Monthly Archives: September 2011

Not to be missed

Here is a video from 1994 showing the staff of NBC’s Today Show (i.e. Katie Couric and the now all-but-forgotten Bryant Gumbel) wrestling with that new-fangled “internet” thingie and the meaning of @.

Hat-tip to Al Tompkins (via Bill McKeen).

 

 

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Epic Red Sox Fold (vol. 5)

By Chris Daly

 

Vanity. All is vanity.

Amid the wreckage, a few useful nodes:

–The great Nate Silver, master of mathematical metrics, is reduced on this day to invoking terms like “karma.” In his incomparable 538 blog for the NYTimes, Silver also helpfully supplies several priceless videos, along with his customary formulae and charts.

 

 

 

–In the search for “the other side,” I took advantage of the miracle known as the Internet to visit the webpage of the St. Petersburg Times. (This is a much-praised newspaper, but, man, they have one ugly homepage.) I pressed on to find their coverage of last night’s amazing events. I found one of their big-name columnists, John Romano, who offered this nugget:

• • •

Here’s one that will impress the guy on the next barstool:

You may know that Robert Andino’s game-winning hit in Baltimore preceded Longoria’s blast by only a few minutes. And you may know that Andino’s line drive single went in and out of the glove of a sliding Carl Crawford in leftfield. And you certainly know Longoria’s walkoff homer went slicing down the leftfield line at Tropicana.

But did you know the reason Longoria’s shot had a chance to leave the park was because the Rays lowered the wall in the leftfield corner from nine feet to five feet in 2007?

They did it to give Crawford a chance to make home run-robbing catches.

• • •

As I pondered this item, I wondered how we are supposed to interpret it. Is it a poignant coincidence, a la Ken Burns?

Or was the action taken in 2007 on the order of  a real plot twist that made all the rest happen, a la O. Henry?

 

 

 

 

–I also could not help but notice that on this day of gloom, it is grey and drizzly here in Boston. So, in the great tradition of over-intellectualizing about the Red Sox, I thought this would be a good time to brush up on the pathetic fallacy as we reflect on such Big Ideas as causality and fate.

Turns out, most people outside New England don’t care — and nature doesn’t care either. Cruel world, eh? (But then, isn’t that the purpose of the Red Sox — to remind us of that fact periodically?)

 

 

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Whither MSNBC?

New York Times television reporter Bill Carter has a good piece today on MSNBC — not least because he quoted me.

[Fun fact: my quote includes an odd mistake. I sent him my quote by email. I meant to write that the size of the audience is "capped" by the size of the universe of people who agree with you. But I must have made a typo, and my computer auto-corrected it to "cajoled" -- which is actually nonsensical in that context. Odder still: no one caught it. Well, at least, they spelled my name right. . . ]

MSNBC Is Close to Falling to Third Place in Cable News Ratings

By 
Published: September 26, 2011

How badly has MSNBC been hurt by the loss of Keith Olbermann? Enough, apparently, to be on the verge of falling back into third place among the cable news networks.

Justin Stephens/Current TV, via Associated Press

The time slot held by Keith Olbermann lost viewers.

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Anderson Cooper’s move seems to be working for CNN.

The ratings results for the month of September show that CNN, long relegated to third place in the prime-time cable news competition, is edging its way back up, while MSNBC is moving in the other direction.

For the month, CNN averaged 257,000 viewers in prime time in the category that counts most to the networks — viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 — because that is where the advertising money goes for news programming. MSNBC was just barely ahead with 269,000 viewers. (Neither approached the leader, Fox News, with 526,000).

Both CNN and MSNBC had one especially strong night because of the Republican presidential debates. With those excluded, however, CNN beat MSNBC, 219,000 to 207,000. A year ago, when Mr. Olbermann still occupied the 8 p.m. hour, MSNBC edged CNN by 83,000 viewers, with 256,000 viewers for MSNBC to 173,000 for CNN.

The change in the September ratings was most noticeable at 8 p.m., where CNN has moved its best-known host, Anderson Cooper. The network’s performance during that hour has improved by 38 percent over last year, growing to 215,000 viewers from 156,000.

On MSNBC, meanwhile, Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 100,000 viewers from the numbers Mr. Olbermann posted last September, with 185,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, a drop of 35 percent. (Bill O’Reilly on Fox, as always, dwarfs his competitors with about three times as many viewers, 611,000.)

More ominously, the falloff for Mr. O’Donnell seems to be affecting MSNBC’s biggest name, Rachel Maddow. Her audience dropped 15 percent this year, to 245,000 from 289,000. She still beats Piers Morgan on CNN in the 9 p.m. hour, but his show has improved 18 percent over Larry King’s ratings last year, with 193,000 viewers to Mr. King’s 164,000.

MSNBC executives endured a contentious parting with Mr. Olbermann last January. Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, had a succinct answer to the question of whether the network is feeling the impact of Mr. Olbermann’s departure: “No.”

He added, “I’m confident that we will increase our ratings as politics become the dominant story over the next year.”

Mr. Olbermann is now on the air head-to-head against Mr. O’Donnell. The channel he appears on, Current TV, is not in the league of either CNN or MSNBC in terms of national profile, and his audience totals do not approach any of the other 8 p.m. competitors.

Mr. Olbermann averaged just over 50,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 measure in September, or less than 20 percent of what he attracted on MSNBC. Still, many of those 50,000 may have previously been viewers of MSNBC — and Mr. O’Donnell was 30,000 viewers behind Mr. Cooper in September.

Some industry analysts said the loss of viewers for MSNBC may have to do with strategic changes the network made in recent years.

“MSNBC may be rediscovering the downside of partisan news,” said Chris Daly, a professor of journalism at Boston University. “That is, the size of your audience is essentially cajoled by the size of the electorate that already agrees with you.”

Mr. Cooper is being compared at 8 p.m. against what was hardly a powerhouse CNN entry last year — “Rick’s List,” which featured Rick Sanchez, who was subsequently fired. But Mr. Cooper’s move to 8, which was questioned by some critics, seems to be paying off for CNN. He has made the network much more competitive in that time slot while not losing any momentum for the second show he hosts at 10 p.m.

Ken Jautz, the head of CNN’s domestic news operation, said the network had “been making changes to several hours of our programming in order to grow CNN’s audience during both breaking news and nonbreaking news periods. The fact that our prime-time audience increased this month by 49 percent is certainly gratifying.”

The replay of “Anderson Cooper 360,” which includes news updates but mostly material from the 8 p.m. show, remains CNN’s strongest hour, with 274,000 viewers, well ahead of “The Ed Show” on MSNBC with 200,000 (though both also are well behind Greta Van Susteren on Fox, who had 415,000.)


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What does NCAA stand for?

By Christopher B. Daly

The latest Atlantic (print edition) brings a major piece by historian Taylor Branch on the NCAA. Titled “The Shame of College Sports,” it shines a much-needed light on the NCAA and depicts it as a corrupt, self-serving institution.

It is piece that feels like a landmark in sports journalism and that feels like the core of a new book. If Branch is working on a book, I hope he will expand on this piece and pursue several related themes:

–Even when a NCAA program is behaving itself, what is the impact on those students who are on a varsity team? How many get injured? How many graduate? How many live in a bubble on-campus?

–Branch makes a good case for considering NCAA football and basketball as minor leagues for those professional sports. In that case, why not cut them adrift and make the NFL and the NBA pay the cost of maintaining these farm teams? Pay the kids who play on those teams.

–Is it time to abolish not only the NCAA but all intercollegiate sports? In pursuit of the ideal of mens sana in corpore sano, intercollegiate athletics is actually counter-productive. NCAA athletes make up a tiny proportion of the student body at most schools. (And too often, the NCAA athletes neglect their minds and over-exert their bodies.) What about everyone else? All students need exercise. They need access to places where they can work out — not to giant stadiums that are only used 8 or nine times a year, not to exclusive “weight rooms” dedicated to varsity athletes, and the like. I am all for athletics on campus, just not the expensive hoopla that arises from having one school compete against another school.

To be continued. . .

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On photography in a disaster

I am posting the following essay by Tyler Hicks — an award-winning news photographer for the New York Times (and B.U. Journalism alum). It was sent by the Times via email, “exclusively to Times subscribers.” But I cannot imagine that the newspaper would mind my posting it here:

 

The New York Times | THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY : Exclusively for Times Subscribers

The Faces of Famine

BY TYLER HICKS

A malnourished child at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. More than 500,000 Somali children are verging on starvation.

Photo by Tyler Hicks

 

Famine is sweeping across southern Somalia and sending a stream of desperate people into Mogadishu. Tens of thousands of children are said to be dying there, and there’s not enough help to meet the demand for food and medical care. The Shabab, the Islamic militant group with ties to Al-Qaeda, has made delivery of aid to remote areas, and even to the capital Mogadishu, not only difficult but also unreasonably slow, further reinforcing the crisis.

I was recently on assignment to photograph the crisis in Mogadishu. Just a few miles from where our plane landed I was taken to a refugee camp where hundreds of new arrivals, those who walked there with their belongings – and children – on their backs, waited for help and a place to settle. The sight of foreigners, and their hope that help had arrived, created a steady appeal for help. A bundle under a woman’s arm revealed an emaciated child, then another in the same state carried by someone else. I motioned to my camera in an attempt to show I was with the news media and couldn’t help them with what they needed: food, clean water, medicine, mosquito nets, shelter.

The worst cases were at the crowded hospital. That’s where I found the hardest hit, mostly children, some unable to walk or even sit up, others vomiting and all suffering from dysentery. In the hallway every available surface was used for another sick child. I’ve seen bad conditions in hospitals, but this was one of the worst. Swarms of flies infested the mouths and eyes of children too weak to move. Their parents spent the day swatting the flies away from them and doing whatever else they could to keep them alive. I photographed a father carrying his lifeless daughter, wrapped in cloth, out of the hospital for burial.

Mogadishu is unsafe for foreigners, and journalists rely on local fixers and security to help do our job. Time on the street is very limited, and you’re never left in one place for long before moving. This means you’re forced to work quickly, even inside the hospital. I found this frustrating, but I reminded myself to trust our guides and allow them to make those decisions.

In early August, The New York Times ran a front-page photograph of a child who was reduced to the frail framework of a starved body. The image showed the child in a fetal position, arms wrapped around the head, almost in a protective gesture. I could see that this image, however disturbing to view, would give proof of how desperate the situation had become.

I enthusiastically support the image chosen for Page 1. The public reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and a reminder of the impact The Times can generate – not only among our readers, but also among other news media organizations and humanitarian aid groups. This is an example of the raw, unfiltered definition of news photography. It doesn’t happen every day, and it might not come your way in the course of a year. But sometimes you land on a story, a cause, something that has meaning to you, and the resulting photographs have an impact. They are seen and spur reaction. In a digital age, that’s when you’re reminded of the impact that a still, motionless photograph can have.

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Free Speech and its limits

By Chris Daly 

Here’s a story that nicely illustrates the limits of the First Amendment. Many people wrongly think that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech (and of “the press”) in all settings, all the time. Not so.

The First Amendment is written so that it prevents the government from censoring speech before it can reach its intended audience. The First Amendment says nothing about private parties, like Fox or News Corp. Private parties are free to censor their employees, and they are not shy about doing so.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that News Corp. would choose to censor Alec Baldwin. He has no recourse against News Corp. under the First Amendment, because there was no government action involved. His best revenge is to shout about it to every other news outlet he can find.

So, a hat tip to the NYTimes‘ Brian Stelter for giving this story some attention.

(At the same time, the whole episode implicitly makes the case for having diversity in the news media, so that even Rupert Murdoch cannot control absolutely everything.)

 

 

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Advocacy IN journalism

By Chris Daly 

Now comes Al Sharpton. His recent appointment as the anchor for an MSNBC program that airs at 6 p.m. raises questions about whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist. Today’s NYTimes diplomatically called him “a hybrid like no other.”

 

 

Evidence that he is a journalist:

–MSNBC hired him. End of story.

Evidence that he is not a journalist:

–He has never worked full-time as a journalist.

–He gets to the MSNBC studio at about 4:15 p.m. for his 6 p.m. show.  Hmmm. . . that would not seem to leave a whole lot of time for doing any journalism.

 

In my view, the question of whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist is the wrong question. He is, obviously, both an activist and a journalist. So what?

There is a long tradition of activist-journalists in this country — beginning at least in the late 18th century with Thomas Paine, continuing through the 19th century with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass as well as women’s rights advocates like Susan B. Anthony, and continuing in the 20th century with muckrakers and the many “movement” journalists affiliated with activism on behalf of stopping the Vietnam War, protecting the environment, or asserting gay rights.

The question about Sharpton is: is he any good? From what I have seen of Sharpton in the past, one thing is hard to miss: he is naturally telegenic. His voice is instantly recognizable, and he seems to be in his element when people disagree. In television terms, those are important credentials.

Ultimately, the people will decide this one, by watching or not.

 

 

 

 

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