How the Media will report the Apocalypse.

Also includes a picture of a goat, but trust me, you're clicking through for the bits about The Daily Mail and Slate.
So quite a few folks pointed me to this screed from Alexis Madrigal, an online editor at the Atlantic, written in response to this annoyed post by Nate Thayer. Both the original post and the response have garnered a lot of attention, although I agree with the commentators on the post that the response is less about current pay rates at the Atlantic and more about "What the hell is going on at the Atlantic?"

Oh well. At least they don't employ David Brooks.

Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, what caught my attention was not so much the discussion of financial issues, but something pretty much buried deep down in the article: "Any time I imagine the glamorous world of writing for The Atlantic or The New Yorker or Harper's in 1968 or 1978, I remember that most journalists were going to homecoming football games and writing about the king and queen."

Not many people know this, but I started out as a sports writer.


My first paid, professional pieces were for the local paper, reporting on the the high school soocer team. It was pretty cool -- I got to go around on the bus with the team and say that I wrote for the paper AND I got paid. My mother still has the articles somewhere.

Here's what the Atlantic's article missed entirely: I wasn't a journalist. I did exactly no investigation of the high school soccer team (not that I had much to investigate) or anything else. The later occasional (very occasional) articles I did for the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel weren't much different: short fluff pieces describing some places around South Florida. I never entered a journalism program, and although I certainly applied for multiple positions at various magazines in my senior year of college, these were all for editing positions, not staff writing experiences.

Because I was fully aware that what I was doing wasn't journalism. It barely counted as reporting. It was a cheap way for the local paper to get some local things covered while giving all of us writing creds to help us get into college. Any actual investigation of our school was done by the New York Times (the daughter of the education editor for The New York Times attended our school, so we got a bit more national attention than probably justified, and no, this has nothing to do with my current occasional screeds against the publication; I didn't know her at all although Facebook continues to insist that I did. I hate Facebook. Moving on.)

And here's the dirty little secret: contrary to what the Atlantic's editor is suggesting, this is exactly how many local papers got those homecoming king/queen articles going. Sure, sometimes they hired people (and high school students) hoping to start the fast track to journalism. And sometimes they hired people just thrilled to get their names in the paper for whatever reason, or who wanted to say, "Well, I occasionally write for the Y" or who were told by their high school counselors to get their acts together and have something besides "piano" on their college applications -- preferably something involving an organization.

Am I saying I got nothing out of that? Not at all. I learned how to type up my little articles and send them in and learn early on that even local editors can be ruthless with your limited copy if they think a nice ad about a furniture store will look better there. I learned early on that often, other things -- like my job at the library -- will pay better than writing gigs, but you have to pay taxes anyway. I learned the very basics of writing pitches, which later helped me write a few things for newspapers later. Listing that on my college applications probably helped me skip my senior year of high school (a definite plus) and was later of considerable use in my first query letters to larger newspapers and magazines and led to some decently paid freelance work which helped pay the bills. (And some very irritating freelance work, but we'll skip that for now.) And I could always tell myself that yes, I'd been published -- when I was fourteen. (Well, technically when I was seven, but very, very few people apart from my grandfather really counted that one.)

And I got paid.

I don't claim to know where U.S. journalism is going. It's got its decidedly weak spots (pretty much all of the coverage of Hugo Chavez' death has been just awful), though longer magazine articles can still provide something worth reading. (Also from the New Yorker: coverage of a Congo literary festival -- much shorter than the piece I linked to above and The Borowitz Report. Also, no David Brooks.) The Tribune Company is reportedly trying to sell off its newspapers to focus on television. So who knows? But as a writer, I am perhaps not surprisingly hoping that pay continues to be a part of real journalism, at least.
I meant to add this to my last post, but got distracted by thoughts of chocolate, as you do. Anyway.

If you missed it, this may be one of the worst opinion posts published by the Washington Post, like ever, containing this particular "gem":
He has overcome numerous obstacles, struggled against opposition both internal and external — in order to excel in poetry, a field that may very well be obsolete.
I say this lovingly as a member of the print media. If poetry is dead, we are in the next ward over, wheezing noisily, with our family gathered around looking concerned and asking about our stereos.
Ok, a, who the hell asks about stereos on someone's deathbed?

Moving on, she continues,
Still I think there is a question to be asked. You can tell that a medium is still vital by posing the question: Can it change anything?
Can a poem still change anything?
I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer. There are about six people who buy new poetry, but they are not feeling very well.
This is followed by some snarky comments about MFA students, but I'll let you read that yourself.

Petri's arguments, such as they aren't, seem to boil down to, a) the inaugural poem wasn't very good (I didn't hear it and haven't read it, so I'm withholding judgement on this point), b) poems are supposed to tell us news, and now that we have the nice media doing that for us we don't need poems, c) nobody is reading poetry, d) nobody is publishing poetry, e) nobody is buying poetry. Also, apparently, Ezra Pound would have keeled over if he'd seen any recent movies. (Well, this last one is probably true, but not for the reasons Petri is suggesting, and I'll just let you all contemplate the image of Ezra Pound watching the last Transformers movie for a moment before we move on.)

Let's unpack:

1. Just possibly -- possibly -- judging the state of poetry in general from the inaugural poem is not the best way to go about doing things. To return to the classical period that Petri seems so happy and ignorant about, all sorts of people wrote all sorts of inaugural poems to celebrate the ascent of various city leaders, Senators, Emperors, prefects and so on to various positions. All of these poems are deservedly forgotten today -- with the fragments that survive showing exactly why nobody in the classical or medieval period thought they were worth keeping. We do use the fragments to get information about particular lives, but great poetry, this is not. And that's ok -- bad poetry is also part of the human experience.

2. As I've noted, back when I was in high school, poetry was difficult to find. Oh, sure, it was assigned in high school to a degree (mostly Shakespeare and a couple of other standard poets) and you could find anthologies with the same poems printed over and over, but that was about it. Poetry reading? Hi, Shakespeare.

Back in South Florida I was able to head to various bookstores and coffeeshops to hear live poetry readings. (They also exist in the Orlando area, but not in trike-accessible places, so I haven't gone.) Yes, most of these have been very earnest poems written by devout Christians, which is not my kinda stuff, but nothing wrong with that either. And you want to know why those poems were worth while? They made the poets happy, and allowed them to explore their relationship with their god and their faith. That seems important, at least to them.

Moving past the Christian poetry movement, you have the explosion of singer/songwriters, who, yes, are writing poetry -- Petri, wrongly telling us that all poetry used to be set to music, should have noticed this. You have rap music which I can't stand but which is doing all kinds of fun things with language and, yes, telling news and telling stories.

And then you have the internet, with its explosion of poetry journals of all sorts, not to mention the possibilities for publishing poetry on a blog, or through a little ebook, or more. You have YouTube which allows people to share their poetry performances with the world. Poetry is not just what I like, or what Ms. Petri likes: it's larger than that.

Poetry dead? Poetry, Ms. Petri, is exploding. It's one of the the things that gives me a bit of hope to cling to in the world. It might not be making earth shattering changes, but it provides moments of beauty and hope. And that is a reason to keep it.

(And honestly, for any member of the media, and more specifically the Washington Post, to be dinging any other part of society for not telling the news right now...are you kidding me?)
Ok, yes, the Olympics are over. But not necessarily my ranting! (And for those of you freaking out, no worries – this blog will be returning very shortly to its usual habits of completely ignoring sports.)

Positive comments about the actual sports will be in the next entry. )
NBC: Fail

Ok, it's really almost a tradition by now: NBC gets the rights to broadcast the Olympics; NBC manages to screw up the Olympic broadcast, by not showing live events, skipping here there and everywhere, pausing to show us Interesting Things About the Host Country, which are invariably Never Interesting and always happening while NBC could be showing us, you know, athletes, failing to show most of the most popular events live, and showing only tidbits of some of the bizarre sports that we only get to see at the Olympics.

Even by these standards, however, NBC managed to sink to new lows last night. How low? Let's review:

1. NBC decided not to cover the Opening Ceremonies live, on the basis that They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them.. (Canada, meanwhile, managed to show both the live Opening Ceremonies and an edited version for primetime, apparently in an effort to make more Americans ignore the bitter bitter cold and decide to head up to Canada to live anyway.)

2. NBC also blocked United States ISPs from live streaming from international coverage. (Despite this, I should note that certain employees of Universal Studios, Florida, which is currently partly owned by NBC/Universal, were watching an apparently excellent live feed from Costa Rica. Fail. Other people at SeaWorld got a hold of a BBC feed, but, to be fair, SeaWorld isn’t an NBC property.)

That would have been fine – after all, NBC did pay millions for the rights to show this, except --

3. NBC then failed to show the entire opening ceremonies. Missing were what the BBC calls a moving dance tribute to terrorist victims, complete with a rendition of "Abide With Me," (NBC cut into this with an inane interview with an uncomfortable looking Michael Phelps who clearly just wanted to leave, like, now); several parts of the history of British music number; bits of the Arctic Monkeys, and bits of the Parade of Nations. So, NBC refused to allow Americans to watch the Opening Ceremonies elsewhere and then refused to show Americans all of the show. Yay.

4. But even that was dwarfed by commentary that was, even by NBC's standards...jaw droppingly awful, prompting the immediate #NBCfail twitter tag. And which meant that instead of noticing much about the ceremony, I found myself snarking about NBC's coverage instead.

What I thought of NBC's commentary, live. Cut to save some of you from having to endure it a second time. To get a real sense of how bad it was, skip to the bits about the Parade of Nations. )
So I was indulging in my guilty pleasure of Revenge tonight (I admit; I have a severe crush on Nolan. And a minor crush on the actress playing "Amanda.") and unusually enough didn't turn off the TV before the local news came on.

It reminded me just why I need to turn of the TV before the local news comes on.

It's not that I don't want to be informed. But.

On Sunday, some bicyclists found two burning bodies on the side of a bike trail. That is awful enough. Today, they were identified as two teenagers from a local high school, which is even worse. Just a horrible, horrible story, and not surprisingly, the lead story on the news.

Now, I have to say that I can't immediately think of a good way to handle this, other than perhaps retelling the bit about the bicyclists and the identification of the teenagers, especially since the cops are apparently not releasing any other information except the identities of the victims, so the media doesn't have much to go on here. Even with that, though, they failed.

Because instead of quoting the cops, or friends of the victims (who understandably aren't talking) or parents of the victims (ditto) or even the typical concerned neighbor of "It's really scary -- it makes you feel unsafe, you know?" or even bicyclists, they went to the high school and interviewed some students, and added that in an exclusive, they had learned that "one of the victims called a friend, apparently by accident."


That report was based on interviews with the students, who were repeating what they had heard in school. In other words, mere rumors.

I don't blame the students. They said, and I am quoting, "I heard that there were sounds of running...." [on a phone call that one of the victims VERY allegedly made to an unnamed friend. They admitted that they had not heard the phone call in question and that they were only repeating what they'd heard in school.

I think we all know how quickly incredibly false information can spread in school.

ABC assured us that they had learned that the call in question really happened -- while ALSO telling us (and showing us) that the alleged receiver of that call had refused to talk to them on camera. They told us what his friends had said about the call.

And that was the SOURCED part of the story. ABC also told us that the murder happened because of a $500 drug deal gone bad, with no accompanying police statement.

Look. I know the media is desperate to tell the story; I assume the community wants to know what the hell happened -- I mean, I want to know what happened. But is it really too much to ask the media to wait for a statement from an actual witness or the cops, instead of reporting what a bunch of high schoolers happen to be saying?
Today's irritation actually started yesterday, when I saw some news outlets reporting * on the arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for alleged sexual assault and attempted rape as a sex case or sex scandal. (Many of these headlines were later altered, but Roger Ebert repeated the term in a tweet, showing that it had entered the consciousness, as it were.


Just, no.

A sex scandal would have been Strauss-Kahn getting caught, say, with a bunch of hookers and a goat doing interesting things with pizza while wearing a bunny suit. Or Strauss-Kahn getting caught with one or two fellow politicians in, as they say, a compromising position. That's scandalous and gossipy and as long as nothing happens to the goat, scandal away and create all the silly headlines you want. I don't care.

But that is not what allegedly happened here. (His lawyers say he has an alibi; the New York Post is reporting that Strauss-Kahn will argue that the sex was consensual.) What allegedly happened included grabbing the victim's breasts, dragging her into a bathroom, assaulting her, and forcing her to perform oral sex, in an assault bad enough for the Sofitel hotel to call New York police and risk offending an extremely well heeled customer who had just happily dropped $3000 a night on a hotel suite.

If this is true, this isn't a scandal. It's a crime. It's an assault. It's attempted rape, and let's make sure we keep referring to it that way.

* On the CNN business blog, drop down below the New York Post/Daily News pictures to "Will IMF Sex Scandal Hit EU bailout?"


May. 1st, 2011 11:21 pm
So my brother and I came home from the Game of Thrones watching, and I figured I'd check email, Twitter, head to bed... find that Twitter was telling me that the president was going to make a speech. At 10:30 pm, Sunday night.

Had to be important, although at first everyone (including me) made various jokes. But, you know, important. Shortly after that, Twitter started babbling about Osama. And then that Osama bin Laden was dead, and that members of the U.S. Congress were confirming this.

All before any of the news website had more than "The President is giving a national security speech at 10:30...."

Look, Twitter often gets it wrong. And I use it far more for casual conversations and chatter about roses and food and the Olympics and, well, most recently, making fun of people's hats at royal weddings. (And on a related note, telling me who the people wearing the hats are.)

But this isn't the first time where Twitter's been first.


Really don't have much to say about the actual news event right now. Maybe later.
Annalee Newitz, taking the correct response of actually thinking, rather than just sputtering in response, asks, really, why would men ever watch the Game of Thrones. Hilarious stuff.

Eat it, New York Times, indeed. (Statement stolen shamelessly from Twitter's Bryan Cogman.)
Oh, for the love of god, New York Times, STOP.


Thanks to their new paywall, I've recently managed to successfully avoid the various annoyances of the New York Times. Until television critic Ryan McGree (who, I'd like to note, was not particularly enthusiastic about HBO's upcoming Game of Thrones, but that's ok; I don't expect everybody – or even most people – to like it) pointed me to – or more accurately, warned me off from -- The New York Times review of Game of Thrones.

The reviewer didn't like it.

That's ok. What is not ok is this bit:

The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

This is not the first time the New York Times has, to use their own word, patronizingly assured us that women just don't like all that fantasy stuff. That fantasy is just for the guys. And yes, for the record, a couple of my female friends didn't like The Game of Thrones either. But also for the record, a couple of my guy friends also hated the series or couldn't get into it. This isn't a gender thing.

So, let me be clear, New York Times. I'm a girl. I'm even a girl who – gasp – likes to wear dresses from time to time. I am a girl who loves (good) chick flicks and Pride and Prejudice and hot baths with lots of bubble baths. That sort of thing. I'm also a girl who has hated several chick flicks and chick books and that sort of thing.

I'm also a girl who loves dragons, swordfighting, zombies and all that stuff. I'm a girl who has happily devoured books about men, or books with mostly male characters. And I'm a girl who has happily devoured books featuring the adventures of girls and women in fantasy worlds.

And I'm not alone. News flash: women don't just read and watch this stuff, they also write it. And as a writer, I'm here to tell you: you don't write fantasy unless you really, really love fantasy. Trust me on this one. And as a reader, I'm here to tell you: having girls and women in fantasy books is not a new thing, and it wasn't done as a "little something for the ladies."

If you don't like Game of Thrones, fine. But don't drag in this sort of crap. And stop telling me that I can't like this sort of thing because I'm a girl.

(Also, for the record, I am not in a book club, and I have never read Lorrie Moore. But if I were in a book club, yes, I would strongly suggest that everyone, but everyone, read The Hobbit just because it's such a satisfying book, even if The Hobbit is all about the guys, well before we read Lorrie Moore.)
As if Japan wasn't enduring enough, a volcano decided to leap into the fun.

Since I could tell that some of the stuff the media is saying about seawater is dead wrong, I am questioning some of the confusing reports about the nuclear reactors in Japan. This, an explanation of nuclear reactors, was forwarded to me earlier; they link to the which is providing updated if (to me) somewhat vague information. I will also note that coverage seems to be falling into "pro nuclear" and "anti nuclear" camps which is not helpful for getting accurate information about to the public. Both camps are biased. (Disclosure: I tend toward the pro nuclear camp, with the added note that this disaster and the petrochemical/natural gas fires that also resulted stress the importance of developing solar/wind energy technologies.)

I can, however, say that if anyone is telling you that seawater is at a constant temperature and salinity you should probably change the channel. If anyone says anything about "pure" seawater (seawater has many, many things dissolved in it, particularly seawater that close to a land mass: nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, carbon dioxide, iron, copper, mercury, boron and many other elements besides sodium and chloride) you should also probably change the channel.

And that it would be awfully nice to not have to constantly be irritated at the media.
[profile] roseaponi has found a considerably better article about the alleged sexual assault on the 11 year old.

Let's note what happens when you try actual reporting:

1) You get a statement from a person (the kid's mother) affected by the events.

2) You get a statement from defense attorneys who have actually talked to the alleged rapists, instead of a neighbor who hasn't, thus allowing yourself to cover both sides of the story.

3) Yes, you do get another "blame the victim/victim's parents" neighbor, but this is countered by another statement from a neighbor suggesting prayer instead of blame.

4) This is followed by a statement from someone who ACTUALLY WITNESSED some of the events.

5) And information about how the alleged victim is doing. I think quotes from her Facebook were a mistake, though - those would make her too easy to identify, but it does seem as if most people in her community know who she is anyway.

Which brings up the problem of trying to hide the identity of young victims - I approve of the idea, but, back in junior high, we all knew within hours who the young sexual assault victim on our street was. Kids talk. But perhaps this will allow her to remain unknown outside the community. I can only hope.

Anyway. See? Was that so difficult?
Dear New York Times,

I admit to knowing nothing of the actual details of this case, and feeling skeptical of early reports. Like you, I have no idea if any of this actually occurred or if any of the early reports are exaggerated.

That said, if the allegations of gang rape of an eleven year old are true, it does not matter what the fuck the victim was wearing or if she was wearing "makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s," or if she "would hang out with teenage boys at the playground." Nor does it matter what her parents were or not thinking, or what the neighbors were or were not thinking.

Although, again, if the allegations are proven true in court, from actual witnesses instead of hearsay by neighbors who were by their own account nowhere in the vicinity, and you then wish to start blaming, I don't know, say, the currently alleged rapists, or the parents of the currently alleged rapists, or start asking why it never occurred to the guys that the alleged activities might not be appropriate, then sure. Let's try to have a discussion about that.

On a related if less important note, getting statements from a neighbor who, again, wasn't there, instead of interviewing school officials, the actual concerned families, the alleged attackers, the police, prosecutors and defense attorneys, is not, in any way, actual reporting.

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