Archive for the ‘Media’ Tag

Credible News. Seems Simple, But. . . .   Leave a comment

Challenging The False Narrative From #45

June 1, 2017

I’ve always been an early-riser. As a child my mother found that my body clock was set for 5:00am. She dealt with this reality as would any mother wishing to keep her sanity. Since she worked 3rd shift as a registered nurse (and didn’t return home until 7:30am,) I accepted her guidance. My mother taught me how to make my own breakfast, and provided me with an understanding of why I would live longer if I didn’t wake everyone else in the house at 5:00am. It was no surprise that years later when I delivered papers in Milwaukee, I worked for the morning paper, The Milwaukee Sentinel.

To my own surprise (based on my early years in school) I find that I read a lot these days. It’s a habit I developed in the 1970s while living in Chicago, where I became a regular reader of the Chicago Sun-Times. That choice—Sun-Times vs. Chicago Tribune—was based on two simple ideas: first, the story selection and the writing style of the Sun-Times connected with me; second, I preferred the physical size and shape of the the Sun-Times tabloid format vs. the Chicago Tribune’s broadsheet. It didn’t matter that the Tribune was larger (in number of pages and readers) and far more powerful than the Sun-Times. We all have our preferences.

The Chicago Sun-Times always seemed grittier to me, more blue-collar than white collar; more Main Street than Wall Street. Looking back to those days in Chicago my memory paints a picture of a Sun-Times that was something of a real-life version of The Sun in Ron Howard’s 1994 film The Paper, or The Day in Richard Brooks’ 1952 film Deadline U.S.A. In fact, as I recall the Sun-Times was the backdrop for the 1981 film Continental Divide Belushicd02starring John Belushi as a gritty reporter. Moving to Los Angeles in 1977 didn’t change my habits; just the names of the papers. As a resident I looked to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and The Los Angeles Times. Both were pale versions of the Chicago papers but for more than a decade I followed the world through the lens of the Los Angeles papers. And as I began working nationally and internationally, I also expanded my reading list to include the New York Times, which I continue to read today, along with the Washington Post and occasionally the Press Democrat here on the coast.

There’s a scene in the 1977 film Futureworld, where the film’s two lead characters—a TV reporter played by Blythe Danner and a print reporter played by Peter Fonda—talk about which is more important and more popular for getting news and information. After a brief exchange (and the question remaining unresolved) they turn to a stranger. The Fonda character asks the man if he gets his news from television or newspapers? His response went something like this: “Me? I’m a tube freak, man”.  The film may be 40 years old but looking at the media landscape today, it seems that the ‘tube freak’ was on to something. According to a recent Pew Research analysis, “. . . TV continues to be the most widely used news platform; 57% of U.S. adults often get TV-based news, either from local TV (46%), cable (31%), network (30%) or some combination of the three. This same pattern emerges when people are asked which platform they prefer – TV sits at the top, followed by the web, with radio and print trailing behind.” The analysis goes on to confirm that “the greatest portion of U.S. adults, 46%, prefer to watch news rather than read it (35%) or listen to (17%).”

How we get news is less important, in my opinion, than the credibility of the news we get. There’s no question that our current president, number 45, likes to talk about ‘fake news’ as a way to explain his “stolen popular vote”, or the smaller crowds at his inaugural, or the popular resistance to his gutting of the social safety net and his denial of climate change. I don’t care if #45 believes Martians or Mexicans voted illegally to keep him from winning the popular vote. I just wish he’d either start governing or pack up his marbles and go home. Either is preferable to the continuing mistrust he sows in our society.

A couple of weeks ago I started watching 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, in part perhaps, to help me believe that our government might start governing. Alas, I didn’t watch the entire movie because I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that there is even one strong and honorable “Jefferson Smith” residing in today’s U.S. Senate. I’d even settle for the film’s Senator “Joseph Paine” to come to mr_smith_goes_to_washington_61073-1920x1200our rescue, and tell him to keep some of the graft for his effort. Governing isn’t a lost cause, but fake news is pushing us in that direction.

Jacob Soll wrote in Politico last December that “fake news’ dates back almost 600 years, essentially since Gutenberg in 1439. As an example Soll offers this nugget: “To whip up revolutionary fervor, Ben Franklin himself concocted propaganda stories about murderous “scalping” Indians working in league with the British King George III.” With the consolidation of news outlets, local beat reporters are an endangered species, and regional and national reporters are at the very least a group under threat. Soll concludes that “Real news is not coming back in any tangible way on a competitive local level, or as a driver of opinion in a world where the majority of the population does not rely on professionally reported news sources and so much news is filtered via social media, and by governments. And as real news recedes, fake news will grow. We’ve seen the terrifying results this has had in the past—and our biggest challenge will be to find a new way to combat the rising tide.”

I’ll keep looking for real news and pass along what I find. I hope you’ll do the same.



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Stay Local Every Time That You Can

April 30, 2016

As the last area of the continental United States (at least the “lower 48”) to be explored and developed by Europeans, this part of the new world generally finds itself at the leading edge of movements and trends. We’re not always certain that this is a good thing. For example, consider the adoption (in the ‘70s and ‘80s of the mullet hairstyle which, believe it or not, can be traced to the writings of 6th century historian Procopius of Caesarea. More recent anthropological evidence tends to credit David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Billy Ray Cyrus, Joan Jett, and Paul McCartney (among others) for sporting the hairstyle, and with typical Paul_and_Linda_McCartneyrock-star influence, convincing a young audience with questionable judgement that this was a good idea. While still seen in some parts of the country (including northern California) the style has thankfully fallen distinctly from favor. It’s just a matter of time until—like the Shasta Ground Sloth—it disappears completely from North America. [If you’re in doubt, note: Losing the sloth? Bad. Losing the mullet haircut: Good!] We can expect that sometime in the future, the remains of a human with a mullet will be, like the sloth, found only in and around the La Brea Tar Pits where future generations of inquisitive young scientists might exclaim “Look mom, in the goo; a mullet-man from the 20th century. Wow.”

For those of us living along the south coast of Mendocino County, traveling to the city via the Golden Gate Bridge is a journey of three hours or more, depending on [a] our knowledge of some backroads and short-cuts (no, I can’t share the secret routes so don’t ask), [b] the annual increase in traffic in Sonoma and Marin, and [c] the ever present road construction of Highway 101—resurfacing, widening, repairing. In fact I overheard a conversation at a restaurant in Sausalito last week, where two couples were discussing moving out of Marin entirely: “Dahhling, the traffic here is, oh my god, just like L.A.” Clearly she hasn’t driven through, in, or around Los Angeles lately. Nevertheless I get her point. Many of us on the Mendocino coast talk about Santa Rosa traffic the same way, as if it’s the equivalent of attempting to catch a flight from LaGuardia by crossing midtown Manhattan on a Friday afternoon.

Trends are low on the list of most visitors to the area. When traveling up here most tourists seem pleased with the local business offerings: sandwich shops, restaurants, hardware stores, grocers, inns, office and business support, wifi, music stores, book sellers, and more. Besides, most are here for the legendary views along Highway One. Nevertheless, for those who crave Taco Bell, Safeway, Holiday Inn, and Home Depot, they are all represented in the county. They’re just not present along the Coast Highway from Bodega, the Russian River, and Jenner on the south, to Little River, Mendocino Village, and Caspar to the north. Those American icons of fast food and warehouse consumerism are as hard to find here as the Shasta Ground Sloth. Most locals and visitors like it that way, and most of us happily recommend a local business to fill the travelers’ needs.

We’re not perfect. Too often, like being afflicted with a facial tic, some locals will let slip a corporately-programmed response. Do you recall the scene in A Christmas Story, where the Macy’s Santa asks Ralphie what he’d like for Christmas? Overwhelmed by the moment Ralphie blurts out “a football” instead of his real desire for a Red Rider BB Gun. When you’re not prepared to answer the question, you never know just what will come out of your mouth. We are, as I suggested, inundated with advertising, images, slogans, and brands, which means we must think about a response. And yet, many of us moved up here to—in varying degrees— get away from corporate brands, and 21st century uniformity. Or at least that’s what we like to tell people.

Having lived in Mendocino County for a decade, I regularly observe members of the county’s population—those in the media and out—answering a question with their own pre-programmed response. For example, authors flogging their books during an interview on the radio say “my book’s available at Amazon” possibly in a mistaken belief that there are no retail bookstores left. And the radio hosts reflexively echo the “go to Amazon” theme as if they are suffering from Tourette’s. It’s like being asked for a recommendation for having lunch in Gualala and replying, “I hear Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is really good.” A well-trained parrot could do as well.

I’m here to say No More. I’ve decided to take a page out of StateLibQld_1_89868_Revival_meeting_at_the_Olympic_Theatre_in_Charters_Towers,_1912the tent revival handbook. So let me hold the Lighthouse Peddler in my left hand, and raise my right hand. From now on you are healed. Henceforth you will happily and faithfully extol the virtues of shopping, staying, and spending locally. Brothers and Sisters, as you return to your daily lives, go forth and spread the word. Look into the eyes of friends, family, and strangers alike. Offer your countenance, softly smile, and tell them that a new day is coming and the time is nigh. As a good book says, “there is wisdom, beauty, and blessings in spending your money locally.” Besides. As my old friend Arnie Orleans might say, ‘it couldn’t hoit.’

David Steffen

©2016 David Steffen


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