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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Cultural Differences

This post is about the difference between us and them.  Here in the United States, we have certain values and standards that generally apply across the populace.  You know what they are because you’re part of this culture.  Of course, these days, we are undergoing a cultural deregulation, which means that a lot of things that used to be offensive are now passively accepted.  Lest they be accused of being a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal, people have become accustomed to simply observing something that used to be considered offensive, quietly commenting to themselves and moving on.  That’s how civilized people do it.

Suit yourself, but the entire world does not view things in the same manner that we do.  One of the great mistakes that Americans make when they are overseas is the assumption that everybody in the world enjoys the same cultural enlightenment that we do.  And that the whole world enjoys the same court system and civil liberties that we do.  Needless to say, this is not the case.  For a harrowing example, check out the movie Midnight Express.  In this movie, our innocent American is caught at the airport with two bricks of Turkish hashish strapped to his body (which tells you how long ago this movie was made).  From there, it’s a long rumbling slide into hell.  And, this during a time when Turkey was a solid ally of the United States.  One can only imagine what it is like now.

Actually, one can imagine how things are now, what with the cultural changes taking place in the Middle East.  Surely, you can remember back to 1994 when the big uproar was devoted to Michael P. Fay, an American citizen who was convicted of theft and vandalism in a Singapore court.  He was sentenced to punishment by caning and the civilized West went berserk over the event.  It is helpful to remember that while we don’t do that sort of stuff here, that doesn’t mean that nobody does it.  My feeling then, and now, is that when you’re in a foreign country, you have to be sensitive to local mores.  It’s as much out of respect as self-preservation.  People forget about this stuff periodically, at their own risk.  And, you have to wonder what the liberal reaction will be when Sharia shows up in force in our society.  As it already has in France.

What has motivated me to write is an event that took place earlier this month in Cairo.  A female reporter for a large news gathering organization was sexually attacked by a mob of men that had gathered during the civil unrest that led to Hosni Mubarak’s departure from the presidency.  I’m not going to mention her name, but I am going to mention some of the odd circumstances of the reporting of this event.  Most notable is the fact that the reports of this event on different websites  all seem to include this statement: Comments on this item have been closed.

That font of liberal knowledge, National Public Radio, has this item: Why Have Many Comments About The Attack On ********** Been Removed? The fact that NPR has been removing some comments seems to be in keeping with their general outlook; just ask Juan Williams about that.  At least NPR is upfront about it now.

Of course, reading comments about any online article can be a depressing affair.  Simple articles about the opening of Girl Scout cookie sales often receive numerous malicious comments that make you fear for the future of Western Civilization.  So, when something as volatile as this comes up, the comments can make you suicidal.  That said, this particular incident apparently has raised the hackles of many.  In one way, NPR got it right:

  • There’s much we don’t know about what happened. Until we learn more, for example, jumping to conclusions about her attackers adds nothing to the discussion. They’re criminals. Period.

In another way, NPR showed their cultural bias:

  • Blaming the victim is an old, tired game. Please don’t.

At some point along the way, people have got to take responsibility.  I’m not going to post a photograph, much in the same way that I’m not mentioning names, but you have to ask yourself one question.

Given that events in Egypt have been extremely volatile in recent weeks, as it now has become in the region.  Given that there are significant cultural differences between the West and the Middle East.  Given that within Egyptian society itself there are significant conflicts between those who wear Western attire and those who choose the hajib.  Given that not everybody likes westerners, their appearance, their culture.  Given that a lot of people don’t like reporters, regardless of cultural differences.

Given all that, why would a reporter show up at a site of political and cultural unrest wearing a string of clearly visible pearls?

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Well, since I’ve got some intellectual momentum, let us revisit the issues in my previous blog about college cheating.  If there is any great public moral outrage about this story, it hasn’t reared its ugly little head yet.  Presumably, in a few weeks, a reporter will do a follow up story on the young man who claimed that everybody cheats in college.  One can only guess as to the character of that unreported story.  On the other hand, there has been online discussion about it.  Perhaps the most bothersome was this comment to one of the online articles about the event.

His views probably probably represent 80% of college students who are majoring in law, economics, business, accounting, medicine and the other disciplines where morality, ethics and integrity are not taught. He is your (and our) future.

And it is the “your future” part that is most disturbing, because the person who posted that comment is right.  What if we become a world where anything is possible because “everybody does it”.

Chris Matyszczyk, of Cnet.com, writes about the University of Central Florida cheating scandal.  In part his attitude about the matter comes from John 8:7, although he does not cite that passage:

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Taken out of context, those words would indicate that nobody should say anything  about anybody because we’re all sinners.  It may be true that all are sinners, but one of the major tenets of religion is an acknowledgment that we are sinners.  The idea is to try and do better.  Besides, if applied, the “we’re all sinners so we can’t judge others” would destroy our legal system, the mechanism which protects us from the predations of others.

There’s always an inclination to let things slide, and the phrase “everybody does it” is particularly insidious.  Especially since while everybody may be doing it, specific names of just “who” is doing it are rarely cited.  There’s just this nebulous mass of humanity out there doing it, and I want to get mine while I can.  This is the sort of stuff that you tried to feed your Mom in high school.  It didn’t work then, and it probably should not work now.

Humanity has a track record for letting things drift downward and then catching itself.  Inevitably, there are those who call for “new thinking” on a topic.  The old ideas are just that, old.  We need new stuff.  Consider this extension of that logic:

After extensive research, the staff of the School of Divinity have determined that the Ten Commandments should now be described as the Ten Recommended Practices.  To quote the school’s Dean, “This makes our coursework congruent with modern day realities.  It conveys the modern interpretation of God’s Will into the context of daily life.”

Of course, I’m just riffing here, but you can see the logical train of thought.  The seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) becomes RP 7 (“You shouldn’t sleep around”).  And, because we are a litigious society, the Ten Recommended Practices would be subject to extensive bureaucratic examination and clarification.  For example:

RP 7 (4)(c)(ii):  It may be possible to sleep with a person who is not your spouse / partner if you are at a convention more than 500 miles from your place of domicile and you have consumed four margaritas and three Cuervo shooters.

Certainly words for our modern times.

Matyszczyk ends his column with:

….there is an essay question: “Cheating in business is both natural and prevalent. Discuss.” You have three hours to answer that one.

Well, to start with, I have to admit that I have already cheated on this essay because I first saw this question three days ago, not three minutes ago.  Be that as it may, I feel that I am still entitled to complete the question and you’ll be hearing from my attorney if you object.  But, hey, that’s the current state of academia.

Moving along, there certainly is the popular conception that business people cheat and steal as a matter of course.  Just take a look at many movies produced by Hollywood.  It is almost always the big bad business people who are doing the cheating and stealing.  Of course, there is little discussion about Hollywood’s typical approach to motion picture accounting, although The Player comes disarmingly close.

With those examples extant, it is no wonder that some of our children draw the conclusion that “This is college, everybody cheats.”  Suit yourself, but I’ve got to believe that children can’t be left to their own devices in front of a television set.

The source of this conversation is a cheating scandal at a university in Florida, but it could just as easily be coming from almost any quarter of our society.  Yes, everybody might cheat, but there are penalties for doing so.  In part, this is a personal favorite of mine, the conservative tenet of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

An individual can cheat on their taxes.  And it is possible that they can get away with it, but if they get caught, the penalties are often substantial.  Needless to say, there are a lot of “ifs” and “ands” to that statement, especially if you have enough money to afford a very good lawyer.  What the government gets you on is false swearing, misrepresenting your financial transactions.  Cheating, if you will.  By cheating on the test, the business students were misrepresenting their knowledge of the subject matter, essentially a false swearing of fact.

The real issue is that we still consider cheating to be deviant behavior.  If we didn’t, one would think that there should be college courses in the art of cheating.  Actually, there are institutions that serve as teaching facilities for cheating; they’re called prisons.  Even if they’re the very nice penal facilities that allow you to improve your tennis game, they’re still jails.  And most who are residents of those facilities are guilty; many of those residents will also assure you that they are, in fact, innocent.

So, while  Cheating in business is both natural and prevalent” in your mind, that doesn’t make it any more legal than it was a hundred years ago.  Hopefully, the same will be true in another hundred years.  In the greater sense, the University of Central Florida cheating scandal is a paradigm for what is going on in our society in general.

If someone doesn’t stand up and object to the cheating, regardless of their personal sins, it will only grow worse.  And, we are the poorer for that.

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Shocked, shocked!

Americans are an idealistic people.  We are corny enough to believe that our fellow citizens and our institutions should be honest.  So, at least some of us are upset to find that a massive cheating scandal has broken out at the University of Central Florida.  There it is, right there on the screen:

The gist of the story is that a college professor figured out that 200 of his 600 business major students had cheated on an examination.  Talk about doing a volume business….  And, this is a place where the examination room security supposedly rivals that of Las Vegas.

In my day in the ivied halls of the academe, the college I attended had an Honor System that apparently worked.  I was aware that other institutions of higher learning might or might not have such rules in place.  Well, presumably all institutions have such rules, it really is a matter of enforcement.

In any case, the ABC news story included a couple student interviews.  Disturbingly, “Opinions on campus are mixed…..”, but the real deal sealer for me was the statement from the individual below: “This is college, everyone cheats….”

Your Cheating Heart

I have obscured this student’s name, but it is clearly visible in the video.  To be sure, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the media quoting things out of context, but this individual’s statement appears clear enough. Perhaps he needs to take a course in media management.

Interestingly, an individual with the same name living in the same area of Florida has a page on LinkedIn.  No doubt, this morning he is quietly enjoying a no-fat soy latte, blissfully unaware that people around the country are putting the electronic dots together.  No doubt, his current employer, a corporation which offers building security systems, is also blissfully unaware of what is happening.

The effects of cheating in the educational environment have a way of meandering into the real world.  And you don’t have to look very far for examples.  Consider this one which also appeared on page A3 of today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution.

  • White House altered report justifying drilling ban.  Inspector general finds it was altered to imply it was peer reviewed

Of course, there are numerous other examples of cheating in our society, but having a casual attitude about truth and honesty is corrosive for our society.  We trust our elected officials to be honest, at least most of the time.  We trust business to be honest, too, yet it was a business course where the UCF scandal erupted.  If you can’t trust people, just what do you have left?

Yet, in all of this to-do about cheating, it was the reporter’s use of the word Shocked that teed me up:

And, as only Hollywoood can, the phrase has worked its way into daily life:

Shocked, indeed.

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Perhaps the most difficult thing for many institutions is reporting on themselves.  From corporation stock shareholder reports to investigative journalism, it’s often hard to speak honestly to the general public about what are often considered to be “internal events”.  If things are rosy, it is difficult to contain the resulting enthusiasm.  If the news is bleak, it becomes convenient to ignore or omit embarrassing details, and even to ignore the problem in its entirety.

This is a tale of WNEG-TV, currently of Athens, Georgia. For an overview, please see the Wikipedia article, here.   WNEG is in financial trouble and there hangs this blog item. Created as a place of learning in the University of Georgia Journalism School, the WNEG story may prove to be much more of a learning experience than the school’s administrators had counted on.

I first discovered WNEG’s problems on Doug Richards’ very interesting Live Apartment Fire blog, which covers media matters in the Atlanta market.  Richards had covered WNEG on prior occasions, but his most recent posting on the topic came after the Red & Black student newspaper broke the story that WNEG was blasting through its seed money.  The $5 million grant that it was given to begin operations was largely spent in 5 months.  That’s burn in anybody’s book.

The Timeline:

From an October, 2008 article on the Gainesville Times site: “WNEG went on the air in 1984 as an independent station owned by veteran Toccoa broadcaster Roy Gaines. It was affiliated with WNEG-AM 630, which is now under separate ownership.

In 1991, the TV station was acquired by Spartan Radiocasting Co., owner of CBS affiliate WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C. When WAGA-TV in Atlanta became a Fox affiliate in 1994, it opened the door for WNEG to become a CBS affiliate for Northeast Georgia in 1995.

Spartan was acquired by Media General, a communications company based in Virginia. A year ago [2007; ed.], Media General announced it was exploring the sale of WNEG and other stations.

So, the Grady School of Journalism picked up WNEG, presumably at the top of the market.  Everything was sunny and bright:

Open, exposed and high-tech indeed.  And, if things had stayed as good as earlier years, this would have been a brilliant idea.  Students would have the opportunity to learn:

Neonatal-newsgatherers

View from the control room

And, even early this year, things were still looking up:

UGA TV

But there was trouble on the horizon.  In October, 2009, the University of Georgia’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, ran an article.  In University-owned station WNEG finds trouble in the air, it was observed that:

Despite big plans for the future, construction delays and financial problems pushed back the opening of the studio and completely disrupted class plans for many Grady students.

By April, 2010, the Red & Black was back again with Pull WNEG’s plug:

The Red & Black editorial board believes to justify nearly $800,000 in staff salaries, WNEG has to produce content that equals that of other professional television stations.

And it doesn’t.

Businesses nationwide are constantly cutting costs and people, and the journalism industry is the poster child of reducing costs to survive. And that is exactly what WNEG needs to do.

Concurrent with the sale of WNEG-TV to the University of Georgia, a global financial crisis had developed.  Of course, these things aren’t announced in advance, and rarely is there a singular event that causes everybody to say “Ahhhh, a financial crisis”.  Instead, there is the slowly dawning realization that things aren’t quite working in the same way.

At about the same time as the Red & Black editorial, Doug Richards also picked up on the problem with WNEG.

From there, things have been moving at their own pace.

WNEG gets $340,000 reprieve from UGA research foundation

And:

Students can help save WNEG-TV

In particular, I found the “Students can help save…” article to be interesting because it articulates something which we used to hear from Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in old black and white movies:

What fine arts major hasn’t said to their friends, “Dude, we should totally make a TV show?”

In the barn.  While I admire the youthful enthusiasm and can-do attitude, one also has to acknowledge what appear to be the realities of the situation.  There are already thousands of outlets for youthful enthusiasm on the media scene today, many of them quite professional.  Just take a look at You Tube.  This is the same problem that WNEG faced originally, there are too many media outlets and the weaker ones are going to fall by the wayside.  Whether WNEG is one of these or not depends upon a meeting which will supposedly be held on September 23rd.  Again, the Gainesville Times:

“In September, we’ll be prepared to talk more specifics as we continue the evaluation of the various options with our consultant to figure out what best meets our needs,” said Tim Burgess, senior vice president for finance and administration. “It feels like we’re closing in on a best option. When you study hard, you get a better feel. A year ago, we weren’t studying it, we were implementing a business plan, but three or four months ago we began re-assessing that business plan.”

Whatever happens, it is an interesting situation.  It is not fair to expect that management would know that a financial crisis would develop as it did, but on the other hand, it is fair to expect them to acknowledge a problem and promptly address it.

At the same time, perhaps the students at WNEG are being given an opportunity to observe a news story on a first-hand basis.  How they report it may prove to be far more useful than classroom time listening to some lecturer running along about the ideal world.

Moreover, what shines here is the journalistic abilities of the Red & Black, which has been running stories about the WNEG mess for quite a while.  Nor is this just the Red & Black, print media in these parts has shown signs of life.  Consider the investigative reporting over the last year by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on:

  • Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
  • DeKalb County Public Schools bidding scandal.
  • Political campaign reporting.
  • MARTA budgetary spending.

And much, much more.  For a supposedly dead institution, the newspaper is looking remarkably life like.

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Paul Hemphill’s memorial service was today at noon. It was a sweet and enjoyable tribute to his life and to his words. The room was wall-to-wall with literary talent, lots of ink stained wretches, but as one editorial type observed, “We clean up good.” And, interestingly, there were no television types there, which must say something.

Afterwards, lunch at Manuel’s Tavern and some enjoyable moments with someone whom I had corresponded with for many years but had not met in person.  And then , back to the real world, stuck in traffic on the Downtown Connector.

There’s something appropriate in the fact that Hemphill died around the baseball All-Star break.  Paul loved the game, unsuccessfully tried for a career in the game and followed it for years.  So, right in the middle of the baseball season, there is a game that really decides nothing, one that is played simply out of love for the game.  It’s a boys’ game played by men, and the All-Star game is just that, all stars, chosen by the fans.  Tomorrow, the competition begins again, but for the moment it is just the game.

Paul Hemphill led a full and interesting life.  Lucky us.

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Paul Hemphill, Writer

Paul Hemphill has died at age 73.  He leaves behind family, friends and a prodigious body of the written word.

It is hard to understate the lasting legacy Paul Hemphill has given to writers yet unborn; whatever we write is built upon what has been written before.  Before you can write, you must read and you must experience.  And to be a successful Southern writer is an even greater achievement simply because the competition is so great.  The Southern writer is a captive of place and people and pain, yet from all that, Paul Hemphill did it all.  His was a clean and elegiac style, vividly remembering what had been.

There are countless stories about Mr. Hemphill, but his epiphany at Emile’s French Restaurant is perhaps the best.  It is far better recounted in his own essay “Quitting the Paper” from his 1981 book, “Too Old to Cry”.  Emile’s was a few blocks walk from the old Atlanta Journal building, around the corner from Herrin’s.  Hidden away on a narrow side street, Emile’s was a perfect place for the conspiratorial gin-fueled meeting which led to his departure from the Atlanta Journal.  It was there that reason and practicality were thrown to the wind and Paul Hemphill cut out on his own.  Emile’s is  long gone, but there should be a plaque on the wall for every writer that contemplates breaking free and going it alone.

Hemphill had set a grueling pace, writing daily columns for years.  The best description I have heard is that the newspaper is a monster that eats writers, and every day it takes another bite.  Of course, what was to happen next is uniquely Paul’s; sixteen books and thousands of newspaper columns and essays show that.

There is no adequate way to explain why people see and then try to put words to what has been.  There are insufficient words to explain the compulsion of writing, but proofs of the skill are self evident by what is put to paper.  With his words and his eye, Paul Hemphill supplied the seeds for future generations of those who aspire to write.  He showed them with his craft.

We are told to write what we know, so in that way, there can never be another Paul Hemphill.  Each generation of writers experience a different world, see different things.  What Hemphill’s generation wrote was often called “The New Journalism“, and it was a clear break from what had been written before.  There are those who consider Hunter S. Thompson to be the most flamboyant example, but those who say that never saw Paul Hemphill and Harry Crews in full sway at Manuel’s Tavern.  And, writing in that style was not necessarily limited to the the confines of the outrageous, George J. W. Goodman’sThe Money Game” is proof of that.

There have been those of the younger generation that drink and act like Hunter Thompson in the expectations that they will then write like Hunter Thompson, but it doesn’t work that way.  Each generation must find its own way of speaking.  Each generation must write through their own experiences.  Each generation builds on what has been written before.

Hemphill’s words were hard and gritty because his life had once been hard and gritty.  Hemphill wrote what he knew, and did it gorgeously.  We no longer have the benefit of his presence, but we have the lasting benefit of his words.  Paul Hemphill is now gone, but his words are still with us forever.

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The Digital Conversion

Well, here we are again; digital television is scheduled to become a reality. The first time around, we were told that people were unprepared and that the governmental funds for the converter boxes had been exhausted. So, it is now time for a second try, and this one looks like it will stick.

Certainly by Sunday, the conversion will be newsworthy material, with people saying on camera: “Why didn’t anybody tell me?” When you think about it, though, if they had actually been watching television over the last year, they would have known that this was coming, so you have to wonder just how legitimate their statement is.

The confusion can be legitimate, since my local cable provider has told me both that I have nothing to worry about, that they will handle everything and, at the same time, telling me that I need a cable box for each television to enjoy what television has to offer.

It seems that the more televisions I have, the less I enjoy the medium. And, will there be news coverage of people saying “Who cares about television, it’s all junk anyway.”?

We’ll see. Or we won’t.

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