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Tuesday, September 30, 2008


A SLAPP In The Face Of Journalism

A hearty congratulations and considerable sympathy is due freelance writer Susan Paterno, whose American Journalism Review article "Santa Barbara Smackdown" so upset the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press that the journalist ended up in court for two years before having the case dismissed this month.

That's two years of courtroom conflict that should light a fire under every American journalist, and not just the freelance writers who aren't reading their contracts before they sign them.

Two years.

As Howard Kurtz reported a year ago, the publisher of Paterno's story, American Journalism Review, "was not originally named as a defendant but agreed to pay Paterno's legal bills and indemnify her against any judgment."

And what did AJR get for doing the right thing? Kurtz had that answer too: "management was stunned to discover that its libel insurance did not cover freelance writers."

Like AJR, a lot of mainstream newspapers are contracting out more and more of their content, which in many cases exposes their freelancers to the same sort of experience Paterno suffered.

Every journalist ought to consider the chilling effect this is bound to have on freelance journalists covering business and government at every level. Will injustices go unreported for fear of retaliation? I don't know. Is two years in hell too long?

The rundown of Paterno's case is at LA Observed.

Cross-posted at LA Observed

Hat tip to Romenesko at Poynter.org for the related-comment link.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008


'Through all trials and tribulation ...'

Paul Newman singing "Plastic Jesus" in "Cool Hand Luke"

One more for Paul Newman before the day is done.

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NYT: Paul Newman Dies At 83

Robert Redford (L) and Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

From the Associated Press via NYT:
He got his start in theater and on television during the 1950s, and went on to become one of the world's most enduring and popular film stars, a legend held in awe by his peers. He was nominated for Oscars 10 times, winning one regular award and two honorary ones, and had major roles in more than 50 motion pictures, including "Exodus," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Verdict," "The Sting" and "Absence of Malice."

From the NYT:
A politically active liberal Democrat, Mr. Newman was a Eugene McCarthy delegate to the 1968 Democratic convention and appointed by President Jimmy Carter to a United Nations General Assembly session on disarmament. He expressed pride at being on President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies list.

For me, he was at his best in the film adaptation of Richard Russo's brilliant novel "Nobody's Fool," and not just because he played a character named Sully.

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Friday, September 26, 2008


Stewart: 'Those Who Do Not Study The Past ...'

Feel like we've been here before?

John Stewart, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, points out some tragically funny similarities between Pres. Bush's speech Thursday night regarding the troubled economy and a speech he gave preceding the war in Iraq in 2003.

Of course, through the magic editing, Stewart gets to make it look like the speech was written from a presidential book of Mad Libs, which is hardly the case. Most any two speeches regarding preemptive actions of such scope are bound to contain common elements. The irony here, however, is that there's no "Us vs. Them" this time. Regardless of whether Bush is right or wrong, the USA has no one to blame but the USA for whatever happens.

Here's a few quotes from the piece:
STEWART: What points do we want to hit … Should we be scared?"

BUSH ON ECONOMY 2008: Our entire economy is in danger ...

BUSH ON IRAQ 2003: The Danger is clear ...

[SNIP ...]

BUSH ON ECONOMY 2008: Not passing a bill now would cost these Americans much more later ...

BUSH ON IRAQ 2003: We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater ...

[SNIP ...]

BUSH ON ECONOMY 2008: Millions of Americans could lose their jobs ...

BUSH ON IRAQ 2003: The terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions ...

[SNIP ...]

STEWART: So you would like us to grant you incredible unprecedented powers with very little oversight, something that could literally change the course of the country's history. I assume we have some time to think this over ...

BUSH ON ECONOMY 2008: Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic ...

BUSH ON IRAQ 2003: Before the day of horror can come, before it is to late to act ...

[SNIP ...]

STEWART: It really is true what they say. Those who do not study the past, get an exciting opportunity to repeat it.

Thanks to The Huffington Post for highlighting this one.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Thursday, September 25, 2008


'A Degree of Monomania'

Thanks to Working With Words for pointing out this piece by David Gessner on some of the challenges of the writing life. Here's a snippet:
It’s fine for writing teachers to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require “balance” and “shifting gears” between teaching and writing, but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise. It’s hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


'Hey John … Need A Ride To The Airport?'

This from Huffington Post:
"John McCain canceled a scheduled appearance on CBS's 'Late Show with David Letterman' mere hours before he was slated to tape the show Wednesday as part of the suspension of his campaign, MSNBC reported on air Wednesday afternoon. Keith Olbermann will appear on Wednesday's 'Late Show' in McCain's place.

From the Drudge Report:
"Then in the middle of the taping Dave got word that McCain was, in fact just down the street being interviewed by Katie Couric. Dave even cut over to the live video of the interview, and said, 'Hey Senator, can I give you a ride home?'

And finally, this from the late Hunter S. Thompson:
"Politics is the art of controlling your environment. That is one of the key things I learned in these years, and I learned it the hard way. Anybody who thinks that 'it doesn't matter who's President has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid War on the other side of the World — or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property — or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons — or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted."

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Monday, September 22, 2008


No Joke, Tina Fey Doesn't Want To Play

Mark Terrill/AP Photo
Writers like to joke about voting for candidates most likely to provide good material, but not so for 30-Rock star Tina Fey.

Fey, whose spot-on impersonation of VP candidate Sarah Palin drew cries of sexism last week from John McCain's presidential campaign, offered a plea of sorts yesterday at the Emmys, as reported by the LA Times:
"I want to be done playing this lady Nov. 5," said Fey, who won Emmys in comedy for her acting and writing. "So, if anyone can help me be done playing this lady, that would be good for me."

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Friday, September 19, 2008


Dear Ernest, No. 1 *

* This is the first in an occasional series focused on writers pursuing both journalism and fiction writing. Ernest is a pseudonym, chosen in honor of Ernest Hemingway, who achieved success in both fields. He penned 'The Sun Also Rises' in 1926, 'A Farewell to Arms' in 1929 and 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' in 1940, then, in World War II, he covered the D-Day landings as a war correspondent.

Dear Ernest,

My best advice is not to take anyone's advice. Listen to what people are bound to preach at you, whether or not you ask for it. Prosecute it. Decide what you believe and act accordingly, on your own.

Without a doubt, there are many ways to be 100-percent wrong. But if anyone tells you they know a fail-safe way to succeed as a novelist, they're lying. Hard work is as close as you'll get to a sure thing, but even that's not sure. How hard is hard enough? How long is lengthy? How short is temporary? If you really want to do this, the answers shouldn't matter.

That said, my first suggestion is to buy and study this book. Yes, there are others you'll need to study too, but, right now, study this one. I didn't say "read," I said "study." Take notes. Write in the margins. Underline. Keep it for yourself. Don't lend it out.

Whether you realize it, or not, even though you're already on this path, there's a lot you don't see.

I know. I've been there.

I was blind too.

It's not your fault that you don't see it. Most people don't. It's why MFA programs were invented. You don't have to have an MFA, but you can save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration by reading what other writers have said about this journey. And my suggestion is to start with Carolyn See.

Many writers have succeeded at doing what you wish to do — writing journalism and writing fiction. Nonetheless, you need to understand at the outset that achievements on one side of the divide rarely translate as significant benefits on the other.

A journalist is to a novelist what a sprinter is to marathoner. Writers are writers and runners are runners, but not.

Journalists know what it is to write same as sprinters know what it is to run. They know the meaning of commitment, and how important it is to finish what they start. They get used to working in front of an audience. They learn to block out the incessant jeers and cheers and to focus instead on their performance. Their journeys are swift and short and many. They're in and out and onto the next race.

The novelist and the marathoner, meanwhile, travel long, lonely roads with vast stretches between the grandstands at the starting and finish lines. They must learn to pace themselves. They endure long silences without hearing a single cheer or jeer. At best they get an occasional cockeyed look as they pass a familiar face, then they wrestle with demons that claim to know exactly what that look was supposed to mean — doubt, doubt, doubt. It's easy to fall prey to self-doubt when all the voices you hear are the ones in your head, day after day after day. Stephen King knew exactly what he was doing when he cast the villain in The Shining as a writer who goes mad.

Writing journalism and writing fiction are both admirable pursuits, and neither are likely to drive you insane. However, they each require entirely different forms of strength. You need to know this going in. You're about to start training for two completely different events.

Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA

** Thanks to John Ettorre at Working With Words for the mention.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008


LAO: Happiness ...

From a new post at LA Observed RE: LA Times owner Sam Zell's 'Dear Partners' note …

For the full post please visit LA Observed.

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Monday, September 15, 2008


CA New Home Sales Drop 57 Percent In July

Besides the bad news on Wall Street ...

The following was announced today by the California Building Industry Association:
SACRAMENTO – Sales at California new-home communities in July remained well below levels seen a year ago, the California Building Industry Association reported today.

The monthly CBIA/Hanley Wood Market Intelligence (HWMI) New Home Sales and Pricing Report showed that new home sales in July were 57 percent below July 2007. The decline was similar to the 58 percent year-over-year drop seen the month prior, and is a testament to the ongoing weakness in California housing market conditions. During July, 2,348 homes and condominiums were sold in the subdivisions tracked by Costa Mesa-based HWMI, compared to 5,437 in July 2007. During the current period, sales of single family homes were off by 54 percent, while sales of townhomes and “plexes” – duplexes, triplexes, etc. – were down 50 percent and sales of condominiums were down by nearly 67 percent.

Non-seasonally adjusted total new home sales in July were 13 percent lower than levels seen in June, whereas the same month-to-month change a year ago was a decline of more than 15 percent. The median price of homes sold compared to last month was nearly unchanged at $369,991.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008


Black Hole Not In Geneva ... Check Wall Street

Who'd have thunk it?

On the same weekend that the American media expended air time debunking fears that a black hole might open after scientists put the Large Hadron Collider into motion outside Geneva, an even scarier black hole of sorts opened up on Wall Street.

Oh, and the Orange County Register may be getting a new owner, and a new JOA-like arrangement with the Los Angeles Times.

Halloween is next month, right?

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Saturday, September 13, 2008


LAO: David Foster Wallace Was 46

Tragic news about INFINITE JEST author David Foster Wallace.

From LA Observed:
Novelist David Foster Wallace, best known for "Infinite Jest" and other books, hanged himself at home in Claremont, police said in the city east of Los Angeles. He had been teaching at Pomona College. Edward Champion reports at his website Reluctant Habits that he heard the news from an anonymous source, contacted agent Bonnie Nadell and the authorities, and began receiving partial confirmation. LAT, Gawker

See the post at LAO for links to more info

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Saturday, September 06, 2008


LAO: Humorists Refuse To Be Spun

My new post at LA Observed:

It's no wonder that "The Daily Show" has become a primary news source for many young voters [see inset].

Time and again, on some of the biggest stories of this new century, from the start of the war in Iraq to the presidential campaigns of 2008, the mainstream media has appeared unwilling, or unable, to do what American humorists do so well — tell it like it is.

Much as some in journalism's ranks like to champion the great lengths to which reporters go in pursuit of fairness, the spin doctors of DC are getting better at making us all wolf down pap like USDA prime.

Hypocrisy, for example, has long been a staple in America's daily news diet, not quite as substantial as tyranny, but at least as important as skulduggery. Yet, many in the media shrunk in recent weeks from their duty to point it out, to provide context and analysis, and ask questions despite the application of political pressure.

At least we still have the humorists (and, of course, bloggers), who give hope to those of us who can't watch the evening news without talking back to the TV.

Humorists and journalists have always been linked by a shared desire to reflect truth no matter how ugly, including the truths that make some want to smash the mirror, rather than face up to it. For that reason, it's no surprise so many American humorists have risen from journalism's ranks, the most well known of whom was the late, great Mark Twain.

There are still plenty of brave journalists who are both truthful and determined (Campbell Brown in particular), but they certainly seem fewer in number, or perhaps less willing and able to tell it like it is.

Easy as it would be to blame the many cuts news staffs have taken, I'm afraid that's merely another symptom, not the cause.

The blame rests with greed — that ever-increasing emphasis on the profitability of news delivery that Wall Street started applying more than 30 years ago.

Used to be that news organizations relished holding that mirror regardless of whether the reflection was well received. But now I worry that editors sometimes stop to think whether doing so will cost them advertisers, or subscribers, or drive down the stock.

Shooting the messenger is nothing new. What we ought to worry more about is whether its effectiveness has improved.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Thursday, September 04, 2008


Live Blogging the McCain Speech

Because someone ought to watch him ...

Live blogging John McCain's address to the Republican National Convention 2008.

19:06 PM — The get-to-know you video plays ...

19:10 PM — "What a life ... what a faith ... what a family ... The stars are aligned ... change will come ..." Wait a second. Is this a pro-McCain video, or one of those Obamarama "The One" commercials? Wait, now ... "Law And Order" ... Erm ... Is that Fred Thompson's voice?

19:14 PM — Charlie Gibson loves to point out that John McCain actually flew COACH class a year ago. The guy was a POW. He can handle COACH.

19:17 PM — McCain tried to get the money out of politics ... and yet he speaks before a green screen ... Uh ... HELLO ... PRODUCERS!

19:18 PM — Less than four minutes and a 9/11 reference. Not even Rudy got to it so fast.

19:19 PM — Footage of John McCain's 6th house is mysteriously projected on screen for no apparent reason. (Not sure which house it was actually ... but ... what's up with the house?)

19:23 PM — A word to Sen. Obama and his supporters ... "You have my respect and my admiration, despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us ..." Whoa ... what's up ... (some sort of disturbance on the floor ... a woman flailing her arms ... a struggle) fight fight fight .... So much for that KUMBAYA moment ... and now McCain gets his OZ moment: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain ... with the uh purple dress on and the ... stuff they're yellin' o'er there ...

19:25 PM — Ten minutes in and we finally get to see Sara Palin's jawline.

19:27 PM — Sarah Palin knows what it's like to make a mortgage payment ... (Not sure how far he might want to go with that one right now.)

19:28 PM — Lots of emphasis on "I work for you" type statements about himself and Palin ... which begs the question who it is that's confused about for whom who they're working. Bush? Obama?

19:34 PM — "I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war ... I fight for Americans ... I fight for you ... I fight for ..." some family you never heard of in Michigan ... Why do politicians do this? It's what Ernie Harwell used to do calling Detroit Tiger baseball when he'd claim to know the life's story of the guy who caught the foul ball in the stands, but it's just silly in politics ... That ball was caught by little Jimmy Olstein from Warren, Mich. He had four cavities filled at the dentist today and that ball's gonna put a smile on his little face tonight ...

19:37 PM — We're all God's children and we're all Americans ... (Just don't tell Tom Tancredo I said that.)

19:39 PM — A bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor ... is apparently worse than the guy standing there now ... an HMO executive whose year-end bonus is based on how many claims they can bounce ...

19:41 PM — Can we just pause for a moment to admire that angel-like glow of white hair on John McCain's head? ... Is that hair paint? ... Reminds me of a line from Frank Baker (of "The Fabulous Baker Boys"), who said: "No, it's a magical sheath that simulates a dazzling head of hair."

19:44 PM — We're going to stop sending money to countries that don't like us very much? Uh oh ... France is screwed.

19:47 PM — "It's time for us to show the world again how Americans lead ..." ... ... ... Cue the Russia quote

19:48 PM — There we go ... Russia ... an enemy we can all understand. They wear uniforms. They drive tanks. Phew.

19:50 PM — Vietnam ... "I hate war. It's terrible beyond imagination. I'm running for president to keep the country I love safe ..." So, basically, we gotta keep him healthy because, well, otherwise ... We'll be building some really big recreation complexes instead, with some bitchin' ice hockey rinks, of course.

19:55 PM — Two broken arms ... a broken leg ... an angry crowd ... a cell ... Bush voters from 2000, this is where you flagellate yourselves.

20:00 PM — And all the east-coast affiliates break away ...

20:02 PM — "... teach an illiterate adult to read" ... but for God's sake, don't teach them to read the damn New York Times.

20:04 PM — Fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... fight ... Thank you

20:05 PM — God help me, I love the way that man winks and does the thumbs-up thing.

20:07 PM — No sign of Trig ... By the way ... Overheard today at the Century City Mall ... "What they give that baby that keep him from cryin' that whole time? Not once, girl. Not once! That ain't like no baby I've ever seen." Editors Note: I'm not saying they gave Trig anything. I'm just saying ... what'd they give that baby?

20:10 PM — There's Trig ... and he's ... asleep.

20:11 PM — Charlie Gibson just really loves it when balloons fall from ceilings ... wow ... The speech was THAT stirring huh?

20:13 PM — Sixty days left until the election ... and yeah ... there'll be debates but ... all anyone really cares about is that "Biden Vs. Palin" bout! Are you ready to rumblllllllllleeeeeeeee.

Good night and good luck.

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