old news

18 10 2008

On Xark! this week, eloquent media blogger Dan wrote what I think is the best article yet as to why the business of metro newspaperin’ is soon to be obsolete.

I remember attending convention after convention in the wake of the brand new brand of journalism: The Weblog. Frantic press junkies asked the same question over and over again: will The Newspaper as we know it die?

At the time, the answer was a resounding no. Popular politics blogs like The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post didn’t give readers everything they wanted, said experts, and besides, what can replace the feeling of holding a newspaper in your hands?

But they were wrong, and the newspaper is today being all-out slaughtered by online media. At first, I was grief-stricken over this reality, as I’m that staunch subscriber who won’t give up her morning-paper-and-a-cup-of-coffee routine without at least a small fight. But it didn’t take long before I, too, saw the potential in the reinvention of news media as a powerful online force which could provide accessibility to more people, and painstakingly updated to-the-minute briefs on What’s Happening Now. NYT.com, Homepage to so many of us, is a perfect example. The New York Times has truly perfected what it means for a newspaper to make the trek from tangible to technical, and for that they deserve all the credit in the world.

But Dan is right: almost everyone else has failed. And when Spokane’s The Spokesman Review announced they would shave off 27 jobs last week, it was only more concrete evidence of the start of a mass extinction that began a few years ago.

The points I particularly liked in Dan’s article are these:

Newspapers’ core audience still doesn’t want change, but they’re aging and they like a product that nobody else wants. The newspaper dilemma: Change the product in hopes of attracting new readers and you piss off your loyal core. Do nothing and you’ll watch your circulation drop every day on the obituary page. All too often, newspaper management responds by promoting bizarre changes that don’t attract new customers and alienate existing ones.

It should be simple: Keep your printed paper in low circulation and let it remain a classic broadside with all the expected sections. Then get someone young and hip to design a Web site that combines the simplicity of Apple or Clinique (lots of black-on-white, sans serif, spaced out founds) with the tech-savvy of Slate or Gawker. But noooo.

No budget for research, development or training means most newspapers can’t see what’s coming, don’t have the necessary tools for survival and couldn’t use those new tools effectively anyway (Hey news executives! Try this newsroom pop quiz: Give each staff member a pencil and tell everyone to stop what they’re doing and write out the tag that creates a hypertext link. If most can’t, you’re not spending enough on training. If anyone in your management team can’t, you’ve got a crisis). It’s also a sign of a dirty little secret: Many papers gave up on staff development several rounds of budget cuts ago.

At the two metro papers I worked at, I was never trained at all. In fact, my Adobe “expertise” and knowledge of this cryptic CSS Code we hear so much about was treated like a godly gift.

Newspapers don’t “own” enough creative technological expertise (programmers, database/mashup designers, XHTML/CSS coders, video editors, Flash animators, graphic communicators, etc) to constitute a viable tech infrastructure. Instead, most newspaper payrolls are bloated with pluralities of resentful Luddites who struggle with the complexities of e-mail.

See above.

Newspapers have already lost one of their key selling points: Social currency. In 2008, all meaningful political discourse — the essential element of social currency — takes place on the Web. Print (and televised) political coverage is now but a pale shadow of the real action online.

During the presidential debates I was wired into six separate political blogs who were each live-blogging the event as it went. By the time the editorials and newspaper articles came out the next day it all felt redundant. So instead of finding new angles (or, I don’t know, live-blogging on their own news sites), everyone decided to research Joe the Plumber.

Newspaper companies hate modern journalism. Yes, that’s an enormously over-broad tarbrush, but this is a message I want to deliver via 2×4: Newspapers companies will not survive the transition to the multimedia future so long as the people within those companies oppose the rules, conventions and culture of that future. You’ll never successfully reinvent your company if you’re punishing the innovators, killing the messengers, rewarding the political infighters and sneering down your noses at the “pajamas-clad rabble” you blame for your troubles.

Thanks for calling it out, Dan. I agree whole-heartedly.

The one thing I disagree with Dan about is that I think that newspapers tend to understand that this Web transition is happening, but they don’t really know what to do about it. New Orleans, for instance, has a deeply relevant (and comparatively successful) local paper. It’s a money-maker because New Orleans has such unique and pertinent local news that most locals can’t get all their information from the national dailies. And yet The Times Picayune, for all it has going for it, doesn’t have its own Web site. They think it’s trendier and hipper to combine their Web news with Nola.com (terribly difficult to navigate and visually unstimulating) because it appeals to the U.S.A. Today FULL COLOR CUT-OUTS! sensibility. It appears to be flashy and all-encompassing, but the site is truly just a sad reflection of how an out-of-touch forty-something with cursory HTML skills perceives the MySpace generation.

And The Times Picayune isn’t the only paper who does it. My home newspaper, The Oregonian (which has been drastically losing revenue for years) links its readers to OregonLive.com. Boooo.

I don’t think adults realize that the Web can be a classy place. It doesn’t have to be garish or awkward and overachieving. It can give us information without blinking avatars or colored hyperlinks. Successful news blogs today are just as careful with their design (if not more so) than the most award-winning works in print journalism have ever been.

The danger in letting the metro newspaper die is that such a massacre will allow the issues of accountability and objectivity to become relatively irrelevant. Fact-checking will become an afterthought at best, and reliable sources will grow more and more questionable. We need good, solid news groups to ensure that journalism remains fair and balanced; if the twenty-somethings with neon blogs earn more readership than, say, the Seattle Times, we will all be at risk of turning into the blind leading the blind off cliffs of untruth.

milk cartons

28 06 2008

So I’ve been teaching first graders here in Phoenix, Arizona. Here are some facts about Phoenix:


  1. There are cool bicycle riders and cool vegan food here, even though it seems like cool vegans and cool bike riders should not be in Phoenix.
  2. It’s the fifth largest city in the United States. I don’t understand this. Sometimes it is 121 degrees here. Why would you want that?
  3. Phoenix has 15 libraries. Here is what one person says about the Burton Barr Central Library: “It gets the vote as being the best library in Phoenix, but then agian it didnt have very good competition. I only dislike the employees about 50% to 75% of the time. “
  4. There are roadrunners. I don’t know that this is a fact. My mother told me there were roadrunners.
I’m teaching at a great little school called Pastor Elementary.  I am teaching first grade. Here are some things I had forgotten about first grade:
  1. It’s difficult to say the word “sphere.” (relatively unrelated sidenote: here’s a cool website that connects blog entries to real articles. it’s called sphere. it’s pretty nerdy.)
  2. It’s difficult to listen to other first graders talk when you are also in first grade.
  3. Hannah Montana is kind of a bfd.
  4. Ditto High School Musical. And even Camp Rock (albeit prematurely).
  5. It’s difficult to solve puzzles using tangrams.
But probably the most important thing I’ve forgotten about 1st grade is that it’s exceedingly difficult to open milk cartons. You know, those little lunch milk cartons you always got with your (disgusting) hot lunch. Every day, I go to lunch with these kids. And every day I am asked to open at least ONE milk carton which I cannot physically open. This is embarrassing.
Milk cartons generally fascinate me. Why did anyone decide that milk should go in little cardboard waxy boxes? Why can’t milk cartons take on juice box format? Wouldn’t that be just as efficient and much easier to open?
I Technorati-ed “milk cartons” today and only found one thing of interest. I guess this guy ordered a computer from eBay and whoever mailed it to him mailed it in a box which also contained an old pizza box, an empty soda container and (wait for it) a milk carton (really it was a milk JUG, but it’s still gross). The site has pictures. They’re gross. It’s every eBay user’s nightmare.
The last thing to note is that the academic achievement gap is worse than I thought it was. I have kids in my class who can’t read a word. And then there are kids in my friends’ seventh grade classes reading at a Kindergarten level. Maybe it’s cliche, but you see it happening and you wonder HOW we let it get this bad. It’s the most depressing evidence of institutionalized classism and racism that I’ve seen in my entire life.
Check out some statistics:


missing in action

28 03 2008

I kind of dropped the ball last week, and I’m sorry. There are many perfectly good reasons for it, though, and I thought I might detail them for you so you can feel like you’re more involved in my life.

My life mentor, Salim Muwakkil, came to speak at Whitman this week, which was a big deal for me. Sometimes I wonder if I have opinions of my own or if I just steal all of my ideas from Salim’s columns. Here are a few of my favorites:

+ Nas: Whose Word Is This?: I think the best articles Salim writes are about hip-hop. Here, he writes about Nas’s crusade to reclaim the n-word, which Salim backs up:

Those who use the word with malicious intent may still be able to inflict pain, but they are brandishing a weakening weapon. The word is being so relentlessly denuded it may one day be effectively defused. Nas’ album continues that process.

+ Throwing Away the Key: Perhaps Salim’s biggest crusade is the institutionalized racism inherent within the American criminal justice system. The insane disproportion of African-American men in American prisons (when compared with the racial demographics of the population as a whole) is, as Salim pointed out many times, something the United States will one day look back on with shame. Although many political writers touch on this subject, none do it with Salim’s passion.

+ Paying Back The Slavery Debt: This is the most compelling argument I’ve ever read in favor of slavery reparations, which was a hot topic almost a decade ago. Unfortunately, the conversation has practically become extinct, despite the coherent reasoning backing the idea (Salim wrote about it again in 2006 as a means to fund the horrific disrepair left by Hurricane Katrina, but to little dispute or rise.)

+ Katrina’s Racial Wake: Written in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Salim tells us what we all know now about race in America. If only it hadn’t taken a devastating storm to teach us that. Almost three years later, we still haven’t rebuilt what was once one of America’s greatest cities; FEMA continues to screw up, lacking any real or drastic solutions; and so many people who lived in The Big Easy have not moved back home.

Salim’s talk last week was about Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, which Salim pointed out was probably the most groundbreaking speech on race made in the last century (John Stewart said as much when he told his audience in a state of make-believe shock that a politician had spoken to the American people about race as if they were adults). For those of us who had felt Obama had grown perhaps a bit spineless in the bright lights of the presidential election, the speech was a breath of fresh air which addressed the racial purple elephant legitimately for the first time. Finally, we can take a step back and recognize that a black candidate for president does not mean we leave in a post-racial society.

You Ain’t No Picasso posted a link to the entire downloadable Ghostface Killah remix album. And it’s sick.

MP3: Ghostface Killah: Charlie Brown (DJ Medhi Remix)

I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the president of the Whitman branch of Action for Animals. I know. I’m a pretty big deal. And this week, adding to the excitement of Mr. Muwakkil’s visit, was Veggie Week. So here is a veg-friendly Albert Einstein quote (he was vegetarian btw) and a recipe you might want to try out.

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

If you haven’t visited the Post-Punk Kitchen online yet, you have to. It’s really, really good. The writer, Isa Chandra Moskowitz should probably be enshrined for proving that vegan food is often better than non-vegan food. If you don’t believe me, check out this cupcake recipe. I’m not kidding when I say that you will have a food-related orgasm (FRO).

RECIPE: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting

more quotes.
ALSO this week, my boyfriend Alex Kerr turned 21 this week. So in honor of the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know (Alex), an excerpt from Wednesday’s interview with Keith Richards posted on golden fiddle. It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever read.

Q: You should sell your body on eBay.
Yeah, I think so. Apparently, I do have an incredible immune system. I had hepatitis C and cured it by myself.

Q: How?
Just by being me.

Q: Do you regret not moisturizing your face?
No. I leave that up to other people.

Q: Ever think about getting Botox?
No one’s ever talked me into doing that. You’re lucky if you walk out of there alive. God bless you.

Q: Are you still cutting your own hair? You’ve done that all your life, right?
Yes. I did this bit here yesterday. [holds up a few strands on the side of his head] Also, I’m letting the dye grow out, since I’m not on the road. If the wife likes it, I’ll keep it.




17 03 2008

In an effort to bring upside down again back to its old daily standard, I’m proposing a topic-per-day schedule. This is pending the signing on of the ever-brilliant Chris Tognotti (as close as you’ll ever come to a real NBA expert) and/ or any other possible contributors.Starting tomorrow (yes, tomorrow), the format of upside down again will be:
MONDAY: A round-up of quotes from the past week, and commentary when necessary.
TUESDAY: Contributor Tuesday. Or just Chris Tognotti Tuesday. Who knows.
WEDNESDAY: New music and music videos with MP3s as they are available.
THURSDAY: Photos and other distracting but non-intellectual Web finds of the week.
FRIDAY: News round-up, politics, commentary, what you’ve come to expect.  And so it shall go. Perhaps until the end of time. 


1 02 2008

Gawker.com recently posted a rather brilliant “Field Guide to Tumblr” — which is essentially a less text-heavy blogging utility site that allows users to post the weird, funny shit they find on the Internet. With a greater emphasis on design, too, Tumblr is necessarily what Gawker admits is “like LiveJournal for privileged white 20-somethings.” In my mind, Tumblr is really the future of blogging, making it something that everyone can do without having any real creative drive or ambition. I mean, it’s easy to browse the Internet and link up to the shit you like.

Regardless of my speculation on about the ins and outs and future lives of blogs and bloggers, Gawker links to a great Tumblr site called “The Triumph of Bullshit” which is basically just eye candy for the digitally-obsessed and cynically comical. I found these gems on the site, and I’m going to Blogroll that shit like whoa.


16 01 2008

With the redesign, upsidedownagain.com announces a shift from the the purely political to a fusion between the old stuff and some new, purely pop culture items. We’re working on building some new top 10s and upping the ante on our lay-out, so stay tuned.

heeding headlines

16 08 2007

I opened the newspaper today and here were the leading headlines:

And I thought to myself: This is depressing. I’m depressed today. I just want to leave work, get on the subway and go back home to watch reruns of The Wonder Years.

Then it hit me.

Upside Down Again, as of today, finally finds the direction its always been looking for: This blog will here on in be a beacon of hope in the great sea of despair that is the U.S. News and Tabloid Jungle. I’ll scour the newspapers for buried headlines that will turn your frown (wait for it…) upside down. Why not? Good things happen in this world every day; and after all, a spoon full of sugar certainly does help the medicine go down.