Red and…Dead? – The *Best*/*Worst* Selection Ever – Inevitable Politicelebreality

Georgia is one of those weird (to me) places where school comes back in August and in Athens, it came back with a bang for student journalists.

In a missive directed towards its “Board of Directors,” Polina Marinova stepped down as the Editor-in-Chief of UGA’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, and led a walkout. The cause? Marinova asserts that the recent wave of hires of permanent staff is a thinly-veiled attempt at prior review and/or prior restraint. Most reaction from the student media world is restrained until all the facts of the story can be verified, although not everyone is waiting to throw their two cents in.

I consider the R&B‘s Ed Morales a valued peer and want to hear his response and that of his co-workers before reacting too rashly. ***UPDATE The SPLC just posted a story about the controversy in which Marinova states that Morales approached her directly about the alleged review/responsibility plan. Suwannee Patch is reporting that the Board will meet to discuss these resignations.*** That said, if the allegations that the Board intended to exercise prior review and to enforce a rather dodgy definition of “good” and “bad” news, then colour me profoundly disappointed.

I understand that there’s fewer things professionally that require more emotional restraint than advising student media. Professionals screw up a lot so what chance do students have to make it through with a perfect record? Your job is tell them what they could do better, point them to resources that can help, then cross your fingers every week that it will have an impact.* One thing your job isn’t is to step in and write the paper for them, but historically there’s a lot of pressure from adminisrations for advisors to do just that. I say it everywhere I speak: There’s yet to be a campus I’ve ever visited where anyone is ever fully happy with the student newspaper. They’re always convinced that all of the other student newspapers in the world are mildly competent and theirs is the only one in the world screwing it up.

* = crossing of the fingers is actually not part of the job description. Sometimes I wonder if it ought to be.

What’s particularly interesting about the R&B case is that whereas many student newspapers are departmentally-based and others are based out of student activities, the R&B is neither. If ever a student paper should be devoid of administrative pressures, the Red & Black should be. Furthermore, the paper is usually held up as a beacon of excellent student journalism. When they switched from a daily to a weekly-with-digital-daily last year, it was considered big news. And that’s only because the paper had earned the reputation for its changes to matter significantly for the rest of us.

This is the type of change, were it to be true, that would matter significantly in a very, very bad way. There are always administrations in North America are always looking for ways to monitor what the student watchdogs say about them, using the flimsy pretense of quality control as an excuse. What’s even more disturbing, however, is that even if quality control was the concern, the word “control” gives away every reason it’s wrong. Every student is entitled to the best student journalism they can receive: if the best student journalism isn’t good enough, so be it. There will be plenty of other avenues to get professional journalism, there are certainly much fewer ways to get student journalism.

I’m hoping the backlash will result in a change or clarification in policy that will allow UGA students to do what they’ve done for over 100 years: let the students bring the news to their peers.

Meanwhile, back in my world, my students are back to work, though secretly they never stopped. The Signal and GSTV will be co-sponsoring a two-day conference at Georgia State that I’m very excited about. Tim Harrower, Jovita Moore, Scott McFarlane, Doug Richards, several people from the CNN/HLN family, it will be an amazing learning experience for the students. And you won’t view journalism the same once you’ve experienced the wrath of Michael Koretzky.

I’m looking forward to a Signal on Tuesday, my GSTV students prowling the campus with their cameras looking for projects and stories and a new edition of New South in 4-5 weeks. And none of the aforementioned headaches going on up the road.

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Our good friends at In Media Res are discussing political polarization this week (including an an entry on the previously discussed Chick-Fil-A furor) and it’s probably no better time than right after Mr. Romney selects his Vice-Presidential candidate. The immediate effect of polarization on American politics is never more evident than in the blogosphere/Facebook wall/Twitter universe than when a VP candidate is selected. The rush to instantly proclaim the selection as shrewd or a flop is often political marketing disguised as observation. You will instantly be told within minutes, depending on the company you keep, that this is an absolute disaster of a selection or an incredibly shrewd selection. Of course, neither may be true, but users want to get the word out this is the impression going around so that you might believe it too.

It’s akin to when people try to imply some sort of zeitgeist by saying “this is the most important Presidential election in our era.” If I were to believe this every time I heard it, it would mean the American zeitgeist has been every four years because people are in a hurry to judge the importance of the present to the future in the present. The idea is that civic engagement will be boosted by an appointment with nostalgia for the present: We will remember this election, which I’m sure is what people told everyone who doesn’t remember the name of the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988.

Of course, there’s a kernel of truth in this: every election is important and it really seems trivial to compare the importance of one to the other. However, there’s less kernels of truth in much of the post-Ryan-selection “observations” if they are simply personal endorsements masked as observations of how he might impact the polls.

What is known is that Ryan was likely picked at least partially for his Tea Party credibility. Which is perhaps unusual on its face, given that it seems to have suffered a post-2010 slump in public approval. It looks like a pick very much in the Al Gore vein in both that Romney and Gore seemed to go for a candidate to temper whatever extreme one is seen to be possessing or lacking. Gore picked the right-leaning Democrat Joe Lieberman, allegedly to distance himself from Bill Clinton and make moderates comfortable voting for him. Romney, on the other hand, has been accused of being not conservative enough by many in the Republican camp. Ryan is seen as the yin to Romney’s more moderate yang, a yang that Republican candidates seem keen to avoid, exemplified by Newt Gingrich’s mea culpa.

Despite a slim plurality, Gore’s strategy didn’t pan out. The Romney-Ryan ticket feels potentially counterintuitive in these polarized times. The Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin tickets appeared to be “doubling down” tickets (Obama doubling down ideologically, McCain doubling down on “maverick-ism”). Romney’s challenge will be to craft a platform that straddles the line between moderate conservatism and staunch conservatism, but perhaps in these times, that will satisfy no one.

—————-
Speaking of the In Media Res series, Sue Collins’ first entry in the polarization series analyzes the Republicans’ continued attempts to play off of assumed anti-Hollywood sentiment in voters. John McCain bet on such sentiment and four years later, the strategy remains resonant in many conservatives’ minds.

John Street has long advocated for the positives of the marriage between popular culture and politics, and moreover argues that the marriage is not as new as everyone portrays. Certainly the suspicions towards Hollywood from conservative critics goes back to the Hollywood Ten of the 1940s. Collins wisely points out that if Obama is a “celeb-president,” this should hardly be a surprise given how current American political campaigns favour the “pop TV format.” Neil Postman might have been surprised to see the Republican side of the aisle trying to point out any inherent downfall in this reality, especially given how they’ve capitalized on it in the past, but neverthless here we are.

On the surface, this appears to be merely be a criticism of what is alleged to be an artifice of the opposing candidate. In other words, it’s not “Obama is a celebrity therefore he is a bad politician” but rather “we believe he is a bad politician who has blinded you with celebrity.” Beneath the surface, it’s consistent with the conservative strategy of planting suspicion with “liberal media” amongst voters by creating a full-circle: celebrities are too liberal for you, they like Obama an awful lot, Obama is not like you.

Street defends pop culture as a way that young people are able to make sense of politics and of the authenticity of their everyday experiences. He disputes the idea that it’s merely a way for people to vote their way their celebrity idols tell them to, and much of the affection for the The Daily Show and Colbert Report is that it points out the comic absurdity of how politics works which hopefully will motivate viewers to be more thoughtful about their conduct within that arena.

So with that being said, I wonder if the “anti-Hollywood” strategy has any more ceiling for the Republicans. Certainly those who are offended by celebrity involvement with politics have already cast their lot away from Obama. Those who, as Street argues, “make sense” of politics through popular culture are probably unlikely to be moved by such arguments. Celebreality is now the political language they speak. Telling them their language is wrong, though perhaps an admirable attempt to make political discourse more erudite and less “fluffy,” is not likely to sway them come election day.

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Already going through that withdrawal period where you go home expecting something Olympics-related on my television but not finding it. After my retrospection and lamentation last week, Diana Matheson scored arguably Canada’s most dramatic football goal in 26 years. It was fitting that this was the most memorable moment for Canada this Olympics since the event was covered in bronze for the maple leaf.

Maybe I’m in “Olympic Hangover” mode. I’m living in a city 16 years removed from the Olympics so there’s a bit of a perpetual hangover from people living here longer than me. But it’s funny that CBC would report about that given that they’re already counting down to Sochi, where Canada’s broadcast rights will return to them. With a record gold medal haul in 2010, it’s safe to say that the winter version will yield more metallic variety for Canada the next time around.

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