Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Greg Sargent has an excellent breakdown of the public relations campaign to make it look like the surge is working and how the media has enabled it.  This sort of thing really is a life or death issue.  The longer this type of crap goes on, the more we’re dying over there. 

This is not a game. 

The conduct of this war should not be evaluated in terms of a political campaign.  Policy principles on the war are infinitely more important than a political career.  Stop playing the game!  Right now, while the cocktail circuit orders another one on the company tab and tells the latest clever anecdote about who said what to who, young men and women are risking their lives conducting dangerous missions which are not designed to get us any further along toward our objectives. 

It’s a disgusting excercise in “looking busy.”  Meanwhile, our media establishment continues to pretend that the dog and pony show is the real thing. 

I wrote this just over a week ago

2. This “Surge is working” meme being pushed by the Bush administration and certain supporters of the war is the function of knee-jerk analysis.  Of course having more troops to conduct more military operations will have an effect on tactical issues.  But tactical military issues aren’t the source of the overall problem.  This war is not primarily about fighting enemy troops in the field of battle.  Killing a bunch of people won’t actually make things better. 

We are trying to prop up/create/maintain/establish a unified Iraqi government which provides security and government services to the people so that markets can function, schools can operate, and people can begin to invest again in their communities.  None of the so-called signs of progress being thrown around loosely by war supporters speak to these issues and therefore evaluating the efficacy of the surge is premature, at best. 

The fact that many war supporters are relying so heavily on skewed data to push their version of the war in the media is an indication to me that they still don’t get it.  They believe the war can be fought and won in the media.  Good public relations is a part of any effective war campaign in this day and age but it’s not an alternative to the facts on the ground. 

But then again it’s convenient to define the war’s progress with the way the media has portrayed it.  It makes pundits who support the war “soldiers” and makes those in the media who don’t play along “the enemy.” 

Somebody please wake up. 

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CBS13 Sacremento in covering the Larry Craig gay sex scandal actually roleplays how to solicit gay sex in a public bathroom.  Hilarious.  God bless local news. 

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There’s an interesting discussion over at Ezra Klein’s for anyone who’s ever been a reporter or been interested in reporting. The impetus was this post at Penquins on the Equator:

I was rather surprised to learn, for instance, that TNR’s fact-checkers don’t check quotes with subjects; they just check quotes against the writers’ notes, which strikes me as less than optimal, particularly given that Stephen Glass fabricated notes to deceive the checkers

Ezra explains that this is common practice for most media outlets that do fact-checking (which is not, of course, most media outlets):

Here’s why: Quite often, a subject will ramble on in an interview and say something they didn’t quite mean to say. These are, generally, the quotes most worth using. But if read back, the subject will deny it, or argue over context, or generally try to edit out whatever bit of illumination they actually let slip. So you don’t give them the second edit.

Some of Ezra’s commentors seem appaled by this, accusing Ezra of meaning that journalists are more interested in getting a salacious quote than getting the truth, and why do reporters still take notes these days anyways, instead of just recording everything?

I agree 100 percent with Ezra’s explanation of why you don’t call sources back to check quotes. I’ve done this a few times, and it can be a disaster. Best case scenario, they just want to “improve,” what they originally said, and you end up wasting time talking to them about the same subject again, risk offending them if you tell them you’re going to stick with the original quote, or appease them and end up with a shmaltzy press-release-esque revised quote from them. Worst case scenario, they said something interesting or revealing off-the-cuff that, when repeated to them, they’ll inevitably want to change and, again, you either go with the original quote anyway, thereby offending them and risking losing a source, or you lose the quotes that were interesting and revealing in your story. Not to mention that by the time fact-checking takes place, a story is usally done, and to change quotes around then would mean the writer has to go back and reconfigure the whole story.

As for the recording interviews thing … well, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. A lot of interviews are conducted by phone, and not all phones are set up to record conversations. When things are recorded (on the phone or in person), there is always the risk that something will happen to the recording, which means the reporter will have to take notes as well as record — in which case, the reporter is probably gonna go from his/her notes anyway. Listening back to the whole recorded transcript of an interview is time-consuming, especially if you’ve interviewed someone with a tendency to ramble. At daily newspapers with tight deadlines, you often just don’t have time to essentially do an interview twice. And I imagine it would probably be a strain on fact-checkers if they had to go back and listen to the entire recorded conversations of everyone every reporter talked to to make sure quotes were not only accurate in wording but in meaning and intent.

All of this to “solve” something which, you know, isn’t really that much of a problem. To paraprhase Ezra, everyone knows the name Stephen Glass because this kind of thing is so rare, not because it’s so common.

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Sometimes the questions raised in a legal battle bear only passing resemblance to the facts of a case.  Neat abstract legal principles are extrapolated from messy realities and the court rules on the principles, often times emphasizing and embellishing certain facts over others in order to make a point. 

So I don’t know exactly what’s going on over at the Santa Barbara News-Press

After a year of name calling, serial litigation and dozens of newsroom defections, American journalism’s nastiest in-house squabble debuted in a courtroom here Tuesday.

Attorneys for eight fired journalists accused Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw of trying to quash a union organizing drive, while the publisher’s lead lawyer argued that the employees overstepped their authority and tried to seize control of the newspaper.

But among other things the dispute raises an issue which should get more attention, as it is an issue being played out nearly everywhere. 

“These are employees who will testify that their sole goal was to take control of the newspaper,” Cappello said, “so the publisher [would have] no control of what is written in the newspaper and how it is written.” He added in his opening statement that McCaw was merely trying to rein in workers who had an inflated “sense of entitlement to write what they wanted, when they wanted” and who, when challenged, denigrated their own paper and publisher.

McCaw bought the newspaper in 2000 from New York Times Co., raising hopes that local ownership would insulate the venerable newspaper from the economic woes plaguing other dailies. Internal disagreements at the paper exploded into public view last summer, when Editor Jerry Roberts, four other top editors and venerable columnist Barney Brantingham resigned en masse.

The journalists said they were protesting improper meddling by McCaw and editorial page editor Travis Armstrong in news decisions. They cited management’s decision to block publication of a story about Armstrong’s drunk driving conviction and a reprimand issued to journalists for publishing actor Rob Lowe’s address in a story about his proposed home construction, something McCaw said was an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Union activists said the exodus now totaled about 50. Although the News-Press has hired replacement workers, the city desk reporting staff has been reduced to four from 14, according to several journalists who have left the paper. McCaw’s spokeswoman would not confirm or deny those figures.

There is a long and somewhat venerable history of newspaper owners who feel their paper is soap box for their views.  In fact, it was the norm of the press when this country was founded.  But that history has run counter to a relatively recent trend, started in the early 20th century, of professional journalism. 

Media critic Robert McChesney noted that the rise of professional journalism could be linked to media consolidation and the disappearance alternative presses.  Instead of being one voice in a chorus of various perspectives, with that chorus fading, a newspaper needed to market its credibility in order to be relevant.  Otherwise, it would just sound like noise to the readers. 

It was in the cauldron of controversy, during the Progressive era, that the notion of professional journalism came of age. Savvy publishers understood that they needed to have their journalism appear neutral and unbiased, notions entirely foreign to the journalism of the era of the Founding Fathers, or their businesses would be far less profitable. Publishers pushed for the establishment of formal “schools of journalism” to train a cadre of professional editors and reporters. None of these schools existed in 1900; by 1915, all the major schools such as Columbia, Northwestern, Missouri, and Indiana were in full swing. The notion of a separation of the editorial operations from the commercial affairs—termed the separation of church and state—became the professed model. The argument went that trained editors and reporters were granted autonomy by the owners to make the editorial decisions, and these decisions were based on their professional judgment, not the politics of the owners and the advertisers, or their commercial interests to maximize profit. Readers could trust what they read. Owners could sell their neutral monopoly newspapers to everyone in the community and rake in the profits.

I think on some profound level we are starting to see the media swing back to the practices of an earlier era.  With the entry fee into the new media being so cheap and simple, via blogs, there are far more voices today, even in spite of the excessive big media consolidation. 

So while media owners still have an incentive to sell the credibility of its product, FoxNews, Air America, and especially blogs are showing that bias can be a force in the new media. 

I think that’s a good thing, actually. 

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Last week, Google NewsBlog announced:

Starting this week, we’ll be displaying reader comments on stories in Google News, but with a bit of a twist… We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as “comments” so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.

I don’t really see how this is a radical departure from anything being done, uh, anywhere else? It’s not as if Google’s allowing interested parties to go in and change the news stories, just add comments after the story. You can already do that on blogs. You can already do that on WaPo.

But a blogger at IP Democracy is in a tizzy over Google’s new feature. In a post titled “Google Loses Mind; Now Accepts News Comments,” Cynthia Brumfield hems and haws over the fact that Google will not exercise editorial jurisprudence over the comments:

Doesn’t Google have some responsibility for the comments its publishes aside from merely ensuring the identity of the commenter? There are a lot of crazy, mean people out there who hold down responsible jobs and get quoted in news articles and blog items. So, can these people just say what they want after only having met the low threshold of 1. being cited in the article and 2. proving they are who they say they are?

Um, yes? Yes they can? They’ve been doing it for years? What?

(More on journalistic reaction to this here)

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Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money

 People who know me know that I hate the general level of incompetence and sheer stupidity of what passes for journalism nowadays.  I subscribe to the radical belief that articles should be informative, filled with facts, identify sources of information, acknowledge bias when it exists, and unequivocally state when someone is clearly in error (or lying).  In other words, journalists should reach past press releases, make some phone calls, interview people, source the people they interview, and check the facts of comments from their sources.  Never let quotes stand alone without at least some attempt to actually, you know, see if what they say is true. 

Needless to say, I don’t come across this type of reporting very often.  This story about Rudy Giuliani from the Village Voice is an example of the best kind of journalism.  There were one or two minor things I took issue with, which were basically incidental to the story, but it’s all out there for you to read, evaluate, and (gasp!) walk away from better informed. 

My short version of this article?  Rudy G is a pompous, political prick who takes credit for things he had nothing to do with, criticizes things he knows nothing about, believes that the proper role of journalists is to regurgitate his talking points and thinks the American people are too stupid to know when he’s lying. 

I suppose that’s what passes for “presidential” in today’s Republican party. 

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The L.A. Times has an article today titled “Democrats shift approach on abortion.”  Here is how it opens. 

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.

The rest of the article seems to be about different policy inititatives to help women who want to carry their pregnancy to term without affecting their ability to get an abortion if they want one. 

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the goals of anti-abortion movement.  Many Democrats and some Republicans are trying to address the issues that lead to more abortions without touching the right to have an abortion.  The anti-abortion movement has been doing the exact opposite. 

Here’s a part of the article which represents a more accurate summary of what the Democrats are up to and should have been the lead. 

“We are willing to talk about anything that helps women make good choices,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Pro-Choice Caucus. Preventing unplanned pregnancies, she said, “is not the whole story.”

The problem with this article is the framing.  It makes it sound like the anti-abortion movement is “winning over” Democrats and, even worse, Democrats are motivated solely by political gain.  Not actually addressing the needs of those who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. 

But conservatives also accuse Democrats of using abortion rhetoric to sell the right on traditional liberal priorities, such as healthcare funding. Democrats have rejected other ideas that conservatives consider highly effective in reducing abortions, such as requiring women to view ultrasound images of the womb.

Right.  Because the issue is addressing the needs of these women.  Not shaming them.  The overriding goal of the anti-abortion movement is to make abortions illegal.  There may be some pro-lifers more willing to except the Clinton framing of making abortions “legal, safe, and rare” but the movement’s goal is getting rid of the choice altogether. 

So anything that does not affect or restrict a woman’s right to an abortion fits snugly within the pro-choice movement and is not a “shift.”  The pro-choice movement has never been just about terminating pregnancies.  It’s about making that choice a choice. 

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Sloooow news day. 

Oh, sure, there was that debate last night. 

The Attorney General is testifying before the Senate amidst numerous constitutional controversies. 

Six medical workers in Libya were finally freed after 8 years. 

And there’s that war somewhere over there.  And over there.  And maybe, possibly, eventually over there

But isn’t there something else we can talk about?  Something, you know, interesting? 

Oh, goodie.  Lindsay Lohan

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There’s a pretty hilarious video here at DailyKos with a parody of a JetBlue pre-flight video.

For those who don’t already know, JetBlue is the corporate sponsor for the YearlyKos convention this year, which prompted a Talking Points segment from Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly engineered a Michael Moore type ambush of the CEO of JetBlue, David Barger, which aired on the Factor. Basically, the producer Jessie Watters cherry-picked the most inflammatory quotes from DailyKos readers who posted comments on the discussion threads from that web-site and confronted Barger with them.

Some of the hard-hitting journalmalism from that “interview” included such questions as:

What about “The pope is a primate?” Do you agree with that kind of thinking?

Do you think that your JetBlue customers want to know that you’re kind of subscribing to the belief that Iran has the right to attack Israel?

As a result of the negative attention Bill O’Reilly has been trying to generate towards them, JetBlue has been wavering and equivocating in their support for the convention. According to the DailyKos post linked to above:

Now they’ll tell those on our side who email them that they have, in fact, not pulled their sponsorship. In part, that’s true. O’Reilly and his minions weren’t able to kill the sponsorship. They were just able to turn the airlines in knots and twist it so fully that it is now talking out of both sides of its mouth. To the wingnuts, it claims it has nothing to do with YearlyKos, and to progressives who email them, they claim they are still sponsors.

The reality: yes, they are sponsors, but they demanded YearlyKos take the JetBlue logo off the convention’s website. They can’t withdraw their ticket contribution at this point, so they hope no one notices they are associated with us DFHs (dirty f’ing hippies).

Someday, this will be a case study in MBA and marketing programs in how NOT to respond to spurious political pressure.

Check out the video. The basic premise of the parody is that now, according to a new JetBlue policy, there will be two classes of seats on JetBlue flights: FoxNews class and everyone FoxNews dislikes. I especially liked the part of the pre-flight video instructing passengers on what they were to do with their carry-on luggage.

Progressives, leftists, and Kossacks, please check yourselves as luggage because we clearly don’t want to be seen with you. Take out your bongs, Dixie Chicks cds, and whatever other hippie crap we assume you carry.

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Mother Jones July/August issue is all about “open-source” politics. Haven’t read through much of it yet, but it looks like there’s some interesting stuff,

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Oh wow — investigative journalism abounding this week. Only this time our writer takes on a much more formidable crowd then some PR execs — a gaggle of ultra-conservatives floating at sea!

Amidst the National Review cruise, Johann Hari encounters a crowd that believes the Iraq war was a resounding success and, above all else, The Muslims Are Coming. If you’re not a TNR subscriber, you can’t read it, but I’ll give you a taste:

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you’re a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she’s visited. Her companion adds, “I went to Paris, and it was so lovely.” Her face darkens: “But then you think–it’s surrounded by Muslims.” The first lady nods: “They’re out there, and they’re coming.” Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, “Down the line, we’re not going to bail out the French again.” He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, “I can’t hear you, Jacques! What’s that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can’t hear you!”

Julian notes:

I never put much stock in the handwringing of those who fretted that the Internet would fragment information consumption, replacing a “daily we” with a “daily me.” But this is a portrait of a group of people stuck in a truly toxic feedback loop: They’ve managed to successfully isolate themselves from the ordinary signals from the outside world that keep ideology at least loosely tethered to the realm of fact—and the pundits manning the barricades have done such a good job that their own belated attempts to provide a reality check won’t be believed.

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I told myself I wasn’t going to comment on the events at VT. I didn’t want to add to the growing noise “they should have done this” or ” I would have done that.” I wanted to give this situation space and give some silence to the noise. I guess, I’m just adding it to however. Today I was reading “The New Republic’s” article “The True Roots of the Virgina Tech Massacre: Generation Columbine” and while this will mostly like be regurgitated wonky news, I felt after pelting my brother and friends with questions, it was time to put out there.

This grabbed my attention. Mostly because I had been talking to my brother about it the other day.

But the Virginia Tech massacre is not about gun control, suburbia, or even human heroics; it’s about delirium. Just as in 1999, we are asking all the wrong questions.

Gun control is an emotional weapon. Each side is wants to be the first to pick and point and tear apart their opponents.

Suddenly, the utilitarian approach to gun control supersedes reality. Yet it is too easy to blame external elements–elements we could perhaps change. Not that gun control isn’t a worthy issue, but 32 innocents didn’t die only because there are too many guns in the world; they died because Cho decided to kill them. And if the cause wasn’t too many guns, then there were plenty of other influences–and plenty of other sources for reporters to harangue: the violence-in-media people, the psychoanalysts, the criminal profilers, and the pharmaceutical companies (Cho was taking an antidepressant). But these are just aspects of this melancholy crisis; they’re quite different than the cruel ambition to kill. It is that wicked impulse we should be trying to figure out.

And then media, whatever role they choose to fit (or don’t fit) come in as a soundtrack. They tell us what is going, the put the pieces together.

The stunned commentators talk about how “this sort of thing” doesn’t happen in this kind of small community–as though crazed mass shooters are the sole provenance of an urban environment. But to conflate a maniacal, armed college student with the perils of the inner city is to misunderstand. This isn’t gang warfare; this isn’t a drive-by or a drug deal gone bad.

There aren’t words left, the news has taken care of that. There really isn’t much left to say. I don’t know how long I’ll leave this up. But I suggest reading the entire article. As for this writer, who was in late high school after Columbine, I leave this.

What does the world look like to a generation who has grown up with the frightful knowledge that killers can lurk in classrooms? I doubt their first concern is gun control.

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My current apartment building is like a mini United Nations, there are so many different races and ethnicities living here. What’s strange, however, is I don’t see these people around the neighborhood, only in the building. The neighborhood I live in — upper NW DC — is one of the whitest, yuppiest places you’ve ever seen, full of women in yoga pants sipping lattes outside starbucks midday and nannies pushing babies around in elaborate strollers and little children in private-school uniforms clamoring and giggling down the street every day at 3:15 p.m.

Before moving to DC, however, I lived in a neighborhood that was much more racially mixed, at least between black and white. It was the kind of historic “streetcar suburb” that was once all white until all the white people fled to the further suburbs and it became all black until all the 20- and 30-something white hipster types (including significant numbers of gay male couples) decided it was the cool part of town and moved back in. At least that’s the most simplistic storyline, and I’m gonna stick with it for now.

Anyway, the neighborhood is now in the process of becoming “hip” (although it seems to be a very slow process). I don’t know why, but talking about the neighborhood like this always struck me as a bit strange and insulting, for some reason. Still, other than that, I didn’t much think about it. There were abandoned corner shops on every corner, so maybe some new business moving in would do some good. Housing in the area was still very cheap, so I don’t think neighborhood families were getting priced out. There would be an act of violence — a body showed up in the dumpster behind our neighbor’s house — and we would worry for a few days. There would be development plans that residents didn’t approve of — a Wendy’s moving in, for instance — and for a few days, everyone would get up in arms about just what kind of neighborhood this was going to become. Mostly, the old residents and the new residents just sort of co-existed, and everyone seemed to have respect for what really was a truly lovely neighborhood.

Now I know H-Street NE here in the District is a bit different. We’re not talking about one hipster bar moving in (as in my neighborhood), we’re talking about a whole slew of them. We’re not talking about a smattering of kids — maybe 50 on the busiest night? — hanging outside said bar, but hundreds trotting up and down H-Street, or smoking outside of Rock and Roll Hotel.

This whole long introduction, however, is really just my incredibly convoluted way of leading up to my statement that I think this Washington Post writer covering the whole H-Street gentrification process is being just a bit too precious about it:

Do the newcomers shop at Murry’s: Your Neighborhood Food Store, where you go in one day looking for white grape juice and a clerk asks whether he can help you? And you tell him what you want and he says they only have what they have and what they have is not white grape juice. And you turn to leave and he yells, “But I can make some for you if you want me to.” He smiles. And you wonder whether the newcomers would catch that kind of humor, appreciate that kind of street wit that doesn’t come with a degree.

Oh, us college kids, with our irony and intellectual humor! Couldn’t possibly understand the simple street wit of an H-Street grocer… gag. I’m not sure who the writer is trying to insult more, the newcomers or the residents. Although, really, what can you expect from an article that opens with this:

If you were eight blocks past uncertainty, three steps from neglect, five houses down from hope, and you just saw a white man with ear buds rollerblading past a crack house without looking up, would you know what street you were on in the City?

I have to admit, it draws you in, I guess, and seeing as that’s what leads are meant to do and all that, I suppose you might call this one good. But really …. five houses down from hope? Yet towards the bottom of the first page, the writer, DeNeesh L. Brown, finally brings up some interesting points (I suppose I buried the lead in this post; I can’t get too mad at Brown for doing the same).

Change bringing with it newcomers, who want to fix things, change them into their own image. Bringing issues: stratification, generalizations, classism, police presence, rising rent, rising taxes, two-way streets becoming one-way, an invisible squeeze on loiterers, pushing them gently but insistently until they are no more. And the new neighbors push for a “quality of life” ban on single-sell alcohol, and the request turns into a discussion about race. And someone is complaining about Cluck-U Chicken, arguing it was not the kind of sit-down restaurant they wanted. Some neighbors say war has been declared on black Washington. And the neighborhood school gets new landscaping. Giant metal flowers grow. And there is a man hired to sweep H Street. So there he is on a sunny afternoon, trying to sweep the street with a broom.

The article goes on to give some interesting anecdotes about race and class tensions on the street, and seemingly random violence. But then, just as you’re getting into it, more preciousness (emphasis mine):

Courtney Rae Rawls, 26, a bartender at the Argonaut Tavern, is one of those enigmatic people to whom lonely souls gravitate for conversation, inspired or not. She pours drinks, integrating brown liqueurs and white liquor.

Brown liqueurs and white liquor? See? Different colors? Like the people on the street? See? Get it?

And the short white man laughs.

And the tall black man walks east on H Street.

He stops.

He bends to pick up a dime on the sidewalk, and 13 pennies fall out of his pocket.

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Times tech writer disses PR people (hmm, apparently spell check doesn’t do “disses.” Is it because I’ve spelled the word wrong, or just because it’s trying to save me from using a word no one should ever use outside of 1996?).

This leads to PR bashing in the comments section, followed by much PR support. Outside of communication circles, this might not be known, but journalists and PR people often hate each other. When I was a reporter, there was not much I loathed more than PR people.•••

Reporter: “Can I speak to someone who knows something, anything, about the topic at hand?”
PR Person: “No, you are only allowed to speak to me.”

Reporter: “Can I set up an interview with so-and-so who might actually be able to answer my question?”
PR Person: “Okay, but it has to go through me, and it will take me precisely 37 days to set it up.”
Reporter: “But I have a 5 p.m. deadline.”
PR Person: Laughs in reporter’s face.

Reporter: Hi, I’m so glad I got you on the phone, Mr. or Mrs. someone who can actually answer my questions.
Mr. or Mrs. Someone: Um, yeah, but I can’t talk to you until I clear it with PR Person.

Actually, there were several very awesome PR people I dealt with on a regular basis. It’s just that the majority of them seemed to be all about preventing actual interviewing from ever taking place. Yet, for reasons unknown, I switched to the dark side and am now in what is, essentially, a public relations program.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I think commenter JK summed it up nicely:

What’s the lesson for reporters? Know exactly why you are jaded. It’s not the PR people. It’s your deadline pressure, your poor pay and your poor prospects for making significant money anytime in the near future. It’s your career choice that’s making you crabby.

One more thing: Be nice to PR people. You might want to be one some day.

••• I have since learned that what I’m actually talking about are media relations people, which is only one small facet of what public relations practitioners might or can do overall.

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a request

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a graduate student in communication, and this semester I have to write my thesis. My general idea for my topic is to explore how celebrity tabloid magazines reflect the social/cultural norms and prevailing ideologies (or desired behaviors) of a particular time period. Specifically, I want to compare and contrast celebrity tabloid coverage in the 1920s/1930s and in the 1990s/this decade, taking into account the political and societal context of each decade.

If anyone has any recommendations on books / articles / sources / authors / Web sites / anything that you think would be relevant for me too look at, please let me know. Thanks!

It’s an idea that’s been floating around in my head ever since researching 1920s Hollywood several years ago for a play I was writing, when I came across a fabulous book of feature stories reprinted from 1920s and 1930s celebrity rags. There was a very marked difference from the way celebrities were covered in the 1920s (emphasis on glamour, decadence, the exotic aspects of their lives) versus in the 1930s (de-emphasis on the riches and glamour, more emphasis on ‘stars! they’re just like us!’).

I haven’t even really started research yet, but what I remember about celebrity coverage in the 1990s was that it was much more similar to the 1920s model of celebrity coverage. Now, in bush administration neo-con america, everything is about “baby bumps” and who’s expecting.

As a (very) initial step, I bought a couple of supermarket tabloids last November or so. Both mags … let’s see, it was “Life & Style” and “In Touch weekly” featured front-page coverage of the Reese Witherspon/Ryan Phillipe break-up, one with Reese on the cover and one with Phillipe. I bought these two warring issues after noting the headline on the Phillipe cover: “Ryan’s side of the story: Jealous, cheating and Reese’s ambition.” Reese’s ambition? What did that have to do with anything?

Apparently a lot.

Though the pair tried to make it work, long absences for work began to take their toll — as did her powerful ambition. “She is very driven,” Ryan’s pal says. “She wasn’t there for him.”

Now, both of them being Hollywood stars with major movie careers and all that, I found it very telling and mildly shocking that their divorce was being blamed not on them both being too involved with their careers but only on her, for being too involved in her career to be “there for him.” It’s a very late-1970s-early-1980s-Kramer-vs-Kramer-fear-of-career-women-and-rising-divorce-rates throwback to put the fault for divorce squarely on the working women, for not being a proper housewife and whatnot. For not making it work.

But then I started noticing, just scanning the covers of celebrity tabloids while waiting in grocery store lines, that this is actually a pattern in coverage of celebrity break-ups/divorces. I can’t remember who else specifically it was written about, but I remember seeing titles repeatedly alluding to the women-half-of-the-couple’s “ambition” or “career” or whatever being a marked factor in why they broke-up, always in a very sympathizing to the man involved sort of manner.

Just a semi-interesting side-note, and something I hopefully plan to explore further as I begin researching.

I purposely and decidedly gave up voracious consumption of celebrity culture and gossip a few years back, deciding it was ultimately nothing but destructive, in more ways than one (for me, personally; not making a judgment on anyone else’s celebrity culture consumption habits). I admit, I used to be an avid supermarket tabloid and Oh No They Didn’t reader (at 17, I had a collage of Billy Bob and Angelina on my bedroom door — god, I liked her so much better when she drank blood and had kinky sex instead of saving orphans all the time). Looks like I’m going to have to jump back in full force.

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