Cool on the web, er, the Times

I rarely get to spend as much time as I would like on the web these days, which is why I find myself, after a week of field reporting for my summer reporting fellowship, doing just that on a Friday night. Here are some interesting things I just might have missed if I had better things to do right now. Come to think of it, everything here is from the Times.

  • The New York Times’ photojournalism blog “Lens” has some great photos up right now. There is one of costumed mermaids that is particularly cool. There is something fun about looking at photos from all over  in the same place. It definitely conveys how wild this world is. I used to enjoy looking at photo books from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when I would stay at my aunt’s when I was younger. Unlike looking at contemporary photos, it all seemed to have the overarching theme of “This was the ’70s. Look how out there people were.” Wonder how the aughts will seem in future photobooks…
  • David Brooks has an article about Barack Obama’s Cairo speech that says its themes are Chicago in nature. “Chicagoans like to see themselves as pragmatists, not ideologues,” he says. “That means they contain both sides of The Great Tension. In Chicago, there is a tension between the lakefront and the neighborhoods inland. The lakefront tends to be idealistic, earnest and liberal. The neighborhoods are clever, cautious and Machiavellian.” There’s some truth to this generalization–and how Chicago of me to call it that. I think Obama’s rhetoric is so soaring not because it is idealistic, but because it isn’t. How often does a politician get as real with us, as Obama often does? One of his most popular lines of a speech, from the Democratic Convention in 2004, “We worship an ‘awesome God’ in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States” amounts to a statement of reality, not aspiration. Oftentimes, I feel Obama is reminding people how the world is, not how it should be. If this makes him Chicago, and if I, by virtue of being a Chicagoan can identify with this at all, then that’s cool with me.
  • The New York Times could have had the scoop on Watergate, according to a former reporter and an editor from the paper. Instead, the Grey Lady let it slip to the Washington Post. This story made me feel better as a new journalist who often wonders when to pursue stories: even the best paper doesn’t follow up on every worthwhile lead. Lesson: it’s worth it to do so, if you can. But it’s good enough that Woodward and Bernstein broke the news.
  • $125,000 for teachers? Check it out.
  • Why blogs go defunct. I love the lead of this article. And I’m proud to say I have pretty regularly-updated this blog since I began it in March of 2004.

The New York Times, Me: not with it

The New York Times apparently just discovered the neti pot.

And I just discovered Susan Boyle (and can’t believe what an Internet phenomenon she is. It is actually kind of scary how this video has swept the world. She could probably be a fascist dictator if she wanted).

O’Reilly challenges Columbia j-school’s reputation. We’re through.

To think that the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine that has been sitting in my mailbox in the basement of the journalism school gathering dust, could provoke such a thorough condemnation of the school from Bill O’Reilly is pretty ridiculous.  Columbia “used to be the best j-school in the country, but it has become a hotbed of liberal activism these days,” O’Reilly said on his show last week as he began ripping into an article from CJR.  Never mind that the students at the j-school do not write for CJR.

Even more ridiculous, O’Reilly has one of his minions follow the editor of CJR, Mike Hoyt, onto his bus in New Jersey to hound him about why he had someone from the magazine the Nation write for CJR, after Hoyt earlier told the Factor he did not have time to prepare to appear on the show that week. The outrage of the whole segment seems forced and phoned in. I think it is just O’Reilly’s attempt to promote his alma mater, Boston University.

By the way, even more ridiculous, O’Reilly follows that by giving a scolding to the paparazzi for hounding Miley Cyrus.  Jon Stewart did a brilliant send-up of the whole thing last night.

Revolting word of the moment: “branding”

“Branding” is such an overused verb these days.   “Re-branding” seems to be the solution for any product/person/place that is somehow faltering.  A few examples:

“Re-branding is a new approach to quality service.” [PanArmenian Net]

“Be Berlin?: The ‘poor but sexy’ city starts re-branding” [Gridskipper]

“The successful outcome of branding is the creation of an instant recognition and emotional connection with desired audiences.” [USC Upstate]

It is a word that signifies style over substance; in fact, it infects substance with an inane style that does not respond to a problem.  For instance, taking the first example, would quality service really be solved by “re-branding?”  If there is a problem with service quality, does not that speak to the need to actually address what is going wrong in the service chain rather than trying to spin things as going right because the brand has been re-done? 

What I fear in my near future attempt to be a journalist is that I will get sucked into the world of marketing language, a meaningless vortex of outward sheen and inner vagueness.

Newsweek vs. The Economist

The New York Observer covers a talk from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who implores a Columbia journalism student to read his publication, not The Economist, because he has more reporters doing hard work in Iraq.  I can agree that the The Economist perhaps gets more credit than it deserves from some of its educated readers for being an authority, considering it covers the news in rather broad strokes.  We cannot really expect that a publication that covers all regions of the world could do so at an in depth level.  Hopefully Economist readers understand that the magazine is not the objective source that its byline-free, uninflected tone portrays.  As one commenter on the Observer puts it:

Why are you guys reading the Economist and not Newsweek? Both mags present inaccurate, superficial glosses on far flung countries’ issues—the only difference is that The Economist covers more countries. Oh ya, also The Economist is a sad attempt to prove that the British Oxbridge viewpoint on the world’s wogs matters even in a post Empire universe.

That’s not to say I have any desire to start reading Newsweek.  In my opinion, it went downhill long ago. I’d much rather read The Economist any day.

Useless pundits

I couldn’t agree more with Jay Rosen:

And according to Blitzer, Obama’s speech boils down to a “pre-emptive strike” against various attacks on the way: videos, ads, and news controversies that are sure to keep Reverend Jeremiah Wright and “race” in play as issues in the campaign. (I don’t have his exact words; if someone out there does, ping me.)

Wasn’t the speech about that very pattern?

This is the style of analysis–and the level of thought–we have become miserably utterly used to, especially from Blitzer, but also many others on TV: everything is a move in the game of getting elected, and it’s our job in political television to explain to you, the slightly clueless viewer at home, what the special tactics in this case are, then to estimate whether they will work.

That Blitzer, offered the first word on that speech, did the savvier-than-thou, horse race thing tells you about his priorities (mistakenly “static,” as Obama said about Wright) and his imaginative range as an interpreter of politics (pretty close to zero.)

It isn’t often that a politician makes a speech that treats the audience like people capable of thinking with complexity and consideration.  Its even less often that pundits treat their audience this way.

Glen Greenwald is so good

I wish every political journalist was as meticulous as Salon’s Glen Greenwald.  First, he points out the baseslessness of the accusations that Barack Obama’s real estate partnership with Tony Rezko was nefarious, after surveying every article on the subject that he could find:

The only substantive connections Obama and Rezko have is that the latter was a contributor to Obama’s campaign and was a partner in a standard residential real-estate purchase which nobody suggests, at least in terms of Obama’s conduct, was anything but above-board. But Rezko himself has a sinister-sounding, villain-like last name and is of Syrian origin, which, for multiple reasons, helps build the shallow media drama.

But Obama isn’t even accused of — let alone proven to have engaged in — any wrongdoing at all.

In another post, he scrutinizes accusations that the media is too easy on Obama

The reality is that the Clinton campaign has been complaining bitterly for months and months that the media has not subjected Obama to any real critical scrutiny. For the most part, that fell on deaf ears. The only thing that has changed over the past couple of weeks is that the right-wing noise machine, which now sees Obama as the likely Democratic nominee, began complaining just as bitterly that the media is “in the tank” for Obama. That is what moves them. As Harris himself wrote in his own book, it is Drudge — not Howard Wolfson or SNL — who rules their world.

 and spotlights a recent, disgusting episode in which journalists were feted at the McCain estate in Arizona:

But just behold all the great investigative reporting, all the reactive tension, all the aggressive scrutiny those claims have spawned. Why, just this weekend, these prideful reporters went to “McCain’s ranch” and, in exchange for having him cook them some ribs and chicken and give them a grand tour of the property, agreed to have the event just be a fun, playful social affair where no real questions would be asked (as though the Straight Talk Express tour is ever something other than that).

Columbia Journalism Review on the brigadier general uproar

CJR has a similar view on the issue of the gay brigadier general:

The YouTube debates are a new forum and everybody has his own interpretation of who exactly constitutes a member of the Joe Schmo public. CNN is understandably touchy about this subject, not wanting to turn the mike over to rabidly partisan questioners. But the case of Brigadier General Kerr is not as problematic as it is being made out to be by the right-wing blogs.

Kerr was asking legitimate question, not of the “gotcha” variety. He was not put up to it by anyone. He submitted his own YouTube video, and told CNN the following day that it was “a private initiative on my own.” All of this, in my book, should qualify him to ask a question as a member of the public without any need for disclaimers.

[...]

Where does it end? Does CNN need to weed out of the audience anyone who has ever attended a Democratic rally or flipped through Barack Obama’s book at a Barnes and Noble?

The gay brigadier general controversy

Besides making “gay brigadier general” a familiar phrase, the controversy over Keith H. Kerr’s affiliation with the Clinton campaign has made CNN “redouble its efforts to vet the campaign affiliations of questioners at open-forum debates” (New York Times). What seems to be missing in this uproar is that Kerr is a citizen of the United States first and an involved one at that. Since when did being part of a political campaign blacklist someone from asking candidates a question that has nothing to do with propagandizing about one’s own candidate or slandering an opponent.

At some point, having political allegiances became a sign not of one’s civic involvement and awareness but of some insidious bias. I currently support Barack Obama. Does that mean that I am suddenly not eligible to ask the Republican candidates or the Democratic candidates, for that matter, about their opinions on gays in the military? Can someone tell me how one’s working or volunteering for a candidate suddenly nullified that person’s interest in getting candidates’ answers to questions about issues?

The way the media writes about it, it is as if Kerr was wired to be a Hillary supporter rather than that he arrived at it after consideration of various candidates’ positions, as if Kerr is an automaton and not a thinking person. Again, I would argue that often times, those who have figured out which candidate to support are the ones thinking most about the issues in an election and therefore offering up the most thoughtful questions.

O’Reilly absurdity

Since yesterday, I have developed a newfound appreciation of Bill O’Reilly. I never really realized before how funny he is, especially when he interviews absurd people. For instance, he once pitted an elementary school principal against rapper Cam’ron and rap producer Damon Dash to look at the impact of rap videos on children, a favorite topic of his. O’Reilly seems to particularly enjoy these cultural pieces where he can make the easy point that rap videos show depraved activity and could set a bad example for children. Plus, he gets ridiculous response from his guests, like this one from Cam’ron, who’s trying to justify what he does:

What I do is I write what goes on in the ghetto, I’m not a liar, so what I tell you goes on in my album, that’s what goes on in the streets of Harlem . Now, I’m like a reporter. you look at the news; you don’t get mad at the person reporting the news.

O’Reilly goes on to confront Cam’ron about what kind of example he sets. The response, from Dash and Cam’ron is hilarious and proves that you haven’t made it as a rapper until you have your own scent.

Damon Dash: If an 11-year-old were to imitate Cam’ron, what they would be doing is they becoming a CEO of their own company, controlling their own destiny, taking a bad situation and making it good. Um, he has a record company, he sold a lot of records, he’s acted in movies,

Cam’ron: I have a cologne also.

Damon Dash: He has cologne. He’s an entrepreneur by his own right.

In addition, O’Reilly gets to describe, with Church Lady-esque pleasure, the activities that he finds harmful for children to see:

What if he uses four-letter words, and he develops a lifestyle based upon the street? He gets tatooed, he gets all this–

Plus, O’Reilly apparently thinks that The Terminator is a cartoon.

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