Media Mash: A Compilation of Media Musings

Celebrity-brand Magazine Category GrowsThe brand is everything, or so they say. Net-wise brands like AOL and Amazon translate to billions. Brands are always being leveraged, but sometimes they don't quite stretch. Recently, Starbucks' stock recently dropped 28 percent in one day, partially on the news that the company was trying to expand its brand into furniture. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz actually said that the company aimed to create nothing less that the "premier lifestyle portal on the Internet" -- a place that offered "a feeling of romance, of relaxationÉ" -- where people would buy gourmet food, home furnishings and more. It cost Schultz himself 50 million bucks the day the stock plummeted. Sounds like he deserved it. The Masher keeps hoping for a brand backlash and peels off any sign of a brand, short of ruining a good pair of pants.Lately we have the celebrity-brand magazine. We're about to lose a really bad one, (ital)George(ital), but not for the right reasons. While the Masher cringes at the overreaction to the sad passing of John Kennedy Jr. and the Bessette sisters, it would have been much better if John Jr. faced the music about his annoying magazine, which is filled with a cacophony of self-promoting voices. What a deal -- we get to read Alphonse D'Amato and Ann Coulter every month.But where some magazines die, other celebrity brands will rise. Hearst is bringing out "The Oprah Magazine" (title still undecided,) with an initial press run of 850,000 next March, according to (ital)Newsweek(ital). It will be, in part, about Oprah's values. The acting editor, Ellen Levine, quipped: "If Martha Stewart's magazine is about beautiful exteriors, Oprah's will be about beautiful interiors."The Masher was honored to receive an invitation to (ital)TALK(ital). Didn't you get one? Says Tina "You were not invited by accident. We cannot offer a FREE premiere (collector's item) issue of our new magazine to everyone... You were selected because (ital)TALK(ital) will be loved by people who are well-informed, discerning and eager to experience life fully. And we believe you are one of them." Yes, the Masher is eager, eager to barf. OK -- the world is superficial. But this Tina Brown/Miramax/Hearst creation sounds so banal, so superficial as to give the Masher the heebie jeebies. Help the brand backlash. Boycott (ital)TALK(ital), even if it only costs $12.What's a Portal? Progressive's Play Catch-upIt may very well be true, based upon site traffic, that progressive presence on the rapidly changing Web is already more marginalized than in other media. True, there are thousands of Web pages for progressive causes and media, but most get lost in a sea of millions of sites as big corporate bucks and massive marketing strategies bring high traffic to large portals, which are gateways to a range of content and services, including lots of advertising and e-commerce. Furthermore, up until now, most progressive Web efforts have recapitulated traditional print, audio and public-education strategies, which are not winners on the Web. Net-native activities -- auctions, Web hosting, free e mail, search engines, transactions and commerce, chat and other forms of interactivity, and smart infomediary approaches have grabbed the bulk of Internet traffic and the big bucks as Web projects have achieved unbelievable valuations.In the face of this challenging reality, a number of progressive online media players are trying to reverse the trend of being left behind. A "Progressive Gateway Summit" was held on Thursday, July 22nd in San Francisco -- a gathering of creative ideas and plans and talented leaders searching for collaboration strategies and ways to break into the world of large audiences. New forms of collaboration are crucial, but as anyone familiar with indy and progressive media knows, serious collaboration -- where parties have to give up some control, share resources, maybe even merge organizations, has been extremely rare.The Institute for Global Communications (IGC), Working Assets Long Distance (WALD), (from Oxford, England) The Independent Source/AlterNet, Mother Jones/Mojo Wire, Free Speech TV, Handsnet, InterPress and the Utne Reader's ambitious new Web project,, were among the 40 or so participants. The ad-hoc event was hosted by two progressive funders with particular Internet interests, Lara Bergthold of the Lear Family Fund and Rob McKay of the San Francisco-based McKay Foundation. Smart progressives on the Web is a topic the Masher is especially interested in, since you will note that the Masher mashes online. You'll be hearing more about this stuff. And, by the way, IGC's ISP will be transformed in a partnership deal, which should provide its users with better service (hooray!) and the ability to keep their addresses. With the dough from the deal, IGC is planning to launch -- you guessed it -- a progressive portal. Let's hope people find ways to get together.Gays and Minorities: Zero Sum Game on TVThe (ital)LA Times(ital) ran a very interesting story July 21 about the ever-shrinking minority presence on television, in contrast to the growing presence of gay roles, which was attributed to economic and demographic circumstances. The article is by Paul Brownfield and the Masher will make liberal use of the fair-use provision and quote from the piece. For the full scoop, go to www.latimes.comPaul Brownfield, (ital)LA Times(ital) Staff Writer:On the surface, it looks like a prime-time civil rights movement: In the fall television season, there will be 17 gay characters on the four major networks, about the same as the number of black, Asian and Latino characters combined.This marks a change in television's social barometer from a couple of seasons ago. Back then, ABC was digging out from the avalanche of questions about the sitcom "Ellen" as star Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian both on- and off-screen, and Fox was agonizing over a gay character on "Melrose Place."Indeed the demise of "Ellen" is proving to be little more than a blip in the continuing integration of gays into prime-time shows--a trend that stands in stark contrast to the situation for ethnic minorities, whose near-total absence from new prime-time shows has made this a testy summer to be a network programmer. Why the breakthrough for gays? Explanations range from the idealistic (increased tolerance in society toward gays and lesbians) to the more jaded (gay characters make for trendy additions to ensemble shows).Others put it more bluntly: There are gays on television because there are gays in television. Unlike Latinos, blacks and Asian Americans, gay people are fully integrated into the Hollywood power structure. They hold jobs from the upper ranks to the lower reaches of the industry, in much the way Jews have traditionally occupied a disproportionate number of positions in the entertainment business."You couldn't do better than grow up Jewish and gay if you want to be in show business," says Don Roos, a longtime TV and movie writer in Los Angeles. "And you couldn't do worse if you grew up black and Protestant."Enuf said.Joe Wood Presumed DeadA five-day search on Mount Rainier for popular African-American journalist Joe Wood has been called off. Wood, who is an editor at the New York-based (ital)New Press(ital), and a former (ital)Villager Voice(ital) reporter, went hiking on the snowy 14,411-foot mountain 60 miles southeast of Seattle while attending Unity '99, the gathering of journalists of color in Seattle. The (ital)New York Times(ital) reported that at one point, teams of as many as 35 searchers, four dogs and a helicopter were involved in trying to find Wood. He was last seen at 4800 feet carrying binoculars and a bird watching book. A spokesperson for the park said she "believed that Joe may have fallen over a snow bridge and carried down stream."According to Robin Templeton, a friend of Wood, a memorial service is being planned by the (ital)New Press(ital).Update on the Pacifica FrontPacifica Bay Area station KPFA staff is still locked out. The station is still playing old tapes. Depression mounts. The conventional wisdom is developing along the lines that the Pacifica board intended to derail KPFA, either to sell it or New York's WBAI, or radically change the KPFA format along the lines of Pacifica's Houston station, which has given up local news and plays like an NPR station. If this wasn't the strategy, why would Pacifica allow the station to slowly destroy its strong base of funders? The thinking is: They couldn't be that incompetent. However, there is some movement. Both sides have agreed to mediation, to be conducted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's Oakland office. Stay tuned, but be realistic.

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