Category Archives: media

Times Union: A Place for Racists?

“Let’s hope for some positive discourse on our stories in the days to come.” That’s what Paul Block, the Times Union’s “online executive producer” said when introducing a system for reader comments on news stories.

How’s it going? Well, here’s a comment from Monday 2/1, made on a story about a racially charged dustup on a CDTA bus, so you tell me:

TUCommentSmall

Click to enlarge

Thanks to the intrepid Keyboard Krumbs reader who pointed this out; on Wednesday 2/3 they finally turned off the story’s comment area.

Look, you decide for yourself: do they really take comment moderation seriously? Even for a second?

It’s funny that they’ll call out a blog commenter who dares to refer to himself as “Old Fart”, but allow the worst sort of racism to run rampant in the news section. I thought that was supposed to be the grown up area.

It’s revolting.

Maybe they were too busy helping Kristi relaunch her blog to keep an eye on the comments. One must have one’s priorities.

Ink Strained Wretch

Hello, my name is Rob and I pay for news content.

It’s true, for a long time I’ve been a New York Times digital subscriber — and it’s worth every penny. But that’s where I draw the line, because so far I haven’t found anything else I’m willing to pay for online.

A while back I suggested that I’d sign up for a Times Union digital subscription if it were $.25 per week. Without receiving a tangible product manufactured on the paper’s ultra-modern press, should it really cost any more? If you’ve ever tried doing the crossword on your computer, you know that pencils make a hell of a mess of your screen.

They are getting closer. Look here, they’ve dropped their pants price to $1 per week:

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 7.20.22 AM

Alas, the deal is only good for 13 weeks; after that, you’ll pay $4.

Here’s the thing, I subscribe (no pun intended) to the broadcast radio and TV model in which I’m paying for your content by way of all the advertising. If anything, the price of your news without a printed product should be dirt cheap.

But Rob, you ask, what about the Times? Good point — but you’re not seriously comparing the two, I hope.

Because I always try to be helpful, here’s a modest proposal: lower your online price to $.25 per week and severely restrict access to your content. If the majority of those who use the product pay at that price, you’ll be rolling in dough. Hell, you might even have enough cash to hand out some raises.

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me

The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer is another example of how more is more. True crime documentaries used to be confined to the length of a film or an episode of Dateline — now storytellers can go really deep.

Programs like Murderer and podcast Serial highlight a new sort of problem for the audience: you’re just a swipe away from knowing how it ends.

Consider this: I’m 15 minutes deep into the final episode of Making a Murderer. Right now, I’ve got no idea whether Steven Avery will be acquitted — but it would take me about three seconds to find out how the story concludes.

Looking up anything about the case or the show may give it away in an instant, maybe not ruining it, but certainly watering down the suspense. Unlike reviews of movies and books, news headlines don’t bury their spoilers.

Chalk up dramatic tension up on the list of things the internet has changed. We are not meant to know what’s around every corner.

State of the Grinch

For years I’ve complained about journalists misusing the Grinch metaphor around the holidays. Every evil-doer is a Grinch if the crime involves holiday anything. What they miss is this: to be Grinch-like, you must not just seek to ruin someone’s Christmas, but in the end, discover the holiday’s meaning and find redemption.

A few examples of misplaced Grinchitude:

Grinch steals Christmas from multiple Shreveport families

Grinch steals gifts meant for 3 year-old girl

Sparks Grinch Gets Six Months In Jail

This year I noticed another type of Grinch story, people who are stealing Christmas lights, wreaths and other decorations:

Upstate Grinch Steals Holiday Lights

“Grinch” caught stealing holiday decorations

Grinch swipes $800 in Christmas lights from New Dorp home

Consider this for a second: are people who steal Christmas decorations actually Grinchy? Not if they want to use the stolen decorations to deck their own halls. That is absolutely not Grinch-like.

One encouraging note: this story about a school in Missouri that’s using the Grinch tale to teach kids to be better people. As a bonus, these children will grow up understanding the significance of how the Grinch is not just bad, but good. Yes, it’s unfortunate that they’re making the kids watch Ron Howard’s hideous Grinch movie, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Have Yourself an Itchy Little Christmas

It’s a well-known fact that real Christmas trees are superior to fake Christmas trees, but who am I to judge?

Really, it’s OK to have a plastic tree, just as it’s OK to have a house that looks like the Christmas section at Lowe’s vomited all over your property. No, no — all that stuff obviously goes together. The five different types of lights? The inflatable figures? Those illuminated candy canes? Yes, yes and yes. It’s all good. Why not put some of that shit on the roof, while you’re at it?

Speaking of real trees, this season’s news story du jour is a doozy: watch out for ticks hitching a ride indoors on your fresh-cut Tannenbaum. Yes, they say the warm weather means your tree could be infested with insects.

One story, on WTEN, warns:

If you do find bugs in your tree, don’t spray pesticides on the tree. It’s toxic to breathe in and could cause the tree to catch on fire if it has Christmas lights.

Sensible advice.

It’s hard not to think about this when I slither under the tree twice a day to water the thing. That would be the ideal opportunity for a tick to launch itself down on me. You may suck my blood, but you won’t sap me of my Christmas spirit. So there.

That Thing You Do

Every now and then, I like to bore people with one of my rants about media literacy.

The Times Union recently published a story about the rise in six-figure salaries for New York school employees. Then they went ultralocal and published a blog post listing the 44 Bethlehem school employees earning more than $100-thousand per year.

It’s a small town. One of the top earners lives down the street and I’ve met several of the others.

The question: why do they print things like that?

Sure, it’s public information, and yes, we have a right to know, but the TU’s motive in publishing it is far from being a public service. They do it because everybody wants to read the names, regardless of their opinion about the salaries. Some people will be outraged that school employees they get paid so much and others will think they deserve every cent, but everyone wants to know what other people earn. It’s always interesting.

Look, printing things that people want to read is a newspaper’s job, but don’t mistake it for serving the good of the community. That’s a childish and naive notion — and one that you often hear from newspaper people.

Why can’t they be more like plumbers? You don’t hear plumbers saying that they do their work to contribute to the betterment of public sanitation, allowing us to live as clean and healthy people. No, there are no lofty pronouncements; they proudly do it because it’s a business. To say anything else, as my father the plumber would put it, is bullshit.

Like plumbers, the people at the newspaper get paid for their work. That’s why they do it. Well, except for the bloggers, but that’s a different post.

A Matter of Degrees

How many syllables are in the word degrees?

Yes, two — and that’s why my ears perk up whenever I hear the newscaster on our local right wing rant station say it like this:

De-gree-eees.

Three syllables.

I notice these things because I once got turned down for a job over it.

In my college radio days, I once went and applied for a job part-time announcer job at WIRY, a local radio station in Plattsburgh. WIRY was a decidedly old school AM station. It was solidly middle of the road and as much a part of local culture as Michigans and the Jeezum Crow.

I thought I was hot shit and a shoe-in for the job until program director Gordie Little critiqued my demo tape. He played back certain words — one of them was degrees — over and over. “Hear what you’re doing there? You’re adding an extra syllable to those words. You need to pronounce things crisply and drop the sing-songy stuff.”

He told me to keep working on it and that I was welcome to come back and try again. It was nice of him to try helping me.

I never did go back, partly because I lost interest, but also because I realized that I was never going to sound like those people who worked there.

There’s a certain phoniness to that radio announcer voice, and for years the stilted, careful delivery was expected. Today, it’s coming full circle, and a more natural approach seems to be taking over, something some have derided as the “NPR voice.” Maybe I’ve always been more of an NPR voice guy.

Either way, when I hear that guy at the local right-wing rant station I have an urgent desire to call him and coach him on how to say degrees. Like Professor Henry Higgins, I’m pretty sure I could fix him.

What Goes Around

It’s November, so that means one thing: SWEEPS!

I watched a sweeps story the other night about kids and video games. Not kids playing video games, but kids watching videos other players made of their exploits in Minecraft.

We used to have stories about kids watching too much TV. Then we had stories about kids playing video games for too long. Now? Kids watching too many videos of people playing video games.

The story didn’t really explain the allure of the virtual world of Minecraft — and most adults probably wouldn’t get it anyway — but, of course, they had the obligatory interview with a child therapist. Dr. Frank Doberman (is that a great name, or what?) says he sees teens who he says, “can’t stop playing the game because they have this irrational belief that the only way they have social commerce is if they play the game.”

So, the blocky world of Minecraft joins the legion of dangerous things we’ve expected to ruin the youth of America. You know, comic books, TV, rock & roll, Dungeons and Dragons, things of that sort. Will it be Minecraft that finally rots the minds of our kids? We shall see.

If you really want to see the story, here you go:

On the Edge of Oblivion

A friend sent me an email.

Rob, I’m really surprised that you have nothing to say about the apparent demise of On the Edge. There hasn’t been new post there since August 27.

Really? This I have to see.

After some examination, it does appear that On the Edge, once one of the Times Union’s most popular blogs, is dead. Positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. Most sincerely dead, even.

The busy blog went into a skid when Kristi Gustafson left in in 2014. Her successor tried like hell, but couldn’t quite capture the tart mix of style and opinion the readers loved — and others loved to hate.

What made On the Edge a real sh*tshow was the comment section, which provided a Greek chorus for Gustafson’s high-handed pronouncements. When she left, the mob fled.

This is a great example of the ephemeral nature of blogs, and testament to how one person’s unique voice can capture an audience.

Like the loss of Metroland, it’s a loss to the local media landscape. I didn’t like On the Edge — and why would I, because as a man, I certainly wasn’t the target demo — but you’ve got to admit, it was really good at what it did.