Category: Media

Salon.com Pushing Too Many of My Buttons

salon_logoI’m probably one of the longest-standing continuous readers of Salon.com left on the planet. I worked there in the publication’s very earliest days. I was the first hire who hadn’t worked at the San Francisco newspapers. In my role as initial Webmaster, I saw the operation from behind the scenes. I also occasionally wrote sports pieces.

Since I left the company many years ago, I have maintained my interest in the magazine, which I really think is one of the best-written and entertaining online pubs. When they went to a premium model, I signed up without hesitation. Not only did I want to support what I see as their very worthwhile efforts, I also prefer an ad-free browsing experience wherever one is offered.

Lately, though, the Salon.com folks have been annoying me no end. Specifically, in recent weeks, I’ve seen all of the following during my browsing experiences there:

  • videos that begin to play with full audio without warning or asking me if it’s OK to do so;
  • audios that at least appear to be originating on their pages but for which no link can be found before the audio stops;
  • popup ads, particularly for the New York Times, that don’t appear until some time after I’ve been reading a page, disrupting my enjoyment of an article in the most irritating manner possible;

I recognize the need for advertising. I don’t resent it per se. But in order for it to work, for it to be a good Netizen if you will, it has to be far less obtrusive than these examples. These tactics smack of desperation (and as a shareholder of Salon.com, I know whence that desperation comes!) but they interfere sufficiently with my appreciation of the editorial at Salon that I’m one annoying disruption away from abandoning my long-standing engagement with the publication.

I’ve emailed them about my concerns to no avail. If you’re a Salon.com reader and you’ve noticed these things as well, maybe if more than a few of us complain they’ll find a way to be more civilized in their advertising approach.

We can hope.

This is the Age of Fracture

Princeton University history prof emeritus Daniel Rogers has dubbed this period in American history “The Age of Fracture.” He feels like the dominating movement or concept of this time is the increasing specialization of knowledge and experience that has, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says today, led to the “water cooler running dry.”

That is, there is no more common vocabulary, shared set of experiences or even values, on which people of the same generation — let alone those from adjacent generations — can gather and share and communicate.

calvin_miscommunicationThe Internet and its offspring interactive, niche TV/entertainment, have brought us to a place where we can live within the confines of a tiny echo chamber, a place where we only see, hear about, interact with and evangelize news and culture that aligns with our already-settled notions of what’s important and relevant.

It has, of course, always been true that we can live as narrowly as we wish. The Internet didn’t create that phenomenon. Neighborhood news and gossip, local shopping, the community bar or barber shop or post office, have been places that enabled us to stay as parochial as we wished for the most part for as long as we wished. But there were important national media: three (only three!?) national TV networks. Large and influential regional and even national newspapers. To be sure, we had to go a bit out of our way to find those sources, but anyone who cared to be at least marginally informed — if for no other reason than to hold sway in the barber shop debate society — could find useful and factual information. Those who chose to avoid that aspect of culture lived objectively thinner and poorer lives and held narrower views.

The difference caused by the Internet is one of scale. It is now possible to focus one’s interests astonishingly narrowly and still never run out of what passes for information and knowledge about any given topic.

I encountered an interesting case of this myopia this morning. As I say in my immediately prior post for today, Al Jazeera America got its hands on an advance copy of the UN Human Rights Committee’s report on the United States and did a story on it today. Aside from the UK-based Guardian, not one other media outlet picked up the story except a right wingnut 2nd Amendment blog. And that source only mentioned the report’s comments on gun violence in America. So if you were a follower of that blog, your entire awareness of this scathing and important report was about the one issue that you see as seminal. You might even have agreed with substantial other parts of the report if you’d read it. But you almost certainly would not have done so.

This kind of narrow view of things is what scares me most about American voters and elections.

Reinstated at Daily Kos

I received an email this morning informing me I’d been reinstated at Daily Kos. This was quite an educational experience for me. During my short banishment, I heard from several members who had been banned and who were pretty bitter about the process the site uses for banning folks and the reasons they give for the bans.

I also got support from several people who “voted” for my reinstatement.

Once reinstated, I withdrew my original Diary, added an editor’s comment to the beginning explaining my intent and apologizing, and re-posted it.

I must say that my opinions about Daily Kos took a bit of a hit from this incident. I observed the site for quite a while before making my first post and managed to remain oblivious to the quick-hook approach to user management that appears to characterize the place. I’m not sure what that’s going to mean for my long-term involvement there.

 

Banned From Daily Kos

Wow. I’ve been blogging since 1988 when it was called Web Logging. I’ve posted thousands and thousands of articles, comments, and other content pieces. I’ve never been banned from a site. Until now.

I published what I intended to be a satirical post at Daily Kos last week. In it, I proposed, semi-tongue-in-cheek, that Democrats stay home from the polls in 2016, let the GOP’s inevitably right-wing nut job of a candidate win the White House and see if even that could get the people into the streets in protest. The piece was about the apparent apathy of Americans in the face of continuing attacks on the poor and middle classes by the conservative GOP (and some Democrats).

daily_kosThe article’s satire was missed as so often happens in flat text without the benefit of gesture and tone. Still, I thought the subject line — “OK, Here’s How We Win. We Let the GOP Take the White House, See…And Then…” — was fairly obviously cartoonish. OK, lesson learned. Again. The post (or, as Daily Kos calls them, Diary), drew 25 comments, all of which were negative, attacking the substance of my “suggestion”. I attempted to join the discussion and point out the subject line and its attempt (however lame and unsuccessful) to be humorous. But apparently one is not allowed to comment on one’s own Diaries.

So I decided to post a followup Diary pointing out my mistake and apologizing for disrupting the community so badly, even though I’ve read hundreds of far worse comments on the site.

But I find myself apparently banned by an automatic moderation robot. I can’t add Diaries, comment on others’ or even rate posts. And as far as I can tell, Daily Kos operates without the safety net of any official support mechanism; its “helpdesk” consists of a user forum which staffers do not visit regularly (perhaps at all). So I appealed to the community this morning with a request for an appeal process, but based on what I’ve read on the site about their banning procedures, I’m not very hopeful of a satisfactory resolution. (UPDATE: Within a few minutes of my post about the appeal process I got a very kind note from one user who said he’d vote to reinstate me but it’s up to an admin to do that. So maybe there’s hope.)

This is really disappointing, not only for the simple fact of being banned by a site I enjoy and have supported financially but also because the censorship this demonstrates is being applied so unevenly.

Anyway, you won’t be able to read me on Daily Kos as I had previously asked. If I get reinstated I probably won’t post many if any Diaries but I’d go on commenting on others’ posts as I feel moved. Meanwhile, I’m looking for another public site on which to participate in a more visible way. Got any ideas?

 

TV Show Story Lines and ‘Reality’ Show Results Are NOT Legitimate News

Every time I see a so-called “news story” about a TV drama or a “reality show” outcome, I cringe and reach for a vomit container. Since when is what happens in the world of fiction “news”?

“This just in! Barbie McFolly was voted off ‘Ugly Island’ by her peers on last night’s show!”

“‘Busting Evil’s lead character leaves his wife for a prostitute.”

“Will ‘Jeopardy’ winner’s tactics change the future of the game forever?”

This kind of crap is promotional pablum that is not now and never has been the legitimate province of the news room. Yet in an era of pandering and sophomoric anti-intellectualism, many local and national ‘news’ outlets stoop to the publication of such garbage to get people to read their products.

What happens to the real-life actors and actresses is news of a sort. What happens to the shows — ratings, cancellations, awards — is also often newsworthy, at least to some segment of a news site’s followers. But what happens in the story lines? No way. And the “journalists” reporting this slop know that. They should know better but of course editors are just following orders from publishers who are taking their orders from advertisers.

It’s shameful. Even in its heyday, Yellow Journalism never sank this low. It’s as if the entire news industry took a look at the National Inquirer and decided its business model made sense.

 

Greed And the Propagation of Ignorance: Major Cultural Problem at Work

Dilbert Cartoon: When did ignorance become a point of view?Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times has an important and interesting column today about the study of the propagation of cultural ignorance as a major problem in our cuture. In fact, you should stop reading this right now and click on the link to read his entire piece.

The focus of his note is Stanford history of science professor Robert Proctor’s pioneering work in the field of “agnotology”, which Wikipedia defines as “the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.” Dating back to the science of Nazi Germany and coming into its own in America with the tobacco wars, this disingenuous attempt to line the pockets of greedy corporations and individuals through disinformation and doubt is an insidious cancer on the body politic.

Proctor, who coined the word agnotology, is quoted in the Wikipedia entry as saying:

“Historians and philosophers of science have tended to treat ignorance as an ever-expanding vacuum into which knowledge is sucked…. Ignorance, though, is more complex than this. It has a distinct and changing political geography that is often an excellent indicator of the politics of knowledge. We need a political agnotology to complement our political epistemologies.”

Seriously. You should read the Hiltzik piece. It’s a real eye-opener and helps explain a great deal of our current political landscape. When “both sides” of a non-argument — such as that being touted by many “objective” journalists around the indisputable issue of climate change — becomes de rigueur as a way of defining “balanced reporting,” we are already perhaps too far down the road to expect salvation.

 

Feds Need to Stop Comcast-Time Warner Deal Before it Even Starts

Comcast + Time Warner Cable = Bad Idea for America

Comcast + Time Warner Cable = Bad Idea for America

UNLESS YOU’RE A MONOPOLIST yourself or an advocate of unregulated and unbridled capitalism, you should be appalled that Comcast is even considering buying Time-Warner Cable. Since it appears they’ve already made the decision, it’s time to start letting your government know — right now — that you are not happy with this deal born in Hell.

Cable TV — and, even more worrying, high-speed Internet access — is already a virtual monopoly everywhere in the U.S. As such, the industry bears close watching by the FTC and the FCC. As Reuters said:

The all-stock deal, announced on Thursday, would put Comcast in 19 of the 20 largest U.S. TV markets, and could give it unprecedented leverage in negotiations with content providers and advertisers.

In a market where, according to reporting in the L.A. Times, “no neighborhood in the country has more than one cable operator to choose from,” extending the reach of any monopolist is a horrible idea.

In fact, it is well past time the FCC re-visited the issue of regulating this important industry, primarily because of the way its “competitors” have carved up the broadband Internet market that is so vital to our infrastructure. While they’re at it, maybe they can figure out why U.S. broadband access is among the worst in the world.

According to the L.A. Times story, researchers two years ago surveyed the world to see how much Internet access could be purchased for the equivalent of $35/month. The result:

In Hong Kong, they could download from the Internet at 500 megabits per second (a half a gigabit); in Tokyo 200 Mbps; in Seoul, Paris, Bucharest (Romania) and Berlin 100. In Los Angeles, 10. Los Angeles is a Time Warner Cable monopoly.

Under the monopolistic machinations of American cable companies, our fastest cities are offering broadband speeds that are 1/10 of those in Bucharest for God’s sake!

The entire industry is rotten and needs to be revamped while we still can. I’m in favor of nationalization of the Internet, perhaps under a government-private sector partnership like the U.S. Postal Service (which would be a very efficient organization if Congress would let it, so it’s certainly far from a perfect model).

In any case, let your Congresscritters know that you oppose this outlandishly greedy merger. And tell DOJ and the FCC as well.

 

Truthout’s Take on Objective Reporting…and My Rejoinder

You might be interested in reading a piece that appeared on Truthout.org yesterday and my comment on it.

If not, let me give you a concise summary here. (But you really should read the full items! Just sayin’.)

The opinion piece was a sort of look-ahead into 2014 in which Maya Schenwar,  Executive Director of Truthout, took a hard look at what it means to be a journalist and to report in the 21st Century. She opined that objective journalism by impartial reporters is an anachronism.

I begged to differ, suggesting that to take that position provides cover for so-called reporters who are nothing but screaming noise-makers and that such a position (while I understand its underlying sentiment) sanctions the “all viewpoints are equal” approach to “fair and balanced” reporting in American media today.

But, as I say, you might enjoy the pieces in their entirety.

Stock Market is Lousy Indicator of the Economy. Can’t We Find Something Better?

New York Times economic columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote a column the other day essentially pointing out the extreme disconnect that has become obvious between the performance of the stock exchanges and real-life economic circumstances. Not that this was some big shock. For many years, that disconnect has been annoying people who really try to understand our overly complicated economy. The stock markets and their indexes are like trickle-down economics: they tell us what investors are betting and believing about the present and near future of American corporations and damn little else.

In recent months, the stock markets have been breaking their own records almost daily. Yet the economy still has too-high unemployment, too-low average wages, and far too great economic inequality to be seen as even favorable let alone ragingly successful.

economic_indicatorsWhat, then, are some candidates for more meaningful indexes or measures of the economic health of our nation? Is there a single index or composite index that might be of more value, that the media might begin to publicize rather than or in addition to the meaninglessness of stock market performance?

Part of the answer to that question lies in the precursor question of what we consider to constitute a “good” economy. And a very real and important problem associated with that question is the Western capitalist notion that only an economy that continues to grow is a good economy. But anyone who thinks about the problem very long can easily see that the idea of perpetual, infinite, unregulated growth is not a sustainable idea on any level. A perpetual-growth model eventually runs out of resources. So long as resources are not infinite and so long as we refuse to develop and use renewable resources so that we do have something resembling unlimited access, we will not be able to continue growing our economy and nor will any other nation.

Another problem that arises when we grapple with the idea of the measurability of an economy is that there are intangibles that seem to need to be included and yet practically cannot be. Things like happiness, safety, consumer confidence, and other such immeasurable notions cannot easily be taken into account numerically. And if they can’t be measured, they will not be perceived by economists and their supporting casts as important enough to be included.

But none of this means we cannot come up with a measure or set of measures that will meaningfully describe our economy that most reasonably educated and informed people could understand fairly readily.

The fact is, there is a plethora of such indexes an composites used by organizations and individuals across a broad spectrum of economic participants. The problem is that the news media are too lazy or incompetent or lemming-like to understand that the stock market indexes they report so routinely that people think they actually mean something, are essentially worthless junk news. Less than half of Americans own any stock and the vast majority own minuscule holdings, both absolutely and in terms of the share of their wealth represented.

Most indexes — e.g. the Conference Board’s mainly excellent composites — are heavily skewed toward the business and commerce side of the economy, leaving out the consumer side other than indirectly. For example, the mean wage of American workers is a hugely important indicator that’s omitted from the Conference Board’s calculations. (As far as I can tell from their site, at least.) But news of these other indexes is confined to business shows, which the vast majority of listeners and viewers tune out because they see them as too detailed and focused on investing.

Anyone got any ideas how we might approach solving this problem? Economic illiteracy, which is promoted by the use of junk news like stock market indexes in the media, is unhealthy for a nation whose economy is in nearly constant flux and disruption these days. We can’t make informed electoral and policy decisions in the absence of meaningful, quality data.

(Here, BTW, is a reasonably informative piece from the SF Fed on the question I’m raising. Though short on ideas and details, it’s at least a decent attempt to frame the question.)

AP Has Strange Notions of What Constitutes Religious News

My primary base news source online is the Associated Press. I use their iPad app every morning to grab the highlights of what’s going on in the world and find them, for the most part, to be pretty good judges of what’s important and decently objective in their reporting. I also use Google News almost daily as well.

ap_logoOne of my main news interest categories is religion and spirituality. When it comes to this topic, however, AP is bewilderingly bizarre in its selection of news it categorizes. Most of the time, the stories it publishes in this subject area are religious violence pieces. But other news pieces it shares as religious are just…not.

Take today’s coverage. Here’s a list of the stories, in the order they appear:

  1. Shiites on procession kill 7 Sunnis in Pakistan. Religious violence
  2. NYC commissioner: Mayoral candidates pandered. The story is about the police commissioner accusing politicians of pandering on the city’s stop-and-frisk law. The religious angle is tangential at best, incidental in all likelihood.
  3. Pope out with cold, cancels morning audiences. OK, you can question whether that’s news, but at least it’s got a religious angle.
  4. Filipino sailors struggle for news of home. Not a single religious mention, reference or relevant idea.
  5. Egypt’s ousted president in solitary confinement. Huh? The fact that Morsi is a Muslim isn’t a main feature of the piece and if every story about a person doing something or having something done to him was religious if he or she has a religion is, obviously, ludicrous.
  6. Attacks against Shiites in Iraq kill at least 41. Religious-based violence again.
  7. Pope shuns presidential escort for state visit. Again, news? But at least it has a slightly religious angle.
  8. Officials: Suicide bomber targets Shiites marking religious ritual in eastern Iraq, killing 22. Religious-based violence. One more time.
  9. Catholic fringe disrupts Kristallnacht ceremony. Good religious tie-in. One of Pope Francis’ favorite events being disrupted by members of his church.
  10. Vatican to put St. Peter relics on display. Again, decent religious tie-in.
  11. Flannery O’Connor prayer journal published. Good religious piece on famed writer’s personal struggle with religion.
  12. Euroskeptic leaders unite, aim for parliament bloc. No religious connection other than that one of the parties, in addition to being anti-EU, is also anti-Islam.
  13. Bishops elect Louisville archbishop new president. Legitimate religious news.
  14. Kosovo Muslin leaders to youths: Don’t go to Syria. Marginally religious, more political, but at least it’s not a stretch.
  15. Triple bombing kills 8 Shiites in eastern Iraq. More violence.
  16. Buddhists in Myanmar protest OIC’s visit. Not violence this time but conflict between Buddhists and Muslims. Again, not clear how much is actually religious and how much political.
  17. Despite ruling, Egypt holds off on ending curfew. Absolutely political. No real religious tie-in.
  18. Biden to push immigration at naturalization event. Nope, no religion here, folks. Just move along.

So here’s my informal tally:

  • 18 total stories
  • 5 on violence and conflict
  • 7 with no or almost no religious connection
  • So 1/3 of the coverage is legitimately about religion or has a legitimate religious angle. Of those, all are about Catholics and Catholicism.

My conclusion: the AP needs a real religion editor.