Thursday, June 30, 2005

What a long, strange column it's been.

If there is a thread running through Paul Povse's column (reg. required) today, it is of a similar ilk as that used to stitch the Emperor's New Clothes. The column has the attention span of a music video, jumping from scene to scene in a flash with no regard to continuity or story-telling.

Povse has some interesting observations, as Povse usually does, but it's almost as if they came to him while participating in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and then recorded directly from his brain in real-time. He takes off on journey at breakneck speed, from Lawrence of Arabia to the Civil War to anonymous sources at the New York Times to Sammy Sosa (to name just a few), leaving the reader trapped in a cultural time warp.

Neil Steinberg of the Sun Times, one of my favorite columnists despite his occasional bashing of bloggers, has adopted a blog-style format to his column, breaking each one up into four or five sections and giving each a subhead. It's an effective way to go if you don't plan on expounding on a single topic for an entire column. It might work well for Povse on days like today, although it might cause layout problems to the single-column format in which his work appears.

Perhaps Povse has developed a postmodern musing style of column writing that I'm not hip to yet. Still, a little more attention to proper segue ways between his disparate thoughts would help the toast and jam go down a little easier.

But how was the Beef Wellington?

Bernie Schoenburg (registration required) delves into Michael Sneed (Sun Times) territory today with a tawdry tale involving a public altercation stemming from a messy divorce. The allegiances and public denials of those involved suggest significant political overtones. It even happened at a restaurant, Maldaner’s, Sneed’s favorite venue for spying on the famous. But while Sneed uses her “a little bird told me” style of reporting to feed readers small hints of information, Schoenberg gives this story and the players involved the full Access Hollywood treatment. That’s not to say that I didn’t read every word with interest.

What strikes me most about the column is Schoenburg’s motivation for writing it. The incident doesn’t seem newsworthy on its own. The police were called, but given the way the situation was resolved, it doesn’t even merit a mention in Police Beat. Knowing Schoenburg’s reputation, I don’t think he wrote it solely to embarrass those involved. Which makes me think that there is an underlying element to this story that I’m not privy to. I imagine that the folks on
Rich Miller’s blog would have some insight on this. I do know, despite being out of the state government loop for almost a year now, that some of those named in the story also had parts in a much-circulated rumour that made its way around the capital city in recent months.

As an aside, I give Schoenburg credit for not referring to the story’s combatants as a “don’t invit’em item.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My publicist finally earned her paycheck

Thanks to Dave Bakke for mentioning my blog in his column today along with drawing attention to all of the interesting things going on in the Springfield blogosphere. It's nice to get some MSM attention from the print side to go along with Jim Leach's efforts to promote local bloggers over the airwaves. Now if I can only get Gus Gordon to wear a BlogFreeSpringfield cap while he delivers his weather report.


WFMB's John Levine and WICS's Chris McCloud kicked off the 5:00 hour of the Pressbox program discussing international diplomacy, in particular, a recent incident that may further fracture the already tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Apparently Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriot's football club and obscenely rich businessman, noticed during a meeting with Vladimir Putin that the Russian leader was admiring his diamond smothered Super Bowl ring. Kraft handed the ring to him for closer admiration and Putin, perhaps mistaking the gesture as a gift, tried on the ring briefly before pocketing it. Luckily Kraft, aware of the former Soviet Union's still impressive stockpile of nuclear weapons, wisely chose not to risk global annihilation by asking for the ring back and offending the volatile Putin.

Should Mr. Kraft decide to continue his dalliance in foreign relations, a bit of advice courtesy of one history's greatest thinkers and military tacticians. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And to this list I might add a third: Never flash your bling-bling in front of former KGB.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ad Review: On the wagon but still off target.

In the latest round of their current ad campaign, the SJ-R is forsaking the early morning imbibers who were the focus of the previous installment for those who partake in a more traditional breakfast fare while perusing their trusted daily. The Toast and Jam ad is very similar to some billboards that Meijer was running a year or so ago to cross promote their groceries with their general merchandise line. Both name a familiar pair of items and a picture that provides a nanosecond of dissonance when it reveals that the second of the two items isn’t what you thought (i.e., “fruit and nuts” with a picture that shows apples and nuts of the hardware variety.)


I don’t know if people find these ads clever, I suspect that they might be better at selling produce and hardware than newspaper subscriptions. But what the SJ-R’s ads clearly fail to do is to sell the paper based on its competitive advantage over other news sources. Local newspapers’ fiercest competition these days comes from the Internet, so much so that some are predicting the ultimate demise of traditional broadsheets and tabloids. This prognosis is premature at best, but it does point out the need for newspapers to sell themselves more effectively.

The SJ-R should, rather than promote itself with cute and catchy phrases, sell its coverage of local issues, coverage that is more in-depth and more inclusive than can be found anywhere else. Radio and television also offer daily local content, but not to the extent that the newspaper does, and many news broadcasts are so similar to that day’s SJ-R that you can almost hear the newspaper crinkling in the background as the anchor thumbs through the pages for the next story.

There are many features of the newspaper that could be effectively promoted in their advertising. Highlight some of the more compelling in-depth stories that have run recently. Promote the editorial page as a venue for public discourse (only don’t call it public discourse.) Elevate the profile of columnists. The New York Times recently began charging for online access to their columnists, suggesting not only the popularity of their work but also their ability to provide a strong connection between the paper and its readers. The Toast and Jam ad does feature a picture of the Arts and Entertainment supplement, a section of the newspaper that is strong in respect to local content. But no where in the ad does it promote it’s coverage of the local scene.

As far as the current campaign, it wants to appeal to people’s desire for convenience. A rolled-up newspaper that faithfully appears on the porch each morning and can be read in the carefree early morning hours while sipping a cup of joe or chewing on a bagel certainly paints a desirable picture, for some. Getting up early to enjoy some time before the day turns hectic is a lifestyle choice that has probably been ingrained in a person since their younger days when they would watch their parents pass sections of the paper back and forth over the kitchen table. These folks, and I count myself among them, already subscribe.

But what of those whose lifestyle dictates that they rise with time enough only to grab a quick shower before speeding off to work. Their newspaper will most likely still be sitting on the porch, succumbing to the early stages of newsprint jaundice, when they arrive back home. By then, they’ve read about the day’s national events on CNN’s Web site. They’ve caught snippets of local news on the radio during their commute. And they’re unaware of the in-depth local coverage contained in the SJ-R because the SJ-R’s ads didn’t see fit to mention it. So why, they would ask themselves, should they keep paying to have the paper delivered or start if they don’t already subscribe? I don't think toast and jam is the answer.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Lucy in the Sky with Donna

I don't know if Jim Leach caught the Simpson's Sunday night, but it would have provided him an interesting question for his guest from Denney Jewelers this morning. The fictional Springfield legalized gay marriage in order to realize an influx of tourism dollars from an under served niche of the population. Homer downloaded a divinity degree from an online diploma mill and then cleaned up presiding over same-sex nuptials.

Listening to Leach's interview, I was given to wonder if the diamond or gemology industry lobbies for the passage of legislation legalizing gay marriage or civil unions. It would seem to be in their best interest to do so. I'm not sure of the etiquette involved in such things, but if their were two brides, wouldn't they both want big rocks? Even if that isn't the case, jewelers would still sell more wedding bands as the market grows. And should the worst fears of those who foresee a slippery slope to the gay marriage issue come to pass, there will be boom in demand for diamond studded dog collars as people are free to marry their pets. Society's cultural demise will be money in the jeweler's pocket.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dear Sir or Madman

The syndicated RESUMania item that runs weekly in Friday’s MarketPlace section of the SJ-R is pretty amusing, what with it poking fun at people’s typos, failed attempts at cleverness, and all around stupidity while they're trying to obtain gainful employment to house and feed their families. I liked it for awile but now it's becoming a one-joke pony and, like Adam Sandler after his first five minutes as a professional performer, has grown tired and predictable.

But I do think that the SJ-R could breath new life into the concept, at least for a day, by doing a story where local human resources directors and job placement professionals share examples of the type of bumbling incompetence that cross their desks in the form or resumes and cover letters. I’d read it.

Can this two-party political system be saved?

I’ve always felt that it was grossly irresponsible for adults to not keep up on what’s happening on the political scene, what with the importance of the public square, apathy being the biggest threat to democracy, and all that. But after being subjected to the constant bickering going on over Gitmo and Durbin and Flag burning and now Rove’s comments, I almost wish that I would have limited my news consumption the past couple of weeks to stories of Tom and Katie and the runaway bride so that I could wallow in the tranquil waters of ignorance. I suppose the two political sides will have to hold separate Independence Day celebrations this year since they can’t seem to be in the same room together without causing a scene and frightening the kids. It’s maddening.

This country is in desperate need of a Prime Minister of Decorum, Civility, and Diplomacy, a position that would hold full sway over all political bodies on issues of public behavior. He or she, probably a she, would carry out her duties mainly by telling people to shut up and get back to work. A tough-love counselor to two parties who are growing increasingly apart and intolerant of each others’ very existence, but need to stay together for the good of the kids, us. Because more and more, we’re starting to exhibit some of the worst traits of our elected leaders. Any nominations for this very important position?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

It's good for what ails ya!

Sam Madonia gave a platform to some pyramid marketing shills this morning. To his credit, he did question their methods for peddling their magic pills, but let them off the hook after they declared their allegience to capitalism. Nothing wrong with that, but I would have liked Madonia to press them on the credibility of a drug that hasn't undergone the testing necessary for FDA approval. I didn't hear the entire segment so I don't know what kind of claims these Ponzians were making, but on their Web site they advise suckers, I mean people, to "imagine the possibilities" and go on to suggest increases in energy and mental acuity. I guess their elixir is intended to just help people "imagine" health benefits.

I'll be contacting WFMB later to see if AM Springfield will do a live remote from my three-card monte box I plan to set up outside the presidential museum next week.

Is John Edward mediating?

From today’s SJ-R Arts and Entertainment section:

Late composer Cy Coleman, cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci and actor George Chakiris will be interviewed in two separate segments today on WQNA-FM 88.3.
I’ve heard that Coleman has become quite reclusive in his afterlife and is no longer making public appearances so snagging an interview with him is a real feather in WQNA host Ty Brando’s cap. Unless of course, they mean:

Interviews with late composer Cy Coleman . . . will air in two separate segments today on WQNA-FM 88.3.
In which case, interviewing Coleman pre-postpartum was probably much easier to arrange with his publicist, but it does diminish the possibility of unlocking some of life’s deepest mysteries.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Denney Jewelers: Fresh and Full of Life

It seems that whoever is behind the Denney Jeweler ads that run on WMAY have copped a page from the Mentos commercials that ran in the 90s. Not that the ads are similar in style, but they both induce such a “what the hell was that?” reaction that they must have come from the same idiosyncratic school of advertising that dictates that peculiarity is the key to message retention. I’m guessing that this particular advertising philosophy has its roots in the German new wave of the 80s that was parodied on SNL with the Sprockets skit (although that may have been a dead-on reenactment rather than a parody.) They’re actually quite brilliant. I can’t remember a single ad I heard or saw all day save the one with a Tom Poston sound-alike going on nostalgically about an engagement ring. He actually played it fairly straight in this ad and didn’t even deliver his signature line (woka, woka) and I was still captivated by the subliminal weirdness of it all.

Dancing About Architecture

Jim Leach had the director and some of the cast from the Muni’s upcoming production of Ragtime on his show this morning to talk about the popular musical. Talking about a musical? Isn’t the whole raison d'etre of musicals so that people can break into song at the drop of a damn hat? Yet there was nary a lyrical response to any of Leach’s questions, nor did Leach invite them to go ahead and take one from the top. If you want to promote a musical, let’s hear some music for land’s sake.

Speaking of adding a little song to to the verbal tangoing that often characterizes talk radio, here’s an idea. Maybe Leach could write a libretto on the 183rd's fate and then do an entire segment on the subject as a tragic opera, with guests and callers required to comment melodiously. To my knowledge, neither Rush or Al Franken have attempted an operatic interpretation of their shows so this is a great opportunity for Leach to break some new ground and best the big boys.

I do think, by the way, think that the 183rd story will not have a happy ending. Greg Blankenship's guest op/ed piece in today's SJ-R provides a voice of reason, at least in respect to finding new economic uses for the existing facilities. I'm sure those directly affected by the realignment don't think much of his "this may be a blessing" point of view. And others may scoff at his suggestion that we don't second-guess our military leadership (Rumsfield). But he's the first, that I've heard or read, to point out the changing nature of military aviation or to explore the options available to Springfield based on similar closures in the past.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Sunny Side of the Speech

The SJ-R goes light-hearted with an entertaining editorial today. The paean to summer reads similar to a commencement speech in that it advises us to take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities that await while taking care to avoid potential regrets. That is how I was able to predict, after reading the first couple of paragraphs of today’s editorial, the reference to sunscreen that was forthcoming. For sunscreen and light-hearted commencement speeches are forever linked in pop culture.

The SJ-R bows to habitual letter-to-the-editor contributor Milford Franks for championing the use of sun protective ointments. I must point out, however, that the dispensing of practical advice under the guise of profundity as it relates to sunscreen clearly belongs to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich.

Schmich penned a column in 1997 that addressed graduating seniors at a fictional commencement exercise. Her first bit of advice: wear sunscreen. The column went on to serve up other nuggets based on her earned experiences - some perfunctory, some profound. But it was her strong and unexpected endorsement of sunscreen that gave the column life far beyond her regular readership.

The column eventually went into wide distribution throughout the Internet where it was often attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut in a speech he supposedly, but didn’t, deliver to MIT grads. An Australian actor recorded the words over a techno beat and it received extensive radio play Down Under and here in the States. And an unknown number of commencement speakers borrowed the sunscreen phrase to inject a bit of humor into their own addresses. Just this year, a particularly uninspired high school principal in Florida read the entire speech almost word-for-word to her graduating seniors. Unfortunately, she didn’t acknowledge that the words were someone else’s, a little thing that people in her field often refer to as plagiarism and often respond to with strict punition. Throughout it all, Schmich has remained pretty much unknown as its author.

I’m not suggesting that the SJ-R is guilty of plagiarism for delivering sunscreen advice in the same spirit with which Schmich did. Nor am I discrediting Franks’ fine work in the area of skin care. It's just that Schmich has for too long remained submerged in the pool of anonymity while others have taken to the highest deck chair and delivered her signature sentiment to those about to face life’s harmful rays.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hey Jealous Rock Critic

The Gin Blossoms played the Sangamon County Fair Saturday night and the SJ-R's Nick Rogers had the gall to give them a less than glowing review. There is now a 90 percent chance that a letter-to-the-editor will run within the next few days that begins with a variation of the following statement: "I don't know what concert Nick Rogers was at, but I saw the Gin Blossoms and they totally rocked." It's the sarcastic remark de jure from a concert goer spurned by a music critic.

The letter will go on to touch on the following themes: the band tried really hard, everyone had a great time, and an indelible bond was cast between the band and its loyal fans. If the letter writer is sufficiently offended, she may even suggest that the music-hating Rogers pursue a different line of work. It's as inevitable as a slippery slope argument from an NRA member in response to a gun control measure.

Arts criticism is a tough gig because it's so subjective. Yet there are things that can be judged on an objective basis provided that the reviewer has the proper expertise. The SJ-R has been fortunate to have very good arts and entertainment editors over the years, from Rogers, to Matt Dietrich, to Tom from Iowa (his last name escapes me.) Unfortunately, they've also probably been the most vilified reporters on staff. I'm sure the temptation exists to just give everything a favorable review to keep the wolves at bay.

There's an opinion shared by many that if somebody has the moxie to take the stage to perform, who are we to judge. I agree, but only to point when money starts changing hands. At that point, slings and arrows are fair game and it's only then that accolades carry weight.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Diamonelles on the souls of their shoes

There is nothing more ridiculous than seeing a Hummer in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. But now that it has been revealed that that Hummer may be decked out in designer imposter mud, the folly grows more absurd. A syndicated story in today's SJ-R tells of one entrepreneurs attempt to legitimize the use of off-road vehicles exclusively on flat and paved roadways by marketing sprayed-on mud to the posuers who fancy themselves rugged as they trek across forbidding trails such as Veterans Parkway. A Hummer on the prairie makes about as much sense as snow shoes in a swamp. Slap some faux mud on it, and it's just pathetic.

The increased use of Hummers and other over-sized SUVs to run errands can be tied to a tax loophole that allows small businesses to write-off the cost such vehicles. The measure predates the prevelance of passenger SUVs and was intended to help small businesses and farmers who needed trucks or vans to carry out their work. Unfortunately, the law was written in such a way that any vehicle over 6,000 lbs qualifies. At the time, only trucks or commercial vans could meet this requirement. Today, there are several passenger SUVs that surpass the threshhold and can qualify. Here's famed car site's explanation of the loophole.

That said, groups such as ELF that have been known to commit acts of arson at SUV dealerships are misguided idiots and should enjoy the prison time they so richly deserve.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Red, One-Eyed, and Blue

A certain emptiness is bound to pervade the upcoming Fourth of July holiday as a local tradition has apparently and unfortunately come to an end. It may have even ended last year, my misty sentimentality numbing the pangs of reality. But it became all too clear to me today that former talk radio firebrand One-Eyed Jack won’t be carrying on his patriotic duty of sticking it to the man by selling fireworks to all Americans, regardless of race, creed, sex, or proper documentation (Permits? We don’t need no stinkin’ permits!) The SJ-R published an article today naming those who are licensed by the county to sell fireworks this year and Donald Jackson’s name was sadly absent. His annual arrest, or that of one of his freedom fighting underlings, was every bit as defining a symbol of our culture as baseball, apple pie, or that guy who’s friends with that redneck guy and tells jokes about being drunk.

We can only hope, we who bleed for the traditions that make this country great, that Jack is continuing to defy the so-called authorities by carrying out his calling underground and dealing in the black market. For who is Joe Aiello that he can decide who can or can not profit by the selling of incendiary devices to people who may or may not have the mental capacity to detonate them in a responsible manner? And who gets to decide what is or isn’t responsible? Wouldn’t that be dependent on an individual’s own interpretation of the prevailing conditions at the moment of ignition factored by the number of MGD’s they’ve thrown back during the preceding 12 hours?

So hail to thee, you of but a single orb but boundless vision, for flying in the face of a society ruled by the bloodshot.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Read any good books about real estate agents and sumo wrestlers lately?

It was heartening to see the SJ-R’s editorial response to the previous day’s story about the large percentage of public school expellees who are African American. They correctly pointed out that there are a number of factors other than race that could contribute to this problem. They must have been reading Steven Levitt’s fascinating book “Freakonomics.” I would recommend it to anyone who is more interested in, to paraphrase Levitt, what the truth is rather than what we would like it to be. He spends a good deal of time in the book discussing what factors play a significant role in a child’s success in school, and what factors are considered by many to be key but are actually insignificant. With the proper set of data to work with, I’m sure he could point to some remarkable similarities between all of the students who have been expelled, irregardless of their race.

Levitt is one of the brightest economists in the country and he is known for tackling subjects traditionally seen as outside the realm of economics. Abortion’s effect on the crime rate, disreputable real estate agents, corruption amongst sumo wrestlers, to name but a few. He approaches each subject absent an agenda, willing to go wherever the data takes him before drawing a conclusion. The fact that his findings have frequently sparked attacks from ideologues on both sides of the political divide speaks for his credibility. It’s a great read and if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Flat feet a plus, but not required

Many of the Springfield Police Department's prowlers are sporting back windshield stickers promoting their Web site. On further investigation, I discovered that it's actually a flash presentation intended to promote recruitment to the ranks of the SPD.

The whole thing is rather long on animation, with a jazzy beat-heavy track looping in the background (I think it might be an N.W.A. sample, but I can't be sure), but short on content. I was particularly fascinated by the page on the history of the department. Here it is, in toto:

In 1834, Springfield's Board of Trustees deemed the Springfield population large enough to hire one constable. Thus, the birth of the Springfield Police Department.

Well, what aspiring crime fighter wouldn't want to become a part of such a storied tradition. My thought process while trying to decide what to have for breakfast is more riveting than that.

I give the department credit for turning to the Web to enhance their recruitment efforts. And they are attempting to be cutting edge in their use of technology, in direct contrast to the city's Web site, but the execution is a more than a bit cumbersome.

The content, however, needs work if they really want to sell the benefits of being a cop in Springfield versus being a cop in any other medium-sized Midwestern town. I have it on good authority that those responsible for the site have been made aware of its shortfalls, but they didn't see the problem.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The jerk store just called. They're running out of you.

One day after I lamented the lack of a clever headline on a front page story, the SJ-R references "Seinfeld" over an article announcing Jackie Newman as the new head of the Springfield Housing Authority. Unfortunately, the phrase "Hello, Newman", as it is known to almost everyone, is spoken through clenched teeth with as much scorn as one can muster. It reads that way as well. Hardly an appropriate welcome for a person who has just achieved the business world's version of the American Dream by ascending from the lowest level of the corporate structure (the proverbial mail room) to the position of top executive.

Everybody's an editor

This was to be posted on Monday, but was preempted by a four-hour power outage. I was watching the Simpson’s on Fox 55 as the storm hit, but the station afforded me no warning of the advancing tempest. Gus Gordon would never have let this happen on his channel. Plus he’s a song and dance man of a type you don’t often find these days.

Two front page articles from the Sunday SJ-R were topics of conversation on talk radio Monday morning.

WFMB’s Sam Madonia questioned a story that substantiated rumours that the resignation of former LLCC president Jack Daniels was instigated, at least in part, by reaction to a romantic affair he was having with an underling. Madonia’s take was that if the SJ-R is going to start reporting on the lascivious behavior of all public officials, they had better hire more reporters to cover what will undoubtedly be a wide beat. In short, he felt that the story served no legitimate purpose and shouldn’t have run.

I disagree. Sunday’s story is important in that it fills in a gap in previous stories on Daniel’s resignation. Although Madonia and others were aware of the rumours surrounding Daniel’s affair, others not privy to this information would have thought it odd that he resigned unexpectedly, especially since he wasn’t presently accepting another position and that he planned to pursue interests outside his career field. I understand the concerns of needlessly delving into people’s personal lives, but Daniel’s resignation from a publicly-funded position made it newsworthy. I’m sure reporters at the SJ-R had heard the same rumours that Madonia had, but they didn’t run with them until they became part of the larger story. That sources with first-hand knowledge of the situation agreed to talk on record about the affair, further legitimizes the decision to run the story.

So I do think that the public interest was served in this case. You can say that you could care less if he was carrying on with an employee, and that’s fine. I don’t necessarily disagree. But if his actions were deemed a serious enough offense to warrant his resignation, whether the board called for it or if Daniel was allowed to respond to the writing on the wall, then it is a significant issue in the story. There is also the consideration that Daniel’s was in a position, as president of LLCC, that placed him in the public eye. There are benefits to being in such a position, and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is that if you screw up, people want to know about it and the press is more likely to report it.

The SJ-R coverage did disappoint me in one respect, however, in that they didn’t ask the pun-loving guy who writes the sports section headlines to come up with title for the story. Jack Daniels, sex, a public resignation. It’s ripe for comedy.

Meanwhile, Mike Wilson, filling-in while Jim Leach rinses out his lederhosen after a series of performances as Captain Von Trapp in the Muni’s production of the Sound of Music, was commenting on the SJ-R’s look into the troubled backgrounds of three youths who severely beat a 98 year-old woman. Wilson wondered if the purpose of the story was to generate some sympathy for the accused, of which he had none.

I don’t think that is the case here. The reporter, Sarah Antonacci, was merely answering a question that many people in town were asking: what kind of sick individuals could commit such a horrendous act? Some readers may have come away from the story feeling sorry for the accused based on their abusive upbringing, although I think the more common reaction was anger towards their worthless parents.

Although I disagree with the hosts’ takes on these stories, these were good discussions to have in that the topics are timely, specific to local interests, and aren’t particularly given to partisan bickering.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Reporting on grief

The SJ-R devoted a lot of coverage to the Chelsey Shores story. Today’s editorial page featured an editorial, a Chris Britt cartoon, an op-ed piece by a classmate of Shores, and several letters all commenting on the tragic event.

Paul Povse also wrote about the story. He mentioned that he had heard reaction from some people who felt that the media should let the story be. This raises an interesting point that I wish he or someone else at the paper would explore more fully. That is, when an event such as this - that is so private, personal and painful - is thrust into the public eye, how are editorial decisions made in relation to pursuing the story further.

  • Does the public’s right to know trump the family’s right to privacy?
  • In keeping with the tenets of public journalism, does the paper take up the cause of shedding light on the serious consequences of teen depression and excessive ridicule even if it does intrude on those directly involved in the story, possibly causing them additional grief?
  • If the subject in this case had been a poor student with a known history of mental problems and a criminal record, would the initial story have commanded space on the front page and the subsequent coverage that followed?

I agree with Povse that the media has a responsibility to pursue this story. And I’m sure that those reporting and commenting are sensitive to the feelings of those personally involved. But since the media, in cases such as this, are often seen as vultures, concerned only with snatching up a compelling storyline, quote or sound bite, it would be interesting to hear how decisions were made and what considerations were given in pursuing the Shores story.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Beer for Breakfast

The SJ-R is running an ad on its pages to promote home delivery of the newspaper. It show a glass of orange juice and a Sunday edition of the paper under the headline “Drinkin’ Buddies.”

First impressions count here, since in advertising that’s all you get many times, and my first impression is: Alcohol! Perhaps that orange juice is laced with vodka. Or champagne to make a fine mimosa. Curious, I read on.

The first line of copy begins “Start your day off right…” Hmm? Alcohol + Morning = Desperate Drunk. Why would the SJ-R be targeting subscriptions to chronic alcoholics? Did their market research show that this particular segment of the population is less likely to get their news online and as such are ripe for a home delivery pitch? I take home delivery of the SJ-R, should I be throwing back screwdrivers before church?

Besot with questions, I’m next given to wonder who exactly are the drinking buddies referred to in the headline. Is it the OJ and the newspaper? That would be like saying a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a bowl of pretzels are drinking buddies. The headline doesn’t work with the picture in this scenario. Maybe the target audience and the newspaper are drinking buddies. This would make sense in that the newspaper could be seen as a trusted source of companionship and insight. Not a bad way to position the SJ-R. But if the person the ad is targeting and the Sunday SJ-R are drinking buddies, shouldn’t there be a human in the ad to represent said person? Maybe the model they hired was too hung-over and missed the photo shoot.

It’s quite possible that as a result of the ad a legion of new subscribers are waking up to the SJ-R, the thud of the insert-laden Sunday paper rousting them from their front porch where they had passed out just hours before. Should the SJ-R decide to add radio to the marketing mix for this particular ad campaign, I might suggest the Replacement’s “Beer for Breakfast” as appropriate background music.

Gimme Indie Sports Talk

Listen to a guy talk on the radio long enough, and you think you know him. Such was the case with WFMB's John Levin, a host on the AM station's afternoon sports talk program. He seemed an intelligent sort, but more than a bit of a sports wonk. I didn't imagine him having many interests outside the realm of athletic competition. So I was quite surprised when he revealed that he not only knew that Shirley Manson is the lead singer of indie supergroup Garbage, but that he is also familiar with the work of Juliana Hatfield and is a connoisseur of indie rock. Now, I know that some will argue that Juliana lacks the necessary edge to truly be called indie, but she's always held a special place in my heart. And by association, I now have a new respect for Levine.

It's interesting to know that a guy who can give an honest assessment of the talent level of Virden's sophomore class of baseball players could also, if asked, opine on the Blake Babies discography. It's probably safe to say that a majority of people in Springfield don't know who Juliana is, and a vast majority of SportsRadio listeners. So Levine is definitely ahead of the hipness curve.

I'll report back on this post if Don Trello references the lyrics to a Sonic Youth song during one of his tirades against Cardinal manager Tony Larussio (sic).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Promise unfulfilled

Sarah Antonacci's cover story on the young lady who took her own life mere days after graduating as valedictorian of her high school class was particularly heart wrenching. Reading her brief commencement speech, it’s obvious that she wanted to increase awareness of the devastating effect excessive teasing, tormenting, and bullying can have on its victims. I hope the media picks up this banner for her and explores it in more depth. Jim Leach talked about it this morning. I didn’t get to hear much of the conversation from callers, but I give Leach credit getting on the topic right away and for being candid about his own experiences. Mike Wilson took calls on the story as well.

What's the deal with ovaltine?

In light of the Deep Throat revelation, Paul Povse is given to wonder about some other of life’s “long-kept secrets.” He then proceeds to ponder what-were-they-thinking politicians, ill conceived foreign policy, and even more off-subject, how deep is the ocean and why is it so blasted hot out.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Deep Throat was one of pop culture’s most provocative mysteries. A big part of its mystique was that his identity was being kept from us, which made us want to know his identity even more.. It was a mystery that was wide open to speculation, yet still gave hope that it’s answer could be cleverly deduced through careful examination of clues. It was ripe for comedy, yet serious enough a subject to merit rigorous academic study.

Which brings me back to Povse’s column. The first couple of sentences led the reader to believe that he would be reflecting upon secrets similar to that of Deep Throat and who was Carly Simon singing about in “You Are So Vain.” But instead he just sort of threw together a bunch of unanswered questions, most of which fail to rise to the level of pop culture phenomena, and some of which are so banal as to not merit a second thought. I did, however, enjoy his take on why some people get overly excited when their offspring are handed their diplomas during commencement exercises. I intend to study his theory at length under the working title, Parental Histrionics: Low Expectations and the Graduating Senior.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Did you hear the one about the Gov and his boys?

Dave Bakke exercised great restraint by not mentioning the governor until the 14th paragraph of his column on Mount Sterling's Testicle Festival. I'm sure he was chomping at the bit to get to it. But did he insult his readers somewhat by explaining the gov's comment and the context in which it was delivered? It certainly received a lot of play in the media and I can't imagine too many people who read Bakke's column were unfamiliar with the comment. For me, his explanation of the comment brought the column to a halt, sort of like when a comedian stops to explain a joke.

Bakke didn't, thankfully, fill his column with lame puns, something a lesser writer covering this subject probably wouldn't have had the good sense to do.

Friday, June 03, 2005

You Gotta Fight, for their Right, to Gyrate

Jim Hightower, syndicated columnist to the Illinois Times, is usually slinging cow patties at the Bush administration. But this week it’s them dadgum varmints in the Texas legislature that got his dander up, but good.

The Texas House went and passed a measure to intervene when high school cheerleaders start prancing around all sexy-like. Jimbo fears that it won’t be long before the “pompom police” take to the stands with their “binoculars trained on the teen bottoms”, just waiting to call in the po-lice. What they don’t know is ol’ Jim’s already got those backsides covered, watching every “twitch and jiggle.” Only he ain’t going to be issuing no cease and desist orders if you know what I mean.

I actually agree with Hightower that the Texas lawmakers are overreaching here. But it’s hard for a gentleman of his age to take up this issue without sounding more than a little pervy. He should stick to his usual act of bashing the president. It’s growing predictable and his cowboy wisdom doesn’t really work on me, but at least I won’t be left with this disgusted feeling.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Deep Throat Should've Kept a Sock In It

It was a good move by the SJ-R to give front page play to Ann Sanner’s piece on the Deep Throat revelation. In doing so, they help illustrate my point when I say that Mr. Mark Felt should have continued to keep his yap shut about the whole thing.

From a historic perspective, nothing has really been gained by knowing the identity of Deep Throat. Justice has already been served in the Watergate case and many of the participants have passed on. The facts remain the same we just now know the identity of one of the many informants, the other of whom have been known all along.

But because of the admission, the investigative reporting class Sanner participated in at the U of I will have to hang up their gumshoes. The shroud of mystery surrounding the Deep Throat story has been stripped of its intrigue, leaving journalism schools without a killer case story to inspire their young to take up the often tenacious task of investigative reporting. The reality - turning to a loose-lipped and possibly vindictive government employee to confirm some facts, just can’t match the perception - clandestine meetings with a shadowy figure who was risking his life for the love of country.

The real loss, however, was to pop culture. Watergate is no longer hip. The cloak and dagger aspect of the story, even it was mostly imagined, has been erased by the light of day. Now Watergate is just another case of corrupt politicians. Sure it took out a president and led to a best selling book and a hit movie, but the anonymous source was the twist that gave the story staying power. We don’t really want to know what was in the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction" or what Billy Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson in "Lost in Translation." Speculation is almost always more entertaining than revelation.

And when will Chris Britt ever get to depict Nixon in hell again? Okay, I'm sure when G. Gordon Liddy shuffles off this mortal coil Britt will have Dick and the boys ready to welcome him to eternal damnation. But other than that, opportunities for postmortem defamation of the former president are growing thin.

The bitterness was palpable even in print when William Gaines, who taught Sanner’s Watergate class, said that Woodward and Bernstein did a better job then he thought in concealing the identity of their source. Perhaps because: WOODSTEIN LIED! Timothy Noah writing for Slate mentions a couple of instances where the duo go beyond concealing their sources identity and actually lie to misdirect those sleuthing the case. It’s not good when a journalist, who dedicates his life to the pursuit of truth, turns around and lies to his brethren.

From the airwaves
WMAY's Jim Leach took issue with the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass for comparing Linda Tripp favorably with Felt. I agree that Monicagate isn’t in the same league with Watergate, but I was disappointed when, after the first couple of callers to Leach's show, the discussion split along party lines. I would suggest this. Neither Nixon or Clinton were representing the ideals of their respective party or their constituents when they committed their acts. Is it any less wrong to talk about Republican corruption or Democrat’s lack of moral values based on these two cases, than it is to say that Marion Barry’s dalliance with a crack pipe is an indictment on all black mayors? Or that Jewish auteurs should not be allowed to adopt Asian children based on the unseemly relationship between Woody Allen and
Soon Yi Previn? No, I say. There are enough unscrupulous individuals all along the political spectrum that it is impossible to not call the kettle black when attempting to attribute their actions to party affiliation. I would also suggest that the first step to bridge the political divide in this country would be for everyone to stop defending their own when one of their own proves to be a louse.