Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Fark.com and the voice of reason
So I talked to Drew Curtis yesterday. Curtis is the mastermind behind Fark.com, the news aggregator site that posts -- and invites -- often humorous one-liners about stories.

Curtis has a new book out, "It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News" (Gotham Books), so with the Paris Hilton maelstrom still swirling around the news hole, it seemed like a good time to call.

Fark had a link to a Hilton Associated Press wire story yesterday on its lead "Not News" page -- the story, amusingly, came from the staid Forbes.com site -- but it wasn't the most-commented-on story. (That was the Chris Benoit tragedy.) That fits with what Curtis has come to expect from Fark -- that stories played up by the mass media (excuse me, Mass Media) aren't always the type of thing people are talking about.

But he pays tribute to Hilton for staying in the news -- which is not easy, even with 24/7 news channels and PerezHilton.com-type gossip sites. It takes work, he observes.

"It's very difficult to keep yourself newsy. You notice you don't hear anything about GoldenPalace.com anymore," he said, referring to the casino that made its name buying absurd items such as William Shatner's kidney stone.

"It's Not News, It's Fark" is a funny book, containing some of the site's greatest hits, but it's also a sharp and well-deserved criticism of the news media -- and life in a capitalistic, all-information, all-the-time world. "Because these types of stories draw eyeballs," he writes, referring to a genre of news he calls "Equal Time for Nutjobs," "bring in ad dollars, and fill space on slow news days, Mass Media can't bring itself to stop covering them."

He also offers some solutions in a strong final chapter, ideas that stand little chance of working in Web world where, as Curtis writes, "it's the fluff that brings the masses." Mass Media has to play up more serious news, he points out, but audiences also have to care.

But it's almost always been so -- take a look at 19th-century broadsheets or 1920s tabloids, for starters -- which is why he's considering a history of media for his next project. "People don't realize how far back this stuff goes," Curtis said.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Much ado about nothing
With news outlets and the paparazzi dutifully assembled outside of the L.A. County Correctional Facility in Lynwood, California, the unintentional queen of all media Paris Hilton made her grand exit in front of a live, international television audience early Tuesday morning.

If history so chooses to refer the socialite's exodus as a circus, then Hilton is the undisputed ringmaster -- leaving those of us in the media looking like clowns. Seriously.

I'm pretty sure Hilton is the only inmate that has ever been released from prison with such a spectacle. Sashaying down the walkway as if it were a red carpet, Hilton gave high-fives to the gathered crowd and ran into the arms of her mother, who gave her what would have been a heartwarming hug if she had bothered to actually get out of the SUV she was riding in.

No matter. The crowd ate it up. Photographers, both still and video, bum-rushed the vehicle to try and get a closer look.

For our part, both CNN and CNN International broadcast the big moment live.
More than 5 hours later, I'm still wondering exactly "why?"

Behind the scenes, the levels of coordination and consternation leading up to Hilton's release were on par with some of the bigger news events I've covered. In CNN's spartan Los Angeles bureau, our best-laid plans for wall-to-wall Hilton coverage were completely upended when a massive wildfire near Lake Tahoe forced us to move many of our resources to that area in order to report some actual news.

We've been reporting that Paris has been claiming that her experience in jail has changed her, that she wants to be a better person. Apparently, that doesn't include having the decency to just go away.

Meanwhile, Paris is enjoying a good night's sleep on some very high-thread count sheets. We're reporting that, too.
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