Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Death Knell for Newspapers?

In his blog, former Mercury News reporter/columnist Dan Gillmor comments on the "slow implosion" of the newspaper industry, after the annoucement of major layoffs by The New York Times Company and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

It's not encouraging news for people who hope for a career in journalism. Gillmor writes:
"It's painful to watch a business I care so much about commit slow suicide this way. But the financial writing is increasingly on the wall for an industry that simply can't figure out how to handle its challenges.

"There will be a serious loss to society if daily newspapers -- or at least the community watchdog function they still fulfill, despite their well-chronicled flaws -- were to disappear or be disrupted while a new business model emerges. I don't know if we need newspapers (though I still read them avidly). We damn well need what newspapers do."

So what do you think? Do we really need newspapers? Does the newspaper industry have a role to play in the digital age? Or is it a dinosaur lumbering toward extinction?

And what's the impact on democracy if newspapers die?"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Killer Product Placement

As I was watching the medical drama House on Fox tonight, I saw one of the slickest examples of product placement I've seen in a while. In this episode, the cranky Dr. House uses his iPod to help diagnose a young patient's heart problem.

Picture House and his associates gathered 'round a table upon which lies his trusty white iPod, hooked up to a speaker. House touches the click wheel to play the heart sounds he's recorded, and keeps replaying them until one of his associates "hears" the problem. Then, while they hustle off to deal with the patient, House goes back to listening to classical music. Quite the advertisement of the iPod's multitasking abilities.

Oh yeah, and with the iPod's help, they managed to solve this episode's medical mystery.

As the show ends, we get another glimpse of the good doctor sporting those signature white earphones as he contemplates riding a motorcycle off into the sunset.

Oh yeah, that's what I'd call killer product placement.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Nickel and Dimed

Since most of you missed the on-campus discussion groups of Nickel and Dimed, let's try a blog discussion of the book instead.

Here are some discussion questions pulled from the reader's guide at the back of the book, along with one or two of my own. Pick a couple questions you relate to and post your comments. Feel free to add your own questions or respond to previous comments.

* Have you ever held down two jobs to make ends meet? What is the lowest paying job you ever held, and what kind of help -- if any -- did you need to improve your situation?

* Have your perceptions of poverty and prosperity been changed by reading this book? How about your treatment of low-wage workers, such as waiters, maids and salespeople?

* Housing costs pose the greatest obstacle for low-wage workers, especially in places like the Bay Area. How have you dealt with the high cost of housing? Do you believe there are realistic solutions to the lack of affordable housing?

* Ehrenreich is white and middle class. She thinks her experience would have been different if she'd been a woman of color or a single parent. Do you? In what way?

* The workers in Nickel and Dimed receive almost no benefits. Is this fair? Do you think an increase in wages (say, to a so-called "living wage") would help make up for the lack of benefits...or is this a completely different problem?

* Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-2000, a time when the economy was booming. Do you think Ehrenreich's experience would be different in today's economy? How so?

* After reading Nickel and Dimed, do you think that the lower-income people who were recently evacuated from News Orleans and other damaged coastal cities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will be able to afford to return?

If you'd like more information on Nickel and Dimed...or if you'd like you'd like to hear Barbara Ehrenreich talk about the book or read what others have said about it...or if you'd just like the "Cliff Notes" version of the book, here are some links to check out:
* The Nickel and Dimed web site, maintained by the Institute for Policy Studies, has links to a number of articles, interviews and resources related to the book
* Barbara Ehrenreich interview on Weekend Edition (NPR) interview, May 19, 2001 -- audio file

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Mark of the Purple Pen

In case you missed it, Sunday's SF Chronicle had a good commentary on what it takes to teach writing...which usually includes a lot of time spent reading, correcting and commenting on student papers (that's the purple pen part...I've decided purple pen marks are nicer and a tad less strident than red ones).

The commentary, "The Goal is Garbage In, Writers Out," also contains some seriously entertaining examples of mistakes you don't want to make. See how quickly you can spot the errors.

While I agree with the author's approach to grading papers, I wouldn't call most student papers "garbage." Actually, most are pretty good, and some are really good. And all it takes is one or two really good ones to make my day.

So, please...make my day!

Friday, September 02, 2005

It's a nightmare alright

One of my former students, Charles Harrington, emailed me some interesting comments and questions about the handling of the New Orleans hurricane disaster...and the resulting PR disaster for some government officials. Here's what he had to say:
I'm e-mailing you because I am trying to make sense of the Katrina story from a PR standpoint, and you were the #1 professor as far as finding the PR side of current events. (Gee, thanks!)

For me, the entire thing seems to be the Gov't's worst PR nightmare, with people in key places saying EXACTLY THE WRONG THINGS. But maybe I'm missing something here. Things I found particularly surprising were:

The head of Federal Emergency Management Agency saying people who didn't get out are partially responsible for their own problems:
"Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN.
"I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans."
Now...I can't imagine that he doesn't know that most of the people who are still in the city were the poor, transportationless, or sick/infirm/hospitalized. What is he thinking?
(Good question! I wondered the same thing myself. FEMA seems clueless. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Brown really didn't know that most of those who stayed did so because they had no way means/money/place to go. Partly, it's because most channels of communication were shut down by the storm, but it also looks like he was simply out of touch. I mean, why couldn't he watch CNN or go online and read like the rest of us?)
Also, when the Governor spoke about troops entering the city to deal with looters, she said:
"They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said of 300 National Guard troops who landed in New Orleans fresh from duty in Iraq. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."'s craziness over there. I understand that...and I think she's doing the right thing. But she's also saying she expects the military to come in and kill a lot of her constituents. At least that's how I read it.... Would a statement about military personnel bringing peace and order have been too mild?
I'd say the "locked and loaded" rhetoric is over the top. Personally, I'd have thought it sufficient for the governor to say she's bringing in the National Guard to restore order and they'll use whatever force is necessary to do that.
I also saw a report where a staff member for the attorney general claimed that looters were part of the city's "existing criminal element" who were "taking advantage of the storm." Huh? Is she kidding? Are people stealing food and clothes taking advantage of a situation?

I am reminded of that assignment you gave us about the rise of STDs in colleges where the health dept. person (essentially) calls the students sluts. It seems like a lot of people (under stress) are saying the most astonishing things about people who are A) citizens, B) in a serious crisis, and C) not getting the help we would probably expect the gov't. to provide. (Note: in the assignment, 100W students had to write a news story and a news release, and decide whether or not to use some colorful quotes, one of which was clearly inappropriate for a news release...once you thought about it.)

Am I being too harsh? Also, what would you recommend the officials do in this situation? I'd love to hear what you think.
And I'd love to hear what you think! Is this turning into a public relations disaster as well as a natural disaster?