Saturday, April 21, 2007

One of the ideas that they really hammer in journalism school is the evil of PR. I have heard relatively little about public officials or corporate executives who may mislead reporters but I've heard a lot about the inherent wickedness of the press kit.

The press kit, for those who don't know, is to journalism what Lunchables are to a meal. A press kit has some pictures, video or sound if that's appropriate for the recipient, and a complete pre-packaged story, ready to go.

Using the packaged story is way bad in journalism circles, but it's frowned upon to use any of the other materials as well-the pictures, the video, the audio, etc. Because then you are buying into the agenda as packaged by the PR firm. You will hear a lot of high minded talk about this, talk that I agree with, actually. Uncritical use of the press kit is sloppy, it gives away a free advertisement, and it gives the imprimatur of authority to the idea being promoted in the press kit. If a political campaign sent a press kit with video showing the candidate discussing a proposal, television stations would be right to ignore it.

Sorry for all the set-up because the idea I want to bring up is Cho Seung-Hui and the Virginia nightmare shootings. I hadn't thought about it this way until listening to Tom Zengotita on the radio who described the package that Cho Seung-Hui sent to NBC as being a press kit.

  1. Is it okay to use a press kit in your legit journalism as long as it comes from a batshit crazy dude and not from, say, GE?
  2. Batshit crazy killer dudes make press kits nowadays?

Friday, April 13, 2007

I realize that the world does not need yet one more blogger weighing in on Don Imus but these two things are on my mind so I'm putting them down here:

1)I am fully aware that one can turn on the radio and find any number of ineptly-bleeped mentions of hoes, nappy headedness, etc. in contemporary popular music. This, to me, is an unconvincing line of argument.

If you make fun of your mother, that's your business. If I make fun of your mother, you are likely to take offense. This is intellectually inconsistent, but it's also human nature. To observe that the rules are different for, say, Li'l Kim and Don Imus when discussing black women and their hair or alleged sexual procilivities is to betray a lack of understanding about basic human nature. Inside the group-say what you want about the group; outside the group-show some respect, no matter how insincere.

2)This is not a freedom of speech issue. Don Imus is absolutely entitled to make a ginormous sign decrying nappy headed hoes and join the other goofballs on, say, Michigan Avenue like the guy with the meticulously lettered signs that explain why it is that Hillary Clinton is, in fact, a clone working on behalf of the Russians or the guy who wears a propeller beanie and waves his "Hi" sign at me when I'm in a bad mood. Don Imus can act like that guy on State Street who stands with a loudspeaker in front of the Old Navy railing against sodomites. Don Imus can even act like Louis Farrakhan and rent out baskeball arenas to talk about whatever reprehensible garbage he wants to talk about. He's entitled to do all of those things.

But he is not entitled to have a radio show or a television show. No one is entitled to have a radio show or a television show, not Ann Coulter, not Michael Moore, nobody.

People who find Don Imus offensive don't have to just wait around for their diminished attention to reflect itself in the arbitron ratings, they are entitled to protest, to give fair warning to sponsors that they face backlash and boycott. It's a business matter, not a free speech matter.

Disney is offering commitment ceremonies for gay couples and I haven't even bothered to Google this, I just assume that the religious right has called for public action against Disney, it's corporate parent, the sponsors, etc. You think Disney hasn't taken that into consideration? Disney clearly thinks that the money to be made from same-sex couples eager for a Little Mermaid ceremony outweighs the losses from people protesting same. It's lovely to think that this represents a deeply principled stand on the part of Disney but I don't think that's the case.

CBS and MSNBC took the pulse and decided that, as a matter of fact, they didn't think that there was enough money from the pro-Imus folks to outweigh the negative baggage that comes from Imus's history of offensive talk. They made a business decision, in the same way that the companies who broadcast Rush Limbaugh made a business decision after, say, Limbaugh made fun of Michael J. Fox and shrugged.