Meaning in Media

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Not the best week for journalism

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Hello once more. I’ve returned from my unannounced and sudden hiatus to discuss yet another issue in the complicated and conflicted realm of journalism. Essentially, three important figures in journalism died in the past week, two literally.

First, Brian Williams, host of the NBC Nightly News, long respected newsman with a penchant for storytelling, for building drama and evoking emotion while remaining as unbiased and unflappable as possible, has been accused embellishing, even lying, about some of his past experiences. After recalling a story that occurred 12 years ago where he flew in a military Chinook helicopter during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced to land, military members questioned his retelling of the sequence of events. He later admitted he “made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” and took himself off the NBC news desk. Of course, as per usual in these situations, it was not enough for the viewers, or for NBC. He has since been suspended for six months from NBC, and all of his past work, particularly his time with Seal Team 6 and in Hurricane Katrina, are now being put in the cross-hairs. If other inconsistencies are found, his career, for all intents and purposes, may be over.

While this happened, CBS news correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a horrible-looking car crash in New York City at the age of 73. While I can’t say I singled Bob Simon out as one of my idols in journalism or writing, a car crash seems a mundane way to go for a man who barely escaped Saigon and the Hanoi offensive in 1972. Then again, he apparently wasn’t wearing a seat belt while being driven around in the livery car, so maybe his balls were just too big for this world in the end.

And the next day, the NEXT DAY people, New York Times columnist David Carr dies of currently unknown causes at 58. Carr was someone I enjoyed reading. He was very forward-thinking early in his career, and he had a bluntness to his writing that I appreciated. Plus, his path to get to where he was, recovering from alcohol and drug addiction the way he did, simply had me rooting for him for years.

In Simon and Carr(funkle) we lost two excellent journalists who were willing to explore the hard topics, be they political or personal. These were two big names in the industry who will not be so easily replaced, and their impact, particularly with Simon’s work in the Vietnam War, cannot be measured. But even with these two deaths, the Eye of Sauron remains on Brian Williams as the world retroactively analyzes his entire career.

When it comes to Williams, I don’t feel like I can say anything one way or another, and I don’t know if I can call incorrectly remembering events that took place 12 years ago a damning lie that should ruin a man’s career. My respect of the man’s past work is still set a bit too high on the pedestal for me to simply rip it down like the Berlin Wall. Besides, there are more than enough studies on memory and how we can misremember the events of a traumatic, emotionally charged occurrence, and its certainly possible this happened here. I have never been one to crucify a person for one mistake; we as human beings can try to be as careful as we can, but mistakes are inevitable. If this is truly a case of incomplete recall, then I believe Williams should be excused, forgiven and allowed to return to the fold and the industry.

But if the scrutiny of his career finds other issues, confirmed examples of embellishing, juxtaposing or flat-out falsehood, then a lot of questions have to be asked. Why were his stories not more scrutinized? Why did it take this long for someone to step out and say something? How far back does this go? And, of course, why?

Fact checking in the industry has been failing for years, and this is hardly the first example of it doing so. But pinning all of the little white lies of journalism on that alone is not enough. The majority of the responsibility for telling a truthful tale falls on the storyteller. And in this instance, it seems Brian Williams has failed. Hopefully, this is the first time this has happened, and it will be a slight blemish on a sterling career, instead of the Jenga piece that brings down the tower.

Written by mlogli

February 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Want to learn about marketing?

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Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles on marketing, sales and other related topics. I’m doing this not just to promote this little blog, but to possibly advance into a new career field.

During that time the website Hubspot was recommended to me. They have a bunch of free materials for anyone else interested in looking into improving their marketing chops. At the very least, a few tips here and there can certainly improve a person’s ability to market products, services or events at their own job.

I know what some of you may be thinking: Mr. Journalist is going to the dark side of media. Unfortunately, that line has been blurred long before me, and I see no way for it to ever be repaired; marketing techniques will only appear more and more frequently in journalism. Ever promote your work or the work of the newspaper? Ever get told to watch a YouTube clip of a newscast, or to check out a Twitter or Facebook page? Heck, even stories about businesses and events are essentially marketing material with an “un-biased” slant. Those are just the obvious examples. Headlines are often altered to be eye-catching, to get people to read them and invest in the story; that’s marketing. Stories about philanthropic causes, the minority and the repressed are often calls to action by definition. It is impossible to escape the sales and/or marketing slant that exists in journalism today.

Journalism is run like a business, and those who run it know how to market and believe they need it to recoup their investments. That’s the way it is and will be. But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. If a marketing technique gets a person to read a story that can inform them, can give them information on something important going on in the world they need to know about, then it is certainly a good thing. If an event planner can use marketing techniques to get more people to attend and participate in, for example, Relay for Life, that’s certainly a good thing too.

The world no longer tolerates most of the obvious attempts by corporations to attract consumers. People are too smart for that now. But using the more subtle, creative techniques being pioneered today, many of which involve the seller in the process, can be a very good thing. Even the line demarcating the dark side has blurred as a result.

Written by mlogli

March 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

How quickly the quality drops

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Chicago Sun-Times cover on June 26.

Nice isn’t it? This is what a lack of photographers will get you: a blurry iPhone picture and a cover of red.

It’s amazing how quickly the quality of the Sun-Times’ visual journalism has fallen since laying off their photojournalism department a few weeks ago. The Tumblr SunTimes/DarkTimes has explored the descent into awful by comparing Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune covers back to back. They have also taken a look at a few webpage comparisons. It is absolutely embarrassing.

A friend of mine currently working in England told me recently that the state of media across the pond is in much better shape. While culture is a part of the reason, the fact is that many papers in England consistently produce high-quality journalism for an audience that is willing to pay for it. And while we can blame the advent of technology all we want, the fact remains that sometimes stupid people will make horrible decisions, sacrificing quality for cash flow.

Because media is treated as a for-profit business, it is run as such, which is why we see things like this happen. Deep down, I know the Sun-Times will realize their mistake. The problem is when they call back all those photographers they lost and try to rehire them, they will still try to hire them as freelancers first. If that happens, I hope those photographers know that they are much, much better than that, that those photographers don’t take those jobs, that those photographers don’t pull the Sun-Times out of the hole they dug for themselves.

There are a few lessons to be learned here about the media and its relationship to money. We deserve better.

Written by mlogli

June 30, 2013 at 12:54 am

Perspective is important in journalism

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I came across this story today discussing a journalism-related topic I hadn’t thought about before.

I too believed that unpaid internships were a necessary evil of the media world. Be it radio, newspaper, digital, whatever the outlet, it is almost impossible to get a job at a top-notch producer without some form of internship. Some of the entry level jobs pay so low it almost feels like an unpaid internship anyway, but that’s beside the point.

Those coming from low-income backgrounds simply cannot afford an unpaid internship, thereby being effectively priced out of a field they may excel in. By doing this, the business is losing this viewpoint in the workforce. This can lead to inaccurate, insensitive coverage, and in some cases it already has. And this viewpoint is sorely needed. 

Anyone who has spent time in the business has likely noticed that journalism is almost becoming a “gated community” in response to the growing influence of free articles online. To protect the product, and protect the writers from the increased frequency of errors, the business has become more inbred, elitist and defensive. And even for those that have a faster track than others, people just don’t want to have to kill a few years of their lives just to work in an industry that may decide one day to cut you loose with absolutely no warning.

The people taking these internships deserve more than what they receive for the hard work they put in. Will they ever get it again? It’s unlikely, unfortunately, but there has to be some way to give people from lower-class backgrounds the same opportunities others have, either by special exceptions, scholarships or otherwise.

 

Written by mlogli

June 10, 2013 at 1:54 am

Another bad day for journalism

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As I’m sure my Chicagoan readers are aware, the Chicago Sun-Times just did something very stupid today. They got the entire photography staff, including those from the suburbs, and laid off every single one. Counting some of the part-time staff and freelancers that may or may not have been affected, anywhere from 20-30 people just lost their jobs today.

The writers’ union (and yes, believe it or not there is one) has already begun to file a lawsuit against the media company. Even if it succeeds, I don’t know why one would want to work at a company that just laid off some of its greatest talents. The Sun-Times was always known for its sports coverage, including beautiful photography. Now a line of freelancers will take their place, and reporters will be expected to take their own photos with cell phone cameras, as well as relying on the video producers.

Protip: Video is not the same as photo.

In the short-term, this move saves a lot of money. Sun-Times probably cut a cool $1 million of expenditures out of their budget, including insurance costs since they won’t have to cover that for freelancers. Long-term…hoo boy.

This should be obvious to most people, but I’ll bring it up anyway: cell phone pictures cannot come even close to the quality created by an actual camera. This will be noticeable from the first issue after this layoff. And actually taking these photos, and using the right cameras, does take a specially trained person with an artistic eye, a knowledge of angles and lighting, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of when the action is going to happen. People who aren’t trained in this simply cannot do this job correctly, and they cannot do the job with tools ill-suited to the task at hand. Taking a high-quality journalistic photo, like this, or this or even this) is not something a person with a Nikon handheld can do.

I hope this does not become a trend for other newspapers. It is merely another step down as print products continue to deteriorate in quality. So long as consumers demand a “free news” product, this trend will continue to the point where news media will be bought out by entrepreneurs and companies and turned into propaganda…wait…

Or it could deteriorate to the point where a major news event will be simply missed because of understaffing and poorly-educated hires. I shudder to think of how, say, the Boston Marathon bombing would have been covered if a bunch of idiots were stuck trying to articulate the horror of that day, misleading the public at every turn with false leads and misinformation. You either get the New York Post, CNN, or Reddit.

At some point, I hope people are fed up enough to realize that good journalism requires some sort of cash flow behind it. I would rather a good newspaper be funded by the people than by Rupert Murdoch or the Koch family.

Written by mlogli

May 31, 2013 at 3:21 am

What looking back can teach you

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There were some things that took place in the 90s that I didn’t understand at the time. I didn’t fully comprehend the OJ Simpson trial when it happened. I was only 6 or 7 at the time, and while it was definitely a big deal, I didn’t understand a lot of the subtext. I don’t think my brother, who would have been 3 or 4, understood it either. That’s probably why he couldn’t sleep at night while the trial was going on. He thought OJ was going to come through the bedroom window and murder him.

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With a face like that?

The same goes for a lot of media from that time. To dismiss it as “lame” now might mean missing out on something worthwhile. I’ll be honest, a lot of shows that were popular at the time, like “Seinfeld” or “King of the Hill,” or even the more adult cartoon shows (Batman the Animated Series comes to mind) were things that I just didn’t see the appeal of. I was good with the Simpsons, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, and the Power Rangers thank you.

But thanks to the magic of the internet, I can catch some of these important events, or interviews, or what have you. And there’s a lot to catch up on. Like Bill Clinton’s performance on the Arsenio Hall Show, and finding out whether the Arsenio Hall Show was actually any good.

Because like my brother and is irrational fear of OJ, it all affected us, whether we understood it or not. By being able to understand what made us who we were, we can become who we want to be. After all, it was probably that trial (among other forms of sensationalist 90s media) that made me consider journalism and writing.

Written by mlogli

March 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm

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Airtime: Like Chatroulette, but with fewer dicks

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Today is an exciting day if you liked Chatroulette way back in the day in 2009 or 2010.

Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster, has invested $33 million to try to capitalize on what could have been a great idea and is trying to make it work again. Fanning has worked with Sean Parker to make a little something called Airtime.

It acts as a Skype-like program and can allow you to video chat with friends. If your friends don’t pick up you can even leave a little video message for them. But by clicking on “Talk to Someone” you’ll get into the more Chatroulette portion of the site.

Here is where the changes really begin. Airtime removes anonymity by linking to your Facebook account. This not only assists in matching you with someone you may be interested in talking too by your interests and likes on Facebook, but it also allows admins to ban you or find you if you decide to helicopter someone. The person you’re talking to wouldn’t see this information.

I think it’s an interesting twist and it (hopefully) solves many of the anonymity problems. At least now if people want to be douchebags and whip it out they can get banned as users, and people will find out who they are.

So I’ve signed up for the service, and maybe I’ll try it later. The idea is interesting but hopefully the reality will match this time.

 

Written by mlogli

June 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm