Friday, October 14, 2005

Newspapers: Circling the Wagons from What?

Newspapers have been playing chess in the park with their advertisers while their subscribers are playing online, and the younger generation is playing Quake or searching for porn. All week, Romenesko posted links to articles predicting the new generation of newspapers. That's like predicting who's going to be in the Super Bowl the Saturday before Super Sunday.

Newspapers have kept their traditional medium relatively unchanged since the 1930s. When radio and television emerged, nothing changed except the whispers inside the Editor's gut saying something needs to be done. From whisper, it is now shouting, only it's shouting to an empty room of reporters. While editors may be inclined to take the noble stand of staying aboard a sinking ship, the next generation of reporters are looking at other venues.

This next generation has grown-up on the internet. Wherever our bodies may be, the internet is home. Most small-town papers that covered our high school track meets and athletic booster car washes don't have a strong internet presence. Newspapers know this. But it's not a breaking story. And with bloggers starting to make some decent money, newspaper editors are defensive, careful not to let any new-comer idea change what has become an American tradition.

Either change with us, or get out of our way. Circle your wagons, keep your tradition safe-guarded and warm beside the campfire. Graduating journalism students know the tradition isn't the history, it's the ideal and that can change with the times so long as there are writers and readers.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My Own Prison

I know what I want to say, but how to start; how to take that first step? A step that will ultimately lead me on to a second step and then into my thirteenth lap around this prison cell town. I can say that because I grew up here and live here now. With headphones draped over my ears like a little girl's headband, I start walking. (I'm not sure how I feel about that headband simile)

Headphones, mind you, not earbuds. There's something secretive about buds that annoys me. From the 10-foot perspective we all see, they are invisible. It's cruel trickery, I tell you. With headphones, it's obvious to everyone that I'm in another place and do not want to be reminded that what I see is just as real as what I, alone, can hear. So, adorned with headphones, I start walking.

I went in search of the idea on Tuesday. First to the mall. And, after that, I had nothing. I didn't have the idea and I didn't have the new Esquire magazine. So, I went to Wal-Mart. They did have it - the magazine, not the idea. While i was walking and perusing the aisles of both locations, I thought about the American youth.

Instinctively, I tried to remember my own youth. I tried to remember what I thought about. Mostly is was some sort of pining away at a dream girl. My youth was all about finding the love element in the very songs that defined my generation - even when none were obvious. I wanted to connect with popular culture on some level, and all I 'knew' passionately about was love - or my "insatiable urge" for it anyway. Now that I've disassociated myself with that, I've got very little from my own youth to relate with.

I've buried myself beneath 6 feet of dreams; ambitions bloom around my grey headstone life, and i'm looking for anything I can associate with besides the cultural careers of those on either coast days away. Two weeks ago it was JD Salinger, this week its Sylvia Plath. Yet, I feel at-home in this small town, anti-fantasy.

Small-town life suits me. Monday night, I went to Jester's for Monday night football, chicken wings and beer. Those, alone, would keep me going there every monday night until the end of the MNF season. But, the wait staff is attractive, the bartender is extremely HOT, and then there is the small-town, football devotees.

There were a couple girls last week that sat in front of me. They sat directly behind me this week and after a pitcher and a half, I talked to them. The one giving me to most attention I don't particulary have any fascination with. She's cute, but she's a loud-mouth. Thinking back, I should've asked her why she feels the need to draw attention to herself. She shouldn't be trying so hard. And that's exactly why I belong in a small town and what, exactly, I'm going to write for the Vanity Fair contest.

Arguably, Vanity Fair is the Esquire of the celebrity culture. It's an upper class People with better photography. In front of the master-class photographer, however, sits the same celebrity figurehead that posters People and US magazines weekly. But, if People and US are the three-doors-down neighbors nosing through venetian blinds, Vanity Fair would be the only two-story house on the block. And I sit dreaming to be a part of that culture from atop my single-story house across town with a pair of binoculars. I see Vanity Fair's annual essay contest as a lost party invitation that has just landed in the mouth of the pink flamingo on my front lawn. (I really don't have a pink flamingo in my front yard, but I've always wanted one just for the camp)

This year's topic: "what's on the mind of America's youth?" Last year, it was "Why is America so hated by other countries?". That was the one that I'd tried writing in this same exact bedroom corner while on vacation last Summer. I didn't get it in in time. But, it's the reason why I've focussed my writing efforts on the essay-style formats. If not then, then maybe now. If not now, then maybe next year. It's a $15,000 prize, pulication, and an Italian writing-retreat vacation this year. Incentive. Pressure.

Confidence is the age-old, most effective way to appear desirable. Being with friends, we are all more confident because we are all comfortable. Take that same feeling and walk with it in your hand, held-up to your ear, walking from your car into a department store. With an iPod strapped to your arm, you're hearing the song you sang in the shower that morning. You're there, you're approachable, but you're not. Just as if you were with a dozen friends at a party.

My cell phone has never blown-up. I've never been the "cool" kid that everyone checks with to see what's going on. I've never had any friends that were so devoted or so interested in my everyday mundane minutes that I had the urge to tell them I was walking into Wal-Mart and saw the strangest people sitting on the bench outside in the Texas heat for no apparent reason. I'm not that "cool," but that is not to say I don't have my own moments of comfort.

Don't assume for a minute that I'm not envious of those "cool" kids that always have ringing cell phones, but, I have accepted the fact that I'll never be the coordinator of evening events. I'm a third-party goer. I'll always be the quiet one. This is my strength. I'll always just be me. In whatever form that takes, the roots do not change locations, they just grow deeper and longer.

No matter how much I hate small-town life, cut-off from diverse cultures and experiences, there will always be a me in every American town, whether it be in a small town or a metropolis. If I ever do make it big, I'll never be able to leave behind this prison that I've always called "home." This is not the end. Just another beginning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Burning it at Both Ends

You know you're a writer when you light up a cigarette at the beginning of each paragraph. If you get through it - the paragraph that is - before the cigarette, you're plagiarizing. At least that seems to define my writing style. It's not much high-octane, pedal to floor; it's more like a trained meditation - inhaling the fresh-aire scent of bull shit.

In some fields, it doesn't matter where you step, you're going to plant one foot squarely into the gooey middle. It's the stench of familiarity, and the feel that I'm home. I've already stepped in it, too far out to turn back; what can I do? I wipe my shoes as best I can and keep going.

My posts are pure opinion. I link to interesting articles and sites throughout most, but it's to keep my brain straight on the theme. It's my take on whatever. And it's all bullshit really.

Maybe I should put this post in my 'about me' profile as a precursor to everything I write. I'm biased by my own observations and insights. And maybe, that's the way the "Media" is. Everyone is talking bias. Nothing is as "fair and balanced" as we all would wish it to be. But, what's truth?

Statistics can be skewn to fit any side of any debate. The trick lies in the bullshit equation. How well can you present your stats. What's been lost in the public eye is our own biases. We're such a letigious socity we're teaching our kids to look for loopholes. It's getting to the point that we have to sign liability waivers before we can drop our kids off for a slumber/swimming party.

Everyone is out to be patted on the back or wallet these days. Some get off on writing letters to the editor ranting their expletive viewpoints because the local paper chose to run Lance Armstrong's rebuttal against performance enhancing drugs above the story about Cindy Sheehan's Crawford protests. Dditorials will be editorials...if you're too ignorant to understand those are supposed to be opinionated and controversial, then maybe you need to go back to reading Dick and Jane.

I thought about all this last night after having been asleep for a couple hours. Bad journalism does run rampant in this country. When you're being paid to be invisible, it's hard for the public to identify you. Day-in and day-out, you jump all over town tracking down sources and information and documents to write a perfect story to turn-in by 5 o'clock, your editor tells you it's not good enough and tells you to re-write it...in five or ten minutes. It takes 10 positives to take away a single negative.

I'm not justifying bad reporting. I'm trying to understand why we take such pleasure in exposing a "biased" story. Is it because the reported facts speak against what we individually believe? Every time it happens, it's just someone who's not getting enough attention at their job or in their bedroom looking to shine in that 15-minute spotlight.

I don't know what the answer is. I'm just telling my computer how I see it from my office chair. Maybe it's the two-foot seperation. Or maybe it's that I smoke too much when i'm reading or writing. I take that moment to ash my cigarette, look away from the plasma glow and black script and remember that I'm killing myself - obviously a sign of imperfection. An addiction that I can only fault myself for having.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Esquire, the Associated Press, and me

The post begins like a Quentin Tarantino film...with a fetish.

fesish - n. 1, an object supposed to embody a spirit; totem. 2, an object of abnormal love or passion.



I put Esquire magazine on the same pedistal QT puts his beloved feet and gore. My fingers lead my eyes from word to word across its glossy pages, like the magnetic skin on a woman's breast. Magazines are exactly experienced like this...they are the Great Monthly Equalizers. Once a month, men and women both experience PMS - guys know what i'm talking about. (we tell girlfriends we love them, they tell us we should've said "you're the love of my life," so, the next month we say that and then we're called lying bastards and told to go to hell...wtf?) From now on, before I say "I Love You," I'm going to buy us both a magazine subsription that releases new issues that same week.

But why? I can get an online subscription to any magazine and literally read it before it even hits the presses. What is it about those glossy pages? A guy's fascination with a girlfriend's breasts?...It's tangible, they don't "belong" to us, yet we can see/touch them just about any time we want. We're a part of something. I read a magazine article and feel 1/8 writer, 3/8 subject, and 1/2 of something much, much greater...a community.

Communities know no town/state/hemisphere borders anymore. Everyone has internet friends - people you may, or may not have ever met - and you rely on them like the next door neighbor you borrow power tools from. Who does their own home improvement projects these days, though? We've lost touch with our neighbors. We get national/global news from cable tv and highlight local news from the 6 o'clock news right before a Friends re-run airs.

With all the information outlets for the "general consumer" the local newspaper is yesterday's news. By the time we read it in the morning, maybe half of it is still true. Media-watchers have been predicting the death of the newspaper since radio. Yet, newspapers remain.

But, the daily voices of the American Revolution are in danger of withering away if they continue to believe they can compete with real-time media. And it's the news industry's dependence on the double-edged Associated Press that has fucked things up.

I make a daily trip to 7-Eleven. Inevitably, i need cokes, smokes, beer, lunch, or just a Super Big Gulp of sweet tea. I walk in the front door and read the front page of every newspaper they have displayed. I've seen both the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman (both nationally respected newspapers) run the same cover photo and story - both story and photo were attributed to the AP. Count the number of staff-written stories, then you'll see just how dominant the AP is. Read the intro paragraph; read the intro to the like-minded story on other papers...here's an original, staff-written NewsFlash: they're the same stories.

Newspapers used to be written and published by laborors trying to earn a living and make a difference. They published posts, not unlike this one, and opinionated essays about the goings on in the community and across the sea. Merchants used to bring European stories to American soil, much like an Associated Press of sorts. But it's importance to the American audience, then, was like our current fascination with Entertainment Journalism like People and US Weekly. It was more of a hobby to read than anything serious.

While the local affiliates of ABC, CBS, & NBC are out there trying to give summaries of the big stories happening in every community within its rating area, the cities' local papers should be giving the stories not covered at 6pm. Instead, they're regurgitating AP stories.

A newspaper diet should be single-serving. There should be national and global news. Small-town papers cannot afford to send reporters to every corner of the world...that's where the AP comes in. But the newspaper should have a section devoted to stories such as this, somewhere other than the front page. How many small-town Texans are directly affected by the Israeli pull-out of Gaza? It's news, it's important, and it should be read, but that same Texas small town would need to know about a car wreck or burglary that occurrend two blocks from Main Street.

That's what the local network news outlets, cable news shows, and high-speed internet news organizations cannot provide. That's the new newspaper market. Only, no one's told the newspapers this. A few months ago, Chuck Klosterman, in his montly Esquire column "Chuck Klosterman's America" said that Americans have too many choices these days. America is no longer a solitary audience. Now, audience refers to niche or target audiences...25-36 y/o, single, working-class, sports enthusiest, outgoing males, etc. Demographics are everything. Location is no longer an option unless it can exemplify target-audience profiling.

Except in your local community. By default, all citizens of a particular town have location in common. Maybe you're a Democrat and maybe your neighbor is a Republican, but the fact remains that you both probably shop at the same Wal-Mart. Let CNN or Fox or any of the numerous economy-based blogs tell you about Wal-Mart's influence on the nation's economy; shouldn't the local newspaper write the story about the hometown grocery store that the new Wal-Mart is driving out of business?

Until newspapers change or until i can convince some newspaper editor of this reality, I'll read this month's Esquire magazine that i've been searching for since leaving college and wonder what Miss Right is reading on her period.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

When being a step behind isn't a bad thing

i'm not a morning person. my waking life begins after noon and peaks at 9pm. the morning of the London bombings, though, i was up in time to catch the developments in their immediate aftermath. the news seeped into my skin even before i showered. when i finally did step gingerly into our dilapidated shower/tub, and dressed myself for work, i knew my first real opportunity to be a journalist was only an hour away, yet my "future" in the craft is still louisiana swampland.

when i did walk into my role as a bookstore dept. manager, my mind was busy multi-tasking the day's priorities and contemplating how best to inform the staff of the attacks. the news was still new enough that i just regurgitated what i'd heard on CNN earlier in the morning.

as the day progressed, and the initial shock of the bombings settled back into complacent paranoia, i started thinking about the event itself and the coverage. to learn more, though, i knew i'd have to wait until i got home later that night - the newspapers on the wire-frame display knew nothing of the headlines plastering televisions sets and internet sites - or wait until the next morning.

after 9/11, the word "terrorism" took on a new meaning. simultaneously, it was an emotion and a trigger for patriotism and war. then...it became a cliche. now, i see the word and its usage (moreso by authority figures) suspect. this being ingrained, i questioned the media and its fascination with excess. if the same event had taken place in a third-world country, would the coverage be the same?

i went home and turned on the television. nothing new was known, each of the cable news networks were headlining the story with a different computer-generated design and wording, and, immediately, i was reminded of september, 2001. the same national/global mourning seemed to be finding its way back into our society, but it wasn't American soil. would the news have revealed the same if it were a third-world country? i couldn't wait for the next morning's New York Times, Washington Post, and Dallas Morning News.

it was inevitable that this story was going to be the top of the front page. But, the same would have occurred if it were Columbia as opposed to London. but, more importantly, there would have been an emotional detachment. the story, most likely from the AP or the BBC, would have been strictly the facts of the attack; no talking heads trying to console a nation Not in grief. yes, the papers would have stories focussing on other varying angles - the terrorist threat on American soil, reactions from the American government and American-Arab communities, concerns about Our public transportation systems, and etc. - but they would be information pieces. the consoling and personal insights on the attack would be on the inside, written under the opinion headers.

and, finally, i've come to the purpose of this post - why newspapers hold an advantage being so "late" in delivering the news. granted, by the time the papers make it to the newspaper vendors, the news is already out-of-date, but it's a foundation that most Americans interested in the story would have long since forgotten. by that time of the morning, Americans are so emotionally drained from being consoled all night, that reading the information anew in the morning reminds them it's still news, and from there, they can make their own decisions about the facts and how best to "grieve" themselves. it's like getting advice from a best friend on something that's been bothering you. sometimes, the advice is meaningless compared to the advantages of just getting yours thoughts, concerns, and feelings out of your mouth.

now, if only newspapers would learn to use this to their advantage. too often, it seems, they try to compete with these real-time media and forget to remember their existence is based on its previous abilities to adapt to a new role. one of my most favorite movie quotes comes in the movie "The Runaway Bride" - richard gere tells his choice of journalism as a profession was a mix of what he wanted and what his parents wanted for him; it's "literature in a hurry."

cable and network news programs can offer all the condolences their "speech writers" make for them. newspaper reporters can do it almost poetically. "talk is cheap" and the spoken word lasts only as long as one chooses to remember hearing them. facts can be distorted or they can be highlighted - but the truth is, they have to be explained by someone to someone else. i'd prefer hitting the delete key a thousand times to saying something that could be mistaken by someone else to mean something completely different.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Voices from the commercial Underground

It's always interesting to sit in the breakroom of a chain bookstore, one that's nestled between a Foleys and a Hallmark in a dilapidated mall in a two-college town. Two-thirds of the staff is currenly enrolled in one of the two universities, the other one-third is graduated and has kids. While my ham and cheese sandwiches are heating up in the microwave, I see a library copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on the table. I assumed it belonged to the music manager - a 40-something woman with a boyfriend and an ecclectic music taste that ranges from the Flaming Lips to Michael Buble - and thought it best to avoid the conversation because of how she tends to go on-and-on-and-on, not because i didn't like the book or love to talk about it. It's one of my personal favorites actually, but I'm sure, she'd give me a reason to say, "no, I've actually never read that one."

It turns out, the book belonged to a part-time employee we just hired a month ago. She's the type you can see getting a day-job because she hated being at home while her kids were at school. You see her and you instinctively think PTA and Bible School leader. I couldn't resist. Instead of reading my copy of Klosterman's latest book, I sat and talked with her about this one. I was intrigued. Why would she have picked it up? More importantly, how did she even know about it? It's not a book most people would actually seek out unless they're looking for that critical view of society and/or embarassing insight about all the American flaws we're exposing our kids to. What's more, she went on various rants about Klosterman's takes on the SIMS and other points that she didn't agree with...her arguments were completely valid and coherent. I was in shock.

After the initial embarrassed blush for my premature judgement of her character, I found myself arguing points with her and reminiscing the good points Klosterman makes with her. It was a good, healthy conversation...in the breakroom of a chain bookstore.

I come home and read the news on my feed reader. This article by Slate, was the first I actually took the time to read. Maybe critique is more the word. Not a book or movie review, but a critique of Chuck Palahniuk and Slate's elite observation that he's sold-out - writing what his audience is asking for rather than what he wants to write about and that his latest novel, Haunted, is more gore than literature. Oh, they praised Fight Club for all sorts of philosophical, 10-letter-word reasons, but, Haunted, is nothing like that they said.

They said Fight Club focussed on the new male - one that is both gruesome and sensitive. Having read both Fight Club and Haunted (and all his others) I can agree that the duality of men - the sex - does exist, but it's not the central point. Chuck P creates extraordinary characters that are really just ordinary people. He brings out that part of our society. As i judged my co-worker in the breakroom this afternoon, most of us judge strangers by their appearances. Most of us wouldn't be able to point-out a serial killer if we were standing in line behind him/her at the grocery store. All of his characters look normal and act normal until they are pushed to their limits and then, he does what any novelist does, he takes their lives one step further, but still in the realm of understanding. We can see his characters knowing this information or having seen this happened to someone else. His characters are believable in that sense. We don't necessarily want to believe it, but we know that real people like his characters exist all around us.

The truth is, maybe Chuck P did sell-out to his audience from the Cult website. Maybe they wanted him to take his characters to a whole new, gruesome level. He did, but still in the classic Chuck P style. The only difference is that what they knew, what they saw, and what they did was still in the realm of what's possible, if only we would allow ourselves to admit the reality in which we live. We're a society that finds cliched fascination with car wrecks and professional-hit murders. In this novel, he just catered to that American obsession.

But, wait...there's more. Chuck P has become a sort of poster-child for the underground, generation X culture. so much so, that he's commercialized. Everytime someone asks me for Fight Club at the bookstore, I roll my eyes. Most just saw the movie or have just had friends recommend the book over the movie and they want to find out for themselves. They might read the book, they might not. Whatever, they won't be back to get any of his others. They'll think they understand everything about the fascination surrounding Chuck P after reading that one book that they'll probably rush to their local coffee shop and start talking about it as if they knew their nose from their ass.

Chuck Klosterman has become the same way. Everyone's reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and then spouting pop culture insights as if they weren't a member of it. Yeah, talk to me when you read his monthly column in Esquire magazine, and/or his other books. Even then, you won't know shit about pop culture or music culture. That's the point these two authors are making in the real underground. They're not necessarily speaking truths, they're speaking their opinion, their views on society and that's it. They're not trying to speak for an entire generation, they're just trying to make some money. What each has to say about society is good...it's not the holy gospel...but it's good and insightful. The problem does not lie with them, it lies in the majority of the population that either disagrees with their sentiments or is trying to make a name for him/herself.

This latter point isn't original. Think of The Postman or the Chronicles of Riddick - the ending of both hinges on the principle that whomever kills the man in charge takes control of the entire empire. That's what this population of reviewers is becoming - to become respected in that field, you have to knock off a giant. Whatever happened to inspiration? or originality. Instead of telling me why someone is wrong, tell me what you think is right.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Journalists Still Inexplicably Read Your LiveJournal

Journalists Still Inexplicably Read Your LiveJournal: "

To those of you who are used to seeing nuggets of your internet goodness regularly reprinted in Page Six or reinterpreted in New York mag, the following will come as no surprise. For the rest of you innocent waifs, however, it's time to realize that your trusted journalists rely on the most questionable of sources:

...A new study by Euro RSCG/Columbia University shows that more than 51 percent of journalists use blogs regularly, and 28 percent rely on them to help in their day-to-day reporting duties.

What's more, the study found that journalists mostly used blogs for finding story ideas (53 percent), researching and referencing facts (43 percent) and finding sources (36 percent). And 33 percent said they used blogs to uncover breaking news or scandals.

Blind leading the blind, people.

Study: Majority of Journalists Use Blogs [Micro Persuasion]"


Of course journalists are looking to blogs for information. Journalism is a profession of silently speaking for those without the mass media mouth. Blogs cut out that middle man; journalists must not only respect this, but report on it. Just because they report on everything, they don't know everything. They must research and communicate. They can't write a Trend Story based soley on what they enjoy or think - there has to be some communal interest, and community can span miles or continents.

Journalists cannot logically talk to every reader and citizen in their market. They must either find someone willing to speculate or track down the trends themselves. Some of the best speculative research is found in Google's hot searches tally. From there, one just follows links...eventually, you'll end up in a blog that references another blog that references another blog... Trend?

When journalists once could not talk to Joe Public, now he/she can read Joe's diary. A good journalist would nose around blogs just as quickly as he/she would peak at any and all loose papers lying around the president's desk.