‘Blood mingled with marinara sauce’: Philadelphia mob story

Posted in journalism trends, LAT, media, recession by Diane on February 3, 2010

Don’t get me wrong, I love L.A. A walk or run on the Hermosa sand always reminds me how lucky I am to live here.

But sometimes I miss the East Coast tabloids I knew and loved in my twenties. New York had its broadly populist tabloid papers, but my true fave was the Philadelphia Daily News. As vibrant and lean as the Inky was staid and self-important, the Daily News was gritty, well reported and a heckuva lot more fun.

Even when it was chronicling mob rubouts or other mayhem in the City of Brotherly Love.

My favorite? A front page story about one rubout, complete with stark photo and description of the murder scene, where “the blood mingled with marinara sauce.” Another story mapped previous rubouts around the city in piquant detail. I reveled reading those passages aloud to my more squeamish coworkers.

Back then, rumor had it, Knight Ridder was propping up the Daily News to discourage another daily from taking on its dominant sibling. (The Inky’s last big competitor, the Evening Bulletin, had shuttered earlier in the decade.) The owners cut back on distribution, making it harder for me to snag a copy on my way to work; oh, how I cursed them for that.

Chicken Man Testa and the Main Line Times…


Back to blather on CNN

Posted in journalism trends by Diane on January 21, 2010

Today was another bad day in Haiti — a strong aftershock rattled the country further and medical supplies remained scarce in the face of overwhelming need. Yet CNN kept spending far more time dissecting Scott Brown’s Senate win yesterday in Massachusetts than on the devastation in the Caribbean.

Anderson Cooper, who has once again done remarkable work covering a disaster, has been squeezed to the margins. And for what: More endless punditry overseen by Wolf “I’ve got a Situation Room” Blitzer.

It’s frustrating as a viewer. It must be exceedingly frustrating for Cooper and the rest of the CNN team in Haiti, where citizens are dying for lack of basic medical care more than a week after the original temblor. The situation has been so dire that Cooper and medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, among other journalists, have all dropped their observer pose to help ailing Haitians.

But CNN thinks we want endless speculation about the Democrats’ loss of its super majority in the Senate. Guess again.

To watch CNN footage of Cooper’s rescue depicted above, click here.

Bye bye, Video Business

Posted in DVD, journalism trends by Diane on January 6, 2010

The most amazing thing about Video Business is that it lasted as long as it did.

By the time I worked there in the late ’90s, the mom and pop era of videostores was already over. The battle between Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, which I wrote about for the L.A. Times, was well under way and DVD sales at big box stores were taking further toll on the indies. And these indies were the raison d’etre  for the video trades, subsidized as they have always been by studio product ads.

With fewer retailers to deal with — and direct relationships with the big chains — studios had less reason to spring for those ads. Video Business tried to reposition itself — envisioning studio execs and those toiling in emerging technologies as a broader expanded audience — without much success.

The parent company saw the writing on the wall years ago: When I requested additional resources for the website, the then head of the company likened VB to a broken down old car. And this was before the DVD market started to falter.

Still, VB persisted under various RBI regime changes. Brass trimmed costs where it could, but the past year was clearly a struggle. When RBI announced last week it was going to start shuttering mags it could not sell, I immediately thought of VB.

Despite all that, the actual shuttering seemed sudden. The Jan. 4 edition was the last. Home Media Magazine, the one I always thought would be the first to go, ended up the survivor.


If only Internet stories DID always get right to the point

Posted in digital media, journalism trends by Diane on January 5, 2010

The always provocative Michael Kinsley makes many good points about overcontextualized newspaper stories in the Atlantic but gives online stories a pass on their own failings.

Yes, many newspaper stories are too long and bloated with unnecessary quotes and qualifications, as he argues in the essay, much tweeted about today by fellow journos. But his claim that readers are abandoning newspapers for the Internet because online “news articles get to the point”? Dubious.

First, since when do online news articles get to the point? And who’s producing these online news articles? Kinsley never says: He deconstructs a few articles from the New York Times and  the Washington Post, but never cites examples that meet his brevity standards.

There’s a downside to online writing: Without a news hole to worry about, editors aren’t necessarily compelled to trim copy. And with the ever quickening news cycle, they don’t always have time to shape stories before they’re published even if they wanted to.

So what we get online is a lot of flabby prose and half-digested analysis. In an ideal world writers and/or editors would revisit dashed off stories and polish them. But how often is that done? There’s always more news to process and report.

Another problem with online news articles? Certain sites tease stories about news developments but do not, in fact, reveal what they are, until after the reader has clicked through to another page. Want to know whether the ground hog saw his shadow or your favorite team won? That’ll be another click. So much for getting to the point.

Online sites do have advantages, but they are not immune to the same quality control issues as their traditional counterparts.


Not so fast: Why the iTablet rumors are killing me

Posted in digital media, journalism trends, Kindle by Diane on January 5, 2010

Why am I, sucker for all gadgets Apple, secretly hoping the company will NOT announce its rumored iTablet later this month? Because I just got a Kindle and don’t want it to be immediately upstaged by Apple grooviness.

This has happened before: I got a Creative Nomad Jukebox MP3 player shortly before iPod hit the market in 2001. That first generation iPod may look clunky today, but trust me, it was compact and sleek next to the Jukebox. It was no bigger, as Steve Jobs said in his 2001 media introduction, than a deck of cards. I held out for a little while before succumbing to the iPod.

But back to the Apple tablet rumors, which are flying fast and furious, with a March debut now predicted by the WSJ. I’m dying to see what Apple comes up with and how it matches other tablet prototypes I’ve seen lately. The magazine biz, and heck, the newspaper biz, could use a device that marries potent imagery with text in a way websites have yet to do. The main reason I got the Kindle was to subscribe to periodicals in electronic form.

So far I really like it. I’d just hate for it to become obsolete a month after Santa dropped it down the chimney.


Telling it like it is: The ugly truth about sexism (and ageism)

Posted in chick flick, journalism trends, media, movies, NYT, studios, Uncategorized by Diane on December 15, 2009

Manohla Dargis’s barbaric yawp about Hollywood went viral yesterday, and for good reason: The NYT critic let loose on rampant sexism in an interview with feminist-leaning Jezebel, spewing four-letter words with abandon. The interview made explicit that which her Sunday NYT essay on female directors suggested: She’s deeply pissed off about studios that repeatedly fail women in their choices of material and talent.

Among the many choice bits:

Working within the system has not worked. It has not helped women filmmakers or, even more important, you and me, women audiences, to have women in the studio system.

and a personal pet peeve — the constant surprise that women like seeing entertaining movies about women:

This, gee whiz, Sex and the City‘s a hit, Twilight, hmm, wonder what’s going on here. Maybe they should not be so surprised. In the trade press, women audiences are considered a niche. How is that even possible? We’re 51 percent of the audience.

It’s not just the trade press, either; this surprise seems to creep into consumer box office reports as well.

Dargis is equally scathing about the suggestion that she take it easy on films directed by women, calling the notion “incredibly insulting.” But mostly she hopes that Kathryn Bigelow (pictured above) wins the Oscar for directing “The Hurt Locker,” a muscular action movie.

Ageism “Up in the Air”…


Take it from one of the terminated: Reitman gets it right

Posted in journalism trends, movies by Diane on December 13, 2009

The terminator at work

What can I tell you about “Up in the Air” that you haven’t already heard (or read) before? It’s very good. Manages to be topical, touching and lightly satirical, no mean feat.

Let me add, as one of the terminated, that Jason Reitman does a very fine job conveying the absurdity and pathos of this particular recession. I burst out laughing when my company’s HR chief oulined job placement services similar to the ones George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham smoothly proffers: What type of assistance could this outfit contracted by my now ex-company realistically provide a laid-off journo? The industry was already in a free fall — and it wasn’t about to get better.

Almost one year later, journalists are still getting pink slips as one round of layoffs begets another. I’m back to freelancing while my former coworkers work harder than ever to get the papers out with sharply reduced manpower. Everyone, it seems, is crabbier.

But back to the movie. Reitman explores something else in the movie, based on a Walter Kirn novel published after the first economic downturn of the decade, and it’s this: Rootless, unencumbered adults who like it that way. I didn’t expect to identify with Bingham’s character — after all he was the professional terminator and I was among the whacked — but I did. You know that depressing Omaha way station that passes for Ryan’s residence? I had an apartment like that for a brief period, and the initial attraction was its antiseptic hotel feel. (In actuality I hated it and soon moved to a cozy old triplex several towns over.)

There were other aspects of Ryan’s character that resonated: I don’t travel that much, but others in my family do, my older brother taking flight where my father left off. The movie’s tension between middle-aged professionals and a bright-eyed go-getter short on empathy? Also on the money.

Certain critics have carped that Reitman doesn’t do enough to grapple with the ugliness of lost livelihoods. But that’s not the movie Reitman set out to make. This movie, the director’s third…


Lit slowdown

Posted in journalism trends by Diane on December 3, 2009

There’s something really great about Lewis Lapham’s decision to slow down, rather than speed up, his publication pace. The long-time editor of Harper’s magazine stepped down from the monthly two years ago and now devotes his editorial attention to Lapham’s Quarterly, a scholarly journal.

The focus is on historical writings. The target audience?  “People who wished they had paid more attention in school,” Lapham told the NYT. Yes, there’s a website, Tim Arango goes on to write, “but up-to-the-minute is not the mantra.”

Best yet, the dapper 74-year-old plans to start blogging. “I’m looking forward to that,” he told the NYT. “It’s a new form.”

I just hope more would-be publishers join him and Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s in a slow-lit movement.


‘Financial Lives of the Poets’: Bumbling all the way to the poor house

Posted in book reviews, books, journalism trends by Diane on September 28, 2009

financialpoets“The Financial Lives of the Poets” is avert-your-eyes funny: I kept putting it down, only to pick it right back up. Jess Walter spins comic discomfort out of his hero’s harebrained schemes the way Larry David does on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: You know nothing good can come of his actions, and you’re right.

But you still want to see how it all turns out.

Matt Prior, a business reporter sorely lacking financial judgment, is behind the eight ball when “The Financial Lives of the Poets” begins: Laid off from his newspaper job, he’s about to lose his house, and, he suspects, his marriage. Not helping: the fact he gambled the family’s money on a crazy website marrying poetry and finance a few years earlier, or his wife Lisa’s eBay shopping spree. Other added pressures: His senile Dad is staying with them after losing his own nest egg to a stripper; the kids are in a private school the family can no longer pretend to afford.

So what does Matt do? Fall into a money making scheme straight out of “Weeds.” There’s a riotous mix of characters – evil bosses, fellow journos struggling to hold onto their jobs, and hapless drug dealers – that liven up the proceedings as Matt races against the clock, obsessively monitoring his wife’s online flirtations with a former boyfriend as he bumbles along.

Walter, a former newspaperman himself, isn’t interested in creating a sob story about our country’s financial predicament or flailing newspaper biz. Nor does he wag his fingers a la Michael Moore. The bosses and bankers are evil, but Matt and his cohort aren’t helping themselves with their foolhardy behavior.

No end to the comic indignities…


Read it and weep

Posted in celeb glossies, journalism trends by Diane on September 1, 2009
All is not OK in magazine land

All is not OK in magazine land

Love the lede on Stephanie Clifford’s otherwise sobering NYT story about mag circulation drops:

SO far in 2009, the magazine business looks a lot like the Jon and Kate Gosselin divorce splayed all over the supermarket tabloids: you have to look very hard to find a winner.

Newsstand sales were pretty much grim all around the first half of the year, with mass market women’s title especially hard hit and celebrity glossies also slowing down. Blame for the slow down goes to the economy, which accelerated a decline already under way.

The bright spot: Subscriptions are up at a number of mags, no doubt due to the fire sale prices. Not sure how much these deals are actually costing publishers, but at least these reinforcements can help shore up their particular ad base.

For more of the gory details, read here.