Washington Post reporter Wes Lowery discusses voting on Twitter

Wes Lowery at the Washington Post is a reporter I respect, and I follow his work closely.  Here’s what he had to say on Twitter today in response to a critic who claimed Lowery was likely voting for Hillary.  Read from the bottom up.

Wesley Lowery's tweets

Tweets from Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

  • How can Fox maintain their journalistic reputation?
    WaPo conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin argues that Trump campaign gives commentators a challenge when it comes to responding to extreme spin. And she also wonders what Fox can do to maintain their journalistic reputation. (Yes, Fox is Fox, but they do have a number of fine journalists working there.  It’s just their voices sometimes get drowned out by the evening shoutfest.)
  • Do we need to be afraid of the “speech police committee” on college campuses?
    That’s an argument coming from the president of the University of Chicago. Is there really a problem with safe spaces? And what do minority/marginalized students hope to get from safe spaces? (NOTE: Not defending safe spaces here, but if you are a wealthy white male in a position of power, you’ve probably never needed a “safe space.”)
  • How was the Fox remake of Rocky Horror?
    Quoting from the New Yorker review:
    “[Laverne Cox] doesn’t surpass, or equal, Curry—no one could. Curry was like Freddie Mercury in fishnets…”
    Kudos, Sarah Larson. That is absolutely brilliant.
  • Why does student free speech matter?
    Great column from Daily Nebraskan editor Lani Hanson
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AT&T Buying Time Warner – Which Apocalypse Will It Be?


Oh, wow, a tech giant is buying up Time Warner, one of the big legacy media companies for an unheard of amount of money. The tech company is talking about how the purchase will help them leverage synergy in the new media marketplace, and critics are wringing their hands over whether this puts too much power in the hands of a single company.  Critics go on to worry whether  this will mean the end of media content being made available across multiple streaming networks.  Is this the apocalypse?

Of course not.

AOLIf you were paying attention, you would realize that I could very easily be talking about AOL’s acquisition of Time Warner back in 2001.  At the time of the merger, AOL was valued at $124 billion; when the companies separated in 2009, AOL’s value was below $3 billion. The goal of the merger was to have greater synergy between AOL’s online offerings and Time Warner’s older legacy media.

The only problem?

The AOL–Time Warner synergy never really worked. The new company soon cut more than four thousand jobs and sold off numerous properties, including its sports teams, its book division, and the Warner Music Group. It was, as Recode’s Kara Swisher wrote yesterday, quite possibly the worst corporate merger of all time.

Now, that’s obviously not what I’m writing about today. (Or is it?)

AT&TOver the weekend, the news went from rumors, to trial balloons, to an official announcement that telecom giant AT&T was buying legacy media giant Time Warner for a reported $85 billion.

To me, the big question here is – What does AT&T get out of the deal?  Will they get Disney level synergy or find themselves in a complicated marketplace they have no understanding of?

First, some context:

  • Amazon.com in addition to selling stuff online is also a major streaming and downloadable content provider with Amazon Video and Music, and it is also a big provider of web services to companies and organizations.
  • Google’s parent company Alphabet owns online video giant YouTube.
  • Apple, along with being one of the world’s largest corporations, also owns streaming and downloadable media giant iTunes.
  • Cable/internet/mobile giant Comcast owns NBCUniversal, along with a host of other channels they owned before buying NBCUniversal.
  • None of these companies were seen as media giants 15 years ago.
  • Here’s a link to a great history of related media/tech mergers from NPR’s The Two-Way blog.
  • The merger would have to be approved the the FCC
  • This would get Time Warner back into the business of retail delivery of programing that it has been getting out of by selling off AOL and Time-Warner Cable (which has now merged with Charter/Spectrum cable)
  • The merger is big – really big. According to AdWeek, AT&T has a market capitalization of about $230 billion and Time Warner is valued at about $70 billion.   By way of comparison, Comcast is currently valued at $154 billion and Disney at $150 billion.  With a little simple math, you can see that the new AT&T/TW would be worth approximately the combined value of the two other giants.
  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says that were he elected, he would block the merger.

And here are some possible consequences:

  • AT&T sees the merger as a way of connecting with “cord cutters, cord shavers, and cord nevers.”
  • Anti-trust regulations would almost certainly require the new company to make their content available through other streaming and mobile providers.  (Look back to the Comcast deal for context here.)
  • The merger might not help either company much.  Comcast and NBCUniversal are both doing well, Recode’s Edmund Lee notes, but that’s because they are both well managed companies that are offering good products, not because they have merged.
  • Apple doesn’t get to buy Time Warner, but Apple might not want to have.  Apple has found enormous success by providing good ways to deliver content to their wonder (and expensive) devices. But they haven’t really gotten into the content business …. yet. (Although the Jobs family is the largest stock holder in both Apple and Disney.)

So is this merger the media apocalypse? Kinda doubt it.  More just the latest sequel to a show we’ve seen too many times before.  Only question is which ending it will get.

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News About News: Campaign money, Shep Smith & Fox, Charges Dropped for Goodman, and Death Threats at AZ Republic

There’s been a lot of news about the news coverage of politics in the last few days.  Here are several that I think we should be paying attention to:

    • When journalists give money to the presidential campaign, they give it to Hillary, not Donald
      Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone given Trump’s attitude towards journalists (“They’re scum. They’re horrible people. They are so illegitimate. … Some of the people in the press are honorable. But you’ve got 50% who are terrible people.’’) Several news organizations forbid (or come close to forbidding) their reporters and editors from making political contributions. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these include the New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, The Dallas Morning NewsHouston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, ProPublica, San Antonio Express-News, The Seattle Times, and Tampa Bay Times. Overall, not a lot of journalists make donations, and many of those who do are not involved with reporting on politics or public policy.
    • When you think of the future of Fox News, it may be more Shep Smith and less Sean Hannity
      While I don’t typically watch a lot of Fox News, I will admit to enjoying Shep Smith, overtime I’ve either watched him or seen clips of him online. His wonderful “This is the stupidest thing we’ve ever done” story about a falling satellite is priceless. The Huffington Post ran an excellent profile of Fox’s afternoon news anchor who is well respected even by people who are not fans of Fox. I think this quote really sums things up well:“When the opinion people say things and then later we get facts that are different, and I report those, everybody would love for there to be a war going on here,” he said. “But it’s not like that. Everybody’s got a job to do. [Sean] Hannity is trying to get conservatives elected. And he wants you to listen to him and believe what he believes. And I’m disseminating facts. It’s really apples and teaspoons. What we do is so different. He’s an entertaining guy who has an audience that he serves, and I deliver the news. His is probably easier ― he knows what he thinks and just sticks with it. This stuff changes all the time.”Shep Smith spoke out against the U.S.’s use of torture on an episode of Fox News’ “Freedom Watch” on April 22, 2009. (Beware – NSFW language)
    • Charges Dropped Against Journalist Covering Dakota Access Pipeline
      A North Dakota judged has dismissed the criminal charges  raised against Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman while covering the protests at the Dakota Access pipeline. Goodman had been charged initially with trespass and was later charged with participating in a riot. The state’s attorney who filed the charges against Goodman, told the Bismarck Tribune that her story was one-sided and that she shouldn’t be considered a reporter.“She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions,” said Erickson, adding that her coverage of the Sept. 3 protest did not mention that people trespassed during the incident or the alleged assaults on guards.“Is everybody that’s putting out a YouTube video from down there a journalist down there, too?” he asked.
    • President of The Arizona Republic Responds to Death Threats Following Paper’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton
      I noted last month that The Arizona Republic newspaper had for the first time ever endorsed a Democrat for the presidency of the United States. That endorsement has brought a wide range of threats, even death threats to reporters, editors, and even kids selling subscriptions to the paper. In a column yesterday, Republic president Mi-Ai Parrish responded to those who would silence the paper:“To those who said we should be shut down, burned down, who said they hoped we would cease to exist under a new presidential administration, I give you Nicole. She is our editor who directs the news staff, independent of our endorsements. After your threats, Nicole put on her press badge and walked with her reporters and photographers into the latest Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz. She stood as Trump encouraged his followers to heckle and boo and bully journalists. Then she came back to the newsroom to ensure our coverage was fair. Nicole knows free speech requires an open debate.”Here’s coverage of both the story of from this year and of the assassination of Arizona Republic legendary investigative reporter Don Bolles from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.

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Free Webinar on “5 Tips for Teaching Intro To Mass Comm”

ralphheadshottwitYou are invited to join me on Wednesday, Oct. 19th at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, noon Central Time, for a free, live webinar: 5 Tips for Teaching Introduction to Mass Communication: Engaging Students Living in a Media World.

Join me for a webinar that discusses the challenges of teaching mass communication and five tips for engaging your students along the way.  I will be discussing:

  • Class activities that help reach students from a variety of backgrounds and varying levels of media literacy
  • Adapting the wide range of social media tools for use in the classroom
  • Presenting yourself on social media
  • Best practices for interacting with students online
  • Using social media as a tool for communication and applying it to current events.

Register Now




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An Unwelcome X-Men Mutation

I just recently rewatched X-Men: Days of Future Past and was struck again by what a good super hero movie it was.

It handled the mythos and back story well, it had characters following consistent motivation, and it had characters growing and learning. And… it told an exciting story with interesting villains. It also had characters with lots of shades of grey about them. You have Professor X trying to deal with the reality that he is not as all-powerful as he had thought – at least when it comes to outcomes. You have Magneto and Mystique figuring out how to live in a world that does not welcome these new mutant variants of humans. And you have the brilliant Peter Dinklage as an interesting and complex villain.

This week I finally saw X-Men: Apocalypse, and I was sad to see that it lived up to the dismal reputation reviews had put forward for it. It felt like there were two or three different movies going on that were only marginally connected with each other. There was a Mummy-style story of Apocalypse – The First Mutant, an Indiana Jones kind of story tracking him down, and finally a what was supposedly an X-Men story that had very little heart to it.

Worst of all, the film completely wasted Michael Fassbender’s Erik/Magneto. Magneto is to me, the most interesting of the X-Men, loving his brother/sister mutants and willing to do anything to help keep them safe.  The risk that mutants face in the world is all too clear to him, having grown up in part in a Nazi concentration camp.

In Apocalypse, we learn almost nothing new about his character and instead see him mostly standing passively by as a stooge of ancient Egyptian mutant Apocalypse.  And we also see little of the tortured soul that actor James McAvoy brought to Professor X in Future Past. Finally, Oscar Isaac, who was so fresh and fun in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, brought no life or heart to the mutant Apocalypse, stuck under layers of make up and CGI and an always-processed voice.

I suppose Apocalypse followed much the same path as the Avengers movies did, but in the Avengers, our heroes have to come to terms with what they have wrought.  In Apocalypse, no one seems to learn anything other than to let sleeping mummies lie. I’m really sad to see the X-Men reboot mutate into just another tired almost-the-end-of-the-world story.

Afterword: This blog post started out to be a two-line Facebook post and grew into a multi-movie review. Beyond some meditations on recent super hero movies, this could be used as a launching ground for a discussion of how characters are developed in popular movies.  Can summer popcorn movies still be great movies? Can you get interesting character development in a big-budget super hero movie? What are the differences between a good and a bad super hero movie, regardless of what the box office says?

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Do Newspaper Presidential Endorsements Matter in 2016?

ar_clintoncoverI got a note from my dad earlier this week:

On NPR this a.m. I heard an editor of the Arizona Republic interviewed. For the first time in its 127 years that newspaper is endorsing a Democrat for president. She said [Hillary] Clinton has flaws, but she has had the experience and temperament to be president. She said [Donald] Trump was totally unqualified. I recall she said something like Trump would be dangerous as president.

How influential is that newspaper in Arizona?

That’s an interesting question, Dad.

To start with, here’s the interview Dad mentioned:

And here’s the editorial from the Arizona Republic. As a former Arizona resident, I can tell you that the Republic is a conservative paper. The endorsement has come at a cost to the paper with lots of calls about people cancelling their subscriptions and even some death threats.

The Republic  is in good company this fall.  Many papers that have not endorsed a Democratic candidate for the presidency in decades (or even ever) have either endorsed Clinton, endorsed libertarian Gary Johnson, or rejected Trump. These include:

These are all news because they are unexpected.  Now, the fact that the New York Times endorsed Hillary is hardly surprising.  After all, they haven’t endorsed a Republican for president since Eisenhower was running.

So…. All this brings us back to a paraphrase of my dad’s question – How influential are newspaper presidential endorsements?

The answer would seem to be – It depends.  If a conservative paper endorses a Republican presidential candidate or a liberal paper endorses a Democrat, a 2011 journal article finds that there is little effect.  But if the endorsement is a  surprise – one that goes against the paper’s usual pattern, then it can have an effect. As Vox reported back at the beginning of September when the Dallas Morning News made their endorsement:

Two political scientists, Chun-Fang Chiang, of National Taiwan University, and Brian Knight, of Brown University, studied the effect of newspaper endorsements in 2000 and 2004, using a survey that asked voters in the days leading up to the election about which newspapers they read and which candidates they preferred….

They found that when Democratic-leaning newspapers endorsed Republicans for president, or vice versa, readers were slightly more likely to support the candidate the newspaper endorsed. If newspapers endorsed the candidates that typically lined up with the editorial page’s ideology, though, they didn’t really convince anyone. The effects were greatest among people who had seen the endorsement, as you might expect, and among older readers, who were more likely to read the editorial page.

Perhaps the most telling result of all, however, is that as of today, no major newspaper has endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy.

How much all this matter?  That remains to be seen. But we continue to see that this year’s presidential cycle is truly like none other.

Hope that helps, Dad.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Bad Language in the News: “But what does “d—ing” mean?”

Last week hackers released a group of e-mails they had stolen from former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  The e-mails gave Powell’s opinions about a wide range of political figures, including Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill. A lot of newspapers had difficulty figuring out how to quote the somewhat off-color comments Powell made about Bill Clinton.  But I think the Erik Wemple of the Washington Post handled it best.  The quote reportedly goes like this:

I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect. A 70-year person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still [word deleted] bimbos at home.

Many papers went with something like “d–ing” or “di**ing.”  Cameron Barr, managing editor at The Washington Post, told Wemple via email: “We’ll avoid d-word altogether or say d—ing bimbos.”

But then Wemple gets to the heart of the issue:

But what does “d—ing” mean? “Ditching”? “Dunking”? “Dinging”? It just so happens that Powell used a slightly profane and infrequently used word to describe intercourse. Think the first name of George W. Bush’s vice president, as a present participle.

Who else in the history of newspapers has used a discussion of verb form to explain a vulgar term for intercourse?

The problem of how the report vulgar speech is not a new one. Reporters faced a similar problem in 2006 when President George W. Bush was overheard using “the S word” with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a discussion about Lebanon. They faced an even bigger problem when Vice President Cheney told a member of the Senate to go “f—” himself back in June of 2004.

Newspapers and broadcast organizations try to maintain a certain level of decorum in their news operations. But when do you do when the news isn’t fit to print?

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A Motorcycle Ride to the United 93 Memorial on a Rainy Summer Day

This has nothing to do with the media. It’s a brief story about a ride I took on my motorcycle to the United 93 Memorial on a rainy June day back in 2004. It was written shortly after I had recovered from a fairly serious illness, and I was happy just to be back on the road. I’ve taken to posting every year on 9/11.

Me and my old KLRTook a short ride last Saturday. The distance wasn’t much, under 200 miles, but I went through two centuries of time, ideas, and food. Which felt really good after having been ill for the last month-and-a-half.

Headed out of Morgantown about 7:30 a.m. on I68. Stopped at Penn Alps for breakfast. Nice thing about being on insulin is that I can include a few more carbs in my diet these days. Pancakes, yum! (Penn Alps, if you don’t know, runs a great Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast buffet on weekends that is well worth riding to. Just outside of Grantsville, MD.)

Then off on the real purpose of the trip. Up US 219 toward the Flight 93 Sept. 11 memorial. The ride up north on 219 is beautiful; I’ve ridden it before. I always like when you come around the bend and see the turbines for the wind farm. Some people see them as an eye sore; for me they’re a potential energy solution and a dramatic sight. Chalk one up for industrial can be beautiful.

Continue on up to Berlin, PA, where I take off on PA 160 into Pennsylvania Dutch country. I start seeing hex signs painted on bright red barns, or even hung as a wooden sign. Not quite cool enough to put on my electric vest, but certainly not warm. Then it’s heading back west on a county/state road of indeterminate designation.

Now I’m into even more “old country” country. There’s a horse-and-buggy caution sign. Off to the left there’s a big farmstead with long dark-colored dresses hanging from the line, drying in the air. They may not stay dry, based on what the clouds look like.

The irony of this ride hits pretty hard. I’m on my way to a memorial of the violence and hatred of the first shot of the 21st century world war, and I’m traveling through country that is taking me further and further back into the pacifist world of the 19th century Amish and Mennonites.

A turn or two more, following the map from the National Parks web site, and I’m on a badly scared, narrow road that is no wider and not in as good of shape as the local rail trail. (Reminds me why I like my KLR!)

It’s only here that I see the first sign for the memorial. No one can accuse the locals of playing up the nearby memorial. Perhaps more flags and patriotic lawn ornaments than usual, but no strident statements. And then the memorial is off a half-mile ahead.

The crash site is to the south, surrounded by chain-link fencing. No one but families of the victims are allowed in that area. Off a small parking area is the temporary memorial, in place until the National Park Service can build the permanent site. There’s a 40-foot long chain-link wall where people have posted remembrences, plaques on the ground ranging from hand-painted signs on sandstone, to an elaborately etched sign on granite from a motorcycle group. The granite memorial is surrounded by motorcycle images.

The messages are mostly lonely or affirming. Statements of loss, statements of praise for the heroism of the passengers and crew. But not statements of hatred. It reminds me in many ways of the Storm King Mountain firefighter memorial. Not the formal one in Glenwood Springs, but the individual ones out on the mountain where more than a dozen wildland firefighters died several years ago.

It’s time to head home. When I go to join up with US 30, it’s starting to spit rain, so I pull out the rain gloves, button down the jacket, and prepare for heading home. It rains almost the whole way back PA 281, but I stay mostly dry in my Darien. The only problem is the collar of my too-big jacket won’t close far enough, and water dribbles down inside. It reminds me that riding in the rain, if it isn’t coming down too hard, can be almost pleasant, isolated away inside a nylon and fiberglass cocoon.

I’m home before 1 p.m.. I’ve ridden less than 200 miles. But I’ve ridden through a couple of centuries of people’s thoughts, actions, and food. And I’m finally back on the bike.

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