Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hooray for voluntolding!

Yay! Congress passed the AmeriCreeps bill! To quote the article's opening line, now "[t]ens of thousands of Americans, from teenagers to baby boomers, soon will get a fresh chance to lend a helping hand in a time of need"! Yay! Except, you know, for the ones who were already donating their time and money outside of the government framework. Them we have to tax to keep things under control. Yeah. In Soviet Russia, volun ... um, you ... um, car drives you ...

Yeah, that joke doesn't really work if it's already inverted.

And, as a follow-up to that screed ...

... I hop over to Roberta's place and the first thing I see is that The Christian Science Monitor has ceased daily dead-tree publication. It still has a weekly version, but that's it. Turk wonders in the comments what so many newspaper closings will do to the price of paper, etc., and I myself am wondering the same thing. And what's going to happen to the stock price of Cup-a-soup when the (former) journalists can't even afford that? (I've heard that box soup can be quite tasty, particularly if the box is new.)

Objectivity: FAIL

It says something about the state of the newspaper industry that when I read about allegations that the most respected newspaper in the world spiked a story because it screwed with their candidate's chances, it doesn't surprise me at all. The most emotion I can muster is a raised eyebrow and a "Huh. That figures." It's also damning that the NYT doesn't provide a defense beyond "[W]e do not discuss our newsgathering and won’t comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama." Which is bunk.

Spend half a day with a group of modern "journalists" and you're bound to hear something about how they're the paladins of the people, riding forth to do battle with the monsters of evil and injustice. Unfortunately, they tend to have a very narrow view of what constitutes evil (let alone injustice), and they're perfectly content to cram that down their readers' throats whether the readers agree with them or not. You see, paladins are often misunderstood by the very people they're trying to help, and sometimes you have to take a few tomatoes and rotten eggs for the sake of their souls!

It is to retch.

A defining moment for me as a journalist (little j, thank you) was a column written by Ron Browning, the (former) editor of the late Noblesville Daily Times and the guy who gave me an internship simply because I had the guts to ask for one. He's a swell guy and he really helped me come into my own professionally, giving me both a leg up and a stern lesson on not selling myself short. I owe him a lot. But a column he wrote some time after my internship really drove home for me why newspapers have failed to adapt and change with the burgeoning Internet journalism community. That is, he lamented the demise of the newspaper because without it, there would be no one to speak for freedom and democracy and no one to champion the people's cause. Which is all fine and good except, you know, we can kind of do that ourselves now.

One reason the major news outlets show such outstanding arrogance toward their readers is that, frankly, they have a platform and their readers don't. They work hard and they go to school and they learn the whys and wherefores of journalism and they get jobs where their words reach thousands and millions of people. They are, indeed, protectors of liberty in the sense that they can hold public officials' feet to the fire, but it's only because they have a bigger megaphone than most people.

Or at least, they did.

One of the great things about the Internet is that anyone -- and I mean aaaaaaaaanyone -- can have a worldwide audience of millions with just a little html and a lot of guts. All it takes is a flash of skin or something interesting to say, and luckily for the world's eyeballs (and sanity) there are a lot of interesting things worth saying. It's an environment where someone with no training and no education can have the same audience as A Journalist -- and it's even, one could argue, a better one because it's more engaged. You would think that someone who claims to be on the side of the people would be ecstatic about this development, but when you build your entire identity around a certain relationship, any changes to that relationship can be devastating. It used to be that journalists were muckrakers and rabble-rousers, bottom-feeders that filled out their publications with sensationalist crap and highly opinionated swill. As far as content goes, nothing's really changed, but the whole endeavor has taken on the patina of a noble cause, the hard-working reporter slaving away for a pittance while he speaks up for the common man.

Except, of course, when you make millions just for putting on a tie and showing up to make a few phone calls and bang something out between lattes, it's kind of hard to keep that illusion steady. So when someone comes along who does it better, who gives people what they want and then some, the fact that he's a "nobody" compared to you is, at best, extremely galling. One reason Joe the Plumber was so savaged in the press was that he showed that intelligent commentary and thoughtful questions weren't solely the domain of Ivy League j-school programs and national op-ed pages. The one spoken for had become the speaker.

I'm not going to pretend that training and education don't make a difference in blogging success; they certainly do. It's no coincidence that many successful bloggers are already well known in some other field. But all this proves is that smart and/or dedicated people tend to do well at things. The fact that average Joes can and do school professional reporters on a regular basis on the Internet is a tasty lump in the New Media gravy. Unfortunately, the so-called "professionals" are making a hash of it.

When the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution refers to freedom of the press, the founding fathers were doubtless thinking of actual printing presses owned and operated by everyday citizens. The abstract concept of "The Press" did not come until much later, and the idea that working for "The Press" was on a par with being a lawyer or doctor came later still. There's no great secret to making phone calls and conducting interviews. Any schmuck with a phone can do it. A high-powered reporter may have a direct line to a world leader, but all that means is that he was good at climbing the ladder at his publication. Without his platform to back him up, he'd be just another guy at home in his pajamas. (As Glenn would say, "Heh.") And if a platform is measured by the size of its readership, then I know hundreds of blogs that have more influence than most local newspapers. The paladins have been surrounded by mounted irregulars, and unless they get used to the idea, they'll be shoved completely to the rear. Of course, they keep deliberately tripping the generals, too ...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe: Smoked Sausage and Peppers

It's on time for once! My (currently nuts) sister invented this dish a while ago, and it quickly became a staple. If you cut up the peppers and onions ahead of time and freeze them, it's a good one for throwing together in a pinch if you have to cook something in a rush without much preparation.

Smoked Sausage and Peppers

1 package beef smoked sausage (my preference; any kind will work)
1 package of stoplight peppers (a green, a red and a yellow bell pepper all packaged together)
1 medium to large white onion
1 clove minced garlic
Italian herbs (oregano, parsley, thyme, crushed red pepper, etc.)
1-2 c. water
1 lb. spaghetti
Grated cheese (mozzarella, parmesan or romano)

Cut the smoked sausage into bite-sized pieces and cook on medium heat in a large skillet, turning the pieces every few minutes to promote even browning. When it begins to brown, add garlic, then peppers, onions and herbs. Stir to mix the ingredients and to scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Add enough water to come halfway up the contents of the pan, then cook until the water is gone, stirring occasionally (this keeps the peppers from overcooking and prevents the sausage from burning). Serve over cooked spaghetti and top with cheese. Total prep time: about 20 minutes. Total time until they ask for seconds: significantly less. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! It's not a funny laugh.

Beer and bloggers.

I suppose I ought to link it, since I'll be there ... Indy Bloggers BlogMeet tomorrow! Woo!

*Many thanks to RobertaX for putting up the image since some of us lack the mad graphics skills are just too darn lazy to do it ourselves.

The problem with ivory towers is that you can't hear the people below.

Yesterday I went to a reception for Ball State magazine journo alumni at the university's Indianapolis Center, which was a lot of fun. I ran into a guy I used to work with (we got laid off on the same day), as well as my old boss' boss, my sequence coordinator and several of the big kahunas from the J-department. It was a fun time, and I even recorded a video for use on the school's Web site, which was a blast -- I'd been talking about how I had strong opinions about the future of journalism, so the guy asked me about those and I basically recited this post in highly condensed form, with a little of this one thrown in. The guy running the camera (a grad student) is, it turns out, a fellow Republican, so we had some good conversation and, frankly, bonded in our outnumberedness (he admitted to nearly crying on election night, which means he held up better than I did).

The most interesting thing about it for me, though, was talking about the future of the industry with the head of the department, Marilyn Weaver. She's a very smart, very accomplished woman, but it was obvious that she had no idea how things were changing or what consumers of news really wanted from their newspapers. Basically, it was everything I'd complained about in the posts linked above; she was wedded to the medium, not to the message, and she was convinced that journalism was a white knight on a horse, not a tool of the masses. She admitted to being out of touch with technology and didn't seem inclined to learn it -- she made the right sounds about getting up-to-date, but it was obvious she still wanted to stick to paper products instead of moving to a new model. Others I talked to seemed equally threatened. The other problem I noticed was that she and others talked about digital media as a means of continuing the old delivery system (reporter writers the news, reader reads the news, reader takes what the reporters gives them and likes it) instead of using that technology to adapt to the changing needs of the marketplace. And she's in charge of training the up-and-coming generations of news producers. This is why we have a problem.

Another interesting point came when I talked with Bob Jonason, my old boss' boss and the "Digital Operations Director" for the Indianapolis Star. We were discussing how the Community Information Desk (my old haunt) was on the verge of some major expansions when we were gutted in the layoffs. I always maintained that this was a bad move from a purely business standpoint; the Star had an established brand identity in an area (entertainment databases) that's hard to build without one. I told Bob my idea that the Star could have built a Web site that would act as a clearinghouse for information on Indianapolis restaurants, a site where tourists, out-of-towners or locals wanting something new could look up restaurants by price, style, atmosphere, location, you name it. The biggest innovation would be that members of the public (customers, owners, etc.) could log in and create entries about restaurants, filling in required information and adding reviews and other comments. Bob's reaction was that he would rather have a single person providing the content -- in short, editorial control from the top down, including all writing. My thought was that this is exactly the model that needs to change -- instead of the mighty journalist writing from on high to inform the masses, the public should be entrusted with their own information. Because the only people likely to be contributing are people with an emotional investment (they want to promote the restaurant or they have a complaint), the site's users balance themselves. The only editorial control, ideally, would be someone to handle complaints and abuse of the system (sock puppets, smear campaigns, fact-checking new information and the like). Web sites like Yahoo have similar systems, but their size works against them in smaller markets like Indy; a locally based version with a good information campaign could go like gangbusters. It's a model that empowers the public and gives people a feeling of control over their fate, something that doesn't come with the old top-down organization, and with the Star's established brand identity, it could be a massive moneymaker for the company (advertising, paid "featured venues", etc.). But that won't happen until the powers that be make the mental shift from gatekeeper to enabler of people who want to get involved. As long as they stay in the ivory tower, the masses will get tired of banging on the door and go find their information elsewhere.

So overall, it was a good night: I had some good conversations, and the hors d'oeuvres were excellent. But it was also an eye-opener into why the newspaper industry and its relatives are in such trouble. Until we get the new thinkers in, it's going to continue to be a messy, messy slaughter. We're not white knights. We're servants of the people. Either get serving or get out of the way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Does he genuinely not realize just how creepy most people find this?

So apparently the mandatory service bit in the creepy AmeriCorps bill that I blogged about a couple times this week was stripped from the bill before voting, which is good -- but all that means is that it gets its own vote in the House later on. And on top of that, there's this little gem from Rahm Emmanuel's book, indicating that compulsory service for young adults would make them more patriotic and civic-minded. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm forced to do something, particularly if it's a paternalistic, authority-knows-what's-best-type thing (and I don't even have a problem with authority!), I tend to get very cynical and less inclined to take anything they tell me without a grain of salt. And I know from experience that most people my age and younger (the up-and-comers who would actually be a part of this, whether they wanted to or not) get much, much more cynical and rebellious than I would. And of course there are the starry-eyed dreamers, the girls who get involved because they want to help poor people and the guys who get involved because they want to impress the girls. But when they find out that the whole mess is, inevitably, A Mess, the girls get very confused and concerned and don't want to hang out with the boys as much. So everybody loses.

Back to my original point re: the first two links, I find that this fits nicely into the disturbing pattern established in 2008 during Obama's campaign. I call it the Broccoli Strategy, in that if your kid won't eat broccoli, cut it up into tiny pieces and put it in with foods he will eat, or disguise it as something else that's much more palatable, and before you know it he's gotten a full serving of vegetables and doesn't even know it. The downside, of course, is that with Obama's pattern you get shafted, while the broccoli technique is helpful in preventing scurvy.

Obama had a history during his campaign of making lots of little mistakes and foot-in-mouth statements and moments of personal viciousness where, if one looked at each incident individually, they didn't add up to anything at all. "Well, he's only human," you could say. "We all slip up sometimes." But the problem came when you added them all together: He suddenly appeared as a dangerously naive and simultaneously appallingly arrogant man, functioning on the emotional level of a traumatized 3-year-old. It's the same with his policies and attempted legislation: Things like the AmeriCorps expansion get buried in with other things or broken down into their constitutent parts so that the larger, more volatile picture is harder to grasp. It reminds me of the NBC series "Life," where Damien Lewis' character tries to figure out the conspiracy that framed him for murder by taping up photos on the wall in his closet and basically setting up a flowchart. It's a case where a bunch of seemingly unrelated things all pile together into one big conspiracy, but to an outsider it looks like he's getting all worked up over nothing. It's only when you get in there and get an explanation for each piece that it starts to point to something bigger. And boy, is this one big.

Bang, meet Whimper. Whimper, Bang. Oh, you two know each other?

So between China suggesting what amounts to a world currency, and Geithner's idiotic expression of enthusiasm for it, and Obama's disingenuous complaints about inheriting the deficit, and his mob-rule, take-it-from-the-rich-style handling of the AIG issue, and the mushy, ignorant and optimistic-to-the-point-of-delusion economic statements and forecasts coming from the White House, and ... (you get the idea), not to mention the places all this could lead, is it any wonder that when John McCain points out the disconnect between Obama's candidacy promises and administrative actions regarding the deficit, the budget and all things in-between, I find myself incapable of feeling outrage? It's not that it isn't outrageous; it's just that I'm too tired of dealing with all the other stuff to gin up any obvious emotion besides "Oh, great, another fire to put out."

I'll go get the hose.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

And I'm not the only one who thinks so!

Remember the other day, when I complained about (among other things), Obama's 250,000-member volunteer corps, which has the distinct possibility of becoming a voluntold corps with all the trimmings? Turns out I'm not the only one who thought it was creepy. So I don't know if that makes me a visionary or just part of a paranoid cohort of newswatchers, but it strikes me that I must be doing something right. Especially since the MSM seems disturbingly mum on this particular subject. Why, it's almost as if they don't want Our Leader's true agenda to be known ...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

God is good. Also, I can shoot things now.

Two awesome things:

1) I finally got into my unemployment money information online (after wrangling with the password for two days and with many browsers), and I have enough money to pay my rent which means I remain solvent and housed for yet another month, which means I am yet again in the debt of my gracious God for his everlasting mercy; and

2) My concealed carry permit came in the mail today. I'm going to go get it laminated right now.

(Okay, not really. But as soon as possible. And then I'm going to go buy a handgun as soon as I get some money. Woo! Finally!)

A plan to save the newspaper industry! (Or not.)

Or at least, a desperate attempt to reanimate the already dead body of the newspaper industry: Bailouts for newspapers! Let's take a look at it, shall we?

With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.
I thought they were already non-profits. Oh wait, that's no profits. Ba dum ching!

I'm mean.

A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media, which has seen plunging revenues and many journalist layoffs.
Excuse me while I giggle madly over the utter ridiculousness of this scheme. If there's anything more laughingly sad than an outdated industry desperately trying to remain relevant, even after it's no longer viable, well, I don't know what it is.

Honestly, I'd have a lot more tears if I wasn't so disgusted with the industry's behavior. See my post of a couple days ago; if you expend all your good-will capital with your customers through your obvious contempt for them, you really aren't allowed to complain when you start to go under. You brought this on yourselves!

Also, I don't see where this would be such an issue except that the people running/working for the newspapers have it in their heads that they are lone beacons of light in the darkness. That, more than anything, is much of what contributed to their demise. Just make the shift to the new technology and stop pinning your identity on the medium. It's like defining yourself solely by your shoes, by which I mean you insist on wearing shoes inappropriate for the weather because to wear other shoes would be betraying your highest principles. In other words, get over yourselves. I don't care if the espadrilles are cuter; you need galoshes if you want to get by.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe on Monday Afternoon Because I Had To Do Laundry and I Was Tired: Not-Quite-Baking Powder Biscuits with Turkey Sausage Gravy

UPDATE: I had to correct the temperature and cooking times (again). Have at.

I try to avoid using baking powder whenever possible because it uses cornstarch as a base (just like powdered sugar) and I get a stuffy nose when I eat corn products. Luckily, baking soda and cream of tartar substitute just fine for it, even in recipes that call for both powder and soda. Luckily, this recipe keeps things simple.

Not-Quite-Baking Powder Biscuits with Turkey Sausage Gravy

For 6 biscuits:

1 c. flour
1 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1 heaping T. shortening
Milk (you may need as much as a quarter cup)

Mix the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening until you reach the fine crumb stage. Add milk to moisten, just enough to form the ingredients into a dough (your mileage may vary), then turn out and knead very gently for no more than a minute. Only work the dough enough to get it to hold together; overworking the dough overactivates the leavening and results in hockey pucks (which are not good with gravy). Roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness and cut out biscuits, placing them on a cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown, at which point the middles should be light as the clouds of heaven, and just as tasty. Let cool on a wire rack, then serve warm with the gravy that follows or just straight-up buttered. They'll be gone in no time.

While the biscuits are baking:

Brown one pound of turkey sausage in a large frying pan (I use the kind that comes in a big roll), then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Be sure to leave any grease in the pan, although you won't have much because turkey sausage is usually fairly lean. If you feel the need to drain, do so, but be sure to leave enough for the next step. Stir the grease around with a wooden spoon and get it melted over low heat, then add flour until all the grease is soaked up. Cook the flour and grease together in the pan, then add milk and stir. Scrape up the brown bits of sausage and the cooked flour until it incorporates, then add more milk. Repeat the process, cooking on low heat until you get gravy. I usually have to fill the pan with milk before I get enough, but again, your mileage may vary. Add the sausage while it's cooking and let the flavors meld, then add salt and pepper at the end.

This gravy is delicious over the biscuits previously detailed, especially with another biscuit on the side topped with sorghum or butter. (Vegetables? What are those? We don't need no steenking vegetables!) Enjoy!

Saturday, March 21, 2009


All right. Let me see if I've got this straight:

1) Obama wants to create a 250,000 member-strong volunteer force, complete with uniforms, "campuses" (downgraded from "camps", I kid you not), possible mandatory service for (literally) just about everyone and talk of a four-year academy to train "public sector leaders";

2) Obama wants his current army of volunteers to knock on doors and have people sign that they support the president's policies (and oh, imagine the screaming if the Republicans had tried this!);

3) This one isn't an Obama idea per se, but it could have been. Leftist media critics have, in all seriousness, suggested a wide-spread government funding program for news media outlets, from major papers to high school FM stations. I admit, it sounds great on the surface -- until you remember that once someone provides the bulk of your funding (or even a substantial part of it), they gain an inordinate influence over what you can and can't publish or say.

So, to put it in terms I've been using since Obama started his thang, are they serious here? Are they serious about this Communist-era nonsense? Didn't they see how this crap turned out last time? Do they really want to go down that road?

Uniforms? Seriously?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Unwashed masses 1, ivory tower 0.

So: Here's the long-promised post about the demise of newspapers. And before I start, here's a post on the subject that should get you warmed up. And when you're done laughing at the widdle college journalist in all his self-sufficient bird-of-paradise plumage (which, by the way, is molting), you can read on.

Now: First off is the fact that even if newspapers were the single most reliable source of objective information on the planet, they'd still be going down. The outdated publishing business model relies on a few people owning the massive (and massively expensive) printing technology needed to produce and distribute the product, so when that same product becomes readily available for cheap as free (as happened when newspapers hit the Web), the entire structure of the industry basically collapses. Even before the Internet, pubs like glossy fashion magazines were produced at a loss because of the massive amount of money poured into ink and paper (the former of which is phenomenally expensive in any quantity). The printing industry in general is suffering, but it hit newspapers especially hard because they frankly don't have that good of a supply/demand model going on in the first place. There's a really good article about that here, which compares the current era to the pre- to post-Gutenberg transition (which was very messy and took about a century). It's a fascinating read in its own right, but you should also keep it in mind when reading the next part of this post.

The whole conversation with my excoworker started when she e-mailed me this piece of maudlin tripe about two journalistic cliches (His Girl Friday and All the President's Men) flipping a coin to see who would stay and who would go. Leaving aside such gag-inducing passages as this:

They didn't feel sorry for themselves. They'd stood outside enough burning rowhouses, interviewed enough mothers of dead children, counted enough corpses in fetid Third World killing fields to know what real tragedy looked like. They knew that the great gears of society whir and spin. Industries rise, and industries fall. To take any of it personally was like getting mad at the rain.

But even so, something bothered them. After telling so many stories, no one would be around to tell theirs.
(where, incidentally, the second paragraph belies the first), the whole thing smacks of a righteous self-pity and a feeling that once newspaper journalists don't have newspapers to write for, journalism itself will be a dead thing and we'll slide into the long, low abyss of uninformed hell.

Which is, frankly, bunk.

Journalists as we know them today are the product of a couple centuries of basement printing presses and overwrought hyperbole all wrapped into an implausable monopolistic industry of information dissemination. Before newspapers as we know them existed, there was always somebody who asked around and got things published so that people were informed and corruption was exposed. The problem is that for these people, once newspapers took off it became an industry, and with that industry came power. For all their talk about "speaking truth to power," most major newspapers as we know them are/were actively working to promote the agendas of their top brass. As I put it in my first response to my friend:

I'm going to be candid here.

During the last election, papers like the NYT had whole teams in Alaska and Arizona going through dumpsters, trying to dig up anything they possibly could about the Republican nominees. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates' highly unsavory connections and public gaffes went uninvestigated, covered over and outright ignored. It was just the latest, most egregious and most painfully obvious incident in a long string of "we're the deciders, we know what's best" behavior that effectively drove away half of their potential reading audience. And now they complain that "no one wants to read newspapers"? Cry me a river! The column below is a perfect example of the stomach-churning levels of self-importance that journalism has sunk to. It's like listening to the swan song of the buggy makers, lamenting the loss of the noble horse and carriage. "How will people ever get around without our equipment to carry them? Surely they can see that only our way is the right way! These mechanized conveyances will never be able to take our place!" People have needs, so they find ways to fill them. But if they find something that can fill it better they'll go with that. They ditched the horse and buggy for the automobile; they're ditching newspapers because they found better ways to get the news. If "journalists" can't adapt, then they'll go by the wayside. And falling back upon the stage, hands to their foreheads, bemoaning their fate ("Oh, if only the people had seen the error of casting us aside! Oh, if only they hadn't discarded our wisdom!") isn't going to win them back any friends.

"It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception." - Rupert Murdoch

I hope I haven't lost any friends with this, but journalism isn't a calling. It's a job. And like any job, it changes. It becomes less exclusive. There is no great secret to calling around and asking questions. Anyone with an Internet connection can be a journalist. You either roll with it, or you die.
It was a rant, no questions asked, that came from my visceral response to the whining sludge of the column linked above. What I came to articulate over the next few days was that "journalists" are really just Nosy Nellies with a knack for worming out facts from people who would rather they stayed hidden. Unfortunately, when the apparatus of exposure serves almost exclusively the interests of one side of the argument, the other side finds their trust broken and their loyalty moved to another outlet. In this case, it moved to blogs, independent or professional Web sites that serve as both trumpets of personal opinion and collaborative efforts in making the news. I say collaborative because the process that normally goes on behind closed doors in newsrooms is out in the open, where any reader can challenge the proprietor's assertion and be heard. Instead of a letter to the editor that never gets published or a correction box buried on page six, bloggers who botch a story can find themselves dragged through the mud before you can say "ink-stained wretch." This is especially true on the right side of things (the "dextrosphere", as I like to call it), where conservative and libertarian bloggers are known to eat their wounded, then shoot them. Interestingly enough, liberals ("sinistrophere") tend to support and close ranks around those in the mainstream media (probably because they support the same viewpoints).

My friend responded with questions about how the Web can be a viable money-maker (a valid question, since, in most cases, it really can't unless you're big and have lots and lots of readers), but she also asked about fact-checking and editorial oversight in the blog world. My response (some of which rehashes the previous paragraph):

Actually, I find that fact-checking on the Internet is more rigorous than in a traditional media environment -- if you get something wrong and somebody calls you on, it's public and unavoidable. It's not a buried little box on page A16, it's all over your competitors' front pages. When you work on the Web, you're not accountable to a boss, you're accountable to your readers. That, I think, is part of what screwed the MSM in the first place. If you try to be an Internet journalist and you consistently put in a poor job, you're either a) not going to have readers or b) be absolutely savaged by your peers. Blogs eat their wounded. One of the great things about it is that if Blog A isn't covering a story (or is covering it with a slant or obvious bias), Blog B can provide better coverage or another take on the story. The reader can go where they want to get their news. And yes, that does lead to insulated thinking in a lot of areas, but at least the alternatives are out there and readily available. The London newspaper culture follows this model -- they have something like eight different dailies that range from hard left to middle of the road to hard right, and they're all doing just fine, thank you. If you don't like one paper's take on something, you just pick up another one. There's none of this "We're the beacons of light and goodness and the proles are just too unenlightened to see it" attitude (well, okay, there is, but like I said: If you don't like it, you can just pick up another paper). I think what the article is bemoaning, too, is the "loss" of the *idea* of the journalist -- the hardbitten reporter with the fedora and rolled-up sleeves, banging away at a manual typewriter after everyone but the cleaning lady has gone home. Problem is, *that hasn't gone away*. That type of person is still around; they're just up at all hours in their pajamas instead of suspenders and pinstripe slacks. There will still be journalists and mainstream media outlets for a long time to come; their role and appearance are just changing, is all. And, frankly, blogs can't survive without them. But what they need to realize is that without these untrained upstarts to hold their feet to the fire, they'll just keep spiraling down into irrelevance with the rest of the dead industries of history. Competition is what makes humanity thrive, and the MSM has gone without it for far too long.

As for the pay, well, the biggest blogs charge thousands of dollars a month for advertising on their Web sites. It can be big, big business. And even if you don't have enough readers to support that, there are always other ways to get money. If writing is that much of a calling for you, do freelance work and technical writing and things like that to pay the bills. Heck, write that novel you've been sitting on since high school (it's what I'm doing!). Take a job at the Tastee Freeze for all I care; just don't expect me to pay for your self-indulgence if I'm not getting what I want out of it.
What it basically all came down to was that my friend was hung up on the idea of unbiased reporting (and newspapers being the only source of that). It doen't help that the only blogs she reads are along the lines of celebrity gossip attention whore Perez Hilton, which is not the kind of blog I was thinking of At. All. And of course there are bloggers who are so incredibly biased that they're unreadable unless you agree with them, and some of them have thousands of readers and actually influence elections. But that's the whole point of the Internet: It puts that gathering-of-like-minded-people dynamic on the global table, letting anyone from anywhere get into the game at any point they see fit. Most people blog for their own pleasure; some people blog solely for the money. But the really hot sellers tend to blog about things that people want to hear about - namely, fresh takes and detailed explanations of old ideas. Yes, sometimes it's an echo chamber. But we're all on the editorial board. Besides, when news of things like JournoList (a private listserve where hard left top journalists and policymakers discussed and blatantly shaped the media landscape), it makes the need for accountability that much more urgent. Plus, for all its "stick it to the man"-style posturing, the MSM needs to accept that it is The Man. Has been for a while now. Get used to it.

The point of all this, I suppose, is that journalism per se isn't going to go away at all. Rather, it's becoming more accesible to anyone with an Internet connection. You might have to work a little harder for it, but frankly, I don't see where that's a bad thing. I never really learned how to construct an argument or investigate an issue until I got involved in blogging (which, granted, was about two days after I plugged in my ethernet cable my first year at college, so it's been a few years). It's weeding out the doers from the users, the wheat from the chaff: People who truly want to get to the bottom of something will do it no matter the medium. My friend did have a good line in one of her e-mails that while writing is a calling, journalism is a field - but even that, I think, shows a mistake in perception. Journalism as a field is overrated. The moment they styled themselves professionals, they set themselves up for eventual humiliation. Basically, they wrapped their identities in their medium of choice, and when that changed they found themselves suddenly grounded by a slew of pretentious upstarts. How dare they question the wisdom of the keepers of the news!

To which the bloggers said: "Pthbthbthbthbthb."

Eventually, it all comes back to my lead: You can't have supply without demand. Like any other disappearing cultural element, newspapers have their mourners. My grandfather has shared his love of reading the paper with his morning coffee, and many others of his and my parents' generation have similar tastes. But when you get to my generation, we don't have that. We didn't spend enough time as adults in the world of print-dominated media for a serious attachment to form, so if we can get the same news for free online, it doesn't strike us as a loss. My grandfather's preference was formed over decades, so of course the idea of the newspaper's demise strikes him as a bad thing. I don't begrudge him that at all; it's always sad when a pivotal part of one's life goes by the wayside. But nostalgia doesn't pay for ink.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe Tuesday Night Spectacular: Challah Bread!

UPDATE: The original post had the wrong temperature. The corrected version is below.

This weekend, I completely spaced the SNR. So, to make up for it, here's a treasured recipe from my childhood. It's really a jury-rigged bread version of a 90-minute yeast roll recipe my mother used to whip out every time she was assigned rolls for Thanksgiving dinner. And yes, challah is a Jewish thing. I am not Jewish. I still chow down on it every Friday night. It's a personal choice thing.

Challah Bread

4 sifted cups white all-purpose flour, plus up to another whole cup
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 T. salt
1 T. yeast
1 c. water
1/4 c. olive oil
2 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients; I sift the flour while measuring but then just dump the others on top in the order listed. While you stir them together, heat the water and oil to 130 degrees, then add it to the dry ingredients and mix. Next, add the first whole egg and the white of the second (set the yolk aside). If mixing by hand, I find it's easier to add the eggs before the previous liquids have really been incorporated. This prevents the cold eggs from affecting the yeast, but it also prevents tennis elbow. Turn out the dough onto a floured board (it will be very gooey) and knead with as much flour as required to keep it from sticking. Keep adding flour until you get a good doughy consistency (it should be firm but still just a little sticky), then form into a ball and let rest under the inverted mixing bowl.

This next part gets a little complicated.

After 10-15 minutes, divide the dough into two equal pieces and set one aside. Divide the remaining half into four equal pieces and set one of those aside. Roll the remaining three pieces into snakes and braid them, then cut the remaining fourth into three pieces and do the same. You'll end up with a big braid and a little braid of roughly the same length. Lay the big braid on a greased cookie sheet, then lay the little braid on top so it runs down the center of the big braid. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough. You should end up with two braided loaves side-by-side on the cookie sheet. You can use loaf pans if you prefer, but I like the more loosey-goosey results of freeform baking.

Put the loaves somewhere warm for 45 minutes to rise. My mom has a gas stove so she just puts hers in the oven (turned off), but you may need to find somewhere else (cover them with a dish towel first). After they've risen, make an egg wash by adding about a tablespoon of water to the yolk you set aside earlier and brush it over the loaves; this will give them a dark, glossy brown crust. Turn the oven to 375 degrees (DO NOT PREHEAT) and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan(s) and cool on wire racks. Best served warm.

A note on serving: Because challah is a sacred bread, it should never be cut with a bladed object. There are special ceremonial knives that can be used on the bread, but since the chances of having one just laying around are slim to none outside of orthodox communities, I suggest you go old-school and just tear it. This recipe has a firm, tender texture that pulls apart easily and a dark, nutty flavor near the crust. It's delicious with butter, honey (a particularly traditional topping), jam or just about anything you can think of. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I'm a fat slob and getting fatter.

I spent today sleeping in (fine, it's Saturday), watching TV shows that really aren't good for me (not so fine) and finishing with almost half of a box of Thin Mints eaten in one sitting (NOT FINE NOT FINE AT ALL). I've felt good since I got back from LA, like I finally had a handle on things and that even though certain big things in my life have gone Tango Uniform, I'll Be All Right and I'll Get Along Fine.

And then the other day I remembered that my apartment complex might have minimum income requirements, at which point my upcoming "will you sign to live here another year" hoop-de-do might take an interesting turn. I make barely enough to cover things right now if all I get is unemployment, but when I get temp jobs that number varies so I have to put down the bare minimum as the baseline on any paperwork. Plus there's the growing realization that my cat would probably be much happier out on a farm somewhere, rather than cooped up in my little apartment, and what with the semi-constant biting and her generally neurotic behavior, we'd probably both be better off. But I don't want to make that decision until I hear about my apartment and where I'll be living next year, plus I ate HALF A BOX OF THIN MINTS and I can feel myself getting fat(ter) as I type this. I'll work it all off and get rid of the weight, don't worry, but it's annoying. Plus we did ground work in Krav on Friday and now my hips and thighs are all sore and overstretched, plus some of the positions are pretty awkward for a co-ed class (I spent a good part of the class on my back with my legs wrapped around my partner's waist, and that's before we start the moves). And that's my whining for the weekend.

Oh! And the gun show is next weekend and I have NO money. So, yay. My sister and I are going to get all skanked out and go together and bat our eyes at people when we ask questions; it's amazing the help you can get with a flattering sweater and some lipstick. We're unashamedly manipulative that way, although it's on a strictly "only for good, never for evil" basis. You should have seen us laughing it up with the rental car guys in Culver City. We wanted to take them home, they were so much fun. But they had to go to work in the morning.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Upcoming post

So my Internet is still out (I'm poaching this from a nearby unsecured network -- hey, it's not like I'm trying to avoid paying for it, I'm paying and it doesn't work!), so any updates will be mostly in tweet form from my phone. Yay, Twitter. In the meantime, though, I've got a debate going with a friend about blogs vs. MSM (started in e-mail, spilled over to Twitter) which will probably make for blog fodder before too long. So, there's that to look forward to. As you were!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A quick note

Blogging may be light for a significant period; my Internet is out at my apartment (I'm posting this from a bagel shop near my home) and it could be several days before it's back up again. So, yay. Under normal circumstances it would be an annoyance at worst (my cable still works, so I'm not completely cut off from the world), but I'm trying to find employment here, people!

Yeah, words fail me, too.

Via Brigid, who is struck much more speechless than I am: A truly astounding take on hunting.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe: Crispy Herb Potatoes

This is a recipe that goes well with just about any meal, although I think of it as more casual than anything. I like to eat it straight up off a plate with ketchup.

Crispy Herb Potatoes

4 medium potatoes
1 T. canola oil
Herbs (your choice; I used garlic powder, oregano, basil and a little dried parsley)

Peel and cut the potatoes to the desired size - I prefer half-inch pieces, which makes for a very crispy-crunchy finished product. If you prefer more mealy potatoes, just scale it up a bit, although I wouldn't go above an inch. Toss with the oil and herbs, then spread on a cookie sheet or baking pan. The pieces should be in a single layer and have room to move around. Cook in a preheated 425-degree oven for 30-40 minutes, scraping the pan and turning the potatoes every 10 minutes or so. The potatoes should have at least browned edges, with the smaller pieces browned through. If you do cut the potatoes larger, they could take as long as an hour. Salt and serve. These make a tasty alternative to french fries on burger night.

Something cool, and something that makes me giggle like a psychopath

Something cool: This article about the Sons of Iraq features my cousin Tim (that's him on the left in the photo). He makes me feel like a shiftless bum, but in a good way.

Something that makes me giggle like a psychopath: Projects funded by the stimulus package will feature a brightly colored iconographic logo so we can all see where our hardyet-to-be-earned money is going. And as Treacher asks, "why does a "temporary measure" need a logo, anyway?" And in case you weren't sure just how much money that logo represents: Here's $1,000,000,000 represented visually.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

That was fun.

Well, I'm back. I went to L.A., I competed on Jeopardy (it airs in June and I can't tell you how it went), I had an In-N-Out burger (animal style!) and fries, I bought a hat, I went to the beach and I came home. All in all, a fairly pleasant week. And now I'm home and I'm back to my almost boring life, which would be worse than it is except that I have good friends to come back to. So, on with the show.

On a side note, I will say that anyplace where you can get ripe cantaloupe in March is a keeper in my book. Mmmmm. Juicy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A preemptive explanation

Blogging will be literally nonexistent until at least Friday, on account of I am flying to California first thing Monday morning. I can't tell you why, but if you get the Star you'll know soon enough (that's right! I made the paper). I'll give you all the sordid details I'm allowed to spill once I'm back; my return flight is supposed to get in around midnight Thursday night/Friday morning. I should have a full report for everyone within a day or two of my return. Until then, ta!

P.S. I'll probably be Twittering for at least part of the trip, so if you want you can follow me there (username "Morcae").

Sunday Night Recipe: Meatballs in Gingersnap Sauch

So, as the title illustrates, tonight's recipe brings together the last two featured recipes, gingersnaps and meatballs.

Meatballs in Gingersnap Sauce

1/2 c. water
2 beef bullion cubes (or equivalent amount of beef base)
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. raisins
2 1/2 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. gingersnap crumbs

Combine the above ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer; I recommend adding them in the order listed, making sure each is well incorporated before adding the next. A word to the wise: Add the cookie crumbs slowly. The sauce will foam when you add the gingersnap crumbs because the leavening will react with the lemon juice. Also, the finer you can grind them the better. When cooked, mix with the meatballs until coated and serve with spaghetti. The sauce will be thick without being syrupy, and the raisins will have plumped nicely. Makes a delicious post-Christmas meal, when you've still got cookies lying around and don't know what to do with them.

Ha! "Still got cookies lying around." I crack myself up. Enjoy!