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The [Wednesday] Papers

The debate last night took a lot out of me. How lame was that? Tom Brokaw sifted through audience questions and those were the ones he chose? Could we please just keep asking the same questions over and over again? You might as well have had animatronic candidates there for all the time that was wasted.

Why no hard questions on the pork-stuffed bailout bill? Why no trying to settle Ayers and Keating once and for all? Why no questions of either candidate for their failures to campaign with the dignified tone each promised? Plenty to ask.

Between the dispiriting effects of last night and some Internet connectivity problems this morning, as well as other pressing business, I just don't have it in me to turn out a Papers column today.

But you can occupy yourself - and please do - with our Mystery Debate Theater coverage over at Division Street. It's a pretty good one. Feel free to comment over there.

And among our offerings today, I'd like to introduce Fantasy Fix, our new football and basketball fantasy sports column, which will be brought to you weekly by Dan O'Shea.

The Papers will return tomorrow.

The [Tuesday] Papers
Just to close the curtain on baseball season in Chicago:

* Dane Placko in the Best Interview Ever of a Cubs fan.

* Rick Kaempfer's second thoughts about raising his children to be Cubs fans.

* Our very own Ricky O'Donnell in the season's final White Sox Report: "It could be much worse. We could be the Cubs."

Deceiving Appearances
Predictably, the Tribune has taken some flak for its redesign. I expected to be one of those dishing it out. But I have to tell you something unexpected: I like it.

When I first saw a prototype, I thought it looked like Crain's. Then when the paper came out I thought it looked like Crain's meets RedEye.

But after spending a week now with the new paper, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a vast improvement. I expected a colorful and more dynamic appearance, but what I've been seeing every day is bolder than I thought it would be - including the fact that the paper is doing a nice job of pointing readers to the Internet in sensible ways, which is a rarity.

Could I find things to criticize? Sure. Some pages are way too busy. Sometimes, design-wise, the ads and editorial have seemed to blend together too seamlessly. The paper is obviously smaller. And in some ways some design elements remind me of the look some mid-size papers have long had; the look is not exactly elegant and mighty.

On the other hand, large photos and an engaging appearance convey the feeling that, you know, the paper actually cares about what it is telling you. The biggest missing ingredient in the DNA of the old Tribune was always passion, enthusiasm, even a point-of-view (which is not the same thing as bias). The new Trib seems to have at least a little bit of those things.

Bigger photos and headlines and more graphic presentations can be a dumbing down, but they don't have to be, and in fact I think that - if done smartly - it's the right way to go. A paper should be a mix of presentations, not a collection of the same stories written with the same hackneyed formulas.

I have the early instinctual sense that new ways of presentation will also stoke new ways of thinking among reporters in terms of what is news and how it can be conveyed.

Plus, the columns of Eric Zorn and Mary Schmich are buried in the back now.

*

The true test will be if the staff can maintain its creative energy after its initial burst and, even more so, how and where the real hard-core reporting work fits in - be it investigative projects or beat work or anything else that demands time and space.

I'm also uncertain about the ability to attract new readers to the paper; I'm of the view that it's too late for print editions of the paper to re-establish the habit among the young 'uns. But for the first time I will say that maybe inroads could be made with the right kind of marketing push and whatever methods may be used to get this kind of paper in their hands for a few test spins.

In any case, for those of us who still read the print version, it's a much more enjoyable experience.

*

I suspect Alan Mutter's pals are just, you know, bitter old fogeys.

*

Internet polls are so not to be taken seriously.

For all we know, Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times, called in a thousand times while on a bender.

*

Robb Montgomery, a former Sun-Times designer who was the man behind the late, lamented Red Streak, has a round-up of other reactions.

*

Plus, David Greising's column is apparently back and Q is dead, or at least has morphed into a new section called Smart.

Ferdy's Film Festival
Our coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival continues. See Ferdy on Films for full reviews and other festival details.

Today's Ferdy blurb:

Beautiful takes the dilemma faced by beautiful young women in a society that disrespects women at a very basic level and turns out a less graphic version of slasher porn. Kim Eun-yeong (Cha Su-yeon), the lovely victim in Beautiful, is no match for the gawkers and stalkers she tries unsuccessfully to evade. "Beauty is destiny," someone says to Eun-yeong. According to this movie, being a beautiful woman means being reduced to a raving crone who is destroyed without any reason or poignancy. The director and screenwriter would rather let Detective Kim call the shots and force her fate on her like a second, more deadly rape. Eun-yeong's allure seems more that of a sorceress than a fresh-faced young woman, and we all know what happens to witches.

Here's the trailer:

-

Debate Prep
Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism gives a pretty strong interview to the National Journal. I think he's too soft on sexism in the campaign, but he's right - as we've all long known - about the way the media has ceded its brains and even its jobs to the very political strategists who ruin campaigns for everyone. Here's an edited excerpt (chosen not for its criticism of Obama but for its criticism of the media):

Q: What would you say the problems of press coverage are, then?

Rosenstiel: The fact the press has given over too much of its air time to campaign operatives who they label as analysts, media people. It's the naming of Paul Begala, and Karl Rove, and Dick Morris, and a countless litany of other people who are essentially not journalists but who play them on TV, and who really are doing talking points.

Another is an excess of focus on strategy, tactics and horse race, which we've seen for generations now in the coverage. Another is a kind of short attention span, almost kind of amnesic quality, in which the coverage and the narrative of the campaign sort of bounces from one episode to another, but there's no consistent coverage of what the country's problems are, or where the country is going.

I think the coverage of Obama has been insufficient. We don't know enough about him.

Q: If you could tell journalists how to better do their jobs, what would you say?

Rosenstiel: We may be at a point now where finally an issue, a problem facing the country, is going to frame this election, and that's the economy. And I think that we need to focus now pretty hard on the economic philosophy, background votes, etc. of the two candidates. Obama has an advantage - which is a challenge to the press - which is he doesn't have very much of a record. And that's dangerous, I think, because he can pull one over on us, he can claim to be whatever he wants to claim to be. So I think we need to use these debates, and we need to use the coverage that surrounds them, to try and press how these guys will deal with this economic crisis that they're going to inherit if they become president.

I fear that what's going to happen is what typically happens, which is we do a sort of theater review coverage of the debates, trying to figure out who had the best theatrical moment, who got the better of the other in some exchange or other . . . most of our coverage of debates has been primarily focused on the performance aspects of it rather than the substantive aspects of what the candidates propose and are saying.


The Beachwood Tip Line: A graphic presentation.



Permalink

Posted on October 8, 2008


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Trump's Disastrous FCC Chair.
POLITICS - Filing: Walmart CEO Made $22.4 Million Last Year.
SPORTS - Teens Still Underreporting Concussions.

BOOKS - America, We Need To Talk.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Wyoming, Michigan.


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