Monday, March 31, 2008

Newspapers, mental blinders, and business models

My local paper is making some radical changes in what they do. The accent is on “local” with national and international news a secondary offering.

The editor put it this way in her Sunday column:

Starting Monday, local news leads off the paper, and national/world news will take the back seat.

Overall, that seems like a smart idea. It’s a solution media bloggers have been promoting for several years. It lets newspapers compete in an arena where they have a comparative advantage over cable TV and the internet.

Basic marketing stuff; reposition your product so you can leverage a competitive advantage. So far, so good.

If there is a worm in the apple, it lies in the mental blinders journalists wear, blinders that are rooted in the myths that adhere to journalistic culture. Simply put, what journalists do differs sharply from what they think they do.

That divergence shows up later in her column, in a throwaway piece of self-congratulatory boilerplate:

It’s not for nothing that some wise person said a long time ago that publishing a newspaper means inventing an entirely new product from scratch every single day. A car manufacturer can’t say that and could you imagine what it would be like to drive a vehicle produced that way? But you can’t imagine publishing a vital newspaper on an assembly line.

That sounds nice, but it is clearly untrue. Putting out a daily paper involves a lot of rote activity. Nor do readers expect an “entirely new product” each morning.

On the latter point, McLuhan said it best:

People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.

On the production side, Scott Shane of The New York Times offers a decidedly unheroic view of his craft:

A typical daily reporter on deadline calls a couple of people and slaps something into the paper the next day.

From this perspective, the problem for a local newspaper editor is very similar to those faced by a manager of an industrial concern. In a nutshell, how do you manage a group of employees doing boring work for low pay so that you can make a product customers will pay for?

See also:

The newspaper today and tomorrow

UPDATE:Robert Stacy McCain lays out the grim economics of the modern newsroom:
Honing the ax

Friday, March 28, 2008

Not a criminal mastermind

Suspect Arrested in Virginia Shootings

State police swarmed the overpasses along the interstate as the shootings were reported and collected shell casings from the Greenwood Station Road overpass. As morning broke, a crucial lead emerged in Waynesboro.

Employees at the DuPont Community Credit Union found that a window, wall and sign had been shot. A surveillance camera had captured images of an AMC Gremlin, a distinctive and long since discontinued car, in the credit union parking lot between midnight and 2 a.m., Waynesboro police Sgt. Kelly Walker said.

Police located an orange 1974 Gremlin late yesterday, apparently abandoned along Route 29 in northern Albemarle County, near the Greene County line, Flaherty said this morning. He also said that Woodson owned such a car and that "ballistic evidence was also recovered from the car."

An orange 1974 Gremlin. Not the most unobtrusive vehicle for a crime spree.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Duke lacrosse: two years later

Liestoppers notes that 24 March marks the anniversary of the start of the Durham hoax.

Two years ago - The Hoax/Frame went public

On March 24 2006 the Duke Lacrosse Hoax/Frame exploded into the local media with the interview of Durham PD Cpl David Addison on local TV and in the News-Observer & Herald-Sun, both local newspapers. Today we are running a re-post of our Nov 13, 2006 Blog article which explained how the Hoax was promoted from a local story to a National media frenzy.

I ran across two other items that suggest that the issues raised by the case go beyond Durham and Duke

This article predates the lacrosse case:

When Is It RAPE?

What is striking is that some activists are willing to defend false accusations of rape as a legitimate tool for payback:

This line of reasoning has led some women, especially radicalized victims, to justify flinging around the term rape as a political weapon, referring to everything from violent sexual assaults to inappropriate innuendos. Ginny, a college senior who was really raped when she was 16, suggests that false accusations of rape can serve a useful purpose. "Penetration is not the only form of violation," she explains. In her view, rape is a subjective term, one that women must use to draw attention to other, nonviolent, even nonsexual forms of oppression. "If a woman did falsely accuse a man of rape, she may have had reasons to," Ginny says. "Maybe she wasn't raped, but he clearly violated her in some way."

Catherine Comins, assistant dean of student life at Vassar, also sees some value in this loose use of "rape." She says angry victims of various forms of sexual intimidation cry rape to regain their sense of power. "To use the word carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him." Comins argues that men who are unjustly accused can sometimes gain from the experience. "They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration

Clearly, for a sub-species of pot-bangers, truth is irrelevant.

This news story is current:

Woman pleads guilty to false rape report

A 22-year-old former Woodinville woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false rape accusation against a local college professor last June.

Katherine M. Clifton lied to police and and falsified official documents. Martha Stewart got five months in prison for that. This loony woman will serve eight days in jail. Incidentally, that sentence is one day shorter than the time her victim served after he was arrested because of her lies.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Spitzer comeback begins


Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has gone into therapy in the wake of the hooker scandal that swept him out of office, a Spitzer insider told The Post yesterday.

As part of the therapy, Spitzer will explore whether he has an addiction to sex, the source said

How many months until he shows up on Oprah?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Atlantic

I have a love-hate relationship with The Atlantic. Recently it has been disappointing what with adding Sullivan and Yglesias as bloggers while dropping Mark Steyn. Just when i wonder why i subscribe, a new issue shows up with an outstanding article or review.

Mark Bowden's journalism never disappoints. Last issue he wrote a review of The Wire that i found interesting and entertaining even though i never watched the show.

This issue has a completely fascinating piece on the paparazzi. There is also a long essay by Russ Douthat on Hollywood's nostalgia for the 1970s.

Douthat notes that part of the appeal of that decade is its public "mood"-- a "mix of paranoia and pessimism and ambivalence about America itself". Hollywood has always loved those attitudes, but the public usually won't play along. Now, directors and actors hope that Iraq, 9/11, and the economy will give them and audience for the kind of movies they want to make.

Odd, isn't it-- movie people are happiest when the country is in the worst shape.

Douthat makes another point that cannot be repeated too often:

More big budget movies featuring Islamist villains were released in the 1990s than in the seven years since 9/11.
See also:

Hollywood and the war on terror
Selena Roberts is still smug, stupid, and hateful

That's my headline. KC Johnson is much more of a gentleman but he has the details here:
Selena Roberts: Still Misleading

Monday, March 17, 2008

A hydra-headed monster

There's a new book out on the JFK assassination. No surprise that it argues for a conspiracy. What is surprising is that this one comes from a respectable university press and is written by a historian at the Naval War College.

Unfortunately, the book sounds deeply flawed. Washington Decoded has a long detailed review/refutation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not just Spitzer

Great article in the Wall Street Journal

Spitzer's Media Enablers

The fall of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer holds many lessons, and the press will surely be examining them in coming months. But don't expect the press corps to delve into the biggest lesson of all -- its own role as his enabler.

Journalists have spent the past two days asking how a man of Mr. Spitzer's stature would allow himself to get involved in a prostitution ring. The answer, in my mind, is clear. The former New York attorney general never believed normal rules applied to him, and his view was validated time and again by an adoring press. "You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don't get caught," said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.

Journalism has many functions, but perhaps the most important is keeping tabs on public officials. That duty is even more vital concerning government positions that are subject to few other checks and balances. Chief among those is the prosecutor, who can use his awesome state power to punish, even destroy, private citizens

Spitzer and Nifong aren't the only prosecutors who play this way, and in almost all the cases, the local media plays along. It's not just politics, it's economics. The DA or US Attorney is the guy with the information that crime reporters need.
I have the same question

Scott Chaffin on the Spitzer mess:
I just want to know how you ask your wife to stand up there on the toob by your side and take the fall for being a whoredog with you.
Political blog readership

Interesting article in the Washington Times

Political blogs not really so popular?

I guess it is a matter of perspective. Not many people read political blogs. But then, not many people read political magazines like National Review or The New Republic. Mass popularity and influence are not the same thing.

I found this notable though:
The Harris poll, meanwhile, found that political blog readership was lowest among those younger than 40 — and highest among people 63 and older.
So the most politically active demographic is most interested in political blogs. Young voters, who have deserted traditional media in droves, also ignore new media when it comes to politics.

If i was David Brooks i'd say something like: "this shows that Obama draws support from those who know and care the least about politics and national affairs."

But that kind of punditry can get a blogger a bad name.

HT: Powerline

Sunday, March 09, 2008

This should be interesting

Gray may be the most unfairly maligned man in the whole Watergate affair. His story should be well worth reading.
On the temporal parochialism of sports yakkers So Brett Favre retires and ESPN and sport radio is trying to figure out where he rates among the all time greats. That’s what they say. What the yappers mean is “where does Favre rate among the great quarterbacks I saw play.” The list seems to start in 1981 with Montana and go from there. They give short shrift to Bart Starr who won five championships (Montana “only” won four). They never mention Roger Staubach who won two and came close to winning two more. Was Favre “the toughest quarterback ever”? He was certainly durable. But he had the advantage of playing in an era when QBs were protected by the rules. Check out some of the old NFL footage of games in the 1960s or early 1970s. The QBs were pounded on almost every pass. Today the refs would call it roughing the passer. Heck, in SB X they’d have ejected half of the Dallas and Pittsburgh d-lines for repeated, flagrant fouls. In 1975 it was just football. For my money, Staubach gives Favre a run for his money on “toughness”. All those fourth quarter comebacks he engineered came after he was beaten and battered for the whole game. The defense was licking its chops knowing he had to pass. And yet, he calmly cut them to pieces time after time. To see Staubach operate with the game on the line is something you don’t forget. The milk-drinking church-going all-American boy turned into a heartless assassin, a stone-cold killer. Hit him. Knock him down. It did not matter. The ball was already on its way to Billy Joe DuPree, or Tony Hill, or Drew Pearson. You could force him out of the pocket, you could chase him all over the field, but you could not rattle him. It was toughness as cool calculation. It’s the sort of thing you can’t find in statistics like you can find 214 consecutive starts or 50 touchdowns or 4,500 yards passing. But it was the quintessence of playing quarterback.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

History worth reclaiming

I’m slowly working my way through Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Kennedy assassination. He starts the book with a gripping narrative of the events of 11/22/63. It is rich in detail and filled with vignettes that perfectly capture a long lost era in America.

One of my favorite is the story of Ted Callaway. He was the manager of a used car dealership in Oak Cliffs. On the afternoon of 22 November, he heard the shots that killed officer JD Tippit. He left his office and saw Oswald trot past his business carrying a gun. Callaway ran to the scene of the shooting and arrived before the police could get their.

After he helped load the dying policeman into an ambulance, he noticed the officer’s service revolver lying in the street. Callaway, a Marine veteran of World War Two and Korea, picked it up and went to taxi driver William Scoggins. Here's Bugliosi on what happened:

Callaway tucks the gun in his belt and turns to the cabdriver, Scoggins.

“You saw the guy, didn’t you?” the former marine asks.

Scoggins admits he had.

“If he is going up Jefferson, he can’t be too far. Let’s go get the son of a bitch who’s responsible for this.”

In his blue suit and white shirt, Callaway looks like some kind of policeman, or Secret Service agent. Scoggins doesn’t find out until later that he’s simply a used-car manager. They go back to Scoggins’s cab and set off to cruise along Jefferson, the last place Callaway saw the gunman
I know that I’m supposed to harrumph and say something about the outrageousness of this act of attempted vigilantism. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. So help me, I admire the guy.

The spirit of our desiccated age begs us to cower behind locked doors when crime happens nearby. Ted Callaway was made of sterner stuff. The world would be a better place if we had more people like him.