An Ode to Finals

As the semester winds down for college students across the country and finals rear their ugly head, I’m sure many students must be wondering, what is the point of all this? 

Because truthfully, much of the work that will go into these finals – rote memorizations, hearty written essays, hours spent mercilessly studying – will be a distant memory by the time News Years come. Hell, by next final season, trying to remember what you studied last semester will be akin to trying to remember a dream you had two weeks ago.

So with so much content pushed into these final weeks – I have to ask what am I really learning? What is all this hard-earned money  going toward?

And those like Marco Rubio are the devil on my shoulder encouraging this belief.  Consider his rather disparaging comment he made last month at a Republican debate. I won’t rehash the exact details, but it was something along the lines of him praising trade schools over a liberal arts education, and condescendingly claiming that “welders make more than philosophers.”

Now, while this may be true to some degree, what terrifies me is that the ticker of success is your pay check. That, essentially, is the idea that Rubio is pushing. The question of: why does it matter to know of Descartes and the Evil Demon when soon you’ll be sucking peanuts?

Well I don’t buy it, because the truth of the matter is, college is so much more than the content you’re tested on and the economical prowess of your degree, but rather the skills that come with the journey. And so when I think of finals, I become a little grateful. A little grateful of the fact that I can be tested on Emma Goldman’s treatise on anarchy, or  Al Gore’s 2000 Democratic Nomination Speech (can you tell I’m a poli sci major)? and truthfully benefit from it in a way well beyond just the benjamins. Because even though the exact content might soon escape me (sorry Al), the skills I learned analyzing the works – critical thinking, textual interpretation, in-depth analysis, just to name a few – wont. And those are increasingly becoming scarce in a country that values vocation over person.

So thank you finals. Here’s to you.



Tribune’s Poaching Would Be Christmas Miracle For LA Times

la times dtThis week, media titan Rubert Murdoch had the news world spinning when he alluded that the Los Angeles Times might be purchased by local philanthropist Eli Broad and other SoCal investors.

His tweet read: “Strong word Tribune newspaper group to be bought by big Wall St firm, LA Times to go to philanthropist Eli Broad and local group.”

A couple weeks ago, I wrote of how the Tribune was pushing to purchase the Orange County Register after the paper applied for bankruptcy protection earlier this month, and how detrimental this would be to the Register based on the Tribune’s mishandling of the Times. Now, it looks like the Tribune might be poached itself.

This would be a god send for the Times, who have suffered at the hands of Tribune for far too long. In just the past month, the holding company sacked the paper’s beloved publisher and then rolled out a string of buyouts to treat the paper’s falling revenue. So far, roughly 80 reporters and editors have accepted the offer. It’s clear the Tribune can’t even properly maintain the only paper keeping it afloat.

Local control led by Broad is exactly what the paper needs to keep it relevant as print revenues nationwide plummet. But can Murdoch even be trusted? Wall Street analysts told the OC Register that he might just be blowing smoke, as 1) no one see’s the Tribune as a viable investment and 2) even if they did, they wouldn’t want to lose to Times to an outside group in the process, as its the Tribune’s strongest national paper.

“Tribune has sold itself to advertisers on the fact it has a national footprint,” said Barry Lucas, senior vice president for research at New York-based Gabelli & Co, to the Register.  “If you get rid of the L.A. Times, then it is a much tougher sell.”

Fortune reports that Tribune Publishing’s stock has “…lost more than half its value in the past year,” so this would seem like the ideal time to purchase the company if its in free fall.  Though Murdoch might be just stirring the pot, its not completely out of the realm of possibility. Here’s to hoping the tweet proves prophetic.





Refugees Shouldn’t Be the Victim of Baseless Fears

A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence from the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud, poses for a photograph at the border town of Arsal
 REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill imposing harsher restrictions on incoming Syrian and Iraqi  refugees in an effort to effectively halt them from entering the country.

Though President Obama has promised to veto the bill if it passes through the Senate, the Los Angeles Times reports that Republican leadership will consider including the measure in a spending bill necessary to avoid a government shutdown.

This action is just the latest incident in a stream of anti-refugee rhetoric  that has flooded the country following the terrorist attacks last week in Paris. For example, more than half of U.S. governors have said they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees.  Though they don’t have the authority to outright ban refugees, as Vox reports, they have the capability to “make their lives miserable” through withholding state funds to facilitate the assimilation process.

Now, it appears the Republican Congress (and 50 Democrat defectors) are manipulating these fears to further promote an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Islam agenda.

I, like many other able-minded  individuals, am struggling to understand the reasoning behind the outright vitriol against refugees — people that are trying to escape the very terror the anti-refugee groups purport they could bring. Republicans warn the current process isn’t stringent enough to weed out terrorists, but let’s look at the facts. The current process can take 24 months and involves numerous background checks and interview with both UN and US agencies. Would this really be the option of choice for terrorists? The facts point to a resounding “no,” as most terrorist are either born in the country or enter here illegally. The Migration Policy Institute makes it clear that terrorism is not a viable reason for refusing refugees.

The United States has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001. In those 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.

The White House’s current plan is admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. next year, small when compared to the Germany’s already accepted 900,000 since January. And yet, the plan is still vehemently opposed by the House majority.

Should we really be repeating the mistakes of the past? Have we learned nothing from our chilling response to Jewish refugees in World War II? Let us not forget that atone  point this country literally turned away a boat of 900 German Jews parked on America’s shore, and opposing legislation to accept 20,000 Jewish refugees.

But it seemed we had learned from those evils, and in the 70 plus years since then, the country had all signs pointing to being pro-refugee. The United States now houses more than half  of all refugees who have  permanently resettled since World War II.

But the War on Terror has incited new fears in much of the country, and unfortunately that fear has been wrongly tagged onto the refugee. If past mistakes proves anything, it is that now is a defining moment for America to be on the right side of history. We should accept the refugees, not send them back into the clutches of terror that we too, are fighting to eradicate.



The Tribune Should Keep Its Hands Out of Orange County

oc register word pressWhen the Los Angeles Times’ parent company Tribune Publishing purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune this past summer, the Orange County Register was left in the middle, waiting to get squeezed out.

Now, it looks like Tribune is prepping the juicer. After the Register’s owner Freedom Communications filed for bankruptcy protection in early November, Tribune has been quick to offer a $3 million loan for the paper to finance its operations during bankruptcy. It was a rather overt indication that the Tribune is hot to trot on bidding for the Register, and ultimately build a print media monopoly in Southern California.

Well, if that happens, you can bet that bankruptcy will be just the first step in a long line of plagues to crush the Register’s heart and soul into a grimy pulp.

When I worked at the Register this past summer, there was an unabashed spirit of optimism in the newsroom. The preceding year and a half of executive tyranny by a bumbling CEO  had finally ended in his resignation last March, and the end of spring into summer brought a fresh wave of hope to Santa Ana. The paper had doubled down on their local coverage with a distribution of weeklies for specific cities supplementing the main product, and reporters were being hired, not fired. New CEO Rich Mirman went from an average investor to a hands-on mainstay in the newsroom, and the company was (and is) on track to turn a profit in 2015. Newsroom leadership touted the Register as the country’s largest “community newspaper,” holding a subscription base of 250,000 while focusing on hyperlocal issues relevant to Orange County residents.

That spirit, however, is not in line with Tribune’s track record. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.

The company has proved themselves to rule with an iron fist from afar. Just this past September, the Chicago-based Tribune showed they were incapable of not meddling in local affairs when they foolishly ousted Times publisher Austin Beutner. The former Baltimore Sun CEO had been in the position for only 13 months, and had started shifting the steamship of a paper from a sluggish has-been to a once again indomitable force in national print media. He was a staunch advocate of focusing on Los Angeles coverage, and under his tutelage the newspaper reinstated their “California” section; something that was removed by Tribune in 2008.

While the Tribune hid behind the PR rubbish that Beutner was a cause for the paper’s “lagging financial performance,” the truth of the matter is Beutner was set on starting a media empire centered in California, beginning with the Union-Tribune purchase this past summer. A move by philanthropist Eli Broad to buy the two California papers from the Tribune reeked of Beutner’s doing, and Tribune reacted accordingly. Nevertheless, Tribune over encroached on the Times when ousting Beutner, and showed they have little to no respect for local coverage and local autonomy.

And I wish I could say that this was a fluke mistake on the Tribune’s part, but it’s only the latest in a long line of sins by the company, the most notably being their ravenous taste for  layoffs. While few newspapers now are impervious to job cuts,  Tribune’s record is gruesome. And it’d be one thing if the strategy was helping the company’s bottom line, but it isn’t. In October, they announced an additional 50 buyouts for Times employees, a backbreaking move that led Fortune to dub them a “dysfunctional train wreck” and “newspaper chain in turmoil.”

For now, it is in the hands of the bankruptcy court to award the paper to whoever has the highest bid; if the Tribune carries a heavy stick and fights dollar for dollar to win the Register, they very well could snag it.

But  it is clear what is best for the paper is a buy from local investors rather than one from a far away propriety. It’s also the strategy Mirman is encouraging. Instead of succumbing to the leaching call of the Tribune, a local-centric move would be the smoothest transition for the paper to maintain its longevity in an increasingly unstable media market.

Naivety is not an issue here; of course there’s no guarantee that the Register will thrive under local-led investors. Newspaper’s inherent struggles may even outweigh the power of those in charge. But if one thing can be guaranteed, it’s that the Tribune will surely spoil the Register’s fruit to a point where being salvaged again in the future might not be possible.

If You Want to Fight Gentrification, Put Down the Latte

I was in San Francisco this past weekend when my group of friends visited the Mission District, a small bastion of cultural integrity in a city increasingly becoming gentrified to the needs of the new tech elite, or just those who can afford the town’s skyrocketing rents.

I had always heard about the city’s gentrification issues, but being from L.A., I had never seen in it in this respective city first hand. It was funny then, to watch how we walked from the predominantly Spanish speaking, strip-mall esque district to a few blocks up, where the people on the sidewalk changed drastically, and sidewalk vendors transformed into artisan coffee shops. We mused on how terrible and terribly obvious the evident shift in character was, but then we realized – we were on our way to one of those coffee shops. My friend then shared an incredibly apt observation on those in our generation, gleaned from an Mashable article: We dislike gentrification in theory, but love artisan donuts in practice.

Now while a rather comical observation, it’s often true in observing the social-justice orientated millennial in higher education. You’re hard pressed to find someone who agrees with the displacement of a community in place of better investment, but you’re equally hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t want to sit down with their $3 dollar coffee, pushing elbows to study on steel chairs in a nouveau cafe with sparse an outlet to find.

And this issue is as evident in Los Angeles as it is in San Francisco. At a community meeting I attended in South Central Los Angeles last week, local residents  spoke out against how their neighborhoods are being turned into mixed-use megaliths of luxury apartments, condos, restaurants, and retail. It’s no secret these new investments are not meant to cater to the current community, but those of much higher means, the ones who can’t quite afford downtown L.A. but couldn’t imagine themselves in Pico-Union.

Advocates of gentrification point to argument points such as “free-market” and “progress” for justifying the changing of communities. While new investment is a good and necessary thing to further a community, it should be development that is within the interests and price range of the current demographic. If not, as has been seen time and time before, rising rents and nearby costs will displace the original community. This idea of progress comes at an increasingly high and damaging cost.

My peers and I at USC are usually the types able to enjoy these new investments. But if we want to oppose gentrification both in theory and practice, can we really justify frequenting these new establishments that leave out the community it replaced?

Is $100 Million Enough to Fix Homeless in Los Angeles?

AS Photo 19

Homeless is a growing epidemic in Los Angeles, and it’s a secret to no one. A stroll down nearly any block in the city’s proper will prove that. Destitute sleeping on benches, shoddy tents blowing against the city’s rare wind, carts filled with life possessions paraded along the sidewalks; it is a sight that any Angeleno and visitor alike will be familiar with.

And it seems the city has finally realized it, too. Just last month, the Los Angeles City Council declared a “state of emergency” regarding homeless, pledging $100 million to fix a problem that has risen by 12 percent in just the past three years.

On the surface, it seems to be a hunky set of change. The number itself was chosen by the council for its symbolic nature. Surely the money should crack a formidable dent in the surface of the homeless problem, right?

Well, it might not be that easy. The de facto approach to solving homeless in the country right now is a housing first approach, in which homeless relief organizations focus on getting the homeless off the street immediately into permanent housing, rather than a graduated process of going from a temporary shelter, to health resources to temporary housing and so on. Countless studies have shown this to be the most effective process to rehabilitating the homeless, but it is extremely expensive.

For example, the Downtown Women’s Center in Skid Row specializes in providing permanent housing and health support services for the chronically adult homeless adult population in downtown Los Angeles. In 2010, they renovated a six-floor building with a onsite medical center, cafeteria, day center, and 71 apartments to the tune of $35 million. Amy Turk, the chief operations officer for the center, told me that price tag is indicative of the real cost of getting homeless people off the streets.

“When you know that we ended homelessness for 71 women with $35 million dollars, it’s going to take many more millions of dollars to end homelessness for everyone in L.A. County,” she said.

According to Turk, the county is lacking 500,000 thousand units of affordable and low income housings. Simple math will show you treating all of them would be in the hundreds of millions. The homelessness epidemic has gotten so bad that the issue appears may be beyond a price tag.

If the city and the county want to seriously get down and tackle homeless, they must recognize this is an issue that won’t be solved in one fell swoop, but must be a considerably budgetary measure in the years to come. This $100 million should go toward equally funding housing first measures, but also toward preventative measures to ease the necessary budgetary burden in a crusade that could last for the next few decades.

How Native Advertising Is Ruining Journalism

The relationship between advertising and journalism was borne of necessity, one of symbiotic nature where both parties neither enjoyed the other’s company much, but understood their time together was mutually beneficial. The Founding Fathers and the First Amendment glorified the nature of the press and its place in a democratic society, but placed little underpinnings for financing such a civic venture. A newspaper was a place to disseminate the world and its comings to a reading mass, but as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch; so alongside the news with a cynical side eye sat the advertisement to supplant the work of the printing press. Up until the past decade, the divide was tenuous, but clear. There was a separation of church and state in the newsroom; the reporters and editors understood the necessity of the ad as a means to their democratic end, and the ad man respected, or at the very least, tolerated, the minimal necessities of maintaining editorial independence. It was not ideal, but it worked.

But, in an ironic fashion, the democratizing tide of the Internet has now worked to tear down the wall brick by brick until today, both the ad man and the journalist are staring face to face. The ad man has stepped over the rubble and peaked his head into the newsroom. He like what he sees. He has picked up a pencil, sat next the journalist, witnessed his work, and scribbled down a cheap facsimile that promotes his aim in a fashion mirroring the reporters. Such is the nature of native advertising, the latest stride to monetize a service that is increasingly suffering at the bottom line. This march into enemy territory and the cuddling that follows is where the journalism world now stands, and as the future progresses, will only continue to go. As the media world seeks further measures to monetize their product, I predict the line between journalism and advertising will increasingly blur and eradicate in the years to come, an action that will cause both a critical blow to editorial independence and an impending rift between the media and public’s exchanged trust.

Before I delve into the modern infiltration of advertising into the newsroom, it is prudent to first understand the conditions that led to the rise of native advertising and similar strategies. Additionally, for the sake of simplicity as well as reliability to the topic at hand, my analysis of journalism will be centered on the print product (newspapers, magazines, etc.) versus broadcast journalism (CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.) Print media was and is still the most often the source of original news (broadcast news often gleans their stories from print media), and therefore has the most at stake in terms of editorial independence. In the first decade of the 21st century, newspaper advertising went from a boom in the 1990’s to a quick bust by the 2010s. In 2000, advertising revenue for U.S. newspapers sat at $63.5 billion. By 2012, it was $19 billion. (Brock 138). The Great Recession proved for unfortunate timing and no doubt was a contributor, but it was neither the sole nor leading source for the precipitous revenue decline. Reader’s media consumption habits quickly transitioned from print to online in the 2000’s, and print circulation shrunk accordingly. Between 2005 and 2013, weekday print circulation at the top 25 U.S. papers fell nearly 42 percent (Brock 153). David Brock in his book “Out of Print” articulates that by the time the industry realized their failing business model, the damage was done: “So much investment, habit and vested interest was locked into the advertising business model that those operating it were reluctant to acknowledge that much was wrong until the evidence was inescapable.” This combination of shrinking subscribers and falling advertising revenue left the print media world in a dangerous situation of figuring out how to fund their news ventures. The industry was and, still is to some degree, desperately looking for a sustainable business model to replace one that had sustained the industry for much of the last century. It is in that search where specialized forms of advertising have grown to infiltrate the newsroom, native advertising being the main one.

Native advertising is a strategy that goes by many names – branded content, sponsored content, etc. – but its premise is always more or less the same: presenting an advertisement in similar form and function to the platform its distributed on. The ad is meant to be akin to the content, appear “native” to its surrounding, a camouflage, of sorts. The basic premise isn’t entirely a new concept. During the print age, it did exist in some shape or form through the advertorial – a print ad that was written in similar format and style to the newspaper or magazine article. These ads, too, were often criticized for appearing in similar format to the news (Advertorial 1), not only by the public, but regulators and self-regulators who argued the advertorial was “deceptively posing as editorial content” (Seligman 1). But what separates the advertorial of old and the native advertising of today is the level of finesse and camouflage of the latter. Native advertising is less clunky, less awkward, and less obvious. Its nature is integrated much more seamlessly and unique to the platform it runs on; in an attempt to define the somewhat broad term, the Harvard Business Review deemed native advertising’s distinct classifications: “An ad format that must be created specifically for one media channel in terms of the technical format and the content (both must be native to the channel on which they appear and unable to be used in another context)” (Joel 1).

By now, the modern consumer would have experience with native advertising even if they didn’t recognize it by name. Google for instance, has been a longtime user of the ad strategy, with Google searches listing sponsored links at the top in the same list as the rest of the searches. The only distinction is a tiny yellow box in the corner that says “Ad.” Twitter and Facebook have in-feed promoted content. But the most obvious success story on applying native advertising to media specifically is BuzzFeed. The 9-year old Internet news company is an amalgamation of whimsical listicles and cat videos among serious editorial content, and generates nearly all of its revenue through native ads (Sebastian 1). It also seems to be working tremendously — BuzzFeed brought in more than $100 million in revenue in 2014 (Sebastian 1). Examples of BuzzFeed sponsored content include “15 Grown-Up Twists On Your Favorite Childhood Meals” promoted by Quaker, and “10 Reasons Why Being Broke Isn’t The Worst Thing In The World” by Taco Bell. The subtlety is obvious – the reader is not being hit over the head on “10 Reasons You Need a Crunch Wrap Supreme Right Now,” but rather the ad creates an emotion and experience that the consumer then could connect with the product in an appealing way. President of digital at media agency MEC told Advertising Age that the BuzzFeed has “figured out how to make it funny, make it fast and make it heavily image driven” (Sebastian 1).

Looking at the success of BuzzFeed then, its evident why other media agencies would seek to follow and emulate such a business model. It is a solution to a monetize news in a consumer landscape that now believes news should be free. Media companies that are employing the strategy, such as the New York Times and Time Inc., have sung its praises and justified its merits, stressing it won’t erode editorial independence. Meredith Levien, the executive vice president of advertising at The New York Times argued at the 2014 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting that native advertising is not meant to be a deceptive act, but rather a mutually beneficial relationship between the advertiser and the media company.

Good native advertising respects the independence and sanctity of journalism and at the same time puts the onus on the reader to decide, do I want to engage with the marketer’s content or not? Good native advertising it not meant to be trickery; it’s meant to be publishers sharing their storytelling tools with marketing.

Levien’s statement, however, is a form of trickery in itself. Native advertising is meant for the reader to think they’re reading a BuzzFeed article or a New York Times article – that is the entire point. As John Olivier satirically described Levien’s words in his Show Last Week Tonight last August– “it’s not bull sh—t, it’s just repurposed bovine waste.” The issue with justifying native advertising is that it is deceptive at its core, a deception that is entirely contrary to the merits of journalism. And the deception seems to be working. A study by content marketing platform Contently in July showed that the majority of consumers identify native advertising as articles, not as advertisements (Lazauskas 1). People are spending time on them too. At the Atlantic, readers are spending four to five minutes on native ads (Moses 1). Four to five minutes, on an ad. Levien has boasted that New York Times readers are spending roughly the same amount of time on their “paid posts” as news stories (Tadena 1). The media leadership is defending native ads on the basis of their labeling and distinction from the editorial. Executive editor Dean Banquet said in an interview with Digiday: “[Our native advertising] is clearly labeled; to be frank, I think it’s high quality.” (Moses 1). High quality, yes. But honest? No.

As native advertising continues to drive profitability for media companies, the desire for advertising of this nature will likely increase. Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, said in an interview with The Drum that native advertising is the future because it blends seamlessly with a population attached to their mobile devices, one that is not willing to take the time to separate themselves for an ad: “When I think of native advertising, you need to make content and advertising fit the way people consume media. You’re going to see more and more branded content as people become aware that you can’t interrupt people. You have to make them engaging” (The Drum). The trajectory of people’s media consumption habits provide the perfect petri dish for native advertising to grow: the consumer doesn’t want to take the time on what they think is an ad. But this rise is dangerous. As this sort of camouflaged advertising continues to seep into the editorial, advertisers will hold a greater reign of influence in the newsroom.

This augmented influence is a severe blow to the sanctity of the newsroom. As journalist and blog entrepreneur Andrew Sullivan put it to Digiday, it is effectively the surrender of journalists: “Advertising snuck into the editorial pages in a way that advertising has always wanted to do. It used to be an axiom that the job of journalists was to be resistant to that and sustain the clear distinction between advertising and journalism. One side has effectively surrendered” (Braiker 1). The journalist’s surrender is manifested by the bowing down to advertisers who feel a platform’s editorial content is negative to the advertiser. It’s already happening now among native advertising. For example, BuzzFeed pulled down an article that was critical of Dove soap’s advertising campaign. Dove is an advertiser on BuzzFeed. When Gawker reported on this information, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith stressed this was an editorial decision based on the article’s content, not because of advertising pressures. That is a weak misdirection, and it wasn’t the first time either. A BuzzFeed writer said Smith made him remove an article that was critical of Axe Body Spray, the same advertiser as Dove (Both Dove and Axe are owned by Unilever). This is indicative of two possible future trends: either in the future editorials are more commonly taken down because of advertising pressures, or (and what I believe more likely), the situation never gets that far. Instead, and what is even more worrisome than posts being taken down, is stories being suppressed in the future before reaching publication in fear of offending the advertiser.

In a one-two punch, after the advertiser holds an effective noose around the newsroom, the effect will lend to a continuing erosion of trust between the media and the public. The Contently study showed that “…62 percent of respondents think a news site loses credibility when it publishes native ads and 48 percent have felt deceived upon realizing a piece of content was sponsored by a brand.” (Lasauskas 1). There is a faulty assumption in native advertising that the reader is not focused enough to understand they are seeing an ad; In fact, in reference to the above Peretti quote, the goal is for the reader not to be interrupted at all. But as ad man Tom McElligott put it, I’d much rather overestimate the intelligence of the consumer than underestimate it.” As native advertising proliferates and the consumer slowly becomes accustomed to weeding through the muck, they too will question the sanctity of the newsroom when they see the coziness of the advertisements with content. During a panel discussion on native advertising, Partner and Chief Creative at Knock Twice, Kyle Monson, said “it doesn’t do anyone any favors if the media partner’s [advertising] is working to lose credibility among their audience.” Unfortunately, though good for the bottom line now, it seems that in the future this increasing relationship will prove detrimental toward media’s credibility.

Works Cited

“Advertorial.” Qfinance: The Ultimate Resource. Qatar Financial Center and QatarFinancialCenter. London: A&C Black, 2014. Credo Reference. Web. 16 Oct 2015.

Braiker, Brian. “Andrew Sullivan on native ads: Journalism has surrendered.” Digiday. N.p., 07 May 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Brock, George, and Inc Books24x7.Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age. 1st ed. GB: Kogan Page Ltd, 2013. Web.

Gigaom. “The Future of Native Advertising: Blurring Ads and Content.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 28 May 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Interactive Advertising Bureau. “Meredith Levien, The New York Times, on Good Native Advertising with Terry Kawaja, LUMA Partners.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015

Joel, Mitch. “We Need a Better Definition of “Native Advertising.”” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Last Week Tonight. “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Native Advertising (HBO).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Lazauskas, Joe. “Article or Ad? When It Comes to Native, No One Knows.” Contently. Contently, 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Moses, Lucia. “Meredith Levien’s Plan to save (or at Least Make Money For) The New York Times – Digiday.” Digiday. N.p., 07 May 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Seligman, Terri J. “Native Advertising: The Old is New again.” Computer and Internet Lawyer 32.7 (2015): 1-9. ProQuest. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

Tadena, Nathalie. “NYT Readers Spend Same Amount of Time on Paid Posts as News Stories.” Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, 14 May 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

The Drum. “Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti on the future of the media company’s advertising offer.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Jul. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

“Donald Trump Can’t Win.” Oh, Yes He Can. (The Nomination, At Least)

trump overcombOh, you’ve heard it. Multiple times, even. Among your social circles. On both Fox and MSNBC.  At lunch with your conservative-but-reasonably-minded parents.

“Donald Trump can’t possibly win.”

It’s a thought among the more able-minded electorate to  stomach Trump’s good-standing in the polls without logging on to Expedia and booking the first flight to Toronto. But I think, my dear friend, you, me and a good sliver of the nation have underestimated both the Don and the GOP cult that surrounds him.

Let’s first examine the leading presidential options for this country’s voting bloc on both sides of the aisle, before fringe candidates such as Trump began their valiant (and effective) climb toward the top. On team blue, we had a dynastic, political elite seeking her second presidential run. She has all the baggage of a mainstream politician, but without the charm. The mainstream media (for lack of a better phrase) finds hobby in providing wall-to-wall coverage of all Clinton-related scandal; it’s a past time of theirs that stretches back to Whitewater. I thought perhaps the unruly fascination would follow the contemporary path of baseball and lose its charm among the masses, but alas, the media waves beat on against dear ol’ Hillary.

And then among the elephant crew, we had yet another member of a political quasi-aristocracy vying to join the family business of low approval ratings; one with a campaign symbolized by an odd name followed by an even stranger mark of punctuation. (Why are you yelling at me, Jeb?) He has the energy level of a sedated eeyore, while at the same time racking up a list of Romney-like gaffes.

Jeb! abc family

It was the perfect petri dish to grow fringe candidates. For the Democrats, their champion to rebel against the Clinton dominion was everyone’s favorite grumpy old (democratic) socialist, Bernie Sanders.

But the GOP’s black horse dominated America’s conscious and blood pressure much more. Carried down by conservative cherubs from Reagan heaven, Trump arrived on his golden-clad, eponymous chariot, blowing a vuvuzuela of incendiary, nonsense rhetoric that tickled the fancy of a significant GOP sector: “I’m going to build a wall, and it’s going to be yooooge, it’s going to be great.” The masses shriek with glee, damn straight you’re gonna build a wall. 

Trump is a messiah for this “silent majority” that is bristling at a nation slipping from their clammy fingers, a sweat brought on by a fear toward societal progression. They see a country wretched in political correctness, dynastic domination, and ungodly societal changes (illegal immigrants, LGBT rights, Black Livers Matter, oh my!); it’s a country forever changed by their favorite Kenyan born anti-christ, Barack Hussein Obama. Trump is just capitalizing on a question this mass has been thinking ever since M.A.S.H. went off the air and Reagan left D.C. : How do we make America great again? 

So now, there is a Donald with a significant cult of personality surrounding him; they are not the followers of Jeb, Rubio, or even the slightly-less-crazy Ted Cruz, but a fandom zealous enough to secure him the nomination. After Mar. 7, the Republican primaries will be winner-take-all. That means, with 12 candidates in the running, if a candidate get 25 percent of the vote, as Trump is polling, they’ll win the whole enchilada (though, perhaps in Trump case, a reference to Mexican cuisine is in poor taste).

Primaries are still some time away, and Trump can, as many on the left and right have hoped since his rise, implode. In the words of GOP political strategist Steve Schmidt: “Only Trump can beat Trump.” But as we’ve seen with his racist, sexist, and overall bigoted stream of statements over the past few months, the Don remains an indomitable force of public appeal among a significantly large portion of conservative America.  If he does win the nomination, will cooler (and bluer) heads prevail? If not, well, hmm, how does it go again…”O Canada…”

Racism Among Millenials is Alive and Well. So What Do We Do?

I would hope by now that the myth of racism’s eradication in the modern era has been dispelled, i.e. the myth that the fight against racial prejudice is behind us, and those who live in the world today enjoy one free of discrimination and are now free to champion other causes. And if it hasn’t for some, let us hope the incident with the USC Student Body President Rini Sampath last Sunday has scooped up the remaining stragglers.

For those unaware, Sampath, an Indian-American, was walking down Greek Row just after midnight with a group of friends when a fraternity member hurled a drink in her direction and yelled, “You Indian piece of shit!” It was a tasteless, reckless, and racist form of aggression at one of the country’s highest-ranked institutions populated with the most open-minded generation the country has ever seen.

And yet, it happened. It happened at a university with a 23 percent international student population, much of which is composed of South-Asian students, and at a university grooming our country’s future leaders and innovators. Sampath’s post of the incident, which quickly went viral and garnered coverage on Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and multiple other online and print publications, lit the powder keg toward revealing a hidden reality that exists (and has existed) at USC and multiple other college campuses around the nation.

While writing an article for the Daily Trojan, I spoke with students at USC who have suffered as Sampath did, but in the shadows. The stories were blunt and difficult to swallow. One black student in particular shared that when he and other friends of color were walking down the Row, a girl they passed by told her friend, “Why are there so many n-gg-rs on the Row?” Another instance when he was attending a fraternity party, a member of the house asked, “Who put a black guy on the list?”

And, of course, discrimination stems far beyond just racism alone. Homophobia, for instance, is still an ever-present reality. One student told me he and a friend were called “fags” and told to leave a fraternity tailgate they were attending.  Why? Because one of them was wearing a USC song girl skirt. Though much of these incidents surround party-like atmospheres,  students cannot hide behind inebriation. The fraternity member in the Sampath incident says he was “blacked out” that night and can’t recall the encounter, but the damage is done. Sober thoughts are drunken words, as they say, and its clear some members of this and other campuses have rather poisonous thoughts.

The incidents with Sampath and those shared above, of course, beg the question on how the greek system plays into purporting discriminatory behavior.  Now, I don’t want nor mean to place all blame on the greek system. Those who subscribe to discriminatory beliefs stretch far beyond only those clad in the Greek alphabet. I don’t believe discriminatory practices are bred there, either; they are, however, allowed to survive and in some cases, thrive. The greek environment purports an atmosphere want of diversity, not only in racial make up but economic background. The price barrier alone is enough to foster and maintain a certain social strata composed of only those who can afford to shell out thousands to be part of an extracurricular organization. As USC student Dan Morgan-Russell put it in an op-ed in the Daily Trojan, the greek system’s foundation is one that, at the very least, tolerates intolerance.

The greek system is powerful, entrenched and set in its ways at USC. Fraternities and sororities spend more effort on parties, matching t-shirts and hair flips than they do on improving their relations with marginalized communities. Those actions tell the USC community where greek priorities lie.

That’s not to say that everyone involved with greek life on campus is discriminatory or a bad person. Rather, as an institution, the greek system allows a certain level of intolerance from individuals and does not do enough to combat that injustice.

But enough finger pointing. Our generation now needs to look toward solutions. Not overnight solutions, of course, but ones that will lead to a cultural shift where hopefully, a minority or member of a marginalized group can walk down a street without the subtle fear they might have a target on their back. Sampath may have started the discussion, but it’s now up to her peers to maintain its momentum.

David Brooks is a Public Intellectual In Our Time – But Do We Need Him (And His Breed)?

Journalist David Brooks at a speaking event in New York City, Dec. 2010. (NBC News).
Journalist David Brooks at a speaking event in New York City, Dec. 2010. (NBC News).

It is the age of punditry.

Legions of men and women (and perhaps a handful of children) from all affinities approach the pulpits of television, radio, online, and print with gleeful ardor; from there, their talking heads spew thoughts on the buzzing topics at hand – race,sex, politics, Donald Trump’s word choice, you name it. And as with any opinion or criticism, some have merit, but sadly, many don’t. Is the world, then, to be lost on bona fide public intellectualism – the type, as academic Stephen Mack puts it, “keep the pot boiling” in the kitchen of democracy?

Perhaps not.

Cue David Brooks.  A biweekly Op-ed columnist for the New York Times and author of four books, his cultural commentary has made him the citizen moralist at the Gray Lady’s mast. He is very much what one would call a societal critic — he observes the ills of the world and thrusts them into to limelight. His method is often more fishing pole than fish, as can be seen in his most recent book, Road to Character, where he encourages self-betterment through anecdotal evidence of those with great character. I will save the audience a full summary, but Brooks essentially states this country’s citizenry is engrossed with what he calls “resume virtues” when they should be focused on  “eulogy virtues”; in other words, that America places more emphasis on our career gains that our moral successes. In the world of what he refers to as the “Big Me,” humility is an oft-forgotten trait that if regained, would lead to – you guessed it – character.

Brook’s work also heavily dabbles in the political spectrum, and he is often affectionately (or derogatorily, depending on who you ask,) referred to as the “liberal’s favorite conservative.” He rose under the guidance of conservative heavyweight and National Review founder William Buckley Jr., but now often espouses beliefs that would make the late conservative roll over in his grave. For instance, Brooks has often garnered flack from the right for his seemingly chummy relationship with President Barack Obama, most evidently seen preceding the commander-in-chief’s first presidential run. (In October, 2006, he wrote a column simply titled “Run, Barack, Run” singing the then-senator’s praises for the 2008 election, and said upon first meeting Obama he thought “a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”)

Of course, Brook’s is no messiah, and as with anyone on such a platform, he has his fair share of detractors. He’s been decried as a “windbag” by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and a “consistently wrongheaded” on Slate, the latter of which seems to be his most ardent opponent. And some of the criticism is not without merit. He’s been accused of stereotyping and glossing of facts; treating the poor as numbers and the rich as people;  Slate even exposed a startlingly inaccurate statistic in Brook’s latest book, Road to Character, in which will be corrected in future editions. 

Such oversteps can’t be overlooked, and Brook’s relaying of statistical information should be more closely examined in all past, current, and future works.

I would say, however, anyone who has published a twice weekly column for more than a decade is sure to stumble here and there. In the grander scheme things, among a sea of mindless voices and punditry, Brooks is often one worth listening to.

To hark back on his liberal appeal, Brook’s role as a public intellectual is his ability to cut across partisan aisles and into the hearts and minds of his readers. The very fact he is able to lower the conservative shield and take up liberal arms – or at the very least entertain them – elicits a man who is a free thinker, one who successfully wields an open-minded skepticism that isn’t chained by party lines. A person of that caliber is rare to find in 2015.

In an interview with the Daily Beast in 2012, Brook’s confirmed his cross party affability.

“If you define conservative by support for the Republican candidate or the belief that tax cuts are the correct answer to all problems, I guess I don’t fit that agenda. But I do think I’m part of a longstanding conservative tradition that has to do with Edmund Burke…and Alexander Hamilton.”

Now while it is quite lofty to place oneself alongside the country’s leading political architects (he himself admits humility is not his leading attribute), it illuminates Brook’s vein of thinking: Appeal to reason over party politics and societal flavor-of-the-months. Dig beneath the grime to find not only what the reader can do for themselves, but also for their community.

The question before us now, however, is this: Is a character like Brooks — a public intellectual — needed in contemporary America?

On the surface, a public intellectual’s use and want in society would depend on a simple polarization – whether America is a herd of sheeple waiting for their next command, or a nation of self-reliant mavericks aghast to those who dare tell them what is truth.

But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it? Let us go back to the words of Mack for a moment. In the same piece quoted earlier, he dictates that an appeal for public intellectualism cannot be rooted on simplifications.

“Any argument for the public intellectual that […] rests the assumption that common citizens are forever childlike and must be led by a class of experts is politically corrosive and historically dangerous.”

If we are to agree with Mack’s thoughts, then a public intellectual should not be viewed as a breed of elite leading the masses into the promised land of wisdom, but rather someone who simply performs an “important social function.” To return to our person of study, Brooks seems to understand that. He fully interprets the nature of the pulpit he sits at ‑ in fact, cynically so. In Road to Character, Brooks essentially describes his work as overblown.

“I now work as a pundit and columnist,” he writes.  “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am” (Brooks 14).

Even Brooks admit he is among the many living pundits, which in 2015, is often more a derogatory term than one of distinction. I’m sure from this post’s introduction you can assume that. Therefore, it’s clear Brooks is willing to attack the very role he plays, and it’s not the only instance. In past writings, Brooks seems acutely aware that perhaps his job is an inflated one. In a satirical column entitled “The Thought Leader,” from 2013, Brooks pokes fun at those who wish to lead others through mental spewings drenched in elitism. 

“The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler. Each year, he gets to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, where successful people gather to express compassion for those not invited. Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.”

That’s all in good fun, but in a world of shallow rhetoric, words with underlying action and calls to change aren’t pointless. If Brooks is indeed performing a beneficial societal function – both helping those within its walls as well as keeping its architects in check – wouldn’t that prove his and his cohorts’ worth?

I say yes.


“The measure of public intellectual work is not whether the people are listening, but whether they’re hearing things worth talking about.”