OK, so I will admit that writing the headline for today’s “Fourth Estate” blog entry is a bit contradictory on two counts.

For one, can “celeb journalism” really be considered journalism, or just the usual tawdry gossip dressed up to look presentable?

And two, the info I got for this came from a gossip Web site.

“The Scoop,” the section of MSN’s Web home, reports that magazines in the celeb reporting world – the Peoples, US Weeklies, OK!s and such — are also suffering under the weight of a drained economy.

So apparently it’s not just the traditional news outlets that are hurting bad, but the eye-grabbing, paparazzi photo-laden rags we can’t ever seem to avoid when entering the checkout aisle. As I blogged about in a previous entry, that’s how pubs like the National Enquirer and People have been successful — not from subscriptions, but from the turning over of individual copies picked up when buying the groceries.

“Shelling out the cash at the grocery-store cash register isn’t a priority when times are tough,” the story reports.

It’s also affected the way magazines with a celeb-news coverage do business, too. No more big bucks for those secret surveillance photos of baby humps, million-dollar weddings, or voyeuristic shots of Brad Pitt and family vacationing on the French Riviera.

Read it here:

www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26875983/

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“Mean, awful things”

September 24, 2008

Does the adage “less is more” apply to voicing one’s opinion anymore? A Minnesotan TV station argues this point in a report examining the sections of news sites allowing readers to post their own comments at the bottom of a story.

For those unfamiliar, these comment sections are like a rolling dialogue between readers, where people can offer their feedback, criticism or just vent about the story at hand, how it’s written, etc. Users are required to register a nickname to post, otherwise done in total anonymity , allowing one to say whatever they please.

That’s where it becomes problematic: depending on the subject matter, some people out there get so riled up that the vitriol flying off their spiteful, often racist, and usually insensitive tongues makes its way to the Web.

Most papers will have a Web administrator to moderate and/or delete such comments, but it all becomes one big, arbitrary judgment call after a while. Should they be moderated? Isn’t it free speech? If the story of a black man indicted on murder charges was reported, and racist remarks are posted, what would you do? Is there a degree, a barometer, of sorts, deeming what is offensive and what is not?

And how should we post? Are we obligated to hold our tongues and show some restraint in speaking our minds? Which choice is the open-minded one?

Like blogging, comments sections are still very new to the World Wide Web universe; their content, open season on anything and everything. The Minnesota station reports it just introduced the feature on its Web site; here at the VC Reporter, we have one, too. Stories we’ve broken, like local nudists trying to regain their rights to disrobe, gay marriages and the legality of medical marijuana have all generated some heated Web debate.

There are a lot of “mean, awful” things commented on, according to a quote from the story, found here:

http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=524959&catid=2

(And by the way, feel free to post your comments below.)

Enquiring minds want to know

September 23, 2008

Some of the most sage words of advice I ever received as a professional came from a former journalism professor of mine:

“Don’t ever work for the National Enquirer.”

Before his academic tenure had begun, my professor had a decorated career, most notably at one juncture as the youngest editor-in-chief for a respected film magazine in L.A. While holding that top spot, he was being courted by one of the finest examples of journalistic endeavor five times the world over.

You guessed it. The National Enquirer.

He managed to secure an interview at the venerable establishment, where he was wined and dined on the grand tour that was the job interview process. Expense accounts, chance for world travel, job security in the often insecure world of the media … not to mention a nice, big, fat, hefty salary. It almost seemed too good to be true.

It was. Touting the paper’s benefits to a colleague upon returning back to his magazine digs, the elder employee gave him some sage wisdom of his own:

“Don’t ever work for the National Enquirer. It’s the last place you’ll ever work.”

Do you think you’ll work the beat for a few years at the Enquirer and then get a gig with the New York Times? the salty veteran asked his green friend.

“You’ll get laughed right out the building.”

Why? Well, obviously, because the Enquirer, the leading institution in scum-bucket, tabloid foddering, trash can rifling, paparazzi armed, celebrity stalking, sensationalistic UFO-loving reportage, employs, he said, staffers in the most peculiar places in their careers … the washed-up dead-enders, living on the fringes of life, who maybe were once onto something as writers, but were somehow led astray.

Think of Jack McGee in “The Incredible Hulk,” a once-great reporter who fell down a few rungs on the literary ladder when he was stuck working for the “National Register.”

My prof was lucky he didn’t take the job, else he wouldn’t have landed the teaching gig that surpasses two decades at the same university.

Why do I preface lengthily this blog entry with an invective filled with foreboding warnings of papers like the Enquirer? Because the supermarket aisle rag actually may be onto a thing or two, according to a report published by Newsweek.

Perhaps through the prideful clenching of teeth the magazine admits this, but it seems that major news outlets like the New York Times or the Washington Post (who the article references) are starting to pay attention to the fact that the Enquirer has been getting the scoop over everyone else lately. The John Edwards scandal? The Enquirer broke that before anyone else.

Mind you, it goes without saying that these scoops are most always obtained through the most unethical of efforts ($35,000 for a snitch?) that “regular” newspapers tacitly avoid.

Should the questionable tactics of the Enquirer, the Star and their ilk be welcomed into the fray, this brotherhood of newspapering? Does money buy the news? By giving the Enquirer some credit, are we pandering our journalistic integrity? Is Elvis alive and well and living in suburban New Jersey with his Martian family?

Enquiring minds, bat boy, the three-headed baby and Nostradamus want to know.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/160082/page/1

All one has to do is take a look at the Watergate Scandal to see what the power of journalism can do.

Woodward, Bernstein, U.S.A. = 1

Richard Nixon = 0

According to a new report from the New York Times, it appears our intrepid business reporters working in the major markets are fully self-aware of this strength in how the recent Wall Street financial crises are being presented to the public.

Knowing well that certain key descriptive words can bias readers for or against a subject, it looks like editors and reporters are going gentle on the adjectives and verbs when describing the fiscal mess our country is in:

“So in most of the news, stocks have “slid” and markets “gyrated” but not “crashed.” Companies have “tottered” and “struggled” rather than moved toward failure and bankruptcy.”

Case in point: the word “mess” might connote an irreparable situation. “Dilemma,” or “quandary,” in my opinion, are nouns that imply problems that can be fixed.

What do you think? Should the media stop tip-toeing around telling it like it is, when our job is to … well, to tell it like it is?

Totter, struggle, gyrate and slide all you like, but the truth is the truth and nothing but the truth, so help us Woodward and Bernstein.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/business/media/22press.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=media&adxnnlx=1222115011-PCFEZ9k3iB0dDnOQVVDSuQ

Nancy Hicks Maynard, who was a leader in bringing minorities to the fore of journalism, has died.

Maynard was a co-publisher of the Oakland Tribune for many years and the Maynard Institute for Journalism
Education was named for her.

Her obituary, as reported by the L.A. Times, can be found here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-maynard22-2008sep22,0,630186.story

Blogging — the “citizen journalism” that’s given traditional news reporting some stiff competition in the past few years from its digs across the good ol’ World Wide Web — is still new enough to this world that it raises doubts from some stalwart newsmongers to its reliability as a proper news source.

It’s kind of ironic that a blog post about the validity of blog posting would question this, but then that’s what good journalism is all about: questioning everything and presenting multiple sides of an issue (the best that we can).

That’s what an article penned by a professor at the Columbia graduate school for journalism examines: if journalism was holding a party under a big tent, how many people would fit? Who would be invited? And really, isn’t journalism, like anything else, just a label we’ve applied to define something that cannot really be defined? Profundity, indeed.

Comments most interesting to me in the feature were made by a former NBC correspondent. He claims “education, skill and standards” are what separate the real from the wannabes.

Something to think about after following this link:

http://www.cjr.org/essay/the_bigger_tent_1.php?page=all

Roger Ebert wasn't giving his signature "Thumbs up" sign of approval, shown above, at a Canadian film festival last week.

For the first time ever in his career, Roger Ebert must be thinking to himself, “Those damn subtitles!” after he was whacked with a binder by a fellow film critic at a screening of a foreign movie during the Toronto Film Festival last week.

Apparently, according to Ebert’s account for his home paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, the venerable Pulitzer Prize-winner couldn’t see over the head of the man in front of him to read the English text because of post-cancer surgery mobility problems. He also can’t speak as a result of the illness, so when tapping the audience member’s shoulder to get his attention, the man, New York Post critic Lou Lumenick swiftly retaliated with a swing of his festival notes.

Why does this incident speak to many sides of communication? Well, for one, it shows Lumenick’s obviously short-fused, intolerant temperament. Journalistically? Well, unless he forgot that most foreign films are subtitled for ease of reading, and that the festival is abundant with critics from across the globe, then Lumenick clearly needs to brush up on a few things. Plus, you don’t just hit Roger Ebert!

The muted-from-cancer Ebert, who has no choice but to defend himself with the power of the pen, put it best himself in his assessment of the theater incident:

“A film critic of all people should be respectful of the sight-lines of fellow audience members.”

Read his account here:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080911/EDITOR/809119972