Media Wrestles With Conscience, Self-Consciousness Over OWS

The Inside Scoop on Newsweek's Turnaround; the Truth About the Value of Advertising

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The form of the oral history, though typically reserved for wars, plagues, steep economic declines, Scorsese movies, the internet and the Playboy Club, can also be used effectively to narrate less sweeping, not quite epochal events.

Wall Street Occupiers
Wall Street Occupiers Credit: Neal Ungerleider

Or so we learned this week when Vanity Fair published "An Oral History of a Vanity Fair Photographer's Arrest at Occupy Wall Street " after shooter Justin Bishop was thrust into the pokey on Tuesday as part of a broader roundup of journos and photogs. It would ruin the piece to over-explain, so let's just say the brief jailing and release unfurls in mock-heroic tones through interviews with the key players, including editors, bloggers, something oxymoronically called an editorial finance manager and, of course, Mr. Bishop himself. It's a tongue-in-cheek endeavor, to be sure, but it also represents a tangle of sensibilities with big implications. Questions abound: Is there a more earnest action than being arrested for reporting on a protest? Possibly not -- it's pretty much why you sign up for this gig. Is Vanity Fair treating all this earnestness with a touch of snark OK? Well, in a world where a PR man for the Bloomberg administration refers to an article from The Awl in making a point that not all of the arrested journalists possessed the proper credentials, yes, it's OK. Can we be knowing and have conviction at the same time? Errmmm, maybe? Either way, here's a sample:

[Associate to managing editor, Mark] Guiducci: Throughout the day, we talked to lawyers within the company, and it seemed like they were going to hold him like any common criminal.

[Digital Editor Chris] Rovzar: Lawyers are surprisingly not soothing sometimes.

Bishop: By four o'clock or so I was getting pretty impatient. The crowd was getting restless, and the thought of staying overnight didn't thrill me. I was told nothing of my status -- had no idea that a few lawyers and several V.F. staffers were trying to make contact with me. I was released at about 5:30 p.m., and was thrilled I wouldn't have to stay the night.

[PR associate Cathy] Holden: [When I heard he was freed] I did a huge fist pump. I hope that he will reintegrate into society with ease, and that his time on the inside wouldn't have changed him. I wondered whether to reach out to social-worker friends about the reintegration process -- one never knows when P.T.S.D. can strike -- but then it occurred to me that I don't have any friends who are social workers.

Rovzar: When Chris Garrett came over to tell me he was freed, she was brimming with joy and energy. There are reports that upon hearing, I squealed. I can't confirm that . Anyway, I had promised my staff on Monday that this week was going to be a good week and Tuesday one of my staffers spent the day in jail. I felt … incorrect.

Then there's Natasha Lennard, another once journalist arrested at OWS who raised an entirely different set of questions. She's a former New York Times freelancer who was lambasted by Glenn Beck et al after publicly praising Occupy Wall Street . In an article for Salon, she declared that she was done with the mainstream media and its strictures:

In my view, it now makes little sense to be objective about Occupy Wall Street and its various, amorphous iterations across the country. As Matt Taibbi wrote recently in Rolling Stone about learning to love OWS: "People don't know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values." If the diffuse and experimental disruptions, discussions, assemblies, occupations, strikes, marches, chants and more that constitute OWS are primarily coherent only in so far as they agree that the current status quo, rife with inequity and cruelty, is wrong -- I cannot but consider myself in agreement. As such, it would be disingenuous to play the "objective reporter."

The Newsweek reboot is coming along a tad slowly, reports Women's Wear Daily's John Koblin, lathering on some interesting details, among them Barry Diller sitting in on a redesign meeting and suggesting that Tina Brown ditch the front of the book and her beloved table of contents. Then there's her husband, Harry Evans, closing some issues when she's not around for whatever reason. This in addition to turnover that 's claimed the publisher and managing editor; and a ragey, all-caps, hard-copy memo about the editorial chain of command and respecting it. Needless to say, morale doesn't seem good:

"I'm a turnaround veteran at this point," Brown told WWD. "It's always hard. Each of them has their own unique problems."

She later added in an email: "I know a thing or two about turnarounds and they are not for the faint of heart. Luckily there are plenty of people at Newsweek and The Beast who find the journey as exciting as I do."

And then there are the people who are, well, a little broken.

"You're exposed relentlessly to the truth that we're not putting out a good magazine," said one staffer. "I mean, Regis Philbin is our cover this week."

"People are completely exhausted," said another Newsweek source. "I don't think you'll find anyone who thinks the magazine is great."

"It can be a miserable place to work," said yet another.

Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon had some provocative thoughts about the future of online advertising, including this bit:

Vogue is a prime example of the power of advertising: if, as an advertiser, you know how to give people something they want, then you don't need to rely on second-best stratagems like adjacency. And no one ever clicked on an ad in Vogue. Which is one reason why Gawker's former ad chief Chris Batty once proposed that all ads on Gawker Media should be images only, and not clickable at all -- it would force advertisers to create something good, instead of chasing after clicks from idiots. Because it's so easy to measure things like impressions and click-through rates, the online ad industry has missed the real power that advertising can have, and its practitioners tend to sneer at old-media ad money as being largely wasted, in contrast to the carefully quantified campaigns one sees online.

Finally, a useful explainer from Lifehacker%u2019s Adam Dachis on the reprehensible SOPA bill, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act:

[It's] another one of those bills that sounds like it's going to do something mildly positive but, in reality, has serious potential to negatively change the internet as we know it. It puts power in the hands of the entertainment industry to censor sites that allegedly "engage in, enable or facilitate" copyright infringement. This language is vague enough to encompass sites you use every day, like Twitter and Facebook, making SOPA a serious problem.

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