Quite the World, Isn't It?


Tuesday will be a good day NOT to be in LA

July 5, 2009

Tags: media, celebrity, music

As the lunacy surrounding Michael Jackson's death and wake intensify, I'm increasingly happy I'll be in San Francisco this coming week (giving a talk and signing copies of Blood Passion Wednesday night). Jackson's family has agreed to a memorial program at Staples Center Tuesday night, which seems reasonable.

But 1.6 million people apparently registered for the lottery to win one of 8,750 pair of tickets. For the rest, not to worry -- nearly all the major television networks and a bunch of cable channels will be airing the event live. Katie Couric, the CBS News anchor, will be on hand for that network, which as of a little bit ago was the only major network not planning live coverage.

Give it time.

Live prime time coverage of a funeral for a pop star? At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly... oh, never mind. I'll be in San Francisco, hopefully at a baseball game that night. You have your entertainment diversions, I have mine ...


U2, Barcelona and some shrewd web marketing

July 2, 2009

Tags: media, celebrity, music

A Facebook friend posted this U2 video embedded below, built around the start of their world tour earlier this week in Barcelona. It's an interesting ten minutes, watching the gig come together and getting a sense of the sheer size of the Nou Camp arena, where FC Barcelona plays soccer. The stadium holds 98,000 people, which makes it a little smaller than the football stadium at the University of Michigan, where I used to do occasional stories on the UM-MSU and UM-Notre Dame rivalries. But it's still pretty damn big. For the concert, some 90,000 seats were available. And it took less than an hour to sell out.

What strikes me about this video, though, is the shrewd way U2 uses it for marketing. The video generates some excitement, gives fans a taste of the stage design, offers some close-up, high-resolution video -- but only snippets of songs, presumably to thwart piracy.

So far, only 7,000 views on YouTube, but expect that to grow quickly.


A few thoughts on Michael Jackson and new media

June 26, 2009

Tags: media, celebrity, music

By now you all know Michael Jackson died yesterday, seemingly of a heart attack. There's a ton of coverage out there, some very solid (check out my friend Ann Powers' lovely tribute at the LA Times) and some pretty bizarre, such as the fan who told KABC-7 here in Los Angeles that the death was "life-changing." Well, yeah, in a binary, lights on/lights off kind of way.

A few things jump out at me. Jackson was a powerfully talented singer, songwriter and entertainer, with a shrewd sense of media manipulation and an admirable ability to break down barriers. He was also a tragic figure with a suspicious devotion to children that eventually overwhelmed his standing as a pop music icon (to most of the public, at least).

But I quibble with the hyperbole about his influence on pop music. Pop culture, definitely. Pop music, not as much. Most of Jackson's influence was in a specific cul de sac in pop music, the hit-hunting R&B neighborhood. He built on the creativity of predecessors like James Brown and wisely put himself in Quincy Jones' hands, but while he was toe-dancing and twirling and bringing old R&B showmanship on tour and to MTV, punk visionaries and the hip-hop generation emerged and radically transformed popular music. Against that backdrop, Jackson was less revolutionary than evolutionary.

Part of any major breaking news story is the media covering the media, including this bit from Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review. Okay, so here goes an assessment of the assessment. Niles points out that people who use Twitter were tweeting away about the death long before it had been confirmed anywhere outside TMZ, which apparently got the scoop (and a hearty congrats to them). Ignoring the point that the tweets were, in effect, lightning-fast gossip, Niles argues media outlets should drop their use of email alerts about major news events because they make the outlets seem "clueless and slow."

Maybe, but only to the folks who rely on tweets for their news. And this strikes at one of the flawed undercurrents of a lot of media analysis right now -- it focuses on the technology more than the message. Twitter is still a new and growing social network with some intriguing potential for use (and abuse). But it is hardly pervasive. I have an account but don't receive tweets because I don't use text-messaging. The vast majority of people in this country don't use Twitter. In this eternal rush to the new we tend to forget about the established. Even with the startling decline of newspapers, outlets like my former employer, the LA Times, still sell hundreds of thousands of printed copies a day.

We can't forsake the old just because there's new. What's emerging aren't full replacements for newspapers but added avenues of information distribution (with some serious economic consequences, to be sure). Radio didn't kill newspapers, TV didn't kill radio and the Internet and Twitter aren't going to be murderous entities either. Like Jackson, they're more evolutionary than revolutionary. With all due respect to Marshall McLuhan, the message is the message.
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About me


A third-generation journalist, I was born in Scarborough, Maine, and grew up there and in Wellsville, New York, about two hours south of Buffalo. My first newspaper job came at age 16, writing a high school sports column for the Wellsville Patriot, a weekly (defunct), then covering local news part-time for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.

After attending Fredonia State, where I was editor of The Leader newspaper and news director for WCVF campus radio, I worked in succession for the Jamestown Post-Journal, Rochester Times-Union (defunct), The Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times, where I covered presidential and other political campaigns, books, local news and features, including several Sunday magazine pieces.

An active freelancer, my work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Sierra Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Orange Coast magazine, New York Times Book Review (books in brief), Buffalo News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), Solidarity (United Auto Workers) and elsewhere. I teach or have taught journalism courses at Chapman University and UC Irvine, and speak occasionally at school and college classes about journalism, politics and writing. I've appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Literary Orange festival, moderated panels at the Nieman Conference in Narrative Journalism and the North American Labor History Conference, among others, and been featured on C-SPAN's Book TV.

I'm also a co-founder of The Journalism Shop, a group of journalists (most fellow former Los Angeles Times staffers) available for freelance assignments.



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