Donald "Duck" Dunn, died today. He was a fixture of the music business, a recording artist, performer and well-established studio musician, who played with many of the greats of the rock and soul scene over the course of decades. Many people recognize him as one of the members of the Blues Brothers Band, with whom he appeared in both movies. (I've got to believe he regretted the second one, as most of us do.)
After noticing a friend's post about it on Facebook and subsequently in a couple of other places, I thought I'd check out a real obit in some "established" media. Naturally, I turned to the LA Times, which is both my hometown paper and claims to be the "hometown paper" of the entire entertainment business. It seemed a logical place to look.
Nope. Nothing in the obits section. They had a number of other items of note, including the still-listed obit for Caroll Shelby, which by this point was more than two days old. (As an aside, Shelby was another great, whose original car factory was right down the street from me here in Venice, across from an old girlfriend's place. The building still stands.)
Surely there would be some mention of Dunn in the "music" section then?
It's now after 9pm on the day a notable entertainment figure died, and the "hometown newspaper of the entertainment business" still hasn't posted a thing.
It's not even like obits are all that hard. Virtually all newspapers and media companies keep files of obits ready-to-go for just about all major and minor celebs and other public figures. Just insert the details of the death, and run the sucker. Usually takes a few minutes at most. The obit for Shelby was partially credited to a writer who had died five years ago, because these things can hang around roughly forever.
In doing this, I had to switch browsers, because apparently I had exceeded the 30 articles I'm allowed at LAtimes.com without paying some minor sum to have uninterrupted access to their coverage. I suspect I could have achieved the same thing just by deleting cookies too, not really the most effective scheme.
That's not the only scheme to get me to pay for pretty lousy content. I recently had the opportunity to beta-test what I'll refer to as a "news containing device" sponsored by the LA Times' parent Tribune Company. I can't discuss the details, and possibly should not even mention being part of the test, but in the end, my question to the sponsors of this thing was the same one I'm asking today: "Why should I pay for content that is so horrendously bad and out of date?"
For an old college newspaper editor it's hard to admit the simple truth: Their business model is broken and wrecked and they're grasping at straws to try to survive. For better or worse, this is just another example of why Clay Shirky is right. The newspapers and possibly the rest of the news media as we have them are all-but dead. What will replace them? Something will I'm sure, but I'm not sure what. As Shirky notes, the question is no longer of saving the newspapers, it's a question of saving journalism in a world where the news media as we have known them cannot exist.