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January 01, 2003
Memo to influential Democrats

From the NY Times:

Worried that their party has been outgunned in the political propaganda wars by conservative radio and television personalities, influential Democrats are scouring the nation for a liberal answer to Rush Limbaugh and the many others on the deep bench of Republican friends.

And then:

"Across the board, we need to muscle up," said John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton and now a law professor at Georgetown University. "That means from the Congressional operations to the party committees to the think-tank world to, most significantly, beefing up our capacity to communicate with the public in all forms of media, not just through obscure Internet Web sites but on television and radio."

And then:

In one of the more ambitious of the ideas circulating, a group of wealthy Democratic supporters is toying with the idea of starting a liberal cable network. That endeavor would cost in the hundreds of millions and require the backing of a media company with enough leverage to force it onto the major cable systems.

Or to put it another way: it doesn't look good for the Democrats. Adrift, bedraggled, and bereft of imagination, their best idea is to create The Monkees of cable TV news.

Meanwhile, they scoff at the Internet and its barely realized potential...

Listen, influential Democrats, if you really think the best idea is to mimic the strategy that conservatives employed to drive the media agenda, then you should really mimic it. And the conservatives didn't succeed by bankrolling me-too entries into established media; they succeeded by pioneering new forms, i.e. talk-radio and partisan cable news.

The new medium now, of course, is the Internet. And the new form is the blog. So instead of scoffing at "obscure Internet Web sites," why not support them?

Instead of blowing hundreds of millions on a cable TV channel, why not spend $10 million funding, say, 200 blogs. Imagine 200 liberal bloggers, each equipped with an annual budget of $50,000, all of them networked together and cross-promoting each other, but also working independently and iconoclastically.

Within weeks, you could have this decentralized, truly populist network up and running - because for the most part it already is. Indeed, one of the most interesting developments over the last year, which has gotten comparatively little media attention, is the coalescence of a liberal blogosphere that serves as counterpoint to the much more publicized realm of Comrade Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and company. While this network of liberal sites will no doubt continue to grow on its own, seeding it with $10 million would certainly accelerate the process.

Of course, you wouldn't have as much control over this network as you would have over a cable network - but parodoxically enough, giving up control of the medium is probably your best shot at regaining control of the message.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:04 AM
December 31, 2002
Dude, where's the loaves and fishes?

From WaPo: "The cover of the January 2003 issue of High Times, the marijuana magazine, asks the question: 'Was Jesus a Stoner?' Inside, the answer comes back and it's a resounding affirmative. Citing 'outlawed Christian texts,' the gospel according to High Times proclaims the good news: Jesus anointed his disciples with a powerful potion composed of olive oil and marijuana."

From the same article, which is a round-up of notable 2002 magazine moments: " Us magazine boldly pioneered new technologies in its tireless quest to cover celebrities. When actress Julia Roberts married cameraman Daniel Moder, Us used its amazing 'morph-o-matic' device to combine the faces of the lovely couple to predict 'what their kids could look like.' The result was two surprisingly ugly little fictitious tykes."

Sounds more like Us boldly ripped off a gag Late Night With Conan O'Brien has been doing for years - "If they mated..."

Posted by Greg Beato at 03:01 PM
The Real September of his years

Like the Chairman himself, Tim Cavanaugh makes it look easy in this excellent essay on Frank Sinatra: "It's hard to remember now, when Sinatra looms as such a changeless, insufferable icon of the martini age, that at various times he strove mightily to catch up with changing fashions in self-creation, puffing and wheezing from the exertion. This is the Sinatra of the 'Both Sides Now' cover, of the colossally embarrassing marriage to Mia Farrow, of the scraggly late-sixties beard. It's the Sinatra who really represented a generation of American men, caught flat-footed by the social changes of the sixties, not wanting to be out of it but unable to get in on it, and never really sure what 'it' is. It's also the Sinatra of Watertown, an undeservedly obscure LP from 1969. Recorded at about the same time the Manson family members were carving out new modes of hippie self-styling, Watertown is a poignant attempt to get Ol' Blue Eyes up to speed with the kids. As such it is both an artistic curiosity of great interest and a work of profound irony. It is Frank Sinatra's rock opera..."

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:37 AM
December 30, 2002
The Long View

At Soundbitten, official policy is to always use two words where one will do, but in the rest of the media world, articles keep getting shorter and shorter - the goal is to make magazines, newspapers, and websites seem as much like television as possible.

This is especially true for publications targeted at youngish, pop-culture-oriented audiences - i.e., Maxim, Rolling Stone, that new Chicago tabloid...

On the one hand, the policy makes sense, but on the other hand, I've always noted an interesting paradox: print zines are generally the province of the youngish and pop-culture-oriented, and yet they have some of the longest articles around.

Now it's true that print zines are all but dead these days. And even in their early '90s heyday, they didn't reach many readers. But titles like Ben Is Dead and a few others did seem to reach tens of thousands of readers without a lot of distribution or financial backing, and they used to run some pretty long articles.

So while the market for long-form journalism might be small, has it disappeared completely? I think a lot of editors and magazines have abandoned the genre a little too completely: as a writer and a reader, there are plenty of stories I'm interested in enough to spend 5000+ words on. Right now, the majority of 5000+ word articles these days are about serious, weighty subjects involving politics or public policy, but honestly, who wouldn't want to read an in-depth, behind-the-scenes, 5000+ word article on Lance Bass' failed (I think) quest to become the first pop star in space? Every music magazine gave that story a couple hundred words, but I'm sure it'd be infinitely stranger and funnier at 5000 words. But would any magazine today assign it at that length? I doubt it...

In any case, this is all just preface to a pointer to an interesting article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Does Size Matter?, which includes such interesting factoids as: "There is little evidence to suggest increased television viewership is killing off reading. When asked by Harris to describe their top leisure-time activities, Americans still regularly put reading at the top of the list (28 percent of those polled in 2001), outscoring even the boob tube (20 percent)."

I also liked this seemingly obvious but somehow not-obvious observation by the always astute Michael Wolff: "Editors have been forced to design their magazines for an indifferent reader, according to Michael Wolff, media columnist for New York. 'We've shoved magazines down the throats of people,' Wolff said. 'They flip through magazines because they don't really want them.'"

And if one long magazine article about writing magazine articles is not enough for you, I recommend this one as well.

Posted by Greg Beato at 11:20 AM