Back in the day, we learned about Yellow Journalism in school, usually in reference to the Spanish-American war. Yellow journalism is a particular brand of reporting that attempts to influence the reader unduly, beyond the pale of the usual ‘judgment call’ and into the realm of inculcating, even indoctrinating, the reader into a particular polarized (even political) position. In short, manipulating the reader. Have I ever “gone yellow”? As I look back to fifteen years of citizen journalism (ie, blogging), I think the answer is yes I have… a few times. They aren’t my proudest moments. But they are also counter-balanced by some hard reporting, even some do-gooding. Since I’m feeling reflective today, I’ll go meta enough to debrief them.
#1 Biggest Offense – Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. Eisner himself had input into the Disneyland parking structure, called Mickey & Friends. At the time, my publishing platform (miceage.com) was pretty anti-Eisner, so it became fashionable almost weekly to disparage him. I jumped on that bandwagon a bit, by theorizing that the de facto speed bumps in the road as a result of “settling” were indications that the Eisner-created structure was about to fail. Obviously, it has withstood the engineering test of time, and I’ve regretted the throwaway ad hominem attack ever since.
#2 Biggest Offense – Pressler!! The other villain of the late 90s/early 00s at Disneyland was park president Paul Pressler. He really was a hatchet man, responsible for cutting budgets and destroying many long-lasting beneficial traditions at Walt’s park. But he also didn’t deserve scorn for every last thing wrong at the park. Let’s face facts: there were ALWAYS instance of trash in queue lines. A picture taken at the wrong moment could have embarrassed the Walt-era Disneyland too. So the counter-cry of “Pressler!”, yelled in sarcasm, had something to it. Not everything was Paul’s fault.
#3 Biggest Offense – WDI Adoration. Many of the ‘sources’ for MiceAge came from Imagineering. As a result, we tended to view the world through a particular lens: that of Disneyland and WDW park management being obtuse, stubborn, ineffective, and chintzy… and WDI being gallant, realistic, and optimally functional. The reality is obviously more complicated. There are truly great managers at DL and WDW. And there are some completely dysfunctional individuals and fully broken systems within WDI, not to mention amazingly complicated politics. The world isn’t that simple a place.
But as I said, I think I’ve also had many moments of positive benefit to the community. I’ll list my biggest three below.
#1 Best Contribution – “Declining by Degrees.” I still stand by this. There are only so many ways to look better quarter-after-quarter. Either you raise revenue/spending, or you cut costs. So yes, a lot of times over the years Disney has cut costs. They really did used to replace bulbs on Main Street before they were burned out, and they really don’t do it now. It’s a decline, and it happens by degrees where no one notices the small, individual bits, but over time they add up to a lessened experience. I was the first to call this out, and I stand by it.
#2 Best Contribution – Flamingo Crossings. I don’t break that many stories, but this one I did. A friend forwarded me the contract by an outside company to get going with Flamingo Crossings, the expansion outside WDW gates on the DAK side. I was honest to goodness the first one with this story, and mainstream press followed soon after. That had happened a few times before – I’m thinking specifically of the Mondavi restaurant closing in DCA in the first year of operation – but seldom with as large a project as Flamingo Crossing.
#3 Best Contribution – Characters actually within Mickey and Friends parking garage. One of my complaints when the DL parking garage was new was that the elevator was labeled very conventionally. Would tourists remember if they were on the 3rd floor as opposed to the fourth? I floated the idea of labeling each floor by character, right there within the elevator. And lo and behold, a few weeks later it was done.
So how to put this all together? Maybe that famous quote by news anchor Dan Rather:
“The press is a watchdog. Not an attack dog. Not a lapdog. A watchdog. Now, a watchdog can’t be right all the time. He doesn’t bark only when he sees or smells something that’s dangerous. A good watchdog barks at things that are suspicious.”
I think I was wrong sometimes. I barked at things that were suspicious rather than actually dangerous. But sometimes I barked at true dangerous situations. And I’m content with that mix.