The Joys of Ad Placement

Monday, June 6, 2011 1 comments
I am sure that there are insightful things to say about the coverage of Anthony Weiner's sex scandal.

For example, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart both raised questions in the last couple of days about the role of comedian vs. journalist when they bemoaned the fact that photos of Weiner's weiner makes for comedic gold but that they are friends with Weiner. They make no secret of the fact that they are both liberal comedians, but I found both comedians willingness to talk about their hestinancy to make fun of this prominent democratic congressman (even as they did make fun of him) interesting, particularly for Stewart who sometimes does journalists' jobs when he looks at what (usually Republican) politicians have said in the past compared to what they are saying now.


But that's not what I want to talk about.

What I want to say is this:

The New York Times' liveblog of Weiner's press conference ran with a particularly apropos ad on the top of the page


Do you think it's too late for Weiner to improve his online reputation? I think so.

A Woman At The Top

Friday, June 3, 2011 0 comments
I really need to go to sleep, but I just wanted to write something quickly about today's announcement that Jill Abramson will replace Bill Keller as the executive editor of the New York Times. 

My heart jumped a little when I read the news this morning. It's a really big deal. Journalism can still feel like an old boys club. I am shocked by the small number of women in the Senate press room every time I walk in there. Journalism will not become gender-balanced over night or even over the next few years, but Abramson's appointment is certainly a step in the right direction, and as a female journalist I can't help but feel elated (even as I wonder about the fallacy that women should automatically root for other women).

Now, the most prominent newspaper in the country will be lead by a woman. Her second in command will be Dean Baquet, the second black man to be managing editor. These are important steps for the slow-moving beast that is the journalism industry.

Abramson, who has served as a D.C. bureau chief for the Times, made clear that she valued contributions to the Times by both men and women, but she also took time to highlight the women.

From the Times:
In her remarks to the staff on Thursday, she took time to acknowledge “my sisters,” naming more than a dozen women at The Times who have helped her along the way, including the company’s chief executive, Janet L. Robinson. 

From the Washington Post: 
Among the bookcases and posters in Jill Abramson’s office at the New York Times is a blown-up black-and-white photo of the newsroom, circa 1895, in which a group of men huddle around a desk occupied by a woman named Mary Taft.


“She looks like the boss,” said Abramson. Not quite — Taft was the paper’s second female reporter. On Thursday, the 57-year-old Abramson was named the first woman to head the Times’ newsroom in its 160-year history. 
A few days ago I was re-reading my post on women in leadership positions in which I wondered if there would ever be a time when successful women did not feel that they had to be judged as female leaders as opposed to leaders, with gender a non-issue.

It's been almost exactly three years since I wrote that post, and I don't think society as a whole is there yet, but a quote in the Washington Post article leaves me hopeful (emphasis mine):
“I wouldn’t say that she was chosen because she’s a woman,” said Baquet, who is the second African American journalist to become managing editor of the Times, “but I still think it’s a big deal. It just so happened that the person best positioned to be executive editor of the New York Times is a woman. . . . I believe other women who aspire to jobs in journalism will see this as a statement about how far this profession has changed.”  

Bonus! This is an excerpt from the obituary of Mary Taft Welch published in the New York Times in December 1944:


The obituary informs readers that Taft, who was hired in 1897 or 1898, "covered news of women's activities" wrote "some art criticism" and "reported many of the early developments in the agitation for women's suffrage." She "won the respect and liking of her male colleagues on this and other newspapers" and retired in 1924.

New Yorker September 24, 2001

New Yorker September 17, 2001
 A while back, I wondered about the usefulness of iPad magazines, and noted that they had the potential to update as needed and never (or less frequently) go out of date. In that post, I noted that the first New Yorker edition to come out after September 11 had nothing to do with the attacks (and may have arrived on news stands on September 10). Because of an inevitable printing lag, the magazine with the all black cover and shadows of the twin towers was the September 24 issue, the second issue after the attacks. It ran with no cartoons.

The September 11 attacks were on a Tuesday, which--along with the print to distribution lag--meant that the New Yorker, which dates its weekly issues with the Monday date had to wait a whole 13 days until its print edition could comment on the attacks.


New Yorker May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday evening New York time May 1, 2011. His death was confirmed by President Barack Obama late Sunday night. Of course, the New Yorker issue dated May 2 was not going to comment on the bin Laden's death; almost a full week before he died.  The May 9 magazine, has nothing on bin Laden either; it appears to have arrived on news stands on May 2.

On September 11, 2001, the New Yorker website was less than a year old. Now, the site serves as a supplement to the magazine. Currently, there are at least 45 online items (blog posts and audio included) about Osama bin Laden that have been posted since Obama's speech.

Newsweek  May 6, 2011

In terms of technical feasibility, I understand why all that work is web-only. Unlike the New York Times, it was clearly far too late for the New Yorker to yell "stop the presses".  The New Yorker is not a news magazine; Newsweek's Friday cover, for example, will feature bin Laden (left). But changes in how we read magazines makes the New Yorker lag feel particularly strange.

I currently read the New Yorker on a Kindle. Because it arrives instantly and via the Internet, I am more aware of how behind it is. I have already received the issue dated May 9, and I found myself disoriented when I started reading the first article: "Memorials" by Adam Gopnik. When I saw the title, I expected it to be about Ground Zero, the Pentagon, or something about how we memorialize and celebrate. Instead it is about Civil War memorials in New York City. It's interesting and well written, but seems totally disconnected from the world in which I live.

New Yorker May 9, 2011
The experience of momentary confusion, of a tiny clash of new technology and an 85-year-old stodgy, scrutinized  magazine, brought up this question: should the electronic editions (iPads and e-readers) of magazines be different from the print edition? Should someone have changed the lead article in the magazine that was sent to my Kindle? I already get a modified version of the magazine: there are no columns, no ads,   no illustrations or photographs, and all of the comics are grouped together in one section. Why shouldn't I get a magazine that reflects some of the huge amount of content generated by New Yorker reporters and writers since I received the last issue?

 I am not sure when the issue arrived on my Kindle; it could have happened Sunday night (I've been reading a print book and hadn't checked for a bit). If so, there would not have been time to update the Kindle edition. Still even if they chose to release the Kindle edition slightly after the magazine hits the first news stand,  I'd still get my issue before print subscribers got theirs.

On the one hand, that's a lot of extra work, considering Kindle, Nook, and iPad users (who I think get a magazine much closer to the print issue than Kindle users) likely spend a lot of time on the Internet anyway. On the other hand, shouldn't changes in technology be embraced for what they do best?

As someone who likely will switch  back to the print edition in the near-ish future (it turns out, I feel just as guilty about partially-read issues building up in my digital archives as I do them piling up in my bedroom), I could see print subscribers --who pay more than I do--getting annoyed that they get less content. On the other hand, that extra money allows print subscribers to turn the pages, read in the bath, see color images, share the magazine with friends, tear out comics or covers they love, and--and this is key-- access the digital edition at newyorker.com. What if that edition reflected the extra content? (Or, if that content remained free to access online). Why not acknowledge that a magazine that arrives  over a 3G network while I sleep could and should be a dynamic product?
Photo by Getty Images photographer Peter Macdiarmid, published on The Guardian's website

The kid on the left is clearly as fed up with the wedding as I am.

The bridesmaid, who is Prince William's 3-year-old god daughter, Grace van Custem, looks grumpy or confused in a lot of photos. I would grumpy and confused too if I were a 3-year-old kid in the midst of pomp, circumstance, and an international media circus.
I emerge from my half-a-year silence to talk about women. And writing. Surely, there was no shock in that.

The Pulitzer, by my own  count, is one of the more gender-balanced literary prized out there. By my count, 29 out of 86 Pulitzer awarded for fiction or novel (as the award category was once called) were awarded to women. That's 33 percent.Its not great, but its better than the other book awards.

The National Book Award has been awarded 68 times, 15 times to women (22 percent)  Twelve out of the 43 books awarded the Man Booker Prize were women (27 percent).  Twelve out of 107 Nobel Laureates in literature are women. That's 11 percent.

So, of all the prizes to win as a female fiction writer, the Pulitzer is the one where gender should be the smallest, issue. But, news questions are, to some extent, predictable, so a short Wall Street Journal interview with Jennifer Egan, who won the prize for her book Visit From the Goon Squad ended with this:

Over the past year, there’s been a debate about female and male writers and how they come off in the press. Franzen made clear that “Freedom” was going to be important, while others say that Allegra Goodman was too quiet about “The Cookbook Collector.” Do you think female writers have to start proclaiming, “OK, my book is going to be the book of the century”?

Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models? I’m not saying you should say you’ve never done anything good, but I don’t go around saying I’ve written the book of the century. My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.

The authors Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarized were Megan F. McCafferty, Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella, and maybe Salman Rushdie. With the exception of Rushdie, where the plagiarism was also the least clear, Viswanathan plagiarized well known, successful chick-lit / YA authors.





Chick-lit authors and fans took offense at Egan's description of the genre (or, really, the parts plagiarized) as "very derivative, banal stuff" and bloggers suggested that Egan was guilty of  "girl-on-girl crime" and called for an apology. ( As for the three women themselves, Cabot, posted on her Facebook wall "I'm certain Jennifer Egan didn't mean to be rude." McCafferty was a lot more angry and also received an apology. I don't see anything from Kinsella, did I miss it? ).

Here's the thing: the genre is derivative and banal. Sometimes an author's work is even derived of her own previous books. I spent sometime in a bookstore looking at the backs of Kinsella's Shopaholic books (which is a different series than the book that was plagiarized from), and each one of them had the same book summary: Becky shops a lot, Becky is in trouble because of shopping (financially and romantically) Becky's troubles are resolved and deferred. Becky lives a glamorous life full of hot men (or man, she's loyal to her husband once they marry), cute shoes, gossip, and occasional career.

I've read books by each of these three authors. When I was in 12th grade, my English teacher asked me if there were any books that I was secretive about reading, ones that I didn't want to tell anyone else I was reading. I don't think she was asking me about books I was embarrassed about, but right now that's what I think of. I am embarrassed to admit that I have read these books because I believe in the power and importance of Literature, and I don't think those books are Literature (the pretentious capitalized L is intentional).

My English teacher's question came in the form of a question written in the margins of my final high school English paper. The paper prompt was "what is literature." My answer was "a work of writing that makes the reader feel something." Now, years later, I would change that to "makes the reader feel something that lasts beyond the time it takes to read the work itself or makes the reader re-appreciate the power of language." The second part allows for some of the post-modernist writers to be included as part of Literature and the addendum to the first part is reflective of my belief that not everything that is written is Literature. I write every day. Nothing I write for work is literature. It's written to inform and nothing else. Writing that entertains--even if it makes the reader laugh or cry--but leaves little emotion once the act of reading is completed falls into the same category.

I recognize that my answer is somewhat subjective; maybe there are people who read the works of McCafferty,  Cabot, and  Kinsella and find themselves marveling at the books weeks after the reading is complete. But for me--and clearly for Egan as well--these books fall short of being Literature.

They certainly fill a niche; the authors are wildly successful, and deserve to be. But the books are not memorable. They don't linger. There were no sentences that made me marvel at the possibilities embedded in the English language. At best, they are brain candy, light, entertaining fluff that fills the time well enough while being read but leaves nothing lasting.

Click the arrows or here to read the rest of this post.
The Washington Post, which prides itself on being a local paper, 
lead with the hostage story and teased the Middle East talks. 
The Washington Times--which is a conservative paper which describes 
itself as "America's Paper" (which I take to mean it has a national focus)
--lead with the Middle East talks and teased the hostage story. 
Today, a  man took hostages at the Discovery Channel after entering the building armed with guns, explosives, and a manifesto.

He was demanding that the channel promote radical solutions to environmental problems including, but not limited to, forced sterilization.


But you don't have to take my word for it, you can read the two-page manifesto at the Washington Post's website.


Almost exactly 15 years ago, the Post published another manifesto: the Unabomber's.


Sharing the costs with the New York Times, the Post printed the 50-page manifesto in a special section, but only after months of deliberating over the decision: it was received by the papers in June and not published until December.


Part of the reason for the papers' reticence was that it was directly giving into the Unabomber's demands for publication; Ted Kaczynski said he would stop the bombings if his manifesto was published. Part of it was surely cost. Part of the decision to publish was that an FBI hope that it would help someone recognize the writing and identify the Unabomber


But I have to wonder if the papers would have waited so long to publish, if they received the manifesto today. For one thing, it could have been printed online for free-- though I imagine that Kaczynski would not have been happy with that option, what with being so anti-technology. Also, and more cynically, it would have driven a lot of web traffic to the site, in fact, even in the 90's, the manifesto was widely disseminated on the Internet, and the case had the web abuzz.


But the Internet is a little different today, there is a need for getting news and information out first, regardless of its true news value. There is also some ethos of letting readers decide if the information should be read and passed along.


In today's hostage situation, there were ultimately no victims: all the hostages got out safely. There were also no demands to print the manifesto, so publishing it wasn't giving into demands or cooperating with the FBI. By the time it was published, the hostage situation was almost over.


The questions of how the availability of information on the Internet and of whether or not the status of a case should affect the decision to print came up in the aftermath of Virginia Tech. In fact, the New York Times highlighted that issue by comparing the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho's video manifestos sent to television stations to the Unabomber's manifesto sent to newspapers:
There is nothing new about criminals trying to manipulate the news media for aggrandizement and gratification. The Zodiac and Son of Sam killers, among others, wrote cryptic messages to newspapers. The Unabomber wrote a large manifesto. And the newspapers, including The New York Times, published them.
The visceral impact of Mr. [Seung-Hui] Cho's video represented an evolution of this virulent strain, updated for a time when any act, no matter how odd or personal, seems destined for immortality on the Web and cycled through 24-hour news channels.
Each of the earlier cases had the plausible suggestion that publishing the message would prevent further harm. Now, Mr. Cho was dead before his videos were shown.


The families of the murdered students at Virginia Tech objected to airing the videos; they felt the decision was insensitive and the videos gave an almost unfettered platform for Cho's views.

In the hostage situation today, there were no victims to object to the printing of the manifesto; the only person who was killed was the gunman himself. This time, the gunman also had his own printing press, in a way: he posted his demands on his own website, http://savetheplanetprotest.com/. Does the fact that the manifesto was already available to the public change what the Post needs to think about before it publishes the document on its own site? It's not easy to get an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, which surely gets more page views than http://savetheplanetprotest.com/. But today, the Post offered up an unedited opinion piece from a guy who used violence to get his opinions heard. Without a crime-stopping aspect, or an obvious newsworthiness (were the quotes in the story not enough?) what was the goal of printing the manifesto? Why print it on your own site instead of just linking to another site? Other than page views, what did it achieve?

The overarching question is, just because the Internet allows newspapers to print whatever they want and as much as they want, should they?

On a similar note, Slate's Jack Schaffer wrote an interesting article about how much coverage newspapers should really give this kind of crime, though he might be being a bit harsh on the Post because it was an important local story as it was happening, and I am sure people checked in wanting updates throughout the day. The Times, it should be noted, did not cover it at all (as far as I can tell).

UPDATE Sept. 2: The Washington Post ran the story front page, complete with photos. There were teasers on the front page to online content, but the online content is housed on postlocal.com. So, even though it was A1, the story's online home indicates that the Post covered it because it was a metro crime story.

Still, people are murdered in D.C. all the time, and I don't think those crimes make A1. Here, no one was hurt except the gunman who was slain by the police. I am sure that the death of the gunnman, James J. Lee, was a tragedy for his family and for people who knew him. But I imagine mothers of children who were killed in crossfire on the streets of D.C. (in areas much less wealthy than Silverspring) wonder why their tragedies did not get as much attention as the death of a man who started out his day with the intention of getting the media to pay attention to him and his views.

The New York Times also ran a story, on page A22 of the New York edition. It was not teased off of the front page.

Seriously?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 0 comments
I'm still not sure what an editor-at-large does, and I am sure that it varies from magazine to magazine, but these lines  from W's editor-at-large in a New York Observer item are shocking for any editor of a magazine--especially one that calls itself "a little bit edgier" than other big fashion magazines:

"I'm going to buy an iPad! I'm going to buy an iPad! I don't have a computer, so this is a big moment for me," continued Ms. [Lynn]  Hirschberg.
And how does she write her stories now without a computer?
"I don't type them," said Ms. Hirschberg. "I give a handwritten copy to someone who types them, who I pay."

Previous to her new gig, Hirschberg covered Hollywood for the New York Times. Even if glossy magazines are still doing fine in print alone (which I doubt, considering W is looking into iPad apps, and its parent company Conde Nast is not exactly living in the same lap of luxury it used to), any editor should be embarrassed to admit she does not use a computer in this day and age.

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

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Books pyramid image originally from the British website, Explore Writing.