Friday, December 03, 2010 6:29 PM
Three months after 9/11, 20 men deemed dangerous to America landed at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. In the nine-years since, nearly 800 detainees—often arrested without probable cause and held without being tried or even charged—have been jailed on the Cuban island. Some have been released, some have been tried, and some have committed suicide. And Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for the Miami Herald, has covered it all.
“Carol’s daily accounts are what you need to read to understand Guantánamo 101,” Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security tells David Glenn, who wrote a profile about Rosenberg for Columbia Journalism Review that was published in November. “She’s still the only person who can contextualize what’s going on. Carol’s has been the consistent presence.”
She’s also a dogged daily reporter (an increasingly rare breed), who pushes back at the military’s efforts to limit information; files sharp, 1,000 word stories chronicling everything from the most mundane regulations to the most colorful detainees; and is completely uninterested in punditry. She isn’t even peddling a book. Instead, Rosenberg sleeps in the uncomfortable media tents at the Naval Base and cultivates her expanding list of sources, proving that institutional cooperation and feel good stories are not only unnecessary, but a waste of time.
“Reporters’ movements on the base are heavily stage-managed and during waking hours they’re almost never out of earshot of a public-affairs staff member,” Glenn writes. “Rosenberg has done much of her work here by gaining the trust of attorneys, guards, medical workers, and other personnel—and then finding way to communicate with them from Florida.”
Her scoops include a story about the Pentagon’s decision to create a joint task force to conduct interrogations at Guantánamo and a piece introducing Salim Hamdan, who, according to Glenn, “was one of the first detainees slated for trial before the Bush administration’s early military tribunals.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Rosenberg’s tenure at the base has been threatened. In 2009, she was accused of unprofessional conduct and in May she was temporarily excised—along with three Canadian reporters—for allegedly violating a protective order. A few months later, she was given a First Amendment Award by the Society of Professional journalists.
“She’s a hard-ass. She’s tough as nails,” MSNBC contributor Bob Franken tells CJR. “But she doesn’t cut corners. The military sometimes seemed like they only wanted us to offer light color commentary and root for the home team, and Carol never played that game.”
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
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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
Tuesday, May 04, 2010 3:02 PM
Cuts at your favorite media organizations? Take comfort in the probability that the executives in charge are doing just fine.
From a New York Times story:
Top executives at the country’s largest media companies continued to reel in multimillion-dollar pay packages in 2009, a year of widespread cost-cutting throughout the industry. In several cases, the packages even increased from the year before.
At the top of the list is
, chief executive of the , whose pay package in 2009 totaled almost $43 million, more than twice what he made in 2008, according to an analysis by Equilar, an research firm.
Not far behind was
’s chief executive, , who was paid nearly $34 million, a 22 percent increase over 2008. , who controls CBS and Viacom, was paid more than $33 million from the two companies combined.
“Anybody who reads the business section knows the margins are being squeezed at media companies, so the fact that there are these huge packages makes no sense,” said James F. Reda, the founder of James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm with offices in New York and Atlanta.
Hey, it's lonely at the top! You've got to get something out of the deal.
Source: New York Times
Image by kevindooley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 18, 2009 11:13 AM
Ethnic media saw their audience grow by 16% between 2005 and 2009, according to a poll released earlier this year by New America Media, an association representing thousands of ethnic news organizations. A subsequent piece in Global Journalist (PDF) quotes Garry Pierre Pierre, a former New York Times reporter who now runs the Haitian Times in New York City: "We are not in the same predicament as the New York Times or Boston Globe because we never had what they had."
Over at the Online Journalism Review, Sandra Ordonez writes about ethnic media's four-step model for the news industry's future. It's a refreshing recognition that the future of news is a conversation that ought to reach (and reach out to) all corners of the media landscape, rather than fixate on mainstream media and its boosters—a conspicuously homogenous bunch.
Here is the outline of the four-step model:
1. Forget the numbers. Who is your audience?
Historically, ethnic newspapers have been less concerned with numbers than thoroughly reaching a specific audience, whether it be a Colombian community in Queens, or a growing Asian population in Central Florida. They have been successful in becoming both liaisons and voices for their targeted population, so much so that they are regularly targeted by both national and international entities seeking to interact with their specific community.
2. Become the nexus of your community
It is not uncommon to see newspaper representatives establishing strong relationships with a gamut of local business owners and community leaders, while at the same time serving as 'networking' facilitators and community knowledge purveyors.
3. Understand your community's interest
Journalists and editors actively interact with their community and find out what stories are 'in demand.' Additionally, there seems to be more flexibility in regard to format and types of content that are published. Most importantly, however, they provide opportunities for citizens from different socioeconomic strata to voice their opinions and engage the community.
4. Think local
While ethnic newspapers may habitually publish news about their community's homeland or region, most newspapers focus solely on community news. They may not be as exciting or as sophisticated as newspapers such as the New York Times, but this ensures that published news is extremely relevant to the majority of their readership. In other words, the main focus is the community itself.
Ordonez gets a bit deeper into each of these in her piece, including a discussion of why mainstream models should follow suit. Thoughts?
Sources: New America Media, News21, Global Journalist, Online Journalism Review
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Friday, November 06, 2009 12:16 PM
Even if you haven’t read the books or seen the movie (soon to be movies), it’s been impossible to ignore the cultural phenomenon of Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight series. A mind-blowing statistic cited in the new American Prospect caught my eye: “In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight novels composed 16 percent of all book sales,” writes Sady Doyle. “Four out of every 25 books sold were part of the series.”
(Think about that for a minute. A series of books that began publishing in 2005 and ended in August 2008 accounted for 16 percent of all book sales in the first three months of 2009.)
Doyle demonstrates that the Twilight books and films—and their fans, who are visibly, overwhelmingly teenage girls—have been “marginalized and mocked” by a wide range of media: MTV, Time magazine, The New York Times, and other outlets favor adjectives like “shrieking” and “squealing” to describe these enthusiastic droves of readers. “Yes,” Doyle writes, “Twi-Hards can be loud. But is it really necessary to describe them all by the pitch of their voices? It propagates the stereotype of teen girls as hysterical, empty-headed, and ridiculous.”
Feminists, too, have widely criticized the books, and for good reason. They offer a humorless, stalkerish, absurdly overprotective Prince Charming in the vampire-protagonist of Edward Cullen, for whom Bella, the angsty teen-girl narrator, is willing to do anything (including—spoiler alert!—becoming a vampire herself). I’ll admit that when I finished reading the four-book series, the first thing I did was call my Edward Cullen–obsessed teenage sister, who did not appreciate my ensuing lecture about why the characters’ 19th century–style relationship was not something to aspire to.
Doyle concedes that the books are “silly,” what with their unlikely chastity and the characters’ sappy, unconditional, and constantly verbalized mutual adoration, but, she argues, these fantasies do offer teen girls much-needed “shelter from the terrors of puberty.” On the other hand, “male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”
Even phenomena on the nerdier side of the pop-culture spectrum—Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, and Harry Potter—escape the severe criticism that's heaped upon the Twi-Hards. How are Twilight and its fandom so different from these films, or even Marvel comics? Doyle asks. “The answer is fairly obvious, and it’s not—as geeks and feminists might hope—the quality of the books or movies,” she writes. “It’s the number of boys in the fan base.”
That’s why, no matter how drippy and problematic feminists may perceive the series to be, they should care about the Twilight backlash, Doyle argues. I’d like to interpret that as, let’s keep discussing our Twilight qualms with teen-girl allies—but let’s also try to understand why it appeals to them, and consider what that tells us about teenage girl-hood today.
(And let's definitely watch, and encourage Twilight fans to watch, the hilarious, sexism-busting video "Buffy vs. Edward (Twilight Remixed).")
Source: The American Prospect (excerpt only available online)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:12 PM
The deals are a “stunning one-two punch,” according to All Things Digital: Microsoft announced today that it has struck agreements to integrate real-time feeds of status updates from Twitter and Facebook into Bing. The deals are nonexclusive—which means Google could follow suit—but for the time being, Bing has something the search giant has yet to tap, at least in the case of Facebook. And get this: Microsoft is paying for it—exact terms, of course, haven’t been disclosed.
This is nonetheless “a precedent that the ability of search engines to index and link to content is worth some money,” Ryan Chittum writes for Columbia Journalism Review. “Where this goes from here no one knows. . . . Would the AP yank its news off Google if Bing paid and Google didn’t? Would it be worth it in the lost revenue from not showing up in as many search results? That’s too early to tell.”
One thing is clear, as Chittum says: This will be worth watching.
Sources: All Things Digital, Columbia Journalism Review
Wednesday, October 14, 2009 3:22 PM
As retailers like WalMart are shrinking aisle space devoted to magazines, Minneapolis-based Target has launched a bold digital newsstand, a joint project with digital content provider Zinio, reports MinOnline. Consumers can buy single issues or discounted subscriptions, choosing from a largely mainstream selection of publications.
As a company, Zinio has an unlimited-access, “comprehensive device” philosophy: “As the consumer you should only need to buy the digital version of [a publication] one time and have the freedom to access it on every device on an ongoing basis,” Zinio chief marketing office Jeanniey Mullen told MinOnline. So you subscribe, log into your Zinio account from wherever, and the content is formatted for how you've chosen to access it.
“Call it the counterpart to the emerging ‘TV everywhere’ model in which cable and premium network subscribers have online and mobile access to all of their TV programming,” writes MinOnline. It’s a forward-thinking strategy: “The current e-ink technology driving the Amazon Kindle, Sony reader and its upcoming rivals simply are not capable of showing magazines off very well. And while the Amazon Kindle allows for direct subscription and wireless downloads of more than a score of titles, these magazines are formatted specifically for that device.”
Thursday, September 03, 2009 4:22 PM
What would Buffy do—if the beloved (and powerfully feminist) vampire slayer encountered the Twilight series’ Edward Cullen? Video remix artist Jonathan McIntosh has crafted an answer in a beautifully edited video mash-up: Buffy vs. Edward (Twilight Remixed).
Writing on the blog Rebellious Pixels, McIntosh explains that his video remix is more than “a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire.” His piece of transformative storytelling—protected under fair use doctrine—dishes out a “
pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior.”
“Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways,” he writes. The remix also functions as “a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21ist century.”
Watch for yourself:
Source: Buffy vs. Edward, Rebellious Pixels
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.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009 9:53 AM
Running from Gas
,” a Pakistani lawyer runs from tear gas, Pakistan. © Emilio Morenatti.
Pictures of the Year International (POYi), among the oldest photojournalism competitions in the world, opens its 2009 exhibit this weekend at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. If you don’t live on the West Coast, though, don’t let that stop you: POYi allows website users to browse the award-winning photojournalism in its online winner’s gallery.
There’s something to delight everyone there, all of it beautiful. Many images have a humanitarian bent, such as Jakob Carlsen’s “Untouchables of Asia,” the winner of the World Understanding award, but there’s no limit the scope of the competition. There is spectacular sports photojournalism, the best of the 2008 presidential campaign, riveting portraiture, and the list goes on.
This is POYi’s 66th year. It is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, which previously served as host to the exhibitions.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 2:55 PM
Making fun of magazine covers is like netting fish in a barrel, but that doesn't mean it's not funny. In a stunt aimed at catering specifically to its core readership of cranky libertarians—who still inexplicably doubt the existence of climate change and, if they didn't like pot so much and God so little, would look a lot like, well...conservatives—Reason magazine went through a stack of Time magazines to showcase the Top 10 Most Absurd Covers of the Past 40 Years.
Highlights include a black-and-red line drawing of Satan ("The Occult Revival: Satan Returns"), a little boy sporting a crocodile tear ("Crack Kids: Their Mothers used drugs, and now it's the children who suffer"), and a ghostly, wide-eyed little boy who, sitting in front of a keyboard, seems to be possessed by demons ("Cyberporn: Can we protect our kids—and free speech?").
The write-ups following each cover image, packed with data and designed to take the air out of Time's perpetually hyperbolic balloon, are quick-witted and, not suprisingly I suppose, well-Reason-ed. That said, one can't help but notice that the same critics who are up-in-arms over this fear-mongering and tabloid imagery are the same people who champion wild west capitalism. And the strategies Time uses to sell these covers are not only timeless and textbook, they're proven to win. So, the item leaves me wondering what's more important: Responsible headlines and reasoned journalism or big sales.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:22 PM
File this under odd: PBS has filed a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office against a young San Diego gentleman who intends to announce himself this weekend as the “successor” to the late Fred Rogers.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Kinsell told Current, a newspaper about public TV and radio, that he already has filmed six episodes of Michael’s Enchanted Neighborhood. He intends to make the public announcement this Sunday, when, not inconveniently, his nonprofit is holding a gala ceremony to honor Fred Rogers as the recipient of its new Children’s Hero Award. According to the PBS complaint, the talent agent who booked celebrities for the event was “repeatedly assured by Kinsell that it is a PBS-sanctioned event.” One can only presume that Kinsell intends to load guests onto tiny trolleys and scoot them along to the land of Make-Believe.
Image by randomduck, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:55 PM
You know the adage: Sex sells. The wizards who cooked up the low-cal, chocolaty Mars Fling, however, seem to have taken the maxim a bit too, um, literally. In a Bitch-at-its-best take down, the feminist magazine wryly dissects a marketing campaign that urges women to “pleasure [themselves] with this chocolate sensation time and time again.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:05 AM
If you follow American Idol , you know that tonight’s show will feature the last performances from the final two contestants, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, before the results are revealed at the finale tomorrow. You may also know that in the media, much has been made of Lambert’s sexual identity, and whether or not he is gay. “Is America Ready for a Gay American Idol?” has been the headline on too many stories to count (just Google “Adam Lambert” and “gay” and see what you come up with). But in my estimation, all of the people asking this question are revealing that they are major fuddy-duddies. The worst fuddy-duddy of them all is, not surprisingly, Bill O’Reilly, who for his segment chose to crop the now infamous photos of Adam swapping spit with some lucky anonymous boy, rather than, gasp, showing an image of two male adults kissing (although, to his credit, O’Reilly does concede that talent is what should matter most in the competition. But man, he really seems to wish the gay factor mattered more). Whether or not Adam is gay doesn’t matter at all. This guy has a natural gift that can’t be denied, and rock star quality to spare. He oozes sexuality when he is on stage, and is the object of major female adoration, from 12-year old girls to 60-year old grandmas, who swear he is Elvis incarnate. Whether he directs that sexuality towards boys or girls in his personal life is totally beside the point. Every young internet-savvy female fan has seen the now infamous photos, and they obviously don't care. Rock-n-roll is about fantasy, not reality. Since when does it matter whether a rock star would actually date you in real life or not? Go Adam!
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 6:08 PM
How much responsibility should be put on the media for hate crimes? Its fair share, according to Extra!, the publication of media watch dogs FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting). In response to a 40 percent increase in hate crimes against Hispanic people, a UCLA professor conducted a study aimed at quantifying hate speech on commercial radio. Chon Noriega found “systematic and extensive use of false facts, flawed argumentation, divisive language, and dehumanizing metaphors . . . directed toward specific, vulnerable groups.” In reaction, the National Hispanic Media Coalition has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the scope and potential human cost of hateful broadcasts.
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.
Friday, January 23, 2009 10:22 AM
Barack Obama has pledged to run an open and transparent administration, rejecting the extreme secrecy that characterized the Bush years. But we shouldn't just take his word for it, warns Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Much has been made of the Obama administration's revamped WhiteHouse.gov website and of their plans to use social networking tools to open the White House up to the people. But a better website than the one Bush oversaw does not a transparent administration make, writes Garber:
Many of the media’s early assessments of the new WhiteHouse.gov framed their treatments according to some iteration of
, wow, this site is so much better than it was before!. Which is somewhat akin to deeming a Quarter Pounder to be a good meal choice because,
wow, it’s so much healthier than a Big Mac!. Relying on a Bushian metric for transparency doesn’t just set Obama’s bar too low; it sets the standard so low as to invalidate pretty much any bar in the first place.
And what about the press? Garber notes that Obama’s transparency manifesto, as it’s laid out on his new website, curiously fails to make any mention of journalists. “The goal can’t simply be transparency itself,” writes Garber, “but rather transparency that is processed through a journosphere that is diligent, curious, and skeptical.” So will Obama let reporters in to do the work of informing the people?
If the first few days of his presidency (or most of his campaign, for that matter) are any indication of how things will play out in the years to come, reporters shouldn’t expect plentiful access. Politico reports that the sparring has already begun between the press and White House staff. Tightly restricted access to the President’s oath of office do-over and to his first moments in the Oval Office got the press particularly riled up. Among their complaints: No news photographers were allowed into either of those events. Major wire services responded by refusing to run the pictures “in protest of the White House’s handling of the event,” according to Politico.
Thursday, January 15, 2009 1:06 PM
Last week, the New York Times announced that it would begin running ads on the front page in response to lagging revenues. A1 purists emitted a chorus of gasps, but pragmatic observers weren't as horrified. After all, plenty of newspapers around the country already print front-page ads; it’s a move that helps them stay afloat in an economy that’s been unkind to print media. James Barron, a contributor to The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages, thinks that changes to a paper's front page offer telling glimpses into larger journalistic trends. He recently talked with On the Media about shifting journalistic practices and 150 years of changes to A1.
Barron has a stockpile of interesting examples. He points to a headline from the assassination attempt on Teddy Roosevelt:
Maniac in Milwaukee Shoots Colonel Roosevelt. He Ignores Wound, Speaks an Hour, Goes to Hospital.
Besides being incredibly long, it wears its opinions on its sleeve in a way that papers now avoid. It’s difficult to imagine a reporter calling anyone a ‘maniac’ anymore.
Barron also sees the move away from obvious editorializing in the difference between reports of the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. Lincoln’s death was described as ‘awful news,’ while Kennedy’s was related in more clinical terms.
Check out the interview to hear Barron’s take on other notable changes to the Times’ A1. In particular, there’s an interesting discussion about what an increasing focus on online journalism means for the future of the front page.
Image courtesy of harshilshah100, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 11, 2008 10:15 AM
A lot of intelligent women find themselves torn between dismantling the superficiality of “women's interest” magazines and buying into it. Wendy Felton is one of those women, and she uses her three-year-old Glossed Over blog to rant, rave, and dissect fashion spreads and stories from publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Felton doesn’t claim to be an expert (she’s a freelance writer and editor), but simply a fan of women’s magazines who is continually disappointed by their contradictory messages and incongruous advice. So why does she bother reading them? It’s a guilty pleasure “that lets me get juiced up on righteous outrage while simultaneously allowing me to ogle lip gloss and shoes.” The right mix of cynicism (one post is titled “Marie Claire editors were the girls I hated in high school”) and acknowledged shallowness makes her commentary, at once funny and incisive, relatable to a broad (if mostly female) audience.
Image courtesy of evans.photo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 20, 2008 5:00 PM
For the past five years, the Center for Media and Democracy has singled out the PR hacks most deserving of negative attention, handing out Falsies Awards each year to those guilty of “polluting our information environment” with spin, subversion, and downright dishonesty.
This year’s nominees include Mail Moves America, which insists that junk mail is actually important communication, to “Clean Coal” campaigns from Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. (Both are front groups funded by advertisers and coal producers, respectively). There’s also an opportunity for write-ins if you think a particularly deserving person or organization is missing from the list.
In addition to pinpointing these media evils, the Falsies committee gives out the “Win Against Spin” award to honor those who have been a sharp knife of truth cutting through the B.S.
Voting ends December 1, so cast your ballot and give these nefarious nominees what they deserve!
Image courtesy of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 11:03 AM
After a recent, tenuous cease-fire was broken, fighting between the Congolese army and a rebel minority has resumed with intensity. The violence has garnered a fair amount of attention from the mainstream media, but how long will that coverage last?
Probably not long considering that foreign affairs, especially those not directly related to the United States, make up only a fraction of what Americans read, see, and hear: 8 percent of network news, 13 percent of newspaper coverage, 4 percent of cable news. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting pleads with its readers to stay interested in the issue, as continued attention will encourage editors to offer more extensive coverage.
But if and when the conflict fades from America's consciousness, here are some sites from around the world with thoughtful reports on the situation and its implications:
OneWorld.net focuses particularly on the human rights aspect of the conflict.
EuropeanVoice has several articles and opinion pieces, like this column: a call to arms, both literally and figuratively, for the UN (registration required).
Al-Jazeera presents both news and multimedia features.
All Africa.com is a one-stop resource for African news and perspectives from around the continent.
Der Spiegel’s international edition not only presents information and opinion, but has also managed to snag an interview with a Congolese rebel.
UPDATE (11/17/2008): Ushahidi, an African citizen-reporting platform, has launched an interactive map monitoring the DRC conflict.
Image by hdptcar, 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.
Monday, October 13, 2008 5:04 PM
Film critics are grumbling about Disney’s decision to use blogger comments—rather than official reviews—in ads for its latest film, the UK release The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The studio lifted online plaudits like "Simply stunning" from IMDb.com, reports Telegraph, in a move that some professional critics view as a preemptive strike by the studio's marketing department, which may have feared negative reviews and decided to use existing blogger praise for blurbs instead. Then there's the question of accountability: Who’s to say that the quoted praise, which is all but anonymous when submitted by Theedge-4 or Pete63, wasn’t written by a producer or actor from the film?
Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine ridicules the controversy: “How dare a movie studio quote the people who actually buy the tickets and watch the movies? How dare they give respect to the audience?” It’s difficult to say how much influence these blurbs have over potential moviegoers, but those who oppose Disney's decision have common sense on their side. The average person is probably more inclined to believe a full review from an established voice like the New York Times’ A.O. Scott than a sound-bite accolade from an unknown entity like the Disney-quoted blogger Mjavfc1.
Image by casalingarevival, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 03, 2008 1:45 PM
Much as we wish it weren't true, brainwashing exists far beyond the realm of sci-fi movies or cult worship. Cracked.com has broken down the six brainwashing techniques presented to us nearly every day by thousands of political ads and biased media sources. With both presidential parties scrambling to reel in voters by November, it's fascinating (albeit somewhat horrifying) to see the ways in which the American public is being suckered or bullied into thinking what They want you to think. (Note: slightly NSFW due to some mind-controlling cleavage.)
After reading, spend a minute or two perusing news and political websites and see how easy it is to find examples of these techniques. It’s a bit like a scavenger hunt, only instead of candy, the prize at the end is a frustrating awareness of how pervasive mind-control efforts really are.
Here's an excellent example of #5: Does Obama Support the Killing of Infants?
And an instance of #1: McCain the Patriot: "Country First or Obama First"
Image courtesy of
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Thursday, September 11, 2008 2:08 PM
When Chicago stand-up comedian and political activist Ken Swanborn died, his family placed a paid death notice in the Chicago Tribune ending with the request “In lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic.” The Tribune quickly removed the line from the obituary before it ran, citing a policy against “discriminatory or offensive” material. Chicago Reader blogger Michael Miner cried foul and was told by a Tribune employee that the deleted line could potentially offend Republican readers. But, Miner points out, what about offending the family who paid to place the announcement?
Is this a denial of free speech or merely a newspaper trying to stay neutral?
Friday, September 05, 2008 9:46 AM
Personalized advertisements will soon make the leap from the internet to your TV screen, writes Brian Morrissey for Mediaweek. Within the next ten years, cable companies will be working with networks to customize commercials for individual viewers based on their interests and communities.
How will they find this information? Simple: You'll give it to them. Morrissey, citing a new report by Forrester Research, notes that the advent of on-demand programming and the availability of local demographics often provide cable companies with as much information about their subscribers as a web browser does. Eventually, the Forrester report suggests, these (non-skippable) ads will allow your TV to function more like the web, where you can go from ad to point of purchase with the push of a few buttons. But is this true innovation, or is corporate greed just getting more wily?
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008 4:35 PM
Police officers in Flint, Michigan are not allowed to speak to the media. Period. The ban, introduced by interim Police Chief David Dicks, forbids police officers from talking about internal affairs or official duties. But the ACLU claims that the ban is so broad it prevents “speaking about manners of public concern that have been consistently found to be protected under the First Amendment.” The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the police department and requested an injunction against the ban after three officers were fired for speaking to reporters. Though one officer has since been reinstated, the constitutionality of the ban remains in question.
(Thanks, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.)
Friday, August 08, 2008 10:42 AM
Is anyone else going meme crazy these days? Maybe it’s just some strange conflation of meme-talk here at the Utne Reader office, but if I hear (or read or sniff) one more reference to a meme, I’m going to drink everyone’s milkshakes, and then make all the straws into my new bicycle.
I know: I should pity the meme. These are heady times for a term coined in 1976. Back when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave memes a name in his book The Selfish Gene, there was no world wide web to speed along cultural transmission. Memes, as Dawkins defined them, are self-propagating cultural phenomena such as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” He likened them to genes. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.” Dawkins explains how Darwinian principles, like natural selection, govern that evolution.
These days, all your memes are belong to us, and by us I mean the Internets, by which I mean the web. Linguistic and media-driven memes in particular spread swiftly online. If you don’t pay attention (see: if you have anything else to do during the day except troll online), you can miss a whole meme-elution. Not being up to meme-speed = awkward social encounters. Picture yourself standing in a room, tepidly smiling as everyone riffs about some walrus that lost its bucket. Getting the jokes in the late-night monologue? Forget it.
“One week: That’s how much time an Internet meme needs to propagate, become its own opposite, and then finally collapse back in on itself,” Christopher Beam writes on Slate. Beam based his observation on the lifecycle of the wildly popular “Barack Obama is your new bicycle” meme.
That well-known meme all started with a website of the same name, and on August 5 (drum roll, please) Gotham published a Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle book. Website creator and Wired contributing editor Matthew Honan isn’t the only meme-generator to get a book deal lately. This March, Gawker reported that Random House paid at least $350,000 for the right to publish Stuff White People Like, based on (you guessed it!) the website of the same name.
All this makes me wish Chuck Norris would step in and deliver some round-house regulation. Memes, old-fashioned memes, naturally-occurring memes, have a lot to tell us about how culture stalls and grows. Rewarding senseless Internet memes, however, with two things our society likes very much—cash and publicity—will only motivate imitators. If Internet memes become a popularity contest with a cash reward (exploiting a lowest-common-denominator urge to be in on the joke)—are they still memes? Out in the blogosphere, you already can spot people discussing how to propagate preferred memes. In the inevitable march of the Internet memes, I just hope the best viral marketer wins.
Images by Rachel Pumroy, Women, Fire & Dangerous Things, and Peter Mandik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 25, 2008 5:59 PM
Writing for the Smart Set, editor Jason Wilson takes his readers on a rollicking tour of lifestyle journalism, that gargantuan realm of popular media that includes all things, well, unabashedly consumer oriented.
"When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming Ernest Hemingway," Wilson writes. "Now, I travel and drink and tell people where to travel and what to drink. Close enough, I guess, though likely closer to the paunchy, boozy, crazy late Hemingway than the younger, dashing one who ran with bulls, drove ambulances in the Great War, and wrote good novels.
"It’s sort of like dreaming of becoming Elvis when you’re young, and then actually becoming Elvis years later — but you’ve become the wrong one, the Elvis who performed sweaty and overweight in rhinestone jumpsuits."
Image by gruntzooki, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 14, 2008 6:04 PM
The progressive blogosphere is a-ragin’ today about the rumor-mongering, naive, chaos-inspiring New Yorker cover of Michelle and Barack Obama terrorist-fist-jabbing in the Oval Office as a portrait of Osama bin Laden approvingly gazes on, alit by the flames of an American flag sizzling in the fireplace.
Progressives are pissed, and to prove it, they’ve dug out their lit-crit hats to scold illustrator Barry Blitt on the inner workings of satire and why he missed the boat and fell into no-no land. (I think the man who came up with this cover
probably has a thing or two to teach us all about good satire.)
When I mentioned the hubbub to Utne’s art director, Stephanie Glaros, she told me the illustrator blogs were equally enflamed, but in Blitt’s defense. Thank goodness some folks have thick enough skins to rally to his side. Let’s just hope that some of that sensibility migrates from the art world to the political commentariat sometime soon.
First off, progressives need to stop playing thought police to protect those weak-minded ninnies from Hicksville. Here’s a prime example from Rachel Sklar at HuffingtonPost: “Who knows if the people in Dubuque will get this?” Really? Must it be assumed that everyone who doesn’t live in New York, Chicago, or [insert shiny metropolis here] is both devoid of rational thought and a sense of humor?
In a more thoughtful assessment, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the image doesn’t go far enough to separate itself from the views it intends to harangue. “My point is that that this cover actually does reflect—not exaggerate, not satirize—the views of a sizeable portion of Americans,” he writes. He points out that some 13 percent of Americans actually think Obama’s a Muslim. It’s a horrifying stat. But consider a few more: Just last summer, 41 percent of Americans still thought Saddam Hussein helped plan 9/11. And while 62 percent of Americans believe in the devil, only 42 percent believe in evolution.
Here’s the thing about good humor: Not everyone’s going to get it. Comedy, satire, humor, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely essential to a vital culture of political criticism. If we muzzle our humorists—going so far as to inveigh against those who have the clear intent of lambasting ignorance—than we’re in for a very boring, very unreflective four to eight years if Obama moves into that toasty, Osama-adorned Oval Office.
UPDATE (7/15/2008): Rachel Sklar writes in to note that I missed the reference in her Dubuque line, which was readily available in the link she provided. Point taken: Looks like the gal in Minneapolis didn’t get it. But the connotation, wink or no, remains. Later in her post, Sklar writes, “Presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke” on the magazine's cover, suggesting that most other folks probably aren’t worldly enough to join in on the chuckle. Sklar isn't the poster girl for perpetrating this meme—she’s certainly not alone in it—but it’s there.
Monday, July 07, 2008 12:40 PM
Campaign seasons inevitably produce high-pressure systems of willful ignorance, disingenuous oversimplification, and mountain-out-of-molehill overreactions on the part of the media in response to nuanced statements by candidates or their surrogates. This year has been no different; in fact, this election has seen the mainstream media hype machine working overtime—hysterically wringing every last drop out of items whose newsworthiness was dubious from the start—with an intensity that makes the media mileage gained four years ago from the Swift Boat Veterans or Howard Dean’s scream look paltry by comparison.
The Columbia Journalism Review contrasts two recent pieces by Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias that analyze the mainstream media’s willful distortion of certain statements—in this case, Krugman and Yglesias consider (with varying degrees of optimism) the longer-term legacy of the media hysteria that erupted over General Wesley Clark's assessment of John McCain's military service.
Krugman believes the era of “Rovian” attack politics is waning, that a contrite press might begin to tone down its “faux outrage over fake scandals.” But Yglesias responds that old habits die hard, and the days of overblown oversimplification aren't likely to end anytime soon: “If Democrats are really counting on responsible, substantive news coverage to hand them the election then John McCain has things in the bag.”
CJR’s own two-part analysis (here and here) of the media uproar surrounding the “Clark fallout” supports this pessimistic outlook. (Also check out the Carpetbagger's thoughts on how the media’s irresponsible treatment of the episode has spilled over into coverage of John Kerry’s recent Face the Nation appearance.)
Monday, April 07, 2008 6:05 PM
If 55 veterans gathered in the same place, at the same time, prepared to give disarmingly honest testimonies about their on-the-ground experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, would anybody listen?
Because that happened, just a few weeks ago. Vets convened in the Washington, DC area for IVAW’s Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan—and for the most part, mainstream media have either ignored the momentous gathering or relegated coverage to their metro sections, reports Extra!.
Winter Soldier has yet to be mentioned in the
New York Times itself. No major U.S. newspaper has covered the hearings except as a story of local interest; the few stories major U.S. newspapers have published on the event have focused on the participation of local vets (Boston Globe, 3/16/08; Boston Herald, 3/16/08; Newsday, 3/16/08, Buffalo News, 3/16/08).
And you probably didn’t see any Winter Soldier testimonies on television—the major broadcast TV networks (and PBS!) avoided the event altogether—but they’re all available at the IVAW website, organized into panels like “Racism and War: The Dehumanization of the Enemy” and “Divide to Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military.”
Thursday, November 15, 2007 5:31 PM
There’s good news for the icy-hearted cynics in all of us: Protests actually work! A new study shows that protests against misbehaving corporations can send a company’s stock prices tumbling—just as long as the New York Times is there to cover it.
Writing for Columbia Journalism Review’s business-media blog, Elinore Longobardi discusses a new study that analyzes how media coverage impacts protests against corporations. The paper, written by sociologists Brayden G. King and Sarah A. Soule, will appear in the next issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.
King and Soule examined New York Times coverage of protests from 1962 to 1990, and discovered that while boycotts didn’t make much difference—nor did the size of the protest—Times exposure caused the defamed company’s stock value to drop between 0.4 and 1.0 percent (on average). The effect took place within one day, and the longer the Times article, the bigger the loss.
The study cites prominent examples from the time period, including protests against Dow Chemicals over its role in the Vietnam War.
The data for this study ends in 1990, but King and Soule are moving forward with additional research through 1995, which will introduce companies like Gap and Nike into the mix.
As for only choosing the Times, King and Soule found that it was the only paper worth analyzing—the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post gave paltry space to protests by comparison.
For more on protest, check out the cover story from our May/June 2007 issue: Protest is Dead. Long Live Protest.
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