"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fox on Fox: Nothing to see here

Howard Kurtz, who gets his paycheck from the same people who pay Bill O'Reilly and who have a vested interest in protecting Bill-O, will be talking with O'Reilly about accusations made by Mother Jones about his war-reporting record.

This doesn't seem strange to anyone?

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Sophie's injury -- an Instagram narrative

Sophie goes to the vet. 2. The wound. She cleaned it up.

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Close-up of the wound.

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Waiting for the doc.

A photo posted by Hank Kalet (@newspoet41) on

The waiting, as Tom Petty said, is the hardest part.

A photo posted by Hank Kalet (@newspoet41) on

Rose is feeling remorse. Or more likely, doesn't remember what happened. She's a dog.

A photo posted by Hank Kalet (@newspoet41) on

The repair job. #dogfight

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Sophie's home. #dogfight

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Resting in her sister's crate. #dogfight

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Recovery for Some

My Progressive Populist column -- "A Recovery for Some" -- is available.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

The independent media is not as independent as it thinks

Bleacher Report ran a story today on the prospects of Michael Sam hooking on with an NFL franchise. The story was interesting for a number of reasons -- for questioning what he calls the simple bigotry narrative, for raising the specter of teams being unwilling to take a flier on such a high-profile but apparently middle- to low-ceiling player. But what I found most intriguing in the piece was not the discussion of Sam. It was Michael Tanier's comments about the media's relationship with the NFL -- and, I would assume, major sports' relationship with the press, as well.

Here is Tanier:
Deitsch pointed out just how much control NFL teams have over media access: Credential and interview requests can simply be turned down or revoked if reporters/photographers/videographers don't follow the rules set down by the league and team. Like Zeigler, Deitsch maintains that Sam coverage has been relatively restrained since the brief over-boil of last year's draft.
Later, he makes a similar point:
Individual teams have well-established relationships with the local newspapers and radio stations, as well as national entities like ESPN and Bleacher Report.

If I show up at training camp and ask questions that might stoke a quarterback controversy, that's part of the game. But if I ask inappropriate, obtrusive questions, a team can revoke my credential, call my editor or contact the NFL media to have me blacklisted from events like the draft and Super Bowl.
I could easily lose my job for stepping too far outside the lines. That's a power teams do not wield over, say, a celebrity reporter who could raise a ruckus, leave his/her press pass at the door and cover Taylor Swift the next day.
Basically, what he is saying is that there is a very narrow window within which regular beat reporters are allowed to operate and, should you step outside the window, you will be shunted off to the sports world version of Siberia (forget that covering Taylor Swift might get you a raise). That he makes these statements so matter-of-factly probably should be disturbing. After all, we want to believe that reporters are independent observers operating at an arms length from the people they cover.

If only this was true. Every reporter lives in some fear of burning a source -- whether we are talking about someone covering the Jets or the White House. This is most obvious in the sports world , of course, where writers have always engaged in a Faustian bargain of trading their soul (independence) for access to places off limits to the regular fan and for free tickets to the games.

We accept this within the sports world, but pretend otherwise when it comes to hard news. The New York Times would never hold a scoop at the request of the White House and war reporters embedded with combat troops would never clear their stories through the Defense Department. Except, they do this all the time.

I fear that this attitude has become so ingrained that I am now seeing it in my journalism students. I quiz them early in the semester on their news judgment and basic ethical framework. One of the questions I ask is this:

You are contacted by a retired police officer alleging corruption within the local police department. He will not give you his name, but gives you specific information about nepotism in the promotion process.
They have three possible answers -- "yes," "no" or "not yet" (I accept only "yes" or "not yet" as correct). I then ask them why and to list two possible ethical issues tied to the scenario. I'm looking for something about the use of unnamed sources and the need to verify in reporting, but I invariably get an answer like this:
Could this story effect your relationship with the police department if it captures them in a negative light? Will they no longer come to you with information?
I'm not surprised by the answer. About a third of the students have offered some variation of this each year I pose the question, and it is consistent with qualms raised by reporters who have worked for me over the years.

My response always is the same (or that is what my memory tells me): If the information is true and important, you have no choice but to run with the story. You may have no choice but to anger the police -- or the school board, or mayor, or council, or governor, etc. -- and you just have to deal with the consequences afterward. Easier said than done, but I'd like to think that I followed this rule for the most part during my long stretch as reporter and editor for the South Brunswick (Central) Post and The Cranbury Press (and now when dealing with state officials for stories for NJ Spotlight). I wasn't perfect -- who is? But what allowed my papers to continue doing the kind of work I wanted to do was three things: We were seen as fair (we ran both positive and negatives stories as the circumstances warranted), we were consistent, and we were above board. If this sounds like I'm patting myself on the back, then that's what it probably is. I'm not alone, though, in doing my best to operate in this manner. Most editors and reporters make every attempt to do the same and most are at least as successful doing so as I am.

The access trade-off is a long-standing fact of the business, and we should be open about these kinds of unspoken deals. What concerns me is not that this happens in some areas of the news business, but that it is growing to become the dominant model as the subjects of our stories become more media savvy, as they become more comfortable with public relations models and the press has less and less direct access to decision-makers and has to rely more and more on press releases and stage-managed events. It is getting harder and harder to function independently, and that should have everyone -- not just reporters -- concerned.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kanye, Beck and the debate over real art

I wasn't planning to say anything about the Kanye West-Beck dust-up at the Grammys and afterward, but there has been a general argument floating around social media that I think badly distorts the artistic process and makes assumptions about art that do not hold water.

Here is one of the memes:

Seems logical -- or at least that is what a lot of my (mostly white) friends think.

Here is another variant of the same argument:

Let's start with the optics: Both memes set a black artist against a white one, set a primarily black sound against a white one. Is this a racial issue? No, but the response carries a whiff of underlying racism. One can look at the entire spectacle that was this year's Grammys and wonder how an industry whose sales are dominated by black artists could hand out so few awards to black artists. I'm not defending Kanye West's behavior or saying Beyone's record was better than Beck's -- neither made my own personal Top 40 nor were they the best work by two top-notch artists.

What I am saying -- to quote a response I made to a friend's Facebook page -- is "this dichotomy creating opposition between the Beck-like do-it-all-yourself artist and the artist as collaborator is bullshit. The only thing that matters is the art produced, not how many people it takes to produce it."

Let me add a second response I made on Facebook -- to a different post:
Just to be clear, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Janis Joplin, most of the main Motown acts -- should I continue -- didn't write their own music or play instruments. I think, if you look at the memes that have come out of the Beck-Kanye tiff, you'll see that most of the most vocal proponents of this argument are showing pictures of big, burly heavy-metal guitarists or otherwise white acts. The new spokesman for this bullshit argument is Paul Stanley, who has said that the rock hall should not include what he defines as non-rock (read mostly black) acts. And this dopiness is coming a week after Bob Dylan, who along with The Beatles, was the primary person responsible for moving us from the separation of the singer and songwriter to the singer singing his own songs, released an album of songs written by others.
The point, if I haven't been clear, is that there are many different ways to create great art and great music. You can write your own songs and play your own instruments, play in a band, sing others' tunes, work collaboratively on the writing and production, etc. There is plenty of room for both Beck and Beyonce, for the immensely talented West and interpreters like Bennett. How you get there is less important, in the end, than the art that is produced.

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