Friday, October 27, 2006

Oh the scandal!

Americans love to read about the scandals corrupting our society, but the investigative reporting involved in uncovering such scandals may become a thing of the past. Howard Kurtz writes about this problem in his column in an article titled "Tightened Belts Could Put Press in a Pinch."

"Real investigative reporting, as opposed to the what-happened-yesterday stuff, is time-consuming, risky and expensive. And as one news organization after another sheds staff in this tough financial climate, it's worth considering what aggressive journalism has produced lately."

As more and more staff cuts are made to increase profit margins, fewer people are available in the newsroom to take on the time consuming task of investigative reporting. These cutbacks may have harsh repercussions for American citizens and their right to know what's going on behind closed doors. The cuts are coming at a time when more and more focus is on profit margins rather than quality journalism. I know money needs to be made, but the press' responsibility to the public should come first.
"Some of these customers are consuming the companies' wares online, which is great for exposure but doesn't produce the revenue needed to support long-form reporting. If this erosion continues, it would be bad news for serious journalism, and good news for corrupt politicians."
Kurtz gives a laundry list of important stories uncovered by investigative reporters, most recently the Mark Foley scandal, but an accompanying laundry list cites the newspapers that have cut their writing staffs by ten percent and more, including the Dallas Morning News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Kurtz claims the cuts may even spread to broadcast journalism.

I'm afraid that if the staff cuts continue, many of the scandals uncovered may become something that the public may never know about. How many more Mark Foley's or Tom DeLay's are in Congress? The public may never know.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Los Angeles Times seeks reinvention in the Manhattan Project

The Los Angeles Times' battle continues to unfold, as the newspaper decided to launch a project to investigate ways to "reinvent" the paper for the future. Daniel B. Wood of The Christian Science Monitor in his article titled "L. A. Times epic battle to retain glory--and profits" describes the project and the struggle that the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers have experienced as readership continues to decline.
"What is going on with the L.A. Times is going on in newspapers everywhere," says Tom Petner, a journalism professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.
What is going on at the Los Angeles Times is obviously not an isolated incident. Newspapers across the United States are seeing declining readership, ads, and revenue. I applaud the Los Angeles Times for their initiative in their investigation and I'm anxious to see what they come up with. The reinvention project, named The Manhattan Project, will be carried out by none other than select staff members of the paper .
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, brings up a very good point in the article.
"One of the struggles within the organization is the question of whether newspapers are a dying industry in print or an emerging industry online. If they are a dying industry, then the cutbacks make sense. But if they are emerging elsewhere in new forms, [the cuts] may seem irrational."
I know that my generation may be responsible for the "dying" print publication, but we are still getting our news from the television or the internet (or at least I am!) It does seem to me that although print may be dying, the internet news forum seems to be booming. Now if only there was a way to harness more profit from online news!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ridin' Dirty with Weird Al

This summer I spent quite a bit of time in my car driving the kids I nanny for from tennis lessons to swimming lessons to the country club and then back home again. Much of the time in the car, the radio was set to KISS 107 FM, the local pop radio station. I didn't think too much about it--the kids were allowwed to watch the "VH1 Weekly Top 20 Countdown" on Saturday mornings. I knew I had a problem, though, when the two year little girl picked up Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty" and began singing it at inopportune moments. The station was promptly changed to the dismay of all three of the kids in the back seat.

Weird Al Yankovic has seemingly helped me out with his new rendition of the popular hit, "White & Nerdy". Slate writer Sam Anderson, in his article "Troubadork", celebrates 25 years of Weird Al's parodies and his seemingly culture jamming contribution to the world of pop music.

"His parodies do important cultural work: They defuse whatever seriousness clings to the ubiquitous megahit, whatever tiny sliver of it colonizes our lives and makes us dream of a pop Xanadu where everyone has perfect abs and dances synchronously for our never-ending pleasure. He has singlehandedly tutored the MTV generation in critical thinking."
I've never thought of Weird Al as making a contribution to my critical thinking skills, but maybe I haven't given him the credit that he deserves. Yankovic has shown himself to be someone that can completely change the the intended meaning of a work, obviously many times in a very humorous way.

"Suddenly, he was not just tweaking trite lyrics and catchy melodies, but lampooning the whole overwhelming mythology of pop: the look, the movements, the feeling. "Eat It" (1984) transposed Jackson's absurd street-fighting fantasies into the harmless world of suburban mealtime; "Like a Surgeon" (1985) imported Madonna's dirty, quasi-religious writhing into an antiseptic, scrub-colored hospital."

So, thanks Weird Al, for saving me from the perils of "Ridin' Dirty". I don't know that I really enjoy the "White and Nerdy" rendition, but it's better than hearing a two year old singing about "rollin' and hatin' ".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Blogs Won't Bring Death to Journalists

As I was searching through some media blogs, I came across David Berlind's titled "Did the death of journalism just take another step?". I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Oh great, more good news for my career!" As I read the article though, I couldn't help but disagree with Berlind's views.

Business 2.0, and offshoot of, has recently asked all of its journalists to create a blog. Berlind predicts death and doom to all journalists that fall into the "trap".

"To many of them, being asked or told to blog will be like hearing someone screaming above the foam 'Come on in, the water is fine!' It isn't until after the barrell they're in has been tossed over the rail into the Niagara Falls that they'll realize how not everyone survives the white water."
I can't say that I agree with his ideas tough. I think that blogging is a powerful tool that helps journalists interact with their readers. Comments and questions regarding columns and stories allow an actual conversation to take place. I find Howard Kurtz's blog on The Washington Post website to be quite intriguing--where else are you able to leave a comment for the writer?

Berlind states that he doesn't predict the death of journalism, just journalists. I couldn't disagree more. Blogging is allowing anyone and everyone to be a journalist. I think that as a blogger/journalist himself, Berlind would welcome the "real" journalists to the blogosphere.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

So much for my happy ending

We've been discussing genres in class this past week and their necessity in the world of mass produced media. I'll have to admit, I enjoy the formulaic plot of the "chick flick." I enjoy knowing that the guy and the girl will overcome all odds and be together. Maybe I enjoy the happy endings because I know that life doesn't always work out that way.

One of my favorite "chick flicks" took a risk in ending the way it did, and although the movie didn't come out on the top in the box office, it's one movie in my collection that I can watch over and over again. "Little Black Book" rejects the normal romantic ending where the guy sweeps the girl off of her feet--Stacy Holt, played by Brittany Murphy, doesn't get the "happy ending".

As the audience is left hanging, wondering how Murphy will survive alone, there is a point in which things seem to come together. As Murphy is walking back to her apartment one night, she runs into her ex-boyfriend from college. They briefly catch up, and Murphy literally states, "Everything makes sense now." The audience is excited that Murphy won't be left single. Hopes are again shattered as a car door opens and the ex-boyfriend's pregnant wife asks what movie he wants to see. The audience's expectations are shattered once again, as Murphy is left standing alone.

Instead of finding the man of her dreams, Murphy lands her dream job, working along side Diane Sawyer, while meeting her idol, Carly Simon, at her job interview. The audience had to see Murphy happy, even if it was without the guy!

Although this movie doesn't fit the norm, I loved it. It made me feel ok about not having a boyfriend. Afterall, not every girl finds a man to sweep them off their feet. "Little Black Book" had an ending to remember, even if it wasn't the conventional one.

Is no news good news?

There hasn't been a whole lot of good news coming from the world of journalism lately. There have already been more journalist deaths this year than last, and the numbers keep getting bigger. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was recently found murdered in her apartment. The members of the press in Iraq don't really venture out in fear of being killed. Two German journalists were killed in Afghanistan earlier in the month. Is there any uplifting news?

The bad news continues to come as an Italian journalist in Afghanistan was kidnapped today. Terry Friel's article from Reuters explained how Gabrielle Torsello was abducted by five gunmen while traveling between two Afghan provinces.
"Pajhwok said its call to Torsello's mobile phone was answered by a man saying: 'We are the Taliban and we have abducted the foreigner on charges of spying.'"

That's some scary stuff. I know that journalists are putting themselves in danger when they travel to countries during times of war, but these stories are getting to be all too common. If given the opportunity to go overseas and report the events, I can't say that I wouldn't go. The journalists are doing their jobs, albeit a dangerous one. I just hope that this sad story is the last for awhile.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

I recently blogged about my distress with the Los Angeles Times and their "money hungry" corporate owners. After discussing my blog in class, I realized that the owners weren't necessarily the "bad guys" but were just trying to do what was best for their stockholders. As the story has unfolded, I've learned much more about the situation and how it may affect the future of many print newspapers.

The article, titled, "More than jobs are at stake," by Tim Rutten, explains that the expansive cutting of journalists positions isn't the only negative in the Los Angeles Times situation. After Jeffrey M. Johnson, publisher of the paper, was forced to resign this past Thursday, things are in a bit of an uproar. The editor, Dean Baquet, has agreed to stick around, but the cuts, it sounds, will still be happening.
"Tribune has cut the number of reporters, editors, photographers and designers
from about 1,200 to 940. The paper's editors say that Chicago believes that
about 800 would be a more appropriate number."

To me, this seems and ungodly amount of people to be cut from an operation. I know that profits are down, but can the quality of a newspaper survive with a loss of nearly 35 percent of its staff?

The bigger question that Rutten brings to the forefront of his article is that idea that newspapers may be suffering from more than just staff cutbacks.

"Whether newspapers belong to individual proprietors or corporate stockholders,
the future — and its profits — will belong to those who are both socially responsible enough and financially hard-headed enough to carry what is indispensable about the present into the era now struggling to be born. Los Angeles will be one of the places where we'll eventually find out whether newspaper journalism's current distress is a birth pang or a death rattle."

As Walter Lippman once wrote, "The newspaper is in all its literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct." Will the newspaper industry be able to survive the "big bad wolf"?

Home cooking an ideal of the past?

Growing up, there was always a "supper time," when my family gathered around the table to eat the meal my mom had spent most of the day preparing. I suppose you could say, at that point in time, we fit the representation that media had constructed for us. Things have changed over the years. My parents now live four hours apart, I can't remember the last time my mom was home before 5:00 PM, and when I do get the luxury of eating at home, we're not eating meat and potatoes, but a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut or Taco John's.

I wasn't surprised to hear that this is becoming the norm for many families in the United States. In Patrik Jonsson's article, "For not that much more, Americans opting to eat out," I found that my family was pretty normal. As a poor college student, I don't get to eat out a whole lot. I enjoy going home, though, because for the time and the money, my Mom brings home take out quite a bit. Afterall, who wants to slave over the stove after a long day's work?
"In the next decade, more than half the average household food budget will be spent on meals bought outside the home compared with 25 percent in 1955, the NRA reports."

Society times and standards have obviously changed, but I really can't blame them. I can buy a cheeseburger, fries and a soda at McDonald's for $3.15, or I can spend $6.50 to eat at the Simpson's Pfeiffer dining hall-not that I really have a choice!

The media, too, have changed the represenations to fit the new standards. Going out to eat has become expectation. Really though, when was the last time you can remember seeing a television family sitting down to eat a meal the mother figured has made? I don't watch a whole lot of television, but I can't think of one.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ban the Evil Harry Potter!

As I was purusing through the Fox News website, I was enticed to view an article titled, "Georgia Mom Seeks Ban on 'Evil' Harry Potter". I've never really been a fan of Harry Potter. As an English major, I've always felt that I should seek 'the classics' rather that than the 'top 10 best sellers list'. I guess I was troubled, though, by the thought that anyone would want to ban any book.

I do think it is important for society to become active in the media world. We've been discussing media activism and cluture jamming in class, and although this woman, Laura Mallory, does not fit the conventional role of media activist, she is trying to change something she disagrees with. I applaud Mallory for standing up for what she believes in; I just don't happen to agree with her.
"Board of Education attorney Victoria Sweeny said that if schools were to remove all books containing reference to witches, they would have to ban 'Macbeth' and 'Cinderella.'"
This idea disturbed me, because the aim could change from the "top 10 best sellers" to the classics. Shakespeare's "Macbeth' is by no means my favorite 'classic', but that doesn't mean I want to get rid of it!

What truly surprised me about this article was that this same area had tried to eliminate funding for Spanish-language fiction. Honestly, I think that we should be happy if we're giving anyone the opportunity to read. It sounds to me like this county and its people need to put their priorities in the correct place.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Technologically savvy "Times" on the rise!

I had a pretty bad attitude as I began to read John Heilemann's article "The New York Times' Digital Makeover." I've always been partial to the black ink on the real paper myself. As I read on, though, I couldn't help but get excited about the new ideas The New York Times are implementing on their web page.

I wasn't too surprised to read that The New York Times is considered to be the most web-savvy newspaper, but was shocked to hear the numbers behind the success.

"Amid uninspiring second-quarter results in which the company's revenue and profit were basically flat from the same period a year earlier, Internet revenue soared from $49 million to $66 million."

That's a lot of money, but the revenue was not strictly coming from ads. A new premium service program has given readers an all access pass to the columnists' articles as well as various other features such as new multimedia components and e-mail alerts and available to subscribers only. TimesSelect had 513,000 subscribers in June, contributing $9.5 million to its revenue.

RSS readers are still considered a new endeavor for the times as well, generating a great deal of traffic on the site. Personally, I've become addicted to my RSS reader, and think this genius idea will become a large part of everyone's day, as it has mine. (Boy do I feel like a huge loser for saying that!)

"Even RSS newsfeeds, which the Times adopted early, are still "a niche," Nisenholtz says. (In June, RSS feeds generated 12.2 million pageviews for the site out of a U.S. total of nearly 295 million.) 'RSS is still very techie,' he says. 'Most people outside the business are totally unaware of it.' "

The most exciting new aspect of The New York Times, in my humble opinion, is the "MyTimes" idea. Although only in testing stages with 5,000 users, this idea makes me smile.

"The free service lets you customize your own news homepage, adding feeds from third-party blogs and news sources in addition to slicing and dicing Times content. But what sets it apart from other user-customized online news sites is that it includes access to pages maintained by Times journalists - about two dozen of them at the moment, including such A-listers as Frank Rich, John Markoff, and David Carr-that contain their own bookmarks and feeds."

Even as a poor college student, I'd be willing to pay the cash necessary for complete personalization. Count me in to play a role in the "seminal cultural shift!"