Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami Hits Home, Media Hits Back

In many ways, the U.S. media is still trying to come to grips with the tsunami that laid waste to so much of the southeast Asia coastline. While it's the lead story virtually everywhere, the fact that it took place 10,000 miles away, where most newspapers have to rely on wires or far-flung correspondents, has had a stark influence on coverage.
Despite the fact that more than 24,000 people had died by the time it went to press, the N.Y. Times could only manage a four column headline that didn't use the bold block text typically used for larger stories. True, the devastation is hard to comprehend, but how many people have to die before a natural disaster gets a full-deck headline across the page?
More than any other paper, the Times has resisted the temptation to turn the convenient and economically expedient perception that people don't care about foreign news into reality on its pages. True, there are two inside pages devoted to tsunami coverage, but the fact it underplayed the destruction on A-1 is puzzling in the least and disappointing in the extreme.
Meanwhile, it's instructive to see how affected countries focused on coverage. At the Times of India, coverage focused on the thousands feared dead on the remote islands of Car Nicobar while pointing out why India and Sri Lanka are not part of the tsunami early-warning system. The prevailing sentiment in India seems to be "it wasn't supposed to happen here."
The Nation newspaper in Bangkok had another lead story spawned from the devastation in and around Phuket, the death of one of the king's grandsons. Thailand's royal family has no power, but is revered above all other institutions. You know how people enjoy making sport of the British royals and for good reason? That's just not done in Thailand. The king and his family can do no wrong. If they do, you'll never hear about it in the media, so it's more than a sidebar when one of them passes.
Still, The Nation reserved the bulk of its coverage for how tourism, the country's lifeblood, is affected. Just how much is cogently illustrated in a story headlined Warning Rejected to Protect Tourism, which details why weather officials decided not to issue a warning after the initial quake was detected.
You need sidebars to get the full sweep of a story. In Sri Lanka, the Academic had an intriguing nugget about 300 inmates who escaped after waves slammed their high-security prison have a week to return without penalty. Somehow, it's hard to believe these guys are reliant on an honor system.
But context for what a 9.0 on the Richter scale really means comes from the L.A. Times, which reports on how the tsunami moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet before it unleashed its swath of destruction.,0,3904884.story?coll=la-home-headlines.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Rock On and On: The Top Ten Top Ten List

A lot of good music came our way this year, though you wouldn't know it if you spent much time listening to the radio, or as us devotees of XM and Sirius distinguish it, "terrestrial radio." The non-comms at the bottom of the FM dial, along with great stations like KGSR in Austin and WMVY on Martha's Vineyard tried to pick up the slack, but the music business doesn't make it easy.
Which is why newish magazines like Harp and Tracks are so valuable, carrying the torch of indie labels and singer-songwriters who deserve better. Judging by the top 10 lists now filtering out, many music critics feel their pain, and they provide valuable guideposts to greater musical enlightenment.
Sometimes critics seem to jazz up their lists more to impress their peers than cop to the tunes that really grabbed them. However, Dave McGurgan's list at is as eclectic as it is heartfelt.
From the Boston Globe's squadron of critics, Green Day, Loretta Lynn and the Scissor Sisters kept popping up, though Joan Anderman may have hit the most nails on the head with her picks.
Steve Morse, the resident graybeard among Globe rock writers, favored a lot of artists who've been around as long as has, including Aerosmith, Patti Smith and the revamped Mission of Burma.
From the style over substance file, The Guardian chose to review the top 10 album covers, which, conveniently, also contained some damned fine music to boot.,8542,1375278,00.html
Ross Raihala in the St. Paul Pioneer Press happens to write from an area where the music scene thrives enough to merit its own top 10 list, to go with a separate lists for the bands the rest of us are supposed to know about. Watch him stick his neck out for Courtney Love (hey, somebody's gotta do it).
Face it, box sets look great on the shelf, but after a few spins and scans of the obligatory companion booklet, they often become lost and forlorn in your collection. It's much easier to whip out a single disc than to sift through a box looking for the right cuts. Jim DeRogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times offers a rundown of the sets that might be exceptions to that lamentable rule.
More so than others, Marian Lu in the San Jose Mercury News seems unconcerned about her street cred and goes with her gut instead. Good move.
One virtue of these lists is to give you a chance to at least consider exploring music that you might otherwise veer away from. The AV Club at the come up with a few safely away from the mainstream that we can approach without fear or favor.
The AP's Jake Coyle jumps on the bandwagon for Kanye West, Modest Mouse and Wilco, but stands tall for Arcade Fire, The Walkmen and A.C. Newman as his top picks. You may not have heard of them, but Coyle makes a persuasive case for why you should.
And props to Larry Katz and Sarah Rodman in the Boston Herald for including the Ben Folds-William Shatner collaboration in their picks. The Shat really is all that.

The Weekly Read-Out--The Holiday Edition

Darn! No Bearnaise sauce to go with the mystery meat: Another masterful missive from Martha Stewart, who somehow manages to dash off a chatty memo between prison chores:

Aiming for the right gift: Apparently, there aren't enough guns in the nation's homes, so North Carolinians are doing their part to change that, just in time for gift-giving.

Our pets deserve equal time with Santa too, right? The Denver Post's Miles Moffeit finds out the hard way.,1413,36~45~2613427,00.html/

From the Kitsch That Won't Go Away Desk, the signs are good that Chia pets are being crammed into stockings all over this great land of ours.

Getting Less Touchy-Feely At The Airports And Other Sins Of The TSA

Sure, they're nominally better than the minimum-wage drones who formerly manned airport security checkpoints. But too many Transportation Security Administration employees still feel the rules are what they say they are, which is often different than official policy. So, the jury will be out on the latest directive involving pat-down searches. No more excursions to your breasts, crotch or tush unless you set off an alarm.
Which still leaves us nowhere when it comes to the most maddening ordeal for road warriors, dealing with the shoe police. As many of us have found out the hard way, the official policy is you don't have to remove your shoes.
But if you're asked to do so and choose to follow that "policy," you're automatically labeled suspect and you and your possessions will get up close and personal with someone who'd much rather be on his coffee break. The more you protest, the longer the search and the more surly the TSA employee gets.
What's hard to understand is why is it OK to keep your sneakers on at JFK, when it's verboten in Des Moines? That's where I saw one poor guy get everything short of an anal probe because he may have looked at someone the wrong way.
I've already waved surrender if my footwear is flagged. It's just not worth the hassle any more. Most TSA employees apparently are disinclined to read their employer's memos. But is help on the way? Maybe, says someone who's in the position to know.
For now, though, don't take them off at your own peril, as Joe Sharkey reported in The New York Times. Reading this piece I quickly discovered that misery really does love company.,0,160982.story?coll=sfla-travel-print

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Give This Guy An Oscar, Already

Nobody's ever come up with a good explanation as to why Paul Giamatti didn't get nominated last year for playing Harvey Pekar in American Splendor.
The obvious answer might be that the Academy is filled with geezer lunkheads, but that would be too easy. Fortunately, Giamatti's peformance in Sideways will give them a chance to atone. But it appears he'll be the last person campaigning for a slot come Oscar night.

Digesting The End Of Free Food On American Airlines

There's little argument that if you find yourself sitting in coach on a domestic flight long enough to merit meal service you expect little and, in turn, are never disappointed.
So when American Airlines announces the end of free food on flights longer than three hours in favor of a $3 "snack box" or a $5 croissant or turkey wrap, no one should be that upset if they're no longer asked the question "chicken or beef" and try to discern whether the flight attendant got the order right. Right?;jsessionid=RUFR3PRMAPBG1EAJJNBU1D2QBFFSWVMD?repositoryId=12501190&repositoryName=PromotionContentRepository&itemDescriptor=PromotionContent
Not exactly.
It's not like I can't wait to digest the six shards of iceberg lettuce that are called a salad or see how SkyChefs folds, spindles and otherwise mutilates poultry so it fits into a miniscule tray. I simply regarded a meal as a way for the airline to say thanks for spending six hours with us. We may have edited the hell out of the movie that was mostly inaudible because the headphones suck and we know the fat guy in the middle seat really should bathe more, but here's some turkey tetrazinni to make you feel better.
As one poster mentioned on, the only thing people might complain about more than the quality of the food is that you didn't get enough (a detailed discussion by the road warriors at flyertalk, never shy about voicing their discontent, can be found at
As someone who parked his fanny on many an AA transcontinental flight this year -- and has a Platinum AAdvantage card to show for it, the thought of having to brown bag it or fork over some dough for a wrap of questionable quality is hard to stomach, especially when American doesn't offer enough seats to upgrade to first class, where the food is still gratis.
But what's hardest to digest is American claiming in the press release the program was implemented after weighing survey results and feedback from both customers and employees that supported the idea of selling food during the flight.
Exactly how many people want to pay at least $5 for something they now get for free? And are we surprised that flight attendants would prefer to walk down the aisle hawking wraps rather than pushing a cart and trying to placate angry passengers whose special meals didn't make it onto the plane.
As always, your correct change will be greatly appreciated.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Now They Know How We Feel About The Price Of Macadamia Nuts

Apparently, Hawaiians aren't in the aloha spirit when they find out what it costs to schlep a Christmas tree over from the mainland.

But why spend all that dough on a tree when you can derive hours of enjoyment from recycled cans and tinfoil? That's why the Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum is now open. Why a museum dedicated to fake firs and provenance-challenged pines? Um....dunno. But if you're in Brevard, NC, between stock-car races, by all means go find out and let us know.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Scraping For A Lead And Coming Up Empty

Looks like Stephen Kinzer in The Times was reaching a little too hard to find a fresh lead for the story on the woman who was strangled and then had her fetus cut out of her. Such are the hazards of working a story over the phone instead of being in the field.

By last night, two days after a pregnant woman was killed in Missouri and her fetus cut out and taken, the local mortuary still had not heard from her relatives.
They were probably concentrating on the surviving baby girl, suggested Marian George, an employee of the Price Funeral Home in Maryville, Mo.

You think?

The Kansas City Star was among those that had a better idea.


MELVERN, Kan. — Dressed in pink and nestled in a baby carrier, the infant was paraded around town Friday, just as any newborn might be.
Kevin and Lisa Montgomery dropped by the Whistle Stop Cafe on Main Street to give patrons a look, then there was a visit to the home of the Rev. Mike Wheatly, pastor of the First Church of God.
“I held her in my arms for 15 minutes,” Wheatly recalled Saturday.
“Lisa talked about the delivery, about how her water broke,” he said. “Kevin had his proud papa face on.”

Full story:

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Weekly Read-Out

Each week we'll attempt to shine a little light on some worthy clips and columns that merit your attention. Drop us a line if you stumble upon something that merits inclusion.

1) The newspaper and circulation staff at the Youngstown Vindicator have gone on strike to get a modest boost in their rather humble wages. The paper has brought in scabs from other cities, no small feat in the staunchly pro-union, blue-collar town. Joe P. Tone reports on why the replacements are keeping a decidedly low profile.

2) LA Times reporter Martha Groves journeys to China to visit the orphanage where her 11-year-old adopted daughter spent her first months. Free of sentiment, full of emotion.,0,1529242.story?coll=la-home-headlines

3) Stop the insanity! With her typical take-no-prisoners style, Linda Stasi on how the FCC morality police have totally run amok.

4) The Miami Herald takes an interesting double-barreled approach to answering computer questions. For the elite members of the geek squad, Peggy Rogers speaks their language without sounding like she walks around with a pocket protector.
For the rest of us, Tim Henderson's column calmly and concisely answers what Rogers's readers would regard as stupid questions.
(Full disclosure: Tim's an old friend from back in the day when we both toiled in the salt mines at Gannett).

5) Since the NHL is shut down by the owners' lockout, Matt Manley at the Long Island Press decided that doesn't mean the New York Islanders can't play, on his PlayStation II that is. It really is better than nothing.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Gotcha! Gotcha Back! The Tale Of A Very Candid Camera

Not a pretty picture:

Bait And Switch Is A Bitch

The Washington city council's decision to not let Major League Baseball suck off the public tit and get a new stadium built gratis for the transplanted Montreal Expos was met with a mix of amusement, bemusement, outrage and downright resignation by local columnists.
The Post's Thomas Boswell laid into the council, never one of the more distinguished governing bodies, for trying at the last minute to force half of the stadium tab to be privately financed.

When you make a deal with baseball, they honor it. If you break a deal with them, you're out. Which is as it should be. But then baseball is big league, unlike the D.C. Council, which is bush league and just damaged the city's reputation coast-to-coast.

Thom Loverro at the Washington Times minced fewer words, who found "there are enough clowns in this relocation circus to fill a fleet of Shriners cars in a parade." But his colleague Dan Daly said the Lords of Baseball need only look in the mirror to figure out how something so right could turn out so wrong.

These are the guys who let the Montreal franchise wither away, treated it like a junior member of the National League, while they took their sweet time shopping around for the club's next home. These are the guys who — whoops! — allowed their All-Star Game to end in a tie and their players to bulk up to the size of the Incredibles before they started testing for steroids.

Maybe so, says the Post's Michael Wilbon, but don't lay all the blame on the council if the league takes its bats and balls elsewhere come April. Washington's already lost a baseball teams to other cities twice, which may contribute to the council's less-than-charitable mood. But if the vote Wednesday is a negotiating ploy, Wilbon warns it could backfire in a hurry.

And while Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos may be doing a jig over these developments, David Steele at The Sun says it's bad news for Orioles fans if the team doesn't feel any pressure from a neighbor to the south to improve its sorry fortunes.

Now that baseball's Big Tease is virtually over in D.C., Orioles fans have a right to feel as betrayed as those still hoarding their souvenirs from Bat Day at RFK in '68. They were waiting for their chance to ask Angelos, "What are you gonna do for me?" instead of being asked that by him.

The most handsome suitor they'd had in a long time is being chased out of town. Orioles fans are all alone again, and they shouldn't be very happy about it.,1,5523651.column?coll=bal-sports-headlines

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

He Felt It Was His Duty To Protest

The poop, the whole poop and nothing but the poop:

The Puck Stops Here

Like many I used to be a die-hard hockey fan. Back in the day, all the New York Rangers road games were on Channel 9, and watching them play the Flyers and Bruins was akin to a gladiator smackdown. In time, I grew to appreciate the almost-balletic grace of a solid end-to-end game more than watching Nick Fotiu take on the entire Hartford Whalers.
So what happened next? Blame the Rangers. Why not? After a city heaved a collective sigh of relief when the team won its first Stanley Cup in 54 years, the NHL tried to cash in on that era of good feeling and continue its expansion spree. In the end we were left with a large assortment of mediocrities hanging out in the neutral zone hoping one of them would get lucky and wrist a puck or two in the net.
The NHL has only itself to blame for being a distant fourth in the hearts and minds of most sports fans. And now with the league rejecting the players' latest proposal to end the lockout that will likely scuttle the season, the prospect of the NHL skating into oblivion is all too real. Time for some hard choices to be made, as Rick Carpinello deftly notes.
Still, no one spews the bile that should rightly be directed at NHL owners better than Larry Brooks. No question he's deeply passionate about the game as he reads like a lover scorned.
Who blinks next? Who cares?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

From The Unfortunate Headline Department

From the Straits Times in Singapore: George Michael Slams Elton John
See story:,5562,290653,00.html

Into The Breach

Spend any time slogging away at a desk inside a newsroom and you'll quickly find out the role many readers expect you to play. Which will often be something totally at odds with what you're really supposed to do.
What many readers, not to mention advertisers, expect is for you to act as little more than a branch of the local Rotary Club. You're one of us, or against us. And woe to the scribe who doesn't get with the program.
This week's ink-stained wretch who dared to be different is Paul Gattis, the University of Alabama beat writer for the Huntsville Times. Gattis has the so-called honor of voting in the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll.
That's supposed to be a pretty cool thing for a sportswriter. Except when it's not.
You see, Gattis dared to put Oklahoma and Southern Cal as his top picks, and only then picked Auburn, incurring the wrath of the 'Bama Bubba Nation and likely dooming Auburn's hopes of playing for the national championship.
Never mind that all three teams were undefeated and that he had ranked the top two schools in the same position all year. Gattis was nothing if not consistent, which wasn't good enough for the hundreds of e-mailers who said he had a bias against Auburn because he covered Alabama and labeled him many variations of a traitor, dumb-ass and gutless wonder.
And those were the ones who said nice things about him.
Gattis was prompted to write a column in which he defended himself. Alternately informed and downright combative, the column was as courageous and it was cranky.
Alas, Melinda Gorham didn't see it that way. The Huntsville Times editor, under obvious pressure from her publisher and advertisers, cut loose from her spine and issued a front-page apology in which she called Gattis's column "mean-spirited and callow."

Even though signed columns are meant to reflect a writer's sensibilities and style, there are certain attributes that should never be circumvented: civility, tolerance of counter-opinions, and a tone that coaxes a reader to ponder the concept more than the columnist.
We didn't do that in Monday's column. I deeply regret it.

Way to support the staff, Mel.

Look, there's a reason most reporters don't count editors among their drinking buddies. Becoming a manager and actually having to make a decision changes someone, especially when they have to answer to publishers, who themselves are catch flak from everyone from their corporate overlords to their wife's Mah Jong partners.
So, rather than stand up and defend a reporter who's only doing his job, the only instinct is to duck and cover. I've encountered editors like Gorham before during my newsroom stints. It's easier to say "I'm sorry" and pander in hopes a shrill minority will shut up than to take a stand and tell them to shut up.

At least Gattis had the guts to do that.

As for Gorham, I'm sure she'll get an extra slice of milquetoast at the next Rotary Club meeting.