Detroit, the once grand Motor City, reels from census losses

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Poor Detroit. Still reeling from a decade when the three auto companies, formerly known collectively as the Big Three, imploded with two of them taking federal loans to survive, the Motor City lost almost 25 percent of its residents, according to U.S. Census figures released this week.

In its heyday in the mid-20th Century, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the nation. Now it languishes at 18th.The new population count by the census folks is 713,777, the lowest in a century. One in every four residents left the city during the past decade. Michigan, as well, was the only state to lose population despite an increase in the U.S. population during the past decade.

The implications are harrowing for a city with huge deficits, a school system with a state appointed fiscal manager, decaying neighborhoods and vast swaths of empty lots. Downtown, a vibrant retail area in the 1950s and 1960s which once boasted three major department stores along its main artery, Woodward Avenue, now has none. In the old neighborhoods where small clusters of houses remain, selling prices, if there are buyers, are in just the four and five figures.

And to add insult, it looks like ABC will cancel the show Detroit 187 after just one season. How much more of a battering can the city take? Continue reading

America's wild horses and burros need your help!

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Wild Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act that guaranteed some level of protection and humane treatment for the nation’s mustangs and burros.

These canny horses and burros are under scrutiny once again as equine advocates are embroiled in yet another skirmish with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program and the U.S. Forestry Service (both agencies under separate federal departments are charged with managing the populations) over round-ups, birth control and the genetic viability of the herds spread across public lands in 10 western states.

To weigh in on the BLM’s plans for the future, email comments to  and type “Comments on Strategy” in the subject line. The deadline for comments is March 30, 2011.

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The painted kipper (pt. 5): an end note

Part 5 in a series.

In a piece about the American cult writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide on September 12, 2008, James Ryerson writes: Continue reading

The painted kipper (pt. 4): "measuring culture" and the Orwellian trifecta

Part 4 in a series.

One way to get the measure of a person – their temper, as in mood, their dispositions, both emotional and intellectual, what they glean from life, how they “see” the world this way rather than that way – is by understanding those other voices to whom they listen, about whom they think, and from whom they draw.

Most immediately and obviously for Reith his father, George Reith, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland, was a powerful influence. Reith told Boyle that from beyond the grave his father had had a profound effect on public service broadcasting. (38)

There were other influences, though – or put somewhat differently, two individuals with whom Reith identified, in one case somewhat paradoxically. In 1929 Reith was asked by the former Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin – who had been elected Rector of St. Andrew’s University in Scotland – if he had any ideas that he might use in his inaugural address. Reith recommended Tyndall’s 1874 address to the British Association, and urged him to study the ideas of Dr. Thomas Chalmers, “in his view one of the greatest Scotsmen who ever lived…” Continue reading

The painted kipper (pt. 3): public service vs. the brute force of money

by Michael Tracey

Part 3 in a series.

On 20 July 1925, Reith’s 36th birthday, the British Post-Master General, Mitchell-Thomson, informed the House of Commons that there would be a committee of inquiry into the future of the BBC chaired by the 27th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. Reith had already raised the question of the Company’s future at a meeting with the Board on 19 March 1925, by now convinced that its status should be changed to a public service.

In November 1925 Reith prepared a memorandum for submission to the Crawford Committee, entitled “Memorandum of Information on the Scope and Conduct of the broadcasting Service,” the only purpose of which was “to show the desirability for the conduct of Broadcasting as a Public Service, for the adoption and maintenance of definite policies and standards in all its activities, and for unity of control.” Continue reading

Cookie sales ban lifted at Girl Scout founder's Savannah home

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Savannah’s acting city manager found a loophole in the city’s ordinance banning local Girl Scouts from selling their cookies in front of founder Juliette Gordon Low’s historic home.

The loophole is another city ordinance that allows the city manager to permit sidewalk sales at city residences.

Common sense did prevail. Local Girl Scouts will be at their tables selling cookies at busy Oglethorpe and Bull Streets this weekend. The Girl Scouts still have to pony up to their civic responsibilities as part of the deal as noted in the letter from the city manager.

Kudos to acting city manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

Kansas rep, a friend of industry, axes product-safety database

A neophyte freshman representative from Kansas who slipped into Congress on the strength of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from heavyweight industries does not want you and me to see a product-safety database compiled by a federal consumer agency.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Among its mandates: Consumers will have access to a public database to report and learn about hazards posed by unsafe products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled that database, and it’s ready to launch next week.

But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) doesn’t want consumers to see it. He does not want them to see “reports of defective products from a wide range of sources, including consumers, health-care providers, death certificates and media accounts,” reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. He does not want consumers to change how they make purchasing decisions. He does not want them to see a database that is “limited to complaints about safety and does not deal with product reliability or performance,” reports Layton.
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The painted kipper (pt 2): John Reith, the melancholic optimist

Part 2 in a series.

The original thought in writing this piece was to “resurrect” Reith, better to point to the problems that beset the BBC today – problems that are not just about politics but more importantly about philosophical purpose and the walking away from some fundamental ideas laid down by Reith and his BBC which went far beyond the traditional concept of educating, informing and entertaining, important though these remain. In a sense, though, Reith needs no resurrection since given the lingering presence and dominance of his great creation, the BBC, he never went away. He also remains present through his own writings, the biographies, Andrew Boyles’ Only The Wind Will Listen, (9) Ian McIntyre’s The Expense of Glory (10) and Roger Milner’s curious but amusing and insightful Reith: the BBC Years. (11) Continue reading

We're just serfs in the machines of Facebook, Twitter, HuffPo

I am a content slave — a serf, says David Carr of The New York Times.

[T]hink of Facebook, which is composed of half a billion freely given user profiles, along with a daily stream of videos, posts and messages. It is both a media site and a social network, and all of the content is provided free of charge. By creating a template for information and a frame around it, along with a community that also serves as an audience, this new generation of content companies have created the equivalent of a refrigerator that manufactures and consumes its own food. [emphasis added]

A helluva business model, eh? It’s paying off handsomely for the folks who own the refrigerator. Arianna Huffington et al. have sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million. Over the past several months, Facebook’s market cap (a company’s capitalized value calculated by multiplying current share price by the number of outstanding shares) has been variously estimated between $25 billion and $41 billion. Continue reading

The future of libraries, part 2

The town of Hull, Massachusetts, is a comfortable blue-collar town on the tip of a little cape off of Boston’s south shore. At one time a fashionable resort, more recently it has been dealing with a declining tax base and an increased demand for services. Still, it’s a pleasant enough place, especially in the summer, when it attracts boatloads of tourists for summer rentals and a nice beach community. And it has a charming library, in an old Victorian building reeking with character, with an interesting book collection (some of which celebrates the town’s maritime history) and a fantastic children’s program. It’s pretty much what you want any locally municipal library to be, in fact.

Just like many other towns and cities in America, however, Hull library services have been the targets of cutbacks by the municipal government this past year. Continue reading

So you're 17 and want to be a journalist? Do it — you'll love it.

You’re 17 years old. For some reason you’ve decided you want to go to college to learn how to be a journalist. My hat’s off to you — first, for wanting to go to college, and second, for wanting to answer what I still consider to be a calling to public service.

Journalists find out things, then tell people what they found out. Often, it’s stuff people want to hear. But a good journalist must tell people what they need to hear — even if they don’t want to hear it. So I’m glad you want to become one of us.

Perhaps you’ve had training already. Your high school has a student-run paper, a radio station, even a broadcast television studio. You know Twitter and Facebook and perhaps write your own blog.

Your parents might be opposed to your choice. They’ve heard journalism is dying, newspapers are closing, and so on. They’ve heard journalists don’t get paid much. But you’ve done your homework. You believe opportunity will rise from the ashes of an outdated business model corporations imposed on journalism as a profession and a calling. And you’d like to be one of the pioneers who have a hand in its rebirth.

So (whether you like it or not) I have a few suggestions to offer. The first is simple:

If you’re not nosey, learn to be. Right now. Journalists must be curious about the world around them. So much of their work begins with an understanding of their own lived experience and observations.
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For 20 years, big-time political money still flowing from the same sources

We do not know the amount of invisible money injected into politics that resulted from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January that permitted anonymous corporate political spending.

But we can count the visible money, campaign contributions that the law requires be reported. No matter what the hot-button issue is on the public’s (er, media’s) agenda at any given time, the big money given to congressional candidates comes from the same sources.

More than three years ago, I analyzed data from the Center for Responsive Politics, looking at donations since 1990. Here were the top givers:

Since 1990, lawyers and law firms have made nearly $781 million in campaign contributions, ranking them No. 1. (Adding in the lobbyists makes that nearly $900 million.)

At No. 2 are the retired folks who want to protect what they spent a lifetime accumulating. The AARP faction has made nearly $662 million in campaign contributions since 1990.

At No. 3 is the securities and investments industry (which the AARP set leans on to protect its wealth), which has made $463 million in campaign contributions since 1990.

At No. 4: Real estate at $456 million.

At No. 5: Health professionals at nearly $360 million.

Nothing’s changed. The same groups are still pushing more money into congressional campaigns than another other special interests. But the game is different now: This is only the money we can see. Citizens United permits anonymity: Now we worry about political money we cannot see or count.
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The government’s checkbook too screwed up to audit, says GAO

You know the company’s in trouble when the auditor tells the company that its bookkeeper can’t manage the company’s finances, reconcile balance sheets among different departments, or prepare credible financial statements.

And you know it’s real trouble when the auditor can’t even do an audit and provide the company with a statement of its financial health — or ill health.

That’s what Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accounting Office, has told the federal government about its fiscal 2010 books: You’re in deep fiscal do-do. Said Dodaro:

Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management.

Apparently, the feds don’t know what to count, how to count it, and how to report the count.
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A fond farewell to all my friends

 by Terry Hargrove

As 2010 draws to its dark and inevitable end, I would like to take this opportunity to say farewell to all my friends and readers at Scholars and Rogues. It was a great run, far better than I ever deserved, but it’s over now. I cannot fight the Ouija board.

Let me explain. I have mentioned in earlier posts the great, traumatic event of my childhood. In 1965, my two older sisters came into possession of a Ouija board. They asked various girly questions such as who liked who, who really liked who, who would marry first, and who would be the first to have children, then moved to more worldly matters. It predicted that a movie star would one day be president, the collapse of the Soviet Union, how a television station would one day rule the country. You know, ridiculous crap.  I scoffed and guffawed. So, to quell my laughter, they asked the board “How old will Terry be when he dies?”

The board replied “55.”

“You made it say that,” I jeered. “What year will I die?”

The board replied “2010.”

I ran to get paper and pencil, and added 55 to the year of my birth, 1955, and got…OK, I must have added wrong, so I erased that problem and added 55 to 1955, carried the 1 and got…

Damn. You see, the recessive math gene runs deep in the Hargrove family, so I didn’t think my sisters could perform such a complex calculation in their heads. Maybe the Ouija board was right? But what did it matter. 2010 was 45 years away. Continue reading

Writing for ‘new media’? The old still serves the new

As profs consider changing the names of their schools of journalism and (mass, strategic, public, etc.) communication, they are hurriedly reshaping writing curricula to reflect changes in the media of information delivery and, more importantly, prospective students’ attitudes that journalism is a dying profession.

The instruction of writing in the Age of New Media is under the microscope. But some (not all, but enough) journalism educators, methinks, approach teaching writing for “new media” as if it requires a brand-new skill set taught in courses with names that suggest the same. We must ask: Are educators entranced by “new media” overlooking the core learning goals of students in a journalism and communication program — to observe faithfully and completely, to record accurately, to analyze thoughtfully, to organize sensibly and to present compellingly?

No matter the medium of distribution, those traits of a good communicator have not changed. Nor has an old, reliable maxim all good writers must learn and that profs can use to distinguish writing for a newspaper vs. tweeting at Twitter.

Anyone’s who worked as a journalist – or in any writing-intensive profession – has heard these words: Write to fit.
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Time for America’s Freddie Mercury moment: there are more than 100 gay pro athletes in the US, and the sooner they get out of the equipment closet the better

In a recent discussion on one of my political lists Sara Robinson (easily one of the brightest folks in the blogosphere) made an important point about what often causes people to migrate from socially conservative perspectives to more progressive points of view. In describing her experiences with a particular activist group that helped people leaving fundamentalist religions (something that can be emotionally traumatic at the very least, and that frequently comes at a significant price in their lives – lost families, ostracization, etc.), she noted:

[T]he first sliver of doubt came about when the person’s authorities asked them to believe something that they simply could not reconcile with their own experience. In a plurality of cases, this dissonance was caused by knowing and caring for someone who was gay, and realizing that the conservative storyline on the inherent evil of homosexuality just didn’t line up with what they knew of this wonderful person. (If the religious right knew just how often this one issue triggered those first unignorable doubts, they’d walk away from gay-hating and never go back to it.) Continue reading

Assange—Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts

The great Wikileaks dump has been interesting in any number of ways. I’ve learned a lot. It’s true that a number of commentators have said that this is all stuff we knew before, but I’m not sure that’s the case. There’s a whole raft of detail that now confirms what many of our intuitions were, and that’s a step forward. One thing that’s of paramount interest, I think, is that thus far no one has disputed any of the facts contained in the data dump.

This is good—facts are good things. For example, we now know that it’s a fact that the British government’s slavishness to the US embarrassed even the US government, and that Prince Andrew can be an oaf, but a highly amusing one, particularly about geography, and that the Vatican was upset that the Irish government didn’t intervene to stop the investigations into priest child abuse in the Irish Catholic Church, and that the US government actively tried to undermine the Kyoto agreement at the Copenhagen Climate talks. These are all things that if we didn’t know them to be facts, we could at least have intuited them as being likely—but it’s always nice to have your intuitions confirmed. Then there are some facts we didn’t know, like the fact that the US government pressured the Vatican to take the soft US line at Copenhagen, among others. I’m a financial analyst, and I like facts. That’s what makes transparency important. Continue reading

Students should travel while still young

by Zack Witzel

Go somewhere.

Drive a car. Take a bus. Board a plane.

Pinpoint a spot on a map, and find a way to get there.

Yes, students have loans to worry about and résumés to build, but the luxury of being young is a time-sensitive gift. Don’t waste it.

Studying abroad strikes many students and their parents as a great opportunity to experience the world while still furthering an education. And it is. But basing a trip around required courses can stifle what excitement a destination can hold. Continue reading

Yo, GOP: Slash regulation? Or spend up to $27 million to save a life?

Many of the seats the Democrats lost in Congress can be attributed to a tea-party and GOP-influenced desire to shrink the size of the federal government. Presumed goals of conservative and GOP winners: Reduce federal spending. Shrink the deficit. Lessen government’s intrusion into people’s lives.

Well, let’s see what these make-government-smaller politicians do with a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal to further intrude into the lives of people who drive.

By 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants every passenger vehicle sold in the United States to have a rear-view camera. That’s available now as an option for many vehicles. The camera displays what’s behind the vehicle on the navigation screen in the dashboard.

Reason: The agency says back-up accidents kill 228 people a year and injure 17,000. More significant reason: About 100 of those killed are children.
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Time for journalism schools to unpack the tension between objectivity, subjectivity

Q: What’s the most effective way to piss off a journalist?

A: Lie to her.

Result: Moral outrage on her part – followed by determined, disciplined digging into why the lie and who benefits from it. And outrage, being an emotion, often leads to subjective judgments.

Finding lies and telling people about them are what good, progressive journalism programs must teach, even the programs with a conjunction and the word communication (mass, strategic or otherwise) in their names. Communicators, be they journalists, public relations practitioners, advertising agency executives, government or corporate representatives, or bloggers should not get away with lies. Or prevarications. Or evasions. Or deceits. Or no comment.

But we all know that someone with an agenda, someone who is willing to break the spirit or letter of the law, will lie to protect that agenda or advance it. It takes an experienced, well-trained journalist to detect the lie and find a truth in its stead. (Yes. I know: People who are bright and observant but who are not journalists can detect lies, too. But do they do it for a living? Make a career of it? For low pay and a lack of respect from the people who benefit from being told of the lies?) Continue reading