A thing about encouraging the media to do better

Y’all see that Trump presser today? Where he threatened BuzzFeed, argued with a CNN reporter, and basically called everything that doesn’t praise him fake news? Meanwhile, reporters there to ask questions seemed flumoxed on how to proceed — asking too many things at once, allowing Trump to weasel out of questions, not taking up the deeply salient questions of a reporter when he was ignored by Trump, and struggling, often on whether to soften questions in hopes of potential increased access. A lot of reporters tried valiantly, but on the day after  a day with ninmajor breaking stories and with a confounding entertainer who does not adhere to U.S. political norms, it was sort of a hot mess.

And that’s just one day! How do we make sense of a news media that covered an FBI announcement about Democratic emails that amounted to nothing, but has seemed to go soft on Trump and Russia in the midst of an oft confusing and hostile relationship between intelligence services and and incoming administration? Everyone is screaming about Fake News, no one can keep up on the real news, and Americans have largely lost any understanding on what journalists can and should do (hint: when interpreting, interpretation should be clear; the ideal of neutrality is not a real thing; journalists are not stenographers but must contextualize facts; audience service does not mean providing audiences only what they want to hear). Journalism is a risky profession that helps to safeguard democracy around the world. Good journalism is aggressive in investigation, thoughtful on possibilities,  and cautious — but not timid– in conclusions.

Anyway, a friend just texted me asking how to encourage the media to do their jobs in a political climate that is rapidly violating all sorts of norms. The answer to that is really long and involves multiple types of action, so I said I would write this up.

Context to the below is I’m a former AP journalist, with a degree in journalism, who also has a day job related to media analysis. I speak only for myself.

What you can do as a consumer of news media without talking back to the news media:

1. Stop saying “Mainstream Media” when discussing news content. No one knows what this means anymore . Some people use it to mean liberal bias. Some people use it to mean print media. Some people use it to mean non-cable TV media. Some people use it to mean non-Internet media. No one can agree on what it is, so when talking about the media critically, don’t use the term, just define the specific media or category of media you mean, otherwise the stuff you’re saying isn’t super helpful.

2. Stop saying “Fake News.” Say what you mean — satire, propaganda (foreign? or domestic?), doctored email, leaks, rumors, lies, websites pretending to be for newspapers that don’t actually exist, opinion outlets, partisan think tanks. Be prepared to say why something is what you describe it as.

3. Get your news from multiple sources. This includes from multiple platforms – TV, print, internet, and as widely across the political spectrum as you can stand.

4. Read foreign English-language news about the U.S. and the rest of the world. This doesn’t just mean going to BBC.com, this means foreign language news media with English language editions. You can find these on every continent. I rotate through English language editions of papers in Germany, France, India, the Middle East, and Africa over the course of the week. Google is a wonderful thing. (If I make a list it’s going to be wildly incomplete and I don’t have time. Google. And if you make a list let me know and I’ll add a link to it).

5. Trace stories back to the original reporting. Okay, so you found out about something from a partisan newsletter, a friend’s Tweet, or even a Wall Street Journal article that references another media source. Google the original reporting and read that. Media can be a game of telephone. Get the first story. Read follow-on stories that go more in depth across other media, but don’t rely on tertiary sources.

6. Understand the actual media relationship with objectivity/neutrality.  Media in the U.S. are not legally required to be unbiased. In fact, the idea of “unbiased” reporting is a convention of network TV and big-5 American newspapers in the mid-late 20th century. Historically, and in the 21st century, American media and those in many democracies around the world have specifically been organs of particular viewpoints. For heaven’s sake, The New York Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton to talk trash about his rivals. Media neutrality is not, and cannot be, a real thing. What is the neutral viewpoint? That of a white straight cisgender Christian man with a traditional U.S. university education? Are reporters from other demographics less considered neutral? To consume and evaluate news you need to know: 1. Your own biases, 2. Our cultural biases in defining neutrality, 3. The actual objectives of any news organization which can range from “as neutral as possible” to extreme partisanship.

7. Bias your news exposure towards outlets that provide access to source materials/documents.  This allows you to evaluate news interpretation for yourself.

8. Observe and note patterns of portrayal Who discusses what issues on a given program? Are people impacted by a particular issue given the opportunity to speak to a particular issue. Is crime framed on a racial basis? Are women relegated to discussing only lifestyle issues?

9. Make sure you consider local news too. I don’t watch a lot of local news, but I’ve started to recently. It’s helped me understand the sentiment so many people have of America facing lots of problems even as crime has dropped and employment has gone up. Local American news is about fear on every axis imaginable. Just like fashion magazines sell women products they don’t need lest they fail to get a man; local news sells us fears only they can solve. Yes, it’s true, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but news doesn’t have to be like this. I’d encourage you watch this video from Ulrik Haagerup on the “constructive news” approach he implemented in Denmark. Constant fear-based local news reporting in the U.S. contributes to the extreme polarization we face on race, politics, and the urban/suburban/rural divides, and it’s something we need to address.

10. Read journalistic review and criticism, such as Columbia Journalism Review to understand how the media is struggling with itself right now.

What you can do as a consumer of news media by interacting with the news media:

Okay, by now, both from reading this and your own experiences with the media, you probably have a sense of what you’re watching and what you want the media to do. But how can you encourage the media to do those things?

1. Social media makes news outlets and journalists accessible. Misleading headline? Tell them. Unclear writing? Tell them. Need more details on a thing? Tell them. Like their work? Tell them. Learned something new? Tell them. Have gratitude? Say thank you.

2. Most newspapers and broadcasts have a public editor or ombudsman, whose job it is to evaluate coverage and determine if the publication is meeting a public need. Think coverage is unclear? biased? or inadequate? Contact this person via email, phone, or snailmail. I have looked and looked for a comprehensive list of these people/contact addresses and can’t find one. If you’re aware of one or create one, please let me know and I’ll add a link here. If you cannot find a contact for a public editor then just contact a more generic point at the media outlet.

When contacting about coverage, be specific. “Your coverage is biased” is not helpful. “I watched the PEOTUS press conference today and felt your news outlet could have asked tougher questions” or “Many people don’t know what the Alt Right is, please make it clear in your coverage this is a loose affiliation of groups that support white supremacist agendas” is helpful. You must clearly articulate what’s wrong, what you would like them to do, and what action you might take (will you unsubscribe? will you subscribe if coverage improves? Do you own a business that might stop advertising with them? Do you teach a class that uses news sources in the curriculum and you might go elsewhere?).

Be aware that the contact that takes the most effort is the contact taken the most seriously. Email doesn’t take as much time out of an employee’s day as a phone call or paper mail.

3. Support media you like with $. Let them know why you subscribe and what you think they are doing right.

4. Are you an expert? Join the mediaI mean it. If you know about a thing, make sure you’re registered with a speaker’s bureau. Write and submit op-eds (you get paid for those, unlike letters to the editor). Realize expertise is a broad concept. Make yourself relevant based on demographics, where you live, your creative life, a thing hat happened to you, your day job, whatever. ACA saved your life? You’re an expert. Have family that has fled fascist governments? You’re an expert. Have a disability? You’re an expert. Been harassed because of your identity? You’re an expert. Scientist? Expert. Teacher of any sort? Expert! Religious professional? Expert. Author? Expert. Super into Star Trek? Expert on pop-culture and the future we envisioned vs the future we’re getting. Everyone is an expert on something. If you can’t figure it out, ask your friends, they totally know what you’re an expert in. Write stuff and submit it. This is another case of, someone else needs to make relevant lists here — let me know and I’ll update this document.

Got stuff to add? Or stuff that’s relevant? Comment/link and I’ll add as appropriate. Thanks!

 

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Talking about American Horror Story

For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Bonnie & Maude’s “All of Them Witches” at The Bell House, my talk on AHS: Coven is now available as a podcast. The rest of the presentations from that evening are also in the process of being rolled out and you can and should grab them all (there are two up right now and more are coming).

Meanwhile, I spent a little bit of time waxing poetic about my surprisingly emotional response to AHS: Freak Show. One o the things I didn’t have a chance to talk about there was the genius of the anachronistic song choices the show has been using. Freaks — as used in this show to represent a range of marginalizations through camp, queerness, and disability — are, as the show frames them, the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to art both art and violence as consumers, victims, and perpetrators. This is one of those shows audiences are going to have radically different responses too, but it hits me — despite the horror elements which are the least interest to me — in a place of sorrow and wonder and loneliness like I’m still struggling to describe.

Pop-culture, witches, and fame @ The Bell House, October 13, 2014

witches

This coming Monday, I’ll be one of the presenters at  BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES, a live podcast recording and variety show at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  I’ll be talking about American Horror Story: Coven and what is has to say about notorious women, witchcraft and fame.  (Hint: Fame is the worst).

The event has gotten some press on Gothamist and other high-traffic sites, so I do recommend getting advance tickets.  While this is not at all a book event for me, I will have a couple of copies of Starling on hand in case anyone wants to grab one after. If there’s something else from my catalog you want, please drop a comment here so I know to bring it with me.

 

BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES
MON, OCTOBER 13, 2014
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House – Brooklyn, New York
$8.00 / 21+


Tickets available online and at the door

“All Of Them Witches” is the third in a series of live variety shows by Kseniya Yarosh & Eleanor Kagan, the hosts of the Brooklyn-based film podcast, Bonnie & Maude.

Sure to boil the blood and alight the brain, join us for an exploration of witches as seen in movies, television, and pop culture. From green-skinned, be-broomstick’d villains to benevolent sources of high female power, from goddesses of nature to Satan-worshippers, to actual practitioners of Wicca…celluloid representations of witches are contradictory, to say the least. Scholars, artists, and film enthusiasts from all walks of life will toil up some trouble, and revisit favorite on-screen moments of witchcraft in Bewitched,Buffy, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, and more.

Presenters: Tom Blunt, Lyra Hill, Eleanor Kagan, Racheline Maltese, Rosie Schaap,Tenebrous Kate, Cassie Wagler, Kseniya Yarosh

Music throughout the show will be performed by Brooklyn-based chamber pop singer AK, and the 8-piece, all-female a cappella group Femme Rhythm.

Red Band Society = Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music

Red Band Society is basically Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music, except the music is still sort of there thanks to an absurd number of unearned montages and a dude with an acoustic guitar.

Its infuriating as a show, because it’s a brilliant concept. I mean, talk about riding a wave of tested (the hospital drama) and phenomenon (Glee and TFioS), but putting a bunch of stuff in a blender doesn’t make it new or innovative.  There’s a reason you’re told never to pitch a project with mathematical formulas based on other people’s projects.

But the biggest problem, really — and I hope this is just typical pilot problems — is that the show doesn’t trust its audience.  Instead of using Coma Kid to be hilarious, they use the character to explain things that are already obvious.  This combined with various platitudes about the soul and survival — it’s hard to take.

If it’s going to be things beloved past (Glee, because lets admit it’s largely lost the critic’s love) and present (TFioS), then Red Band Society needs to trust the audience to draw those connections on its own.  It also needs to trust the audience to draw its own conclusions about who the characters are.

Finally, and most importantly, it needs to accept that most of us took high school literature.  And whether or not we love analyzing pop-culture, we’ll likely grasp the irony of the vicious cheerleader needing a heart transplant without this being explained to us, repeatedly, in very tiny words.

Trust.  You have to trust the audience to come along with you.  Always.  Even to places that it’s scary to go or aren’t always well-illuminated.  Because if you want the audience to connect to the bravery or cleverness of your characters, you need to let that audience feel brave and clever too.

Exciting word related things

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

The Normal Heart, Penny Dreadful, and prepping for BEA

Thanks for all the kind words about Pretty Kitty in various social media.

Now that I’ve had a week at home, it’s been an intense media week. I’m finally up to date on Game of Thrones again and am still apparently all about Littlefinger, no matter how creepy he gets or how broadly Aidan Gillan’s accent wanders.

I also have my latest recap of Penny Dreadful up at Romance @ Random. Last night’s episode was more information dump than action, which served me well, as I actually wrote that recap after watching HBO’s The Normal Heart.

If you follow me on Tumblr, you probably know I’m still in a place where I can’t really talk about The Normal Heart which basically felt like 2 hours of PTSD for me (complete with dizzy spells), even as its events are those that mostly take place right before my own stories about being a teen in New York in the 80s.

But it was interesting to watch that film (A film, in which, by the way, every performance is astounding, and regarding which I would like someone that has complaints about Ryan Murphy’s admittedly unsubtle direction to explain me how on earth you’re supposed to go subtle with that subject matter and with a script penned by Larry Kramer. Please use very small words.) and then follow it up with a Frankenstein-heavy episode of Penny Dreadful in which everyone monologues on love and responsibility and abandonment and the ways in which brutal experiences make us brutal.

Certainly, it is not news that we use SF/F and horror content to speak of the world as it is. And that vampires, zombies, werewolves, and the Creature have all been long used to tell stories about contagion and the search for love when othered. But the juxtaposition was so direct, at least on my own laptop last night, that I’m still reeling from it a bit.

For those of you who don’t check in regularly at Avian30, where Erin and I blog together about our co-written works, there’s a bunch of new content up. Of the most interest to readers here is the Paley Center event I went to featuring Ken Burns and Beau Willimon.

Meanwhile, BEA starts Wednesday, so it’s another business and seemingly endless week around here.

What are you watching? What should I be watching? And what books and booths must I absolutely track down at BEA this year?

Penny Dreadful: Dicks not tits

I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that.

So…I’m now writing a weekly recap of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful for Random House’s romance and pop-culture blog, Romance at Random.

The show is interesting in a very unfunny Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolfman sort of way: Every horror trope/monster you can think shows up in one surprisingly well-constructed universe. It has some problems — a few scenes that don’t go anywhere and casual racism that’s, as you’d expect, offensive and tedious — and it may not be for everyone. There are a lot of spiders and the gore is pretty intense.

But one thing that really sets it apart is that the pilot contained no female nudity whatsoever.  However, we were treated to a man’s bare ass during text, and full frontal nudity on several male cadavers and Dr. Frankenstein’s creature.  In a cable media landscape where we’re still talking about the rape-factor in Game of Thrones, this is a completely unique viewing experience.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up, and how it impacts the narrative, the viewership and the reviews.

Please go check out my first recap and get yourself caught up for next week’s episode.  Penny Dreadful‘s first season is only eight episodes, so it’s not a huge time investment for you to play along.