April 26, 2009

Big things

Edward Burtynsky takes pictures of big things. His photos capture scenes that, the more I see, remind me of how small I am in comparison. It's frightening, not to see, but to feel how tiny you really are. Check out Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary of his photography.

I just finished reading a chapter of The New New Journalism, in which William Langewiesche describes his approach to storytelling. He says he tends to rebel against the idea that we live in a small world. He hates the phrase.
If there's a unifying theme to my work, it is that the "small world" idea is a myth, a serious misreading of our times. It's obvious why it exists -- jet travel, the Internet, the globalizations of markets, the similarity of hotel rooms. But these are largely superficialities. The real world -- of the history-making kind -- simply is not defined by the ease and speed with which people can flit around the globe.
He goes on to argue the size of the world is based not on physical geography, but by human constructs.

Burtynsky, Langewiesche and my own fearful curiosity of mega-objects meet in Alang, India where people make their living ripping apart ships for scrap metal.

A photo was taken. A story was written.

Langewiesche makes a case for how reporting on the shipbreaking industry in Alang usually ends in failed attempts at good storytelling. Reporters, environmentalists, and statesmen approach these people and ask them questions like, "Why do you work here in this very unhealthy environment? Are you unaware of the poisons and dangers?"

He says those are by and large what most people ask them, and it's insulting. Of course they know these things, he says, they're making the rational choice to be there. It plays into his idea of how the world is actually huge...maybe even expanding...because of the differing human ideas.

I thought about Langewiesche when I listened to a recent interview on This American Life (#378 - "This I Used to Believe"). A woman struggling with her Christianity came to contact the coach of a Christian high school football team from Texas.

She was struggling with a big idea, the Christian god, and it was interesting because the coach went about explaining Christianity to her in the worst possible way: he gave her pre-packaged answers about free will and God and the fallen world.

Afterward, she's still full of questions, maybe even a little more confused.

It's the reminder of how important it is to approach stories and people and ideas that got me thinking. I doubt I'll ever cover anything as big as those shipbreakers, but I think Langewiesche holds some good rules for reporting, no matter how big the idea.

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Went to St. Louis yesterday, to go to the "book fair" and do some record shopping. Read about my sweet finds here.

But more importantly, I remembered that I saw a preview for this movie during The Wrestler during one of my previous excursions to St. Loo. It was on the marquee of the Tvioli Theatre: "ANVIL IS HERE!"

Turns out the last showing was at 9 and I got there at 9:30. But I really want to make the trip back in the next week or two because for some reason this looks hilarious. I think it's a real documentary and not a mockumentary but I can't tell. Either way, watch the trailer:

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April 23, 2009

It's 20 seconds til the last call

I'm obsessed with this song:

(Watch it before Hulu irrationally decides to take it down.)

Still can't tell if he's lip-syncing (I tend to think the band is playing live and he's singing live over a backing track in the chorus), but it's still a monster fucking hook-filled summertime anthem. I want to say it's about Napolean but I know that's not right (they already made a song about him). They do seem to enjoy name-dropping historical figures.

I have a feeling their new album is going to be good.

Sub-question (more of an observation, really): SNL's been stepping up their musical-guest game these past two seasons. This season Fleet Foxes, YYYs, TV on the Radio, Phoenix (out of left freaking field, that one); last season might have been better: Spoon, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, My Morning Jacket. Now, if only the writing could get better and the digital short didn't carry the show...

*St. Louis University's Billiken Club somehow manages go get top quality acts to play completely free shows. I'm not bragging or anything, since I have yet to go to one of said shows - they're usually on weeknights.

It's just a nice thing to know that such a place exists.

They also have a huge book fair.

God, remind me to move back to a large city for my next job.

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April 21, 2009

Chic news

I get the feeling nothing in news is as chic as the Mexican drug cartel situation. When it gets coverage it comes with gritty photos -- or night photos (see above) -- and frequent use of the word "gritty."

Of course, I'm eating it up, even slightly softer photos that include soldiers with digital cameras. The Post has its series, the LA Times too (my pick), and even good news gets big play (see above, and story here).

I'll admit Somali pirates are probably more popular, but they have yet to garner unique "ongoing project" type pages. Frugality is also making a push: NYT, Post, and NPR.

Some crime stuff:
First, you probably don't need to read the full text of the bank robber whose genitals got burned when a dye pack exploded, or the full story about FBI agents who put their high-tech cameras to peeping tommery, but please do read about the car burglar who crapped his pants.
And I forgot to mention in my previous post that Phantom Planet's self-titled third album is really awesome. If you want something like Spoon but a bit more manic, check it out.

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April 20, 2009

Alphabet Rock

Amid my iTunes library are hundreds of artists and songs that shouldn't be allowed in the iTunes general population. When a respectable album comes to an end these songs barge in and cause wanton embarrassment if guests are present.

I think this once happened with Enya.

With this phenomenon in mind, I went in search of iTunes to find trouble spots. I couldn't really find them, but I did discover places where awesome bands fall back to back, alphabetically. To wit:
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Clash

Caetano Veloso

The Doors

Jurassic 5

Velvet Underground

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

I also discovered two anomalies that don't quite fit the awesome-to-terrible or great-to-shit molds:
Eagle Eye Cherry
Eagles of Death Metal

Scarlett Johansson
Scat Man
In other music business, I have been enjoying the latest releases by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "It's Blitz!" and Of Montreal: "Skeletal Lamping." They are both superb at setting moods, albeit disparate moods.

Also, I heard a rumor about Neutral Milk Hotel reuniting at the forthcoming fucking awesome Merge Records anniversary show.

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Public enemy No. 1

It's this guy:

Not only do I hate his jerk-off name and his jerk-off face, but I hate what he has to say about his job:
The new Washington Post reporter covering the Nationals baseball team would rather be writing about something else. Food, preferably.

“I don’t like sports—I am embarrassed that I cover them,” Chico Harlan says. “I can’t wait to stop. It is a means to an end and a paycheck.”
Seriously? I could name twenty people off the top of my head that would gladly do that job and love it. Except this guy, 26 (!!) years old, has it, and hates it, and bitches about it. In this economy. With the state of the newspaper industry as it is.

I would say more but I fear getting to profane on this mo'fo.

At least "State of Play" got me excited to work for a newspaper again, especially the ending credits montage of the paper in production. And nice cast: Jeff Daniels, Helen Mirren, Michael Buth (?!)...

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April 12, 2009

Little things

+ A dream come true: Vicky Christina Barcelona features a narrator who sounds just like that of The Sandlot, but he narrates about lesbian lust between Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz.

+ The latest U2 single -- I don't know its title -- sounds extremely Walkmen derivative.

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April 9, 2009

Carcass fracas: The full story

"But the day we all got back together for some baseball ... was the day I got us into the biggest pickle of all time, and it all started with an omen." - The Sandlot

In this case, the pickle followed a sports story, Lost in left field, and a staff editorial criticizing the baseball program and its players.

A Facebook group formed in defense of the team and more than 75 130 comments landed on the Collegian site. The editors apologized online. Then an editor found carcasses on his porch, seemingly after everything had blown over. The baseball team, which had waltzed its way to the moral high ground, was back in the gutter. (Latest Collegian coverage here and editorial here.)

Perhaps surprisingly (no offense), The Hillsdale Daily News came through with a ton of context (this link shows the full version at the reporter's personal blog). His story provided insight into why the Collegian published its initial scathing editorial. He also grabbed a baseball player's Facebook wall post, which got closer than most news sources to a baseball statement. Something about the structure and pace of Walter's story made sense -- even more than the final Collegian story, which felt extremely old to me.

Instead of pushing the story forward and clarifying the timeline and causation, it stayed with the 3-day-old narrative lede, which evoked a mystery long since solved. Also, unfortunately, the Collegian pulled all of its comments (although the "C" word "F" word and others were not initially enough to provoke much moderation).

National Attention
We know Romenesko had the scandal scoop first. By the time some of us got to work in the morning, Fark was also running a link on its main page.

By afternoon, Collegian editors were getting calls, the Detroit Free Press had their version in the hopper, and The Detroit News and Associated Press weren't far behind. (The Freep article, at times, included an ad alongside featuring a cartoon deer).

Among the newspapers that bit at the carcass bait: USA Today, Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune, Newsday, The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, Editor and Publisher, The Seattle Times, The Charlotte Observer, Forbes, The Baltimore Sun, The Sun-Sentinel, and the list goes on.

Michigan papers took note too, including the Battle Creek Enquirer (not the first time they reported on Hillsdale), the Livingston Daily, and MLive, which had a different photo, featuring Rob Ogden, of Juny fame, in his skivvies. Good choice, Collegian, in supplying that one to the AP.

Even papers who seemingly shouldn't care ran the story. Like the Anchorage Daily News, the Honolulu Advertiser, and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. A full list of AP pickups can be found at this Google News link.

The blogosphere was not to be left out. In addition to Romenesko and Fark, the story also got interesting play at the Boston Globe, Deadspin, and Sporting News.

Despite all the attention, questions still remain about: 1) discipline of the team 2) whether all the animals were roadkill 3) if other editors were going to get similar treatment.

Regardless, Hillsdale College probably hasn't had this much attention since the Romney commencement, or possibly Katie Cezat.

I remember reporters and editors wondering how the college's administrators would handle national (negative) media attention -- especially when they got so heavy handed about preventing (what we thought were) piddily things from being printed. A passing grade, in this case, and no doubt alumni glee nationwide as we thought about how this news was spreading across campus, then state, then county, as administrator phones rang off the hook.

Imagine: Administrators looking out their windows to see police and security gathered around a bunch of carcasses (that house is visible from campus buildings). At the very least, our campus newspaper controversy was exciting, unlike UCLA's famed "Hagen-Dazs ad wrap fracas."

The media blitz also came with a set of ridiculous commentators who couldn't resist taking shots at the baseball team. Choice comments culled by the Sadbear include:

:: "...we’re doing our best to recover, apologize and move on.” Nancy-boy. Grow a testicle.
Det News:
:: Journalism - 10, Hillsdale baseball - 0
:: Screw the political stuff, why is the best picture they could use is with a kid standing in bright blue underwear??
:: Anyone interested in a Republican rally to protest the blue skivvies being shown in the paper?
:: Hillsdale has always been know for its beastiality.
:: Gary Busey must be a walk-on.
:: Looks like a job for the 21-year-old mayor of Hillsdale. Dude's totally gonna unfriend the Collegian.
:: Ted Nugent is a little old to be playing college baseball.
:: If this keeps up, they're not going their picture on the cover of Imprimis like they were promised. 1.5 million free copies a month, goin' strong.
:: Same thing happened to Mitch Albom, except it was dead hookers, and he put put them there.
:: Another famous alum is the guy who runs Blackwater. That writer was lucky dead animals were all he got.
Boston Globe:
:: ... Mr. Krudy has handled the situation with swagger.
Sporting News:
:: None of the baseball team has made any public comments yet, but we'll sum up what they're thinking: "TAKE THAT, NEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRDS!!!"
Chicago Tribune:
:: No comments, but two story tags: "Colleges and Universities, Animals."
Battle Creek:
:: Is he sure it isn't stemming from the bad review he gave Ted Nugent's latest album?
:: Hillsdale College...Hillsdale College...why does that ring a bell? Oh, yeah. "Hillsdale gained national attention in 1999, when Lissa Jackson Roche, the daughter-in-law of college president ... "
:: I guess you could say, "they thought the article was baaaaaad"
Another shellacking
Unfortunately, this was not the biggest tangle of of the week for the Collegian. Much like they kicked the baseball team while players were down, an audacious fourth-grader named Augustine Siegel (not "Seigel") took the editors to school on a few inaccuracies in a previous article.

A fourth-grader? For shame, Collegian, for shame.

Disclosure: A majority of Sadbear authors have worked in some way for The Collegian.

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April 6, 2009

"...and I've got more hits than Sadaharu Oh"

I've already commented about how glad I am that baseball is back, but I felt compelled to share with people who actually read this.

I move that Opening Day becomes a national holiday. That way we wouldn't have to take off from work to watch day games, and no one would be allowed to schedule any events, sporting or otherwise, on said day.

Well, by "we" I mean those of us who aren't in the sports journalism industry - I'd have to go to work either way. I'd just prefer it to have nothing else to cover but the opening of Major League baseball.

I have similar designs on making the first weekend of March Madness a nationally-mandated four-day weekend. Who actually does work on NCAA Tournament Thursday? I didn't - and I was covering the high school state semifinal.

Well, that's I lie...my game had ended and one of the girls games had started. It was a really slow and boring game, one of the ones where neither team scores more than 10 points until about halfway through the second quarter. The halftime score might have been 15-10.

Anyway, around this time, all the sportswriters found out that Memphis was losing to Cal-State Northridge. So we gathered in Mizzou Arena's media room and watched, completely ignoring the girls high school game.

If this was a national holiday, we wouldn't have to worry about such things as sportswriters not giving girls basketball its full, deserved, Title IX attention.

I wonder how many people complained to the ACLU about unfair representation of girls athletics that day?

Some ramshackle baseball linkage:
-SportsDesigner's baseball preview pages from around the country
-Interactive graphics from the New York Times: New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field
-Some Opening Day history in St. Louis
-Paul Lucas' UniWatch baseball preview
-UniWatch blog goes over Japanese baseball uniforms [day 1, day 2]
-The Kansas City Star has a pretty good Royals' blog. And although you may be thinking 'Who cares about the Royals?', apparently, the New York Times does - they picked them to finish first in the AL Central
-Cardinals lost today in the 30 degree very light dusting of snow. I listened to the game on the radio and remembered why the Cardinals annoyed me: their announcers and fans are self-righteous a-holes ("Don't throw the ball back," said one announcer after the Pirates homer. "You know who does that? Those North-siders! We're better than that!")
-Also, unrelated to baseball, but the Post-Dispatch had a pretty good blog called "Speaking Visually." Looks like they got rid of it, or at least, the main graphics guy will be starting his own blog not endorsed by the P-D sometime soon. I hope so, because I always thought it was pretty good.

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April 4, 2009


We recently watched Magnolia, which among other things has a substantial introduction dedicated to coincidence.

It made me think of Fargo -- specifically William H. Macy -- and how a recent local criminal who is accused of trying to hire a hit man and who looks just like Macy (who acts similarly in Fargo).

Around the same time as our Magnolia viewing, I had a musical coincidence. I have been doing a one-LP-at-a-time swap with one of the paper's copy editors. We've mostly shared surf and oddity records. I recently gave him a Dirtbombs record. In return, he gave me Doug Clark and His Hot Nuts, specifically "Nuts to You," which features their black lead man flipping the bird on its cover. I, of course, caught a lucky photo of Dirtbombs' lead man Mick Collins flipping the bird at a show in Ann Arbor. So I guess we were trading bird-flippin' shots.

Finally, while covering a breaking news event on Friday, a photographer mentioned skywriting -- I think joking about methods of communicating with people lost in the woods -- then Purdy brought up skywriting in conversation tonight.


April 2, 2009

I was tricked!

More Collegian pot stirring, from the looks of it:

Classical Liberals Organization Underway

Done said his club may have attracted a stigma through association with a previous classical liberal club, which ended in 2007.

"It was a Libertarian club," Done said. "It wasn't a classical liberal club."

From what Done knows, the previous classical liberals were boisterous and aggressive.

"That's not what the classical liberalism is about," Done said. "It's about the ideas of liberty and how we can express them, spread them, discuss them and how we can improve upon them."

So then is classical liberalism about things we've never done, like catching an arrow with our bare hands, punching a horse or self-publishing our own sci-fi novels (errr...sorry Jon...)?

Also a nice opinions piece, "appalled and disgusted" by the Beat/Bench articles.

To top it off: Hillsdale has a gay/straight alliance.

For some reason the Collegian feels more exciting and controversial to me now that I'm away than it did when I was actually writing for it. (Come to think of it, so does Hillsdale itself...damn nostalgia.)

Edit: Reading Karen's comment I just reminded myself about this little nugget I just found a while back: Gennadi Stolyarov. He plays for this Khazakstani hockey team. I wish our friend had his own wiki page, and I wouldn't put it past he (or his girlfriend) to do so eventually.

But a similarly-named hockey player? In Kazakhstan? I beam just thinking about our Gennadey body checking someone from Dynamo Moscow.

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