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Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Here's A Movie I Want To See — Trolls!

In business, Media on June 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Some of you are too young to remember when a troll wasn’t just a jerk on a comments page but a small, rubbery Danish-made doll with a head full of hair that came in neon colors.

Now they’re about to star in a film made by DreamWorks Animation:

The trolls, with unique faces and shocks of colorful hair, were first sold in the early 1960s and experienced a resurgence in the 1990s. Several competitors have sold copies of the original trolls.

“My father would have been very happy to know that his troll has found its dream partner in DreamWorks Animation,” said Niels Dam, who owns the family business.

DreamWorks Animation produced “How To Train Your Dragon” this past spring and has announced plans for a sequel. Its other movie franchises are “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar.”

As an only child who hated classic girly dolls, and who spent hours playing with Lego and trollswhat makes Danes such great toy inventors? — I think this is a hoot. I loved their simian little faces and crazy hair. It’s time a new generation gets to know them as well.

Is A Marital Tune-Up Worth It?

In behavior, men, women on June 29, 2010 at 9:43 am
Best wedding cake dolls ever.

Image by ToastyKen via Flickr

Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times:

“It seems like we’re even more resistant to thinking about getting help for our relationship than we are for depression or anxiety,” said Brian D. Doss, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Miami. “There’s a strong disincentive to think about your relationship as being in trouble — that’s almost admitting failure by admitting that something isn’t right.”

Marriage counseling does not always work, of course — perhaps because it is so often delayed past the point of no return. One recent study of two types of therapy found that only about half the couples reported long-lasting improvements in their marriages.

So researchers have begun looking for ways (some of them online) to reach couples before a marriage goes off the rails.

One federally financed study is tracking 217 couples taking part in an annual “marriage checkup” that essentially offers preventive care, like an annual physical or a dental exam.

“You don’t wait to see the dentist until something hurts — you go for checkups on a regular basis,” said James V. Córdova, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who wrote “The Marriage Checkup” (Jason Aronson, 2009). “That’s the model we’re testing. If people were to bring their marriages in for a checkup on an annual basis, would that provide the same sort of benefit that a physical health checkup would provide?”

I’m mixed on this one. Having watched my first brief marriage implode, I know it takes two committed people to make those vows worth anything, not merely the desperate attempts of one half.

But the sweetie and I did try counseling a few times, and it taught us some useful lessons. Our therapist, Marc, was just what we needed: funny, warm — and tough. Whatever problem is poisoning  a marriage, he sternly told us, each of us owns 50 percent of it, not the comforting fiction of, say, 15 percent or five percent. It’s so easy to finger-point and blame. “If only he”, “She always…”

Much harder to acknowledge and name the individual demons we each bring to the most intimate relationship in life.

We haven’t seen Marc in years but his lessons have stayed with us. In the old days, our fights were crazy — we’re stubborn, stuck in our ways, used to getting what we want. It’s been a decade now, so we know each other’s trigger points and when we’ve hit them, or are about to. We’re a lot better at apologizing, and quickly.

It’s not easy to soften and change. You have to want it.

Have you tried couples counseling? How did it turn out for you?

Should Reporters Burn Bridges (Hastings And McChrystal) Or Stay Mum To Retain Access?

In Media, the military on June 28, 2010 at 8:15 am
Jamie McIntyre

Jamie McIntyre.Image via Wikipedia

This was the question debated yesterday on “On The Media”, a weekly show on NPR — should Michael Hastings (a True/Slant writer) have told McChrystal’s story in all its gory, insubordinate detail?

The show interviewed Jamie McIntyre, a former Pentagon correspondent, who lauded Hastings for his work, but raised the larger question every reporter knows — trading off not reporting everything you see and hear (racist or stupid or off-color or sexist remarks) while covering a beat (a specialty area) in order for your sources to remain comfortable with you and confident you won’t make them look bad publicly. Then, the deal goes, they will tell you important things, maybe first, maybe even exclusively.

McIntyre called it, which it is, reporters’ “dirty little secret.”

The trade-off is short-term pain (keeping your mouth shut) for long-term gain (scoops.)

Is this a good idea? Bad idea?

For any reporter who needs access to sources, as any beat reporter does, it’s like asking if they should take notes or return calls. You can’t torch every bridge the minute you’ve crossed it. Not only will you never be able to access that source again, but you’ve scared off all your others: if s/he did it to them, why wouldn’t they do it to me as well?

Part of the drama, for journalists, is feeling annoyed that Hastings broke the rules…David Brooks slapped his wrist in The New York Times for participating in a “culture of exposure.” (So much better than the how they play inside the Beltway?):

During World War II and the years just after, a culture of reticence prevailed. The basic view was that human beings are sinful, flawed and fallen. What mattered most was whether people could overcome their flaws and do their duty as soldiers, politicians and public servants. Reporters suppressed private information and reported mostly — and maybe too gently — on public duties.

Then, in 1961, Theodore H. White began his “The Making of the President” book series. This series treated the people who worked inside the boiler rooms of government as the star players. It put the inner dramas at center stage.

Then, after Vietnam, an ethos of exposure swept the culture. The assumption among many journalists was that the establishment may seem upstanding, but there is a secret corruption deep down. It became the task of journalism to expose the underbelly of public life, to hunt for impurity, assuming that the dark hidden lives of public officials were more important than the official performances.

Then came cable, the Internet, and the profusion of media sources. Now you have outlets, shows and Web sites whose only real interest is the kvetching and inside baseball.

In other words, over the course of 50 years, what had once been considered the least important part of government became the most important. These days, the inner soap opera is the most discussed and the most fraught arena of political life.

Brooks candidly admits he couldn’t do his job without keeping mum. Most writers with any serious access know these unwritten, unspoken rules. They play by them.

Perhaps most importantly, they savage those too stupid, bold or naive to break them.

Pack journalism, which denotes the safety of traveling in numbers, also reflects another reality: like a posse of wolves, they can, and will, turn on the maverick among them and tear them to shreds for their temerity for breaking from the pack and its group behaviors.

(I lived through this, at Michael’s age, when I wrote two front-page stories about Queen Elizabeth, who I had followed on tour for two weeks, for The Globe and Mail. An enormous international press pack had followed her, as I had. But in both of these stories, I said and reported things that breached standard protocol — and was pilloried for it. I knew some of my competitors were getting their butts kicked hard for not reporting as I had, so it was an easy out to accuse me of lying and making some of it up. I have never felt so much professional stress, then or since.)

Here’s another take on it:

But in the wake of the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as Afghan commander over intemperate remarks to Rolling Stone magazine, Pentagon officials are concerned the military may recoil in fear and anger from the press.

The chill couldn’t come at a more inopportune time for the Pentagon’s leadership, with skepticism about the war’s progress growing among U.S. politicians and officials in Afghanistan ahead of what is likely to be the war’s most important operation, the imminent move by thousands of U.S. forces into Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban.

“If we recoil, if we go underground, if we get defensive, it’s self-defeating,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. “We need to remain as engaged as ever, if not more so because we are at a crucial point in this war.”

Freelancers, who often jump from story to story, subject to subject, freelance to job back to freelance to fellowship to book, owe allegiance only to their conscience, bank balance and career ambitions. Untethered to a beat, a set of specific editors and a publication or broadcast outlet who also wants to consistently, accurately beat the competition, freelancers are — free — to behave as they, and their editors, see fit.

Is Blogging A Dying Art?

In behavior, Media on June 27, 2010 at 9:45 am
Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

An interesting piece from The Economist:

Signs are multiplying that the rate of growth of blogs has slowed in many parts of the world. In some countries growth has even stalled.

Blogs are a confection of several things that do not necessarily have to go together: easy-to-use publishing tools, reverse-chronological ordering, a breezy writing style and the ability to comment. But for maintaining an online journal or sharing links and photos with friends, services such as Facebook and Twitter (which broadcasts short messages) are quicker and simpler.

Charting the impact of these newcomers is difficult. Solid data about the blogosphere are hard to come by. Such signs as there are, however, all point in the same direction. Earlier in the decade, rates of growth for both the numbers of blogs and those visiting them approached the vertical. Now traffic to two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to Nielsen, a media-research firm. By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66% last year and Twitter’s by 47%. Growth in advertisements is slowing, too. Blogads, which sells them, says media buyers’ inquiries increased nearly tenfold between 2004 and 2008, but have grown by only 17% since then. Search engines show declining interest, too.

People are not tiring of the chance to publish and communicate on the internet easily and at almost no cost. Experimentation has brought innovations, such as comment threads, and the ability to mix thoughts, pictures and links in a stream, with the most recent on top. Yet Facebook, Twitter and the like have broken the blogs’ monopoly.

I am about to start a new blog, for an Australian website, on women and work (only twice a month, luckily) and have been sadly neglecting/ignoring the blog I began at theopencase.com, which covers crime.

How much can anyone have to say?

Blogging, for me, has a number of challenges:

1) I need to be paid for my work and most blogs don’t pay; 2) I need what I say to be intelligent, amusing, helpful. I don’t feel that everything I think is worth posting. That slows my production. 3) There is an insatiable quality to blogging, the feeling that you have to be on top of your issues all the time which (see point 1) is lovely if you’re independently wealthy and can take lots of unpaid time to opine on-line or you are OK shooting your mouth off and knowing it’s out there for all sorts of people to see; 4) people whose opinions can make a difference to my career are reading this stuff. Which is good. It’s very flattering indeed to see some of the links to major websites that analyze journalism, but it reminds me that I need to be thoughtful — not just fast or first.

This blog began July 1, 2009 and this is my 844th post. Crazy. I’m pooped!

I don’t think I’m that fascinating, so the frequency isn’t a reflection of my ego, and need to be heard (which it may well look like!) but my desire to hit the numbers I needed — 5,000 or 10,000 unique visitors per month — to reach my T/S bonuses. My best month was May, with more than 15,000. That was pocket change to people like Matt Taibbi, but a lot for me.

Today, more people are tweeting or using Facebook to communicate their own thoughts and personal data, while blogs are becoming niche or micro-niche areas of specialty, like the one referenced in that story from Sweden on how to paint your house.

Now I’m becoming even more of a dinosaur…if I used to be Stegosaurus (being a generalist in a hyper-specialized medium) I’m starting to feel like a trilobite…primordial ooze, even.

I still read very few blogs, but I do read Facebook several times a day, and have found many items I use here — like this one — from others’ posts there. I have FB friends in Bhutan, Paris, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and many of them are fellow journos or photographers, people traveling or noticing fun stuff. A few (sigh) are endless, tedious self-promoters.

I’ll soon start tweeting (saying what exactly?!) as instructed by the publicist for my book publisher. I need to (further) build a set of readers eager, one hopes, to reach for my retail book when it appears next spring. I wouldn’t tweet unless ordered to do so. But this is the new world. Many writers now spend as much time, sometimes more, publicizing their work than actually producing it.

Do you spend more time now on Facebook and Twitter than reading or writing blogs? Why?

Balcony Life: Helicopters, Turkey Vultures, Stars

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:21 am
Red-tailed Hawk

Image via Wikipedia

The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.

We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of  private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.

But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”

Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.

One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.

A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.

Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.

Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.

Heaven.

A Little Luxury Goes A Long Way

In behavior, business on June 26, 2010 at 8:51 am
Flowers

Image via Wikipedia

I liked this piece in FastCompany a lot:

Don’t confuse “luxury” with “expensive”: The word actually comes from the Latin luxus, which can be defined as “extra” or “excess.” It’s something you wouldn’t ordinarily have — and that’s why it means so much more. Two of the kids in my office ran track for the University of Pennsylvania. They still talk rapturously about one signal day, after a particularly long and hot run, when their coach decided to take them out for ice-cream sundaes. Years later, they still remember the cold ice cream and hot fudge. If their coach had taken them out for sundaes every day after practice, it wouldn’t have meant as much or stayed in their minds for so long. And they’d be fatties.

My friend Ami Dar, who founded and runs idealist.org, picks one day a year to declare a Sun Day. He waits for the weatherman to alert him to a Tiffany-blue sky, cool breezes, and sunshine — and then he alerts his staff that the doors to the office will be closed and they’d better spend some time outside. A few people may panic at the thought of rescheduling meetings and missing emails, but Ami tells me that they come back to work the next day with a little more pink in their cheeks and bounce in their steps. One of the keys to the success of a Sun Day? The element of surprise. It jars folks out of their routines and gives a (pleasant) shock to their senses. It also makes them feel doubly appreciated, in a way that you don’t when a gift is expected.

Columnist Nancy Lublin, founder of Dress for Success, runs a non-profit and has a new book out this month, “Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.”

What luxury have you experienced in your workplace? Or given?

Journalism is a cheap-o world. A luxury is…a desk! In my retail job, though, our managers once brought in a whole catered feast to thank us for working so hard on Black Friday. That was cool, and kind.

What are your personal luxuries? For Lublin, it’s a killer pair of Louboutin shoes (about $500.)

Mine include: fresh flowers, pedicures, foreign travel the minute I can afford it, a large bag of Earl Grey tea leaves, occasional massages.

I agree with Lublin — if you take it for granted, it’s not a luxury.

Go Canada! Next Week's 'New Yorker' Filled With All-Canadian Advertising

In business, Media, travel on June 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Due to its soaring value against the American ...

Image via Wikipedia

We’re not just hockey players and beer!

Check out the June 28 issue of the New Yorker — where every ad sold is from a Canadian institution, school or bank. The magazine has only done this once before, and the advertiser was Target.

This time, the elite readers of the New Yorker will be introduced to the country’s private schools, places to visit, banks. As a proud Canadian, I’m always delighted when my country gets a shred of recognition or acknowledgement — I bet most Americans don’t know that the two nations have the largest trading relationship in the world, doing billions of dollars worth of business with each other annually.

It’s a good time for Canadian advertisers to make the move because the loonie (that’s the Canadian $1 gold colored coin) is near par with the U.S. — it was 65 cents for many years. That makes Canada more expensive for American visitors and college students (who pay non-resident fees, often four times higher), but still well worth a look.

Many New Yorkers are sending their kids to McGill, and I’m always touting my alma mater, the University of Toronto — tuition for non-Canadians is still much less than for comparable American colleges.

Plus you get to live in a foreign country where the drinking age is 18.

Housekeeping Notes: T/S and Me

In Media on June 25, 2010 at 8:57 am

I’ll still be posting here at True/Slant until August 1. Not sure yet what, if anything, I’ll be doing for Forbes and where Broadside will migrate to, but I’ll keep you posted on all developments as soon as I know anything definite. I’ll spend the summer revising my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, spring 2011) and putting together proposals for two more.

I’m also now blogging twice a month — upside down and backwards! (kidding) for a new Australian website, on my blog The Grindstone — where I’ll focus on women and work and when and how they intersect. The invitation to do so came as a result of my writing here, which is pretty cool given how many millions of blogs are out there to choose from.

I’ll be in Canada visiting friends and family in Ontario and British Columbia in July, but will post and comment whenever possible.

Can Feminists Be People Whose Views You Hate?

In behavior, women on June 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm
This handout image received on September 8, 20...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Love this thoughtful and insightful rant (they can be all those at once) about the death of third-wave feminism — by Mark Morford at sfgate.com, commenting on an Atlantic magazine think-piece by a woman:

It is something to behold. Right now I’m vainly attempting to cross-reference Hanna Rosin’s fascinating mixed-bag article from the Atlantic that ran under the delightfully obnoxious headline “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control of Everything,” and mixing it with all the feverish stories about California’s landmark political races, Carly and Meg and Pelosi, too, influenced by everyone’s favorite winkin’ ditzball from hell, Sarah Palin.

And I’m tossing in a dash of pop culture, all the MIAs and Lady Gagas and Miley Cyruses, the Kathryn Bigelows and the ditzbombs of “Sex and the City,” trying to parse and understand and see some sort of through-line.

I am not having much success. Most women — and many of us men — are cheering madly at all the newfound roles, powers, titles, successes and attentions, from Hillary’s stunning presidential run to Bigelow’s Oscar to (even) Meg Whitman’s pile of billions that could very well buy her the election.

But…many are…entirely furious that many of third-wave feminism’s cornerstone values — abortion rights, humanitarianism, anti-racism, don’t kill stuff — are being violently, stupidly co-opted, inverted, perverted, repackaged…

In short, most progressive women are right now discovering a brutally painful truth, one that men have known for millennia: With power, glory and long overdue cultural advancement, comes a whole delightful s–bag of downsides, drawbacks, jackals and bitches to poison the party. Fun!

See, long was it believed, via some utopian/naive vision held by “enlightened” men and women alike, that if and when the feminist movement — all three waves of it, really, from Virginia Woolf to Betty Freidan, bell hooks to riot grrls — finally started to get everything it desired, there would surely be some wonderful sea change in the culture, a new paradigm to replace all the ugly, outdated structures of power and ego erected by old white men, something far more fluid and interesting, liberal and heartfelt and, well, nonmasculine.

Well, as if!

One of the delightful issues with power — wanting it, buying it, voting for it, getting it, keeping it, getting it back after you’ve blown it — is…you have to flex some serious muscle to get, own and keep it. Whether that power is physical, emotional, financial, political, intellectual (and they’re usually fairly entangled) sexual, or spiritual, some of it, if not all of it, is going to freak out and piss off a bunch of other women who think naked raw power — and showing how much you really want it — is a male thing.

That women are de facto gentler and kinder and all dance to the moonbeams’ glow. Snort.

While some women have been exercising whatever limited powers were granted to them (sexual, emotional) from the dawn of time — resentful others have silently seethed in the corner for having less-to-none of it.

If there’s anything more annoying than not having the power you so crave, it’s watching women whose behavior and values you loathe have tons of it and mis-using it. The economics of scarcity make it ugly.

But…claiming (your) power takes guts, putting your value out in front of others to judge. They may very well find you wanting.

That’s the price of admission to the boxing ring of power. Someone’s going to punch you in the face and you need a skilled and loyal cut man to keep you in the game.

Which is why I loved Hilary Swank in the 2004 Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby”. It’s nominally about a female boxer and her trainer but it’s just as much about finding a man (could be a woman) who knows what it takes to hit your peak and will push you to achieve it.

I hate Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga and many of the women who keep attracting media attention for polticial views I loathe, rampant stupidity and/or and tacky, skanky behavior.

But that’s the price of feminism, isn’t it? Everyone gets to play.

Why McChrystal Sang Like A Bird To 'Rolling Stone'

In Media, the military on June 23, 2010 at 10:23 am
President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...

Image via Wikipedia

Right now, there is much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Gen. McChrystal’s overshare with Rolling Stone — written by (yay!) fellow True/Slant writer Michael Hastings. Among fellow journalists…

How on earth, did he — of all the journalists in the world — manage to get this extraordinary career-making (his), possibly career-ending (McChrystal’s) scoop?

A few reasons, all of them classics of the genre:

1) Frustration By all accounts, Gen. McChrystal was totally fed up of being ignored and over-ruled by politicians and policymakers who he felt barely knew who he was and whose reputations were riding on the backs of his men.

2) Use the media It’s a time-honored way to speak truth to power — using the conduit of a popular publication as your loudspeaker and a willing journalist, editor and publisher as your microphones. If the people in charge aren’t listening to you, take them out of the loop.

2) Access Michael Hastings has been reporting on war, on the ground, for years. As a result of that commitment and the widsom it helped him accumulate, he knew the right people and they allowed him into their circle. From today’s New York Times:

As a result, Mr. Hastings waited in Paris with the general and his staff as they tried to get to Berlin by bus. Mr. Hastings traveled to Berlin separately. He later rejoined the general’s inner circle at the Ritz-Carlton hotel there, where they all spent the week waiting for the ash cloud to clear so they could fly to Afghanistan.

“I was so amazed by it myself,” Mr. Hastings said in a telephone interview from Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he is now reporting on another story for Men’s Journal. “At times I asked myself that question: Why are they giving me all this access?”

Though Mr. Hastings said that most of the eyebrow-raising comments in the article came from the general during the first two days in Paris, he found him and his staff to be more welcoming as time went by.

Initially, Mr. Hastings was not scheduled to travel with General McChrystal to Afghanistan. Only after he arrived in Europe did Mr. Hastings learn that the general’s staff was eager to take him with them. “They suggested the idea,” Mr. Hastings said.

Mr. Hastings ended up spending about a month on and off with the general and his staff while they were in Afghanistan — most of the time in settings and interviews that the general allowed to be on the record. “The amazing thing to me was that no ground rules were set,” Mr. Hastings said.

3) Time One of the most crucial elements of getting a story of this magnitude, in its full-on candor, is having a lot of time to spend with your subject(s.) For once, being a freelancer — with no editor demanding he shift his attention to a blog or TV report or the next story in order to look productive or beat the competition – paid off.  Michael was able to spend a month with his subjects., almost unheard-of for anyone with a staff job.

No subject, even the most private and protective, can spend a month around a journalist and not, eventually, let their hair down — even a high and tight. You get tired, you (as his subjects did) get drunk, your tongue loosens, you repeat the same ideas in a dozen ways. Whatever’s really bugging you will show up on  regular basis and all a reporter has to do is have the time, energy and attention to get every scrap of it down. Thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland, McChrystal had a lot more time to spend with Michael than is typical for either of them. Both men, in the normal course of events, would have been on tighter leashes with much more constrained schedules. No one can report a story like this after one 20-minute interview.

4) Trust Closely linked to time. It takes a lot of time, certainly between military or police and journalists, to build any sort of trust. I recently heard journalist Sebastian Junger, who has just made a war documentary, Restrepo, describe the months he spent in-country, including sustaining several severe injuries, over which the soldiers of the platoon in Afghanistan that was his focus began to include him in their circle.

5) Street cred Michael is young, but he’s written a well-reviewed book about the Iraq war and losing his fiance there. He’s smart, well-published, knows the players and the issues.

6) Luck. A volcano eruption? No J-school diploma can get you that lucky…

This is a story many talented and ambitious journos would have killed for.

Few had the magic combination.

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