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.
The Media Are Biased Towards Being Entertaining - Election News Edition
We all know the media are biased. But the Big Question is - What kind of bias is there? I mean, really, the Pew Folks tell us that Fox is biased right, MSNBC is biased left, and CNN hits the middle. But this isn't a bias, boys and ghouls, it's a marketing decision! So let's channel the ghost of Neil Postman this Halloween and look at the real bias our Big Media has - being entertaining. After all, what do O'Reilly and Olbermann have in common, other than big paychecks? They try to attract a big audience by amusing them with blatantly partisan rhetoric. So, in honor of Halloween, let's look at the fun side of election media. Trick or treat!
Long-Tail Get Out The Vote Video
Dave Willis and Scott Jacobson of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and Comedy Central's Daily Show explain why North Carolinians should all get out to vote - to cancel the votes of their idiot neighbors. A great, non-partisan, message. (Thanks to Wonkette for the link.)
It's hard to imagine a newspaper without paper (Hey, the medium is in the name, even if it isn't the message), but it's a trend that's been going on for some time. For close to ten years, Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Timeshas been saying that the 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. Sulzberger's comments 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.
The change at the Monitor to all-electronic distribution is not as radical as some are portraying it, however. Although the Monitor has had a substantial presence on the Web, its daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies is relatively small compared to either USA Today or The Wall Street Journal, both of whom measure their circulation with the word "million" attached. But the Monitor's importance comes not from its size but rather from its overall reputation as one of the country’s best papers. It's web site attracts about 1.5 million page views per month.
The Christian Science Monitor is different from most papers in the United States in that it is owned by a religious organization. The paper was started in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. She was looking for a paper that would help church members be better informed than was possible with the yellow journalism of the day. The paper’s goal, according to journalism critics John Merrill and Harold Fisher, was to “appeal to the literate, concerned and moral citizen.” To achieve this goal, the Monitor reports what happened, why it happened, and what the solutions might be to the problem being reported. The paper continues to downplay sensational crime, sex, and personality news, focusing instead on serious public issues, and especially international stories.
Everyone's Gone To The Movies Dept. Part II - Turning a Profit With Christian-Themed Movies
The most interesting small-movie-making-money case to me this fall is the Christian-themed Fireproof, produced for a budget of $500,000. It's being promoted through churches and has brought in $23.6 million over 31 days. It also has had a very slow decline in box office, falling only 17 percent from the week before. Now it will never make a large amount of money, but any movie that can bring in nearly 50 times its cost of production has to be seen as a success. And, as the New York Times points out, it is distinctive for having "that rarest of creatures on the big (or small) screen: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy."
Atlanta-based filmmaker Tyler Perry has also built an amazingly successful career doing Christian-themed comedies. Working typically as a writer, actor, director, and producer, he's done a long string of successful low-budget African-American cast films that reliably bring in $30-$60 million. (His most recent film, Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys did not open at Number 1, but finished a close second behind the Coen Brother's Burn After Reading.) According to Fandango's Miki Turner, Perry has been successful because he's serving an under served audience - black church members. Perry's producing partner, Reuben Cannon, told Turner:
"The thing he cares most about is his audience and they know that. That’s why they support him. He’s giving them what they want. He’s giving them these portraits of themselves or people they know that they’ve never seen on screen before."
Note: Not all is sweetness and light at Perry's studio. He's currently in a dispute with the Writers Guild over the firing of four writers from his successful sitcom House of Payne for trying to get their work covered under a union contract.
How To Make Money In The Movie Business Part I The best known way to make money in the movies to produce a big-budget blockbuster with big stars and a name director, have a giant domestic and international box office, sell tons of licensing, sell tons of DVDs, and generally turn the movie into a Fortune 500 corporation. Sometimes this process even produces a pretty good movie. Look at The Dark Knight as an example. It took in more than $520 million domestically and $460 million from the foreign box office. All this on a budget of $185 million. With a budget like that, it had to be a success. Of course, with talent like director Christopher Nolan, actor Heath Ledger, and screenwriting team of Christopher and Jonathon Nolan, it was bound to do well. Another example would be Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man which ended up a bit of a surprise summer hit with a box office north of $300 million. Interestingly enough, Iron Man did about as well as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Sometimes the international box office can help redeem a domestic stinker. That was the case with Eddie Murphy's Meet Dave. It has a $60 million budget and a domestic box office of $11.8 million. But it did redeem itself slightly with a foreign box office of $38 million. Still not even close to a hit, but not an utter disaster.
But there is the alternative approach that can be taken as well - make a movie with a tiny to small budget with a clear target audience. Have a modest box office and a great return on investment. Currently we have at least three such movies in release. The big news this week was the moved-from-basic-cable franchise High School Musical. Instead of starting out with the theatrical movie that then goes straight-to-video sequels, this is the second sequel to the hit series. It cost $11 million to make and brought in $42 million opening weekend. And like a summer event movie, it can count on bit levels of product tie-ins and video sales.
Since it is almost Halloween, there has to be a new Saw torture porn flick out, and Saw V brought in $30.5 million this weekend on a budget of $10.8 million. Never mind that it got terrible reviews and likely will have a quick fall off in box office - it made nearly three times its cost of production its first weekend out. What more could you ask for?
Tomorrow - Success Through Christian-Themed Films
Tony Hillerman Remembered Mystery writer and retired journalism professor Tony Hillerman died Sunday at the age of 83. He was best known for his mystery novels set on the Navajo reservation, but he was also a professor emeritus of journalism. Before becoming a novelist, he was a former newspaper reporter and the head of the journalism department at the University of New Mexico.
As a side note, here is a WNYC Radio Lab program on the War of the Worlds broadcast, that includes a segment on The Blair Witch Project, a brilliant little film that convinced a lot of people that it was a documentary, not a piece of fiction. The link to the Radio Lab program comes from a class blog by Dr. James Coyle at Franciscan University of Steubenville
Kathleen Parker on Christopher Buckley's Endorsement
And a word or two about what the polls are and aren't showing us about the upcoming vote. I tell you, like her or hate her, Parker is probably the most interesting columnist out there this political season. She is one of the very few partisan columnists out there not trying to demonize the opposition.
Christopher Buckley on the Daily Show
And in case you're interested in seeing Buckley. He's doing the book tour thing to support his new novel Supreme Courtship. But he also talks about the Obama endorsement fuss.
Things I Learned About Fox Reading Media Bistro's News Update
If you don't get Media Bistro's News Update in your e-mail inbox, you should. It's a great source of cross-media news. Here's several recent items they ran on Fox.
News Corp. President Calls on FCC To Stop Regulating TV Speech Peter Chernin, president of Fox News owner News Corp., called on the FCC to stop regulating indecent speech on television and radio. He said it is a short step from censoring entertainment programs to censoring political speech. It's fascinating to hear the parent company speaking out forcefully for freer broadcast speech when its news/commentary channel calls for more regulation of indecency.
Fox and NBC Broadcast Networks Have Weak Week The Fox and NBC broadcast networks are having a rough fall for ratings, while CBS was the only network to have higher viewership last week than it did a year before. Keep in mind, however, that Fox always kicks the other Big Four networks around starting in January when American Idol and Jack Bauer come online.
Student Press Issues I've been a member of the JOURNET listserv for journalism educators and practitioners for almost as long as I've known that listservs exist. Elliott Parker, the current listowner, had a couple of great items of college and high school press issues on the listserv this week:
Student Newspapers Face Controversy Over Anti-Muslim Ad Conservative activist David Horowitz is generating controversy again by attempting to run ads in student newspapers across the country linking the Muslim Student Association to terrorist networks. Horowitz praises papers that run his ad (such as UC Santa Barbara's Daily Nexus), and condemns those that won't (such as Penn State's Daily Collegian) as being anti-first amendment. Do keep in mind that regardless of how you feel about Horowitz and his claims, every media outlet is free to accept or reject whatever advertising they want to.
College papers frequently face controversy over what ads they will or will not done. Collegiate journalists frequently have an unconditional support of free speech and feel that they ought to accept all issue-oriented ads submitted. Others feel that they need to reflect their campus values within the ads they accept. This has been most apparent with ads placed by Holocaust deniers.
Tacoma Schools Start Prior Review Of Student Publications There is little question that it is legal for public school administrators to control the content of student publications, at least in certain circumstances. The bigger question is: Should they be censoring student newspapers or yearbooks? That's the debate they're having in Washington state over stories in the Pouallup high school newspapers about abortion, drugs, and sexual harassment.
Here are a few more links on student press issues:
Bong Hits 4 Jesus Background materials on the Morse v. Frederick student free speech case.
The Supreme Court and the Hazelwood Decision
An analysis of the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, that established that high school newspapers (and high school media in general) are not protected by the First Amendment.
I oftentimes get frustrated reading major political commentators because they so often just parrot back the same Dreaded Talking Points again and again and again... But then again, there may be a reason they do so. It would seem that a lot of readers don't like getting unpredictable opinions out of their favorite columnists. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago renegade conservative columnist Kathleen Parker raised an enormous storm when she called on Sarah Palin to step down from the Republican presidential ticket for the good of the party. (And this was coming from someone who really liked Palin's attitude and saw her as a poke-in-the-eye of liberals.)
Christopher Buckley is the latest conservative columnist to fall victim to his lack of orthodoxy. Buckley is the son of the late William F. Buckley, the founder of the National Review and one of the deans of contemporary conservative rhetoric. Christopher created an enormous fuss this week when he endorsed Barack Obama in his column for thedailybeast.com web site. While the truth about the response to his commentary is not entirely clear, what is clear is that he offered his resignation to the National Review which was promptly accepted. (Keep in mind that he still is 1/7th owner of the magazine!) To you movie fans out there who try to ignore politics, Buckley is also the author of the comic novel Thank You For Smoking that was the basis for the movie of the same title.
Are E-Books The Future of Publishing Dept. Part II - What's New With E-Books
So if e-books are ever going to succeed, they're going to have start addressing these concerns I mentioned in yesterday's post. For the record, I've been a long-time consumer of audio books. I liked them on cassette just fine, and I like them even better as MP3 downloads that I can listen to on my iPod. But I've seen little reason to go to an e-book reader.
However, here are a few reasons you might consider using one:
New E-Book Readers Are Getting Better and More Common Amazon's entry in the e-book reader sweepstakes is nearly one year old, it has a long battery life, and can download books directly to itself using cell-phone technology that is transparent to the user. (And apparently there is a new version 2.0 of the Kindle on the way.) Sony has also recently announced a revised Touchscreen eReader.
Forbes: iPhone Has More E-Book Users Than Kindle Of course, that depends on how you define usership. Many more people have downloaded the iPhone/iPod Touch application Stanza, a book reading program than have bought a Kindle. But... one may presume that everyone who bought a Kindle for about $360 or so is using it to read e-books/newspapers/magazines. People who download a given program for free may or may not ever actually use it. Secondly, most of the books available for Stanza are in the public domain. (Yes, I know there are tools that will let you convert non-DRM protected e-books to the Stanza format, but you can't just buy current titles in the Stanza format.)
On the other hand, never underestimate the power of free. The World Wide Web beat out Gopher as the standard for online hypertext in part because the Web was free and University of Minnesota wanted to charge people for Gopher.
Newsweek to Publish Campaign Books for the Kindle Newsweek magazine will be publishing collections of articles they've published on each of the major presidential and vice presidential candidates. The only venue they will be available for will be Amazon's e-Book reader, the Kindle. This is a great bit of long-tail publishing. While Newsweek is emphatically a short-head medium, the republishing of the articles in an electronic form lets the magazine reach new readers at a very low cost. E-publishing also allows the books to get into the hands of consumers much, much faster.
There is at least one alternative e-book format that has been doing relatively well for many years, and that's the audio book, where a voice actor, famous or not, reads books (or even magazine articles) out loud so that they can be listened to on cassette player, CD player, or (more recently) MP3 player.
Unlike electronic print books, audio books have found a market among the commuting and exercising class. They provide a distinct value to consumers in that they allow readers to consume books and the like in environments where they couldn't easily read. Audio books also have the advantage of being readily understandable - everyone knows what "books on tape" are, even if they don't come on tape anymore. Finally, even though they do require special equipment to consumer, it is likely that you already own the equipment, or can buy it for very little money - there's very little risk in adopting this new technology.
But when most people talk about e-books, what they really mean are books in the form of a text file that can be read either on a computer screen or some other media device.
One big barrier that e-books face is that consumers are concerned that they will buy an expensive device that will be left orphaned with no new content.
Other people have concerns that the devices are just too complicated to use: How do you get the books downloaded? Where do you find them? How do you operate the thing?
Finally, there's the whole question of whether e-books provide a compelling advantage to readers? What do they get out of the device that they don't get out of a traditional paper book. For those of us who are big readers, we generally like books and see no reason to go to one more gizmo.
Twitter, Twitter Little Star
One of the central principles of the hacker culture, to which all college students really do belong to, is that to stay current you have to surf the edges, stay ahead of the technology curve. So we started out with e-mail, which then moved on to instant messaging. Then text messaging started gaining popularity, and if my middle-school child is any evidence, young people spend as more time sending SMS text messages to each other as they do talking on the phone.
But all of these technologies are now so last week. What's new? Twitter's what's new.
According to it's owner, Twitter is "a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"
The usual suspects of people who are cutting edge are doing this, of course. I first saw tweets showing up on the sites for some of my favorite web comics, including Girls With Slingshots and Questionable Content. (Please note that both of these comics can have rude content.)
NASA has the Mars Phoenix probe sending out first-person tweets, allegedly from the surface of Mars. (Why do I suspect that they are being written by a PR person at JPL? It's clever, in any event.)
The big question now is whether the Twitter folks can ever find a way to make money with this new communication technology. One report suggests that the people behind Twitter don't care whether they make money with it.
As for me, I don't know whether I'm ready to move beyond having a Facebook status. Does anyone really want to know the answer to the question of what I'm doing now?
Along With Not Being Dead, Steve Jobs Also Did Not Have a Heart Attack In case you missed the story, someone posted a story to CNN's iReport page that reported that Apple's Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. He had not. Nor did he die back in August. iReport is a so-called citizen journalism site where non-journalists can post news and cell-phone video reports. It seems to me that journalists and journalism organizations need to watch closely what goes up on their web sites and work on independent evaluation of stories. Posting cell-phone video of storms and other natural disasters is an ideal form of citizen journalism, but stories that could be covered by reporters ought to be covered by reporters. It will be very interesting to see whether the CNN story was a simple prank or an attempt to influence Apple's stock price.
Was Anyone Really Offended By Survivor's Wardrobe Malfunction?
Apparently the first episode of the current season of Survivor featured a bit more of competitor Marcus Lehman than anyone really wanted to see. Normally these little bits of inadvertent nudity are pixilated out on the show, but in this case no one actually noticed it till after the show had aired. But apparently someone from the watchdog group Parents Television Council saw it on their HDTV screen and are now urging it's members and supporters to file complaints with the FCC. Confession time - I do watch Survivor on occasion, though I like Amazing Race much better, and I had no idea there was a boxer problem on that episode. Now, ask yourself - is this a genuine problem or is this an opportunity for an advocacy group to grab some attention (Truth #6 anyone)?
What Students Are Reading
This week I asked my students what the most recent magazine they had read was. Here are the results. The names have been omited to protect the guilty. BTW, I've thrown in my most recent magazine as well.
Murray Head's Say It Ain't So
Many years ago, back when I was in college radio at KPGY, K-Piggy, the Big Pig In The Sky, I discovered an incredible song by singer Murray Head. He was best known for playing Judas on the Jesus Christ Superstar brown album, and for doing the song One Night In Bangkok from the Tim Rice musical Chess. Any time I would play the song during my show, I could guarantee getting a phone call from someone asking "What is that song? It's the greatest song I've ever heard." I was certainly of that opinion at the time. The song is frequently connected to the Shoeless Joe Jackson Black Sox scandal, but it is my understanding that the song is part of an un-produced musical Atlantis. Thanks to Choctaw Ridge, whoever you may be, for reminding me of this great song.
This time the novel is The Jewel of Medina, by American author Sherry Jones. The attack targeted Jones' Dutch publisher Martin Rynja. (The book is being published by Gibson Square, the same company scheduled to publish the paperback edition of the Sarah Palin biography. There's some question as to whether these events will postpone the publication of the Palin bio.)
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