Archives for category: Media

By now it must seem that all I read is The New York Times. That’s not true. I mainly read the Times’ editorials and the reader comments (especially the reader recommended comments) because I do think that the editorials/op-eds are actually more informative and honest than “all the news that’s fit to print.” But that’s the subject of another blog post.

One commenter in particular* is the subject of my most recent “blog crush,” though she’s not writing a blog per se. Her name is AnnS and she’s apparently from Michigan and holds multiple degrees in social/historical/political/economic fields, with a specialty in The Great Depression. She responds to most of the articles that I read, and is one of the top recommended commenters on every post. She should be writing for the Times, but I think she might be too honest for them.

Today, David Brooks wrote a column in which he claims he explains one-on-one conversations he has had with people in the Obama White House about policy – specifically that he, as a professed moderate (really he’s a neoconservative) Republican, was concerned about all the spending and the resulting taxes, and Brooks says that these Obamatons (Brooks’ word for them) told him, privately, things that make them seem much¬† more conservative than I think most people view them to be.

Of particular interest to me in this article was the part in which Brooks claims that some Obama staffer actually told him that Obama is “extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.”

Excuse me?

Obama is committed to reducing Social Security and health spending?

Read the rest of this entry »

UPDATE: I now realize that my real problem with Prop 8 and the whole “marriage equality” argument is that it’s all well and fine for those queer couples that have wealth and for whom existing economic systems work well.

What I mean by that is, it’s all well and good for those (largely gay white men) who have well-paying jobs with health benefits that their partner can take advantage of.

But what about us queers that are poor?

Why should I care about whether my girlfriend and I can marry and pass on wealth when I don’t have any wealth?

What about us queers that are targeted by the police state? How does being married help when all that’ll give us is the ability to have conjugal visits? (and probably be raped in the process, don’t get me started on police.)

What about us queers that aren’t legally allowed to be the gender we know ourselves to be? What about those of us who live outside the heterosexual-defined gender binary?

To paraphrase Michael Jackson, “they don’t really care about us.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Image via The Economist

Image via The Economist

Above: AP photo from the Greek riots of December 2008

I’ve been busy, and I’ve not been blogging! My good friend Sheena tried to remind me that I should be updating my blog more often, since print is dead and all.

But ever since leaving PEOPLE I’ve been busy trying to start my new online newsmagazine (coming soon) and writing for The Indypendent newspaper/website here in New York.

(Tangent: It’s not just because I want to curry favor among The Indypendent‘s editors, but the newspaper is a hotbed exactly the kind of of serious-minded yet fun-loving folks that everyone would be lucky to know. It’s got enormous potential.)

When I’ve not been writing, I’ve, as usual, been reading – and far too much of that, I might add. The news these days is almost all bad but is also really amazing in a lot of ways. Finally it’s okay to say that government investment in society is what we’ve needed for the past 30 years. Finally it’s okay to say that most news is actually making people dumber. People are responding to news articles by the thousands to let writers and editors know that they don’t always buy their glossed-over commentary. It’s getting more democratic out there in Internet-land.

But amid all of this excitement, there are still glaring voids in what’s being covered by mainstream media. There was nary a whisper on The New York Times website about the effects the collapse of Iceland’s krona and the IMF’s disastrous 18% interest on the loan they gave the country will have on its people.¬† This was a highly important development because Iceland represents the first primarily Caucasian country that the IMF is helping to destroy with its relentless free-trade policies, the same policies the country has, to its benefit, resisted for so long. A similar media black-out has been instituted for the same situation happening in Hungary (You can, however, find stories about how the IMF loan raised the country’s stock prices). I can’t believe that it’s just because there are no international reporters/bureaus that could report on these developments.

Also glaring was the scant in-depth coverage of Greece’s devolution into chaos and instability in the aftermath of the police murder of a 15-year-old boy named Alexandros Grigoropoulos. Now I’ve begun to understand that Greece has a history of rioting often, but that, to me, does not matter given the gravity of the current problems there that are the basis of these most recent riots and protests. Every day, Greek kids (and some adults) are firebombing businesses, looting grocery stores, even setting fire to police officers and in the midst of that chaos, the entire country endured a general strike related to economic policy and high rates of unemployment. Woah! This is big news!

But you won’t find the terrifying and also beautiful daily photos from all over Greece on most U.S. newspaper’s websites (one better site is Boston.com). Why? That’s up for discussion. The photos are nowhere near as gruesome as, say, pictures of murdered Iraqis from the U.S. occupation of that country. Nobody could seriously claim that Americans aren’t ready for the Greek riots.

Or could they? Is it possible that the MSM and their handlers are afraid of even mentioning a general strike in an entire country during this time of high dissatisfaction with our own economic situation and government?

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

I, for one, would love to hear an in-depth analysis with proper historical context of the economic conditions on the ground in Greece that helped to incite violence on the scale that is currently being perpetrated there. Oh, and hold the anti-anarchist propaganda, would you?

Update: GroundReport.com writer Ms. Railey has been analyzing the Greek situation in-depth and has a good perspective.

Today The New York Times‘ David Carr published an article in which he argues that newspapers’ firing of the most experienced staffers will lead to a drop in profits, a drop in ads, and an inability of those papers to do a good job.

It sounded eerily familiar. Like from a dream. I could have sworn I said that two days ago.

Will let you know what Carr says to my email asking, basically, if he read my blog. I can’t say the truth wasn’t apparent to all who had eyes, but I did write about it first.

(This is the post that disappeared. My mistake.)

Sobering news – my company is laying off 600 people. And I’m one of them.

I volunteered to take a buyout because I just can’t take it anymore.

No, not the dwindling prospects for a long career in the print business (and no, not the endless assignments to follow celebrities around the city); but the company’s and the industry’s extraordinarily high faith in the Internet as the only route to profits.

Look. I get it. Advertisers are pulling back and trying to refocus their efforts on blogs and websites. Even The Christian Science Monitor is shredding its daily print edition. Isn’t that a sign that the proverbial sky is falling?

Actually, no. This rush to the ‘net for real news (not celebrity news) will not last forever (maybe 5 more years) and I’m sure of it. What the publishing industry needs to do now is focus on re-creating a product that held intrinsic value, and finding and re-acclimating their core readership instead of alienating those people by focusing on 24-7 celebrity coverage (this is for you, Associated Press).

Because if you look deeply, you’ll see that the “advertising on blogs” idea is a fad that’s a) predicated on nothing but fear, eschewing real numbers and profits (pretty much exactly like our current stock market volatility) and b) paradoxically both way overdue and incoherently rushed.

The titans of media who oversee the biggest conglomerates are about 10 years late and $2,000 short, with regard to putting the bulk of their product online (this should have happened circa 1998), and monetizing said online product ($20 for 1,000 impressions? Are you insane? Why not give it away?)

Too afraid to take risks on the ‘net when it was young, newspapers and magazines instead had to follow a trail blazed by seedy amateur writers flocking to free websites peddling their over-leveraged, snarky opinions. But the corporate journalists could never be that bold! It was a race they were doomed to lose.

Similar short-sightedness and lack of creativity is why those same companies will never reap the same revenue online as they have with their print products. They have consistently refused to charge what it’s worth for advertisers to their web magazines AND as a result, out of precedent, they’ll never be able to charge what it’s really worth for advertisers to their web magazines. They have also dumbed-down their product.

Online readers are not willing to knowingly “be advertised to” in the sort of data-mining, giving up their address and income information to a company. This is a different breed of “consumer.” This is the type of “consumer” who hates that label. For that reason, and more, you simply can’t account for readers online the way you can with a tangible magazine or newspaper, and once advertisers realize nobody clicks on their ads anyway, they will pull back from the Internet as well.

And at a certain point, our economy might get so bad that people will stop paying for wireless and cable, which will be the final death blow to television (BTW, people aren’t completely thrilled about the government mandating that they get an DTV if they want to ever watch tv again).

The Internet is a great tool. It should not be the future of journalism (There are still too many questions and variables)…but…

So, why is print still dead? Because nobody is offering anything of substance!

People enjoyed watching Britney Spears slowly almost kill herself over and over and over again for a while. They enjoyed watching it on the Internet, and truthfully, that’s the right place for such a story. There is no reason the AP should have hired 20 reporters to follow her around Hollywood, to file news wires to send to reputable news agencies on her downward spiral. Ick.

When our country enters the Depression 2.0, people will actually start to crave real news again. I do believe there is a way to put real news on the Internet without sacrificing its believability at the altar of the blogosphere, but we’re not there yet. We’re not nearly there.

At the point that we’ll need real news again, all the media agencies will be suffering from a dearth of cash, as well as talent. They will have laid off all of the intelligent, thoughtful, analytical reporters in exchange for cheap college grads ready and willing to give up their personal lives for a byline, but with nothing of value to offer an organization. You won’t be able to adequately report on anything of substance.

This is why readers have been slowly leaving print for the past 10 years or more! But big media companies don’t get it. Their relentless pursuit of the bottom-of-the-barrel readership (opportunistic, as it is) has alienated the only dedicated loyal readers they had.

Those “professional readers” if you will allow me that much, are now getting their news in the form of direct analysis from research agencies and foreign news services. They know that the American public is being led into an information bubble, and they don’t want to take it anymore.

We’re rapidly entering a period in which the 4th Estate will cease to exist. Everyone’s blaming the Internet. But it’s not their fault. Instead, newspapers and magazines attempted to compete with the internet, entering a race with bloggers which by definition could not be won except by giving up their self-worth. They stopped breaking news. They stopped caring about expertise. They underestimated their consumers.

And that is why print is dead.

Apparently, it bears repeating that fact-checking is still necessary more necessary now than ever.

Case in point: Martin Eisenstadt.

He’s the McCain advisor who doesn’t exist, but who nonetheless was quoted by journalists at Mother Jones, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC and some other MSM outlets. Eisenstadt was most recently said to be the source of the startling pronouncement that Sarah Palin doesn’t know Africa is a continent (this is not true, and still no one knows who is responsible for that little gem).

Eisenstadt is worse than the fake memoir girl because at least she’s a real flesh-and-blood person, but there is no Eisenstadt, and there is no “institute” that he runs. He’s just an unemployed actor.

Now, as a fact-checker, I can say unequivocally that there is no excuse for being taken in by someone such as the pranksters who created the character Martin Eisenstadt. The reason is, everyone learns in Journalism 101 that you never rely on one source for a story (unless that source is only talking about himself or herself, and even then, you interview other people who know them).

Everyone’s blaming this on the rush, in the 24-7-365 news cycle, to get the story first. That is just the symptom of the problem. The problem is that we have foregone accuracy in favor of speed, and that many of the people producing news either never learned how to fact-check, or never necessarily benefited from getting it right.

A simple call to someone in the McCain campaign to verify Eisenstadt’s position on the team would have put rest to this long ago.

Similarly, an Accurint on Martin Eisenstadt that matches the name and date of birth that the man said belonged to him would have let you know that he does not, in fact, exist.

This is what I mean by “our product is not good enough.” Every day there are apologies for very, very large mistakes; mistakes that tend to wear away at reader confidence and mistakes that tend to further erode the respectability of the profession.

Turns out, rightly, that the guys behind the hoax actually sought to discredit the news media. Kudos to them for having the cojones to go up against that kind of legal heft.

Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.

“With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find,” said Mr. Mirvish, 40.

Mr. Gorlin, 39, argued that Eisenstadt was no more of a joke than half the bloggers or political commentators on the Internet or television.

I question whether Gorlin actually said this, and whether the Times writer doesn’t have a bias that’s showing. Whoever actually blames the blogosphere for this seems to have forgotten that it was a who blogger blew the whistle on Eisenstadt, not a member of the MSM.

For all those who think bloggers are “not real journalists” or who would blame the blogs for the rushed news cycle, this must feel like a cold slap-in-the-face.

And then there is William K. Wolfrum, a blogger who has played Javert to Eisenstadt’s Valjean, tracking the hoaxster across cyberspace and repeatedly debunking his claims. Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish praised his tenacity, adding that the news media could learn something from him.”

In all honesty…

(Sigh) I wrote this in response to this former magazine big-wig feud (yikes!) that emerged today in which one former Entertainment Weekly founder and another ex-in-the-trenches journalist argued over 1) the former’s gloating that journalists need to suck it up and accept their pink slips because the internet is, like, “the new big” (or something like that) and 2) the latter’s arguing that the former’s blame was misplaced while he histrionically fusses about the wonderful tactile sensation of newsprint.

Geez, guys, calm the hell down. The answer is, nobody and everybody is to blame, but arguing about it over the internet is not going to help.

Here’s the problem. Every existing form of printed matter is losing readers. In turn, they are losing advertisers. In turn, people take the product to the internet where they charge less for ads, so they get more ads, but where they don’t know a damn about who’s reading what they’re writing. Then, they wake up and realize that, in turn, they all became broke.

Two necessary solutions: Charge more money now. Create better products now.

On the first point, to be sure, any pragmatic person will see that with regard to monetizing subscriptions, news business managers put the cart before the horse by offering their milk for free. It will be hard to convince readers to accept the concept that news cannot be free because it costs money to make it. However, I would gladly pay, say, $20/3 months (even more, I’ll admit) for a newspaper or magazine that I really, really can’t live without, if they did not at the same time offer any of the content for free. If they offer any of the content for free, I will not pay. This was the problem with TimesSelect and others (okay, that, and the fact that the content in the TimesSelect was actually much, much worse in terms of real value than anything they offered for free).

I think we underestimate the number of people who would pay to help us produce the news (ie. the number of intellectual and literary types that still live and breathe in America).

Now, it stands to reason that any attempt to enhance the revenue stream for online products from the advertising side will meet with scoffs and rebuffs from big-box-company execs who are used to paying $20 per 1,000 hits/impressions. That was another ill-thought-out concept that should have died during the first dot-com boom.

Yes, advertisers will initially walk run away from your product. But! When you figure out how to get solid demographic information and a dedicated readership (which will only come through a much, much better product than we’ve been putting out for the past, oh, say, 15 years), you will have the upper hand.

Then, when you finally and unequivocally kill your print product, advertisers will have no choice but to accept the prices you’re charging for the ‘net based ads.

Now, to the second point, I may be “just a kid” in the world but yes, I do have the audacity to say that journos haven’t been putting out a good enough product during the time of print’s decline. I know it as a reader, and a writer, and as a person who does 10-page interviews that routinely get boiled down to 50-word sound-bite “boxes” that offer little insight into anything. I know that we can do better, especially with regard to the entertainment media, of which I am a part.

I welcome the idea of getting together with like-minded folks at conferences to try and figure out how to monetize the internet. It also seems like those are happening, but where are the results?

Everyone, now including Gawker honcho Nick Denton is about to be struck with the revelation that “the internet isn’t making any money anymore because the world is ending.”

The simple answer to this is, the world will stop ending one day, and at that point, we need to have a plan. Recessions and even Great Depressions can do a lot to diminish egotism and make people work together for change (not to recall Obama here. Does he have a copyright on that word now? Hmmm.).

If there is anything that needs to find a new way, if there is anything that needs to pave a new road, it is journalism. It is the 4th Estate. It hasn’t been living up to its potential for some time now, and it’s suffering because of it. We need to strengthen the foundations, buck up, reduce overhead, learn to think like nonprofit executives, and keep it moving.

Oh, and we also need to teach the White House Press Corps to use Twitter. Can you imagine what that would do to journalism?

Some Gawker commenter wrote the best and most instructive paragraph about the idiocy of the media/publishing industry that I have read to date. And said it more concisely than I ever dreamed possible. This is what I’ve been thinking for, like, EVER!

From ValentinaLabarixair

All these “stunt” books, e.g. celebrity tell-alls, famous-person brownie recipes, etc., are the equivalent of couponing as a marketing tool–where you temporarily offer people $.20 off your brand of tuna, for example. Rather than reaching out to your core consumer, you cater to opportunistic shoppers who will go directly back to their customary shopping patterns once your coupon expires. The publishing industry expends far too much money and effort in luring people who don’t actually love books into bookstores–with promises of celebrity secrets or trendy blogs-cum-“books.” Meantime, they alienate their core consumer of people who genuinely enjoy reading–a consumer who can be reached less expensively and can also generally be prevailed upon to buy more than one book at a time. And having alienated this core, more lucrative, consumer through neglect, publishers ensure that they have to keep spending more money and more effort to attract the opportunistic consumer base that was never that enthusiastic about the product–i.e. books–in the first place.

Damn!

Outside of work last week, all that I could talk about with my friends was the fake memoir of gang life survival written by one Margaret Seltzer, and the new blog phenomenon Stuff White People Like.

I have to say I was quite surprised at the whole fake memoir fiasco. I’d have thought folks at the big publishing houses like Penguin Group had learned something from the Oprah-smashing of James Frey a couple of years ago. I mean, if you had never employed fact-checkers before then, shouldn’t it now be a mandate?

But apart from the audacity of her untruths, the idiocy of the editor who didn’t even bother to meet Ms. Seltzer during the entire three years that she edited the manuscript, and the fact that The New York Times clearly violated the most basic and classic rules against conflicts of interest, I have one last thing to say about Ms. Margaret Seltzer.

Peggy, dear, you need me to be your publicist right now.

If I were Margaret Seltzer’s publicist, she would be on every talk show, writing editorials for major newspapers, and coming out the winner out of this whole thing. Because if I were in charge of the cleanup-PR campaign, I would have Margaret Seltzer say something like this:

“Yeah, I lied. And it’s all your fault. All of you in the publishing business, in the media business and all of the people who were so eager to read my book. I lied to expose not only the ease with which any random white girl can profit off of her ‘misery,’ but also the ridiculousness of the people who are so eager to experience said ‘misery’ vicariously through a book about teen gang violence, death, and the wilds of inner-city life as lived by out-of-control black men. I did it to make you all feel just a little bit guilty about fawning over those experiences only when they are written about by a pitiful little white girl who ‘survived.’ I did it because you all know you were going to ignore this other Bloods gang memoir that’s being published in April, that was written by a black man. Oh, what? You say you just can’t ‘relate’ to his story? Gee, why do you think that is?

“I lied, I lied well, and I even spoke Ebonics. I did it all to expose your liberalism for what it is – a sad state in which you have so little experience with urban black people and with poverty that you will believe any insane story about gang life without even doing very basic fact-checking, because this is how you really think life is for these people.

“Now that you know my memoir is a lie, are you going to buy DaShaun Jiwe Morris‘ book? Are you still interested in reading about being a former Blood, even if his house wasn’t photographed for The New York Times?”

But, sadly, I think Margaret Seltzer is just a crazy-head who writes really well.

On another note, I was really enjoying the Stuff White People Like blog. But now I’m over it (the blogs about shorts and The Wire killed it for me). Anyway, Christian Lander, who started the blog, has a witty, snarky tone that’s perfect for blogging. I just hope he doesn’t get a book deal out of it, because, I mean, it’s not worth all that. And we all know what happens when people start throwing around book deals!

But the commenters! Oh the commenters! They are what make SWPL so incredibly popular (more than 11 million hits popular).

But what makes SWPL so nice, is that it’s making a lot of white people really uncomfortable with racism, all of a sudden!

One of my more liberal white friends was visibly uncomfortable, dare I say angry, as I looked through the blog and read some of the funnier parts of the posts out loud. She knew that it was racist, but how do you tell a black person that a blog about white people liking vintage t-shirts and using them as status symbols is racist? After all, it’s not like they can’t get a job because their name is Shaniqua.

This quote from NPR sums it all up: “Critics charge that the list is racist, stereotypical, and conflates race with economic status.”

Duh! Oh my gosh, my whole life people have equated my race with my economic status! But, see, I’m not upset about it!

Seriously, though, the reason I write about SWPL is that I have a blog crush on one of the blog commenters. Mango Girl! She just gets it. She gets it soooooo well. She gets it better than the blog’s creator gets it. Mango Girl, I heart you!

On that note, I’m out.

“Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto me.”

Two days ago, while reading People magazine*, I found out about the murder of an openly queer middle school student in California whose name was Lawrence King.

Lawrence (whose friends called him Larry), had recently come out as gay to some people in his 8th grade class. A few weeks after he took that first brave step of coming out, it is alleged, another student shot Larry point-blank in the back of his head, twice, while Larry was sitting at a computer typing, and oblivious to the end of his life. Larry was only 15 years old.

This murder of one of my queer brothers struck me deeply. I cried at my cubicle for his senseless death.

Larry was, by all accounts, a strong yet amazingly loving boy. His passion in life was insects. He loved nature and the outdoors. He also had recently discovered another love – wearing skirts, high-heeled boots, and makeup. Like most children, Larry was fluid in his conception of gender, and he relished experimenting with different modes of dress.

He was so proud of himself and full of love for himself and his uniqueness that he even began wearing a girl’s uniform to school, advising classmates on where they could purchase fierce boots like his (“the expensive kind” as he told another girl).

Larry was so, so brave!

I am so saddened by his death. For me, living in New York, where I can date whomever I like and hold hands on the street with them, without fear of slurs let alone physical violence, with absolute love showing on our faces, it really hit home for me that this country is much different than those of us in these big metropolitan areas have come to believe. This country is much less tolerant that we give it credit for. It is much more outdated than we give it credit for.

Larry’s murder happened a few days shy of the tragic 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard‘s death.

Yes, it has been 10 years, and we are no closer to complete parity and equality for people on the LGBTQ spectrum, than we were a decade ago. We are still living in a world in which two little children can come to blows over one child’s internal identity.

Like Matthew Shepard, Larry’s name might also become a code word for the sick and sad truth of homophobia in our society. I hope it does.

It is shocking. It is unfair. It is blatantly wrong.

My girlfriend once said to me “Us gays, we have a mission from God (insert whatever deity or energy you believe in here)! We have been brought to this earth to suffer like Jesus did. Because we were made to love each other, and to be persecuted for that love, and for love alone, we endure so much pain.” I have come to believe this as true.

Gay people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities, speak all languages, and have this unique position at the intersection of so many other “others”.

For instance, two gay men, one Black and one Asian, are a minority within the two racial minorities in the U.S., within their families, across language barriers perhaps, etc. etc. Our position to unite the world can be seen as easier, because there are so many of us from so many different places, and we are called together by a single persecution.

We are a tribe culled from every mountain and from every city, from every desert and tundra, from every continent, country, state, and city, language, color, and ability. We have a special calling!

The more pain we endure as the diverse group that we are, the more of us that are killed in cold blood for our difference, each death, each slur, each ouster from a job or loss of parenting rights, will be a catalyst for unity. Like the AIDS crisis, these problems make us stronger (at its beginning, in the late 70’s and 80’s) – every death unites us!

It is my hope that people are riled up with hurt and pain after Larry’s death. It is my hope that people who are homophobic or who welcome homophobia into their homes and lives through others, will wake up. We must pray, hold hands, and overcome. Every single person on this earth is different.

“Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto me.” – Jesus Christ (Mat. 25:40)

*Full Disclosure: I work at People magazine.

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