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


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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For The American Prospect‘s excellent (and highly competitive) fellowship program I had to submit two article critiques and a critique of their group blog TAPPED, among much else. This article critique was assigned, the second critique is of an article I selected for myself. I’m still waiting–with fingers crossed–to hear back from the Prospect.

To improve the lot of the lowest, we must increase the taxes on those at the top.

Little more than a year after Wall Street’s bad bets brought the world economy crashing down, NYU Professor Dalton Conley told American Prospect readers, “don’t blame the billionaires.” This might have struck some as audacious after the implosion of the global economy, the cleaning up of which has disproportionately benefited the very same billionaire bankers who played such a central role in engineering the collapse.

Yet Conley was merely reiterating what was then and now conventional wisdom about the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. In a June 2006 issue featuring a special report on American income inequality, The Economist editorialized, “government should not be looking for ways to haul the rich down. Rather, it should help others, especially the extremely poor, to climb up.”  Two Brookings Institution scholars echoed this sentiment in a recent Huffington Post column, “America Needs More Economic Mobility.” This viewpoint overlooks one key question: Is it possible for the inequality of wealth and income to reach such a level that it inherently limits the economic opportunity open to those at the bottom?

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This was a wonky writing sample I did after my fourth interview with Inside EPA, a subscription investigative newsletter put out by the Inside Washington Publishers group. In the end, I was disappointed when the publishers decided they wanted someone with more newsroom experience, but I am still proud of the writing I submitted.

States Critical of GAO Report on Mountaintop Mining Financial Assurances and Oversight

The negative response of three out of four states to a recently released Government Accountability Office report, which raised questions about the adequacy of their long-term environmental monitoring and financial assurances for former mine sites, indicates any mountaintop mining regulatory changes will have to occur at the federal level.

The report, titled Surface Coal Mining: Financial Assurances for, and Long-Term Oversight of, Mines with Valley Fills in Four Appalachian States, focused on mountaintop mining in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Between October 1, 2001 and June 30, 2005, those four states accounted for more than 98 percent of US valley fills—a mountaintop mining remediation practice where excavated earth and rock is disposed of by filling in adjacent valleys or hollows. The GAO noted studies of long-term conditions near reclaimed mine sites with valley fills “have shown environmental impacts.” Although it makes no explicit recommendations, the report implies that states’ duration of environmental monitoring and provision of financial assurances may be inadequate. (more…)

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Cover Of The 2/18/09 Issue: The death of conservatism

This was written as a part of my application for TNR‘s once sought-after reporter-researcher position while I was wrapping up my web internship at The Nation. In the past, the year-long position has been an important career springboard for many accomplished journalists. Now I’ve heard TNR, the venerable Washington institution, can only afford to pay some $5,000 a year to whomever is selected. In 2009, I didn’t even score an interview. In 2010, I wasn’t even interested in applying. Oh, the sorry state of journalism…

As far as the actual analysis goes, I think it’s held up pretty well. Maybe I wrote a bad cover letter. Who knows? Any critiques are welcome in the comments section below.


The most important argument against nationalization raised in the lead editorial is that “absent clear conditions… nationalization could easily provoke a panicked sell-off.”  The news that has come out of the Treasury since the editorial was published has been anything but “clear.”  Geithner’s widely derided speech outlining the disbursement of the second round of Trouble Asset Relief Program funds lost the confidence of the markets, which will likely limit his ability to take any action more bold than simply handing out money to banks.  This timid approach that TNR editorial rightly suggested would be the “worst course of action” appears to be the direction in which the Obama economic team is leading the US.

The first act of the “Geithner-Summers psychodrama” was especially interesting to read in light of these disappointing developments.  The next scene is no doubt well into production.  The muddled TARP II (re-branded as the Financial Stability Plan) speech did not clear up how the administration plans to dispose of the toxic assets eating away at banks’ balance sheets or who is really directing the financial clean up.  The combination of Geithner’s tax-tarnished confirmation and now his expectation management failure have made him appear as anything but an “Obama-like perma-cool” leader, as Scheiber put it.  Scheiber also missed the opening salvos of the State/Treasury border skirmishes: Geithner foolishly accused China of “manipulating” its currency in his written responses to the Senate Finance Committee’s confirmation questionnaire.

The financial troubles that Geithner, et al., are struggling to resolve will present a serious challenge to health care reform that was not discussed in Cohn’s otherwise excellent feature.  The hopeful confluence of public opinion in favor of reform with the rise of broad-based interest groups like “Divided We Fail” was thoroughly examined, as was the argument against health care reform (which he had previously identified as “the best case against universal health care”).  However, Cohn did not address what will likely be the loudest case Republicans make in their inevitable opposition to comprehensive reform: the ballooning budget deficit.  The right used their recent conversion to fiscal discipline as justification for trimming the much-needed stimulus program.  They are likely to use the same shrill scare tactics to minimize change to the broken health care system.

Russia too is suffering from the worldwide recession.  While I found the exposé of the Kremlin’s p.r. ploys fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they have the attention and budget necessary to continue with pricey consultants, “self-laudatory” summits, and Russia Today propaganda broadcasts given the collapse in the price of oil and, with it, the living standards of the formerly docile Russian people.  The p.r. offensive may be too costly a distraction for an increasingly embattled Russian government.


The cover story on the history and future of conservatism provides a useful lens through which to view the divergent paths of David Frum and Norm Coleman.  (more…)

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