Panel Nerds: PostSecret Tells Half The Story

nerdzWho: Frank Warren (PostSecret)

What: Barnes and Noble’s “An Evening with Frank Warren” for “PostSecret: Life, Death, and God

Where: Columbia University Teachers College’s Cowin Center

When October 6, 2009

Thumbs: At our sides

Frank Warren delivered a memorable and well-rehearsed presentation detailing the many lives his Web site and pet project, PostSecret, has impacted. Warren performs as a self-help guru and therapist to hundreds of thousands of strangers, including some of the event’s attendees. They showed up to continue to share their stories — of which Warren has now published five books worth — and Warren wanted to hear them.

Warren says he’s received secrets written on seashells, nude pictures, bananas, death certificates and even sonograms. He posts his favorites on his site for all to read, digest, analyze and decipher. His blog succeeds because Warren allows the post cards and messages to speak for themselves. He pointed to several instances where images he has posted elicited a strong and influential response from others who faced similar predicaments or trauma to the one expressed on the site.

We would have preferred if Warren had allowed his material to speak more loudly than him. It was evident that he’d run out of new ideas halfway through the event, repeating messages of love and forgiveness and themes of self-identity and transformation. While heavier trends like these turn up on the site — and the site itself can provide a life-changing connection for some —  we would have liked Warren to focus more on the lighthearted and whimsical entries, too.

For instance, what’s the most common secret Warren has seen? People pee in the shower. He mentioned that he frustrates many readers by leaving the barcode sticker on the side that can block out words from notes. After sitting through the secrets shared by the audience, we were most intrigued by the dietician who revealed that she hates talking about nutrition and enjoys drinking beer. That was the most honest and universally relevant story we heard all night.

What They Said

“They have some kernel of truth or wisdom to grow from or live from.”

- Frank Warren says that people can say more with their secrets than anything else

“Sometimes when we think we’re keeping a secret that secret is really keeping us.”

- Frank Warren has learned things about himself from sharing his own secrets

“Every secret is like an individual voice being heard for the first time and when you see them all together it’s like a conversation.”

– Frank Warren manages to hear all those voices at once

What We Thought

  • We wish Barnes and Noble would co-sponsor more events at universities. It drew the young crowd of students that this event deserved, and prompted the current and future teachers to consider how to work Warren’s lessons into their classrooms. It would have had a different audience and feel to it had this lecture taken place at a local book store.
  • Warren said that interviewers are often more interested in hearing about his post cards that deal with crime. He said that nobody ever asks about the stack of cards he gets that divulge people’s struggles with eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal tendencies. It isn’t surprising to learn that Warren used to work at a suicide hotline where he gave an underrepresented population an outlet to share their feelings.
  • He displayed a series of notes that the publisher rejected from the book. It led Warren into a rant about how Wal-Mart is a major source of censorship in this country, and how he’s proud that none of his books have been sold there. Had Warren spent significant time talking about how censorship related to his blog, we would have been intrigued and probably even supportive. The way it came out of the blue, though, Warren wound up sounding a bit too disgruntled for our liking.

PANEL RULES!

Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…Lousy Storytellers

Warren asked the audience to share their secrets during the Q&A. Some people offered up stories they’d never told anyone before. Then one guy told a story about how he tried to implement the PostSecret model into a lesson for his ninth grade class. He indicated that one student in particular was struck by the assignment and produced an artistic achievement that began to explain some of his academic and emotional troubles. We had our own set of trouble understanding the retelling of the story since it was full of loose and distracting details. Brevity is the key to PostSecret and its connected stories.


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.


The Letterman Bump: Will Craig Ferguson, The Early Show Feel It?

Ferguson cbsDavid Letterman has had huge ratings this week: 5.7 million people tuned in Monday night for the follow-up show to last Thursday’s mea culpa mea culpa, which was teased before hand by news that he’d be delivering an on-air apology, and by a short clip of monologue jokes about his extortion-and-workplace-sex scandal.

Comparison: Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show on NBC had 2.3 million viewers. In fact, Letterman beat everything in NBC’s prime time line up — including his old foe Jay Leno.

This is good news not only for Letterman — ratings are the silveriest of linings in TV land — but for Craig Ferguson, whose Late Late Show follows him — and potentially CBS’ The Early Show, depending on how many people fall asleep with the TV on.

I’m going to use myself as a test case. Here’s what I did on Monday night: Watched Letterman, but I was at the office so I went home straight after (fell asleep watching a documentary about crocodiles on PBS. Be freaked out and have nightmares along with me here). Here’s why this is relevant: I made a point of watching Letterman, and when I got home I turned on the TV, and while I was scrolling through my DVR, got hooked on whatever was on. I am that kind of TV watcher.

More proof? Last night I tuned into Letterman again (the very garrulous Paul Shaffer would have reminded any Sondheim fan of this) — but I was at home, so the TV stayed on. Hi, Craig Ferguson! I loved the Mmm-Bop opening of your show, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a terrific guest. Also, good to know that your tattoo goes all the way to your penis. Since I like to work with the TV on in the background, I “watched” CBS for the next few hours until I passed out somewhere along the line. I woke up to Katie Couric and Lara Logan talking about Afghanistan with Harry Smith — and lo, the CBS Early Show had one more viewer.

early show bumpOkay, so not everyone keeps the vampiric hours of a blogger. (And to be honest, I don’t always, either.) But otherwise I’m not that abnormal. I watch things on DVR, and though I’ll flip around a bit to find something I like. I’m more likely to just settle on something quickly rather than maniacally scour the listings. (I mean, crocodile documentary? Really?) Working from home during the day, I keep the TV on even if I’m not that engaged, which is why I just looked up and thought, “Oh! They’re still using the same set for the house on The Young and the Restless!” I’m thinking there must be people out there like me, who also keep the TV on for company — stay-at-home moms, unemployed people, college kids cutting class, hypochondriacs who are sure they have swine flu.

Normal? Um, whatever, but the point is this: Networks have been counting on the laziness of TV viewers for ages — that’s why lead-in programs are so critical (I’m betting on a Diane Sawyer-World News tie-in on Oprah when she takes over the anchor chair). That’s why Jon Stewart throws directly to Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann throws to Rachel Maddow. That’s why Dancing With The Stars and American Idol help whatever they are before.

And that’s why I predict this week will turn out to be a good one for Craig Ferguson — and the CBS Early Show. Will viewers stick around? That’s always the question. Maybe Leno and Conan should start having an affair.


Yeah, Why Was NY Post the Only Outlet to Report ‘White Coat-gate?”

obama1--300x300Ed Morrissey at Hot Air wonders why the New York Post was the only major media organization to report this about President Obama’s Rose Garden speech to a group of physicians on Monday (what the Post calls White House’s Botched ‘op’):

The physicians, all invited guests, were told to bring their white lab coats to make sure that TV cameras captured the image.

But some docs apparently forgot, failing to meet the White House dress code by showing up in business suits or dresses.

So the White House rustled up white coats for them and handed them to the suited physicians who had taken seats in the sun-splashed lawn area.

Ed is essentially correct that no-one else reported this, although Fox News did characterize the assembled docs as being “costumed” in white lab coats.  So, why the blackout on “White Coat-gate?”

The short answer?  Because it’s not news.

The photo of a White House staffer handing out white lab coats is the kind of thing that a partisan blogger might drool over, but as a news story, it doesn’t really make the grade. Absent this report, would people have assumed that the assembled doctors were suited up to perform examinations on the President?  The fact that the coats were for visual effect is obvious.  The fact that the White House had a few extras on hand shows smart preparation.

To the extent that this is stagecraft, news outlets would be just as obliged to report that the President didn’t just wander out of the Oval Office and happen upon a podium to speak at, but that the whole thing was staged!

The point of this story, and of Fox’s jab, was to make the whole thing seem artificial.  The problem is, these really were doctors who really do support health care reform.  The coats weren’t “costumes,” and the photo op was not, as Ed says, a “masquerade.”

Now, if the White House had clothed 150 ordinary dipshits as fighter pilots, that would have been a story.


Mediaite’s Three Month Birthday

It’s hard to believe that it has been three months since we launched Mediaite.com. In that period I have learned the language of the web: PHP, CPM, uniques, ummm site crashing? And here I thought the cable news wars were as brutal as media can be. It’s been a wild ride with achievements that have vastly surpassed any of our expectations. Day in and day out, our small but completely devoted staff create something that makes us all so proud. Thanks to everyone who has helped us achieve this mini milestone. This is just the beginning.

Attached is a press release we distributed today.

Dan

—————–

MEDIAITE.COM ATTRACTS 438,000 UNIQUE VISITORS IN THIRD MONTH

Upstart Media Site Breaks Into Quantcast’s Top 5,000 Web Properties

New York, NY, October 6, 2009 — At the end of its third month, media news and analysis upstart Mediaite (http://mediaite.com) has inserted itself into the national dialogue, with over 438,000 unique visitors and over 2.3 million page views from September 6 to October 5. That is a 40% increase in visitors since the site’s launch month beginning on July 6, 2009. Including its syndicated content, viewers of Mediaite have already pushed it into the top 5,000 web properties, according to web traffic evaluator Quantcast. Unlike other comparable websites, which might rely on a single big day of heavy traffic to carry the remainder of the month, Mediaite has enjoyed consistent readership with 10 days in the month topping 20,000 unique visitors.

Mediaite, founded by Dan Abrams, has, in its first three months, been credited, referenced and linked to by a comprehensive array of mainstream outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Forbes, PerezHilton.com and The White House. Each of the three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — have found occasion to speak about the website.

Initially, much of the buzz about Mediaite centered around the Power Grid (http://mediaite.com/power-grid), which objectively ranks the public profile and influence of nearly 1,600 media figures. This feature has accumulated a star-studded readership that includes Martha Stewart, Howard Stern, Paul Krugman, and ESPN’s Bill Simmons.

In the weeks since launch, while the Grid remains a wholly unique and closely followed feature, Mediaite has been recognized for its savvy, incisive content, from breaking news to long-form commentary.

Just as distinctive in this increasingly politicized environment is the ability of Mediaite’s opinion journalism to reach both sides of the political spectrum. The site’s editorial content is regularly linked to by the most prominent names on both sides of the aisle, including liberal hubs like The Huffington Post and bastions of conservative opinion such as Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air and Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government.

In a quarter of a year, the site has already become a valued resource for the most prominent, popular media organizations and personalities in America, and all metrics indicate that only more growth is to come.

(All visits statistics from Google Analytics, Quantcast. Pageviews from internal server data.)

For more information contact Ruthie Friedlander at 646-727 4305; Ruthie@mediaite.com


Gourmet’s Most Delicious Covers

Yesterday we heard word that Condé Nast would be closing Gourmet magazine after 69 years of monthly food and wine coverage. Over nearly seven decades as one of the foremost titles in food, Gourmet perfected the art of the minimalist cover, favoring one simple drawing or photo — but always enough to make our mouths water. Interestingly, sometimes the magazine favored a sketch of nature scene or travel photography, but there’s nothing like some well positioned filet mignon. See the complete slideshow of Gourmet’s covers through the years here.


Which Letterman Should We Believe?

Tonight Dave Letterman goes back on the air after one hell of a weekend. And I’m already confused.

Thursday night — as I’m sure you know by now — he went on the air and told an extraoridary story, first about being blackmailed and then about what he’d been blackmailed for. “Creepy” things, that vague descriptor, was put into a little sharper focus like so: “I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”

You know, you can’t un-hear that. And it’s not because Dave is no spring chicken — whatever, you can’t deny that he’s a guy with charisma — it’s because you feel you know him, watching him all these years, but suddenly that’s knowing him a little too well. And at first it’s a lot to take in — the blackmail; the $2 million demand; the screenplay weirdness; the revelations that the extortionist was a high-level Emmy-winning producer for CBS; the emergence of Stephanie Birkett, affable on-screen sidekick, as but one of the women; the surfacing of other names, too; claims of a Late Show love nest. Ew. Let’s stop there.

Letterman rueful iiOver the weekend, this all had time to marinate, along with the questions — was there pressure? Was that the way to get a promotion? What about if you weren’t favored by Dave? Were there any legal issues brewing? Would CBS take disciplinary action? Meanwhile, they were removing YouTube clips of the host’s mea culpa in an eyebrow-raising, attention-calling move that ratcheted up the curiosity about what Dave would say tonight.

Maybe that was the point.

Actually, I can’t tell what the point was — because two narrative emerged from the taping of the Late Show this afternoon: (1) Dave apologized on air, to his staff — and his wife; and (2) Dave told jokes. About it.

As someone who writes about this for a living, this is the order in which I wrote up these stories: First, “David Letterman’s On-Air Apology: “Terribly Sorry” To Staff, Wife.” He said his wife had been “horribly hurt” by the revelations. I chose an accompanying image to match the tone of the apology — somber, rueful.

letterman smiley iiThen I figured I’d check CBS.com for clips, just in case. Lo and behold, there was a teaser for Dave’s monologue. So I clicked on it. Out he walked at the top of the show, to huge applause. He said “Thank you,” a few times; the applause got louder. Then he grinned, and the audience laughed in response. “Did your weekend just fly by?” he asked, tongue in cheek. So much contained in that sentence — the subtext of all of the above, the punchline present only in the unsaid. “I’ll be honest with you, folks, right now I’d give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian trail.” Ba-dum-bum. “I got into the car this morning and even the navigation lady wasn’t speaking to me.” Rimshot! To accompany this second post, I took a screengrab from the monologue — Letterman smiling impishly.

Now I don’t expect a morose, self-flagellating talk show host — that’s no fun — but the contrast between these two moments is confusing. Which one am I supposed to identify with? Which one am I supposed to forgive? Which one am I less likely to imagine having sex with an intern? The release of both of these images prior to the show sends a mixed message. On the one hand, the apology is what everyone was waiting for. On the other, posting a monologue clip means a return to business as usual…business as usual, that is, with jokes essentially about his wife not talking to him. That’s not to say he didn’t mean his apology, but it does feel a little…disconnected from it.

Which one should we believe? One? The other? Both? Can’t an apologetic Dave still be funny? Can’t a wisecracking Dave still be sincere? Can’t he address the giant elephant in the room and still get back to his routine, because if he’s still there, what else is he gonna do?

Maybe that was the point.