Media Mash

New Media, Old Media, Same Glass Ceiling

The Masher knows that many people think it is boring and uncool in this day and age to point out the ubiquitous male dominance in most sectors of the business world. Well, too bad, because in the case of new media mega-conglomerates, the glass ceiling is back in a big way. It was rather stunning to read about the "blueprint" for the merger of Time Warner and AOL in the New York Times of May 5. A drawing of the new management structure revealed that all 24 people in charge of the new organization are men. Sure, Oprah has her own magazine now, and women run Oxygen.com and iVillage. But these companies, despite oodles of free press coverage, are mere blips on the screen when compared to the valuation and revenue flow of the gigantic Time/AOL. As Bob Roberts said: "The times they are changing back."

Mojo Working

The lefty world of independent magazines is clearly not a fly-by-night situation. The range of mags, from old favorites like the Nation, the Progressive, Mother Jones, In These Times and Z, to the youngest of the bunch -- The Utne Reader -- all get a version of the Energizer Bunny Award. These magazines just keep on publishing. The Nation is 135 years old and the Utne is now 16, with many, many years of publishing among the rest. While many activists have sworn off reading progressive rags, perhaps because the activists got tired, or maybe it was the magazines, somebody keeps reading. Though these magazines never seem to grow much, they do maintain their circulations and occasionally get a shot of new adrenaline.

Recently Mother Jones got a new editor, Roger Cohn, about whom a few bird jokes were made, since he came from Audubon Magazine. The Masher is happy to report that Mojo seems to be doing what it ought to be, focusing mostly on investigative stories. From the Masher's perspective, Mojo should be THE investigative magazine. The signs are positive, with the addition of Eric Bates, listed number 2 on the masthead with the title "Investigative Editor."

The Masher considers a magazine to be good if he learns some new information in a read. The May/June issue of Mojo lived up to that criteria, offering Ted Williams' story of huge tree plantations running roughshod over the South, Barry Yeoman's tale of the private prison conglomerate Corrections Corporation of America taking over Youngstown, Ohio, and Maryanne Vollers and Andrea Barnett's portrayal of W.R. Grace and Co.'s ravaging of a small Montana town with asbestos poisoning. All rate as high-quality, investigative stories. With the online Mojo Wire breaking fresh, new material, particularly on the drug war, Mother Jones has finally achieved some stability and consistency.

Broadband Bigotry

At the moment, Dr. Laura is receiving a lot of attention for her anti-gay diatribes on her hugely successful, nationally syndicated radio show. As she gets ready to launch her TV program, she and her advertisers are feeling some heat. But for the longest time, popular New York radio host Don Imus has pretty much escaped scrutiny, despite his own version of rather blatant bigotry -- perhaps because he reads and reviews semi-intellectual books and has media heavies, like Tom Brokaw, on the air.

TomPaine.com recently focused on the evils of Mr. Imus with an ad in the New York Times. However, the Times was unwilling to include some of the offensive material attributed to Imus and his staff in Tompaine's weekly op ed ad. Some may certainly call this censorship on the part of the Times, but alas, there is no freedom of speech when it comes to commercial speech. Nevertheless, because of the power of the Web, many people were able, with a few clicks, to read what the Times didn't want to feature on its own pages.

In case you haven't gotten to TomPaine.com, here's a brief excerpt of their report put together by writer Philip Nobile: "If you listen to his show ... it's a cesspool of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and more. Imus referred to media critic Howard Kurtz as a 'boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jew boy.' Guests and the show's stars regularly refer to blacks as: 'brillo-heads,' 'dark meat,' 'dingos,' 'mandingos' and 'Uncle Ben.' Imus's sidekick joked that serial gay killer Andrew Cunanan should have been left to keep on killing: 'Why are they bothering to catch this guy? He's just whacking off freaks!'"

The Masher wants to know: Why do mainstream media heavies and respected intellectuals associate with this crap?

The Webbys -- Mixing Good and Evil

The Masher is a regular at the Webby Awards, usually masquerading as a media gadfly who loves the spicy tuna sushi and the great dance music. But the Webbys are much more than personal pleasure. They are, in a nutshell, excellent and excessive, a schizoid mish-mash, mixing small doses of radical Web representation and clever, compelling visual production with celebrity suck-up and commercialism run amuck. In case you missed the press coverage, the Webby Awards recognize excellence on the Web, emulating the Oscars and pretending they are the anti-Oscars. They have 50 corporate sponsors, led by the ubiquitous Intel.

The Masher loves the people who run the Webbys, but the blatant use of celeb judges like Francis Ford Coppola, David Byrne, Matt Groening and others -- people who may or may not have ever gotten on their computer to check out the sites -- is dismaying. Celebs are used to generate gobs of free publicity for the Webbys -- and it works. Media organizations trip over themselves linking the celebs with the event, even though the celebs weren't there.

Smoke and mirrors is the meat and potatoes of today's image makers. Fool them once, fool them all the time ... with a wink. Perhaps faux celebrity is the only way to build a brand and break through the media smog. But it makes the Masher depressed when Tina Brown, the diva of the magazine world, is trotted out to give Webbys in synch with Tiffany Schlain, the creative force behind the awards who SF Mayor Willie Brown is fond of calling the Digital Diva. This is what they call the anti-Oscars?

On the substance side, there were some highlights. The troublemaker Napster won the music award. The "literate smut" site Nerve.com finally pushed three-time winner Salon to the sidelines in the Zine category. Adbusters won in the activist category. Nonetheless, these sites are, in a certain way, the establishment of the Web. More cutting edge is needed. The Masher was hoping for a win for ProtestNet in the activism category, after the big Seattle and Washington demonstrations against globalization. Had ProtestNet won, their representative would have appeared on stage in a gas mask and his five-word acceptance speech (all winners are limited to five words, which is one of the Webby's most endearing qualities) would have been "Seize the means of communication."

If the reader is interested in exploring the machinations of the Webbys more deeply and getting good assessments of the nominees, go to NewCity.com. This Chicago-based Web site, which links many of the alternative weeklies, provided by far the most extensive, in-depth coverage of the Webbys, including writing and analysis by Matt Welch and Jenn Shreve.

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