deadlines amuse me

exploring how the world works and why it works that way …

How my novel, mapping Utah, came to be — and what it taught me

with 2 comments

In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.

That didn’t go well.

So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.

Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.

That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.

As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.

In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.

Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.

But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.

Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.

“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”

He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
Read the rest of this entry »

A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

leave a comment »

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 23, 2017 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Ethics rules matter little to an authoritarian White House …

leave a comment »

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernmentA code of ethics defines behaviors. Many professions have such codes. For physicians, for example, the code of medical ethics of the American Medical Association prescribes how they should interact with patients. For many, if not most, journalists, the code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists dictates acceptable practices.

The executive branch of the American government also has a code of ethics and an office to oversee it. The United States Office of Government Ethics, whose tagline is “Preventing Conflict of Interest in the Executive Branch,” issues regulations titled “Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

The OGE rules say any political appointee must sign an ethics pledge regarding conflict of interest. For example, the code says a former lobbyist turned political appointee cannot act on a topic or issue he or she handled for a private-sector client.

However, presidents, through executive orders, can allow conflict-of-interest waivers to be granted when, in the words of the Obama White House, “the literal application of the Pledge does not make sense or is not in the public interest.”

Those waivers are public documents. Says the OGE: “You may obtain actual copies of any waiver granted to a Government employee by an executive branch agency.”

Ethics codes prescribe behaviors. Waivers may undo limitations on some behaviors. Executive branch codes generally limit the participation of former lobbyists. Therefore, it’s in the public interest to know whether executive branch appointees remain faithful to ethics codes and whether waivers are granted for appropriate reasons. Right?

Enter the administration of President Donald and its war on transparency.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

leave a comment »

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 9, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald’s new executive order gives really rich people another dark-money weapon

leave a comment »

President Donald signed an executive order this week, intending to relax tax-law consequences on churches that endorse political candidates. In his zeal to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” he opened the door to yet another avenue for really rich people to subvert democratic choice in U.S. elections.

https://www.legalzoom.com/sites/legalzoom.com/files/uploaded/articles/maintaining_tax_exempt_status_in_a_nonprofit.jpgDonald’s language a few months ago foreshadowed this: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Well, he can’t do that. Congress makes law, not presidents.

However, his executive order “discourages the IRS from going after churches aggressively for their political expression.” The Johnson Amendment “prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. That means no donations to candidates’ campaigns and no public statements explicitly on behalf of or against a candidate.” The penalty can be loss of tax-exempt status. However, IRS enforcement historically has been spotty. Trump’s order ensures enforcement will continue to be rare.

Enter the gazillionaires who want to anonymously spend enormous amounts of money to covertly influence elections and legislation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 5, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Freedom of the press means little if audiences are trapped in bubbles

leave a comment »

It’s nice, I suppose, in this era of Trumpian Twitter bashing of the press, that journalists trumpet right back about bolstering freedom of the press, citing its absolutely necessity to the survival, let alone the maintenance, of democracy in the Republic.

google-bubbleIt’s nice, I suppose, that a satirical comedian hosts a “Not the White House Correspondents Association Dinner” (in prime time, no less) to, as she said, “celebrate the freedom of the press.” (She did this, of course, while occasionally mocking pack journalism and chiding CNN for not “setting free” its high-priced on-air talent to be journalists instead of entertainers).

It’s nice, I suppose, that the failing New York Times headlined the actual Donald-less White House correspondents’ dinner with us vs. them gusto: “For Journalists, Annual Dinner Serves Up Catharsis and Resolve.”

And it’s nice, I suppose, that the famed, once-young lions of an earlier Golden Age, Woodward and Bernstein, were trotted out at the latter dinner to extol the virtues of a free and vigilant press.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 1, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Export U.S. coal to Asia? Not so fast, say three West Coast states — and Canada?

leave a comment »

News item from October 2016:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A coal company with mines in Montana and Wyoming said Thursday that it’s begun exporting fuel to Asia through a Canadian shipping terminal, after its years-long effort to secure port access in the U.S. Pacific Northwest has come up short.

Coal TrainThat’s not surprising. The use of coal in America, as S&R explained last year, has stalled — and it’s not going to rebound despite President Donald’s promise to revive the coal industry. So the owners of big coal mines in Montana and Wyoming are looking to export coal to Asian markets to shore up revenues.

But the states of California, Washington, and Oregon have opposed coal export terminal projects in Oakland, Calif.; Bellingham, Gray’s Harbor, and Longview, Wash.; and Port of Morrow, St. Helens, and Coos Bay, Ore. So coal corporations have decided to ship through Canadian ports on its western coast. For now, maybe.

Enter President Donald. First, he slaps a tariff — as much as 24 percent — on Canadian timber destined for the U.S. construction industry. Then he threatens to end NAFTA before negotiating a replacement only to renege on that campaign promise after phone calls with the presidents of Mexico and Canada.

Canada’s not happy — especially the premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 29, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

leave a comment »

The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015.

But that’s not the only consequence for United executives. From Barry Meier’s New York Times story:

The company, United Continental Holdings, is also adjusting its incentive compensation program for senior executives to make it “directly and meaningfully tied to progress in improving the customer experience.” [emphasis added]

Really, United? We’re supposed to buy that? The cruel, inhuman removal of bloodied, injured Dr. David Dao from United Express flight 3411 marks a nadir of United’s attitude towards its customers. United could care less, because it has no need whatsoever to improve the customer experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized