Friday, March 14, 2008
Wow, what a surprise to arrive here earlier after being awake for 24 hours of travel to find the kind of battle occurring in the comments of the prior post. I went and deleted the one obscene, completely ridiculous remark and then I wrote a response that Blogger didn't seem to post. That was frustrating, but Miles wouldn't let me rewrite it before we had a "brief" nap which became, well, all day.
I'll try to keep this brief, but I do need to answer remarks made here:
* Re: Steve Sebelius' comment about media criticism in Vegas from the last post: I stand partly corrected and will take his word for it on the points he makes about ad revenues and the history of Matt O'Brien's media column. But it still remains a loss to the community that there is no journalist in this city dedicated to media commentary the way other major cities have the likes of Michael Miner or Howard Kurtz. And it still is left to the Internet to be the more independent voices observing the press rather than the editor of a paper owned by the city's largest newspaper. As hard as Steve works, he is still a top official involved in one of these companies. It's very difficult for him to be seen as truly independent even as he genuinely strives to be.
* My alleged bias against the Sun. Take a good look at this blog. Take a look at all the entries related to the Las Vegas Sun. Here, I'll help you since you wish to make uninformed comments without any backup. The vast majority of the time, I have great praise for the Sun. My time at the R-J taints me? Why would anything else you have to say be credible when my public record on this is so easy to access and so obviously not as you present it?
* The NYT piece in CityCenter. Yes, I spoke to several public arts experts, including Jack Bender, publisher of the Public Art Review and executive director of Forecast Public Art, as well as Richard Lynch of Americans for the Arts, the leading public-art non-profit. And there were others. But sometimes in journalism we interview lots of people we don't get to quote because (a) there's not enough space and (b) all the experts said pretty much the same thing. And what they said was (a) the MGM project was genuinely impressive in its ambition and scale and (b) it was most certainly public art in the sense that it will exist in spaces that are publicly available to anyone. In fact, that's one reason they're not putting any of it in the CityCenter casino; children can't go there. What's considered "public" is a bit different in Vegas than elsewhere; ordinary people know they can tramp through fancy lobbies and casinos and never feel out of place even if they don't spend a dime because it is customary here for people to do so. I've tried this in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong and was asked by some attendant whether I had a reservation. It's a different world. Furthermore, we journalists do strive for balance. That's why I called on the art critic Joan Altabe of the Robb Report. She was the most virulently anti-Vegas-for-art in 2002 when I wrote about a Faberge exhibit at the Bellagio and, later, a Monet exhibit. And yet SHE said she was "dazzled" by the CityCenter effort and couldn't wait to come see it. So that felt like an art-world consensus to me that this was a credible and possible game-changing public art effort. That quote, too, was trimmed for space.
* My alleged Vegas-is-tacky posture: See my current Las Vegas Weekly column. I'm the guy in the mainstream media that is very, very quick to take note of unnecessary anti-Vegas bias and inaccuracy. The set-up of the NYT piece on public art actually came directly out of my interview with Maya Lin and two other artists. They were terribly amused by the idea that they would be the least likely Vegas headliners. It's not anti-Vegas bias to note what the world expects of Vegas -- and I wonder who thought Sinatra was tacky anyhow!?! -- and toy with that.
* Re: Cliched anti-USAT bias: So it's wrong to point out Vegas' traditional history but it's OK to insult hundreds of journalists whose newspaper has vastly improved since, uh, the 1980s? I write longer pieces for USA Today nowadays than I do for the NYT. I am very proud of the pieces I did from China for USAT. The experience of crawling around a country where the press are brutally mistreated with a minimal grip on the language, relying on a network of friends and translators, and being able to turn around textured, lengthy pieces with sourcing from both China and the West (which meant working all night for days sometimes to reach those sources) was a great challenge and a terrific learning opportunity. The USAT staff nowadays is made up of Nieman fellows and Pulitzer winners. To insult its quality because of a 25-year-old reputation is like, well, calling Vegas tacky based in Excalibur.
* A 535-word correction is seriously newsworthy. It is the media's equivalent of a politician being shown to have or having admitted to have exhibited significant incompetence. The media doesn't just shrug when that happens and say, "Oh, OK. Carry on. Thanks for letting us know." Have there been longer? Sure, no doubt. But not that I know of here in Vegas, where I work and observe. And evidently the industry's trade publication, E&P, also saw it as news, which is saying something. And what's more, a newspaper that demands responses from its sources amid controversy has show it does not feel it ought to comment -- even to give a courteous no comment -- amid one of its own. That's hypocrisy, see. And there are many, many questions the public should be asking about the quality of its newspaper and the integrity of its editors in these circumstances. That's not personal any more than any other journalist gets personal covers any other controversy. It's what we do. But we don't often take the time to explain our methods, point out or own worst moments or respond to our readers as I've done here. And, ironically, it is THAT effort that has made people who wish to see a personal vendetta here when, in fact, I have a history prior to this of recommending Joe Schoenmann to editors of major newspapers.
* Back to that Sun bias thing. JeffinOKC is close when he says I make 20 percent of my income from the work I do for two Greenspun publications. It's more like 15 percent. Not a small sum. Which tells you something. I've followed through on this coverage despite knowing that it's vaguely possible that someone could get ticked off and I could lose that important revenue stream. But I do it anyway because I believe it's important. At the very least, I have to believe Joe Schoenmann put more effort into balancing his stories and triple checking his facts knowing my readers and I are watching carefully, and that's good news for everyone -- including Joe. But when was the last time you, oh brave nasty anonymous blog poster, did something that could seriously jeopardize your livelihood just because you felt it was the right thing to do? Never, I'm sure.
* Other bloggers. It is true there are other Vegas bloggers who critique the media, but the generally do it from a serious political perspective. That's a valuable service, but it's not the same as media criticism from a respected journalist with a journalism degree and a lifetime of newsroom experience. Debate that all you want; I stand by my record any day. And other prominent media critics around the country have emailed in recent days to let me know that being accused of being an egomaniac is standard fare for the task.
* Speaking of anonymous blog posts: Some have asked privately why I don't limit this blog's posting abilities. I don't want to do that at this time. The debate is generally healthy, except when it veers into truly offensive language such as what I deleted. I hope nobody thought I was limiting debate by deleting that one notice. It just didn't have any point to it. Well, it showed that whoever was badgering my old editor couldn't win on the merits of a real conversation so he/she went off the wall. But still, it was ugly and unnecessary. I may deputize a friend to delete posts that cross that line while I'm unavailable. Will decide later.
On to dinner in Zurich. Then a little Xanax to readjust the old body clock. Photos coming later!