Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Defending Tina Brown's Newsweek Rage

If you follow the magazine industry like I do, then you're reading a lot about how people are freaking out about Newsweek's allegedly incendiary cover this week, which features a crowd of Middle East Muslims and the cover line "Muslim Rage." (See here for just one example.)

The commentary on the cover is incendiary, and ridiculous. Some of the criticism is of the cover, and other criticism is over the cover story author, a former Muslim turned harsh critic of Islam (especially in its more conservative and radical forms) named Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Frankly, it's a good cover. Not awesome, but a good cover. For that matter, the 2008 New Yorker cover that sent the Obamaites into hysterics (it showed the Obamas dressed as radicals) was also a good cover. I am not sure what standards people are bringing to the conversation when they write (as they have) that the Newsweek cover is beyond the pale, unacceptable, and evidence of incompetence.

No, the evidence of Tina Brown's Newsweek incompetence was her absolutely reprehensible defense and promotion of a recent Newsweek cover story by Niall Ferguson, a story that has been ripped to shreds over its blatant (and easily disproved) lies.

Newsweek is not what it used to be. It is a Tina Brown vehicle, with all the good and bad that implies. But not everything she does that is provocative and controversial is bad. One of the silliest complaints I've read lately is that Brown's covers and other efforts are designed to get people talking about the magazine. Well, duh; that is what covers are supposed to do. Get people to talk about the magazine, get people to therefore read the magazine, sell more copies, feed more people to advertisers. You might not like that business model, but Brown didn't invent it.

There is some political ideology at work here. Leftwing critics have no problem making sweeping statements about the Muslim world when it supports their viewpoints; see any number of "Why they hate us" arguments against American policy in the Middle East or other justifications for anti-U.S. or anti-Israeli actions among radicals in the Middle East. But Ali brings up very disturbing claims that the Islamist fringe isn't as small as liberals like to think it is, and if you think about how the body of non-radical American Christian conservatives occasionally helps or is silent about the violence and hate-mongering of the Christian nationalist fringe in this country, then her argument at least deserves a hearing. Newsweek provided it; snarkers attacked it.

As someone who has produced magazines with cover images or content that sparked unjustified criticism and insult to me and my staff, all I can say is that critics should focus their criticism on what Newsweek is really doing wrong, not on imagined outrages. They will still be plenty busy, I assure you.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Everywhere Signs

If you can't read the yellow sign on the propped-open door, don't feel bad; perhaps the store employees couldn't read it, either.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jonah Lehrer Reminds Us of Something Important

Wired magazine announces that it, too, is ending its relationship with science writer Jonah Lehrer, who has been undergoing a public humiliation as his New Yorker and other writing gigs have been found to be rife with re-used or even made-up information.

The final paragraph of Huffington Post's article is significant, because it points out the importance of the often-underappreciated work of editing and review. It quotes a media scholar:
Lehrer's transgressions are inexcusable—but I can't help but think that the industry he (and I) work for share some of the blame for his failure. I'm 10 years older than Lehrer, and unlike him, my contemporaries and I had all of our work scrutinized by layers upon layers of editors, top editors, copy editors, fact checkers and even (heaven help us!) subeditors before a single word got published
It's worth noting that Newsweek magazine was publicly shamed when its recent cover story on the election was found to be rife with errors and it admitted that it does not fact check its articles. The magazine even offered the lame excuse that the writer, conservative Niall Ferguson, was writing opinion, as if that means they're not responsible for determining if the charges – presented as fact – in his opinion piece are truth, errors, or lies.

Editing still matters. Editorial review, research, argument, and contemplation still matter. Speed and opinion should not be the highest goals for media.