3/28/2008 9:38:53 AM
Should journalists vote? The debate may be “one of the most tedious subjects in journalism,” writes Politico editor John Harris, but it’s one he recently hashed out with two of his colleagues anyway. Mike Allen, the newspaper’s chief political correspondent and a non-voter, kicks things off:
I’m part of a minority school of thought among journalists that we owe it to the people we cover, and to our readers, to remain agnostic about elections, even in private. I figure that if the news media serve as an (imperfect) umpire, neither team wants us taking a few swings.
Harris, an unashamed exerciser of his franchise, responds by disentangling the sacred ideal of journalistic objectivity from everyday fairness.
A journalist can cast votes and have opinions, even strong ones, and still be fair. We do it by letting people have their say, by not putting our thumb on the scale with loaded language, and by having the modesty as reporters to admit that information is always fragmentary and it is our role to tell stories but not to pretend that we are society’s High Court of Truth.
Image by billaday, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/27/2008 5:11:16 PM
The transgender narrative is well known, thanks to films like Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica. But the problem, as Extra! reports in an analysis of transgender coverage over the past few years, is the idea that a single “transgender narrative” exists.
The narrative is by now quite familiar: A somewhat prominent white, middle-to-upper-class man comes out as a transgender woman, her long history of feeling “trapped in the wrong body” is detailed, and her struggles and surgeries are documented, as are the struggles of those around her to understand and embrace her change.
The Extra! report also seizes upon another shortcoming of media attention: that many reporters and television reporters obsess over a person’s “genital status,” reducing their transgender guests to sideshow surgical curiosities. Larry King is a notable perpetrator of such invasive questions—because, he explained to one guest, “we’re all fascinated with what happens.”
People may be curious, Extra! acknowledges, but “there are very few instances in which someone’s genital status or sex life would actually be pertinent to a news story, and the simple fact of being transgender is not one of them.” Thankfully, some news outlets are beginning to understand that. Both the Associated Press and the New York Times style guides now dictate that reporters should refer to transgender subjects using a person’s preferred name and pronoun, rather than relying on anatomical or biological status.
An excellent ColorLines piece, "Becoming a Black Man," points the way toward better coverage by profiling transgender people within power matrices of gender, race, and class, moving beyond the traditional focus of the the male/female binary.
3/25/2008 5:49:01 PM
Normally, I don’t spend much time fretting over the plight of marketers. These are the creative types that irked me with their solid post-graduation plans and now rake in the dough by seducing me into wanting things my bank account can’t afford (thus sowing a nagging suspicion that I should have gone into a more lucrative field like, say, marketing). So when I went last night to hear Bob Garfield, the host of NPR’s On the Media and a columnist for Advertising Age, talk about “The Future of Media,” I was a bit disappointed to learn that he’d really be talking about “The Future of Advertising.” Since advertising pays the bills, though, I decided I’d better stay put and listen.
Madison Avenue, it seems, is in danger of becoming Skid Row. We can thank the Internet for that. Advertisers are recoiling from the printed page, abandoning the 30-second televised spot, and scrambling to recreate these bygone paradigms in the digital world. But there’s no going back. Craigslist has siphoned the classifieds section money stream, the few people who click on banner ads probably do so by accident, and blocking pop-ups is a much-appreciated default setting. As for commercials? “Online video has killed the video star,” says Garfield. That, and TiVo. Why sit through silly spots when you can blip blip blip your way through commercials, catch programs online, or, better yet, make your own entertainment for all the World Wide Web to see?
So far, the marketing biz hasn’t found its footing in this brave new world, says Garfield. But, he assures, there is money to be made because people love consuming and crave information about their consumables. That’s why smart companies are abandoning the conceit of the captive audience and are instead pouring money into the IT infrastructure that will drive search optimization, aggregate consumer data, and build “relationships” with consumers. Don’t bother with a scripted ad, the logic goes, just build a really good website and let the buyers come to you. Or devise super clever ways to entice consumers. To drive this point home Garfield showed a slide of a handy new technology out of Canada that essentially functions like a marketers’ version of VH1’s Pop-Up Video, though instead of snarky observations you get brand names, company links, and sales info when you mouse over the people and objects in the video.
That’s when my heart sank, because the solutions for marketing in this new media world seem apocalyptic when applied to journalism. Product placement has long since infiltrated and cheapened entertainment, but it would kneecap good reporting. And if marketers don’t have to rely on advertising anymore, what does the news business do for funding?
When I asked Garfield what happens to good journalism in this new media landscape, he talked about some hopeful developments. First, there’s the symbiotic relationship forming between mainstream news outlets and the blogosphere, whereby newspapers churn out the daily news and the blogosphere aggregates it, points out the holes, and contextualizes what’s going on for readers. Second, there's the opportunity to involve readers, either through the crowdsourcing that’s proved a gold mine for document dumps or by tapping readers not only for input on their interests but as citizen journalists.
There are pitfalls and potential in both these realms, and I’m excited to see how they hash out, but neither speak to the question of funding; they address only the new possibilities afforded by online technology. The problem remains: Who’s going to pay for it? Some, like Garfield did last night, raise the specter of minimal charges, a la pay-per-view. “Why bother shoplifting from the dollar store?” he asked. I’m skeptical that such charging schemes will work: the New York Times already abandoned its premium content scheme, and the internet has reared folks to expect free content—weaning them of that now is nigh impossible. There are others that say journalism should turn to foundation funding. And there are those that argue that government may have to step in. If you’ve got any ideas, let us know. We might need them.
Image by DRB62, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/25/2008 5:35:41 PM
Briarpatch magazine sheds its Canadian cocoon to burst into borderless territory—“life beyond the sexual binary”—in its gender-themed March-April issue. Becky Ellis casts off home-schooling stereotypes in a discussion of feminist home-schooling, describing the progressive “community-based” learning style she’s adopted and exploring approaches favored by other progressive home-schoolers. Calvin Sandborn’s essay bombards the reader with a long list of harms traditional masculinity wreaks upon men, provocatively illustrated by Daryl Vocat’s series of found and manipulated Boy Scout drawings. And Chanelle Gallant, founder of the Feminist Porn Awards, sasses about feminism, anti-racism, and porn in a quick Q&A. “I can’t believe that feminism wasted a whole decade fighting about porn instead of fighting about things like child care and reproductive justice,” she says. “I mean, really?”
3/25/2008 1:37:52 PM
John Solomon, the new executive editor at the Washington Times, recently made some changes to the newspaper’s stylebook, specifically amending the sections referencing gays and immigrants, among others, reports the Washington City Paper.
The Pruden Times customarily put quotes around gay marriage and refused to call gays
; they had to be homosexuals. By the same logic, illegal immigrants couldn’t be called illegal immigrants; they had to be aliens. The odd placement of quotes and labels distinguished the Times as both conservative and creepy.
The shift toward a more moderate style of news coverage may surprise readers familiar with the paper’s combative style and conservative slant on most issues. But not to fear: If you’re in the mood for some ultra-right paranoia, check out the responses readers left after the City Paper first reported on the stylebook changes. (Choice example: “The readership and the ad revenue will dive. I certainly won’t read the NEW PINKO TIMES.”)
3/21/2008 8:16:05 AM
Lose your camera, or your memory stick full of pictures?
Maybe you left it on the plane, or in the hotel room, or down on the beach. Maybe your photos are long gone.
Or maybe they’re on this blog, waiting to be claimed.
Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/19/2008 2:44:02 PM
The U.S. media’s perpetually disappointing coverage of the Iraq war is well documented, and continues to be hashed out on both the right and the left. And for the most part, the media has earned its reputation. But five years in, the earsplitting squall of fervent criticism has drowned out a lot of the good work being done, too, some of which Greg Mitchell calls attention to at TomDispatch.com. Mitchell, the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher, writes:
Allow me—for once—to focus on the positive by suggesting that many of the most critical and important journalistic voices exposing the criminal nature of, and the many costs of, this war have emerged from an "alternative" universe that includes former war correspondents, reporters for small newspapers or news services, comedians, aging rock 'n rollers, and bloggers, among others.
Mitchell’s picks extend beyond the usual suspects. He includes Stephen Colbert, for one (before you roll your eyes, read the essay), and Lee Pitts, an embedded reporter with the Chattanooga Times who was largely responsible for the 2004 outcry over poorly armored vehicles.
It's a year old now, but for an unequaled roundup of reporters' perspectives, check out the Columbia Journalism Review's outstanding Iraq issue (Nov.-Dec. 2006). Splicing together bits of interviews conducted with 45 journalists, CJR's editors constructed a gut-wrenching oral history of war reporting from 2003-2006, juxtaposed with some of the best Iraq photos I've seen.
What's your go-to source for information on Iraq? Compare notes in the Media Salon.
(Thanks, Media Matters / Altercation.)
3/18/2008 2:13:28 PM
Forget championing fair and balanced reporting. Fox News has other problems on its hands. The New York Times reports that Fox News’ Manhattan newsroom is infested with bedbugs:
In an interview on Monday, Warren Vandeveer, senior vice president for operations and engineering at Fox News, said the cable channel had realized it had a problem a few weeks ago, when an employee “caught a bug and showed it to us.” An exterminator determined that the incursion was limited to a “very small area in the newsroom.”
As Media Bistro’s TV Newser reported back in November, the broadcaster has battled the bugs before.
3/17/2008 11:12:11 AM
If you haven’t been reading the Oxford American, one of the best showcases for Southern writing this Dixie-loving nation has to offer, now’s a good time to start. The nonprofit magazine has been hit with a big financial blow, albeit of a different variety than what the rest of the ad-revenue-challenged publishing world is experiencing: The Oxford American’s office manager is accused of embezzling upwards of $30,000, Publishers Weekly reports.
In past years, Oxford American has shown a Scarlett O’Hara brand of resilience, weathering three press-stopping financial disasters since it began printing in 1992. Founding editor Marc Smirnoff remains optimistic. “I’m confident that this year we’ll get an infusion of cash,” Smirnoff told Publishers Weekly. “I don’t know why, I just am.” Behold the current issue, phenomenal from front to back, which is dedicated to sports. Boxing, cockfighting, a true-crime murder mystery involving a former rising star in pro baseball, and writing by the likes of M.O. Walsh and John Updike. Rhett Butler be damned, the South shall rise again.
3/17/2008 11:01:15 AM
September 11 rescue workers aren’t the only professionals suffering the aftereffects of prolonged toxic exposure. Photojournalists who captured early images of Ground Zero also breathed in toxic fumes and debris, and some have suffered from related health problems. Photo District News Online reports that New York Times photographer Keith Meyers, whose photographs of the still-smoking towers earned him a Pulitzer, has asthma and other health problems so severe he can no longer work.
3/10/2008 9:55:23 AM
International development experts are taking their advice to the small screen. Developments magazine reports on Shamba Shape-Up!, a new home-makeover show in Kenya that combines entertainment and education to explore the sorts of problems faced by poor farming families. Mediae, the independent production company behind the show, plans to film six episodes starting this month. The show's pilot addressed a typical concern—water—by installing rainwater collection tanks on a farm located 3 kilometers from the nearest source.
Mediae’s message-driven drama Makatano Junction has enjoyed popularity since 2005, attracting five million viewers in its third season by addressing pertinent issues such as child sexual abuse and violence against women. Shape-Up! creators expect similar success.
3/7/2008 5:41:43 PM
There’s really no way to tiptoe around when writing about the possibility-of-assassination hype surrounding Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. As a journalist, you either take the plunge into sewage-clogged waters and brace yourself for silly claims about feeding the imagination of racist psychos, or you don’t.
Adam Reilly, in a recent article in the Phoenix, tries to play both sides by justifying writing about the (ridiculous) media coverage the issue has received with the (even more ridiculous) media coverage concerning how said coverage might actually increase the odds of said possibility. Besides being dizzyingly circuitous, the argument is patently lacking in something Stephen Colbert claims America has in spades: balls. Is the subject really so taboo?
Only if you think the reality of racist nut jobs with a propensity for lethal violence should be swept under the rug. Of course he’s a target, in some reactionary’s wet dream, if not in reality. And that’s worth covering. What isn’t worth covering is why some people think it shouldn’t be covered, pseudoscientific ideas concerning how covering it would affect the odds of it happening, or anything else having to do with meta-analyzing the topic.
And here’s a new rule: When discussing how worried we all are about an attempt on Senator Obama’s life, there’s no need to point out how terrible a thing it is to reflect on. We already know. And chances are, if somebody doesn’t think the assassination of our first truly viable black presidential candidate would be an enormous national tragedy, then call the Secret Service, because that’s probably the guy everyone’s worried about.
3/6/2008 4:28:01 PM
Occasionally, despite their aim to represent objective journalism, newspapers have to assert an ethical position on divisive issues. The Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Weymouth, recently instituted the inalienable right to extreme procrastination in the workplace: She established a game room at the D.C. daily, complete with air hockey, foosball, and a Wii she donated herself, reports the Washington City Paper. And so the Post becomes the first mainstream newspaper to support the life-affirming value of Super Mario Galaxy. (Seriously, that game affirms life.)
(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)
Image by Random J, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/5/2008 11:33:07 AM
It’s a prestigious journal indeed that can name such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sun Tzu, and Winston Churchill among its contributors. The debut issue of Lapham’s Quarterly features work from these thinkers and many others, which makes for a fascinating read and a pretty startling group of contributor bios (Homer’s and Herodotus’ are crowned by classical-sculpture mug shots).
The hefty new journal (all 200+ pages of it) is a labor of love for former Harper’s editor and unabashed history buff Lewis Lapham. Four times a year the Quarterly’s editors will seize upon the most urgent question in the headlines—foreign war, financial panic, the separation of church and state—and dig up relevant responses from authors whose writings have passed the test of time. Lapham’s method assumes that profound observations of the human character and predicament don't become obsolete.
Each issue adheres to a specific theme (this one’s is “States of War”), which is explored through essays by prominent writers past and present. The way the journal frames the ideas of long-dead thinkers within a contemporary context is engrossing, and the selections from modern writers and thinkers are no less effective or prescient.
Lapham’s Quarterly is careful to avoid narratives bogged down in scholar-speak, instead favoring histories rich in both detail and prose. This commitment to readability makes the journal’s content a unique, pleasant marriage of great storytelling and important historical accounts.
3/5/2008 10:37:10 AM
A new low-power FM station out east offers hope for music geeks, DIY broadcasters, and those of us who’ve had it with the corporate radio–favored mix of crappy pop songs and Steve Miller Band ditties. Vermont LPFM community radio station 105.9 The Radiator began broadcasting in September, after a seven-year journey to the airwaves.
Burlington’s alt-weekly Seven Days reports on how two dedicated scenesters dreamed up the idea for a noncommercial, low-power FM station committed to showcasing homegrown Vermont talent and then sustained the project’s momentum through the years. Today, the station broadcasts more than 50 local-interest shows. Wednesday evenings play host to Rocket Shop, an all-local program packed with Vermont-made music and live in-studio performances. The quirky Poli-Sci-Fi Radio airs on Sunday evenings, following an hour of music and poetry drawn exclusively from Burlington’s public library.
For another local radio success story, check out “Really Fresh Air,” a profile of Twin Cities public radio station 89.3 The Current, from the March-April edition of Utne Reader.
3/3/2008 6:04:05 PM
Publicly ranking one’s favorite books, films, and albums seems to pass for critical blessing these days. Truth be told, I’m not so sure that making recommendations in list form is a new phenomenon—the Ten Commandments have a whiff of recommendation, don’t they? Still, most contemporary publications love to offer top-ten lists or best-of-the-year lists. (Hell, read any issue of Mental Floss.)
And then there’s Time Enough At Last, A.J. Michel’s “reading log 2007,” a zine she assembled simply to share—in just a few sentences—whether she loved, liked, didn’t mind, or couldn’t finish a particular book, comic, or zine. Michel’s month-by-month breakdown of what she’s read offers no snarky rankings, but it’s sassy enough to be pretty entertaining. She sensibly sticks to the basic premise of a few sentences’ worth of evaluation. After all, she can’t waste time reviewing when she ought to be out trying to satisfy her insatiable need for reading material:
Plane trips and vacations are a nightmare because not only do I have to pick and choose what books to take, I have to decide if to stow them in checked luggage, or carry them on. What happens if the plane is stuck on the runway for six hours and I finish not only the books I have with me, but also the airline magazine, and SkyMall catalog? Do I start hitting up other passengers for books? Best to be prepared.
If you have a similar need, perhaps Time Enough At Last can be your guide.
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