Changing the Faces of Media

Quick—name the director of your favorite film. The columnist of the newspaper article you just read. The analyst on the news program you watch.

While many of us are aware of the handful of big name women in media, when reality sets in it becomes clear that these answers were most likely men. The existence of a gender gap in all areas of the media, from newspaper to film to television, is not a new realization. What is surprising, however, is that only slight improvements in the amount of women in the industry have been made in the last decade, according to the newest report from the Women’s Media Center titled “Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014.”

Let’s start with journalism. But wait, you say. What about Oprah, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Walters—there is an abundance of female journalists! While many females have risen to prominence in journalism, the fact is that female representation in television newsrooms has declined from 79 to 78.6 percent and female representation in print newsrooms has declined from 36.9 to 36.3 percent in the past decade. Furthermore, in the news stories reported and written, the majority of the quotes and bylines were men’s.

For those behind the bigger screen, it’s the same story. In 2012, of the 1,228 directors, writers and producers of films, only 16.7 percent were female.
The highest paid female movie star, actress Angelina Jolie made roughly the same amount as the two lowest paid male stars in Hollywood. Additionally, of female actresses who had screen time in 2012, only 28.4 percent had speaking roles.

While all of these facts point to a systemic problem that underlies many other problems with the representation of women in the media, the first step is recognizing that the gender disparity exists, not only in the media, but perpetrated by the media (be sure to watch the film Miss Representation for a stunningly crafted look into this). The next step is to realize that there are women who are working to change the status quo.

Arianna Huffington is one such woman. Huffington, the chair, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, has encouraged women to become involved in the media and in business ventures, as she did in founding The Huffington Post. Huffington is putting her words into practice, as well as at The Huffington Post has more female bylines than any other comparable online news site (CNN, The Daily Beast or Fox News).

There are miles and miles of ground to cover before we might be able to name more females in media than males. As Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton states, “The numbers tell a clear story for the need for change on every media platform.” While change may be difficult, the amount of females in media studies programs, such as the Communications and Media Studies minor here at Tufts, gives hope for future progress.

— Lauren Witte

The Academy Awards Diversity Gap

I’ll be the first to admit that regardless of all its hype and elitism, I love the glitz and glam of the Oscars. I am completely enamored with the red carpet coverage, the cheeky hosting, and the emotional acceptance speeches. But it isn’t hard to see that the people accepting those awards have been, well, monochromatic. I’m talking white and for the majority, male.

Just in time for the Awards this Sunday, Lee & Low Books, an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity, released this infographic about the lack of diversity in Academy Award winners since the inception of the Awards 85 years ago. Whether it’s what you’d expect or not, the results are devastating. Only one woman of color has ever won an award for Best Actress, and that was Halle Berry in 2002. Only seven men of color have ever won for Best Actor, the last one being Forest Whitaker eight years ago, and only one woman has ever won for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow. The Academy voters as well are overwhelmingly white males.

Some people may say, “but look, this year three minority actors are nominated, one being a woman, and they have good chances of winning!” As much as I admire these actors and their performances, there’s still one thing that bothers me about the roles for which they are nominated. Each of their roles specifically called for an actor or actress of their race, meaning there was no way a white person could have been cast for those roles anyway. In an interview for Lee & Low, actor/writer/director Jason Chan explained that when it comes to casting, “The default is always Caucasian unless something else is specifically asked for.” What I would like to see is a person of a minority background getting recognition (and I mean the kind of mainstream recognition that the Oscars provides, because let’s face it, unless you’re a film buff, that’s what you’re paying attention to) for a role that could be ethnically ambivalent. We need to show that not only white actors and actresses are capable of taking challenging leading roles and of being role models to the millions of people who watch and admire them.

I know that the Academy is not the be-all, end-all of the film world. Thankfully, independent filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, Secret Life of Bees) states in the same interview with Lee & Low that the independent world is many steps ahead of major studios in including diversity in their productions, both in front and behind the cameras.

Once we see more diversity on the production side, maybe we’ll see the same on screen. The recent census shows that for the first time, the majority of babies born (50.6%) in the United States are minorities. When will the media start reflecting this change as well?

-Julie Takla ’16

Rom-coms, Valentine’s Day, and How We’re Spending a Lot Without Buying Anything

Last week people all over the country celebrated the most romantic and undoubtedly commercialized holiday we know of: Valentine’s Day. From jewelry to Hallmark cards to dinner dates, consumers spend around $17.6 billion on this one day of the year. Of course, also on the profiting side is the film industry. Whereas movies pertaining to other holidays only come once a year, such as Christmas movies, Valentine’s Day movies can be seen all year round. They’re called rom-coms.

The romantic comedy has always been a successful hybrid movie genre, and it’s not hard to see why. With their simple storylines, (highly predictable) twists, (sometimes overdone) comic relief, and (too-good-to-be-true) happy endings, they portray a world we can only dream to live in. Yet how are these exaggerated realities affecting the way we live our lives? Some people believe that romantic comedies have ruined their relationships because they teach audiences to expect too much from their romantic partner. Watching two actors play out the most romantic–and fictional–days of their lives can remind us viewers how grateful we are for the people around us, or give us a reason to adopt another cat. Whether we love Valentine’s day or love to hate it, movies, especially romantic comedies, play a big role in shaping our perceptions of the holiday. Or do they?

According to a 2013 study at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, watching romantic movies does not actually give people unrealistic expectations for their relationships.The study identified four romantic ideals found in rom-coms: love at first sight, one and only soul mate, love conquers all, and idealization of partner. However, only the last had a significant correlation to the frequency of intake of romantic comedy films. Most people do not believe they’re going to find “the one” and their lives will be complete just because a movie says so. And most people do not expect to find a perfect partner who will lie in the middle of the road with them The Notebook style, unless they actively watch romantic comedies for dating and relationship advice. Studies show that people who watch romantic movies in order to learn from them are more likely to idealize their partner and believe in other romantic ideals.

It makes sense: those who go into a movie looking for some kind of message or answer will find what they are looking for. It all depends on intent and the ability to project yourself onto the main character.

Which brings me to another question: whose lives are being portrayed on screen? The film and television trope of the white male lead pursuing the white female lead (or vice versa) is so common that we often don’t stop to think about who’s missing. Where are the racial minorities, the interracial couples, and the same-sex couples? If romantic comedies are portraying the image of the ideal lifestyle and relationship, what does that mean for the viewers who do not fit the white upper-middle class heteronormative profile of the lead characters?

Maybe it’s because we are not all seeing ourselves onscreen that we are not all falling for these ideas of what love and romance are supposed to be. And yet, we’re still spending so much money when we know that what we’re buying is fake: we won’t get perfect endings or perfect partners, and no amount of chocolate or roses is going to get you that perfectly timed promotion or change a person’s entire personality. So why continue this practice? If I were to take a guess, I’d say it’s because for one day, it’s fun to feel like you’re living in a movie. For just one day, cheesy rom-com rules apply: it’s acceptable to recite 19th century love poems, or even write your own. Giant heart bouquets of red roses aren’t too over the top. The extra money for more elegant dinner isn’t too much to spare for one night.

Romantic comedies will continue to allow people a few hours of respite into a perfect world and show us what we want to see. So maybe we’re not as deluded as we previously thought, and we don’t really need romantic movies to tell us how to handle our relationships, but that didn’t stop me from watching The Wedding Singer with my roommates last Friday night.

 

–Julie Takla ’16

Stopping the Presses: student publications and new media

Consider this blog post. No, really. In the past, a forum like this one—a blog for, by, and about an academic department—simply wouldn’t have existed. But, as we’ve all heard a million times, the world is changing, thanks to the Internet. For some college newspapers, though, the Internet is more than the new frontier; rather, it’s the only place their product exists.

This phenomenon is nothing new, as professional publications have made the switch in an effort to save money for years. The most famous of this bunch is Newsweek, which published in print for 80 years before its changeover and rebranding in October 2012. But the financial crisis hit student publications later and in a different way. In fact, as late as 2009, over a third of college newspapers didn’t have a web presence at all (defined as no website or a website that hadn’t been updated in six months or more).

The University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald is not one of these publications. After 92 years of printing daily, in 2012 the newspaper transitioned to a twice-weekly magazine with most content published online. Eastern Connecticut State University took that one step further. In September 2006, students returned to newspaper racks filled not with a new edition, but instead with fliers informing them that news would now only be available online. While ECSU was the first school to literally “stop the presses” (which actually raised legal trouble), others have followed in more recent years, especially on the community college level. Here at Tufts, while many publications have an online presence, none are completely online.

In the end, though, it’s important to remember the purpose of student newspapers. Yes, a record of happenings, on-campus and off, is valuable for the campus. But, more specifically, student publications in general provide outlets for practice, training, and experience in the field of journalism. The act of writing the story may prove more important than the content of that story, even if the byline is online. In fact, in an era in which journalism is increasingly on the Internet and/or multimedia, one could argue that it’s worse for a student publication not to have a web presence at all than not to publish in print.

However, even though funding for college newspapers can be tight, I would argue that it is almost as irresponsible to abandon print journalism completely. Call me a print media junkie, but nothing compares to holding the news in my hands, without a dim, bluish glow. I want to turn the page to see the next section, instead of just scrolling down. And I’m not alone: according to research, students prefer the print version of their campus newspapers, and in 2010 over half of college students didn’t even know if their college newspaper was available online. When budget cuts and lack of profit threatened to shut down American University’s weekly Eagle, student response was so negative that they decided to make the changes necessary to allow at least a monthly publication.

But the Emerald didn’t change media because of financial difficulties—2011 was one of their most successful years ever. Instead it was because they saw a shift in professional journalism, and adjusted their mission and actions to better fit the modern world. In the end, digital news media is neither an add-on nor a replacement for its print counterpart. When the two exist simultaneously, they complement each other, and students aiming for careers in journalism should be comfortable on either end. Because, right now, that is the future. Print publications may be struggling financially, on the whole, but they need young, bright minds with experience in both realms in order to keep functioning. Maybe it will change again: perhaps print journalism will truly become a thing of the past, and we’ll all carry our student publications around on tablets, and every academic department will have a blog. But today, this semester, this year, we still exist in a blend of the two forms, and thus student journalists need experience in both.

–Gracie McKenzie, A15

Social Media and the Syria Crisis

It goes without saying that the events of the Arab Spring will leave a historical legacy of numerous dimensions, impacting permanently how we think about global geopolitics, ethnic/sectarian politics, energy politics, and such concepts as “popular uprising,” democratization, state sovereignty, and international law and the laws of war. All of the states involved in the Arab Spring, including Syria, have also demonstrated that the role of social media in mass movements is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored, whether or not one believes that it can really be credited with any of the success of these movements. (As one early commentator questioned, “Is all you need to topple an entrenched autocratic regime a collection of Facebook updates, YouTube videos and Twitter hashtags?”) It is true that, as has been pointed out, Facebook’s highest-growth markets are the Middle East, Africa and India.

Regardless of one’s views on whether social media’s role has been positive or negative in Syria, it is clear that if nothing else social media has shaped reactions to the conflict all over the world. Videos posted on YouTube have prompted domestic reactions inside the US, specialist internet bloggers from around the world have apparently provided important weapons analysis to governments and human rights groups based on their monitoring of social media, and global leaders such as David Cameron have kept the world apprised of their actions through Twitter (tweets David_Cameron: “The use of chemical weapons in Syria is wrong – and any response wound [sic] have to be legal, proportionate & designed to deter further outrages”). One site has collected an interactive map showing all of the latest tweets on chemical weapons in Syria and the international response (example: “war is business and its [sic] poor people that pay the price, feeling sorry for the people of #Syria #Iraq and the whole #Africa”).

Do you think social media has played an important role in the Syrian crisis? Is this positive or negative? We’re interested to hear your thoughts!

Summer 2013 in the Media

Greetings from the CMS Blog! We hope you had a great summer. Though we were on hiatus, we didn’t stop paying attention to the goings-on in the world of media, and now we’re excited to start the conversation again. And we hope to hear from you as well!

One of the interesting phenomena of the summer was a number of high profile private purchases of major newspapers, over a matter of days. Jeffrey Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, purchased The Washington Post for $250 million out of his personal wealth of an estimated $25 billion (it is estimated that this price is approximately equal to just 1% of his share of Amazon stock). John Henry, the Boston Red Sox principal owner and former investment fund manager, bought The Boston Globe for a paltry $70 million.

For many, the question was why these businessmen decided to invest in such a “failing” industry. Mayor Bloomberg of New York stated he had “no idea” why Bezos bought The Post.  Others hypothesized that newspapers are the new “trophy” for billionaires – “Some billionaires like cars, yachts and private jets. Others like newspapers.” For his part, Bezos has said little about his private motives for buying the paper. He has stated that he “doesn’t have all the answers” for the problems facing the newspaper industry, but that he’s willing to start asking questions and is hopeful for a new “golden era” for The Post. His comparative advantage will in theory be a new “point of view” as to how the paper should evolve (and presumably keep costs down, as he so successfully did at Amazon), and provide a “runway” (i.e. more time for the company to restructure financially).

Others have observed that private ownership is perhaps a better status for the company; in an interview with Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, she pointed out that “If journalism is the mission…maybe (a publicly traded company) is not the best place for The Post.”

The Boston Globe was purchased in a similarly shaky financial condition. The New York Times Company, the previous owner, sold the Globe at a significant loss from the $1.1 billion it paid in 1993. Though some may consider it a risky investment for John Henry, he is known for a “keen grasp of numbers and a disciplined approached to statistics,” and an investment model “focused on ‘what is, not what should be.’” He will likely bring the same business acumen to the Globe that he brought to his previous investments including the commodities market, the Red Sox, the New England Sports Network, the Liverpool Soccer Club and a NASCAR team. In this intriguing piece from WBUR blogger Carey Goldberg, the author challenges Henry to break from the Globe’s traditional hierarchical coverage of the region and instead discover a “new Boston,” whereby the paper and its staff willingly seek out stories and sources that are increasingly relevant to the city and its readers today by digging into it’s “knowledge economy.”

But while noble, many news outlets may no longer be willing to invest in coverage that runs counter to audience expectations with so much weighing on profit margins. What does it take to make a media company profitable today? Similar questions have been raised in the context of 24-hour-news networks and online media. For example, a recent satirical post on The Onion mercilessly mocked the CNN.com website for posting an article on Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance as their top story, above the crisis in Syria, solely to drive up web traffic and thereby advertising revenues. As the fake “Op-Ed” put it, “I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. The more eyeballs on our content, the more cash we can ask for. Period.” Online news sources are now competing more and more desperately for advertising revenues. Is there a financially sustainable solution in the future?

What do you think?

Jason Collins and the Social Media Response

“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran NBA center for the Washington Wizards, among other teams, recently came out in a piece published in Sports Illustrated magazine. The significance of his announcement, making him the first openly gay active male athlete in US professional team sports, was not lost on anyone, and received a response that was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Despite the fact that female professional athletes have been “out” for 32 years, since professional tennis player Martina Navratilova came out in 1981, the men’s professional sports world is probably one of the more difficult arenas left to come out. Collins’ bravery was acknowledged by many, including President Obama who personally called him to tell him that “What you did today was brave…It affected so many other people in the country.” Lebron James, one of basketball’s best players, called Collins “noble,” saying “I think it’s very strong of [Collins]. I’ve got the utmost respect for Jason.”

Collins also received wide-ranging support from others, from former President Bill Clinton, to current teammates and other players including Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, to numerous former coaches. Particularly remarkable was the response from the social media community. In general, research showed that the social media response was over 80% positive, with a very small minority of actively negative voices. You can find a breakdown of the most-frequently mentioned keywords here:

Source: socialmediatoday.com

Source: socialmediatoday.com

Gender in Film: a Non-Review of Spring Breakers

Source: nyulocal.com

Source: nyulocal.com

This week saw the passing of legendary movie critic Roger Ebert, whose long-time movie review columns and prior TV show with Gene Siskel have undoubtedly influenced reactions to many of the country’s films over the past twenty-plus years. In tribute to this, we thought for this week’s blog post we’d take a look at the film industry.

The only problem is, as a busy students, we haven’t actually been to the movies in months. But we’re not going to let that stop us – there’s more than enough buzz and hype (positive, negative, and everything in between) swirling around out there on the recent release Spring Breakers to analyze the public’s reaction to the movie, and to certain interesting aspects of gender in film in general.

Post-feminist dream, feminist nightmare, or something in between?

A popular litmus test for judging the gender bias or gender-friendliness of a movie is the Bechdel test, named for comic strip artist Alison Bechdel. A film passes the Bechdel test if it meets one simple condition: it has at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Interestingly, more than half of a sample of 2,500 films did not pass the test, including some of the most popular movies of recent history. For example, the final in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, does not pass the test, as no two female characters ever exchange dialogue throughout the movie. Perhaps less surprisingly, the wildly popular trilogies Star Wars (the original trilogy) and Lord of the Rings do not pass the test – in the entire three films of the first Star Wars trilogy no female characters say a word to each other, nor do they in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as the main female characters never actually meet.

By this test, Spring Breakers, a recent release by famed “auteur” Harmony Korine vaguely “about” the debauchery of American college spring break, apparently passes with flying colors. The movie is about four female American college students who desperately want to go on spring break to Florida in order to escape the monotony of their daily lives. Given the hype surrounding the film – from its casting of ex-Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens to portray “girls gone wild,” to its gratuitous sexuality and violence  – the movie has generated enough hype to surely secure it a generous audience for a regularly small-budget movie.

Spring Breakers has received wildly varying reviews, with titles ranging from the positive – “Why Spring Breakers is the only American movie that matters right now”, “Spring Breakers doesn’t reinforce rape culture” – to the highly negative – “Spring Breakers isn’t just a terrible movie, it reinforces rape culture”, “ ‘Spring Breakers’ Review: This is not what a feminist looks like.” Many reviewers focused on the fact that the film’s subtext was clearly meant to be subversive. In the words of one reviewer, the film represents “the most thorough indictment of the American dream since The Great Gatsby.” For example, one of the lead characters played by James Franco, a self-described “gangster” of southern Florida, is apparently Gatsby-esque in his exultations over all of his ill-gotten gains, perhaps akin to the triumph expressed by the well-known literary figure (who himself engaged in shady business dealings). According to the reviewer, the film is clearly intended to portray all of its sexuality and violence in a negative light – “any time blaring dub step is playing in an art film, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we are supposed to look askance at what is happening.” However, the reviewer fully expected that “a whole bunch of people weren’t going to get it.”

Other reviews were not as kind. Some reviewers saw and understood the attempt at subversive subtext, but felt that the film was still ultimately misogynistic. According to one reviewer, though the film seemingly attempts to be a denunciation of the type of culture it portrays, it “ultimately fails” because “it promotes the problematic notion that for young women, sex – particularly the kind that just so happens to fit the stereotyped predilections of the heterosexual male – is power.” The reviewer felt that the movie’s “posturing shouldn’t fool viewers into thinking it’s anything more than exploitation.” Another review went so far as to link the film to the type of “rape culture” currently in controversy in the US due to recent incidents such as the Steubenville rape case.

Is a film automatically misogynistic if it portrays women in a hyper-sexualized light? Is a film automatically “clever” or “subversive” if it portrays the same thing in an ambivalent matter? These are probably questions that some of you are asking in your media studies classes, so let us know what you think!

Thoughts on Digital Media, the LA Talent Industry, and Advice for CMS Seniors from a CMS Alum

The CMS Blog recently sat down (virtually, of course), with a CMS alum, CJ Saraceno (A11), who is currently hard at work in LA doing exciting social media and branding campaigns through a boutique firm called NCLUSIVE, for clients ranging from well-known celebrities to non-profits to professional athletes. He works to help clients brand themselves in unique, creative ways through social media. The CMS blog had a lot to ask him ranging from his thoughts/philosophy on media in the digital age to his career path in LA. He even gave us some helpful advice for current CMS seniors! In true CMS style, he gave us such thoughtful, articulate answers that they needed no further edits from us – so read on and enjoy!

CMS: How is advertising and marketing evolving in the digital age?

CJS: I like that you use the word evolve. Right now in the social media world, there are these gurus who love to be seen as heralding this rapid transformation of advertising and marketing. I personally don’t think this is the case. The medium has changed, yes. And the message has to adapt to fit the demands of that medium. But the intent is still the same. You’re still working to convince people to purchase, donate, or sign up.

One benefit from this evolution of digital marketing: Social media is now being prioritized by in-house marketing teams. Most people no longer doubt the importance of creating unique and remarkable content on a daily basis. Five years ago, this was not the case.

CMS: And what does this evolution mean in terms of practices, philosophy, outreach and design?

CJS: Practices – Social media allows a brand to have extended conversations with their fans in real time. With this unprecedented level of access, marketers are realizing they can’t just be pitching the product. They can’t be a propaganda machine. They have to share useful, engaging content.

Philosophy – I’d argue that the philosophy is still the same. Companies want to see results. And not just in their number of Facebook Likes. They want sales. The way to boosting sales is by reaching more people and you reach more people when you create photos, videos, infographics, and blog posts that they want to share with their friends.

Outreach – As print media died, blogs rose to take on a major presence in the media landscape. Digital PR is geared towards using these blogs to target customers on a neutral platform. And with this, it’s all about realizing that bloggers want to post things that will get them pageviews because pageviews equal paychecks. Once again, it all comes back to having engaging content.

CMS: We’d love to get a quick overview of your career: what has been your overall path and what has inspired you to make the career transitions you have made?

CJS: Back when I was a sheepish and naive freshman, I had my first meeting with my advisor, Maryanne Wolf. I told her I was in this conundrum where I couldn’t decide between a career in film or business or politics and so I didn’t know what classes to take. She stared at me smiling and explained that I should never just pick one thing and neglect others. Rather, I had a duty to use my time at Tufts to find a way to combine my areas of interest and make a living doing it.

At Tufts, I went ahead and pursued all three (Political Science major, Mass Communications & Media Studies Minor, and film school abroad).  Courses like Creative Writing with Marcie Hershman, Consumer Society with Brian Roach, Journey of the Hero with Betsey J. Halpern were so influential. Taking advanced filmmaking courses with Howard Woolf sharpened my ability to construct visual messages. Sophomore year I took Sociology 40: Media and Society with Sarah Sobieraj, where I was introduced us to guys like Rob Walker, Theodor Adorno, and Clay Shirky, who were talking about culture and movements and brands and it was exciting.

I moved to LA because I thought working at a top talent agency would be a good start to a long career in film and branded entertainment. But I got to LA and just heard a lot of horror stories from close friends in regard to the culture at these places and how people have these awful bosses and how sometimes the juice ends up being not really worth the squeeze. Plus, I’ve always considered myself more of an anti-establishment person and everything these top agencies gave off was just the opposite. Except UTA, they always seemed cool.

My first real film gig was on the set of Taken 2, where I was a Production Assistant. Though my day-to-day activities involved a lot of little tasks, long drives, lunch orders, etc., being on set with Liam Neeson and Director Olivier Megaton was a memorable experience. There were of course days where we would be working 16-17 hours and it would fly by because you were surrounded by so many talented professionals. Once that wrapped, I landed a job as an Office PA for Season 3 of Evolution’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. That was another amazing job with amazing people but once again, 13 hour days were the minimum and it involved a lot of grunt work. I think in Hollywood, it’s expected to really pay your dues before you’re given a position of power. I figured I could produce more videos with a switch into the branded entertainment side. That way I could at least be producing web videos, rather hauling equipment and getting appearance releases.

One day on RHOBH we filmed cast member Yolanda Foster meeting these digital consultants from NCLUSIVE inc.  I saw the office; the people were cool and their work was incredible. Once my job with Real Housewives ended, I sent a long email to NCLUSIVE, explaining that I would do anything to work there.  At the time, they weren’t hiring but the owners still took a meeting with me. I spent two hours in there and the rest is history. I’ve now been a brand content strategist with NCLUSIVE inc. for 6 months, where I coordinate and consult on digital content for brands and nonprofits as well as individual celebrities, athletes, musicians.

CMS: One final question – you probably get this a lot, but any words of advice for current seniors in the CMS program interested in careers in PR/marketing?

CJS:

– Writing is so important. I took a class with Political Science professor David Art and he had us read Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I recommend it.

– Be proactive. A resume is no longer enough. Do your homework on the companies to which you’re applying. If you want to work somewhere, do something remarkable and send it to them. Do a competitor analysis. Make a video. Create an infographic, a microsite, a Facebook ad campaign, something. Keep sending it to them until you get a response.

– Boost your personal brand. If you apply to a job in anything marketing-related and your social media looks neglected, underused, and unpolished, you’re missing out on a key way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

– Apply to intern with NCLUSIVEinc., We’re based in LA, we’re rapidly expanding, we like people with diverse backgrounds. For more info, I can be reached at CJ.Saraceno@nclusive.com.

Thank you so much Mr. Saraceno!

Fall of the Phoenix

Boston’s premiere alternative weekly newspaper/magazine, The Phoenix (formerly the Boston Phoenix), closed for good as of March 14 this week. The announcement was made public in a mode reflective of today’s fast-paced media world: a simple tweet, “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.” The Phoenix had existed since the 1970s, and had long built up a reputation for quality alternative coverage of everything from the local arts scene to local and national politics.

The publication’s staff were informed by the owner and manager, Stephen Mindich, the same day. Staff members described themselves as “shell-shocked”; an expected 40 were let go this week and another 10 will soon follow.

In his poignant public statement, owner and publisher Stephen Mindich made clear the difficulty of the decision, noting the recent difficulties in the industry:

“…these have been extremely difficult times for our Company and despite the valiant effort by many, many past and current staff to attempt to stabilize and, in fact, reverse our significant financial losses, we have been unable to do so and they are no longer sustainable.”

Yet above all he emphasized the accomplishments of the publication: “What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades.”

Reasons for the demise

The Phoenix’s problems were not in its readership, which didn’t decline; according to leadership the problem was revenue. By the end the Phoenix was costing Mr. Mindich, who had guided the paper since the 1970s, more than $1 million a year. The company does not intend to file formal bankruptcy, but has hired a law firm to liquidate the paper’s remaining assets and pay as many of the taxes, employee wages, and approximately 40 creditors as possible.

The paper had previously changed formats less than a year before, in September 2012, when the former Boston Phoenix merged with its sister publication, Stuff, and became a glossy biweekly magazine called The Phoenix. This move was intended to generate new advertising revenues and was in general well-received, though even at the time it was noted that the magazine would still face major challenges. In other cities, similar “alternative weeklies” such as New York’s Village Voice or Washington’s City Paper have faced downsizing or been sold.

Observers differ in their impressions of what this means for the alternative news industry in general. According to the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, despite the loss of the Phoenix the industry remains healthy; many papers are actually seeing improved circulation and are not in danger of closing. Yet in large markets such as Boston, alternative newspapers tend to be less successful than in smaller, less-competitive cities such as Providence, RI and Portland, ME, where the local Phoenix branches will remain in operation.

Public reactions

Many prominent writers with personal connections to the Phoenix have expressed their dismay at the news. In the words of New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, one of many whose careers started at the Boston Phoenix, “It’s like finding out your college has gone bankrupt and is gone. I am a child of the alt-weekly world.” Other prominent writers who also got their start at the Phoenix include Joe Klein, Sidney Blumenthal, Janet Maslin, and David Denby. At the Boston Globe, columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote, “I would tell you how I truly feel about the Boston Phoenix closing, but that would involve using words that could only be published in the Phoenix.” She too had worked at the Phoenix in the late 1990s, and wrote that there she had been “surrounded by the smartest, funniest people I had ever known.”

Frequent Boston news commentator Dan Kennedy, author of the widely-read Media Nation blog, wrote that he was “not even going to try to write a real post about this today” as “I’m devastated.”  He described the Phoenix as “the most formative experience of my career.” In fact, he wrote, “without the Phoenix, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing today — PR for some politician? Ugh.”

The Boston Phoenix will surely be missed by its loyal readership as well as this generation’s cohort of aspiring alternative newsmedia/long-form journalists.