Wednesday, May 26, 2010

American Journalism

I attended a lecture last night at our local public library. It was “The Death and Life of American Journalism”. The lecturer was Robert McChesney, a professor at Illinois – Champaign-Urbana.

His research indicates there are about 60,000 paid journalists in the United States (down from about 130,000 about 5 years ago). About 1,000 are getting fired every month, and he thinks that number will only accelerate as advertising dollars shift to other media and the newsrooms of America become even less economically viable. You do the math: in about 5 years that could mean we have no more free press in the United States.

A couple more interesting numbers: according to his research, newspapers today print 70% less ORIGINAL stories than they did 20 years ago. And, out of the stories they do print, 86% were written by PR people, not news reporters. And most of those PR pieces are published unedited, not fact checked. So, the vast majority of our “news” is written by people who are paid to spin in favor of their benefactors.

What does this mean? Why should we care? Today, in most of our towns, very little government is covered. When was the last time you saw a summary of your city council, board of education, park district, library board, or county government meetings? Sure, you can wade through hours of local community TV and watch the meetings yourself (I can in Batavia, anyway), but how many citizens will do that as opposed to reading a summary of what was discussed and how the votes went? So, the citizens end up uninformed and government and private interests get to conduct their business with no one watching, no one reporting to the taxpayers. Who else is going to do it?

One of the audience asked about “citizen journalism”. The professor acknowledged that citizen journalists (primarily bloggers) do perform a role, but they lack two important things to truly replace what we are losing: resources and institutional clout. Most bloggers do not have the resources to truly cover city government, much less larger scale stories – good journalism, like good investment banking, must be compensated. To think that proper reporting can be done after hours, part time,  is not realistic. But, more importantly, the reporter needs backup – an institution that commands respect (“I’m Kevin, from the Wall Street Journal, do you have a comment?” – that call usually gets returned – not so much when it’s “Kevin, the blogger”), has lawyers to defend our freedom of the press, and some security so the powerful cannot eliminate your livelihood when they don’t like what you are reporting.

His solution is public subsidies. He says all the other industrialized countries subsidize the press, some (Germany) in the tens of billions. The reason is an acknowledgement that the free market cannot support journalism. The business model, advertising, is now “broke”. And, he asserts that the advertising business model was an anomaly anyway. Prior to around 1860, the United States subsidized the free press heavily, primarily through the Post Office. When advertising revenues began to make news reporting economically viable, we stopped the subsidies. I’m not sure about government supported journalism, but free market approaches don’t seem anywhere on the horizon either.

Who benefits from the demise of journalism? Ask yourself who would prefer to operate without scrutiny? Is this a future we want to bequeath to our children?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Road Trip

I took a little road trip last week. I intended to go to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, which I try to visit every few years. But, it turned out that wasn’t really the highlight of the trip.

TOM

My first stop was Edgewood, Kentucky to visit my friend Tom. Tom has cancer and recently finished 7 weeks of radiation therapy. He looks good and the doctors say the prognosis is good. He finds out June 8th if the radiation worked. There are a couple of things he’ll have to deal with the rest of his life due to the radiation. If the radiation therapy worked, he felt the tradeoff was acceptable. We had dinner with friends from former jobs (Michelle, Garry, and Gene), laughed a lot, and it was fun.

Further observation: The Ohio River is pretty impressive. That area may be another road trip candidate.

THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM

I always enjoy this museum. There was nothing new this year; they had just moved the planes around. A few of my favorites were not available as they are getting ready for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA

I decided to head north from the Air Force Museum rather than stay in Dayton. Due to really nasty weather, I ended up in Fort Wayne. According to the news the next day, 4.5 inches of rain fell that night. There was very impressive lightning and thunder. Good thing nature was putting on a show because the hotel’s satellite TV was definitely not working during the storm (we had the same problem in New Hampshire – just when you can’t go anywhere and TV seems like a good idea, the darn thing stops working. Never get dish…).

RV / MOTORHOME HALL OF FAME – ELKHART, INDIANA

I’m really glad I stopped here. I’ve been by it a number of times and as I zipped by at 70+ miles per hour I would say to myself: “I should stop there.” So, I did. I’ll just let the pictures describe this part of my journey:

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This is one of the first Airstreams. 13 feet long.

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One of the first motorhomes, from the 20s – heated by pot-bellied stove.

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This is the dash of a 50’s era motorhome (called the Cortez). No navigation system? No AC? No backup cameras? How did they ever cope?

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The couple that owned this lived in it from 1948 to 1988. Charming and homey inside.

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This one is my favorite – someone converted a 1976 Cadillac. Truly hideous, but I wish I had one. I bet it would be like driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

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Here’s the interior of the converted Caddy. There wasn’t enough headroom for me to stand.

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The climate control and entertainment systems in a 1920’s travel trailer.

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Paramount Pictures built a motorhome for Mae West and this is it. The cool thing is it had a porch in the back. The back door here is opened to it. Supposedly, she sat out here in a rocking chair in the evenings. Why don’t today’s motorhomes have porches? I think this is really cool.

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This was my favorite trailer. I just loved the wood and it felt so homey and comfortable. It’s from the 30s.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Speed Kills

I want it now. I deserve it now. God wants me to have it now. We’re in such a hurry and so impatient. I think this is part of the cause of our recent financial troubles. Both the get-rich-quick financial players and home-buyers-that-should-have-waited participated in the debacle. But beneath it all is an impatience to have it all.

The recent 1000 point drop in the Dow 30 Industrials is partially the fault of computer trading. Apparently “investors” (can we really call them that?) trade via computers in 1,000,000 share blocks, making substantial money on a penny or two change in the stock price – trading many times per day, often “owning” the shares for seconds. How does this activity benefit American industry, or society? I know it’s an unfashionable question to ask – how does something benefit the common good is not a popular concept anymore. It’s all about “me” now – what’s in it for me seems to have become the only relevant question. And, if I can’t make my fortune NOW, well there must be something wrong.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Water

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What is it about water that makes it so calming? I don’t feel comfortable in water – I can’t swim and I get scared when I’m in too deep. But, I love being around it. The sound, the beautiful colors, and the smells all make me feel better.