Monday, March 31, 2008

Edict from on High Enters the Sticky Racial Debate of 1990

Interesting news this week from the majestic mountain in the clouds from which the lords of style congregate and proclaim the rules of words across the land.

The official AP Style has long been a hold-out for the use of the term "black" to describe a, um, black person in news stories, even as individual newspapers changed their internal styles to "African-American." The Washington Post and NPR are the two examples that come to mind that use the sometimes clunky African-American instead of black. In my sophomore year of college, my head still swimming with all the yearning for political correctness and do-goodedness that would eventually be slowly beaten out of my by the GW administration and its affirmative action policies that required a 95 percent douchebag acceptance rate, I remember using "African-American" in a story about a controversy at Howard University. My managing editor, never one for subtlety, asked me if I knew for a fact these people were from Africa. Well, uh, um, no, I stammered, searching my oversized corduroy pants for my notebook. Well then, they're just "black," he said. Lesson learned, I suppose. (That same editor would also make a scene if he thought you were backing into a lead by rocketing his rolling chair backwards from his desk, making beeping noises and yelling "Watch out everyone! I'm backing up here!")
Note: I just checked and he works for the Salt Lake Tribune now. Another reporter I worked with at that paper was on The Daily Show the other day because he had been reporting in Iraq for Newsweek. Which is exactly like writing about traffic circle construction and tax increment financing, as far as I'm concerned.

But lo, the clouds hath parted and the booming voice of style deities has spake into the changing winds. AP Style now accepts African-American as a description of black people. It is unclear what phrasing Vogue used when describing LeBron James, however.

Here's the AP update we received:


Acceptable for an American black person of African descent. Black is also acceptable. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. People from Caribbean nations, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean-American. Follow a person's preference. See nationalities and races, and race entries.


Acceptable for a person of the black race. (Use Negro only in names of organizations or in quotations.) Do not use colored as a synonym. See colored, nationalities and races, and race entries.

So this creates an interesting question. If African-American is acceptable only for people genuinely of African descent, are we as reporters not obligated to ask everyone where their ancestry comes from? If so, why not fine tune it to say "Nigerian-American," or "Kenyan-American?" Or you have the indelicate task of asking a question "What do you prefer to be called?" I'm sure most interview subjects would prefer to you not really parse race politics in your article.

Not being a blackrican-American person myself, but sympathetic to the cause, I don't know the best way to handle this. I have a feeling continuing to use "black" and "white" to describe people when necessary will win out, only because hyphenated descriptions are far too clunky for your average news story, and race is so imprecise a way to describe someone anyhow. Most of the instances when race is relevant in a news story is when it's a factor in someone's treatment or someone's actions. The Media have a horrible habit of classifying all persons of race as a monolithic slab, such as the Will Black People Vote For Obama? frenzy of late or the
How Do Hispanics Feel About Immigration? question that Lou Dobbs wets himself over at night.

So does this represent some seismic shift in the way media talk about race? Probably not. But us white people do love talking about how uncomfortable we are talking about race.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Weekly Winkerbean

A new feature, through which to unleash my rage at the so-called comic strip known as "Funky Winkerbean." The strip is the epicenter of my anger on a daily basis, yet it continues to appear unironically in our newspaper. So we decided to make it ironic.

Funky is an oppressive and shrewd taskmaster
March 17-23: recap

Funky wants to hire an employee for his pizza parlor, but needs one who will log the requisite number of hours that constitute a workday. Disbelief is expressed that someone would want a weekend off. It is revealed Funky is a workaholic. A man resembling Harvey Fierstein destroys the want ad before expressing interest in the job.
Harvey Fierstein explains the money he would earn at this pizzeria is the difference between his daughter — who is already sleeping around — going to college or becoming a street trash. While he is not a poor teaacher, the man explains, he is a poor teacher (actual dialogue).
The two shake hands on the matter and agree to remain friends, despite overwhelming evidence that working together ruins friendships. Later, they begin their business partnership by looking for Funky’s glasses, which he has comically misplaced.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Trivia Team/Band Names, as Related to Yesterday's Developments in the Missing Persons Case

-Hypothetical Press Release
-The Repentant Spokesman
-Ripped Crotch and the Exposed Flesh
-Reputation Management Services
-Authors of Nancy Drew Mysteries
-Locked Bathroom and the Phantom Knife
-Stu Rodman's Political Genius
-Your Trash Provides No Clues

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Even Nelson Knows

This is from a while ago, coincidentally the only new episode of The Simpsons I actually watched since several hair styles ago. Other mediums the Simpsons has denounced over the years: snake-whacking, gay-hunting, gun ownership, religious zealotry and autocratic political rule.

"Hey, that hurts. No wonder no one came to my birthday party."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The floating hall of Doom has a landline

Here's an odd phenomenon: when Fox News calls you, as they have us about 347 times in the past week, their number comes up "Unkown" on your cell phone. I confirmed this with another reporter who also was the object of a Fox News crush this week. This does not occur when CNN or MSNBC or Good Morning America calls you, who are happy to let their Atlanta or New York numbers appear on the little caller id window and say "hi, it's me, your friendly big brother media from the city, calling to wish you good times and happy thoughts."

Not Fox News. This leads to all sorts of speculation about where in the hell Fox News is actually based. My friend Pete (not pictured here) says it's because when you *69 the number it rings through to Hitler's bunker. I assume it just rings through to a lavish basement office in the White House (for the past seven years, at least). There's a secret tunnel leading out through the Ellipse (if you've seen the movie "Dave," as you should, you know where it is) that they can rush out of to chase after missing white people or to find out just how much more Muslim Barack Obama is this week. The answer: very Muslim. I mean, he lived in Indonesia people. They've only got too things in Indonesia: steers and Muslims. Coincidentally, 13 percent of voters also believe Obama is a figment of Oprah's imagination and that his foreign policy experience is limited to his denouncement of Senator Palpatine's consolidation of power.

Where Fox is truly located, we may never know, though odds are the words "floating," "hall" and "doom" are involved somehow.

But why all the secrecy? It's not like they're doing anything behind those doors where anonymity would be a benefit. Oh wait.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Teevee debut: I Am Wolf Blitzer's Mustache

Taking off from the previous post about teevee news reporters and their proclivity to interview newspaper writers, I got a call from Fox News (known for their thoughtful, sensitive and in no way over-the-top coverage of missing persons, tragedies and other events) over the weekend asking to do an interview about the big missing white people story that we've been all over down here. I agreed, despite any hesitations I may have about the visual and verbal histrionics Fox often wraps its stories in. I figure it's good to get the paper's name out there at least, and maybe some sympathetic and doting millionaire will see our name and decide to invest unrestricted fortunes into improving and expanding our paper.

It lasted all of about three minutes (which I'm glad I didn't have to drive down to the Savannah TV station for) and went fine, besides the fact that they inexplicably labeled me "head reporter" when I'm actually the reporter whose probably contributed least to this story out of everyone who's been working on it. The promotion by Fox comes with no pay raise, I was informed by editors afterwards.

I made the mistake of hinting at some of the rumors circulating about the disappearance, none of which are substantiated and any of which could just as likely be the product of the vicious rumor mill this town seems to foster. Just ask the illegal immigrants living on the BI-LO roof. Or find Oprah's estate and ask her.

Of course, the Fox anchor started frothing at the beak at the mention of seedy rumors, especially when the blockbuster hint at financial malfeasance starting visions of sugarplums dancing in Fox's head. I had to back up away from the rumor talk so John and Jane Q. Average Viewer didn't walk away with the idea that we were casting aspersions that the two missing people were embezzling masterminds.

CNN called at about 5:45 p.m. today, which went similarly except I tried to shy away from mentioning the rumor part. I was hoping they would put me through to Wolf Blitzer so I could tell him about the overstock of 45 flat screen TVs I have lying around that he may want to purchase. But they put me through instead to Headline News, which is the Spark Notes version of CNN.

What does all this mean? I can now have an IMDB page! Hazzah! Oh, wait, I already have one.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Pirates Who Pillage Boredom

Found this free video site today that looks an awful lot like TV Links, except it appears to be channeled through a site in the Cocos Islands, a territory of Australia, according to whoever wrote it into wikipedia. It seems like there's dozens of these new sites popping up every week. The pace of piracy always seems too fast for legality to keep up with.

How dearly I miss TV Links, which was solely responsible for preserving my sanity during strep throat last spring. We spent many a lonely moment together.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Defenestration of Reason

In today's edition of The Most Ridiculous Goddamn Thing Ever:

Our paper's been all over this big story about two prominent local residents who suspiciously went missing this week, leaving behind their big boat, expensive airplane and not answering their cell phones or Blackberries for days.

So naturally since we're breaking the story (yet somehow far down the list of results on The Google News), other media outlets have been calling here all day trying to suckle at the teat of the knowledge monster. This is a particularly prevalent trait among TV reporters, who are well trained in hair styles and visual histrionics, but are typically lacking in the Actual Work department. Usually they call here asking for contact numbers (response: check or sometimes to interview one of our reporters on the air so they don't have to actually do reporting. Which is fine. Occasionally, it's Nancy Grace, who wants one of our reporters to come on TV so she can slaughter live puppies in front of them while screaming "GUILTY!" the whole time.

So today Big Fabes gets the call from a Fox news affiliate who wants to interview one of the reporters. They offer to send a car over even to pick one of us up and drive to the studio in Savannah.

That's goddamn ridiculous.

Newspapers are dying and we've gotten to the point we're asking people to take voluntary, unpaid vacation time. But the goddamn television station can afford to send a car to pick up one of our reporters. One of our reporters who got all the information and broke the news about the story that the television station didn't even bother to report themselves. Yet they have the budget for a car and we are practically selling cookies door to door to stay alive.

Clearly there's a value on the reporting done by newspapers, a value that TV reporters (at least in this market) can't, or won't, easily replicate. But the printed product is sinking, probably due to a bad business model that I don't understand and has something to do with this new thing called the internet that everyone over 40 think is the fucking Cloverfield monster come to ruin their rooftop party.

But still, that's goddamn ridiculous.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Smokeless Smoke Break, and Other Forms of Staying Sane as the World Crumbles Around You

Spend several years in the workforce, specifically the food and beverage industry, and you'll become sick of the workplace tyranny enjoyed by casual smokers. "What?" you say, face slack-jawed in disbelief, "Smokers are treated like the lowest form of life, below even journalists."

You would be right in that regard, but when it comes to breaktime, smokers have that shit on lock. For instance, when I was waiting tables, every smoker had a fix they needed to fill every so often or else they ran the risk of smashing an NC Slab (shout-out to Darryl's in Raleigh) of ribs into the faces of the next person who asked for extra ranch dressing with their french fries. This in mind, managers frequently consent to the smoke break, where the wait or host staff would step into the alleyway and get dosed up on tobacco (or often other substances, but that's a different post by far). Meanwhile, those of us who don't ingest carcinogens regularly into our bodies are left on the floor, trying to figure out exactly how table 37 managed to get an entire pancake (intact!) lodged under the base of the table.

Same thing at newspapers. My coworkers who smoke stand up every so often, take their train outdoors, walk briskly to the edge of the property (thank you new company protocol) and take their break. There's nothing stopping the rest of us from joining them really, or from picking up the habit, or picking up a more elaborate habit where every hour we need to jump for 15 minutes on a moonbounce carefully placed outside the press building, for instance. But it doesn't quite have the same sting if it isn't a fix that you're getting, if it doesn't fill some need that must be sated or else your brain will turn to goo and drip out your ears.

There's been times when I've needed a cigarette break, and took the plunge. I'm thinking specifically of my first week as an editor at the college paper, where I found out with about one day's notice we had a special section to put out and somehow managed to get it together (this is why almost all special sections in newspapers are just advertising ploy BS, fyi). Oh sweet Marlboro filters. You've seen me through hard times.

But this is the reason we've instituted the smokeless smoke break at our newsroom. Well, this and several other reasons that relate to the general malaise of the industry and a particular strand of doldrums that render productivity a moot point on rote and repetitive Monday afternoons. But you know that story already.

The smokeless smoke break! Join us on the patio outside the newsroom, a lovely -- and well-furnished -- outdoor respite that's rarely used, presumably due to the fact that most people who resign themselves to work in an office are generally scared of the fear of. The section of patio is conveniently off-limits to smokers, as it is part of company property.

Here in this smokeless smoke break we sit under the canopy of the impressive oak tree and soak up the typical 70-degree afternoon sunshine while singing songs of despair and plotting future drinking ventures, which may or may not be related to aforementioned songs of despair.
We watch and sometimes try to catch the lizards that run rampant around that courtyard like some sort of cheap Japanese monster film. Then we plot how the newspaper could be run better and compare notes on the most ridiculous web-themed trick of the week. Real example: "Let's make an Oscar contest! With no prizes whatsoever for the winner! People will love that."
Plus, you avoid this problem.

Then we taper off back into the newsroom and finish whatever mundane reporting needs to be done for the day, full of just a tiny bit more sanity from the few minutes in the sunshine. And no one had to ingest anything in their lungs to do it.

It should be noted that the smokeless smoke break is not sanctioned by internal management, nor are they aware of it beyond the possibility that they notice several employees sneaking out the side door on sunny days. But if they try to crack down on the SLSBs, we'll bring a pro-tobacco discrimination suit so fast their menthols will spin.

But goddamnit sometimes when the weather's nice and you don't feel like the work you're doing that day has any relation to the greater public good or the higher purpose you got into newspapers in the first place, take the smokeless smoke break and you might just realize that everyone else feels exactly the same way. Which gets us back to our original question: so now what?