Deadpan Globe on Hereditary Firefighter

If you want to write a really compelling article, try combining story, statistics, and quotes. If you want an example, take a look at Donovan Slack’s piece in yesterday’s Boston Globe. Here’s the story.

William Hayhurst III’s dream of joining the Boston Fire Department and carrying on a family tradition… appeared to be dashed when he received relatively dismal scores on the civil service exam all three times he took it.

Then, in what critics call an example of the patronage and favoritism lingering in Massachusetts government, the Hayhursts’ political connections turned things around.

A special state law passed this year for the benefit of the Hayhurst family vaulted William III from 623d place to the pinnacle of the hiring list.

Here’s the statistic: “A Globe review found that 40 of the 218 state laws passed in 2007 provide benefits to specific individuals by name.”

Here’s the quote. It’s from one of our representatives who cosponsored the bill.

The reason I signed on is, as a new legislator, I’m not really familiar about the process… So I looked to some reps who are friends of mine who had some easy things that weren’t going to be controversial, and I just signed on to provide assistance to them and learn more about the process.

I wonder what he’s learned.

If you want to learn about deadpan humor, you’d do well to study the article. Donovan drops in that quote toward the end of the article, with the journalistic equivalent of a straight face (straight typewriter)? Even so, his article doesn’t quite match last month’s classic by Andrea Estes.

Old Media Slideshows

Today’s Boston Globe includes its critic’s picks of 2007. I went straight to the albums of the year lists. There’s a list by each critic. Unfortunately, one the web each list is presented as a slideshow, rather than as a page I can just cast an eye down.

This is silly, in exactly the same way that the Business Week Online books of the year list is silly. When old media uses the web like this, it reminds me of how my students sometimes want to use PowerPoint: it’s more about “cool” features than it is about clear communication.

This isn’t just me being grumpy. If it was, I’d criticize the Globe for using CD rather than, say, album: one of the best albums of 2007 won’t be out on CD until 2008. And I’d be inclined to complain about the omission of my album of the year: but since the format of the Globe’s lists doesn’t allow me a quick scan, that inclination is rather slight.

Freedom of the Press in Whoville

To use the expression Freedom of the Press is to raise a lot of questions. Since we’ve recently been reading a book set in and around Whoville, I’ll focus here on some of the Who? questions.

One such question is: who constitutes the press? One answer is that: We’re All Journalists Now. That’s the argument made by Tom Keane in the Boston Globe a week ago.

Freedom of the press now seems like a special privilege that applies not to us but to distant, powerful, and impenetrable corporations.

Admittedly, the growth of big media… makes this thinking easy. Yet technology is changing that. Anyone with an Internet connection can now not only be a reporter, but a publisher as well (blogs… being obvious examples). Increasingly, media are becoming more democratized – and more like what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

That is, of course, a very American way of casting the argument, referring as it does to the Founding Fathers and, elsewhere in the article, to the First Amendment. I’d like to think that freedom of speech for all, including “the media” isn’t a specifically American value.

Which leads me to cast an international net, and to pose the second question. Who cares about freedom of the press? A study conducted for the BBC suggests that the answer varies greatly from county to country.

Of those interviewed, 56% thought that freedom of the press was very important to ensure a free society.

But 40% said it was more important to maintain social harmony and peace, even if it meant curbing the press’s freedom to report news truthfully.

For the holiday season, and for the new year, I wish you freedom of speech and of the press.

Business Week Redesign

bwlogo.gifI bought a magazine on Saturday, for the first time in many a month. The magazine in question was Business Week. I used to subscribe to the dead trees edition, and have sometimes regretted letting my subscription lapse. Although I can read BW Online, longer articles read better on paper, at least in my ancient eyes.

My purchase was prompted by two main things: I was about to go on a longish flight, and I saw Bruce Nussbaum’s post on the redesign of BW.

I’ve been part of a secret process of reinventing the magazine medium that will be unveiled on Friday when a new kind of Business Week hits the stands… We wanted to go beyond a redesign and do a rethink of how people get information and analysis today, given the web and the way we live and work.

The result, as I look on the wall and see it take life, is a new kind of print medium that I think will be the model for magazines to copy in the years ahead.

I find that post rather more impressive than the reinvented magazine it persauded me to buy. My main comment is that BW is trying too hard to “brief” its readers in the print edition. But I read paper because it is a good medium for articles, books, and other longer stuff. If I want brief, I’d rather read it on the screen, probably via the web.

As I typed in the above on the plane for later posting, I was sure that I wouldn’t be alone in this reaction. Sure enough, Joe Wickert’s remarks are similar to mine, although more extensively and vigorously expressed.