Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Interview With Amy Beth Inverness

I was interviewed by Amy Beth Inverness this week regarding the book Small Town Sports Beat. You can find the interview here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Accountability Isn't Determined By Media Narrative

A quick Google search shows more than 81 million results for Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who is facing first degree murder charges.

Another Google search shows about 1.1 million results for Ausur Walcott, a linebacker who signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie, then was released after facing charges of attempted first degree murder.

So why is it that one player is under the microscope far more than the other?

Granted, charges of first degree murder carry a greater penalty if there is conviction, than there is for charges of attempted murder. But both are charges of a serious nature.

Yet then the factors come into play that lead to the mainstream media deciding what’s more important to focus on. Hernandez played for the Patriots, a team that is supposed to have a quality organization that looks for players of high character. The Patriots are a perennial playoff contender and Hernandez was part of a high-profile offense that got everybody think about having two tight ends in the offense. Hernandez even has a Super Bowl appearance.

Walcott, on the other hand, was a player who didn’t get drafted, then signed with the Browns, an organization that has been a mess for some time and seems to be rebuilding every single year.

Yet in the eyes of the judicial system, how prominent one player was when compared to the other will have no bearing in terms of whatever sentence is handed out, should there be a conviction. A judge isn’t going to care that one player was in the Super Bowl and the other player’s NFL career likely ended before it had a chance to start.

But this is not how the mainstream media portrays it. Hernandez will be, front and center, about how the NFL is going to check for character issues. And the NFL is now looking at a policy to check player tattoos to determine what gang affiliations they may have — even though none of Hernandez’s tattoos have such an affilation.

Oh yeah: The media narrative is that tattoos mean “gang affiliation.” That’s why the NFL wants to go that route.

Back to Hernandez: The charges he faces also have led to the Patriots being put under more scrutiny, such as wondering how the Patriots could not have seen this coming and whether or not they actually pay attention to character issues. This leads to Bill Polian proclaiming he would never have drafted Hernandez, even though he was working in the Carolina Panthers’ front office the year they drafted Rae Carruth.

But the truth is, it was the media who started the narrative about how the Patriots have this “model organization” that always finds the “right players.” Now that Hernandez is out there, the narrative suddenly does not fit.

The truth is, there is no NFL team out there who is going to get it right every single time. And no NFL team is going to find a foolproof way to ensure they draft players who aren’t going to have a “character issue” of some type, whether it’s something as serious as what happened to Hernandez or Walcott, or something not as serious, but still a concern, such as a player who smokes marijuana in violation of NFL rules or a player who gets picked up for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The fact is, NFL players are human beings — and human beings make mistakes. Some are more significant than others, meaning a higher degree of accountability must be held.

But the accountability does not differ based on how much one is a celebrity or what career one choose to pursue. Accountability is based on the nature of the mistake made. When the judicial system must be involved, accountability is based on the nature of the crime and the factors that come into play.

That is all one must remember when it comes to holding Hernandez and Walcott accountable for any charges they are convicted of. The media’s narrative is not the way to determine accountability.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Open Thread For July

I promised an open thread in which people could ask questions, so here we go with the first of them.

Before asking your question, please be sure to check the LAQ.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How Newspapers Can Adjust To The New Media Environment

The rise of the Internet has impacted how mass media operates; specifically, how newspapers and magazines deliver material. Some magazines have ceased publication or switched to an all-online model. As for newspapers, some have merged together, others have been sold to corporations, a few have ceased publication and some have even tried an all-online model.

Magazines typically serve a national audience and can thus adjust as needed to the demands of that audience. Newspapers, though, are different in that they are generally based in cities and towns and thus need to serve the local clientele.

As somebody who writes for a newspaper that serves a small city and several surrounding smaller communities, I know The Raton Range serves an important role. The Raton Range has had to adjust to changing technology but what has really kept it going is the fact it serves a local clientele. There is the challenge of how to find more advertisers, but readership would not be there if The Raton Range switched its focus too far away from the local communities.

This seems to be an area in which many larger newspapers are drifting away from. It is true they, like all newspapers, need advertisers to stay in business. But it’s important for newspapers to remember that the cities they are based in need to come first when it comes to coverage.

Given changes in how content can be delivered and in technology, along with the need to keep local clientele in mind, I think most newspapers could best be served by following a few guidelines.

First, keep the focus mostly on the city in which the newspaper is based. There is little reason for a newspaper to focus heavily on national news topics, unless one has a direct impact on the city in which the paper is based. Covering some news from the state level is fine, particularly whatever has the most impact on the city in question. But there are many more avenues in which people can access national news events, so most newspapers don’t need to focus efforts there.

What this leads to is that fewer newspapers need to be members of The Associated Press, particularly if they serve a smaller city or community. Being a member of the AP costs a lot of money. The AP itself needs to evolve the most in the face of changing technology and delivering of content. It can still serve a role in providing content to those who provide news coverage via the web, and in providing content to the largest newspapers, but there is far less of a need for smaller papers to continue their ties to the AP.

Newspapers should also examine as many avenues as possible to deliver content. This does not simply mean putting together a website and requiring people pay a subscription to access it. When music downloads over the Internet became a major event, it eventually led to the rise of iTunes and similar services, in which people could pay for the material they wanted to acquire and not be forced to buy a CD that may have material people might not have as much interest in. A model in which people pay specifically for the content they want could work just as well for most newspapers, perhaps with certain sections always made free (obituaries and classified ads are two perfect examples) and possibly allowing readers to view a certain number of articles for free before they must pay for an article.

If newspapers are worried that people won’t pay for written material, the truth is that, while there will always be those who want something for nothing, the majority of people will pay for something they enjoy and find to be of high quality. Again, music downloading provides that example. It may have started as music being passed around the Internet for free, and there is still such activity taking place. But iTunes showed that people were still willing to pay for music — all they wanted was a different approach to how they paid for it.

Andrew Sullivan, who runs The Dish, has introduced a pay model for his website that has already attracted many subscribers. His model is not a pay-per-article one but it still shows that people who like the material he provides are willing to pay for it. I would not be surprised to see more of the popular websites try paid models as well, although it may be better for more websites to try a pay-per-article model.

Newspapers can deliver content by other means as well. The Raton Range offers an online version of the paper, in PDF format, which subscribers may download to a computer or reading tablet. This format allows for a less expensive version of the paper to be delivered. It means newspapers do not have to spend as much on printing expenses, thus allowing the newspaper to offer subscriptions at a lower cost and thus save readers money.

I do believe there is still going to be a place for material printed on paper — it just won’t be as large as it has been. There is still something to be said about clipping a favorite article from a newspaper and putting it into a scrapbook.

But newspapers can’t simply stick to the model that has been done in the past and must find ways to adapt. Those that do will remain in business, even if it’s under different circumstances.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Details Matter More Than The Side You Pick

I often hear how many people complain about the media being “too liberal” and certain media outlets playing up to conservatives. Indeed, certain media outlets pander to one side of the political spectrum or the other.

But when it comes to the role of media, the question should not be asked as to what side the media should be playing up to, but whether or not the media is doing as thorough a job as possible in getting details to people, rather than just picking a spot on the political spectrum.

Let’s try an example: Imagine a world in which artists were only told to use black and white for their creations, but they were free to mix the two to get different shades of gray. Certainly there are artists who could put together some nice works, but if this all artists had to work with, the works would all start to look the same. What makes art so appealing to people is that there are a variety of colors to work with and a variety of mediums an artist can use, allowing for the maximum amount of works to share with people and appeal to the widest audience possible.

When it comes to covering a particular issue, it’s important for members of the media to remember that there are a lot of details that go into it. Picking one detail and taking a side might result in a good editorial but, over time, it all starts to look the same. More importantly, by not getting further into the details, a media outlet is not going to be able to attract the widest audience possible. Instead, the audience becomes too narrow, driving too many potential audience members away.

So what makes the 24/7 news networks just simply pick an audience to attract or so many newspapers start to look the same? The answer comes in the fact that so much of the media has become corporatized.

Corporations are big on efficiency — which is a blessing and a curse. Efficiency can be a good thing because it makes it easier for the corporation to manage its costs and production. But if a corporation focuses too much on efficiency, its product just looks the same and can drive some people away, especially if people find the product to be of poor quality.

When it comes to the media, it’s more efficient for a corporation to give directives to the outlet to keep the issues summed up to a “one side or the other” concept or just crank out a product that tries to do a lot with little. The problem with either approach is you don’t get the best possible product to the audience and you are glossing over far too many details that could really put things into perspective, just as an artist can paint the best possible picture by having access to as many colors and mediums as possible.

I’ll stick with a sports example: When it comes to football, the general approach taken is to pit one team against the other, bring up some big plays either team has made, say a few words about the superstars, then pick a winner. This often results in a lot of details getting glossed over, such as which team has executed its game plan well, small details that had a bigger impact than a single big play and various role players who may not be superstars but are doing more to help a team win than people may realize. The end result is football becomes all about “big plays” and “superstars” making the difference rather than looking at the team concept and how everything comes together, thus telling the complete story about why a particular team won or lost.

And the sports example I cited has made its way over into regular news coverage, in which everything becomes about “pick a side” rather than digging deeper into the details to determine what the issue is really all about.

There are quite a few problems that many in the corporatized media have, problems which I will go over in detail in future posts.

Mind you, that’s not to say everyone who is part of the “mainstream media” is bad at their jobs. There are individuals who work for the major networks and for the major newspapers who do a good job and who work hard to get important details and thus the most information possible to viewers.

But the quest corporations have to make every product “efficient” has a negative effect on the final product delivered — and the desire to make it fit in a certain spot on the political spectrum means the audience misses out on important details.

And when it comes to the audience, getting the details does more to help than picking a side.