First Converse, then Levis, now this?

This through Whiskey Bar: The Macomb Daily mentions that Radio Flyer, yes the little red wagon company, is moving much of its operations to China.

The company’s Web site is mum on the announcement, which seems to have come yesterday. However the site’s history page has this:

“Like the Original Red Wagon that lent the company its name, Radio Flyer Inc. has become an American Classic. From its humble beginnings, this simple, enduring enterprise has been reinterpreted and rediscovered with each new generation – creating a legacy of toys that continue to inspire the imagination.”

Can the American economy no longer support its “classics”? Is Gen Y the last new generation to enjoy this American classic?

Diversify the airways, maybe

Air America might be a great idea in theory, but it seems a bit rough getting off the ground. Like Blunted, I tried to register for the streaming audio, and got the cold shoulder from their server. I also searched for some of the stations listed on their member list, and got dead-ends for listening mirrors.

Not only that, but their form’s radio buttons for gender let me select both male and female. I guess there are more transexuals in the liberal audience than in the conservative audience.

I’m sure they’ll work it out, but I was hoping to be there for the debut. I’m not as excited about Al Franken’s show (though interested) as I am about Chuck D co-driving the morning show bus. Como se dice, iconic?

Oh, and MPs* to the small beta testing group for this site — particularly those on Microsoft platforms. The feedback has proved beneficial, and helped my coding slave (re: brother) jiggle the handle, as it were, to make the site more stable.

* Mad props

Tilt-a-whirl

Bias.

It even sounds ugly. Still, ugly as it sounds I’ve thought about it a lot lately. Can we, as journalists, ever attain true neutrality and objectivity? I’m beginning to think the quest is a false one, and readers are better served through honest disclosure.

Consider this essay by Andrew R. Cline, Ph.D. He’s from Park University, which is based in Missouri. His contentions match mine: that zealous non-bias policies in the press amount to intellectual dishonesty, and needlessly coddle media consumers.

Think about the rhetorical wrappers around much of conservative talk radio. “Who’s lookin’ out for ya?” I’ve heard that sentiment several times on air. Well, the host isn’t if he or she feeds me half the facts I need to make up my own mind.

Columbia Journalism Review has a lengthy piece on this issue. One of their suggestions toward a more sensible view on objectivity:

“Journalists (and journalism) must acknowledge, humbly and publicly, that what we do is far more subjective and far less detached than the aura of objectivity implies – and the public wants to believe. If we stop claiming to be mere objective observers, it will not end the charges of bias but will allow us to defend what we do from a more realistic, less hypocritical position.”

Does it make me less of a journalist to admit I voted for Nader in 2000? That I have strong feelings on abortion, same-sex marriage, the war on terrorism, the perceived corporatization of government? I argue no.

But, then again, it might prove to be journalistic heresy.

Flashback, and look forward

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of H.D. Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, also known as Resistance to Civil Government, courtesy of the Gutenburg Project. Find the full text here. I’ve inserted a hard return or two for readability.]

The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to — for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.

Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men.

A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Deviation from the norm

[steps to mic]

Ahem.

Nearly 38 years have passed since Lenny Bruce’s last performance in the smokey halls of Fillmore Auditorium. My birth seven years later meant that I missed that bit of history, but I want an encore.

People fear speaking up or out. Indeed, the fines for speaking loudly and bluntly are now enormous. That’s a shame.

I won’t climb up on this orange crate and pretend I love what Howard Stern does. Not my kind of funny. But you have to admit that a lot of people do find him funny – he’s lingered on the airwaves for the better part of my life.

Though crass, Stern represents a whole aspect of the American conversation. Police aren’t hounding Stern like they did Bruce, yet. But he’s endured a hefty financial hit for speaking his raunchy mind. He, and society by proxy, have gotten a big message from the FCC: deviation from the norm is not tolerated.

The FCC’s restrictive bent misses the point. Congress should rein in the commission, and protect the First Amendment.

Speech should be cherished, even unpleasant or not widely accepted speech. Frank Zappa (who was on that Fillmore ticket with Bruce) said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

Which brings me to this site. Obviously, it’s a forum for my writing. Watch yourself: It mixes commentary and straight reporting.

I will make off-handed observations about politics, culture or religion. (On randy days, it might be all three.) I’ll back up what arguments I can, and level with you otherwise.

Oh, and I’ll occasionally hand the mic off to other writers – guest baristas. The Special area is their orange crate. Sometimes, I like to climb off my crate, and hear what they to say.

Both myself and guest baristas will hold to my ethics and corrections policy. It’s just like that. Find that policy in the Who area of the sight. Feel free to drop a line to keep us honest.

Together, we’ll see just what kind of discourse we can engorge ourselves in. Welcome to www.blocletters.com.

AYJ Gives Young Journalists an Outlet

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Chips Quinn Web site.]

Legitimacy and measured growth now drive the Association of Young Journalists.

“We have grand ambitions, but we’re growing slowly,” said Matt Sheehan, 23, an assistant news editor at The Washington Post and one of four broad-thinking young media professionals who founded AYJ.

The group pulls together under-35 journalists – editors, photographers, reporters and others. Chris Frates and Elizabeth Aguilera brought Sheehan on board after hatching the concept at a Chipotle’s restaurant in Denver. They had been discussing recent accuracy scandals with another journalist, Jennifer Medina, who then had been at The New York Times. Widely covered scandals unfairly painted budding journalists as reckless or careless, they reasoned.

That was May 2003.

The idea caught on. At first, e-mails passed among friends. That broadened into a listserv with nearly 900 members. By mid-Summer that year, they launched a Web site. More than 380 people have registered in the member directory there, both young journalists and seasoned professionals interested in developing fresh newsroom talent.

“Right after the whole Jayson Blair thing, I got on it immediately,” said Megan Scott, 25, at reporter at the St. Petersburg Times. Scott, a member of the Chip Quinn class of 1999, heard about AYJ through e-mail.

“Being black, I felt the race issue more than the whole journalism thing,” she said. “(I felt people were saying) This is what happens when people hire minority reporters.”

Frates and the other founders saw that sentiment building, and responded with AYJ. The group, even in infancy, has shown its value to young professions as a place to hear and be heard.

“I know when I signed up I was very surprised to see such a wide variety of subscribers,” said Raven Hill, 27. The Chips Quinn program graduated Hill in 1997, and now she reports on municipal affairs at the Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, NJ. She said the mix of professionals and students, as well as the sheer range of contributors, make AYJ’s forum and listserv valuable to journalists. Still, she admits that she hasn’t checked the forum in a while, and the volume of e-mail from the listserv grew into a problem. Now she just checks the messages periodically on the Web site.

Aguilera said such “lurking” on the site is common.

Different visitors use the forum and listserv in different ways. For example, Nancy Yang, a Spring 2003 Chips Quinn graduate, said she has posted a couple of times to the listserv, but only when she feels like she can contribute.

In addition, the moderators of the listserv act as gatekeepers, and try to ensure posts further the discussion. That move initially riled many who posted to the listserv, but is symptomatic of the AYJ’s success in numbers.

“It took off much more quickly than we thought it would,” said Aguilera, 29, an urban affairs reporter at The Denver Post. “I don’t think we were thinking in such large numbers.”

In fact, those large numbers attracted whispers of competition with other professional groups.

“There’s been some concern from SPJ that AYJ will cannibalize their membership, take all the young folks,” Frates said, referring to the Society for Professional Journalists. “I think we serve a different purpose and have different goals that aren’t as broad or as far-reaching.”

The reality, Frates said, is that SPJ’s leaders have been very helpful in getting AYJ established.
After leaving a solid footprint in 2003, the AYJ’s goals this year turn to recognition, legal and otherwise.

“We are focusing on incorporation right now, it’s a long process,” Frates said, referring to 501(c)3 non-profit status. Frates, at 24, covers the legislature at The Denver Post. The group plans to incorporate at the University of Maryland, which hosts its Web site.

Incorporation is an important rung. It allows the group to accept donations, which could help develop fuller resources for young journalists. But, it is also a difficult rung to reach. It involves naming a board and filing extensive tax paperwork with the IRS – daunting tasks for four people in three cities. (Medina is currently studying in Jerusalem.)

Incorporation may also mean that AYJ would start charging for membership, much like SPJ, NAHJ and other professional groups. But, Sheehan said they hope to go a while without charging dues.

In the interim, the founders plan to nurture the group’s name within journalism circles. They have volunteer chapter heads who coordinate members in 10 states and Washington, D.C., and members in most states. The need for both continues as the organization gathers momentum.

They also have other high-profile strategies. “We filed a proposal with Unity to have a panel on race and youth and how reporters cover the issue,” Frates said. “We’re hopeful that we get accepted, but either way we hope to have a presence.”

Until then, the group retains a social element for people just starting in what can be a seat-of-your-pants field. It’s a growing conversation among a new generation of media professionals.

Where’s Columbia?

[Editor’s note: I wrote this February 1, 2003, and it became the centerpiece of a package, posted a few days later, on the Chips Quinn Web site regarding the tragedy.]

The morning came with a thunder that made no sound. I didn’t hear the sonic boom. My windows didn’t tremble.

This morning, the shuttle Columbia broke apart over northeast Texas. News reports told of people hearing sonic booms for hundreds of miles there and in Louisiana. Each chunk of spacecraft warped the air around it into a loud bang as it slowed to under Mach 1.

Here in Ocala, Fla., I heard nothing.

“You can hear the sonic boom overhead,” my cousin Cheryl told me at 9 a.m. when I turned on the news to watch the shuttle land. “Sometimes the windows even shake.”

Columbia would be passing over us on its way to land at Cape Canaveral, Fla., 136 miles to the east. I waited for the shudder of the windows. I heard nothing. At 9:16 a.m., the local newscaster, who no doubt expected another routine landing, began speculating why the shuttle might lag behind schedule.

At Cape Canaveral, the sun shone brightly. “It’s a beautiful day for a landing,” he had remarked, opening his live coverage.

He didn’t know that at about 9 a.m., both Kennedy and Johnson space centers had lost radar and radio contact with Columbia.

At 9:18 a.m., two minutes after the scheduled landing, I called to the other room. “Cheryl, Columbia’s late. I don’t know if something’s wrong, or what.” I heard the pad of her slippers approaching. I sipped my coffee, tasting the bitterness, and mission control finally broke the silence. “A contingency for the space shuttle has been declared,” the voice said. The scene on television showed the crowd gathered, waiting for a ghost.

I wasn’t sure what to think. Shredded wheat bubbled in my stomach. My body knew how to react, but my head trailed behind trying to be rational. NASA officials had been dispersing the crowd gathered at Kennedy since earlier that morning. Expectant families had waited with excited children on cold metal bleachers, and gawkers had scanned the sky with binoculars.

Officials ushered the news crews away.

The local newscaster who had narrated the silence for me still sounded stunned at what he hadn’t seen.

By 9:40 a.m., I had switched to CNN, which confirmed the worst. Trails of plasma plumed across the screen. Three, four, even five of them streaked through the sky, where there should have been just one. The 24-hour news station, filling airtime, repeated the same few-second clips. I held hope that the next time I saw the footage, the multiple streaks would turn out to be a trick of the eye, a glint of the sun.

People in Nacogdoches, Texas, just had finished breakfast and discovered shrapnel in a bank parking lot.

A crash site somewhere between Athens and Rusk, CNN beaconed. But it’s not that easy. The shuttle’s intense velocity didn’t leave a “crash site.” Streams of wreckage were cast across east Texas, Louisiana, even Arkansas.

It’s not that easy.

Later, Cheryl and I tried to make the best of an otherwise beautiful day. “I’ve had too many days like this in such a short life,” I told her.

“What do you mean?”

I paused. Her Camaro sped us down the road toward Marion Market in Belleview, just south of Ocala. Air gushed through the open window.

“Days that I can turn to my kids one day, and say, ‘I remember exactly where I was when…’ “