hidden hit counter
From the Latest Entry...
"I freely admit: When I was in the media business, especially after the federal government changed the rules to favor large companies, I tried to sweep the board, and I came within one move of owning every link up and down the media chain,” says CNN founder and chairman of Turner Enterprises, Ted Turner. “Yet…

My Beef With Big Media

image"I freely admit: When I was in the media business, especially after the federal government changed the rules to favor large companies, I tried to sweep the board, and I came within one move of owning every link up and down the media chain,” says CNN founder and chairman of Turner Enterprises, Ted Turner. “Yet I felt then, as I do now, that the government was not doing its job. The role of the government ought to be like the role of a referee in boxing, keeping the big guys from killing the little guys. If the little guy gets knocked down, the referee should send the big guy to his corner, count the little guy out, and then help him back up. But today the government has cast down its duty, and media competition is less like boxing and more like professional wrestling: The wrestler and the referee are both kicking the guy on the canvas.”

This is from a great article in the July/August issue of Washington Monthly magazine. In the article, Turner documents a bit of the history that led to government and big business. In fact, the deck headline to Turner’s article is “How government protects big media--and shuts out upstarts like me.”

“Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington,” Turner writes. “The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox--fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.”

Turner does a great job of explaining how big conglomerates affect the quality of journalism. Among the arguments against big media include what Turner calls the triple blight: loss of quality, loss of localism and loss of democratic debate.

“In the summer of 2003, the FCC raised the national audience-reach cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. The FCC also allowed corporations to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market and permitted corporations to own three TV stations in the largest markets, up from two, and two stations in medium-sized markets, up from one. Unexpectedly, the public rebelled. Hundreds of thousands of citizens complained to the FCC. Groups from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association demanded that Congress reverse the ruling. And like-minded lawmakers, including many long-time opponents of media consolidation, took action, pushing the cap back down to 35, until--under strong White House pressure--it was revised back up to 39 percent. This June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the rules that would have allowed corporations to own more television and radio stations in a single market, let stand the higher 39 percent cap, and also upheld the rule permitting a corporation to own a TV station and a newspaper in the same market; then, it sent the issues back to the same FCC that had pushed through the pro-consolidation rules in the first place.”

I urge you to read Turner’s article. It does a great job of outlining the entire issue. And Turner is someone who knows firsthand of what he speaks. His solution: “At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates. We’ve done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently. Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public’s broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC’s pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history--and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 29 2004 • Journalism

Teachers Love Depressing Books

imageDo teachers really love depressing books? It’s an interesting question. Writer Barbara Feinberg believes they do, and she says as much in her new tome “Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories and the Mystery of Making Things Up.” An article in a recent New York Times reviews her book.

“A avid reader growing up, I decided that there were two types of children’s books,” writes Laura Miller in the New York Times. “Call it ‘’Little Women’’ versus ‘’Phantom Tollbooth.” The first type was usually foisted on you by nostalgic grown-ups. These were books populated by snivelers and goody-two-shoes, the most saintly of whom were sure to die in some tediously drawn-out scene. When the characters weren’t dying or performing acts of charity or thawing the hearts of mean old gentlemen, they mostly just hung around the house, thinking about how they felt about their relatives.

“The people in the other kind of book, however, were entirely different. They had adventures.”

“Feinberg, who runs an arts program for kids, was provoked to write this unusual hybrid of memoir and polemic by the trials of her 12-year-old son, Alex,” writes Miller. “She had seen him steel himself, again and again, for the joyless task of completing the assigned reading for his ‘’language arts’’ class, and she decided to investigate how those books could so oppress a boy who otherwise happily gobbled up Harry Potter novels and anything by or about his idol, Mel Brooks.”

Feinberg dove into the contemporary genre of young adult (YA) know as “problem novels.” These books are, as Miller puts it, “as bleak as a gas station parking lot at 4 a.m.” With spare realism, these books depict “child and teenage protagonists weathering abuse, addiction, parental abandonment or fecklessness, mental illness, pregnancy, suicide, violence, prostitution or self-mutilation — and often a combination of the above.”

‘’Teachers love them,’’ the local librarian explains as Feinberg scans a shelf of such titles. ‘’They win all the awards.’’

Some noted books include Paula Fox’s ‘’Monkey Island’’ (about an abandoned 11-year-old living on the street) and Karen Hesse’s ‘’Phoenix Rising’’ (about a girl whose father ran off, whose mother and grandfather are dead and whose neighbors are poisoned by radiation from an accident at a nearby power plant).

Do you remember similar experiences when you were first turned on to reading? Did you like what you read in class, forever grateful to the teacher who showed you the light? Or did you stray to the library on your own to discover the books that seemed to be written just for you?

Not that there is anything wrong with the “problem novels.” In fact, “many kids do love these books,” writes Miller in the Times article. “Perhaps they make certain readers, the ones who’ve grown up too fast, feel less alone and impart to others, the ones too eager to grow up, a frisson of the ‘’serious.’’ The latter might well become teachers who insist that kids read books that make them cry.”

But not every book is for every reader. I like how Miller ends her essay: “There is no chemistry more subtle and combustible than the matching of reader with book; it just can’t be standardized … You have to experiment until you get it right: that’s the only formula for making a lifelong reader.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 26 2004 • Books

Let My Voice Be Heard

How do we talk to one another in such a market driven democracy? How are ideas discussed in an atmosphere so polarized by the current presidential campaign? What is the nature of our public debate? These are questions on Cornel West’s mind as well. West is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University. The author of the numerous works including The American Evasion of Philosophy, and Race Matters, Professor West is a recipient of the American Book Award and more than twenty honorary degrees. This article is an excerpt from West’s forthcoming book Democracy Matters, which will be published September 9.

In a world so focused on commerce, conversation over every public concern is reduced. “The fundamentalism of the market puts a premium on the activities of buying and selling, consuming and taking, promoting and advertising, and devalues community, compassionate charity, and improvement of the general quality of life,” writes West. “How ironic that in America we’ve moved so quickly from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Let Freedom Ring” to “Bling! Bling!” as if freedom were reducible to simply having material toys, as dictated by free-market fundamentalism.”

These are important questions for members of a democracy to consider from time to time. Has the nature of our society changed to such a degree that voices are no longer heard? In some ways, West thinks so. At a minimum it has “severely narrowed our political dialogue,” writes West. “The major problem is not the vociferous shouting from one camp to the other; rather it is that many have given up even being heard. We are losing the very value of dialogue, especially respectful communication, in the name of the sheer force of naked power. This is the classic triumph of authoritarianism over the kind of questioning, compassion, and hope requisite for any democratic experiment.”

West can be a controversial figure; and he certainly doesn’t mince words when sharing his opinions. But, at least he has the courage to share them, even though they go against more mainstream beliefs. No one has all of the answers, but West surely seems to be asking the right questions.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 24 2004 • Books

White House West


OK, I apologize. This isn’t actually a post about books or reading. But it’s an election year, and no matter which side of the political aisle we fall, we have to laugh at the process a little bit, right? If you like Will Ferrell, you have to check out this Bush campaign commercial. It’s hilarious. Be warned: If you support Bush, or you do not like Ferrell’s impersonation of the president, made famous on Saturday Night Live, you may not like this ad. Still, I think it is better than the less accurate ads on the air right now. Check it out!

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 21 2004 • Current Affairs

Older moms, Manhatten Dog-lovers

imageA couple of new magazines could soon see the light of the news stand. The first is called The New York Dog. Believe it or not, this niche must be ripe for the entrepreneurial publisher. According to an article in the New York Times, The New York Dog will be produced by Irish magazine publishers Michael O’Doherty and John Ryan. “The 96-page glossy is expected to be printed every two months and is intended to sit alongside Vogue and Cosmopolitan,” said the Times. “It even plans to include photo shoots illustrating dog haute couture.

“"Instead of talking about women’s fashion, we’re talking about dogs’ fashion,” said Mr. O’Doherty in an interview from his office. Following the lead of other magazines, The New York Dog will feature dog horoscopes and obituaries, dog dieting tips and pop psychology advice for dogs.

“In the interest of fairness, the magazine also expects to have an alternative view on its subject. The longtime New York journalist Jimmy Breslin, who does not like dogs, will write a column to be titled “The Back Yard."”

imageAnother publication, soon to hit stands, seems to be a little more down to earth. It’s called Plum. “While there are plenty of books and magazines for women who do not know what to expect while expecting, a new magazine geared to women having children later in life is finding a new route to its readers—gynecologists’ offices,” writes the New York Times. The inaugural issue of Plum, the first pregnancy magazine published for mothers over the age 35, will appear this fall as well. The 200-page annual publication will be produced by Groundbreak Publishing, as a joint effort with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, and will be distributed in gynecologists’ offices.

So will noted “older mom” Mrs. John Edwards be the first cover woman. The publishers aren’t saying, only that the first mock-up covers have been produced (seen here), and that the real topics are being vetted. We shall see. It sounds like a winner to me.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 16 2004 • Journalism


image"Our everyday life is much stranger than we imagine, and rests on fragile foundations.” This is the intriguing first sentence of an intriguing new book about economics, and much else besides: “The Company of Strangers”, by Paul Seabright, a professor of economics at the University of Toulouse. It is also the first sentence from a book review in the August 12 issue of The Economist.

"Why is everyday life so strange?” writes the Economist’s book reviewer. “Because, explains Mr Seabright, it is so much at odds with what would have seemed, as recently as 10,000 years ago, our evolutionary destiny. It was only then that “one of the most aggressive and elusive bandit species in the entire animal kingdom” decided to settle down. In no more than the blink of an eye, in evolutionary time, these suspicious and untrusting creatures, these “shy, murderous apes”, developed co-operative networks of staggering scope and complexity—networks that rely on trust among strangers. When you come to think about it, it was an extraordinarily improbable outcome."

I think this is such an intriguing line of study; it partly informed my own work when I was completing my master’s degree. We are more connected than we think. So much of how we live depends on others. That can sound like a simple statement, but, think about it deeply for awhile. How we have benefited (and how have others been left out) depends so much on fragile mechanisms of cooperation. And when we study those connections, we come to a more profound understanding of our cultures, economics, science, art, and ultimately who we are as humans.

imageAdam Smith talked about these connections. From an economic perspective, everyone knows about The Wealth of Nations, a book that spoke of the wealth of communities and countries created by the division of labor. It’s a book that coined the term “the invisible hand,” that forces that guides everyone to succeed driven by self interest. In turn, society in general is benefited by that freedom and energy. For some, this theory has come to be seen as selfish, or Darwinian (incorrectly using the term), in that that is all there is. That people should only look after themselves to the best of their abilities has that “survival of the fittest” ring to it that is rather callous toward others. It doesn’t go far enough.

But, Adam Smith completed that equation on his own. It was in his often overlooked book published before the Wealth of Nations, called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, where he examines the nature of our relationships to one another. Smith examines the forces in an organized society that shape how we act, and drive us to do (and not to do) what is right and good.

"The requirements for such co-operation, and hence for modern economic life, which is founded on specialisation and an infinitely elaborated division of labour, are more demanding than you might suppose,” writes The Economist. “It is not enough to say that specialisation and the division of labour yield enormous economic benefits. Co-operation would nonetheless quickly break down if individuals could enjoy the advantages of division of labour without making a contribution of their own. Two traits were needed, says Mr Seabright, to bring the fruits of co-operation within reach, and evolution had equipped humans with both—accidentally, as it were. The first was an intellectual capacity for rational calculation. The second, somewhat at odds with the first, was an instinct for reciprocity—a tendency to repay kindness with kindness and betrayal with revenge, even when rational calculation might seem to advise against it."

imageI was watching a discussion on television with the renowned historian Edmund Morgan, author of many books, including a best-selling biography of Benjamin Franklin. During the question-and-answer period, Prof. Morgan said the book that had the most profound effect on how he viewed history was a book titled The Gift, by Marcel Mauss. This book’s subtitle is “the Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies.” The book as described by the publisher, “presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts.

"The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees the gift exchange as related to individuals and groups as much as to the objects themselves, and his analysis calls into question the social conventions and economic systems that had been taken for granted for so many years."

It is a study of the first systematic development of what Seabright calls our “fragile foundations.” Our attention to one another, through altruistic expressions, lay at the heart of our interconnectedness. Smith himself speaks of these feelings developing toward one another. In ‘of Virtue’ in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he writes, “Among well-disposed people, the necessity or conveniency of mutual accommodation, very frequently produces a friendship not unlike that which takes place among those who are born to live in the same family. Colleagues in office, partners in trade, call one another brothers; and frequently feel towards one another as if they really were so. Their good agreement is an advantage to us all; and, if they are tolerably reasonable people, they are naturally disposed to agree. We expect that they should do so; and their disagreement is a sort of a small scandal. The Romans expressed this sort of attachment by the word necessitudo, which, from the etymology, seems to denote that it was imposed by the necessity of the situation."

"The human capacity for calculation allowed this potential to be fully exploited,” writes the Economist, “because humans were able to design rules and institutions that, as Mr Seabright puts it, “make reciprocity go a long way” ... Building on humans’ inherited instincts, these rules and institutions allow people to treat strangers as “honorary friends.""

The nature of such an examination into our individual and cultural character--from a perspective that utilizes science, economics, history, philosophy--is one that I feel will be developed in academia for decades to come. As time continues, and I read and think more about such connections, I can more fully understand the value of my Master of Liberal Studies degree. I think the most exciting scholarship will happen at the edge where curriculums connect.

Something intriguing is also happening where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. “If may be that the 1990s trend with staying power wasn’t the dot-coms, but the dot-orgs,” writes Cheryl Dahle in the September issue of Fast Company. “Says Professor James Austin of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative: “The growth rate of new nonprofits now exceeds that of private business formation and government expansion. Entrepreneurs go where the action is."

This new generation already has a new name: Generation And. I like that name. It seems they have an understanding of cross curriculum achievement, and that business and social change are interrelated. “It may be that business leaders are as maniacal about changing the world as their predecessors were about making Internet killings,” writes Dahle. In her story, one Stanford MBA student said it best: “I’ve become convinced that the market makes the world go around. If I want to make a difference, I need to learn how to use those forces for good."

OK, this is the king of rambling posts. But it’s my blog and I am allowed. As always, let me know your thoughts.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 14 2004 • Books

Same Books, Different Experience

imageHow preschool children experience picture books is affected by their mothers’ education level and by who is reading to them, says Jane Torr, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, in Australia.

According to Torr’s article in the August issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, children whose mothers had earned college degrees engaged “with the text by making inferences, generalizing, explaining, and asking questions about the phenomena they encountered.”

Whether they were in preschool or at home made little difference in how children of college-educated mothers related to the text, Torr says, but the story was very different for children whose mothers had left school at 15 or 16 years of age.

Those children, when read to by their mothers, spoke less and interacted primarily by naming things they saw in the pictures, says Torr. However, when they were read to by college-educated preschool teachers, the children “interacted more around the texts and made connections between the written text and their own personal memories, their likes and dislikes, and other texts that they had encountered.”

“The findings suggest that the experience of reading the ‘same’ picture books is very different for the different groups of children,” Torr writes. And the results “provide strong support for those who claim that children of early-school-leaving mothers should have access to quality child care.”

The article, “Talking About Picture Books: The Influence of Maternal Education on Four-Year-Old Children’s Talk With Mothers and Pre-School Teachers,” is available online to members of subscribing institutions.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 11 2004 • Books

Bookstore Tourism

imageWhile on a vacation, have you ever thought “I wonder what the local bookstore is like?” Isn’t it true, that local independent bookstores tell so much about a town or a neighborhood? I often want to wander into those unique stores when I travel.

Well there must be many like me. Here is a site that I just learned about that takes it one step further. Why not plan ahead; seek out those wonderful bookstores and place them on your trip’s itinerary. This site is called Bookstore Tourism, a site dedicated to promoting independent bookstores by encouraging travelers to visit.

The site is the brainchild of Larry Portzline, native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who “has been a professional writer for close to 20 years and a bookstore addict even longer.” According to his site, Larry has worked as a writer for the Pennsylvania Senate for the past decade. Prior to that he was an award-winning newspaper reporter, editor and freelance writer.

Larry has been an adjunct instructor at colleges in Central Pennsylvania for the past several years, teaching writing and literature courses.  His other academic interests include the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers’ Project, the live dramas of television’s “Golden Age,” and flash fiction.

Here is his story of how the site began: “Last year, Portzline thought it would be fun and exciting to take a busload of book-lovers to New York City to browse the many independent bookstores in and around Greenwich Village.  The response was overwhelming, and since that first trip in July 2003, Portzline has led six sold-out “Bookstore Adventures” to New York and Washington, DC through the schools where he teaches. Along the way, the idea morphed into a grassroots movement to encourage other folks around the country to plan similar bookstore trips both near and far—whether your group numbers 5 or 50!”

Wishing not to politicize the issue, Portzline says that he understands the contributions online retailers and large chains have made toward getting books in the hands of readers. Nonetheless, he says on the site that its important for readers to support unique independents.

“There are countless reasons to visit and support independent bookstores: They’re engaging, quiet and intimate.  They employ passionate, knowledgeable staff.  They offer a diverse selection that isn’t always mainstream. They provide personalized customer service.  They support the local economy and are actively involved in the community.  They attract writers, educators and others who have a professional interest in literature. And they create an atmosphere for personal enrichment and learning.

“Unfortunately, many independent bookstores are struggling due to the economy, high rents, low readership, commercial overdevelopment, and heavy competition from the mega-chains, online giants and other retailers.  In fact, many of the most revered—and some of the most promising— bookstores in the United States have had to close their doors in recent years for these reasons.

“It’s our belief that book-lovers and communities should do whatever they can to support their local booksellers and prevent independent bookstores from disappearing altogether.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 08 2004 • Books

Chords for Change

Bruce Springsteen wrote an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. I hope they don’t mind if I reprint it here: “A nation’s artists and musicians have a particular place in its social and political life. Over the years I’ve tried to think long and hard about what it means to be American: about the distinctive identity and position we have in the world, and how that position is best carried. I’ve tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures.

“These questions are at the heart of this election: who we are, what we stand for, why we fight. Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

“Through my work, I’ve always tried to ask hard questions. Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfillment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?

“I don’t think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America’s citizens, courage and faith.

“People have different notions of these values, and they live them out in different ways. I’ve tried to sing about some of them in my songs. But I have my own ideas about what they mean, too. That is why I plan to join with many fellow artists, including the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Jurassic 5, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, in touring the country this October. We will be performing under the umbrella of a new group called Vote for Change. Our goal is to change the direction of the government and change the current administration come November.

“Like many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the country’s unity. I don’t remember anything quite like it. I supported the decision to enter Afghanistan and I hoped that the seriousness of the times would bring forth strength, humility and wisdom in our leaders. Instead, we dived headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq, offering up the lives of our young men and women under circumstances that are now discredited. We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of “one nation indivisible.”

“It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities - respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals - that we come to life in God’s eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 05 2004 • Current Affairs

One Nation, Out of Many

imageSamuel Huntington has an essay about his book “Who Are We?” that has been posted on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site. “America’s core culture has primarily been the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded our nation,” he writes. “The central elements of that culture are the Christian religion; Protestant values, including individualism, the work ethic, and moralism; the English language; British traditions of law, justice, and limits on government power; and a legacy of European art, literature, and philosophy. Out of this culture the early settlers formulated the American Creed, with its principles of liberty, equality, human rights, representative government, and private property. Subsequent generations of immigrants were assimilated into the culture of the founding settlers and modified it, but did not change it fundamentally. It was, after all, Anglo-Protestant culture, values, institutions, and the opportunities they created that attracted more immigrants to America than to all the rest of the world.

“America was founded as a Protestant society, and for 200 years almost all Americans practiced Protestantism. With substantial Catholic immigration, first from Germany and Ireland and then Italy and Poland, the proportion of Protestants declined--to about 60 percent of the population by 2000. Protestant beliefs, values, and assumptions, however, have been the core element (along with the English language) of America’s settler culture, and they continue to pervade and shape American life, society, and thought. Protestant values have shaped American attitudes toward private and public morality, economic activity, government, and public policy. They have even deeply influenced Catholicism and other religions in America.

It’s an interesting essay with some strong views: “One has only to ask: Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.” Check out the essay, share your opinions.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 05 2004 • Books