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A catchy analysis of today’s news: “In its various current forms, the news—as a habituating, slightly fetishistic, more or less entertaining experience that defines a broad common interest—is ending. Newspapers, the network evening news, newsmagazines, even 24-hour cable news channels, these providers and packagers of the news, are imperiled media (even if Murdoch has spent…

End of News?

A catchy analysis of today’s news: “In its various current forms, the news—as a habituating, slightly fetishistic, more or less entertaining experience that defines a broad common interest—is ending. Newspapers, the network evening news, newsmagazines, even 24-hour cable news channels, these providers and packagers of the news, are imperiled media (even if Murdoch has spent $5 billion on The Wall Street Journal). The news is technologically obsolete—information envelops us, competing for our attention, hence fewer and fewer people (read: younger people) feel any need to seek it out.”

Check out the rest of this Vanity Fair article by Michael Wolff.

Posted by Joel on October 24 2007 • Journalism

Books Matter

In this electronic age, books still matter. Such is the message of this story written by Karen Long in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “In 2006, Americans bought more than 3.1 billion books, generating $35.69 billion in sales, up 3.2 percent over 2005’s total, according to the Book Industry Study Group, the gold standard in measuring an admittedly murky business.

“The research group estimates the annual pile of cash will grow to nearly $42 billion by the end of 2011. That is not as robust as some would like, but it is securely in the black.” However, of all our free time, a recent study found that only 3 percent is spent reading. The story talks about how important books remain to our cultural conversation, despite the fact that most people spend their time reading from the screen rather than the printed page. The story highlights some of the important books published this fall.

The final quote is from Dave Ferrante, owner of Visible Voices, a new bookstore in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood: “As much as people keep talking about the Web, I think they still have a natural love for the book, all that learning in one place.”

Posted by Joel on October 10 2007 • Books

The Terror Dream

I recently saw an in-depth interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Faludi about her latest book, The Terror Dream. Her comments widened my thinking about how national self-identity always affects our response to national tragedy. It’s there as a starting point almost, in that your basic assumptions shape how you view international events. And it’s evident on a national policy level, as well as in our national cultural dialogue and in our own personal beliefs and assumptions. Where does this come from? How do we take a step back and really examine ourselves and our beliefs? Although I haven’t read her book, I believe that this is what Faludi believes is the most important task during turbulent times: Take a hard look in the mirror. But I also gather that her book’s premise reveals just how hard this is, and that in our shortcomings we will fall back on worn-out stereotypes.

Why do we do this? From Susan Faludi’s Web site: “The answer, Faludi finds, lies in a historical anomaly unique to the American experience: the nation that in recent memory has been least vulnerable to domestic attack is also a nation haunted by a centuries-long trauma of assault on its home soil. For nearly two hundred years, our central drama was not the invincibility of our frontiersmen but their inability to repel invasions of non-Christian, nonwhite “barbarians” from the homestead door. To conceal the insecurity bred by those attacks, American culture would generate an ironclad countermyth of cowboy swagger and feminine frailty, which has been reanimated whenever the nation feels threatened. On September 11, Americans were once again returned to an experience of homeland terror and humiliation. And, once again, they fled from self-knowledge and retreated into myth.”

It’s strong cultural criticism to be sure. But when the stakes are so high, I don’t think leaders and citizens alike should fear anything that might surface from some strong self-examination.

Postscript: The New York Times has a critical review of Faludi’s book that suggests readers take the author’s points into some perspective. The reviewer makes some good points that Faludi tends to downplay some evidence that might not fit her arguments. Michiko Kakutani writes, “Ms. Faludi asserts that the 9/11 widows “the media liked best” were the fragile, dependent ones, “who accepted that their ‘job’ now was to devote themselves to their families and the memory of their dead husbands.” But even she has to acknowledge that the so-called “Jersey Girls” (Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, Patty Casazza, and Lorie van Auken) played “an essential role in forcing the creation of the independent 9/11 Commission,” and helped strong-arm “top White House officials into testifying before the commission.””

Posted by Joel on October 07 2007 • Books

Plans for Iran?

Seymour Hersh has a rather chilling piece in a recent New Yorker about the administration’s planning for possible action (military) against Iran. The story highlights suggestions made by the president that Iran is behind the insurgent strikes on American troops, and in retaliation the U.S. military would engage in “surgical strikes” inside Iran and elsewhere.

Hersh writes: “The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.”

Hersh has won a Pulitzer for his reporting, and has a long history of uncovering details inside the Pentagon. He was the reporter who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were killed by U.S. soldiers in March 1968. Wikipedia chronicles Hersh’s history of reporting on the possibility of attacks against Iran, which began more than two years ago:

“In January 2005, Hersh alleged that the U.S. was conducting covert operations in Iran to identify targets for possible strikes. This was dismissed by both the US government and the Government of Iran. However, US government has not categorically denied that US troops have been on the ground in Iran. Hersh also claimed that Pakistan and USA have struck a “Khan-for-Iran” deal in which Washington will look the other way at Pakistan’s nuclear transgressions and not demand handing over of its nuclear proliferator A Q Khan, in return for Islamabad’s cooperation in neutralising Iran’s nuclear plans. This was also denied by officials of the governments of the US and Pakistan.

“In the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, Hersh reported on the Bush Administration’s purported plans for an air strike within Iran. Of particular note in his article is that an American nuclear first strike (possibly using the B61-11 bunker-buster nuclear weapon) is under consideration to eliminate underground Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. In response, President Bush cited Hersh’s reportage as “wild speculation.”

Posted by Joel on October 07 2007 •

Pure Magic

As many of my friends know, I’m a huge Bruce fan. I’ve been listening to his new albulm, Magic, almost nonstop this week. There’s not much to say other than it’s wonderful. I can’t wait to see him next month when he brings the E Street Band to the Xcel Center in St. Paul. Here’s what A.O. Scott of the New York Times had to say about the album.

“There is a brightness of sound and a lightness of touch that are not quite like anything else Mr. Springsteen has done recently....The paradox of “Magic” may be that some of its stories are among the toughest he has told. The album is sometimes a tease but rarely a joke. The title track, for instance, comes across as a seductive bit of carnival patter, something you might have heard on the Asbury Park boardwalk in the old days. A magician, his voice whispery and insinuating in a minor key, lures you in with descriptions of his tricks that grow more sinister with each verse. (“I’ve got a shiny saw blade/All I need’s a volunteer.”) “Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you see,” he warns. And the song’s refrain — “This is what will be” — grows more chilling as you absorb the rest of the album’s nuances and shadows....And while the songs on “Magic” characteristically avoid explicit topical references, there is no mistaking that the source of the unease is, to a great extent, political.”

Posted by Joel on October 07 2007 • Current Affairs

Quick Read

Andrew Brown from the Guardian has an interesting take on the act of reading. Video and audio “take more time to convey less meaning,” he writes. “There are some things which print cannot easily - or at all - convey, and which sound and pictures can. But there are surprisingly few of them. Just for an experiment, try listening to the television news while not watching the pictures. You will be just as well informed and half your attention has been freed for other things. You will also notice - without the distractions - that hardly anything of any interest has been said at all. If you just read a transcript of what has been said, you will have learned even more, and in even less time.”

Information on the Web wants to be free, writes Brown among other various information technology scholars. (Last week’s announcement of by the New York Times to keep its content free online is one big example.) However, with the advent of ad-blocking software staying a step ahead, will we always enjoy the imense amount of current reporting and news-gathering without a better economic model? Worth thinking about.

Posted by Joel on October 01 2007 • Journalism