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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Posts Tagged ‘television news’

Killing youth

Posted by James McPherson on January 2, 2009

When does a kid stop being a kid? When he agrees to become a suicide bomber? When she kills her parents or grandparents? When he joins the military or she starts to drive?

Maybe when he has sex with his high school or junior high teacher, or she “marries” a much-older man? When he graduates from high school or she has her first baby–or agrees to sell the baby photos to the highest bidder?

Or maybe when he or she decides never to watch another “reality show” such as “The Bachelor” or any of its seemingly hundreds of even sleazier video offspring? Have the people who were so up in arms about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction ever seen “Double Shot of Love”?

I find it interesting that the more horrible the crime against youngsters, the more we want to protect them, but the more horrible the crime they commit (an indication of less maturity, not more), the more likely we are to want to see them charged as adults.

We also may have a double standard when it comes to gender (though Slate’s William Saleton has offered evidence to the contrary). Girls, who mature faster than boys, may be more likely to be treated as victims–as they should be–when they engage in sexual relationships with older men. For teenage boys seduced by older women, however, some laugh off the act as a “rite of passage” or the harmless fulfillment of fantasy (though perhaps unfortunate if she happens to turn out to be a Nazi war criminal).

Like other parents and teachers, I worry that our children are growing up too fast. Some people blame the media, though even Focus on the Family admits that with home schooling your children and keeping them away from television, “Still, there’s no way to protect them completely from the perversion of the world.”

Perversion aside (and my definition of the term often differs from that of Focus on the Family) maybe we ought to teach our kids–and ourselves–more about the world as it is: not a dark and scary place where everyone who steps outside is likely to be raped or murdered (the picture portrayed by much of local television news and entertainment), one where everyone ought to be having sex with everyone else (the apparent view of much of the rest entertainment television), or a Disneyfied version in which love always conquers all.

Let kids be kids, when we can. Let the rest of us be kids from time to time, too. But let’s grow up about it, shall we?

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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

Posted by James McPherson on August 14, 2008

The print version of a recent Columbia Journalism Review article is subtitled, “A new kind of journalism takes root in a struggling Detroit neighborhood.” An interesting aside is the fact that the online version is titled “Crossing Lines” while the print version uses “Drawing Lines,” but the key point remains: that a Detroit News blog is going beyond tradition journalism to improve an impoverished Detroit neighborhood. In the words of CJR’s writer: They “aren’t just reporting the neighborhood’s story. They’re affecting the story. In some ways, they are the story.” (emphasis in original)

The activism draws criticism from even among others at the News, who worry that it compromises the newspaper’s credibility. The concern is worth consideration, complicated by the proliferation of blogs coming from news organizations throughout the country. But the fact is, for most of those organizations, credibility in a traditional sense is pretty much a lost cause for a couple of reasons. First, if “credibility” is code for “objectivity,” there’s no such thing as an objective reporter (or historian, or teacher). Second, Americans like the news media in general just a bit more than they like George W. Bush or Congress.

Journalism is changing, as it always has. The term “New Journalism” has been used most prominently with the journalism of the 1880s and 1890s and then again with the literary journalism of the 1960s and 1970s, but has also been applied to the Penny Press of the 1830s and the civic journalism movement of the late 20th century. “New” just keeps happening.

Besides, campaigns by newspapers are far from new. Newspapers have always advocated for issues they saw as being for the civic good (even if far too often their biases corresponded with the desires of the Chamber of Commerce). My own local daily, the Spokesman-Review, recently devoted an entire month of front-page attention to the issue of child abuse, and its own annual Christmas fund is front-page news every day from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas.

We know that bloggers are changing news, even if–as recently reported by a Poynter Institute columnist and others–the most popular blogs tend to look and act much like mainstream news organizations. That shift worries people on both sides, though a careful reader could be much better informed about issues by relying only on blogs than on a local newspaper or–God forbid–television news.

One of the most interesting things I got out of last week’s Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication convention was a discussion that–combined with the CJR article (which I read on the train on the way home from AEJMC) and some other tidbits of information–prompted 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. More on that in an upcoming post.

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »