Tag Archives: newspapers

The journalist yells ‘fire’

I used to know Andrew Adler. When I worked at the Atlanta Jewish Times, he was the newspaper’s former managing editor. He’d come to our office periodically to have his start-up Jewish newspaper designed by our art department. It was an odd arrangement, and it didn’t last long, as he positioned his Maccabiah Press as a competitor to the Jewish Times.

Like the name of his publication, Andrew’s journalism was a bit tone-deaf, a touch parochial and essentially superficial.

Along with these fairly harmless sins I now suspect he has one that can be crippling for a serious journalist: an inability to see the big picture.

That could be why Adler, as  publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, wrote a column last week in which he suggested that Israel might want to consider assassinating President Obama. The text of his “Publisher’s Letter” is here.

Adler subsequently apologized and explained that he wrote what he wrote “just to see what kind of reaction I would get from readers.”

It turns out the reaction has been “overwhelmingly negative,” Adler told JTA.

If there’s a learning moment in any of this, it might be in the overwhelming revulsion Adler’s column caused. Most people, regardless of their politics in the U.S. or Israeli contexts, still have their heads screwed on the right way.

That’s a cause for hope as American Jews as a group move to the right on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as their position hardens on what Israel must be willing to do for a negotiated peace, and more often people are willing to demonize those they disagree with.

In the American context, as Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz, Andrew Adler’s column is part of a larger movement which seeks to delegitimize Obama as president.

Adler’s crazy and criminal suggestions are not the ranting of some loony-tune individual. They were not taken out of thin air. Rather, they are the inevitable result of the inordinate volume of repugnant venom that some of Obama’s political rivals, Jews and non-Jews alike, have been spewing for the last three years.

In such an atmosphere murder may seem to someone as the only possible course to take. That’s what happened in 1996, back when Andrew Adler was launching his Maccabiah Press,  when a Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin after a Tel Aviv peace rally.

Yes, this may be a learning moment, and we may become better for it. It may also be a reminder why we don’t shout “fire” just to see the reaction.

Jan 24 —

Following Andrew Adler’s resignation, J.J. Goldberg wrote this fine piece in the Forward. What made Adler “wander so far off the reservation?” Goldberg writes. “The answer is, he didn’t.”

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Vindicated

Jerome Rubin, a co-founder of LexisNexis, has died.

The Washington Post obituary says that “his parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.”

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‘Knowledge is garbage.’

Whenever I run into a new word, or a word that I have to look up, invariably I’ll turn around and find that word in another place. It sits there on the page, or comes through the speaker, as if saying, “I’ve always been here. You were just too dim to notice.” Or maybe it says, “I’m your new friend. You can see me everywhere!!”

And so I was reading Gene Weingarten’s column in the Washington Post Magazine, where he’s saying that Google has turned knowledge into garbage:

“Information isn’t garbage, but being knowledgeable is severely devalued. It is nothing to aspire to or to take any particular pride in. The era of the know-it-all is over.”

Then he brings in Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” who, recalling his SAT scores, says, “I definitely had a 780 in verbal. I missed one question, the meaning of the word ‘palliate.’ ”

Palliate.

My Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. which I won in the 6th Grade spelling bee at Friends School in Detroit, says palliate means to reduce the violence of : abate; to cover by excuses and apologies: excuse.

Next day I’m reading “Bel Ami” a 19th century French novel of manners by Guy de Maupassant, and I come across this:

“Do you understand now how our acceptance of [the fortune] would be interpreted? It would be necessary to find a side issue, some clever way of palliating matters.”

No more palliating sightings since then, but I’m hopeful.

Happy New Year.

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Cranberry sauce.

The Beatles -- Abbey RoadI’ve always prided myself as a person who doesn’t fall for hoaxes or give way to conspiracy theories. But a recent article made me realize that I indeed had once been sucked in by one of these far-fetched rumors. It happened in October 1969, around the time I turned 11.

Maybe I was home from school that afternoon, or maybe it was a Saturday, but I remember being home alone when I heard the announcement on my favorite radio station, WKNR-AM (Keener 13) in Detroit. I don’t know precisely what the announcement said, or how long it lasted, but it was enough to propel me downstairs from my bedroom to pull out the most recent Beatles albums we had. I spent a good while tracking down the clues the radio had said pointed to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was dead.

Paul was said to have died two years before and the Beatles were using a McCartney double to hide the tragedy. Despite the cover up,  the Beatles had laced their recent work with clues that revealed the truth about Paul:  There on the back cover of Sgt. Pepper was Paul, his back turned to the viewer, separated from his front-facing, living bandmates. There he was on Abbey Road, crossing the street barefoot, past a Volkswagen whose license plate read “28IF” — Paul would have been 28 years old if he had lived. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon seems to be saying, “I bury Paul.”

The house felt creepy, as if I had just woken from a bad dream.

Over time the Paul is Dead phenomenon faded, then ceased to be relevant. Along the way, John explained that he was saying “cranberry sauce” on the record, not “I bury Paul.” And a few years back I learned that Keener 13 (which in the early ’70s I abandoned for FM radio) was instrumental in spreading the rumor nationally.

In October, an article appeared in Michigan Today that detailed the role a mischievous University of Michigan student named Fred LaBour played in energizing the Paul is Dead rumor. LaBour wrote a full-page story in the student-run Michigan Daily, offering details of McCartney’s death in a car accident. He repeated the clues then circulating and offered more of them, saying the Beatle’s death was fact, not rumor. Many of the clues LaBour made up.

Today the whole thing seems like a quaint heirloom from the increasingly distant 1960s, nothing more than a feverish alternate reality no longer populated by truth seekers. The truth is pretty obvious now.

But I still don’t think John was saying “cranberry sauce.”

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How much for that memory?

schoolboys

$60

That’s how much a memory costs at Liberty High School, outside Dallas. Well, a package of memories. Pictures and words on paper and bound between two hard covers.

A yearbook. And last week, an article by Jessica Meyers in the Dallas Morning News pointed to the yearbook as another victim of the decline of print.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the yearbook has many of the same weaknesses as the newspaper — and some the newspaper doesn’t have — before my friend Sarah pointed out this article. But it makes perfect sense.

Add to the $60 price tag the fact that moments can now be captured and stored with such ease at such little cost — and multiply that by the fact that, unlike older Americans, high school students have no loyalty to print and, well, you do the math; it was never my specialty. Half of Liberty High’s students bought yearbooks this year, but according to the article, that’s way above average.

My favorite quote from the story, included to illustrate the mindset of today’s iPod-packin’ teens, is surreal:

“I don’t think memories should cost anything,” said Liberty senior Paul Tee.

(We know that memories don’t really cost anything. On the other hand, listen to Sinatra sing “One For My Baby.”)

My high school memories go back to the mid-’70s. I don’t remember how much our yearbooks cost, but recently they got a second life. In January, two schoolmates set up an alumni site on Ning. One of the first things my friend Giselle (we go back to 5th grade) did, was reach for the yearbooks. Then she scanned a mess of pictures and posted them on line.

If even we print-bound boomers are launching our school pictures into the cloud, how much more so those high schoolers who think in digital terms anyway.

[EDIT: I wondered what would happen if scanners disappeared. I checked with my friend Lori, a designer at a big Philadelphia newspaper. She believes that “any designer worth her salt needs to have a scanner for archival photos and certain other things. I don’t think we’ll see their complete extinction any time very soon.”]

So what it comes down to is the medium. Maybe it won’t always be a book. Schools are starting to  put yearbook content on DVDs. I read someplace that a DVD yearbook costs $10. Not sure how people would sign your yearbook, but there’s probably some ways to to that, too.

While I was surprised to learn that yearbooks are in decline, I’m not going into mourning for them.  Nor am I moved by the correlation between yearbook demand and the odd, virus-like thing called school spirit.

On that score, the article quotes Linda Drake, the Journalism Education Association’s yearbook adviser of the year who is also on the National Scholastic Press Association’s board of directors. “But I have issues with kids saying they can’t afford [a yearbook] and then buying a pair of $100 jeans. I don’t see the school spirit. I don’t see the school camaraderie. ” she said.

Linda may not see it because the kids have a choice. Tarleton State College in Stephensville, Texas, isn’t making that mistake. To raise camaraderie, school spirit and yearbook sales,  it “imposed a mandatory $25 fee to all undergraduate students,” the article said.

Maybe it was because I went to a Quaker school that we weren’t harangued about school spirit. The Quaker way is to wait until the spirit moves you and, until then, please keep quiet. Besides, it was the ’70s and there were other things on our minds.

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Which technology would you like to disappear?

2484112082_cf4b78d9abThere’s both good and bad news in the realm of communications.

This week, voice mail came in for castigation from Slate’s Farhad Manjoo. Everyone should enjoy this one. He succinctly summarized voice mail’s every shortcoming and held out hope for a better, saner world —

“If the voice-mail leavers in your life are anything like those in mine, there’s often no great reward for getting through your messages, either. ‘Guess you’re not there. Call me back.’ That message might have made sense in the days of home answering machines, when the main function of voice mail was to let someone know who you were and that you’d called—both things our phones now tell automatically. On the rare chance that you do get an important voice mail, your first move is to transfer the information to some more permanent medium—say, ink and paper. Unlike just about every other mode of electronic communication today, after all, voice mail can’t be searched.”

Voice mail may get no mourners, but people are crowding around the issue of ailing newspapers like the guys who always gathered around the film projector trying to get the movie to work.

Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post weighs in, arguing that newspapers have been killing themselves and, like a stricken patient ordering that he be bled, are intensifying the hemorrhaging by firing more  journalists.

“The missed opportunities were endless. For the first time in half a century, newspapers could compete against television with real-time reporting, but didn’t. The Globe’s previous owners turned down a 1995 offer from the founder of Monster.com to put Globe classifieds online, before his site became a smash hit. Why did no establishment media company create a Craigslist, a Huffington Post, a Google News, a Twitter, or other sites that have altered the boundaries of news and information?”

Finally, Doonesbury gives us some Tweet with meat in today’s “Tweets of Roland Hedley,” which I read in my Washington Post. This is the content against which all Twitterers should be judged:

“Woke up in strange apartment, so running late. Thank God for iPhone GPS.”

“Bumped into an old stalker of mine at Borders…”

Follow him.

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