8/25/2008 5:20:37 PM
As the Democratic National Convention kicks off, there will be no shortage of right-wing “faux outrage” gleaned from the heavily covered procession in Denver, mused smintheus over at Daily Kos.
He compiled a list of what to look out for from the ultra-conservative talking heads. Among the possible targets: the Obamas using their children as a political ploy, too many dark-skinned speakers, lights dimmed/not dimmed during the national anthem, or the ill-mannered protesters outside the Pepsi Center. Fox News’ Griff Jenkins already has a jump-start on this last point.
One thing many Dems are hoping will not show up on the rant roundups? Convention-goers ridiculing John McCain’s military service. Despite the blatant mocking of John Kerry’s military service at the 2004 Republican National Convention—where delegates brandished Band-Aids with purple hearts drawn on them—even a benign reference to John McCain’s time in Vietnam by anyone in attendance might induce frothing at the mouth and accusations of “going negative.” We saw this already with the media’s coverage of Gen. Wesley Clark’s comment concerning McCain’s military cred. Just another example of Republican hypocrisy, writes Kangaroo Brisbane Australia on the ReBelle Nation blog.
We’ll just have to wait and see which possible targets emerge as the dominant force behind the bulging eyes and pulsing veins of the media worlds’ attack dogs.
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
8/25/2008 4:09:00 PM
User-generated news projects continue to flourish and compete directly with mainstream media. Recent developments in the world of citizen journalism underscore both the promise and the pitfalls of this emerging field.
The global news site Allvoices (“the first open media site where anyone can report from anywhere,” according to their banner) is upping the ante by offering cash incentives for popular news stories. Allvoices users who submit articles gathering 100,000 page views over six months will receive $1,000, and a million page views in the same period will net the author $100,000.
Meanwhile, Mediabistro reports that CNN’s three-year-old citizen journalism offshoot iReport is gaining traction, with “85,000 people registered as ‘reporters.’” The site’s “watershed moment” came in April 2007 when it ran a cell-phone video of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Finally, Global Voices passes along news of YouTube’s citizen journalism contest, which is soliciting three-minute videos “about someone in your community you believe should be known by the rest of the world.”
I’m all for the proliferation of diverse alternatives to the mainstream media, and citizen journalism looks like it’s here to stay, for better or worse. iReport provides a repository for eyewitness news and user videos, and YouTube’s video contest is an intriguing experiment. But the flaw in Allvoices’ incentive model seems obvious: To what lengths will people go in order to rack up page views for that cash reward? How will Allvoices ensure the credibility of its stories? If a winning story is revealed to be false, but the page views still add up, does the author still get the money? The scheme is reminiscent of Gawker Media’s business model, which also raises ethical questions.
Even when tenacious amateur journalists with good intentions place themselves on the front lines of an event—rather than, say, snarking from afar à la Gawker—they can’t always be counted upon to produce accurate stories. At Open Democracy, Evgeny Morozov provides a thorough commentary on citizen journalists’ coverage of the Russia-Georgia conflict. While mainstream news organizations scrambled to get reporters to the Caucasus in the conflict’s first days, native bloggers began filing regular dispatches. But problems quickly emerged, Morozov argues. The first was trust: News reports have appeared on blogs with little or no credibility or previous reporting history. Furthermore, internet access and technological resources are scarce in the region, and average citizens lack the budget necessary to capture quality video footage.
None of these shortcomings are likely to spell the end of citizen journalism, however, and that’s a good thing. In the coming years, methods of amateur reporting will no doubt be refined, the kinks ironed out, sound practices developed. Cash incentives like the ones offered by Allvoices are probably not a good idea, but that conflict of interest is not unique to amateur journalism—it’s no secret that the corporate media world is full of people placing profit ahead of journalistic integrity. Yes, there are problems created by such a huge and diverse range of enterprises in citizen media, but the cream will rise to the top, as user-driven media hubs like the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Citizen Media have already demonstrated.
Image courtesy of sskennel, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/25/2008 2:08:10 PM
The decline of newspaper readership is well documented. But research shows that this negative trend has not affected more “cerebral” weekly and monthly magazines. It seems counterintuitive, but as Stephen Glover of the Independent explains, it actually makes sense when you take a closer look.
Why has newspaper readership gone down? Most blame the internet, which makes a physical copy of the publication almost obsolete. But much of the content of magazines is also online, so why are they thriving while newspapers are foundering?
One factor is timeliness: how many of us have felt it was “too late” to read that day’s paper, that we could catch up with the weekend edition or on the website? How many of us simply don’t have time to sit down and read much of anything on a daily basis? Cerebral publications put out weekly or monthly, on the other hand, are less time-sensitive. In addition, they tend to have a better sense of their readers. They aren’t afraid to tailor their content to a specific audience in lieu of going for a massive slice of the population and seeing what sticks. Not to mention that reading a magazine is more of an enjoyable, leisurely activity. “There are few greater innocent pleasures in this life than curling up on a sofa, or on a rug in the garden, or even on the train, with a decent magazine in one's hands.” A decent magazine like, say, the Utne Reader?
(Thanks, The Editors Weblog)
8/25/2008 12:44:25 PM
Last week, Vin Crosbie, an outspoken critic of the so-called “digital revolution,” predicted that more than half of the nearly 1,500 daily newspapers in the United States “won't exist in print, e-paper, or Web site formats by the end of the next decade.”
As blogs take over print columns and advertisers study up on their HTML, the bricks and mortar of the physical newsroom are left in awkward limbo. Office work takes up less space than it did even 10 years ago, with computers that can slide through cracks in the sidewalk and rolodexes that amount to nothing more than pixels. Those lucky small-publications writers who haven’t yet been laid off are increasingly working from home, leaving behind decorated cubicles and monthly office birthday parties.
The Mother Jones website features graphic designer Martin Gee’s glimpse at one such dying newsroom, the San Jose Mercury News. Gee's photographs document a fluorescently lit ghost town, from its ever-blinking voicemail alerts to a graveyard of unplugged monitors. He captured the detritus of a shrinking staff from April to June 2008, when he was caught in a round of layoffs and left the paper. (View his entire "Reduction in Force" collection here.)
One must wonder how much hollow air our skyscrapers contain behind their mirrored windows, and if, in our age of continuous development, we might look toward existing space to get the job done.
Images courtesy of Martin Gee.
8/20/2008 4:26:42 PM
A little over two years ago, Girl Talk released Night Ripper, an album of masterfully remixed samples that lifted mashups—new songs built out of existing tracks—to a gold standard. “The record’s pacing is astonishing,” burbled Pitchfork, “with more than 150 sample sources (all thanked in the liner notes), it ricochets from Top 40 hits to obscure gems and back again like a cool breeze.”
Post-Napster music fans stood still, waiting for foamy-mouthed industry lawyers to descend upon Girl Talk’s man-behind-the-curtain Gregg Gillis in a frenzy of copyright-violation suits. Gillis even had sampled the very same “Bittersweet Symphony” riff that famously embroiled the Verve and the Rolling Stones in the late 90s.
And then. . . nothing happened.
Some speculated that the record industry wanted to avoid more negative, copyright-control-freak publicity—Gilles had thanked his samplees, for heaven’s sake. But more heartening was the hope that Night Ripper so clearly demonstrated creative transformation that no one dared question Gilles’ right to invoke fair use.
Fair use, laid out in Section 107 of U.S. copyright code, is a tricky thing, mostly because it’s (necessarily) vaguely defined, and (consequently) judged on a case-by-case basis. If you can make fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism, comment, scholarship, or teaching, why then: How do you define criticism? How do you define comment, scholarship, or teaching? If the portion used will be considered "in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole," well, then: What's a reasonable amount? Unfortunately, those definitions often seem to belong to the person with the biggest legal budget.
“Artists need to be able to earn money from their work, but by the same token, an artist needs some access to the work of others, to find things that are existing and reconfigure them into something new—the mashup is a hallmark of 21st-century artistry,” author Bill Ivey recently told Utne Reader librarian Danielle Maestretti. “The challenge is to have a conversation not about what’s good for corporations. . . or even what is important about copyright for artists, but really how copyright serves citizens.”
Confusion about fair use impacts more people than musicians and artists. In late 2007, American University’s Center for Social Media released a report entitled “The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy,” which showed how “poor guidance, counterproductive guidelines, and fear,” (emphasis mine) undermine teachers’ ability to “cultivate critical thinking and expression about media and its social role.” The report gives some based-on-real-life examples: A high school teacher, who produces dummy ads for his students to analyze, for fear that real ads would violate copyright restrictions in the classoom; an art teacher, who won't let students use album covers in their projects.
"Fair use is the most important tool in copyright for educators," according to the report's authors. Yet we’ve been so cowed by the specter of copyright enforcement that we toe a more conservative line than necessary.
Fast forward to the present day: Girl Talk’s recent release, Feed the Animals, samples over 300 songs, and Gilles’ unimpeded ascension to the top of the charts has some copyright scholars thinking of him as the guy who gave fair use “its mojo” back. OnTheCommons.org editor David Bollier writes:
Could Girl Talk’s brave invocation of fair use signal a turn of the tide for that beleaguered legal doctrine? Perhaps. Not only is fair use being thrown back at copyright industries with increasing frequency and success— evidenced by cases brought by fair use legal clinics at Stanford Law School and American University—Girl Talk actually has the public support of his Pennsylvania congressman, Mike Doyle.
It’s especially exciting to see scholarly momentum, even scholarly hope gathering around an artist like Girl Talk’s continued success when the general state of copyright law is so damn depressing. So depressing, in fact, that at the beginning of August, a premier U.S. intellectual on such matters threw in the towel at his personal copyright blog. Exhausted from voicing dissent, in his last post, William Party asserts:
Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.
What do you think about the current state of copyright law? Is it broken beyond repair? Should we be hanging our hopes on artists like Girl Talk? Discuss in the Utne Salon.
(Thanks, Guernica and Soft Skull News.)
, licensed under
8/15/2008 9:51:01 AM
Muslimah Media Watch hipped me to Chay, a new online magazine that aims to foster discussions about sex and sexuality in Pakistani society.
“Pakistani don’t have a way in which to talk about sex that is not derogatory, abusive, or silencing,” Chay cofounder Kyla Pasha told In The Fray. “Far from sex ed in school or even the home, straight, young people aren’t even comfortable talking about being in relationships. The perils of that kind of silence are great.”
From Chay's mission statement:
The taboo and silence around sex and sexuality are oppressive on all of us, irrespective of gender, and lead, at the very least, to unhappiness in our daily lives and, more often, to violence, shame, depression, ill health and general social malaise. We at Chay Magazine endeavor to bring to the Pakistani reading public a place to converse about those things we are most shy of. Our hope is that, through this, we can become braver and stronger, more powerful, self-assured, and just and fair members of society.
8/15/2008 9:22:56 AM
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why news outlets are sending 15,000 reporters to this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions. “[T]hese political gatherings tend to produce very little real news,” Shafer writes. “Yet the networks, the newspapers, the magazines, and the Web sites continue to insist on sending battalions of reporters to sift for itsy specks of information.”
It’d be one thing if that were, say, 15,000 news outlets each sending one reporter. But it’s not. Even Slate, Shafer says, is sending eight reporters to Denver and six to St. Paul.
In a year of blistering cost-cutting and layoffs, and with remaining reporters spread ever more thinly, is this really the best use of newspapers’ dollars? Might many of those 15,000 reporters not be better utilized to, say, cover local news during the two weeks of the conventions?
“As news organizations dwindle,” writes Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine, “this is an irresponsible use of resources and it only shows how the industry’s leaders are tied to doing things the way they always did them. That’s what will be the death of journalism.”
It’s probably fair to say that what happens inside convention walls is thoroughly rehearsed, uninspiring, and un-newsworthy. But what’s surprising about that? Most reporters worth their salt know that, as with any well-orchestrated media circus, the good stories lie well beyond convention parameters. Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins urges journalists to take a few detours: “Look for a better location to learn the real stories behind the script from which the Dems and Republicans want the media to read.”
8/14/2008 1:05:53 PM
It’s not often that someone is awarded for resigning, but that's precisely why Glen Mabie received this year's Ethics in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Mabie, the former news director of a TV station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, stepped down in January after the station made a deal with Sacred Heart Hospital to run specific stories about the facility’s employees and services.
The Association of Health Care Journalists and the SPJ warn that these stories violate media ethics and unfairly influence the public, writes Trudy Lieberman for the Columbia Journalism Review. People are “unaware that the five o’clock news story on the latest imaging device used on patients at a local hospital—perhaps reported by the TV anchor—is really an ad in disguise.” There is no objectivity: when a facility is paying for the coverage, no alternative viewpoints are allowed.
Lieberman’s rundown of similar incidents in the media shows that they are more common than one would think or hope. She also points out that biased health reporting perpetuates the health care industry’s obsession with obtaining expensive equipment instead of focusing on patient education and care.
8/12/2008 1:31:40 PM
That culturally ubiquitous slice of youth culture known as hipsters now finds itself under the microscope of the always provocative Adbusters. The magazine’s latest issue—and, to some extent, its overall editorial mission—is predicated on the alleged cultural malaise of the past 50 years, beginning with the rise of postwar consumer culture as an inevitable byproduct of Western ingenuity. “Practical cleverness beats the crap out of spiritual wisdom on the battlefield and in the marketplace, as the West has made clear over the last 500 years,” the preface declares. “But cleverness without wisdom sooner or later destroys life.”
Douglas Haddow’s lead essay, "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization," takes it from there, positing hipsters as avatars of the narcissism and spiritual emptiness Adbusters laments, and as the probable harbingers of civilization’s decline. “We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum," Haddow writes. "So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality, and is leaving a generation pointlessly obsessing over fashion, faux individuality, cultural capital and the commodities of style.”
As much as the cantankerous square in me wants to see hedonistic youngsters taken down a peg, I think this essay might be giving hipsters a bit too much credit, overestimating both their cultural impact and longevity while longing nostalgically for a chimeral sense of past “cool” whose own authenticity is itself suspect. “An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather than creating it,” Haddow claims. But is this sort of inversion really so unprecedented? Are hipsters the first generation to practice it? And isn’t it more accurate to say that all youth everywhere, not just hipsters, end up doing both the creating and the consuming of culture, with the advertising and entertainment industries serving as mediators?
Yes, the commodification of cool is obnoxious, but it’s not novel and it’s not an agent of the apocalypse. Casting oneself and one’s peers as the “last generation, a culmination of all previous things”—as Haddow does, in his essay’s dour conclusion—displays the same narcissism and myopia as the culture he’s skewering. Hipsters are really nothing more than the latest manifestation of the disaffected, nihilistic youth population that mutates into a new form with each generation. They’re an obnoxious but essentially innocuous pocket of youth culture whose era is already waning, especially now that hipsterdom has been thoroughly assimilated into mainstream culture, branded, and codified into a household word. The hipster fad is now so ubiquitous as to be almost meaningless: everyone and no one is a hipster.
Besides, I’m immediately suspicious of any author who posits the “end” of anything. Hipsters represent the end of Western civilization? Really? Alarmist generalizations are guaranteed to sell magazines and generate angry emails to the editor—in fact, the inevitable debate will probably be more interesting than the article that inspired it. But ultimately, I suspect hipsters are simply kids in a phase they’ll eventually grow out of, just like the Gen-Xers, punks, hippies, beatniks, and flappers before them.
Image by Joseph Mohan.
8/8/2008 10:42:34 AM
Is anyone else going meme crazy these days? Maybe it’s just some strange conflation of meme-talk here at the Utne Reader office, but if I hear (or read or sniff) one more reference to a meme, I’m going to drink everyone’s milkshakes, and then make all the straws into my new bicycle.
I know: I should pity the meme. These are heady times for a term coined in 1976. Back when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave memes a name in his book The Selfish Gene, there was no world wide web to speed along cultural transmission. Memes, as Dawkins defined them, are self-propagating cultural phenomena such as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” He likened them to genes. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.” Dawkins explains how Darwinian principles, like natural selection, govern that evolution.
These days, all your memes are belong to us, and by us I mean the Internets, by which I mean the web. Linguistic and media-driven memes in particular spread swiftly online. If you don’t pay attention (see: if you have anything else to do during the day except troll online), you can miss a whole meme-elution. Not being up to meme-speed = awkward social encounters. Picture yourself standing in a room, tepidly smiling as everyone riffs about some walrus that lost its bucket. Getting the jokes in the late-night monologue? Forget it.
“One week: That’s how much time an Internet meme needs to propagate, become its own opposite, and then finally collapse back in on itself,” Christopher Beam writes on Slate. Beam based his observation on the lifecycle of the wildly popular “Barack Obama is your new bicycle” meme.
That well-known meme all started with a website of the same name, and on August 5 (drum roll, please) Gotham published a Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle book. Website creator and Wired contributing editor Matthew Honan isn’t the only meme-generator to get a book deal lately. This March, Gawker reported that Random House paid at least $350,000 for the right to publish Stuff White People Like, based on (you guessed it!) the website of the same name.
All this makes me wish Chuck Norris would step in and deliver some round-house regulation. Memes, old-fashioned memes, naturally-occurring memes, have a lot to tell us about how culture stalls and grows. Rewarding senseless Internet memes, however, with two things our society likes very much—cash and publicity—will only motivate imitators. If Internet memes become a popularity contest with a cash reward (exploiting a lowest-common-denominator urge to be in on the joke)—are they still memes? Out in the blogosphere, you already can spot people discussing how to propagate preferred memes. In the inevitable march of the Internet memes, I just hope the best viral marketer wins.
Images by Rachel Pumroy, Women, Fire & Dangerous Things, and Peter Mandik, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/6/2008 10:09:12 AM
The Columbia Journalism Review recently inaugurated “Parting Thoughts,” an ongoing series of letters from former journalists writing on the biz and its future. In the handful of letters published thus far, there are a lot of wise words—and surprisingly few embittered ones.
Some write about their path to an entirely new career, like Tracy Gordon Fox’s elegant letter describing her shift from crime reporter to nursing student, and John Biemer’s explaining why he chose med school over the Chicago Tribune. Others share their thoughts on the downfall of newspapers, and most offer some form of advice (encouraging, terrifying, or some combination of the two) to all the would-be journalists out there. Here’s former Wall Street Journal editor Winston Wood:
If you’re interested in journalism, even now, give it a shot. It’s a great way to learn about the world, develop communication and analytical skills, and provide a public service. But over the long haul, there’s more stability and better money to be made panhandling.
8/5/2008 12:32:35 PM
The current issue of the Minnesota Women's Press improves upon one of Ms. magazine's popular sexism-shaming features. The Ms. version, "No Comment," simply reprints offensive ads alongside contact info for the companies they represent (here's an example, from the Spring 2005 issue). The Women's Press iteration may be a copycat, but its copy is better executed—it actually spells out what's offensive about the ad in question, a bit of directness from which the Ms. feature could benefit.
In this case, the Women’s Press takes on a BMW ad for pre-owned cars, which displays a come-hither-looking blonde woman with the caption “You know you're not the first.” “Isn't it common knowledge,” the Women’s Press snarks, “that a good used woman is just like a good used car? Or maybe the car is preferable because it doesn't talk back—or doesn't ask questions about a man's past ‘driving history.’”
Some people don’t get puns, and some of us don’t immediately spot sexism in the tiny reprinted versions of these ads—I’ve stared at more than one in Ms. without realizing what the problem is—and most of the time, a little context or analysis goes a long way.
8/5/2008 10:44:09 AM
Everyone seems to be watching the economy a little more closely, whether they're most concerned about the foreclosure crisis, credit card debt, or paying for college. Media coverage often misses the boat on these complex issues, but lively economics blogs have stepped in to fill the void, delving into politics and media criticism while deciphering the latest research. Here are a few to get you started:
Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, criticizes and clarifies the media’s economic coverage at the American Prospect's Beat the Press blog.
Brad DeLong, a professor at the University of California–Berkeley, writes Grasping Reality with Both Hands, where he frequently corrects errors in economic and political reporting under the not-so-subtle heading “[Publication Name] Death Spiral Watch."
, an oft-updated site maintained by George Mason University economics professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, appears on DeLong's helpful list of recommended econ blogs. Last week, Tabarrok posted an in-depth critique of the latest "math wars" study that questioned the existence of a math ability gap between boys and girls, attracting dozens of responses about sexism and former Harvard President Larry Summers' 2005 imbroglio over sex and scientific ability.
Another pair of George Mason economists, Donald Boudreaux and Russell Roberts, author the more conservative Cafe Hayek, which can be refreshing in challenging such conventional wisdom as the evils of Wal-Mart or off-shore drilling.
At The Fly Bottle, Cato Institute research fellow Will Wilkinson offers a center-right view of economics, from critiquing global-warming alarmism to questioning the benefit of the minimum-wage hike.
is a Harvard professor who blogs (infrequently, but quite readably) about globalization and economic development. For a more regular feed, Rodrik recommends Yale political scientist Chris Blattman's economic development blog.
Image by genericface, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/1/2008 5:39:33 PM
The New York Times reports that the military is cracking down on photojournalists who take pictures they don’t approve of, in many cases booting photographers from their embeds or keeping them away from combat. “By a recent count,” the article claims, “only half a dozen Western photographers were covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged.”
Chris Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images, was removed from his embed after one of his photos—a haunting image of a hysterical 5-year-old girl whose parents had just been killed by U.S. soldiers—was widely published. (We featured the photo in our May-June issue, with George Packer's essay “Kindness Amid Carnage: The Iraq We Don’t See.”) Hondros did, however, find an embed in a different city.
The military’s embed policies don’t just keep photos of wounded and dead Iraqis out of our newspapers. “After five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths,” the New York Times reports, “searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.”
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