Media Convergence

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Journalism Selections #5


Here are three articles from this week's collection of blog entries that caught my attention:

1. A Reporter's Story: How H-P Kept Tabs On Me For a Year

The best thing I got out of this article - written by Pui-Wing Tam after she found out that investigators hired by Hewlett-Packard had been spying on her - was knowing that I'm not wasting my time by shredding all of my documents before sticking them out with the recycling. Not that I am concerned that anyone will be coming afer me, a lowly third-year journalism student with a miniscule portfolio consisting of work related to the campus, but never know.

Stories like this remind me of the incredible power wielded by a journalist who does his or her job well. By the same token, I'm also reminded of the fact that, even in a country filled with people who pay lip service to the ideals put forth in the First Amendment, many powerful people have no problem doing things to intimidate members of the press. Granted, it's not the same as in, say, Russia, where it's not uncommon for a journalist to lose his or her life over their stories, but it's all a matter of degree, really. Those who are firmly entrenched in power usually have no desire to let anything - let alone some piddly ideas like "freedom of speech" and "freedom of press" - come in between them and their ability to dictate the world around them.

2. An Open Letter to Jann Wenner

Journalist Michael Simmons calls out Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner on his magazine's decreasing relevance to, well, anyone, really. I'll admit, I used to read Rolling Stone, but that was when I was thirteen or fourteen and I didn't know any better. But when my dad made fun of Rolling Stone as a lame teeny-bopper magazine, I quickly switched to Spin and Alternative Press for my music journalism fix. (My dad was a teenager during the late 60s in Los Angeles, so he would know.) Later, after my critical abilities had developed to the point where I didn't just mindlessly absorb information and entertainment as it was shoved in front of me, I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone, and I was horrified. Mind you, this was after a few years' worth of reading rock-related writing by guys like Robert Christgau, Mark Jacobsen, and "the Holy Ghost", Lester Bangs, but that was enough to ruin RS for me. I mean, how can you compare some throw-away PR puff piece on Britney Spears to Jacobsen's article on Chuck Berry or Bangs' interview with Lou Reed? You can't. It's the equivalent of reading Danielle Steele after finishing A Confederacy of Dunces. The only commonality is that both were written using the English language.

I'm glad Simmons included a link to Arthur Magazine, which runs articles on quirky subjects like bingo halls, "magic mushrooms", Dolly Parton, and garage rock demigod Billy Childish. Now I just have to find a way to get my hands on a copy.

3. Hyper-local Hero

This article was the one I found to be, by far, the most exciting. It discusses media pioneer Rob Curley, who has made a name for himself in the still-in-its-toddlerhood world of media convergence by encouraging newspapers and news portals to shift their online focus away from the Big Stories - the Watergates and the Iraqs and the Plame Affairs - and get back to the stories that impact the residents of their respective communities. One project includes packaging up local high school sports, but with the kind of glitzy production values usually preserved for ESPN. Another is an interactive map of historical housing values, broken down street by street and neighborhood by neighborhood.

He also shows how to capture the 18-to-24 year old demographic, the one all of the newspapers and advertisers cannot stop salivating over, with The site focuses on "alternative-entertainment" for KU students, with articles written in a snarky, irreverent, somewhat profane voice, off-beat reader blogs, and a PDA-friendly site that features movie listings, show times and drink specials. If St Petersburg had a similar site, I would visit it all the time.



Eric Alterman posted a series of links about the prevalance of extremely negative political ads airing on television right now. USA Today and the New York Times both published articles about the recent ads that attack Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford by appealing to racist ideas about black men and white women. ABC News lists the various ads causing controversy around the country. (I agree with Alterman's take on the phony "balance" displayed in this article. As far as I knew, reporters weren't allowed to report on what is going to happen in the future - unless ABC News has a crystal ball in the middle of their newsroom.) The Washington Post ran an article that described ad campaigns undertaken on behalf of many candidates, all of which turned ordinary things like misdialed phone numbers and votes in favor of scientific inquiry into allegations of wild sex orgies involving children and Playboy Playmates sponsored by taxpayer money.

As far as I can tell - lame endings to ABC News articles notwithstanding - all of these ugly ads are coming from Republicans, which makes sense, as they have little to they can point to as examples of their worthiness of elected office. Democrats, on the other hand, have plenty to attack without having to resort to political attacks. It's not partisanship - it's common sense.



Jay Rosen must be absorbed with his new projects and his classes, because there hasn't been a new post since October 7th. I'll give him another week, but if I don't see anything by then I'll find a new blog to follow.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Journalism Selections #4


Things seem sort of quiet down in Miami, so this week, I've picked a couple of links from Romensko that caught my interest:

Michael Getler, the ombudsman for PBS, published a column on his blog, in which he discussed the way the political media tends to frame issues in terms of "Republican vs. Democrat" rather than focus on the impact of these issues on the lives of individuals, families and communities. As a letter writer said:

While listening to ‘Washington Week in Review,’ I was returned again and again to the politics of a current event (in this case, scandal around Hastert et al) by the comments of John Harwood. I have noted this in numbers of ‘talking heads’ who are more interested in the chess game than the issues to the detriment not only of the integrity of the news but the elucidation of events for the public who depend on them.

This bears out my experience with much of political journalism in this country. For instance, my husband and I watch the three major cable news networks quite a bit, and invariably, the discussion surrounding almost every event (the exceptions are sensational crimes like child murders and sexual assault) invariably return to discussion of how this issue will impact this candidate's chances for re-election, or how senators will vote on that issue.

I have two major problems with this. First, it assumes that there are no valid viewpoints outside of those espoused by the Republican and Democratic Parties. As someone who knows libertarians, anarchists, social democrats, progressives and true (not neo) conservatives, I am fully aware that there are valid, intelligent ideas and opinions out there that receive virtually no serious play on the airwaves. When these points of view do receive attention from the mass media, it's usually in the form of glowering, bullying Bill O'Reilly and his phony "good ole boy done well" demeanour, who is notorious for shutting off the microphones of those who dare disagree with him.

This leads to my second issue - considering that television news is one of the primary sources of political information for the people in this country, setting up a false framework that consists of only two positions imposes an artificial limit on public discourse, and ultimately serves to continue the impression that politics is nothing more than a football game. Consequently, it's impossible to open up to the letters to the editor in any given publication without seeing a slew of articles insulting liberals, conservatives, Republicans or Democrats.

Also, I want to mention this article published by the Boston Globe about scams and Spare Change, a weekly paper that serves the homeless and the extremely poor both through media coverage, and also by offering employment as vendors of the newspapers. I found this sad, not just because Spare Change and the people they help are harmed by this, but also because I tend to think the managing editor of the paper is right, that the scammers are probably homeless as well. It's too bad, because I used to work in Harvard Square, and I made a point to get my weekly copy of Spare Change - sometimes even two or three. They covered stories that neither the Globe nor the Herald would cover (this was, after all, during the Big Dig fiasco), and I knew that the majority of the money was going to the vendor in a way that was reciprocal and let the vendor preserve their dignity.

(St. Pete, with its considerable population of homeless, could really benefit from a similar paper.)



This week, Eric Alterman wrote a column for The Nation, about the alarming frequency with which anonymous internet interactions, through email, blog comments and chat transcripts, have achieved enough respectability, to the point where they can be considered as valid as any other source. I've participated with internet communities for quite a few years now, and I shudder to think of how our world would be if people actually took those who post these illiterate, barely hinged, profanity comments (one can practically feel the spittle flying out of the monitor as one reads) seriously. The anonymity of the internet gives many people permission to speak as abusively as possible to one another - name calling, profanity and even death threats abound. At the same time, trolls represent a minority of users, and so to quote one as proof of anything strikes me as lazy sensationalism.



Jay Rosen must be preoccupied with NewAssignment.Net this week, because his last blog entry was made last Saturday. In it, he talks about the newest program instituted by the Sunlight Foundation: "a new distributed research and reporting project that will enable citizen journalists to find out how many members of the House of Representatives have their spouses on the payroll." Considering the high number of politicians who manage to find a way to make sure their spouses get paid, too, this project seems like it has a lot of potential to uncover some pretty egregious misuses of campaign funds and public monies.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Journalism Selections #3


Like Romenesko, I've been fascinated with the recent events at the Miami Herald and its Spanish-language counterpart, el Nuevo Herald, in the wake of the scandal over Radio Martí and TV Martí. Over the past week or so, the following has happened:

(I have not had to keep track of this many entanglements and scandals since high school. )

What originally seemed like a straight-forward story - violation of company policy followed by punishment - has erupted into a full-fledged debate over newsroom ethics and racial sensitivity. Last week I applauded Díaz and The Herald for refusing to cave into what I called "irrational sentiment". This week, after hearing that Díaz tried to squash Hiaasen's column for being potentially inflammatory, I'm inclined to revoke my earlier statement.

(Besides, if you ask me, the column was classic Hiaasen - just who does Díaz think he's dealing with here?)

I imagine that the notoriously vocal anti-Castro faction in Miami probably had a lot to do with putting pressure on Díaz, but it also seems like the staff of el Nuevo Herald was pretty upset as well. Fiedler certainly didn't help matters by referring to the paper's Cuban critics as "Chihuahuas". I tend to agree with those who are critical of his statement - calling someone of Hispanic origin a Chihuahua is not that different than calling a person of African origin a monkey.

I also thought this blog entry by CBS News' Valerie Hyman was excellent. In it she succinctly lays the blame for the increasingly sorry state of local television news today at the feet of Wall Street:

Here's what happens: election years make local TV stations happy. Dueling candidates bring in hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of advertising dollars to local stations. The problem is, when the "off" year rolls around, as it will in 2007, Wall Street demands higher profits than it got during the election year.

So 2007 is supposed to be better than 2006.

It can't happen.

But the corporations that own those stations will do their best to satisfy Wall Street anyway. Rather than fight the notion that news is a commodity like corn and pork bellies, CEOs of those media corporations keep figuring ways to get Wall Street the profit it wants.



Eric Alterman linked to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that calls out the business media for overstating the health of the economy. The proof that is so often offered up is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at an all-time high. Putting aside the faultiness of measuring a nation's economic health based on indicators like the Dow Jones or GNP, it turns out that business reporters weren't even citing this fact accurately. Rather than adjusting the Dow Jones to reflect inflationary discrepancies, they made their evaluations based on current-year prices. As the CBPP put it:

To fail to adjust for inflation, and to say that the Dow has passed its previous peak, is like saying that a worker whose wages are a couple of cents an hour above where they were six or seven years ago is better off today, even though the purchasing power of his or her wages has fallen significantly.

Had these overzealous business journalists done their reporting properly, they would see that the Dow Jones is actually down 17% from its all-time peak. Considering that most people (myself included) have a barely-above-rudimentary grasp on topics related to economics and business, it's critical that business journalists report accurately and fairly, rather than grasping for the sexiest possible headline.



Jay Rosen gave an interview to Slashdot, one of the most well-known online geek communities. In it, he answered several questions related to his new project, NewAssignment.Net, as well as other forms of "open source journalism". I learned a lot more about open source journalism as a result of this interview, but what I found most interesting is the fact that Rosen even had this interview with the members of an online community in the first place. Online communities and blogs are often seen as the red-headed stepchildren of mainstream culture and media, something only used by computer geeks, so I see this as yet another movement towards legitimacy for online communities.