Thursday, February 11, 2010 12:20 PM
Welcome to Kenya, where informed citizens still buy—and read—daily newspapers. Karen Rothmyer, a journalism professor at the University of Nairobi, chronicles Kenyans’ “seemingly unquenchable passion for print” in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.
“Each newspaper in Kenya is typically read by fourteen people, and those who can’t afford to buy a paper sometimes ‘rent’ one,” Rothmyer writes. “My neighborhood news vendor charges the equivalent of thirteen cents for thirty minutes with one of the major dailies, all of which are in English. That compares with fifty cents to buy one, a significant sum even to office workers earning $20 a day, and out of reach for the far more numerous casual workers who generally earn no more than $2.”
Rothmyer admits that limited Internet access is a factor in the enduring popularity of print newspapers, but there are also cultural factors at play:
Patrick Quarcoo, a successful Ghanaian entrepreneur who started a new Kenyan newspaper, the Star, in 2007—yes, you read that right, a new daily newspaper—says it was his grandmother who taught him about the significance of print in an African context. “She had no real formal education, but she always used to say in Pidgin English ‘Book no lies,’” he recalls. “She completely believed in the power of print to shape our destiny.”
That belief continues to be widespread today all over the continent. “People want to see it to believe it,” says Joe Otin, the media research and monitoring director at the Kenyan affiliate of Synovate, a media research and watchdog firm.
Additionally, politics in Kenya is “all-consuming,” a prominent print advertiser tells Rothmyer, a nationwide passion that fuels the demand for newspapers. (She sees this firsthand when she travels to the small, rural town of Busia, where a group of citizens meets regularly to read and discuss recent papers.)
“Newspapers will not die here, definitely not,” says Daniel Kasajja Orubia, a twenty-eight-year-old manager who is among the small number of Kenyans who own a mobile phone with Internet access. He says he regularly uses it to check the BBC or other sites, but, he insists, “I’ll still be reading newspapers in twenty years.”
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Image by ShironekoEuro, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 17, 2009 1:18 PM
Every year, newspapers make blatant, embarrassing, egregious errors, and every year, Craig Silverman is there to catch them. In the latest edition of the Year in Media Errors and Corrections, Silverman collects plenty of gaffes, including the headline from the DeKalb News (left), some of which are hilarious and some just sad. Here are a few favorites:
From The Justice (Brandeis University):
The original article provided the incorrect location of New York University’s new institution. It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib.
From The Guardian (U.K.):
This article was amended on Tuesday 20 January 2009. In our entry on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, we referred to a Prairie Ho Companion; we meant a Prairie Home Companion. This has been corrected.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Bear sighting: An item in the National Briefing in Sunday’s Section A said a bear wandered into a grocery story in Hayward, Wis., on Friday and headed for the beer cooler. It was Thursday.
And the correction of the year, from the Washington Post:
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
Regret the Error
Tuesday, October 06, 2009 3:22 PM
When everything but the news is stripped out of a newspaper, publications tend to look a lot thinner. Inspired by a blog post by Clay Shirky, I decided to perform a “news biopsy” of the today’s issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I wanted to separate the news from everything else in there.
I began by buying two copies of the newspaper, cutting them up, and separating the articles. One copy was for the odd-numbered pages, the other was for the evens. I then separated the articles into three categories: “news,” “advertisements,” and “other.” The “other” consisted of the opinion columns, sports, weather, comics, anything that was neither an ad nor reported news.
Here were the results:
News: 3.9 oz
Ads: 4.9 oz
Other: 7.3 oz
I then took the news pile and separated that into two categories: “created” and “acquired” news. The created news was anything with a byline from the Star Tribune. The acquired news consisted of articles sourced from the New York Times, the Associated Press, or anything outside of the Star Tribune.
Here were the results:
Acquired: 1.5 oz
Created: 2.3 oz
The paper fared better than the Columbia Daily Tribune, the paper tested by Shirky, where two-thirds of the news was acquired and only one-third was created. Still, out of more than 16 ounces of newspaper, just 2.3 were news created by the Star Tribune. The rest, according to Shirky:
It’s not news, and it’s not hard to do, and it’s not hard to replace. No one surveying the changes the internet is bringing to the newspaper business is saying “My God, who will tell me about Big 12 football! Where will I find a recipe for spicy chicken wings!”
Source: Clay Shirky
Friday, September 25, 2009 4:27 PM
A new, yet-to-be-named, local website will be forming next year to fill in the gaps left by regional newspaper shutterings in the Bay Area. The nonprofit site nabbed a hefty donation—$5 million—from San Francisco businessman F. Warren Hellman, and its expertise and manpower will come from “KQED-FM, which has a 28–person news staff, and the 120 students of the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism,” the New York Times reports.
Source: The New York Times
Thursday, September 03, 2009 3:34 PM
It’s been an exciting but bumpy ride for the independent press in Eastern Europe in recent years. In the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, things got a bit bumpier this summer: The editorial staff of the Riga-based Baltic Times, an English-language newspaper that covers all three countries, quit en masse in late July because they hadn't been paid in four months and say they were being forced to write articles that favored advertisers, reports Latvians Online.
The encouraging thing is that they did what used to be nearly impossible: They launched a rival publication within weeks.
“Baltic Reports, which was officially launched today [August 25], is an independent online media portal established by former staff of the Baltic Times,” editor Kate McIntosh wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
“We had a disagreement with Riga staff journalists” was the understated characterization of the dispute by Baltic Times managing editor Sergey Alekseyev in an e-mail to Latvians Online. Alekseyev said the publication will continue.
In announcing their resignations, the ex-staff at the Baltic Times acknowledged financial pressures played a role in the drama—but so did journalistic standards: “While we appreciate that these are hard times economically for business and companies, we felt that it was no longer possible to continue to produce a professional product under such circumstances.”
Sources: Latvians Online, Baltic Reports
Image by PhylB, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 13, 2009 10:16 AM
The standard, bare-bones, institutional voice of newspapers is dying a slow death. “The convention has outlived its usefulness, and needs to be euthanized,” Matt Thompson writes on his blog Newsless. Writing in an institutional “news voice” hinders transparency by forcing reporters to hide their methods and their voice. It also distracts people with the form, rather than the substance, of news articles when reporters deviate from the conventions. It also allowed “partisan hucksters” like Bill O’Reilly to outflank newspapers, according to Thompson, because it’s usually more compelling to be told “I’m on your side” rather than “just the facts, m’am.”
Friday, July 31, 2009 3:00 PM
Did you hear the story about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking communion and then stashing the wafer in his pocket? Don’t get your hackles raised yet: The faux pas apparently never happened. Over at the venerable Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman dissects how such a strange fabrication could have ended up on the front page of the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Image by dtcchc, 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, July 09, 2009 4:53 PM
For less than the price of a cup of coffee per day, you can feed and clothe a newspaper professional. Even if they don’t want a newspaper, this video from Slate V encourages people to “buy one anyway.” That way, hungry and desperate copy editors can survive for at least a few more days.
For an extra layer of humor, read the call for unpaid interns that sits directly below the video on the Slate website.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:07 PM
Will the death of journalism mean the end of democracy? The newest issue of Mother Jones provides us with a rundown of depressing statistics about the state of media:
- 43% of Americans say it would hurt civil life “a lot” if their local newspapers closed. Yet when asked if they’d miss their paper, 42% say “not much” or “not at all.”
- By one estimate, an entirely Web-based New York Times could generate only enough money to support about 20% of the paper’s current staff.
- The editor of the New York Times Magazine says a typical cover story costs more than $40,000 to produce—and that excludes editing, art, and fact-checking. That’s more than Mother Jones’ story budget for freelance writers for an entire issue.
- The top 10% of bloggers earn an average of $19,000 a year. For all bloggers, the median is $200 for men, $100 for women.
Source: Mother Jones (article not yet available online)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 11:19 AM
The great migration from print to digital has indelibly changed the written word and the people who create it. “It's not journalism we're losing, any more than it was agriculture or steel,” former newspaper editor Bob Sheasley writes in the new issue of Lost.
The online magazine’s new issue, Lost in Print, explores what is slipping away as writers stumble toward digital. “Writers are adapting to new platforms and quieter newsrooms, but writers are writers — out there in the world, taking it all in, putting it into words for us to read,” the editors note reads. “On that front, nothing's changing.”
Visiting the broken-down steel towns or the once-vibrant newsrooms, Sheasley expresses a different sentiment. Journalism and steel haven’t gone away, but there’s no doubt that something has been lost.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009 6:14 PM
The Rolling Stones sort of predicted the downfall of print in their 1967 song "Yesterday’s Papers" by singing “who wants yesterday’s papers / nobody in the world.” Now that no one seems to want today’s papers either, it’s a little more alarming. Writing for Paste magazine (which has also struggled to stay in print), Mark Kemp notes that “there really was a golden age of journalism. It peaked with Woodward and Bernstein and began its steady decline with emergence of CNN. Today, the newspaper is crumbling faster than week-old bread.
And what do you do with crumbling week-old bread? Quit writing about it and make a playlist! Kemp compiled his personal top 10 list of songs about newspapers and journalism, all fully listenable on the site. So, chin up, throw on some headphones, and check out his favorites.
Friday, May 15, 2009 10:00 AM
The new Star Trek has unleashed a slew of inaccuracies about the franchise in newspapers across the country, and detail-oriented devotees aren’t letting them get away with it. Craig Silverman, editor of the fantastic newspaper-correction-spotter RegretTheError.com, tracks a series of Star Trek–related flubs—and subsequent corrections issued by editors bombarded with letters from Trekkies—in his most recent column for the Columbia Journalism Review:
The superfans deserve credit for being so diligent and outspoken. They seek out mistakes contained in the far reaches of every newspaper and set their emails to stun. And they’re on the hunt at all times…
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Image by alfredituzz :B, licensed under Creative Commons.
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
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Source: Global Post
Friday, May 08, 2009 11:01 AM
Testifying before a Senate hearing on the “Future of Media,” David Simon, creator of HBO’s The Wire and a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, warned that “high end journalism is dying in America, and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the web or anywhere else.”
He begins his comments, broadcast today by Democracy Now, by saying that he doubts that neither newspaper publishers nor new media mavericks will agree with his overall analysis. He blasts the captains of the newspaper industry for having a martyr complex, and delivers a withering analysis of their short-sighted decision to cut newsroom budgets in the hopes the consumers wouldn’t notice—a move he equates with Detroit’s downfall in the Seventies. He also reminds proprietors of news-oriented websites that bloggers, tweeters, and citizen journalists can’t take the place of professional reporters, who, like firefighters and other civic servants, require training and institutional support—not to mention funding for investigations that never see the light of day.
His conclusion is that without an acknowledgement that content is king, there is no hope for the future of serious journalism, for profit or not.
Source: Democracy Now!
Friday, May 01, 2009 12:03 PM
Before creating The Wire, one of the greatest shows in the history of television, David Simon was a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. In a brief, over-lunch interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab, Simon talks about the future of journalism and how newspapers can charge for content.
Some newspaper experts argue, “We already let the horse out of the barn door,” in giving content away for free, but Simon doesn’t buy that. He brings up the point that “television was free 30 years ago. Now everybody’s paying 16 bucks a month, 17 bucks a month, 70 dollars a month.” The key is getting a core group of writers that can’t be found anywhere else (like the HBO model). Either that, or sell porn.
You can watch the video below:
David Simon on charging for news and whether "The Wire" is journalism from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.
Source: Nieman Journalism Lab
Friday, March 13, 2009 9:23 AM
With the media in freefall, newspapers are fighting to survive and journalism schools are struggling to stay relevant. The Anniston Star newspaper and the University of Alabama have found a partnership that could help both. Using a grant from the Knight Foundation, the Anniston Star has started accepting master’s students for a community journalism program to pitch and report stories and supplement the newspaper’s editorial coverage.
The move was met with some resistance from the paper’s editorial staff. Troy Turner, who was the executive editor of the Star before the program began, told the American Journalism Review, “They wanted a training model like a Navy hospital ship. But we worked like a battleship, with all guns blazing. We wanted to continue doing the solid journalism that the Anniston Star had long been known for doing.” Now that the program has started, however, Turner admits that the it’s having some success.
Other journalism schools haven’t had as easy of a time adjusting. When the New York Times partnered with the City University of New York for their own community journalism project, “The Local,” New York Magazine reports that the move was seen as a slight to the University of Columbia venerable journalism school.
Since then Columbia has increased its efforts to stay current. According to New York Magazine, the school will soon offer “a revamped, digitally focused curriculum designed to make all students as capable of creating an interactive graphic as they are of pounding out 600 words on a community-board meeting.” But just as many old-school journalists don’t want to dive into blogging, professors at Columbia are less than enthusiastic about going digital. Ari Goldman, a 16-year professor of Columbia’s Reporting and Writing 1 (RW1) class, is quoted as saying “fuck new media,” describing the move to digital as “an experimentation in gadgetry.”
Image by Bluemarine, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: American Journalism Review, New York Magazine
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 1:26 PM
Am I the only one who’s been amused by the Wall Street Journal’s hyperbolic headlines in the Obama era? Every few days it seems there’s a “most read” opinion-page article topped by a headline that should have been published during the Bush administration—but never was. Here are my recent laugh-out-loud favorites:
“The President Politicizes Stem-Cell Research” (today). Bush of course was the guy who turned this issue into a red-meat feed for the conservative base. To suggest that Obama is suddenly politicizing it by reversing Bush’s science-challenged research ban is not just blind to the obvious but comically absurd.
Is the Administration Winging It?
” (February 18). Whooee, what a gem. The title of this opinion piece could have applied to the entire Dubya reign, whose hallmark was recklessness, ignorance, and incompetence, from an unnecessary and abysmally planned war to the hapless “heck of a job, Brownie” Hurricane Katrina response. What’s even better is the byline on this one: Karl Rove. Stop it, my sides hurt.
” (March 5). The premise here, also a Rove construction, is that Americans voted for a leader who, as soon as he was in office, changed his tune—and that this occurred in the 2008 election, not 2000 or 2004. Remember the phrase “I’m a uniter, not a divider”? How about “I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders”? Bush was a serial bait-and-switcher, whereas Obama so far is basically carrying out the sort of change he promised, as one Journal reader pointed out in response.
Friday, February 27, 2009 10:48 AM
The Columbia Journalism Review has compiled a hefty list of goodbyes from Rocky Mountain News staffers. The paper published its last issue today.
Bracing thoughts from sports columnist Dave Krieger:
Honestly? The corporate suits come in and cry their crocodile tears, then whiz on home to continue collecting their seven-figure salaries, pleased to have rid their shareholders of the albatross that was a helluva newspaper. Scripps is in the best financial shape of any newspaper company in America, save the Washington Post Co. . . .
We need publishers with vision and conviction and courage and it’s beginning to look like all we have are profiteers born on third base.
A eulogy of sorts from reporter Tillie Fong:
I feel the Rocky‘s closing as a death—not as an institution but as a part of my life, a part of ME, that has died.
I always felt that the Rockywas this feisty little paper that reflects the spirit of the people that it serves—fiercely independent, outspoken, active, but also caring and compassionate.
Romenesko posted a Denver Post memo listing the Rocky journalists it's hired; check out the rest of Romenesko's ongoing coverage here.
Sources: Columbia Journalism Review, Romenesko
Friday, February 06, 2009 4:00 PM
With umpteen publications commemorating the 50th anniversary of Castro’s Cuban Revolution, several newspapers are simultaneously waiting for the dictator to pass on. Editor & Publisher senior editor Joe Strupp gives a breakdown of the extensive plan the Miami Herald has in place for when Castro finally shuffles off this mortal coil.
According to Manny Garcia, the senior news editor for the Herald, Castro is “the journalistic equivalent of a kidney stone -- a constant pain who never seems to go away, and you pray that he passes, soon.” Morbid and a tad insensitive, maybe, but the fact remains that Fidel has stubbornly stayed alive and in power despite failing health and near-constant rumors that he’s suffered a heart attack or slipped into a coma or died in his sleep.
The preparation for the actual event of his death is of epic proportions. “The Cuba plan,” as Garcia calls it, is a three-ring binder filled with information and contact numbers necessary to the story. “The Cuba plan went on a Mediterranean cruise with my family. It's been to Barcelona, Rome, Vancouver, Disney World -- even down North Carolina's Nanthahala River -- safely tucked in a waterproof bag while my son and I rafted.” The Herald already has several different versions of Castro’s obit tailored to time of day or night, plus a range of photos from young to old and an in memoriam webpage ready to go online at a moment’s notice. And when Fidel dies, no matter what the staff members are doing, no matter where they are, everyone is under strict orders to report for duty.
Image by factor_, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 10:10 AM
In the history of scandals, Randall “Duke” Cunningham has got to be one of the best. In 2005, the California congressman was found guilty of taking more than $2 million in bribes in a conspiracy allegedly involving defense contractors and prostitutes. The story was broken by reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune, though none of those reporters are still with the paper, according to the American Journalism Review.
In fact, reporters who cover the federal government from a local angle—as the ink-stained Pulitzer Prize-winners from the San Diego Union-Tribune were—have largely disappeared from the American media landscape. Newspapers across the country are cutting corners and shrinking budgets, and the Washington correspondents for local papers are a major casualty.
“Nobody else would've gotten Duke Cunningham” says George Condon, the former Washington bureau chief of the Copley News Service, the company that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune. “USA Today, AP, New York Times, none of them would devote resources to a backbench, local San Diego congressman in that kind of detail.”
Many newspapers are trying to cover the federal government remotely, relying more on wire service reports and national news reports. This creates huge gaps in coverage, as the national issues affecting local areas simply aren’t written about. Bill Walsh, a former Washington correspondent for New Orleans' Times-Picayune, says that less information on the national government will lead already cynical Americans to disengage from the civic process. “That hurts democracy,” says Walsh. “And if there are fewer people to report what is really going on, it adds to the cynicism.”
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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.
Monday, November 03, 2008 1:46 PM
After reporting significant losses in addition to rising production costs, the Christian Science Monitor has turned to a solution that it hopes will minimize losses while maintaining or even increasing readership. The newspaper’s daily content will soon be entirely web-based, with a print edition (photo features, in-depth reportage) coming out weekly. Along with the change comes a steep drop in subscription prices, from $220/year to $89/year. However, this doesn’t mean that the CSM is completely dodging the bullet: Editor John Yemma still plans to cut 10-15 percent of staff next year.
The Monitor’s transition appears to be relatively painless, but the Columbia Journalism Review warns that the strategy may not work for all troubled publications. One of the biggest variables in the plan’s success is ad revenue: Print advertisers may not want to make the switch, especially since the print edition of the Monitor skews to an older demographic than its online content. It’s also difficult to predict if subscribers who aren’t tech-savvy will adapt or simply give up. The evolution is slated for April 2009.
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.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 3:30 PM
A wiry thirtysomething guy bikes out of the Whole Foods parking lot, a pannier of organic produce strapped to his rack. He’s on his way home to make dinner after a couple of hours volunteering at the local Obama campaign headquarters. He inches down the driveway, waiting for an opportunity to turn right into the busy rush-hour traffic.
He sees an opening and jumps into the lane, pedaling quickly. But he’s not moving fast enough for a hulking SUV whose impatient driver doesn’t want to change lanes. She tailgates him for several yards, laying on the horn, then swerves into the other lane and tears past him, yelling something about getting on the sidewalk. The cyclist gives her a one-fingered salute, then notices a McCain-Palin sticker on her bumper.
We are all guilty of certain prejudices. In the escalating (and increasingly dangerous) tensions between car commuters and bicycle riders, battle lines are drawn. As an avid cyclist leaning fairly hard to port, I had very little reason to interrogate the stereotypes embodied in the scenario above. But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?
On the Internet, of course.
“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”
And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy. “I do not care about gas prices or the environment. I care about fun and getting where I am quickly,” wrote Old Scratch. “I’m a Libertarian,” wrote Charly17201. “I am extremely conservative, but definitely NOT a GOPer. … I ride my bike because it provides me the opportunity to save even more money for my pleasures now and my retirement in the future (and my retirement fund is NOT the responsibility of the government).”
The more liberal bikers in the forums repeated some variation of this formulation: “Drive to the ride = conservative; bike to the ride = liberal.” In other words, conservatives load bikes onto SUVs and drive them to a riding trail, while liberals incorporate their bikes into every aspect of their personal transportation, whether utilitarian or recreational. For moneyed conservatives with a large portion of their income budgeted for recreation, high-end bikes and gear have taken their place along golf as a rich man’s leisure activity.
But there are conservatives who integrate bikes into their lifestyle just as thoroughly as their liberal counterparts. Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”
Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”
The impression that bikers are liberal is reinforced, Berg feels, by the most vocal and political members of bike culture. These are the folks who corner the media's spotlight (and draw drivers' resentment) with high-profile events like Critical Mass, a group ride that floods downtown streets in many cities at the end of each month as riders zealously reassert their rights to the paths normally traveled by cars. Similarly, when the price of gas climbed to $4 over the summer, the media couldn’t run enough stories about the unprecedented popularity of bike commuting. Activist bikers leveraged the newfound media attention to promote certain messages: that bicycling is an inherently political activity; that cyclists care about traditionally progressive causes like environmental protection; that more tax money should be allocated for bike paths and a transportation infrastructure that takes vehicles other than cars into account.
“The faction of bikers that is fundamentally political has done a good job of tying [bikes and politics] together,” Berg says. “The Green Party has wrapped itself around the bicycle.” But for many, biking is political because everything is political: “You need a public infrastructure to [bike],” wrote Cyclezealot, on Bike Forums. “So, cycling will always be affected by politics, like it or not.”
When politics does bleed into cycling, does it create tensions? I asked Berg if he ever feels outnumbered on group rides dominated by liberals, and if those differences ever come to the fore. “Of course,” he replied, “On several levels. I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in man-made global warming. I’m biking for reasons that are partly personal and partly capitalistic; I don’t want to pay $4 for gas.” But he has made liberal friends based on a common love of cycling. So has William Bain, a retired Naval officer living in the Pacific Northwest whose bike commute is a 43-mile round trip. “Cycling is the common bond I have with my liberal friends,” said Bain. “We can get in a heated passionate argument about politics and then go out and try to ride each other into the ground. Good clean fun.”
Berg and Bain have allies in the government who see bicycle advocacy as a nonpartisan issue. Take Republican Greg Brophy, a Colorado state senator and an avid cyclist who competes in road bike marathons and uses his mountain bike to haul farm equipment. Brophy worked with Bicycle Colorado to pass Safe Routes to School and is supporting a “Green Lanes” bill to give bicyclists safer routes through metro areas.
Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son's baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn't give a rip.”
Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads—before issuing a call to arms: “The people with the 2,000-pound vehicle need to start fighting back.” Lewis’ comments seem especially reckless in light of recent events: In September alone, four Twin Cities cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. One conservative blogger celebrates bike fatalities and gleefully anticipates more. “Keep it up,” he tells cyclists, “and the law of averages says we’ll have a few less Obama voters in November.”
While such critics tap into right-wing rage at all things liberal, conservative bikers appeal to a saner tenet of their political tradition: the free market's invisible hand. “Let the market roam free,” Berg exclaimed. “The higher gas goes, the more people will try biking.” And where there’s money to be made, bikes and bike-share programs will emerge. When the Republican National Convention came to the Twin Cities in September, for example, a bike-share program was there to greet it. Humana and Bikes Belong made 1,000 bikes available for rental during the convention, with 70 bikes staying behind as part of a permanent rental program.
Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual. What's more, they represent not just the abandonment of tired clichés, but more bikes on the road—something all of us on two wheels, regardless of our political idiosyncrasies, can agree is a good thing.
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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.
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.
Thursday, January 31, 2008 9:08 AM
The London Times has been caught resorting to shady practices in search of online friends. Andy Baio at Waxy.org revealed yesterday that he discovered the newspaper’s “extensive campaign to spam social media sites.” Using accounts at over a dozen social news sites, including Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon, an employee at an SEO consulting firm hired by the newspaper posted links to hundreds of Times articles under the guise of normal users. This is a bit like those attractive, friendly women you meet at bars who always seem to steer your conversation around to how Bacardi makes a night magic—before encouraging you to buy them another Bacardi and Coke. It’s a bad practice to try to willfully deceive your readers, and at the very least the Times should fire its SEO consultants.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 8:41 AM
On Tuesday, December 18, the Federal Communications Commission voted to loosen even further the rules that govern media consolidation in this country. The FCC's decision weakens a 32-year-old ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership, which had prevented a company from owning both a newspaper and broadcast station (radio or television) in the same market. The vote, 3-to-2 along party lines, permits this sort of cross-ownership in the country's 20 largest markets.
Read all about it at the Free Press blog, and don't miss the powerful dissenting statements from FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps (Word docs) on what this means for local media.
This is bad news, but it’s not the final word—the legislature has the authority to overturn the decision. If enough people sign the open letter to Congress that Free Press has drafted, perhaps they’ll listen.
Check out Keith Goetzman's profile of Adelstein and Copps, “Big Media Meets Its Match,” from the July-August issue of Utne Reader.
Thursday, October 25, 2007 2:59 PM
These days, the newspaper industry is like a salmon that's just woken up from a nice nap to find itself flapping on the deck of a fishing boat, with a big hook through its lip. But one newspaper is thriving, and perhaps its business model is one that behemoths like the New York Times can emulate. That paper is the Onion, weekly purveyor of fake news, which has seen its print circulation grow 60 percent in the last three years.
Greg Beato writes in the November issue of Reason that newspapers can follow the Onion's lead by writing stories with more energy, abandoning the curse of the he-said she-said journalistic "Double Objectivity Sludge" that clogs the pages of news dailies. "Why not adopt [the Onion's] brutal frankness, the willingness to pierce orthodoxies of all political and cultural stripes, and apply these attributes to a genuinely reported daily newspaper?" he asks.
This sort of non-objective journalism does have precedents. Just look at H.L. Mencken, who made his crusty opinions palatable by doling them out with a diligent mind and a sharp wit. Or what about Mark Twain? He got his start writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper that reported about as many facts as the Onion. These writers show that maybe the news doesn't have to be boring for it to be true. —Brendan Mackie
(Thanks, Arts and Letters Daily!)
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