Monthly Archives: August 2010

Waffling politicians on the campaign trail and misbehaving pols already elected? Not the same thing, James Warren

I’m somewhat of a fan of the Chicago News Co-op.

Their Twitter feed is one of a bunch that I have on mobile alert, I admire them for hiring the best and the brightest, for doing regional stories that Richard Longworth (another ex-Tribune lifer) would applaud, for having interesting ideas about making money from news content and overall for being a small, but quite nimble news shop that does both breaking news and longer stories well.

However, this James Warren column is a miss. The headline is true enough. It is indeed easy to mess up as a politician. And though Warren doesn’t exactly comment on how we should feel about that, it’s something we can agree on. Politicians are under a microscope and every move can be judged to be an error. 

Getting more into it though, it’s clear that the “messing up” that Warren refers to runs the gamut from fudging a few facts to full out corruption. This is itself a problem, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Since we now realize that what is being talked about is not just overall public scrutiny, but law-breaking in some cases, is it not worrisome that Warren puts in the headline how “easy” it is to go astray? If it is easy to go astray, then maybe that means the laws are too rigorous. After all, everyone breaks the speed limit, right? You can hopefully see the problem with this kind of thinking and while I don’t think everyone who reads Warren’s piece will began to think that way, some might. This kind of thing is the responsibility of the journalist, whether he is a beat reporter or a columnist. Unless I missed it, nowhere in the piece does the author hedge against the possibility that someone will read it as “well, it’s really tough to stay honest in politics, so we might as well not even try.”

What he does do though is conflate the half-truths and wobbly positions we see from pols on the campaign trail with malfeasance once in office. Warren begins by talking about office-seekers Robert Dold, a congressional candidate in the north suburbs, and Mark Kirk who is vying for the Senate. Dold has, according to Warren, flip-flopped on abortion while Kirk has been caught misremembering his military past. Eventually, Dold, Kirk, Blagojevich, Pat Quinn and others are mentioned in a single breath and this is really the crux of the problem.

Political campaigning is not the same as governing once elected. This is Politics 101. While there are laws governing political campaigns, I don’t believe there’s anything on the books that requires a candidate to hold fast to issue positions. If there was, almost no one would be fit to run for office. So Dold’s alleged changes of mind regarding abortion done for political expediency? Yes and yes. Now, is the sky also blue?

Kirk mis-characterized his military record to enhance his reputation with voters? Call the authorities! Next you’re going to tell me that politicians sometimes exaggerate something about themselves, while downplaying something else. And maybe they even take credit for things they didn’t do at times? I’m shocked!

The point I’m hopefully making is that we all expect politicians to be less than forthright while campaigning. We do the same in our private lives. Have you ever gone on a job interview and professed your love for two hour lunches and taking sick days while not actually sick? I didn’t think so. Once both you and candidates for office get the job though, you relax a bit. You still have to perform and be accountable, but now you’re in. Now you can stop showing off and getting everyone to like you. You still want them to like you enough to keep the job (or get re-elected), but the honeymoon is over and the real work begins.

Being in office and “messing up” is quite a different matter. Here you’re playing fast and loose not just with voters’ expectations, but with taxpayer dollars and a great deal more which is not measurable.

Now for my own hedge. All this is not to say that it’s ok to lie your ass off on the campaign trail and then become a saint once elected. The ideal is of course to lie as little as possible in all your dealings. But there is a certain school of political thought that says that the ends justify the means and if you want to do good and change the world, you have to win office first. Or you could become a journalist. But let me warn you that that vocation is a lot less lucrative than politics 😉

When TV news fails

I hate my industry sometimes

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. 

With that in mind, here’s what explains the title of this post:


The hilarious Jonathan Nelson mused about how this… err… story may have come about:


I’d love to sit in on the process that allowed that to be on the cover.

4 months ago:

“Hey Mr. Editor Joe, ya hear about this new trend involving women’s personal grooming?”

“No! But sounds golden, run with it.”

3 Months ago:

“Here is that story Mr. Editor Joe.”


2 months ago:

“So what are the headlines for the cover?”

“I got this va-jay-jay story.”

“Classy! Put that front and center.”

And now we have this.

Who can tell me the real story? Anyone?


Do you back the crook or the honest man?

You can’t indict your way to honest government,” said Collins, who now is in private practice and chaired an ethics reform panel formed by Gov. Pat Quinn. “Ultimately, the voters have to do that by being informed and voting smart.

Please read the entire piece that this comes from.

Moral of the story? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE!!! Be informed. Read more than one newspaper. Seek out intelligent analysis. Understand what’s going on in government. Or just stay the hell away from the polls.

Russian-American kids vs. American kids



My parents sent this to me and for once, it was an e-mail that was both funny and true. I read it to my American husband and he also agreed it was dead on.

Just for fun, I’ve made the American kids lines blue and the Russian-American kids’ ones, what else? Red.


American kids: Move out when they’re 18, with the full (emotional) support of their parents.

Russian-American Kids: Move out when they’re 28, having saved enough money for a house, and are two weeks away from getting married.


American kids: When their Mom visits them, she brings a Bundt cake, and they sip coffee and chat.

Russian-American Kids: When their Mom visits them, she brings 3 days worth of food, begins to tidy up, dust, do the laundry, and rearrange the furniture.


American kids: Their dads always call before they come over to visit them, and it’s usually only on special  occasions.

Russian-American Kids: Are not at all fazed when their dads show up, unannounced, on a Saturday morning at 8:00, and starts pruning the fruit trees. If there are no fruit trees, he’ll plant some, and will build a deck while he is at it.


American kids: Always pay retail, and look in the Yellow Pages when they need to have something done.

Russian-American Kids: Call their dad or uncle, and ask for another Russian-American Kid’s dad’s or uncle’s phone number to get it done.


American kids: Will come over their parent’s house for cake and coffee, and get cake and coffee.

Russian-American Kids: Will come over for cake and coffee, and get borsht, vodka, a salad olivye’, a choice of two meats, bread, a dish of babushka’s desert and fruit (and as much to take home after).


American kids: Know a few things about their parents.

Russian-American Kids: Could write a book with direct quotes from them.


American kids: Think that being Russian is cool.

Russian-American Kids: KNOW that being Russian is cool. 

Busy, intelligent people need good news filters


This ad over on a Slate article immediately caught my eye.

One of the assertions it makes about The Week, apparently a WSJ publication, is that it’s “like ‘Cliff’s Notes’ for intelligent, busy people.” This resonated very deeply with me, because I think about the issue of content overload quite a bit.

In an age where “busy, intelligent people” seemingly have endless choices in terms of where they get their news and information from, good filters (or good aggregators) become a vital necessity. What I’ve learned from my news consumer interview series (linked on the sidebar to your left) is that the most savvy news consumers have great places and people to go to for their Cliff’s Notes.

I almost feel like this a skill that is basically lacking in some of their contemporaries though. Perhaps one day we can teach it in school :-)

Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s

Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you’re unhappy with a purchase — no questions asked. At the Chelsea store opening, workers greeted customers with high-fives and free cookies. Try getting that kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly.

I’m just now in the process of reading the entire story and am already nodding along.

I love, love, love, LOVE Trader Joe’s.

UPDATE: One of my many awesome Twitter followers pointed me to this YouTube video made by a Trader Joe’s fan. Please to enjoy:

Online comments need an overhaul, but what exactly should be done?


I think we can all agree on the fact that comments need to be re-thought. But how exactly? 

Dave Winer has posted his views on what changes he thinks ought to be made. Since he has disallowed comments there for the specific purpose of people’s thoughts coming in the form of their own blog posts, I am complying and posting my response here.

First of all, I completely agree with the pretext for Dave’s post and most people know that this is a not a brand new discussion. Online commenting has indeed degenerated on many sites into a tar pit that few dare wade into. While some have been trying to figure out if comment anonymity is the problem, other gleefully embrace it. But perhaps the problem is the nature of comments themselves? 

Let’s take a look at Dave’s prescriptions one by one:

1. A fixed commenting period for each post of 24 hours.

In essence, this already exists on some sites. RedState for example rigorously regulates comments and, more importantly, new accounts. I don’t recall the exact rules, but new accounts cannot comment on posts right away. This is designed to cut down on “drive-by” commenting and, as I suspect Dave also intends with this suggestion, serve as a cooling off period. Just as gun purchases require a waiting period so should perhaps commenting?

I’m not certain if there are other sites employing this method. I can tell you that as a potential commenter, it’s tremendously frustrating when you want to post a comment, but cannot. However, what I’m sure it helps to do is build a very committed and engaged community and there is often another way to contact the author; via e-mail or Twitter for example.

Dave’s second suggestion is along the same lines:

2. Until the period expires, none of the comments would be visible to other commenters.

This would probably cut down on comment viciousness, but might also hamper the performance of sites like Gawker’s Jezebel which, as this points out, lives on the venom of its visitors. Whether such a handicap would be good or bad for the Internet overall is a separate matter. The question is, how would publishers feel about their commenters being less passionate after 24 hours? 

3. You could edit and refine your comments during the period.

This I have no problem with. In fact, it would be nice if one could edit one’s comments even after this period, so long as the edits were somehow visible. This would, among other things, help cut down on lengthy comment threads that no human being could ever hope to read in their entirety. 

Moving on…

4. There would be a length limit of 1000 characters to keep people from using comments in place of a blog post. No one is going to read a blog post in a comment.

While the idea of limiting comment length is interesting, I think the assertion that no one is willing to read lengthy comments is categorically untrue. I can only say for certain that it is untrue of myself, but I feel sure that there are others who share my view. How do I know? Because I have seen lengthy comments responded to with their own lengthy comments. In fact, it’s happening right now on a Chicago Reader post I’ve been commenting on.

Furthermore, not everyone has their own blog on which to write their missives. Some people are perfectly content to do so on the blogs of others. Why should we take away this option?

5. After the commenting period is over, the comments would become visible, and no further comments would be permitted.

Again, some sites already do this. The example that immediately comes to mind is Salon. I’m not certain how the time period is determined for each article and some may never close comments, but they are often shut off. I’ve experienced this situation when wanting to write a comment and I can say that while it’s frustrating, it taught me the lesson that if I want to comment, I had better be one of the first to read the piece. But is that really a good lesson? It may engender loyalty to a site’s content, yes, but does it not rob other commenters of the benefit of a new thought or idea that no one else has yet recorded?

This last question gets to the issue of what the purpose of comments really is. As Dave writes, many people view blogs as conversations. He does not share in this view however. To him, blogs are publications only. I bet I know several newspaper editors who share this notion. As regards comments on newspaper sites, it’s a much larger conversation and if I could make every newspaper publisher comply with a single standard, I would allow all comments on all stories, but only in a specific forum designed especially for this purpose. In other words, all possible comments on a newspaper website would be funneled to a single location. But I digress…

In any event, what’s important to ask is why someone takes the time to comment on something they read online? For many people, the purpose might be to just sound off. These are people who are not seeking discussion, greater understanding, opposing viewpoints, etc. Other people however are seeking a conversation on the topic at hand. There of course all manner of degrees between these two groups. So how to allow the various groups to co-exist without changing commenting for everyone?

This is where we get into the realm of the imagination. Nothing has yet been invented to tackle this. I can dream up a few ideas, but I’m more interested in hearing yours in the comments below 😉

The World of Rod Blagojevich

Does each newspaper need its own critics?


If you haven’t already heard, Chicago Tribune television critic Maureen Ryan has left the Trib to work for AOL Television. 

Robert Feder talked to Maureen and extracted some expected information. For instance:

As much as she loved her job, Ryan admits she’d been growing increasingly frustrated at the space constraints of print. Her diminished profile in the newspaper reflected a trend that’s seen the role of TV critics reduced or eliminated entirely across the country in recent years.

Yes, print indeed allows for much less space for everything and I can attest to this being frustrating for the writer. I’ll probably never forget sending in my coverage of Sarah Palin speaking in Chicago and finding that they didn’t edit out a single word. Why? Because it only appeared online. I’ll also never forget sending in my coverage of suburban city council meetings to the Tribune and finding entire paragraphs gone. Why? Those were for print first, online only as an afterthought. 

Journalists, is this not another reason to love and embrace digital? We love our words and this medium can carry so many more of them.

In fact, I don’t understand why newspapers can’t publish a tightly edited version of something in print and then allow the entire text online. Let the reader choose which version they prefer. But I digress…

The most compelling part of Feder’s post for me was this line from Ryan:

“I’d be surprised if the Tribune filled my position. That fact may be a reality of the newspaper business, but it makes me kind of sad. I think a vibrant urban newspaper needs its own set of local columnists and critics — and of course, the Tribune still has many of those, thank goodness.

Is that really true? Does each newspaper need its own critic for, say, television? Was there something uniquely Chicago about the way Ryan wrote about Lost or The Sopranos? I admit to not being familiar enough with her work to answer that question. Obviously someone like a restaurant critic must be a local so that she may comment on the dining scene as a whole, be available for new openings, etc. But a TV critic?

In general, does it make sense for newspapers to spend the money on their own TV critic, movie critic, or other such roles? Jeff Jarvis, myself and I’m sure many others don’t think so

What do you think?