Tag Archives: Newspapers

Stopping The Madness


When real news occurs technology and 24-hour access is a blessing. By patching together information from responsible radio sources, social chatter, and television visuals, we are able to piece together a reliable narrative. Our data gathering is confirmed and/or tweaked by the next morning’s newspaper. But when there is no more news, when we know what there is to know, the coverage still continues. The cameras and the microphone-wielding reporters scramble to create news after the fact.

Mobs of coffee swilling, logo wearing news personnel pass the time texting and chatting, waiting for a passerby to descend upon. They are rewarded for their perseverance by the person who desires to be photographed/interviewed. We could spend hours working out why anyone would want to place flowers on the ground while a swarm of dozens of camera people hover over one’s head. Perhaps it’s a similar motivation to wanting to go on record with “I didn’t really know him, he seemed different.” It’s odd but it is human nature to want to be part of something bigger.

But do we gain anything from the vulgar intrusion into people’s lives and the manufacturing of ‘news?’ The real events are usually horrific enough. No one need look for more horror. Every ‘expert’ frantically grabbed for a soundbite can pontificate from the news desk. If there is still news to come out of local offices, a reporter can be there and file the report the information. On-site cameras are not needed to report medical examiner reports or investigative results. Beside the stomach-turning element to covering mourning and grief is the danger of anesthetizing the public. While we don’t want to live in a state of perpetual sorrow, we most certainly don’t want to find ourselves numb and/or nonchalant about such horrific events. What is almost unthinkable is how the non-stop coverage can actually lead to more tragedy.

We can’t begin to ever really know what goes on in someone else’s mind. But we can look for clues and make educated guesses and predictions. A person ill at ease in the world, unable to connect with other people can retreat into a very dark world. If someone feels that they will never be able to be an active participant in life can look for ways to make their mark in death. No, it is not a simple equation and it by no means suggests that all socially awkward people retreat into darkness. But people who feel part of the world and valued by others wouldn’t look for ways to enact revenge on their path to death.

While there is no way to overstate that the time is now to rid our nation of guns and take mental illness seriously, it is also time to stop the media circus. Right now there is some compromised person watching this coverage and thinking of a way to become even more famous. The fact that I’m saying it doesn’t make it true, the fact that you feel it too, does.

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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing


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This Just In

There is much to love about new media and greater access to information. The average person (with high speed internet access) can view primary source news in real time throughout the day. If a consumer chooses to, he/she can avail him or herself to messaging from politicians or experts who fly somewhat below the mainstream radar. This level of accessibility democratizes the flow of information for both the source and for the user.

There is a downside to the immediacy and the abundance of the information. Lack of (or flawed) fact checking has become a serious issue both in legitimate journalism and in the blogosphere. Some of these slips are no doubt due to the speed of the news cycle. A certain percentage of slips are a product of ignorance of the very concept of fact checking. (There are a significant number of people who actually consider wikipedia to be a primary source.) It’s also worth a mention that the editing profession ain’t what it once was. One need only pick up a book published (by self or house) in the past few years to witness the change.

Another unfortunate fallout from the glut of information is all the information! It is challenging to weed through so much noise to get to what matters. Rumors or sensational (baseless) accusations turn into news; because quite frankly legitimate news outlets cannot afford to ignore a story everyone is talking/tweeting about. Stories that were once the purview of the National Enquirer, People or any other tabloid, now find themselves in the evening news and newspapers of record. These distasteful ‘stories’ diminish the news source for some viewers/readers. Consumers who have made a point of avoiding the magazines in doctor’s offices and television monitors in airports now find their sensibilities offended in new and distressing ways.

There was a time when people would read the local newspaper for which they felt an affinity. There were New York City newspapers in the double-digits and with multiple daily editions! The network evening news choices were dry and authoritative (the monkey was only on in the morning.) Consumers received their news via a highly filtered process. Somewhere between processed news and raw news lies a happy medium. The consumer is now the editor and very few of us are equipped to do our own fact checking or redlining.


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Media/Marketing


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And The Beat Goes On*

Have you heard the news?  The Encyclopedia Britannica is stopping the presses (see: changing marketplace.)  No doubt this is quite the blow to Britannica employees and door-to-door salesmen (see: Fuller Brush, Willy Loman.)  But perhaps this is actually not all bad news.

The encyclopedia had a hallowed place in many homes and hearts.  The (wonderful) film Ball of Fire (1941) updated the 7 dwarfs and their mighty leader, Gregory Peck, into encyclopedia wizards.  The quirky little brainiacs toiled for years, documenting every subject known to humankind.  It was a noble undertaking, and one made all the more enjoyable with the arrival of Barbara Stanwyck.  For decades, real-life families across the country paid for one volume of encyclopedic knowledge at a time.  The books; with their hard covers and lush pages, were displayed with pride in living rooms and dens.  For better or worse, schoolchildren used these volumes to complete homework assignments.  Those without (and there were/are plenty of those) made the trip to the library or relied on source material (a.k.a. parents) or turned in homework destined for less than an “A.”

Encyclopedias are a great source for cursory understanding of a subject, but there are now so many more of those.  With a few keystrokes endless source materials are at our fingertips.  Students (and others) can go directly to the U.S. government sites or the American Medical Association.  The very act of searching (a.k.a. researching) broadens the understanding of a subject.

Will some people confuse wikipedia with an authoritative (and fully vetted) source?  They already do.  Does the cessation of printing encyclopedias put disadvantaged students at a disadvantage?  Not in this day and age.  It’s a pretty safe bet that if a library has an up-to-date version of the encyclopedia on the shelves, they have computers and access to the internet as well.  I would posit that the elimination of the printed encyclopedia evens the playing the field a bit for students, if it weren’t for the fact that having them in the home is no longer a sign of special access to information.

Why is it even worth note you ask (assuming you don’t work in the printing or door-to-door sales professions?)  For the simplest of reasons: progress is sometimes quite progressive.  The shuttering of a theatre, restaurant or nightclub to make way for a food court or Sephora, is not progress, it’s just sad.  The erosion of demarcation between public space and private space is not progress, it just means I have to throw my body over my entree as the woman at the next table styles her hair.  The memory of salesmen, diaper service, milk delivery, Sheriff Taylor and his son Opie, fill us with a warmth and sense of safety.  Change (and growing pains) are always just a bit frightening and our instincts are to cling to vestiges of the past.  For proof, one need only witness an adolescent girl’s bedroom festooned with equal parts stuffed animals and mascara.

There once was a dizzying amount of New York (daily) newspapers, some of them having more than one edition a day.  It took awhile, but with technology we have that once again.  The insatiable human desire for information is part of our charm.  As long as our innovations keep pace with that need, we can say farewell to the past without too much angst.  For those who will miss those smooth, hefty burgundy books, just consider how much fun you’ll have convincing children that you used to have to walk to the library (in the snow, uphill, both ways) to learn who invented the printing press.

*Sonny Bono (1967)


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Wired Act

The other day a tweet arrived asking followers how they cope with the stress of a wired world.  I believe that the word “stress” was suggesting negativity in this instance.  My reply suggested that my wires are not my strings.  I find my wired (or more accurately; my “wireless”) world to be quite liberating.  I can control my communications and information far more than I ever did or could in the past.

In olden times, if one wanted to exchange information or pleasantries with a friend (in real time) one had to place or receive a call while both people were at home and near a phone (phones were often stationary devices.)  Calls often went on for extended periods of time as call waiting was yet to be invented.  One could romanticize this phenomenon or point out how it eroded actual social experiences and rendered relationships to nothing more than disembodied voices squawking at each other.  The telephone heralded the end of social calls and meaningful discourse.  It was the Facebook of its time.

No doubt, print and newspapers heralded the end of the town square and civic discourse.  Fine.  Progress is change, and change is uncomfortable.  Do I bristle at having to learn yet another platform or version of what was working perfectly fine thank you very much?  Of course.  But suggesting that having more access to information and people is stressful?  Well, that’s just irritating.  We aren’t fitted with some sort of Woody Allen Sleeper helmet (yet.)  If it’s all too overwhelming, turn it off.  But to suggest that our (current) advances in technology are anything beside access to information or communication is just silly.  There is nothing to demonize here.  Facebook didn’t create bullies, nature created bullies.  Technology did not erode teenagers morality or their sense of self.  It just broadcasts it.

Are there one (or two) generations who have a radically different attention span than their elders?  Most definitely.  Imagine what the attention span was of a generation raised on horse and buggies?  Personally, I’m more concerned about a generation who ends every sentence with a question mark.

I credit the (current) state of technology with the connectivity I now enjoy with extended family.  Elementary school friends, I assumed I would never again see, are back in my orbit.  It is a very satisfying feeling this sense of the continuity of life.  In fact, it is the opposite of alienating.  Technology quenches my thirst for research (and by “research” I mostly mean; “where do I know that actor from?”)  While they will have to wrestle my actual newspaper from my cold (deceptively strong) hands, I love that I don’t have to wait until morning to know what is happening.  The curated news streaming on my twitter feed was once only available to diplomats and really wealthy people.

All of the (literal) bells and whistles are muted on my devices.  They exist to serve me.  They allow me to feel connected to the world.  And the torch wielding villagers are not going to convince me otherwise.

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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Media/Marketing


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The White Hood Of The Web

There have always been people crouching behind barriers and throwing stones.  In an actual battle, this strategy is in fact prudent.  But when the stones are being thrown at unwilling participants it is abusive, and when the abuser is shielding him/herself it is bullying.  (Bullying is by definition an abuser preying on a weaker person.  Hiding offers protection, exposure leaves one weaker.)

Since the dawn of time, or since there were enough people on the planet to adequately ostracize some of them; people have bullied other people.  Often groups decide that someone, or groups of someones are a threat to the status quo.  The group itself gives rise to an enthusiasm and sense of protection for the abusers.  Persecution of women in Salem, backlashes to integration and voting rights, gay bashing; we have a rich national history of bullying,  And it’s getting worse.

We are in a time of economic uncertainty, political polarization, political correctness pressure and the internet.  People have not become more or less decent, they just may feel more threatened.  Nothing gets the bully’s goat like threat.  But what brings the simmering increase of abuse to the boiling point is the rise of technology.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and countless website comment sections, have allowed for a new form of white hood.  There is a vile cocktail of exhibitionism and hatred that litters the comment sections of legitimate news outlets.  For some reason web editors and/or executives are allowing their brand to be a platform for hate groups.  These posters use tragically uncreative screen names to hide behind, while rabidly posting.  The unsuspecting reader is affronted with spewing from people calling themselves by war criminal’s names.

I am willing to concede, that just like wildly offensive television programming, the viewer can avoid the offensive material pretty easily.  But I am concerned about the news outlets sense of responsibility and integrity.  Offensive and abusive comments on Facebook and Twitter can easily be blocked and ignored as well.  Even bloggers can block nasty commenters with ugly agendas.  But where does this leave us?

The fact that we can protect ourselves from these high tech hooded thugs, doesn’t address the real issue.  Why are we allowing people to hide in plain sight.  Newspapers have long made it de rigueur to only publish letters from individuals with confirmed identities.  Make no mistake, I am not advocating restraints on free speech.  Far from it.  But surely we have the technology to expose these people?  The rest of us non-software engineers, should ignore the comments (versus engaging) and not patronize sites whose management allows for this behavior.  People are entitled to be as dark and hateful as they desire, but civilized societies should not allow for them to do so in disguise.

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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing


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