Posts from May 2003

How to make fishwrap

How to make fishwrap
: Matt Welch has a wonderful column about the newspaper biz post BlairBragg in the National Post (datelined Los Angeles, I should add).

He argues that newspaperpeople are more upset about BlairBragg because they (read: we) put it on a pedestal more than readers in most of America. Guilty. I love and admire the Times. That doesn’t mean I always like it. The paper has become terribly overwritten lately, with writerly writers spending paragraphs showing off before getting to the point, which just wastes my time as I try to figure out what the hell a story is trying to be about. I’ve never said the Times is perfect, but it is damned good.

The problem isn’t liking the Times. The problem, Welch points out, is emulating it in the wrong ways.

Almost every newspaper that views the Times as a role model… is a local monopoly in a less liberal city. Chances are, it will equate success with such Timesian yardsticks as Pulitzer prizes, and (in the immortal words of Rick Bragg) the ability “to go get the dateline.”

Amen, brother. I’ve said here before that if I ran a paper, I wouldn’t enter any contests. The only contest we want to win is the fight for the attention and affection of our readers. And the way to win that is to be useful, not to write 1,000-inch show-off thumbsuckers. But I say that such mondostories are born not of Times envy but of conference bragging.

Welch sees a silver lining in the cloud over West 43rd Street:

As importantly, the bulk of this navel-gazing is happening in public, giving readers a rare, transparent glimpse into the sausage-making minutiae of newspapering. A week ago, if you had asked 10 Americans about the journalistic significance of the word “dateline,” nine probably would have said “that stupid entertainment show on NBC.”

Perhaps. But the risk is that all this will make newspapers even more boring — not only in their new sense of what’s safe but also in their reflex to write reflexively, about themselves. Please, no.

Welch’s money graphs (as we say in the news biz) are these:

Newspapers, in theory at least, are attempting to help their readers become as educated as possible about their city, country and institutions. Luckily for everyone, the World Wide Web has enabled consumers these days to have an unprecedented ability to consume, debate and, most importantly, repackage their own news, from nearly infinite sources across the globe.

Every person who has created a current-events weblog — and there are tens of thousands of them, at least — has been forced to write headlines, weigh the veracity of sources, select an appropriate mix of stories, avoid running afoul of libel and copyright laws … basically, to make many of the decisions that are familiar to editors everywhere.

This has created a revolutionary level of reader sophistication, one that savvy newspapers will eventually recognize as a valuable source of feedback and potentially bottomless reservoir of distributed intelligence. If a newsroom uses the post-Blair level of scrutiny to strengthen practices and improve the product, these people will be the first the notice.

Right. We saw that during the war and not just on the Web but also on TV, as new tools gave the audience instant access to news as it happened or allegedly happened, including front-row seats at previously press-pass-only briefings. The audience had to learn, as reporters and editors have long-since learned (or should have), that you can’t take the first word as the true word; you have to see how things shake out; you have to ask more questions; you have to doubt.

And so here’s my money graph:

The Times represented the pinnacle of an old news business and it was taken to be as true as it gets because it was the best we had. But now we have something better and that’s not more newspapers (or weblogs): It’s more information, more up-to-the-minute news, more of it in the audience’s control. And the audience will have to learn that news isn’t easy. Nobody does it perfectly, not even the Times.

Put down that pen, Penn

Put down that pen, Penn
: All I have to say is, this guy needs an editor!

I kept trying to read Sean Penn’s full-page, type-crammed ad in yesterday’s New York Times but it was so badly written, such a drone, and so full of Penn that I gave up.

See whether you have more stamina than I do.

Here’s a PDF of the complete Penn screed.

Pincer movement on Iran

Pincer movement on Iran
: Not only is the right — that is, the White House — putting pressure on Iran, but so is the left.

Here’s a Manifesto for Iran signed by Noam Chomsky, Costa Gravas, Edward Said, Harold Pinter, and other leftie lights for the International Committee for Transition to Democracy in Iran:

…we hold that the peaceful transition of Iran to a democratic republic, free of all interference by religious authorities in the affairs of the state, would enable the decisive forces of the society

Are you ready for your closeup, Miss Diaz?

Are you ready for your closeup, Miss Diaz?
: There is an evil side to technology. This from Television Week [via Lost Remote]:

Cameron Diaz is beautiful, right? After all, the green-eyed blonde has been a regular on People magazine’s list of the most beautiful people in the world.

However, the magazine’s editors-and most of the Western world-do not have a high-definition TV. If they did, they would see that Diaz’s face is spotted with small pockmarks, the unfortunate consequence of a longtime acne problem….

When seen on film, Diaz’s skin imperfections are not noticeable, thanks to Hollywood’s talented makeup artists. However, with HDTV, the picture is so precise that the acne damage cannot be hidden. In a high-def broadcast of Charlie’s Angels on HBO, Diaz looks like a different person. She’s still very pretty. But to be very frank, I doubt that she would make People’s most beautiful list.

I am writing this not to discount the considerable charms of Cameron Diaz. But the story illustrates the impact that HDTV is having on the Hollywood glamour machine. As stars run for cover-literally-the industry is searching for new makeup techniques that will combat the evils of digital television. With high-def now in fewer than 6 million homes, the problem is under control. But if new solutions aren’t found-and millions more get HDTV, as expected-the technology could change our perception of who’s beautiful and who’s not.

: UPDATE: Ken Layne adds:

I’ve seen the HDTV screens in various sizes, and I have to agree it makes even an attractive person look like a grotesque, makeup-crusted whore on the wrong side of 50. Nobody needs to see anybody that goddamned close up in such perfect detail. I can be nose to nose with a living human and it will never compare to the horror of a three-foot-tall pixel-perfect Mike Wallace face.

He’s not anti-American; he just prefers flame-broiling

He’s not anti-American; he just prefers flame-broiling
: I just came across a page from the European TV show Arte with a quiz: “Are you anti-American?” (in German or French). The first questions: “Do you sometimes go to McDonald’s?”