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Monday, May 21, 2007

A Future for Newspapers?

I guess I won't be applying to any newspapers for work even though I have a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism and am sort of in the job-seeking market. At a forum put on by the Stanford University Department of Communication, Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, Gary Pruit, CEO of The McClatchy (Newspaper) Co., and Harry Chandler, former co-owner of the LA Times all agreed that there was no roadmap for the hemorrhaging newspaper industry - victims of the internet and general cultural shift away from reading news - and times would get bleaker before they get brighter. Papers get 85% - 90% of their income from ads and Craigslist alone has siphened off a huge amount of that revenue stream.

Chandler, whose family sold the LA Times said there were four likely options for newspapers:
1) A dramatic amount of layoffs and buyouts
2) Diversification (for example the Washington Post bought the Kaplan SAT-Test company)
3) Leverage the brand (big newspapers have credibility that should be valuable to some other business ventures)
4) Ownership will shift toward the pro sports model where many owners do it for the ego boost etc. rather than profits

One telling statistic (relative to cutbacks) was given by Keller, who said that when the war in Iraq was just underway and Saddam was ousted there were 1,000 reporters there. Now there are 45.

Pruitt, of McClatchy, was most optimistic saying that papers have been through the same sort of cataclysmic paradigm shifts before, when radio and then TV came "online." He's confident that newspapers will find new life on the web, albeit not as profitable as the last half of the 20th century.

Writeup in the Stanford Daily

Two months ago, I organized an evening lecture/conversation with former Tech Columnist turned Citizen Journalism activist, Dan Gillmor. He was asked a similar question about the future for newspapers and was similarly vague about the immediate future before new paradigms emerge. Here's a video clip with his full response:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Falwell Meets the Maker

I've often wondered what happens when fundamentalists die and find out that if there's a god at all, it's not some old, stern white guy who's been sitting up there cheering on one particular group of humans.

Jerry Falwell: What the.......? Where's the Lord? I want to see the Lord.
God: Welcome Jerry. You were really caught up in your illusions down there weren't you?
Falwell: What's going on? Is this some kind of test? Why you're Black as coal.....and you're a Woman.
God: Jerry. I'm everyone and everything you've ever seen down there. It's all my expression. All my poem.
Falwell: Oh Lord. You've turned into a Teletubby! This must be a bad dream. I'm not officially dead yet, am I? Is this the Purgatory chamber?
God: Jerry, we don't operate any chambers or five star hotels out here. Sorry but you didn't unpack enough stuff for this trip. You'll be going back.
Jerry: Back? But that sounds like blasphemous Buddha talk.
God: Would you like a schtickel taiglach or a bissell kishka before you go?
Jerry: Lord, are you about to tell me a Jew joke? I think I've heard them all.
God: Salam Aleikem Jerry. This time around you're going to live a very holy life. You'll be a cow in India. You'll see things
much more clearly. Chow baby!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Celebrating Mom on Mother's Day

It was summer 1974, the first and only time my mom visited me in Santa Barbara. I picked her up at the little airport, a role reversal after the countless times I'd look for her gold Toyota outside baggage claim in St. Louis. Serendipitously, I'd picked up two friends hitchhiking that day and when I told them of my mother's visit, the woman gave me the key to her apartment and said we could stay there and she'd stay with her boyfriend. The visit seemed already to be blessed.

I'd just completed my B.A. at UCSB in Sociology and she was a Psychology Teacher at Florrisant Valley Community College, about to branch out and teach courses in Women's Studies and Human Sexuality. She was five years into her life as a college instructor, having moved to St. Louis with my younger brothers in the wake of divorce and twenty years in Peoria, Il. One of the many reasons I loved visiting her in St. Louis was because her apartment would be filled with food and laughter on Saturdays as people from the Orthodox community she belonged to would drop by during their Sabbath walks. A number of 20-something folks in particular liked to come and visit with her. They were drawn to her good hearted irreverence and humor. They didn't know the half of how far her lifestyle extended.

We jumped easily into a back and forth "catch-up" conversation as we made our way through Santa Barbara's tony downtown. Mom was really excited to tell me how she was spending many evenings with a mostly African-American crowd who lived in an old section of the city. At the community college she had a number of older students, and one of them had brought her into this new peer group. She said that they smoked grass and then sat around talking about art, philosophy, and politics into the wee hours. She turned to me and asked if I knew how to get some of that stuff. We took a detour and got my mom her first "lid." Then we went to the drive-in movies, toked up, and giggled our way through one or two comedies whose titles I wish I could remember.

She died a short six years later, just after her 51st birthday, on another visit to California where she saw me in San Francisco and then my brother Josh in L.A. A drunk driver hit her car head-on on Highway 1 as she was making her way down to San Diego. I used to love to talk to her on Mother's Day. One year I made her a book of quotes and pictures pasted from magazines that I've since "inherited." Though I wish I had more Mothers' Days to connect with her, I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have had her as Mom, role model, and friend, serving me endless amounts of my favorite Jewish foods, going with me to hear Jerry Garcia laughing and buzzed, and jumping across all manners of social and religious boundaries to live a full and multi-dimensional life.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Martial Law Coming to a Theatre Near You!

Presumably President Bush learned many lessons from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation in New Orleans. Unfortunately, it appears that one of his biggest "takeaways" was the need for a President to be able to declare martial law and quell disturbance after a natural disaster and any number of other unpredictable "incidents." The Bush Administration slipped a clause into the 2006 "Defense Bill" that changed the "Insurrection Act" that has been on the books since just after the Civil War. That act spelled out the only times a president could override state governors and send in Federal troops against U.S. citizens and also take over control of the state's national guard. Though it had some vague language of its own it basically only allowed for Presidential martial law in the case of insurrection or a state's refusal to follow federal law. Now, the name of the Insurrection Act has been changed to "Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order" Act and it clearly authorizes the President to impose martial law after a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, or 'other condition.'' We now have one "Decider" who can overrule governors in many different difficult situations - even if that "decider" is woefully ignorant of conditions on the ground, or just plain ignorant in general.

The governors association is against this new law and on February 7th, Senator Leahy of Vermont, introduced S1712 to ressurect the old Insurrection Act and delete the new Restore Public Order" Act. It's currently in the Judiciary Committee and the Committee of Armed Services.

The scariest thing about it is how easy it is to give up basic rights and protections guaranteed by our constitution. When you don't know how unprecedented this Bush-driven law is and how relatively untouchable, the "posse comitatus" restrictions have been, it is easy to erase its limitations on the President. In fact it's pretty easy to relinquish a myriad of constitutional liberties and protections in the aftermath of 9/11. We're getting used to the dire warning that there is a terrorist behind every Bush, and how we need to prioritize our security over our liberty. How often that seems to translate into letting the president decide what violence, surveillance, and control to employ on our behalves.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Go Warriors!!

The Golden State Warriors are fully embodying their moniker as they lay down a 200% individual and team effort in each NBA playoff game after a 12 or 13 year wait to make it past the regular season.

Sports teams so often sport a nickname like "Bears," "Lions," "Wildcats," "Chiefs," and yes, "Warriors" as though winning games is all about physical power and aggression as opposed to imagination, brains, and rhythm. I definitely prefer monikers like the Maryland Terrapins and the Oregon Ducks. My favorite was that of my own college, the Northwestern Purple Haze. Unfortunately, the school administration would not officially adopt the Jimi Hendrix-inspired moniker that the student body voted for in the early 70's, and they are still officially the Wildcats.

That said, watching the Golden State team win its last 9 out of 10 games to squeak into the playoffs on the final night of the season; watching them run up and down the court with total abandon; watching them come back and beat the Mavs in a game where they were behind by 20+ points; watching Baron Davis and Matt Barnes play through hamstring pain; watching the youngest team in the whole league and shorter per capita than most of their opponents; watching them hang together even in the two losses to the Jazz* can't help but see them as Warriors... with all the associated mythical, romantic ethos. Go Warriors!!!!

*The Jazz are an exception to the nickname rule. They got the nickname in New Orleans which is one of the few places that values rhythm over power in pursuit of victory.