Living in a Media World 2E

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

Second Edition Available Now!

The second edition of Mass Communication: Living in a Media World is now available at the very student-friendly price of $45. (Yes, the new edition sells for less than used copies often do of the first edition.) It features a newly strengthened media literacy focus, greater depth on a number of topics, extensive coverage of "long-tail" media, and new chapters on media effects and global media. For more information, visit the CQ Press website.

Thursday - February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley Remembered
There are few things I despise more in modern political commentary than Dreaded Talking Points (or DTPs). This is when the commentator does nothing more than reiterate the same old partisan arguments (talking points) over and over again. You don't have to read or listen to the commentator because you've heard it all before.

That was why I always loved William F. Buckley, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, even though his politics were consistently well to the right of my own. His columns and television talk were always filled the pleasure of saying things in just the exact way he intended. And Buckley tended to be the source other people's talking points rather than a copier of them. The world of political talk will be diminished by his passing.

He was the founder of the National Review, a conservative response to the progressive New Republic and Nation. He was also the long-time host of the television political talk show Firing Line where people actually debated political issues and listened to each other rather than just shouting.

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Tuesday - February 26, 2008

Stories I Ought To Care About But Can't Summon The Energy To Do So Dept. - John McCain v. the New York Times
I was out of town the later part of last week, and so I missed the explosion of fuss over a New York Times story that seems to suggest that Republican presidential candidate John McCain might have had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman and done legislative favors for her. The story was heavily based on anonymous sources, and many critics charge that the sourcing and claims in the article were rather thin. Times editor Bill Keller defends the article, claiming that it really was about a candidate who was careless about his reputation, not about a sex scandal. But that's not how Times readers saw things....

Since the story appeared on Feb. 21, there has been an explosion of response, including multiple articles by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, the story from NPR's On The Media (that's the main link), and a host of others.

If you read through (and listen to) the links here, though, you will see that the criticism of the Times story is different from the usual "Oh, look at the big bad liberal media." In this case, virtually everyone, from liberals to conservatives are pig piling on the Times for overstating the sex aspect of the story. Interestingly enough, the Washington Post ran a very similar story about McCain doing favors for the lobbyist, without the sex angle, and that story has received almost no criticism. Perhaps because the Post's story was solid. You know, it's heresy in the journalism business, but I continue to think that the Washington Post is the best paper in America, not the Times.

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Wednesday - February 20, 2008

Sherman, Set The Wayback Machine for 1988, Please Dept. - Cops Turns 20
I've written a lot lately about the effects of the current writers strike. But what about the 1988 strike? What has it wrought? Well.... Cops, mostly. Not just Cops, but reality programming in general. Programs that could be produced without any stars or union writers. This season Cops is celebrating its 20th anniversary on the air and marks the point where unscripted programs started to become a major force on network television.

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Tuesday - February 19, 2008

Media Effects: The Competitive Model - Will Hillary's Plagiarism Charges Stick to Barack?
There are a number of explanations of how the messages of a political campaign affect (or don't affect) voters. To me, one of the most interesting is looking at how to campaign messages affect your opponent more than how do they affect voters.

Want an example? For the last few days, Hillary Clinton's campaign has been trying to make an issue out of the fact that Barack Obama has apparently lifted some political rhetoric from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Similar charges that Joe Biden had lifted a speech from the British labor party leader helped sink his campaign for the presidency back in 1988.

So far it would not appear that Obama is suffering the same sort of damage that Biden did. Why? In part it's because Obama and Patrick are friends, share the same political adviser, and have long shared a similar message. Second, Patrick has not objected to the reuse of his words. Finally, Obama has not reacted particularly defensively to the charges of plagiarism.

So according to the competitive model, it is not so much the public's direct reaction to the charges that matter as it is how the public reacts to Obama's reaction to the charges.

As always, we can depend on the reliable C-SPAN to show us the actual speech:

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Monday - February 18, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

  • How Will Batman Cope With The Joker's Death?
    Heath Ledger's death has been a tragedy on many levels. But it's also been a commercial problem for the producers of the new Batman movie coming out this summer in which Ledger played the Joker. Reportedly all of his part had been filmed, but the re-recording of his lines (or looping) had likely not been done. How will the studio cope with this? Slate's Kim Masters talks about it in her blog. (When Oliver Reed died during the production of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, a combination of existing footage, body doubles, and computer animation was used to fill in the gaps.) Then there's also the question of how Ledger's part in Terry Gilliam's Dr. Parnassus will be handled. The advantage being that in a Terry Gilliam film, the solution doesn't have to make rational sense (and I mean that in a good way!)
  • How Big Will Branded Entertainment Get?
    Pretty big. Branded entertainment includes event sponsorship, product placement, advergaming, and webisodes. About half of this is event sponsorship, which isn't really mass media content (unless it the event gets covered by the media). The rest, however, is very clearly mass media driven. (
  • Why is a California Congresswoman So Ticked Off About a la Carte Pricing of Cable?
    Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been quizzing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin over proposed policies to put new regulations on cable television. Among the issues she is complaining about are efforts from the FCC to force cable companies to offer "a la carte" pricing of cable channels - that is, eliminate the selling of big bundles of channels and instead have consumers buy each channel individually. The reasons people tend to support a la carte pricing is so that they don't have to pay for cable channels they object to and because they hope that it would lower cable prices. The reason people tend to oppose a la carte pricing is that it would tend to make small-audience channels less available to consumers as a whole.

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Thursday - February 14, 2008

Are Seven Seconds of a Female's Backside Worth $1.4 Million In Indecency Fines?
In 2003, ABC affiliates across the country played an episode of the hit cop show NYPD Blues that showed the naked behind of actress Charlotte Ross as she takes off her robe prior to a shower. Now the FCC is trying to fine 50+ of those affiliates at total of $1.4 million for the indecency. In their appeal of the fines, the affiliates argue that a non-sexual portrayal of nudity is not "indecent" and therefore doesn't violate any standards. Remember that before the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident, it was relatively routine to show bare behinds on NYPD Blues (and many other programs).

Ignoring the seriousness of the issue, the court arguments over the fines are a lot of fun, what with the debate over whether buttocks constitute a "sexual or excretory organ."

The fines were levied on stations in the Central and Mountain time zones because in those markets the program aired at 9 p.m. NYPD Blues aired at 10 p.m. on the East and West coasts at which point indecent content is presumably acceptable.

All of this has been pretty widely reported through news media and blogs. What has been less widely written about is how these Central and Mountain time zone communities feel about the fines. Let's take a look:

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Wednesday - February 13, 2008

Questions and Answers At The End Of The WGA Strike
Here are three great articles giving a round-up on the end game of the WGA strike. Thanks to Media Bistro's Daily Media News Feed for the links. (An indispensable newsletter!)

  • What Shows Will Be Back This Spring?
    Those that are established and that have time to produce enough complete episodes. Fox's 24 had shot only eight of the 24 episodes and so won't be back till next January. (WaPo)
  • How Did The Strike Get Settled?
    Private meetings between writers and moguls brokered by an agent may be part of the answer. Essentially, everyone decided it was in everyone's best interest for the strike to be over and so started talking seriously about what could happen. (LAT)
  • Did Anyone Really "Win" The Strike?
    Depends on who's doing the counting, says Slate's Kim Masters. Writers got what they wanted "in principle," but it may not amount to all that much in the short run. The big deal is that they got Internet revenues into the contract.

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Tuesday - February 12, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Monday - February 11, 2008

Writers Strike Looks To Be Over
Striking writers will be back to work as soon as Wednesday, according to a story by Lisa de Moraes in Monday's Washington Post. Writers will vote Tuesday on whether to end the strike. Votes on ratifying the new contract will take about 12 days to complete.

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike for the last three months (the strike started on Nov. 5), shutting down production of most scripted television shows and Hollywood movies. It's also put a stop to the development of new shows for next fall's television season.

Members of the guild reached a tentative agreement with the studios on Saturday, with writers in New York and Los Angeles expressing support for the new contract.

Why the settlement now? One strong possibility is the Academy Awards. If the strike had not yet been settled, the writers would have picketed the Oscar ceremony. The members of the Screen Actors Guild (i.e. all the movie stars) had announced they would honor the picket line, thus turning the award show into something pretty sterile. (Think back to what the Golden Globes were like this year - essentially a glorified press conference.) Nobody wants that to happen. The stars want to be seen and promote their movies. The studios (and everyone else) want the big boost to the movies that the Oscars bring about. The network broadcasting the award show and any related programs want the commercial sales and ratings that come from the annual Oscar telecast.

There is also still some possibility of salvaging a few more episodes of popular television shows. Lost was supposed to run 16 episodes this spring. So far only seven or eight are completed. Even restarting production next week, they are unlikely to be able to finish the season. What will they do?

Fox held off with showing 24 until they were sure they would be able to show all the episodes on a weekly basis. This, of course, was good news for Kiefer Sutherland who needed the time off to serve his DUI jail term.

The biggest bone of contention between writers and the studios was the payment of residuals for programs streamed on the Internet. Residuals are payments that go to writers, directors, performers and the like every time their work is broadcast after the initial airing. Previous contracts have included broadcast, cable, pay-per-view, and home video rights. But the streaming of programs over the Internet has replaced reruns for many shows. Lost, for example, makes only minimal use of broadcast reruns, but it has a strong presence on the Web. Under the new agreement, broadcasters would be allowed to stream current shows over the net for a given number of days (roughly two-to-three weeks) without payment of residuals. After that, writers would get fees based on level of viewership.

So all is well, right? Well.... there's the little matter of the new Screen Actors Guild contract this summer.....

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Sunday - February 10, 2008

Truth 6 Dept. - Hillary and the Press
Truth #6 says, "Activism and analysis are not the same thing." This often shows up with members of a particular political orientation claiming that the press is hopelessly biased against them. The latest to make this charge? Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Here's a sampling of stories on the topic:

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Tuesday - February 5, 2008

Thoughts On Super Duper Tuesday - Part II
We get lots of talk about the power of the press/media/punditocracy/bloviators to shape the election, even though in the end it is the ever unpredictable voter that decides things. Here's two more articles from Howard Kurtz on how the pundits are treating the candidates:

  • Limbaugh (and Most of the Rest of the Conservative Talkers) Take on McCain
    Conservative talk giant Rush Limbaugh has been trash talking John McCain, the (current as of Tuesday evening) frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Limbaugh, along with a majority of the rest of the conservative radio talk show hosts, is supporting Romney, and blames the "liberal media" for McCain's success.
  • Liberal Commentators Don't Know What to Do With Hillary and Barry
    While the conservative pundits know that they hate McCain (for being insufficiently conservative), the liberal commentators don't know what to do. They may have a preference for Hillary or Barack, but they don't really dislike either of them. What's a professional opiner to do?

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Monday - February 4, 2008

Thoughts On Super Duper Tuesday

  • Kurtz - The Press Sure Loves the Obama-Kennedy Connection
    The WP's omnipresent Howard Kurtz notes that the various Kennedy endorsements of Barack Obama have generated a lot more news than their endorsement four years ago of John Kerry. Why? Kurtz opines that Obama has recaptured some of the Camelot glamour of JFK.
  • WP Web Site Growing In Popularity
    Surprise, surprise - page views are at record levels with political story readership nearly doubling. Courtesy of a memo leaked to FishbowlDC. As far as I'm concerned, is the place for news.
  • Are the Primaries the Ultimate Reality Show?
    I'm not sure how great of a reality show they are, but the debates are certainly getting good ratings. Last week's Hollywood debate drew 8.32 million viewers - more than Celebrity Apprentice!
  • And One Last Thought on the Super Bowl
    Do you think the Boston Globe jumped the gun on offering the Patriots 19-0 book on Amazon? Do ya? Don't you just hate when that happens? (Patriot fans, chill. I'm making fun of the Globe, not you!) Thanks to FishbowlDC for the link and image.

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Sunday - February 3, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Saturday - February 2, 2008

Super Bowl.... Does That Include a Football Game?
Yes, I know, I know, but it does seem at times that the hype about the Super Bowl commercials can get to be as big as they hype about the game! Here's three stories on the topic from USA Today.

  • 20 Years of Covering Super Bowl Commercials
    For the last 20 years, USA Today has been analyzing Super Bowl ads. You can find a schedule for when the commercials are going to air as well as a round up of previous years' commercials.
  • Victoria's Secret Returns To The Super Bowl
    The undies company normally sells almost exclusively to women, but for Christmas and Valentine's Day, men shop there too. With the Super Bowl coming shortly before V Day, Vicki's Secret views the big game as a natural. (The company also approves of the fact that the game has a big female audience.
  • Pepsi To Run Silent Ad Featuring Deaf Joke
    No, it's not a joke making fun of the deaf community, it's a joke from the deaf community. The ad was written by a Pepsi employee who works with the deaf community, and two of the actors Pepsi employees who are deaf. It strikes me that if you are trying to cut through the clutter of television advertising, doing something that is genuinely creative and different is a lot better than ads featuring flatulent horses.

Previous Years' Entries on Super Bowl Coverage

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Thursday - January 31, 2008

Long-Term Impact of Writers Guild Strike
I don't have time for much commentary tonight, but here are several stories to take a look at on the long-term effects that the Writers Guild strike may have on television, movies, and media consumption in general.

Previous Entries on the Strike

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