Monday, November 07, 2005

The glass is half …

There is a temptation in blogging to follow the pack and post on the big issues. Admittedly this is a sweeping generalization, but it sometimes takes a conscious effort to resist joining the fray.

But in my humble opinion, it’s critical that blogs maintain their individuality because otherwise there’s no point in reading them. Regular readers of CI know that my paying gig is as a freelance journalist, writing primarily for mainstream media. Creative Ink, by contrast, is my writing laboratory.

Still I'm a news junkie and at times I struggle with not adding my voice to the cacophony as I scan the day’s headlines. I confess to secretly fantasizing about being a national beat reporter for a daily newspaper. But then I remember that my chosen path is one of independent because it suits my desire to follow my writing passions and it fits well with my family life.

Daily newspapers, no matter how I may romanticize about reporting on national issues, are not the place to be right now. According to WAPO’s Howard Kurtz, “If the (newspaper) industry were a person, a shrink would prescribe Prozac.”

News is particularly bad at The Times Co., which reports profits down by more than half this quarter. That The New York Times is beleaguered is undeniable and I’ve not resisted my chance to take shots. But what’s missing from the daily/hourly discourse is that what's happening at The Times can happen anywhere. Newspapers are losing readers and losing sight of the big picture in the quest to please Wall Street.

Here's the glass-is-half-full view from a CJR editorial. “A great shift in how people get their news and spend their time is under way. Much of this is beyond our control,” writes CJR:

But not all of it. And crisis can bring opportunity. Take a look at the front page of your newspaper today. How many stories are on events that the average reader has already heard something about? The Metro section, is it riveting and creative? Or incremental and cramped? Does the paper have strong voices? Does it provide the kind of context that cuts through the fog of information? Does it have any fun? Does the photography speak volumes? Does the Web site offer more than digital newsprint? Can a reader get into the conversation? Do you want to read this newspaper? Bold is mine.

And now the glass-is-half-empty view. Kurtz concludes:

Except for an uptick during Hurricane Katrina, the media's stock seems to be in a gradual decline -- journalistically, financially and psychologically. That is unlikely to change as long as journalists keep behaving in ways that alienate their audiences.

The Wall Street Journal, which is FREE this week, (Woo Hoo!) has a similarly dire report.

It’s easy for those of us in the business to armchair quarterback the problems and the solutions. But just because we’re not in the newsroom daily and don’t understand the grind and the pressures doesn’t mean our suggestions for improvement should be summarily dismissed. We are, after all, consumers of the news. Let's at least start the conversation, yes?

Women bylines at Conde Nast
One Conde Nast editor has taken it upon herself to track the male to female byline ratio in the publishing powerhouse’s mags. Ruth Davis Konigsberg started her site as a pet project, only the evidence is crystal. Gender imbalance pervades many national magazines, particularly those involved in reporting public affairs.

Now The Times has picked up the story.

Cullen Murphy, the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly (61 male bylines to 18 female bylines, according to Ms. Davis Konigsberg's count), responded to questions from a reporter in an e-mail message: "The byline imbalance is endemic in public affairs magazines. At The Atlantic we are aware of the problem and have been actively taking steps to address it."

I wonder what those steps are? As I've written here before, I know many women skilled in writing about public affairs. I wonder about the barriers to entry.

Comic relief
This was sent to me today by Joe Skeel, editor of Quill magazine .
A councilman is apparently trying to access ISP records so he can find out what blogger called him paranoid in order to convince people he’s not … paranoid. HAH!

Court rules that official cannot unmask blogger
The Delaware Supreme Court ruled that a Smyrna city councilman cannot force an Internet service provider to reveal the identity of a blogger without substantial evidence of defamation, The New York Times reported Oct. 5.
According to The Times, court records showed the blogger said that Councilman Patrick Cahill had ''an obvious mental deterioration" and was "as paranoid as everyone in the town thinks he is.''
David Finger, the blogger's lawyer, told The Times, ''statements on an electronic bulletin board with hyperbole and profanity are generally not considered as credible sources of facts. The court found that people who read these types of blogs cannot reasonably expect them to be anything more than the writer's opinion.''
The court found no distinction between protections on Internet communication and other forms of media, The Times reported. The court said this was the first state or federal Supreme Court ruling on anonymous bloggers' rights.

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