12/28/2007 3:57:50 PM
Just as a nerd with a makeover turns his back on old friends, the increasingly digital New York Times must say goodbye to some of its dusty analog staff. A recent casualty, on November 28, was the legendary Recording Room, which reporters could reach via telephone to dictate their stories to dutiful transcribers. But nowadays reporters can just e-mail their stories in, whether from Kansas or Kathmandu, and the Recording Room has been rendered obsolete.
John Koblin wrote about the Room’s life and times for the New York Observer, and some Times veterans have since added their own stories and goodbyes in the comment thread. Calling the Recording Room while reporting overseas was a “great comfort, something akin to talking to your mother,” wrote one commenter. Another reporter was less nostalgic:
The Recording Room sometimes misheard ordinary words, leading to embarrassment or worse for the reporter or subject of the story. One time I was reporting on the volunteer work done by a famous conductor-composer in the New York suburban community in which he lived. I wrote something like,
“he gives his time effortlessly on behalf of music.” In print it became “he gives his time fruitlessly on behalf of music.” The composer was furious and demanded a correction, which he got.
And so the Recording Room goes the way of the carriage, the chimney-sweep and the record label: to the annals of obsolescence.
12/28/2007 11:44:49 AM
The newspaper corrections page serves as a pointed reminder that those tree-killing bastions of traditional media do occasionally get things wrong. Regret the Error, a website dedicated to following the media’s mistakes, has cobbled together an amusing roundup of some of the best—or worst—errors of the year. Here’s what the site deemed Correction of the Year, from the UK’s Independent Saturday magazine:
Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms Blair’s representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms Blair “has never shared a shower with Ms Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms Caplin.”
Yowza! More of the gems include typos (the New York Times referred to Pakistan’s capital as Islambad rather than Islamabad), photos with dodgy captions (the Miami Herald identified the president of the Dominican Republic as a drug smuggler), and a clarification from Slate regarding how many lines of cocaine make up an eight ball.
12/21/2007 12:07:01 PM
A job posting at Gawker, the notorious Manhattan media and gossip blog, has attracted more than 11,000 page views since it went up on November 30. That puts it a few thousand page views behind “The Broadcast Media React to Jamie Lynn Spears’ Unexpected Knocking-Up,” but well ahead of most other posts on the site.
Why does this matter? Because Gawker recently started paying its writers based on the number of times posts are viewed. I wonder if whoever published the job post will see a little boost in his or her next paycheck.
The new pay-per-page-view system ticked off at least one of Gawker’s editors, Emily Gould, who quit at the end of November. “It really gets in your head in this weird way because you're getting so conscious of how many people are reading what,” she told the New York Times. “You get focused on being sensational and even more brain candyish than Gawker was to start with.”
Gould’s departure coincided with that of two other editors, and Gawker’s staffing overhaul is inspiring some major changes. Here's a clip from the much-viewed job posting I mentioned above:
It's no longer enough to take stories from the New York Times, and add a dash of snark. Gawker needs to break and develop more stories. And the new managing editor will need to hire and manage reporters, as well as bloggers. . . . Think of Gawker less as a blog than as a full-blown news site. The right candidate will oversee Gawker's evolution.
Hold up. “Breaking and developing stories”? “Reporters”? “Full-blown news site”? This coming from a site that pays writers per page view?
This is a far cry from what I learned in journalism school. Of course journalists are supposed to get paid, but there’s a higher goal too: Informing the public. Journalists are supposed to write truthful information that the public needs to know, even if it’s not necessarily what they are most interested in reading. But by paying writers per page view, Gawker is encouraging its “reporters” to write sensational headlines that shock rather than stories that are important or take thought and time to read.
As long as it’s paying per page view, Gawker should just stick to what it’s good at: being an entertaining distraction from my workday.
For fun background reading on the history of Gawker, check out these articles at n+1 and New York Magazine.
12/19/2007 8:41:52 AM
On Tuesday, December 18, the Federal Communications Commission voted to loosen even further the rules that govern media consolidation in this country. The FCC's decision weakens a 32-year-old ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership, which had prevented a company from owning both a newspaper and broadcast station (radio or television) in the same market. The vote, 3-to-2 along party lines, permits this sort of cross-ownership in the country's 20 largest markets.
Read all about it at the Free Press blog, and don't miss the powerful dissenting statements from FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps (Word docs) on what this means for local media.
This is bad news, but it’s not the final word—the legislature has the authority to overturn the decision. If enough people sign the open letter to Congress that Free Press has drafted, perhaps they’ll listen.
Check out Keith Goetzman's profile of Adelstein and Copps, “Big Media Meets Its Match,” from the July-August issue of Utne Reader.
12/18/2007 11:13:28 AM
The issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM)—that is, technology that controls and restricts how consumers purchase, store, and copy digital media—hasn’t exactly riveted the mainstream. Calls for DRM-free media, which can be copied and distributed across different playback devices, rather than limited to, say, products licensed by Apple, have echoed mostly from web technologists and their ilk.
There are signs of change, but it’s not exactly coming from the grass roots. Billboard reports that Amazon.com will unveil—during the Super Bowl, no less—a promotional arrangement with Pepsi whereby participants will receive DRM-free MP3s at no charge. Amazon hopes to “give away” 1 billion such song files.
But, as is the case with all worthy promotional campaigns, the music is not actually free. You’ll have to consume the equivalent of one large pickle barrel full of soda (er, five Pepsi products per song) in order to obtain the activation codes for the music.
Writing for the web-tech and media blog Read/Write Web, Marshall Kirkpatrick notes that once Amazon and Pepsi launch this campaign and flood music libraries with 1 billion DRM-free songs, “consumer expectation of a DRM-free experience in music may be a whole lot more mainstream than it is today.”
That sounds great—the promo is certainly likely to raise the visibility of DRM-free music. But will demand for the kind of product Amazon offers vastly increase the availability of DRM-free MP3s? Most importantly, might such an increase lower the price of digital music? Let’s remember: This campaign ain’t no consumer revolution, it’s Super Bowl marketing. Pass the Pepsi.
12/17/2007 5:04:08 PM
This holiday season, our crack team of magazine readers has teamed up to help you avoid the consumer-frenzied mall and give the gift that keeps on giving: information. With the care of a gourmet sommelier pairing a rare delicacy to its rightful wine, we’ve matched some of our favorite alternative magazines to their ideal recipients—those exasperating names on the gift list for whom a sweater just won’t do. The hermit socialist uncle? Got him. The eerie niece? No problem.
If you’ve still got a magazine-gift dilemma after reading our guide, drop us a line in the comments below. We’ll sort through our stacks and get back to you.
For your faraway friend with whom you can’t share a beer:
Get him or her Imbibe, a magazine of “liquid culture.” Imbibe answers perennial questions about coffee, beer, and cocktails, such as that nagging head-scratcher: What was George Washington’s drink of choice? (Answer: Applejack, a traditional American liquor). Then, next time you see your distant friend, crack open a couple of Hefeweizen, the unfiltered wheat beer featured in the Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue, and enjoy the cultured conversation that’s sure to flow. “Did you know that Hefeweizen is brewed with at least 50 percent wheat malts, unlike most beers, which are brewed with barley?” your friend will ask. “And that while in the United States Hefe (as aficionados call it) is served with a slice of lemon, in Germany that’s unheard of.” You may never eat solid food again. —Brendan Mackie
For the unapologetically carnivorous:
, a nominee for best new publication in this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards, is about more than eating meat. It’s about meat history, meat ethics, meat as a metaphor, and, perhaps most bizarrely, meat as art. This San Francisco-based magazine honors what editors Sasha Wizansky and Amy Standen call fleischgeist—the spirit of meat. In Meatpaper’s Fall 2007 issue, this spirit is manifest in a wide array of articles, including a Q&A with butchers who advocate using less popular but deliciously traditional cuts of meat, and a look back at Jana Sterbak’s 1987 Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, in which a waifish model wore a costume made entirely of raw steaks. The text throughout is framed by a clean layout and luscious images, which makes Meatpaper an intellectual and aesthetic treat. —Morgan Winters
For the Yankee pal who won’t stop with the mint juleps:
A slew of magazines without a lick of the South in them have been, of late, trumpeting this recently discovered region below Cincinnati that has a ton of great stuff going on. It’s called “The South,” and did you know that bands come from there? And writers? And artists? And that it’s impossible to write about this place without employing clichés such as “bourbon-soaked” or “country-fried?” Well, not so for the Arkansas-based Oxford American. This class act has covered its beat for the past 15 years, showcasing all things Southern and great (or sometimes not so great). The latest edition (#58) includes a CD compilation of the 26 Southern recording artists profiled for the annual music issue, which showcases a diverse group from Thelonious Monk to Daniel Johnston. The issue also features a cool series of essays titled “Writers Who Rocked,” penned by the members of an assortment of noteworthy musical acts, including the Red Crayola and the Del Fuegos. Smart, edgy, hip, funny—Oxford American proves that Southern culture isn’t an oxymoron. —Jason Ericson
For your bearded uncle who stopped coming home for the holidays because he’s too busy working on his manifesto:
So you’ve got a problem. Last year you got your uncle the Nation, and though he really enjoyed the Deadline Poet, the coverage was just too far right for him. Well, don’t fret. Z Magazine might be the solution to your gift quandary. Z regularly draws contributions from top-shelf revolutionary thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, as well as radical educators, leaders, and in-the-trenches activists you’re likely to have never seen or heard elsewhere. Don’t expect to find much love for Democrats here, standard bearers of hegemony that they are. For a real vanguard trifecta, throw in subscriptions to Socialist Review and In These Times. Taken together, they’re guaranteed to have you and your uncle renouncing your citizenship and burning the contents of your wallet. —Jason Ericson
For the young and slightly twisted:
I had never heard of a literary journal for children until I picked up Crow Toes Quarterly. This newish Canadian publication has come out swinging as “the new face of children’s lit,” with strange, spooky stories sure to sate Roald Dahl fans. The Summer 2007 issue (Fall hasn’t landed in our library yet) is packed with imaginative stories featuring cheesecake-munching babies, an arachnophobic dandelion, and a wandering two-headed boy named Tongue. The issue also includes poetry, a call for entries for a creative writing contest, and an interview with illustrator Scott Griffin. A great gift for children ages 8 to 13, or any adults still cultivating their imaginations. —Sarah Pumroy
For the Catholic-raised intellectual who is moved by Christmas mass but feels shut out by several Church teachings:
Commonweal, a biweekly magazine published independently by lay Catholics, is comprised mostly of opinion pieces, with topics and views that, though they range widely, are rooted in a deep, critical investment in Catholic identity. Commonweal’s politics are center-left but not predictably so; its lively cultural and arts coverage is even harder to pin down. The main thread is an enthusiasm for robust, open, forward-looking debate. Highlights of the Dec. 7, 2007 include a piece by a Catholic prison chaplain on the rise of conservative evangelicalism in prisons and a smart analysis of Vatican statements on end-of-life ethics. —Steve Thorngate
For your cube mate, who still wears his “I want to believe” T-shirt at least once a week, sometimes for several days in a row:
Psst. Come over here. Did you know that cancer-causing monkey viruses have infected our vaccine pool, the Great Depression II is imminent, the government is using its pop culture outlets to slowly warm the public to the existence of extra-terrestrials, and officials have met with clergy to discuss an official merger between church and state? Well, you would have if you’d read the Winter 2008 issue of Paranoia, “the conspiracy and paranormal reader.” A Paranoia subscription would also keep you definitively up-to-date on the latest news on the investigation into the assassination of JFK. You don’t have to be a conspiracy junkie to love this magazine, but it does help. Now here’s a tinfoil hat. Go and spread the word. —Jason Ericson
For your thoughtful, but obstinate political sparring partner:
, a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for political coverage, offers some of the most interesting, in-depth reporting and contrarian perspectives you’re likely to read anywhere. This monthly’s columnists are incisive and acidly funny: Look out especially for Greg Beato’s sarcastic commentary. And reminiscent of Harper’s “Index,” the “Citings” section at the beginning of each issue collects information that you might not find anywhere else, documenting everything from excessive earmarks in a Congress that promised—and continues to promise—their demise, to the pointlessness of a tax-funded anti-pornography program. Unlike Harper’s, though, Reason provides context to anchor their more surprising reports. There are some party lines in this libertarian magazine. (Consider the magazine’s December issue, which featured a sidebar chiding contemporary Republicans for not taking author Ayn Rand seriously enough.) Nevertheless, Reason cultivates a useful contrarian voice—an ideal gift for those who agree with you one moment and bare their teeth the next. —Michael Rowe
For the fashion-conscious yet tasteful young woman:
To describe Eliza as a “modest” fashion magazine doesn’t do it justice. The simple adjective brings to mind images of prudish or pious women hiding their bodies in long skirts and plain tops. But Eliza is so much more. The Fall 2007 issue features smart, compelling, and useful stories, including a piece on how to change a tire, an exploration of Seattle, tips on how to be comfortable in your own skin, and, of course, plenty of fashion articles and photo shoots. I wouldn’t have even known that Eliza was a “modest” fashion magazine if I hadn’t read the editor’s note. But once Summer Bellessa clued me in to the magazine’s mission—“We will not uncover the sexual secrets to make him want you, promote people who are glitz with no substance, or glorify lifestyles that we know do not bring happiness”—I began to notice the pleasant absence of revealing clothing and sexually explicit images. A more accurate word to describe the styles in Eliza might be “tasteful” rather than “modest.” Either way, it’s definitely a good pick for any smart young woman interested in fashion without the sleaze. —Sarah Pumroy
For your college friend who once showed up at an ’80s night party dressed as an 1880s shopkeeper:
, another nominee for best new publication in this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards, publishes articles on straightforward topics, but from a perspective neither entirely serious nor exactly kidding (e.g., a travel piece that ends, “There’s no city in America with less personality than Myrtle Beach, S.C.”). It also runs more conventional pieces on odder subjects, along with fabricated profiles, features, and, in the Autumn 2007 issue’s “Best of History” section, historical narratives. (One is credited to an Oregon Trail pioneer who knows how to shoot his rifle in exactly eight directions.) The package is an entertaining assortment—sorry, a “miscellany”—of the esoteric, the deadpan, and the desperately clever. A great choice for anyone who’s interested in everything but takes none of it all that seriously. —Steve Thorngate
12/14/2007 5:40:54 PM
Are the British actually more funny than Americans, or do they just spend more time on their advertisements? I asked myself this question while watching the British Advertising Awards this week at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Some of the ads were emotionally manipulative (as Brendan Mackie wrote about on this blog), some of the ads made no sense, but many of them were little 90-second pieces of art.
The most memorable ads were also the most simple. Guinness won a “Diploma award” for a stop-action animation film of a man’s hand. Unfortunately, they won’t release the footage on YouTube, but I can include the link. Greenpeace UK got big laughs off this ad that asks, “What does your car say about you?”
Greenpeace won’t be able to stop people from buying SUVs with that little ad, it's true. Brendan Mackie may be right that “proper action must come from more than a 30-second television spot.” But if a few people stop and think, even for a few seconds, about the affect their cars have on the environment, can the advertisement really be that bad?
For a great holiday-themed ad, watch this one from the British soft drink Irn-Bru.
12/14/2007 5:02:20 PM
Most ads don’t go much deeper than describing the newest high-caloric low-priced feast being touted by your local fast-food joint. But advertising can do more than spread awareness about innovative new combinations of cheese product and textured beef protein. Case in point: A blog called Osocio posts nonprofit advertisements from around the world, including this Swedish spot that imagines what would happen if HIV/AIDS were as widespread in Sweden as in Ethiopia, and this moving rap about underage sex trafficking in the Philippines.
Advertisements are like manipulative, shiny baubles that flit along the edges of our attention. And while it’s nice that some ads are being used for good, it seems that all they can really do is pique our attention for a brief moment before we get distracted again. The problem with these huge problems—the AIDS crisis, cancer, the genocide in Darfur—is that we need more than a piqued awareness to do anything more effective than feel guilty. But proper action must come from more than a 30-second television spot. Even if it is really well produced.
Also check out this article on the innovative nonprofit ad agency Serve, from the November-December 2006 issue of Utne Reader.
12/12/2007 2:07:16 PM
Failed promises, information so contorted it could be part of a Russian circus, and phony grassroots movements. That’s what unscrupulous PR people use to lie to you! To crown the worst of the worst, the Center for Media and Democracy bestows the dubious honor of its 2007 Falsies Awards, which honor the most egregious instances of “pollution of our information environment.” More than 1,400 people took part in a survey to anoint this year’s winners.
The top prize, the Golden Falsie, was split between the Democratic Party, for sitting on its hands about the Iraq War, and the lobbying group Freedom’s Watch, which has spent the past few months keying up for a war in Iran. The Bronze Falsie was awarded to the baby formula industry, which orchestrated bogus grassroots campaigns to promote the industry’s sacred right to advertise in hospitals. Climate change denialists, FEMA’s faux news conferences, and other purveyors of disinformation were honored as well.
So what prizes do you give to such, er, dishonored recipients? Well, among other things, the winners get a Groucho Marx mask to hide their true identities.
12/7/2007 2:54:00 PM
Watching journalist Janine di Giovanni last week at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, I was struck by how composed and well-adjusted she is. Di Giovanni has covered nearly every major combat zone in recent memory, including Israel, Sarajevo, and Iraq. In Chechnya, she disguised herself as a refugee to escape Russian forces sent to “clean” the town she was in. In Sierra Leone, she met a girl whose job it was to hack off people’s limbs as punishment or just to send a message of intimidation. She wondered openly, “How much agony could the human soul suffer before it cracked?” I found myself asking the same question about her.
Many war correspondents suffer from deep depression, chronic promiscuity, and alcoholism. But di Giovanni told the audience that she is afflicted by none of these. So how has she escaped unscathed? She explains it by quoting one of her war-time sources, a mother who told her, “We live with this because we never forget; either in thoughts or real actions.”
For di Giovanni, war isn’t about guns and bombs, General Petraeus and President Bush. It’s about regular people. She has seen “pure evil” in the eyes of some of the people she met, but she has also witnessed compassion, understanding, and redemption. Horrific international failures like the conflict in the Congo, where the International Refugee Committee estimates that some 4 million people have died in the past six years, seem distant here in the United States. Journalism at it’s best, she said, shines a light on ongoing tragedies like the Congo, and on other places often ignored by the rest of the world.
12/6/2007 6:08:45 PM
Each year, the Oakland Tribune publishes a special section dedicated to the city’s homicides. It’s a familiar, macabre tradition known to urban newsrooms throughout the country: Compile the names of victims, locations of murders, and some testimonials from friends and families of the slain; then create a map to show the most problematic areas, send it to press, and move on to less disheartening news.
But this year, two Oakland Tribune staffers had a different idea. As the newsroom was preparing its annual homicide package, Web producers Katy Newton and Sean Connelley began preparing their own homicide map, tweaking the existing format to make it more interactive and personal. In an interview with the Annenberg Online Journalism Review, Newton and Connelley explain that their idea wasn’t to just change the way the paper covered homicides, but to change the way readers read and reacted to them. Every victim would have a face, a family, a personal history. No mug shots would be used as memorial photos. The dead would be remembered as their families remember them, not by an impassive description from a police report.
Their efforts brought about the Online Journalism Award–winning project Not Just A Number, which combines by-the-facts news reporting with social networking and activism to foster dialogue between Oakland residents. Victims’ families can connect with one another. The dead can be remembered and honored, instead of simply documented. And there are happy, personal photos instead of mug shots.
The map portion of Not Just A Number looks like an ordinary satellite photo of Oakland, but it’s dotted with numbers marking the locations of each of the city’s murders. Visitors can click on each one to learn about the person who was killed in that spot. In an especially poignant audio memorial to Morris McCall, the city’s 10th murder victim of the year, Carmelita King tells of her son’s exceptional energy, how his presence lit up their home, switching back and forth between present and past tense. It’s impossible not to feel something, looking at Carmelita’s photo on the computer screen, listening to a mother’s memory of dancing with her dead son.
Not Just A Number may not change the murder rate in Oakland. But at least the sadly common practice of mapping our dead has taken on a more a human dimension. Check out the project and the map on the Not Just A Number homepage.
12/4/2007 3:43:55 PM
The web’s capacity as a melting pot has, perhaps, been overstated. A recent study by Northwestern University suggests that college students’ race and ethnicity, as well as their parents’ level of education, are related to which social networking sites they choose. Though conventional wisdom paints the Internet as a democratic utopia, and online communities as places where users go to recreate their identities, the Northwestern study shows that users gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds and interests—in much the same way kids pick a table in their high school cafeteria. Facebook, for example, is favored by white students, and Hispanic students are more likely to use MySpace. This demographic splintering is most evident on social networking sites that actively court users from specific groups: NiggaSpace.com (young African Americans), Eons.com (people older than 50), and Xianz.com (Christians), among many others.
(Thanks, Mother Jones!)
12/3/2007 9:19:08 AM
Striking workers, parasitic scabs, and consequentialist decision-making: Sound like an Upton Sinclair novel? Or maybe the latest Craigslist scandal? Affirmative, on both counts. Besides being (roughly) the story behind Sinclair’s The Flivver King, these are the elements of a hilarious (and by some accounts immoral) fake Craigslist ad soliciting non-union writers for a “network television situation comedy.” The ad, which turned out to be a scab-fishing operation by the New York Press, garnered more than 80 e-mail responses in less than 24 hours. Check out Matt Elzweig’s story, and read many of the entertaining responses, in the New York Press.
Let’s withhold judgment regarding the journalistic integrity of this project until the obvious questions are answered: What are self-described bona fide sitcom writers doing looking for jobs on Craigslist? And who will pour the drinks at the Roxy if all the formerly unemployed writers really do start scabbing for network TV?
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