Friday, October 31, 2008

Today's Word—Scary Halloween

The Sky Is Falling

“It’s been an especially rotten few days for people who type on deadline. On Tuesday, The Christian Science Monitor announced that, after a century, it would cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc., the Olympian home of Time magazine, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, announced that it was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. And Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, compounded the grimness by announcing it was laying off 10 percent of its work force—up to 3,000 people.

“Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it.”

—David Carr, media writer, The New York Times, 10/28/08

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Today's Funnies

Just One Stinkin’ VOTE!

Click here to learn the outcome of Tuesday’s balloting....

Today's Word—Vox Populi

Get Out the Vote

“Cultural historian Morris Berman has a . . . depressing reason for not supporting get-out-the-vote campaigns. . . . [H]e cites page after page of polls and anecdotes documenting the ignorance of the voting-age public: 40% of American adults do not know that Germany was our enemy in World War II. Only 47% know that the Earth revolves around the sun in a year (most said a day or a month). Among the countries in the United Nations, the United States ranks 49th in literacy.”

—Philip Meyer, journalism professor-emeritus and author,
University of North Carolina, 2000. (USAToday)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Today's Word—Dead People

The 6-Foot-Deep Interview:

“I’ve found my calling. History, to me, is so rich, and American history is more interesting than any other history because you have this sort of violent streak next to these high-minded ideals, our gun-toting side matched with our Declaration of Independence side. Our history is full of all these cranks and weirdos and heroes and muckrakers and sex maniacs and killers. And I just love dead people. They’re easier to interview.”

—Sarah Vowell (which is a great name for a writer), essayist
on public radio’s “This American Life,” and author of The Wordy Shipmates, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Today's Word—Local News?

Outsourcing Newspapers?

“Fond memories of dead newspapers will do nothing for our communities. . . . One thing we’re exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews ... maybe even offshore.”

—Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group (54 dailies, including The Denver Post, The Detroit News and The Salt Lake Tribune) and chairman of the board of the Associated Press, told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Assn. last week that newspapers might have to send news operations overseas to survive, 10/20/08 (Click here for story.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Today's Word—Big Fat Lies

Tell the Truth, dammit!

“Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That’s what you claim you do, when you accept people’s money to buy or subscribe to your paper. But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie—that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad—even bad weather—on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.… You’re just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it’s time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a daily newspaper in our city.”

—Orson Scott Card, writer, columnist and sci-fi author, in this column originally in the Greensboro, NC, Rhinoceros Times, Oct. 5, 2008. (Thanks to alert WORDster Nicole Coulter)

SPEAKING OF FREE EXPRESSION: Who stole our Obama sign?! See Don’t Steal Our Obama Sign (again)!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Campaign Goofiness

Editor’s Note: I first saw this in 2000, before the first Bush election. But it’s worth a chuckle in this repurposed update for 2008. See Canadian Recruitment Video here.

Fearing McCain/Palin Victory,
U.S. Liberals Flee to Canada

MANITOBA — The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it’s not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

“I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn,” said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota.

The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. “He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken,” Greenfield said. “When I said I didn’t have any, he left. Didn’t even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?”

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. “Not real effective,” he said. “The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn’t give milk, eh?”

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves.

“A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions,” an Ontario border patrolman said. “I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though.”

When liberals are caught, they‘re sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot wolves from helicopters, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for the Rapture.

In recent days liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the ’50s.

“If they can’t identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age,” an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies.

“I feel sorry for American liberals, I do, but the Canadian economy just can’t support them,” an Ottawa resident said. “How many art-history and English majors does one country need?”


Today's Word—Jailing Journalists

Chilling Effect:

“An Afghan appeals court overturned a death sentence Tuesday for a journalism student accused of blasphemy for asking questions in class about women’s rights under Islam. But the judges still sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The case against 24-year-old Sayed Perwez Kambashkh . . . has come to symbolize Afghanistan’s slide toward an ultraconservative view on religious and individual freedoms.”

—Associated Press, 10/21/08 (See AP story here. And from the (London) TimesOnline here.)
Kambashkh, handcuffed, flanked by Afghan guards. (AP Photo)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Today's Word—Enduring Threat: BANKS!

History Lessons:

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] . . . will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

—Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd U.S. president,
in the Debate Over the Recharter of the Bank Bill, 1809.
(Thanks to alert WORDster Harry Crosby)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Today's Word—Voter Analysis

The Great Divide:

“Red state people are happier than blue state people. This is because they listen to country music that is forever telling them they live in a great nation and that things could be worse and probably were and if you stand by your man and remember what daddy used to say and love your mama that in the end Dale Earnhardt shall not have died in vain so long as Old Glory waves, Budweiser remains the King of Beers, and forced metaphors about rivers, trains and cowboys remain a part of our First Amendment rights.

“Blue State people, on the other hand, chase their Zoloft down with iced chai while they listen to twelve hours a day of public radio programming which ceaselessly and thoughtfully points out in genteel and condescending tones that we are all pretty much screwed.”

—Tom Bodett, radio personality and author, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Today's Word—Canaries in the Civic Coalmine?

Editor’s Note: For many observers, the decline of the daily newspaper in terms of penetration and centrality in citizens’ daily lives is a tale of the End of Days. Many of these observers, of course, are newspaper people themselves, surviving or recovering, and so they are keenly aware of blips on the newsroom radar screen. Considering the continuing trend of draconian newsroom layoffs, bottom-line journalism, corporate takeovers and heavy-handed new owners with little or no journalistic background, expertise or apparent affection, the newspeople’s gloom is easy to understand. But are newspapers truly canaries in the coal mine of American civic responsibility and intellectual vigor? Clearly, there’s plenty of citizen engagement in the current election, but there’s also plenty of evidence that the average Joe (plumber or otherwise) is not particularly well informed or engaged, at least as such things used to be reckoned. What do you think? Click on the “Comments” link at the bottom of this WORD entry.


“The decline of newspapers is about the rise of the corporate state, the loss of civic and public responsibility on the part of much of our entrepreneurial class and the intellectual poverty of our post-literate world, a world where information is conveyed primarily through rapidly moving images rather than print. All these forces have combined to strangle newspapers.”

—Chris Hedges, columnist, pundit and author, 2008 (Click here for full column.)

The Funnies: On the other hand, as newspapers strangle (if Hedges is correct), other, er, commentary engages millions of Americans. In case you didn’t catch Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, these links. But does this refute or prove Hedges’s point...? Click here for Palin, Live From New York.... and here for The Palin Rap.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Today's Word—Presidential Endorsements

Editor’s Note: It was quite a weekend for Barack Obama. Coming off the last debate with John McCain, Obama received endorsements from three big newspapers: The Washington Post (natch), but also The LA Times, which hasn’t endorsed since Nixon in 1972, and The Chicago Tribune, a traditional GOP bastion that has never endorsed a Democrat. Then there was Christopher Buckley, the conservative icon’s son (“Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama”), who was promptly fired as a lead columnist for his father’s National Review. And over the weekend, Gen. Colin Powell went on Meet the Press to announce, eloquently, that he was voting for Obama and why. (Locally, in reddest Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune also endorsed “That One.”) Meanwhile, the Obama campaign announced it had raised a stunning $150 million in contributions during the most recent reporting period. Exclaims McCain, “We've got ’em right where we want ’em!” The question is what newspaper (and other) endorsements do, especially these days, when voters are certainly not dependent exclusively on newspapers for information anymore. It’s possible, I suppose, that undecided voters, seeing the Tribune or the Times or the local Bugle, might experience a sudden epiphany. And I do believe that newspaper staff pay much closer attention to the races, and so are much better informed about the candidates and issues than most of us. But are there unintended negative consequences? What do you think? Click on "Comments" under this WORD and chime in. File as “anonymous” if you like.

Endorsements & Credibility

“Young news consumers are suspicious about traditional authority. They prize objectivity, straight-forwardness and transparency. I doubt there’s a reader under 30 who gets why newspapers endorse presidential candidates—and most of the ones I talk to ask the following: How can a newspaper be objective if his newspaper endorses a candidate on the editorial page?”
Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune 2008
—Richard Stengel, managing editor, Time (March 2008)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Today's Word—Tough Questions

Inquiring Minds Need to Know

“It’s not enough to simply confirm your political views by only watching or accessing outlets that reinforce your views and do not challenge them. That is what I believe is a simple but important premise. . . . I am ever more convinced that a leader cannot make tough decisions unless he or she is asked tough questions. That is the only vehicle that brings them to closure, that forces any sense of intellectual rigor, that forces them to find a way to reconcile the political advice or the political pressures brought to bear.

"It will not be enough in a democratic society to simply have those on the left or right who are pamphleteers and unwilling to challenge the views of people they support. Tough questions need not be the loudest or the most sensational or the most theatrical, but rather probing and, hopefully, incisive.”

—Tim Russert (1950-2008), political journalist and host, Meet the Press, in Red Smith Lecture in Journalism at Notre Dame University, April 2008.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Today's Word—Perspective

EDITOR’S NOTE: After weeks of watching the stock market writhe and the government flail in response and our savings and hopes evaporate, in the midst of what both presidential wannabes* called a “tough” campaign last night, in preparation for a change of administration and (dare we hope?) world direction in less than three weeks, it’s somehow helpful to recall that we’ve endured and survived these dire times before. E.B. White—he of fine common sense and the well-turned phrase—offers today’s perspective. I think I’ll take my chances with lightning, thank you. *(BTW, Anyone else wonder why either presidential wannabe would want the job?)

Recurrences: Politics, Dow Jones & Lightning Bolts

“I got a letter from a lightning rod company this morning trying to put the fear of God in me, but with small success. Lightning seems to have lost its menace. Compared to what is going on Earth today, heaven’s firebrands are penny fireworks with wet fuses.”

—E.B. White (1899-1985), wise man and writer (“Removal,” July 1938)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Funnies

All-inclusive political abuse. Click here.

And the is NOOZ!??? Click here.

Today's Word—Folding the Newspaper

News Flash: The Boston Globe reports that the daily newspaper in Maine’s largest city might fold (Click here for story: “A Maine beacon blinks,” The Boston Globe, Aug. 15, 2008.)

Hockomock Head Light, Swans Island, Maine (©Ted Pease 2000)

Losing Community

“It is such a profound change as to be almost impossible to imagine. It would mean the end of a shared experience, sense of community, sense of common purpose. Newspapers represent all of that.”

—Herb Adams, Maine state legislator, on the possible demise
of the Portland, Maine, Press Herald, the city's only daily newspaper, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today's Word—More on Truth

Defining Truth (I know it when I see it…):

“There’s one word that exists in every language on the face of the Earth and in every society since man began to speak. And the word is truth. And in every language it means exactly the same thing. Truth is . . . what you get other people to believe.”

—Tommy Smothers, comedian, 2008.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Today's Word—Snow, Pandering & Marriage

...But not necessarily in that order.

Editor’s Note: It's snowy and cold, as per this image from the yard this morning. Where the hell did “fall” go? The dogs are excited, but I just bought a lawn mower, and I think there's still some golf in my bag...

Today’s offering acknowledges professor, economist and columnist Paul Krugman, who is the 2008 Nobel Prize-winner for economics. A multi-faceted man.

We also must commemorate another snowy day, 17 years ago in Vermont, when Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas crashed our wedding. They weren’t invited, but everyone was much more interested in the hearings than in Brenda’s folly, when she said “I do” for the justice of the peace in the bar on North Hero Island. I’m still dazed and enormously grateful for her focus. The hearings came back on right after, of course. Click here to see the commemorative column.

Political Pandering:

“We don’t have censorship in this country; it’s still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to.”

—Paul Krugman, columnist, New York Times (5/3/03) (Click here for column.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Today's Word—Dump the Bag 'O Rocks

Editor's Note: Today’s offering from E.B. White, one of my heroes, is not strictly about writing or journalism, although it could be taken that way. It does, however, describe the life of both the writer and the teacher—at least, on a good day when the bag o’ rocks we all carry isn’t too heavy.

On these days, writers whoop when words, thoughts and intent come together right; and teachers glow like the little flickering light bulbs that sometimes appear above that kid in the fourth row. This morning I found this glowworm in my email: “You may be interested to find that your class has made me think a little bit about working for the newspaper. It sounds like a fun job! but that would require knowing what was going on in the world, not one of my strengths (but I’m sure you already noticed that. haha). . . I prefer the logical to the illogical anyway, thus I’m an engineer. Your class has really caused me to question most everything in the news. I think you are succeeding in your task of teaching us to think about ‘How we know what we think we know?’”

Hmmm. Even as NPR reports a new 200-point slide in the Dow during a single newsbreak, if I heard that right, and nations crumble and slide into the sea, it’s going to be a good day. Once I get this sent, I think I’ll take the dogs up the mountain.

Good advice

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult.”

—E.B. White (1899-1985), wise man and writer, who knew when to take a walk with the dogs
(Thanks to alert WORDster Louise Montgomery

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Today's Word—New Old Technology

Bookin’ It

“[I]t’s not surprising, when making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations of our lives, that we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget at Best Buy: the book. It is a more reliable storage device than a hard disk drive, and it sports a killer user interface. . . . And it is instant-on and requires no batteries. Many people think it is so perfect an invention that it can’t be improved upon, and react with indignation at any implication to the contrary. ‘The book,’ says Jeff Bezos, 43, the CEO of Internet commerce giant, ‘just turns out to be an incredible device.’”

—Steven Levy, tech writer, Newsweek, 2007

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Today's Word—Who Are Journalists?

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

“Because I grew up in a family and a neighborhood that had no voice, I have tried in some small way to be a voice for those whose feelings are too rarely heard, or even expressed. I hope this was not presumptuous, and I hope that I can continue to do that, for in today’s neighborhoods there are also large numbers who do not ‘fit.’

“I am still—foolishly, perhaps—enough of an idealist to believe that the media are too often the only ones in town to help redress the grievances of those who have nobody to lobby for them in the corridors of public and private power.

“I still believe that it is our job to raise hell responsibly and comfort the afflicted, to focus public attention on issues and events that people in power would just as soon see disappear from public discourse.”

—Alan Lupo (1938-2008), journalist, The Boston Globe, died Sept. 29 (See obit.)(Thanks to alert WORDster Andrew Merton at UNH)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Today's Word—Spelling as Distraction


Editor’s Note:

This morning, in the 6 a.m. pitchdark, I made the mistake of turning on the kitchen light before starting the coffeepot. And the radio. As a result, I began the day with news about the presidential campaign, and then happened upon the latest dire quarterly statement from my TIAA-CREF retirement fund, which I’d been avoiding. My parents bought a house in 1976 for less than this. On the up-side, if I’d known I had lost so much money in September, I’d have put a bullet in my head.

But the mail is late, my attention wavers, the market is worse, the presidential “leadership” farces on, and the latest financial debacles are already yesterday’s news. As I step out into the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, the dogs frolic in new frost, the stars are clear-eyed and bright above the mountain, and two owls hoot in the cottonwoods along the creek. Not so bad, after all. Today, on the advice of Mr. Clemens, I’ll just work on my spelling—something useful a man can do in tough times.

Extravagant Entertainments:

“Now, I’ll bet there isn't a man here who can spell ‘pterodactyl,’ not even the prisoner at the bar. I’d like to hear him try once—but not in public, for it’s too near Sunday,
when all extravagant histrionic entertainments are barred.”

—Mark Twain (1835-1910), scholar of the alphabet, author and a man
with a sharp sense of perspective in the face of tragedy and conjugation, 1907

PS: (Below) For those of you wondering about where the owls might hang out at dawn, this is why I can put the TIAA-CREF statement in a drawer and take a walk instead. TP


Monday, October 6, 2008

Today's Word—The Public Trust

The Public Trust:

“Newspapers, when well run, are a public trust. They provide, at their best, the means for citizens to examine themselves, to ferret out lies and the abuse of power by elected officials and corrupt businesses, to give a voice to those who would, without the press, have no voice.”

—Chris Hedges, columnist, pundit and author, 2008 (See column here.)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Javan Kienzle)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Today's Word—A Flaming Sword!

The Flaming Sword of Free Press:

“The power of the freedom of the press is a flaming sword. That it may be a servant of all the people, use it justly—hold it high—and guard it well.”

—Big Town Radio, 1940s+ (Click here for URL.)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Phil Meyer)

Today's Word—Public Interest

Fear Minus Fact

“The emotion which brought us the Iraq War, exploited by George Bush, was fear. Let political decision be ruled by fear minus fact, and you can say goodbye to the role of journalism in a democracy.”

—The Rev. Donald W. Shriver, author and president emeritus,
Union Theological Seminary, New York, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Today's Word—Hot Air


Political language:

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

—George Orwell (Eric Blair, 1903-1950), writer