Monday, November 28, 2005

CJR on the Increasingly Timid Catholic Press;
Thank God For the National Catholic Reporter

"This idea that a Catholic publication should only print what Rome agrees with is essentially un-Catholic,” said Tom Roberts, editor-in-chief of the independent Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter. “Our tradition shows, much as people would not like to admit this, that the church has changed its mind on some very significant issues.” Roberts’s national weekly, along with Commonweal, a Catholic biweekly, both criticized the firing of Reese on their editorial pages. But unlike America, both are published by lay people, not priests, and therefore are not subject to discipline by church authorities. Church-run publications were not so willing to offer up a challenge. In May 2005, at a meeting of the Catholic Press Association, Meinrad Scherer-Emunds, executive editor of U.S. Catholic, proposed that members issue an official statement expressing their concern over Reese’s dismissal. But the association is composed mostly of journalists from church-run publications, and some members backed off. “In the beginning, it seemed as if people were going to support the statement,” said Scherer-Emunds. “But then the atmosphere in the room changed to one of fear. Several respected editors spoke out against it, and eventually it was voted down.”
--From an
article in the current Columbia Journalism Review

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Teachers' Union Suggests Exploring Blogs,
But Many Parents Still Remain Unnerved

"'It's something that teachers are really starting to get their brains around,' says Will Richardson, tech guru at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey, and author of the premiere blog on blogging. 'There are as many uses for this tool as your imagination can think of.' Many teacher blogs look like personal diaries and serve as virtual lounges, a place to kvetch and share inspiration with colleagues. But the collaborative nature of Web logs also make them valuable instructional tools to connect students and teachers, and provide a new place to create Web-based content. Post assignment, point kids to current events, and get them psyched about their studies--Richardson did all that as a journalism teacher with a daily Web log.'
--From an article in the October issue of the National Education Association's magazine, NEA Today.

"The spying started two years ago. Karen Lippe's daughter told her she was going to a school footbal game with friends. The next day, Ms. Lippe found out the truth: her daughter, then 14 years old, had skipped out on the game with a friend, got in the car of a boy Ms. Lippe didn't know and headed to an ice cream shop without permission. Ms. Lippe sat her daughter down after dinner to warn her not to let it happen again. Ms. Lippe, a marketing consultant in Irvine, Calif., didn't divulge how she found out. But her daughter figured it out anyway. The daughter's friend had recounted the transgression on her Web log, or blog, which Ms. Lippe had read online. Since the incident, Ms. Lippe has tried a series of software programs to snoop on her daughter's Internet use. She now often spends 30 minutes a day monitoring her daughter's blog and online activities. For her part, Ms. Lippe's daughter sometimes warns friends about her mother's cyber-surveillance and has deployed evasive tactics such as erasing a computer's record of sites she visits. 'If my daughter had a diary in her room, I would not read it. But what she posts on the Internet is posted to the entire world.'"
--from the lead article in this week's Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, headlined "Big Mother is Watching"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Oh, the Pain, the Suffering We Must Endure...

'A man who knows not how to write may think this is no great feat. But only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer’s task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together – it is a terrible ordeal for the human body. So, gentle reader, turn these pages carefully and keep your fingers far from the text.'
–Prior Robert Alden, C1300 AD

(quote is courtesy of WWW reader Rita Kueber, marketing doyenne of the Western Reserve Historical Society)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Quaint Thought From a Time Long Before Manufacturing Consent Was Raised to Art Form

'Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.'
--Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Maybe All It Takes Is One Tough Democrat

I was in Youngstown not long ago, collecting oral histories for an historical project about the Mahoning Valley. And the most absorbing subject of all was a tough old guy named Don, a former steelworker who later became a politically well-connected lawyer and judge. I drove him around town a bit, and he would occasionally ask me to stop the car, so that he could talk to this person or that. He nodded to all the cops, whom he obviously knew. Later, as we slowly climbed the back stairs to his office (he now walks with the aid of a cane) I noticed he didn't lock the door. "They always bug me about locking the door," he said of his young partners and his daughter, also an attorney, "but who the hell's gonna rob us? We already represent most of the crooks in town."

His workplace was a museum, a testament to his decades at the intersection of local and national politics and the law. The pictures covered every available inch of his large office (where a sign on the wall said: Crime pays, but politics pays better) and the even larger conference room. The war stories, prompted by my questions about particular photos, unfolded over several hours. My favorite? He recalled once picking up Truman when he came to Youngstown as an ex-pres, and how the tough old Kansas City haberdasher demanded his mid-day drink. When he poured Truman a drink of bourbon in the hotel suite, the ex-pres didn't mince words. "What kinda fuckin' drink is that?" he asked of his young gopher, who quickly filled the glass to the top.

Eventually the talk got around to present-day politics, as I knew it would, and Don began shaking his head about how weak, how seemingly scared of their own shadows the national Democrats were these days in the face of the Republican onslaught over the war in Iraq. Jesus, he said, these guys never served, and a guy who was a military hero, Kerry, couldn't make the point that he'd be better on defense? If only he were 20 years older, he seemed to be suggesting, he'd get up out of that chair and show those sissies how to play the old smash-mouth brand of politics.

I immediately thought of him when Congressman Jack Murtha uncorked his righteous protest about the war this week. His timing was exquisite: according to the polls, about two-thirds of the country now, finally, understands that the Bush-Cheney imperium has no clothes, and can't be trusted any longer with protecting American lives. Some adults in the Congress will have to step up and see to it that that's taken care of. And who better than Murtha, a legendary strong-defense Dem of the sort that mostly no longer roams the halls of Congress. The jowly Pennsylvanian, a former Marine drill sergeant, knows he'll get the full attention of the Republican wind machine, and he sounds ready for it. As I watched him blow through the cuddly centrism of PBS's Newshour and knock down the tired Rove-Cheney evasions like so many toy soldiers, for a moment, he almost reminded me of Sam Ervin, the crafty country lawyer who slowly worked his way through the layers of Nixonian smoke screens, educating his countrymen about democracy's checks and balances as he went. God seems to place these characters from central casting in the middle of our democratic drama when they're needed most.

I think Murtha's natural charm has much to do with the part of the world he comes from. The Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh corridor was once called America's Ruhr Valley, for obvious reasons. And these areas were once ruled by tough old ethnic working-class politicians like Don. Murtha is squarely in that tradition, a no-bullshit Democrat who doesn't bother catering to the sillier whims of the national party, and who thus isn't saddled with any of its prissy baggage. In the current New Yorker, Peter Boyer wonderfully describes how a guy named Casey, the son of the former governor, is running strongly for a Pennsylvania Senate seat against the right-winger Rick Santorum by sticking to simple platform that mostly mirrors his constituency. Like his constituents, he's squarely for the right to bear arms and against abortion.

Murtha's opposition to the war may or may not prove to be the tipping point in finally bringing some sanity to this invertebrate Congress. But he is certainly a timely reminder about what authentic leadership looks like. The old Marine taught us a lesson this week about intestinal fortitude and how to stand up to bullies, including those with five draft deferments. We'll soon find out if the country is paying attention.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Heading South for Continuing Education
On Building a Healthy Media Community

I'm headed back to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina today for part 2 of my continuing education on building regional media community. My friend Anton Zuiker has helped organize a
Blogger Bash for the Research Triangle area, yet the latest iteration of their unfolding conversation. In February, I went down for the Triangle Bloggercon, which was splendid.

Anton's extraordinary vision--about journalism, the web, citizens media and more--is a crucial component of that region's success in building community among media and storytellers (you can learn more about some of the converging threads he helps spearhead at his virtual community
portal, Blog Together). But he's hardly alone--the Research Triangle is home to an extraordinary collection of national-class resources when it comes to new media. There's former journalist Henry Copeland, for one, whose Blogads is at the forefront of creating a business model for bloggers. And there's Ed Cone, a nationally known blogger (and a really wonderful guy, as well) who is also a newspaper columnist. And there's the local paper, which has attracted attention from the entire newspaper industry for its hyperaggressive move into blogging and citizens media.

And there is a smart and personable serial entrepreneur, Bob Young, a co-founder of Red Hat (which helped make Linux open-source software more widely available), who is now trying to do the same for print-on-demand book publishing with his excellent platform (he sprung for donuts and coffee for 250 people in February, no small contribution). And there is both a journalism school and library sciences school at UNC Chapel Hill that are at the forefront of trying to understand where things are going in digital information. And there is an extraordinarily smart and personable academic named Paul Jones who somehow manages to be friend, mentor and model to Anton even as he is positioned at the intersection of digital technology, publishing and library sciences (his Ibiblio is impossible to describe briefly. I suggest you go there and look around for yourself). In short, this area has elements that are not easily replicable elsewhere. But that's not to say we can't learn from the best, and adapt whatever parts make sense, while we wing the rest.

In October, many of these same players staged a conference called
Converge South, and while I didn't get to make it down for that, I hope to learn more this week about what went on there. Both a journalism and a new media gathering, I admire the simple democratic language of convergence they used in explaining what it was all about: "creativity on the web for all people." The conference blog also makes reference to "exploring the digital revolution in publishing and expression." But their community's energy is boundless, as well as infectious. They've organized a podcasters' conference for January, and beyond that, Anton has an even cooler thing in mind for '06: a storytelling conference about blogging, oral history and geneology, dedicated to helping find and publish the oral histories of seniors.

Mr. Zuiker's marvelous capacity to
dream, married to his bias for collaborative action, is truly a thing of beauty. I feel humbled just to watch it all unfold.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Thought to Frame the Day

'The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that.'
--David Mamet

Friday, November 11, 2005

Celebrating the Written Word All Week

A year and a half ago, three of us got together at the Arabica's in University Circle to kick around an idea. We all liked the New Yorker Magazine's annual fall citywide celebration devoted to writing and reading, which began about 1999 and has steadily grown bigger and better each year. So why couldn't we have something like that here? We began drawing up some ideas, not only of the kinds of programs we thought would be interesting, but also the kinds of people and groups that might make for good collaborators.

Kathy Delong soon went back to her hectic schedule, editing Northern Ohio Live magazine (she subsequently became managing editor of the Cleveland Clinic Press). And I went back to what I do. But the third member of our trio, Darlene Montonaro, the pint-sized executive director of the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, did what she always does: began making it happen.

It's turned into the weeklong Wordcrafters Literary Festival (details
here). Events kick off tomorrow, Saturday, at the University Center at Cleveland State University, with the Writing for Money conference. It's an all-day (9:00-5:00) event, with sessions on poetry, journalism and fiction. I'll be moderating a panel on freelancing, but I'm even more charged to introduce the keynote speaker, Michael Ruhlman (check out his work here). Mike is, simply put, one of the most accomplished writers in the region, a nationally known pen who's written more than a half dozen books of quiet beauty, many of them explorations into what it means to have one's life work dedicated to craftsmanship. The influential business-change guru Tom Peters once recommended that everyone should read 10 books; Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef is among them.

But maybe the greatest thing of all to come out of all this activity is a slim oversized paperback book, with a beautiful red cover bearing a splendid Cleveland scene by the incomparable local artist Hector Vega. Cleveland in Prose and Poetry, edited by an energetic lady named Bonnie Jacobson, was pulled together in just four months. It's a collection of some of the most interesting observations ever written about Cleveland, by writers past and present (I'm still silently berating myself for not getting off the dime in time to contribute my own take). I hope you can make any or all of these events. If price is a hurdle for tomorrow's Writing for Money conference, Darlene at the PWLGC tells me a substantial discount is available for anyone who contacts her at 216-421-0403. (Just mention you saw it here, but you must first register ahead, no discounts for those who show up at the door). And finally, one free conference registration--call it the Working With Words scholarship--goes to the first of my readers who drops me a note by email or by phone before 4 p.m. eastern time, today, at 216-382-6548.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Only Two Types of People:
Authors and Would-Be Authors

It's long been common knowledge among writers that everyone in America wants to write a book. The uncharitable types have a standard reaction when told at a cocktail party that "I think I have a book in me." The wise guy silently thinks "and that's precisely where it should remain." Others (myself among them) would instead encourage the person to get down to business and seriously pursue it rather than merely talking about it. But the actor Henry Winkler, a budding children's book author, reminded me of the power of this universal aspiration when he made an appearance on NPR's Fresh Air last week. He recounted once seeing a dad and his daughter on the street. The dad tells his daughter, "There's Henry Winkler. He played the Fonz on TV. " The daughter replies: I don't know what the Fonz is, but I read one of his books." Winkler, already world famous several times over, concluded: "At that moment I understood what heaven is."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My Notes from a Kent State Panel Yesterday

Many months ago, I got an invite to take part in a panel about blogging and new media at Kent State Univ. Journalism School. Originally set for early fall (or was it late spring?), it was later moved back to November. It was convened by PRNewswire, and hosted by the J-School, whose director Jeff Fruit I know (though just a bit) from an earlier life. Could our only regional journalism school be getting increasingly serious about teaching students to harness the web in new ways to tell stories, report news and connect communities? I think it is and will. I'm hoping to be part of that effort and conversation, and yesterday was just a first quick dip of the toe into those waters. But this conversation happened to be more a general overview for the p.r. community (and their corporate clients) about what this new online medium is all about. Curiosity from that quarter seems boundless.

Anyway, below are my cheat sheet talking points I prepared ahead of time, a copy of which I left for anyone interested in more information. I didn't get to all the points in my brief slot, but got to work in some more during the Q&A. I'll add some more detail and context about the discussion/venue/etc. tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can enjoy (or perhaps take part in) the ever-blossoming conversational thread this event touched off on my friend George's ubiquitous BFD. Mr. IWAS (Instapundit with a Soul) was also good enough to post the PDF version of the event announcement here, since neither of the co-hosts (PRNewswire and KSU J-School) ever managed to get around to that.

Working With Online Media & Blogs • 11/2/’05
PRNewswire Media Coffee @ Kent State Univ.

Why Blogs Matter
• More influential than any web function but email, the free, easy-to-use blogging tools have meant an end to time when “freedom of press belongs only to those who own one.”
• But, contrary to myth, blogs are not necessarily by/for techies. They were just first adopters.
• Despite much blogger triumphalism about the medium being revolutionary, and it is in some respects, its evolutionary aspects are more important. Blogging (and its audio twin, podcasting) and traditional journalism/media are increasingly converging into a hybrid: online media.
EXAMPLES: Washingtonmonthly, NYObserver, collects blogs on Judy Miller
• As blogging matures and ad business models (Google Adsense,, are refined, increasing numbers of people with journalism skills will be blogging, and putting more time and energy into it. “Tip jar” tales already abound.
• Some one-person blogs have audiences similar in size to major papers/magazines, and even many smaller blogs have influence out of proportion to their size because they’re followed by people in media, tech and business and other positions of influence.

Implications for P.R. Industry
• Audience eyeballs are increasingly moving to online media, and ad dollars are following. Your clients & their reputations are already being affected (sometimes not by the blog posts themselves but by comments from readers).
• Yet, almost by definition, the majority of blogs are inhospitable, if not outright hostile, to PR pitches, at least as traditionally constituted. They prefer authentic communication from principals. Just as in all PR (doubly so here), know & understand your target first.
• Web search is crucial, & blogs are uniquely effective search optimization tool.

Some Key Recent Developments
• New Tech Bubble? AOL pays $20 million for Weblogs, Inc., consortium of 100 blogs.
• Wonkette on cover of NYT Mag with old-time reporters (including Akron native R.W. Apple) looking over her shoulder. Seen as a tipping point by many.
• Dan Rather/Trent Lott cases, among others. “Age of Omniscience is over” – Jeff Jarvis

To Dig Deeper –Some Sites to Study -New York ad guy’s excellent overview of blogs’ impact on PR – viral marketing guru Seth Godin’s thoughtful blog. – NYU prof’s blog on intersection of new media & ad/pr industry. -- USC Annenberg J-School’s excellent Online Journalism Review. -- best list of blogs by journalists. – Portal to NEOhio blogging community. Look for blogroll. --Maybe best blog by PR practitioner in this region., media’s online watercooler/ethics ump