Archive for media

THE YESTERDAYS OF OUR LIVES

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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YESTERDAY, for one day at least, everybody had to have a copy of their newspaper. People waited in long lines to buy them, newsstands ran out of copies early in the morning, and subscribers had their papers stolen from their doorsteps. Everybody had to have a memento from this historic election — proof that it indeed happened, proof that they were there when it happened.

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

It was a reminder to me of what newspapers mean to people, and of what they really do best — document in words and pictures the history of our world, the history of what happened the day before. They are a daily souvenir of our life. And when our favorite team wins a championship, when the nation is attacked by terrorists, when voters elect their first nonwhite president, we want the hard evidence in the form of a newspaper. DVR’d newscasts and Web printouts won’t do.

Newspapers are the greatest medium for recording this incremental history as it happens, day by day. But, for some reason, the executives running newspapers decided a while back that people already know what happened yesterday and don’t need to read all about it, and that they would rather have a daily crystal ball that tells them what’s gonna happen next. (I’ve written about this upsetting trend before.)

At The Hartford Courant, where I worked for nearly 10 years, we couldn’t write headlines or stories that told people what actually happened. We had to be “forward-looking” and stir up emotions with overblown, melodramatic and preferably alliterative headlines. The argument was that “readers already know what happened by the time the paper comes out, so you have to tell them something new.”

Therefore, “8 Die In Mall Shooting” is an unacceptable headline, but “Mall Massacre” is great, as is “Could It Happen At Your Mall?” I remember the day of the Madrid train bombing in 2004 — another historic day. I wasn’t allowed to write the headline “191 Killed In Train Bombings.” The front-page banner headline we used was “Al-Qaida Or ETA?” Huh? ETA? What did the train’s arrival time have to do with anything? Oh, ETA was a terrorist group suspected in the bombings. So, we went with a screaming question head that told readers little, even if they knew what ETA was. I asked then and I ask now: What is wrong with documenting, for history’s sake, exactly what happened yesterday?

I haven’t seen yesterday’s Courant (I still haven’t looked at a Courant since its redesign), but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a headline like “2012 Campaign Gets Underway” or “Is America Now Ready For A Latino President?”

I remember finding old, yellowed newspapers in a bedroom closet when I was a little boy. I vaguely remember them, but I think they were about Kennedy’s election or his assassination. In any case, they were historical records of historic days, saved by my parents for posterity.

That is what newspapers are to people. Unfortunately for newspaper publishers, every day isn’t as monumental as this Tuesday was. But that’s the cool thing about documenting history — you never know when the next monumental day is coming. Newspapers have to be ready, with the best writers and editors and photographers on hand, because history can happen at any time. And what happened yesterday can really matter to people.

ALL THE NEW THAT FITS

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on September 29, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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THE “sleeker, smarter” Hartford Courant hit the stands yesterday (and probably stayed there all day). Having worked at the fatter, dumber Courant for 10 years, I suppose I should have checked it out, but even morbid curiosity couldn’t get me to do so.

Luckily, courant.com has a link right at the top of the front page so I could Learn More About The New Hartford Courant. Click and you’re treated to a three-minute promotional piece aired by sister channel Fox 61 (which, like the Courant, is owned by the Tribune Co.) about “The NEW Hartford Courant.” And wouldn’t you know it — they’re really excited about it!

Turns out the NEW Courant is “edgy”! (Too bad “edgy” hasn’t been edgy for about 10 years). I learned that the NEW Courant uses a new font that “really bolds up the design”! Well said!

The NEW Courant is “stacked with fresh new features.” And it will be “easier to read”! The paper’s storied history of “insightful writing and in-depth coverage” will continue! Well, I’m sold!

And so are the Fox 61 anchorbots, who seem particularly excited about the groundbreaking vertical “letterhead.” Best of all, the anchor dude tells us, the weekday papers will have “less pages so the readers can get their news quickly!” Yeah, all those pages of news were really standing in the way of my getting the news.

If you don’t feel like watching the Fox 61 video, you can simply read the accompanying error-filled transcription, which looks more like a copy editing test (if newspapers were still hiring copy editors.)

OK, OK, maybe I’ll check out the new Courant one of these days. I’ll just have to bold myself up first.

Wake up and smell the coffee study

Posted in The News, The Truth with tags , , , , on June 8, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

Go ahead and have that second cup of coffee. It’s good for you. But you’d better enjoy it. Because it’s going to kill you!

Late last month, the media reported that researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found no link between coffee consumption and the risk of breast cancer. Whew. So drink up, right?

Not so fast. In my 10 years working at one daily paper, I saw endless “news” stories on the health benefits and dangers of coffee and alcohol. One week, one or the other is proclaimed the secret to eternal life. The next, it’s Enemy No. 1 to a kinda-vital organ. It’s enough to make you drink.

Google “coffee study” and your head will spin: OK, just going by the headlines of the news articles, I’ve learned that coffee may reduce the risk of dementia, may cause heart disease, may provide healthy antioxidants, may raise the risk of miscarriage, may prevent colon cancer, may raise cholesterol levels, may lower the risk of suicide, may protect smokers from bladder cancer, may increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (if the coffee is decaffeinated), may improve short-term memory, may lower the risk of diabetes, may cause coffee breath, and may increase the size of your penis (OK, that was just an email, but I studied it).

There’s even a study that says coffee may counteract alcohol’s poisonous effects on the liver and help prevent cirrhosis. How’s that for teamwork!

The news media don’t really care whether coffee is good or bad for you. They just know you drink coffee, and that a screaming headline about coffee’s health effects will get your attention. So they loooove these stories. Doesn’t matter if the study was conducted in Belarus on a group of 24 capuchin monkeys — they’re gonna run with it.

I don’t know why we can’t just accept that coffee, like all things in life except for pizza and Paris Hilton, is neither all good nor all bad. I’m no doctor or researcher like this John Hopkins guy, but I don’t need no stinkin’ study to reach my conclusion about coffee (and life): Everything in moderation.

But, hell, that doesn’t make for much of a headline.

Not necessarily the news

Posted in The News with tags , , , on June 4, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

Walter Cronkite must be rolling in his grave. He is dead, right?

OK, I Googled him, and it seems he’s still with us. But I’d prefer to hear it from him. I trust him. At one time, every American trusted him, back when there were only three channels, back when people with gray hair were allowed on TV. Legend has it he delivered the news to a whole generation with a grandfatherly voice of authority.

These days, where do we turn for the truth? CNN.com? Wikipedia? Tila Tequila? The democratization of the news by the Internet is all well and good, but with everybody and his blogger chiming in, it’s hard to find someone you can trust.

The rise of the blogger has had every newspaper in the country running scared for years and trying to copy what the most popular sites are doing. Squandering their reputation as papers of record rather than capitalizing on it, they’re getting rid of reporters, sports writers, book reviewers and movie critics because “readers can get that information elsewhere.”

Unfortunately, this “elsewhere” that newspapers are surrendering to is a mess of nameless, faceless bloggers spouting opinions as facts (imagine!) and attention whores posing as journalists. If the Titanic were to sink tomorrow, would we go to Perez Hilton for the story (and the requisite “going down” jokes)?

It’s not easy to navigate through the bullshit online. Just today I found several “news” stories saying Hillary Clinton has not conceded! As preposterous as that sounds, I bet there are a lot of gullible people out there who believe it’s true.

I know the trustworthiness of our nation’s newspapers has come into question over the years, and that the mainstream media completely failed us on Iraq. And I know there are respected voices on the web — the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, Matt Drudge. But now that everybody is a writer, a journalist, a commentator or a critic, how will we find the Walter Cronkites of the web?

“We are all newsmen now,” Drudge famously said. Problem is, if anybody can report the “news,” can we trust any of it? I mean, a minute ago Cronkite was dead.