What Makes Good Gay Journalism? And Why Is There So Little Of It?

gay-newspaper-170x255A couple months ago, someone, wondering aloud, asked me if maybe gay rights would be the new issue that marks the time and generation we’re in. I didn’t so much as wonder aloud in reply as I did shout: “You mean that after the civil rights movement, you think the gay rights movement is next? I would say they two are the same.”

And I still think that. But it’s not necessarily true when we start talking about the logistics of the gay rights movement. Can you imagine Soledad O’Brien looking sternly into the camera and saying, “Thank you for joining us for a CNN Special Presentation: Gay in America”? Maybe, but I also imagine there would be many more crude (and especially) dirty jokes about it the next day – even on the best and biggest gay blogs themselves. There’s a seriousness the media has when it talks about issues of race that is equivocal and ambiguous with gay rights issues. In scouring all the “top, best, most” lists of journalistic news articles, I couldn’t find a single article about gay rights or even marriage equality.

That may be changing. On October 2nd, the New York Times published a piece called “The High Price of Being a Gay Couple,” by Tara Siegel Bernard and Ron Lieber (still #2 most e-mailed in the “Your Money” section). Unlike so many of the articles I read everyday about issues facing the gay community, this one established a way of looking at the topic that renders it serious, without having to explain, qualify, or prove it. The reporters had a basic question in mind: what is the lifetime cost of being gay? They did an exhaustive amount of research to find answers. It’s one of the best pieces about gay rights I seen specifically because it roots the discussion in something more concrete. A quality that is not often celebrated in gay journalism.

Each year, there are two major types gay media awards given out: the GLAAD Media Awards and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Awards. The two organizations have different criteria (NLGJA’s are a little broader), but they both aspire to recognize the most important gay journalism of the year. Allow me to list the titles of some of the nominated and winning pieces: “A Personal Journey of Self-Discovery,” “Ellen & Portia’s Wedding Day,” “Harrowing Incident a Troubling Reminder of Homophobia.”

Now let me be clear: I think these awards do a great service (I help organize this year’s 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York!). And absolutely, there are some pieces of journalism that hit their mark. But we still give awards to people who tell their story instead of give us numbers, people who use emotion instead of facts. Maybe the flaw is in the award criteria: we no longer need happy and sappy portrayals of gays in the media to allow people to get comfortable with the culture, so much as we need essential bedrocks for discussing our rights. This is where the recent New York Times piece sets itself apart. It provides us, all of us, wherever we fall on the sides of the debate, with a serious tone to talk about the issues.

The current definition of what constitutes “good” gay journalism is not serious in the sense that it does not render the issue in a way to make progress. In the mid-to-late 1990s the sad stories about a tragic coming out did so much to educate, but the gay community needs people to actually write some laws now! A famous gay athlete telling his story does almost nothing next to a piece that tells us, in exact dollars and cents (sense), how much more it costs to be a gay couple than a heterosexual couple. One tugs at our heart-strings and one gives us something to say on the floor of Congress.

It might be a larger trend today that in an age of Twitter, personal blogs, and fast reporting, that we have to give kudos to just about anyone who actually takes the time to sit down and think deeply about the issue. But the notion that getting any kind of gay representation in media coverage might not be exactly what we need. We need more Tara Siegel Bernards and Ron Liebers out there if the goal is to make equal media representation become equal civic representation.

Verizon’s NFL Widget Scores

redzone_widgetIf you’re a casual football fan like me — meaning you follow one team, you don’t have a fantasy league, and you don’t have any, ahem, money riding on the games — then the NFL’s RedZone football channel and Verizon FiOS’s NFL RedZone widget will likely be overkill. But if you’re a die-hard football fanatic or one of the millions (and millions) of fantasy football players, the combination of these two services will likely have you in pigskin heaven.

NFL RedZone is a new subscription-only channel (available in HD and SD) that’s produced by the NFL Network. It “takes viewers around the league every Sunday afternoon…for live coverage of critical plays when any team is inside its opponent’s 20-yard line,” Verizon says. If you ask my husband, it means it tells you everything you need to know about your fantasy team: You jump from game to game whenever a team is about to score. You can see the key plays that affect all of your fantasy players without having to change the channel.

If you ask me, it means you never really get into a game: Just when you figure out what’s going on — and who’s playing who — you’re onto the next game. Sometimes it’s because the team scores, but sometimes it’s because someone called a timeout. Or the play fizzled out. Or maybe just because something more exciting is happening elsewhere; whatever the reason, the NFL RedZone announcer comes on and tells you that you’re going to another game. And off you go, to a new game, new teams, and a new set of announcers.

I can see why NFL RedZone would appeal to fantasy football players — and it certainly makes sense for the NFL and TV providers to jump on that market. After all, the more than 27.2 million Americans who participate in some sort of fantasy sport spend $800 million on it.

More my speed is the NFL RedZone widget from Verizon FiOS. It’s free to all FiOS customers, and it lets you process information at your own speed. You access it just like you do any of Verizon’s other widgets (which include news headlines, weather, Facebook, Twitter, and more): You press the widgets button on your remote. The widget displays its information on the right side of your screen, while the channel you’re watching (it can be any channel) displays in a small window on the left. With all the info displayed, though, the picture is very small. I tested the widget on a 32-inch TV and found the picture too small to watch regularly — especially when I was trying to watch a football game. I had to squint to see the ball.

redzone_widget2The widget can be slow to launch, but you can minimize it with the push of a button; this allows you to access it easily, without having to relaunch it. But when the widget is active — even when it’s minimized — you can’t change the channel or access most of your cable box features, including the Guide and DVR.

But the information displayed by the widget is easy to read; it’s well-organized and easy to browse with your FiOS remote. You can browse the scores of all current games, and the scoreboard is refreshed regularly. You also can check out league standings, browse player news and NFL headlines, and search through team profiles. Verizon’s widget doesn’t go quite as far as the one offered by Rallycast (through Yahoo’s widget platform, which is, right now, available on some connected Samsung TVs). Rallycast’s widget, which costs $59.95 for the season, lets you view information about your own fantasy team, and even goes so far as allowing you to make substitutions on screen.

Verizon’s widget does have some interactivity of its own, though. If you’re a subscriber of the NFL RedZone channel, you can set it to alert you whenever a team is approaching the red zone. Verizon uses the term red zone as it is used in football — meaning inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, but, presumably, it also means the team is approaching the channel, as well. The alert will let you know when to change the channel so you can see the action as it happens. I couldn’t test this feature, as it’s only available to subscribers (I tested it during a free preview), but it seems to be the most useful way of using the NFL RedZone channel. It allows you to change the channel to see the action you want to see, rather than having multiple games thrown at you.

While the NFL RedZone channel proved to be a little too much football for me, I do like Verizon’s NFL widget. It’s a widget I actually find useful, and the way it works in combination with the NFL RedZone channel is pretty darn cool.

Google Says Google’s Perks Are Overrated, and Belt-Tightening is Underrated

google danceHey Googlers! All those perks  — the great food, the high-end daycare, the fancy bathrooms — that the company is famous for? Overrated, your bosses say. So is the dream of getting insanely wealthy at your job.

Instead, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said today, you ought to be happy to work at Google… because it’s Google. In that sense, Schmidt said, the recession of the past year has been good for the company, since it’s highlighted the difference between working at his company and other options — including not working at all.

Schmidt’s comments came during a press conference he and Sergey Brin held today, which was wide-ranging and went down several interesting avenues. I’m reproducing a long chunk of it here from my recording of the chat, because I think it addresses one of the core challenges Google has: How to keep the innovative energy and intelligence the company had from its garage startup days, now that it’s a 20,000-person monster.

Google has been grappling with that for quite some time, but that became more evident in the last year or so, when it began cutting back on perks like free food, and low-cost child care, and even made its first-ever layoffs. [The photo at the top of this post is from the 2008 version of the company's annual "Google Dance", which was canceled this year].

Those moves were made in response to the economy, but they also did double duty by helping the company “reset the culture”, Brin said.

The exchange kicked off when a reporter asked the duo about a sense of entitlement among Google staff, in reference to a passage in Ken Auletta’s new book about the company.

Brin: I do think there was a period of time where the culture, as it were, was misinterpreted. I certainly remember when we would start, when there were a  few of us working in the garage, and occasionally [cofounder] Larry [Page] would Rollerblade in with a few sandwiches for food. And that grew up into everybody’s expectation: “Oh, they should have all the gourmet food they want, at any time.”

I think it’s important to reset the culture from time to time. And I think several years ago we did that. Clearly people had extrapolated from our past practices what the vision might be. And having actually been there, and knowing the rationale.. we decided to, for example, we significantly cut down all the snacks that had been available. [laughter]

[The question is reframed: Isn't the real perk at Google supposed to be stock options, and aren't those much less valuable, now that the company's go-go growth days are over?]

Brin: Well, I don’t know. it depends on where in the graph you look. Certainly it’s fluctuated ever since we’ve gone public. Up and down, so…

Schmidt: Let’s say this: It is axiomatic that the best thing to do is to found a multibillion-dollar corporation with free stock, take it public and have the difference between zero and the stock price… that would be the maximum gain possible. For most people, they don’t have the wherewithal and the skills to do that.

Brin: Or the luck

Schmidt: And luck. Yes, I suppose. In your case, I think, skill and brilliance. People make decisions…the way to state this is that Google pays very well. Google is clearly a growth company, by any metric. And people at Google don’t work for those reasons at Google. We don’t want them to come to Google for those reasons. We want them to come to Google to change the world.

Life is short. And everybody here understands that. Life is short, you should work on the things that are most important. If you want to work what Google is working on – cloud computing, search,  all the things that we talk about all the time — then come to Google, and we will pay you well.

That works. We don’t want a different workforce than the one that I just described.

And I would also answer the entitlement question, as I understood your question, as to say that the last year has been very good at solving that problem.

The tightening that [CFO] Patrick [Pichette] in particular did, who I think is the current Google hero, really did change the culture in a much more pragmatic way: “We’re happy to work here. We’re happy to be employed. We love what we’re doing. Our freinds, you know, have been laid off.” It’s been a maturing process. And I think a generally good one.

[Image credit: permanently scatterbrained]

Megan Berry: CNN’s New iPhone App: Do You Get What You Pay For?

CNN's new iPhone app is creating quite a stir. First of all, they're the first major news site to have a paid app ($1.99). Secondly, they've included ads in it. Users are in quite an uproar over this. They wouldn't pay for something with ads in it! Yet, what about newspapers, magazines, television, and increasingly games? We constantly pay for media that includes ads, and we don't even think twice about it.

So why the fuss about this app? CNN is actually following an old publishing model -- charge a small fee and include ads. The main reason for the commotion is that CNN is violating the existing expectation that free apps can include ads, but paid apps should not.

To take a step back for a second, according to data we have at Mobclix, the largest mobile ad exchange, 77.4% of the App Store is paid. That's almost 67,000 paid apps, whereas only 22.6% of apps are free. This dynamic is less extreme in the news category, of which CNN's app is a part, where 31.9% of apps are free. CNN is the only major news outlet with a paid app, so they easily make it to the top slot in paid news apps. With this advantage, plus the revenue from advertising, the app is likely going to do very well for CNN.

Does $0.99 or even $1.99 a pop really allow developers, media outlets, or anyone else to produce a quality product? If you want developers and publishers to put hard work into not only making a good app, but also constantly updating it, they might need more than a one time fee of one or two bucks. They need an alternative revenue stream which can be provided by a subscription fee (which users hate) or ads. CNN explains their decision to include ads as a way to ensure they can continue to deliver a premium experience.

My question to you is, wouldn't you rather occasionally see an ad in your app than have the quality go down? What is the fair price of an iPhone app and how do we judge what we are owed after we give an iPhone developer our hard earned dollar?

Dell Prepping Google Android Phone For AT&T

Dell is making an Android smartphone for AT&T (NYSE: T), the WSJ reported, citing unidentified sources. Dell’s smartphone would be based on Google’s Android software. The particular device, which is the computer company’s first in the highly competitive U.S. market, could be on sale by AT&T by early 2010,  is similar to one that Dell began previewing in China two months ago. In June, Dell was said to be working on an Android-based device, but insisted it wasn’t a cell phone.

Nevertheless, Dell has been more aggressive about mobile since last spring, when it began showing carriers a device with a Windows Mobile operating system, in addition to an Android model. If the deal with AT&T goes through—both companies have refrained from commenting—this could finally pave the way for Dell’s entry into the mobile market. In the meantime, Dell is reportedly looking to other carriers besides AT&T as well and could have other agreements lined up by the end of the year.


Chris Mooney: How Richard Dawkins Communicates Evolution (Surprise, It’s Not the Same Thing as Atheism)

You would be forgiven for not knowing what goes on daily in the science-centered blogosphere--but a recent fracas there casts a lot of light on the ongoing (if not unending) battle over the relationship between science, religion, and atheism.

It all started like this: Richard Dawkins, the author of the million-selling The God Delusion and the top dog of the so-called "New Atheist" movement, has a new book out on evolution entitled The Greatest Show on Earth. In the course of promoting it, he has been doing media interviews; and in one of them for Newsweek, Dawkins was quoted making statements that seemed to suggest a more moderate stance on the subject of science and religion than he is otherwise known for [italics added]:

Are those incompatible positions: to believe in God and to believe in evolution? No, I don't think they're incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God--to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.

It is a tenet among Dawkins' many followers that science and faith are not really "compatible" in the sense of being ways of thinking that go together logically or consistently; so this statement appeared noteworthy. So, for that matter, did Dawkins' apparent defense of Francis Collins--who has been regularly criticized by the "New Atheists," despite his strong scientific credentials.

Granted, it's also possible Dawkins was misquoted, or not allowed to provide enough nuance in the interview. But there was more [italics added]:

I wonder whether you might be more successful in your arguments if you didn't convey irritation and a sense that the people who believe in God are not as smart as you are. I think there is a certain justified irritation with young-earth creationists who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Those are the people that I'm really talking about. I do sometimes accuse people of ignorance, but that is not intended to be an insult. I'm ignorant of lots of things. Ignorance is something that can be remedied by education. And that's what I'm trying to do.

Actually, in The God Delusion Dawkins certainly made it appear as though he thought religious folks were somehow mentally lacking. For example, in the book he casts aspersion on "the weakness of the religious mind."

And the quotation above also suggests yet another divergence from The God Delusion. In that book, Dawkins denounced the "Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists"--those, like the prominent Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller, who defend the teaching of good science in schools but nevertheless go easy on religion, or are themselves personally religious. Now, however, it doesn't appear as though these moderates are such a problem in Dawkins' mind--instead, it's the older enemies, the creationists and "intelligent design" theorists, who matter (foes the "Neville Chamberlains" have done much to help combat).

Once again, it's important to note that Dawkins might have been misquoted by Newsweek, or not permitted to provide enough nuance about his views in the interview--but that's what he was quoted as saying.

I and another blogger, Joshua Rosenau, understandably jumped on this, because the remarks seemed contrary to other things Dawkins and his various followers have said. Based on these words quoted in Newsweek, we wondered whether Dawkins might be changing his views and becoming more of an "accommodationist" on the subject of science and religion. (I also suggested--as I do again above--the possibility that he might have been misquoted.)

Predictably, Dawkins' many followers and defenders were up in arms about this, and claimed the great science popularizer was being misrepresented. That, however, seems rather over-the-top. We're well aware what Dawkins is on record as having said and written in The God Delusion, which is after all a text that, love it or hate it, has been incredibly influential. The point is that in light of what he wrote there, his more recent words suggested the possibility of some intellectual movement, or at least a different emphasis. That's no small matter given the way some in the American scientific and atheist community have been radicalized and inspired into a new combativeness towards religion lately, in significant part thanks to Dawkins.

But here's where the story gets really interesting: Dawkins responded strongly to the comments about his Newsweek interview, and to the suggestion that he might be changing his views. He did not engage in any discernible distancing from what he'd been quoted as saying, but he also rejected the idea of a shift in position:

How utterly ridiculous. All I was saying is that it is possible for a human mind to accommodate both evolution and religion because F. Collins's mind seems to manage the feat (along with lots of vicars and bishops and rabbis). I also needed to make the point that TGSOE [The Greatest Show on Earth] is not the same book as TGD [The God Delusion] because many interviewers who are supposed to be interviewing me about TGSOE have simply ignored it and gone right back to assuming that it is the same book as TGD.

I sympathize with politicians who have to watch every syllable they utter for fear it will be misused by somebody with an agenda.

If Dawkins isn't really changing his views, that's perfectly fine, and it's nice to have the clarification. We all know that brief interview snippets aren't always fully representative of a person's positions. Still, the Newsweek quotations remain pretty striking for someone who has read The God Delusion, and it would be nice to have further clarification on some of the points raised above.

But what's truly noteworthy is where Dawkins hints as to how this all happened-e.g., he's got an evolution book to sell now, and he's sick of people thinking it's an atheism book, so he's trying to steer interviewers away from that, and seems frankly annoyed that they don't get the difference:

I also needed to make the point that TGSOE [The Greatest Show on Earth] is not the same book as TGD [The God Delusion] because many interviewers who are supposed to be interviewing me about TGSOE have simply ignored it and gone right back to assuming that it is the same book as TGD.

In other words, Dawkins appears to be grappling with a communication problem. Linking together atheist advocacy and the defense of evolution, as he has done so prominently, poses a pretty big problem when you hit the US media with a new book on the latter. After writing a million-selling atheist "consciousness-raiser" and "come-out-of-the-closet" book, is it at all surprising that Dawkins now finds his evolution book being prominently linked to atheism in the media mind?

In this context, perhaps what's really going on is that Dawkins would like to promote his new book without too much religion-bashing attached to it. And given what he's now trying to achieve--to communicate about the science of evolution, which is a very important objective--that's a very wise thing to do. If Dawkins wants to change minds about evolution, and break down barriers, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to move to the center on religion, and not alienate religious believers or the U.S. media any more than he has to.

Dawkins' followers may complain that the master is being misrepresented, but the truth is that Richard Dawkins may be something else: a savvy, adaptable communicator.