Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Journalism at Its Finest

December 16, 2011

 

Lancaster Newspapers' Donegal News Front Page, with "WRECK" front and center.

If it bleeds, it leads.

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Oh, the Irony

March 9, 2011

U.S. Representative Peter King, terrorist:

[From the New York Times] For Representative Peter T. King, as he seizes the national spotlight this week with a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, it is the most awkward of résumé entries. Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army.

. . .  A judge in Belfast threw him out of an I.R.A. murder trial, calling him an “obvious collaborator,” said Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist and author of “A Secret History of the I.R.A.” In 1984, Mr. King complained that the Secret Service had investigated him as a “security risk,” Mr. Moloney said.

I wonder how much money he’s either directly or indirectly helped send to those murderous thugs. That might be worthy of an investigation — more so than anything this treacherous weasel is currently grandstanding.

The Clash of the Titans

February 9, 2011

The world’s greatest and most eagerly anticipated sporting event, easily eclipsing the combined magnitudes of the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Cup, and the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio, occurred today.

The flag of Liechtenstein.

"We are the champions, We are the champions of the world('s tax shelters)!"

Yes, the Clash of the Titans between international soccer powerhouses Liechtenstein (61.7 sq. mi., pop. 35,000) and San Marino (24 sq. mi., pop. 31,451) was today, and Gott, Fürst und Vaterland triumphed over Libertas (in other words, Liechtenstein beat San Marino 1-0 on the road with a 57th minute goal).

Quake, ye mighty of the Earth, for the mice have awoken and roared, and somewhere Charlie Connelly is smiling. Today, San Marino, tomorrow, the world! Or at least Malta.

Sad Irony

January 29, 2011

A common economic complaint in the United States these days is that our manufacturing base has eroded, meaning that we don’t actually make stuff here anymore.

It turns out that the tear gas canisters fired by Egyptian police at protesters yesterday were made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

Tear gas: a weapon of terror used in Egypt, made in Pennsylvania.

As a Pennsylvanian, I feel compelled to apologize and point out that we’re not all pusillanimous sacks of crap who are content to earn a living by making and selling instruments of terror to brutal dictators, although that’s meaningless cold comfort to anyone who’s actually had to inhale our home cooking in the last few days.

I’d hope we can all look forward together to a world where nobody has to face tear gas anymore, but as long as somebody’s willing to make it, somebody’s willing to buy it, and somebody’s willing to use it, I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

Why WikiLeaks Matters

December 9, 2010

I’ll preface this by saying that my professional background was in journalism and public relations — specifically in the field of sports. I worked closely with newspaper sports reporters for many years, especially those at our local daily papers. What I’ve seen happen there over the past 10+ years can help greatly in understanding why an organization like WikiLeaks is of vital importance to investigative journalism and with it, the survival of free speech and democracy, no matter what you may think about the documents they’re releasing right now, and also why the current assaults on it are so frightening.

When I graduated from college over 11 years ago and landed my first — and so far only — “real job” handling communications for a collegiate athletics department, few could see it happening at the time, but a combination of technological and economic factors was emerging that had already sent the newspaper industry into a terminal tailspin, one that has only intensified through the years.

At the time, we had three local newspapers. Two were dailies; one ran six days a week in the mornings, while the other ran six days a week in the evenings. Plus, there was a weekly, larger, Sunday paper. It was an unusual arrangement, in that all three newspapers were owned by the same family and operated out of the same building, yet they all competed with one another for stories. Because it has always been a family-owned operation, our local papers weren’t subject to quite as severe monetary pressures as their corporate-owned brethren, but they were heavily buffeted all the same.

Those outside the media business might not know this, but newspapers never made money by selling subscriptions and individual copies. Their revenue principally came from selling advertising space throughout the paper, as well as selling small ads in the classified section.

Classified section revenue began to dry up with the advent and growth of free websites like Craigslist. You can’t underestimate the difference that shift has made in the economic fundamentals of the newspaper industry. To see the extent of the damage, just take a look at the size of the classified section in your local paper today, and then locate a copy of that same newspaper from about 20 years ago, and see how large the classified section is there. Every column inch lost, and there are staggeringly many, is revenue lost.

The other source of revenue, regular advertising, has dried up as more people began getting their news online through a variety of sources, not just (and often not at all), their local paper’s web site, causing subscription rates to decline. A company isn’t willing to pay nearly as much for a print ad if far fewer people are ever going to see it.

The effect of this has been devastating. As the years went by, it became harder and harder for me to get stories from reporters into our local papers as their sports departments’ staffs, as well as the column inches with which they had to work, shrank as a result of less revenue. Plus, as the sports sections slowly got smaller, less original work from their own reporters and columnists appeared in the shrinking space. Regional and national stories were covered by stuff picked up from the wire services increasingly often. In local sports, it was a lot cheaper to cobble together bits and pieces from postgame press releases I’d fax and email in, as well as post on our school’s web site, rather than send a reporter to cover the game.

Things continued to get leaner for the three papers until, finally, a couple of years ago, the morning and evening papers were merged into one. That unified paper was not any larger than the separate morning and evening papers were, by the way. Half of the space devoted to coverage evaporated overnight.

The result of this long decline is that the space devoted to sports coverage in our local papers over the course of an average week today has probably contracted to about a third of what it was ten to fifteen years ago.

If you think what’s happened to our county-wide daily newspapers is bad, you should see what’s happened to our very local, small-town weekly newspaper. Actually, you can’t because it doesn’t exist anymore.

So what the heck does all of this have to do with WikiLeaks? It’s this: if something as popular and generally non-controversial as the newspaper sports section can be so thoroughly decimated, what do you think has happened to investigative reporting and hard news coverage? How often does your local paper send reporters to cover things like every town council, zoning committee, and school board meeting these days? The resources to do those things all too often don’t exist anymore.

It isn’t just small-town papers that have been hit in this way — our largest papers and newsmagazines have all seen significant reductions in staff and space as well. You may think that there are plenty of other news outlets to take up the slack, but that isn’t the case. Television news has never had the capacity for investigative journalism that print media had. Let’s face it: money shots of memoranda don’t make enthralling TV that attracts viewers. Popular news web sites like those of Google, Yahoo, and AOL don’t generate much, if any, content; they mostly aggregate it from — you guessed it — the ever-shrinking newspaper industry. Most bloggers don’t actually contribute any new information, they just provide their opinions on stuff — I know that’s what I do on the rare occasions like this when I’m not fulfilling this space’s usual function of making erudite-sounding fart jokes.

Paradoxically, while the number of news sources has exploded over the last decade, the number of people able to make a living doing actual reporting has diminished substantially. It’s hard to imagine an organization like The Washington Post having the wherewithal and manpower to doggedly pursue a story like Watergate all the way to its conclusion today. You can think whatever you want about the content WikiLeaks is releasing right now; that doesn’t change the fact that, at this moment, they’re just about all that we have left that’s fulfilling the kind of large-scale investigative and whistleblower role that newspapers used play to a much greater degree.

And that is precisely what makes today’s hacktivists and news organizations like WikiLeaks so vital — they are what has so far stepped in to fill the investigative journalism vacuum created by the newspaper industry’s collapse. They’re the ones who are actually providing a platform for those digging up or leaking information previously unavailable to the public, putting it out there, and letting the chips fall where they may. That’s a critically important role in any society that at least fancies itself free.

And that’s what makes the current attacks against WikiLeaks so profoundly disturbing. I know absolutely nothing about Julian Assange’s personal life; for all I know the charges against him stemming from his personal life could very well be perfectly legit. What I do know is that we’ve never seen anything even remotely like the current assault on WikiLeaks’ operational capabilities, coordinated among various governments and corporations to try to shut down servers and cut off the organization’s ability to receive donations from the public.

For all Richard Nixon’s rage at The New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers, he never tried to destroy their printing presses, get ink and paper vendors to withhold ink and paper, or get banks to freeze all the paper’s assets and thereby immediately shut it down. Even if he had thought of the latter examples, there hopefully wouldn’t have been a bank, ink supplier, or paper vendor back then that would have gone along with it. As reporting on the Watergate story mounted, nobody in the mainstream media called for the summary execution of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham. And presuming such things had managed to occur back then, and that the perps had gotten away with it, what kind of world do you think we’d be living in as a result today?

But that’s exactly what’s happening today, and it’s happening without charges, without trial, without convictions, and without much of a chance of any of those things happening, because it appears no actual law has been broken by WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents it has received. WikiLeaks is a news organization, not a terrorist organization. If it becomes classified as latter, then so is every news organization that has ever published anything labeled “secret” or “confidential” — and that’s just about every news organization in existence.

I know that transparency in government and business necessarily has its limitations (for example, I wouldn’t want my income tax returns or bank statements published publicly, nor do I think would anyone else want those things happening to themselves). But that does not change the fact that what is happening to WikiLeaks right now is nothing less than a full-scale assault in broad daylight on journalism and freedom of speech by an open collusion of governments and businesses. It desperately needs to be resisted by more than just a bunch of childish, mask-wearing doofuses who think pwning a credit card’s online brochure for a few minutes constitutes “payback.” Salon.com’s Dan Gilmour explains why better than I ever could:

Media organizations with even half a clue need to recognize what is at stake at this point. It’s more than immediate self-interest, namely their own ability to do their jobs. It’s about the much more important result if they can’t. If journalism can routinely be shut down the way the government wants to do this time, we’ll have thrown out free speech in this lawless frenzy.

. . . I’m deeply ambivalent about some of what WikiLeaks does, and what this affair portends. Governments need to keep some secrets, and laws matter. So does the First Amendment, and right now it’s under an attack that could shred it.

Meet the Host of the 2022 World Cup

December 2, 2010

From the U.S. Department of State:

“Qatar does not allow individuals with HIV/AIDS to enter the country . . . Qatari authorities have confiscated the passports of U.S. citizens who acquired Qatari citizenship . . .  In several cases, Qatari authorities informed U.S. citizens that their U.S. citizenship had been revoked. However, foreign governments have no authority to revoke the citizenship of a U.S. citizen . . . The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations whenever possible . . . Local and third-country-national young men have been known to verbally and physically harass unaccompanied, expatriate women . . . Qatari police have arrested U.S. citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses . . . Insulting someone in public is considered a punishable offense . . . Proselytizing is illegal in Qatar . . . Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense, and those convicted may be sentenced to lashings, a prison sentence, and/or deportation.”

Fire Up The Torches!

November 24, 2010
The 2009 Gävle Christmas Goat.

The 2009 goat, before it went all Guy Fawkes on us.

This just in: the Christmas Goat of Gävle, Sweden, will arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of its many previous incarnations at 3:00 p.m. local time November 28.

I give it about five days this year. If anyone wants to start a pool as to when it will take the flaming dirt nap, let me know.

If, in the meantime, you want to send the goat an e-mail and ask it to reflect in Swedish upon the meaning it finds in its rapidly impending mortality, you can do so by contacting gavlegoat@merjuligavle.se.

Kansas City Wizards Rebrand as “Eastern Conference Skinny Puppy”

November 19, 2010
The Kansas City Wizards' latest former logo.

Out with the newest old...

The Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that the organization is changing its name for the third time and its logo for the fourth. One of the original MLS clubs from the league’s first season in 1996, the team was initially known as the “Kansas City Wiz” (insert urination-based joke of your choice here), and their logo was the following vomit-inspired motley:

The old Kansas City Wiz logo.

Eew.

The name, which nobody liked, didn’t last long, and the organization eased on down the road to its first re-branding after just one season, changing the name to “Wizards” and exchanging a goofy musical theater reference for a goofy book/movie reference. However, for the next decade, the Wizards’ logo was not the sort-of-tolerable one at the top of this post. Instead, it retained the hideous particolored vibe of the old Wiz logo:

The older old Kansas City Wizards' logo.

Still Eew.

Finally, in 2007, the club changed its logo yet again and addressed a minor eleven-year oversight by including the city’s name for the first time. Also, the color scheme was at last rendered less upchucky.

This brings us to Wednesday, when the club unveiled its new name and logo in a 17+ minute speech by the team’s president, who managed to say next to nothing that didn’t fall into the “meaningless corporate B.S.” category over a tremendous amount of time.

At any rate, the new logo for the prosaicly renamed “Sporting Kansas City SC” is the following:

The new "Sporting Kansas City SC" logo.

Meh.

Others have already pointed out the new logo’s uncanny resemblance the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference logo:

The Major League Soccer Eastern Conference log.

Similar, huh?

There’s one other eerie resemblance in the new Sporting Kansas City SC logo nobody seems to have noticed yet. Take a look at the “SC” in the new KC logo. Now take a look at the following logo for the seminal electro-industrial band Skinny Puppy:

The Skinny Puppy logo.

The other weird similarity in KC's new logo.

I want to know who in the Sporting/Wizards organization is into Canadian electronic-industrial thrash music. It would be incredibly funny if, next year, Kansas City’s team was greeted on every road trip by the sound of “Convulsion” off Too Dark Park whenever it took the field for warmups, although I’m not sure how many people would get the joke.

I Can Has Literacy?!

November 12, 2010

If ever want to lose your faith in humanity, all you have to do is read through the comments section for any story on any news organization’s web site. Every once in a while, though, you’ll come across a piece of news with a comment section that ends up being slightly more comical than it is purely depressing. A great example of this can be found in today’s MSNBC Cosmic Log piece about a recently completed study of the physics of how cats lap water.

While fascinating, it’s an admittedly frivolous endeavor, as one of its investigators, MIT engineering professor Roman Stocker, said. However, here’s the important sentence from the article which an astonishing number of conservatively-inclined commenters clearly failed to either read or comprehend:

Stocker admitted that there’s not an immediate practical application to the research, which was conducted with borrowed equipment and no outside funding.

I decided to italicize and bold the key part of that key sentence just then, in case anybody reading this right now also failed to absorb that pertinent detail.

Anyhow, here are some of the gems of dim-witted comments this article produced. To highlight the stupid, the screen names have not been changed:

  • JustPhil-2336414: “It doesn’t lead to anything that wasn’t already known. It was just a way for a group of scientists to get a big federal grant to study this.”
  • DT-2238463: “Did somebody pay for this research?”
  • Pat-506741: “And this cost how much? Seriously. I’m watching TV talk about the proposed cuts on Social Security, Medicare, Farm subsidies, cutting the mortgage interest deduction, taxing employer paid health benefits. And now, cat lapping? I can tell you where I’d start cutting….”
  • Hammy the Cat: “What life changing research this was. I wonder how much tuition funding this wasted.”
  • mipak: “This is exactly why America is losing it’s edge in research: pork barrel research on stupid projects like this.”
  • wb52: “I’m sure this was funded by a government grant……..”
  • OnTheRoad-1943197: “I am so so happy that this has finally been figured out!!! Yea! How many of my tax dollars did this require?”

Go back to flinging feces at one another in trees, folks.

New Pornographers Concert Cancelled Due to Stupidity

September 14, 2010

Calvin College, a Christian institution of higher learning in Michigan, has announced that a scheduled show on campus by indie rock band New Pornographers has been cancelled for no other reason than the band’s name.

Calvin College’s press release, located here, is surprisingly ballsy, saying:

Regrettably, Calvin College has decided to rescind its invitation to the band . . .   After weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band’s name was impossible to explain to many [my italics]. The band’s name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography . . .  We regret the message we have sent to the band and their fans with this cancellation, and any confusion this has caused generally. We have been in contact with the band to explain this regret and the breakdown in our own processes that led us to first invite them and then withdraw that invitation.

I love that the school is essentially admitting that a significant subset of its constituency has turned out to be too stupid to grasp the concept of irony, and that Calvin has called out that constituency for refusing to change its mistaken opinions despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As a result, the school has found it necessary to apologize to the band and its fans for the influence of those deliberately mistaken many in its decision-making.

Note that there’s no apology at all from Calvin College for inviting the band in the first place to those who still mistakenly associate the band with pornography, and that the school continually points out in the release that those who keep doing so are, in fact, wrong.

There’s a broader — and quite ironic — lesson in here somewhere . . .


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