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Aug. 2 2010 — 11:19 am | 94 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

Out Of Time

My time here has come to an end. Actually, it did so two days ago, but I didn’t have the time at the moment to put up a proper farewell post. I wanted to say something fitting, not rush out a jumble of words in the spaces between fleeting moments of time — between re-wiring the lights in my garage, eating breakfast with my four-year-old son, or in the midst of an increasingly rare lazy afternoon with my wife.

To see True/Slant vanish into the ether of the Internet is a shame. And I would be fooling myself if I said that I won’t miss the thriving and intelligent online destination it had become. The people that I met here — both contributors and commentors — reminded me, on a regular basis, that people are surprising and insightful. These are details I often overlook given my rather cynical worldview. But sadly, all things end, especially in publishing.

For those interested in keeping up with me, please visit my website over at Annals of Americus. I welcome your comments and continued discussion. Annals has been up and running since January, and is filled with a catalog of writings — from personal essays and daily notes, to commentary and reporting. The site is updated daily. Last week I launched an email newsletter through the site (view it here). Please feel free to sign up if you’d like to receive updates. Also, you can follow me on Twitter or add me as a friend on Facebook. And starting this week, I begin my tenure at Thought Catalog. So please stay tuned.

Thanks to Coates Bateman, Michael Roston, Andrea Spiegel, Kashmir Hill, and Chloe Angyal for all of their help this past year. I joined True/Slant in May of 2009 (brought on by Kash), and the experience has been, by far, one of the most positive I’ve had as a writer. Best wishes to all.

Jul. 30 2010 — 10:45 am | 841 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Journalism 101: Would You Publish This Photo?

‘The Pierced Boy,’ click to enlarge. (Photo: San Jose Mercury News)

With all of True/Slant saying farewell, it feels lonely posting anything at all today. But before I sign off, there’s one last thing I’d like to share, a photograph I stumbled across several months back while paging through one of my old journalism textbooks. Looking at the image triggers flashbacks to my Journo 101 class in the basement of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, where during one of our exercises our professor showed us shocking images and asked us to decide what was newsworthy and what was sensational. We were shown countless photographs that day. But only one remains seared into my memory, this shot from the San Jose Mercury News. Here’s what the caption read:

Some editors who ran this photograph thought the image taught a lesson in a way words could not: This is what can happen when a youth tries to climb a six-foot fence with spikes on top. Twenty-six percent of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News journalists said they would publish the photo, and 23 percent of their readers agreed. (The boy survived the piercing.)

This image of The Pierced Boy mesmerized me when I first saw it — just as the Faces of Death videos once did as a teenager. The photo is raw and unfiltered in its honesty. And if you’ve ever severely injured yourself, it probably conjures that moment of panic you experienced just as you realized what was happening. But what purpose does it serve the public in publishing it? I wondered this when seeing the image again for the first time in over 10 years, and asked a couple editors from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette what they thought.

“I would probably not publish this photo,” said Andy Starnes, photo editor at the paper. “I don’t really think there is much to be learned from it and find that reason somewhat self-serving. I think most people would be disturbed by the image and while not believing in censorship per se, I find little to be gained from running it.”

When I then corresponded with John Allison, an associate editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we talked more about ethics in photojournalism.

“My hunch is that the ethics for photojournalism have not changed much from 10 years ago in terms of the publishing of images that are shocking or possibly distasteful,” Allison told me by email. “At least for the sober, mainstream press — and I think that our impulse is to remain or even become more ‘decent’ — rather than try to compete with TMZ or Web sites with wild images, we are the solid, sensible oasis.”

Allison’s final words there, the notion that stalwart local newspapers often remain the “the solid, sensible oasis” says something about the business of news in general. There are still readers, hundreds of thousands I assume, who still view their local newspaper (whether in print or electronic format) as a valuable community resource. With cynicism so pervasive among today’s media analysis, I think it’s easy to forget that people do in fact rely on the service we all provide.

So, before I go, I wonder what your take is on The Pierced Boy: Would you publish this photograph?

Jul. 29 2010 — 11:31 pm | 690 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

‘Borderland’ Personalizes Immigration Reform, Border Security

With True/Slant in its final days, I’ve decided to forego the sentimental (at least for now), and share a few more pieces with readers before the lights are turned off. Of the dozens of would-be posts in my publishing queue (and there are many), I’ve been wanting to post this short film, called Borderland, for weeks now.

With the drama coming to a head this week in Arizona over the attempted passage of SB1070 (careful, that’s a PDF), the bill that proposes a crackdown on illegal immigration, a film like this is more timely than ever. In Borderland, filmmakers Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari (California is a Place) take a nuanced look at border security and illegal immigration from two very personal perspectives:

Dick is right. “Every American should see this.” It is real and it is striking. In some places it stands 18 feet tall and looks like the gates of Mordor. In other places, it is barely 10 feet tall and looks like it was put together with a stapler. It runs from the Colorado River directly into the Pacific. It is big, intense and intimidating. And it is unfinished. Gaping holes are everywhere. Physically it’s confusing. Politically it’s puzzling. Ideologically it’s complicated. But for Dick and Ron, who both live within a few miles of the border, defending it is simply a matter of protecting themselves and preserving their own beliefs. Drug smugglers don’t come to the United States to make an honest living. As the recent killing of Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas shows, the border is more than a moral line in the sand. The fence is real. We recommend a visit. (via California is a Place)

Watching this film made me feel closer to the issue than any of the television coverage, or the endless ranting blog posts. Hope it helps lend some shred of insight on what’s become a severely divisive issue.

Jul. 29 2010 — 9:51 am | 567 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Corporate Takeover: The Inherent Distrust of Subsidized Creativity

"Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives," Blake says.

In the film Glengarry Glenn Ross, the character of Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, utters an oft-quoted line following the famous ’steak knives’ scene: “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” In the context of the film, Blake repeats this mantra so as to burn it into the minds of his underperforming sales force, reminding them that their failure to sell condos and time shares will only result in termination. It’s not so much a morale booster as it is a warning to those lacking the killer instinct required in sales. But on a grander scale, Blake is talking about selling — no matter the product, no matter the price.

I was reminded of this scene while watching a new ad campaign for Coke’s energy drink, called Burn (see video below). It’s a dilemma I think about often, the fact that so much of today’s creative output is subsidized by corporate dollars, and the blurry ethical line this infusion of cash can create among those tasked to produce the work — art directors, graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, animators, etc. continue »

Jul. 28 2010 — 11:24 pm | 328 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Five Years of Graffiti in Two Minutes

[Video by Arnaud Jordain]

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    About Me

    I am a writer, editor, and blogger who lives and works in the once-decaying heart of America's Rust Belt (i.e. Pittsburgh, PA). My work focuses on subculture, crime, mental health, race, class, and creativity.

    My writing appears in Spin, Good, XLR8R, Next American City, RaceWire, and Swindle, among other print and online publications. I have reported on the decline of sampling in hip-hop; interviewed artists and musicians who survived Cambodia’s killing fields; investigated the struggles of U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; and shadowed graffiti writers, coaxing candid confessions about their obsession with illegal art.

    If you have story ideas or tips, please email me at mr.newton@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at newtonmatthew. And I've recently launched a companion site to my blog here at True/Slant. You can check it out here.

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