Best of 2013: Sunday Papers

Posted December 29th, 2013 in Journalism by davecopeland

I’ve been a rather shitty blogger this year, but it’s not because I’ve neglected my hefty diet of reading. Over the next few days I’m going to be posting links to articles that made me think, made me laugh or made me cook under a few categories that tend to get covered here on my personal blog. Next up:

Sunday Papers

Sunday papers are a big ritual in my world. Here are some of the more memorable things that added an extra jolt to my weekly jumpstart for my brain.

A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn

Children are “not adults, so why this whole school of thought that they should be treated as if they are, long before they can perform such basic tasks of civilization as driving, say, or decanting?”

I’m Losing Money. So Why Do I Feel So Good?

Professor Schüll, a cultural anthropologist, spent considerable time in Las Vegas casinos as part of her research. She met players who told her how they sought to enter a mindless state, a “zone,” in which all else is obliterated, and to stay there as long as possible.

“You aren’t really there — you’re with the machine and that’s all you’re with,” one subject said, describing the zone “where nothing else matters.”

This isn’t the only place where gamblers can reach such a state of mind. It’s also known to occur at table games and at the racetrack. But casino machines arguably supply the most immersive, distraction-free gambling experience.

The Emotional Power of Verbs

The characters in my students’ stories were not quite jumping off the page. The characters were clear and beautifully described, but sometimes I felt a bit impatient reading them. The problem was not with the descriptions — my students skillfully created characters with nouns and adjectives,  constructing the characters and their world so that I knew them. The issue was that everything seemed to be still and perfect as a photograph.

“Stop thinking about nouns and adjectives when you’re creating characters,” I told my students one day. “Think verbs.”

You Can’t Have It All, But You Can Have Cake

MY favorite thing is a bakery, and my favorite thing about where I live is how many bakeries are a dog’s walk away. Dogs aren’t allowed in bakeries, but many Manhattan bakeries have little benches in front so you can tie your dog’s leash to a bench leg and keep watch out the window to make sure your dog isn’t dognapped while you are buying a croissant.

My Tragic Encounter With James Taylor’s Pig

Several years later, an interviewer asked Taylor if he had ever composed “any screwball songs [he] wouldn’t dare commit to vinyl.”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “I wrote ‘Mona,’ a tune about a pig of mine. I was thinking about killing the pig because she was old. . . . In fact, I once saw it kill another little pig. They can get ornery in old age.” Taylor was also concerned Mona might hurt his young children. He sang a few bars of “Mona,” which he eventually did record. One verse ends with: “Oh, Mona, Mona, you can close your eyes/I’ve got a 12-gauge surprise/Waiting for you.”

“That’s a sweet little song, huh?” Taylor told the interviewer. “I occasionally play it at picnics.”

Cooking Is Freedom

Girls took home economics. Boys took shop. Girls learned to cook lasagna and bake chocolate cake. I would be learning to use a lathe. I preferred lasagna. So I did the sensible thing: I signed up for home economics.

The Decline and Fall of the English Major

Undergraduates will tell you that they’re under pressure — from their parents, from the burden of debt they incur, from society at large — to choose majors they believe will lead as directly as possible to good jobs. Too often, that means skipping the humanities.


Moving Pictures: Ode To The Journalists That Tell Stories I Can’t

Posted December 15th, 2012 in Journalism by davecopeland

Note: Graphic images included in the Prezi after the “more” tag.

In one of the final meetings of my Social Media & Journalism class this semester we looked at two images. One was the photo from the cover of the New York Post earlier this month of a man who had been pushed onto subway tracks and was about to be hit by an approaching train. The other was a New York Times photo of a victim in an August shooting at the Empire State Building. The Post has largely been condemned for running the photo with a rather lurid “This man is about to die” headline on the front page while the Times was primarily applauded for showing an image that shows the impact of gun violence.

I showed the photos to my students out of context before showing them how they appeared in the paper and on each publication’s Website; the ultimate consensus was that Post’s subway was the more disturbing of the two images and, even before they were shown how the post ran the photo, the students were questioning its newsworthiness – but not for the reasons you may suspect. Continue Reading »

Onine Privacy Is Important, Even If You Have Nothing To Hide

Posted December 1st, 2012 in Journalism by davecopeland

Something for people in the “I have nothing to hide so I don’t care about online privacy policies and protection” camp to consider:

In the summer of 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan became the face of the Iranian Green Revolution after her tragic death by gunshot was caught on cell phone camera and uploaded online for the whole world to see. The international media rushed to put a face to the victim–but the face they used was that of another Iranian woman by the name of Neda Soltani, who was still very much alive.

The living woman’s image was lifted by the press from a social networking site and not fact checked. When Neda Soltani tried to correct the error, protesters threatened her. When she submitted a photo to a news organization in an effort to verify her identity and set the record straight, the news agency used the image as an “exclusive” photo of the dead woman.

The full On The Media interview is worth a listen. Even if you “have nothing to hide,” it still makes sense to check and amp up your Facebook and social media privacy settings on a regular basis.

What Yellowbook is doing now that no one uses Yellowbook

Posted November 28th, 2012 in Journalism by davecopeland

Email forwarded to me because I teach journalism classes. Emphasis is mine:

My name is XXXXXX, I am a longtime journalist and I am currently working on the launch of eight hyper-local magazines in the Boston area. I wanted to write and tell you about the new initiative and let you know about some opportunities I might have for some of your journalism students.

My new title is publications manager for hibu, which is owned by Yellowbook. I’ll be the editor at a dozen or so monthly, hyper-local magazines which will be distributed in the mail throughout eastern Massachusetts. Yellowbook is hiring people with some serious journalism pedigree to oversee the entire operation and are hiring journalists, such as myself, to write, manage and edit the content. The magazines, although free in the mail, aren’t mailers per se. Thankfully, Yellowbook has made it clear that they want great content and there is even room for enterprise reporting, issue stories and the like. Since the deadlines are a month prior to printing, however, the content can’t really be time sensitive, unless done far in advance.

Anyway, I am looking for people who might be interested in writing content. Unfortunately, since this is a startup, I don’t have any funds at the moment to pay freelancers, but I thought you might have a few students who might be interested in getting some clips in a glossy magazine and a good reference from me. In your neck of the woods, I have magazines launching this spring in Hanover, Pembroke, Norwood and Canton. We’ll also be launching magazines in Natick, Salem, Beverly, Marlborough and Acton if you have students from those areas who might be interested in writing.

The hyper-local nature of the magazines means that most content – features, profiles, local issue stories, human interest stories, event previews, etc. — needs to be tied directly to the community, although I’d happily take general stories that would be relevant to all communities. I would love the opportunity to meet with you and discuss this new initiative in person if you are inclined. I’m in the process of coming up with story ideas and I’d happily hear any pitches you or students might have.

Thanks…Hope to speak with you soon.

“Hyperlocal” is quickly becoming synonymous with “hyper cheap.” Someday people may try that old-fashioned business model where you pay great people – students or otherwise – fair wages in return for great content. I get several emails like this every month from people looking to build their next big media business on the backs of what amounts to slave labor. If the student-run newspaper I advise can find a way to pay editors and writers, then so should Yellowbook.

Prostitution Or Print Media?

Posted October 9th, 2012 in Journalism by davecopeland

Actual (and recent) Craigslist ad: Click image for more.

I’m late to the party on this one but it’s worth noting the decision by Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin to sell a chain of 13 alternative newspapers, including the Village Voice, to a group of executives from Village Voice Media Holdings LLC while retaining ownership of, you may know, is where all the prostitution classified ads went after Craiglist bowed to public pressure to remove them from their site.

Officially, the move, according to the Wall Street Journal, “separates the iconic titles from the company’s controversial online classified company.” But let’s make no bones about it: Lacey and Larkin are shedding the money-losing print operation and focusing on the one part of the operation that is making money. Classified ads.

Symbolically and theoretically, albeit not all that practically, and certainly not ethically, I should advise my journalism students to consider a career as a prostitute or pimp over a career as a writer or journalist.

You Can’t Put Something On An iPad And Call It New/Successful/Useful [UPDATED]

Posted July 31st, 2012 in Journalism by davecopeland

I think sometimes people over-think the problems the Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper, has been having and blame it on the technology, tablet reading habits and the like. Has anyone ever stopped to consider it’s just shitty, headline chasing journalism with no real focus and no real mission to no real audience?

I read it a few times and last summer they called me trying to get me to string some quotes from South Boston when Whitey Bulger was arrested. It was clear then that the young tough guys running the ship knew they had to cover the story for the sake of traffic, but had no real idea how or why they should cover it.

If you put all of the bad tech-ideas to save journalism – hyperlocal, Patch, the Daily and more – together and shook them up, you may actually have an interesting and viable business model. But journalism, by and large, continues to be run by idiots who either ignore the sweet-talking saviors from the tech side of the operation or buy wholesale into them without considering those same, brilliant tech guys have no clue when it comes to news and how consumers use it.

Update, 5:21 p.m. ET: The Daily offers a tech-jargon filled note to “readers and friends,” which contains a lot of stuff that readers shouldn’t have to care about while not explaining what they do care about: how does a news organization deliver a better product with a smaller staff?

Everything I Need To Know About Journalism, I Learned From Howard Ziff

Posted April 10th, 2012 in Journalism, Umass by davecopeland

When I was 20-years-old I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I had been exploring majors at UMass-Amherst and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the combination of writing and booze and adrenalin that a career in newspapers would provide (or so I hoped).

At that time you had to apply for acceptance into UMass’s journalism department. I had been doing what I thought was the right thing: working for the school newspaper and taking as many classes in the department that were open to non-major as possible. I even took one — Hollywood’s Perceptions of Journalists – with the department chairman, Howard Ziff.

Ziff — as we referred to him – died Tuesday. He was 81 (which is about how old I thought he was back when he was telling war stories about the great Chicago newsrooms from the 1950’s and 1960’s). At UMass in the early and mid-1990′s he was a gruff Santa Claus-looking character. He occasionally had food stuck in the fuzz of his sweater, and he occassionally wore his sweaters way past sweater season, but you were right to be intimidated by him.

And you were right to hang on his every word. He was the definitive old-school reporter who believed in checking and rechecking facts and producing clean, crisp copy where the writing didn’t get in the way of the story.

Continue Reading »

Stuff David Carr Taught Me

Posted March 28th, 2012 in Journalism, Newspapers by davecopeland

I’m just getting around to sifting notes I took at last week’s College Media Association conference in New York, including David Carr’s closing keynote address. Carr is the media and culture reporter for the New York Times and the author of Night of the Gun. Carr was also the runaway star of last year’s documentary “Page One.”

In other words, he’s the closest thing journalism has to a rock star.

Here are some of my favorite bits….

Continue Reading »

One Of My Students Was Attacked Because She Wrote In Support Of Gay Marriage

Posted February 16th, 2012 in Bridgewater State University, Journalism by davecopeland

This opinion piece about Prop 8 is from the college newspaper that I serve as faculty adviser to at Bridgewater State University. The student who wrote this article was attacked on campus after being confronted by a man and a woman who asked her if she had written the article, which appeared on the opinion page of this week’s paper.

Here’s the spot news article the students posted on Facebook tonight. They’ll be updating their Web site tomorrow and as the story develops.

Fortunately, she is okay but understandably shaken up. If you’re on the BSU campus and have information on the incident, which happened around 6 pm tonight in the Chapel Parking Lot, please contact the Bridgewater State University Police, who are investigating it as a hate crime, at (508) 531-1212.

If you believe in free speech and that people should be able to express their views and opinions without the threat of violence — regardless of how you feel about those views or opinions – please share/retweet/+1/like this post.

Mass Censorship

Posted December 7th, 2011 in Bridgewater State University, Journalism, Newspapers, Umass by davecopeland

After the night I had Tuesday in my role as faculty adviser to the Bridgewater State University Comment, it seemed appropriate to revisit the last column I wrote for my own college newspaper at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1996. The importance of free speech — and its importance both in newspapers and in college campuses — is one of the few views I hold that hasn’t changed much since I was in college:

“Mass censorship”
from the Massachusetts Daily Collegian
May 15, 1996

by Dave Copeland

“Censorship cannot be employed selectively; when anyone’s freedom of speech is denied, everyone else’s is threatened.”

- Alan M. Dershowitz

“And stupid stuff, it makes us shout.”

- line from the song “UMass” by the Pixies.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in on a friend’s radio show and we got to talking about a guy he had met who had one of those crappy jobs you inevitably end up taking at one point or another to make your way through school. His job wasn’t as nasty as shoveling out septic tanks or as tedious as telemarketing, but it wasn’t the type of thing you’d want to do for the rest of your life, either.

One of us made a comment on the air along the lines of “That guy’s job sucks.” We didn’t say the guy sucked, we didn’t say his mother sucked — if anything, we were sympathizing with a guy whose job entailed sitting alone in a barn on the outskirts of campus. But no sooner had we made our comment then the phone line lit up with a complaint from a caller who felt we were being unfair to the guy.

“I think what you said about that guy is pretty disrespectful and you probably shouldn’t be saying it.”

And this is the stupid stuff at UMass that makes people shout. One of the only reasons why I am looking forward to getting away from here for good is to finally be liberated from a consolidation of people like this caller who feel it is their right to tell others what they should be saying and thinking.

Pretty much anything that is considered controversial that manages to find a way not this paper gets there only after the already overworked editors ask the question “Will our office get stormed if we run this?” and “How can we cover our asses on this one?”

Two years ago the Collegian was heavily criticized for running a pro-life advertisement that clearly stated it did not reflect the view of the paper. Last year, people couldn’t believe the paper would run an anti-Semitic letter from a retired professor. Another racist letter from a member of the campus community never made it to the pages of the paper this semester.

A satirical piece I wrote on Amherst “townies” last year was greeted with a slew of letters asking “How could the Collegian run this?” even though it explicitly states at the top of this page that the opinions expressed here are those of the individual writer.

No newspaper should be subjected to demands to suppress information. It’s contrary to their only public purpose. As a society, we have created a cruel and twisted world, and for me, information has been the only defense I’ve had against the bitter truth that reality doesn’t always have a happy ending.

But there remains an abundance of people in these parts who are brimming with dopey optimism and would rather not know that there are indeed racists, bigots and other wretched people thinking bad thoughts not just in this world, but right here in the “happy” valley. It is a lot easier to nix the thoughts and ideas of the wicked and mean than it is to actually deal with them.

Other denizens of the valley run around like the cast members of “The Simpsons,” making a knee-jerk crisis out of every little issue before they’ve even taken the time to get information on it. “If we don’t like it, we’re not gonna think about it! We’re going to storm Mayor Quimby’s office!”

The First Amendment is the only right you have that ensures the protection of all your other rights. To attack that right in any shape or form is to attack your own freedom.

When I leave next week, the greatest advantage I take away from UMass is the ability to express myself and speak freely in a way that is drastically more effective than plastering my politics in the form of lame cliches on the bumper of my car. To me, that is the price of admission I paid to toil away here for eight semesters and five years.

And if there is anybody out there who wants to take that right away from me, I’d have to say that they suck.

Dave Copeland is a Collegian columnist.

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