You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2008.

John le Carre put in summary the primary reasons I love airports so much:

“The airport reminded Leamas of the war: machines, half hidden in the fog, waiting patiently for their masters; the resonant voices and their echoes, the sudden shout and the incongruous clip of a girl’s heels on a stone floor; the roar of an engine that might have been at your elbow. Everywhere that air of conspiracy which generates among people who have been up since dawn– of superiority almost, derived from the common experience of having seen the night disappear and the morning come.” – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

As a token unemployed American cub journalist, I’ll try to provide some constructive commentary about this MSNBC article and why articles of its sort pop up every so often.

The reality of the mainstream journalism industry in the U.S. today is that less and less staff writers are required to produce more and more stories on ever-shrinking deadlines. While I’m not sure of Alexander’s job status with MSNBC– “contributor” is a pretty vague term, contributing editor? Semi-regular freelancer?– it’s a reality that every mainstream journalist has a strict quota on how many articles they need to pump out. These “cultural” pieces are easy to do, usually sound really good and have pre-established sets of sources that you don’t even need to leave your desk to call up and interview. After that you can call it a day, easy bump to your story count. I know this for a fact, on my college newspaper we secreted fandom/subculture “Woah-check-this-out!” pieces all the time.

Secondly, since my assumption is that MSNBC essentially functions like a daily news source, I’m guessing there was little to zero fact checking that went into this article. Another American journalism reality: only monthly magazines and publications with longer production times have the luxury of dedicated fact-checking staff. A daily newspaper makes the assumption that the reporter will fact check his or her own article, on risk of losing reputation for not doing so and being outed. Ostensibly, when the department editor(s) and copy editor make their passes over the article they are supposed to be making checks for factual accuracy as well. But how many copy editors at MSNBC do you think are read up on the deep thematic undertones of Legend of the Overfiend and Gurren Lagaan?

In episode #72 of the Anime World Order podcast, Macias mentions that he offered to fact check the article for Alexander. Placed in the same situation I would have made the same offer, but I would never have expected any real response in the affirmative. As a rule of thumb, the journalist never, ever accepts any offers of checks from “the outside,” especially if that offer came from someone who is a source in the actual article. It’s a bias thing. Simply mentioning to your editor that such an offer was made to you would likely get you in trouble (you’re supposed to totally ignore them)– taking up the offer and telling your editor after the fact and/or not telling them at all is usually grounds for instant dismissal, should your editor find out.

Of course, I don’t think these points totally redeem Alexander’s article. The misconceptions put forth as fact in it are bad enough, but what really gets me is the simple sloppiness. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has taken an introductory news writing class that Alexander used the absolute minimum amount of sources: three. None of this is a slag on Kinsella, Eng or Macias, obviously all three are valid sources despite whatever marring of voice may have been done via misquotation etc. The fact is, however, that three sources is pitifully few to provide a holistic, unbiased view of such an expansive subject. Where are the interviews with book sellers? With local, ground-level fan clubs and artists? The fact that Kinsella, an anthropologist, is quoted a grand total of once and in a fashion suggesting an interview, when the attribution clearly indicates all Alexander did was read part of a book, is particularly lame.

I understand Alexander may not be a true-blue reporter per se and that Sexploration is in the column format. I can point you to the long, dry media law briefs from the Supreme Court that clearly state that opinion-based columns in any mainstream journalistic venue are beholden to the same basic requirements of factuality and non defamation that straight news articles follow.

In case anyone is suspicious about my own familiarity with this subject, I’ll have you know I typed out this entire response listening to Silent Survivor from the Fist of the North Star OST on loop.

The phone did not ring, but he pulled it out anyways. Extracted from his left slacks pocket the battered black and gray thing beamed the time and date on its front mount LCD, but no calls missed, no voicemail waiting, that row of icons lay dark. His breath groaned up from his belly up to the chest in one of those self-destructive reflexes to stress that compel the body to rack against itself. Absentminded, he scooted a millimeter away from the passengers packed in on his left, as if to return the phone to its nest. Instead he jumped and whisked it back out, thumbing the LCD back on and checking the time once more: 4:17 pm. The passengers to his right cursed in their Shanghai way.

Then it vibrated in his hand. He hadn’t used a proper ring tone in six years. A little spike of adrenaline coursed through his limbs and he struggled to get the clamshell phone open and up to his head. The other passengers bitched and moaned with their bodies, writhing back against his jutting elbow. He gets a few looks from his older neighbors, shorter, more malnourished women at the tail-end of their middle years with burlap shopping bags slung and tight black afro curls on their heads. The younger people, suits and neon-hued student types, pretend not to see or stare thirty degrees away into the peeling bulkhead posters.

Four rings in, he got it to his ear. “This is Vasili.”