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For those fans of the Lord of the Rings films, the wait will soon be over. I just learned that the extended edition of the final film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, will hit the stores December 14. I will admit that since the films have come out, I have become a…

Return of the King

For those fans of the Lord of the Rings films, the wait will soon be over. I just learned that the extended edition of the final film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, will hit the stores December 14. I will admit that since the films have come out, I have become a Lord of the Rings fan. I have yet to read any of the books, although I plan to get to them soon. If you haven’t seen any of the extended editions, I would highly recommend them. They add so much to the story, unlike many extended editions on DVD that seem to be merely director’s edits thrown in, which should have remained on the cutting room floor. Is it too early to ask for Christmas gifts?

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Posted by Joel Schettler on October 30 2004 • Multimedia

We're Watching You

imageThe New York Review of Books has an interesting article written by David Cole about the government’s programs to monitor citizens in search of suspicious activity. Its acronym: Total Information Awareness.

“In October 2003, Congress voted to end Total Information Awareness (TIA), a Pentagon plan designed to analyze vast amounts of computer data about all of us in order to search for patterns of terrorist activity,” Cole writes. “At the time, the vote in Congress seemed one of the most notable victories for privacy since September 11. Computers record virtually everything we do these days— whom we call or e-mail, what books and magazines we read, what Web sites we search, where we travel, which videos we rent, and everything we buy by credit card or check. The prospect of the military and security agencies constantly trolling through all of this information about innocent citizens in hopes of finding terrorists led Congress to ban spending on the program.” But stories of the program’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Data mining, or the systematic analysis of large databases of information, has been prevalent since the attacks of September 11. “Since then, through the USA Patriot Act and various executive initiatives, the government has authorized official monitoring of attorney– client conversations, wide-ranging secret searches and wiretaps, the collection of Internet and e-mail addressing data, spying on religious services and the meetings of political groups, and the collection of library and other business records. All this can be done without first showing probable cause that the people being investigated are engaged in criminal activity, the usual threshold that must be passed before the government may invade privacy.”

I encourage you to read the article; it offers a good overview of the issues citizens face under such laws. Also, I want to apologize to frequent Typeface readers for being absent over the past four days. I have been traveling and I have been unable to post. More to come soon. Keep reading.

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 30 2004 • Current Affairs

Book Mags

imageAs any book-lover can tell you, most often the weekly New York Times Book Review or the New York Review of Books is enough to satiate the biblio’s desire for the latest news about books. Publishers know that as long as the writing is top-notch, ink on folded sheets of newsprint is all that’s needed in the way of a periodical’s production value to reach readers with news tracking the world’s intellectual currents. Yet, isn’t there a glossy publication with higher paper stock, printed in full color produced with a reader’s interests in mind?

This week I set off to find such a publication at my local bookstore. Since the demise of Book magazine in late 2003, there hasn’t been such a magazine. Or at least that’s what I thought. Book magazine was a huge success in it’s day, reaching as many as 1 million subscribers at the height of its popularity, with features about famous authors, book stores, book clubs and, of course, snap-shot reviews of the latest tomes.

Some would say that the magazine was the victim of its success. I don’t know for sure, but here is my take on what might have happened. Early on the magazine received a great promotional push from Barnes & Noble bookstores; it was even offered as an incentive to sign up for the bookstore’s Reader Advantage program. Soon, I’m guessing, advvertising rates were set to match it’s wide circulation and distribution at bookstores. Printing a million magazines doesn’t come cheap either. Yet, when Barnes & Noble pulled its support, the magazine lost circulation and distribution. Soon its frequency changed to bi-monthly, and thus began the magazine death spiral.

“During the magazine’s five-year history, Jerome Kramer [Book magazine’s publisher] saw circulation grow to 150,000 and then over a million after Barnes & Noble chipped in and started peddling the magazine in its stores,” writes Ellen Heltzel at Book Babes. “Although this makes it look like Book Magazine stumbled on its own rapid growth, Kramer says, Au contraire. Unlucky timing—the magazine redesign was launched the same month as 9/11 -- was as much to blame as anything, he says, and he’s still convinced that there’s a place for a magazine that adapts his formula of looking at pop culture and entertainment through "the portal of books.”

imageBook was a good magazine; I bought a few copies over the years. One magazine following roughly the same formula is Pages, a well done magazine published out of San Diego. Yet, Margo Hammond at Book Babes, isn’t sure how well the general interest formula will work, no matter how well it’s produced. “Small, literary magazines maintain a dedicated readership but, as you point out, they never appeal to a wider public, which is hardly surprising, given their more scholarly approach. That’s never going to pull in the crowds. Book Magazine wanted to attract a mass readership by being more entertaining, and for a time, at least, it did.” But not on its own without help. I will admit that I haven’t had time to page though Pages’ pages. But if first glances say anything, I think it looks like it will do well.

One magazine that I didn’t know existed until I searched deeper into the racks is Bookmarks. I think this two-year-old, 30,000 circulation publication has the best chance of succeeding in that it takes an entirely different approach in speaking to the book-buying public. The periodical sets out to be merely a “station” for the reader, not the final destination, writes Heltzel at Book Babes. She interviews the mag’s publisher: “We’re coming from the perspective that readers want to read less about books and more the books themselves,” says Jon Phillips, the magazine’s editor, who says he co-founded Bookmarks with fellow Harvard Business School grad Allison Nelson after stints in banking and high tech had lost their thrill.

image"Son and grandson of a librarian, Phillips qualifies as a “serious” book reader—serious enough to make a habit of clipping reviews out of the newspaper and heading to the library for more context about authors and their works. As such, he didn’t think that what the world needed was more 1,000-word reviews, profiles, or think pieces. Instead, his bimonthly compiles and summarizes the reviews in major newspapers and runs features that put context on books and authors, both current and classic.”

Bookmarks premise seems most interesting to me; I wish I had found it earlier. I will likely pick in up each time I see it on the newstand. Will any publisher get it right? Margo Hammond thinks so: “The reading public is out there. Someone just has to create and sustain a magazine that features high quality, must-read material about books that isn’t afraid to go out on a limb. Where is Tom Wolfe when we need him?”

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 23 2004 • Journalism

Kerry Country

What an exciting event! I joined 30,000 of my fellow Kerry supporters for a rousing rally outside the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis last night. It rarely gets reported in the papers or on television how many people attend these Kerry events, but just look at that crowd!

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 22 2004 • Current Affairs

Rock Concert or Political Rally?

imageThis week, two reporters were suspended from their jobs at the St. Paul Pioneer Press here in the Twin Cities, for attending Bruce Springsteen’s Vote for Change concert. Reporters from the paper (as well as the Star Tribune) were told by their supervisers not to attend the concert, as it would somehow taint their objectivity when it comes to reporting the issues.

So what is really in question? Is attending a concert a political act? (When is attending any concert not a political act?) If this is what is in question, then you must ask where that line is drawn. Someone famous once said that everything is politics. What about subscribing to magazines, reading a book, attending a documentary? Are these political acts; if so are reporters to refrain for fear of spoiling their objectivity? What about all of the reporters who were sent to the concert to cover it as news? Did they have to go their against their will to prove that some “politics” might not rub off?

Some might argue that it’s not so much that reporters are prohibited from participating in the democratic process. Rather, that by attending such a concert reporters send the signal that they are supporting the cause. Their money, and sentiment, is publicly seen supporting a particular candidate.

“Several newspapers around the country had asked staff members not to attend the series of concerts held in Minnesota and other “battleground” states earlier this month,” writes Star Tribune reporter Deborah Caulfield Rybak. “That’s because ticket sales benefited an affiliate of the liberal group MoveOn, which would compromise the politically neutral stance expected of journalists. However, the Pioneer Press appears to be the only newspaper to suspend reporters for going.”

“Well, maybe at other papers, people went along with what their bosses said,” editor Vicki Gowler said Monday.

The Newspaper Guild, a union for the reporters, is challenging the suspensions. A representative from the guild said the reporters had read the ethics clause in their contracts that forbid them from taking part in political fund-raisers, but felt that the memo and clauses did not apply to them, writes Rybak.

The union argues that a fundraising concert “doesn’t meet the definition of conflict of interest” outlined in the union’s contract,” writes Rybak. “The application of this discipline is so broad that the company could decide that people couldn’t do any number of things that they’re entitled to do in their spare time,” said a union representative. So far, the Pioneer Press has refused to reconsider its decision and the matter will likely go to arbitration.

So if reporters are to have an opinion, give money to a political party, take part in democracy, they had better do it in private. It’s not so much to ask, I suppose, when we trust our reporters to give use unbiased, straight-forward reporting. Is there no irony in that two reporters are kept from doing their work for merely attending a concert, in this “fair and balanced” media world of Fox News, and Sinclair Broadcasting? It seems that while some news organizations raise the bar, others do the Limbo.

Read more about the Sinclair Broadcasting boycott. To date, more than 80 advertisers have pulled their ads, and the company’s stock price has taken a good hit. If you ask me, they are only getting what they deserve.

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 20 2004 • Journalism

Hometown Talent

imageLast week, the nominees for the prestigious National Book Award were announced from the great state of Minnesota. Among the nominees is Minnesota author Pete Hautman, nominated for his young-adult novel “Godless (Simon & Schuster).

“The 20 finalists were announced from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, the first time the event has taken place outside New York City,” wrote Sarah Williams in the Star Tribune. “Radio host and author Garrison Keillor, who hosted the event, said it’s a natural fit for a state that honors literature and whose children have come to expect “hard, rectangular packages under the Christmas tree that are not boxes of chocolate.”

“Keillor also will host the November 17 dinner in New York at which the winners will be announced. Each winner receives $10,000 plus a bronze statue; each finalist receives a bronze medal and a $1,000 cash award.” The nominees include:

Young People’s Literature
Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Pete Hautman, Godless (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Laban Carrick Hill, Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance (Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)
Shelia P. Moses, The Legend of Buddy Bush (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division)
Julie Anne Peters, Luna: A Novel (Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Nonfiction
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (Henry Holt & Company, LLC)
David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press)
Jennifer Gonnerman, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (W.W. Norton & Company)
The 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States-Authorized Edition (W.W. Norton & Company)

Poetry
William Heyen, Shoah Train (Etruscan Press)
Donald Justice, Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Carl Phillips, The Rest of Love (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Cole Swensen, Goest (Alice James Books)
Jean Valentine, Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003 (Wesleyan University Press)

Fiction
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Madeleine is Sleeping (Harcourt, Inc.)
Christine Schutt, Florida (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press)
Joan Silber, Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories (W.W. Norton & Company)
Lily Tuck, The News from Paraguay (HarperCollinsPublishers)
Kate Walbert, Our Kind: A Novel in Stories (Scribner)

The Judges for the 2004 National Book Awards:
Fiction panel: Rick Moody (chair), Linda Hogan, Randall Kenan, Stewart O’Nan, and Susan Straight.
Nonfiction panel: Diane Wood Middlebrook (chair), Douglas Brinkley, Ted Conover, Thadious Davis, and Katherine Newman.
Young People’s Literature panel: Lois Ruby (chair), James Haskins, Marie G. Lee, Phoebe Stone, and Neil Waldman.
Poetry panel: Michael Waters (chair), Lynn Emanuel, James Galvin, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Al Young.

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 18 2004 • Books

His Excellency

imagePulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Ellis has a new book coming out at the end of the month about George Washington. It looks very interesting. Here’s what the publisher has to say about it:

“The author of seven highly acclaimed books, Joseph J. Ellis has crafted a landmark biography that brings to life in all his complexity the most important and perhaps least understood figure in American history, George Washington. With his careful attention to detail and his lyrical prose, Ellis has set a new standard for biography.

“Drawing from the newly catalogued Washington papers at the University of Virginia, Joseph Ellis paints a full portrait of George Washington’s life and career—from his military years through his two terms as president. Ellis illuminates the difficulties the first executive confronted as he worked to keep the emerging country united in the face of adversarial factions. He richly details Washington’s private life and illustrates the ways in which it influenced his public persona. Through Ellis’s artful narration, we look inside Washington’s marriage and his subsequent entrance into the upper echelons of Virginia’s plantation society. We come to understand that it was by managing his own large debts to British merchants that he experienced firsthand the imperiousness of the British Empire. And we watch the evolution of his attitude toward slavery, which led to his emancipating his own slaves in his will. Throughout, Ellis peels back the layers of myth and uncovers for us Washington in the context of eighteenth-century America, allowing us to comprehend the magnitude of his accomplishments and the character of his spirit and mind.

“When Washington died in 1799, Ellis tells us, he was eulogized as “first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Since then, however, his image has been chisled onto Mount Rushmore and printed on the dollar bill. He is on our landscape and in our wallets but not, Ellis argues, in our hearts. Ellis strips away the ivy and legend that have grown up over the Washington statue and recovers the flesh-and-blood man in all his passionate and fully human prowess.

“In the pantheon of our republic’s founders, there were many outstanding individuals. And yet each of them—Franklin, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—acknowledged Washington to be his superior, the only indispensable figure, the one and only “His Excellency.” Both physically and politically, Washington towered over his peers for reasons this book elucidates. His Excellency is a full, glorious, and multifaceted portrait of the man behind our country’s genesis, sure to become the authoritative biography of George Washington for many decades.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 12 2004 • Books

Media Bias

imageThis is why it is so important that news media ownership be diverse. According to reports, Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of one of the largest television chains in the country, is ordering all of its stations to air an anti-Kerry documentary that accuses the senator of betraying American prisoners from the Vietnam War.

“Sinclair has ordered all 62 of its stations to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal” without commercials in prime-time next week, the Washington Post reported, just two weeks before the Nov. 2 election,” according to reports from CNN. “Sinclair’s television group, which includes affiliates of all the major networks, reaches nearly a quarter of all U.S. television households, according to the company’s Web site. A dozen of Sinclair’s stations are in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin. Affiliates owned by the major television networks reach a larger percentage of U.S. homes because they are in the largest markets.”

Sinclair executives have been supporters of the Bush administration. In fact, this is the same group that tried to have its affiliates block a broadcast of Nightline in April during which Ted Koppel simply read the names of those soldiers who died during the war in Iraq.

“Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, has written a letter to Sinclair asking the company to cancel reported plans to air the film between now and the Nov. 2 election. The Post reports the movie is about Kerry’s antiwar testimony to Congress in 1971 and was produced independently of Sinclair,” according to CNN reports. “Sinclair’s plan to air anti-Kerry propaganda before the election is an abuse of the public airwaves for what appears to be partisan political purposes,” Media Matters CEO David Brock said in the letter. The letter warned Sinclair that its plan could constitute a violation of broadcast regulations requiring equal time for political candidates, as well as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the group said.”

“Because Sinclair is defining the documentary - which will run commercial free - as news, it is unclear if it will be required by federal regulations to provide Mr. Kerry’s campaign with equal time to respond,” said the New York Times. According to reports, Kerry would refuse any opportunity to respond after the film has aired. You can’t have it both ways. Those on the right can’t accuse the media of some mysterious liberal bias, and then simply respond in kind--not unless objectivity was never your goal.

I think if Sinclair wants to air their film, they ought to air Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 without commercials on the following night. Equal time.

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 12 2004 • Journalism

Foreign Policy

image"All the talk used to be about people doing good, now it is about doing people.”

“By and by when each nation has 20,000 battleships and 5,000,000 soldiers we shall all be safe and the wisdom of statesmanship will stand confirmed.”

—Mark Twain

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 07 2004 • Current Affairs

Fading Hope

imageIt’s sad to report that a magazine that I admired a great deal may be seeing the end of its run. The magazine is called Hope, and it serves to call out those great works of altruistic kindness that some heroes in our communities achieve every day, often unnoticed. Here’s the report from the Associated Press, as it was reported on September 10. In honor of Hope’s great idea, I hope the AP doesn’t mind if I reprint their story here:

“After operating for nearly nine years at a loss, the magazine created to inform and inspire readers to strive to make a difference in their worlds will cease publication in its current form at the end of the year, according to Publisher Jon Wilson.

“But Wilson has not given up Hope completely, and he is seeking another venue for the magazine. “We can’t publish through the end of the year,” Wilson said Thursday. “We’re hoping to find someone or some organization that can keep Hope going.”

“Hope’s staff is currently working on the November-December issue of the bimonthly magazine, and that will be the last issue the company will publish, Wilson said. “After nine years of losses, we just can’t continue,” Wilson said. “We’ve lost way too much.”

“Wilson launched the magazine in 1996 in an effort to counter the “bad news” journalism he saw every day with stories about people who were striving to make the world a better place. It grew out of his success with WoodenBoat magazine, and its sister publication, Professional Boatbuilder, but Hope never gained the readership of those magazines.

“Despite changes in format over the years, a move to full color and scrapping a text-heavy presentation to tighter, punchier stories with a sharper focus, the magazine never garnered more than 20,000 subscribers. Hope has lost several million dollars since it began publishing, Wilson said, and has had to rely on financial support from WoodenBoat corporation from the beginning. “That’s a lot of money,” Wilson said. “We believed that if we had enough time, we could make it work. But we just couldn’t handle those losses any more. We can’t see a way of ending the losses, doing it the way we want to do it.”

“That said, the decision to halt publication was a difficult one, especially because it means the loss of jobs for the eight or so staff members at the magazine. “We have an incredible staff,” he said. “And we have no positions to move them to. That’s the hardest part of this especially in a small town, in a small county.”

“All of them are deeply committed to this idea. Nobody was here just for a job. This is a calling for every single one of them.” Although Wilson said he still believes there is a place for a magazine that shines a spotlight on things that “inspire the goodness in us ...,” he acknowledged that readers seem to be drawn to the terrible news. Stories of goodness, he said, apparently were not dramatic enough for readers.

“Stories in Hope, he said, were hard to read, not only because of the subject matter, but because they carried with them an “inferred expectation” of action on the part of the reader. “It was a lot of work,” he said. “It was not enough just to read, you then had to do something.”

“With the final issue in the works, Wilson said they have one person searching to see if there is some way, with help from an individual or organization, that the magazine could be saved. “A lot of people believe in it,” he said.

“Ceasing publication also carries some responsibility, he said. “We still have a liability to our subscribers,” he said. “We owe our subscribers issues of some other magazine or a refund. We have a debt to pay and we need to make sure that this all ends with integrity.”

“Although sobered by the experience with Hope, Wilson remains “as naive and idealistic” as ever but has to concentrate on not losing money for a while. “This has only made us want to work to make a difference even more. We just can’t do it with Hope magazine.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on October 07 2004 • Journalism