I recently slammed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for wasting government resources on belatedly attacking ABC stations (by fining them $1.4 million) for briefly showing a naked female butt -- which the FCC luridly characterizes as a "sexual or excretory organ" -- in a 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue." (Since then, the agency also announced fines against Fox stations for, no kidding, nudity that Fox self-censored with pixelation but that the FCC decided was still obscene. And Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate gave a speech suggesting that the FCC's next censorship crusade will target mobile-phone media that it deems "anti-family-friendly content.") Readers were outraged at the FCC, e-mailing me with comments ranging from "Ridiculous and absurd!" to "This is almost enough to make me miss Michael Powell" to "He [Martin] needs a good swift kick in the 'excretory organ.'" And British reader Kelly Jacobson offered some much-needed perspective from overseas: "Let's hope the presidential election brings some sense to your government and authorities. You should send Kevin Martin to the U.K. on holiday for a week. He'd have a heart attack if he watched our mainstream terrestrial, let alone our satellite/cable channels."
Readers -- and bloggers -- also piled on Steve Jobs. For instance, librarian Justin at the Cover2Cover blog of the Fayetteville Public Library in Arkansas quoted from my column about Apple CEO Jobs dismissing the Amazon Kindle e-book reader, which he discussed in an interview in The New York Times: "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is," Jobs told the paper. "The fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."
Justin's response: "My curiosity piqued, I went flying off to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent American Time Use Survey just to check out the current pie chart on what people are doing with their leisure time. Somewhat encouragingly, on average people still spend 22 minutes per day reading, which is only really meaningful once compared with the 19 minutes per day people spend playing games and using a computer for leisure. Soooo ... yay! Reading still wins! (Oh, by the way, Americans spend over half of their leisure time watching TV, but that probably won't surprise any of you.)"
Take that, Steve!
There will be blood
In January, I wrote about how blog-publishing titan Nick Denton -- whose network of heavily-trafficked blogs, including flagship Gawker, are hugely influential -- had switched to a compensation system that ties his bloggers' pay more directly to the number of times readers click on their posts. Last week, several of my readers called my attention to a post by Alex Balk (a former Gawker writer) on radaronline.com, quoting Denton's e-mail to one of his current bloggers, Maggie Shnayerson: "I'm afraid your stories are not performing well enough on Gawker, and I don't see how you're going to turn that around. Last month, you got about 400,000 page views; this month you're at 160,000; even taking into account your break, that's still far from satisfactory." So, yes, he abruptly fired her (after less than six months on the job). Welcome to the merciless new-media economy's new math.
What's particularly revealing is the way that Denton himself announced the dismissal, writing on Gawker, "One departure: Maggie Shnayerson, whose coverage of the Viacom freelancer revolt put Gawker in an unusual role, instigator of one of the most successful labor campaigns of recent years, according to The Nation." That's fascinating because, as it's been widely noted elsewhere, Gawker has come to be regarded by many among its core audience of media types as way too nasty and petty. And yet the person, Shnayerson, responsible for doing the one big-picture thing (championing freelancers getting screwed by Viacom) that actually scored some much-needed good will for Gawker -- well, she gets no leeway. You're a hero to the creative underclass, Maggie, now pack up your things and get out! As one prominent New York new-media executive e-mailed me, "Well, at least Nick is embracing his role of Dark Lord without any ambiguity."
The original MySpace
Finally, my column about the embrace of, and backlash against, Vampire Weekend, the "it" band of the moment, prompted a flood of e-mails from readers who sympathized with my annoyance with fickle, self-appointed cultural arbiters who turn on artists they love once those artists gain additional love from the "wrong" fans. And on AdAge.com, a reader who signed him- or herself as "Toronto, ON" commented, "This made me think of the line from Sloan's song 'Coax Me': 'Can I think Consolidated's OK?/ It's not the band I hate, it's their fans.' What we like (or hate), particularly in pop culture, has always been as much about the social badge of honor as it is about the art. That's the reason I wrote the names of all my favorite bands on my binder in senior public school."
Ah, yes, the school binder -- the original MySpace!