Tag Archives: New York Times

The New York Times Could Kill Me And All My Friends If It Wanted To

I can’t count how many times I’ve had the following conversation with my 20-somethings friends:

“So I learned recently that there is a connection between [type of exercise or diet] and [health concern I didn’t use to worry about but now worry about a lot].”

“Oh, yeah, I read about that too.”

“New York Times health blog?”

“Yup.”

The New York Times is pretty much my only source for health news (except the occasional random Wired article). Thanks to the NYT, I feel better about drinking coffee, feel guilty that I don’t do more crosswords, aspire to do more interval training, and carry the burdensome suspicion that there are 1,000 things I need to do to prevent my joints from collapsing and my attention span and memory from going to shit, and I’m only doing 4 of them.

It looks sinister if you stare at it long enough.

Which leads me to this realization:

If the New York Times wanted to kill thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of middle and upper-middle class people between the ages of 22 and 42, they totally could. All they’d need to do is slip the deadly advice into their health articles.

Good News, If Pointless News

I’m not a fan of celebrity media.  In fact, I kind of loathe celebrity/pop culture magazines.  It’s “reading” in the same way that Twinkies are “food.”  However, I was pleased to read a NYTimes article about a website I had never heard of, JustJared.com, which is apparently the nice guy among celebrity news blogs.  Its founder, 28-year old Jared Eng, passionately and obsessively blogs about celebrity news, but does so without the negative, bring-down-the-famous bent of most paparazzi-fed outlets.  In return, he’s been embraced by celebrities, who are happy to talk to him and give him tidbits which in turn feed his site’s popularity and impressive ad revenue.

Here’s the Times article, published January 19th, about the site and Mr. Eng.

Celebrity news is empty reading calories, but I’m glad to see there is a popular site out there that doesn’t traffic in negativity and scandal.  Always nice to see friendliness and positivity gain traction in an atmosphere dominated by hostility.

‘Good News’ Websites Aren’t Hard-Hugging Enough

From the “They Already have That” files:

As my friends can attest, I read the New York Times and regularly get bummed out.  I don’t think the Times means to do this, as they do not seem to subscribe to the FoxNews trademarked Scare Readers Shitless School Of Journalism.  But there surely does seem to be a lot going wrong with the world these days.

I wonder how much of this bad news is spin, and how much is legitimately going wrong.  So I recently struck on the idea (one I’m in no position to act upon) to start a Good News news site.  One that would take as its starting point the theoretical “neutral news” of the world, and then err on the side of optimism and progress.  The anti-Fox News, I guess.

Turns out, there are many of these sites.  I googled ‘Good News’ and looked at the top results.  All of them have similar goals: to remind us that there is good news out there; to provide some daily optimism; to balance out the mainstream media’s constant fear-danger-depression angle.  However, after a short examination, their “hard hugging” journalism leaves something to be desired.

Google Search Result #1: Good News Network

goodnewsnetwork.org

This is the first search result.  It aims to be a professional news outlet devoted to positive news, but you need to pay to read the content.  Plus, the leading headlines from this random Monday morning site visit seem to tilt towards small-town good news, not an overarching view of the nation at large.

Google Search Result #2: Happy News

This site is less newspaper-news-oriented, with prominent space devoted to videos and for-sale products aimed at positive living.  The site also posts only one “Top Story” at a time and you have to dig to find other stories, which are as likely to be small-towny as the one I found this morning.

Google Search Result #3:  Good News Daily

goodnewsdaily.com

This site has more of the international news I want to see, as it seems to post articles from other news sources.  The layout is amateur, however, and it also encourages reader-submitted articles, which does not generate the air of professional journalism I’m looking for.

Google Search Results #4 and 5: Christian “Good News” sites.

Google Search Result #6: Good News Now (GNN)

The site tabs make it clear this site isn’t going for hard-hitting investigative journalism, but rather the news equivalent of Daily Puppy.

Conclusion:

The website I want doesn’t seem to be out there (at least not easily found).  Outlets like Fox have become very skilled in manipulating the world’s complexity to present a preordained perspective.  Objective journalism is rather impossible, since what a newspaper prints or does not print is, in itself, a subjective decision.  So I’d like to see a website that shamelessly spins national and international news towards an optimistic viewpoint.  This site would avoid fluff like, “Dog Saves Cat From Flood,” or “Cheerleading Squad Saves Teachers’ Pensions,” which seems to be popular with the good news sites I visited.  Tell me about Afghanistan, global warming and Capitol Hill.  If leading news outlets can depict Obama as a secret Muslim, surely a professionally-staffed news site could tell me something positive about Iraq.  And no, I don’t mean “Sufi Dog Saves Shia Cat From Flood.”

Thursday Linkage

I hitched my wagon to the Large Block of Uninterrupted Text train a long time ago.  So as part of my 30 minutes of advocacy per month, here are three interesting, long, uninterrupted blocks of text I’ve recently read and enjoyed.  If you’re looking for a way to spend an hour, you could do much worse:

The Atlantic Magazine: an article by Jeffrey Goldberg examining Israeli and American perspectives on Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear weapon, and how Israel may respond in the next year. 

New York Times Magazine: an interesting study of and discussion on American 20-somethings and whether they (we) are part of a discrete developmental stage that explains why we’re not all getting jobs, spouses, and kids already.

The Atlantic Magazine: an article about the Grant Study, a 70-year long study of 268 Harvard graduates begun in the late 1930s, and the study’s longtime overseer, George Vaillant.  The question asked by both the study and the article is, what makes for a happy life?

good reading and thoughts on corporations

Today the New York Times published this article by author Wes Davis.  In it Davis discusses the Bell Corporation’s mid-century attempt to broaden the intellectual and educational horizons of its young executives.  In 1952, the President of Bell Telephone, W.D. Gillen, created the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives at the University of Pennsylvania.  The Institute provided a 10-month crash course in the liberal arts to select Bell Telephone managers and executives.  The objective was to stock the company with educated, mentally flexible executives who could respond to problems intelligently and creatively.

I had never heard of this before, and I find it fascinating.  What’s most fascinating, however, is this part at the end:

The institute was judged a success by Morris S. Viteles, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, who evaluated its graduates. But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.

This provides historical data to a belief I’ve held for some time about big corporations: that despite being composed of individuals, corporations themselves have no interest in the welfare of individuals or communities.  Their first and only responsibility is to their own preservation, as measured by profit, growth, market share, and other indicators of a company’s success.

This seems all the more relevant today, as national political debate simmers above the stovetop burners of the bank bailout and the BP oil spill.  BP has no fundamental interest in cleaning up the oil spill, except to the extent that it calculates doing so will help its bottom line.  If the profit gained from an improved corporate image is greater than the costs involved in improving that image, BP will clean up the spill.  If not, it won’t. 

Of course, individuals working for BP might feel strongly that BP should clean up the spill.  But the reason BP can’t and won’t clean up the spill is because it has competitor oil companies that won’t help, either.  Like any major corporation, BP has competitors, and they are locked in a never-ending race for financial success.  Every dollar BP spends unnecessarily is a dollar lost in its race with Exxon, Texaco, and others.  This fact requires BP to focus only on what helps its own short and long-term viability, and it must find individual workers who are best at obtaining those ends.  So BP naturally seeks and promotes individuals who are willing to place the company’s fiscal objectives ahead of any personal feelings, interests or moral responsibilities that might interfere.

Of course, what is best for BP is likely to be best for its workers, and they are individuals with families, communities, and environments.  But layoffs are the internal demonstration of how a corporation cares no more for its own employees than it does for the wider population.  If BP is $1 more profitable without you at your desk, you will be laid off.  To not lay you off is to lose a dollar’s worth of ground to the competition.

I believe this to be the case, which is why calls for massive deregulation drive me batty.  Big corporations are, like distant gods, indifferent at best to our livelihoods.  They are interested only to the extent that what is best for a community or an environment coincidentally overlap with its own interests.  Otherwise, they cannot step outside of their own objectives without risking their fundamental existence.  Some free market arguments would suggest that healthy communities and preserved environments are ultimately profitable for everyone, and so the market will look after them.  This has not yet been proven, and it’s not a hypothesis I wish the world to test.

The one corporation that can afford to deviate from the path of profitability is a monopoly.  With no rivals that threaten its existence, it can pursue other objectives.  The only such organization in this country is the government.  It is the only actor in the pantheon of corporate gods with the power to force them to care about our welfare.

So, hats off to that Bell executive who sought to broaden the horizons of Bell employees.  The company spent money to invest in its workforce as people.  Sadly, when it discovered that the investment resulted in less company-oriented workers, it cancelled the program.

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UPDATE: Two articles in the July 8th, 2010 edition of the NYTimes are useful examples of the way large corporations do not behave with an eye towards anything but their own economic health.  The first is an article about Wal-Mart’s exhaustive fight against the $7,000 fine assessed against them after an employee was trampled to death on Black Friday in 2008.  The second is about Transocean, the off-shore drilling company involved in the Gulf of Mexico disaster.  Check out this example of Transocean’s attempts to improve it’s all-important bottom line:

A Norwegian newspaper, Dagens Naeringsliv, reported several years ago that a Transocean rig, while returning from a repair yard in Norway to a drilling site in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, diverted for several hours into British waters. During that time, Transocean transferred ownership of the rig between subsidiaries and later argued that it did not have to pay Norwegian taxes because profits on the transaction had been earned outside the country. The company subsequently settled the case involving that rig.