Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New York Times to Charge for Web Access

This was bound to happen--it was only a matter of time. Details on the exact plan are scarce, but expect a lot of changes in the coming year, with lots of chatter from media outlets.

It's gonna be hard to go from free to a pay wall, but it might be a good deal to pay a flat yearly fee for access if it's necessary. I know a lot of people will try to bypass the site--hey, it's aggregated everywhere! Who needs it, when you've got Google--but the Times will make sure that they aren't hijacked by other outlets.

They'll make some money, as agencies and organizations will pay for access, and some people might splurge for a print subscription, which guarantees a free web site.

There are only a few newspaper websites that charge for access, a few of them local dailies. The Wall Street Journal has a pay wall, also bypassed with a print subscription, but that works because that paper primarily serves a business audience, and readers tend to have access through their jobs. The New York Times is the most visited newspaper site in the country, with over 17 million viewers a month, according to Nielsen online. This approach, compared to sites like the Journal, is meant to keep much of their audience and ad revenue. The fear is that those who receive links to the site will now stop, or spend less time on the site, because of the pay wall. Although the newspaper has said they do not want to lose the prestige that goes along with such high numbers, it was a move they had to take.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In "No Kidding" News

From the Los Angeles Times:
As the number of sources for news proliferates on digital platforms, most original reporting still comes from newspapers, television and radio.

A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that surveyed news gathering in Baltimore as an example of nationwide trends found that 95% of stories with fresh information came from "old media," and the vast majority of that from newspapers.

"The expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local websites -- at least in Baltimore -- played only a limited role: mainly an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places," the study's authors write.
As much as the Internet and social media have been revolutionary, it's been catastrophic for the news model. We've got to find a way so that real reporting--and journalism as a whole--is rewarded and funded, a workable business. It's only going to get worse, and anyone who ever reads or watches the news on a fairly regular basis--no matter the outlet--quickly realizes that the sources, the original reporting, comes from a handful of big guns. Even the local news is usually done by the big paper in town, the one with the resources. Because money and manpower means that the story has a chance of being told.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Women's Bodies

Last night, after reading Emily’s post, I looked through the February issue of Glamour, which had arrived the day before. For the first time, I actually thought the models looked familiar, and no wonder: one of them was the infamous Crystal Renn, now the #1 “plus sized” model in the business.

Plus size my ass. Of course, in the modeling world, plus size is a size 6—whatever the hell that means, since that’s actually smaller than average and sizes are not standard in the US. Take a look at these photos from Glamour:

To me, she looks just like any other beautiful woman in a magazine spread. Katy Perry is on the cover, and both share similar body shapes. But looking through the pages, no matter whether it is the ads or the features, I don’t notice anything that’s radically different. There’s one “regular”, skinny model, Nina Van Bree, who’s done other work for Glamour, but I also see Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss (not looking super-skinny, but she’s wearing a thick pencil skirt), Faith Hill, the women from Big Love, four Olympic athletes, and a number of other unknown women, some of whom are only shot from the chest, shoulder, or neck up. All of them are slender. All of them fit within the standard slim aesthetic of a woman. None of them have any proportions out of the ordinary—nothing too small, too big, too muscular, too short, too long, too wide, too narrow, too bloated, or too bony.

Now, I was never one to bitch loudly about magazine models, because I rarely paid attention and I just don’t care. But what does bother me is the attitude they promote, and while many people have lauded the supposed shift from “skinny is wonderful” to “celebrate your curves”, I’ve always bristled at the curves part, because they’re often intended to be opposites. You can’t be both thin and curvy, and curvy was used to represent every shape and size under the sun. I disliked it when men used, I disliked it when women used it. And this excerpt from Victoria at Feminazery is why:
First off, this new culture of curves is NOT about celebrating fuller figures, it is about denigrating slender women. How many more screaming "So Skinny She Looks Like She'll Break!!!" headlines on the frontpage of Heat Magazine, how many more paparazzi shots of "Worryingly thin Lindsay" in the Dail Fail, how many more scare-mongering ITV documentaries on the "dangers of size zero" before people realise that there is no new culture? The culture is exactly the same, it's just that the target has changed. We've swopped fat-bashing for skinny-bashing and exchanging one prejudice for another isn't an advancement in women's rights, it's a step sideways.

Secondly, to the "more attainable, more womanly" part. Who is to say what is "womanly"? Women come in all different shapes and sizes and only a fool would try to attribute a higher level of feminity to one over the other. Really this argument belongs to the first point I made - it's not about celebrating so-called "womanly" figures, it's about taking a dig at slimmer women, saying they're "manly", less "real". Who cares which women we're picking on, as long as we can still pick on women, hey?

As for "more attainable", let's investigate this, shall we? In the last week two websites; MSN Lifestyle and the Daily Fail have run articles on the "most desirable" body shapes, with an emphasis on "curvy" woman such as Kate Winslet, Halle Berry and eponymous Kelly Brook. The Fail, in particular claims this as a great victory for women, because such figures are supposedly more realistic a goal for the average woman. Really? Neither Winslet, Berry nor Brook can be more than a size 10 at most, and with the average dress size in the UK now up to a 16, that's quite a gap. More pertinently though, "curves" of the type that these women have are not something you can ever achieve. They have big breasts, and wide-set hips, set off by tiny waists. No matter how much you diet you can't change the width of your pelvis, you can't grow your breasts without implants - you're either born an hourglass shape or you're not. Don't get me wrong, I think Winslet, Brook et al have fantastic figures (as do Kate Moss, Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham) but promoting them as "better" role models than your average supermodel because their figures are "more attainable" is ludicrious because a girl with a straight-up-and-down body type has as much chance as naturally growing a second head as she has of ever looking like Kelly Brook.
I went to high school with a girl who was tall and flat as a board all over. There were rumblings about her being anorexic, partly because of her shape but also partly because she always talked of losing weight, trying to be thinner. She couldn’t get much thinner without becoming seriously ill, but one day I heard her moan about what was really bothering her: her hips. She thought they were too wide, and she wanted to narrow them down. That’s ridiculous, I remember telling someone. Unless she wanted saw off inches on both sides of her body, what she wanted was impossible. Yet somehow she equated narrower hips with being thinner, and hence, more attractive.

It’s so ridiculous, reading these women’s magazines, how often copy is focused on “love your body”, and all the related affirmations. You’d think we’d have gotten the message by now. But there’s always someone out there with a nicer shape, and we can’t help but wonder…even if there’s no way that body is ever attainable.


From Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

But every time I read these sorts of things—this, or Tsing Loh’s last Atlantic article, about her affair and divorce; Elizabeth Weil’s New York Times Magazine article about working on her marriage, and all the bloggy disccusions around it; books like Against Love and A Vindication of Love, both railing against modern “companionate” marriages in their own way; all these late-boomer and Gen X women at once enchanted and neurotic and furious with our current exemplars of marriage or motherhood or monogamy—I am left wondering (and depressed) about what fights we Gen Y (and beyond) women will face in this realm. So much of the current angst seems to be a reaction to the 1970s woman’s reaction to the 1950s woman’s lifestyle/dilemna/ideal … it frustrates me. I’m tired of those battles; they seem silly and cliched and obvious.

But our battles are going to have to be a reaction to these. Or a backlash. And what will that look like? All I know, when I read these things, is that I don’t want to be any of the women in these essays. I don’t want their problems, don’t want their lives. I wonder how they possibly got there, and then can see myself getting there. I think the avoidance of all that will all be so simple, but then they, as women in the 70s and 80s, probably thought the same thing about that 1950s woman.

I’ve tried to avoid Tsing Loh’s articles just because they are so damn depressing. Weil’s piece was fascinating in that trainwreck way, when people air their dirty laundry, and there’s nothing dirtier than sex and love. (Everything else flows from there.) But Tsing Loh’s piece that’s the subject of Brown’s post suffers from the fact that it’s ALL ABOUT HER—a problem with lots of opinion “journalism” today, falling into bloggy traps. She has some good criticism, some interesting larger points (sussed out by Brown), but most of it is long and way too self-involved for a feature in the Atlantic. And it’s supposed to be a review! Please.

But Brown’s got the real point, something that I think of whenever I read an article of that type: I sure as hell don’t want to be any of those women…but I could so very easily fall into that trap, as could many of my friends. Ugh.

But quote of the day goes to Tsing Loh for this:
To be a mother—even simply to be a woman—in today’s world is to be made exhausted and resentful by a role or set of roles that we don’t recall deliberately choosing.
Somehow we always end up falling into something. Sometimes our situations demand that we fulfill some role or archetype that we don’t want. We don’t rebel enough.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Articles that deserve further commentary from me, but due to my lack of focus will just be getting the props.

As a follow-up to my teacher post a few weeks ago, this top-emailed article on teaching as a second career for those in midlife (something I might do myself in thirty years) brings me back to wondering how plentiful these teaching jobs are. In theory, programs like this are great. But is there competition between new young teachers and new older teachers? Do the programs stack up? With so many different routes to becoming a teacher, what's the best way? Can these things even be quantified? Malcolm Gladwell argued for a whole new way to evaluate teachers in a well-known piece in the New Yorker, a contradictory argument that seems very difficult to put into practice. I'm still just as lost about teacher trouble as I ever was, but teaching seems a great second or third career, and I am all for good programs that can provide this service.

CareerCast listed its top jobs for 2010, ranking them on salary, stress, work environment, and job outlook. Media jobs uniformly did poorly, though there were a lot of questionable top choices: historian? philosopher? Anthropology did well, though I have a sneaking suspicion that those who hold that degree don’t feel so secure. A lot of jobs seemed to be low-level, ones that may not require a college diploma, like cosmetologist, waiter, and typist. (Who the hell is a typist now? It’s administrative assistant, though that category is filled by “receptionist.”) There wasn’t a lot of amorphous jobs, those tricky titles or stuff like “venture capitalist” or “hedge fund manager”, where you really wonder what the person does, or jobs where you wonder what a MS in environmental engineering will do. I was very amused by PR executives having the seventh most stressful job out of the ones listed (#193 out of 200).

Must-read on how writers are losing their monetary value. Very sad and scary, like a lot of other stories about the profession:
What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession -- or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards but with something resembling a living wage.


The crumbling pay scales have not only hollowed out household budgets but accompanied a pervasive shift in journalism toward shorter stories, frothier subjects and an increasing emphasis on fast, rather than thorough.

The rank of stories unwritten -- like most errors of omission -- is hard to conceive. Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.

Media analyst and former newspaper editor Alan Mutter worried last month about the ongoing "journicide" -- the loss of much of a generation of professional journalists who turn to other professions.

Writers say they see stories getting shorter and the reporting that goes into some of them getting thinner.

A former staff writer for a national magazine told me that she has been disturbed not only by low fees (one site offered her $100 for an 800-word essay) but by the way some website editors accept "reporting" that really amounts to reworking previously published material. That's known in the trade as a "clip job" and on the Web as a "write around."

"The definition of reportage has become really loose," said the writer, also a book author, who didn't want to be named for fear of alienating employers. "In this economy, everyone is afraid to turn down any work and it has created this march to the bottom."
I try not to patronize websites that are purveyors of what I call the "rewrite." There's a difference between commentary (Gawker) and straight-up rehash of news, and I want the real stuff. But I wonder about all the many young people who can't get into journalism now, as they are picked up by related professions, the social media world, or the great swath of unemployment. You can't have more and more PR professionals and fewer and fewer journalists; who will report the news?

On media predictions in 2010: Besides that Apple Tablet that’s taking up far too much speculation, there’s the sense that a lot of news outlets will start charging. As a Times print subscriber, I might be safe for that dear site, but this will mean big changes to anyone who consumes news on a regular basis, and don’t think you can circumvent it with Google News. It might even mean the end of such necessities as Hulu, too.

How the other half lives
: I would only ever watch these programs out of sheer curiosity. Excellent moneymaker, just not my cup o' tea.

Peggy Noonan’s excellent column from December, on the cultural split she terms “The Adam Lambert Problem”:
America is good at making practical compromises, and one of the compromises we've made in the area of arts and entertainment is captured in the words "We don't care what you do in New York." That was said to me years ago by a social conservative who was explaining that he and his friends don't wish to impose their cultural sensibilities on a city that is uninterested in them, and that the city, in turn, shouldn't impose its cultural sensibilities on them. He was speaking metaphorically; "New York" meant "wherever the cultural left happily lives."

For years now, without anyone declaring it or even noticing it, we've had a compromise on television. Do you want, or will you allow into your home, dramas and comedies that, however good or bad, are graphically violent, highly sexualized, or reflective of cultural messages that you believe may be destructive? Fine, get cable. Pay for it. Buy your premium package, it's your money, spend it as you like.

But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.

It's things like this, every bit as much as taxes and spending, that leave people feeling jarred and dismayed, and worried about the future of their country.

All these things—plus Wall Street and Washington and the general sense that most of our great institutions have forgotten their essential mission—add up and produce a fear that the biggest deterioration in America isn't economic but something else, something more characterological.
And finally, the XX Factor’s take on this New York Observer article on American women dating Canadian and European guys:
But contrary to the "Own me! Own me!" view of commitment, all of the New York women I know lingering in lasting long-term but nonconjugal unions are doing so because they're not ready to get married, not because they're anxiously biding time until their boyfriends decide to pop the question.

It'd be nice to see an article that depicts women as the well-rounded, rational beings that they are. You know, people who have multidimensional thoughts about marriage and don't morph into rom-com cliches the minute the word is dangled before their faces. I'm not the only one who finds the prospect of marrying someone you've known for three months, let alone someone you met at a bus depot, totally terrifying. So why am I always reading about it like it's some sort of female fantasy come true? Besides, most of the ladies interviewed for this article are only 25, 26, 27 years old. How much terrible dating could they have endured?
The key difference seems to be rooted in economics:
When we talk about dating or the possibility of having family, with a man or on our own or with—gasp!—a coven of like-minded women (why not?), the conversation is framed entirely by the fact that we can count on our native countries to look after us should we—for whatever reason—not be able to make ends meet stateside. Now, we should be able to secure decent futures for ourselves, with or without male partners…


The calculus of long-term committment [sic] is just different when your country guarantees the basic necessities of an advanced civilization. When your government provides you, as they do in Canada and in Europe, with health care that is unlinked to a job or "productivity," subsidized prescription drugs, child care, free education through graduate school, and, finally, old-age pensions with visiting nurses if you need them to retain your health and a modicum of dignity. Marriage, ultimately, is about family, however you shape it. I sometimes don't blame men here for being lame or commitment-phobic. They're probably terrified of failing as providers or co-providers.
My biggest peeve with the first criticism is that the New York Observer piece is ostensibly about New York men. Like Sex and the City, they are dealing with a very specific demographic, one that might get overblown. New York men are known to be a different breed than men from the rest of the country, and they get married later than their peers from outside the area, just like the women. Sure, plenty of women complain about commitment-phobic men, but you can make the same case that there are plenty of women who feel the same. After all, I’ve known a few couples where it was the men who wanted to settle down first, but it was the women who felt that marrying young would hold them back. Now that we have longer lives and a life that is fundamentally, on all levels, less secure, why should we make major decisions that can lock us in for what seems like eternity?