Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Dark Day For American Journamalism

Latest Newspaper Column:

It's the end of an era. Nay, the end of an epoch.

In a stunning and heartbreaking announcement, one of the great institutions of American journalism abruptly announced last week that it's closing its doors forever.

The New York Times? The Washington Post? The Sacramento Bee? No, this soon-to-be-shuttered paragon of editorial excellence touched the lives and hearts of many more people than any of the above.

I'm talking, of course, about The Weekly World News.

The beloved tabloid, a staple in supermarket checkout lines since its debut in 1979, is shutting its doors in August. No real reason was given, according to a staff member. The reporters were abruptly called into the managing editor's office and told that the publication was kaput as of the Aug. 3 edition.

"The reasons given make no sense," the source said. "We're stunned and shell-shocked."

As are we all, my friend, as are we all. Where will the world be without "The Nation's Only Reliable Newspaper" and its weekly dose of bizarre stories, the ones other newspapers were just too cowardly to touch?

Like the story of the Japanese woman who was celebrating her seventh year of marriage to a space alien. Receptionist Miyoki Tanaka, 25, reported that marriage to the little gray being known only as "X1431" hadn't always been a bed of roses.

"He has a nasty habit of floating around the room at night, which is distracting when you're trying to sleep," groused Tanaka (or should that be Mrs. 1431?). Plus, he was "given to producing earsplitting shrieks when excited," which may be one explanation for why the couple reminded childless.

In fact, space aliens were a regular staple of the WWN, and I for one had come to depend on it for news as to the comings and goings of our intergalactic cousins and their interactions with earthlings both great and small.

Was it The Wall Street Journal or The Christian Science Monitor that reported the story of the alien P'lod and his torrid affair with First Lady Hillary Clinton? It was not. Nor did those establishment rags have the courage to report the real reason for the outcome of the 2000 election: the fickle P'lod had switched his endorsement from Al Gore and thrown his superior intellect and advanced technology behind George Dubbya Bush (proof, if you needed it, that these alien critters wish us ill).

The Weekly World News even got the real skinny on stories that American intelligence services got wrong. Back when President Bush was admitting, however grudgingly, that there was no hard evidence linking Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the WWN blew the lid off the story by reporting on the homosexual marriage between the brutal dictator and the fiend behind 9/11, following up with the story of how they'd adopted a shaved chimp and were raising it as their son. (They named it Robert).

The Times and the Post never reported on those stories, most likely due to a lack of powerful hallucinogens in their respective newsrooms.

But the WWN contained more than just hard news. It had its fun, whimsical side, too -- such as its advice column from Lester the Typing Horse, whose column "Horse Sense" offered advice on topics ranging from anorexia and bulimia (problems "less about food than they are about gaining control") to cutting down on your production of phlegm (consume fewer dairy products, says Lester).

But The Weekly World News' most popular stories, the ones that captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans everywhere, were the ones that featured Batboy.

Discovered in a West Virginia cave in 1992, the half-human, half-bat hybrid was only two feet tall, with giant eyes, grotesquely large ears, and wings that he shed every three years in order to grow a new pair.

As he grew and matured, however, Batboy fought for acceptance and a life of his own, trapped in a world that shunned and hated him for his grotesque appearance. His life was sometimes chaotic. On Feb. 27, 2001, according to the Batboy entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, he "allegedly attacked a fifth-grader in an Orlando, Fla., park." The girl was nearly ripped to shreds. The next day, he endorsed presidential candidate Al Gore.

It had to be true. You can't make this stuff up. After 9/11, Batboy tried to enlist in the Marines, but was apparently not accepted, because by 2003 he was running against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California gubernatorial election. When last heard of, he was living in the New York subways. There was even an actual Broadway musical based on Batboy's crazy life and times.

How, without The Weekly World News, will we keep abreast of all things Batboy? What will we do without the WWN's own brand of deliriously surreal "news"? The world will be a smaller and sadder place without The Weekly World News, and less well informed, too.


Mark Terry said...

What IS the world coming to?

dale said...

Another victim of reality. When your business is to go beyond weird it is hard to stay ahead of reality these days. When most conversations seem to start with "I never would have though......" what chance does batboy have


Josephine Damian said...

Hey JD! I know, off topic but have you seen this?

Bryan Catherman is having a contest: Name W's memoir:

As they say in the movie "Diner" - it's "the smile of the week."

C.L. Jahn said...

A little background on the WWN:

The NATIONAL ENQUIRER went color in 1976, moving production into a new facility built for the new color presses. The old B&W presses sat unused, abandoned in their building on the Enquirer campus in Lantana, FL. After failing to find a purchaser for the old presses, Lois Pope (wife of owner Generoso) suggested they simply use them to print ANOTHER tabloid. And so was born THE WEEKLY WORLD NEWS.
And if you ever wondered, looking at the photos and the bizzare stories, if the writers simply got really stoned and stared at the pictures until they came up with a story, wonder no more. I dated a staffer there for a short while, and she confirmed the basic process.

Ah, batboy, we hardly knew ye.