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Posts Tagged ‘journalism

“The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption”*…

 

John Adams didn’t literally call the Philadelphia Aurora (also known as the Aurora General Adviser) “fake news,” but he was not pleased by the way he was often depicted in it

In the margins of his copy of Condorcet’s treatise Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, President John Adams scribbled a cutting note.

Writing in the section where the French philosopher predicted that a free press would advance knowledge and create a more informed public, Adams scoffed. “There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798,” he wrote at the time.

The charge feels shockingly modern. Were he to have written the sentiment in 2018, and not at the turn of the 19th century, it’s easy to imagine that at just 112 characters, he might have tweeted it, instead.

While Chinese monks were block printing the Diamond Sutra as early as 868 A.D. and German printer Johannes Gutenberg developed a method of movable metal type in the mid-1400s, it took until the Enlightenment for the free press as we know it today to be born.

Condorcet’s 1795 text expanded upon the belief that a press free from censorship would circulate an open debate of ideas, with rationality and truth winning out. Adams’ marginal response reminds us that when something like truth is up for debate, the door is open for bad-faith actors (the partisan press in his view) to promulgate falsehoods—something that a reader today might call “fake news.”…

Harrowing history at: “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’.”

* “Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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As we ferret out the facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that Christopher Marlowe, the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day (and a powerful influence on Shakespeare), was indicted by the Privy Council for heresy on the basis of testimony (probably elicited by torture) from Marlowe’s roommate, fellow dramatist Thomas Kyd.  Marlowe (who was in fact an atheist and seems likely to have supplemented his income as a spy) was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out he became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it”*…

 

When an online news outlet goes out of business, its archives can disappear as well.  A new front in the battle over journalism is the digital legacy of the press.

For years, our most important records have been committed to specialized materials and technologies. For archivists, 1870 is the year everything begins to turn to dust. That was the year American newspaper mills began phasing out rag-based paper with wood pulp, ensuring that newspapers printed after would be known to future generations as delicate things, brittle at the edges, yellowing with the slightest exposure to air. In the late 1920s, the Kodak company suggested microfilm was the solution, neatly compacting an entire newspaper onto a few inches of thin, flexible film. In the second half of the century, entire libraries were transferred to microform, spun on microfilm reels, or served on tiny microfiche platters, while the crumbling originals were thrown away or pulped. To save newspapers, we first had to destroy them.

Then came digital media, which is even more compact than microfilm, giving way, initially at least, to fantasies of whole libraries preserved on the head of a pin. In the event, the new digital records degraded even more quickly than did newsprint. Information’s most consistent quality is its evanescence. Information is fugitive in its very nature.

“People are good at guessing what will be important in the future, but we are terrible at guessing what won’t be,” says Clay Shirky, media scholar and author, who in the early 2000s worked at the Library of Congress on the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Project. After the obvious — presidential inaugurations or live footage of world historical events, say — we have to choose what to save. But we can’t save everything, and we can’t know that what we’re saving will last long. “Much of the modern dance of the 1970s and 1980s is lost precisely because choreographers assumed the VHS tapes they made would preserve it,” he says. He points to Rothenberg’s Law: “Digital data lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first,” which was coined by the RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg in a 1995 Scientific American article. “Our digital documents are far more fragile than paper,” he argued. “In fact, the record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy.”…

Our records are the raw material of history; the shelter of our memories for the future. We must develop ironclad security for our digital archives, and put them entirely out of the reach of hostile hands. The good news is that this is still possible.  Maria Bustillos on what can be done, including a well-deserved shout-out to the Internet Archive: “The Internet Isn’t Forever.”

* William James

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As we ponder preservation, we might spare a thought for Fred W. Friendly (born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer); he died on this date in 1998.  A journalist and producer, he was a driving force behind the rise of CBS News, where he was responsible for See It Now (with Edward R. Murrow) and CBS Reports.  Friendly became President of CBS News in 1964, but resigned in 1966, when the network ran a scheduled episode of The Lucy Show instead of broadcasting live coverage of the first United States Senate hearings questioning American involvement in Vietnam.

After CBS, Friendly became a consultant on broadcast to the Ford Foundation, where he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the American public broadcasting system.  As head of the New York City Cable TV and Communications Commission, he originated the idea of the public access channel.

Later, he took a position at Columbia School of Journalism, where he strengthened the school’s broadcast curriculum and authored a number of books.

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“A convention was to him the arrival of a circus to a country lad”*…

 

On the occasion of the opening of the first of this summer’s political pageants, a look back at conventions as covered by H. L. Mencken

On June 20, 1948, a round and no doubt rumpled correspondent for the Baltimore Sun looked into the galleries of a Philadelphia convention hall and spotted the future.

His name was Henry Louis Mencken, and he didn’t like what he saw. It was the day before the Republican National Convention, and in a rehearsal of the proceedings technicians had turned on huge lights to accommodate television, a new presence at political conventions. In the dramatically increased glare, Mencken could see what these quadrennial political gatherings would become, and what they’ll be this summer, as another season of political conventions arrives in America: a pageant of images, in which what candidates say or do is perhaps less memorable than how they look.

“It passed off well enough, all things considered, and no one was actually fried to death,” Mencken said of the high-wattage illumination introduced that year in Philadelphia. “But I doubt if any politician, however leathery his hide, survives that unprecedented glare of light without a considerable singeing”…

More at “H.L. Mencken at the Convention.”

* Alistair Cooke, on his friend and colleague, H. L. Mencken

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As we vote our consciences, we might we might send acerbic birthday greetings to one of Mencken’s heirs, journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson; he was born in Louisville on this date in 1929.  The author of Hell’s AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is widely credited as the creator of the Gonzo school of journalism (an extreme form of New Journalism in which the reporter isn’t simply present, he/she is central), and widely remembered for his love of inebriates and guns, and for his hate of authoritarianism in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

…the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.
– Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)

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Written by LW

July 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

“What the media produce is neither spontaneous nor completely ‘free’; ‘news’ does not just happen”*…

 

Every day, tens of thousands of publishers report the news world wide. Unfiltered News allows you to explore Google News data across all publishing languages and locations to find important global stories and perspectives that may not be covered in your location. Discover which locations report on similar topics, compare different perspectives on an issue, and track issue coverage over time.

Unfiltered.news

* Edward W. Said

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As we agree with Alan Kay that “a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that The Nation— the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the U.S.– was launched.  A successor to William Lloyd Garrison‘s anti-slavery publication The Liberator, it became the most widely read weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news, opinion and analysis.

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Written by LW

July 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term… to the general prey of the rich on the poor”*…

 

If all U.S. household income totaled $100, this is how it is divided

Something massive and important has happened in the United States over the past 50 years: Economic wealth has become increasingly concentrated among a small group of ultra-wealthy Americans.

You can read lengthy books on this subject, like economist Thomas Piketty’s recent best-seller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (the book runs 696 pages and weighs in at 2.5 pounds). You can see references to this in the campaigns of major political candidates this cycle, who talk repeatedly about how something has gone very wrong in America.

 Donald Trump’s motto is to make America great again, while Bernie Sanders’s campaign has focused on reducing income inequality. And there’s a reason this message is resonating with voters:

It’s grounded in 50 years of reality…

Take the tour at “This cartoon explains how the rich got rich and the poor got poor.”

* Thomas Jefferson

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As we take stock of ourselves, we might send yellowish birthday greetings to William Randolph Hearst; he was born on this date in 1863.  Hearst built the nation’s largest newspaper chain, and (in competition with Joesph Pulitzer) pioneered the sensational tabloid style– crime! corruption! sex!– that we’ve come to know as “yellow journalism.”  The possibly apocryphal, but indicative anecdote that became Hearst’s signature dates to the period just before the Spanish-American War: famed illustrator Frederic Remington, sent by Hearst to Cuba to cover the Cuban War of Independence, telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba. Supposedly Hearst responded, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Hearst parlayed his power as a publisher into a career in politics, serving two terms in Congress, then losing a series of elections (for Mayor of New York City, twice, and for Governor of New York State).  An early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, Hearst became one of his staunchest– and loudest– opponents.

Hearst’s life was the inspiration for Orson Welles’s classic film Citizen Kane.

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“You are where your brain is but not where a front-page headline is”*…

 

Headlines in newspapers, teasers for TV new stories “at 11”– from it’s birth, the press has promoted its wares with précis that pique a peruser’s interest.  The advent of online journalism has only amplified that phenomenon… and to amusing effect.

Jeva Lange illustrates in “A field guide to identifying what website that headline came from.”

* Santosh Kalwar

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As we click on the bait, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that the 18th Amendment took effect, and the U.S. became dry.  Under 100 years earlier, American’s had been drinking an average of (the equivalent of) 1.7 bottles of hard liquor per week– three times the average these days.  A sin tax, levied at the end of the Civil War, moderated consumption a bit– but not enough to satisfy the coalition of women and evangelicals behind the passage and ratification of “The Noble Experiment”– the national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol that was better known as “Prohibition”– was ratified.  Prohibitionists had been after a ban for decades before the 18th Amendment went through.  But until the institution of an income tax (in 1913), the federal government depended for the majority of its income on alcohol taxes… so was indisposed to let Prohibition happen.

By the time it was repealed in 1933, organized crime had become a major feature of American city life, and the American public had adopted the invented-for-the-occasion word “scofflaw.”

The Defender Of The 18th Amendment. From Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty published by the Pillar of Fire Church

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Written by LW

January 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords”*…

 

Under the general heading “the robots are after my job,” Kevin Roose, the News Director of Fusion, on how he “wrote 7 blog posts in less than 3 seconds.” (Spoiler alert- it’s all about robojournalism…)

[image above from here]

* frequently-heard riff on Joan Collin’s immortal line (“I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”) in the 1977 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants. For more on ants, see yesterday’s (R)D

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As we polish our people skills, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Seth Thomas was granted a patent on something that we may no longer need– an alarm clock.  U.S. patent No. 183,725 was issued for the metal case of a one-day back-winding alarm clock, the first American patent for an alarm clock of this familiar type.

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Written by LW

October 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

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