Saw Caetano’s show last night. It was his version of a rock show. He had the audience singing along in Portuguese, “I hate you, I hate you”. Caetano mixed in some older songs with songs from his last record, Cê, which is lyrically angry and sad, and takes a minimal rock approach quite unlike anything else. There’s lots of space in the sound — sometimes the chords and harmonies, often pretty sophisticated in Caetano songs, are here barely hinted at. I wasn’t sure how this band — all young musicians centered around the amazing guitar player Pedro Sa — would handle the older stuff more familiar to the audience. They changed some of the older songs, giving them spikier and more fractured textures, but it worked. Lyrically, the differences may be more radical; the older stuff is generally sweeter than this new batch of songs, more often filled with turmoil and testiness. But this initial feeling of disquiet leads inevitably to captivation — even the cries of “I hate you” were somehow beautiful. They weren’t snarled as a punk or Emo band would do, but sung almost sweetly, and with a bewildered sadness that somehow those heavily charged words and feelings are bursting forth — the sadness of watching yourself say you hate someone.
It was my first time in the Nokia Theater, a weird underground corporate space. I ran into Stokes, who remembered that it was a big Times Square movie theater years ago. He said this was where he saw Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. For this show the “orchestra” area was standing, with some VIP balcony tables and then rows of theater seating further back. The sound was so good I didn’t even notice how clear it was until after the show. I don’t know if the theater’s remodeling should be credited for the sound clarity or Caetano’s sound mixer.
Tall and/or Wide News
On the way up to Times Square I passed the new NY Times building, whose lobby was all lit up. Beyond the atrium I could see masses of black-suited people at the far end. They must have been there for a grand opening — this new building, designed by Renzo Piano, has been under construction in my neighborhood for years. The Grey Lady gets a punk haircut is how I would categorize it. I’m sure there are some lovely spaces inside, and it will be a great relief for the employees to have more light, but the building seems unremarkable outside, and pretty big, imposing and tall too. Rather than being sequestered in a mere 14-story block of rabbit warrens, now the news media can gaze down on their former haunt and on the rest of us, as befits the US national newspaper (not counting USA Today and The Onion.) There is a new auditorium space adjacent to the tower, so it will be interesting to see if the Times begins to present music, speakers, symposiums and other events in that new space. That would be a welcome addition.
I can’t help but look at this new skyscraper and think, “They sure are optimistic ‘bout print journalism”. Or maybe they have plans, and are diversifying in ways I am unaware of. I myself read the NY Times and about three other newspapers online most mornings. I also look at a few blogs and other sites fairly regularly. I paid to be member of Times Select for a while, until they decided to make all that material available again without charge. I also pick up newsstand copies once or twice a week. I don’t know if I am typical, but if I am I suspect not too many people will be buying print journalism for much longer — most people will become accustomed to getting the news for free, as many folk already feel that they do when they turn on a TV in the morning as they get ready for work, or as they listen to the car radio on their commute.
Of course, much TV and radio is paid for by commercials, so the “free” part is a bit of an illusion. “Television Delivers People” as Richard Serra (yes, that Richard Serra, the iron man sculptor) wrote in a video piece he did decades ago. Television “delivers” the viewers, the audience, to the advertisers. The content, whether news or American Idol, is generally just sufficiently interesting to hold your attention through to the next commercial. Federal laws mandated that TV networks give a certain amount of time to news and “public affairs,” the latter usually relegated to dead time on Sunday mornings. Legislators in the past realized that an informed populace is essential for a democracy, or some semblance of one. Without those mandates I wonder how much less the populace would know. In other countries it’s easy to see that when one controls the news media one controls what people think. When it works best, the populace barely knows the news their getting is filtered and skewed.
In print, ads are massive and expensive. I admit, I occasionally glance at them and sometimes I read the ad copy. I suspect that the print newspaper costs a little more that its newsstand price of $1.25 to write, print and distribute, and those ads cover the losses. In glossy fashion and art magazines there are more pages of ads than there are of copy; the copy seems more like interruptions among the pages of gallery ads or pictures of petulant models. It’s fairly easy to see how these pages might pay for the rest of the newspaper or magazine.
Google has tiny ads on the sides and tops of their search pages. They’re fairly unobtrusive, which means they load quickly, don’t take up much room and can give the appearance of not being ads, but instead more unbiased, useful information. If I’m looking for something — tent poles maybe — and an ad at the side of my search names a retailer that sells them, I have been known to click there. These ads are generally filtered to be relevant to your searches; they prey on (or cater to) your interest at that moment. Online versions of newspapers and magazines have slightly larger, more intrusive ads than Google, though nothing like the full-page movie or fashion ads in the print media. There are often just a few per page. Here are some from a page in the Arts section of the NY Times. Two movie ads are paired with a (fascinating and hilarious) review of a Polish metal band.
I assume, without any justification, that to some extent these ads pay for the “newspaper”, or whatever one calls an online news source. They allow me to go to these sites for free. Once in a great while I do indeed click on those movie ads in order to see the trailer. I wish there was also a link to the Behemoth (the Polish band) website, or a streaming version of some of their songs, or a video clip of the concert. Sometimes there is. Whether a review can remain objective and link to the bands website or to their record company is an unanswered question. I think it’s risky, but it seems obvious and easy, UNLESS that record company pays for the link.
Anyways…this is a long round about way of asking if these teeny little ads pay for that big skyscraper and all the news trolls working in it? Is that really possible? Economically how does that work? It boggles my mind. It doesn’t seem feasible, but maybe I don’t know how much these little banner ads cost.
I also ask myself, if it is as unfeasible as I imagine, what will happen to print, or any form of journalism, as everything migrates online? The writers’ strike accurately points out that, at least for many of us, our computers are now our TVs. We watch streaming programs, from either a network site or You Tube or wherever, anytime we please. Some of these have adjacent ads and some have ads before the “show” starts. One doesn’t, to be honest, feel quite as captive to the ads as one did on traditional network TV, but that could be an illusion.
I wonder if a wiki online newspaper could work? Wikinews already exists, and its articles consist of both original and hybrid (i.e. cobbled together from other sources) pieces. If eventually it becomes impossible to have investigative reporters, foreign correspondents and writers spend time performing extensive research — as is the case more and more — then does the news media necessarily have to turn into a version of a White House press office handout, as it sometimes seems these days? Maybe not. Much reporting from various parts of the world already originates from bloggers and other “amateurs”. Admittedly, much of it is celebrity sightings and gossip, or tales of personal woe or prurient interest, but sometimes major stories and opinions missed by the official media erupt from blogs and other outside sources. And sometimes the truth emerges, as opposed to official lies. Danielle says that Wikinews was way ahead of the traditional media reporting for Katrina. If all the folks in every far flung town who have local knowledge, digital cameras, and an ability to write clearly (and accurately?) contributed a wikinews site, or to the Wikinews site, then wouldn’t that save the cost of correspondents, some investigative research (lots of folks adopt digging up info as a personal obsession), office space (that skyscraper), etc., etc.?
Well, I can’t imagine how that obsessive network of lunatic amateur reporters could be filtered to yield an approachable, readable, and vaguely trustworthy experience, but somehow dispersing and widening the net that catches news seems to have already happened, whether it’s in Wikinews or not. It merely awaits a structure, an (self-) organizing principle of which there may be some examples we can borrow from nature, from our neurons, from the various biological and ecological systems that surround us. (Lots of poop jokes based on intestinal based algorithms here, but anyway…) I can’t figure out why Wikinews isn’t filled with gossip, or news according to a retired Czech schoolteacher (which might pass their criteria test as well as anything) or hundreds of thousands of articles of purely local interest.
Someone, some group, or something is, I suspect, make selections and acting as a filter. There’s an aggregate of wikieditors out there making what amounts to a (partially comprehensive) news source. Would the wiki world be using some algorithm to sort through contributions? Surely news shouldn’t be featured according to what is the most popular — if it were we’d be seeing mainly to gossip, gadgets, sport, videogames and porn in a minute. As it is, it doesn’t seem anywhere near as comprehensive as, well, the NY Times, but time will tell. By policy the wiki world excludes reviews and such: there are no movie reviews, concert or CD reviews, or theater reviews. It might be opening Pandora's box to make the people’s choice available, but it might be all the more interesting. To some extent a critic’s job is to help us see (or hear) something we might otherwise pass over, or not take the time to investigate, and I doubt the herd will likely fulfill that function. But who knows?