Monday, July 23, 2012

News value factors

When I went to highschool (Gymnasium in Germany) and through the first couple of semesters at the university I was planning to become a journalist. Writing for a living seemed to be a good idea even at that time. Things went another way, but that is a different story.

Back at school when I was old enough for a driver's licence and had my first car I wanted to spread my wings and get some first
writing pratice. I started with a weekend job at the local newspaper. That sounds much more exciting than it was, but I learned a lot about how to breed carrier pigeons (YIKES) and bunnies.
Thankfully I had a great senior editor who was after 20+ years in the job still motivated enough to teach me the basics of journalism. As part of this he told me about news value factors - something I heard later again in my lectures when I studied communication science.

Here is a pretty good list of the most important
news value factors:
  • Impact: The significance, importance, or consequence of an event or trend; the greater the consequence, and the larger the number of people for whom an event is important the greater the newsworthiness.
  • Timeliness: The more recent, the more newsworthy. In some cases, timeliness is relative. An event may have occurred in the past but only have been learned about recently.
  • Prominence: Occurrences featuring well-know individuals or institutions are newsworthy. Well-knownness may spring either from the power the person or institution possess – the president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives – or from celebrity – the late Princess Diana or fashion designer Gianni Versace.
  • Proximity: Closeness of the occurrence to the audience may be gauged either geographically – close by events, all other things being equal, are more important than distant ones – or in terms of the assumed values, interest and expectations of the news audience.
  • The Bizarre: The unusual, unorthodox, or unexpected attracts attention. Boxer Mike Tyson’s disqualification for biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear moves the story from the sports pages and the end of a newscast tot he front pages and the top of the newscast.
  • Conflict: Controversy and open clashes are newsworthy, inviting attention on their own, almost regardless of what the conflict is over. Conflict reveals underlying causes of disagreement between individuals and institutions in a society.
  • Currency: Occasionally something becomes an idea whose time has come. The matter assumes a life of its own, and for a time assumes momentum in news reportage.
  • Human Interest: Those stories that have more of an entertainment factor versus any of the above - not that some of the other news values cannot have an entertainment value.
If you think about the shooting at "The Dark Knight Rises" premiere in Aurora, Colorado, a few days ago most of the above factors apply, which is why it is such a big deal all over the planet.

Tonight I would like to focus on only one of those factors -
proximity. It is listed here somewhat in the middle, but I think it should be rated higher.  It is the reason why the local weather and traffic forecast makes the news more prominently than exploding nuclear power plants in a Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster of apocalyptic dimension. 

I was and still am quite shaken by the event in Aurora, because the
proximity factor is particulary strong for me for a couple of reasons.
  • I love going to the movies and I have a guilty pleasure crush on well produced super hero movies. Just in the last couple of weeks I enjoyed "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spiderman" a lot. And of course I am huge fan of Christopher Nolan's Batman. Especially "The Dark Knight" is a masterpiece and I could not be more excited for "The Dark Knight Rises". I have tickets for the first official night the movie is out here in Germany and it makes me incredibly sad that the innocent joy of watching a magnificet movie is overshadowed by the death and injury of people, who just wanted to do the same - escaping the reality to the world of fantasy for 3 hours.
  • Pittsburgh is Gotham - many important scenes in this movie were filmed in Pittsburgh. Alone the trailer with tiny parts of the mindblowing (I am sure they are) 5th Avenue and Heinz Field scenes give me goosebumps big time. Everybody who is in any way related to the city is excited and proud and in serious Batman fever. It's beautiful and so much fun ... or better - it was. It is not gone, because we all clench our teeth together and do not want to give this single guy, who is obviously out of his mind, the power to ruin it,  but of course - people died and got hurt. It's not the same anymore and it can't be. That makes me sad and very, very, very ANGRY.
  • The victims - lots of the victims were my age or younger. People who at least partially liked the same things like I do and in some aspects lived similar lifes. Like Jennifer - one of those who lost their lifes.
    She loved Twitter like I do, but we were not connected although that could have been easily the case. She not only worked on her career as a journalist like I did when I was her age, but was a glowing hockey fan. She loved the sport, worked for a hockey website and was on her way up the ladder because she combined profound knowledge with talent and passion. The NHL fan family lost a great hockey girl and speaking of proximity that is a pretty close by heeling-in ground.
Jennifer also made the news because she escaped only weeks ago another shooting in a mall in Toronto - as random and senseless as the one in Aurora - and wrote a very intense blog post about it. How likely is it to be in two shootings in two totally different places like a mall in Toronto and a cinema in Colorado only weeks apart from each other? The likeliness is obviously not zero. But it shows that when our time has come nothing can change it and nobody can promise that the end is not waiting around the next corner. It is a survival strategy of the human race to ignore this fact most of the time and there is nothing bad about it. But it's also worth to stop from time to time to remember how fragile our existence in this dimension is and to make sure that we do not let our dreams get out of sight and do not forget to tell the people we love that we do so. 

Of course the Aurora rampage brought also back the wearisome discussion if movies, games, music and books (yes, books as well) can be dangerous and cause acts of senseless violence like this - especially since the murderer here claims to be "The Joker" (I am kind of glad that the late Heath Ledger does not have to witness this).
I will say it now and I will say it again in the sad case that something similar happens again:
Not the movies, the games, the music or the books make somebody a killer. A sick soul, un- or wrongly treated mental illness, delusions, the inability to seperate reality from fiction
the disturbing loss of human values make a spree killer. This is no excuse. It can't be. It is just the awareness of the rootcauses because this is our only chance to try to prevent events like this a little bit better. 

George Takei found the right words to comment the tragedy and I would like to quote him to close this post:

"Many victims of today's tragedy were fans of science fiction / fantasy. They stood in line to be the first to see, to be inspired and to escape. As a community of dreamers, we mourn this terrible tragedy and the senseless taking of innocent life." 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My books in June 2012

Göran Fiedler - Baseball für Fußballfans (Baseball for soccer fans)


Tonight (in my timezone) the Bucs face the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in a tied series for the 3rd game. Milwaukee is also the hometown of the German expat and author of this book, Göran Fiedler, and who knows ... maybe he'll be even in the ballpark? It really could be and that makes today the perfect day to review his fine little book. 

You remember maybe how I mentioned before the epic fail of "Baseball for Dummies" which I bought and tried to read, because I wanted to know more about baseball than "When The Cutch hits the ball and it flies out of the ballpark, it's a good thing".  I wanted to get behind the mysterious numbers and blinking lights on the TV screen and learn to enjoy the game and not only fresh fried corndogs or the garlic fries at the west coast (so funny - the whole area around the ballbark smells like garlic at a game day in San Francisco). 

BUT ... as motivated as I was ... I could not wrap my brain around "Baseball for Dummies" - All the time big question marks popped up above my head and I was all "What? Why?  Who does what now .. when?" It was worse than ever and I gave up. I was stuck on a very beginner level and far away from understanding the game really. My lovely friends told me to forget about reading books and recommended just to go with them to the ballpark when I am in Pittsburgh next time (Playoffs - yes, I believe!) and watch the one or the other  game on TV / internet inbetween.  

Then by randomly looking around on Amazon I ran into a little book called "Baseball für Fußballfans" ("Baseball for soccer fans") and I thought  "That might work out."  I mean ... when I tried the other book I felt like a Indian cricket player trying to learn about soccer with wrapping his brain around the offside rule as first thing - impossible. But if somebody would approach baseball from an European perspective, I might have a chance?

I can happily announce: IT WORKED!  Perspective obviously does matter and baseball explained by a fellow German, who grew up with soccer just like me (and anybody else here), is suddenly not that complicated anymore. The book is really small and of course does not deep dive into all the special rules and exceptions, but it explains the basics fast, simple and easy.  And suddenly all the stuff that looked like weird rituals to me, all the funky terms, mystical numbers and strange moves make SO MUCH SENSE

I feel a little bit like I learned a new language over night and now watching a game is actually FUN. I can appericate that AJ Burnett throwing ball after ball and NOTHING happening is a big deal. I get why Neil Walker's hitting streak is pretty amazing although he does not bat spectuclar homeruns like Andrew McCutchen all the time.

Thank you Göran Fiedler for making the summertime fun and me feeling comfortable on the Pirates bandwagon! Let's go Bucs!

PS: Pssssst .... .you guys ... is it October yet? No? DAMN!  Because ... baseball is fine, but .... I LOVE HOCKEY! Let's go Pens!

The Bucs lost the game and with the game the series. Sad but no catastrophe. I just hope they find their rhythm soon again for the 2nd half of the season. 

Franklin Toker - Buildings of Pittsburgh


This is the first one of a couple of Pittsburgh books I will read and review over the next couple of weeks / months. It's not that I'm not interested in anything else anymore - I am and after the book I am currently reading I desperatly need a novel again -, but I'm working on a bigger Pittsburgh project (more about this at a later point) together with Gabrijela and in preperation for this I need to dive  a bit deeper and learn more about my favorite city and espcieally its architecture.

Franklin Toker is the knowledgable author of several books about architecture in Western Pennsylvania - some especially focussed on Pittsburgh. The "Buildings of Pittsburgh" starts at the Point and really goes building by building (a for downtown that can be taken literally) out into the neighborhoods and close by communities providing short descriptions and facts about every listed structure. 

It's very, very interesting, but not the type of book you just read from the first to the last page. It's more a book you carry around in your bag while walking Pittsburgh ready to ge it out when you need some background information that goes beyond what regular travel books have to offer.

Nevertheless I learned a lot by flipping through the book like the fact that our beloved 16th Street Bridge was designed by the same architects like the Grand Central Terminal in New York. I also realized that I really spent not enough time downtown this spring and did ignore successfuly some great places in our residential hood (Lawernceville), but the good thing about buildings is that they usually do not run away and I can check back next time.

Speaking of buildings going away or not:  I so hope the Produce Terminal in the Strip Disctrict will survive the Allegheny waterfrond development unharmed. The magic of The Strip is a fragile thing and the terminal is an essential part of it. I would really welcome any development idea for the building instead of tearing it down (partially) like for example making the parts that are not commercially used to a community center for the old residents and the new who will live at the waterfrond. We'll see what happens ...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

When things just go together

One of the things I really like is when people, places, stuff ... whatever ... I love come together in an unexpected, unorthodox way - and this is a perfect example:

A few days ago - on July 3rd - my favorite playwright, Tom Stoppard, celebrated his 75th birthday and my friend sent me over Facebook a fantastic list of 15 Stoppard quotes that Flavorwire put together in his honor.
Although I loved the list I consider it as significantly incomplete since lots of my favorite quotes especially from the wonderful "Arcadia" and "Indian Ink" are missing, but 15 quotes are not enough for such a great writer anyway. 

One of the quotes on the list put a big smile on my face. It is there taken out of context and I could not stop myself to just put it into a new one. It was too obvious to resist ;)

“Pirates could happen to anyone.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

True story, folks, true story. Today they happened to the San Francisco Giants!

© Pittsburgh Pirates

PS: I still like the San Francisco Giants. I hope they start winning again when they are back on their side of the country. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Infernal Comedy

A couple of months ago I ran into the news that John Malkovich would come to Munich to perform  in "The Infernal Comedy - Confessions of a Serial Killer" - a play based on a true story combining classical music and theater. I had not to think twice about getting a ticket and with getting a ticket I mean spending quite a lot of money for an excellent seat in the house. And I wasn't the only one - the philharmonic hall was sold out.  

The Gasteig filling up fast for "The Infernal Comedy"

Before I share my impressions let me give you some background information about "The Infernal Comedy"

The story is based on the real case of the Austrian serial killer Johann "Jack" Unterweger. The first time Unterweger went to prison for homocide already in 1976. The son of an Austrian and an unkown US soldier had at that time already a long list of brutal crimes on his CV.

Being in prison Unterweger started writing - and had a lot of success. The "prison poet" became the darling of the Austrian cultural scene and many celebrities insisted that he should be released early to get the chance to live a new life. Out of prison (1990) he became a society star and continued to work as a writer and journalist. When some prostitutes were found dead in the Vienna red light district Unterweger even talked to the police as "specialist" for the case. Behind the scenes the investigation against him had started already because the cases of homocide were very similar to what he had done in the 70ies. When he went to LA -  leaving a trace of dead, strangeled prositutes on his route even in the USA - it was clear that the prison poet was no celebrity darling but a serial killer. In 1992 he was arrested and handed over to the Austrian police. During his trial Unterweger kept pleading innocent.
Jack Unterweger finally commited suicide in prison. He strangeled himself hanging using the same knot that was used to strangle the victims. 

And here we are ... in
Jack Unterweger's after life. The dead killer appears to now finally reveal the truth about his numerous crimes reading from his posthumous memoirs. John Malkovich enters the stage and he is Jack Unterweger teasingly melting fiction with reality. 

He is flirting with the audience, handing his jacket to a lady in the front row who keeps it until he picks it up again at the end. He walks around leaving the stage asking people questions and keeps referring to actual news or the schedule of this real tour of "The Infernal Comedy" (in his context it is of course not a play but a reading session of his memoirs). He also talks to the Orchester Wiener Akademie and the two soprano singers that accompany him telling his story in spoken words, music and arias.
John Malkovich is all what you would expect him to be - smart, funny, itense, terrifying and charming. It's a great performance I enjoy a lot. 

© Olga Martschitsch

When it comes to classical music, I have to admit that I do not really listen to it at home. I am too much of a rock person and love me some guitar, when I want to relax. But I love classical music in concert - live in a hall with a great accoustic. Then it is absolutely wonderful, deeply moving and inspiring. And so I enjoyed the Orchester Wiener Akademie conducted by Martin Hasselböck, who together with Birgit Hutter developed the idea for "The Infernal Comedy".

And now comes the confession of the philistine: I hate it when acting and singing come together ... in general from musical to operetta to opera - through all types of music - live, in movies and on CD. It just does not go together for me.
 "The Infernal Comedy" , which includes arias by Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Weber and Haydn, does not really make an exception. I would not have minded some acting / singing, but it was definitely too much for me although the both soprano singers, Kirsten Blaise and Bernada Bobro, were great. Especially Kirsten Blaise, who "died" a couple of times on stage, played her roles with lots of drama but also a great sense of humor that fit perfectly John Malkovich's performance.
From the musical perspective I definitely liked Bernada Bobro more because her voice sounded warmer to me, but when it comes to stage presence Kirsten Blaise definitely "rocked the house".

As difficult it is to me to listen to arias in the midth of a play it did not miss the effect. If you listen to the lyrics - all the enormous emotions of love and sorrow - you wonder in what a stupid time we live. While we are already afraid to get rejected and ridiculed when we have the guts to tell somebody "I really like you." these songs are all about immortal love - and it is not silly at all. 

I am not saying that we should all live a life that resembles an 18th century drama, but probably we should hide a bit less behind our coolness. 

PS: All pictures are from the press toolkit of "The Infernal Comedy" and include the names of the photographers. The picture of the Gasteig Philharmonic Hall is my own.