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Archive for April 2006

No knowledge needed

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This quotation from a freshman appeared today in a curriculum story in our student-run campus newspaper:

You should only have to take classes in your major. Classes that have no impact on your major are useless. You’re never going to have to use them.

I’m so flabbergasted by this I don’t know where to begin.

I do know this: She could not function as a journalism major (I teach in a journalism school). Our major teaches students how to write; the remaining 75 percent of their college coursework gives them something to write about.

I’m hard-pressed to think of other majors that could operate in a vacuum of “no additional knowledge needed.” How could this student, after graduation, possible operate in our increasingly complex society?

I don’t want this person to vote on any issue that would affect me. How could her vote possibly be informed?

Sadly, I know that many other college students — not all of them freshmen, either — think this way.

They arrive in college not knowing enough. They pass through college believing they need to know little more.

And we’re leaving control of our governments and corporations to such people? I hope the process of “weeding out” so ruthlessly operated by the “real” world will identify and dismiss such anti-knowledge miscreants.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 28, 2006 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Backing ‘net neutrality

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I sent this message today to my representative in Congress, the Honorable John R. “Randy” Kuhl (R-NY). I want him to act to preserve Internet neutrality. (For more on the issue, try Free Press’ Web site.)

I expect you to act to restore the Markey Amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. To fail to do so would suggest that you do not have an informed reading of public opinion on this issue.

Corporate control of the Internet will undercut national economic security. It will compromise individuals’ ability to communicate swiftly and easily. That would bode ill for the maintenance of democracy.

I know FEC filings show the telecommunications services and equipment industry has given $10,750 to your campaign as of March 13.

But please listen to your constituents rather than the industry that supports you heavily. To do otherwise would reveal that you do not have the interests of your District 29 residents in mind on this issue.

Track down your legislators. Go to to find out how much money they are getting from telecoms. Add that to your letter. Perhaps that would catch their attention … for once.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 27, 2006 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Now, from politics, more sleaze

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A computer with a deep, masculine voice called my home phone this week and told me to call my congressman and tell him to deep-six any Bush budget that cuts money for health care, food for poor children and education.

And I’m pissed.

The computer did not identify the organization its synthesized voice represented. It provided no clear facts. It did not tell me any place to go to vet the facts of the issue for myself.

It preyed on emotion. It targeted my bleedin’ liberal heart: “… stop President Bush’s immoral program of taking food from the mouths of poor children ..” (See the full transcript of the computerized pitch behind the LJ cut.)

I don’t know who’s paying for this. I don’t know the agenda behind whatever organization is paying for this. But I’m angry as hell at the morons behind it: Be accountable. Tell me who you are. Tell me why you’re doing this. And tell me who’s contributing money (and how much) to your organization.

This kind of politickin’ is unconscionable. But, of course, we’ll see more of the same from the usual cast of suspects as the mid-term elections grow near — and certainly when the ’08 brouhaha commences.

When this kind of hidden-agenda crap surfaces from the deep, money-green slime of politics, we’ve got to demand accountability.

If you have any idea who these morons are, please let me know. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 26, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

So you got the names right. So what?

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It speaks ill of the state of journalism when two CNN staffers congratulate themselves for just doing the most basic requirement of reporting — getting the names right.

This morning, on CNN’s American Morning, co-anchor Soledad O’Brien and business reporter Andy Serwer literally high-fived each other on camera for managing to pronounce the names of the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (mah-MOOD ah-mah-dih-nee-ZHAHD), and the oil minister of Nigeria, Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru. (I could not find a pronunciation of Daukoru’s name, so I can only assume that they indeed got it right.)

In the Web versions of the story on, none contained phonetic pronunciation of the names. It used to be a given that journalists would include phonetics of difficult-to-pronounce names in their stories, either in print or online. That important reader service has faded into history, it appears.

For my students, who receive failing grades for getting names wrong, CNN’s example of basic journalism offers little instruction of what competence truly means.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 24, 2006 at 10:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

For sale or rent: Prime space at The New York Times?

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Beginning today, The New York Times is replacing its six pages of daily financial tables with two pages of what it calls “analytical tools and summary information on the markets and the economy.”

The Times is adding Web features for online readers. The Times will provide interested readers — meaning those registered at — with “updated stock prices throughout the day, customized searches for investment ideas, detailed tracking of your portfolio(s) and e-mail alerts when your stocks are moving,” according to Tuesday’s two-page explanation of how the interactive site will work.

I don’t hang out in that tax bracket, so I’m not qualified to judge whether the change is a boon or a bust for financial types. I’ll leave that to others.

I’ll be watching something else: What will The Times do with the four pages of newsprint no longer devoted to financial tables? (Sunday’s Times will carry the full set of financial tables.) That’s 24 pages a week, 52 weeks a year, or 1,248 pages a year. At a circulation of 1.1 million on weekdays, that’s a ton, so to speak, of newsprint.

Will The Times use the space for advertising to bolster its sickly balance sheet? If so, in this coming age of national advertisers diving headlong into niches on the Web, who will step up to buy it?

Will The Times use the space for news, business or otherwise? If so, how? And who will report and write it? At six columns at 20 inches each per page, that’s 149,760 column inches of news copy a year. Figure each (usually lengthy and overwritten) Times story at 20 inches, and that’s 7,488 stories, not counting space for headlines and art. The Times newsroom is under intense pressure to justify its size, as are newspaper staffs everywhere. The Times cut 45 newsroom posts last year. Does The Times still have the staff horsepower to fill those four pages – and have that copy be meaningful?

Or will The Times just be four pages smaller each day? That’s a quick and easy way to save money, especially with newsprint costs per ton at a record $600-plus. (That’s why newspaper managements have been physically shrinking the size of their papers — to reduce newsprint costs.)

In this era of circulation growth slowing or circulation shrinking, saving money is foremost in the minds of newspaper execs. In fact, The Times predicted its first-quarter earnings per share to be down about two-thirds from a year ago. Gotta keep that stock price shored up, y’know.

As the saying goes, “watch this space” at The Times.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 4, 2006 at 10:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m running for president — give me $100 million, please

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If you’d like to dip your toe into the 2008 presidential sweepstakes, better have $100 million in your pocket.

That’s what The New York Times estimates is necessary — even before the first primary vote is cast (see editorial, March 23, TS req’d).

Recall that President Bush and Sen. Kerry both raised a record $250 million each for the 2004 race — while declining to take public campaign financing. That’s because spending limits would be attached. Remember that $1 checkoff on your federal tax return? Yes, that money was supposed to fund such races and cap campaign spending.

If you think that the next round of presidential aspirants plan to take public money with its spending cap, think again. If candidates want to be taken seriously, they have to be seen as having solid financing. And public financing of presidential campaigns is no longer a meaningful option. That’s because wags are predicting it’ll take $400 million to become the next president, not counting soft money, PACs and interest-group spending. That’s likely to bring the total to perhaps twice that high. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 3, 2006 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized