Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:55 AM
The Nature Conservancy is taking a new stripped-down approach to environmental protection: The green group is teaming up with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and online luxury retailer Gilt to raise money for beach preservation in an unholy mashup of sex, commerce, marketing, publishing, and environmentalism.
Why the green tie-in? “Because everyone benefits from pristine tropical beaches. Especially when they’re occupied by gorgeous women in bathing suits.” That’s according to promotional prose about the partnership on the Gilt website, in an announcement that is no longer posted. (Though you can still buy a $1,000 ticket to a New York launch party where you can hang out with the swimsuit supermodels.)
Gilt will be selling Sports Illustrated-themed swimsuits, surfboards, photos, and other merch on its site, with all ecommerce sale proceeds going “to preserve the beaches SI features in its pages,” reports Folio magazine.
Not everyone is sold on the mission. “What’s next for The Nature Conservancy?” wrote a commenter on Folio. “Partnering with porn sites?”
I understand the writer’s sentiment. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has long been an overhyped exercise in sexual objectification and anorexia induction, and I’m not sure why The Nature Conservancy thinks it will benefit from hitching its green message to the marketing machine that cranks out this cheeseball, throwback brand of softcore year after year. The association seems to risk putting off every potential supporter who doesn’t think Mad Men is a look back at the good old days.
Environmental writer Derrick Jensen of Orion already saw this sort of thing coming, having penned a prescient column in the current issue titled “Not in My Name.” Go ahead and call him a killjoy, but I think he pretty much nailed it:
Let me say upfront: I like fun, and I like sex. But I’m sick to death of hearing that we need to make environmentalism fun and sexy. … The fact that so many people routinely call for environmentalism to be more fun and more sexy reveals not only the weakness of our movement but also the utter lack of seriousness with which even many activists approach the problems we face. …
Unfortunately, the notion that activism … has to be fun and sexy pervades the entire environmental movement, from the most self-styled radical to the most mainstream reformist.
Sources: Folio, Gilt Groupe, Orion
, licensed under
Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:33 AM
When you think of first-person shooters, trigger-happy video games like Halo and Quake come to mind. Or if you’re old enough, you may remember the good ol’ days of Doom and Duke Nukem—and all of their pixilated gore. A game called Warco (currently in development) hopes to change the first-person shooter dynamic. In the game you get a video recorder instead of a shotgun, and you can’t kill anyone or blow up buildings. Your job is to sit back and document the scene.
Warco, you see, is a video game instilled with the principles of journalism. (The term “warco” is industry slang for a war correspondent.) According to techie blog Ars Technica, the game’s developer, Defiant, “is working with both a journalist and a filmmaker to create a game that puts you in the role of a journalist embedded in a warzone.” Half of the game play involves capturing the action, and the other half is editing your footage and creating compelling news stories.
“It’s also about navigating through a morally gray world and making decisions that have human impact,” Defiant’s Morgan Jaffit explained to Ars Technica. “It’s about finding the story you want to tell, as each of our environments is filled with different story elements you can film and combine in your own ways. It’s both a story telling engine and an action adventure with a new perspective.”
To the concerned parents out there: The violence in Warco is not toned down—in fact, it’s amped up and hyperrealistic. (Check out the promo video below.) War is rarely subtle and rarely free from bloodshed. But if the game developer pulls off what is trying to do, the gamers will need to survive on the opposite side of the gun. As players collect footage and try to make meaning from random violence through the video editing process, they’ll be forced into a conceptual position unprecedented in the video game world. After the Xbox or computer is turned off, perhaps they will have learned a new way to think about conflict, or perhaps they will better understand the inexplicable horrors of war.
The developer’s aspirations are noble. Which is why they should be especially worried about selling it to a wide audience.
Source: Ars Technica
Image is a screenshot from Warco.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 11:19 AM
From the front cover to the closing essay, putting together an issue of Utne Reader takes about two months. The editors at Longshot magazine assemble theirs in two days. The next issue of Longshot is about to go into production, and they need your help.
The magazine will announce the next issue’s theme at noon on Friday, July 29 (Pacific time) here. Writers, designers, photographers, and other contributors have exactly one day to submit work. According to Longshot’s website:
We need writers, photographers, illustrators, videographers, information designers, editors, proof readers, fact checkers, baristas, chefs, bartenders, and carpenters. (Especially bartenders). We want submissions ranging from 140 characters to 4,000 words. Please send us your strongly reported narratives, design fictions, interviews, data visualizations, cartoons, family portraits, how-to guides, maps, obscure histories, recipes, war reporting, photo-essays, blueprints, ships’ logs, scientific papers, charticles, wood cuts, curio boxes, product reviews, and box scores.
Longshot is not only crowd-sourced, but also crowd-funded via Kickstarter. As some extra incentive, Longshot will award $2,000 to the writer whose article is chosen as the cover feature.
As project leader and writer for TheAtlantic Sarah Rich says in the promotional video: “Writers from the New Yorker and Wired shared pages with people who had never been published before or even submitted to a magazine.” Good luck, and get ready to write!
Monday, May 16, 2011 1:58 PM
This article was originally published at
Objective reporting on the SEAL team that killed bin Laden was as easy to find as a Prius at a Michele Bachmann rally. The media simply couldn’t help themselves. They couldn’t stop spooning out man-sized helpings of testosterone -- the SEALs’ phallic weapons, their frat-house, haze-worthy training, their romance-novel bravado, their sweaty, heaving chests pressing against tight uniforms, muscles daring to break free...
You get the point. Towel off and read on.
What is it about the military that turns normally thoughtful journalists into war pornographers? A reporter who would otherwise make it through the day sober spends a little time with some unit of the U.S. military and promptly loses himself in ever more dramatic language about bravery and sacrifice, stolen in equal parts from Thucydides, Henry V, and Sergeant Rock comics.
I’m neither a soldier nor a journalist. I’m a diplomat, just back from 12 months as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leader, embedded with the military in Iraq, and let me tell you that nobody laughed harder at the turgid prose reporters used to describe their lives than the soldiers themselves. They knew they were trading hours of boredom for maybe minutes of craziness that only in retrospect seemed “exciting,” as opposed to scary, confusing, and chaotic. That said, the laziest private knew from growing up watching TV exactly what flavor to feed a visiting reporter.
In trying to figure out why journalists and assorted militarized intellectuals from inside the Beltway lose it around the military, I remembered a long afternoon spent with a gaggle of “fellows” from a prominent national security think tank who had flown into Iraq. These scholars wrote serious articles and books that important people read; they appeared on important Sunday morning talk shows; and they served as consultants to even more important people who made decisions about the Iraq War and assumedly other conflicts to come.
One of them had been on the staff of a general whose name he dropped more often than Jesus’s at a Southern Baptist A.A. meeting. He was a real live neocon. A quick Google search showed he had strongly supported going to war in Iraq, wrote apology pieces after no one could find any weapons of mass destruction there (“It was still the right thing to do”), and was now back to check out just how well democracy was working out for a paper he was writing to further justify the war. He liked military high-tech, wielded words like “awesome,” “superb,” and “extraordinary” (pronounced EXTRA-ordinary) without irony to describe tanks and guns, and said in reference to the Israeli Army, “They give me a hard-on.”
Fearing the Media vs. Using the Media
Such figures are not alone. Nerds, academics, and journalists have had trouble finding ways to talk, write, or think about the military in a reasonably objective way. A minority of them have spun off into the dark side, focused on the My Lai, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon-style psycho killers. But most spin in the other direction, portraying our men and women in uniform as regularly, daily, hourly saving Private Ryan, stepping once more into the breach, and sacking out each night knowing they are abed with brothers.
I sort of did it, too. As a State Department Foreign Service Officer embedded with the military in Iraq, I walked in... er, deployed, unprepared. I had never served in the military and had rarely fired a weapon (and never at anything bigger than a beer can on a rock ledge). The last time I punched someone was in ninth grade. Yet over the course of a year, I found myself living and working with the 82nd Airborne, followed by the 10th Mountain Division, and finally the 3rd Infantry Division, three of the most can-do units in the Army. It was... seductive.
The military raised a lot of eyebrows in my part of the world early in the Iraq invasion with their policy of embedding journalists with front-line troops. Other than preserving OpSec (Operational Security for those of you who have never had The Experience) and not giving away positions and plans to the bad guys, journalists were free to see and report on anything. No restrictions, no holding back.
Growing up professionally within the State Department, I had been raised to fear the media. “Don’t end up on the front page of the Washington Post,” was an often-repeated warning within the State Department, and many a boss now advises young Foreign Service Officers to “re-read that email again, imagining it on the Internet, and see if you still want to send it.” And that’s when we’re deciding what office supplies to recommend to the ambassador, not anything close to the life-and-death stuff a military embed might witness.
When I started my career, the boogieman was syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, then Washington Post columnist Al Kamen. Now, it’s Jon Stewart and Wikileaks. A mention by name in any of those places is career suicide. Officially, State suggests we avoid “unscripted interactions” with the media. Indeed, in his book on Iraq and Afghan nation-building, Armed Humanitarians, Nathan Hodge brags about how he did get a few State Department people to talk to him anonymously in a 300-page book with first-person military quotes on nearly every page.
So, in 2003, we diplomats sat back and smugly speculated that the military didn’t mean it, that they’d stage-manage what embedded journalists would see and who they would be allowed to speak to. After all, if someone screwed up and the reporter saw the real thing, it would end up in disaster, as in fact happened when Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings got Afghan War commander Stanley McCrystal axed as a “runaway general.”
We were, however, dead wrong. As everyone now agrees, journalists saw what they saw and talked to whomever they chose and the military facilitated the process. Other than McCrystal (who has since been redeemed by the same president who fired him), can anyone name another military person whacked by reporting?
I saw it myself in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commander of all troops in Iraq, would routinely arrive at some desert dump where I happened to be, reporters in tow. I saw for myself that they would be free to speak about anything to anyone on that Forward Operating Base (which, in acronym-mad Iraq, we all just called a FOB, rhymes with “cob”). The only exception would be me: State had a long-standing policy that on-the-record interviews with its officials had to be pre-approved by the Embassy or often by the Washington Mothership itself.
Getting such an approval before a typical reporter’s deadline ran out was invariably near impossible, which assumedly was the whole point of the system. In fact, the rules got even tougher over the course of my year in the desert. When I arrived, the SOP (standard operating procedure) allowed Provincial Reconstruction Team leaders to talk to foreign media without preapproval (on the assumption that no one in Washington read their pieces in other languages anyway and thus no one in the field could get into trouble). This was soon rescinded countrywide and preapproval was required even for these media interactions.
Detouring around me, the reporters would ask soldiers their opinions on the war, the Army, or even controversial policies like DADT. (Do I have to freaking spell it out for you? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.) The reporters would sit through the briefings the general received, listening in as he asked questions. They were exposed to classified material, and trusted not to reveal it in print. They would go out on patrols led by 24-year-old lieutenants, where life-and-death decisions were often made, and were free to report on whatever they saw. It always amazed me -- like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where everything suddenly changes from black and white into color.
Fear Not: The Force Is With You
But the military wasn’t worried. Why? Because its officials knew perfectly well that for reporters the process was -- not to mince words -- seductive. The world, it turns out, is divided into two groups, those who served in the military and those who didn’t. For the rare journalists with service time, this would be homecoming, a chance to relive their youth filtered through memory. For the others, like me, embedding with the military felt like being invited in -- no, welcomed -- for the first time by the cool kids.
You arrive and, of course, you feel awkward, out of place. Everyone has a uniform on and you’re wearing something inappropriate you bought at L.L. Bean. You don’t know how to wear your body-armor vest and helmet, which means that someone has to show you how to dress yourself. When was the last time that happened? Instead of making fun of you, though, the soldier is cool with it and just helps.
Then, you start out not knowing what the hell anyone is saying, because they throw around terms like FOB and DFAC and POS and LT and BLUF and say Hoo-ah, but sooner or later someone begins to explain them to you one by one, and after a while you start to feel pretty cool saying them yourself and better yet, repeating them to people at home in emails and, if you’re a journalist, during live reports. (“Sorry Wolf, that’s an insider military term. Let me explain it to our viewers…”)
You go out with the soldiers and suddenly you’re riding in some kind of armored, motorized monster truck. You’re the only one without a weapon and so they have to protect you. Instead of making fun of you and looking at you as if you were dressed as a Naughty Schoolgirl, they’re cool with it. Bored at only having one another to talk to, fellow soldiers who eat the exact same food, watch the exact same TV, and sleep, pee and work together every day for a year, the troops see you as quite interesting. You can’t believe it, but they really do want to know what you know, where you’ve been, and what you’ve seen -- and you want to tell them.
Even though you may be only a few years older than many of them, you feel fatherly. For women, it works similarly, but with the added bonus that, no matter what you look like, you’re treated as the most beautiful female they’ve seen in the last six months -- and it’s probably true.
The same way one year in a dog’s life equals seven human years, every day spent in a war zone is the equivalent of a month relationship-wise. You quickly grow close to the military people you’re with, and though you may never see any of them again after next week, you bond with them.
You arrived a stranger and a geek. Now, you eat their food, watch their TV, and sleep, pee, and work together every day. These are your friends, at least for the time you’re together, and you’re never going to betray them. Under those circumstances, it’s harder than hell to say anything bad about the organization whose lowest ranking member just gave up his sleeping bag without prompting because you were too green and dumb to bring one with you.
One time I got so sick that I spent half a day inside a latrine stall. What got me out was some anonymous soldier tossing a packet of anti-diarrheal medicine in. He never said a word, just gave it to me and left. He’d likely do the same if called upon to protect me, help move my gear, or any of a thousand other small gestures.
So, take my word for it, it’s really, really hard to write about the military objectively, even if you try. That’s not to say that all journalists are shills; it’s just a warning for you to take care when you’re hanging out with, or reading, our warrior-pundits.
And yet having some perspective on the military and what it does matters as we threaten to slip into yet more multigenerational wars without purpose, watch the further militarization of foreign affairs, and devote ever more of our national budget to the military. War lovers and war pornographers can’t offer us an objective look at a world in which more and more foreigners only run into Americans when they are wearing green and carrying weapons.
I respect my military colleagues, at least the ones who took it all seriously enough to deserve that respect, and would not speak ill of them. Some do indeed make enormous sacrifices, including of their own lives, even if for reasons that are ambiguous at best to a majority of Americans. But in order to understand these men and women and the tasks they are set to, we need journalists who are willing to type with both hands, not just pass on their own wet dreams to a gullible public.
Civilian control of our military is a cornerstone of our republic, and we the people need to base our decisions on something better than Sergeant Rock comic rewrites.
Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq
as a State Department Foreign Service Officer
serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog,
We Meant Well
. His book,
We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), will be published this September and can be preordered by clicking here. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses the farce of nation-building in Iraq, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
[Note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the U.S. Government. The Department of State has not approved, endorsed, or authorized this post.]
Copyright 2011 Peter Van Buren
Image by U.S. Army Alaska, licesnsed under Creative Commons.
Monday, May 09, 2011 12:58 PM
Calvin Trillin, the long-time New Yorker writer, recently released Trillin on Texas (University of Texas Press), a collection of his writing on that state. Many of the pieces come from Trillin’s “U.S. Journal” series from The New Yorker, where he traveled to different parts of the country and submitted short articles about those places. In this interview with Michael Meyer of Columbia Journalism Review, Meyer wonders if Trillin considers himself an expert on the state of the country, a writer with a unique finger on the pulse, due to his reporting from different places. Trillin resists the urge to project any of his subjects’ feelings onto the population en masse, saying, “[U.S. Journal] was always a specific story, and [I] don’t think you can tell something about the country that is true for the whole country….I think that reporters almost always make a mistake talking about more than one person at a time.”
Through his time writing “U.S. Journal” Trillin came to realize one universal truth, though: journalists seek out what most people would just as soon avoid. It was through his exploration of the seemingly contradictory survey answers given by the American public during Watergate that Trillin reached this conclusion. The majority of people apparently thought that Nixon did in fact commit a felony, but a majority also didn’t think he should be impeached. “I learned something doing that story which I had never thought about before,” says Trillin,
which is that people in our trade are so enamored of tumult, that we forget how much other people dread it. A lot of people in America were probably against impeaching Nixon because it sounded scary to impeach the president. People in journalism sort of think ‘the more news the better, the more shaking up the better,’ but most people are the opposite.
Read the whole interview at cjr.org or listen to the podcast.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Image by foodistablog, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 10:07 AM
According to Pew Charitable Trust’s 2008 “State of the News Media” special report on public attitudes toward the news media, “Majorities of Americans continued to say that journalists are often inaccurate (55 percent), do not care about the people they report on (53 percent), are biased (55 percent), one-sided (66 percent) and try to cover up their mistakes (63 percent).” It’s clear that much of the public deems journalists untrustworthy. As a recent grad from a journalism school, it’s painful to admit how fallible the news industry can be. One near-omnipresent snare for journalists—and a scourge of journalistic integrity—is the facile use of press releases to write stories, what has been dubbed “churnalism.”
The UK-based Media Standards Trust, “an independent registered charity which aims to foster high standards in news media on behalf of the public,” developed a website called Churnalism so that journalists and consumers can discern spin from news. “The site compresses all articles published on [UK] national newspaper websites . . . and then stores them in a fast access database,” according to the Trust’s website. “If the engine finds any articles where the similarity is greater than 20 percent, then it suggests the article may be churn.”
Expecting a snide, skeptical, uninterested response from the ostensibly guilty journalists, Media Standards Trust baited the news cycle with a discreetly published, fake press release for an unbelievable product. The Trust’s Martin Moore elaborated during an interview on WNYC’s On the Media:
Chris [Atkins, a collaborator with the Trust] invented what he called the “chastity garter belt,” which a woman would put around her thigh and had built-in technology which would record, by various clever scientific means, like her, her rising pulse rate and, and moisture levels on her leg, whether or not she was about to be unfaithful. And if she was, it would text a message to her partner warning him, so he could rush back and either forestall or catch, catch her before she did so.
Like hungry goldfish, the press gobbled the plump worm dangling before them. Chicago’s WGN-TV ran a short segment and, as Moore detailed during the WNYC interview, “The story was picked up by The Times of India, in the States, in Slovakia, in Greece, in Israel, all around the world.”
That, folks, is called egg on the face.
As an end note, just a reminder the public shouldn’t only be concerned with sneaky, unverified pitches from snake-oil retailers. “Not all churnalism comes from commercial sources,” warns the Columbia Journalism Review. “Much of it has political sources: public authorities trying to spin bad news, medical firms trying to obscure poor results, and political lobbying groups.”
For what it’s worth, 55 percent of this post was cut and pasted from various websites and not independently fact-checked.
Sources: Columbia Journalism Review, On the Media
Image by quinn.anya, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 20, 2011 1:11 PM
Middle Eastern affairs and conflicts are, to say the least, mired in complexity. America’s fingers are dipped in many of the region’s interests—halting the spread of terrorism, securing oil reserves, ensuring non-proliferation of nuclear technology, and controlling the opium trade, just to name a few. Getting the story straight is difficult for seasoned reporters and exponentially harder for a blogger in the comfortable embrace of his Midwestern cubicle. After world-rattling events, newshounds balk at our country’s feeble grasp of Middle Eastern contexts and lack of strategic intelligence and foresight.
Well, that need-to-know information can’t always be collected and those highly-sought experts shouldn’t necessarily be trusted, according to Columbia Journalism Review—especially in a country like Afghanistan, where professional journalism is a fairly new institution. “Afghan journalists are relatively new to their work, and they have been criticized for lacking professionalism,” writes CJR’s Vanessa M. Gezari. “But Afghan journalists describe the world they see: a complex place, littered with overlapping, conflicting accounts. There are no reliable sources here.” The other issue faced by Afghan journalists is that their mission—uncovering truth in a burgeoning democracy—is relatively similar to that of Western military intelligence officers. According to Gezari, “For Afghan journalists, the methodological similarity between reporting and intelligence work is problematic. Journalism has little institutional standing in Afghanistan, and many Afghan reporters told me that ordinary people suspect journalists of spying.”
All solid journalism clearly requires proper training. Eager to test out the tools of their trade, journalism professor Diane Winston’s students put themselves in harm’s way and took up a religious beat in Palestine by actually reporting on the spiritual landscape from the West Bank. Winston recounts the class’s introductory experience in The Chronicle Review:
Then came the moment when the airport van left us inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Punchy after a 14-hour plane ride, we dragged duffel bags and camera equipment through narrow, cobblestone streets and winding pathways until we found our way to the Lutheran Guest House and sleep. Several hours later, jet lag proved no match for religious authority as a muezzin’s predawn chant led the call to prayer.
Being there made all the difference. The intensive preparation cohered when students, faced with breaking news, drew on multiple skill sets to report and write stories—to practice journalism for real. Students covered protests and demonstrations that could have been dangerous but were crucial for readers worldwide.
We in the magazine world know that not all reporting needs to be serious or completely objective. The nuances of obscure culture can be just as revelatory, thrilling, disheartening, or impactful. In a bit of meta-reporting, Bidoun—a quarterly, experimental-format Middle Eastern arts-and-culture magazine—interviewed two reporters from the long-running educational publication Saudi Aramco World. The publication’s editorial mission is quite different from, say, a newspaper or prime-time broadcast; one of the reporters states that“Aramco World really saw itself as a cultural interface between the Middle East and the United States. I think there was prescience in that, the idea that greater understanding of the people and the issues of the Middle East would be important in the future.”
And speaking of Saudi Aramco World, the January-February 2011 features a very different type of dispatch from the Middle East: light-hearted photography. The magazine spotlights Iraqi photographer Jamal Penjweny’s project “Iraq is Flying” (pictures all over this post), in which he captured everyday Iraqi citizens in mid-air. Penjweny’s images remind the outside world of something we often take for granted: Iraq’s diverse people can transcend their portrayal by mainstream media, even with a permanent backdrop of war.
Bidoun,Chronicle Review, Columbia Journalism Review, Saudi Aramco World
Images courtesy of Jamal Penjweny.
Friday, June 04, 2010 3:01 PM
Take a gander at mainstream media and one could be forgiven for having the impression that, despite the military nature of former president Manuel Zelaya’s removal, the Honduras question is largely resolved, with free and fair elections replacing a president on the verge of becoming a second Hugo Chavez.
“The Washington Post called the election ‘mostly peaceful,’ ” according to muckraker NACLA Report on the Americas. “[Porfirio] Lobo was ‘elected president in a peaceful vote’ . . . reported Bloomberg News, [and] The New York Times said in an editorial that there was ‘wide agreement’ the election was ‘clean and fair.’ ”
Alternative publications and organizations, including NACLA, Briarpatch, and The Nation, have pushed back forcefully, claiming that Lobo’s election was intended to gloss over a military coup led by corporate oligarchs and military generals. Through the alt-press lens, we can glimpse the ongoing human rights abuses, flaws in the argument that Zelaya was on the verge of becoming a dictator, and the passionate public opposition to the new government.
Let’s begin with the scene on the ground last November. As mentioned above, Lobo’s election was widely portrayed as a peaceful end to the strife that followed Zelaya’s removal by the Honduran Congress and military, who claimed his attempt to include a non-binding referendum—calling for a constitutional convention—on the ballot would have paved the road to him becoming “President for Life.”
The elections themselves, however, were heavily protested; The Nation reports that street protests ranged from 400,000 and 600,000 people, and leading progressive candidates withdrew from the November election in protest of the coup. Between June and December of 2009, the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras documented 708 human rights violations and 54 murders.
Briarpatch questions the motives behind Zelaya’s removal, blaming the oligarchs who run Honduras’ multinational corporations for supporting the forcible replacement of a progressive president with one friendly to business. In 2009, Zelaya raised the minimum wage 84 percent to $289/month, lowered interest rates on home loans, and otherwise moved to protect working-class Hondurans. The day after the coup, in contrast, interim president Roberto Micheletti, “promised to make Honduras an even more attractive destination for foreign direct investment,” and replaced those in the Ministry of Labour who “possessed knowledge of the issues” with people who were friendly to industry.
Six months later, sweatshop workers found that their working conditions had deteriorated, and that their protests to the Ministry went unanswered, Maria Luisa Regalado, the director of the Honduran Women’s Collective, told Briarpatch.
Making matters more complicated, NACLA points out that the Honduran constitutional convention—had it happened—would probably not have begun until well after the seven months Zelaya had left in his one term, and any resulting changes almost certainly wouldn’t have gone into effect until years afterward. Thus it is far more likely, in a what-if scenario where the constitutional convention abolished term limits, that Zelaya’s successor, not him, would have had the chance to become “President for Life.”
Nor have things settled down since the election; since many Hondurans refused to accept the results, the government has moved to silence dissent. According to Reporters Without Borders, Honduras has become “the world’s deadliest country for the media since the start of this year [emphasis added],” particularly for those who oppose Lobo. Seven journalists were killed in the six-week period between March 3 and April 21.
In addition, opposition radio stations have been threatened with censure and closure, and neither threats nor killings have been seriously investigated by the police; Reporters Without Borders notes that no one has yet been punished for any of the attacks. Honduran journalists are being silenced—making the U.S. mainstream media’s silence all the more disappointing.
Sources: Briarpatch, Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, NACLA Report on the Americas, Reporters Without Borders, The Nation
Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:08 AM
“He should be hanged by the neck until he is dead.” Those were the words of Indian Judge M.L. Tahaliyani, delivering a judgment against Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Branded a ‘killing machine’ and ‘cruelty incarnate’ by the prosecution,” reports Dawn, a Pakistani daily, “Kasab was the only gunman caught alive in the 60-hour assault by 10 militants on hotels, a railway station, a restaurant and Jewish center.”
If the attacks seem distant—overrun by two years of natural disasters, attempted terrorist attacks in the United States, and a steady rhythm of suicide attacks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan—you really ought to spend some time with reporter Jason Motlagh’s exhaustive and riveting reconstruction of the Mumbai attacks, published online at Virginia Quarterly Review.
Motlagh won a National Magazine Award for Sixty Hours of Terror. The four-part series is a rare experiment in long-form, narrative, online-only journalism—the kind of experiment that has earned VQR its own shelf of awards.
“I think we’ve proven that we can undertake this kind of ambitious reporting successfully and shown that there’s an audience out there for it,” VQR editor Ted Genoways told the Los Angeles Times in an article about the Mumbai piece. “We need to find a few altruistic supporters of journalism who see this kind of work as important, whether it’s profit-generating or not. I’m optimistic that such people are out there.”
You are out there, right?
Sources: Virginia Quarterly Review, Dawn
Image by Jason Motlagh.
Thursday, February 25, 2010 3:16 PM
The always-controversial cartoonist, reporter, and author Ted Rall wants to go back to Afghanistan. After covering the U.S. invasion in 2001 for the Village Voice and KFI Radio, Rall wrote the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin. Now, Rall wants to return to Afghanistan to cover the voices of the Afghan people in a style he compares to Joe Sacco’s cartoon-reporting. This time, he wants his readers, rather than major media outlets, to pay it.
To fund his trip, Rall started a Kickstarter project, asking fans help cover his expenses with contributions of $10 or more. In a podcast interview with Kickstarter board member Andy Baio, Rall talks about why independent projects like his so necessary. Most reporters in Afghanistan, according to Rall, “have too much money, and they get parachuted into a place that they don’t know anything about. But also, they’re idiots.”
Friday, February 12, 2010 5:21 PM
The lines between fiction and nonfiction are blurring and giving rise to a new form “that we might call ‘true fiction,’” writes Alissa Quart in Columbia Journalism Review. Quart sees examples of this phenomenon all around, including Dave Eggers’ brilliant book What Is the What, which tells but also takes a few liberties with the tale of a Sudanese “Lost Boy”; the forthcoming graphic novel A.D. by Josh Neufeld, which depicts post-Katrina New Orleans; and even The Hurt Locker, the war film that is presented as fiction but is based on an original nonfiction magazine article.
Quart is quick to acknowledge that the fiction-nonfiction hybrid isn’t all that new, but she contends that writers well known for mixing the two, like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, “imagined their work to be a certain kind of journalism.” Members of the newer breed, she notes, “seem to be backing away from categorizing things as ‘true,’ even as they are also rethinking what nonfiction is and can be.”
The new anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, Quart writes, even makes the case “that some works long considered fiction are actually closer to this hybrid form,” and she quotes from a piece by the anthology’s editor, John D’Agata: “Do we read nonfiction in order to receive information, or do we read it to experience art?”
Coincidentally, it was a recent story by D’Agata in The Believer that left me confused about what was information and what was art. In “What Happens There,” D’Agata traces the final moments of Levi Presley, a 16-year-old who killed himself by jumping from the top of the 1,149-foot-high Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The writer does several things at once: In the guise of a reporter, he attempts to penetrate the wall of silence surrounding suicide in Las Vegas, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation year after year. Wearing a memoirist’s hat, he interweaves his own experiences in the city, where he briefly lived to care for his mother. And as a facile prose stylist, he attempts to vividly convey the sights, sounds, and smells that Presley might have encountered as he walked toward his deadly jump through the sprawling casino complex.
I was immediately drawn in by D’Agata’s deft, artful writing, and yet as the tale unfolded I was stopped cold at several junctures, mostly because as a journalist I had certain expectations about what I perceived as, first and foremost, a piece of journalism. To wit:
• The story begins with the glaringly vague time reference “one summer,” yet anyone with Google at his fingertips can learn that Presley committed suicide in 2002. Why not place the story’s main event in time for the reader? When is one of the six key story components in classic news journalism—components that are, ironically, the organizing principle of D’Agata’s new book About a Mountain, which includes the suicide tale.
• After meeting with Presley’s parents to discuss their son’s death, he writes, “At some point, it came clear while I was visiting the Presleys that in fact I had not spoken to their son the night he died.” I first read this as a jarringly understated admission, delivered almost as an aside, that he had misrepresented himself to the parents in order to meet with them. Ethical red flags were flying all over the place before I figured out elsewhere—via his book’s jacket notes—that D’Agata himself had believed he might have spoken with Presley on that fateful night. Maybe fans of the new “true fiction” will read right past this, but for me this was a major stumbling block.
• D’Agata pays a private investigator $400 for “vital information” about Presley that he’s unable to ferret out himself, and rather than praising the investigator’s ability to dig up these details, he feels compelled to coyly note that she “had a smoker’s voice, a barking dog and screaming kids and Jeopardy on in the background” when he called her. Yeah, and she probably was overweight and wearing ridiculous slippers and sucking on a Bud Lite. D’Agata clearly has a keen eye for detail, but extending it to someone who’s basically helping him report the story, with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge dose of classist disapproval, gave me a shudder of discomfort.
• D’Agata is able to get only one local official to go on the record about the suicide, county coroner Ron Flud. The coroner seems like a pretty straight-up guy—“a finder of facts,” he calls himself—who invites D’Agata into his office and expounds insightfully on the taboo of talking about suicide. But apparently this still isn’t enough for D’Agata. He calls Flud out for not answering a question about whether a suicide jumper is likely to lose consciousness in a fall, then proceeds to relay, in a self-serving writerly flourish, several things that Flud did not say.
• Someone who knew Presley hangs up on D’Agata when he asks personal questions about the deceased. But we don’t know who because the writer doesn’t tell us. The conversation is transmitted as a terse, paraphrased exchange with no context or explanation. Literary, yes, but mystifying.
• Finally, D’Agata appears to have never visited the suicide victim’s memorial website, which has been online since 2005. Here he could have gleaned several intimate details about Levi Presley—details not mentioned in the article—from reminiscences written by friends and family, and he could have learned the names of several sources to pursue for his allegedly hard-to-find interviews. He also would have learned from the entry by “Mom” that Presley’s mother called him her “precious Boomer”—from “baby Boomer”—not “Booper,” as D’Agata writes.
In the end, the story seems to be a case in which a creative writer took on a semi-journalistic task, in the process taking liberties that some audiences may enjoy (James Wolcott of Vanity Fair certainly did, calling the story a “show stopper”) and that others may find confusing, distracting, or journalistically dubious.
If we are indeed entering a new world of hybrid literary journalism—one in which, Quart writes, “we are seeing nonfiction freed from its rigid constraints”—I for one hope we remember that some subjects, like a teenager’s suicide, seem to demand a deep and abiding respect for facts and clarity. At first impression D’Agata appears to be honoring the memory of Levi Presley by speaking the unspeakable—yet by the story’s end, at least to this reader, he appears to have done just the opposite.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review, The Believer (subscription required), Vanity Fair
Image by Marcin Wichary, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 9:16 AM
A year ago, journalist Anastasia Baburova was murdered in Moscow, along with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov. To honor the anniversary, Open Democracy has reprinted excerpts from her blog dating from June 2007 to her 25th birthday on November 11, 2008, just two months before her death. Baburova writes about everyday occurrences in Russia, including rollerblading around the city at night, and insights into her indefatigable personality.
The anniversary also highlights the ongoing crisis in Russia, where journalist murders are now routinely going unsolved. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 17 journalists have been killed because of their work since 2000. Of those 17 cases, the killers have been convicted in just one.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Wednesday, December 02, 2009 1:44 PM
The paltry pay and job losses that plague the media industry aren’t just hurting current journalists, they’re killing the next generation of professional scribes who will never have the chance to work inside a newsroom. Looking at the industry today, young people can be forgiven for not wanting to work as journalists. Even if they wanted to, available jobs are few and far between. “If nothing changes,” Allan D. Mutter writes for his blog, “the next generation of journalists will give up and move on to entirely different pursuits.”
That would be a tragedy for society, according to Mutter. He writes, “The loss will deprive citizens in the future with the insights that only can be delivered by dedicated professionals with the time, skills and motivation to dig deeply into difficult stories.”
Source: Reflections of a Newsosaur
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 1:23 PM
Far from the cozy classrooms of American journalism schools, students are venturing to remote and often dangerous parts of the world to learn how to dig up a scoop. The Ryerson Review of Journalism reports on one program that embedded students with soldiers in Iraq. Another school sent students to electronic waste dumps in Ghana, India, and China, potentially exposing them to toxic chemicals and roving bandits.
One student have hailed her out-of-the-classroom experience as “probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in journalism.” The programs have horrified others, including Klaus Pohle of Carleton University, who called the Iraqi embed trip “terribly irresponsible.”
What do you think? Should journalism students visit dangerous parts around the world? Or should war zones be left to the professionals?
Source: Ryerson Review of Journalism
Friday, October 09, 2009 9:00 AM
There's a rather inspiring look at Kickstarter over at Poynter:
As journalists face pay cuts and are asked to do more with fewer
resources, it has become increasingly difficult for them to find the
time and money to pursue large-scale enterprise stories or personal
But some journalists are finding a way to make it work. In recent months, they have raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter, the crowd-funding journalism site, but it isn't limited to journalists.
projects on the site, journalists say, has given them the opportunity
to pursue passions, think entrepreneurially about their work and find
new ways of interacting with audiences, not only after completing a
project, but while they're working on it.
"The truth is, you
can get better results if you tap the collective brain power of a big
group of people" on the front end, said Robin Sloan, who has raised
about $7,000 more than the $3,500 he set out to raise since launching his book project on the site at the end of August.
There is hope, friends. Now get out there and ask for some money!
Monday, October 05, 2009 2:54 PM
The New York Times has found a new source of funding for journalism: Isaac Mizrahi-designed raingear. In a memo to the company, New York Times president Scott Heekin-Canedy called the $99 coat and umbrella combo, “a summer sensation for The Times Store,” according to the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Zachary M. Seward. The New York Times has also tried creating a wine club as a way to cure their budget woes.
It’s easy to poke fun at the Times for the coat and the wine club, but Seward writes that this kind of merchandizing is “likely to play a significant role as news organizations scramble to replace print advertising revenue.”
The efforts are “a double edged sword” according to Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review. Newspapers often engage in community building, and events like wine clubs—which USA Today and The Wall Street Journal are also trying—could be seen as an extension of that. And it’s not a big deal if the New York Times sells coats, as long as they use that money to fund cutting-edge journalism. On the other hand, Garber says, “it’s unfortunate that it’s not, strictly speaking, journalism.”
Both the coats and the wine club could also be seen as a replacement for the classified sections of newspapers, a revenue source that has been gutted by free services such as Craigslist. Classified ads, like the coats, had very little to do with journalism beyond funding the newspaper.
The real problem, however, is that media outlets haven’t yet figured out a way to fund their work using journalism. According to Garber, “I don’t know that we’ve proven that people aren’t willing to pay” for news. Newspapers simply haven’t figured out how to do it effectively, so far.
Nieman Journalism Lab
Columbia Journalism Review
the New York Times store
Thursday, August 06, 2009 12:19 PM
Leaving journalism? Let the good people at Time Out New York be your career counselors. After surveying experts in fields like public relations, philanthropy, they've come up with a list of possible next steps for any burned out or burned up journalists. Pick from publicist, editorial strategist, grant writer, project manager, or, my personal favorite (it's always good to have a backup plan): private eye. Is it as easy all over the country as it is in New York City to make that particular leap? Just a 2-hour walk-up test and $400!
This is no laughing matter of course. We want and need journalists to stay journalists—the good ones at least.
Time Out New York
, licensed under
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 7:36 PM
Google and other internet companies base their businesses on giving things away for free. Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired, has stepped up as the primary cheerleader for this kind of business model. For newspapers, however, this model doesn’t work so well. In an interview with the German newspaper Spiegel, Anderson admits, “In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part time job. Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby.”
This doesn’t worry Anderson too much, however. He says, “If something has happened in the world that's important, I'll hear about it. I heard about the protests in Iran before it was in the papers because the people who I subscribe to on Twitter care about those things.”
Image by Daquella manera, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 17, 2009 12:19 PM
Newspapers are being written off by scores of pundits like Clay Shirky, but author, McSweeney’s publisher, and Utne Visionary Dave Eggers is standing up for them. In an interview with Salon, Eggers says the young people he teaches in his 826 Valencia writing program give him hope:
“I think there’s a future where the Web and print coexist and they each do things uniquely and complement each other, and we have what could be the ultimate and best-yet array of journalistic venues. I think right now everyone’s assuming it’s a zero-sum situation, and I just don’t see it that way.
“Our students at 826 Valencia still have a newspaper class, where we print an actual newspaper, and we do magazine classes and anthologies where they’re all printed on paper. That’s the main way we get them motivated, that they know it’s going to be in print. It’s much harder for us to motivate the students when they think it’s only going to be on the Web.
“The vast majority of students we work with read newspapers and books, more so than I did at their age. And I don’t see that dropping off. If anything the lack of faith comes from people our age, where we just assume that it’s dead or dying. I think we’ve given up a little too soon.”
Image by Erik Charlton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:37 PM
The formerly sacrosanct separation between editorial and advertising is slowly crumbling as the bottom drops out of media budgets. What was once referred to as a wall is now more like a fence, Natalie Pompilio reports for the American Journalism Review. And that fence has a front door, and some holes in it.
“While many experts agree the beleaguered news industry has to change its ways in order to survive,” Pompilio writes, “the question is how to do so while maintaining credibility and standards.”
Source: American Journalism Review
Monday, June 01, 2009 1:32 PM
Journalists are burying their heads in the sand, as newspapers spin their wheels in the dune, not realizing that the axles are already broken.
Journalists are choking in a sea of turbulent media, struggling and gasping for air, as newspapers—that look less and less like lifeboats—navigate perilously close to a rocky shore.
One more try:
The ivory castle of journalism is being raided by a marauding hoard of bloggers and citizen journalists who are hell-bent on scorching the earth of the media, and then salting it so nothing will ever grow again.
Writers have come up with plenty of metaphors to describe the death of their own industry and, like the over-crowded media landscape they lament, there’s plenty of quantity just not a lot of quality. Beth Macy, writing for the American Journalism Review included some old saws and a couple of new ones in a recent article on journalists who have decided: “If the ship's sinking, she's going down with it.”
Here are a few:
"Some days you feel like you're slowly being buried up to your neck, but you're still there, still breathing."
"We're the ones left in the lifeboat. We made it off the ship, and we're out in the big ocean. But we're alive, and we're together, and one way or another, we are going to get to shore."
“It's not just about Budweiser any more. There are lots of microbreweries and, while the microbreweries might not pay as well, sometimes they are more rewarding."
"Just like with the economy, I think it's going to get worse, and then eventually something beautiful is going to grow up from the ashes."
And my favorite:
"I feel like I live in Middle Earth, and the dark cloud has covered the land.”
Image by Katherine Oneill, licensed under
Source: American Journalism Review
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:51 AM
You can—but should you? In 2007 the global ecotourism industry ferried 55 million U.S. vacationers around the world on better, greener holidays. And every one of them should have been asking themselves that question. The editor in chief of Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall, eloquently broaches ecotourism’s ethical dilemma in a candid, even haunting editorial.
“The polar bear alongside the boat makes a low chuffing sound,” Theall writes. “He dives to escape us. Each time he surfaces, he moves farther into open water, farther from land. A few passengers ask our guide, Wally, if we’re stressing the bear. I don’t hear his answer. I’m too busy kneeling low on the deck with my Canon. I stretch out one hand. The bear swims just beneath it, and he’s magnificent. . . .Only after I’ve clicked off about 100 images does it occur to me that Wally might be chasing this bear because of me. I’m with a travel magazine. I’m worse than global warming. I’m a journalist.”
“Guilt’s a heavy souvenir,” writes Theall, who last saw the polar bear, confused and agitated, swimming out toward open water. Although Wally later reassures her that the bear most likely made it back to land, she finds a sobering ecotourism parable in the experience—what is legal is not always what is right.
Source: Women’s Adventure
Image by suneko, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 15, 2009 3:49 PM
Reading Tom Zoellner’s book Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World (Viking) is a great way to wrap your head around many of the technical, geographical, and ethical issues surrounding nuclear power and nuclear weapons. By learning exactly how we came to turn an odd yellow rock into an agent of phenomenal promise and danger, you’ll be better informed to decide the wisdom of reviving nuclear power and letting nuclear weapons proliferate.
One of the book’s most memorable sections is about William L. Laurence, the public relations man who hyped the atomic bomb for the U.S. government. Laurence was a science writer for the New York Times who became so enthralled by nuclear weapons that he became their paid P.R. man while covering the science beat, a brazen conflict of interest that was kept secret until the day after the bombing of Hiroshima.
Zoellner chronicles Laurence’s almost spiritual conversion to the religion of the atom and unsparingly critiques his writing style, which was so over the top that the White House once sent back a press release draft for being too exaggerated:
Laurence never met a classical allusion that he didn’t like, or attempt to employ. ... Uranium was to Laurence, at various points, ‘a cosmic treasure house’ and a ‘philosopher’s stone’ or a ‘Goose that laid Golden Eggs,’ which ‘brought a new kind of fire that lead to ‘the fabled seven golden cities of Cibola.’ These messianic word-pictures of a life to come, though wildly overoptimistic , helped to create in the American public a generally positive and hopeful feeling about the dawn of the new atomic age.
Laurence, known as “Atomic Bill” to some, won a Pulitzer Prize for his Times series about the making of the atomic bomb—a prize that journalists Amy Goodman and David Goodman have said should be rescinded. Not only was Laurence on the War Department’s payroll, they contend; he also wrote stories that debunked the deadly effects of gamma ray radiation even as Japanese bomb victims lay dying.
Fairly, Zoellner notes that Laurence himself had misgivings about the “great forebodings” of the nuclear age, and once characterized the human race’s dilemma in his typically dramatic style: “Today we are standing at a major crossroads,” he wrote. “One fork of the road has a signpost inscribed with the word Paradise, the other fork has a signpost bearing the word Doomsday.”
It might have been as close to the truth as he ever got.
Sources: Viking/Penguin, Common Dreams
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 3:39 PM
In newspapers, if it bleeds, it leads. Thai newspapers take that axiom to an extreme, putting gory photos of death and human misery on front pages nearly every day. According to Global Post’s Patrick Winn, a recent newspaper front page featured, “a meth dealer splayed dead beside a toilet, a married couple shot dead and slumped in their pick-up truck—and for comic relief, photos exposing a con artist who donned flight uniforms to deceive shopkeepers and women.”
This constant barrage of violent images may be corrupting young children, needlessly shaming victims, and violating good taste, according to many in the country. Winn reports that a group of academics have started a campaign urging restraint.
The problem faced by these academics is that the violent newspaper industry in Thailand continues to thrive, unlike the newspaper business in the United States. In fact, the violent Thai newspapers continue to do better than their more modest alternatives. Still, the academics continue to be reminded of the importance of their cause nearly every morning. One doctoral student told Global Post, “I don’t like the criminal pictures. To have breakfast in the morning and see that? Ugh.”
Colin and Sarah
, licensed under
Source: Global Post
Tuesday, February 03, 2009 3:16 PM
The world of science isn’t immune to sensational reporting. Jason Rosenhouse, a writer for Panda’s Thumb, takes science publications, especially New Scientist magazine, to task for making mountains out of scientific molehills. In a recent New Scientist article concerning disproval of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Rosenhouse writes, “[n]ever have you seen a science writer try so hard to make so big a deal from such meager materials.”
The editors made it the lead story (“Darwin Was Wrong,” the cover trumpets), yet the breakthrough is really just a small adjustment to previous theories, Rosenhouse writes, something already familiar to many who are up-to-date on Darwinism. Rosenhouse contends that this is the problem plaguing much of scientific journalism, where the predilection is to “sensationalize every small advance into a worldview shattering revolution.”
Image by simiezzz, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 02, 2009 11:48 AM
Before the media imploded, journalists were allowed to spend months researching in-depth stories and exposés. Today, that style of journalism is “seen as taking too long and costing too much,” former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune James Warren writes for the Atlantic. The parasitic internet is to blame, according to Warren, where “attitude and attack are often valued more than precision and truth” and content is given away for free.
The problem that Warren doesn’t focus on is that newspapers, which still “serve as daily tip sheets for other media outlets,” were caught unprepared for the rise of the internet. It’s not as though they didn’t have time to adjust, back when they were still flush with cash. Here’s a video from 1981, when downloading a paper took more than 2 hours, and cost $5.00 per hour.
Friday, January 30, 2009 10:15 AM
For those who’d call current sports journalism fluff: Gary Andrew Poole agrees with you. In an essay for the Columbia Journalism Review, though, he muses that it needn’t be. The shortcomings he bemoans—an emphasis on sensational stories, a move away from longer narrative work—aren't specific to sports writing, and neither are the market pressures he observes: the growing importance of web reporting, the increasingly rapid turnover of news items.
But Poole argues that sports writers are uniquely positioned to resist these trends. After all, fans can probably live without to-the-second updates on batting averages and shoulder injuries. A renewed focus on thoughtful analysis and creative storytelling might remind us why sports matter in the big picture, by exploring how they reflect our cultural values and imagination. Take a look at the article to hear Poole elaborate and to catch some insightful comments from readers, or consider other reasons why sportswriting has lost its game.
Image courtesy of Kevin Klöcker, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 16, 2009 10:29 AM
Amid a blizzard of headlines detailing the demise of quality journalism, there’s at least one spot of sunshine poking through the clouds: The New York Times is intensifying its environmental coverage with "a new, crack environmental reporting unit that will pull in eight specialized reporters from the Science, National, Metro, Foreign, and Business desks in a bid for richer, more prominent coverage," reports the Columbia Journalism Review.
The Times’ fortified environmental unit debuts in contrast to depleted environmental teams elsewhere. The L.A. Times significantly reduced its unit last year, and CNN went even further, axing its environment, science, and technology reporting staff altogether just over a month ago.
What kind of added depth can you expect from the Times’ new environmental all-stars? According to CJR:
One of the primary goals is to get more interesting, “big-thought” environment articles onto the front page, according to assistant managing editor Glenn Kramon, to whom [the unit’s editor, Erica] Goode will report. That means more investigative work, he added, and sifting through reporting and storytelling approaches that resonate with readers. “My goal is to make 'em angry enough to do something,” Kramon said.
Image by ReservasdeCoches.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 05, 2009 11:24 AM
The National Conference of Editorial Writers recently released a list of their most-hated journalistic clichés, the mushy euphemisms and trendy phrases that they think ought to be banned. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch excerpted the survey, along with some of the editorialists’ biting commentary:
- Issues and challenges: “No one has problems any more. We have ‘issues.’ Likewise, we have ‘challenges.’…Why isn’t that a ‘problem’?”
- Faith-based: “Almost 100 percent of the time this phrase is used, the user means ‘religious,’ and they should just suck it up and use the real term.”
- Declined comment: “We’re not inviting people to tea parties here. We’re asking questions....They didn’t ‘decline comment.’ They ‘would not comment.’”
- Closure: “An appalling word that crept out from the woodwork of psychobabble where it squats, poisoning the language, above all in journalism.”
(Thanks, Get Religion.)
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 3:25 PM
Everyone makes mistakes, and journalists are no different. Some, however, go beyond the occasional typo and into the truly astounding. The website Regret the Error compiles all the best corrections from journalistic organizations, and every year gives awards for the most notable screw-ups. Among the 2008 winners was this gem from Reuters:
Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has apologized after accidentally recommending a potentially deadly plant in organic salads.
Another outstanding contender was this unfortunate mistake from the New York Times:
A picture last Sunday with an essay about a crack house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was published in error. The three houses in the picture are on the same street as the crack house, but none of the three figured in the essay.
Friday, December 12, 2008 12:15 PM
When my mom arrived at work in Chicago on Tuesday morning to news about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, she immediately picked up the phone and called her sister in Springfield to gush. Finally! The dirty governor was going down. They crossed their fingers that the story would get national play.
Boy has it ever. A good political scandal doesn’t have to work too hard to capture public attention, and in this case, the connection to president-elect Barack Obama gave Blagojevich’s take-down extra currency.
Not surprisingly, the governor’s attempt to auction off Obama’s Senate seat emerged as the dominant storyline in news about his arrest. What has received less attention is a brewing journalistic scandal in the laundry list of complaints against Blagojevich. For anyone concerned with media ethics, it can’t be overlooked.
Clint Hendler at the Columbia Journalism Review has a nice, detailed account of what we know so far about discussions between Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, and an unknown “financial advisor” to Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell. The talks in question involve the governor’s request that the paper fire members of its editorial board and editorial page staff, who have published unflattering pieces about him, in exchange for state aid in selling the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, which are owned by the Tribune Company.
Charges against the governor disturbingly indicate that the paper was “very sensitive to the message.” As CJR points out, Zell has a lot of questions to answer if he intends to salvage a smidgeon of his fledgling news organization’s reputation. For instance, “Did the financial advisor make the deal that Harris implied he did?” And a couple of months ago, when the paper almost ran a story about the Blagojevich wiretaps, was Zell involved in its decision not to?
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker sums up the disgrace of it all nicely:
Apparently, the caveat that one should never do battle with someone who buys ink by the barrel has been rendered meaningless by “financial advisers” in the Tribune Tower, where Zell's yearlong reign of error is leading one of the nation's greatest newspaper companies to ruin.
Image by theogeo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 12:04 PM
“Overload!”, the Columbia Journalism Review’s current cover story, is every bit as overwhelming as its subject.
In a lengthy, thorough explication, Bree Nordenson lays out the results of a study commissioned by the Associated Press to track the news consumption of young adults around the world. The gist of the findings is grim, but hardly surprising: There’s more information out there than ever before, and this is not a good thing. “The American public is no better informed now than it has been during less information-rich times,” Nordenson writes.
Or, in numerical terms: “Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day. Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written.”
The way information, particularly news, is disseminated has been revolutionized, for better and worse, by the internet. Context has disappeared; data usually travels in a chaotic tsunami and arrives “unbundled” and often indecipherable. “These days, news comes at us in a flood of unrelated snippets,” Nordenson writes.
The rest of the article examines a number of different trends affecting the current state of news consumption: the limits of human attention, the role of media in democracy, and the new role of journalism. The piece does end on a relatively optimistic note, however; the final section, titled “Why Journalism Won’t Disappear,” contains this easier-said-than-done prescription: "If news organizations decide to rethink their role and give consumers the context and coherence they want and need in an age of overload, they may just achieve the financial stability they’ve been scrambling for, even as they recapture their public-service mission before it slips away."
Thursday, October 30, 2008 11:13 AM
The field of institutions and public figures endorsing Barack Obama is getting really crowded, and it’s a motley assortment. Some fairly unlikely personalities are in the tank, including Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens and Colin Powell, as well as conservative publications like the Record.
Spend a few minutes perusing the Wikipedia page listing Obama’s endorsements, and you might visualize a rowdy cocktail party whose guest list includes editors from nearly every major U.S. newspaper (including the Chicago Tribune, marking its first endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate in its 161-year history); hundreds of current and former governors, mayors, and legislators; CEOs, actors, rock stars, and authors; and even the plumbers’ union (presumably Joe the Plumber was not consulted since, well, he’s not a plumber).
The New Yorker provided a characteristically thorough endorsement of Obama. The New York Times argues for the relevance of newspaper endorsements. And there’s a nifty map illustrating the distribution of this year’s newspaper endorsements and comparing it with 2004’s.
Several cast members of HBO's The Wire are stumping for Obama. (Gbenga Akinnagbe, if he’s half as terrifying as the drug lieutenant he played on the series, will make a very compelling canvasser). An absolutely fabulous coterie of fashion designers has pledged allegiance. And ostensibly apolitical publications have weighed in, most recently the science magazine Seed.
Leading the ironic-endorsement pack is onetime McCain campaign advisor Charles Fried, whose decision to back Obama is partially due to McCain’s “choice of Sarah Palin at a time of deep national crisis” (via Talking Points Memo).
All of which begs the question: Who’s in poor old John McCain’s corner? The list of newspapers endorsing him is considerably shorter than Obama’s. There’s Steve Forbes, of course. And then there’s the small faction of Hollywood conservatives (say it ain’t so, Gary Sinise!).
Image courtesy of Philip (Flip) Kromer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 6:07 PM
The press has finally had enough of the McCain campaign’s decision to cloister Sarah Palin away from interviews and press conferences. Reporters cried foul yesterday in a widely publicized blowup over who would be allowed to witness Palin’s meetings with world leaders in New York City. As Ta-Nehisi Coates predicted on the Atlantic blogs, “even the meekest, most bespectacled, nerdiest kid has a breaking point.”
The McCain campaign has been garnering headlines lately by attacking the press, pointing out how reporters are “in the tank” for Obama and criticizing them for being too hard on Palin. The problem is, Jeffery Goldberg writes for the Atlantic blogs, “If Sarah Palin becomes vice president, she will presumably have meetings with people who are scarier than Michael Cooper, the Times reporter who seems to have the misfortune of covering her today.”
Even conservatives have begun to wonder about the McCain-Palin game of hide-the-candidate. Rod Dreher, who blogs as Crunchy Con, writes, “If she can't answer questions like any normal politician, what business does she have on the ticket?” Daniel Larison writes on the American Conservative that the strategy “confirms not only that Palin is not ready for the VP spot but that the presidential nominee himself regards his running mate as little more than window dressing.”
McCain may view her as “window dressing.” He may also view her as “a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment," which is how Campbell Brown described Palin’s treatment on CNN (video below). Brown eloquently attacked the McCain campaign from a feminist perspective, calling on them to “free Sarah Palin,” and allow her to talk to reporters. “You claim she is ready to be one heart beat away from the presidency,” Brown declared. “If that is the case, then end this chauvinistic treatment of her now.”
Monday, September 22, 2008 10:18 AM
Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s now-public emails could fundamentally change internet and free speech laws in the United States. Last week, Palin’s Yahoo email account was broken into and many of the emails were posted on Wikileaks, a website designed to publicize leaked government documents, the media gossip blog Gawker, and other websites. The McCain campaign has called the incident a “shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of the law.” Writing for the conservative blog Powerline, John Hinderacher cited the crime as, “Just another reminder that there is no sense of decency on the Left.” The issue has been widely covered in the mainstream media, but the real implications of the event may not be felt for years to come.
“I predict that some day we will look back on this breach as a watershed event in the history of statutory Internet privacy,” Paul Ohm writes for the law blog Concurring Opinions. The leak of Palin’s emails could motivate Congress to pass strict privacy laws, but also to punish websites like Gawker and Wikileaks, possibly igniting, “a fierce First Amendment debate.”
Under current laws, Gawker and Wikileaks are likely protected from prosecution, but that hasn’t stopped readers from sending various threatening emails. One of the few inoffensive messages read, “Get a good lawyer, in fact get at least a dozen… you are going to need them when the Secret Service and the FBI come to visit. Jerks!” Orin Kerr, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, disagrees. Kerr writes for the Volokh Conspiracy: “While it's unseemly and perhaps rather nasty to post it, it's normally not a crime to post evidence that was obtained as a fruit of crime”
That didn’t prevent justice officials from trying to intimidate journalistic organizations. The Associated Press, one of the many organizations that has reported on the incident, reports that “Secret Service contacted the Associated Press on Wednesday and asked for copies of the leaked emails, which circulated widely on the Internet. The AP did not comply.” Kurt Opsahl writes on the Electronic Frontier Foundation blog Deeplinks that the Associated Press and Gawker are likely not in any legal trouble, for now: “While the individuals who broke into Gov. Palin's personal email account have likely broken the law, news media… are entitled under the First Amendment to republish any newsworthy email messages.”
The incident has dredged up a fair amount of animosity toward the press, in spite of the legality of posting the emails. Andrew Grossman writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation, “just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.” On his show for Fox News, Bill O’Reilly said, “I’d like to see the website [Gawker] prosecuted.”
“Congress often enacts privacy protecting legislation only in the wake of salient, sensationalized, harmful privacy breaches.” Ohm write for Concurring Opinions. This could be one such incident. Should Congress decide to attack websites that post leaked documents, it runs the risk of infringing on the right to free speech and fundamentally changing the internet for the worse. The chances of this happening are even higher should the McCain-Palin campaign win the 2008 election. If that is the case, the true victims of this crime are still unknown.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 28, 2008 1:08 PM
My name is Jake and I am addicted to addiction memoirs. So of course I am caught up in the sordid web of David Carr’s harrowing, sprawling, unsentimental, booze- and drug-addled, New-York-Times-best-selling, luridly compelling addiction memoir, The Night of the Gun.
It’s more than simply an addiction memoir, however, and Carr takes great pains to assure himself as much as his readers that he is not simply throwing another perversely boastful drug confessional into a literary market already glutted with the genre. He is primarily concerned about the accuracy of his memory, warped as it is by time and chemicals, and the questions of subjective versus objective truth that both plague and compel writers of nonfiction—issues which seem academic until they arise, perennially, amidst scandals involving fabricated memoirs.
Because he is a reporter—an award-winning writer for the New York Times—Carr gathers as much hard evidence as he can about the hard living he did in the 1970s and 80s while working as a journalist in Minneapolis. He pores over police and court records and interviews friends and witnesses from the era, but suspects even before he’s done that his project will most likely remain incomplete.
What emerges instead is an absorbing tale of addiction and recovery that does dwell a bit too long on Carr's countless bad decisions, recounting war stories long after the reader has gotten the point: he was a miserable asshole. Carr also veers dangerously close to the clichéd narrative perils of ruin and redemption that so often befall memoirs, but always manages to pull away before it’s too late. The second half of the book, tracing his slow recovery, is intriguing for its discussions of the paradoxes of substance abuse and cultural attitudes toward addiction.
Ultimately, The Night of the Gun isn’t so much about drugs and addiction as it is about something more universal: our relationship to our own histories, and how our memories are altered and ablated by time’s inexorable, unsympathetic progression.
Monday, August 25, 2008 4:09 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.
Monday, August 25, 2008 12:44 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.
Friday, August 15, 2008 9:22 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.”
Thursday, August 14, 2008 1:05 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.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008 10:09 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.
Friday, June 13, 2008 4:08 PM
For the latest episode of the UtneCast, I sat down with film director Robert Greenwald during the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform to talk about the blurring line between advocacy and journalism.
Greenwald rose to fame with his fiery polemics against Fox News in his 2004 documentary OutFoxed, and private contractors in Iraq in his 2006 documentary Iraq for Sale. Celebrated by many on the left, and reviled by many on the right, Greenwald’s production company, Brave New Films, has focused on the internet in recent months, releasing short films attacking John McCain and his allies.
For more information on the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform, visit the Utne.com media archives from June.
Robert Greenwald on Advocacy Journalism: Play Now
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Saturday, June 07, 2008 2:48 PM
Writers and bloggers are blurring the already thin line between advocacy and journalism. In a workshop at the National Conference for Media Reform today called “How Independent Media Creates Change,” Jane Hamsher, the founder of the popular blog Firedoglake, spoke about her work as “somewhere between activism and journalism.” She set out to “keep journalists honest” in her acclaimed work during the Scooter Libby trial. Speaking on the same panel, Jefferson Morley of the Center for Independent Media drew a sharp distinction between the two camps, putting himself squarely on the side of journalism.
The question is: Where’s the line? I spoke with Tracy Van Slyke, director of the Media Consortium, and she said that the blurring of advocacy and journalism could be a good thing. She said the mix hearkens back to the original intent of journalism, which is to “inform and to activate” people. At the same time, she stressed that journalists should be transparent about their biases and affiliations. Van Slyke, who directs a network that includes outlets such as In These Times, Air America Radio, and Grist.org, aims to “build the echo” within the progressive media.
There is, however, a danger in building a left-wing echo chamber that Van Slyke acknowledges. As the Democrats begin to take power in Washington, the progressive media can’t sacrifice its role as a watchdog of people in power, regardless of party affiliation. This is where the mix could become problematic, when a journalist’s role as an advocate strains journalistic integrity.
For more on the National Conference for Media Reform, click here.
Friday, March 28, 2008 9:38 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.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 10:32 AM
Finally, a social networking site aimed at the cranky old-school reporters who were forever bitching about “those Internets,” until they realized they were on the verge of losing their jobs to a bunch of 20-somethings with Facebook accounts who are willing to work for a Jimmy John’s sandwich and a free Internet connection. Ryan Sholin, of blogosphere renown, took pity on them and created Wired Journalists.com to help them learn about The Google. And judging from the turnout on the message board, it’s working. Onward, crusty journalists!
Image by monoglot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 21, 2007 12:07 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.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 3:27 PM
Before the Santa Ana winds abated and slowed the pace of the wildfires in Southern California, anyone near a newspaper or television got a glimpse of how grave this last fire really was. For a region that lives every day with the peril of natural disaster, this one struck an even deeper chord of helplessness for residents.
The region's alt weeklies have churned out some really impressive wildfire reporting. To echo the San Diego CityBeat's own admission, their coverage might not have the facts and figures of the exhaustive dailies, but the alt weeklies' focus on individuals and narratives has set its articles apart. CityBeat’s Eric Wolff, for example, chronicled the conversion of San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium into a camp for evacuees, and Pat Sherman followed horse owners as they rushed to remove their animals from the fire’s path.
Check out some of the best alt weekly reporting here:
“The World on Fire,” by Judith Lewis, L.A. Weekly
“Extreme Makeover: Spending the night at an evacuation site means a lesson in organization,” By Eric Wolff, San Diego CityBeat
“Four-legged Evacuees: Horse owners scramble to find emergency boarding space,” by Pat Sherman, San Diego CityBeat
An index to the San Diego CityBeat articles on the wildfires.
Also check out:
A roundup of the ethnic media’s wildfire coverage at New America Media.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007 9:52 AM
At a forum I attended this weekend, everyone generally agreed that the internet is the most effective mass-communication tool in the history of mankind. Now it’s up to journalists (including citizen journalists) to figure out how to use it. The event, called “Life After Newspapers,” was organized the Twin Cities Media Alliance and attended by the media reform organization Free Press and was held in the Minneapolis downtown public library.*
Most of the people agreed that it’s currently possible to bring more worthwhile stories and voices to more people than ever before. Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of the excellent community radio station KFAI, talked about bringing women and minorities into the media landscape. Her work seems like an uphill battle, but she spoke of a coming generation of media savvy voices, poised to change the face of news.
Not everyone was as optimistic about the power of young people to save the media. Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the lack of skepticism displayed by many of her students. She said she was struck by how many people passively swallow the information they find on the internet without asking the important questions: Who is writing this, what are they telling me, and why do they know what they know? Great journalism isn’t going to stop well-funded spin experts from sending out lies and half-truths over the internet, and without a healthy dose of skepticism, that information can be dangerous.
With everyone talking about where great journalism will to come from, Steve Perry of the blog the Daily Mole, posed a hypothetical: Maybe it won’t come at all. With a heaping mound of cynicism, Perry suggested that good journalism might simply cease to be.
Robert McChesney, the keynote speaker and one of the nation’s premier media experts, struck a middle ground between the optimism and the pessimism surrounding the state of the media. McChesney walked a fine line between realizing the threats to the media and telling people that the threats can be overcome. Local blogger Paul Schmeltzer has posted an interview with McChesney over at the Minnesota Monitor.
McChesney’s point is basically this: There are huge threats to free speech, independent media, and information in general. But that doesn’t mean people should give up. The organization he founded, Free Press, has won significant battles for independent media lately. McChesney said he sincerely believes that independent media is winning and will win the fight for net neutrality. Concerned citizens simply need to step up and make their voices heard.
For more on the fight for media reform, read Keith Goetzman’s piece Big Media Meets Its Match from the July / August issue of Utne Reader.
* Correction: The event was organized by the Twin Cities Media Alliance, not the Free Press as originally reported.
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