The cartoon’s evolution

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“It’s a Ziggy!”

One of the best parts of the sitcom Seinfeld is how ably it’s jokes have held up over time. Think of episode 169, “The Cartoon.” Regardless of how many people actually understand all of The New Yorker‘s cartoons, everyone still questions a strip or two in his or her lifetime.

Regardless of one’s ability to understand social critique as humor, the Internet has given us a range of opportunities to express and understand humor. A new story from The Economist looks into the history and development of cartoons, from print media until today. A particularly revealing point in the article directs readers’ attention to the cartoon’s boom during the era of sensationalist journalism:

But it was the combination of the rotary printing press, mass literacy and capitalism which really created the space for comic art to flourish. In Britain Punch coined the term “cartoon” in 1843 to describe its satirical sketches, which soon spread to other newspapers. In the United States, the modern comic strip emerged as a by-product of the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the late 19th century. In 1895 Pulitzer’s Sunday World published a cartoon of a bald child with jug ears and buck teeth dressed in a simple yellow shirt: the Yellow Kid. The cartoon gave the name to the new mass media that followed: “yellow journalism”.

Newspapers filled with sensationalist reporting sold millions. They even started wars. But in an era before television and film, it was the cartoons—filled with images of the city and stories of working-class living—which sold the newspapers. With most papers reporting much the same news, cartoons were an easy way for proprietors to differentiate their product. After the success of the Yellow Kid, both Pulitzer and Hearst introduced extensive comic supplements in their Sunday papers. Like the papers that printed them, comics rose and died quickly: the Yellow Kid lasted barely three years. But as the newspaper industry overall grew, so too did the funnies pages. By the mid-1920s one cartoonist, Bud Fisher, was paid $250,000 a year for “Mutt and Jeff”. By 1933, of 2,300 daily American papers, only two, the New York Times and the Boston Transcript, published no cartoons.

The article also describes the fun insertion of the “nerd” into popular cartoon-ery, which is fairly comical in and of itself. Read the full article here.

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An ideological proposal for local media collaboration

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KWBU-FM | NPR for Central Texas

In Waco exist the four basic television news outlets (NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox affiliates), one daily newspaper (Waco Tribune-Herald), and one NPR affiliate. Two years ago, our NBC affiliate was proud to be “first in high definition” while the CBS location was equally as proud with their slogan, “first online,” (and was trying very hard to become the second in HD). Around the same time, the Trib chose to place all of its content behind a pay wall. Just recently, the president of KWBU announced that its current funding goal is far from being met (they will begin the winter pledge drive tomorrow).

Everyday when I partake in these three media types, I wonder similarly to all of Robin Scherbatsky‘s friends in the CBS show “How I Met Your Mother” – is anyone out there actually watching/listening to/reading this?

If we buy in to the rumor that media are dying, especially in locales where subscriptions or funding are difficult to come by, why not think forward toward greater collaboration among outlets?*

There are reasons beyond funding that the major newspapers, for example, are able to offer at least some free content online. If this is a contentious statement to you, notice that the major papers all operate on some kind of online subscription or pay wall method now. Major outlets have the ability to produce truly unique content for featuring online. This, of course, is done in the hopes of drawing more visitors and increasing possible advertising revenue.

Smaller, local papers don’t have human or technological resources to achieve this kind of content creation, in the way of video and audio additions. If a merger were created, new content opportunities would be available to each outlet, and some costs, such as operating independent websites, would be eliminated.

This may not work in all situations and is an extremely ideological suggestion (ideological in that I fully believe all these media should survive and flourish), but it’s certainly worth meeting about.

*Caveat: I’m not trained as a business man. This means that I have not thought out the full financial implications of this suggestion, though it does seem to make logical sense.

Why younger people don’t read the newspaper

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A girl holds The Washington Post of Monday, Ju...

Image via Wikipedia

Three things happened within the last week or so that led me to write this post.

  1. The New York Times website alerted me that I had only 4 articles left to read until I was kicked out behind the pay wall for the rest of the month.
  2. The PIPA and SOPA legislations attracted a lot of attention at the hands of Google, Wikipedia, and others, if only momentary, for internet freedom.
  3. My autumn 2011 copy of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly arrived in the mail and includes an article about why young people have stopped reading the newspaper.

The bulk of this post will focus on a review of that article in the spirit of looking at journalism and mass communication through eyes seeking its advancement rather than its demise. For all the scholars out there, this is the article to which I’m referring:

Zerba, A. (2011). Young adults’ reasons behind avoidances of daily print newspapers and their ideas for change. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 88(3), 597-614.

What initially sets this study apart from others is its qualitative nature. Zerba sites several studies that addressed the phenomenon of, as she terms them, “nonuses,” from a uses and gratifications (U & G) approach. Because both U & G research and studies of newspaper use and nonuse have been rather prevalent since the advent of journalism research, the focus group method employed is able to better unpack in detail the nonuse findings of other generations. These include lack of time; availability of other media choices; access; and possible bias, to name a few. As the author states, she aims “to get at the underlying meaning of nonuse” (p. 597).

Possibly of greater importance, focus groups enable the researcher to capture a small slice of one of the primary news-reading audiences highly affected by the current shift from print to digital. And in an age where the internet has become a concept of legal upheaval, a study of print media is extremely relevant.

Zerba puts forth two research questions:

  1. What are the most popular reasons for not using a daily newspaper?
  2. What would your ideal print newspaper include?

Focus groups were formed using research companies in three major cities – Chicago, San Antonio, and Dallas. Sixty four adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were assembled in total (an error in San Antonio resulted in eight groups for evaluation, rather than the anticipated six). The discussions had among the groups revealed results that were both predictable based on previous research and worthy of reflection with respect to today’s somewhat tumultuous media environment.

In sum, adults 29 and under viewed newspapers as

  1. Difficult and inconvenient to access and use
  2. Environmentally unfriendly
  3. Slow to report the news and redundant
  4. Difficult to multitask with
  5. Drag on one’s time
  6. Irrelevant to the age group
  7. Boring
  8. Biased

When given the opportunity to design their own daily print newspaper, respondents decided that the perfect paper would be:

  1. Brief with only the fact
  2. Local in focus
  3. Inclusive of diverse perspectives
  4. Simply formatted and aesthetically pleasing with color, pictures, and a table of contents
  5. Easily accessible
  6. More entertainment content
  7. Topically specialized
  8. With slightly less negative news and summation of leading news items
Front page of the first issue of The New York ...

Image via Wikipedia

In sum, young people want a newspaper that is easily accessible and up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing, and convenient for their multitask, on-the-go lifestyles. In essence, young people want the internet.

In today’s world, to describe why people choose not to use a newspaper, even though they call themselves news aficionados, is to describe why people do use the internet. The real question for practitioners in the news world coming out of this study might not be, “How can we make our print product more accessible to the younger demographic of readers,” but, “How can we make our online product more accessible to everyone?”

Look at the New York Times online. It doesn’t look all that different from the company’s print product. Look at the Washington Post online. Stunning images, fonts, headlines, and masthead all there. Purchase digital subscriptions and customize your own news on your mobile device.

The only way for a print enterprise to save its print product from extinction is to dramatically change the content offered through its online medium. This is why I am in favor of paywalls, especially when a particular newspaper, say a local one, does not have the human resources to produce new electronic content that will add value to its overall product.

I love this article because of its methodology and because of what it says about individuals of my age. I like to live in my bubble and believe that most people are like me. But they are not. And my close-minded perspective is selfish and unjustified. This does not, however, stop me from hoping that a more literate cohort of twentysomethings will rise up and work as hard to “save” journalism as the generations before us did to build it.

The media’s role in making people angry

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump has more "important" work to do before he can become the President

For the last few years, it has become more obvious among casual TV viewers and newspaper readers that what the media focus on tends to ignite little fires here and there. But this week we’ve seen just how frustrating mainstream news coverage can be, especially when everyone watching or reading wants to watch or read something else.

A New York Times editorial in print today recalls the following: “People are out of work, American soldiers are dying overseas and here were cameras to record [Obama] stating that he was born in a Hawaii hospital. It was particularly galling to us that it was in answer to a baseless attack with heavy racial undertones.” Of course, this refers to Donald Trump’s attempt to politically and emotionally dethrone President Obama while further asserting his own domination in our media-centric minds. And, he seems to be doing a very, very good job of it – while President Obama weeps about not attracting media coverage when he speaks on important things, Trump asserts, now with the birth certificate thing somewhat wrapping up, that he is in fact moving on to more important things – like the President’s grades at university. Yes, it would appear that if Trump continues on this trajectory the media will happily react to just about anything he says.

And why shouldn’t it? For media practitioners, it does not matter what you think about the stories they run, as long as you continue to watch or read them.

This morning brought with it another story taking over the air waves: the royal wedding. Britain has made Friday into an official bank holiday, and at the rate our public square is becoming obsessed with this wedding, it would not be surprising if more than a handful of people “got sick” and had to miss work tomorrow. This, of course, couldn’t possibly be due to one’s waking up at 4 a.m. to watch the anticipated ceremony, could it?

What is most interesting about these two stories is their relative import in our own lives. Whether Trump continues to attack the President or whether Kate leaves William at the altar, most of us will (after blogging of course) go on happily with our lives until the next controversy, disaster, or otherwise hits the news stands. And, as long as we choose to support the media frames we encounter on a daily basis, regardless of whether we hate them or not, we will continue to get the same coverage of the same issues of the same relative un-importance.

Media rumors and sexuality

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Last week, two big-name figures picked up their media megaphones in order to tell the nation that two semi-important political figures espouse homosexual ideologies. The first came in the form of an article written by Ben Domenech in The New Ledger on April 11. The second was spoken by William Gheen, and I caught wind of it on The Colbert Report:

Colbert actually includes a Bonus Word following this segment, which, as he says, is not as funny as the first.

What’s most troubling about these allegations is not their ability to split ideological hairs, but in their ability to attract media attention.  An article in The Washington Post article from last week states that The New Ledger article was republished on the CBS Web site, which then received some harsh treatment from the White House.  CBS has since pulled the article from the site, and Domenech has apologized.

In hindsight, doesn’t using the media to “break” news that someone in a public office is homosexual now seem like a bad idea? The Post article relays the following about Domenech:

The Post’s Web site briefly hired Domenech as a conservative blogger in 2006. He resigned three days after his debut after a flurry of plagiarism allegations that were trumpeted by liberal Web sites. The sites found signs of plagiarism in a movie review he wrote for National Review Online and, earlier, in his writing for the College of William & Mary’s student newspaper.

Domenech maintained that he did not knowingly use other people’s writing without attribution but said the “firestorm” had “reached the point where there’s nothing I can really do to defend myself.”

As one of the nation’s most trusted media sources, doesn’t it seem like CBS should have been a bit more careful with what they allow to be posted online? CBS claims to have simply allowed the article to “slip through the cracks,” which may say more about the lax environment media outlets have allowed to surround their use of the Internet than it does about the organization’s lack of oversight. Rather than try and figure out who’s at fault in this incident, CBS needs to lead the news world in taking a hard look at their new media use and try to figure out how to make it more professional. It seems like a little professionalism online could go a long way.

If you need proof that professionalism is at an all-time low, just watch the coverage supplied by Colbert of Tea Party leader Gheen outing Graham. If you can come up with a legitimate quote that deserves reflection rather than laughter, please let me know. Here’s a start:

I’m a tolerant person. I don’t care about your personal life, Lindsey. But as our U.S. Senator, I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it.
William Gheen

Terrell Owens is a god

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At least his fans think so.  At the moment, I can’t help but see similarities between Buffalo’s reception of Owens and Dallas fans’ reception of the receiving superstar when he first began with the Cowboys.

While praising the stars (television-bread superstars that is) may fall into the category of ‘hero-worship’, it seems that humanity’s search for the divine, God, transcendence or whatever you want to call it is finally finding it’s home in people – that is, people who get paid ridiculous amounts of TV money simply because they’re on TV.

Many would argue that football, baseball and other entertainment attractions have become ‘religions’ of a sort.  But, from my vantage point and Owens’ latest comments on Michael Vick’s return to the NFL, this is the first time religion is being birthed from something other than a search for moral principles that somehow transcend human instinct.

There is nothing transcendent about Owens or Vick.  They merely appear on television once and a while, sometimes on more than one channel.  Word of mouth has made them famous as their names have become household norms.  And therefore we worship them, because the media has created them.  But isn’t that what we want?  A god we can’t necessarily control, but one that we’ve essentially created.  One we can replace with others.  Distant yet near through the advancement of media and the corruption of messages.