Friday, April 28, 2017

Bill: Sorry I’m Not Sorry

Photo credit: By Justin Hoch, CC BY 2.0,
Bill O’Reilly is gone from Fox, but probably not gone from our public discourse. My reaction is summed up by the title of my favorite Tessa Violet song: “Sorry I’m Not Sorry.”

O’Reilly was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment at the locker room men’s network known as Fox News. And advertisers didn’t like being associated with a tainted Papa Bear, so they pulled the plug.

I am not sorry to see him go. But, with a multi-million-dollar severance payment and plenty of access to the internet, I don’t think he’s really gone. And I think the O’Reilly case has multiple levels to it.

It was simply a business decision for Fox. His firing wasn’t for any of his misconduct, but because advertisers didn’t want to be on his show—and there is a problem there. O’Reilly worked for the cable news network that was founded with an ideological mission. It was part of an alternative media system that isn’t based on reporting news, but rather on promoting a particular world view.

YouTube Thumbnail.
As Hank the Vlog brother says, it’s cheaper to have nattering heads paid to have different points of view than to engage in serious journalism, and O’Reilly’s huge cable audience was symptomatic of a public shift away from rational, fact-based journalism.

O’Reilly may be gone from Fox. But the alt-right media universe that Fox helped create and that O’Reilly was a star of has morphed into something dangerous, and his being fired doesn’t really change that.

Two commentators that I like and read in my local paper, Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald and Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star had interesting columns on O’Reilly’s Fox departure. They have different reactions, although I find myself agreeing with both. Sanchez, I think, makes an important point: the male sense of entitlement that helped create the O’Reilly affair is not gone.

Kudos to Emily Steele of the “New York Times,” whose stories helped bring Bill down. She was threatened by Papa Bear back in 2015 but kept going. We owe her a debt because she didn’t back down.

And we ought to thank her because she is part of the old school news media that actually tries to report the news. Unlike Fox.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Horray and Boo: Iowa Wins a Pulitzer

From prize.
Well, it’s a great day to be a journalism professor in Iowa. It’s not every day someone wins a Pulitzer Prize and I get to say: “Hey, I know that guy.”

I lived in Early Iowa, a small town 15 miles south of Storm Lake, in the 1990s. I can’t honestly say I subscribed to The Storm Lake Times for all of those years—but for much of my residency there, I was a Times reader.

And now Art Cullen, the Iowa newspaper editor most likely to be mistaken for Mark Twain, has won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for editorial writing. Bravo.

A journalist's mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Cullen wrote his prize-winning editorials about the lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and agricultural counties, including Buena Vista in northwest Iowa, that pollute the Des Moines River, the source of drinking water for Iowa’s largest urban area, due to the county's agricultural runoff.

Cullen spoke with the Sioux City Journal about the importance of small-town journalism in a video report that I hope you will watch.

The Des Moines Register made a video of its own, too—but despite being flashier, it lacks something without Art speaking in it.

From the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, Art or Mark.
Photo by Allison Bradley for

I stated before that Art Cullen looks a little like Mark Twain. He’s like Twain in a bit more than looks. Twain was, in his time, an acerbic critic of social norms. Recall the prayer he wrote in 1905 ("The War Prayer") that was a harsh satire of war prayers in general. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking of Twain as a warm, fuzzy storyteller—when in fact he was a clear-eyed curmudgeon, and could be sarcastic.

Cullen doesn’t mince words, either. See his editorials. As he noted, anybody with a nose knows there’s something wrong with water in Iowa. And Cullen is a fierce progressive voice in the extreme conservative King country of western Iowa.

The Storm Lake Times is a family business. In news accounts of the Pulitzer Prize, Art Cullen credits his son Tom Cullen as a co-winner of the prize because the son’s reporting fueled the father's editorials. Art Cullen also says his brother John Cullen, who founded the Times, taught Art Cullen to write.

Well, congratulations Art Cullen. You proved that good, clear, strong writing can come from a newspaper of any size, and you did something that should make Iowans proud.

But even as we celebrate, we need to recall hard realities.

The Iowa legislature is controlled by a virulently conservative Republican party. Terry Branstad is still governor, soon to be replaced by his GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. Donald Trump recenlty appointed an EPA chief who in the past has sued the EPA, and Trump's administration shows no taste for environmental regulation.

The only power that can change the rules to stop the pollution that caused the dust up that led to a Pulitzer Prize is government—and right now, government doesn’t seem to care much about pollution.

Yes, I know, Governor Branstad made a halfhearted try last year to fund an inadequate plan to reduce water pollution, but it was killed by his own party. Rights now, Republicans at the state and federal level are in no mood to tackle any pollution, whether the result is dirty water or global warming.

The big story that the Cullens have been telling is not that a Des Moines water utility sued Buena Vista County. Nor even who paid for the county to defend itself.

After all, that lawsuit has already been dismissed.

No, the big story is that nitrates are still today leaking into Iowa water, poisoning not just Des Moines but also small towns. And a dead zone grows in the Gulf of Mexico as chemicals from Iowa farm fields make their way downstream.

In recent decades, farming as an industry has changed in ways that are not sustainable nor compatible with our collective health and well-being. And, while we can wag our fingers at farmers, they are, for the most part, just a part of a giant system whose rules they don’t set and whose trends push them to this style of fertilizer-intense farming. And farmers are facing tough economic times. Farm incomes have been hit hard as commodity prices fall—and as nitrogen is pumped into the soil, as the waters grow poisoned, and as Iowa slowly turns foul and unhealthy.

As Cullen noted, anybody with eyes and a nose knows.

That’s a big story. It’s not a pleasant one. We need brave journalists like Art Cullen to continue to tell it, even when we don’t want to hear it.

Congratulations to the Cullen clan on being recognized for their good journalism. And please get back to work.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Makes a Good Photo?

My favorites of my photos in the contest--San Francisco Public Library stairs (above), mural in Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, below.

The contest is now closed, and the winner is Audrey Sheller.

When my wife and I visited San Francisco over spring break, she, our oldest son and I decided to have a little fun with photos. We would each pick 10 pictures shot during the week, which would be anonymously posted in the same gallery on Facebook.

Then, we would invite our family and friends to “vote” via Facebook reactions (2 points for love, 1 for any other reaction, 1 for any mention in a comment). You can look and like all you want now, although the voting for the contest is over.

We would have two winners: The one who shot the best overall picture, and the one whose set of 10 scored the highest.

Audrey Sheller won them both. In fact, she had the two first place photos (a tie between a Waldo Street sign and a door with googly eyes) and the next place image, a rainbow flag.

The winners--door with eyes (above) and Waldo Street (below).

The winners earned 10 points, the next place (second or third—two images finished higher, but it had the second-highest score) had 9 points.

Two of my son’s images scored 7 points each.  My highest score was a 6.

The overall point race winner is not a huge surprise. Audrey Sheller was first with 59, next came Jon Sheller with 46 and finally, me with 35.

A crowd favorite, 9 point winner. Rainbow flag from Castro District.
I don’t feel terrible at the results. The “jury” was not professional photographers, and it’s clear emotion played a part in the voting. The top images both feature whimsy. I do think my library stair shot is way more of a made image, but humor counts in this poll.

Here is a list of the photos in the order they appear in the gallery (they were randomly sorted before being posted), who took each, and their scores:

Tree and city hall, Joe, 6.
Clarion Alley images, Audrey, 2.
Waldo Street sign, Audrey, 10.
Golden Gate Bridge, Audrey, 4.
Googly Eye Door, Audrey, 10.
Stars, Jon, 7.
Flower, sky, building, Joe, 6.
Painted ladies full view, Audrey, 6.
Canoe in museum, Joe, 1.
Cable Car museum, Joe, 2.
Lanterns in Chinatown, Audrey, 7.
Pushing cable car, Joe, 4.
Goblen Gate Bridge from levy, Jon, 5.
Park trail, Audrey, 2.
Lombard Street, Jon, 5.
Listen to wall, Jon, 7.
White flower, Jon, 5.
Church in distance, Jon, 4.
Castro, Jon, 5.
Flowers in her hair, Joe, 5.
Sun Dial, Audrey, 2.
Blue hair on garage door, Joe, 1.
Rainbow flag, Audrey, 9.
Haight Ashbury street sign, Jon, 1.
Park stairs, Audrey, 7.
Library stairs, Joe, 6.
Duck, Jon, 3.
Painted ladies skyline closer, Joe, 3.
Cable Car machines, Joe, 1.
Downtown skyline, Jon, 4.

I stopped the count Friday and didn’t include one accidental “like” from Audrey for her own photo (it happened on an iPad, and I understand how clumsy that device is with Facebook and that an accidental like is just an errant finger tap). If a photo was specifically referenced in an overall gallery comment, that comment was awarded to that photo, by the way.

Two images by Jon--yes, the one flower image in the contest was not by me. Flower from Botanical Garden (above) and Lombard Street (below).

Here are other pictures I shot during the week we were in San Francisco. It was a fun contest. It shows, I think, how important subject choice is for photos. We did know when we were shooting that week, at least by mid-week, that the contest was going on, so I can’t fault Audrey for picking the wittiest images.

And yet, Jon and I are the ones who teach photography. Go figure.

Some under-rated images, in my opinion. I just thought the image above felt like a nature shot, even though it is the giant engines that run the cable car system.

San Francisco City Hall and a trimmed tree from plaza by City Hall.

Oh come on, world. It's got sky, flower and building. Winner!

Even our champion was a bit stumped by some of the voting. I think we all agreed this was a cool image Audrey shot in Chinatown, but it did not score very high in the contest.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

YouTube: From Buffy to Tessa

I am thinking about YouTube, which has been around for a bit more than decade.

I wrote my latest Corridor Business Journal column about a local news show, “Ethical Perspectives on the News.” It’s a show recorded by and aired on KCRG-Channel 9 in Cedar Rapids, but because the show was recently moved to 5:30 a.m. on Sundays, I find it easier to catch the show on YouTube.

The show, sponsored by the Inter Religious Council of Linn County, is posted after its first airing. As I write this, today’s show is already on line.

Anyway, I was a bit proud of my March CBJ column simply because it represented two cool realities: 1) It was a last-minute rush job before I flew out to San Francisco for spring break, and as such, I am glad it came together, and 2) I managed to work in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I’ve seen a lot of YouTube highlights from Buffy lately, tied to the show’s 20th anniversary. There are some good highlights reels out there, but one genre is the fan video where Buffy scenes are used to illustrate some popular song. Like this one.
Crop of screen shot from video linked above--final seconds of final Buffy episode. As she thinks about the end of her life as a slayer, Butty is about to break into a series-ending grin.

It got me thinking of online video as a new medium. Of course, like “Ethical Perspectives,” YouTube can represent simply posting material from some other medium.

Then again, there is original content. I follow a number of channels on YouTube—some associated with programs I like but don’t have time to watch. I see highlights of Steven Colbert’s CBS program, for example.

I also follow the Vlog Brothers, one of whom is also active on the channel SciShow, which I also follow.

Besides those, I’ve been listening to a fair number of frothy pop songs from a young lady named Tessa Violet, who first came to YouTube fame by lip synching other people’s songs and vlogging about her life, and now has moved on to writing and performing her own songs in YouTube music videos.
YouTube thumbnail for Tessa Violet's "Sorry I'm not Sorry" video. I also used "Baby I'm Not Over You" on my bike blog.
I am particularly fond of “Sorry I’m not Sorry,” a song about a woman who refuses to stay in a bad relationship. I kind of like that message, and it’s a catchy song.

So I’m on a bit of a personal mission to make Tessa Violet a star beyond YouTube. We'll see if this blog post gets the ball rolling. That’s a joke, of course. Unlike Tessa’s fan base—she has 1 million YouTube followers—my blog audience is small

Still, I am interested in what the online video medium means.

In particular, who in Iowa or the Cedar Rapids area is creating interesting, original videos that are shared via YouTube or some other online video service?

Readers, do you have any suggestions?