Saturday, February 27, 2010

3 Chords & the Truth: This reminds me . . .


WBRH radio was where I got my start doing this kind of thing . . . with "this kind of thing" being 3 Chords & the Truth, the musical half of the Revolution 21 media empire.

The FM voice of Baton Rouge High School has been around for nearly 33 years now. Without the training your Mighty Favog got there during the station's earliest days, the Big Show would be hugely nonexistent all these years later.

THAT'S WHY it's so appropriate that one of the sets in today's episode is soooooooooooo quintessentially WBRH: The Rock 'n' Roll Days. It just is.

If you're up for a bit of sport, see whether you can figure out which set. This should be easy if you're from Baton Rouge and go back a ways.

And if you're interested, you can read more about WBRH here. And here. And here. And here.

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A modern Stone Age media?


This is college newspapering. OK . . . was college newspapering, circa the fall of 1981.

It was analog and hard copy. As were we all back then at The Daily Reveille, premier news source for Louisiana State University.

What we have here are some photos I shot when I was a reporter there. They called me "Scoop" back then. No . . . really.

Well, Howard here (at right) looks like he's about to call me something else entirely. It's probably because I liked to do to deadlines back then what the Army liked to do to Iraqis at Abu Ghraib.

But that's not important now.

WHAT'S IMPORTANT is that these scenes from almost 29 years ago are glimpses into an era long gone, both on the campuses of larger universities and in the newsrooms of America's barely surviving newspapers.

There's a Facebook group devoted to the "Slow Media Movement." This right here -- this glimpse of something three decades past -- was about as slow-media as you can get. The news got to us at the speed of 66 words per minute on the wire and, locally, however fast a reporter could get back to the office to write something up for the morning paper.

No Internet. A few really, really primitive VDTs -- video display terminals. Today, we'd call them . . . actually, we wouldn't call them at all. They're obsolete.

They were glorified word processors with dumb terminals hooked up to a backshop rack filled with primitive computer hardware, which in turn connected to a typesetter.

But let's zoom in on part of that picture above. Let's zip past Howard and take a look at what the lovely, talented and very, very Greek (in the Izod and pledge-pin sense of the word) Carol is checking out.

THAT, my peeps, is a teletype machine. It brought us the world, via The Associated Press, at the aforementioned 66 words per minute.

No Web, no Twitter, no mobile news alert on your smart phone. Back then, you just had smart reporters who kept plenty of change on hand for plugging the nearest pay phone.

And the smartest reporters knew where the nearest pay phone was at all times and -- if the competition was around -- already had pocketed the mouthpiece.

Think of it. All the news fit to print trickling at a not-so-blistering 66 wpm into a news organization so primitive as to be effectively deaf, dumb and blind by today's standards.

THIS IS HOW that looked back then:


HERE'S SOMETHING for us to consider. By all standards of technological progress, all forms of media are immeasurably more capable and "plugged in" than they were in 1981. In many cases, college newspapers today have technological capabilities big-city newspapers couldn't have dreamed of more than two years before Michael Jackson did his first "moonwalk."

And college radio stations -- not to mention local commercial stations -- now sport facilities that would have been the envy of the networks three decades ago.

But that's not important now, either.

WHAT'S IMPORTANT is whether you're orders of magnitude better informed today than people were in 1981. This doesn't mean having a head stuffed with useless trivia, celebrity gossip and "Mafia Wars" and "Farmville" strategies.

It means this: Do you better understand the forces shaping your civic life -- better grasp the newsworthy events swirling around us, and hear of them appreciably sooner -- than you would have in 1981?

Has the quantity and quality of the information you receive -- the stuff you really, really need to know -- increased at anything approximating the rate at which information technology has advanced since the days of Walter Cronkite's "That's the way it is" and a brand-new IBM gizmo called the "PC"?


If not, why not?

THE CAPABILITY is there. Virtual mountains of information are a mouse click away.

Are you taking full advantage, however? Can you fully? And can you still get the news you need to know about where you live?

How is this possible when profit-challenged newspapers -- and radio and TV stations -- are shedding newsgatherers and editors at an alarming rate? What has replaced the "old media"? Has anything replaced the "old media" where you are?

If so, is it as good as what you've lost?

Is this an information revolution, or is it just sound and fury signifying . . . nothing?

Me, I'm still waiting to hear those five bells -- BULLETIN! -- on the AP teletype. I'll let you know what the big news is.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The river and me, 1982


When you're a poor college student, the Mississippi River and a ferryboat can be an excellent -- and free -- way to kill some time on a summer weekend.

What you see here is the result of some productive time-killing one afternoon in, I am pretty sure, 1982. All I needed was to load myself and my secondhand Canon TX into my secondhand 1976 Chevy Vega (don't get me started) and drive down to the ferry landing on Plaquemine Point, south of Baton Rouge.

I'm relatively sure I was aiming to get some feature photos for The Summer Reveille at LSU. I was editorial assistant that summer semester of '82, my photojournalism class a couple of semesters before was still fresh in my mind . . . and it was a great way to kill time.

Cheap.

I honestly can't remember whether any of these photos got into the paper. I absolutely do know I hadn't taken a good look at those negatives for 28 years, not until I scanned them just now.

AND THE PERSON who left a comment yesterday on this post asking for more old Baton Rouge photos on the blog? Here you go.

More will follow.

For the record, I love this shot (left) of crewmen on the ferry's bridge scoping out a fine specimen of a female passenger. (What the hell do you think I was doing at the time?)

I, however, had a 35-millimeter camera and the excuse of taking feature photos for the LSU student newspaper.

That camera. I bought it the year before from City Pawn Shop downtown on Riverside Mall, which we all still called Third Street -- and which it officially is once again -- and I carried it just about everywhere.

What funded the purchase were the proceeds from the first freelance story I ever sold -- to the local paper. It was a history piece about the life and death decades earlier of Baton Rouge's first educational radio station, WLSU.

The story ran over two editions of the State-Times' and Morning Advocate's Friday entertainment magazine, Fun. I got $100, and then I got that camera.

I still have it today, and I still use it when I get a wild hair to shoot with actual film.

ANYWAY, what you see here -- untouched for almost three decades -- is a day in the life of the Plaquemine ferry, which ran and still runs between St. Gabriel on the east side of Iberville Parish and Plaquemine on the west. Look. It even has a Twitter feed.

Back in the day, I remember that election results from the eastern half of Iberville always came in last because you had to wait on the ferryboat.


TO TELL you the truth, more people should have to wait on the ferryboat -- even if you don't have a river to get across. You can't get in a hurry on a ferry; it comes when it comes, and you get to the other side when you get to the other side.

Ferryboats get you out of your aluminum-and-steel cocoon. They make it hard not to meet your neighbor . . . at least if you're both going the same way. And they put you in touch with the grandeur of nature.

In the case of the Plaquemine ferry, that would be the mighty, mile-wide Mississippi River.


The Plaquemine ferry: It was a damn fine way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

Bet it still is, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are you $#!++!@& me?


Andrew Breitbart and the gang at Breitbart.tv are upset that Senate Democrats now threaten to do what the Dems were upset about the Republicans trying to do in 2005.

Like, shouldn't he be saying "Hey! They finally came around to our way of thinking"?

No, he'd only be happy if the Democrats were upset that the Republicans had regained power and were threatening to do what they were upset about the Dems threatening to do what they were upset about the GOP threatening to do in 2005.

I think. My brain hurts now.

Nevertheless, I think it's eminently safe to say that hypocrisy is what makes our nation's capital go 'round. And that everybody comes out looking like what Tony Kornheiser might have thought Hannah Storm resembled the other day.

And, for the record, I think Hannah can wear whatever in the world she wants. Just sayin'.

Osama bin King, R-Iowa

Remember how mad you were when you saw Palestinians celebrating on 9/11?

Steve King, southwest Iowa's mad-hatter member of Congress, is one of those people. Just so long as the target for the terrorist's flying bomb is the Internal Revenue Service.

ACCORDING to Talking Points Memo, the Iowegian carbuncle on the House's ass told a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference he could "empathize" with a domestic terrorist like Tea Party Airlines pilot Joe Stack:

King's comments weren't recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account.

The staffer, who requested anonymity because she's not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference. During his closing remarks, King veered into a complaint about high taxes, and said he could "empathize" with the man who flew a plane into an IRS building last week.

During the question and answer session, the Media Matters staffer asked King to clarify his comment, reminding him of his sworn duty to protect the American people from all sworn enemies, foreign and domestic. In response, said the staffer, King gave a long and convoluted answer about having been personally audited by the IRS, and ended by saying he intended to hold a fundraiser to help people "implode" their local IRS office.

HELL, we invaded Iraq on flimsier evidence than that regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed support for al-Qaida. What to make of a sitting congressman who can "empathize" with domestic terrorists who launch suicide attacks against the United States government?

When confronted by Think Progress about his remarks, King said that if we just hadn't built the World Trade Center and Pentagon, those 9/11 suicide jockeys wouldn't have had anywhere to aim those jetliners full of innocent Americans.
Or something like that:

I think if we’d abolished the IRS back when I first advocated it, he wouldn’t have a target for his airplane. And I’m still for abolishing the IRS, I’ve been for it for thirty years and I’m for a national sales tax.

(snip)

It’s sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it’s going to be a happy day for America.

WITH THE political heat now on high, King took the weasel route in an interview published in this morning's Omaha World-Herald:
King said his heart goes out to the victims in Austin and their families.

“These acts of violence have no place in our society to be condoned or supported,” King told The World-Herald. “When someone finds themselves in this position of extreme frustration with the IRS, which I do understand that frustration, they should do what I did, get involved in the process.”

King said his treatment by the IRS contributed to his decision to run for public office.

As for the comments about imploding IRS buildings, King said he was employing levity in discussing his belief that the IRS should be abolished. He said he was referring to imploding the empty buildings left behind.
YEAH, RIGHT.

You know, if only the voters of southwest Iowa hadn't elected such a radical asshat to Congress, we who live across the Missouri River in Nebraska wouldn't point our fingers eastward and laugh so hard.

Maybe we should stop that, though. Terrorist-loving creeps like King -- especially when they get elected to high office -- hardly are a laughing matter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

01011001 01101111 01110101 00100111 01110010 01100101 00100000 01100110 01101001 01110010 01100101 01100100 00100001


The world is going to hell in a handbasket, people are scared, government doesn't govern anymore and Tea Party Airlines is flying non-stop -- and one-way -- into your local IRS office.


We live in perilous times. The national mood is dark. There is a crisis of confidence. Tensions are rising. A cloud hangs over the land. Uncertainty has cast a shadow over fill-in-the-blank, and clichés are running rampant.

If you are a major national news operation, there is only one thing to do. Fire a s***load of people so the stockholders can enjoy a modest short-term windfall from the middling benefits to the bottom line of your corporate overlord.

THIS TIME, it's ABC News' turn to throw journalists out of work and add to national ignorance.

The New York Times blog Media Decoder has the details about a newsroom bloodletting that, for a change, isn't one of its own:

In what it called a “fundamental transformation,” ABC News said Tuesday that it was seeking to substantially reduce its staff, possibly by up to 25 percent.

Employees said they were told that the news division is seeking 300 to 400 buyouts, and would resort to layoffs if necessary. ABC News currently employs roughly 1,400 people.

The cuts at ABC, a unit of The Walt Disney Company, are among the steepest ever conducted by a network news division, and are likely to be seen as a further erosion of the company’s news-gathering arm.

ABC News employees said Tuesday that the reaction to the cutbacks was muted, mostly because the announcement had been expected for weeks. “Everyone sees the reality of the industry, and everyone wants to stay competitive,” said one employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the network to speak to other media outlets.

In a memorandum to staffers, the ABC News president David Westin said the “transformation” would result in a leaner, smaller news division. “The time has come to re-think how we do what we are doing,” Mr. Westin wrote.
IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, meantime, there's this:

For the last month, the newsroom has been rife with rumors about the cutbacks, which are poised to be the most dramatic reshaping of ABC News since Roone Arledge revolutionized the division by recruiting a team of high-wattage anchors and launching new franchises during his 20-year tenure as news president. Anxious staffers are not only fearful about losing their jobs, but are apprehensive about how the restructuring will impact their ability to chase big stories and swarm major news events if they remain.

ABC executives are internally casting the belt-tightening not as a retrenchment but as a repositioning. By streamlining news-gathering operations now, officials hope to stave off repeated cuts in the coming years. They argue that a smaller news division does not mean a less competitive one. With technological advancements such as hand-held digital cameras, the news division can now dispatch one person to cover a story that once required a correspondent, producer and two-person crew.

News organizations large and small have been forced to let go of staff and reduce expenses in the last few years to cope with a drop in advertising revenue caused by the global economic slowdown. Earlier this month, CBS News cut at least 90 positions, shuttering its Moscow bureau and significantly shrinking its staff in Washington, London and Los Angeles.
NOTE WELL, regarding the touting of "technological advancements such as hand-held digital cameras," that media outlets do not often pursue a grand plan of using technology to dramatically expand or improve basic news coverage. At least not out of the unfettered public-spiritedness of their selfless hearts.

Instead, it's more like this: They use technology a) to get a competitive edge on the competition, b) to cut costs or c) to look cool in front of all the other kids at the trade conventions.

If newspaper journalists paid their publishers to come to work every day and Linotypes were cheaper than computers, reporters would still be yelling "Toots, get me rewrite!" into candlestick telephones while hot lead flew in backshops unchanged since
H.L. Mencken was Jon Stewart.

And ink-stained wretches reeking of Seagram's VO and surrounded by paste pots, pica poles and soft-lead pencils still would be closing out the final edition of The Daily Blab at 2 a.m. -- not the 12 midnight made possible by our glorious technology.

REWRITE! Hold the line!

Isn't technology supposed to let us do the same with less, like the miracle it's going to work at ABC News?

Yeah, right. Ask The Daily Blab, where positions started disappearing long ago because technology allowed publishers to get three jobs' worth of work out of each digitally assisted employee. Instead of giving the public a greatly enhanced, more timely newspaper, what computerization allowed publishers to do instead was give readers the same old thing produced by lots fewer people.

It also allowed publishers to give themselves a 20- or 30-percent profit margin.

Which, I suspect, is where the 2 a.m. deadline went in an age when, theoretically, papers should have been able to push them back instead of moving them way up. It's about the cash, Nash.

It's about deciding cost efficiency dictated that you close out the morning paper at midnight with a staff of 100 instead of making deadline at 2 with a staff of 120.

TO BE SURE, paradigms and business models are shifting underneath nervous traditional-media types as I write this. To be surer, greed and corporate overreach has given scribblers and newsreaders less room to maneuver as the future bears down on them.

And to be surer still, the biggest problem is that corporations like Disney, or CBS Corporation (or pick a newspaper or radio group) have been focused on short-term profits rather than long-term survival -- and, now, squeezing the last drops of profitability out of suddenly iffy (Surprise!!!) concerns.

So save the bushwa about the wonderful journalistic efficiency of digital camcorders and one-man-band TV reporters. I might believe it if bunches of reporters, editors, cameramen and soundmen weren't getting the ol- heave-ho to make room for the Glorious Age of Technology.

Instead of, like, you know, putting two or three times as many "digital journalists" out on the streets to keep the bastards honest.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Asterisks on a balance sheet


This is the newspaper I grew up with.

The State-Times was the afternoon paper in Baton Rouge. I worked there once upon a time, on the copy desk. Before that, I got my byline in there a few times as an "LSU student writer" and a freelancer.

In 1991, the State-Times died. Newspapers, you see, don't have going out of business sales. They don't close. They die.

Since 2001 -- 10 years after my newspaper died -- there's been a lot more death (carnage, actually) in the newspaper business. Not only have newspapers died, countless thousands of careers have been killed even at the papers that -- technically -- are "survivors" of the bloodbath that is paradigm change.

A story in the MediaDailyNews newsletter notes that, since 2001, the newspaper industry has shed 105,000 jobs -- 9,700 of them in newsrooms across the land.

ENVISION it this way: This is the first job lost at a newspaper nine years ago.


AND THESE ARE all the jobs lost at American newspapers subsequently. One asterisk = one job:

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REMEMBER that each asterisk is a newspaper job -- production, support staff, advertising, circulation and newsroom -- that's gone forever. And that many, many, many of the almost 10,000 "asterisks" who were print journalists never will be that again.

Remember that thousands of these "asterisks" -- likely many tens of thousands of these "asterisks" -- represent lives and families upended by unemployment and the prospect of forever-diminished earnings.

Remember that while something surely will come along to replace newspaper journalism, it won't come in time to help a great number of these "asterisks."

And remember that a lot of things that you need to know will remain unknown to you for a good, long while . . . all because the "asterisks" you counted upon for that knowledge have gone missing.