10/31/2007 3:10:28 PM
Our friends at Free Press, a national nonpartisan organization fighting to keep the public informed about and involved in the making of national media policy, organized a rally outside of Federal Communications Commission headquarters on Halloween morning. More than 150 citizens showed up, according to a news release sent out a few hours later, to urge the federal agency to vote against any rule changes that could result in more consolidation of media ownership.
Apparently, FCC Chairman and big media booster Kevin Martin has proposed an “expedited timeline for rule changes that could allow a company to own a newspaper and several radio and television stations in a single city.”
It’s the same old power grab: Martin, like his predecessor, Michael Powell, is trying to do his business-buddies’ bidding without giving the public proper notice. According to a joint release issued by FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein—lone Democrats and media reform heroes profiled in the July/August issue of Utne Reader—“neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until … just 5 business days before the event.” A scheduling trick that is “unacceptable and unfair to the public.”
As of 2 p.m. on October 31, there was some good news from the hearing. The FCC has, according to CNET, unanimously “approved a rule that would ban exclusive agreements that cable television operators have with apartment buildings, opening up competition for other video providers that could eventually lead to lower prices.”
UPDATE: The FCC’s aggressive timetable may be delayed, according to the LA Times. Commissioner Copps was quoted in the article saying, “A rush to judgment to clear the way for more big media mergers? No way.”
10/31/2007 9:31:24 AM
Portland has been attracting as much hype as it has hippies, earning high rankings on a range of “Best Places to…” lists involving bikes, babies, beer, and general pleasantness. In Willamette Week, Zach Dundas digs into some recent media coverage of his fair northwestern city, rating articles from the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and other sources on their ability to get the “Portland thing” right. It’s a fun piece, and I’m on board with Dundas’ suggestion that the glut of media attention has more to do with “reverse provincialism” than with Portland’s sudden awesomeness. From the fast-paced perspectives of New York and Los Angeles, he writes, "Portland's relative relaxation seems exotic." (We see a bit of this in national coverage of Minneapolis, though it often carries a more condescending “Wow, who knew that arts, culture, and food had found their way to the frozen north?!” vibe.)
For the record, the Willamette Week staff’s ratings system—each article they discuss earns a score between 1 and 10, with penalties for transgressions like “Flagrant use of the word ‘grunge’ in a story about the Pacific Northwest”—doesn’t yield many high scores.
10/30/2007 12:23:26 PM
It wasn’t in Russia. It wasn’t in China. No, it was right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. where, a couple of weeks ago, two newspaper executives were thrown in jail by a local law enforcement official who didn’t like what their paper had been writing about him. The men have since been freed, the charges against them dropped, and the special prosecutor on the case dismissed, but the fact that the whole episode even occurred ought to worry anyone who values free speech and an independent press.
The media execs in question, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, run Village Voice Media, owner of the Phoenix New Times, an alternative newsweekly that apparently had gotten under the skin of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with coverage critical of Arpaio’s department. Lacey and Larkin chronicled the whole “donnybrook” in the newspaper a day before their arrests, but suffice to say that they and the sheriff didn’t take a likin’ to one another, and the sheriff done set his sights on them.
The arrestees quickly became causes celebre in the alt-press community, and their fellow newspapers at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies gamely showed solidarity by doing exactly what seems to have pissed off Arpaio the most: Revealing his home address.
That might seem like a real finger-in-your-eye move, but read about the whole case before you conclude that it’s a jailable offense. The most salient facts: The New Times published the address more than three years ago; the address was already available online; and as an invasion of privacy it pales next to the prosecutor’s attempt to subpoena detailed information about every visitor to the New Times website since 2004. As Jack Shafer points out in Slate, that’s people like you and me. —Keith Goetzman
10/29/2007 8:08:37 PM
As Utne.com reported back in April, postage and distribution costs can determine whether the rowboat floats or sinks for independent publications. That’s why the alt press has been sounding the alarms for months about a federal regulation change that boosted postal rates for small-circulation publications as of July 15.
But all hope is not lost. We just got an email news alert from media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) rallying concerned citizens to make their voices heard as a congressional subcommittee meets on reversing the price hike tomorrow (October 30). FAIR is directing folks to the media reform group Free Press, where people can sign a petition and send form letters to their representatives.
According to both FAIR and Free Press, the new rates have, in some cases, lowered the cost of postage for high-circulation giants like Time, Newsweek, and People, but raised postage for lower-circulating independent magazines. In fact, Time Warner—the country’s largest magazine publisher—was the architect behind the plan.
Peter Rothberg has a great round-up on the issue over at the Nation’s Act Now blog, along with some inspiring details about how concerned citizens have gotten the price hike back on legislators’ radar.—Eric Kelsey
10/29/2007 11:28:01 AM
By Brendan Mackie
John Porcellino has been churning out the seminal comic zine King-Cat for nearly two decades, making him one of the longest-running self-published authors out there. Over that time, the zine’s honest sensibility has garnered Porcellino armies of fans. Though the plots of King-Cat are underwhelming—memories of teenage crushes, stories about taking a walk on a beautiful night, dreams, illustrated Zen koans—Porcellino's simply drafted panels belie an inner weight. They’re more about expressing a particular feeling than they are about huge life-changing events. "The thing I was always interested in was this thing called Real Life," Porcellino explained during a recent talk at Minneapolis' Big Brain Comics.
Because of the zine’s personal nature, King-Cat has changed as Porcellino has matured. When King-Cat first started, Porcellino was a rambunctious young punk-rocker and his strips were wild. But somewhere along the line Porcellino started slowing down. He began meditating and reflecting more intensely on his life. Eventually, a more conscious tone resonated from King-Cat’s pages. Porcellino has just released a collection of the comic from 1989 to 1996, King-Cat Classix. Utne.com fended off a line of awkward hipsters clutching their own zines at Big Brain to talk to Porcellino about making comics, meditation, and “doing King-Cat.”
You've been making zines for more than 30 years, and King-Cat for 18. What do you attribute your longevity to?
Making zines is exactly what I want to do, not only the content of it, but the format, too. I just love the connection with people. And to a certain extent I'm just stubborn: I started something and I want to see it through as far as I can.
In your talk, you spoke about how the business side of King-Cat—the photocopying, the distribution—was as important to you as the actual writing of the zine.
To me, the process of writing isn't complete until this [zine] is in somebody else's hands.
How did you get into meditation?
When I was in my mid-twenties I came down with some health issues, and like a lot of people in that position I suddenly started taking a look at all these things I had taken for granted—my life and what I was doing and how I was doing it. I probably picked up a few books on Zen, and it made sense to me. The way I describe Zen, Soto Zen in particular, is that it's kind of like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet that you forgot you had. You put them on and they're beautiful, a perfect fit for you; they're all worn in, and you're ready to go. It connected with these interior feelings, these ideas that I'd idly felt below the surface but could never give voice to. Zen helped me fit those ideas together.
So much of your internal life is portrayed in King-Cat. As you started to change, did the comics change?
The change is reflected in the comics themselves. I was at a point in my life when I was naturally slowing down and paying more attention to things. To a certain extent I went through a period of withdrawal; I went into a more interior world about the same time when I was looking around at different ways of practice. The comics show that slowing down, and hopefully they show that I've been paying more attention. But you can also see it in that kind of unified approach that I have taken to King-Cat: For me, standing here talking to you is doing King-Cat as much as drawing it, writing it, putting it into the mail is. Doing the dishes or going for a walk can be doing King-Cat. I don't know how much of that shows up to the reader, but for me it's a big change.
How did your readers react to this change?
I heard that some people didn't like it, but I never really talked to a lot of them. There's a continuity and an underlying approach that's been consistent in King-Cat, even though I was a very different person back when I started it. I'm sure there are people who appreciated or enjoyed those older comics more, but at the same time there are a lot of people who have gone with it for the whole time.
Can comics be Zen?
There's probably something Zen to anything.
10/25/2007 4:58:37 PM
As October draws to a close, so does "31 Flavorite Authors for Teens," a celebration of books for young adults sponsored by readergirlz and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The event highlights popular books written for teens and hosts an online forum for readers to chat with writers like Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things) and Gaby Triana (Cubanita).
But as the teen-lit market grows, writes Andrea Bronson for Women's eNews, more of these books face challenges or outright bans by schools and libraries. Books written for young women can be particularly easy targets—because they often involve issues of teenage girls' sexuality—despite the fact that they resonate with readers. —Julie Dolan
10/25/2007 2:59:16 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!)
10/16/2007 12:00:00 AM
On many reservations, cell phone service and internet access are spotty or nonexistent, and radio is an important resource for tribal communities to share information and stories with one another. Neelanjana Banerjee writes in New America Media that one national radio show, Native America Calling, connects many tribal nations by reaching 500,000 people via 52 stations. The call-in show, which broadcasts live on weekdays, invites listeners to join conversations on Native education, health care, arts, literature, and many other subjects. As Harlan McKosato, the show's host and producer, told Banerjee, "It’s about identity, first and foremost. That’s the core issue."
But even though most reservations have access to radio, getting ahold of station frequencies creates a major hurdle. So Native Public Media, a project of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, worked with several tribal communities to apply for non-commercial educational programming FM licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC accepted applications during a short window from October 9-15). Native Public Media will also testify before Congress on tribal telecommunications issues October 24. —Julie Dolan
10/15/2007 5:33:07 PM
Good news for your weary eyes: A handful of hip indie mags are currently featuring photo-driven issues, which means more eye candy to gaze at and fewer words to pay attention to.
Slick urban arts mag Re:Up shows off its first-ever photography edition this month (issue #14), with thoughtfully presented images by Corey Arnold, Anthony Goicolea, Jean-Paul Goude (whose iconic portrait of Grace Jones dominates the cover), and other professional and amateur photographers.
Fellow Brooklynite Wax Poetics, a lively magazine devoted to hip-hop, jazz, funk, and soul music, just rolled out its first photo issue as well (October/November). True to the magazine's mission, its snappy photo essays are borne out of the music world, mostly (but not exclusively) from hip-hop scenes past and present.
British design magazine Creative Review publishes a king-sized photography annual every October. This year's works are showcased in a roomy 75-page advertising-free zone, with photographs that run the gamut from artsy to gutsy to out-there. I really dig my Creative Review's cover, which features one of Matthew Georgeson's mesmerizing cityscape photos (from his "Metropolis" series). Scope out the other cover possibilities—one of which is Nadav Kander’s nearly life-sized head shot of David Lynch—at an artsy newsstand near you. —Danielle Maestretti
10/15/2007 3:45:53 PM
The new issue of punk zine Razorcake (#40) has some advice for aspiring zinesters: Think before you write. In her inaugural column for Razorcake, Maddy "Tight Pants" offers five compelling reasons to walk away from the typewriter—i.e., "Don't write a zine to 'set the record straight' about your break-up"—that ought to be included in the indie-culture starter kit (is somebody working on one of those?). I most appreciate Maddy’s second point, "Don’t write a zine because you think it will convince people to become vegan straightedge militants," though I also applaud #5, "Don’t write a zine about bike riding." Maddy suggests abandoning these familiar subjects in favor of more "ridiculous concepts" like, say, cougar attacks (as in Jacob Stoltz's informative Should You Encounter a Cougar). Other off-the-wall zines can be found among the nominees for this year's Utne Independent Press Awards. —Danielle Maestretti
10/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
While I for one could never fathom being in Hitler's fan club, thousands of Nazi-era admirers were once clamoring to do so. German historian Henrik Eberle compiled some of the führer's fan mail in a new book, Briefe an Hitler (Letters to Hitler), which includes a sampling of the tens of thousands of letters he received from 1925-1945. The book is only available in German, but you can meet some of Hitler's devotees in the Independent, which recently showcased choice lines from some of the letters. Of particular interest: One writer asked permission to bake a new dictator-inspired dessert, the "Hitler Cake," and another generous fan wrote that she wanted to will her house plants to him. (I have to wonder—what did Hitler hate mail look like?)
Oh, and the prospective Hitler Cake baker was denied—on the grounds that his idea was too "kitschy." —Anna Cynar
10/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
A big white sticker clings to the Fall 2007 issue of the Common Review. It's positioned diagonally in the center of the cover, in the same fashion you might imagine a president stamping "veto" on an ill-fated bill. "Stop worrying about the decline of book culture," it says. "Read the Common Review. All books, all the time."
Bookworms across the nation have taken note of waning book coverage, and they've gotten especially loud about it during the past year. In the September/ October issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Steve Wasserman likens book review culture to species extinction in the Amazonian rain forest. Wasserman, who worked for nine years (1996-2005) as the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, has spent considerable time honing the art of book writing. "I wanted to deliver a section aimed squarely and unabashedly at the word-addicted and the book-besotted," he writes. In his article for CJR, he reflects on the decline of literary coverage in nearly every major newspaper, offering his own anecdotes and lessons from the Los Angeles Times.
Enter: the Common Review. The magazine, which is published quarterly by the Great Books Foundation, is wholeheartedly dedicated to all things book-related, mixing literary analysis and traditional book reviews with original fiction and poetry. To sit down with the Common Review is to get the book-writing fix that you can no longer find in the daily newspapers.
Wasserman claims that most people want book writers to be "faster, shorter, dumber," while he yearned to be "slower, longer, smarter." The Common Review is just the place to find writers like Wasserman, who take their time with intelligent pieces about literature. —Cara Binder
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