Master of Science

Friday, August 11, 2017

Cover-Art Credentials

In the New Republic's, Trump's Russian Laundromat, Donald Trump is slammed for his Russian connections. The article links Trump, who knowingly, or unknowingly, laundered money, to the Russian mob.  But before readers learn anything about Trump and Russia, a cartoonish magazine cover shouts:“This is stupid!”  The obvious question, will it bring readers in?

Yes, according to Jacek Utko.  Especially, if  the publication delivers good reporting:

“Modern newspaper must make a statement about those who read it,” a viewer of Utko's video,“dollaresque,” said. “And in that way, (Utko’s) approach is correct — design will help send that message.  But ultimately, it is the function of the pages that will drive sales. And if they do nothing more than carry yesterday's news in print, a giant FAIL, will be their last headline.”

“For sure the Post regularly exhibits a Digital Age Barnum & Baily...,” Warren said. The day before Easter saw the headline MARY MAGDALENE WAS NOT A PROSTITUTE.... ‘What is sacrosanct are values and standards,’ Baron told him. ‘It is not sacrosanct how we tell a story.

Online storytelling is bending the rules, and so too can magazines and community newspapers.  A successful weekly in Sacramento, Chico and Reno, Nevada, for example, the News & Review, has long used cover art to draw its readers into the publication.

The free weekly has thrived since the 1970s, and yet its cover is often cartoonish. The goal of  the publication, which follows a similar format at all three locations, is to publish great newspapers that are successful and enduring....  “And to have a positive impact on our communities and make them better places to live.”

The most recent issue’s cover story (August 10, 2017) asks Why is my memory so Bad? Seeking Help for the Scatteredbrained, and explores memory, and ways to improve memory in our daily lives. But it also reports on community issues and politics, in a section called, “Newslines”:

The liberal Chico News & Review throws meat to its base all the time.  Most college students, faulty and staff, businessmen, local and state politicians, all read the News & Review.  And on the cover of  the most recent Chico issue? A cartoon of a raised arm and hand, with ink-stained scribbles, and two fingers with pieces of string tied around them.

Charles Winquist, in his book Homecoming: Interpretation, Transformation and Individuation, said the inability to tell meaningful stories leaves a large unintelligible residue in our lives.  “There are too many feelings that lie fallow because we are not able to connect them with the reality of the self,” he said.  Visual images can help fill in these blanks, but as “dollaresque”  said, “it is the function of the pages that will drive sales.”

On June 25, 1861, The Dakota Union was established in Yankton, Dakota Territories, and “Pledged but to Truth, to Liberty and Law; No Favor sways us, and no Fear shall Awe.” This blurb, written by M. K. Armstrong, and G. W. Kingsbury, coeditors, under the headline, Newspaper Duties, laid out the newspaper’s responsibilities to its readers. They believed the leading object of every public journal should be:

“First, to faithfully represent the people and the section of country where it is published; then to furnish its readers with a summary of general news and to give its opinion on all those important events of the day which effect the welfare of the Federal Government.

“It is too often the case that small papers, like small politicians, overstep their proper limits and neglect their own constituents, for the purpose of branching out and discussing the great questions which perplex the wise heads of the nation. …and if every paper in the land would labor to give a true record of local events...of the resources of its district, and the history of its people, what a library of intelligence and knowledge could be gleaned from the associated press of the country.”

James F. Tracy, in A historical case study of alternative news media and labor activism: The Dubuque Leader 1935-1939, laid out a fascinating look at what Armstrong and Kinsbury talked about in 1861. The public trust, Tracy said, of reading and viewing meaningful coverage of news and events is essential to the health of a democracy, and readership.

“The media, and print journalism, specifically, has a mandate to build reliable coverage and trust. Communities need serious reporting to keep informed and connected to their neighborhoods and government. It is important for cultivating a collective awareness.”

“Newspapers are dying,” says ‘Device’ on YouTube, nobody wants biased journalism….”

James Warren, in his article, Is The New York Times vs. The Washington Post vs. Trump The Last Great Newspaper War? reported that Americans today don’t believe a thing in either of these two newspapers — “no matter how great their accuracy, attention to detail, or fair-mindedness.”

And yet these bastions of Old Media “are engaged in a duel that resembles the World War II rivalry of American general George S. Patton and British general Sir Bernard Montgomery as they scrambled to be first to capture Messina," Warren said.  “There is a sense, too, that something about the nation is at stake. “The Washington Post” now proclaims every day in its print and online editions, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

In an interesting comment posted on Utko’s YouTube page, “Device” said newspapers were dying because nobody wanted to read biased journalism, and that the Internet opened up a whole new world. Sure, Device said, biased news is on the Internet, but it is a little harder to manipulate.

In Argentina the media is so manipulated, he said, he never buys the newspapers because they are run by the same people who run the country. And in America too, according to Vartan Gregorian, the consolidation and concentration of ownership in the media has contributed to a commonly held perception that most of the news one reads, hears and sees is subjective, limited in relevance, and relativistic in importance.

Journalists, editors and graphic designers need to engage readers.  Over diversification, increased consolidation, claims of fake news and online garbage all have fragmented journalistic integrity, and this fragmentation has placed the Fourth Estate in jeopardy.  Disillusioned by the commercial infiltration of its news, the public no longer trusts journalists to do their job.  Nevertheless, when journalists write to address community concerns, people have responded.1

In Tracy’s study, for example, a community’s positive response to a weekly newspaper (unafraid to take on controversial issues), was telling; the circulation increased from 350 subscribers to 3,350 within months of a cooperative’s takeover.  All it took was group of folks who wrote what people wanted to read.  Why is this so hard to understand?  News is dying; not just in the print media, but across multiple platforms. Journalists, editors and graphic designers have the tools needed to stop the decline.  They need to start using them.

Take the Washington Post, it “regularly exhibits a Digital Age Barnum & Bailey impulse with intentionally provocative headlines (“How Safe Are Placenta Pills?”) that are close to anyone’s definition of clickbait,” James Warren said.  “The day before Easter saw the headline MARY MAGDALENE WAS NOT A PROSTITUTE, on a newsletter whose first two items were in fact about North Korea’s missile program and Trump’s budget.”

“It was a clear bending to online mores, and a clear tactical difference from the more sober Times. But the stories themselves are very solid. “We were trained to write for newspapers,” Baron said. “There’s nothing necessarily sacrosanct about that. Most people are not reading on a paper. What is sacrosanct are values and standards. It’s not sacrosanct how we tell a story.”

As citizen ownership of traditional news sources disappear, researchers, editors, and journalists must regroup to take a serious look at history and what role journalism plays in the democracy and the community it serves. Understanding how community journalism can be better positioned to restore integrity to journalistic efforts is an important step. Core values and needs don’t change.

The exodus from traditional print media is from lousy journalism, not the wonder of algorithms, or the advertisers and programmers who hypnotize readers.  When readers realize they are being duped by salespeople, programmers and toys, where will they go?  As letter writers are wont to tell us: “Wake up and smell the coffee.”

Give readers something fun and provocative to look at, something they'll want and need to read (have to read), and good journalism will flourish, no matter where the words are....

 1 The Emerging Community Journalism for 2012: A Case Study.

National Review (NR) is an American semi-monthly conservative editorial magazine focusing on news and commentary pieces on political, social, and cultural affairs”—Wikipedia.


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