Tag Archives: media

Quick Hits on deafness, Dowd and Donald

It’s been a crazy past few days in the world of Georgy, with events that I am still processing. In the meantime, here is some commentary on items that crossed my desk (or my RSS) in the past couple of days.

  • iPods can cause hearing damage! Now, as the commenters on this article argue, you can either say that this article gets written every 10 years for a different generation and is repetitive, or that it gets written every 10 years for a different generation and is a valuable reminder. But that doesn’t change the fact that the lead and headline are incorrect. iPods do not cause hearing damage; loud volume causes hearing damage. I know that iPods are becoming like Kleenex in that the brand is synonymous with the product (and, in some cases, just as disposable), but I don’t think we’re at that point of brand establishment yet with the iPod where an article like this doesn’t come off as confusing at best, misleading at worst. In addition, I’ll side with the commenters who feel that articles like this are not all that helpful.
  • Maureen Dowd caught plagiarizing! So, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has been the subject of some disdain from many corners over the years, was caught lifting a paragraph in her May 17 column nearly wholesale from a blog post by Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. Her explanation came swiftly, but also clunkily: it was a thought expressed by a friend of hers, and she wanted to weave it into her column. As Dan Kennedy tweets, “If MoDo is telling the truth, that’s the strangest goddamn way to write a column I’ve ever heard of.” He also raises the good point that at this moment, a decentralized mob of bloggers is laying the hammer down on her body of work, scouring it for duped passages and stolen phrases.

    The interesting thing here is the target. Josh Marshall is a blogger, yes, but he runs one of the most journalistically inclined blogs and news web sites out there. He’s also really, really popular, and TPM has not only become a mini media empire unto itself, but has some nice, MSM-approved hardware to show for that. Sure, there is some criticism of how he runs his operation, but the fact can’t be denied that in this age of evolving media, his model is something of a success story and is worthy of study, emulation and refinement. 

    That hardware? The George Polk Award? Was the first awarded to an online news organization. But in a sense, it was also awarded to his readership. Marshall and his staff of a half-dozen, give or take, are talented and hard-working, but it is really the loyal, tireless efforts of his readership — in scouring through public posted documents for incriminating bits, calling congressmen to get answers, sending in articesl from local coverage to fill in the blanks on a national story — that helped them win that award. It’s quite a machine, and it’s been put to good employ in a new model of journalism. The double-edged sword of this is that, with a prominent NY Times columnist accused of lifting a passage from Marshall and offering only a flimsy, if prompt, excuse as defense, that machine can now be put to the task of feeding Dowd’s entire career product through the wringer. Maybe they won’t find anything, maybe Dowd was lazy just this once and the rest of her columns, while of questionable quality, are original product. But maybe they will. If so, it will be undeniable that Dowd picked the wrong target.

    Some people say, why freak out over a paragraph? I won’t belabor the point, but in summary: the only thing journalism — online or off — has holding it up is its integrity, and if so much as a crack in that wall is left unattended, the consequences could be significant. We must be vigilant. It doesn’t mean ruining someone’s career or publicly vilifying them, but it means holding them accountable.

  • Donald Rumsfeld was fucking insane! Well, duh.

Globe Updates

So we still have a paper — for now. Most of the unions have met management conditions, but the Guild is holding out, presumably over the lifetime job guarantees they enjoy and that NYT Co. wants to take away.

The more closely I read the coverage, the more impressed I am with the Boston Herald’s reporting of this story. Sure, it’s easy to say that they’re motivated by the prospect of being the only show in town, but I haven’t found their coverage to be too gloating or gleeful. Even in this post where Jessica Heslam complains about the Globe reporter covering the negotiations begin given preferential treatment for workspace, I don’t perceive it as an idle dig. Maybe it’s because that despite working in hallways and on borrowed chairs, she and her counterparts are churning out informational articles like this one, that lay out the offer on the table and the possible scenarios from here on out.

There was lots of good reading today, actually. Dan Kennedy, in two posts, made a ton of salient points. Namely, that an industry built around the concept of deadlines and accurate reporting sure has a fuzzy grasp of those notions in the context of union negotiations. Also, America’s Paper of Record is doing a (understandably, I guess, but still) poor job of reporting its own story (heck, the Globe is not doing better by much), but overall there is less attention being paid to this story nationally than the shutdown of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News. Are we already inured to the demise of newspaper journalism?

Kennedy also links to this piece by former Globe staffer David Warsh, which provides some useful internal, historical perspective to this latest crisis, as well as critical observations on how decisions made by the NYT Co. affected the paper’s management and the direction of its coverage. The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein chimes with with a nice counterpoint to one aspect of Warsh’s argument that I find very poignant — the Globe would be in dire straits today even if it had been managed ably, simply because the model is no longer sustainable and the industry is in the middle of a shift few, if any, publications got ahead of.

Globe’s Fate Still Uncertain

Hours after a (second) midnight deadline, Globe unions are still negotiating with management and the paper’s fate is still up in the air. The biggest issue still on the table are the lifetime job guarantees enjoyed by some employees. The New York Times is waving around a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) that, if filed today, would shutter the paper in 60 days (though the order could be withdrawn if circumstances change).

The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam has been providing a relatively even-handed, on-site blog of the proceedings; her co-bylined story in today’s paper also provided a good overview of the events of the past 24 hours. The Globe’s story is somber, but thorough.

So, what’s going to happen? Well, I don’t think it matters. Either way, everyone loses. The Globe’s coverage has already been sliding into irrelevancy — thanks in no small part, I’m beginning to think, to its presentation on Boston.com, but also due to a sad parade of crappy lifestyle features and dwindling impactful local coverage. Layoffs are going to come out of this no matter what. And there is still no plan on the table for how to turn the Globe, online and in print, back into a meaningful, innovative, sustainable publication — in which case, why bother negotiating at all? It’s like two hungry men arguing over the chicken bones. There’s not much left to save.

Except, of course, potential. The Globe retains the potential to be amazing, and still manages exceptional journalism some days despite budget cuts and distractions as heavy as these negotiations. While the brand is still salvageable, let’s hope both parties find a way to capitalize on that potential to the benefit of all involved — employee, management and reader alike.

Stay tuned. I plan on checking in with Heslam’s blog throughout the day, as well as the Boston Herald and Boston.com homepages. UniversalHub is doing a good job aggregating coverage. Dan Kennedy at Media Nation should also have some interesting things to say, once the situation shakes out a bit.

Breaking News: You Might Not Be Around Tomorrow

Is it just me, or has there been a palpable lack of interest/outcry/fervor/what-have-you concerning the possibly imminent demise of The Boston Globe? I mean, people comment on articles (with mixed emotions, admittedly), and there are blog posts here and there, but I haven’t felt that “buzz” that usually permeates the air (actual and virtual) when a crisis is afoot. It’s weird.

With a midnight deadline looming, even on the Globe’s own site, the updated story about the ongoing negotiations is buried as the first link under the Business lead, way below the scroll:

Boston Globe management and its largest union are locked in high stakes negotiations as they pushed to meet a midnight deadline to reach agreement on millions of dollars in concessions from the unions, or risk the shutdown of the 137-year-old paper.

I mean, that sounds pretty dire, right? The story, of course, is leading on the Boston Herald’s site, and they also strike a pretty urgent tone:

Leaders of the Boston Globe press operators union say they are “gravely concerned” as the New York Times Co.’s threatened deadline to close The Boston Globe looms.

With just hours to go until the Times-imposed deadline of midnight tonight, the pressmen’s union had not reached an agreement with Times Co. management on the proposed budget cuts.

The Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly had a good piece in this week’s paper about the future of the Globe, giving an overview of the situation and impact of the paper’s demise. He touches on the rally held last week and really paints a sorry picture. First of all, rally? What rally? Apparently, this was the least publicized rally ever. Which goes to show how out of touch the folks in the newspaper industry are with the way the web works (as does the 39-year Globe employee who declared at the rally, “We want to get the whole story, not the tidbits from the Internet!”). Relatedly,I wonder how the blogger rally went?

(Also, note that their online petition is hosted on the union site, and is essentially an online form; there is no way for the public to gauge the momentum behind the cause.)

Basically, the impression I’ve gotten from the coverage is that the union is inept, the NYT Co. management is inept (since they flubbed the accounting that was an inherent part of their May 1 ultimatum, forcing the Globe unions to find an additional $4.5 million) and no one seems to care either way. I mean, is the Times threat that empty or that unlikely? Are people in denial? Does it even matter to anyone if the Globe lives or dies? I mean, I don’t have much insight on this. I’m honestly curious. Why the relatively weak reaction to this genuine crisis?

Maybe people are in the same state I am: half of me feels like the closure of the Globe is too ridiculous to happen, while the other half is almost resigned to it as an inevitable consequence of their failure to adapt. Call it corporate Darwinism. Sometimes, you need to blow up the model and start from scratch to survive, but the only strategy they seem to have is burning the wood to stay warm instead of making a raft to get the hell off the island.

Would the shutdown of the Globe create a void? Yes, of course, a tremendous one. Could it be filled? The fact that I can’t unequivocally say no, well, that means something. Maybe I’m just mad. I mean, they had a chance to get in on the ground floor of a partnership with Monster.com. That could have a been a game-changer, not just for the Globe, but for online classifieds and newspapers in general. Yes, it was the mid-90s, and the Internet was very new, but the communications world has been nothing over the course of history is not ever-evolving, and any self-respecting communications organization should have people on staff who are paid to see beyond the bottom line and the fiscal year, to chart the course for years and decades to come. If they had that person on board way back when, we might be in a very different position today. And I can’t help but hold that against them.

That said, while they’ve screwed up a bunch and let Boston.com become muddied by pageview-whoring and cash-grabs, they are a huge asset to the region. I truly hope that they not only survive, but find a way to innovate and thrive once more. And I hope that isn’t asking the impossible.

A Very Unscientific Swine Flu Coverage Analysis

You can’t get this kind of post-cereal, pre-shower analysis just anywhere, folks!

Anyhow, one of my favorite Twitterers is U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). I have found it very refreshing to get a first-hand look at what it’s like to be a senator, and I find her observations (all 140 chars. of them, admittedly) to be useful and refreshing. It’s kind of a shame, though, that the first place I heard a very important statistic was in her tweet:

Sec Napolitano & CDC briefed us at lunch re Swine flu. Amazd to find out we’ve36,000 deaths &200,000 hospitalzed a year in USA from reg flu.

Yup, 36,000. That’s a lot of people. No wonder they do flu vaccine pushes every fall.

I did a very cursory Google Reader search for “swine flu” and 36,000, and just over 1,800 stories come up. For “swine flu” alone? More than 103,000. That’s potentially less than one and a half percent of articles placing the situation in proper, CDC-sourced statistical context. Again, that’s a very blanket, unscientific glimpse at the coverage, but still–it gives a sense. While swine flu is blamed for about 150 deaths in Mexico since the outbreak began, 13,000 have been killed by the flu in the US this calendar year alone.

No fewer than 800 flu-related deaths were reported in any week between January 1 and April 18, the most recent week for which figures were available.

Let me quickly follow this up by saying that a somewhat assuaging statistic is not an excuse for letting down our guard. I’m not at all saying, “eh, ignore it, it will blow over” — this outbreak is concerning because it is a hybrid strain we cannot yet control, and it has affected otherwise young, health individuals (the vast majority of deaths from typical flu strains affect people over the age of 65) — but rather than alarming people, let’s just keep them informed and alert. There’s still a lot we don’t know, such as, why do early indications show the American strain as being less serious and fatal than the Mexican strain? We can’t be complacent — the reasons for this difference are still unknown, and there’s no taking comfort in a lack of knowledge. We also can’t politicize this matter. Sure, the removal of nearly $1 billion in pandemic preparedness funding from the stimulus package is cause for concern, but that is still a separate matter from the actual outbreak and measures being taken in relation to it — to politicize the response is to obfuscate the issue at hand. Right now, the CDC and the WHO have to do their jobs, citizens have to be informed and vigilant, and in the meantime, the media needs to report responsibly.

Of course, this morning, the first American death from swine flu is in the news. It’s tragic — a 23-month old from Texas — but again, context is key. It’s up to the reporters covering this story to keep us informed of that context, and to let us know when the sharp deviations start to emerge — that will be the real cause for concern.