Mediaite Book Club: Gail Collins Edition

Picture 2Last summer I randomly picked up NYT columnist Gail Collins‘ book America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines and immediately became engrossed. Friends (and seat companions) will attest to the fact that I talked about it non-stop for the better part of that summer.

Women’s roles had become a hot topic again thanks mostly to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, and later Sarah Palin’s vice presidential one. Collin’s enormously entertaining survey of women’s lives over the past 400 years of American life seemed to strangely fit into to what was going on on the national political and cultural stage last year; a sort of primer to how we got from there to here. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

With her usual, often revealing wit, Collins has created a hard-to-put-down read that will leave you with not only a deep, and sometimes jarring, appreciation of the often terrible struggles women faced for most of this country’s history but also enormously grateful you were born late enough to miss most of it. Needless to say, just like her NYT op-ed columns, it’s also great fun.

Cut to a year later and Gail Collins has followed up with the soon-to-be published When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey Of American Women From 1960 To The Present, an advanced copy of which landed on my desk last week.

This volume begins in 1960, where the last left off and also the year Collins taps as the moment when everything changed. Or began to anyway, since it’s painfully clear from the outset that not much had changed. Says Collins:

In 1960, where our story begins, although computers were still pretty much the stuff of science fiction, almost all other things that make modern life modern — jet travel, television, nuclear terror — had arrived. But when it came to women, the age-old convictions were still intact. Everything from America’s legal system to its television programs reinforced the perception that women were, in almost every way, the weaker sex.

madmen_8It is this point exactly that Collins spends the first hundred pages or so (which is as far in as I have gotten) illustrating. The scenarios she describes will be slightly less shocking to regular viewers of the television show Mad Men. In fact, the opening chapters of the book often feels like a companion reading piece to the show. In particular the lives of Betty Draper and Peggy Olson.

One of the genius aspects to both this book, as well as 400 Years, is that they are very quotable! It’s like a 400 page book of really well-written 500 word blog posts that you will want to copy and paste and send to people. Which is exactly what I intend to turn this reading experience in to over the next week or so…a series of quotable blog posts. Here’s a taste of what you can expect.

By 1960 television was big business, and if women were around at all, they were in the kitchen, where they decorously stirred a single pot on the stove while their husbands and children dominated the action. (In 1960 the nominees for the Emmy for best comedy series were The Bob Cummings Show, The Danny Thomas Show, The Jack Benny Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Phil Silvers Show, and Father Knows Best.)

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged: Newsweek Revels In Condé Losses

newsweekNewsweek is the latest media outlet to exploit that hot emotional trend known as “Condéfreude” — you know, the satisfaction or pleasure felt at Conde Nast’s misfortune. One expects such sophomoric prose from guilty pleasure sites like Gawker and Jezebel, but Newsweek? Really? Need anyone remind the editorial staff at the struggling weekly that they themselves reported first quarter losses this year of over $20 Million?

Johnnie L. Roberts writes:

After months of speculation, the carnage came to Conde Nast earlier this week. The company, one of the nation’s three biggest magazine publishers, announced it would close four magazines, including Gourmet, one of the industry’s most iconic publications.

A NEWSWEEK analysis of industry data provides new evidence of the financial toll that drove that decision: based on estimates of publishing data, Conde Nast could see its ad revenue drop by $1 billion in 2009.

Through August, ad dollars already have plunged by about $600 million from the similar eight-month period in 2008 when revenues also were depressed. Of Conde Nast’s two dozen magazines, among them some of publishing’s glossiest titles, all suffered declines, most stretching into double-digit drops.

 

Newsweek’s first quarter losses equates to roughly $80 Million in annual losses for one title. Until this week Condé Nast had two dozen titles, which if Newsweek’s $1 billion dollar estimate is correct, rounds out to roughly $43 million in annual losses per title.

So can one surmise that Condé Nast titles have, on average at least, had a better year than Newsweek? Probably not. Though one is reminded of the lesson of glass houses and throwing stones.

A request for information sent to Newsweek has not yet been returned.


Mediaite Office Hours, Featuring Gary Vaynerchuk, Duff McDonald, David Sax And More

mediaitelogoIt’s a Mediaite Book Club edition of Mediaite Office Hours today. Joining us for our show, from Livestream.com’s studio live at 3pmET today, will be authors Gary Vaynerchuk, Duff McDonald, David Sax…and some surprises as well.

Do you have a question, comment or complaint about anything concerning Mediaite? Well if you do, today is a real chance to make your voice heard. We will be holding our Mediaite Office Hours at 3pmET.

Vaynerchuk, the host of the hugely popular wine web show, Wine Library TV, is the author of “Crush It!“, out next week and currently ranked #810 on Amazon.com. McDonald is the author of “Last Man Standing,” about JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, currently #302 on Amazon. And Sax is the author of “Save The Deli,” out later this month, currently #369 on Amazon. Follow Vaynerchuk (you probably already do) on Twitter here, and Sax here. Sax will be in studio – as will another guest, Spud from Inside Cable News.

Glynnis MacNicol, Steve Krakauer and Rachel Sklar host the live-streamed call-in show, and others in the Mediaite team, like, Colby Hall and our fantastic interns, will appear periodically, as well as special guests.

Our call-in number is (347) 632-8956. Also, we’re using Skype now, so you can video chat in to our username – Mediaite. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Watch us live here on this page at 3pmET, or check it out at www.livestream.com/mediaite.

As for the schedule, you’ll see McDonald first, followed by Vaynerchuk and Sax.

See you at 3pm!

NJ Governor Race Is One Big Fat Joke; Do Weight-Centric Ads Go Too Far?

christie_1902The New York Times is not happy with New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine, who they charge with exploiting his opponent’s weight on the campaign trail. And to think we thought fat was in. Gov. Corzine’s campaign is currently running a TV spot that features challenger Christopher Christie from a less than flattering angle, and uses puns to highlight his gut.

The ad shows Christie “stepping out of an S.U.V. in extreme slow motion, his extra girth moving, just as slowly, in several different directions at once,” according to the Times. In the voiceover accompanying the clip, Christie is charged with throwing “his weight around” to stay above the law. But that’s not all! And the Times is indignant:

Mr. Corzine’s television commercials and Web videos feature unattractive images of Mr. Christie, sometimes shot from the side or backside, highlighting his heft, jowls and double chin.

Corzine, meanwhile, spends much of his time in public exercising, and his weight jabs seem to be working. According to a poll at a local college, “fat” was one of the first things that came to mind when people were asked about Christie. Still, it’s interesting to see the Times take such offense — enough to fuel a two-page piece — about campaign commercials, which frequently portray opponents in any negative light possible, though their history lesson of politics and weight is well worth a read.

What do you think: Is the Times too sensitive (”all’s fair in love and politics”) or has the Corzine campaign crossed the line? Check out the clip in question below:

The White House And Glenn Beck Agree! Mainstream Media Is Failing At Its Job

Obama press conferenceIf you watch Glenn Beck with any regularity you know that he thinks the mainstream media is not doing their job (to be fair, the ACORN debacle and the NYT delayed response to it sort of suggests he’s right). Looks like the Obama administration agrees with him!

Michael Scherer
has a particularly interesting piece over at Time this week about the White House’s summer of discontent with the mainstream media (the NYT and WaPo are called out in particular) and its increasingly bad habit of picking up stories from Fox without doing the fact-checking, and how it has resulted in the White House deciding to hell with the media! They are going to do their own fact-checking.

All the criticism, both fair and misleading, took a toll, regularly knocking the White House off message. So a new White House strategy has emerged: rather than just giving reporters ammunition to “fact-check” Obama’s many critics, the White House decided it would become a player, issuing biting attacks on those pundits, politicians and outlets that make what the White House believes to be misleading or simply false claims, like the assertion that health-care reform would establish new “sex clinics” in schools. Obama, fresh from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, cheered on the effort, telling his aides he wanted to “call ‘em out.”

How does the White House manage to become a player? Looks like they may have finally got their own Glenn Beck (sans the chalk board) in the form of a veteran campaign strategist Anita Dunn who is a “devoted consumer of conservative-media reports and a fierce critic of Fox News, leading the Administration’s effort to block officials, including Obama, from appearing on the network.” She is also the person behind the White House blog “denunciations.”

So basically the White House is attempting to step into the deep-end of the blogosphere. Perhaps it’s inevitable — this is the Internet Presidency after all, and Obama does carry a Blackberry. But still. Is it really a good thing? Doesn’t deciding to respond to Glenn Beck et al. in kind merely elevate much of the nonsense Beck spews and simultaneously lower the White House a few rungs down the credibility ladder? Wouldn’t the more prudent approach be to figure out how Glenn Beck has out-Obama’d Obama, pinpoint what it is exactly that is so appealing about Beck and than address that fear instead (preferably with a chalk board!)? One more voice in the politico online din, even if it’s the White House’s, is going to end up being just that: one more voice.


Soundbite: Everybody’s Selling Something

2008-04-28-WHCD159“Because the more we are sold to — and, believe it, we are being pitched every minute — the more immune we are to it all.

Choire Sicha is the co-founder of TheAwl.com.

Awl co-founder Choire Sicha ridiculing the FCC’s new disclosure guidelines for bloggers…and demonstrating the benefits of good product placement.

We’re not sure if this last line of Sicha’s piece was meant to be meta, but it’s certainly a fitting capper for the article. Which, by the way, is both smart and funny. Smartest line: “Unfortunately, whole careers, both online and off, are built upon stealth endorsement.” Funniest line: “Who will prevent these man-eaters of commerce from persuading me that my personal escape from Thunderdome must not be Pepsi-fueled?”

Read the op-ed here and more about the new FTC guidelines here.


Life After Print: URB Magazine 2.0

PA131671_1_2If I had written a decade ago that my 19-year-old music and culture magazine URB was “taking a hiatus from print,” it might have taken a few weeks for the news to spread. But my emailed notice about our 159th issue being distributed as a “digital magazine” was made last week. And word of our sudden break from paper and ink spread almost immediately. I was once again reminded of the unmatched and unmerciful power of the World Wide Web.

While many have quickly lamented URB’s changes or reminisced about our long legacy, there is also an unfortunate feeding frenzy on even the hint of print’s presumed, imminent demise. News of defunct magazines and newspapers seems to come as often as celebrity deaths this year. And admittedly, in the publishing game, a hiatus is as convincing as a Jay-Z retirement promise. Gawker simply ran the headline: “URB Suspends Print Edition,” while at least one “shock blogger” seemed to be gleeful. Another magazine biting the proverbial dust was the translation, no matter how we tried to spin it.

But while the cynics will always have their blog time, this isn’t the bad old days when a magazine was only worth the paper it was printed on. Call me crazy, but any brand worthy of its audience — and able to find a sustainable financial model, which is not a simple task — has a totally viable future these days as an online destination. But it does take some pretty radical retooling. Most in the magazine industry have, to put it mildly, been slow at figuring out how to succeed as digital brands. Our industry isn’t just bleeding from a shift in media habits, our injuries are a good part self-inflicted. Play rochambeau with only paper and you eventually lose.

“Most magazine publishers, if they were being honest, would tell you they wished their brands could be as nimble as their online competition.”

And while I still contend that print is not dead (it’s dramatically right sizing to fit the new landscape), the medium is clearly an analog stowaway in increasingly digital waters. For some, that’s a thin distinction. And there’s little argument that the arcane act of using tons of paper as your primary source of disseminating information is dying. At this point, print should be seen as a complement to digital, not the other way around. Even people who say they love the the idea of print are themselves waning consumers of it. Ask them how many magazines they still read or subscribe to. Paper is sure to be around for a long time, but its hegemony over periodical communication has been over.

Friday, on Twitter, I quipped: “If every DJ I know can ditch vinyl and go MP3, we [URB] can go Web and just pull the print out for tribute sets.” What I meant was that we no longer wanted to be tethered to legacy media while everybody else was all-digital, all the time. Print magazines, which may remain a great medium for special occasions, are becoming the vinyl DJs in an MP3 world: often admired, but definitely behind.

Most magazine publishers, if they were being honest, would tell you they wished their brands could be as nimble as their online competition. But there is no way for over-staffed, high-rent, advertiser-beholden, slow-moving print media to keep pace with svelte and free-thinking digital operators. More often than not, we in the beloved and bemoaned print brotherhood are losers online. Even the sure path to fame on our covers has been hot wired by acts of online promotion or a good review on Pitchfork.

Still, my reasons for pressing pause on the printed part of our business was almost as personal as it was pragmatic. And it was, by no means, an easy decision to come to. A more by-the-numbers owner might have transitioned long before this with the gulf between print and online media widening for several years now. But in recent months, my own passions and interests have boiled over and I became eager for creative outlets that weren’t beholden to a 9″x11″ sheet of paper.

As much as I love magazines (my house is a shrine to them), I’ve become absolutely fanatical about the wild west of the Interweb. In 2009, with the further maturing of social media, I started to feel like I did back in URB’s halcyon days. The limitless potential of the social Web burns as brightly for me as the dawn of pixels and font design did years before. There is a definite continuum from URB’s original mission, tools and tactics to where we find ourselves right now.

The world has reset, as if I needed to tell you. And with that giant rebooting comes incredible opportunity. Along with, of course, a big case of WTF. I find both are great conditions to explore in. History has taught me that knowing the answers — or thinking you know — is death. But having unlimited questions, that’s life. I’m as curious today as I’ve ever been. And it’s time to be inspired by new ground and new challenges. Leaving behind a chunk of our past success — the printed page we knew all too well — was essential.

>>>NEXT: “Exploit technology before it exploits you.”