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Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

This was the first live chat I’ve helped plan and participated in. Although I got bumped from my afternoon slot to the end of the night by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, I did succeed in getting him to comment on my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Here was the chat line up:

10 am to 10:30 am: Kamau Bell, comedian
10:30 am to 11 am: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones
11 am to 11:30 am: Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics
11:30 am to 12 noon: Craig Newmark, Craigslist
12 noon to 12:30 pm: Staci Kramer, PaidContent
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation

BREAK

5 pm to 5:30 pm: Anthony Calabrese, MediaShift data viz
5:30 pm to 6 pm: JD Lasica, SocialMedia.biz
6 pm to 6:30 pm: Steven Davy, MediaShift
6:30 pm to 7 pm: Corbin Hiar, MediaShift
7 pm to 7:30 pm: Heather Gold, Subvert.com

Click here to see what we had to say.

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In case it’s not clear in my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I did enjoy it. The event’s crowd control was nonexistent and the AV was inadequate, so my group opted to watch it from the cozy confines of Elephant & Castle on nearby Pennsylvania Avenue.  The pub had all of the energy of the Mall, but with better seating and refreshments.

“We live now in hard times, not end times”, declared Jon Stewart to an overflowing crowd of some 200,000 ironic-sign-toting fans on the National Mall in Washington, DC. “We can have animus and not be enemies.”

Stewart, the smart and popular host of “The Daily Show”, a satirical news programme, was addressing the many who had come for his October 30th “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”, which he co-hosted with Stephen Colbert, the star of the faux conservative spin-off show, “The Colbert Report”. But despite such a grand assembly ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, the event was surprisingly apolitical. After hours of entertainingly neglecting the concerns held by most voters, Stewart finally turned serious. His target? The media.

“The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder,” he announced.

Amid Stewart’s scorn for punditry, he managed to squander an opportunity to address the problems he claims the media spin-cycle distorts. The result was a “Rally to Shift the Blame“, laments David Carr of the New York Times, who went on to write that “media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election’s closing days, and no American governing institution—not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court—seems to be above petty partisan bickering.” In a rally dedicated to restoring sanity, Stewart let himself be distracted by a symptom instead of a root cause of America’s current bout of manic depression.

As someone hosting a rally of hundreds of thousands of people in the nation’s capital, Stewart had the platform and even the obligation to say more than he did.

Click here to read the rest of my rally review (with a real T-Paine reference!) on More Intelligent Life or to make a comment.

Photo credit: lizstless (via Flickr)

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350.org is an influential newcomer to the environmental movement. I was curious to hear how they got their start so I used this social media piece as an excuse to talk with some interesting people.

An abridged version of this story focused exclusively on 350.org ran on the front page of the Huffington Post’s Green section the weekend after the 10/10/10 Global Work Party mentioned below. It was featured just below a post from 350.org co-founder and aclaimed author Bill McKibben.

My bike helmet is hoisted in the air on the left side of this photo.

American environmentalists recently suffered a pair of devastating defeats in their decades-long effort to halt global warming. Progress stalled on domestic legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions prior to a key UN summit in Copenhagen. Lack of leadership from America, the world’s second largest climate polluter, made it impossible to produce and binding international agreement at the conference. Then, a few months later, the U.S. climate bill died in the Senate.

Their diplomatic and legislative maneuvers having fallen short, U.S. climate campaigners are hoping a renewed focus on activism and grassroots organizing can provide the push needed to produce carbon emission controls. As a result, the Internet and digital media are playing a growing role in efforts of progressive organizations ranging from new climate activists like 350.org to longtime environmental agitators such as Greenpeace.

Birth of 350.org

By using the same name and web address, 350.org announced to the world in 2008 that it was a new kind of environmental advocacy organization. In choosing the odd name, the founders of 350.org wanted to communicate that their group was a science-based, single issue organization. The number comes from research, which shows that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most the atmosphere can safely absorb without triggering catastrophic climate change.

The group emerged after author Bill McKibben and a group of recent Middlebury College graduates organized the 2007 Step It Up campaign. They collaborated with existing environmental organizations like Greenpeace, as well as other groups and governments interested in climate protection. The upstart activists described it as the “first open source, web-based day of action dedicated to stopping climate change.”

It was a surprising success.

Click here to keep reading about 350.org and Greenpeace or to make a comment.

Photo credit: 350.org (via Flickr)

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I was originally just going to note on my blog how prescient my talk with Selena turn out to be, but I ran it by my editor at MIL and she was interested in seeing a polished write up. Below is what I threw together. Really, I never cease to be amazed by the dark, absurd comedy of modern politics.

When I interviewed Selena McMahan, a professional clown, for More Intelligent Life a few months ago, she suggested that governments could benefit from having more clowns around. Not the troupes of oblivious blowhards found caucusing in many nations’ capitals, but actual self-aware performers. “The clowns that are in government don’t know that they’re clowns,” McMahan laughed. “If there were professional clowns whose job it was to give some perspective, I think that could be really interesting and could possibly make government more effective.” Voters and politicians have since put her ideas to the test.

In Brazil’s federal elections on October 3rd, a clown won the most votes of any candidate elected to the lower house of Congress this year, and the second most ever. Francisco Oliveira Silva, better known by his stage name “Tiririca” (which means “grumpy” in Portuguese slang), is a 45-year-old political novice who grew up in the poor north-eastern state of Ceará. He began selling cotton candy in the circus at age eight and eventually worked his way up to hosting a nationally televised comedy show. As Tiririca, Silva clowned around in many colourful campaign ads.

Will Tiririca expose the hypocrisy and corruption in Brazil’s congress? It’s unlikely. Despite the 1.3m votes he tallied, it is not clear whether Silva is even eligible for congress. A recent article in the Brazilian magazine Epoca cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to read, which is a legal prerequisite for holding office in a country where 10% of the population is illiterate. Even if Silva’s victory survives the electoral court proceedings, his time in office may amount to little more than a bad joke. As Reuters ominously notes, “his candidacy may not have been as spontaneous or innocent as it might appear.” Given that Tiririca benefited from a well-financed campaign, it is safe to assume he will be as beholden to special interests as the other clowns in Brasilia

A more incisive use of clowning took place on Capitol Hill in September, when Stephen Colbert testified before a House judiciary subcommittee meeting on immigrant reform.

Click here to read the rest of the post, see Colbert’s surreal testimony, or make a comment.

Photo credit: axelsrose (via Flickr)

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My blogroll-ed friend Ted Reinert badgered me into going to this show and I’m glad he did. I had seen the Arcade Fire and their awesome openers Spoon twice each and didn’t expect much from either this time around. Both bands put on better shows than I thought were possible.

UPDATE: After many, many posts and articles for MIL, this is my first piece to rise to the top of the Most Popular list! Literary folks love the Arcade Fire.

“How are the people on the hill doing?” asked Win Butler, Arcade Fire’s lead vocalist, of the fans crammed onto the sprawling lawn behind the Merriweather Post Pavilion amphitheatre in Maryland. “That’s where I’d be,” he announced proudly. Before launching into the encore, he shared a story from his suburban Houston childhood: as an usher at an outdoor venue in Texas (not unlike the 16,500-person space he was now headlining), he would turn a blind eye to eager fans from the cheap seats sneaking down to the stage.

Experiences like these colour the band’s third album, “The Suburbs”. Most of Arcade Fire is native to cosmopolitan Montreal—the adopted hometown of Win Butler and his bandmate and brother William—yet the new record sounds like it came straight out of the American rust belt: “Some cities make you lose your head/Endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead/And what was that line you said/Wishing you were anywhere but here/You watch the life you’re living disappear.” Butler delivers these lines on “Wasted Hours”, a song that echoes the Midwestern malaise of The Replacements, who first proclaimed that “Anywhere’s Better Than Here”.

Even the stage was set up to evoke the claustrophobic sprawl of middle America: a lone streetlight was visible in the rear left of the backdrop, with an image of cracked pavement and a bridge overpass enveloping all eight members of the touring band. A giant billboard, which doubled as a video screen and lighting display, rose out of the rear centre of the stage, tying the suburban motif together.

I first saw the Arcade Fire six years ago in the Midwest.

Click here to continue reading the MIL blog post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: NRK P3 (via Flickr)

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This is my second piece for PBS MediaShift, which is again looking at new opportunities for journalists. Although the quotes I got were much less explosive than in the previous piece, I still managed to work in a great anecdote about dropping inappropriate Sarah Palin references into blog posts to drive traffic.

In my first article for our special Beyond Content Farms series, I examined the opportunities available to writers at some of the biggest content farms. Today, I look at jobs covering hyper-local news.

What hyper-local news organizations are aiming for is nothing short of revolutionary: AOL’s two-year-old Patch network and established players like Examiner.com are attempting to recreate a profitable business model for professionally produced local journalism in the digital age. Unlike companies like Demand Media that pump out largely face-less content, the hyper-local sites allow writers to build a name for themselves on one geographic or subject area.

These companies are hiring a lot of journalists in communities all over the U.S., which means more and more people will find jobs in hyper-local news. So what’s it like to work in the new hyper-local journalism space? I spoke with a few writers and editors to learn more.

Going Through a Rough Patch

Jennifer Connic works as editor of the Millburn-Short Hills, N.J. site that’s part of Patch’s expanding hyper-local network. But she bristled at the hyper-local tag. “I think it belittles in some ways the journalism people like me are doing,” she said.

No matter what you call it, the job she is doing is not an easy one, as Connic readily admits. Patch editors are all basically one-woman news organizations. “You’re really the only person who’s running the site,” Connic said. When people have a news tip or there’s breaking news, she said, “I’m the one who gets contacted, I’m the one who has to be on top of that.”

Nearly two years into the job, Connic is still putting in long hours. She had a very difficult spring where, Connic said, “I had a lot of days where I’d get up in the morning and start working and I wouldn’t be done until after midnight.”

Most of that time was spent providing invaluable coverage of how the New Jersey state budget crisis was impacting the Millburn public school system. Well-known media industry reporter Joe Strupp highlighted some other great Patch reporting from Cecelia Smith, the former editor for Darien, CT. She broke a story revealing the criminal history of a candidate running for the town’s First Selectman (similar to the mayor). Smith discovered the candidate had an attempted murder conviction, and he eventually lost the race.

Like most Patch editors, Connic has a degree in journalism and her pay is likely relatively modest (although she declined to give any hard figures for her salary). As Andria Krewson reported on MediaShift, Patch competitor MainStreetConnect pays editors a salary of roughly $40,000 a year. “It is what it is,” sighed the New Jersey transplant, doing her best to adopt the local patois.

Connic was more forthcoming about the pay rates offered her freelancers…

Click here to comment and read about freelancing for Patch, becoming a D.C. English Springer Spaniel Examiner for Examiner.com and, yes, Jello wrestling with Sarah Palin.

Photo credit: brianbutko (via Flickr)

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I hope this wasn’t lost in my critique: I really did enjoy the Newseum. But more as Disneyland for news junkies than as a museum. I do recommend it, with the caveats listed in the More Intelligent Life article.

One of Washington, DC’s most popular attractions is also its most unwittingly moribund

Walking up historic Pennsylvania Avenue, one cannot help but notice the massive 74-foot-tall tablet adorning the otherwise futuristic facade of the Newseum, a seven-storey, steel and glass museum dedicated to journalism. Like a massively oversized version of one of Moses’s ten commandments, the 50-ton slab of Tennessee marble is inscribed with a similarly venerated text: the first amendment to the Constitution, which ensures the right of Americans to free speech. Under the tablet is a dynamic display of the county’s free press, featuring the front pages of daily newspapers from America and around the world.

This juxtaposition of old and new is echoed throughout the Newseum, with often impressive results. A mangled piece of the broadcast tower that once stood atop the World Trade Centre is the centrepiece of a powerful multimedia exhibit about the challenges journalists faced in covering the attacks of September 11th 2001 (pictured below). A collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs is brought to life by interviews with both the photographers and their subjects. An antique transistor radio shares display space with Apple’s iPad.

But after playing in the interactive newsroom and interacting with the dozens of touch-screens scattered throughout the museum, I was left wondering where all this technology is leading journalism. The Newseum, which is highly popular, manages to avoid many of the big and difficult questions facing the industry. Instead it is devoted to the heroic history and rosy future of journalism, told from the perspective of the big media titans who helped finance the museum. Facts that contradict this narrative are downplayed or ignored.

I brought this up with Joe Urschel, executive director of the museum. “Facts? You don’t want facts, do you?” he jokes as I sit down in his spacious office, with views of the Capitol and National Mall. Three flat-screen televisions suspended near his desk broadcast news from ESPN, MSNBC and CNN. As a longtime editor at USA Today and the Detroit Free Press before joining the Newseum, Urschel understands the way facts can get in the way of a good story.

Click here to read the rest of the MIL article or to make a comment.

Photo credit: James P. Blair/Newseum

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