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Mass Communication: Living in a Media World
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Living in a Media World 2E

Updated Three Times a Week

Looking for Student Blogs

I'm always looking for links to blogs being written by student journalists. If you have one, or know someone who does, drop me a note!

Dr. H

Wednesday - February 28, 2007

For My Ethics Students (and Anyone Else Who's Interested)
Here are the promised readings on photo ethics and media bias for my ethics students. (Anyone else interested is welcome to follow along.)

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Monday - February 26, 2007

The Long Tail of the Oscars
Last night we came together as a nation and engaged in the traditional watching of the Oscar telecast. You go through the endless awards that no one cares about because no one understands the categories or no one has seen the films. No where was this more true than with the outstanding short film and outstanding animated short.

But this year something changed in a big way with these little films. You want to see West Bank Story that retells West Side Story as a romance between Palestinian and Israeli falafel dealers? Download it from iTunes. You want to see animated winner The Danish Poet? You don't need to travel to an art house theater in New York.

What you are seeing here is nothing less than the full impact of the long tail whacking the mainstream movie industry. For the first time ever, the most obscure of all the Oscar winners are no more than a click away. And at $1.99 each the downloads are an impulse purchase. You don't have to chuck in the 20+ bucks for a DVD that will arrive in a couple of weeks.

Looking for the long tail? Looks to me like you've found it.

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Friday - February 23, 2007

Academy Awards Previews

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Wednesday - February 21, 2007

Radio, Radio Dept. - XM and Sirius To Merge

Among the folks I hang out with on the Internet (long distance motorcycle riders) the media story of the year is the proposed merger of digital satellite radio providers XM and Sirius.

Both of services charge subscribers $12.95 per month.  The companies have been discussing the advantage of merging for some time, but so far Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the FCC, has expressed concern about the creation of a monopoly for satellite service.  Sirius has 6 million subscribers, XM has more than 7.6 million.  That combined base could likely make a merged company profitable – something they have not been to date.  Between the two companies, they lost $1.7 billion in 2006.

The biggest name on satellite radio is former broadcast shock jock Howard Stern, who made the move over to Sirius after his protracted and very public battle with Viacom, which syndicated him; and the FCC, which fined his stations more than $2.5 million over a 10-year period.

Stern seems to be thriving on satellite radio with no corporate or FCC censors to put limits on him.  In an interview with the New York Times, Stern said, “We’re talking about the stuff you can’t talk about.  The show on terrestrial radio in the last 10 years had been so watered down.”

Stern does have a much smaller audience now that he has his freedom.  On free radio, he had up to 12 million listeners a day, while Sirius has about half that.

Besides letting Howard Stern talk dirty, the big thing that satellite radio has to offer is programming that’s different from what the corporate-owned stations do.  Bob Dylan hosts a show on XM, and Eminem has one on Sirius.  Rapper Ludacris told the New York Times that on his show on XM, “I have the freedom to play whatever I want to play.  You don’t have to worry about fines, you don’t have to worry about sponsors.  It’s just freedom.”

Satellite radio also provides news and public affairs channels such as CNN, National Public Radio, or C-SPAN.  One advantage of satellite radio over regular radio is that travelers will be able to tune into a channel in New York and listen to it all the way to California. The disadvantage, other than the cost, is that these services provide no local content such as traffic reports, local news, or weather forecasts -- the staples of car radio.

Why does this proposed merger matter so much to the long-distance motorcycling crowd? They listen to a lot of satellite radio while they're out travelling on their bikes. They have spent a substantial amount of money for lifetime subscriptions, for GPS receivers including built-in satellite radio receivers, they count on receiving their favorite sports.

There's been a lot of talk as to whether the FCC will let this happen, given that it would create a monopoly in the satellite radio business. I can see this argument, but I'm not sure I agree with it. First of all, it isn't clear at all that the market can support two competing satellite services that offer non-overlapping programming. Second, if we view this as digital audio rather than satellite radio, there's lots of competition out there. There are iPods and other MP3 players, there's HD radio, and the wealth of podcasts out there. Thirdly, I have a hard time believing that an FCC that let Clear Channel acquire more than 1,000 radio stations in the last ten years really opposes media consolidation.

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Monday - February 19, 2007

Sports Illustrated Finally Has Second Woman of Color On The Swimsuit Issue Cover
Last year at about this time, I pointed out that Sports Illustrated had only once featured a woman of color on the cover of its infamous swimsuit issue. That was Tyra Banks 10 years ago. (It should be noted that last year there was a Hispanic model among the eight women on the cover. Whether that constitutes a woman of color I leave to the reader's judgment.)

Apparently the folks at Time Warner have been paying attention to this criticism, featuring the African American singer/actress Beyonce on the cover this year. (Or maybe not. I tried to find an article to link to here, and couldn't.)

Now some folks might be justified in pointing out that now black women are being exploited in the same way that white women have been since the launch of the annual ritual. Good enough. But do take a look at what Trisha Goddard has to say about the lack of diversity on America's and Britain's magazine covers.

The Women's Sports Foundation has published an interesting article about how women athletes are represented in the press and how minority women athletes are underrepresented in the press. They also ran an interesting article about how women athletes are criticized for what they wear on the field.

Here's Tyra Banks talking on her show about the meaning of her appearance on the cover of the magazine 10 years ago. (She puts it in the context of Black History Month.)

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Friday - February 16, 2007

UPDATED: America Is Great Because Lincoln Hanged Congressmen Dept. - Quotes That Aren't Quotes
There's been a popular quote by President Abraham Lincoln making the rounds lately. It goes something like this:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

There's only one thing wrong with it as a quote -- Lincoln didn't say it either directly or indirectly. As was pointed out by FactCheck last August, the quote actually comes from an article that ran in the defunct magazine Insight by conservative scholar J. Michael Waller. He claims that the quote marks around the opening statement in his article were put in by a mistaken copy editor.

Despite the debunking last summer, the quote has found new life on the Internet, in a column from the Washington Times, and in a speech by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) supporting the "surge" of troops in Iraq. Seems that there's a lot of folks who are amused by the thought of executing anyone who disagrees with the president.

Of course, the Lincoln comment isn't the only faux 19th century quote that's made the round in recent years. Alexis de Tocqueville was a young French aristocrat who toured the United States starting in 1831. He wrote about his experiences in a two-volume book, Democracy in America. His book has become the definitive source of inspirational quotes about America. In fact, comments about the book and de Tocqueville were so prevalent on C-SPAN in the 1990s, that founder Brian Lamb had the public affairs network spend more than a year following de Tocqueville's travels around the country.

But there was one de Tocqueville quote that kept showing up again and again in political speeches. It goes like this:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce - and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

John J. Pitney, Jr., writing in the Weekly Standard, had his students try to locate this commonly used quote in the writings of de Tocqueville. The only problem was that it never showed up anywhere in his books or letters. It turns out, Pitney discovered, the quote comes from a speech written for President Eisenhower. The writer most likely drew the quote from a 1941 book on religion and the American dream. (Eisenhower, by the way, attributed the quote not to de Tocqueville but rather to a "wise philosopher who came to this country.")

The quote has been used in one form or another by presidents and presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Phil Gramm.

Neither of these manufactured quotes is as much fun, however, as the one that got Pennsylvania-born writer Edward Abbey fired as the editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary journal. 

On the cover of the magazine he printed the Voltaire quote “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” but he attributed it to Louisa May Alcott. (Actually, Abbey believed it to be a Voltaire quote, but it can be traced back to at least two others.)

Let this be a lesson to us all - when you've found a great quote, make sure you track it back to the primary source. (Hat tip to Fishbowl DC for the Lincoln quote item.)

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Thursday - February 15, 2007

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Monday - February 12, 2007

Sulzberger Hasn't Cared About Printing For At Least Eight Years
There's been a lot of buzz over comments made by New York Times publisher and owner Arthur Sulzberger at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. He was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying:

"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either.... The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we're leading there."

He went on to say that he really doesn't view the Times as a local paper. Instead he sees it as a national paper that is based in New York, a paper that has more readers outside the city than within it.

Sulzberger's comments have been quoted everywhere from FishbowlDC to Eat The Press to the National Review's Media Blog to Pajamas Media to Common Sense Journalism. (And a lot more places I'm not bothering to list...)

But what no one has noticed is that this is essentially the same thing that Sulzberger has been saying for the last eight years. Sulzberger was part of an Advertising Age roundtable back in September of 1999 in which he was asked about the future of the Times. He answered:

“I don’t care how they get it 100 years from now. And the key is not caring.  It goes back to knowing the audience, and being, not ambivalent, but agnostic, rather.  Agnostic about the methods of distribution.  Because we can’t afford to be tied to any production process….  There will still be communities of interest.  There will still be a need, both socially and politically, for  common and shared experiences.”

Now I will grant you that there is a big difference between "I don't care how they get it 100 years from now" and "I really don't know if we'll be printing the Times five years from now."

But the basic thought, the real point of his comments, is still the same. And that is that the New York Times is no longer in the business of putting black ink on white paper and then selling it to people. Instead, the New York Times is in the news business and the ad sales business, and they are going to be delivering news and advertising in whatever forms it is profitable for them.

That's not a terribly deep analysis, but I think that it is correct, especially when you look at it in terms of remarks that Sulzberger has been making for at least eight years. His remarks in Switzerland don't mean that the Times is going to stop printing a newspaper within the next five, or 100, years. It means that the Times is going to keep on selling its two basic products for a long time regardless of what happens to the newspaper business.

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Friday - February 9, 2007

Steve Jobs, Digital Rights Management & the iPod
Steve Jobs posted a thoughtful essay (well-crafted PR?) outlining his thoughts on why music from iTunes is protected by digital rights management (DRM), why Apple doesn't share the technology with anyone else, and how much music on iPods comes from iTunes. He also deals with the substantial criticism that Apple has taken for selling music that can only be played on iPods.

His basic argument is this: Music publishers will only allow Apple to sell music downloads that are protected by DRM. The only way to make DRM protection work is to keep the details of it secret. The only way to keep it a secret is to not tell anyone else how it works. His argument actually goes well beyond that simple syllogism, but that gets at the central point. Apple isn't forcing the copy protection issue (i.e. DRM), the music publishers are. As long Apple they have to have DRM to have permission to sell the music, they will do so.

But he also points out that only about 3 percent of all the space on all the iPods sold is taken up by music downloaded from iTunes. So in fact most of the music on iPods has either been ripped from CDs, been downloaded as unprotected music, or obtained some other way.

He argues that the European regulators who are upset with Apple's proprietary software should be going after the music publishers who require them to use it rather than after iTunes. The RIAA, whose general response is to sue anyone who wants to use music creatively, thinks that Apple should just give their technology to all the other music player manufacturers.

My first read on this article was that it was simply an attempt to protect the company from criticism and regulation. But most of the analysts out there I've read seem to think that this is a manifesto designed to call for the end of copy protection. Either way, Job's essay is well thought out and worth a read.

BTW, Apple finally resolved its ongoing trademark dispute with Apple Corp. records, the Beatles old record label

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Thursday - February 8, 2007

All F-Bombs, All The Time Dept.

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Wednesday - February 7, 2007

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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You Want Media Bias? Real Media Bias? I'll Show You Media Bias Dept. -- CBS Ignores Plight Of Aging Football Players
Regular readers of this blog know that I have absolutely no patience with charges of systematic liberal media bias. Can you find examples of it? Of course. But you can find just as many examples of conservative bias. (And, no, it's not in the same types of stories.)

But there is a systematic bias in our media, and that is a bias towards the business interests of the owners of the media. To wit - Big Media will almost never run stories that run counter to their own best interests. As I wrote in the first edition of my textbook:

Former network television news producer Lowell Bergman spent 21 years in network television, mostly working for television newsmagazine shows at ABC and CBS. Bergman says that he has no doubt about the influence of self-censorship when it comes to pleasing the network and its suppliers. As an example, the networks will not do an investigative story about an NFL team owner’s business practices or history for fear that at some point a network might want to negotiate for football broadcast rights.

Want to see a real life example of this? Leonard Shapiro, sports columnist for the Washington Post , illustrates the concept perfectly in his Monday column:

Sadly, CBS simply chose to ignore some of the biggest stories of the week in its Sunday coverage.

There was no mention, for example, of the growing number of retired NFL players furious at the league and their own union for what they perceive to be callous indifference to the plight of many of their less fortunate teammates who need better insurance and disability coverage and increased pensions.

One of the more heavily attended news conferences at the Super Bowl media center last week involved the announcement of an ongoing on-line auction organized by former Green Bay lineman Jerry Kramer. Many former players, including former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, have donated some of their most treasured memorabilia in an attempt to raise money for old players in dire need of help, which ought to be a major embarrassment to the league and the union.

Ditka, the Hall of Fame tight end and coach of the only Bears Super Bowl champion, even made an emotional appeal Thursday at the news conference to both entities to do a better job in taking care of their own. So what if he's now employed by ESPN? Shouldn't CBS at least have sent a camera crew over to get Ditka on tape, or better yet, bring Da Coach on the set Sunday as one of the greatest Bears' icons in history and talk to him about the problem live on game day?

Three days before the big game, The N.Y. Times and Boston Globe also broke an important story on the health problems of former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson. Only 34 and a key man in three Patriots three Super Bowl victories this decade, Johnson was quoted as saying that Patriots coach Bill Belichick forced him to practice against medical advice a few days after he had sustained a concussion in a preseason game, and that he's been dealing with the consequences ever since.

After multiple concussions as a player, he said he now suffers from depression, spends hours locked in his apartment and takes heavy doses of un-prescribed amphetamines to try to cope with his various demons.

Wasn't that worth a story during the four-hour pre-game, perhaps twinned with the suicide last November of former Eagles defensive back Andre Watters, another apparent victim of constant concussions suffered during his playing career? How does the network of Edward R. Murrow not even offer a whiff of such timely and telling stories during its marquee day of football programming.

To compound the error, CBS ran a pre-game segment sponsored by McDonalds called "Playoff Pounders" which showed, in order, the top five body-numbing, brain-jarring wicked hits administered so far in the 2007 playoffs. In light of all those players now walking around on artificial knees and hips, some still suffering from post-concussive symptoms, how in good conscience could CBS air such a gratuitously violent feature, even if the quarter-pounder types surely were paying a pretty penny to be the title sponsor of such tripe?

And that describes true media bias.

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Monday - February 5, 2007

Media News Roundup

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Thursday - February 1, 2007

For My Ethics Students - The Problem of Politically Controversial Science
In my journalism ethics class on Wedneday, I talked about the problem journalists have with covering science stories that have political controversy surrounding them. Here are links to a couple of entries I've written previously on this topic, and a link to some controversial material on climate change from The Weather Channel.

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