Tuesday, November 28, 2006

WDIY Podcasts?

There is, to put it mildly, a dearth of genuine public affairs media here in the Lehigh Valley. To its credit, the Valley's public radio station, WDIY, airs two weekly shows--Lehigh Valley Discourse and Lehigh Valley Venue.

The problem is that the shows air once a week, Wednesday (Discourse) or Thursday (Venue), both at 6 . As important as the shows are, it's just not plausible to expect folks to make appointments to listen. The result is a far smaller (and much more random) audience than the shows deserve.

There's an easy and cheap solution: a podcast. The audience would increase dramatically and, more importantly, the shows would contribute to the Valley's now-anemic public discussion.

Please email Jim DeSousa (Venue host and news director) and Dennise Kowalczyk (WDIY executive director) urging them to make the shows available as a podcast.

And if you're not already a member, please join WDIY. it is a community asset, and it deserves our support.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Update on Philly Inquirer Dispute

Given the ruthless profit margins that publicly traded companies like the Tribune Co. must produce to satisfy Wall Street, some of us were guardedly hopeful about the rash of local magnates threatening to buy their hometown newspapers--and promising to demand far more modest profit margins. These moguls seemed to recognize that newspapers are public trusts and vital to their communities.

The Philadelphia Inquirer--a once mightly paper--went private in just this way. And just a few months later it is mired in an ugly dispute over sharp cost-cutting. Not so hopeful any more...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Terrific Op-Ed on the Boundaries of Debate

Gary Olson, chairman of Moravian College's political science department, published an unusually trenchant op-ed in the Call last week. The piece, somewhat misleadingly titled, "Alternative media can balance establishment's experts," devotes most of its column-inches not to alternative news outlets, but instead to an analysis of the boundaries of "acceptable" discourse set by a class-stratified but little-discussed division of intellectual labor. Olson's argument is that the universe of "expertise" and punditry is drawn from the privileged top-fifth of the population--a subset that benefits from the Robber Baron-era economic inqualities generated by our lean and ruthless social "compact." (The largely invisible top 2 percent, in Olson's view, are the real winners.) This "secular priesthood" is important, according to Olson, because consent to the current system demands that the broad middle--the more or less exploited--be misled or at least distracted.

I also believe something like this is true, though the process by which privilege gets maintains is more complicated than an op-ed can convey. The piece is quite smart, and does indeed end with a litany of alternative news sources that probe beyond those narrow, mainstream boundaires.

The best bit of the essay is its list of topics that are currently off-limits to discuss, but that are by any measure important:

What are a few propositions that demand widespread exposure and debate? 1. Meaningful democracy and capitalism are mutually exclusive. 2. The United States is hated not for what we are but what we do in the world. 3. Oil can never be cited as the real motive behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 4. Sources of cheap labor, resources and profits — not promoting freedom — explain the 800 U.S. military bases around the globe and U.S. foreign policy since 1945. 5. The Israeli lobby in Washington does not serve this country's best interests. 6. The ''war on terrorism'' is only the latest propaganda tool to scare the public for other ends. 7. The proposed U.S. ''defense shield'' in outer space is an offensive weapon. 8. The purchasing power (adjusted for inflation) of the typical American family been falling for many years. 9. Big Business loves illegal immigration. 10. Most people experience no signficant upward mobility and the American Dream is now officially a myth.

Here's the essay.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Morning Call Coopts the Cranks

As a news junkie, I was pleased to receive the Morning Call’s invitation to an annual “letter writers” event, which I attended last Thursday. Designed to thank (or co-opt?) the cranks who regularly pen letters to the editor, the event itself was fascinating--attended, as it was, by Call publisher Tim Kennedy, editor Ardith Hilliard, and the entire staff of the editorial page.

The event was held at the Call’s downtown building, with candied refreshments, logo’d coffee mugs, and a surprisingly choreographed program. “Home of the Brave, Land of the Free”--this was the evening’s inexplicable title, which was projected on a large screen, against the backdrop of a rippling American flag.

After a slide show of dramatic news photos, editorial page editor Glenn Kranzley introduced the folks in attendance, and invited a few columnists up to read political limericks. (Bizarre, but enthralling.) Kranzley then invited the 40-person audience to ask questions. Most of these were disappointing--”Why don’t you print NFL box scores on Sunday?” asked one quivering-with-anger letter-writer. “I’ve written a letter every Sunday for the last 15 weeks!”--but Bob Lovett, the LV Republican leader, did ask an informed question about reports that Call parent company Tribune is in talks with various buyers. (See also the Call's own earlier reporting on rumors that the paper might be sold separately.)

I asked a deliberately barbed question, with the Call’s 2005 layoffs and current LA Times imbroglio in mind: “The Morning Call is a public trust as well as a private company. The Tribune Co. demands ruthless profit margins in the 20 to 25% margin--five times what the average Fortune 500 company clears. What is the senior leadership of the Call doing to insulate the paper from the bean counters in Chicago.” A nervous Kennedy gave a vapid answer, with the repeated claim that ownership is “just 5% of the problem.” (Here's the NPR story on the LA Times fight).

After the Q&A, and before the night’s highlight, the tour of the facilities--I approached editor Hilliard to congratulate her on Sam Kennedy’s excellent reporting on the higher education fraud Lehigh Valley College--which, thanks to Kennedy’s tireless, shoeleather follow-through, finally threw in the towel.

The tour was truly gripping, especially the bits that involved the awesomely sized presses--bought used from the Baltimore Sun some years back. The sheer acreage consumed by the presses--whole football fields--is astonishing, and it’s humbling to realize that it will all be gone within 15 years. (One Orwellian side note: Up on the walls of the massive production spaces--though not in the newsroom--is the creepy slogan “Innovation is our Job.”)

Whatever its motives, the Call deserves thanks for the informative event.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fake News, Part Two

The Center for Media & Democracy, the indispensable activist group that publishes PR Watch and Sourcewatch, just released its second report on fake-news "video news releases," in which big corporations pay PR firms to produce slick, ready-for-TV ads that cash-strapped local TV stations run as unlabeled news. It's a scandalously widespread practice that fundamentally violates the public trust. The report includes side-by-side vidoes of the original VNR alongside the stations' broadcast.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Clear Channel to Stay in the Valley

As the Morning Call reports, the evil Clear Channel radio bohemoth plans to keep its tentacles wrapped around its Lehigh Valley radio stations, while selling those in Reading and elsewhere.

Buy Nothing Day

Mark your calendars: Buy Nothing Day is coming up, Nov. 24th. The clever activists at Adbusters are the organizers.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Extended Time to Register for Media Conference

The National Conference for Media Reform, the big annual gathering of media activists of all stripes, has extended its less expensive, "early bird" registration until Nov. 17. The speaker list is extraordinary, and includes Bill Moyers, Amy Goodman, Jesse Jackson, Ben Bagdikian, Robert Greenwald and countless others. Check out the website ...

I'll be there--and also giving a paper at a scholarly preconference affiliated with the big event. My paper: "The Accidental Blue-Red Coalition: Its Roots and Implications for the Media Reform Movement." I'll post it here when it is completed...