All posts by Matt Wilson

Matt was a reporter. Now he isn't. He used to write comedy stuff at http://www.the-iss.com and now does so at http://www.highmindedbs.com. Earlier this year, he self-published a book called HATE YOU FOREVER: HOW TO CHANNEL YOUR RAGE INTO EFFECTIVE SUPERVILLAINY.

Cheers and Regards for the Week of September 20, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about that “carnival” you started in an empty old warehouse; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the Los Angeles Times for their piece on what essentially amounts to paid ads showing up as local TV news stories because unsolicited pitch-people simply show up at their doorsteps. It’s almost as if they’re just trying to fill time any way they can or something!

REGARDS to the 235 journalists who donated to a total of nearly $500,000 to political campaigns this election cycle. Yes, yes, freedom of expression and all that. But you’re just giving the people already inclined not to trust you a concrete reason not to trust you. And arguing that something you report on often (campaign contributions) shouldn’t be public? That’s real trouble.

CHEERS (yet again) to the LA Times for increasing the weekend circulation of its Spanish-language newspaper, Hoy. Maybe all those hand-wringing editors who are looking for more print readers should stop fixating so hard on English.

REGARDS to the Portland Press Herald for apologizing for its coverage of the end of the local Ramadan observance. Should they have put a 9/11 story on the front page on Sept. 11? Yeah, probably. But does that have anything to do with whether or not they should have covered Ramadan? It most certainly doesn’t.

CHEERS to Apple for its likely plans to offer newspaper subscriptions on the iPad. Some newspapers already have subscription-based apps, but backing from Apple itself will be a big boon.

REGARDS to Apple for taking a likely 30 percent cut of subscription fees and 40 percent for advertising once that subscription plan starts up. Those are pimp/ho-level terms!

Cheers and Regards for the Week of September 13, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about all that priceless art you stole and ate; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to CNN for responding to concerns that a poll on their web-page, asking if gay characters on television are “bad for society,” was offensive to gays and lesbians and quickly pulling it. (DW)

REGARDS to CNN for running the poll and the video it was in reference too, which heavily featured the commentary of anti-gay activists, in the first place. It’s difficult to imagine any other minority group whose mere presence on television would be seen as a cause for concern by any major news organization. (DW)

CHEERS to Florida Times-Union Managing Editor Marilyn Young for flat-out refusing to pay the $300 the local medical examiner’s office apparently tried to charge the paper for two interviews. I mean, sometimes reporters can be a little dry in their questioning, but this is ridiculous. (MW)

REGARDS to the Christian Science Monitor for responding to accusations that the media blew up the Pastor Jones/Quran burning story well past its relevance by saying that in the digital age, media outlets simply had no choice in covering the (non-)event. (You know how ABC was going to fly Jones up to New York to interview him on television? They had no choice!) The article and its sources further go on to defend the coverage saturation by saying the Internet demands “greater contextualization than ever”–which is probably why coverage of the miners in Chile, floods in Pakistan and fires in Detroit have been been just as in-depth and ubiquitous as the Jones business, right? We’re disheartened to hear that in the age of greater and cheaper tools for mass coverage, editors and producers are claiming they have less control than ever over what they’ll print or air. (KL)

CHEERS, in that same vein, to Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente for stating publicly that the network would not cover the Quran burnings. (MW)

REGARDS to Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington for wagging her finger at the mainstream media for covering “flash-in-the pan” stories. Seriously, has she read her own website? Never before have we seen a clearer case of a sensationalistic website that runs daily Katy Perry pictures and pseudoscience articles calling the kettle black.

Cheers and Regards for the Week of September 6, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about the rhinos who escaped from your basement; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the AP and New York Times for their new policies on attribution and anonymous sources, respectively. As the largest news organization in the world, it’s good that the AP is making a concerted effort to give credit to other news sources — be they in print or online — who originate a story. Likewise, the Times is right to ditch phrases like “he/she was not authorized to speak” for more specific reasons as to why sources are total pussies.

REGARDS to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City for publishing a PR guy’s column without identifying him as a PR guy. The byline simply said “Michael Purdy: Special to the Deseret News” even though Purdy is spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

CHEERS to New York University Professor Jay Rosen for saying, in no uncertain terms, that the current print-driven newspaper business model is unsustainable. He sees no evidence that young people “picking up the print habit” because there is none.

REGARDS to The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog for moving on with its prepared line of questioning rather than pressing Rosen to suggest some ways newspapers could conceivably sustain themselves without relying on print advertising.

CHEERS to Knoxville News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy for questioning why one of his reporters got preferential treatment. University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley “rewarded” six reporters, including one from the News Sentinel, by inviting them to (thereby barring others from) a mock game. Here’s hoping McElroy will take it to the next level next time Dooley looks to reward certain reporters by pulling his reporter out unless everyone gets access.

REGARDS to Washington Post columnist Mike Wise for posting a made-up story on Twitter about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the sake of proving an apparent point. That point? That “anybody will print anything.” The sound you’re now hearing is my brain tying itself into a knot. (A mini-cheers to the Post for suspending Wise over essentially fabricating a story.)

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 30, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about your belief that you’re the white reincarnation of Martin Luther King Jr.; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to Courtland Malloy at the Washington Post for his thoughtful column about how various news outlets have used — or tried not to use — the word “nigger” in their coverage of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s use of the epithet and subsequent resignation from her radio show. We can’t say it better than he does: “If race relations in America are so bad that we can’t look at a word, then we are doomed.”

REGARDS to Sidney Harman, Newsweek‘s new owner, for his statement that the news magazine is looking for an editor with a “fundamental respect for the business aspects of the operation.” We’re willing to give Harman the benefit of the doubt and believe that he meant the editor simply needs to be aware the a news magazine has to make a profit, but an editor who’s obsessed with the bottom line, or worse yet, starts worrying about what advertisers want when it comes to coverage, could harm Newsweek irreparably.

CHEERS to Jack Shafer at Slate for listening to his bullshit detector. He dug into the statistics of the number of search-and-rescue missions in National Parks and found that the New York Times‘ assertion that cell phone and GPS technology have let more park visitors into trouble is off the mark.

REGARDS to a group of 15 health reporters for taking all-expenses paid trips to Washington for a Pfizer-funded seminar on cancer. Sure, it’s gotta be tough to get papers to foot the bill for seminars these days, but is it really worth giving up your ethics to attend one?

CHEERS to Columbia Journalism Review for its examination of the weird amalgamation of real news and celebrity tabloid that is the Huffington Post. The only thing they’re missing is the dubious-to-dangerous science reporting.

REGARDS to the O.C. Register for spreading its resources too thin. They’ve reassigned their longtime classical music critic to the celebrity beat to cover the likes of Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan. It’ll cut into his classical music coverage by at least half, he says. But who needs to hear about that junk when we could have more stories about celebrities?

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 23, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about your dead-people voter registration drive; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the Guardian for a level-headed op-ed piece regarding criminal prosecutions of HIV positive people for having unprotected sex. In cases like this, intentionality is almost impossible to prove, and prosecutions do little to encourage people to get tested for HIV or take responsibility for their own sexual safety, and further stigmatize those who are HIV positive as diseased pariahs. (DW)

REGARDS to the Guardian, however, for a headline that needlessly trivializes HIV by comparing it to verucas and repeating the claim that HIV is no longer a fatal disease. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford top of the line health care, yes, HIV is a manageable disease. That’s a big “if” in most of the world, including developed nations like the US and UK. (DW)

CHEERS to the New York Times and the AP for taking a stand against using the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” to describe the proposed Islamic community center two blocks from the old World Trade Center site. The politics of the debate over the construction don’t even matter; it’s simply an inaccurate title. (MW)

REGARDS to the Toronto Sun for using scare quotes around the word “molested” in the headline to their article about a model who was sexually assaulted at a Star Wars convention. Unwanted sexual touching is unwanted sexual touching, regardless of whether or not a woman is dressed as Slave Leia. (DW)

CHEERS to AOL’s Daily Finance for pointing out just what sort of articles Demand Media is really putting out onto the web on eHow.com and other sites.  I guess somebody, somewhere would need to know how to calculate age from a birthdate. But can someone who’s four years old read an article like that? (MW)

REGARDS to KAKS radio in Arkansas, which fired on-air personality Renee Gork for wearing a University of Florida hat to a Monday news conference. The issue apparently wasn’t whether Gork was lacking objectivity; rather, she just didn’t have the right kind of subjectivity for “Hog Sports Radio.” And it only makes sense, right? For only fans and alumni of a school to be able to report on its sports teams? (MW)

The Cult of the Insider

In recent weeks, I have become quite fond of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, which is essentially a show in which comedians talk about comedy, their hang-ups, doing stand-up, the somewhat insular community of comedians and whatever else they want to crack jokes about.

I’ve always been fascinated by stand-up comedy, and I even tried amateur stand-up myself for a short period in my late teens. My record was two successes and one terrible bomb, which was so devastating that I basically swore the enterprise off. That is, until I started listening to Maron’s podcast a few weeks ago and felt the stand-up bug biting me again.

So it’s a weird irony that soon after I started writing up some material and Googling local open mics that I listened to the episode in which Maron talks to one of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia. In that episode, the two comedians talk at length about how much things have changed since the 1990s, when stand-up had kind of fallen off after a big surge in the ‘80s.

“It used to be, ‘Oh my God, you’re a comic? I couldn’t do that.’ Now, it’s like, ‘You’re a comic? I’m doing that,’ ” Maron observes. Later, he puts it all on the line: “For every comic that says he’s a comic, for everybody that wants to be a comic, there’s twice as many people sitting around wanting to call comics thieves and liars.”

Then Birbiglia chimes in with a joke (or maybe it’s a bon mot) from a friend of his: “I’m sick of hearing every fuckin’ middle in America telling me how shitty Dane Cook is. Headline a club, and then tell me Dane Cook isn’t that good.”

I certainly understand where they’re coming from. Outsiders who have never done stand-up are all over the place now looking for jokes Carlos Mencia stole or jumping all over the guy who basically stole Patton Oswalt’s entire act a couple months ago. And they don’t know the community. They don’t know how things are done within the club of comedians. Some of them are starting rumors that just aren’t true.

But those people do know all about how much of a problem joke thievery is because it’s all over YouTube. Maron and other comedians have talked about it on that very podcast, whose primary audience is likely those open mic guys and middles (comedy lingo for comedians who go on before the headliner). Oswalt posted a long rant about his joke thief guy on MySpace.

A lot of people think they’re comedy insiders now because a lot of what used to be private among comedians is now public. Comedians used to work out their joke thievery issues between themselves privately. Now they do it on YouTube. Hell, there was even an entire documentary, The Aristocrats, about the comedian “secret handshake.” Why wouldn’t somebody who’s taken in all that seemingly private insider-comedy stuff think they know a thing or two about the profession?

It’s not just limited to comedy. A lot of Americans think of themselves as entertainment insiders now, and frankly, it’s not really their fault. Every week, there are the box office figures, right there in virtually every news source, out there for us to interpret as we will. The box office result weekend before last stirred up a nice mix of fan rage/crying and I-told-you-sos on Twitter when Scott Pilgrim vs. the World came in fourth place with $10 million or so.

Certainly that looks disappointing on its face. But what does it really mean? Unless you’re an executive at Universal who works with internal box office projections, you worked on the movie or you’re an indie comics creator with a similar project you’re hoping to make into a movie, does it mean anything? How much does it matter that 50 million other people went to see a movie? How does it affect your enjoyment?

It doesn’t. But BoxOfficeMojo and Cinematical and Entertainment Tonight keep telling us this stuff matters to us, the audience, somehow.

And yet, when you go to get your car repaired somewhere your measure of success isn’t how many other people’s cars they fixed that day or what their daily take was. You don’t care. You may check a few online reviews to see if other customers like the place, sure. But ultimately, does you car work? That’s all that really matters. There’s no validation to be gained from going to the most popular car repair place in town.

But that’s just it. People who don’t work on cars don’t read industry magazines about car repair. And where you get your car fixed isn’t somehow tied to identity. But more than 2 million people subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which, let’s be honest here, is an entertainment industry trade magazine geared toward a general audience. A small percentage of those readers work in that business.

Which brings me back to the WTF Podcast and an episode with another one of my favorite comedians, Bob Odenkirk. In his episode, he talks at length about how hard it is to get a movie made, especially for screenwriters.

“That fairy tale of how it works, which is, you go off into a corner and you write, and you write something that’s kind of personal and poetic, and kinda interesting, and people can’t believe how great it is in Hollywood and then they make it, and  it’s unbelievable,” he says. “That fairy tale is sold to you by Hollywood, which knows it’s not true.”

Who wouldn’t want to be an insider in a fairy tale world?