Sunday, May 27, 2007

Newsweek blurs the line between journalism and....crap

I've been a long time subscriber to Newsweek, I'll estimate that it has been at least ten years if not longer. I enjoy the format, the political cartoons and some of their regular columnists like Anna Quindlen and Howard Fineman. Even those that I don't agree with express themselves well enough.

But approximately two and a half years ago, Newsweek reported a story about Clay Aiken and cited as a source. That's right, gawker, the gossip site which uses this disclaimer;

Gawker is a gossip site. The site publishes both rumors and conjecture, in addition to accurately reported information. Information on this site may contain errors or inaccuracies; the site's proprietors do not make warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the site's content. Links to content on and quotation of material from other Gawker sites are not the responsibility of Gawker Media.

The story was never researched (and later disputed by Clay and his people) but Newsweek took the lazy way out and just reprinted the crap from Gawker. (I'm not going to provide a direct link, if you want to put money in their pocket with a hit, you'll have to work for it.) I was appalled and not just because it was about Clay. I was appalled because even though I'm an adult and I know you don't believe everything you read, I also feel that we should be able to have a few sources that can be relied on as media with integrity...stop laughing....sort of a few “benefit of the doubt” sources that you know would at least investigate something before committing it to print. Instead we got what NYU professor of journalism Jay Rosen calls, Newsweek's “Take my word for it world.”

But with that careless reference, Newsweek no longer held that status for me. I nearly canceled my subscription but couldn't be bothered (I think we got 4 years for 99 cents or something) and my husband reads it anyway during kids' sports practices. But I simply stopped reading it unless there was some story on a specific topic that is of interest.

For instance, this week I did read some of it because it had a cover story of Bill Clinton and I'm a big fan. After I finished the story, I flipped quickly through the pages, scanning the titles until toward the end when I came across an article about Perez Hilton and his influence on the music scene. Huh? Yes, the same Perez who runs a popular gossip site that reads like some journalism project for 7th grade remedial reading. I've only been there once when I accidentally clicked on a disguised link. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh at how absurd and juvenile it was, I really had no idea. Cry because this guy is making a huge living despite any apparent lack of actual skills that add value. But what the heck, that's capitalism right? If there's a market for lies, harassment, crassness and meaningless pandering to the least common denominator, go for it. Ain't America grand.

But I expect more from a “reputable” magazine who brags that they have won more awards than any other newsweekly, than glorifying this bottom dweller. The purveyors of bullshit journalism is how Clay once described the gossip sites. Newsweek noted that Hilton has an occasional R rated post. Occasional? Does the intern who researched that site also moonlight as a porn star? And now they are talking about this fre..blogger like he's some sort of music visionary who has the pulse on who is going to be the next big thing in music? Yeah, just like I believe that he just happened to fall in love with X Factor winner (and Simon Cowell protege) Leona Lewis, right about the time he got invited to an RCA party in her honor. Wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't a little anti-trashing insurance going on there. We'll treat you like a legitimate journalist for a day and you make nice when you blog about Leona. And yet I'm supposed to not raise an eyebrow when Newsweek shows this guy some respect?

Then again, this is the same magazine who chose to publish a cover story called Losing Afghanistan to the rest of the world but the US got a happy cover.

I love reading biographies and autobiographies. One of my favorites was the autobiography written by Katharine Graham, famed owner and publisher of The Washington Post during the Watergate investigation. (Ironically, The Washington Post owns Newsweek.) She went into great detail about how they required two sources to confirm anything that went to press. NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell said the same in her autobiography and lamented how quickly unconfirmed stories make their way around the internet and end up on “legitimate” news sites. Granted one could argue that Watergate was a far more serious story than a silly little lie about a celebrity. I mean just ask the gawker editor what she thinks about that when asked on Larry King Live by guest host Jimmy Kimmel.

But if fabricated gossip about a celebrity is deemed OK, where do you draw the line? Who decides what's important enough to someone's life or someone's career before they check a source better than gawker. I guess not Newsweek. I asked a similar question in the blog “Whose Life is it Anyway?”

If Newsweek is going to position itself as a bastion of news magazines and a trusted one at that, I expect a little more integrity in its sources and a few more brain cells firing before it tries to convince me that Perez Hilton is a trusted source of information for anything.

Newsweek is published along with Ah yes,, the home of one of the worst entertainment sections of any major site on the internet. Where half truths and innuendo can be found daily in The Scoop, which is basically an online tabloid. The same Scoop who took a story done by a local North Carolina station doing research into Clay Aiken's very successful children's charity. (The research was likely prompted by an ex-fan turned hater trying to stir up trouble because apparently Clay didn't sign 12 things, thank her five times for her support and kiss her on both cheeks when she had a meet and greet at a concert.) So the local station did the research and found her questions unfounded and in fact that the charity gives back 85% of the money it raises, quite in line with other reputable charities. But that didn't seem to matter to The Scoop and, they chose to publish just the first part of the story, the bogus accusation. Because everything about Clay brings buzz (as I noted in this blog), it got picked up everywhere, eventually requiring Clay to discuss it during a spot on CNN's Showbiz Tonight. (The good news is the charity got a lot of donations after the bogus story was brought to light.) All because MSNBC figured it was OK to imply impropriety instead of doing a positive story about this charity for children actually making a difference or better yet ignoring a NON STORY. Nah, hits mean cash..integrity be damned. And this is who Newsweek is in bed with?

I realize I'm using a lot of Clay examples but that's the area I'm most familiar with without doing a ton of additional research. Unlike Newsweek, I don't get paid for that.

It's a problem, this blurring the lines. As Paul Gillin notes in his book The New Influencers
Mainstream media has an important role to play in addressing the accuracy issue. Once a newspaper or broadcast outlet picks up the story, the information acquires a new level of legitimacy that gives it new momentum.

I guess I'll have to go elsewhere to find someone addressing the accuracy issue.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

What's the Buzz?

What's the Buzz-tell me what's a happenin'

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.

No, I'm not calling any Apollo astronauts. I remarked to a few people this week that the American Idol finale seemed like an afterthought. There was no buzz. I kind of feel badly for Jordin Sparks, she will need some serious manufactured buzz in order to have a successful album.

What is buzz and what is the difference between manufactured buzz and genuine buzz? How do you get people truly interested to ask "What's the Buzz?" as they did here in Jesus Christ Superstar from 1973?

As an aside, I saw JSC last month starring Ted Neeley. Yes, the same Ted Neeley in this clip. He looks great for a man in his 60's and can still hit the screaming notes but the rest of it was rough. But you know what? The buzz throughout the theater when he first appeared was very real. It had less to do with where his voice was and more to do with people being genuinely happy to see him perform.

Buzz is created with a spark but the talk, the interest has to be natural because the spark is part of an actual fire. Manufactured buzz is sort of like those fake gas fireplaces that require fuel to keep burning. Manufactured buzz can last as long as the source of the "fake fuel" continues and this usually means money. But real buzz is when the fire remains or can be rekindled all on its own at a later date.

This year's AI finale was more like that televised Yule Log film loop that you turn on at Christmas. Contrast this year with last year when a simple hint that Clay Aiken might be performing set off a frenzy on the entertainment shows. When he did appear in the infamous segment with fan and wannabe Michael Sandecki, the buzz Clay created lasted for a week after, nearly eclipsed the actual winner's moment and completely overshadowed the fact that Prince performed later.

Many artists can create buzz when there is time for something to promote. Their publicist works with all entertainment mediums to get them exposure. But except for the big stars, nobody pays much attention to what they do otherwise, especially in between film, TV or music projects. Clay's move from LA to Raleigh made the CNN ticker. Manufactured buzz can sometimes create enough genuine buzz to sustain it when the publicist's efforts stop but that's pretty rare. And then there's the Paris Hilton situation, but that's just Buzz-arre.

Clay is going to be touring 22 cities this July and August. Tickets have been on sale all spring and each venue tells us they cannot believe the buzz as soon as ticket sales were announced. I had one venue that I was speaking with about a group ticket buy. Our tickets were going to be assigned after their member ticket assignments and the fanclub presale. At first they promised me that all of our 30 requested tickets would be in the front orchestra section. Then they said because of the pre sale buzz, they thought maybe half the tickets would be in the front orchestra section. By the time, the buzz built the tickets were in the second orchestra section and not until the 7th row. The group ticket coordinator said he's never seen anything like it. All that buzz is felt throughout the venues and builds greater demand the next time he is booking a tour. Another venue said they estimated a demand of about 10,000 tickets for a venue that held 2500, just because of the pre sale buzz.

I've written before about buzz at a baseball game and I'm sure there will be buzz next year as all the political primaries start happening. But those sorts of things are to be expected. Buzz is harder to generate in the entertainment field without serious PR push because there is so much competition. But when you've got IT, that fire never goes away.

Looking to get sparked this summer, check out for the tour schedule.

. To the front row....and beyond!

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Photoshop courtesy of Invisible926

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Goodbye Red.

My mother-in-law died a few days ago. She valiantly fought cancer and COPD for the past several years but it finally caught up to her. Having touched so many, she will be greatly missed.

I had no doubt I would hurt for my husband and my children. I didn’t realize how much I would hurt for myself.

This whole week I have felt like I have been run over by a figurative steam roller. How can you feel numb yet experience jabbing pains almost simultaneously?

As people often do when someone who has been in their lives die, my mind replays several scenes with “Red”.

Before my husband and I were married we lived together but we didn’t have a washer and dryer. Mark would go into his mom’s house and do laundry. Well, I thought it he was the one doing it. Imagine my mortification when “Red” told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she had sent out a pair of my underwear out to be mended because it had a hole in it! So not only did Mark’s mom see my less than perfect unmentionables but so did someone else. I could have died.

As daughter-in-laws sometimes do, I took exception at times to my mother-in-law’s “suggestions” and her seemingly trying to override our decisions as parents. We didn’t agree on everything and she did love to spoil the kids. We won on the “My sized Barbie” but she would find a way to slip in little victories like ice cream before dinner.. I have to hand it to her though, she was an equal opportunity “spoiler”.

I found out I was pregnant when my daughter was about 2 years old. Mark was in between jobs and when he told his mom, she didn’t seem too thrilled. In fact she said to him “don’t you think that is a bit irresponsible?”. Looking back I think it was just because she worried if we could provide for another child right then but I was angry that she would say something like that

I was hurting and battered when I walked into her house after finding out that I had miscarried that child. Mark was at work and I had to go to the appointment alone. I wanted to say “I hope you are happy” but any bitterness was washed away by our mutual tears. She cried with me as a mother who had long ago also lost a child, as a grandmother mourning a future grandchild and simply as a woman in pain.

I will never forget that and will be forever grateful.

This past week has been hard. I saw my husband cry for the first time. I have seen my son transformed, from a gangly teen who hates to go shopping for any clothes, into a young man patiently insisting on getting a suit coat because “it is the right thing to do”

You read about it in a sad story, you see it in the “movie of the week” but you aren’t prepared when you play back all those old messages and hear “Mark, it’s me mom. Give me a call when you get in”. The voice is familiar and strong not faint or frail. It is a voice you expect to hear again yet knowing you never will.

I have been listening to a lot of Clay Aiken. I have literally needed to in order to get through this week. His voice soothes me. I listen to the hauntingly beautiful “Lover All Alone” and my tears fall freely . I am comforted by “I Will Carry You” and it reminds me of “Red” because she was always there for everyone.

If I touch half as many people’s hearts as she did, I will consider myself blessed. Actually, for having known her, I already am.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Clay and Kimmel (“The Climmel”): Dancing with the Stars

I wrote this skit about six weeks ago...since Clay is actually scheduled to make an appearance on the Dancing with the Stars finale tonight during Jimmy's skit, I figured it might be a good time to revisit it...

(On the screen, a colorful title card: Dance Along at Home…with Jimmy Kimmel. Cut to a close-up of a solemn Kimmel on the empty JKL set, in white tuxedo shirt and black bowtie.)

Kimmel: Last week, we demonstrated the passionate and percussive Paso Doble. Unfortunately, my usual partner, parking lot security guard Guillarmo, sprained his ankle attempting a triple axel-pas de deux, so I have a special guest partner this week. Please welcome my friend, pop superstar Clay Aiken.

(The camera pulls back to reveal Jimmy’s black tailcoat tuxedo. He crosses stage right to his DWTS set, where a puzzled Clay awaits him, wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey and holding a football.)

Kimmel: Clay…why aren’t you wearing the costume I put in your dressing room?

Clay: Jimmy, that was a dress. An’ you told me this was another piece fer Monday Night Football.

Kimmel: Clay, why would I tell you that? Football season doesn’t start till September.

Clay (annoyed): Ah know that! But that’s what you said. Ah thought you were jest filmin’ ahead o’ time.

Kimmel: Whatever. Now that you’re here, we’re supposed to demonstrate a ballroom dance.

Clay: A dance? (laughs) Yore kiddin,’ right?

Kimmel: Haven’t you seen this segment before?

Clay: Nope. An’ Ah think this was jest a cheap ploy ta git me in drag.

Kimmel (defensively): Well, you did play Cher once. You can't deny it –- I saw the video.

Clay: That was years ago. Ya couldn’t pay me ta dress up like that now. How wimmen kin stand wearin’ that pantyhose Ah’ll never know. (sighs, resigned) What’re we supposedta do?

Kimmel: Well, the way it works is, I show a diagram of a dance, and then we demonstrate it for the folks at home.

Clay: Demonstrate it, huh? But Ah cain’t dance. You know that.

Kimmel: Oh, you can too. Despite those gunboats. (indicates Clay’s enormous feet)

Clay (sighs heavily): What’s the dance?

Kimmel: The jitterbug.

Clay (thinking): Well. (shrugs) Ah’ll give it a try. But only if YOU wear the dress.

Kimmel: Uh UH. NO.WAY. (Camera cuts to extreme closeup of Kimmel) Okay. You ready?

Clay (off): Ah guess.

(The camera pulls back to reveal Kimmel in a 1940s-style dress, bobby socks and saddle shoes, and Clay in Kimmel’s black tuxedo. We see the jitterbug diagram on the wall in back of them. They assume a classic dance pose, we hear Glenn Miller's "Little Brown Jug" in the background, and Clay and Kimmel flail around in circles awkwardly, Clay tripping over his own feet. Forgetting that he's now playing the girl's part, Kimmel attempts to lift Clay off the ground in a jitterbug move. Clay doesn’t budge, and Kimmel suddenly grabs his lower back, ducks out of the frame and groans loudly. Closeup as Clay turns to the camera.)

Clay: Remember…

Kimmel (off, in obvious pain): …you don’t have to be a star to dance like one...

Clay (sardonic smile): But it shore helps!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Clay and Kimmel ("The Climmel"): After the Horse

(Clay’s cell phone rings. He answers.)

Kimmel: Hey, Lucky Charms!

Clay: Heh. Well, y’know what they say about ‘em--

Both (singsong): "They’re magically delicious!" Yeahyeahyeahokaywhatever...

Kimmel: So, Clay -- I thought the "hoarse on a horse" bit worked pretty well.

Clay (smugly): ‘Course it did. After all, it was MAH ahdea. But didja rilly hafta bring up the horse’s...priapism?

Kimmel: Oh, aren't we fancy. Clearly, you've been watching Viagra commercials.

Clay: Well, ya practically had us pickin’ out a china pattern. An’ we only jest met. (sighs) That’s the gossip mill fer ya.

Kimmel: Don’t feel slighted or anything, but I think Taco was more of a camera whore than anything else. Anyway, it was a pretty clever way to get back at a certain blowdried radio tool.

Clay: Yeah. (sardonically) Speakin’ o' leprechauns...

Kimmel: ...wonder if anybody got it.

Clay: Well, ya kin bet HE didn’t.

Kimmel (laughs): Probably right. Oh, and Aida wants your number. Alexa, too.

Clay (grinning): You shore they didn’t mean the horse?

Kimmel: Nah, you still got it. Anyhow, we’ve come up with a couple of great ideas for the next time you’re on.

Clay: Uh huh. An’ when is that gonna be?

Kimmel: Well, when do you want it to be? I’m thinking at this point maybe we should get you your own dressing room.

Clay: Oh, the ratings were that good, huh?

Kimmel: Yeah, pretty good, and a couple of new sponsors are interested.

Clay: Rilly? Who?

Kimmel: Well, Sonicare for one.

Clay: Yay.

Kimmel: And the National Lime Board.

Clay: How ‘bout that. (shakes head, puzzled)

Kimmel: Okay, now to our ideas. First of all, I’m thinking next time we should fly you in.

Clay (patiently): Jimmy, ya always fly me in.

Kimmel: No, no -- I mean fly you in -- like, on wires.

Clay: Wait -- y’mean, like Peter Pan?

Kimmel: Hey! Great idea for a costume! I’ll call the wardrobe dep--

Clay (laughing): No, c'mon! Jimmy, no. What’s next? Wings an’ a halo? A tutu an’ a magic wand?

Kimmel (enthusiastically): Say, that’s--

Clay: NOT.A.CHANCE. Ah don’t need ta tell ya what the message boards’d say then. An’ anyway, Ah’ve heard those harnesses’re rilly uncomfortable. Ah’m not rilly innersted in bein’ a soprano...Ah’ll leave that ta Aida. Okay...that was lame.

Kimmel (wryly): I’ll say. Well, how about a big animal costume? Like a big fat frog? Or we could dress you up like a Disney character -- they’d love that. They've gotta have an extra Pinocchio costume lying around. 'Course, we could fix it so that something else grows -- y'know -- other than the nose, if you get my drift. (Clay is ominously silent) Ooh! Ooh! Or an astronaut! Then we could play the theme from 2001 and do a bit about steely-eyed manliness and moon rocks and “the right stuff” and--

Clay (somberly): Jimmy, kin Ah ask you a question?

Kimmel: Sure, buddy. Shoot.

Clay: How come Ah’m the one who hasta wear the costume? Why don’t you wear it next time?

Kimmel: ‘Cause I’m the host, and you’re the guest.

Clay: That’s a stupid excuse.

Kimmel: 'bout this one: I only wear a costume on Halloween.

Clay: Pretind it’s Halloween then. Or...wait! We could BOTH wear a costume.

Kimmel: might have something there! I could be Yogi Bear and you could be BooBoo. Or I could be George Jetson and you could be Elroy. Or I could be Batman and you could be Robin. Or I could be the Skipper and you could be Gilligan. Or I could be Sheriff Taylor and you could be Barney Fi--

Clay (snorts): Ya shore ya don’t mean Opie? Coss Ah’m pickin’ up on a theme here.

Kimmel: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Oh! I just thought of another one. (triumphantly) Superman and Jimmy Ol--

Clay (impatiently): --Y’know what, Jimmy? Ah’ve got a rilly radical ahdea. Now, Ah know it’s kinda out thayre, but--

Kimmel (eagerly): Oh, the more “out there” the better -- what is it?

Clay: Okay, listen up. Here's mah big ahdea: Ah could wear MAH.OWN.CLOTHES, an’ Ah could...git riddy fer it now...SING.

Kimmel: Hmmm. (long thoughtful pause) Could work.

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