Journalism

So you want a ‘robust, independent press’? Good luck with that.

Given fragmentation of audiences, diversity of media platforms, frequently clueless ownership, and devaluation of journalism by the public, what should journalism schools be teaching today?

From time to time, especially during election seasons, this phrase is often uttered:

America needs a robust, independent press.

Examine the critical words. A robust press? Meaning a press “strong, healthy; vigorous … able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions”? An independent press, one “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority”?

CATEGORY: JournalismIf reasoned people are calling for a robust, independent press, then they must be arguing that America does not have one.

The press, defined by me as journalism practiced primarily by the nation’s daily newspapers, has been eviscerated by changes in technology and ownership over the past few decades — as well as by the erosion of display advertising, its principal revenue machine for more than a century. The press’s robustness and independence are challenged by those fiscal and executive realities.

To paraphrase Bob Garfield, “The future of the journalism we actually consume hinges on the ability to somehow underwrite it.” It’s clear, sadly, and has been for at least two decades, that mass-market advertising will no longer pay the bills as well as allow for investment. Worse, news companies have been giving away news for free. Consumers expect that now. They resist attempts to charge them for news.

So what about this “robust, independent press?”

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Journalism

State of the news biz in 2016? Oh, my god … it’s really bad.

Newsies dread this time of year. It’s when the Pew Research Center releases its annual State of the Media report. And the findings, for print newsies, are bad, bad, bad.

Ad revenue down. Trust measures down. Newsroom staffing down. Circulation down.

CATEGORY: JournalismOh, look — digital ad revenue up. You remember back in the early Oughts when newspapers began to chase that digital ad revenue, right? They were hoping as print ad dollars fell, digital ad dollars would offset the loss, maybe even bring the same high profits. All would be good.

Well, Pew says digital ad revenue is up 20 percent to nearly $60 billion. Wow. Continue reading

Race & Gender

‘Total Frat Move’? More like Total F*cking Misogynists

You may have seen your favorite celebrity like Taylor Swift or Gigi Hadid sporting one of these babies [referring to high-waisted bikini bottoms] on their latest social media post … either way, you’re not them. These girls have the body to pull it off. You do not. Snap me photo proof if you think you can.

By Emily Rosman

Above is an example of one of the unsupported claims by The Therapist, an anonymous user on Total Frat Move, or TFM, in an article called “Why Girls Should Stop Wearing High-Waisted Bikinis.”

CATEGORY: RaceGender TFM, a self-claimed “news and entertainment brand that consists of the No. 1 college comedy website on the internet,” is owned by Grandex Inc. Grandex owns other “entertainment” brands like Total Sorority Move, Rowdy Gentleman and Post Grad Problems. Grandex lists 47 executives on its website — only seven are women.

Misogynistic posts like The Therapist’s litter the site, using derogatory language in most articles and treating women as sexual objects.

“Misogyny now has become so normalized,” said Paul Roberts, author of Impulse Society. “It’s almost like we’ve gone back to the Mad Men days.”

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Moment of #Mansplanation

Actually…

I just had a chance to read this op/ed from last year’s NYT: What makes a woman? The subject is still timely, especially thanks to hijinks like those coming out of North Carolina’s statehouse. And I’ve riffed on it before, if with more vitriol. I was a meaner person back then. Now I can just rest on the laurels of my cis-gendered white male privilege, look at this modern debate and all those hoity-toity post-modern nonsensilists and be snide. It’s an important debate, exactly because it’s in the courts and involves human safety, but dammit people, bring your A-game.  Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: A Rising Tide of People Swept Away by Scott Archer Jones

How will we respond to the children? – Scott Archer Jones

A Rising Tide of People Swept Away (image courtesy Smashwords)

We live in a world of diversity, of change, of uncertainty. The new novel by Scott Archer Jones, A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, explores what Dr. Johnson might call the “interstitial vacuities.” A small boy from a troubled family, a family part Hispanic, part Anglo, becomes the “adopted” child of a group of troubled people in the Albuquerque Bosque area. The story of how he is saved while they are lost is the focus of A Rising Tide of People Swept Away.

I think this is a significant book for a couple of reasons. First, it is a novel that addresses what is happening to too many in our country: people who are pawns in the machinations of government working in concert with wealthy forces interested in increasing their wealth do their best to fight back against adds that are so stacked against them they are doomed from the start. Second, and this is the real story and power of Jones’s novel, this is a story of how human love and kindness persist in the face of the forces mentioned in the first reason. Continue reading

The Slants

The Slants, or Washington’s NFL team, might soon go to SCOTUS over their names

By Amber Healy

Just as The Slants prepare to release a new album with a new singer, it might be time to prepare to face the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, this won’t come as a surprise to the band.

The Slants

The Slants

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was in violation of the Constitution when it rejected the band’s application to register its name as a trademark. By a margin of 9-3, the federal court ruled the “disparagement” portion of the Lanham Act — a 60-year-old and little-understood law — could not be used to prevent the band from its right to trademark its name. Continue reading

Columbine: 17 years ago today

Columbine

Columbine

April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”

“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.

It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.

This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.

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Prayer in schools: What god? Whose god? Who decides?

By Carole McNall

Once upon a time, a little girl was going to a public school. Her school began each day with all the students reciting The Lord’s Prayer. (This was a very long time ago.)

3561505_f260But the little girl was confused. She knew The Lord’s Prayer, but she had learned a very different ending. Is this the same prayer? she wondered. Was she remembering it wrong? All her classmates and her teacher were saying this other ending.

So she asked her mother. And her mother, who knew about these things and many others, told the little girl there were actually two versions of The Lord’s Prayer. One was the version she was hearing in school. The other, which was also right, was the version she had carefully learned.

Her mother even had a solution to what to do about this different ending. “Just say ‘Amen’ where you always have,” she told the little girl, “and let everyone else finish it the way they’ve learned.”
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anger_quote

2016: so far a bleak year, fettered by anger

anger_quoteI began 2016, the year in which I turned 70 years old, so damn angry.

More than sufficient reasons exist for all that anger. I, like many of you, am unwillingly steeped daily in the raw, heavily mediated sewage of billionaire-induced partisan politics; increasing and intolerable economic inequities; a deeply flawed educational system; conflicts in law, society, and government spawned by religion-fueled hostility; assaults on racial and ethnic sensibilities; the slow, agonizing death of democracy; and the decades-old rise of greed-driven, power-hungry oligarchy.

That’s just the background noise obscuring intelligent discursive signal about so many more problems — local, national, global — that the billions of us ruled by oligarchical forces sense are beyond our control or, often, our comprehension. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

H. E. Bates and the pleasures of fine writing…

H. E. Bates writes about war, romance and that delightful thing we know as English eccentricity with equal facility and with skill that makes one understand what is meant by the term “fine writing.”

H.E. Bates (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have made clear, I am a great fan of the writing of Somerset Maugham. He represents a school of English – and American – literature that daintily dances along the line dividing deliciously readable middle brow fiction of the sort I’ve written about here and here. Whether he’s detailing the muddle between high brow and middle brow literature or skewering a self-proclaimed “magic man,” Maugham delivers eminently readable, often profound observations on the human condition. He also inspired a number of younger writers to follow in his footsteps.

One of the best of these “sons of Maugham” is H.E. Bates. Best known to the American audience, perhaps, because of Masterpiece Theater’s broadcasts of London Weekend Television’s adaptation of his novel Love for Lydia, an adaptation well known for helping launch the careers of actors such as Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison, among others.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of New Directions Publishing’s re-issue of Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories recently at my favorite used book shop. As I hoped, it is a delight. Continue reading

african mask

Harry Potter and the Racist Subtext

african mask“We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing.” – Leo Quetawke, Head Councilman in charge of law and order for the Zuni people

Cultural appropriation is a difficult concept to understand for those of us who belong to the majority culture. We see the world as one unified whole. We measure the sun by Greenwich Mean Time, the seasons by the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII. For us, an African mask in a shop is a decoration, divorced of cultural significance. We congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and modernity because we can recognize its beauty.

This state of affairs does not make us bad people. It does not make us responsible for colonialism or slavery, any more than African American or Indigenous American genes make their owners victims or losers. On the contrary, it presents us with an opportunity to rise above our past, to forge a new global fellowship built on trust and open communication. As with any educational pursuit, this requires hard work. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Art and commerce, art and communication

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” – Dr. Samuel Johnson

I was going to write today about Hilary Masters’ novel Cooper which I finished a couple of Anthony Burgess (image courtesy Wikimedia)days ago, but I started another book and the introduction to that book has been rattling around in my head since I read it, so I think I’ll write about that. You may ask, what could deter this disciplined professorial writer of literary fiction from his appointed rounds?

Well, the guy to the right of this text can. I had picked up a copy of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories in the New Directions edition. The introduction to Bates’s collection is by Anthony Burgess, a name known to most people in association with his most famous novel, the brilliant and nightmarish A Clockwork Orange. The theme of Burgess’s introduction, which is both a wonderful appreciation of Bates and a screed of sorts against the literary world, is worth, I think, some consideration. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book review: The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, by Talya Tate Boerner

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee resonates like a National guitar with the voices of great Southern literature….

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee by Talya Tate Boerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

Talya Tate Boerner’s novel The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee echoes with the history of Southern literature. There are the voices of the gothic South: Faulkner, Harper Lee, and certainly Eudora Welty. There are also suggestions of the “dirty South” of Carson McCullers, Harry Crews, and Richard Ford. This is all good and it gives the novel a gravitas that its subject natter deserves.

There is another school of writing that Boerner’s debut novel owes a debt to. This is what Joe David Bellamy terms “lifestyle fiction.” It has some notable Southern practitioners including Lee Smith, Kaye Gibbons, and Dorothy Allison. Boerner’s pre-teen narrator owes a good bit especially to the latter two authors mentioned, Gibbons and Allison. The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, then, walks a narrow, meandering path, sometimes veering in the direction of Welty and Lee, sometimes in the direction of Gibbons and Allison.

An observant reader sees Boerner torn between which of these directions makes most sense for her work and that gives the novel a sometimes infuriating but always undeniable charm. Continue reading

Donald Trump

Who’d work for President Trump? Guess. Go ahead, guess.

Imagine Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Really.

Journalists and pundits have been too busy covering this election cycle like a boxing match (detailing debate punches and counterpunches and little else) and fawning over Trump as “The Donald.”

Donald-Trump-snake-oilSo the Big Questions (important but too boring in the Twitterverse in which horse-race polls and debate body blows are captured) just don’t get asked. Thus the Answers Needed never enter the mind of the electorate.

Who’d want to work for President Trump? Presidents need the Senate’s advice and consent on nearly 1,400 presidential appointments. Chief among them, of course, are the members of the president’s cabinet.

Who would Trump ask to serve as heads of State, Defense, Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs?

How would he select them? Would any be women? Or African-Americans? Or Hispanics? Or descendants of immigrants, legal or otherwise? Would he actually listen to the advice offered by Cabinet members?
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Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

America 101: we are not a democracy and never have been; is this good or bad?

America is famed – especially in our own collective mind – for being the greatest democracy in history.

This is a fun and noble self-image. But “democracy” is a word with a meaning, and have we ever, even for a second, fit the definition?

  • For the first several decades of our existence as a nation a significant proportion of the population wasn’t allowed to vote. In fact, as of 1860, nearly 4 million Americans – around 13% – were property. For fun, every time you hear the term “founding father” or “framers of the Constitution,” substitute a phrase like “wealthy slaveowner” or “legislative tool of the human chattel lobby” and see if it alters the tone of the discussion.
  • For the first 140 years, give or take, over half of the adults in the country – specifically the female half – weren’t allowed to vote.
  • Originally, the vote was reserved to landowners. Continue reading
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‘Stand by your (wo)man’: create an expectation of equality

by Amber Healy

This has been a weird few weeks for women.

There’s talk of opening up the draft in the United States to women, now that more women are taking on combat roles.

President Barack Obama has once again lamented the pay disparity between men and women when working the same job.

Women are taking on an increasingly powerful and high-profile role in many areas of the economy, including the IT sphere, becoming pioneers in a rapidly expanding and evolving world and breaking some barriers by taking on executive positions in major international companies.

This is all terrific! Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Books that sneak into our hearts…

Those who read know what I am speaking of when I say a book has sneaked into my heart…those who do not read…have my sympathies….

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

I read -rather, I reread – a book over the holiday break. It is a book that I mentioned in conjunction with an essay on a much more successful book, a book that I found a combination of pretentiousness and mediocre writing. As a contrast to that book, the much ballyhooed dreck Cold Mountain, I used the book, a historical novel about colonial New Hampshire called Rivers Parting as an example of a historical novel that is both well written and that does not pretend to false grandeur.

I first read the novel about 40 years ago ( I have shared the background about how I came to possess a copy of this work in the Cold Mountain essay linked above) and I have read it a half dozen times since. What brings me back to this novel, that even I would grudgingly admit is a typical example of the middle-brow literature that enjoyed great popularity through the middle third of the last century? The same things that attract me so often to the highest brow literature: engrossing characterization and memorable writing. Continue reading

2016-reading-list

The 2016 reading list – finally…

An old PSA from the sixties told us that reading was “fun!-damental” – for me, despite whatever other demands tug at my time, reading is absolute necessity….

Most dogs do not wear glasses when they read (image courtesy Reading Stock Photos and Images)

As I have written recently, my reading time has been somewhat curtailed. I have some new administrative responsibilities with the university where I teach (and my latest book to finish) and so have made the decision to shorten my reading list. I suspect I have cut the list too drastically, but better to be cautious than to overreach, I think. I also want to leave plenty of space for books I am asked to review. Then, too, I hope that I’ll be asked to review some books.🙂

So here in all its glorious brevity is a kinda sorta eclectic list of books I’ll be reading this year. As you’d expect and despite my best intentions, it’s literary fiction heavy. But it has some variety – and as the year goes on, there’ll likely be some additions. Stay tuned… Continue reading

Book-Review

Rivers run through it…North Carolina’s Rivers: Facts, Legends and Lore…

John Hairr’s North Carolina Rivers is part reference book, part history, part guidebook. What it is not is particularly engaging….

North Carolina Rivers by John Hairr (image courtesy Goodreads)

While I haven’t completed my book list for 2016, I will say a couple of things about it for those who have any interest in such things: it will be considerably shorter (12 books – to allow room for the numerous reviews I am asked to do and to allow me some writing time for completing my latest book), and it will focus on no particular area as the 2015 reading list did.

That said, we begin 2016 with a book I picked randomly from one of our many groaning bookshelves. In an effort to get away from my penchant for reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, I chose what I thought would be an interesting read for a dedicated fly angler: North Carolina Rivers: Facts, Legends, and Lore by John Hairr.

Hairr’s book might be thought of as part reference book, as part guide book, as part informal history of the rivers – and the river systems in North Carolina. It is trying to be all these things, perhaps, that causes North Carolina Rivers to be problematic for readers. Continue reading

A Millennial’s struggle: Cutting through Netflix’s noise

By Whitney Downard

netflix_logoHello, my name is Whitney and I’m addicted to Netflix.

Netflix, as a company, has only existed since 1997. Streaming on Netflix began in 2007, according to company website.

Yet Netflix has redefined the college experience for many students.

We watch Netflix while we study. “Netflix and chill” is how we date. Our recommendations for new movies or shows usually end with, “It’s on Netflix.”

If it isn’t on Netflix, I probably won’t watch it. Continue reading