the big push from Del Griffith and evidently residents are not supporting the stadium.
Marc Fisher: The legislators in Annapolis are getting impatient with the leadership in Prince George's and there's a growing sense that if the county's own leaders don't want the soccer stadium, then why should the state even consider a financial role in a new home for D.C. United? But from the perspective of the PG lawmakers, they are hearing quite a bit of opposition to the idea from their constituents, so they're not so eager to embrace the plan, especially in these hard times.
Cleveland Parkk, D.C.: Marc Fisher: Or you can use those handy-dandy newspaper bags (ok, I'll stop now.)
Hate to say it but those nice blue bags that the Post's archrival, The New York Times, uses are much better aesthetically for picking up dog waste than the Post's clear plastic!
Marc Fisher: Clear? The ones that come to our house are always white or yellow. Could be that each distributor has his own stock of bags.
Washington, D.C.: I know this may seem obvious, but why not put into use soy- based plastic bags which are biodegradable.
Marc Fisher: Some stores do, but the greens say even those bags don't really decompose in landfills. Hardly anything does.
East Falls Church, Va.: I. Hate. The. Smooshed. Funnies.
The Post's former comics section was a real bragging point for me in exclaiming how superior the Wash Post was to other papers. Now, I have to ask -- why bother? I won't cancel my subscription (just yet); however, I have to really ask why the Paper Post is worth while.
Marc Fisher: Two full pages of comics is still a lot, and a lot more than nearly all other papers. I agree that the old three pages was a great boasting point, but editors are having to make decisions that put, say, comic strips up against things like, oh, foreign bureaus, and I think you'd agree that our most important work is to cover the local, national and world news.
Washington, D.C.: Marc Fisher: Unquestionably, you'll be able to get cheap seats easily this year, so I think a lot of folks will be doing as you are. In fact, I'd be surprised if we don't see some strange looking crowds at the games, with the $10 and $5 sections sold out while the better seats show lots of empties.
This is what I've been saying all along. Build from the foundation up. And the foundation are decidedly NOT rich upper income people in this town.
Marc Fisher: Right, but the economics of baseball require lots of attention to be paid to luring the high end customers to the park--unfortunately, that's what pays the obscene salaries that the players get. This recession is taking down the players a notch or two, but only a notch or two. The real test will come next off-season, when owners will be looking to cut players down a whole lot. So you could end up with a real restructuring of the economics of some sports before this downturn is over. Though you'd never know this by looking at SnyderWorld.
A .450 Baseball Team: Is not good.
Marc Fisher: No, but it's real and significant progress over the shameful disaster that was last year. And if the players getting you to .450 are kids who are going to be much better in a couple of years, then that's something fans should get on board with.
Bethesda, Md.: We only buy the Sunday Post, and that only occasionally. The Times is so superior. But the second best thing to the surrealism of Zippy is the surrealism of Date Log. When they drop that, we'll stop buying the Sunday Edition completely.
Marc Fisher: Glad you like the dating feature in the Magazine--it's one of my favorites too.
Are you really arguing that the quality of the Washington Times is superior to that of the Post? Wow.
Or perhaps you're talking about the New York City paper. You're starting to see enormous cuts there too.
Mount Pleasant, D.C.: You've written about Mount Pleasant in the past, but perhaps it's time to revisit it. To put it bluntly: Mount Pleasant Street is fast becoming a ghost town. One obvious reason is the economy. But it can't take all of the blame, as businesses (especially restaurants and bars) are still opening in other neighborhoods. The biggest reason: businesses are afraid to open up in Mount Pleasant because of the MPNA, which will oppose anything and everything, simply to show that it can.
And oh yeah, the leader of the MPNA doesn't even live in Mount Pleasant. She lives in Cleveland Park. How she's allowed to throw her weight around in Mt. P. is one of life's mysteries.
Marc Fisher: I understand there's a lot of tension in the neighborhood around issues of preservation and entertainment in the retail district, but no neighborhood is controlled by one person. Mount Pleasant is very much a community that is divided on some key issues around its identity, and although there's been some progress on some of those fronts, the downturn has prevented some of those controversies from getting played out or resolved.
If plastic bags are 20 percent of the trash in the Anacostia, then what about the other 80 percent? : Because the other 80 percent isn't just one thing. It's made up of a whole bunch of random small things. The 20 percent of the garbage that is plastic bags makes up the largest single item contributing to the pollution.
Marc Fisher: Right...
I think I would go see a band called Smell Containment. : How about Lingering Odor? Because as a new mom, that's all I can think of when someone says "diaper." Plastic bag contained or not.
Marc Fisher: I think I'd prefer the radio version of Lingering Odor's songs.
Arlington, Va.: Marc -- Are weekly magazine sales falling as much as newspapers' sales? I thought I heard they were down a bit because of less disposable income but overall doing okay.
Marc Fisher: From what I've read, they're generally in worse shape than newspapers--which is why you saw U.S. News go to primarily an online publication, and Newsweek changing its identity from a news weekly to more of an opinion and analysis magazine.
Why keep the paper Post?: Marc -- you said that most readers are on-line. I really appreciate the expertise and professionalism of the Post's reporters. In fact, I have an irrationaly love for the Post. And I read it both on-line and in print.
Now, mucking about with the print version is sad and will drive away the hard-core Dead Tree people. So, will the Post do away with the print version, once they figure out how the make the Net version pay?
Marc Fisher: I don't think the paper version of The Post will go away for a long time to come. Remember, there are still 650,000-plus daily subscribers and a vast population of folks who still prefer paper or just enjoy the different experience of reading and browsing in a paper. But unquestionably the paper will change--for both better and worse. That's hard for people inside the business and hard for readers. But the alternative is something no one wants: A dismantling of the news-gathering infrastructure of the society.
Paper or Plastic: Newspaper publishers waited too long to take action as the changes to their industry happened. You gave away the paper online and now people expect it free and you still expect subscribers and advertisers to foot the bill for the free online paper while consolidating sections that many people buy the paper for. You've got reporters embarrassed to be covering sports, a business section reduced to a couple of pages during the biggest economic crisis in decades. Jeez. My subscription (forced by spouse for coupons) runs out soon. Believe me, Marc, don't think that newspaper reading is a habit that can't be broken. The Post is making it easier to drop the habit. Heck, there are kids and young adults who never even picked the habit up. Get real, I bet no one in Seattle ever thought their paper would be available online-only, produced by 20 people. Maybe when they stop calling them buyouts and start calling them lay-offs it will seem more real.
Marc Fisher: It's real enough, thank you.
But in fact, there's no less business coverage this week than there was last week. Same number of reporters writing the same number of stories. Aside from moving those stories into the A section, which makes more sense given the importance of those stories, the only change is eliminating most of the stock tables, and who can really argue that that was an essential service, given that the same stats are available online in much easier and more detailed form?
Yes, there have been significant cuts in space in the Sports section, and as a fan, I regret that. But shouldn't this or any other paper use this transformation in media as the moment to decide what's most essential--and to try to do that work better than we ever have before?
Pentagon City, Va.: "I think I would go see a band called Smell Containment." You would have to, there are no radio outlets left in D.C. that would air their music.
Marc Fisher: Touche.
It is very odd that we take something that will naturally decompose and wrap it up in a plastic bag to dispose of it.: Decomposable dog poo bags are sold at PetsMart and the like. I've switched to them and have had no issues.
Marc Fisher: Ah, thanks for, um, wrapping up that thread.
Arlington, Va.: On the Maryland and Virginia rest areas issue that you blogged about, keep in mind that the JFK highway from Baltimore to Delaware was originally constructed as a turnpike; it wasn't like they converted an existing road. So it was perfectly eligible for the treatment afforded other turnpikes that were folded into the Interstate highway system.
Commercializing rest areas was an idea that the Bush administration folks pushed really hard for (trust me), but there is a pretty powerful lobby out there against it, comprised of local business interests, truck stop owners, and the highway beautification crowd. So it's a heavy lift.
washingtonpost.com: Need to Cut Costs, Virginia? Cut Loose Control of Rest Stops (Post, March 31)
Marc Fisher: Thanks--good info.
Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today. Thanks for coming along. More in the blog tomorrow and back in the paper on Sunday. Have a great weekend, folks....
Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.
In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.
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