Monday, November 16, 2009

Tweeting vs. Spending: Which is more universal?

If Time magazine cannot come up with one interesting-enough person in this big, wide, interesting world to name as its person of the year, then they should at least choose the Economy over Twitter.

In what can only be perceived as Time's position that there is currently an absence of news-making, attention-garnering people gracing the world stage, the pub has apparently tossed out the concept of a person altogether and has narrowed the field down to two inanimate contenders. Baffling? Yes. What would make this worse? Picking a thing that lots of people don't care about. Do I personally think that Twitter is inconsequential? Far from it. But the title should go to someone or something that registers with as wide an audience as possible.

After 2006's kitschy cop-out (You), it seems the Editorial department over there needs to step up its game and get back to the roots of its annual POTY story. The You choice was the perfect compliment, time-wise, to what has become the train wreck of blogo-journalism. Sure, technology has exploded and is allowing people to connect and share ideas in ways and in time spans never before imagined. But to make You (Designers, Users, and Keepers of the Information Age) the person of the year? Come on, Eds! Why didn't you just give "The Passage of Time" the honor and call it a day? The You story should have been a feature inside the book and someone good should have been on the cover.

Historically, the person (most usually a man...maybe they should re-think that strategy as well) is a well known, sometimes polarizing figure. (Personally, I think choosing a controversial name is more fun.) In regard to one of the top possibilities for this year, Twitter, I've heard way too much of this over the past two years: "twitter? I've never used it" or "I don't get it" or "it's only for narcissists" for it to be considered Thing of the Year. Hmmm, that just doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

Now the economy on the other hand, affects everyone, very personally. No one can take the 5th on the economy. You will never hear someone say, "the economy? I've never used it."

"The economy? I just don't get it." Now that's something people say, and that's why the story would be so good. If people don't get twitter, they just ignore it. Few people have a tight grip on how the economy works and doesn't work and yet everyone has to use it every day, like it or not. A story about the economy (provided it is handled correctly) will be way more confusing and harder to write than a twitter piece, and I guarantee that will make it a more interesting read and it will have a resonance with a much wider audience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dan Plus Jon Plus Kate

Well, the courts have dismissed Dan Rather's case against CBS News. I guess we're not going to get a glimpse into the deep, dark abyss that is network news after all. I was really gunning for it, I have to say.

CBS does not exactly come out of this smelly rosy, but at least they don't have to open their confidential emails and correspondence. I bet that's a pretty enormous relief for them. The big question I have left after this fracas is: Where does Dan go from here? Although I think he had a valid argument, the dismissal of the suit does not bode well for the future of his journalistic career. It will be interesting to see in which direction he decides to go. Can he still draw enough viewers as a correspondent to make it worth his time, or is he better off moving into retirement? Only time will tell.

And in not so surprising...or, Jon Gosselin halted production of Jon & Kate Plus Eight, or Kate Plus Eight, or Kate Plus Eight Plus a Shrink and a Life Coach...whatever name it was going by these days. Gosselin stated in a handwritten note that camera crews were not allowed on his property to film. He allegedly feels it is time to get the kids out of the spotlight.

Now whether this is a PR ploy to end up looking like the good guy, or if he has has actually stopped eating brain tumors for breakfast is anyone's guess, but I'm relieved the madness might actually stop. Kate has plenty of other ways to make enough money to send all the little mini Gosselins to fine institutions of higher learning. And maybe they'll even read about themselves
in a Mass Media class in college someday! ...or in a Psych class...but let's hope for the best.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gotta love that Bloomie!

On page 14 of this week's New York magazine - a reporter asks Mayor Bloomberg about Matt Damon's endorsement.

Reporter: "How do you [and Matt Damon] know each other?"

Bloomie: "All young sex symbols know each other."


Rather pathetic? I'm not so sure...

If you peruse the reader comments after any given web story on the topic, it seems as though there are two kinds of people when it comes to the Dan Rather vs. CBS saga. One group of people used to care but is experiencing a sharp decline in interest as each day passes. The other group never cared. Me? I find it fascinating. A life-long journalist is working on the biggest investigative piece of his career. The ironic twist is that the genesis of the piece, for all intents and purposes, ended his journalistic career...for now.

Rather reported a story about former President George W. Bush's questionable stint in the National Guard on “60 Minutes II” in 2004. Later, CBS, apparently succumbing to pressure by the administration, assembled a panel to investigate how the piece saw the light of day seeing as how some of the documents in Rather's story were not authentic. The story resulted in an apology to the White House from CBS and Rather being ousted from his position in the anchor seat at the CBS Evening News. (...and the grand entrance of Katie Couric...barring the Palin interview, that choice has not exactly been wildly successful for CBS.)

But instead of quietly going out to pasture, Rather fought back. He launched a lawsuit against CBS in 2007 claiming that he was the fall guy for a story the network said was fraught with flaws. He's also claiming that the network did not live up to the terms of his post-anchor contract which promised continued airtime and appropriate support staff. In the spring of last year, a judge threw out several parts of the claim, specifically the sections that claimed fraud against top execs at the network. What's left is basically a glorified breach of contract claim. But depending on how the imminent trial goes, this could shake out to be much more than a run of the mill contract dispute.

Now, without being limited by the usual shackles of a journalist, Rather has been free to dig deep during the discovery phase of the legal process. It seems that Rather has uncovered some information that could prove quite embarrassing to CBS at trial, including how they formed their independent panel that investigated Rather's story. Emails and memos imply that CBS was intent on assembling a panel that would pacify the right. After all, it was 2004 and there were another four years of Bush and, more importantly, deregulation stretching before them. If (which is starting to look more and more like 'when') the case goes to trial, CBS brass could find themselves on the stand testifying about the assembly of the investigative panel and how said panel compiled its report.

Some have called Rather's actions petty and pathetic, but this lawsuit could provide a rare and fascinating window into the goings-on at a major news organization. How things make it...and don't make the airwaves. The crux of the claim will depend whether Rather can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the records used in his story are authentic. Although the network's lawyers are seeming pretty confident and are fond of talking smack in the press, no one has yet publicly proven that the records are fabricated or inauthentic. And, several people independent of the network maelstrom have corroborated everything that was in Rather's piece. If I were the counsel for the CBS, I'd be pretty skeered. A wealthy reporter who is not interested in a settlement is a formidable opponent.

Having said all this, I have to say that I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, I respect that Rather is not backing down. I have to admit, initially I wasn't following the story closely and I thought he was just being petty and pathetic. It turns out, he's trying to protect his journalistic integrity! However, there are problems here too. Rather did apologize for the story, basically stripping it of all credibility, then later said the apology was that's just lame. The other problem I have is all the reports about how Rather sulked about not being invited to Walter Cronkite's funeral. I don't know what the real story is there, but if Rather had anything to do with fanning the flames of that tidbit of information, it was a big mistake. If he wants to have anything resembling a decent legacy, he needs to pray this thing goes to trial, fight like hell to prove his side of the story, and never sulk.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jon and Kate Plus 8 Times 25 Years of Therapy

Reports of Jon Gosselin potentially co-starring in a new reality show were swirling last week. The would-be-trainwreck, Divorced Dads Club, would feature a group of famous divorced fathers and how they are coping with (read: giddily embracing) their return to the single life.

One E! Online headline read “Does the World Need Another Jon Gosselin Reality Show?”...Come on, people, we all know it didn't even need one!! Luckily, Gosselin will proooobably not be part of the show, if the world should ever be unfortunate enough to be subjected to it. The brass over at cable network TLC would have to approve his inclusion in the show, something insiders apparently think is not likely.

I only watched one episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 before the inevitable marital implosion became apparent to the outside world. If I remember correctly, I did so out of sheer boredom, with a twist of procrastination. I needed to clean my apartment and had done just about everything else I could possibly do in lieu of springing the Pine Sol from its quiet, slightly dusty abode under my kitchen sink.

A freelance project I had been working on was complete, I was up to date on all of my email correspondence, I had even sewn a long-lost button back on a sweater. Both sweater and button had been thrown aside months prior to patiently await their reunion. Jon and Kate were the only hurdles standing between me and a clean apartment. Unfortunately, they won. I didn't want to, but I gave in. I thought, 'a show about eight kids has to be at least a little interesting, even if that interest will be accompanied by exasperation, annoyance, and possibly anger. I was right about the last three things.

I was genuinely overcome with boredom by the end of the well as exasperated, annoyed, and angry. I don't think I could have expressed the boredom in words if I had tried. It was the feeling of not being able to get back the two hours you spent watching a dumb movie, except even though I had only lost a half hour of my life, I felt that pain...exponentially. It was like the show had left a hole in my soul. Of course, I only saw one episode, so maybe there were others that were more interesting.

The episode I saw can be summed up thusly: eight children run around babbling incessantly; they at some point get into some minor trouble; Kate runs around, sporting her insane rooster-inspired hair cut, barking at Jon in a most shrill and obnoxious manner; Jon walks around with his tail between his legs and quiet rage brews.

Now, from what I understand, I might not be the only person who thought the show was super-duper boring before the split. The show only had so-so ratings. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at various meetings when the execs over at TLC were first hearing about the brouhaha.

I wasn't a fly on the wall, so I don't know exactly what happened. But here's what I think happened: they began foaming at the mouth like rabid beasts. There's really no other explanation for the way they have exploited this sad, dysfunctional, downward spiral of a marriage. I'm pretty sure they saw a show that had been just sitting there taking up space and realized they now had the opportunity to create a world-wide media circus centered around it.

I would just love to know if it ever crossed anyone's mind that maybe, just maybe, they should cut their losses and encourage the family to go away and attempt to quietly put the pieces of their lives back together.

If it were just Jon and Kate, two attention-and-money-whores...I mean...adults, involved it would be one thing. But there are eight kids here, people! That's eight little minds being warped by this weird, constant attention they are getting, for no good reason other than they are part of a large set of multiples. These are eight kids who will grow into young adults and be able to watch a video chronicle of the erosion of their parents' marriage...and know that a whole slew of twisted Americans (yours truly included) watched it too.

Yeah, I know, I know, money whores is a little strong. But if they wanted a good life for their kids, there are tons of other ways they could have made money on their story without plastering it all over the world (and airing their dirty laundry) with their insipid reality show. They could still do speaking engagements, they could still write books, they could create a website and blog. None of those things, even cumulatively, would have put their kids in the middle of such a frenzy. They would probably not be household names and be making 3 million dollars a year combined, but their kids might actually have a fighting chance of turning out normal. Now, not so much.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do small regionals have the answers?

So my morning ritual was not so depressing yesterday!

Editor & Publisher published the results of its ninth annual "10 That Do It Right" feature, and several regional newspapers across the country are utilizing innovative techniques that should have the national papers sitting up and taking notice (if they know what is good for them). The techniques are simple but brilliant. Best of all, they are highly transferrable. Here's a brief
round-up of some of the smarty-pants ideas helping smaller papers to thrive.

The Las Vegas Sun has slimmed down and become a "section" inside its joint-operating-agreement partner, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The small but mighty eight page insert has contently returned to true the roots of journalism. And guess what? People are reading it! Why? Because it is full of meaty investigative journalism. What's that, you say? It's what's you've been

Columnists have become the driving force at the Sioux City Journal in Iowa. The newsroom of 32 has focused on creating "something to talk about" among its print and online readers. Sure, their target audience is a small regional circulation, but with everything there is to talk about in the world, columnists are missing the boat at many larger publications. Stir the pot, columnists, stir the pot!

Briefing in Dallas, Texas has found its target audience, busy suburban moms, and they are delivering exactly what these women want. Briefing is a smaller, zippier version of The Dallas Morning News. It's so popular that the paper's acceptance rate is growing and advertisers are lining up to appear in the trim Wednesday through Saturday publication.

Freedom of information is not a privelege in America, it's a right. And the Post-Star in Glens Falls, New York is diligently reminding its readers about this fact every day. Editorials and blogs stress that it is not just Washington insiders and journalists who are entitled to transparency in government.

Everyone is talking about community building these days. This usually amounts to a fan page on Facebook for many publications still trying to harness the power of social media. The East Bay Express in Emeryville, California is actually building a strong community, dare I say, the old fashioned way. Last Christmas editors appealed to readers to pledge to spend at least $100 right in their community to stimulate their local community. The idea caught on and other papers jumped on board. The paper now has several others community-based ideas in the hopper.

How do newspapers of all sizes bring their readership back again and again? Allow them direct access to controversy, sit back and watch! The Star Tribue in Minneapolis posted all disputed ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman (R) and Al Franken (D) on their website. An important result was that the public scrutiny made the campaigns drop several of the frivolous disputes. And the readership came very close to the actual numbers that decided the race. Hurrah for the masses!

The St. Petersburg Times is also making the most of the web to keep their readers interested, and keep politicians (somewhat) honest. The newspaper analyzed hundreds of promises made during the 2008 presidential campaign. And they didn't stop on Election Day. The Times continues its fact-checking on Obama's administration and claims made by both the right and the left.

When it comes to paving the road for the future of newspapers and journalism, I personally think the key is reaching out to youth. Dave Eggers agrees with me (see the first post on this blog). So does the Daily Independent in Ridgecrest, California. The daily not only offers internships, with serious potential of one day becoming a staffer, but also helps kids with their high school papers which it prints at cost.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The voice of a generation

There will never be another news person like Walter Cronkite. It is impossible in part because we live in a world that is over saturated by media and information sources. There are far too many voices for one to rise above the din for dominance. It is also impossible because, well, he was Walter Cronkite.

A journalist since high school, Cronkite fell in love with the newspaper business years before the nation fell in love with him. During his career, he ushered the nation through the most transformative events of the 20th century.

He reported from the front lines of World War II after flying with fighter pilots. He broke the news of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in a professional and human way, calming fears and soothing nerves when the country was collectively frayed and on edge. He shared the awe of the nation as he giddily reported the Moon landing 40 years ago today. He gave America one of its first glimpses of the Beatles and he unabashedly expressed his disappointment with the direction the Vietnam war.

In his 20 years as anchorman of the CBS Evening News, Americans welcomed Cronkite into their living rooms because he was trustworthy, professional and accurate. He was also one of them. He had a conversational tone, a way of connecting with people all over the country that was comforting and inviting.

I probably never saw one of Cronkite's live broadcasts, but somehow I am familiar with so many of them. This is because he was not just a journalist. He was a living legacy - the epitome of a tough and unrelenting profession. He delivered news with integrity and never compromised himself in this regard.

60 Minutes ran a special on Cronkite last night. Speaking about Cronkite's retirement from the CBS Evening News in 1981, NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams said, " I couldn't shake the feeling when he retired that something more than one man was leaving the chair." Well, once again Walter Cronkite has left an enormous void. Something more than one man has left journalism.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The future is black and white...hopefully

I have a very depressing morning ritual. I visit several websites about media and journalism and read about what is potentially on the horizon for these industries. As you can imagine, much of said mornings are filled with articles and blogs about the demise of print journalism. Every day I read about how the newspaper is dying.

This is not new - this bleak news about the news started even before the economic meltdown last fall. But every once in a while, someone comes along and speaks to this issue with a perspective that buoys my spirits and with which I happen to agree. It also makes me feel like I'm not weird for being a 30 year old who prefers to read a newspaper on the train as opposed to squinting at her Blackberry.

Dave Eggers, known to many of my generation as the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, recently spoke to about his new book and the future of the printed word as he sees it. Mercifully, his version of the future looks bright. Eggers sees print and the web living harmoniously together, so long as each makes the most of their respective potential.

Some of the young up-and-comers who take part in Eggers' writing program, 826 Valencia, are enrolled in print writing classes and (get this!) read newspapers. Of particular interest to these new writers is the chance to see their name in print. I mean actual print, in a newspaper, not in pixels. As a journalist, I can relate to the excitment and satisfaction of seeing my work in a publication as opposed to the much more crowded internet.

And that is not to say that I do not see the merits of online media. It is where we are and should be heading in many respects. But the development of web journalism does not have to be mutually exclusive of print. Eggers makes an important point when he laments the much-forecasted passing of the printed word. He says that the end of print journalism will become a reality only if we allow it to happen - newspapers do not have to die. Sure, we may all have computer chips implanted in our heads in 30 years that will really make newspapers obsolete. But those chips may also make blackberrys and iPods obsolete, so let's not get ahead of ourselves here. (That last point was mine, not Eggers'...)

What's missing from the world of web news is traditional investigative journalism. When people talk about the death of newspapers, this concern is raised again and again: the loss of stories that require more than a few hour's worth of research, stories that keep people honest, stories that uncover newsworthy information as opposed to juicy gossip. This is the kind of work that is most costly to news organizations, but it is what would be sorely missing if every major newspaper packed it in tomorrow. It could be that the web has not yet evolved enough to encompass this kind of writing. Or it may be that the newspaper format is just a lot more conducive to it.

For me, much of online media is the journalistic equivalent of reality TV. It continuously looks in on itself - editorializing and blogging (yes, I see and appreciate the irony). But I'd like to see more objective, meaningful, and thoughful commentary going on. As always, there are exceptions. There are websites with excellent commentary and focus. But if those exceptions do not multiply rapidly, and the pervading view of the uselessness of the printed word gets kicked up a few more notches, then I see a future that is not quite as bright as Eggers'. I can only hope that the writers at 826 Valencia are not anomolies and that they refuse to let their medium die.