Editorial: Revisionist history – it’s not just for tourists



Revisionist history – it’s not just for tourists

As someone who’s spent enough decades living in St Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach, and St Johns County; I can tell you, for a fact, that for a community that lives or dies by retelling the story of First America, we sure seem to be selling a lot of gobbledygook for truth.

I’ve done my share of political consulting over the years — both professionally and simply because I love to follow politics. Having just wrapped up the recent Primary Elections, chocked full of nuts and tall tales, we can only imagine what to expect before November rolls around. Thank God we only have to deal with elections in the even-numbered years.

Then, of course, we can’t have a discussion about “revisionist history” without at least mentioning the focus of our sightseeing, hospitality and entertainment industry. It seems the stories we tell professionally are always laced with a little stuff and nonsense — presumably because the truth is deemed to be too boring.

Maybe it’s that we just aren’t clever enough to figure out how to tell the truth in an entertaining way? That’s usually NOT the case with private attractions in town — the way it is with our local government who seems to be on a mission to get into the attraction industry and compete with long-lived, private businesses who have been doing this for generations.

Nonetheless, I’ve heard the sightseeing companies telling tourists that Franklin Smith’s homage to the Alhambra Castle, the Villa Zorayda, has all different sizes and shapes of windows so that as malevolent spirits exit, they become confused and are not able to find their way back in — something that owners, Jim and Marsha Byles, strongly refute.

And let’s not forget our friends at The St Augustine Record — especially the “recently departed” who look down their collective, old-white-man noses at Internet news reporting. They’ll preach about how the Internet has crippled journalism; and, in a fabulous case of the pot-calling-the-kettle-black, refer to it a morass of unnecessary, time-wasting content. They argue that journalism is worse because of the effects of the Internet.

Their unrestrained longing for some mythical golden age of journalism is the ultimate example of revisionist history. These tree-killing, printer’s ink contaminating, landfill-filling newspaper men, who hold themselves in such high esteem, are voicing the same complaints that have been made about journalism for decades. The fact is that most of the things these senile old fools complain about today — have been a part of the media business for hundreds of years.

A good example is the complaint that all Internet news journals, like Historic City News, who once had unique visual styles, traffic models, and editorial voices, have been distilled into an undifferentiated mass of “me-too” journalism and something we refer to on the Internet as “click-bait”. The truth is that the Internet didn’t invent “click-bait”. Newspapers at the turn of the century routinely indulged in shameless “click-bait” of the highest order. We just called it “sensationalism” then because you didn’t “click” a newspaper.

William Randolph Hearst, a giant in the modern media business, was a shameless publicity hound whose newspapers routinely printed half-baked theories and even outright falsehoods in an attempt to attract readers — we would call those stories “click-bait” today.

The naysayers criticize Internet news for being bad for writers — they say it turns “qualities that should be valued — effort, reflection, revision, editing — into hindrances, and makes the resulting product worth little, both qualitatively and financially.”

Good writing is difficult, takes time, and is expensive.

• Is there a lot of noise and low-quality writing on the internet? Definitely.
• Does much of it come from sites that claim to be doing journalism? You bet.
• Is any of this unique to the internet age? Not even close.

Pick any time period within recent human history — especially the ones that were supposed to be a golden age for journalism — and you will find similar complaints.

Newspapers in particular have always been filled with huge quantities of mind-numbing, time-wasting content”. Headlines were salacious and in many cases flat-out wrong. Newspapers competed to see who would be the first to print a rumor or some bit of innuendo, especially if it involved a celebrity.

Even at the time when the Washington Post was producing what many see as the apotheosis of golden-age journalism — the Watergate investigation series by Woodward and Bernstein — it and other newspapers just like it were printing thousands of pages a day filled with trivia and ephemeral nonsense. I haven’t been able to find any, but I have no doubt that newspapers were being criticized for printing nothing but poorly-argued invective and cheap traffic-driving features when Benjamin Franklin was running the Pennsylvania Gazette in the 1700s.

It’s not the worst of times