Friday, July 31, 2009

If you ask me...

...it sounds like this was a "we don't want our company imaged to be sullied" decision.

Now, that being said, the nonsense that passed for political commentary offered by Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly at times resembled two boys on a playground: "He did it!" "No, he did it."

At the end of the day, perhaps their corporate bosses acted as the equivalent of the principal.

A pseudo-event

One of the simplest (and sadly most effective) ways to manage the news is to set up an event that has no real news value but gets covered anyway. It's called a pseudo-event.

You watched one on your television screen last night (or this morning).

It was called the "Beer Summit." Does anyone really think that President Obama, Vice President Biden and their two guests (a prominent African-American professor and the Caucasian police officer who inadvertently arrested him) really dealt substantively with the issues involving race, during their conversation at the White House? (Oh, please tell me you know the answer to that one.)

Yet, the ridiculous coverage of the event (before, during and after) certainly led to the believe that substantive conversations took place. Give me a break. These four men offered the media a glorified photo opportunity to suggest that any lingering hostility between the professor and the police officer had been laid to rest. In part, the "summit" was necessary because of the unfortunate comments made by the president in the first few days after the arrest.

I'm not criticizing the Obama administration for hosting the two men. Nor am I suggesting that conversations about race need to be held in the United States. What I am saying is that the national media's lust to know every little nugget of information about the "Beer Summit" gave it a credibility it didn't deserve.

This is all well and good...if...

...the Republican Party is serious about a moderate candidate for the 2012 presidential election.

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty fits that moderate label, but the current state of the GOP makes him appear out of touch with the party's base. However, Pawlenty was recently named to an important party post, and it will provide him with a solid platform to build his portfolio for 2012.

His speech today to the Republican National Committee already is drawing significant media attention. Will it also draw the interest of the attendees?

If the GOP commits itself to running a conservative in 2012 (and the preference polls to this point suggest that will be the case), then Pawlenty stands no chance.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

One of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism is...

...the country I visited last week.

Another Mexican news journalist has been killed, and he is believed to be the seventh journalist slain in 2009 while doing his or her job.

I post this on my blog not as an indictment of Mexico, or to somehow suggest that Mexico is not safe. Anyone who read this blog last week, or since, knows that I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe while I was in Mexico City for the International Association for Media and Communication Research international conference.

However, I was not there as a journalist. I was not covering stories about drugs or crime, and those are the kinds of reports that need to be told but also put in danger the lives of the people who tell them.

I encourage you to visit a post from earlier this week that highlights the efforts being taken by two people to professionalize journalism education in Mexico. Theirs is a noble and necessary effort. But it will take a generation or more to improve the overall state of journalism in Mexico. And the ruthless killing of journalists who are doing their jobs makes that effort all the more complex.

Reporting (legally) from Zimbabwe

As I watched the 10:00 p.m. EDT BBC world news report yesterday, I wondered why the network chose to lead with a feature report about Zimbabwe. This story suggests the answer -- for the first time in almost a decade, both the BBC and CNN can again report legally from the country.

The government's decision is a positive one, and it offers a nugget of optimism to suggest that a sense of rational thought has appeared in government circles.

Media consumers can certainly expect more hard-edge reporting from the country from the BBC. But can Americans count on CNN to do the same thing? The continent of Africa has never been substantively covered by American news agencies (and many of the world's news organizations aren't much better in this regard), and in an era of media consolidation brought on in part by the corporate mentality pervading news room thinking, can we expect CNN to act responsibly now?

A host of media publications...

...goes on the block.

Each of these publications plays an important role in helping media insiders, journalists, educators and others understand what is happening in the broadly defined communications world.

To see that many be slapped with "For Sale" signs in a short period of time demonstrates to me that "old" media properties are seen in many places as secondary sources of income.

159 million Americans should...

...get a flu shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The organization believes that college students (and all young adults) should be among those who are at the front of the line when it comes to a vaccine for H1N1.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I need a good-sized U.S. map

A former student came by today to say "goodbye" as he heads to Marquette, Michigan, where he begins a television news job on Aug. 1. Including Brad Soroka, I can now count my former Point Park students in news markets in:

-Maryland
-Michigan
-Nebraska
-New York
-Pennsylvania
-West Virginia

Another student is in Washington, where she is employed by the World Bank.

Another promising group of seniors is preparing to graduate in December 2009 and May 2010. I really need to buy that good-sized U.S. map I keep promising myself, so that I can keep track of where "my kids" are. And I sure hope they know I'm proud of them.

What the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates lineup could be

Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been fully torn down, here's one fan's guess at what the 2010 starting lineup could be. Your opinions are welcomed!

CF-Andrew McCutchen
RF-Jose Tabata
3B-Pedro Alvarez
LF-Garrett Jones
1B-Jeff Clement
2B-Andy LaRoche
C-Ryan Doumit
SS-Ronny Cedeno
P-Zach Duke

The potential here is pretty good.

Brandon Moss and Lastings Milledge are no more than back-up outfielders, though I might be a bit too optimistic on Jose Tabata starting in 2010. I don't like Andy LaRoche at second base, but I can think of no other place to put him. I'm also not sure what to do with Delwyn Young, who can hit.

The trouble is not with Twitter

Instead it's with those who truly believe that social networking sites (whether they be 140 characters or a lengthier post) can replace legitimate mainstream media organizations.

This editorial makes that point, and it poses an interesting challenge to journalism educators: How do we get our students to understand that they can't consider themselves having a balanced news diet unless they access a variety of media sites?

And save me the pithy replies; many of them I've already heard, and almost all of them are bogus. The reality for journalism educators is that we put up with students determined to Twitter, IM, Facebook and/or text during classes. When that happens, you can only imagine what we think they do at other times in order to satisfy their educational ambitions.

A generational divide? I don't think so. A curmudgeon criticizing students? Hardly. The students who want to "rock," do. They work at their craft with pride, and I see it.

Bingo!

An excellent editorial in the Financial Times that points out the complexities of leadership and participation in the democratic process.

My only criticism (and it's a minor one) is that the author didn't spend more time highlighting the role the mainstream media play in this process. Social media are important, but so, too, are the professionals who cover the political process each and every day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Silent...no longer

During one of the plenary sessions at last week's IAMCR convention in Mexico City, a speaker noted that Mexico was one of the most dangerous places for a journalist to report these days. The on-going war between the drug cartels and the government, and the reporters who attempt to uncover what is happening in that terrible battle tells part of the problem.

So does a history of a lack of free press in Mexico. Two people are attempting to do something about that, and their efforts are recognized here.

The Foundation for Freedom of Expression will become another in a long line of agencies promoting various freedoms that will need more than cursory media attention in order to sustain itself.

Worth thinking about

A colleague sent me the following which he found on TVSpy this morning. My comments follow:

I'm a news director in a starter market. Pretty much everyone I hire except for main anchors is a 22 year old fresh out of college.

My biggest complaint is that so many of the applicants I interview aren't really interested in news.

The first thing I do in an interview is give candidates a current events quiz. Most can't name the Secretary of Defense, Speaker of the House, Treasury Secretary, or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. These are people who are in the news a lot.

If you can't pass the current events quiz, the interview stops because we're just wasting each other's time to continue.

Over time, the current events quiz has become more important than my writing test because writing can be taught; a passion for news cannot. People without passion for news will drop out when they see how hard the job really is.

I would encourage professors to help students with passion for news to grow while encouraging those without passion to change majors before they end up unemployed.

What kind of graduates you send me will determine what kind of reputation your school has and, unfortunately, employers do judge candidates based on what school they come from.

I pretty much won't consider graduates of certain --but not all -- top tier schools because of the attitude their schools instill in them. They think they know more than I do, and they don't.

Schools should teach students that the college education is the beginning, not the end, of their learning process.

I'm also more willing to consider candidates who come from colleges that have a proven track record.

I think this is pretty common in our business. When I lose an employee to a bigger market station, I can expect to lose one or two more to the same station because the news director sees the quality of employees we have.

Reputations of colleges can change. Eight to nine years ago, I was hiring a lot of U-Texas grads. Now days, none can pass a current events quiz. I'm hesitant to even interview candidates from there anymore. I still do interviews because cream rises to the top even in bad schools, but I don't approach the interview with high expectations.

I do believe there are far more bad schools out there than good schools. I don't think there's a decent program any more at any school in Texas or Oklahoma, based on the quality of graduates that apply. I do a lot of hiring from out-of-state schools.

As a result, any school that does have a good reputation in my mind has a real advantage for its graduates to get jobs.


This editorial is a devastating critique of what happens when college programs require their faculty to use their research record as their measure of success (read: tenure and promotion).

I cannot speak to the specific complaints offered by this anonymous news director about the other programs in Texas and Oklahoma, but because I taught for two years at one large public institution in Texas I can address at least part of this news director's criticism.

I wanted to instill a news mentality in my broadcast journalism students, and I fought to get a legitimate newscast started. We did a taped newscast, but it was not to the quality and standards I wanted. My dean admonished me on more than one occasion that I should be directing my energies toward getting academic research published. Clearly, what I saw as a need for a true broadcast journalism program was not matching with his goals of a research-productive faculty. I left that institution four years ago, and it is my understanding that no newscast has been put in place by the two or three faculty members who succeeded me.

I am not criticizing the value of academic research. What I am concerned about is that at larger institutions -- private and public -- the pressure to public academic research dominates the workplace. Teaching becomes a secondary requirement and interest for faculty. You've heard of "publish, or perish" and sadly that mentality exists.

I watched a fantastic educator leave the academy because her research record was not up to snuff at the large public institution where she taught. She was my adviser when I pursued my MA, and she became a friend to my wife and me. I was disgusted at the "oh, well" attitude that existed as she struggled to meet the number and quality of publications required of her (and the other faculty).

Meanwhile, at smaller institutions, a faculty member is valued for his or her ability to teach a variety of skills that students need as they enter their chosen profession. In the four years at my current institution -- Point Park University -- I've been fortunate to be allowed to build the kind of broadcast journalism program I believe is necessary to graduate quality journalists. To say I did that alone would be arrogant and wrong; my colleagues share the enthusiasm and dedication that I do, and we've been aided by a fantastic administration that has urged us to do all we can.

I say with pride that my former students can be found in newsrooms in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Nebraska, New York, Maryland and elsewhere. They still have much to learn; the idea offered above by that news director that a college degree is not the end of the learning process is spot on. But I am confident they possessed the skills they needed at the time they graduated to succeed in the newsroom.

If anyone who reads this knows the news director who wrote the essay I highlighted at the beginning of this post, please ask him or her to contact me. I want to tell him or her that I agree with what has been stated, but I also want to alert him to the kinds of graduates my colleagues and I are turning out. I trust they can do the kind of job that he or she demands.

Yes, that about summarizes it

Politico's Martin Kady II seems to have summarized the health care debate swallowing up Capitol Hill quite well...

If you're a Democrat, July can't end soon enough, as the excitement and hope of six months ago must seem like a distant winter memory. If you're a Republican, you just might be in favor of delaying August recess if only to watch the party in power squirm for a few more days.

The Senate Finance Committee is on the verge of dropping the employer mandate and the government subsidized 'public option' while the House continues to dither in its health care negotiations with Blue Dog holdouts. Yanking the public plan will cause screams among liberals, and it will be hard to explain to voters exactly what health 'reform' looks like without a public insurance plan for the uninsured.


I've followed this debate from afar (and through media coverage that I think has been quite good and complete); and I can't help but think that if health care reform doesn't get done, the Democrats can only look at themselves for blame.

An impressive educational opportunity

My initial reaction after reading this story: Wow, what a tremendous professional and educational opportunity for these journalism students.

But then I considered other important questions (a few of which I list here):
1. What are the ethical implications of being embedded with the Army unit? In other words, what stories are they missing because of their embedded status?
2. Are there any expectations asked for or required by the Army before it agreed to this plan?
3. What happens if the "it" hits the fan while the students are there? Will there be any attempt to quash a story?

Let me make clear: I think this is an amazing professional and educational opportunity for these aspiring journalists, and the university's administration also ought to be commended for its financial endorsement of it. I simply want to make sure that there is no doubt that these young people are going there as journalists, and that means they could uncover stories that make some people uncomfortable.

But what makes me even more uncomfortable is the first line of the story I highlighted above. I repeat it here: The journalism department at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks will soon have more reporters in Iraq than many major American newspapers. That's a sad statement, for it suggests that coverage of and interest in this terribly vital place has waned.

Connected to this idea is how news is covered from this part of the world. CBS News has announced that its new video journalist will be going to nearby Afghanistan, where the fighting is more intense than in Iraq but the purpose for America being there is a bit clearer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Well, it appears I goofed

My thanks to IAMCR president Annabelle Sreberny for pointing out a mistake I made in one of my blog posts last week from Mexico City.

I suggested that it was a disappointment to not see any conversation about the H1N1 flu. It appears I was wrong. I received this e-mail today (and posted it as a comment in my original blog message):

Actually a special session called "Crisis Communication Special Session" had been planned for weeks and took place on July 24th (in the conference book on p. 107). There were three speakers from Mexico, Egypt and Israel, each with interesting highlights of the media coverage in their countries. There was also a lively discussion with further comments made about the UK and Australian coverage. Much of the conversation asked where the source of evident 'panic' lay: with the governments, with the media or with public responses? We all agreed that it was a terrific topic for comparative research and the emerging theme of 'Crisis Communication' will organise further panels in Braga next years.

My apologies for the inaccurate message. More importantly, my thanks to Annabelle for catching it.

And speaking of a free exchange of ideas

I am pleased to see that there is real discussion about whether my former employer, Texas Tech University, ought to have hired former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a faculty member (and student recruiter).

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that a petition protesting the decision to hire Gonzales has been signed by at least 40 members of the faculty.

I have made clear on this blog that I am no fan of Mr. Gonzales, and certainly no fan of his interpretations of the Constitution and of the law. But the debate to hire him misses a point: Unless it can be proven in a court that he violated U.S. or international law, then there is no justification for not hiring him.

Let's put it more bluntly: If the decision whether to hire a person was based on his or her political beliefs, then it would be a sad day. We see that happen far too often in political administrations, and they lead to an erosion of confidence in the political process and system. We don't need that in higher education.

Come on, she was fired

The language niceties being offered by Morgan State University are a loquacious attempt to mask the obvious -- the student media adviser hacked off someone (or more than one person) in the administration because she refused to have her student journalists back down.

It baffles me that there are university leaders across the country who believe that student-produced newspapers -- especially those that operate independently of the university -- ought to be mouthpieces for the administration.

Is not a university the ultimate place where an exchange of ideas -- even those people don't want to hear? -- are expected to be openly aired?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Newspapers matter...but I wouldn't care if mine went out of business

That stunning contradiction and more in this series of items about the news business.

There is no unifying theme to the aforementioned items, except perhaps for this: No one is quite sure of the economic model needed to ensure the health of the newspaper industry that also ensures retaining the high quality Americans have come to expect from this critical institution.

I come from a broadcast background, and my outbursts of dissatisfaction about that industry stems from my firm belief that it can do a better job of covering real news. But you would be a dolt to suggest that the broadcast news and Internet industries can sustain the kind of journalism our democracy demands. Neither television nor the Web can deliver the depth and number of stories the print industry can.

But when talented writers, editors and others exit the industry (voluntarily or otherwise) for other careers, the health of American society suffers.

While I was away...

...the BIG local story in Pittsburgh concerned the allegation that Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a woman one year ago in Nevada. She has now filed a civil suit against him and others whom she claims are protecting Roethlisberger.

And while I was away...the BIG national story concerned whether a Massachusetts police department acted "stupidly" when it arrested prominent African-American professor Henry Louis Gates, who teaches at Harvard, after it appeared he was trying to break in to his home.

Now, I'm not attempting to dismiss these stories, but I am uncomfortable with the limited number of reports that offered context and depth.

In the case of the alleged sexual assault (which Roethlisberger says didn't happen), context is not offering a laundry list of past incidents involving professional athletes, entertainers and celebrities. Rather, context means highlighting the coddling of (collegiate and professional) athletes; providing an examination of the culture of sports that too often tolerates immature (and worse) behavior; acknowledging that women (and men) are more than willing to use their bodies as a means of getting close to athletes; and a discussion about the number of cases involving sexual assaults (regardless of who is the accused).

Granted, these kinds of stories demand time and resources to prepare; however, if a news organization takes time to offer substantive, analytical reports on a consistent basis, then it won't (pardon the choice of words) be caught with its pants down when allegations such as this become news. Nor will it face the potential criticism that it is protecting the prominent defendant, in some form or fashion, by not offering a complete examination of the incident in question.

In the case of the police department that might have acted "stupidly" and then required President Obama to say he should have "calibrated" his words, context is not a cursory discussion about racial profiling. Such conversations almost always involve one person attempting to out-shout the other. Rather, context demands a review of police department standards involving arrest procedures; a complete examination of what happened that caused a particular arrest to be made; and an analysis of whether claims of racial bias (or worse) are legitimate in any one city.

And, yes, these kinds of stories also demand time and resources to prepare; however, if a news organization takes time to offer substantive, analytical reports on a consistent basis, then it will be able to go beyond the rhetoric about race.

Let me make clear: I am NOT dismissing the possibility that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a woman, or that Prof. Gates was detained solely because he is black. Rather, I'm saying that the media owe it to their audiences to go beyond the superficial ("he said, she said" or "racial profiling").

Moreover, the resources available to a news organization are not limitless. But if, as was evident in Pittsburgh, money can be spent to send reporters to Reno, NV (where the alleged assault took place), then certainly it also can be spent on investigative reporting.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A challenge...for you

1. Start by taking the letters used to spell a body part.
2. Then add one of those letters to the beginning of that word.
3. You're now describing another body part.

Go!

Honduras

An interesting discussion about political legitimacy continues to play out in (and near) Honduras.

Almost one month ago Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya was ousted in what is viewed by him and his supporters as a political coup, but as a necessary and legal transition of power by his critics and the new president. (At the risk of oversimplifying the differences between the sides, the dispute centers around the presidential elections process in that country.)

Over the previous four weeks, diplomatic efforts involving various countries, including the United States, have continued, with the international community supporting Zelaya returning to his country and being re-installed as president.

Zalaya has attempted in the past 24-48 hours to speed up any discussion about his return by traveling to the Honduran-Nicaraguan border (he has been in Nicaragua over the past couple of weeks). That decision has not been well received by Honduran leaders and the United States.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's negative comments were newsworthy principally because she has been consistent in telling the new government that it must allow Zelaya to return home and resume his presidential duties. Mr. Zelaya insists he will not back down in his attempts to regain the position he maintains his legally is.

Should Zelaya return to Honduras? That question has been usurped in recent days by how Zelaya is attempting to return home. Instead of continuing to use the international community that is almost universally behind him, Zelaya used a provocative, ill-conceived and non-leader like act to advance his plans.

It remains likely that Mr. Zelaya will resume his presidency soon. But he appears less presidential today than he did 24-48 hours ago.

Obama "calibrated" late on a Friday

I've noted in the past on this blog that the classic modus operandi for politicians is to bury bad news late on a Friday. Yesterday, President Obama took a page from that script.

His announcement that he could have "calibrated" his words regarding the arrest of an African-American educator by the Cambridge (MA) police was delivered at the perfect time to ensure that the most intense media coverage would occur at a time when public interest would be low.

Now, I'm not going to speak to the specifics of what happened; I was out of the country when the initial wave of controversy started. But I am going to say that if a politician wants to admit a goof, a late Friday afternoon is the time to do it.

The president appears to have learned a valuable lesson -- don't say anything for which you need to apologize. But he certainly already knew another important lesson -- say "I'm sorry" when the public will be distracted by other things.

Three airports, two countries, two flights, one awesome view, one interesting conversation

My flights yesterday from Mexico City to Dallas, and then Dallas to Pittsburgh were completed on a day in which the weather was perfect. And so I had a wonderful view of the Mexican and American landscape below.

On my flight from "Big D" to "The 'Burgh" I sat next to a young woman from Louisiana who was traveling to Pittsburgh to visit her boyfriend, whose job was recently transferred here. She had never been on an airplane before, and so we began a lengthy conversation about the perils and pleasures of flying.

I appreciate flying at night when the weather is clear because it allows for an amazing view of the world below. The blackness is met with the oranges, reds and yellows of the city visible below. Last night, the young lady sitting next to me seemed to appreciate it more than I did; I could certainly understand why. For her, it was the first time enjoying this wonderful view.

We touched down, made it to the baggage claim and soon went our separate ways. I was thrilled to be home, nothing more needs to be said. She was excited to be in a city that could be her home in a year or so.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I hope my students (and my sons) pay attention to this

There are two opportunities I ask all my students to consider during their undergraduate experience: Study abroad for one semester, and complete a double major (or at minimum, get a minor).

For those students who embrace the chance to learn another language (or to further develop their knowledge of one) in college, the study abroad opportunities can be more enriching.

Over the past four days here in Mexico I've seen a group of students from UNAM, one of Mexico's great universities, assist IAMCR convention attendees in a variety of ways. Whether it was as simple as completing the registration/check-in process to assisting an American who really needed to get his hands on souvenirs, these students performed at a level at which they should be proud.

Almost all of these students spoke English. And many of those who did spoke it quite well. Their bi-lingual ability pointed up to me my own terrible inadequacy in this area. My older son is learning Spanish in elementary school, and I hope he carries that language study with him onto high school and college. My younger son will soon have the same opportunity.

A reader might be wondering how I was able to navigate the Mexico City Metro without being able to speak Spanish. Frankly, it was easy. The maps are clear, but more importantly the signage inside the various stations are even more so. But once I got outside the Metro and onto Mexico City's streets, I was indeed a stranger in a strange land.

Multiple street vendors sell a variety of Spanish-language newspapers; I bought none. When I attempted to ask a question, it often took three or four people before I found one who understood English well enough.

That's my fault. My students ought not make that mistake. Neither should my boys.

Demographics tell us that in the future the number of native Spanish speakers living in the United States, Latin America and throughout the world will continue to boom. Americans who can converse with them will be at an advantage.

Similarly, those students now and in the future who are native Spanish speakers and can communicate effectively in English will have an edge over their colleagues. I saw that this week, and I appreciated what they did to help my fellow conference attendees and me in many ways.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

As my trip to Mexico winds down...

...I offer the following thoughts:

I leave here Friday with a real appreciation for the history of this city. The Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral alone justify the "Centro Historico" ("Historical Center") designation this portion of downtown has.

The location of this year's IAMCR convention -- Tlatelolco -- doesn't look like much when you exit its Metro stop, and, yes, it is a more densely urban place in comparison to downtown. But tucked away almost out of sight until you are right next to it is the "Plaza de las Tres Culturas," ("The Plaza of the Three Cultures") which documents three eras of Mexican history. Tlatelolco also is the spot where one of the darkest moments in Mexican history took place -- the massacre in 1968 of students protesting the government. Each is properly recognized here.

There is a vibrant street business, much like you will find in Washington and other international cities that allow such vendors to operate. I was advised by two people to visit "La Ciudadela" ("The Little City" I think is an appropriate translation) just off the Balderas Metro stop for the souvenirs I wanted. The people who told me that failed to mention that I also would find a celebration of Mexican pride that appears to be on daily display.

Of course, when someone such as me visits a city, we're likely to see its best parts; our hosts want it that way. Much like when a person visits our homes for the first time, we want everything to look great. The less organized parts of the house are going to be dismissed and not shown. So I won't for a moment deny that there are deep pockets of poverty in Mexico City that I could have found had I gone looking for it.

But that misses the point: Mexico City is a wonderful place to visit. I've never been here before, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that my wife has wanted to visit it far more than I ever have. The many posts on this blog and other conversations with her has her determined more than ever to see it for herself. (Yes, she wants the boys and me along as well!)

The professional opportunity that brought me here, the IAMCR convention, concludes Friday. I didn't check with the organizers to see how many people attended, and I'm not the best at guessing numbers. (Okay, I'm awful at it.) But for sake of argument, let's say 400 teachers, researchers and scholars from around the world were in Mexico City this week. If each had a take-away moment that advances their teaching or research capabilities, then for them IAMCR was a success.

Because of my teaching-heavy work schedule, I don't do as much research as I once had to do. But I leave here looking at new possibilities for the content analysis and history research that I enjoy.

So, summing up everything, Mexico City: Gracias!

Futbol!

At 9:00 CDT tonight, Mexico plays in the semifinals of the Copo Oro (Gold Cup) futbol tournament. You think Mexico City will be rockin'? I've got to get pictures!

The U.S. plays Honduras at 6:00 CDT. Both games are in Chicago.

Well, bummer

You talk about a letdown.

Remember that session about China, its society and the Olympics I previewed this morning? Well, it never happened. None of the four scheduled presenters traveled to Mexico City for the IAMCR convention. Their absence also ensured that a very interesting conversation about China in the aftermath of the Olympic Games never took place.

It appears that several sessions this year were affected by the same problem. And having been the convention program chair for the 2009 Broadcast Education Association national convention, I know what a difficult challenge planners have in ensuring the names on the program will indeed be in attendance.

Therefore, I anticipate that the local organizing committee will face heat for the canceled sessions. I don't know if that's fair in this case, but I do know that conference planners work with division heads who work with panel/paper organizers who work with panel attendees/paper presenters in making sure that a great convention takes place. If at any point in that line communication breaks down, there is real potential for an inaccurate session appearing in the program.

Oh, yeah...my sessions

In the many postings I've made from here in Mexico and about the IAMCR I realize I left out a substantive conversation about the two sessions in which I presented papers.

I did offer a general overview about the sessions yesterday, but it seems incomplete not offering a follow-up. So, away we go...

My co-written paper about the New York Times and its coverage of the Ukrainian independence movement of 1917 and 1918 generated two interesting questions. One woman, who is from Estonia, asked why my colleague and I picked Ukraine instead of another country or as one of several countries that sought some form of independence as World War I began to wind down. Frankly, the answer has much to do with my colleague, who has a deep appreciation for Ukrainian history. Thus, when we began this project it seemed fruitful to marry his interest in Ukraine with my interest in analyzing media content.

A second interesting question concerned why just the New York Times. That choice reflects the nature of this study -- which in many ways is still in the pilot stage. My colleague and I already have exchanged a message or two about different media we might be able to explore as we look to further develop this topic.

My second paper examined the influence that anti-Communism had on the New York Times and its coverage of Communist China, Taiwan, and the Olympics from the late 1940s through the 1970s also fostered some great conversation.

One extra benefit that this paper had was that it was presented along with two other papers about the Olympics. Those authors -- one from Hong Kong and the other from Japan -- looked at specific elements of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

One question that was raised in discussion about my paper was whether the "Ping Pong" diplomacy undertaken by the Nixon administration had some effect on how the Times viewed China vis-a-vis the Olympics in the 1970s. That diplomatic initiative was not examined in my research, but it does offer an interesting subtext for additional research.

Of course, overarching any conversation about media coverage of the Olympics is the politics that can be covert and overt. The aforementioned researchers from Asia saw that in their research. I certainly saw it in mine.

No conversation about the H1N1 flu

If you walk into one of the side doors to the main building of our conference site, you can see the tape that had sealed them shut during the H1N1 scare that hit Mexico two months ago. The Spanish word for "disinfected" is visible on that tape, and it serves as a stark reminder that Mexico was significantly affected in various ways by the flu outbreak.

That flu has shown no signs of slowing down. The latest indicator comes from England, where at least 100,000 new cases have been diagnosed in the past week.

Interestingly though there has been an inverse reaction from the international media -- while the number of cases has gone up, the amount of discussion about the flu has gone down. The fear and at times irrational coverage evident in the early days of the flu outbreak is not what I'm seeking to have re-appear. In fact, one could say that the coverage has leveled off to a rational and reasonable level. As I've suggested on this blog, no one should live in fear; they should simply take realistic precautions. Nevertheless, the signs point to the flu season in North America being perhaps especially dangerous this year.

Perhaps more surprisingly, there are no formal conversations on the IAMCR program about media coverage of the flu. Because of when the flu hit, it would not have been possible for a solid research paper to be put together on this topic. However, a special session on this topic -- how mainstream media cover health issues; how domestic Mexican media coverage differed from international reporting; how the Internet contributed to the coverage of H1N1; and how health reporting can be improved, among other ideas -- could have been put together in time.

It is disappointing to me that it was not.

"Chinese Media and Society in the Post-Olympic Era"

That's the title of a discussion/panel session this afternoon at the IAMCR conference in Mexico City. Regular readers of this blog know that a title such as that is red meat for someone such as me -- it combines an examination of the Chinese media, Chinese society and the Olympic Games.

Two of the panelists are from the Communication University of China, and they will be joined by one from the United Kingdom and one from Canada.

I've made no secret on this blog my opinion that the Chinese government has failed to follow through on the promises it made to the International Olympic Committee (and by extension the world) regarding the opening up of its country as part of its role as host of the Olympics. The crackdown on protests and the continuing refusal to allow for open dialogue are two examples often noted by Western mainstream media organizations, and they have been mentioned as often as possible on this blog. (I'm not exempting the IOC here -- its impotence in dealing with China provides another example of an organization that claims to remain independent of politics and will do what it can to not get its hands dirty.)

The theme of the Beijing Olympics that began almost exactly one year ago was "One World, One Dream." However, it is my opinion that the Chinese leadership remains interested in being part of the world -- as an economic and military power -- while attempting to make basic freedoms nothing but a dream for its people.

Now, the principal sources I have used to develop these opinions are the American media. And there is little doubt that any country that denies freedom of the press will be viewed less than favorably by the media. My second most frequently used source are books that are almost always written by critics of the Chinese government. Therefore, today's panel is especially important to me because it will allow me to hear from colleagues who have spent more time than I examining the situation in China.

From a distance, China is a fascinating country. It is rich in history, culture and tradition. It is a place I would like to visit one day. In fact, if a short-term teaching or research opportunity became available in the future, I'd be interested in pursuing it. Why do I mention this? Because I am uncomfortable listening to people who qualify as "China bashers" who have never stepped foot in the country and have no desire to. I call such people "bomb throwers" -- people who stand as far away from the action as possible but attempt nonetheless to influence the outcome.

I'm not that type.

The "I" in IAMCR

The International Association for Media and Communication Research is the most international of the academic organizations to which I belong.

Readers should not take that comment as a criticism of either the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, or the Broadcast Education Association. It merely is a recognition that the number of countries represented at its conferences is greater than I find at either AEJMC or BEA. (I am not a member of the International Communication Association, but it is my understanding that ICA has a strong international reach.)

One of the factors that I believe explains this difference is the locations of these organizations. AEJMC and BEA have their headquarters in the United States; IAMCR is a European-based organization. In addition, AEJMC and BEA always hold their conventions in North America (and almost always that means the United States). The financial demands of traveling to the United States certainly contributes to the lack of a deep international presence at these gatherings.

Meanwhile, IAMCR rotates its convention meeting to many corners of the globe. For example, in this decade alone IAMCR conventions have been held in Hungary, Brazil, France, Sweden and Egypt. This year, of course, it is in Mexico. It is my opinion that the geographic reach of the conference allows for greater international participation. At some point, in other words, the conference will be close to home. (And, yes, the international spread of this conference and the costs of travel prevent the number of U.S. scholars who might attend from making it. That perhaps explains the solid American presence in Mexico City.)

This year, for example, I've talked to scholars and educators from various Latin American countries (and as you might expect they make up the majority of this year's attendees), Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. In one of my sessions yesterday, there was a group of presenters from Portugal. Later in the day, Hong Kong and Japan were represented in my second paper session. This diversity of people I find terribly interesting.

The acceptance standards for presentation likely also contributes to the absence of American educators. At most U.S. institutions, a "peer-reviewed" full paper is considered the minimum standard in order to receive travel assistance from that university. AEJMC and BEA have those standards; IAMCR does not. An abstract of the planned paper is used in the evaluation process. Therefore, IAMCR is seen at many U.S. universities as a second-tier organization.

I don't know what the academic standards are for universities around the globe.

In two weeks, I will be at the AEJMC convention, which is in Boston. Of course, there will be scholars from various places around the globe. But they will not make up the percentage of the attendees represented at the annual IAMCR meetings. In a way, that's a shame.

I'm anticipating someone is going to find offense with my comments. Expecting that, let me reiterate: I'm not criticizing or endorsing any of these organizations. Each is different, and I appreciate the involvement I have with each. I'm merely pointing out what I've seen from my attendance at multiple AEJMC and BEA conventions, and two IAMCR conferences.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The sun rises over the Metropolitan Cathedral (UPDATED)


Snapped this picture this morning as I was having breakfast at my hotel. The sun rising over the Metropolitan Cathedral and Zocalo Square was pretty neat!

Mexico City has millions of people, less than perfect air quality and traffic like you wouldn't believe. But it's history is amazing.

UPDATE: From a "tweet" posted around 9:00 CDT: For me, church bells that ring hourly are reminders of God's presence. The Metropolitan Cathedral's bells in Mexico City sound quite good! And as I mentioned to someone in a Facebook reply, there is something about them when you are away from home that makes you feel not so alone.

More about 1968

There is a temporary exhibit at the permanent student memorial I highlighted in my previous post.

This exhibit examines another political upheaval from 1968 -- Czechoslovakia -- in the photos of a European photojournalist.


There also are some sketches, and this one is my favorite.

The Soviet military that gave up so much life in World War II was now depicted as so despicable that it would, without giving a second thought, knock down (or worse) a small child.



The photos tell a snippet of the story of the invasion by Soviet forces into the Czechoslovakia.

There ought to be a terribly interesting research project for someone to undertake that would look at how American media characterized the events taking place in Mexico and Czechoslovakia.

The 1968 Memorial in Mexico City

The year 1968 is etched in the minds of Americans because of the tragedies that befell our nation. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the unrest that marred the Democratic National Convention in Chicago top of the list of things almost everyone remembers (or has read about, depending upon your age) from that year.

It would be unwise to forget that 1968 also was a terrible year in Mexico. Today I had the chance to visit the memorial to students shot during their protests that year. This is the exterior of the building located on the same site as the 2009 IAMCR convention.


There remains uncertainty about how many people were killed (and this story also provides the background you'll need to get some context for what happened), but there is no question of the dark period it carries in Mexico's history.

The photos are striking and depict a society at war with itself...


...but perhaps most damning at war with its future leaders.

The massacre of the students happened very close to the site of this convention, and it also took place just 10 days before the 1968 Summer Olympics.

The picture of the military tank exemplifies best in my mind the terrible friction that existed in this country as the dead were being mourned as an international celebration of sport was about to begin.

Of course, the seminal event of those Games was the "Black Power" salute offered by Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos.

As you might guess it is prominently displayed at this memorial.

Buenos Dias (again!) from Mexico City

Day two of the IAMCR convention is my big day, so to speak. I am making two presentations today. One is a co-written paper (with my colleague and proud new papa Ed Youngblood from Auburn University) that examines how the New York Times covered the independence movement in Ukraine during the volatile 1917 and 1918 period.

In short, we found in our pilot study that Ukraine's independence movement was seen as positive when it was viewed as assisting the Wilson administration's larger war aims and as a strong counter to the Bolshevik movement in Russia. At other times, however, it was largely ignored by the paper or seen as a negative.

The second paper will be presented this afternoon. It looks at how the New York Times covered the issue of China in the Olympic Movement from 1948 through 1976. In short, the paper appeared to be influenced by a media theory called press nationalism, in which stories pertaining to the Communist world are viewed through the anti-Communist lens. This ensures that news reporting will be slanted and perhaps inaccurate.

In between, I'm hoping to sneak in another quick sightseeing opportunity. There is a fantastic memorial on the campus grounds that reviews the 1968 student protests in Mexico. For some reason, it was closed yesterday; I'm hoping it will be open today.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

La Gigantesca!! (UPDATE)

UPDATE: Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that the reception was pretty cool. Heard more than a few people talking about it this morning :-)

The IAMCR conference in Mexico City had its opening reception tonight at the Jose Luis Cuevas Museum, located just a few short blocks from the Zocalo.


The museum is described quite simply (and I think incompletely) on the official Mexico City visitor's site: The Mexican painter José Luis Cuevas organized this contemporary art museum at the old Santa Inés Ex-Convent. No. 1 Academia St., Historic Centre. A more thorough description is offered through Wikipedia.

Dominating the structure is La Gigantesca, which again you can read about on the Wikipedia site, standing more than 26 feet tall and weighing eight tons.


The museum is two stories and includes a library, which unfortunately was closed tonight, containing various books about and artistic works of Cuevas.

Plaza de las Tres Culturas

Simply stunning.


As I walked through this amazing cultural and historical site directly next door to the location of the IAMCR convention, I was amazed. The Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of the Three Cultures) is at times beyond words.



This newspaper report offers information about the history of this site.


Dominating (in size, but certainly sharing in beauty) is the Church of Santiago, which I walked in and immediately uttered "wow." And I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I was so taken by what I saw that I neglected to offer thanks to God for giving me the chance to see this amazing site.

An artistic interpretation

In my recent post about the plenary session I highlighted the text of Article 19 of the United Nations' universal declaration of human rights. Inside the Cultural Center of Tlatelolco, the location for this year's IAMCR conference, there are artist's interpretations of Article 19 and the rest of the declarations.

Here is the interpretation of Article 19

Communication as a human right, (plenary session, updated throughout the hour)

ALL TIMES CDT:

12:09: The plenary session for the 2009 International Association for Media and Communication Research includes comments and presentations from Jo Glanville, the editor of Index on Censorship; Kwame Boafo, the UNESCO representative to the Caribbean; Agnes Calamard, the director of Article XIX; Frank La Rue Lewy, the U.N. special rapporteur on the Right of Opinion and Expression; and Annabelle Sreberny, the president of IAMCR.

12:13: Comments from Jo Glanville: Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, but she suggests that Britain also is a place where journalism is affected by a government that repeatedly promises to be open but often is not.

12:18: Ms. Glanville: There is a "fundamental ambivalence" in Britain about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Ms. Glanville points to the laws enacted in recent years that restrict the right to organize protests.

The in-house audio is not good, and it could affect my ability to continue blogging this session. The translation service is excellent, but the presenters in this session are primarily native English speakers. As a result the translation service is not needed, but that also doesn't help the low volume of the in-house sound system.

12:25: Ms. Glanville: British journalists who write about terrorism or similar issues often are asked by British police to hand over notes or other pieces of information relating to their stories. (She offers no example to illustrate this point.) She adds that journalists often fear that "fishing expeditions" are being undertaken by the government.

12:28: Ms. Glanville ends her comments by challenging the Obama administration to release photos of torture, as he indicated he would during the presidential campaign.

My analysis: A broad overview of the current situation in Britain sounds similar to concerns expressed periodically by journalists in the U.S. That is, journalists who pry too deeply into controversial acts endorsed by the domestic government find themselves under pressure from the police and legal systems.

Audio is improving; I'll continue for as long as that remains true

12:30: Mr. Boafo: A general introduction about UNESCO and what it has done to promote human rights around the world.

12:37: Mr. Boafo: Press freedom is critical in building democracy, a rule of law and development of a nation. Unless people can receive information that is free of government suppression, then it is possible that they also will not receive the other basic human rights.

For what it's worth: The auditorium which is hosting this plenary session (and a few other sessions of the IAMCR conference) can hold perhaps 250 people. It appears that maybe 200 people are here. I don't know how many people are registered for this conference, but it certainly is more than 200. And perhaps 10-20 people in the room are the students assisting in various areas of the conference.

ANALYSIS: Mr. Boafo's comments offered a good look at recent and on-going efforts by UNESCO to promote various freedoms around the world.

12;49: As Agnes Calamard prepares to speak, I offer this excerpt from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, it refers to Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

12:53: Ms. Calamard's address appears to be setting up much like Mr. Boafo's: a review of overall issues associated with human rights, freedom of speech and a free press. She is discussing the current state of Mexico, but again the problems with the audio are evident. The basic issue is that the audio in this room is not loud enough.

Going to duck out, unfortunately. It is difficult to adequately follow what is happening.

Did Walter Cronkite damage journalistic integrity

This editorial in the Wall Street Journal is sure to ruffle feathers in the journalism (and journalism education) community.

It throws cold water on the many tributes that have come in about Walter Cronkite since his passing late last week. But the editorial also offers an important point that journalists and educators should consider: Is it appropriate for a journalist to intentionally abandon his or her role as an objective/neutral observer of a situation?

I'm sure the knee-jerk reaction to that will be "no." If you accept that, then I ask the following question: Is the Wall Street Journal's criticism valid? And if the answer to that is "yes," then a more intriguing question must be asked: What damage was in fact done to Cronkite's reputation by openly stating that the U.S. could not win the war in Vietnam? And by extension did he open the door for the abandonment of keeping opinion out of the news?

Let us fast forward to 2003 and remember that U.S. journalists were expected (a strong word, but I challenge you to tell me I'm wrong) to be gung-ho, pro-America when the second Iraq War began. Television journalists wearing lapel pins of the U.S. flag; bright red, white and blue banners; messages from Americans to the troops (and vice versa); and other overt displays of patriotism followed America's commencement of that war and became a daily part of news coverage.

Were those examples of non-objectivity appropriate? Someone is sure to argue that different times require different responses, and that what might have been appropriate in the 1960s and 1970s is not in the 1990s and 2000s.

If that premise is to be accepted, then we are forced to ask the question of whether objectivity matters.

I'm perhaps about to skate onto thin ice, but I'm comfortable defending what Cronkite did because he based his opinion that America needed to find a way out of the Vietnam War on a wealth of information he had acquired. (The reader is urged to see my post from earlier this morning about communication and human rights for some context.) But I found the pro-America coverage in the earlier part of this decade obnoxious and borderline unprofessional. These journalists, in my opinion, were pandering to the government and the public.

You are invited to offer your opinion.

Communication as a Human Right, IAMCR 2009

The opening session (and the conference theme) for the 2009 IAMCR convention is Human Rights and Communication. So, the question that follows is what is it about communication that makes it a human right?

Of course, and at the risk of oversimplifying, communication ensures our personal growth. We learn through what we experience, read, discuss, see, hear and otherwise ingest. Let me give you an anecdotal example -- consider all the information you ingest and process when you are away from home. In the past 24 hours, for example, I've been in three different airports, two Mexico City Metro trains, one cab and one hotel, and underscoring all of this in a city and country I've never been. But because of what I've learned from previous travels, I can -- with some assistance from airport and hotel staff -- figure out how to get from point A to point B.

But the quality of the communication and information is critical, regardless of the context in which it takes place. Consider these questions:

Are we receiving the most complete information available to the person disseminating it? How do we know?

What previous knowledge do we have that allows us to correctly interpret what message is being communicated? In other words, to the best of our ability, have we availed ourselves to a wide variety of sources, knowing that many times those sources will contradict each other?

What overt and perhaps not overt signs do we pick up to help us recognize the veracity of information we are taking in?

My point is this: information is much like food and water; we need it in order to thrive.

But there is another layer that needs to be incorporated into this discussion. A government's willingness to allow its citizens to receive information from a wide variety of sources, some of which will conflict with the "official" government line, ensures a healthy society. And in large sections of the world, too many governments (past and current) fail miserably in this area. Regardless of why it takes place, the potential for a society to not reach its full potential is obvious.

There is much more that can and should be said about this, but for now I think the point has been made: It is the responsibility of the person to seek out as many sources of information as he or she can in order to develop his or her full potential. But it also is a government's responsibility to not restrict that flow of information.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An impressive flag ceremony

Each morning at 6:00 and each evening at 6:00 (CDT), there is an impressive flag ceremony during which the large Mexican flag that dominates the Zocalo Square in Mexico City is raised and then retired.

I was able to catch that ceremony on Monday evening. It begins with a group of MPs ushering the crowd to the sides of the square so that the military color guard could enter. It does with a military band playing. Soon, the flag is retired and the entire delegation exits.

I'm oversimplifying what is a sight I encourage you to see for yourself if you are ever in Mexico City. What I especially appreciated was the reverence the crowd had. I'm guessing there were 250 people on this evening, and around me I heard no conversations.

My Cub Scout pack annually takes part in various flag ceremonies (not connected to our various den or pack meetings), and I as watched tonight I wished "my guys" could have been with me. I'm sure they would have been as impressed as I was.

Below are a few pictures of the procession.







The first few pictures

When I was in Budapest in 2001, I had the wonderful opportunity to see the St. Matthias Church, one of the most beautiful landmarks in that city.

Today, I stepped out of my hotel and a few moments later was inside another majestic Catholic Cathedral -- the Metropolitan Cathedral. The following information about the cathedral comes from mexicocity.com:

This is the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America. The construction of this cathedral was started in 16th century and it has medley of baroque and neoclassical touches. It has four identical domes with row of supporting columns. It also has innumerable paintings and altarpieces.
Address: Plaza de Mayo, Zocalo, Mexico City, Mexico.
Tel.: +52 55 5512 9467


This external shot was captured with the rest of the Zocalo Square to my back.





Inside the cathedral, flash photography is not permitted.


I hope this picture of St. Dominic, my older son's name, is easy to pick up.


The square is enormous, and it cannot be captured in one shot from the ground. So I chose to look up and saw this flag of Mexico.

There is an even larger not far from this one, but for some reason it was not catching the breeze.

Looking out my hotel window

There is a vibrancy to Mexico City that instantly brought back in my mind the H1N1 (justified) fears that gripped this city just two months ago.

Save for having to fill out a medical form at the airport indicating that I was not suffering from H1N1, there was no discussion about the flu anywhere. I did see four people wearing those surgical masks that were so prominent when the initial wave of flu hit this city, but otherwise there appears to be no fear here.

And that's the way it should be: be cautious, but don't stop your life.

In the customs and immigration line at the airport there was a robust mix of ethnic backgrounds -- Americans, Latin Americans, and Asians were the dominant groups. Interestingly, my flight from Dallas to Mexico City was almost entirely full, and there were more Americans on that plane than you might otherwise think.

The traffic in this city is a maze; I grew up in southern California, but one cab ride here from the airport to my hotel has me thinking that Mexico City's traffic is worse than in Los Angeles. But that maze of traffic suggests a city that is alive and brimming with enthusiasm.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my hotel is on the historic Zocalo Square. I'm heading there later to take pictures (which I'll post on this blog).

More later.

You've heard of RPMs, but...

...do you know what LPMs are? If you think this has anything to do with driving, nope. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette television critic Rob Owen takes a look at the arrival of Local People Meters in Pittsburgh.

Hola from Mexico City

I arrived in Mexico's capital city early this afternoon (Central Daylight Time), where I'm attending and participating in the International Association for Media and Communication Research convention. That begins tomorrow and runs for the rest of the week.

I'm presenting two papers (one co-written) at the convention. It also might surprise you to know that this is my first visit to Mexico. Regular readers of this blog know that I grew up in southern California; nevertheless, I never made the trip south of the border.

I have some down time today and will be taking pictures of the Zocalo Square, which overlooks my hotel. Today's weather is stunning. It is perhaps 80 degrees but there is not much humidity in the air.

I'm also hoping the convention location has wireless Internet, so that I can blog during various sessions.

Gracias!

You should not be surprised

I've been struck over the past 48-72 hours in the media coverage of the death of Walter Cronkite.

It has been respectful, understated, professional and complete. And I wonder why the passing of Michael Jackson could not have been the same.

Sure, there are almost no parallels between the passing of the two men. One lived into his 90s and died peacefully; the other died from cardiac arrest in his early 50s.

One had a quiet, calm demeanor with no controversies; the other was a whirling dervish who seemed to invite questions about his conduct.

One was a journalist; the other was an entertainer.

But despite these differences, the media has been professional in one case and overzealous in the other. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in that.

The president's support is eroding

A new ABC News-Washington Post poll suggests public support is slipping for important initiatives being pursued by the White House.

This should come as no surprise. The media have taken a hard look at the proposed policies; the Republicans are making inroads with their arguments that the programs are either bloated, wasteful or unnecessary; and in the absence of an economic turnaround, the public is unsure about endorsing new government-backed ideas.

However, this doesn't mean the president's goals are wrong, but it does mean they might be ill-timed. The White House might need to re-consider some of them, especially in light of the aggressive schedule it has set for its agenda.

A continuing crackdown

The Financial Times reports this morning that the crackdown against Uighurs continues in western China.

China offers parallels between what is currently happening in Xinjiang to what occasionally happens in Tibet. The government insists that outsiders are fomenting the unrest in an attempt to destabilize China's internal stability. But absent the ability for international and Western media to independently verify what has happened (and what might be behind it), these claims seem empty.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Something to think about

I first thought this within a few hours of learning of Walter Cronkite's passing, and I shared it during a local radio station interview this morning:

Mr. Cronkite's passing happened in between a Kennedy tragedy (JFK Jr. on July 16) and the moon landing on July 20.

Sure, these events took place in different years, but I think you see my point.

For me, the two signature moments of Mr. Cronkite's career were "From Dallas, Texas, the flash - apparently official..."... and "wow" (as he rubbed his hands in delight and relief) when the moon landing was official. And that's why when I consider those events book-ending his death, it seems appropriate (and I hope no one is offended by the use of that word).

One of news radio's great guys -- Dan Shelley of WCBS in New York -- also reminded me tonight that the tragedy of Chappaquiddick happened on July 19.

The situation in Iran remains tenuous

The BBC notes that a British national who had been held in Iran has been released on bail. You'll recall that nine embassy personnel were detained by the Iranian authorities and charged with involvement in planning the recent unrest that followed the June 12 presidential elections.

But the situation within the country remains unsettled. The comments made on Friday by Hashemi Rafsanjani provided further evidence that he is siding with the reformers, but he hasn't yet challenged the disputed June 12 presidential election results, in which Mahmoud Ahmadenijad was re-elected.

Cronkite -- an appreciation

A well-written piece by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic/columnist Rob Owen, who examines the legacy of Walter Cronkite. (Full disclosure: I was one of the people Mr. Owen interviewed for his story.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Funeral arrangements for Walter Cronkite

Details here from The New York Times.

The memorial service scheduled for later in the summer in New York will bring together the giants of the journalism world. They wouldn't want to be called celebrities (nor should they), but the power, name recognition and (in most cases) respect the guests will have on that night will rival the entertainment world's attendance at Michael Jackson's public service.

Your question of the day

Walter Cronkite's death has me thinking: Who is the most respected TV journalist of this era? Before he died it was probably Peter Jennings.

Your thoughts?

Hunting down terrorists

Excerpt here from former national security official for three presidents offers an interesting assessment of America's reaction to hunting down terrorists:

'It is puzzling that some people object to U.S. personnel killing terrorists with sniper rifles or car bombs, but have little apparent problem with CIA and Department of Defense personnel tracking down specific terrorist leaders with Predator drones and then killing those leaders with the unmanned aircraft's Hellfire missiles. ... [T]he real reason some in U.S. intelligence may not want attention given to the issue of hit squads against terrorists may be their embarrassment that for both bureaucratic reasons and lack of capability, the CIA has been unable and often unwilling to attack terrorist leaders except from the air. ... The third of the recent CIA-related stories was about the possibility that Attorney General Eric Holder may appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether some CIA interrogators broke the law by the way in which they used waterboarding ... If a special prosecutor investigates, he may have to decide whether to accept the defense of 'I was only following orders.' The United States rejected that defense at Nuremberg. If it rejects it again, low-level CIA staff and contractors might be tried.'

For the full story, link here.

More on Cronkite (UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE MORNING)

I'm watching the CBS Early Show, which is offering a 2-hour special about Walter Cronkite. The following includes my "tweets" and other comments...

ALL TIMES ARE EDT:

8:15: The CBS Early Show anchors are out of place hosting this Cronkite special. Why not an experienced hand leading this tribute?

8:22: Historian Douglas Brinkley on CBS Early Show: Cronkite kept meticulous notebooks; no scribbles; "very neat and organized."

8:25: Super piece from TIME magazine

8:27: Excellent bio from the New York Times

8:30: The first 30 minutes of the CBS Early News tribute to Walter Cronkite seems slapped together. The Katie Couric piece was well done, however.

8:32: The more the CBS Early Show anchors attempt to sound like anchors, the more that their lack of knowledge about Mr. Cronkite comes clear.

8:34: CBS Bob Schieffer: Cronkite liked to do his homework. He liked to do the news. (How many television journalists today should remember that!)

8:45: Morley Safer on CBS Early Show: There was never anything elitist about Walter Cronkite.

9:00: Why isn't H. Smith, K. Couric, B. Schieffer or similar experienced hand anchoring today's CBS Early Show? Someone who knew Cronkite needed

9:03: The Early Show begins the 9:00 hour with the same Katie Couric bio piece about Cronkite that aired at the top of the 8:00 hour

9:11: Am I the only one to note that Dan Rather is (so far) nowhere to be seen or heard on this CBS Early Show special about Walter Cronkite?

9:35: The inclusion of Charlie Gibson and Tom Brokaw on the CBS Early Show special about Walter Cronkite highlights the absence of Dan Rather

9:42: CBS News Prez Sean McManus: Did you order D.Rather not be included in the Early Show special on Cronkite, or did Rather refuse to take part?

9:51: Sir Howard Stringer, former CBS News president: Cronkite was tough about the things that mattered (news content) but cared nothing for ego

Friday, July 17, 2009

What made Cronkite great

There are plenty of professional journalists and journalism educators who knew Walter Cronkite. And with that knowledge, they will be able to speak with more authority and on a much more personal level than I can about the Mr. Cronkite's death.

But I hope you will still take the few moments needed to read through this post; it highlights why I admired Cronkite and why I think his legacy is what it is.

One of the initial lectures I give my introductory communications students is on the importance of credibility for journalists. I tell them that unlike doctors, dentists, lawyers or other such professionals, journalists are not require to pass any kind of entrance exam, or achieve board certification or similar standard before they can practice their craft.

Because of that, I continue, a journalist must remember that his or her ability to remain in that capacity is for his or her audience to find them accurate, believable and credible. In much the same way, I tell them, that no one would return to a doctor who wouldn't listen and didn't care about their patients, so too does the public slam the door on a journalist whom they don't trust, like or believe.

At some point, I tell them that if their parents and grandparents were in the seats they found themselves in and I asked which television journalist from their era was most credible in their eyes, the overwhelming answer would be Walter Cronkite.

None of the journalists in today's over-the-air or cable news family comes close to the level of respect Cronkite had throughout his career. I'll say it again: No television journalist today has the public's respect as Cronkite did. Come to think of it, I'm not sure you could find a consensus two or three journalists who are the "most credible" of this era.

There are perhaps two reasons for this. The first stems from the terrible change in news delivery over the past 25-30 years. Television news organizations are now required to be profitable; gone is the day of the news division being a "loss leader" as it covered the nation and the world with the serious attention it deserved and as a result found itself in the red each year. With news divisions having to make money, a "dumbing down" of the product is inevitable. The "dumbing down" leads to news on the cheap, a priority on the celebrity over the substantive, and journalists who need to be overly personable and dramatic.

Second is the recognition that the times have changed. The trust that Americans once gave their nation's institutions is not evident any longer. Government, religion, and the media were just three groups that, on the whole, just 30 or 40 years ago were considered good, honest and trustworthy. As a result journalists such as Cronkite were seen as iconic.

When you read the polls that consistently report the disdain Americans have for the news media, you understand why journalists have such a difficult time earning that respect I highlighted above.

I don't know what kind of journalist Cronkite would be if he were practicing the craft today. Who's to say that he wouldn't have been so disgruntled by it that he would have left it as a relatively young man to move into higher education? But to speak of what Cronkite might have been misses the larger point -- he was who he was in the era in which he lived. His audience trusted him, believed in him and found him credible.

Television journalists of today struggle to earn those same attributes.

And that's the way it is.

A legend is gone (UPDATED throughout the night)

6th UPDATE: 10:44 p.m. EDT: "Tweet" from New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter: Tomorrow's "Early Show" on CBS will be dedicated to Cronkite; two full hours of coverage. The Sunday morning shows will also pay tribute.

5th UPDATE: 10:35 p.m. EDT: Many of today's television journalists appear more interested in celebrity than journalism. They'd be wise to remember that Walter Cronkite earned respect every night in part by not using pithy expressions such as "we're all over this story" or "you've got to see this."

4th UPDATE: 9:48 p.m. EDT: One of the best gifts my wife has given me is Cronkite's "A Reporter's Life." The added touch: "For Anthony, Good Luck. Walter Cronkite"

3rd UPDATE: 9:40 p.m. EDT: Super job by CBS News offering highlights and more of Cronkite's career.

2nd UPDATE: 9:37 p.m. EDT: Cronkite announcing JFK's death.

1st UPDATE: 9:35 p.m. EDT: A "tweet" from me: RT @RTNDA_F D. Shelley #RTNDA Dir. at Large & Director of Digital Media, WCBS-TV and wcbstv.com, on Cronkite's Legacy, http://bit.ly/qMr5M. (If the link here doesn't work, you can access my Facebook page to find it.)

ORIGINAL POST: Walter Cronkite has passed away. It's a sad day.

No, she won't get 100 votes

Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, announced today he is not going to vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

His vote, as the aforementioned story suggests, is not a surprise, but coming on the same day that three more Republican senators lined up to vote for her it does throw some cold water on Sotomayor's inevitable nomination.

I watched fewer segments of the hearings than I had planned, but that which I saw suggested the judge was not some radical leftist determined to rip up the Constitution and bring about new definitions of legal standards. Instead, she seemed resolute in reminding the Senate Judiciary Committee that she believes in mainstream and reasoned interpretations of the law.

Judge Sotomayor was perhaps most adept at deflecting questions about hot-button issues, such as abortion. In doing so, she almost certainly frustrated her critics. However, I would remind those critics that all Supreme Court nominees have adopted that tack after the disastrous Robert Bork nomination hearings.

It appears that in early August the full vote will take place. Media reports at this point suggest that Judge Sotomayor will receive around 65-68 affirmative votes.

California dreamin'...or nightmarin'

The news from and about California in recent months is not good, and as a former resident of the state I get no enjoyment out of seeing the state's miseries.

The latest blast of bad reports came this morning, with the news that the state's unemployment rate increased to 11.6% in June.

Just last week, The Economist examined how the fortunes of California have (literally and figuratively) fallen as those of Texas have risen. Underscoring that report was the reality that California's economic power ensures that no national economic recovery can happen without The Golden State also picking up steam.

Those who wish to immerse themselves in economic theory and fiscal policy will relish exploring the causes for the economic problems. One of the biggest ones is the various propositions and referendums that have eroded the strength of the state's governor and legislature.

Crippling California right now -- it has an estimated budget deficit of more than $26 billion -- is that state law requires a two-thirds majority in both the State Senate and State Assembly in order to enact tax increases. While that will seem appealing to many on the political spectrum, the problem is that spending cuts are the only option in an attempt to get a balanced budget and a budget deal. And good luck finding those cuts at this point. One of the side effects is that the state's bond rating is just a notch above junk status. Declaring bankruptcy is not legal.

Seeing the state being forced to pay its people, business partners, and others with IOUs is stunning to me. As mentioned, I grew up in California, and while I wouldn't be interested in calling it home again, I remain attentive to what is taking place there.

Too easily dismissed in the popular culture as the land of lefties, loonies, lesbians and liberals, the state offers some of the nation's best private and public universities, cultural opportunities that rival any other state and an economy that trumps almost any G-8 nation.

Right now, none of that matters. The California dream appears more like a nightmare -- more people per year move out than in; the state cannot pay its bills; and the former envy of the nation now looks like a second-tier power. I, for one, am not celebrating or enjoying any of that.

You talk about unethical!

Kudos to Politico.com's Mike Allen for scoring this coup:

'The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a $2 million check in return for the group's endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay. In return for the $2 million, ACU offered a range of services that included: 'Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU's Chairman David Keene and / or other members of the ACU's board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)' The conservative group's remarkable demand - black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as 'pay for play' - was contained in a private letter to FedEx that was provided to POLITICO.'

Here's the link to the full story.