Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No News is Bad News

Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership National Leadership Index surveyed 1,207 adults nationwide and found the press ranks at the lowest of 12 sectors surveyed, far beneath the Executive Branch, Congress, Local government, Business, Religious organizations and the Military.
Asked “How much confidence do you have in the leadership of the following sectors?” participants ranked the sectors from 1 (none at all) to 4 (great deal). Out of the 12 sectors measured, participants ranked the Press as the lowest with 2.26 compared to the Military, which garnered the highest ranking at 3.15. The Executive branch was second to last with 2.43, followed by Congress at 2.53. The Supreme Court was the third highest ranking with 2.90, followed by Medical at 3.02.
Of those surveyed, 40 percent believe the press is liberally biased, 21 percent conservative biased and 30 percent found the news neutral and 9 percent unsure.
According to the poll, 64 percent polled didn’t trust presidential campaign coverage; 88 percent believe the campaign coverage focused on trivial issues and 84 percent believe the media coverage has too much influence on American voting choices.
Among those polled, 70 percent said coverage of negative ads wasn’t important; while 67 percent said the embarrassing “gotcha” moments weren’t important and that 68 percent felt there were too much coverage of “gotcha” moments.
Americans want campaign coverage to focus on candidate’s values, ethics, policies and political philosophies instead of trivial coverage.
I’m not surprised by the results, but just what is meant by the term “press”? To me, “press” means newspapers and magazines and the written word. Media is a combination of that plus television news.
I’m a journalist. Been one professionally since 1994. Won a few awards for my writing and I’m proud of that. Given my background, I’ve seen the business changing, especially from the newspaper front.
Putting it bluntly, journalism in this country as a craft and public service is in trouble.
Dwindling newspaper readership and circulation losing to the Internet and the multiple 24/7 news cycle, staff reductions and the struggle for profitability are causing many newspapers to retool and re-imagine themselves for the new millennium.
Ownership of newspapers is changing. Publishing conglomerates and private families owning newspapers are selling out to corporations, who gobble up newspapers like they're going out of style.
News Corp. acquired Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News from the McClatchy Company, who in turn bought the papers from Knight Ridder.
Newspapers are changing hands and being reworked to (hopefully) prosper as investments.
But is it working? Studies have shown young people don’t read newspapers. Newspaper subscriptions and circulations are decreasing. The much prognosticated future for newspapers is online. That’s where you’ll get most of your written news, via the Internet.
As to journalism’s past impact and trustworthiness by the American public, it just isn’t there anymore.
Right-wing pundits discredit the press and journalism, saying they’re liberally biased. Left-wing critics maintain the press is corporate controlled and not aggressively questioning authority like they used to.
A story like Watergate changed the nation and showed what a vigilant free press could do and created a boom for journalism schools as budding reporters hungered for newsroom experience. Could the Watergate story be written today and would the public appreciate that scrutiny of the Executive Branch?
The White House Press Corps, weary of questioning the president during wartime, remain obedient lap dogs while abuse and scandal go unchecked. Any investigative reporting or criticism now is painted as liberal media bias or discredited as an ulterior motive.
The problem with journalism is there are few real journalists left. The news is dominated by entertainment and trivial non-stories. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan? We’ve got their latest escapades! O.J. Simpson acting up again? We’ve got it covered! Fed on a steady diet of fluff and bullshit, no wonder why people don’t take the media seriously. It used to be shit like Good Morning America the Today Show served up trite stories and softball questions. Now it’s every cable news network and newsmagazine. The only real bastion of serious news are major daily newspapers, but even their news coverage is slipping and favoring entertainment-driven stories.
We live in the culture of the celebrity, where all is shallow and thinking a liability. News coverage should be balanced and fair, representing all sides of the story instead of a he-said, she-said shallowness and idle gossip permeating the news today.
I’m a news junkie and I occasionally flip around the cable news networks but have grown jaded by the rising superficiality of the coverage. The best and most informative television news program is the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and BBC News.I won't watch the network news, Fox News, MSNBC or CNBC. I tolerate CNN, but loathe their news anchors. Most cable news channels are punditry and opinion.
For newspapers, I read the Sunday New York Times and the local daily, the Press of Atlantic City. I’m also a voracious reader of the online articles and the Drudge Report, not for Drudge's politics but as a repository of global news on one site.
As time passes, the media outlets increase. Where we get our news is changing, as is the actual content.
Maybe the correlation between the press' lack of inspiring confidence and its output of celebrity slop and gotcha journalism make sense.
How do we build trust? Is that even an issue anymore given the huge profits to be made? All we can do is watch helplessly as the corporations saturate the market with spineless stories of celebrities and political coverage that reads like a high school newspaper or tattle sheet. Only then, when objectively informing the public becomes a secondary goal, does the death knell of journalism toll.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Novel Winner

I won National Novel Writing Month by writing a 50,000 word novel before the Nov. 30 deadline. Though the book has a ways to go, passing the 50,000 mark got me the win and a groovy certificate from National Novel Writing Month's director Chris Baty. The blue bar tracking my progress now is purple and they labeled me a winner. I also have cool badges I can stick on the blog:

I've been asked by certain friends and family members about the novel, but I don't want to reveal anything other than it's a contemporary satire. Recently, I'm finding humor easier to write, especially if it mirrors the absurdity of today's current political and social climate.

So yeah, I won the 2007 National Novel Writing Month, by writing 50,000 words of a story I've had floating around my head for five years. I'm still working on it. The contest was a way for me to get it down on paper instead of procrastinating.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

"Happy gobbler day, America!"

Funny. He pardons a turkey but executed mentally-challenged humans.

Even though we're living in a chaotic world run by madmen and filled with carnage and ignorance, take the time to remember just how lucky you are. This Thanksgiving, be thankful for your family, friends, health, jobs, talents and abilities. The people and things we love keep us grounded, sane and happy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't Squeeze My Credit

Actor Dick Wilson died this week at age 91. The actor, best remembered for his characterization of grocery store clerk Mr. Whipple, admonished women too cozy with toilet tissue, "Ladies, please don't squeeze the Charmin!"
This bit of fluff would not really phase me much if Mr. Whipple didn't have a local connection. I was told by an editor that an Ocean City man, Norman Schaut, who once worked at New York advertising firm Benton & Bowles, coined the trademark slogan "Please, don't squeeze the Charmin."
I really don't care about stories like this. If Dick Wilson were an immortal and never died, would we really care who wrote the slogan? But because Mr. Whipple is dead, now people take a sudden interest in an advertising campaign that hasn't been on TV since the 1980s.
The story doesn't end here: John Chervokas, who also worked at Benton & Bowles, claimed it was he, and not Schaut, who wrote "Please, don't squeeze."
Let's put this into perspective, shall we? Two grown men are fighting over a slogan to an ad where a grumpy store clerk yells at women not to molest toilet paper. I'm sure Dick Wilson's family is happy that the memory of their loved one is being preserved through a pissing contest by two crusty ad men.
But let's really put it in perspective: the death of Mr. Whipple is a tragic national event. Not since the demise of Clara Peller, whose "Where's the Beef?" stirred us out of our social ennui during the beleaguered Reagan years, or the untimely death of Michael Vale who played Fred the Baker whose classic line "Time to make the donuts" filled America with joy, has one's absence been so keenly felt in our cultural psyche. 
Someone had to tell those grabby housefraus not to feel up the merchandise. We only wish you'd be around to yell at a new generation of nutty women.
I know there's another star in Heaven tonight. God bless you, Mr. Whipple. God bless you. 

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Philcon 2007

Spent the weekend geekin' out at Philcon, a big science fiction convention held in Philadelphia. I spoke on three panels; one about creating characters in role-playing games (RPGs) and fiction, one about creating worlds in RPGs and fiction, and one about designing and selling RPGs. The panelists and questions were interesting and I brought a rough copy of The Ravaged Earth Society, my pulp game from Double G Press. I enjoyed myself at the con, picking up some classic pulp (Operator #5) and meeting author C.J. Henderson and getting a few books from him, notably his Kolchak: The Night Stalker fiction anthology and an anthonlogy of stories about The Phantom. Henderson signed all of his books, including one called Breaking into Fiction Writing, a good resource for writers like me who want their novels published. I also served on a panel with game designer Tony DiGerolamo, who autographed his fantastic Mafia RPG.
One of the highlights was a party thrown by the Science Fiction Writers of America, where I met several wonderful people and got tips on the publishing industry from professional science fiction writers.
The big event for me was actually running a demo of the Ravaged Earth Society! My slot was for Sunday morning and I had three people play and they had fun tracking down an Anasazi prayer stick and a Navajo shaman before a greedy archeologist did. The pulp adventure's players consisted of a gadgeteer, a private investigator and a masked avenger and the group had fun turning a Las Vegas casino upside down in pursuit of the artifact. It's exciting when people like your game. I want to give them a really fun and memorable gaming experience with TRES. As a game designer and writer, that's the ultimate goal - tell a great story and have the participating heroes enjoy themselves.

"Game with the Designer" I finally arrived!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Writing

I've spent my spare time hunched over my laptop, cranking out the novel for National Novel Writing Month. I've made considerable progress. I don't think I've written this much in a long time. It's really taught me to set goals and work towards them. Writing is a discipline and I appreciate the craft more than ever now. I might be prolific or just write a lot of longwinded crap. Maybe a little of both. I don't care. Tonight I passed 34,000 words in 13 days. I'm over halfway done my goal of 50,000 words. I think the book will run longer than that.
The plot thickens...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Novel November

I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge pitting writers against themselves and each other. Novelists have only 30 days - the entire month of November - to write a 50,000 word novel. It's day 9 and I broke 21,000 words. I spent most of my free time writing and I've never been this driven to finish something before. I broke out fairly early and if I keep a steady pace every day, I think I'll reach the goal by month's end. I have a general plot sketched out, characters developed and right now it's progressing nicely.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Election Results

So we in New Jersey's First Legislative District now have a new state senator and assemblyman. And they're all Democrats for the first time. I think it has a lot to say about Republicans nationally, that people are fed up with the party nationally and want a change locally. Republicans in New Jersey complain the state is tax and spend happy - which they are - but the people overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in a Republican stronghold.
Based on a need for change, independent voters chose Nelson Albano and Matt Milam over Republicans Norris Clark and Michael Donohue, two very intelligent, articulate gentlemen with plans to help fix the spending mess in Trenton. Just because someone is a Republican doesn't mean they reek of sulphur and have horns. Some are actually moderates and not rabid evangelicals with a hard right-wing agenda. Clark and Donohue were moderate Republicans, yet voters chose Albano and Milam, two working-class guys who are, shall we say, less polished or articulate. Not that every elected official must undergo extensive ditciton lessions, but it would be nice to hear a sentence that sounded like it wasn't coughed out on a loading dock. Our new seantor-elect, Jeff Van Drew, who is articulate and intelligent, referred to his saltier compatriots as "citizen legislators". Okay, so you don't need a doctorate from Yale to represent people in New Jersey, but at least run someone who is knowledgable about the issues enough to expound about them on the fly when asked and not sound like memorized talking points. The editorial board interviewed all of the candidates so we got a closer look at them than most people.
To have the Democrats beat Republicans this badly in Republican territory is a sign something is wrong, especially when the Democractically-led Congress has abysmal approval ratings. All of those smug Limbaughites must have choked on their dry martinis when they learned Milam beat their candidates.
Only time will tell if these "citizen legislators" can get us out of this financial mess in Trenton.
Oh, and one more thing: Republicans who whine about the Democrat's overspending on the campaign should look to history and shut the fuck up. This year, Democrats in the First District spent $2.1 million, mostly donations from Democrats elsewhere in New Jersey, while the Republicans spent around $200,000. Yet the Republicans forget during the 1990s, when they were in power, that they had all the cash and were obnoxious assholes. Now, a decade later, the Democrats in power have the money and are obnoxious assholes. See how politics is cyclical?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Call The Police

Went to The Police concert at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last night. I booked the tickets back in July and have waited for this for months. The group did not dissappoint: they played all of their hits (the ones I wanted to hear anyway) and sounded great. I first heard The Police back in 1983 when songs from their album Synchronicity received heavy airplay. When I learned they were reuniting for a world tour, I had to see them. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see a band that's been out of circulation for about 20 years.
My seat was up in the nosebleed section, but near the stage. What did people do before jumbo television monitors? Squinting seems a good guess. Snagged a T-shirt for $35, a little steep but I wanted to take something home from the concert besides temporary hearing loss.
The Police put on an excellent show. Sting, Andy and Stewart rocked the house with an assortment of their greatest hits: "Message in a Bottle", "Walking On The Moon", "Roxanne", "So Lonely", "Every Breath You Take", "King of Pain", "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "Don't Stand So Close To Me", "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da", "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Synchronicity II". I left Boardwalk Hall satisfied I witnessed musical history. This was my first Police concert since I missed them when they were togetether during the 1980s. I noticed all of the people sitting around me were all in their 30s and 40s. That's funny. No screaming twentysomethings or teenagers. At concerts with younger people, there's a lot of screaming, yelling and standing up. Everyone in my section all sat down and enjoyed the show. I guess the older you get, you don't want to scream and jump around: you just want to sit back, relax and appreciate seeing live music.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Winning Quizzo

After playing Quizzo at a restaurant in Somers Point for the past month, my team, the Killer Rabbits finally won tonight.
O glorious day!
We won by ten points and played against ten teams, so the competition was really, really fierce. The saving grace was the team I assembled was really strong. Playing pub trivia, you need to have a team of as many people as possible. After playing with a few players and coming in third place for the last two weeks, I decided to invite everyone I could. As the de facto team captian, I asked people I thought could help, people with knowledge in sports, entertainment and science. The strategy worked. Our team had eight people with varied interests and knowledge. We blazed through the rounds and struggled with some questions, but in the end, the Killer Rabbits prevailed! We won a gift certificate for $25 we used to pay the $110 tab. Easy come, easy go.
Now I know that some who read this think Quizzo is extremely petty and worrying about something like winning pub trivia is kind of obsessive, but I've never been a competitive person. My entire life, I just coasted by, not really caring about sports or competition or winning. Lately, I'm doing things where I like competing to win. I think it makes one focused and creates discipline and inner strength you can use in other areas of life. So if I was very nervous and take Quizzo seriously, it was because I really wanted my team to win. When they announced the winner, the team all shouted and hugged each other. I liked that. Everyone was really happy about the accomplishment, like we won the World Series or something.
To the Killer Rabbits team: Zack, Sam, Kristen, John, Ryan, Lynn and Suzie: thanks for coming out and competing at Quizzo. You've made me extremely happy and proud.