Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Don't mind me

Todd Morman is blogging up a storm, after being missing in action for almost two weeks: issues from Alan Keyes' lesbian daughter, to the chemical secrets of shrimp, to the E.L. Doctorow piece currently making the email rounds.

Second take on Amendment One

Even before this thread started jumping like crazy on OrangePolitics, I was having second thoughts about Amendment One. Amendment One is a proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment, on the ballot next month, to allow local governments to issue "self-financing bonds." The bonds are used for property redevelopment projects. They are financed through the (expected) net gain in property taxes of the redeveloped property.

The theme of the amendment initiative is "jobs and progress." There's even a so-called blog for it. But the messages are one-way, top-down, unsigned. Today's posting hearkens back to the Carolina "brain drain" of the 1950s that sparked the creation of RTP. Do we get it? "Amendment One is the tool our state needs. It can help local governments plan and provide jobs that will keep communities growing. Our state must have access to good, solid jobs. The stability of a community is important and having the option to use self-financing bonds can only make the state’s future brighter."

Because they don't obligate the "full faith and credit" of the government body, they don't have to be voted on. But if the project doesn't succeed, then the taxpayers could be left to pick up the slack. So it isn't a tax subsidy necessarily . . . but it easily could be that. The Common Sense Foundation objects to the name "self-financing bonds," calling it a euphemism. In most places, it's called "tax-increment funding." Call it what it is, says common sense:

"Tax-increment financing" (TIF) is what most states call the scheme that would be established if Amendment 1 passes on the N.C. ballot this fall. . . .

North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry (NCCBI), the state's premier business lobbying group, so abhors the word "tax" that it now refers to "tax-increment financing" by a new name: "Self-financing bonds."

"Self-financing bonds" would be a laughable euphemism if it weren't so dangerously misleading. Naming a public policy after its best possible outcome gives the impression that that outcome is a given; in fact with this type of scheme, the results are not always good and can be devastating.

The Chapel Hill Town Council endorsed a resolution in support of Amendment One. Only Mark Kleinschmidt voted against it. At the time, my thoughts ran to places like the Loray Mill in Gastonia, historic site of a deadly labor strike in 1929, which, through the efforts of Preservation North Carolina, is lively again, to the tune of a $50 million mixed-use development. The sad fact of life in North Carolina now is that there are dozens of old mills that could be put to new uses. But those projects can get done--with the help of historic preservation tax credits, for example. In Chapel Hill we've even established that our redevelopment of two downtown parcels of real estate can be accomplished without "self-financing bonds." I don't have a ready answer to the Common Sense Foundation's assertion that "There should be an honest debate about TIF without misleading monikers and outlandish claims from its proponents."

What sealed it for me was an item that came in this weekend's mail: Southern City, the publication of the North Carolina League of Municipalities: "Amidst all this political noise, we must not forget a 'green' issue that is on the ballot--Amendment One." Nice try.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Mad as a law professor

I just added The Legal Reader to my blogroll. I note the Reader has a whole category on its blogroll for "Law Professors Gone Mad." But don't worry, Eric, you're among friends there.

". . . the mentality of a gated community"

Laconic blogger George Entenman posts an argument for Kerry by a frustrated environmentalist, Chuck Bowden.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Motor City

What goes around comes around? For car ownership, Detroit is the most expensive city in the country.

If we really understood what our cars were costing us, we might be quicker to find a way out of them.

Our cars, ourselves

Yesterday was "car-free day" in Chapel Hill and some 1,400 other cities, part of an international movement. As Elisabeth Benfey, a transplanted European, pointed out to me, European cities have had an "In town without my car!" initiative for a number of years. This whole week is "European Mobility Week," focusing on issues of the environment and sustainable ways of getting around.

I forgot to pledge--and would not have been able to do better than "car lite." I did carpool to Raleigh for an argument in the Court of Appeals. There was nothing "car-free" about I-40 at 8 a.m. These days, every time I have to go to Raleigh I'm reminded how nice it is that I no longer have that commute. Even as the construction goes on, we surely know that building more and wider roads is not the answer.

"A lot of public health issues have resulted from not using your legs," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird at Carrboro's celebration for car-free troopers, where a Segway was demonstrated.

In Paris, where the first "car-free" day was held six years ago, a major international auto show is about to begin. Under President Chirac, "the car-free day . . . is in decline. In 2002, 98 French cities and towns participated. Last year, it was 72. This year, there [were only] 50." According to the Paris report, only Montreal in Canada was to participate, and "only a handful of Japanese cities." Rome and Berlin were not participants.

UPDATE: Three reports (scroll down).

A useful reminder

At TalkLeft they're talking about the negotiated release of Yaser Hamdi, who in June got the Supreme Court to declare that enemy combatants could not be detained indefinitely. One of the conditions of his release is that he renounce his U.S. citizenship (he was born in Louisiana).

One commenter says no big deal, "Hamdi is an American citizen only by accident of birth."

To which another responds, "From one's own point of view we are all American by an accident of birth?"

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Wired's Creative Commons concert

Paul is up in NYC with Larry Lessig and many others for the Creative Commons Benefit Concert at Town Hall. Live webcast starts in six minutes!

Welcome the SouthNow blog

SouthNow is the publication arm of the Program on Politics, Media and Public Life within the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill. They've recently set up shop to blog the campaign season. According to their email announcement, "The primary mission of SouthNow Blog is to provide a look at the presidential, U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in the South as seen through the lens of major news media in the region."

We can expect good analysis here, as demonstrated by Eric David's take on North Carolina women voters and their treatment in the media.

A frameable moment

Daily Kos is blogging this week about George Lakoff and his notions of "framing" (Ruby will be glad to know). Toward the bottom of a long set of comments is this small window into the editing process at the NYT:

In this A Closer Look at Kerry's Record on Taxes , the following appears (italics mine) "Some of these savings are rather vague, like money saved from reducing corporate welfare tax cuts, OK? `corporate welfare' sounds kinda tendentious closing tax loopholes and improving government efficiency."

The author of this post wonders if we are seeing an editor's comment. When you look at the story now (edited since this poster saw it), you see that the answer is yes:

Some of these savings are rather vague, like money saved from reducing corporate tax cuts, closing tax loopholes and improving government efficiency.

Is this an example of editing in favor of the more neutral or "objective" word, or are some frames (for example, "improving government efficiency") just more naturalized than others?

A comment that Jay Rosen makes in his recent interview of Dan Gillmor comes to mind. Speaking specifically of the "war on terror," he observes that reporters are often in an uncomfortably difficult role simply for being the messenger:

But after [Sept. 11], another kind of problem set in. And in my mind it has to do with the question of, are American journalists American, and what is their connection to the political community? What makes them citizens of the United States as well as journalists in the United States? And particularly in an age when we're in a permanent war against terror. Terrorism is not only a big issue to cover for the mass media, terrorism incorporates the news media. The bomb doesn't terrorize until news of it is reported. And the fear and panic and reactions spread in the United States after September 11th were a reaction to the news, to what we saw on the news.

My own sense is that deep within their professional conscience and personal awareness, journalists understand that they are actually part of the regime of terror—just by doing their jobs. And perhaps have to be part of the fight against it as well. But this doesn't conform to existing wisdom in the press about detachment, and being the watchdog, separate from the society we report on. I don't think the American press has really worked out or worked through its relationship to the country and how that might be different after 9/11. And that seems to me to be a critical question for journalists to examine. But I don't know if they have necessarily the resources to do that.

From bringing the message to framing the message is not a far distance, as this example shows.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

NNA winners

Of course, my mother was a big winner--more about her as soon as I can post a photo or two. I'm tremendously proud of her and her career as a community journalist. Other NNA winners included best newspaper web page for dailies

The Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

and best for non-dailies,

The News Register, McMinnville, Ore.

UPDATE: The Gilmer Mirror coverage of Sarah Greene's award.

They should have had Ed Cone

If Dan Gillmore was tied up, the NNA should have at least extended an invitation to Ed Cone.

Now blogs are really coming of age as news generators and movers of the traditional media. They won't replace newspapers or television, on which they rely heavily, but they will change them for the better.

NNA conference report 5

More or less to wrap up: in more than one session I picked up on a sense that there is, indeed, something amiss with contemporary journalism, something that keeps it from being really connected to its readership in the way that it should (given its important function in a democracy). It has to do with a felt distance between reporters and their audience, which in turn seems to be implicated in the polarization of everything.

According to Arthur Sulzberger, the bloggers are at fault: "too many [bloggers] simply contribute to the sense that we're in the midst of an opinion-ridden free-for-all." But some journalists recognize that their own learned habits might have something to do with it.

In "Community-Building through Interactive Mass Communication," Jack Morris of Loyola hit on the subject. Unhappily, his paper was so full of communications theory jargon that I doubt it got through very well. He did cite the right sources, though--standard texts like Daniel Yankelovich's Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy work in a Complex World (Syracuse 1991)--to argue that objectivity might itself be part of the problem:

In their professional competition to be the most objective, . . . many journalists apparently have objectified their readers, too, even though in most cases they are not observing their readers but trying to communicate with them. Journalists systematically overlook readers' values because they are systematically trained to be concerned only with objective facts.

And further,

to remain detached from sources and readers, journalists routinely rely on experts, who also tend to objectify the public. Every side of an issue has its own experts, and every side tends to overstate its point of view so that public issues often are presented in the media as polarized conflicts. . . . [Objective journalism's] preoccupation with conflict has led to reporting dominated by extremists.

This analysis sounds a lot like what Brent Cunningham of the Columbia Journalism Review has to say about objectivity, which I cited in an earlier post on the subject. It is not enough for a journalist to quote on authority ("he said") and turn to a competing authority ("she said") and stop there. This is lazy; and yet it seems that journalists fear going any further, for fear of sounding biased. What's missing is real news analysis. Writes Cunningham, "[W]e need to free (and encourage) reporters to develop expertise and to use it to sort through competing claims, identify and explain the underlying assumptions of those claims, and make judgments about what readers and viewers need to know to understand what is happening."

That's exactly what the best bloggers I know are doing.

But in two and a half days of conferencing, I didn't get much of a sense that the member papers of the NNA were interested in this other world. What little attention there was to using the web was almost all from the top down. It was not reassuring that the man who seemed to get it the most, Dean Singleton, is a media mogul.

Dan Gillmor, whose book I finished on the plane home, should be a must-read for all newspaper folks. (The entire book is downloadable for free.) I wish he had been at the NNA conference rather than where he was, at the Journalism Professors Conference in Toronto. Isn't that preaching to the converted? Maybe not yet entirely, but surely there are fewer in need of conversion there. Gillmor writes,

Technological advances always threaten established business models. And the people whose businesses are threatened always try to stop progress. Cory Doctorow is an online civil libertarian and science fiction author who published two novels and also made them freely downloadable online the day they were in bookstores. "The Vaudeville performers who sued Marconi for inventing the radio had to go from a regime where they had one hundred percent control over who could get into the theater and hear them perform to a regime where they had zero percent control over who could build or acquire a radio and tune into a recording of them performing," he told me. The performers, in other words, wanted to prevent new technology from disrupting a successful old business model.

The winners in the future of journalism will be the ones who understand that the old business model won't do.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Moyers speaks of Gillmor

Bill Moyers praises We the Media:

The debate over who [is] and isn’t a journalist is worth having. . . . You can read a good account of the latest round in that debate in the September 26th Boston Globe, where Tom Rosenthiel reports on the Democratic Convention’s efforts to decide “which scribes, bloggers, on-air correspondents and on-air correspondents and off-air producers and camera crews” would have press credentials and access to the action. Bloggers were awarded credentials for the first time, and, I, for one, was glad to see it. I’ve just finished reading Dan Gillmor’s new book, We the Media , and recommend it heartily to you. Gilmore is a national columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and writes a daily weblog for SiliconValley.com. He argues persuasively that Big Media is losing its monopoly on the news, thanks to the Internet – that “citizen journalists” of all stripes, in their independent, unfiltered reports, are transforming the news from a lecture to a conversation. He’s on to something. In one sense we are discovering all over again the feisty spirit of our earliest days as a nation when the republic and a free press were growing up together. It took no great amount of capital and credit–just a few hundred dollars–to start a paper then. There were well over a thousand of them by 1840. They were passionate and pugnacious and often deeply prejudiced; some spoke for Indian-haters, immigrant-bashers, bigots, jingoes, and land-grabbers. But some called to the better angels of our nature--Tom Paine, for one, the penniless immigrant from England, who, in 1776–just before joining Washington’s army–published the hard-hitting pamphlet, Common Sense, with its uncompromising case for American independence. It became our first best seller because Paine was possessed of an unwavering determination to reach ordinary people–to “make those that can scarcely read understand” and “to put into language as plain as the alphabet” the idea that they mattered and could stand up for their rights.

More about NNA after a good night's sleep; for now, happy to be home.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Sulzberger speaks of blogs

I'm grateful to Wanda Cash of the Baytown [Tex.] Sun, president of the Texas Press Association--just about the only person I've talked to at the NNA with a positive, welcoming impression of bloggers--for tipping me off to Romenesko's citation of Arthur Sulzberger's recent address at (of all places) Kansas State (sponsor of many of the programs I've heard in the past two days). I think his take on blogs and bloggers would be mirrored by many people here at the conference:

This takes us to another important on-line phenomenon, the rise of bloggers. These individuals publish web logs that offer an ongoing narrative of their thoughts and observations. Some are professional journalists, but the vast majority of them are just folks with something on their minds.

While some of these individuals are making a serious and thoughtful contribution to our global dialogue, too many simply contribute to the sense that we're in the midst of an opinion-ridden free-for-all.

While this new medium requires innovative analysis and creative application, companies must still find a way to instill their core journalistic values into their on-line activities, especially given how important this medium is for the teenagers and young adults.

The newspaper industry is clearly on the cusp of a major, major transition--the rumblings are here though the direction is not well understood. I often think of one of my favorite journalism professors for imprinting on me, many years ago, this saying: "As Eve said to Adam, we live in an age of transition."

NNA conference report 4

This morning's plenary session led off with Dean Mills, dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He introduced us to his school's new Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Funded by a $31 million grant, the institute will aim, in Mills' words, "to bring together citizens and journalists and researchers aimed at tightening that link between citizens and journalists, a link that has been severely damaged over past couple of decades." Mills said he thinks the community newspapers represented in the audience "could give larger newspapers a lot of lessons in how to stay tightly connected to your community." Through the a fellowship program, "journalists and scholars from all over the world [will] tackle the problems connected with journalism, figuring out ways to help journalists serve citizens better," and to help citizens better interact with journalists.

Echoing Dean Singleton, he emphasized the importance of emerging technologies: "We will become a national testing center for new technolologies in gathering and delivering journalism." Plans include a "high-tech research and demonstration center" that will serve to "figure out ways to use those technologies in ways that make journalism more relevant and useful and acceptable to citizens."

Then, to breakout groups.

1. "Newpapers on the Web . . . It's the Franchise," moderated by Steve Haynes, Oberlin [Kan.] Herald.

Haynes is CEO of four northwest Kansas papers. He pointed out from the start that he is the corporate presence, not a hands-on newspaperman. What was fascinating is that his daughter was in the room, too. She is a 30-year-old woman who works in advertising and web design for Morris Communications, in Augusta, Ga., which has been described as a "small market-media empire." The generational divide here was fascinating and I think telling.

Father starts the session by saying: "I want us to talk about intergration of the internet and us and other media. We are looked at in our communities as prime source of information. That's our franchise. There are people out there who would like to move in on our franchise. We have to learn how to defend and protect and grow our franchise." (Didn't sound very blog-friendly; I tried mostly to listen in this session.)

But the conversation quickly shifted to the question of how to make money on the web. The issue is charging for page views or not. The underlying issue is whether there is value to an online presence apart from the direct financial return.

Mr. Haynes favors the teasing approach: put just enough on the web so that people will have to buy a subscription. This has a lot of support in the room. Some small papers do like the Wall Street Journal and give online access only to hard-copy subscribers. The object is not to undercut the paid subscription base.

An interesting topic is obits: whether to offer them in full online or not. One approach is not to, because people really buy the papers for obits. Another approach is to make them available for a fee. Yet another is to offer them in conjunction with ads from florist shops! This approach is much endorsed by Mr. Haynes' daughter.

The daughter is generally more in favor of putting content online for free and relying heavily on advertisers. That is what the internet users expect, and that's what it has to be about, in her view.

A newspaperman from a suburban market says that circulation in his market "stopped growing because certain demographic groups have found out you can get it for free, and so why pay for it?"

Seems to me that this supports both the father's and the daughter's points of view. It could be a great sales pitch for advertisers.

The father is in support of "broadcast integration," "to get our brand out in as many ways as we can."

We had to quit just as it was getting interesting--the daughter readily conceding that she and her father had major disagreements about all of this.

2. "Environmental issues and the newspaper's role," with Jan Laitos, professor, Univ. of Denver College of Law.

Sockless in Weejuns as he was, I liked this fellow immediately. The session was much about the environment, very little about journalism. Prof. Laitos regularly does TV commentary in Denver on environmental issues--which he said was hard to get the privilege to do, hard to sell the fact that the environment was as much of an issue as car wrecks and crime--so he has little exprience with print media.

If you're looking for stories, he said, there is no shortage of environmental topics. He then went through a depressing litany: (1) our dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels in the face of common sense, with particular attention to the Asian market which is huge and heedless; (2) dependence on electricity as produced by coal and natural gas, both very problematic energy sources, with coal responsible for significant mercury poisoning of rivers that people, including pregnant women, drink out of; (3) particular to the western U.S., several disturbing trends, for which I'll turn to the professor's own words:

What is happening in the West, in this country, is the end of commodities as the primary economic driver: minerals, timber, ranching, grazing, oil development, etc. Why people are moving to the west now is because of what is called landscape values, and landscape values are because you have this revulsion in places like Denver--to live in this concentrated seething city of a million people where you can't drive down the interstate without road rage. People are moving outward.

They're moving to the exurbs: that location that is beyond the suburbs. In Colorado the classic example is Dillon, Summit County, where the ski areas are, people are living there and commuting down I-70 to Denver because they want to get away from Denver and they'll do anything to do so. Now that interstate is like a parking lot 5 days a week--because of the landscape value. It's near forest service land, BLM land, beautiful vistas, clean air.

What are they doing with their time there? This is the second big development: they are not looking for gold mines, or oil wells, or to cut trees. What they are doing is, they are the biggest industry in Colorado: recreating. Multiple levels of recreation. That is the new driving force for the West. The recreation can consist of low impact, I just want my house with the wildernesst, or people that want to take their mountain bikes.

There's another real issue here, the motorized uses of our public lands, the west, ATVs, four wheel drives, jet skis, snowmobiles. What we're discovering in the law, the fastest growing area of litigation in federal courts is not between sierra and mining companys. Those days are gone. The commiodity users have lost. They are gone. What is happening is you have disputes between competing recreational users. Motorized recreational users going after forest service decisions to open up this land only for hiking. Check out the web sites of these motorized vehicle associations. Because America has leisure time, money, and the space now to do it. That's what the battles are.

Finally, he mentioned adequate water supplies as another major environmental issue in the West. "And the legal dimension of all that," he said, "is that the current water law doctrine that has existed in this country for years is completely inconsistent with the idea of conservation.It is based on one thing only: use it or lose it. If you conserve it you have abandoned it. There is zero incentive to conserve."

Prof. Laitos taught Gale Norton and many of her employees in the current administration. I would venture to say he has not historically been a Democrat. He was working under Antonin Scalia in the President's Office of Legal Counsel when he was asked to research and draft a presidential pardon for Ford to use with Nixon. He considers now-Justice Scalia to have been about as fine a mentor as you can imagine. Yet he excoriates the Bush Administration for its environmental policies.

Where are the environmental journalists? This sesison was very poorly attended.

NNA conference report 3

To clarify why Byers was interested in The Great Good Place: he was picking up on Oldenburg's observation that many people live in one place, work in another, socialize in another, and feel connected to none. This poses a dilemma for the community newspaper in the bedroom community where these people live. How to figure out how to serve them, to reach them? Byers understands social capital. He understands social networking. But his solution—for the news staff to be sure to circulate in the community—stops just short of actually engaging with these diverse communities through their online voices.

The next paper in the community-building symposium, by Maria Raicheva-Stover of Washburn University, struck off in a different direction from Putnam's work. Using his definitions of social capital as a starting point, she wrote a dissertation that tried to figure out whether mass media is contributing to the decline of social capital or to its improvement.

According to her research, consumption of hard news corresponds to increased levels of social capital, while consumption of soft news corresponds to decreasing levels. As an example of the latter, a survey respondent might say that she only reads the arts section to figure out which movie or art exhibit to go to (by herself). On the other hand, consumers of hard news are people more likely to be active in politics or other activities involving lots of people acting together. Most interesting, I think, is her finding about the watchers of sit-coms and reality TV. She found that viewers of those kinds of shows had a high level of social capital. I'm greatly oversimplifying her paper and not doing it justice.

Many of the papers I'm writing about, including hers and Byers', are part of a special "community building symposium" that is going on within this NNA program. It's the 10th annual symposium sponsored by the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media at Kansas State. If the past is prologue, this year's papers will be online eventually.

Later in the day, Raicheva-Stover noticed my copy of We, the Media and took down the name. I asked her why it seemed that the folks at this conference weren't too interested in blogs. She said it was a good question, and that she herself was going to be incorporating them into her teaching very soon.

Thursday p.m.

Because the subject of potential advertiser control over journalistic content came up at the Piedmont Blog Conference, I paid special attention to the presentation by Lori Bergen (co-authored by Soontae An) of Kansas State on "Advertiser Pressure on News Contents: The Dilemma between Business and Editorial in Community Newspapers." The most interesting finding of this research is not that such pressure exists—that is no surprise—but that small, independently owned papers are less likely to give in to such pressure than are large, corporate-owned papers.

Her concluding remark was sobering: "Media companies will not have trouble staying in business, but the challenge will be staying in journalism."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

NNA conference report 2

I did note that Singleton never exactly talked about blogs--everything but. In the next morning session, it was kind of the same way.

Stephen Byers, from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, spoke on "Beyond demographics: Understanding who your readers are and how they communicate." He tackled the very real issue of how to find the communities in a newspaper's audience when people are abandoning traditional communities--the "bowling alone" phenomenon. I was glad to hear that he's not so hot on everything Putnam has to say and that he likes Ray Oldenberg's The Great Good Place.

He talked a lot about finding ways to reach out to discover these invisible communities--for example by hanging out in coffee shops where moms with small children talk about what's important. But he didn't mention engaging with the blgosphere, and nobody else did either.

NNA conference report 1

No wi-fi that I can find in the Adams Mark hotel, but free ethernet connection in the rooms. The weather here is clear and beautiful, making it all the harder to believe the destruction going on elsewhere. Sure wish I didn't have to fly back into Ivan's aftermath on Saturday.

The Adams Mark is on the 16th Street Mall, a beautiful pedestrian mall used also by hybrid electric alternative fuel-powered buses that are so quiet and un-smelly that you hardly know they're there.

Wednesday p.m.

The first conference session I attended was an update on libel law. In response to one sad story of a man who had a legitimate claim that he had been defamed, I remarked that "he needed a blog!" (The speaker had said that the man had declined the chance to submit his own verison of the story because he feared it being edited, and "he'd been edited enough" by that paper.) My comment was met with silence.

We we adjourned, one publisher of a weekly paper told me that blogs had no crediblity with him. His theory is that bloggers have nothing to risk therefore they can and will say anything regardless of truth value. He knows bloggers can be sued for libel, but they don't have assets or insurance. To his mind, that is what makes establishment journalists more reliable: they have a real fear of being sued. The bloggers that might be realiable and good, he said, he can't understand why they do it. They must be people who have too much time on their hands or can't figure out what else to do with their lives, he said.

Thursday a.m.

Good news: Dean Singleton gets it. Singleton, who began working as a reporter at 15, and bought his first newspaper at 21, is CEO of the MediaNews Group, the seventh largest newspaper company in the United States. As a major player in the major media field, active in the Newspaper Association of America (the trade association of the large-scale papers), he brought one message to this convention of community newspapers, many of which are weekly or semiweekly: You too can, and must, enter the 21st century through much more sophisticated and interactive use of technology. Some of what he said:

We have tended to look at online services as a financial story, but what is really happening is a social revolution. The nature of relationship, al kinds of relationships, is changing on a scale never seen in history, or imagined. With 149 million Americans with web access, being online is simply becoming a part of how we live. A massive transfer of power. As more people have access to more information, the reatlaionship with those who used to own and disperse information is dramatically altered--no matter who is the owner. We must be part of this shift. We need to be so immersed and intertwined that we are both a driver and beneficiary of change. We do that by accelerating and refining the synegeries beweteen the web and print. There is major potential in interactivity. If you run a story about a proprety tax increase, readers can go online and find out what it means to their house. If there's a wreck on highway readers can go online to find drive times. We have to move and move faster from a passive experience where our readers can just scan the screen to getting them actively involved in the process and at same time involved in our newspapers activily. If we just transfer the content of old media to new media, that' not going to cut it. We got blindsided by first wave of the internet and it took along time to catch up. We can't afford to get smacked again.

There is no obstacle I can see that prohibits smaller newspapers from replicating the same things the big ones are doing, and I think you can do it better.

Another part of what he had to say involved a pitch for greater "media consolidation"--the joint ownership of print media, ratio, TV, the works. That is a major part of what he does. I'm not so with him there . . . but I'm very glad he said what he did about interactive communities.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Off to Denver

Tomorrow I'm headed for Denver to celebrate with my mother as she receives a lifetime achievement award. From the Gilmer Mirror:

Mirror Publisher to Receive Prestigious NNA Award

Mirror publisher Sarah L. Greene will receive the Emma C. McKinney Award from the National Newspaper Association when it convenes in Denver, Colo., Sept. 15-18.

Mrs. Greene, publisher of the Gilmer Mirror, will receive the Emma C. McKinney Award, which was established in 1966 to honor the co-publisher and editor of the Hillsboro (Org.) Argus for 58 years. McKinney was also dean of Oregon newspapermen and women in 1954 and was inducted into the Oregon Journalism Hall of Fame in 1982.

Mrs. Greene followed her parents and grandfather in the newspaper business, publishing the paper that her grandfather purchased in 1915. She was TPA president in 1995, only the second female president in the association's history.

In a letter supporting Mrs. Greene's nomination, Lynn Brisendine, publisher of the Brownfield News, wrote, "Sarah L. Greene is one of the outstanding newspaper women of Texas. Her dedication, knowledge and work ethic continue to inspire all of the men and women who make newspapering their profession, not only in Texas, but all across this great country."

The NNA represents non-metropolitan newspapers--the real community newspapers. After the interesting discussions about the relationship of blogging to journalism at the Piedmont Blog Conference, I'm looking forward to some good discussions here. But even though the theme is "the power of community newspapers," I don't see a single thing on the schedule about weblogs. Perhaps some of us in the audience will offer a shift in focus. If I can find a way to connect, I'll try to do some live-blogging.

My spouse brought back from "FOO Camp" Dan Gillmor's We the Media. I'm taking it with me.

I notice we're to be entertained by Baxter Black, the cowboy poet--local color I guess. Says here his column "On the Edge of Common Sense" is "the most widely syndicated agricultural column in America." Imagine that.

Would you pay $300 for this?

How Appealing is keeping tabs on the eBay bidding wars over one Sandra Day O'Connor bobblehead doll after another. One recently went for $300. The current auction is creeping up rapidly, already at $265 with more than a day of bidding to go.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Live from northern California

My better half is live-blogging from "FOO camp" (for friends of Tim O'Reilly).

In memoriam

The thing I'll never get over about September 11, 2001, is what a clear, cloudless morning it was, a hint of fall, one of those days that make you glad to be alive. It was that way all up and down the eastern seaboard. The 9-11 Commission Report begins like this:

September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for work. Some made their way to the Twin Towers, the signature structures of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Others went to Arlington, Virginia, to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W. Bush went for an early morning run.

For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey.

My friend John Mason was in Carrboro. He did not die on September 11. It was almost a year later before his cancer finally claimed him. But when I think of that fateful morning, he comes to mind as clearly as that clear blue sky. Here's an essay I wrote about him that was published in November 2002 in the Urban Hiker.

Friday, September 10, 2004

A thousand faces

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

--A.E. Housman, Last Poems

Resilient city

Though the "tall buildings" exhibit at MOMA seems to Herbert Muschamp to illustrate the polemical point that yes, it's OK again, after three years, to think about skyscrapers in New York, urban planners have been counting on the city's resilience all along.

Looking to history, planners at MIT held a conference in February 2002 called "The Resilient City." San Francisco after the earthquake, Chicago after the fire, "cities have endured trauma and violence for millennia," said Tom Campanella, "much of it far worse than that unleashed by Mohamed Atta on September 11. Any study of the city in history will reveal that human settlements possess an essential ability to resurrect themselves in the wake of devastation."

Larry Vale offered a similar faith in urban regeneration, but he wonders about the process of memorializing what was lost. Whose stories get told, and whose are elided? "It is not enough to ask general questions about urban recovery; we must ask who recovers which aspects of the city, and by what mechanisms," he argues. "The process of post-disaster recovery is a window into the power structure of the society that has been stricken. Similarly, to ask about remembrance is to inquire how what is remembered gets constructed, when, and by whom."

As the process of memorializing and rebuilding has gone forward, at least in these still early stages, the tension does not seem to be so much about what is remembered: perhaps in 50 years, or 100, others will look back with dispassionate and critical eyes on the particular way in which Americans chose to memorialize the senseless murder of several thousand people in the context of waging preemptive war. By my lights, the memorial, a "simple articulation of the footprints of the Twin Towers," promises to be a powerful and lasting symbol of loss, inviting thoughtful reflection. But even now, "the power structure of the society"--or at least of New York--is fairly well laid bare in the struggle over the rebuilding of the rest of the site.

Two great architects, Daniel Libeskind and David Childs, have been thrown together to work out the one design for the new "Freedom Tower."

More layers of political and ideological tension are involved in the process of rebuilding the World Trade Center site than I can fathom. One of them seems to be a personalized debate over style and process between two high-profile architecture critics: Muschamp, of the Times, and Paul Goldberger, of the New Yorker--as suggested in a review of Goldberger's book Up from Zero.

Another comes out of sheer politics, power and money: Libeskind won the design competition, but developer Larry Silverstein wanted Childs. Hence the arranged marriage. In Goldberger's view, Libeskind's singular design is at risk.

Building in New York City has always been a matter of money and politics as much as architecture, with predictably mediocre results. But it seemed, for a while, that the city’s usual way of doing business would be suspended during the rebuilding of Ground Zero, since public sentiment demanded something more high-minded than the conventional New York real-estate deal. Hiring Daniel Libeskind was a good start. In the last few months, however, it has become clear that Ground Zero is not going to be remade as Libeskind would wish it to be. He is being made to conform to the city’s modus operandi rather than the other way around.

Still, he is hopeful:

By accepting the demands of the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein for office space, Libeskind forfeited his claim as a visionary, but he managed to synthesize the symbolic and the commercial in a design that can still be called avant-garde, which is no small achievement. And he might get at least some of the thing built.

You can see it going up--on a live web-cam! The resilient city.

Top "censored" stories

The jury is in on the top 25 censored media stories of 2003-04. Project Censored, a media research group at Sonomoa State, culled hundreds of stories to come up with this list of "news that didn't make the news." Some highlights:

No. 1: Wealth Inequality in 21st Century Threatens Economy and Democracy

As always, America’s economic trends have a global footprint—and this time, it is a crater. Today the top 400 income earners in the U.S. make as much in a year as the entire population of the 20 poorest countries in Africa (over 300 million people). But in America, national leaders and mainstream media tell us that the only way out of our own economic hole is through increasing and endless growth—fueled by the resources of other countries.

No. 2: Bush Administration Manipulates Science and Censors Scientists

Critics charge that the Bush Administration is purging, censoring, and manipulating scientific information in order to push forward its pro-business, anti-environmental agenda. In Washington, D.C. more than 60 of the nation’s top scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, and former federal agency directors, issued a statement on February 18, 2004 accusing the Bush Administration of deliberately distorting scientific results for political ends and calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking.

No. 5: The Wholesale Giveaway of our Natural Resources

Not since the McKinley era of the late 1800s has there been such a drastic move to scale back preservation of the environment. In 1896 President William McKinley was extremely pro-industry in terms of forests and mining interest giveaways. Mark Hanna, McKinley’s partner against American populist William Jennings Bryan, raised more than $4 million in campaign contributions stating that only a government that catered first to the needs of corporate interests could serve the needs of the people.

No. 14: New Bill Threatens Intellectual Freedom in Area Studies

Conservative academic Stanley Kurtz testified in support of HR 3077 and the advisory board. Kurtz stated that "the ruling intellectual paradigm in academic area studies is "post-colonial theory.” His problem with this idea is that “The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and culture at the service of American power.” According to Singh, Kurtz argues that “the root of anti-Americanism, is not our repeated missteps abroad, unilateral occupation, or the continuing deaths of innocent civilians, but rather, post-colonial scholarship.” He feels that post-colonial theory is the cause for bias against America, driving his conclusion that Title VI programs are putting national security at risk as they indoctrinate their students with a hatred of America.

No. 24: Reinstating the Draft

The Selective Service System, the Bush Administration, and the Pentagon have been quietly moving to fill draft board vacancies nationwide in order to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. In preparation several million dollars have been added to the 2004 Selective Service System (SSS) budget. The SSS Administration must report to Bush on March 31, 2005 that the system, which has lain dormant for decades, is ready for activation. The Pentagon has quietly begun a public campaign to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots nationwide.

Sad no more

Strong Sad is back.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Abe, we hardly knew ye

Severe physical and emotional trauma turned this young man into the sixteenth president of the United States. Read more about the remarkable detective work a plastic surgeon did to identify the photo. (Via kottke.org.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"Solid Objects"

A short essay I published years ago in the Virginia Woolf Miscellany will be reprinted this spring in the journal Short Story Critricism. The essay is about Woolf's story "Solid Objects," which involves a politician--a distracted politician. He becomes so caught up with other things that he gives up politics.

My interpretation suggested that this move was not entirely a bad thing. At the time, such a reading ran against the grain of Woolf scholarship. The feminist scholarship of Woolf so emphasized her politics that was hard to imagine that Woolf herself was not critical of her character for giving it up.

Becoming a politician was not even remotely on my mind when I wrote this piece. Now, as a new season of Town Council activity gets under way, Woolf's understanding of the wisdom of Thomas Browne seems well worth recalling.

As Woolf refashioned her early empirical realism into a modernist practice, her work began to reflect a deeper engagement with the Renaissance, including the works of an old friend, Sir Thomas Browne. While she was finishing Night and Day (1919), she embarked on a new direction in short fiction. "The Mark on the Wall" and other stories collected in Monday or Tuesday (1921) reflect, in their impressionistic fragmentation, her new position that "inconclusive stories are legitimate." Although that statement comes from a review of a collection by Chekhov, it is a conclusion she was also gleaning from Browne.

More . . .

Sunday, September 05, 2004

On "settling the just bounds" between church and state

Our own David Price (D-N.C.) held his ground on Saturday morning on NPR's Morning Edition in a debate with Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) over the role of religion in politics. They each have a chapter in a new book from the Brookings Institution called One Electorate Under God?

Price, who holds a divinity degree from Yale, readily conceded that "the motivations that bring people into politics are often tied to religious experience," and yet he points to the establishment clause as reason to ask, "When do I push to enact what may be religiously grounded precepts and principles into civil law, and when do I demur?" His position is that "in a pluralistic democracy one does attempt to appeal to more widely shared values."

Souder claims that he has "an obligation" to "bring [his] faith into the debate"--whether his views are widely shared or not. He cites the Christian abolitionist response to slavery as an example.

But he doesn't do so well when asked how he would have responded in the 1830s to the Mormons' religious arguments for polygamy. Missing the point that these were people acting out of their religious faith, he first invokes the New Testament to claim that "marriage is between a man and a woman" and then says that the way the Mormons were persecuted were wrong.

Mario Cuomo, a liberal Catholic, articulates his strategy for negotiating between church and state (his chapter is available in a .pdf from the Brookings web site above).

I can, if I choose, argue--even as a public official--that the state should not fund the use of contraceptive devices, not because the pope or my bishop demands it but because I think that for the good of the whole community we should not sever sex from an openness to the creation of life. And surely I, as a public official, can, if I am so inclined, demand a law to prevent abortions or stem cell retrieval from embryos, not just because my bishop says it is wrong but also because I think that the whole community, regardless of its religious beliefs, should agree on the importance of protecting life, including life in the womb, which is, at the very least, potentially human and should not be extinguished casually. I, even as a public official, have the right to do all of that.

The Constitution, which guarantees your right not to have to practice my religion, guarantees my right to try to convince you to adopt my religion's tenet as public law whenever that opportunity is presented. And it is presented often.

The question for the religious public official, then, is not Do I have the right to try to make public law match my religious belief? but Should I try? Would the effort produce harmony and understanding? Or might it instead be divisive, weakening our ability to function as a pluralist community? For me, as a Catholic official, the question created by my oath of office, by the Constitution, and by personal inclination was, When should I argue to make my religious values your morality, my rule of conduct your limitation? As I understood my religion, it required me to accept the restraints it imposed in my own life, but it did not require that I seek to impose all of them on all New Yorkers. . . . My church understands that our public morality depends upon a consensus view of right and wrong. Religious values will not be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the community at large.

Though Cuomo claims that "the Catholic tradition of political realism" generally works, even, in his view, when it came to "slavery in the late nineteenth century" (??), it doesn't exactly work when applied to slavery in the early nineteenth century. Or with Jim Crow in the first half of the twentieth. But there's an even more fundamental issue here, one that Stanley Fish has wrestled with. ("Mission Impossible: Settling the Just Bounds between Church and State," 97 Columbia Law Review 2255 (1997).)

The modern contours of the debate concerning the relationship between church and state were established in 1689 by Locke in A Letter Concerning Toleration, and discusison of the issue has not advanced one millimeter beyond Locke's treatment even though over three hundred years have passed.

A very Fishian line, certainly: this is the way it is, and don't bother to try to change it, because as much as you want to avoid it, this is the way it is. But as usual, he is on to something.

Locke begins by identifying the problem: Every church is orthodox to itself, and in the certain event that quarrels break out between competing orthodoxies, there is no one on earth capable of adjucating between them. . . . the problem is that were tolerance always the rule, government would be barred from restricting behavior that it found wrong and disruptive so long as those who engaged in that behavior could plausibly claim that they were moved to it by religious faith. Locke responds to this difficulty by refusing to extend tolerance to doctrines which "manifestly undermine the foundations of society, and are therefore condemned by the judgment of mankind." The contradiction is obvious: If every church is orthodox to itself, the category "the judgment of all mankind" is empty because it presupposes the common ground or shared point of view denied by the announcement that ever church is orthodox to itself. Indeed, if there were something called the judgment of all mankind, there would be no need of a liberal framework within which competing orthodoxies vied for political supremacy.

The fundamentalist religious viewpoint poses the crucial challenge to the notion, suggested by Price and Cuomo, that religion in the public sphere must always be tempered by tolerance, or that tolerance is a sufficient answer to all public issues involving religion.

Fish examines a case in which the mother of a public grade-school child objected to a curriculum that required her child "to participate in a program of 'critical reading' designed to cultivate the capacity for considering every side of a question." The very notion of exposure to multiple positions violated the mother's religious beliefs. Her argument was neither understood nor accepted in court. The court--we can hear it now--patiently pointed out that "teaching about" a viewpoint does not mean "teaching to believe in" that viewpoint. But this distinction, Fish points out, "rests on a psychology that is part and parcel of the liberalism Vicki Frost and her friends don't want imposed on their children." Rather, she feels called "to take care lest [her child] be influenced in the wrong directions, as they well might be if they were introduced to notions they were ill equipped to resist."

Fish's essay is much more involved than I can do justice to here, but a basic point is that there is and will always be an irresolveable tension between the "establishment of religion" and the "free exercise thereof," and that moral values are always at stake. "[C]onflict," he concludes, "is the name of our condition, and moreover, naming it does nothing to ameliorate it or make it easier to negotiate. The negotiations have to be done one at a time in the context of the urgencies and choices life continually throws in our way."

In the end, I think Fish does reach a conclusion that Price and Cuomo, as well as Souder and Frost, would have to endorse, troubling though it is to the liberal orthodoxy:

Politics, after all, is what is usually opposed to morality, especially in the texts of liberal theorists. Politics, interest, partisan conviction and mere belief--these are the forces that must be kept at bay. What I have attempted here is a reversal of this judgment. Politics, interest, partisan conviciton, and belief are the locations of morality. It is in and through them that one's sense of justice and the good lives and is put into action. Immorality resides in the mantras of liberal theory--fairness, impartiality, and mutual respect--all devices for painting the world various shades of gray.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Chasing the wind

As Hurricane Frances bears down today, Scott Huler has an interesting op-ed on hurricanes and their names. The names are recycled every six years, unless they cut too deep to be forgotten. There will never be another Hazel, or Camille,* or Gloria, or Fran. Or Frances.

Huler, a journalist, knows a lot about windy weather. He came to his subject curiously. Working as a copy editor, he happened upon Admiral Francis Beaufort's centuries-old scale for identifying wind velocity. Struck by the spare beauty of the language, he gave in to an obsession to figure it all out. The result is Defining the Wind, which was published this summer.

You can hear him interviewed about the book on WUNC. As he reads the Beaufort Scale, what comes across is the perfect conjunction of science and poetry.

*"If I could have one part of the world back the way it used to be, I would not choose Dresden before the fire bombing, Rome before Nero, or London before the blitz. I would not resurrect Babylon, Carthage or San Francisco. Let the leaning tower lean and the hanging gardens hang. I want the Mississippi Gulf Coast back the way it was before Hurricane Camille."
--Elizabeth Spencer

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Strong feelings

I'm sad. Every Thursday I've come to look forward to a new entry in Strong Sad's blog. The day (and almost the night) has come and gone with nary an update. I must be strong.