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This is the very subject that much of the research for my master’s degree centered on: the erosion of journalism to economic pressures. It’s from a research report conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The following news blurb is from the Atlantic, June 2004 issue, titled The News About the News. “Today NBC…

Mass Media?

imageThis is the very subject that much of the research for my master’s degree centered on: the erosion of journalism to economic pressures. It’s from a research report conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The following news blurb is from the Atlantic, June 2004 issue, titled The News About the News.

“Today NBC Nightly News is the highest rated of the network evening-news programs, yet its Nielsen ratings are 11 percent lower than they were in 1994, when it occupied the No. 3 position. Collectively the networks have seen their nightly-news ratings decline by 34 percent over the past decade; local TV news is losing audience just as rapidly; and the cable-TV audience stopped growing in 2001. All this is part of an “epochal transformation” in journalism, according to a lengthy “State of the News Media” survey conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The report argues that budget cuts have left TV news teams trimmer and consequently less thorough, often leading to one-sided reporting. Even as journalistic quality declines, however, the television-news business remains wildly profitable: in 2003 the three major nightly newscasts generated half a billion dollars in revenue for the networks, and CNN earned $351 million. Meanwhile, local news delivered 40 percent of station revenues even though it made up only 16 percent of programming.”

It’s an interesting subject for debate. Much is at stake, which I argue in my thesis. What do you believe this means for democracy, if anything at all? It’s an election year. On what do we base our vote if we are seemingly less informed of the issues? Or are we getting our information from other sources? (Such as well-informed blogs: I had to say it!) Does the erosion of mass media mean nothing more than watered down journalism shooting for the lowest common denominator doesn’t deserve an audience after all?

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 30 2004 • Journalism

Eustace Tilly's Heirs

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Here’s an interesting article about the New Yorker. It seems the next generation of cartoonists at the New Yorker, a dozen or so, are all in their 30s. “Robert Mankoff, New Yorker cartoon editor and David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, are relying upon this group to keep alive the anachronistic but somehow indefatigable cultural institution of the classic single-panel New Yorker cartoon - known in the humor trade as the gag cartoon,” writes Warren St. John in the New York Times. “Many of the magazine’s established cartoonists, like Sam Gross, J. B. Handelsman and Robert Weber, are in their 70’s and 80’s. While the magazine has updated its roster regularly over the years - Mr. Mankoff, a relatively young 59, for example, was hired as a cartoonist in 1977 - grooming new talent has taken on a new urgency because many aspiring humorists would prefer to work for hipper, more lucrative outlets, like television.”

This is a good article about the young artists, and it highlights how the cartoonists got their breaks and how they find their ideas. “There is no set method for recruiting cartoonists, Mr. Mankoff said. Mr. Diffee got in the door when he won a contest, sponsored by The New Yorker and the Algonquin Hotel, with a drawing of a couple in a hotel room, staring at the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the back of their doorknob.

“Oh, great,” the man says. “I guess we’re stuck in here.”

According to the article, Mankoff receives nearly 1,000 unsolicited cartoons a week, and he attempts to remain accessible. And bringing in new talent is not without tention. The New Yorker publishes between 18 and 20 cartoons a week, and pays only an average of $675 a cartoon, according to the article. Space and money taken up by the up-and-comers leaves little room for the old guard, writes, who are still popular with readers. Check out the article. It’s an interesting peak inside famous literary hallways.

St. John continues: “Mr. Lewis got his chance when he met Mr. Mankoff’s assistant on a cigarette break in front of The New Yorker’s old building on 43rd Street, also the offices of Martha Stewart Living, where he was working as a designer of garden tools. Emily Richards, 34, a fact checker at the magazine who has published a single cartoon there, was discovered when Mr. Mankoff absent-mindedly picked up a folder of her sketches in the office.”

Another excerpt from the article: “While younger New Yorker cartoonists are not above a good lawyer or cat joke, their work typically contains more references to drugs, sex, e-mail and contemporary social mores. The cartoons of Chad Darbyshire, 32, who signs his cartoons C. Covert Darbyshire, for example, often deal with the stresses of contemporary childhood. In one, a child opening a present before his suit clad father says, “Tell your assistant it’s perfect.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 25 2004 • Journalism

A New Blueprint

imageI recently came across a new magazine while doing more research on The Creative Class (in fact I believe Richard Florida mentioned it in his recent essay regarding his own book). It’s called Blueprint: Ideas for a New Century, published by the New Democrats Online (or NDOL, The Democratic Leadership Council’s Online Community). Their current issue (May 7) is about “how the Bush economy is costing America jobs and shrinking the embattled middle class.” Check it out.

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 22 2004 • Journalism

Thank You For Not Reading

imageDo we read anymore? Has mass attention deficit disorder been firmly established in our land of home theaters and iPods? This is a subject that could spin in a million directions. Wow. Implications abound--from its effect on everything from the state of book publishing, to intellectual circles, and education in the very definition of what it means to be literate in today’s culture.

Here’s one book that brushes up against this topic a bit. It’s from a book review published in The Guardian titled “Joan Collins and the Decline of Western Civilization.” I like it already. The book, written by Dubravka Ugresic and titled “Thank You For Not Reading,” purports to be essays on “literary trivia” and the opening salvo says it best: “The writer and reader are more isolated than ever.”

Guardian reviewer Julian Evans writes that Ugresic’s subjects are not trivial matters at all. Ugresic, a Croatian, targets writers, editors and the publishing industry in her essays. The first in the book, according to Evans, discusses the author’s attendance at the London book fair more than a decade ago, which was opened by Joan Collins. Collins appeared, “dressed like a quotation: in a little pink Chanel suit, with a pink pillbox hat on her head and a coquettish veil over her eyes ... What does all this have to do with literature?” Good question.

But Ugresic’s essays on current literati details go much deeper. Her insight captures what’s right in front of us: that book blurbs and author pictures matter more than words, that modern bookstores resemble supermarkets “whose fruit and vegetables had mutated and lost their flavour in favour of external appearance.” Here is a favorite paragraph from Evans’ review:

“Having set out her territory, her arguments take flight. In another essay, “Alchemy”, she writes that “The greatest shock for an east European writer who turned up in the western literary marketplace was the absence of aesthetic criteria.” The easterner, brought up to believe in a distinction between “literature” and “trash”, is introduced to a westerner and admits modestly that he is a writer. “What a coincidence!” the reply comes. “Our 10-year-old daughter is just finishing a novel. We even have a publisher!” This is the first insult in a series that makes him understand that the best way to be published is to make sure he has done something else to become famous for first: to be Joan Collins or Ivana Trump; a prostitute, murderer or model. An art-dealer friend reminds the author about Piero Manzoni’s artwork, “Artist Shit”, sold at the price of gold in 1961. While the price of gold has remained more or less stable in the past 40 years, he tells her, the price of shit has seen astronomical growth.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 22 2004 • Books

The World's First Library

imageThis is a fascinating story. It seems that archeologists have found what they believe to be the site of the famed Library of Alexandria. Here is a news excerpt from the BBC: “A Polish-Egyptian team has excavated parts of the Bruchion region of the Mediterranean city and discovered what look like lecture halls or auditoria. Two thousand years ago, the library housed works by the greatest thinkers and writers of the ancient world. Works by Plato and Socrates and many others were later destroyed in a fire.

“Announcing their discovery at a conference being held at the University of California, Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the 13 lecture halls uncovered could house as many as 5,000 students in total. A conspicuous feature of the rooms, he said, was a central elevated podium for the lecturer to stand on.

“It is the first time ever that such a complex of lecture halls has been uncovered on any Greco-Roman site in the whole Mediterranean area,” he added. “It is perhaps the oldest university in the world.”

According to the BBC article, the Library of Alexandria was the birthplace of geometry. “It was at the library that Archimedes invented the screw-shaped water pump that is still in use today. At Alexandria Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the Earth, and Euclid discovered the rules of geometry. Ptolemy wrote the Almagest at Alexandria. It was the most influential scientific book about the nature of the Universe for 1,500 years. The library was later destroyed, possibly by Julius Caesar who had it burned as part of his campaign to conquer the city.”

This photo is a reconstruction of how the hall was believed to look, made for Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in 1980. Fascinating.

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 18 2004 • Current Affairs

Chicago Zines and Magazines

imageIt seems that Chicago has a thriving underground magazine publishing or “zine” scene--"self-published magazines. Aimed at the erudite and hip, attention-grabbing local titles from The Baffler to WhiteWalls and TENbyTEN have won small but loyal audiences from New York to Los Angeles and beyond.” This article in the Chicago Tribune highlights how small magazines are putting Chicago on the publishing map.

“Launched as improbable experiments, Chicago’s small-press journals range from Sahlin’s austere, type-only polemics to the most recent, all-poster issue of Select magazine—which aims to inspire an “interventionist art” of utopian street propaganda and peace activism. Blowing in from various precincts, the journals share a certain common ground—a schoolyard freshness, an outsize ambition and a refusal to be defined by what you’ve read before. Seizing their place at the interstice between art and politics, several find themselves unexpectedly tipping toward financial stability.”

In other Chicago publishing news, Chicago magazine won big at the recent National Magazine Awards. It won for general excellence in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category. It was lauded for mixing “meaty investigative journalism with clever service packages to create the very model of a modern major city magazine.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 18 2004 • Journalism

Emancipation Proclamation

imageThere is an interesting review of books about Abraham Lincoln in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Writer Peter Schramm reviews “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America” written by y Allen C. Guelzo. The book examines the motives and circumstances that led to Lincoln freeing the slaves.

The book has an interesting take on what motivated Lincoln: that Lincoln really didn’t drive history so much as he was a product of circumstances. Here is Schramm’s take on the book: “Lincoln did not take back the Proclamation but instead pushed on, as events permitted, to its logical consequence, the 13th Amendment; and the angels have been singing for 140 years now. But the earthly choirs have never wholeheartedly joined in, which is why Allen C. Guelzo reflects that this “most revolutionary pronouncement ever signed by an American president” is also “surely the unhappiest.” Abraham Lincoln’s single greatest act, an act of spectacular political daring and wondrously good results, is best known for what it did not do.

“Ask any high school student. If he has ever heard of the Emancipation Proclamation—and I am not giving odds that he has—he will know one thing about it: It didn’t really emancipate anybody. Moving up the ladder of learning into college or into the ranks of history teachers or scholars, you will hear variously that it was a frantic, improvised measure; it is a boring legalistic document that reads like a bill of lading; it accomplished nothing, and its very lack of eloquence tells us that it was meant to accomplish nothing; it was mere propaganda. A scholar of a certain bent will denounce it for violating the Constitution; another will sneer that it makes no mention of the immorality of slavery; a third, not meaning to be unfriendly, will take it as yet another proof that Lincoln—as he himself insisted!—was controlled by events, that these overwhelming events drove him willy-nilly from a more conservative to a more liberal policy, perhaps even driving him accidentally to give moral meaning to a morally meaningless war.”

I don’t agree. After reading many good books about Lincoln, including David Herbert Donald’s “Lincoln” (the best biography in my opinion) as well as William Lee Miller’s great intellectual biography “Lincoln’s Virtues” I believe Lincoln acted morally, with ideas about what his beliefs meant about the future of the United States. I don’t believe he acted merely out of what he believed was politically expedient. Yet, Schramm asserts that Lincoln’s beliefs were connected to preserving the Union at all costs. And that ending slavery was merely an extension of those beliefs.

“But Lincoln’s prudent constitutionalism was such that he would not resort to “indispensable means” until they were indispensable. Such means could win the game only if forced into play as the last card. He “would resort to those means only because they were ‘indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution,’ and because he could not turn aside from using them without risking ‘the wreck of government, country, and Constitution all together.’”

Interesting. Read the review. Let me know your thoughts. Here is one more quote from the book--it’s a quote of a famous letter Lincoln received July 31, 1863, from Hannah Johnson, a black freedwoman from Buffalo with a son in the 54th Regiment, New York Infantry: “They tell me, some do, you will take back the Proclamation, don’t do it. When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 16 2004 • Books

On a Blog to Nowhere

image"The revolution will not be blogged.” So says columnist George Packer in a recent issue of Mother Jones magazine. “To see beyond their own little world and get a sense of what’s really going on, journalists and readers need to get out of their pajamas,” he writes.

It’s a very funny article; telling about the nature of bloggers, too, I suppose. Here are a few more of Packer’s comments:

“My private habit (and others) has emerged as the journalistic signature of the 2004 campaign. Although only 13 percent of Americans regularly get their campaign news from the Internet — still far less than from local, cable, and network TV news — nonetheless a whole industry of analysts has risen up to declare 2004 the dawn of a new political era. Part of the mystique of blogs is their protean quality: They work both sides of the divide between politics and media, further blurring the already fuzzy distinctions between reporter, pundit, political operative, activist, and citizen. The universe of blogs includes those of both major parties; candidates’ campaign websites (most famously, Howard Dean’s, which became the hottest organizing tool since direct mail — until it turned into an online echo chamber that failed to deliver actual votes); the blogs of more traditional journalists on the websites of news organizations such as The New York Times, The New Republic, and ABC; and the proliferation of one-man electronic soapboxing by the known and the obscure alike.

“In other words, the blog documents, comments, and participates. Nothing new here.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 15 2004 • Current Affairs

Founding Father

imageRon Chernow is going to be at the Barnes & Noble in Edina on Monday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Chernow is the National Book Award winner (for his first book, The House of Morgan) and his last book, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He will be in town to talk about his new biography of Alexander Hamilton. Here is what the publisher has to say about his new book: “From National Book Award winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

“Ron Chernow, whom the New York Times called “as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we’ve seen in decades,” now brings to startling life the man who was arguably the most important figure in American history, who never attained the presidency, but who had a far more lasting impact than many who did.

“An illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, Hamilton rose with stunning speed to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp, a member of the Constitutional Convention, coauthor of The Federalist Papers, leader of the Federalist party, and the country’s first Treasury secretary. With masterful storytelling skills, Chernow presents the whole sweep of Hamilton’s turbulent life: his exotic, brutal upbringing; his brilliant military, legal, and financial exploits; his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Monroe; his illicit romances; and his famous death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804.

“For the first time, Chernow captures the personal life of this handsome, witty, and perennially controversial genius and explores his poignant relations with his wife Eliza, their eight children, and numberless friends. This engrossing narrative will dispel forever the stereotype of the Founding Fathers as wooden figures and show that, for all their greatness, they were fiery, passionate, often flawed human beings.

“Alexander Hamilton was one of the seminal figures in our history. His richly dramatic saga, rendered in Chernow’s vivid prose, is nothing less than a riveting account of America’s founding, from the Revolutionary War to the rise of the first federal government.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 05 2004 • Books

Dead and Rotten

imageIf you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten
Either write things worth reading
Or do things worth writing.

- Ben Franklin
“Poor Richard’s Almanac”

Quoting a Founding Father, Ellen Mitchell writes in current issue of Newsday that there are nearly 50,000 self-published authors in the United States today. Withe the advancement of “print on demand” or POD, many more would-be authors are taking the next step in seeing their ideas in print. The big three POD players, according to the article are Xlibris, iUniverse and AuthorHouse.

“According to John Fidler, marketing manager at Xlibris, authors submit a manuscript on a disk and opt for a package of services ranging from $500 to $1,600. Xlibris then follows a POD process, which is typical for such publishers,” writes Mitchell.

“The manuscript is checked over by Xlibris staffers and laid out in several different formats using a software package. A digital file of the manuscript is created and sent back to the author for possible changes, and a new set of proofs is then created. The cover is designed separately from one of a variety of templates, which the author selects. Once again, the author reviews everything before a final printing file is created ... What makes the POD process so efficient and cost-effective is that the digital book file is stored in a database, ready to be reprinted as needed. If three copies are ordered, just three copies can be printed and shipped.”

While the new technology has allowed many more authors accomplish their dreams, there still exists a stigma attached to such works, writes Mitchell. Many such books are not reviewed in newspapers are magazines. Do you think this is right?

Posted by Joel Schettler on May 05 2004 • Books