Sunday, October 31

LondonTimes goes tabloid after 216 years

LondonTimes goes tabloid after 216 years (Haaretz): "The venerable Times of London published its final edition as a broadsheet newspaper yesterday. Tomorrow, it relaunches as a tabloid. The Times is the second British newspaper to move to a smaller, more commuter-friendly format in a bid to reverse slumping sales. 'This is a significant moment in the 216-year history of The Times,' editor Robert Thomson said Friday. Sales for Britain's broadsheet newspapers have been falling over the past few years. The Independent switched to the smaller format in September 2003 and has seen its sales grow by almost 20 percent."

A sign that the laptop has replaced the spread-out broadsheet as the preferred medium of armchair users? I suppose that once high-resolution lenses and directional mikes came in, spies no longer needed broadsheets to hide behind as they surveil you in caf�s. Here in New York, the trend seems to be toward the free mini-tabloids they hand out by subway stations. First the NY Post lowered its price to $0.25, now this.

The debate rages, of course, over whether the forces of tradition will ever accept it--see the Guardian's "Good Times, Bad Times?" They said the same thing when color was added to the New York Times, but that went over pretty darn well.

I don't know about you, but the papers I still pick up to read over coffee are mainly the local ones, like The Brooklyn Papers and The Brooklyn Rail and the Village Voice. Maybe the great nationals and internationals are going to have to evolve in the direction of the AP, become syndicators of their newsroom product. They need to do something to keep those great teams of reporters together, though. And maybe a paper like the NY Times should try to become less useless as a source of local news. That might bring us back in ...

Saturday, October 30

Attention to Detail

Source: I Hate My Cubicle, who picked it up from the Associated Press. Read more. Now, that is some excellent attention to detail, and a nice use of infographics to boot. Good going!

Friday, October 29

Yo' Mama, Osama

Al-Jazeera Broadcasts Tape by Bin Laden. Yes, he's baaaaack. In a way, I suppose the whole thing is really a corollary of the "be the media" phenomenon, isn't it? A camcorder, a network of foot messengers (and a well-founded reputation for mass murder) and you can pull off an impeccably timed little PR coup like this one.

It makes me laugh a little bit--the other emotions simmer below the surface. Reminds me, for some reason, of a funny skit on Brazil's "Casseta e Planeta" about Osama living in a favela as the hen-pecked husband of a bossy fat lady ...

Gonna be an interesting weekend of TV, I'm guessing. I liked the fact that Yahoo rang my cell phone as soon as it learned of the news, within 15 minutes of the al-Jazeera broadcast ...

The Copy Desk Nods

Kerry Campaign Seizes on Halliburton Probe (AP):
After days of trying to make political hay over lost Iraqi explosives, the Democratic ticket turned Friday to an FBI probe of Halliburton as evidence of Bush administration special favors to special interests. President Bush was campaigning in actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Can we all just take a deep breath here, please? Unless by some Philip K. Dickian process of soul transfer the consciousness of W now resides in the cyborg body of the California governator, this rush bulletin is missing the words "Ohio with" after "in" and before "Arnold."

You know, you can get the President's campaign itinerary on the Web, it's not like you're breaking the Hindenburg disaster, okay? Slow down!

But then again, don't beat yourself up: tish happens.

RIP Sushi

Our Brazilian gatucada has suffered another sad loss with the passing away of sweet Sushi, the white-nosed critter in the cat mandala shown above, following surgery on the bile duct, in S�o Paulo, SP, Brazil. In fact, I think that only Alladin (tabby, top) and Xuxu (not pictured) still survive from the original standing army of Vila Beatriz felines maintained by my wife, Neuza.

Branquinho (dog, top) is fine, however, though he still hasn't found the courage to oust Duquesa from his little doggy bed.

Photo source: The Hairy Eyeball, my old personal travel and unemployment blog.

ABC News: Alleged American Al Qaeda Warns of U.S. Attacks

Alleged American Al Qaeda Warns of U.S. Attacks.

Oh, now there's a piece of breaking news: "Bin Laden determined to attack within United States," as the August 2001 presidential intelligence briefing put it. We New Yorkers got the news about a month later. There's plenty of video of that event: Let's run that now and call it breaking news.

Shocking: Al-Qaeda makes videos containing threats! Hell, I've seen media kits on the Internet with al-Qaeda logos and other materials for DYI productions. I bet if I worked at it for a few days even I could gin something up along these lines. You can buy keffiyehs from street vendors in New York. And it's legal to own AK47 assault rifles again, isn't it?

The interesting thing here is that the tape is apparently produced in English, although ABC doesn't explicitly say so in the print introduction. It would be a fact worth emphasizing: Al-Qaeda propaganda has always been directed at Arabic-speaking audiences in the past, and designed to, as the election pundits here like to say, "rally the base." (The Arabic term al-Qaeda actually means "the base.") They don't make threats: They just say "We all need to attack America. Anybody interested in helping out, call Aiman at Kandahar 6-5000."

The guy's pronunciation of Arabic names doesn't sound especially authentic, either. My prime suspect: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

I love the way the segment segues into an ad for Hewlett-Packard showing the streets of New York.

ABC: Allegation Broadcasting Corporation. The other top headline on their site today: "Video Suggests Explosives Disappeared After U.S. Took Control." Let's just have a special edition of Nightline in which we gather together the Swift boat veterans, the Area 51 fanatics, the Nazi skinheads, and every other media-savvy group of kooks in the world who wants to get in the limelight before Tuesday. Surely what they have to say is more relevant than reviewing the platforms and records of the candidates and fact-checking their stump speeches.

This has been a pointless rant, we now return you to your normally scheduled grammar and usage blogging. I will promise this, as a humble news-gathering colleague of the big networks: I hereby pledge to approve no stories for the rest of the year with words like "alleged" and "suggests" in the headline. And I won't pay the "transportation costs" of my sources, either. I mean, I'll have to check with my boss, but I think he'll probably agree with me.

Thursday, October 28

Thursday Curbside Commuter Report

this is an audio post: click to play

Me pre-coffee, audioblogging en route to the subway because the old folks at home said Moms really digs it! Somehow it floated around the system again for 8-9 hours before popping up here, like a hangover of this morning's hangover ....

The Geek Plural and Other Passive-Digressive Woolgathering

Public-service pedantic correction of the day applies to the post from Many 2 Many that begins:
Bottom-up phenomena has accelerated in recent years because of social software.

It would be smug of us to repeat the usual lecture about the Greek and Latin neuter plurals, so we'll rehearse it silently to ourselves. Suffice it to say that 'phenomena'--the token, not the type--is plural. An exception is 'phenomenons' in the sense of extraordinarily talented people: "With Jeter and Rodriguez in the infield, the Yankees lineup boasts the two hottest young phenomenons in the league."

Is there an accelerating increase in the number of bottom-up phenomena? Or is it the bottom-up phenomenon itself that is accelerating?

"Bottom-up" may be the emptiest bit of current consultant-speak I know of, by the way. Crud flowing uphill, that's the image it awakens in my mind's eye. Whatever happened to good old "emergent"?

The stickier question is why the phrase 'the phenomena accelerated' thunks so harshly on the rosy porches of our downy ears, like brass knuckles wrapped in the evening newspaper.

Doesn't seem like to you that it's processes that slow down or speed up? Phenomena--"mutable, caused, or developing aspects of things as contrasted with their fixed and substantial natures"--are signs of process, documented instances whose orderly relations justify the hypothesis of a process that generates them. They're contingent data points, you could say, but not the curve that connects them.

It's a real can of worms, of course. God forbid we should get into a discussion of Husserl and Heidegger on a deadline day! But don't you agree? Sure, a phenomenon grows or takes off or reaches critical mass or becomes entrenched--in that sense, in the singular, it's a synonym for "trend" or "tendency"--but in either case, it seems to belong more to the order of being than of becoming. It has no beginning or end: it simply is. What waxes or wanes is our awareness of it, based on the accumulation of signs that call our attention to some possible, still-hypothetical pattern.

Now. Should we call the coming wave of litigation discussed in our front-page story a "sh*tstorm" or a "tsunami"? A "bloodbath"? "Legal vendetta"? The commission's "judicial Waterloo'? Gotta sex this stuff up a little, my brain is starting to fog.

The Internet Makes You Smarter

From Ascribe, The Public Interest Newswire:
As wired Americans increasingly go online for political news and commentary, a new survey finds that the internet is contributing to a wider awareness of political views during this year's campaign season. This is significant because prominent commentators have expressed concern that growing use of the internet would be harmful to democratic deliberation. They worried that citizens would use the internet to seek information that reinforces their political preferences and avoid material that challenges their views. That would hurt citizens' chances of contributing to informed debates. The new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Information survey belies those worries. It shows that internet users have greater overall exposure to political arguments, including those that challenge their candidate preferences and their positions on some key issues. The conclusions were drawn after respondents were asked if they ever heard some of the major arguments for and against George Bush and John Kerry, the Iraq war, gay marriage, and free trade. Consistently, internet users, especially those with broadband connections, had encountered the most arguments, including assertions that contested their views. That was true after statistical tests were performed that controlled for other factors, such as the reality that internet users have higher levels of education than non-users and are generally more interested in politics.

I keep telling my worried friends, at home and abroad: No matter what differences I--a New York City soffisticut--have with the mainstream of my fellow Americans, I still have faith in their common sense and decency. I believe most of us are going to see the jingoistic noise machine for what it is, I really do. If a hundred million of us just vote our pocketbooks and civil liberties, we're gonna be all right. Just my personal dumb-ass opinion and reason to be cheerful for the day.

Polling Place

Not sure where you're supposed to go to vote? Check My Polling Place Dot Com. Someone trying to interfere with voting rights in your neck of the woods? Download the Election Protection card (PDF) and distribute. Hang on to your red white and blue top-hat: Here we go, America.

Wednesday, October 27

Viral Fox Propaganda Alert

Fast Company jumps on the bandwagon of the benevolent, useful fox: the fox of fire.

When Rob Davis, a relatively new hire at Minneapolis-based PR firm Haberman & Assoc., was hit by a virus on his home PC, he didn't just clean up his hard drive, he started using a new browser, encouraged all of his colleagues to do the same--and launched a national campaign to promote his new browser of choice.

It's the Spread Firefox project. Funny, I feel almost as passionate about evangelizing this fox as Rupert Murdoch about his underhanded Bush-y-tailed tactics on Fox.

Internet Explorer, the George W. Bush of browsers. Spread the meme!

Tuesday, October 26

Public Flublic

Ouch. Source: Regret the Error. That is, it was the source of the citation of the error, not the error itself, which was committed by the normally meticulous Christian Science Monitor. Oh, the hell in an 'l' ...

Rupert Murdoch: Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

Headline of the hour: "Rupert Murdoch: Fox Not Biased for Bush" (

See also, then hold your sides to keep from exploding what with all that bitter laughter. Fox has regularly declined to attend industry conferences on its journalistic ethics.

The worst news is that NEWS Corp. is coming over here to stay, tranferring its incorporation papers to Maryland. Why is an Australian allowed to interfere in the domestic politics of the United States, you ask? Why do we let the Rev. Sun Myung Moon own newspapers and television outlets? Getulio Vargas of Brazil was probably wise when he outlawed foreign ownership of the nation's media back in the 1940s.Sounds harsh, but there: I said it.

Monday, October 25


Big news around our shop today is the SIA Business Continuity Planning Conference2004. Sounds quite boring, but look at the titles of the sessions: "Cyber Terrorism: Fact or Fiction"; "Failure Is Not An Option," from the flight director who brought Apollo 13 home; "Cascading Effects"; "Workforce Distribution for Business Continuity" (do we get combat pay for working near the center of the dart board?); "The Media?s Approach to Disaster Events" with famed Chicago journalist Pete Hamill; "Business Continuity Planning in the Face of the Unthinkable"; "Al Qaeda: A View From The Inside."

Any conference combining grid computing concepts and the thought processes of Salafi holy warriors makes for deep thinking, I'm sure.

I took advantage of a slight lull on my end to lunch with Ivan Lerner, Burroughsian standup comic and speciality chemicals editor at a trade magazine from one of those HEAVY industries. We're old Sagehens and Alpha Gamma Six Sigma radiation fellow sufferers. Published a stud of Ivan's career profile on the Morning News once, check it out. Mutual dining with significant others in the classic bridge-or-pinochle configuration was penciled in.

I can't help looking at the faces of the Middle Americans piling on to the double-decker busses for their tours of the Gaping Hole in the Ground and the Sanctum Sanctorum at Wall and Broad and thinking, Are these people going to go home, votie for Bush, and then eat canned goods in the fallout shelter until the Rapture arrives? I told Ivan the story of my 1980s friend the Rahneeshee who went to Oregon for the end of the world and then came back with his worldview bruished and deep sheepishness in his eyes.

I actually managed to donate money wirelessly from my Axim to today from a T-mobile hot spot at one of the four Starbucks within a block of where I work. We are the Starbucks mecca, oh yes, a place where brainy, highly paid, extremely tense people emerge from a hole in the ground where the Dutch used to bowl. Gyms and Starbucks and Murder Ink, a downtown outpost of Shakespeare & Co., the bookstore.

Even used mobile Skype (!) to ring up my friend the Monkey Woman, who is canvassing for Kerry in poor neighborhoods in Pittsburg and having encounters with GOP flying squads looking to challenge voter credentials. Oh, this is going to be some freak show, my friends. Ivan and I talked about B horror films that can arguably be said to have prophesied these times: Omega Man was my candidate.

The NYPD was having one of its flying squad practice maneuvers this morning, where they bum rush a city street (State Street by Battery Park in this case) with about 30 squad cars. Only sign of belligerent response to severe breaches of the new global order. Not a Hercules cop in sight, and people lining up peacably for halal rice and lamb just like every day.

Our correspondent in Shanghai who cannot report on where she is because her credentials are still lost in ... bureaucracy, not the T-word ... points out that we are calling her the Technology Correspondent on Asia stories and Asia Correspondent on stories that are both or neither ... My one accomplishment today was to finagle system admin rights for our poor, long-suffering copy editor, who is a Mac man anyway. He now controls his own box and can install IM. I want everyone to have it.

I also discovered my Windows 2000 box was three Service Packs down and no one was pushing them out from the central IT command center like I thought. The whole thing is just so ... Classic Wintel Fubar. So I ran all the updates and now my machine is running good ... except that Adobe Reader croaked. Freak! Oh, well, I have discovered the joy of RepliGo for viewing PDFs on the PDA. Cool! I can carry around half a gig of basic planning docs and schedules and stuff and have my head in the game anywhere.

I can't find this amazing doggerel on writing headlines I saw on a copy editor's blog recently ... more of that later. Cat is currently licking my head and I carted home a story to read after my post-dining nap ... Using quotes to advance the exposition of a story is my editor's gripe of the week, by the way ...

Sunday, October 24


Two tech-related gripes: Axim 802.11x connectivity is a mess, and the manual seems to be outdated, referring to menus on the little piece of junk that don't exist. I can't get it to recognize my Linksys wireless router at home or authenticate itself on the T-mobile network. I may have to do a hard reset and start all over. The pop-up block on the new version of Firefox is a pain in the butt. I guess I should submit a bug report like a good Netizen. I turned the feature off because it would not all Javascript bookmarklets like BlogThis! and to open new windows. But it still blocks them, even after I restart the browser. Hmmm. Ain't that always the way: Improvement is just another name for the introduction of new bugs.

Saturday, October 23

POTS Calling Kettle of Fish

this is an audio post - click to play Recorded this audioblog post at 7:20 a.m. and it did not appear until 1:15 p.m. Where have my pre-coffee mumblings from Eastern Parkway been keeping themselves all this time? Nothing of substance, just something to e-mail to the Mrs. down South American Way.

Order and Progress

I told myself I would be stopping by the office today to use the quiet weekend hours to get organized, but of course I wind up hacking around with my Axim 30x instead. Actually, I am uploading some basic documents like the editorial calendar and draft 2005 editorial plan to cart around with me: I guess that counts as a step towards order and the internalization of the rhythms of this enterprise.

I signed up with T-Mobile, too. I can office at Starbucks around the corner or down on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Problem is how long the battery lasts in WiFi mode! I'll have to order a couple of extras, I guess. And have I already left the stylus at home when I went out? Yes, of course.

I want to build a file for each beat that we cover, similar to the one a sector analyst builds. Know the players, scan the news, etc. The wiki embedded in our portal seems good for that. Syncing directly from portal to PC and PPC is my dream, of course.

The real challenge is getting the human beings to actually use the system, of course.

I need a haircut and my socks are smelly. As if you needed to know that.

Blogumentary Debuts

Blogumentary will have its star-studded premiere at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis on Nov. 5:

Two years in the making. One-hundred-seventy billion dollars. Ninety-six thousand interviews. Four bajillion hours of footage. One man. Thirteen Girls. No sleep. And a three-legged dog with sunglasses

Chuck has been posting footage as he gets it for a couple years or so now. Take this clip of Jeff Jarvis, the blog apostle. It seems a bit dated now, in terms of Internet time--Trent who?--but it definitely embodies the rogue DYI spirit.

Friday, October 22

PressThink: He Said, She Said, We Said

PressThink: He Said, She Said, We Said from PressThink, a blog by NYU's Jay Rosen. The subject came up recently in reference to our coverage of a panel attended by an industry figure known for being colorful and delivering straight talk. I wanted more who and why: a more thorough briefing on the rhetorical triangle of the statements made, which you need to fully evaluate and appreciate them.

I get prickly on this point, which crops up fairly often in a business where one pays--and earns--by the word. It's often easiest to let the words of an interview subject speak for themselves, and even carry the exposition of the story. I hear the argument that to do otherwise would be to "editorialize." But unless you run a transcript of the interview or panel--in which case you would need only a tape recorder and a typist, not a reporter--there's no use pretending you're not trying to boil it down and put it in context merely by selecting the meaty parts and leaving out the yada yada yada. And when you're talking to some tech geek speaking in shorthand while drawing on an imaginary whiteboard, you need to make judicious use of paraphrase for the sake of your earthling readers.

Isn't that exactly what your reader wants? You put in the hours and kilowatts of mental energy so the reader gets the straight gist in a 30-second read. And if you sense possible shennanigans, you give the reader enough instant replay to make the call themselves.

Thursday, October 21

Reading off the Marketing Radar

Matt Haughley, the Oregon Web developer behind Metafilter--who blogs on his own account at A Whole Lotta Nothing--is cited as an example of a behavior I find myself engaging in, in the lead graph of a BusinessWeek article on the economics of "content."

Matt Haughley, a Web developer in Portland, Ore., registered for access to The New York Times' Web site years ago -- he can't remember when exactly. But he does recall patiently plowing through questions about his household income and his job title. Then, either he forgot his password or the Times lost his records. He was locked out of the site, and he wasn't about to go through the aggravation of filling out another lengthy registration form. Instead, Haughley found that someone else had voluntarily posted his or her own registration information online -- on a message board or a blog, perhaps even his own mega-blog, Thanks to the shared information, Haughley avoided the bother of registering again. "Who wants to fill this [stuff] out," he says. "I just want to read your dumb story."

Automatic form fill-in keeps me logged into the Grey Lady and the WaPo, but I have given up on the Tribune and the L.A. Times. I find them very passive-aggressive, these registration screens. It's as if you're saying, "Well, you can't expect the seamless usability and portability of stacked and folded newsprint if you're not going to help us make back our distribution costs by paying for something, now can you?"

Less technically adept than some, I generally register my discontent by misrepresenting myself as a 95- or 12-year-old female from Arkansas or Afghanistan with a net worth of over $100 million. Funny, I was just talking with Omar the art director today about how all the value in media companies resides in their databases.

The site Haughley uses to bypass compulsory registration is Bug Me Not, which you can also install as an extension to Firefox or the late, great IE.

We were just talking about setting up a blog for our publication and reserving posting privileges for subscribers. See, that I understand: I'm willing to identify myself and stand behind my words when I going to write something on your site. But to go through the hassle just for the sake of reading your daily fishwrap? I can usually pick up used copies on the subway. And there are these aggressive old-school newsies handing out free papers at the strategic Bowling Green stop. I can, and do, read bits and pieces of dozens of newspapers a day now. The magic of RSS lets me mix and match. I still like to feel in my hand how much free paper you get with the Village Voice, or find the Nation or Harpers in the snail mailbox, but the fact is that with electronic distribution I can transcend the limits imposed by print distribution, which frees me to pursue and expand my own standards of quality in the realm of daily prose. The Scotsman covers the same international stories most papers do, and I like the writing. I can follow the newspaper wars in Rio de Janeiro and S�o Paulo, then turn straight to the Brooklyn Papers for the latest on Metro Tech. If you flub a story that the WaPo gets right, I am thinking of the WaPo first the next time the subject comes up.

In other words, best practices are not something I have to go to a conference to watch PowerPoint slides about anymore: I can build case studies at will in my tabbed browser just by starting from Google News and draw my own conclusions.

Moral of the story: Professional news organizations should invest in the one thing that sets them apart from the blog rabble: professional writers and editors. Recruit the very best people, network them together, and keep the marketing suits out of the way while they do that voodoo. I need to know there's a critical mass of good writing in a newspaper or magazine before I subscribe to it or buy a copy, or that it provides solid intelligence available nowhere else. But of course I would think that way: It restores skilled editors as the gatekeepers of your relationship with your readers, gives them a certain entrepreneurial glamor again. Editorial voice will drive the brand again, instead of branding driving the voice. Yes, and that thing that Wayne says to Garth. Sigh.

Our Reality-Based Profession Doomed to Obsolence?

Salon interviews Ron Suskind, author of that remarkable piece in the Times magazine, Without a Doubt, which documents

the extraordinary degree to which Bush and his senior aides are "faith based" in their decision making, and disdain those who are "reality based."

In the Bush White House, Suskind writes,

open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker. Nothing could be more vital, whether staying on message with the voters or the terrorists or a California congressman in a meeting about one of the world's most nagging problems. As Bush himself has said any number of times on the campaign trail, "By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful."

Isn't that last statement a classic misplaced modifier? Isn't it we who must remain resolute so that the world will be peaceful? Or is this a chorus of "We are the World"?

At any rate, if it does not lead to the fall of civilization, this trend does not bode well for my or my colleagues' professional futures--as we were just debating in haggling over our commentary for the week. Listen to what one senior Bush aide tells Suskind:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Good lord. The sinister, apocalypic implications of that analysis aside, you want to ask, Is is the organizational philosophy of the "CEO president"? Sell! Sell! Imagine what would happen if this attitude were to spreak through the ISO 9000 community ...

Escolar: Setting the record straight is not enough

Rectificar es de hip�critas from Spain's Ignacio Escolar. When British Foreign Minister Jack Straw admitted last week that British intelligence on Iraqi WMD was "exaggerated," he assured the British public that the record has now been set straight. The problem is that the whistleblower who brought the charges to the public's attention, David Kelly, has committed suicide, and after the Hutton inquiry cleared the government of pressuring intelligence services to exaggerate Iraq's arsenal, the BBC reporter who reported the story resigned. The record may be set straight, but the difficult task of unshooting the messenger may be best left to Bush's "higher father." Speaking of which: Team Bush declares war on the New York Times. And check out the journalism blog Regret the Error: All corrections, all the time, based on an offhand remark of Cynthia Cotts, goddess.

Wednesday, October 20

Infotainment Break

The President today signed the following bills into law:

H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, and S. 2895, An Act to authorize the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, to be illuminated by pink lights in honor of breast cancer awareness month.

Source: The Wonkette would know better than I what to say about that last item. Just try to visualize it in your mind's eye ...

New and noted: industry jargon from Canada's Press Gallery.

blurb whore noun. A writer who provides glowing comments for a book or film in exchange for freebies, food, or junkets.

print clone noun. An online newspaper or magazine identical to the print version.

drive-by editing noun. Destroying a story with a rush edit without fact-checking or calling the writer.

commentariat noun. The pundit and commentator class.

beat sweetener noun. A puff-piece profile by a reporter whose beat includes coverage of the subject's sector.

paperazzi noun. Tabloid reporters, esp. those who chase celebs and politicos as aggressively as paparazzi.

buckraker noun. A journalist who uses their connections or expertise to earn money on the side.

media culpa noun. An admission of error by the media.

pencil-whip verb. To severely criticize, esp. as a member of the media.

talking hairdo noun. A television journalist who is concerned with appearance more than substance.

banalysis (buh.NAL.uh.sys) noun. Analysis that is commonplace, trivial, or trite.

inhuman-interest story noun. Tabloid jargon for a story about space aliens. | The State of the News Media 2004 The State of the News Media 2004:
Journalists are unhappy with the way things are going in their profession these days. Many give poor grades to the coverage offered by the types of media that serve most Americans: daily newspapers, local TV, network TV news and cable news outlets. In fact, despite recent scandals at the New York Times and USA Today, only national newspapers — and the websites of national news organizations — receive good performance grades from the journalistic ranks."

In the study published at by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in collaboration with the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists--reporters evaluated themselves as much more sloppy and under much more pressure from business considerations than ten years ago.

Sinclair Fires Washington News Bureau Chief

PressThink: Sinclair Fires Jonathan Leiberman.
... the (former) Washington bureau chief for Sinclair Broadcast Group, Jon Leiberman, who in Monday's Baltimore Sun spoke out. He denounced the company's intention to show on 60 of its stations all or part of the film Stolen Honor. "It's biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election," Leiberman told the Sun. "For me, it's not about right or left -- it's about what's right or wrong in news coverage this close to an election." Leiberman (bio), who is 29 and a Northwestern grad, was hired last year to lead a four-person Washington bureau. He spoke to the Sun's David Folkenflik after a mandatory staff meeting for Sinclair's corporate news division at company headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD, outside Baltimore. At the meeting staffers were told the special program would be defined as news, not opinion, on orders from above. "I have nothing to gain here -- and really, I have a lot to lose," Leiberman said in taking his complaint public. "At the end of the day, though, all you really have is your credibility." At the end of the day, he was unemployed and explaining to Paula Zahn on CNN what happened. Sinclair fired Leiberman and had him escorted from the building. The official reason: he broke company policy by talking about the staff meeting to the Sun. Leiberman agreed that he had violated the firm's gag order, but for reasons of professsional conscience. "I felt we were violating the public trust," he told Zahn. And as Howard Kurtz put it, Sinclair "found itself explaining why it dismissed a top journalist for speaking to the media." ("Disgruntled employee," it said.) Leiberman--who said he's a registered Democrat and voted for Bush in 2000--agreed that Sinclair "under the First Amendment, has the right to air part or all of this documentary, but my argument has been, call it commentary, call it editorial, call it programming, but don't call it news."

It's been a good year for h-less Jons.

Stewart on Tuckergate

Jon Stewart's Crossfire Post-Mortem (QuickTime). God bless that boy.

Journalist saved by Google search

Journalist saved by Google search (, Oct. 20):
The Australian journalist kidnapped by Iraqi militants, John Martinkus, never thought that the search engine Google would one day save his life. Martinkus was freed by his captors on Sunday after they Googled his name on the internet to check if he was telling the truth about his affiliation with public broadcaster SBS. SBS executive producer Mike Carey said Martinkus' captors investigated his background on the internet to make sure he was not a contractor for the US or a CIA agent. "They had thought he was working for the Americans as an informer. In this case, modern technology probably saved the journalist's life," Carey said. Martinkus is a freelancer who has covered conflicts from East Timor to Iraq. He was grabbed at gunpoint outside the al-Hamra Hotel just across the road from the Australian embassy in Baghdad. Martinkus was working on a news feature for SBS's Dateline program on rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army when he was nabbed. The internet has become a popular tool for Iraqi militant groups to broadcast their cause to the world.

That last is quite true, by the way: Iraq4Ever, for example, is an Arabic-language blog, hosted on a in Northern California, that publishes communiques from various factions of the Iraqi resistance.

Moral of the story: Freelancers, work on your Google rank. It might come in handy someday. Also, if the Iraqi insurgents assume that they can confirm or disprove the proposition that you're CIA by Googling you, they're not too smart.

Tuesday, October 19

The Vocabula Review

The Vocabula Review has been a personal favorite for quite some time now. The annual subscription is painfully cheap, and it's always good for wasting a half hour or so here and there. Consider this month's proposed addition to the English language: the 'dimwitticism.' Examples:
meaningful So elusive is meaning in our lives that we think we must modify scores of words with the word meaningful. Though we may struggle not to believe that emptiness is all, attaching meaningful to words like action, change, dialogue, discussion, experience is no sound solution. Meaningful describes that which has meaning, and derides that which has none. push the envelope Like many hundreds of English idioms, push the envelope helps ensure that any article, any book in which it appears is mediocre and unmemorable. Literature does not allow expressions like this; bestsellers demand them.

Monday, October 18

Face Time Space-Time

A bigwig -- I won't say who because this was an internal communication to employees of a certain news and data vendor -- writes today to vindicate the Red Actor position on e-mail, or so it seems:
To help us all work more efficiently, I would like to see great reduction in the number of emails exchanged among the employees. Why? Well, it seems that the number of emails we get every day increases exponentially; for every email we send, we get three more. Although email is a wonderful communication tool, it sometimes creates more confusion and gets in the way of doing business more productively. Further, email becomes an end rather than a means and winds up dictating the use of our available time. My personal opinion is that it also cuts down on personal interaction, which is vital to clear and constructive communication. Additionally -- and I am saying this through my own experience -- many emails appear to be antagonistic because of their brevity and occasionally apparently sharp or imperious tone.
The recommendation: More face-to-face communication. All well and good, I say, but I also see we need to distinguish between different kinds of communication. E-mail is not the only option. There's IM and groupware and the telephone. Let's have things that need to be written down -- that means most precise information about who, what, when, and where -- posted to a portal so that when we do have a chance to sit down and talk it can be the kind of conversation that you can't conduct electronically: Relaxed, spontaneous, wide-ranging meetings of the minds. You can't just swap face-to-face for e-mail. You wind up with the same problem: those endless short, snippish interruptions along the lines of "When did you say that thing was happening again?" And the fact is that if I want to talk to my art director, I have to wait for an elevator that runs less frequently than the G subway in Brooklyn to go and see him two floors up. Plus our team is increasingly distributed, including correspondents in Shanghai, Blighty, and Walkabout Creek. And e-mail has its uses. When you learn to set up alerts in MS Outlook, for example, you can prioritize messages so that the really important stuff pops up and the rest goes into a folder for later browsing. And there are messages that you need to leave the virtual equivalent of a paper trail, like our manufacturing guy's reports on the results of production and the layout of the upcoming issue. You need to see sign-off from a lot of people on that stuff to be sure you're doing the right thing on your part of it. Our copy editor jokes he is going to gin up an automated reply so that when I tell him a file is ready for him to read, a reply automatically tells me to close the file, which I always forget to do. The irony is he sits right by me. On the other hand, his job involves concentrating fiercely on arcane punctuation and usage issues, so I hate to drive him crazy. Use electronic communication that consolidates and organizes information in one place accessible to everyone, so long as it passes the global test: Does getting information this way save me time and annoyance? An intranet with messaging and calendaring and all that good stuff does exactly that. Whenever I get a minute, I visit the site and get a rundown on where everybody else is at at that moment, and most of my worry-wart questions get answered. That way we can save our face time for the good stuff: Shooting the bull about things we enjoy talking about and actually being pleasant and relaxed instead of abrupt and harassed with one another. I'm interested in learning more about what turns my reporters on, or not, about what they cover. That's why I'd rather not waste my word-budget for the day repeating "when you gonna turn it in" ad nauseam. Not that I would want to contradict the big boss, you understand ... if, hypothetically, he or she were my big boss, that is ...

Sick Out

this is an audio post - click to play

I am home trying to monitor the situation using the Microsoft Outlook Web mail system we have. Unfortunately, I can't access my contact list or my local folders. This audio post should prove that I am quite incapable of appearing physically. You will be very interested to hear my comments on user-friendly tuna and soup as an allegory of the New Productivity.

Sunday, October 17

this is an audio post - click to play

The Week to Come

this is an audio post - click to play

Moblogged from my living room, which is, of course, an absurd thing to do. I was just too lazy and weak to go into the study where my laptop was. My face still feels a bit like the result of going five rounds with George Foreman in his prime. But I should be ready by tomorrow for another week in the mines.

Does That Dog Hunt?

Via the Trommetter Times. These "battleground state" billboards argue that Kerry's attempt to reassure the gun-owning segment of the population are not borne out by his voting record. The expression "that dog won't hunt" is a way of saying that an opinion or proposal is false or impractical. In other words, a polite substitute for "bullsh*t." Just another way in which the senator's Frenchness—shorthand for all his ideological and personal shortcomings—makes him less than a "real American," according to the GOP propaganda machine.

Very effective propaganda, too: What red-blooded American does not prefer a dumb, happy Labrador to an elaborately shaved poodle? On the other hand, it should be said, the experts tend to agree that the poodle is in fact an excellent hunting and retrieving dog: an

active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well-proportioned, moving soundly and carrying themselves proudly. They retain their ability as a gundog and swim well. Intelligent and eager to learn makes them popular in obedience trials. Steady, smart and loyal, they will do anything an owner could wish for, including obedience, shows, tricks, hunting and retrieving. Poodles are happy, good-tempered dogs who make a good family pets.

In other words, that dog DOES hunt.

It might be replied that the dog pictured is a toy poodle, which, inbred as they are, have a reputation for being pretty foul-tempered and yippy. It looks like a standard to me, though. I may be wrong, but at least we're arguing facts now, not prejudices.

Style Guile

Poynter Online | Fifty Writing Tools is a really incredible series by Roy Peter Clark on the secrets of the great prose-doctors. (I also blogged this at Delicious SIN, by the way.) Since we are slowly but surely working up a style guide, I'm happy to find a source that jibes so well with my preferred bible of prose improvement. It's important to be able to let your reporters know your personal preferences and tics up front--most of all because it cuts down the time you spend discussing changes you might make. If you can invoke a rule of thumb, such as "cut excess words and pleonasms" or "unmix mixed metaphors," you have a firm basis for discussion and the writer can invoke your own principles in making her case quickly and decisively. Cutting vague and unspoken points of contention out of debates helps avoid simmering power struggles and resentments. I've seen so many editors who cause themselves and their writers endless grief by stubbornly sticking to invoking the imperial authority of their own intuitions: "Gee, I dunno, the tone just didn't seem right." If you can't state why you should change something--and justify it in terms of what your model reader will experience in reading the story--you shouldn't change it. Not that I always stick to my own principles. Intervention is a constant temptation. But hey, I try! After all, we're not perfecting a Hollywood screenplay here through 67 drafts; we're cranking stuff out. Speaking of which, if I could just find that copy of that style guide I did for Internet World, we could finish this thing. Mike the copy editor has been working on his end the Martin Luther worked on his bible translation: patiently and inexorably. Never buy a new bumper when you can kludge something up from the scrap heap of history! That's my motto. The ultimate goal: a plug-and-play process for adding new writers. We are in a business here: we hope our publication will grow. And while it is enjoyable to negotiate the nuances of an editor-writer relationship, practical realities dictate that you be able to say simply, "read this, then do your thing." I learned a lot of this from teaching. I loved to sit in office hours giving individual attention to students. It's something that's sorely lacking in large universities now. But students can eat your personal life and studies. And letting yourself get sucked into negotiations over grades is recipe for disaster. Make expectations clear. Negotiate them in advance, then close the case and move on to actually getting stuff done.

Saturday, October 16

Jon Stewart, The Last Angry Man

CNN's Crossfire in the hands of an angry Jonathan Stewart (requires BitTorrent). Must be seen to be believed: Diogenes, put down your lamp, here is your man.

Transcript. Thanks to Infectious Greed for the pointer.

The KISS Principle

Despite the fact that I look like half a chipmunk today--I have a periodontic consult at noon, should be a joyous frolic--I am happy. Could be the codeine ... but no, that's not the only thing. I got accepted into the JotSpot beta program! Boy, do I love to wiki, and I am trying to evangelize it among the pagan Luddites on my team. (Just kidding, gang.) I already have an eGroupware installation running nicely on my own server and really helping me to get organized. I have not even bothered trying to get permission from our internal IT department. We have just been sold anyway, so I expect our infrastructure will eventually change. If only I could get my reporters to do the data entry themselves instead of transcribing their e-mails as they come in myself. We almost ran the wrong photo yesterday, for example, and I got completely stuck at the crucial moment trying to find the e-mail message thread that dealt with the provenance of the one we had for the guy, a guest columnist. Microsoft Outlook was designed by the Marquis de Sade. And our antique Microsoft Exchange Server? I have to archive my messages nearly every day. I finally figured out that I should just route all messages to my local folder, but it makes me realize the enormous amount of time our organization wastes on managing e-mail. E-mail has always been a dumbed-down technology, trading off efficiency and simplicity for the familiarity of the envelope-and-its-contents metaphor. A step backwards from good old Usenet. Socialtext is absolutely right on that score. Therefore, the solution to the problem of herding the cats of photography for every issue is to have reporters upload to a page with a folder set aside for each issue. It then becomes a simple matter to check the list of photos against the list of stories. Not having to stop what I'm doing, read each message, fact-check the photo, forward it to the art director, and then follow up with him by phone or e-mail--interrupting whatever HE is doing--on whether it is usable. You can simply check in whenever you have time, learn the status of photos for the issue, and process them in a batch. One e-mail to the art director instead of umpteen. I already have just such an installation for my personal photos--not that I have had time to upload them all ... Just need to password-protect the folder with an .htaccess file ... My host, the fabulous Lunar Pages, offers Coppermine with a whiz-bang automatic installer. Crack that whip!

Friday, October 15

E-mail Blog: From D'oh! to Duh!

I have to track a separate e-mail thread for each reporter writing in with copy and photos. Is it any wonder I lose track? And MS Outlook, please. The thing was designed by sadists. I am fairly hip to how it works, but it and our company's MS Exchange installation still waste an enormous amount of my time. After we nearly run a picture of the wrong Bob over his guest column, I have one of those moments of insight that can sometimes follow a "d'oh!" moment: Let the reporters upload their photos to one place. At any given moment, I will be able to see what is in and what is still to come. Now, if I can just hook up to the art servers upstairs without running afoul of corporate IT--or "the enemies of progress," as we sometimes say--and getting fired, I will be able to see what's going on instead of telephoning and e-mailing all around kingdom come, trying to piece together the situation from the faulty recollections of other stressed-out multitaskers.


We, the undersigned, respectfully request that Sinclair Broadcast Group not air the documentary Stolen Honor. We believe that it is inappropriate and unfair to air partisan propaganda in the last 10 days of an election campaign. We will make our position known to Sinclair, its advertisers, and any affiliated organizations.

Not well worded, that -- I would have said "partisan political message" to avoid taking a similarly partisan tone -- but the fact is that what Sinclair is doing is straight out of "Citizen Kane" and "1984." I say we make some noise.

Thursday, October 14

Blogged From The Phone Like a Slide Trombone

this is an audio post - click to play

This is too marvelous. I can now blog from my mobile phone from wherever I am. If enormous machines should ever fall from the sky again -- heaven forbid it -- stay tuned to this space: The apocalypse will be moblogged off of speed dial. I am professional skeptic, but I have to say: At this moment, it seems impossible that anything could prevent this kind of thing from transforming the world. Except maybe the extinction of electricity.

The Red Actor Takes the Stage

Prentice Riddle will riddle-cule me for starting yet another blog, but I just had to see what the new service is like. It's wonderful! I have been wanting to try out some of the fancy interfaces written for the Blogger API, and perhaps even some moblogging. I also want to separate my private blogging projects, such as the Blogalization blog and wiki, from my work for the former Thomson Media, where I work as managing editor for Securities Industry News. Here, I will blog about the ins and outs of line editing, herding cats -- that's what working with a group of very talented and idiosyncratic reporters is like -- and keeping my eye peeled on the wider media universe for tricks of the trade. I'm also very excited about doing some moblogging. I just got a Motorola i860 from Nextel. Cool as ice on an earlobe in an Iraqi summer. I've had bad cellular karma in the last few years -- covarying with bad credit -- what with the jobless recovery and having been thrown out of work when the mag where I had my last full-time editorial gig was euthanized by the suits in Cleveland on September 7, 2001 ... Yes, that's right. Now I can finally afford a sensible cellular plan and use this magnificent contraption as my main phone, voting with my feet against those rat bastards at Verizon. I have a second line and a less garish device for my wife, Neuza, so that when she gets back from Brazil in a couple of weeks, we can use that handy walkie-talkie function you see advertised on TV a lot. I am a compulsive early adopter, you see. At any rate, to catch you up on my inkslinger-blogging, see my entries from Blogalization on the Society of Professional Journalists convention last month at the Grand Central Hyatt in midtown Manahatta, especially the swan song of Bill Moyers, as well as a surprisingly popular post I did on Rathergate. Also, a token victory for the fifth estate over objectionable press coverage of Brazil, my adoptive virtual homeland. May I also say what a great joy it is to be employed? I had some success as a freelance translator, but it was a grubby business, and the fact is that I enjoy the fast-paced teamwork of a publication staff a lot more -- and it is more beneficial in the long run for my mental health. No more days of sitting in my underwear in the old blogging chair, filling coffee cups with cigarette butts . I get up like a normal person, merge into the human tide disappearing into the subway stop under the Brooklyn Museum, change at Nevins Street, and pop up at Bowling Green, in front of the National Museum of the American Indian's New York annex. I ascend to the 25th floor of a building built on the site of Melville's birthplace and plop down at my Dell Windows 2000 box -- it kind of sucks -- in an open floor of low-walled cubicles in front of a big picture window that perfectly frames the absence of the Twin Towers. Well, zonked from editing and shipping a ton of pages today during a short week with a drop-deadline trigger that I didn't know about until the manufacturing guy got around to telling me an hour before it was to be pulled. Yergh. One point: These maunderings are my own and do not reflect the opinion of my employer, the erstwhile Thomson Media. Got it? Good.