James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Warku #11

Posted by James McPherson on September 21, 2008

This is the 11th of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8, #9. and #10.

_________

Don’t count on the press

To learn what’s fact or fiction

The real truth? Just guess

_______

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Warku #10

Posted by James McPherson on September 18, 2008

This is the 10th of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8. and #9.

_________

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Warku #9

Posted by James McPherson on September 17, 2008

This is the ninth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7. and #8.

_________

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Warku #8

Posted by James McPherson on September 16, 2008

This is the eighth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6 and #7.

_________

Please world wish us well

And God bless America

Killing infidels

_______

Posted in History, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Warku #7

Posted by James McPherson on September 15, 2008

This is the seventh of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1, #2, #3#4#5, and #6.

_________

Why attack Saddam?

Weapons of mass destruction

None there? We’ll be damned

_______

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Warku #4

Posted by James McPherson on September 12, 2008

This is the fourth of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1#2 and #3

——-

They ripped out our heart

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

——-

Posted in History, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Warku #3 (9/11 reminder)

Posted by James McPherson on September 11, 2008

This is the third of a series related to Bush’s war, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history. Also see Warku #1 and #2.

_________

Three thousand were killed

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 

Posted in History, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part II)

Posted by James McPherson on August 15, 2008

As I noted with yesterday’s post, one of the most interesting things I got out of a conversation at last week’s Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication convention, combined with some other tidbits of information, was the idea that blogging might actually “save” the 1960s-style literary journalism, which has faded significantly from the types of magazines that most Americans actually read.

Literary journalism isn’t dead, of course, and may be doing better overseas than in the U.S. Just this week I got an e-mail promoting a new international academic journal titled Literary Journalism Studies, sponsored by the sponsored by the two-year-old International Association for Literary Journalism Studies. But this style of journalism (in-depth journalism with a point of view, in which the author is obviously involved) seems today to often be a result of an individual (perhaps not a “journalist,” but instead someone like a political insider) becoming involved incidentally, though his/her work rather than the result of an avowed journalist plunging into the issue. The result may be informative, but it typically isn’t “literary.” Those of us who appreciate good writing know that sometimes poetry offers more truth than statistics can hope to convey. The best literary journalism feels more like the former, while encompassing both.

Back to my conversation, which was with Norman Sims, the author of True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism and the editor of a couple of literary journalism anthologies. He noted that most of today’s good literary journalism came from books, though after I complained about the lack of such fiction in magazines he commented that some good work could still be found in magazines, citing Esquire as an example.

While I don’t disagree with Sims’ assessment, to me his example is the exception that proves the rule, demonstrating a problem with modern literary journalism. Most people (including me) typically won’t wade through the male equivalent of Vogue in search of journalistic enlightenment. The problem is similar to one I noted several years ago with magazine fiction: Some of the best short stories could be found in Redbook and Playboy, but as a male faculty member at a Christian university (and a rare member of a women’s studies program who has moral qualms about both of those publications) I am unlikely to find and read those stories.

When I asked Sims what he thought of the prospect of the Web enhancing literary journalism options, he expressed doubt. Most magazines and newspapers, he pointed out, are too often unwilling to go beyond two or three Internet screens, “and that’s too short,” he said.

True enough. But the very next day I happened to attend a luncheon intended in part to promote J-Lab, which just moved to American University and calls itself “the Institute for Interactive Journalism.” Its mission is to help “news organizations and citizens use new information ideas and innovative computer technologies to develop new ways for people to engage in critical public policy issues.” For many people at the luncheon, the means of engagement seems to begin (and perhaps end) with blogging. But as I’ve noted previously, everybody seems to be blogging, while most blogs are exercises in vanity and self-delusion.

Unrelated to blogs, but very relevant to modern journalism, was the recommendation (from Howard Owens of “content provider” GateHouse Media) to “print what you know, when you know it.” He was talking about breaking news, of course, and some of us who recognize how often journalists get the first reports wrong cringed a bit (though Owens cautioned about speculation on the part of reporters). Still, the comment reminded me that modern media users don’t “read” media–especially online–the way they once did.

Muckraking magazines once ran thorough investigative series over many issues. For example, Ida Tarbell (one of my heros) wrote am 18-part expose’ of Standard Oil–based on more than FOUR YEARS of research–for McClure’s. Lincoln Steffens wrote separate articles for the same magazine about corruption in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Will Irwin produced a scathing critique of journalism, titled “The American Newspaper,” spread over 14 or 15 articles, for Collier’s magazine.

Presenting information in small pieces may be what the Web does best. Not coincidentally, gathering small pieces from here and there is how modern news junkies “read” the news. Sims and newspaper publishers may be right that most readers won’t go beyond two or three screens. But why should they, given their current options?

It seems to me that a savvy producer of literary journalism might produce a site in which the story is spread out over many pieces. That would let readers read the story in bits, as if reading chapters, reflecting on the pieces, rather than trying to gorge on the whole thing (or, more typically, ignoring it and looking for a book review summary or two). Good writing–the kind that is the hallmark of literary journalism–would bring them back for the next segment, and the next, and the next. An existing popular magazine might use the strategy only on its Web site, bringing visitors back more often, while running a summary in the magazine itself.

Done right, such a site might produce a “new journalism” that would combine meaningful in-depth information with more interesting writing than most Americans typically encounter–a kind of journalism that might even make Ida Tarbell proud.

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Signs, despite our bickering, of our optimistic nature

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2008

Old people plant trees.

Teachers and parents keep trying to inspire children.

People who follow politics vote anyway.

Protestors keep showing up.

Journalists find good news among the evil.

Some still work to report the evil.

Almost everyone has faith in something or someone.

People from all walks of life read poetry.

Some write it.

Some get past themselves enough to write it well.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Posted by James McPherson on May 25, 2008

This is the weekend that we honor those who died while serving their country. I also appreciated Bob Schieffer’s “Face the Nation” words from this morning: “Let us remember as well the wounded, those who came home from the battle not as God made them, but as war has left them.” Schieffer’s comments came after he offered a short eulogy for Jimmy Carter’s former chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, who died last week.

Of course this weekend is and should be primarily about dead soldiers, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while trying to defend the nation’s values. Their service is not made less honorable–though it is more tragic–because their deaths were often unnecessary, precipitated by criminally stupid national leaders who themselves sacrificed almost nothing. But the Memorial Day weekend also has become a time for many families to remember other loved ones who have died, and I would like to take the opportunity to note a couple of other men who died in the past couple of days.

One of my favorite patriots, Utah Phillips, died Friday night. He was a former homeless hobo and Korean War veteran who became famous as a folk singer and storyteller (coincidentally, I quoted him in a post just last week). After serving for three years in the military he became a pacifist and a major supporter of workers’ rights. I have a brief recording of Phillips reciting World War I anti-war poetry, which I use in my media history class. One of the poems, titled “I Love My Flag,” goes:

I love my flag, I do, I do.
Which floats upon the breeze,
I also love my arms and legs,
And neck, and nose and knees.
One little shell might spoil them all
Or give them such a twist,
They would be of no use to me;
I guess I won’t enlist.

I love my country, yes, I do
I hope her folks do well.
Without our arms, and legs and things,
I think we’d look like hell.
Young men with faces half shot off
Are unfit to be kissed,
I’ve read in books it spoils their looks,
I guess I won’t enlist.

While still in college in the 1970s, I became a member of a loose-knit “Utah Phillips Fan Club” made up mostly of a group of my father’s friends, which “convened” on occasion to drink Olympia beer, tell stories (some from Phillips, most generated by members of the club) and listen to music. Though I’m sure many others have done the same, I’m the only person I know who saw him perform in three different states: in Idaho while I was in college in the late ’70s, at a private home when I lived in Arizona in the late ’80s or early ’90s, and later when I was in grad school at Washington State University. My wife was with me on the latter two occasions, and Utah memorably told her daughter–who had proclaimed him her new “hero”–not to have any still-living heroes, because they’d inevitably end up disappointing her.

“Good Though” (Moose Turd Pie) was Utah’s most famous story, but my favorite morality tale of his involved a little bird that postponed its flight south for the winter, nearly froze to death, was warmed by cow manure and then, after singing happily, was eaten by a cat. The moral: “The one who craps on you isn’t necessarily your enemy, the one who digs you out of a pile of crap isn’t necessarily your friend, and if you’re up to neck in crap it’s best to keep your mouth shut.” 

Another noteworthy passing, from yesterday, is that of Dick Martin. He was most famous for “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which debuted in 1968, which Richard Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan called the worst year in American history. What many people forget today, when it has become commonplace for political figures to appear with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is that in September of that year Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In.” Less than two months before being elected president, the famously uptight Nixon intoned one of the show’s catchphrases as a question, “Sock it to me?” Perhaps a 25-year-old Bob Woodward and a 24-year-old Carl Bernstein were watching.

Below: Utah Phillips, in one of his later appearances, shares some of his politics.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »