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.

NEWS: The RSS feed is fixed! Check it out.

Friday - October 31, 2008

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!

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Thursday - October 30, 2008

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But It Will Be On The Web Dept.:
Christian Science Monitor Goes All-Electronic

The Christian Science Monitor announced earlier this week that in April of 2009 it would leave the daily dead tree business (i.e. suspend daily publication of the paper) and go to an e-mail and web-based publication. This is being treated as pretty big news because the Monitor is the first national newspaper to go to all-electronic format. (It will actually still publish a weekly paper edition, but let's not get bogged down in details....)

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 Times has 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.

We are, however, starting to see more and more electronic distribution of newspapers. You can now subscribe to the full print edition of numerous newspapers using Amazon's Kindle electronic reader. And I get the Chronicle of Higher Education in the electronic edition now, skipping the paper product.

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.

The paper shows little sign of religious bias other than downplaying news about medicine and health. (Christian Science members believe in spiritual healing.) The Monitor has won numerous Pulitzer Prizes, with one of the most recent being awarded to editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett in 2002.

Thanks to Avi Bass at NIU and Michelle Widger at UNK for links for this entry.

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Wednesday - October 29, 2008

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."

Perry is also independent - he works out of Atlanta, ignores the critics, and finances his own films, which gives him a lot of control over what he does. As African-American film critic Wesley Morris points out, "Perry is not August Wilson, Charles Burnett, or Spike Lee, nor does he want to be. But he is well on his way to being America's most important black entertainer."

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.

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Tuesday - October 28, 2008

Everyone's Gone To The Movies Dept.

  • 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

  • Harry Potter 6 Trailer Posted
    Just in case you were looking for it....

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Monday - October 27, 2008

Media News Roundup

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Friday - October 24, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Thursday - October 23, 2008

Politics In Review

  • Why is it that negative ads don't seem to be working this time around?
    The Wall Street Journal suggests that it might be because the negative ads aren't resonating with the concerns voters have this year. This story also has a great archive of the ads discussed in the article.
  • McCain on Letterman Analyzed
    Keep in mind this is from the fairly snarky gossip blog Gawker.
  • 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.

  • The Press Likes New and Winners
    The WP's Howie Kurtz looks at why the press are paying so much more attention to Palin and Obama than to Biden and McCain.

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Wednesday - October 22, 2008

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.

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Friday - October 17, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Thursday - October 16, 2008

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.

    The ad in the Daily Nexus provoked a wide range of response, including this letter from a Muslim graduate student, and an explanation of the paper's editorial and advertising policy by the paper's editors. No surprise that the Daily Collegian did not run the ad - Horowitz has had a long-running feud with Penn State.
    It should also be noted that the DC has run Horowitz ads in the past. (Let me note here that I cannot independently confirm that the DC rejected Horowtiz's ad.)

    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:

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Wednesday - October 15, 2008

Timmy Bites Lassie Dept. - Commentators Taken To Task For Breaking Out Of Dreaded Talking Points

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 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.

You have to admire Tina Brown, editor of She's certainly started off her new web site with a bang.

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Tuesday - October 14, 2008

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.

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Monday - October 13, 2008

Are E-Books The Future of Publishing Dept. Part I - Will This Finally Be The Year For E-Books?
We've been hearing about e-books replacing standard books, or at least becoming commonplace for several years now. Franklin offered one, Sony has had a variety of them, books have been sold that can be read on Palm Pilots and phones, Project Gutenberg has been putting public domain books up online, and there are multiple publishers out there pushing their online book wares.

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.

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Friday - October 10, 2008

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?"

Sometimes twittering, or sending "tweets," is known as micro-blogging. At its core, twittering is sending text posts of no more than 140 characters that can be delivered to your friends, your audience, or everyone in the world who can be bothered to read them. You can receive tweets on your cell phone as a text message, as instant messages, on Facebook, or through a widget on a web page.

Who is twittering?

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.)

But twittering is also being used by reporters and news bloggers to post news links. There are political debates taking place by Twitter. Barack Obama's campaign has an official Twitter feed. St. Paul Pioneer Press technology reporter Julio Ojeda Zapata uses Twitter as a reporting tool. And bloggers covering live events (such as the Republican National Convention) use Twitter to make blog posts from their smartphones. In fact, the busiest outside link to my blog in August came from a Tweet posted to Fishbowl DC during the RNC.

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?

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Wednesday - October 8, 2008

New Media News

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Monday - October 6, 2008

Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Friday - October 3, 2008

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.

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Wednesday - October 1, 2008

Multimedia Blogging For Fun
No real point to this post - Just interesting multimedia content that I've stumbled across recently. Have fun!

  • A Review of Lost By Someone Who Has Never Watched Lost
    Cool Sticky Note animation from L/Studio. This is apparently some kind of a Lexus promotional web site that I discovered through an ad on Facebook.

  • 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.

  • Johnny Cash's The One On The Right Lego Video
    This is a great bit of political humor written by Jack Clement and performed by Johnny Cash back in the mid 1960s that still seems amazing current today. And it's all the better for the Lego animation! You'll have to follow the link to see this one - embedding has been disabled for it.

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Monday - Sept. 29, 2008

Scotland Yard Stops Fire Bomb Attack on Publisher of Controversial Book About Bride of Muhammad
Britain's Scotland Yard stopped an attempt to fire bomb the publisher of a controversial new novel about the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride. This attack is similar to those sparked by the publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet and those targeted at Salman Rushdie's and his publisher following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

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.)

The American publisher of Jewel, Random House, cancelled publication of the book because it feared it might incite violence. (Random House is the largest English-language publisher and is owned by German publishing giant Bertelsmann.) Random House has been accused of canceling publication of the book after having the manuscript criticized by an associate professor of Islamic history at University of Texas.

Jones has replaced Random House with Beaufort Books as her American publisher, and Beaufort is reportedly still trying to release the book on Oct. 15.

Here are several links with background on the controversial Danish cartoons:

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