Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Publishers, Heal Thyselves

May 6, 2010 by  


Seven Suggestions for Newspapers

I’m on the road. On May 3rd I gave a talk at Wright State University. I showed my political cartoons, excerpts from graphic novels past and future, and something new I’ve been working on the last couple of years: two-minute-long animations for the Web.

But no one wanted to talk about comics. The first audience question was: “How can we save newspapers?”

That happens a lot nowadays. Never mind cartoons; people want to save the papers the cartoons run in (and, increasingly, used to run in). The Q&A session following my April 28th appearance at Philadelphia’s Pen and Pencil Club was dominated by the same “are papers doomed?” question. The thing is, the Pen and Pencil is the oldest press club in America. The audience included reporters and editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. I should have been asking them about the future of media. Then again, their minds were preoccupied. Both papers had just been sold to a new owner no one knew much about.

This newspapers-in-trouble thing is weird. Tens of millions of Americans still want them enough to pay for them. Yet circulation and revenues keep plunging. Normally, when demand exists for a product, it is possible to sell it at a profit. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that poor management is at least partly to blame for the industry’s problems.

I tell my audiences: If I knew the answer to saving the newspaper business, I wouldn’t be talking to them. I’d be hanging out with Rupert and the other press barons, billing them millions for my sage advice. I certainly wouldn’t be watching my income plunge as my workload expands.

I don’t have answers. But I do have thoughts.

Here they are:

Embrace The New Yorker Theory. I hate The New Yorker. I hate its tone, I hate its attitude, I even hate its font. I can’t stand the cartoons. But I read the magazine anyway. Not because I’m a masochist. Because I live in New York, I’m a media person, and if I don’t read The New Yorker I’ll look stupid at parties. When you’re competing for reader dollars against millions of websites and thousands of publications, you need to become like The New Yorker: so essential that people will buy your product, not because they like it, but because they have to.

Assume smart readers. Editors think readers are dumb. They say so in private. And they make it clear by what they’re doing to newspapers: shorter stories, less coverage of international news, obsessive celebrity gossip, bland opinion pages, boring features. But editors are wrong. Anyone who seeks out and pays for a newspaper in 2010 is curious and intelligent by definition. Newspaper buyers are looking for challenging, deep analysis, not newsbytes that mimic the Internet (which they get for free anyway). Unfortunately, they’re not finding it. Which brings us to…

More analysis, less news. The evening newspaper and network TV nightly news are dinosaurs. Whether you read it online, on your iPhone, or heard it on the radio or from a coworker, by the time you get home from work you already know about the coup in Kyrgyzstan and who won the game. What you need now is someone to tell what it all means. Who is the new Kyrgyz president? How will the coup affect the war on terror? How do the playoffs look now?

With one exception, newspapers should stop trying to break news. They shouldn’t even summarize it. Papers can’t compete with online news sites. They should publish a daily version of what Time or Newsweek could be if they weren’t lame: lengthy analyses, complete with colorful charts and graphs, along with opinions all across the political spectrum.

In a way, this is the hardest advice for papers to follow. They’re set up to break stories and to confirm other outlets’ stories. For a forward-looking paper, out-of-work magazine feature writers might be a better fit than retooling someone who has been working the city hall beat.

The exception? Investigative journalism. Few online sites have the money or time to invest in unmasking the mayor as the corrupt bastard we all know he is. When written well, an exposé can be as riveting as a Robert Ludlum novel.

Stop sucking. Newspaper circulation began falling decades before anyone heard of HTML. The reason is simple: they got boring. Compare today’s paper with an issue from the 1940s, when the industry was at the top of its game. The differences are striking: lively prose, nice mix of high (in-depth analysis) and low (tons of comics and columns). Indian newspapers, still growing as the Web spreads in that country, even deploy cartoonists to illustrate news, thus jazzing up what would otherwise be merely another car crash story. Internet news and opinion sites have learned that people prefer brash, edgy and opinionated to bland and “safe.” (Actually, “safe” is dangerous. It’s a recipe for bankruptcy.)

Stop giving it away. It ought to go without saying that giving away content for free online was an obviously stupid idea when newspapers started it a decade ago. Inexplicably, they’re still at it. Stop it, idiots!

Charge more. As Peter Osnos writes in The Atlantic, the English-language paper Americans buy overseas offers a model for the future: when advertising dries up, charge readers more. “There is relatively little advertising in the [International Herald-Tribune], even less of course than before the crash. But there has never been all that much advertising. The key to revenue is a high cover price,” Osnos says. “In Italy, the daily costs €2.50 (about $3.40), and prices elsewhere are comparable.” Sound like a lot? Cigarettes are ten bucks a pack in Manhattan. “A newspaper specifically shaped for an audience of ‘elite’ readers,” as Osnos describes the IHT, should be able to charge four bucks. “It is eighteen pages of quality news and analysis, with extensive business coverage and enough cultural and sports news to be comprehensive rather than overwhelming.”

Sit tight. The buzzword de l’année is “curate.” Americans, especially those older ones who spend long hours at work and with family, will become increasingly disillusioned with the spin and disinformation that passes for news online and on a thousand channels. Soon they will yearn for someone to figure out what’s important, package it into a digestible format, and deliver it to them—i.e., to “curate” the news. And they’ll pay.

Oh, how they’ll pay.

Of course, it might take 10 or 20 years for people to decide that they’d rather have their news spoon-fed to them than to sift through crap online. But what else do newspaper publishers and editors have to do?

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


Ted Rall

New Animated Editorial Cartoon

May 6, 2010 by  


ObamaCare is here! Now it’s time to find out what it’s all about, courtesy of a brand-new animated editorial cartoon by David Essman and yours truly!


Brooke Allen

GET YOUR LIMITED EDITION SIGNED COPIES HERE!

May 3, 2010 by  


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CLICK THE AD!

The kind people at Mars Import have a few limited edition signed copies complete with book plate:A-Home-for-Mr.Easter-Book-Plate


Brooke Allen

PROCESS PROCESS PROCESS

April 28, 2010 by  


DSCF3611It all begins here in the lab, getting cozy and scribbling equal parts jibberish and possible story plots… this is the most fragile part of the process for it often gets eclipsed by dance night, facebook lurking, and 18 hour naps but every once in a blue moon the stars align, self control conquers all and I start scripting …which looks like this:
process

This is the closest thing to a script that  A Home for Mr.Easter got ( which may explain a lot ).  It’s composed on posted notes and whatever little pieces of scrap paper were close at hand taped and nested in a 4×6 sketch book.  If you’re having trouble writing I find that this way always helps because its not as scary jotting down plot points on pieces of paper that might have ended up in the trash any way and they’re easy to move around, build onto, or just get rid of.

During this stage I tend to do what a lot of people do and script in thumbnail form, already start figuring out what the page layout is, how the frames will work together to create the pacing you want (which in this case was pretty fast ), and where dialogue and sound effects might go. In addition to these things I find it helpful to go ahead and sketch a few character designs or environments on the side whenever I get stuck… because as soon as you get stuck suddenly you remember your computer is right next to you and you could probably go update your facebook status from WORK NIGHT to I HATE WORK NIGHT  but then suddenly you get a message from your best friend ever that says GET DOWN TOWN NOW and instantly you obey….  and … um …where was I?

So after I get a pretty good idea of the rough outline I go to my OTHER sketch book filled with helpful little pages of graph paper and do my tight roughs (as seen below).  These are bigger more specific scribbles that are accompanied by dialogue… this is pretty much what my finished pencils look like later on 9×12 bristol… which would drive my teachers to murder.  But in all honesty tighter pencils will only help you out on inks in the long run. Lesson learned.

thumbnails_2 mr.easter_web


Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coulda, Shoulda, Wouldn’tve

April 27, 2010 by  


What Disasters Are We Creating Now?

No one could have known.

That’s what they always say after a disaster. Well, it’s what the establishment—a good ’60s word, let’s bring it back!—says. “No one could have known” is the perfect excuse. Don’t blame us, we did the best we could, but we’re not clairvoyant.

But it’s rarely true. Most of the time, the people in charge—the people responsible for what went wrong—were warned in advance. They simply chose to ignore the warnings.

Why? In the case of government officials and corporate executives, it’s typically because acting on such warnings would cost them money. Sometimes it’s because the man or woman who predicts the mayhem about to unfold doesn’t have the status, title or connections to make themselves heard.

Mostly it’s because scum rises to the top.

After hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff called the disaster “breathtaking in its surprise.”

“That ‘perfect storm’ of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody’s foresight,” Chertoff said.

It didn’t surprise everyone. “We certainly understood the potential impact of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane” on New Orleans, Lt. General Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said the same week.

I had attended a journalists’ convention in New Orleans a few years before that. Probably half the New Orleans residents I met asked me to write about the “big one” that was sure to devastate their city someday.

Except for those who later claimed that nobody could have known, everybody knew.

Harry Markopolos, a Boston financial analyst, has a book out (title: “No One Would Listen”) detailing the eight years he spent trying to convince the SEC to go after Bernard Madoff, who was responsible for the disappearance of $65 billion.

The financial collapse that began in the fall of 2008 was attributable to the burst of the housing bubble, fiscal shenanigans at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the longstanding practice of allowing investment banks to hire and fire rating agencies. Economists, corporate insiders, and journalists had repeatedly warned about these problems since at least 2004. They were ignored, even ridiculed by those who claimed a “new paradigm” was in effect in the U.S. economy.

From the lack of WMDs in Iraq (Scott Ritter knew) to the losing quagmire in Afghanistan (I knew) to the recent mine disaster in West Virginia (inspectors knew), nearly every calamity you can think of could have been avoided. All the idiots in charge had to do was listen to the smart people who weren’t.

Adam Cohen writes in The New York Times: “Predictions of disaster have always been ignored—that is why there is a Cassandra myth—but it is hard to think of a time when so many major warned-against calamities have occurred in such quick succession. The next time someone is inclined to hold hearings on a disaster, they should go beyond asking why particular warnings were ignored and ask why well-founded warnings are so often ignored.”

Cohen answers his own question, citing four causes for institutional resistance to doing the right/smart thing before it’s too late: ideology (reflexive thinking), change would threaten the powers-that-be, inertia, and incompetence.

No doubt, those factors all play a role. I’d like to add another: the fear to speak truth to power, which is intimately coupled with powers that tell truth to shut up.

In my long work history it was a rare workplace where management sought out new ideas, much less criticism. It was rarer still that a contrarian voice was rewarded, much less heeded. We see the same thing in politics. Those who speak up are smacked down.

All too often, bosses and officials are insecure. Worried more about losing face than doing a good job, they instinctively reject anyone and anything who threatens their prestige. Better to lose a war than to lose face.

The problem is systemic. As long as business schools crank out automatons and companies are willing to hire them, as long as voters reward the smarmiest and godliest over the straight-talkers, as long as playing it safe (i.e. boring) is valued more than taking chances, our society is going to keep screwing up. And it’ll all be perfectly avoidable.

Look around today. What are we being warned about? Which smart people are we ignoring? They’re everywhere. Let’s start with the economists who warn that the U.S. economy is at the end of its rope, that the federal government can’t keep increasing the deficit, that underpaying workers as the rich gets richer is a recipe for collapse and revolution.

For my money, the fact that we are ignoring the thousands of scientists who warn of rising floodwaters due to global warming, dust storms and mass famine due to excessive cultivation and overpopulation, and untold damage to our ecosystem as thousands of species go extinct, proves a terrible point: As a society, we are nearly as stupid as our bosses and public officials.

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


NBM

“That’s truly what LOVING DANGEROUSLY is…literature.”

April 23, 2010 by  


So says Ain’t It Cool News reviewing Ted Rall and Pablo Callejo’s Year of Loving Dangerously:

“When a book like LOVING DANGEROUSLY does come along, I have to read it twice because I am so taken aback by the fact honest-to-God literature is being produced in graphic novel format.

And that’s truly what LOVING DANGEROUSLY is…literature. Not only am I hooked in for the rest of this trilogy, but I’m intrigued to traverse Rall’s other titles to see how the temperance of age and the stark differences of today’s world would be viewed through his eyes.”


Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Tea Party: Why the Right Doesn’t Get It

April 22, 2010 by  


Larry Elder, a black conservative columnist and Tea Party speaker, has a piece out this week titled “Tea Party: Why the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

Setting aside the question of why any African-American would vote Republican (did any Jews vote for the Nazis?), Elder’s column unintentionally reveals the intellectual inconsistency of the Tea Party.

For liberals the Ur question about the Tea Party concerns the timing of its origin: February 2009. Where, they ask, were these self-declared deficit hawks when Bush and his Republican Congress turned Clinton’s budget surplus into record deficits? Where were these advocates of small government when Bush hired the biggest roster of federal employees in history and created a new federal department—the Department of Homeland Security—that became a national laughingstock due to its incompetence? Where were these Constitutional purists when Bush suspended habeas corpus, built concentration camps and signed off on torture?

“As to Bush’s non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending, [right-wing] people did complain—lots of them and frequently,” Elder points out.

And he’s right. There was grumbling. I remember.

But there weren’t anti-Bush rallies, much less scary guys showing up at presidential appearances brandishing automatic weapons. Under Bush, of course, said scary guys would have been declared “enemy combatants” and tortured into psychosis like Jose Padilla.

“Better late than never,” Elder lamely retorts.

Another right-wing columnist, Jonah Goldberg, goes so far as to call the Tea Party “a delayed Bush backlash.”

But 57 percent of Tea Partiers say they like Bush. Huh.

On most of the policies Tea Partiers claim to deplore—deficit spending, expansive government, the bank bailouts—Obama is identical to Bush. The only difference between the two men is the color of their skin. Which makes lefties think anti-Obama racism is the Tea Party’s true driving force.

As Paul Butler wrote in the New York Times: “No student of American history would be surprised to learn that when the United States elects its first non-white president, a strong anti-government movement rises up.”

“Slanderous hogwash,” Goldberg calls the charge that the Tea Party is motivated by racism.

If not racism, then what?

Stupidity. Or at least intellectual dishonesty.

Elder’s qualifier that righties didn’t like “Bush’s non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending” is revealing. Bush’s two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy will account for a staggering 70 percent of the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. (Obama’s bailouts will cost five percent.)

Either you’re against deficits, or you’re not. Making an exception for optional military spending—neither the Afghan nor the Iraq war was necessary—is like saying you adore sharks except for all the sharp teeth.

My leftie friends find the Tea Party frustrating. They applaud Tea Partiers’ distrust of government, their willingness to take to the streets to express their grievances. If only the Left had their energy!

Progressives also find much to like in Tea Partiers’ calls for a return to core values embodied by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But only in theory.

The Tea Party’s selective Chinese-menu style approach to constitutional purity and small government is appalling. They’re loud and proud when it comes to the right to own guns, yet oppose or remain silent when it comes to the right of gays to sleep with whomever they want-and marry him. They decry government intrusion in the form of healthcare reform, but have nothing to say about the fact that the NSA is listening to their phone calls and reading their email. They complain about illegal immigrants but not about the corporations that hire them. And what should be more terrifying to opponents of big guvmint than reserving the right—as Bush did and Obama does—to assassinate American citizens just for fun? (The Tea Party is silent on this too.)

If the Tea Party is to emerge as a potent force in American politics, it will need to develop a coherent platform with broad appeal across class, party and racial lines. An appeal to fiscal sanity, constitutional freedoms and a government that keeps out of our bedrooms could form the foundation of a new majority. Otherwise, the Tea Party will be remembered as the latest incarnation of the nativist white wing of the GOP (c.f. “angry white males” circa 1995).

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


NBM

The next big thing in indie comics

April 20, 2010 by  


That’s what Gutter Geek on The Comics Journal site says of Brooke Allen and her A Home for Mr. Easter:

“Allen is a pitch-perfect storyteller with total control over the page.  To call Allen’s art fluid would be like announcing that water is wet.
Imagine that Jack Kirby created Little Lotta for Harvey Comics in 1953, and she was a friendly, kind-hearted and always ready to use her tremendous strength for what she deemed as good.
Bravo to the folks at SCAD for nurturing this sequential force of nature, and kudos to NBM for recognizing a young talent like Brooke A. Allen and publishing her work. I think she may be the next big thing in indie comics.”

Woah! Tell us something we don’t know.

Another review:

Andrew Wheeler in his review blog Antick Musings (sorry, too lazy to type out the entire title of this blog):

“A Home for Mr. Easter is somewhat rough in spots, and its plot is mostly of the one-damn-thing-after-another school. But it has an undeniable electricity, from Allen’s energetic and appealing lines to her slangy, funny dialogue to that deeply weird plot that nevertheless comes across as utterly believable. It’s the story of one girl and her rabbit, and the vast hordes that try to stop them. It’s quick and funny and exciting and just plain good comics. I can’t wait to see what she does for Christmas!”


NBM

Comics Creators: as you consider the Harvey Awards noms

April 19, 2010 by  


… We ask you to keep in mind what we published in 2009, most particularly:

The Big Khan
The Year of Loving Dangerously
Famous Players
But also: Joe & Azat, Things Undone, the Dungeon series, Little Nothings, Mijeong, Vatican Hustle, Graylight. We had not much luck with the Eisners, maybe the Harveys? If you’re a comics creator, get your ballot to nominate. Deadline is this Friday!


NBM

On Odd Hours…

April 15, 2010 by  


“Liberge’s illustrations are very strong.  Detailed and moody, each page swirls with dark colors, and Liberge’s strong character work enables readers to immediately emphasize with Bastien and those around him.”
Newsarama

“One of the strangest yet most haunting novels I have been privileged to read.”

Grasping for the Wind

Adding another review (4/19) which appears on both Omnivoriacious And Shelfari:

“Perhaps the only thing standing between Liberge and true disbelief is his amazing artwork, which renders the museum and its contents in a dazzling light. Statuary and paintings that you may even have seen in the Louvre, which you may take for granted, become startlingly new due to Liberge’s approach.
I also applaud this willingness to look strange. This is a very dark series, and it speaks volumes that the Louvre’s trustees and administrators seem to revel in allowing others to create odd myths about the museum.”

Alas, though, many reviewers, such as Andrew Wheeler at Antick Musings or Capt. Comics at Scripps News, are not shining to Bastien, the main deaf character, because of his surly behavior. But the man does have a legitimate chip on his shoulder: living as a deaf person in a society that doesn’t understand him, and it is this rebel in him, not always likable, that makes him the right candidate for ‘hearing’ the works of art’s complaint, as it were…