Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Trolling the local blogs

As a fledgling local journalist, I’ve been spending some time on community blogs lately. Many of them are charming and compelling, and unfortunately wind up eating up hours as I go from one link to another. What I love is reading about the little issues that can be so important to residents, and the chiming in of various voices to give their two cents that creates a distinct flavor and sense (or illusion) of community.

Some of my favorites so far (and this is a very incomplete list, since I’m still new to this) are Prince of Petworth, Frozen Tropics (covering H Street, Trinidad, and north of Capitol Hill), and Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space (urban planning issues). I think a lot of people like these blogs too–their owners post very frequently, write about relevant subjects, and are clearly passionate about their topics. The Prince of Petworth blogger, for example, posts constantly about an area that probably doesn’t get written about much otherwise; he’s got a great eye for the unusual and, best of all, writes with a funny, fresh, cynicism-free style.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space is funny because it seems to break a lot of blogging rules–besides the long title, the topic is sort of dry and the blogger tends to write really long posts. But his obvious passion about the topic of city planning shines through and makes the blog interesting. It’s a great reminder of that lesson, “pursue what you love and stick to it, and you’ll be successful,” or whatever the adage is.

I also joined a Brookland listserv recently because I’m thinking about writing something about that neighborhood soon. Reading it is like taking a step down from blogs into the granularity of neighborhood issues: the listserv is full of recommendations for good handymen, discussions of school closings, and debates about new city development plans for the neighborhood.

This city’s neighborhoods are clearly humming with busy citizens and activity, which is great. My only reservation is to question the diversity of voices found online. I think most of the bloggers try to be racially ‘sensitive’ and it’s my impression that some of the posters are black or maybe latino, though I have a feeling they’re in the vast minority. That’s kind of odd, given that some of the most dynamic neighborhoods are ones that were probably 90% black/latino just a decade ago. It’s cool that new residents are such boosters for where they live, but it also bums me out to think that they might be (unintentionally) drowning out other voices.

robbery, burglary, theft

I started reading the Current newspapers recently. Their coverage of local issues is pretty great, but one thing in particular that shocks and intrigues me is the police blotter. I live in Adams Morgan and already knew that my block isn’t the safest—there’s drug dealing going on across the street, and our house was burglarized during the day a couple years ago. But, man, it turns out that crimes occur here all the time! Last week my block was mentioned in the police report twice (robbery [knife]; burglary), and the week before, it was in there four times (robbery [force and violence]; burglary (twice); theft from auto [below $250]).

What’s most shocking is that I haven’t heard about any of these recent crimes. One of my roommates has a nose for crime and always seems to be around during driveby shootings, car breakins, etc., but I’ve missed them all. It almost feels like I live on a parallel planet. Is Adams Morgan really that dangerous?

Mommy’s new lazy, sensationalistic reporting

My Beautiful MommyI’m sure some of you have come to the conclusion that I like beating up on WaPo. Really, nothing is farther from the truth and overall I have a positive opinion of the paper, particularly compared to the yellow rag that the Miami Herald had become by the time I moved here six years ago.

Unfortunately today I find myself annoyed with one of the sections that normally I find above average – Health. I was a little perturbed that the story on the debate about plastics made no mention of the tremendous impact plastic has had on the safety of health care, but the real offense in the section was about a plastic surgery.

Well, it would have been a story about that if WaPo writer Sandra G. Boodman hasn’t just vomited Newsweek’s original bit of scandal manufacturing back up without a hint of journalistic rigor or effort. The reality of this story – not presented anywhere in the original Newsweek piece or Boodman’s uncredited paraphrasing – is that this is a book published by a vanity press and authored by a Florida plastic surgeon for his own clients. This plastic surgeon actually does some good outreach to the public on plastic surgery, though somehow that link didn’t make it into the story: I guess talking about articles covering sun damage and porta-cath scars doesn’t sell papers.

Personally I think we have some… interesting attitudes about beauty and aging in the US, and it’s a subject that could do with some quality discussion. This isn’t it. If you’re interested in more detail about why this is a non-story, Teresa Neilsen Hayden spells out the situation in great detail here… in a post from about a week ago, which Boodman could probably have found if she’d taken longer than 4 minutes to re-use Newsweek’s story. The meat of the matter:

Big Tent Books … is a vanity press and marketing and fulfillment operation. It pretends it’s separate from another company called Dragonpencil—in theory, Big Tent is a marketing and distribution firm, and Dragonpencil is a publisher—but they’re really a single organization run by Jerry and Samantha Setzer. The two companies have the same address and phone number. Big Tent’s award-winning books get all their awards from Dragonpencil. Dragonpencil’s deluxe publishing package includes marketing and distribution by Big Tent. And if you poke around their sites long enough, you can find the page where they admit it.

Big Tent/Dragonpencil has the usual problem of vanity presses: zero to lousy sales and distribution. They’re a lot better at making books than they are at promoting them. Only a few of their titles are even listed at Amazon, and those are listed badly—half the normal publisher-furnished information is missing. Sales are minimal.

My Beautiful Mommy is not one of the books Big Tent lists on Amazon.

In other words, this story about shilling to children isn’t at all a case where anyone was shilling to chilren. Dr Michael Salzhauer’s book – which includes a surgeon named Dr Michael, in case you were wondering whether he really meant it for his patients – is for people who already have made the decision to have plastic surgery.

Or maybe Newsweek and Boodman think that books written about death for a child’s perspective are promoting kids being accepting of dying?

Post Grabs Six Pulitzers

Don may be nigh on relentless with his critique of the Washington Post, but they certainly do get things right from time to time, and today they take home six Pulitzer awards for National Reporting (to Jo Becker and Barton Gellman for their exploration of Vice President Cheney), International Reporting (to Steve Fainaru for his coverage of private security firms in Iraq), Feature Writing (to Gene Weingarten for his piece on Joshua Bell busking in the Metro), Commentary (to Steven Pearlstein for his columns on economic ills in the US), Public Service (Dana Priest, Anne Hull and Michel du Cille for their coverage of Walter Reed) and Breaking News Reporting (for reporting on Virginia Tech)

Wow. When you look at those six awards, it’s hard to see how anyone else could have come home with the award. The Cheney piece, the Walter Reed piece and the Gene Weingarten piece on Joshua Bell were all heavily featured and reprinted throughout the rest of the US, and the Post’s unique work on the VT shootings was pretty much incredible.

Congrats, Post, for your excellent work in 2007. You guys are giving the winners all big raises, right? Right?

The last time one paper swept up so many of the awards in one year was 2002, when the New York Times picked up 7 awards, most of them for coverage of 9-11 and the aftermath. I’m sure their news department will find appropriate other parallels in the history of the award, but going back twenty years, I can find no other paper with as distinguished a record in a single year as the Post has in the 2008 awards.

[Update] The Post has put all the award-winning articles together for easy reading.

XM-Sirius Merger Approved by DOJ

This just in, DC-based XM and New York-based Sirius’s planned merger has been approved by the Department of Justice, meaning that only the FCC can step in to stop the merger between the two satellite radio companies. I’m not sure if it’s been said yet where the new company will be based, but I suspect that XM’s Florida Avenue facility will remain in place as part of the new network’s planned operations center.

Hire Education

Hire EducationIf you have not read this week’s Washington City Paper, I encourage you to do so. Especially, there is an article called Hire Education that really sums up the frustrations of tutoring rich kids with entitlement issues and dealing with their parents, who often have entitlement issues. The article takes a hard look at these kids and paints them with a very negative brush, but not all is as bad as it seems in the article.

As a tutor myself, I can vouch for many of the experiences the author relates and found it reassuring that I am not the only one with clients who sometimes seem like they recently came off their meds. However, the difficult kids and parents are the exception, in my experience. Most kids are okay, regardless of why they seek out tutoring, and most parents are understanding when I assure them that I am an expert and know what I am doing.

Sure, I have had parents call and fuss at me, send nasty emails and even had one jerk of a father try to physically intimidate me. If I weren’t twice his size with greater strength and a longer reach, it may have bothered me. As it worked out, I let him know he should back off and I resumed tutoring his son.

Student issues include being inattentive, sometimes even snotty, feeling entitled to high grades or high SAT scores and generally not wanting to work. Another problem is having little unstructured time, with too much emphasis on academics and other school activities and not enough on enjoying being a kid. Helicopter parents shuttle them around from school to soccer to tutoring to study groups and in the end the high school graduates have no idea how to manage their own time or actually study in college, instead of having tutors tell them what to do.

I have also had parents who were very gracious, students who were polite and attentive and with those families it is a lovely time. To me what makes the difference when working with students is having kids who want to learn or are interested in the subject material. Whether they like the material or not, they should have a good attitude about it and at least be open-minded to learning it.

If you were ever curious about tutoring, I highly recommend it. Seeing kids absorb and integrate information is a blast. Take that article and my own complaints with a grain of salt. Most kids are good and most parents, when the rubber meets the road, simply want to help their kids. However, I can tell you with all certainty that helping kids get A’s instead of B’s or helping them get higher SAT scores is far less worthwhile or rewarding than helping kids with bigger issues, like literacy or their GED.

Having prepared many kids for both the SAT and GED, I will take an interested GED student any day over an interested SAT student. The pay is lower and the barriers higher, but getting someone over that hump means so much more opportunity that the trade-off is worth it.

So who wants to join me in shaping the minds of our future leaders? Before you answer, let me assure you that there is work to be had in this market because I have had enough of it for now and will be focusing more of my time and attention on my photography business. The kids? The parents? The last-minute test preparation? You can have it all.

Pot issues news flash: kettle black!


I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my opinion of what some of my people like to call “old media.” The print edition of the Washington Post is my daily lunch companion and it bugs me when I’m forced to skip reading it. That said, sometimes I wonder at the perspectives of the people who work there.

Today’s a perfect example. In the business section there’s an article by Rob Pegoraro that could have been a good coverage of collaborative bookmarking sites like DIGG and REDDIT. If you’re not familiar with them then you’re likely also not my people. I’m not a fan or a user myself, but I’m aware of their existence and what they are. Rather than write an article about them and their relative strengths and advantages, however, Pegoraro’s article is titled “The News Is There, but You Might Have to Search for It” and opens with “Whatever the traditional definition of “news” might be, it can seem far from what fills the headlines at some of the Web’s more popular news sites. On a Tuesday in presidential primary season, here are some of their top stories:”

You know Rob, it’s funny you should mention that.

Today’s Post print edition has front page stories Results Refocus Democratic Campaign and National Dragnet Is a Click Away, Even in Victory, Clinton Team Is Battling Itself, Coloring Outside Curriculum Lines To Depict the Drop in Arts Education, Russia Pumps Tens of Millions Into Burnishing Image Abroad, and DHS Strains As Goals, Mandates Go Unmet.

If you want to read about how the FBI has broken the law by misusing national security letters and admitted it in front of Congress you’ll have to turn to page two. After all, it’s presidential primary season and there’s internal campaign matters to discuss. Surprisingly the Obama camp says they’re going to win and the Clinton camp says NUH-UH! Or you could look at the paper yesterday, which trumpeted headlines like Clinton Beats Obama in Texas and Ohio. A little less prominent – way down in the articles, in fact – was the fact that this beating in Ohio got Clinton 78 delegates and left Obama with only…. 69. Wow, stunning upset there, eh?

My point isn’t to beat up on the Post, though I have been unimpressed by their primary coverage, but to point out that when it comes to making you “search for” the news, they could give lessons. If you want to write about the collaborative sites you can talk about their underlying “wisdom of crowds” concept and the (well established) ways in which they subvert that concept by showing you what others though before getting your input. You could provide some guidance in how to get started looking at these sites, talk about, say, DIGG’s friends support that lets you see not only what the world in general is looking at but what people you know and/or trust are checking out, and what that might imply for how we consume media individually while finding and judging it collaboratively.

Or I guess you can just bitch about the splinter in their eye while ignoring the 2×4 in yours.

image courtesy of Wader

Post To Do Special TV Coverage Tonight

wapodotcom.png As with Super Tuesday, the Washington Post is going to do some special live web coverage today, as there are two major primaries with national import going on today in Texas and Ohio. So, if you want the Post’s political take on what’s going down tonight, tune in for the preview show at 4:30 pm today, then again after 7 for the live broadcast as the results come down the pike. There will be the Post’s usual and incredible team hosting all of this, plus there’s going to be a simulcast on C-SPAN, and some interactive features.

Check it out, it will be pretty amazing, I bet.

Caps Rob Columbus, Con Montreal


So the NHL trading deadline came and went today. Think the Caps did anything noteworthy?

Well, they didn’t trade away Kolzig.

Instead, they sorta replaced him. Somehow, McPhee snookered the Canadiens and swiped their best goalie – Cristobal Huet – from them, giving the Habs a very large gamble in net….and in a very tight playoff race, to boot.

Oh, that’s not all the robbery your Caps got away with. I’m nearly ready to call the cops, they practically got away with murder by hockey stick!

Fans of Pettinger, say good bye. He’s packing his stuff for Vancouver. In the air, he’ll pass your new enforcer, Matt Cooke. Not a bad deal.

By far and away the most interesting and possibly the most troublesome trade (to me, a Penguins fan) is the acquisition of Sergei Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Might want to frisk McPhee, he may have taken Ken Hitchcock’s wallet while he was stealing the venerable Russian forward.

Some may say it’s not the greatest grab – Fedorov’s on the back end of his career, no doubt. And he’s likely to end up again in Motor City next year (he’s an Unrestricted Free Agent come July 1). But I think this was a steal, honestly. And a scary, scary move. Pair up this Russian with That One? Yeah, an Ovie-Sergei pairing is about as scary as Crosby-Malkin two states over. (Shameless plug – did you hear what magic Ray Shero did up there? NICE!)

After today’s to-the-wire excitement, I’m fairly sure now the Caps are serious about a playoff run. Only five points behind the Hurricanes (and sitting in the 11th slot), McPhee’s putting the screws to the team. These moves – if they land the suddenly-more-than-lukewarm Caps into the playoffs – might go down as one of the more brilliant deadline con jobs of the century, or I forsee a lynch mob outside the Verizon Center come mid-April.

Who knows? I’ll say this, if the Caps vault into the playoffs, I may actually buy playoff tickets from them this year.


It’s still the Caps. Now if they faced down Pittsburgh in the Conference Finals….

Tragedy from afar

News from my alma mater last night threw me into a lot of shock and put quite the damper on an otherwise wonderful Valentine’s Day.

There are a lot of kids from my family’s friends (my family resides in Naperville) who attend NIU; I’ve not heard any bad news from that end of the story, thankfully.

So why am I writing about something that happened out in Illinois in a DC-centric blog? Well, it does affect me in a way. But more importantly – and this really sucks, honestly – NIU was able to handle the incident relatively successfully due to a new security plan put in place after the Virginia Tech tragedy last year. For that reason, I think, the tragedy was less severe than it could have been, and I am thankful for that.

Though it still bugs me that all this still happens. This is the fourth college shooting in a month – what the hell is wrong with these people?

While NIU’s plan isn’t perfect – many students never got a text from the school but several from friends – doubtless it was better than whatever the plan was before. The school was closed and locked down within about 20 minutes. Notifications went out just as fast, and I commend the school’s administration for acting quickly.

Let me posit this question, then, to our local college attendees: with all the recent violence on campuses lately, do you feel safe at your school? And are you aware of what the security plan is? Share your thoughts in the comments box.

And if you have a moment, offer up a moment of silence for the NIU victims (now seven dead, nearly 20 wounded), faculty and students during their hour of need. Hopefully this is the last college tragedy we as a nation have to deal with.

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