Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ Category
After some relatively not-so-disastrous economic metrics last week, I began seeing headlines and news coverage like this:
Economy on the Mend
That’s a matter of interpretation, and there’s no consensus (as if there is such a thing among economists). This did get me thinking about the value of loud public optimism in the face of continuing economic uncertainty.
The most famous case in American history may be the popularity of the song “Happy Days Are Here Again,” written in 1929 by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager:
So long sad times
Go long bad times
We are rid of you at last
Howdy gay times
Cloudy gray times
You are now a thing of the past
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again
Altogether shout it now
There’s no one
Who can doubt it now
So let’s tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again
Your cares and troubles are gone
There’ll be no more from now on
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Are here again!
The song became an anthem of the Great Depression. It was played at the Democratic National Convention of 1932 that nominated FDR, and became the unofficial theme song of the Roosevelt administration.
How the song came to be written and become an anthem is strange and enlightening.
The song was written in 1929, but before the Stock Market crash, and it was supposed to be about World War I soldiers celebrating the end of the war:
Along with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “Happy Days Are Here Again” embodied the Great Depression for millions of Americans. Yet Ager’s bouncy tune and Yellen’s feel-good lyric had nothing to do with the Depression. The movie musical Chasing Rainbows was nearly complete when Irving Thalberg, MGM’s head of production, told Yellen he wanted a song for at new scene in which World War 1 doughboys celebrate the armistice. Ager grumbled about having to collaborate on another song because his relationship with Yellen had soured, but he agreed to stop at Yellen’s house that afternoon. “Got a title?” he groused. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Yellen answered. He later swore that the words came to him at that moment. A half hour later, they had finished the song. Two days later, MGM filmed the scene even though the movie was so lame it was not released for several years.
Ager and Yellen published the song anyway, and a New York song plugger took it to George Olsen, whose orchestra was playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania on Black Thursday, the day the stock market crashed. Yellen later wrote about the reaction:
In the big dining room of the hotel, a handful of gloom-stricken diners were feasting on gall and wormwood. Olsen looked at the title of the song and passed out the parts. “Sing it for the corpses,” he said to the soloist. The diners broke into a roar of laughter. The band played on, and one couple after another rose from their tables, stomped to the bandstand, and sardonically yelled the words with the vocalist…
(America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley by Philip Furia and Michael Lasser)
So it was an accident, an astonishing coincidence. While those first listeners on Black Thursday sang along “sardonically,” the millions who sang it in the years to come were much more earnest and sincere:
A perky tune often played in a staccato manner to fit its jaunty words, “Happy Days Are Here Again” was soon joined by a legion of cheer-up songs that typified the Depression’s insistent public optimism…Perhaps the success of “Happy Days Are Here Again” as a Depression anthem and as a campaign song for the Democrats derives from its directness and naivete. The brief lyric has only two words of more than one syllable. Its sentiments are as simple as its words, but its bubbly assertion of good times in the face of the evidence soon has us singing along.
I’m not sure news media belong at either extreme—as suppliers of endless unmitigated economic bad news or as cheerleaders selling sunny and unrealistic optimism. Thinking about “Happy Days Are Here Again,” though, it appears that people, headlines or not, have a way of choosing and using exactly what they need to get them through the times.
I know I sound like a broken record (that’s one of those black plastic discs, oh, never mind, you had to be there), but I continue to support the vitality of print media.
So does the New York Times. But as I noted before, the appearance of the New York Times on The Daily Show didn’t do the Times any favors. Especially baffling was the interview with Times Assistant Managing Editor Rick Berke. I thought Executive Editor Bill Keller was realistic and thoughtful, but he apparently didn’t like his own performance, as he says in this week’s Time magazine 10 Questions feature:
You recently appeared as part of a Daily Show segment that treated the paper as a comical anachronism. How do you respond to those who seem eager for newspapers to die out?
Tommy Giglio, CHICAGO
Bill Keller: Well, that’s the last time I try to be a good sport. Even my wife told me that I looked faintly ridiculous, and she was trying to make me feel better. Among the people who would miss us most would be the wise-guy pundits and scriptwriters for satirical TV shows, because they riff on the news we produce.
That’s an okay point about riffing on traditionally gathered news, but good satire doesn’t necessarily mean cheap shots. In this case, they pointed out—and the New York Times agreed—that the news in the print paper is at best yesterday’s news. That’s just a fact.
What struck me as ironic about Bill Keller’s appearance on the 10 Questions page is that the questions from Time readers were collected online, and the page also recommends “To watch a video interview with Bill Keller and to subscribe to the 10 Questions podcast on iTunes, go to time.com/10questions.” But what’s really weird is the graphic that depicts Bill Keller in a Polaroid photo, which unlike struggling but still kicking print media is an actual extinct medium.
A newspaper, Web, video, podcast and iTunes page in a magazine, with a Polaroid twist. That’s what I call synergy.
In the wake of this week’s news about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, The State newspaper finally published the e-mails it has been holding since December.
There are plenty of things inquiring minds want to know. But once all the top-line questions eventually dies down (Should Sanford resign? Should The State have published these personal and passionate love letters at all? Who is this mystery woman and was she worth the trouble?), some bigger and more significant questions will have to be dealt with:
Did The State exercise its most strenuous journalistic efforts in pursuing this story over the past six months?
If it didn’t, does that disprove the primary argument that newspapers make to justify their existence: that in the face of media alternatives, there are some things that only real, resourceful, professional news organization can do?
You might call that the Watergate rationale for existence. So it may be helpful to take a quick look back at the most famous newspaper investigation in American history. As we now know, Woodward and Bernstein performed a Herculean amount of legwork on the story, but were regularly sent back for more to meet the publication standards of Ben Bradlee and the Washington Post.
Here is what we are able to piece together about the investigative efforts at The State.
First, one of the best recaps of the investigation appearing on The State site is not from The State itself, but written by the New York Times:
E-mails led The State to Atlanta airport
By TIM ARANGO and BRIAN STELTER – The New York Times
About six months ago, an anonymous tipster sent The State newspaper copies of e-mail messages supposedly exchanged between Gov. Mark Sanford’s personal e-mail address and a woman named Maria in Argentina.
Reporters sent e-mails back to the originating e-mail address and to the woman, whose e-mail address was included, in an effort to verify the messages were genuine. They never heard back. A second round of e-mails also failed to get a response, so the paper did not publish them until Wednesday, after Sanford admitted having an affair.
“We had not determined they were authentic,” Leroy Chapman, the governance editor at The State, said of the e-mail. “What it was, was a puzzle piece that was hardly discernible.”. . .
According to The State, the e-mails did contain very specific information:
The State has removed the woman’s full name and other personal details, including her address, e-mail address and children’s names.
A McClatchy special correspondent, Angeles Mase, Wednesday visited the 14-story apartment building in Buenos Aires where, according to the e-mails that included her address, the woman lives. . The woman at the address answered to the name in the e-mails and, at first, agreed to speak to a visitor, but she declined after the visitor identified herself as a reporter.
So this is what we know:
Six months ago The State tried to verify the e-mails by e-mailing Maria. They got no reply and after trying twice, they gave up.
The State admits that it had a lot of personal information about the woman. But there is no indication of personal follow-up in Buenos Aires until this week.
Of course, the simplest route to verification would have been to confront the Governor with the e-mails. There is no journalistic rule that requires unassailable prima facie authenticity; on the contrary, a simple denial in the face of absurd evidence is the best way to set aside baseless fabrications. Unless such a denial isn’t possible.
I am not suggesting crossing any professional lines of investigation. I am not ignoring the difficulty editors have in making investigative decisions.
I am suggesting that there were completely appropriate ways of pursuing this story months ago. Maybe that pursuit would have led nowhere, but maybe it would have moved all of this in an entirely different direction. If it’s important now, it would have been important then.
I’ve said before and will continue to say that newspapers serve an irreplaceable role in our society. Their demise is not inevitable. But if they want to keep standing, they will have to stand head and shoulders above the media pack. I’m not sure that is what happened here.
You can learn a lot watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report on Comedy Central. There’s continuing head-shaking about how many people get their news and information primarily from these “fake” news and opinion shows. But I think that these shows get their appeal from being in the tradition of the King’s fools, the savvy jokers who got away with speaking outrageous truth that others won’t touch.
On June 10, the topic of The Daily Show report End Times was the antiquity of newspapers. Jason Jones visited the New York Times. There was a conversation with Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who was surprisingly realistic as he talked about the journalistic lifeboats they were building. Then there is this amazing exchange with Rick Berke, Times Assistant Managing Editor:
Jason Jones: Why is aged news better than real news?
Rick Berke: I’ve never heard the term aged news.
JJ: Well, the newspaper is aged. I mean, it’s yesterday’s news.
RB: Not necessarily.
JJ: Give me one thing in there that happened today.
RR: (Long pause) But…um…nothing here happened today. But…I think you see several things that didn’t happen yesterday.
JJ: So it’s even older.
RR: Depends on your perspective.
No matter how many times you watch it, this looks like a scene from an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco. Someday, a scholar of this extraordinary media era may even write a dissertation about this dialogue.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of ink-on-paper media, that I think they offer some unmatched and irreplaceable strengths and qualities. But I’ve also been clear that until those media focus brutally and creatively on those qualities and on these times (see my post on Walter Annenberg’s plan to save newspapers), successful solutions will remain as out of reach tomorrow as they are today.
I recently wrote about Kid Scoop, one of the weekly children’s pages widely distributed in print newspapers. The subject of the post was how, in the midst of this economic crisis, Kid Scoop had tried in its own way to teach children about the stock market (mostly with a happy face).
This week, another weekly children’s feature, The Mini Page, offers a different reflection on hard times: Creating Pride: A New Deal for Artists. The topic is the Public Works of Art Program (PWAP), created during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal, to support art and artists.
The Mini Page, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate to over 500 print newspapers, is the work of “Founding Editor and Editor at Large” Betty Debman.
She deserves to be commended for two reasons.
First, as time has passed since the Great Depression, many adults—let alone children—don’t know much about the details of New Deal programs. These programs were quickly glossed over in history courses, and occasionally found their way into news media or entertainment. Much of what was discussed about the New Deal programs was in the context of a generic rallying cry for or against the role of Big Government.
Second, in its time seventy-five years ago, the idea of widespread government support for art and artists was controversial. There’s no reason to believe that as the issue arises again, the question of whether and how government should be involved in sustaining artists won’t come up again.
Appropriately for children, the Mini Page keeps the topic straightforward and simple. The topic and the controversies surrounding it are historically anything but simple. The PWAP, run by the Treasury Department, was only one program. The Works Progress Administration, the agency most associated with New Deal works projects, administered Federal Project No. One (which, wherever you are on the political spectrum, you have to admit does sound kind of Soviet collectivist). Federal One included some of the most interesting cultural projects in American history: Federal Writers’ Project, Federal Theatre Project, Federal Music Project and Federal Art Project. (For an entertaining slant on the Federal Theatre Project, see Tim Robbins’ movie Cradle Will Rock, an overview of the strange and uneasy partnership among art, commerce and politics in the New Deal.)
If the Web is a bunch of theme parks, and sites are the rides, attractions, concessions, etc., then today’s vote for the most fun ride in Medialand is for Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum site.
First of all, the Newseum is an actual place in Washington, D.C., not just a Web site, and a pretty amazing one:
The Newseum — a 250,000-square-foot museum of news — offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.
The Newseum is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., on America’s Main Street between the White House and the U.S. Capitol and adjacent to the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. The exterior’s unique architectural features include a 74-foot-high marble engraving of the First Amendment and an immense front wall of glass through which passers-by can watch the museum fulfill its mission of providing a forum where the media and the public can gain a better understanding of each other.
The Newseum features seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail spaces and visitor services. It offers a unique environment that takes museumgoers behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made.
So, yes, you can have fun at the actual Newseum. And you can have fun online, with exhibits and games, including The Newsmania Quiz, and Be a TV Reporter, where you can download your own video report to see what it will look like when you finally get that network job.
For media mavens and maniacs, though, the best ride at the online park is Today’s Front Pages, the daily collection of newspaper front pages from around the world. That’s 684 (watch for falling numbers) paper-and-ink front pages, the morning they are published, from 70 countries, covering the alphabet from The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama) to Ultimas Noticias (Caracas, Venezuela).
If you need proof that creating a paper-and-ink newspaper is an art and a business that we cannot afford to lose, visit Today’s Front Pages. If you want an instant view of what people are looking at first thing across the country and around the world, if you want to compare and contrast our astonishing differences and similarities, it is the place. If you’re a media lover, it’s a wild and colorful ride, and unlike even the biggest roller coaster, it changes every single day.
And if tomorrow, visitors from outer space arrive who want a quick lesson on what the planet is about, right now, Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum is the ride I would take them on first.