Journalism for the 21st Century: The Jon Stewart Effect
pure juice flip flops
In the 1970s, Sander Vanocur told me something I've been thinking about ever since. The political satire in Johnny Carson's monologue, he said, defined heartland political issues.

So it came as no surprise to me that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are a primary source of news for the young. The people whose knickers get in a twist around that haven't been paying attention, first of all, to many things about journalism, beginning with the fact that the New Journalism (invented at Esquire magazine in the 1960s), now half a century old, imparted new information about what was then the counterculture in a new way. Talese' story on Frank Sinatra is considered the first wave of all the dreary j-school classes of what I now think they call creative non-fiction?

Don't go to j school, was the advice I was given. Study philosophy, history, phys ed, pottery. You can learn journalism in six weeks. So can its consumers, and so they do.

People whose knickers get into a twist about Stewart and Colbert being peoples' primary source of news may or may not be professors of journalism, stuffed shirts, or white boys with a vested interest in circle-jerk method of covering politics, of which Politico in the successful internet avatar. I think we know who the wedgie ones are:

Venise Wagner, associate chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, argues with her students over whether "The Daily Show" is real journalism. They think it is; she tells them it isn't, explaining that journalism involves not just conveying information but also following a set of standards that includes verification, accuracy and balance.

But she says "The Daily Show" does manage to make information relevant in a way that traditional news organizations often do not, and freedom from "balance" shapes its success. "'The Daily Show' doesn't have to worry about balance. They don't have to worry about accuracy, even. They can just sort of get at the essence of something, so it gives them much more latitude to play around with the information, to make it more engaging," Wagner says.

I have no stats on this, but my nose for news tells me the boys-on-the-back-of-bus coverage is alienating to voters, and assists the unscrupulous right in its 40 year mission to keep voter turnout low, so they can win, by defining single issues like abortion or same-sex marriage as political matters, which they're not. I submit to you not that women know better, but that what real political coverage is what the League of Women Voters does. The League of Women Voters writes non-partisan policy papers delineating issues without prejudice. I am not familiar enough with their work to say whether or not they add a one-sentence value neutral assessment of what place this issue takes in bona fide conservative (not party) philosophy, and in bona fide liberal philosophy. I suspect they avoid this. I think respectful attention to non-partisan political philosophy is central to the democracy, to political issues, and to what people want to know about the news.

The parsing of the political news for its real meaning is what Stewart and Colbert do. This is what political coverage of 21st century news should be doing, League of Women Voters issues analysis in a cellphone screen-sized format. Naturally Stewart and Colbert parse stories with LULZ value, and this is bias of their news coverage. I learned from the hordes of people of every color watching Jerry Springer that yeah, people like freaks, geeks, and catfights. But they are absolute junkies for adjudication. The developmental psychiatrist Kohlberg based an entire sexist male template on little boys' penchant for adjudication -- you could say it was arguing over whether or not the ball was inside or outside. Concentration camp survivors say the observation of injustice, of everything one can suffer in extremity, is extremity's most corrosive experiece. Primo Levi writes, in The Reawakening:

...the shame a just man another man's crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have prevailed in defense.

Having our noses rubbed in the shameless injustice of politics as practiced for the cameras and for Politico, for the jockeying social aspirations and tin soldier power plays of editors from Wauchula, causes the metaphysical guilt which keeps us from voting.

In any case, adjudication seems nearly instinctual, and the horse race version of it still forms the way newspapers, online and elsewhere, still cover politics. The competition between politicians is of no interest to us. We like competitive sports -- I am noting the importance of soccer players and fandom in the Islamist Algerian wars and in the Egyptian spring uprising -- we like freaks and geeks, but covering politics like sports keeps us away from the polls and empowers the heartlessly cynical new right puppetmeisters of the racist hegemony of the last 40 years. One old hippie I know says he doesn't even think they're racist. They just use it as a tactic. I respect a racist more.

The New Journalism method of covering these political issues would be to find somebody whose story illustrates the problem, and do a profile of that person. So what you'd have is not a horserace story about the cross-talk between loathsome selfish ideologues shutting down the government on the specious Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge, but, rather, a talk with Grover. A discussion about the tactics one guy uses every day to be powerful enough to single-handedly close down the U.S. government. Grover is the beat, all the rest of those people are ants on his melon. You say Grover doesn't talk to the media? I refer you to the Talese Sinatra story, a masterpiece of how to write a story about somebody who won't talk to you. The other political journalism lesson everyone seems to have forgotten is that the White House news does not exist at the White House.

Newspapers get all caught up in that basically because provincial editors want to be invited to the White House correspondents' dinner and check out Lindsay Lohan's tits. To have One's Own Reporter at the White House is the mark of the publisher's influence on national policy; the reporter is not so secretly viewed as being the publisher's lobbyist, and the game of political journalism in which news coverage is seen both as a prize and a critique, which leads to such remarkable actions as the politician John Edwards' consulting the actor Sean Penn and movie director Paul Haggis on how to spin his bimbo eruption. That essential rats-in-a-bottle perversion of politics was the lesson of Watergate as well, in All the President's Men -- that Washington was Hollywood and Hollywood was Washington.

So, how to cover politics for the 21st century is no secret. The tools have been here for 50 years, whether you call it the New Journalism, Johnny Carson's monologue, or the Jon Stewart effect.

End political journalism as we know it. It is literally destroying our world.

Why the WaPo Is Imploding: Failure of Vision
pure juice flip flops
What has struck me throughout the reporting process is that, at every turn, the Post has taken a prudent approach and made reasonable choices. The company is exceedingly cautious. It holds no debt. It is in a relatively good financial position as a stand-alone company, despite the losses at Kaplan. Graham is interested in new media and willing to experiment. But the company has been slow to make strategic choices about its future. Graham wanted to invest in Facebook, but was outbid. He experimented with an early digital version of the paper, but let it fall apart. When the Times pushed the Post out of the I.H.T., media watchers and investors felt the Post came out of that the winner, given the losses at that paper. But of course there was a more ambitious way to look at the transaction, which ignored the immediate business results. The company’s one radical departure, as it turns out, was buying Kaplan, but that was something it backed into. Graham prides himself on giving ideas time to percolate, but his choices often seem to be cut short by practical financial concerns.

Caution can be a virtue, but in revolutionary times it may be something else entirely.

Vanity Fair, April 2012Collapse )

Notes on How to Cover News for the 21st Century
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This is a wiki. Please add to it.

how to cover the 21st century. go where the voters are and encourage them to vote. this would include latinos who will apparently be the majority voters soon.

asking people, on their turf, not in polls or in your office in a focus group, what they're worried about. what do they think most about? ie., what are the actual political issues as opposed to frank luntz's and grover norquist's?

Under Cantor's leadership, Norquist's anti-tax pledge was directly responsible for last summer's debt-ceiling standoff that wrecked the nation's credit rating by leading the nation to the brink of default. "Congress was willing to cause severe economic damage to the entire population," marvels Paul O'Neill, Bush's former Treasury secretary, "simply because they were slaves to an idiot's idea of how the world works."

Read more:

bilingual short news for apps. pioneered in Latina mag; even the poorest most homeless person now has a cellphone.

young voters issues. centrist. green. pro-war. anti-abortion. all carry $15K student loan debt. predatory lending.

enviro justice, lack of enforcement, health -- scandalous lack of enforcement of pollution laws already on the books

the suburbs -- parking lot, cars, working out of your car as office space is downsized. beltway/cruising/LA car culture; the garlick-fication of the burbs as entry level immigrants avoid inner city, etc. people in cars are limbaugh's audience.

transpo issues, smart growth, retro-fitting transpo and highway systems planned for commuting into the inner city rather than to jobs sited round beltway

taking the political discourse, including abortion as a political issue, away from the republicans. disassembling their 40 year hegemony based on this:

reform campaign spending law and make it clear to the supreme court that citizens united was their last fuckup: people have the votes, no matter how many billionaries spend all their money on lunatics.

the supreme court is accountable to the people and its time is up. there's a moveon/flashmob/kickstart/ aspect to the 24hour news cycle the internet has inaugurated that should be exploited.

both tina's and ariana's newspapers are consistently in technorati's top 10. what do t and a know that the washington post and the new york times do not? what is the jon stewart effect -- gen x and younger get all their news from jon? pro and con?

what are the cons of mandated (kickstarter/pro publica) flashmob journalism?

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012
girlfriends are forever

Most revolutionary children's book illustrator of the 20th century. New Yorker. Mensch.

Everyone who ever read In the Night Kitchen understood it was a love song to the city, to the democracy of the public space and all the people in it.

Mr. Sendak, sweetheart, your parents always knew you were gay. They're proud of you. They have supper waiting.

Met Costume Institute Gala Red Carpet
loaf-haired pats
L to R, Rihanna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Karolina Kurkova, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Kate Upton, Sophia Vergara and Beyonce.

Why is the oldest person in this line up wearing the least clothes?

To put it another way, why are the youngest people in this line up wearing more clothes than that one ho 300 years their senior?

Next up, Gwynnie does the cat daddy in a bikini.

Get Your Clix on Route 666
pure juice flip flops
technorati top 10 5.7.12

The Washington Post lost $22 million in its last quarter, are aggressively buying out senior, rain-making, prize-winning reporters, and apparently turning the newsroom into a click-thru sweatshop, complete with a screen recording story hits in real time.

The bigfeet are worried.

I don't think there's anything wrong with getting rid of expensive old reporters and replacing them with young ones.

I do think there is a difference between the clickhounds of Gawker or The Mail Online, however, and reporters. News is curated for the public good. You need to keep your eyes on the prize. I think it's voter turnout, and the journalism version of Friday Night Lights. Grassroots issues and community.

The Washington Post needs to figure out that that is, and cover the two local industries they have -- U.S. politics and Chocolate City -- with what I'm thinking of as freakonomics politico, a journalism paradigm for the 21st century. I think the old avatar of freako politico is Mike Davis, the Marxist. He is probably the very best Holy Shit Story reporter of his generation, as Steven Levitt (I am still checking him out) may be of his generation.

Everybody knows from writing their own blogs what gets the most clix. Use the word porn in your headline and your clix will increase 20 fold. I once posted a photograph to Flickr of the weird python-like process of creating and stuffing a cloth doll. I called it Getting Stuffed. It got nearly a thousand hits in two hours until I changed the headline. In 10 years of blogging, this Getting Stuffed photograph was my greatest hit in what we shall call, for journalism curriculum purposes, the Scandanavian Christmas Elf Tomte Syndrome:

It's Always Creepy to Make Something 3-D Out of Something Flat

So the perfect capitalist tool of a newspaper, as WaPo president and general manager Steve Hills seems to have told the senior reporters, to maximize the website, would be 10 rainmakers, 1,000 clix drones, and the words "Getting Stuffed" in every headline. Today's lede stories in the NYT:

At Cusp of Major Power, Bo Xilai Gets Stuffed by Own Hard Tactics
A Scramble as Biden Gets Stuffed on Same Sex Marriage
Stock Trading Is Still Getting Stuffed After '08
Hollande Calling for 'Get Stuffed' Amid Cuts in Europe

Even more trenchantly, for the clix hix, this minute's top four most e-mailed stories from the NYT:

For the Hard of Hearing, Clarity Out of the Getting Stuffed
When Illness Makes a Spouse Get Stuffed
Those Getting Stuffed Europeans
Black Women and Getting Stuffed

Good luck with that. Other newspapers are making it online, as the Technorati top ten screen cap shows. Why can't the Post?

No one is interested in the politics they cover or the way they cover it. Let Politico do that for the wonk readership; they like it, they're good at it, let the wonk market go. The Root is not a substitute for covering its other great franchise, Chocolate City. Last I checked, the demographics for black people in the D.C. metro area were that they were the best-educated, richest per capita black people in the U.S. and probably in the world. And the Post's financing The Root comes nowhere near real time coverage of the grassroots issues for people of color the world over inherent in the local coverage of Chocolate City. I'd simply like to remind you that Ron Suskind, one of the great Freako Politico reporters, won his Pulitzer prize telling the story of one black kid trying to get though the D.C. schools and into the Ivy League.

Eyes on the prize, Hills.

Morning Glory Fountain
In what turned out to be my darkest hour, 1981, I glimpsed, in the Newark Street Community Garden in northwest D.C. a morning glory fountain. It was just morning glories planted in a wire tomato cone. It was jammed and exploding with blooms, and the tips of the winding vines spread from the small end at the top of the cone out into the air, looking for something to climb, their tips turned up like apsara dancers' hyperextended fingers.

I've never forgotten it.

This year, thirty-one years later, and 1,647 miles away, I finally got the sun and space to plant one. And a moon flower one too.

Morning Glory Fountain

It's hard to believe I made it.

Here is the rosa glauca, covered with blooms. Last year it had one, and I sent a picture of it, the first flower I ever grew, to the Old Husband. I never heard from him again, until I dreamed that he had died, which he had. Three days after his death I dreamed he came and said, I'm going home. This one is for him, with love and thanks to the wonderful, gay, granny chic, Dixie Boho gardener, Dean Riddle, who recommends it.

Rosa Glauca

Saviour, Pass Me Not
nakey naga
I've been on this regime since October 2010. In Buddhist or cognitive therapy terms, it is thought-switching. Two gigantic miracles have taken place, not explicitly the ones I was asserting, but ones which substantially changed my life for the better.

Lately, in what can only be described as decathexsis, an almost photographic recall of my entire life has passed before my eyes, including some very bad days. I seem to have been dreaming about that last night.

And I woke up this morning sad but certain that it is part of the answer to my prayer, of release from all the obstacles of bitterness so my forgiveness work can continue. I've been working on it for 15 years, and had an epiphany, regarding my worst enemy, Jack Daniels, the other day. Seeing him, rather than not seeing him, is the forgiveness work.

One of the great liberating ideas in forgiveness work is that you don't have to like, or hang out with, or step up for more injury, from the people you have forgiven. I think that's Forgiveness 202. Forgiveness 301, is, they cannot injure you. Forgiveness 401 is this, which I am still struggling with.

Forgiveness is important. My one criterion in all the spiritual trudging I've done in the last 25 years is what's in this for me? I'm not here to be good, it's way too late for that. I'm not here to be respectable, because respectable kills. After several years of asking that question, Emmet Fox answered: If your prayers are not being answered, search your consciousness and see if there is not someone whom you have yet to forgive.
-- Fox, "The Lord's Prayer", Power Through Constructive Thinking

Fox's little essay on Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us may be his greatest work. Very much in the Fox tradition of a.) you don't need clean hands to ask to borrow the soap and b.) either God means what he says, or he doesn't: ie., forgiveness is the vestibule of heaven. You can't chose. Sometimes I think atheists are the people for whom resentment is form-conferring. I'm willing to die so I can be angry at Jack.

My two other great experiential spiritual insights in this long jornada, were basically Hindu, I think. Although I'm also a big old Jew. And a Baptist. When nothing else can move me, a little touch of The Swan Silvertones' Savior Pass Me Not or Hezekiah Walker's Faithful Is Our God can turn this stone into a human being again.

My Hindu insights took place in the early 1990s. They were, as bad as what this person has done to me is -- a trusted mentor had ripped me off -- and it was very bad, it has not harmed the real me, as far away as that real me is. It has to do with this passage from the Bhagavad Gita:

I say to thee weapons reach not the Life;
Flame burns it not, waters cannot o'erwhelm,
Nor dry winds wither it. Impenetrable,
Unentered, unassailed, unharmed, untouched,
Immortal, all-arriving, stable, sure,
Invisible, ineffable, by word
And thought uncompassed, ever all itself,
Thus is the Soul declared! How wilt thou, then,—
Knowing it so,—grieve when thou shouldst not grieve?

-- Edwin Arnold, Song Celestial,

The other was a deep sense that this is all a dream, in the sense that the material world is only conformed to my vision. It's a sad insight, in a way, but the prize is a glimpse of the eternal goodness -- chi, if you like -- that everything is made of, and the world of spirits who love us and are here, just beyond my mortal power to see them. If they forgive me, and I forgive them, we can get to a very good place.

Krishna takes the reins of Arjuna's war chariot.

Slow News Day
pure juice flip flops
Thursdays are always a big day in the journalism world. It is the day of the week when the femme edition of the New York Times comes out, with both Styles and Home sections full of ads for weekend shoppers.

I started out in life writing for one of the so-called soft news sections of a great metropilitan daily newspaper. Not only was it not soft news, it was the only way to cover what was happening, the only real news written in the hard-fought style of the New Journalism. Tracking the permutations of the so-called soft news sections of the newspaper since the halcyon days when we invented rock 'n' roll, ended racial 'n' sexual discrimination 'n' The War, and invented the dear departed New Journalism, is the way of the ice floe.

Ros Russell and Cary Grant face off as reporters, His Girl Friday, 1940/

Oddly enough, I've been a fan of the derriere garde ladymags all these years, and when the Times femme section editors decide to be exciting and cover something New in the way of Home or Styles, something butch, like -- I can't remember the specific piece that made my heart sink recently. It wasn't DIY wi-fi installation, wiring, real estate resale, asphalting your own driveway -- all those things are femme these days, with my beloved house blogger chicks each and all wielding big bad power tools with enviable Born This Way girly muscles. Watching Ana White measure out roof trusses for the duplex she is building for her mother and mother-in-law, in Alaska, people, gives me the same thrill I felt forty years ago, first reading the famous Click essay by Jane O'Reilly in the incendiary, premier Ms. preview insert of New York magazine. Click. Yeah, I'm a feminist. You are too.

The NYT Home story that made my heart sink would have been in the soul-murdering R.W. Apple tradition of the Grey Lady, when she gets one of her very fast writers to churn out 5,000 words on such a re-re-rendering of received wisdom squeezed from a 500-year-old turnip, that you wonder if they'd know what news is if it bit them on the big grey booty. And there are real news stories out there in the Home and Styles world -- how the one per cent live: techno MacMansions, the brutalist masculinist Playboy philosophy homes of the software moguls at the top of the Home list, and -- well, there's a million story ideas for Styles. Blatant elbows-out plagiarism among the MILF-porn house blogger bitches seeking monetization, for one thing.(What's up with Heather Armstrong? Penelope Trunk? Yipes.) That whole suburban MILF-porn tube-top-'n'-chandelier-earrings-SUV-devil-spawn-train-wreck phenom that kept my eyes glued to the nanny shows. Cheese with that? Yes, please.

Why it is I still look forward to the Thursday femme edition when it so seldom delivers news I'm far ahead of them on can only be attributed to nosiness. Glimpses of what other people are doing with their houses -- the guy and his girlfriend with separate Caribbean Boho bungalows on a small tropical property, ohhh! -- is pretty much all I care about, and it extends to Katherine Boo's shacks in the Mumbai slum of Annawadi. How do you build and decorate one? All us survivalists, headed into 40 years of old age with no Social Security, need to know.

So today I open the femme edition. On page one, there's a mysterious non-story about what didn't happen when the Chinese dissident was forced out? -- of the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

There was, as the lede of the Home section, a tour of the White House. Been there, done that. How about a story about the massive bunker/"Visitor Center"/green zone that has been built around the White House since 9/11? In what way would the billions spent ward off either an airplane attack -- was the Pennsylvania plane really headed for the White House? -- or a handheld missile launcher attack by a pedestrian on 16th Street? You can buy one with your credit card in Alexandria. For realz. That's a nice Home Land Security story, the closing by George W. Bush of the White House and Pennsylvania to the public. Where is it?

In Styles, a completely unreadable story by the wonderful Guy Trebay flogging something nobody gives a shit about -- another ratfuck art show, billed as possibly New York's version of Art Basel Miami Beach. My eyes glaze over. Cover the cruising story, yes. The predatory collecting habits of the one per cent -- the world-record shattering $120 million for a bad version of "The Scream"? -- yes. The ratfuck? The art? Is not the story. Sorry, Guy. It feels like the sports reporters who won't cover the NFL brain injury/Junior Seau story. They fear, by covering the cruising/collecting stories, losing their access.

Give me Ana White and her pink power drill any day.

I'm Not Going To Tell You Who Won, But It's Totally Important That She Did


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