Why I’m not reading Go Set A Watchman

Should the circumstances under which Go Set A Watchman came to be published influence whether or not we read it?

This week marks the release of Go Set A Watchman, the second book to be published from author Harper Lee, 55 years after the first, To Kill A Mockingbird. Lee attended the University of Alabama and wrote for the same campus newspaper that many of my students have staffed. So, the release of Watchman has perhaps been on my radar a bit longer than others. And since the announcement, I’ve had a sick feeling in my stomach about it.

watchmanLee neither seeks nor enjoys public attention. She does not grant interviews with media (the last was in 1964). She still lives in Monroeville, Ala., the small country town of her birth. And those close to her have long told the press that Lee had no desire to publish again.

In 2007, Lee, hard of hearing and sight recovering from a stroke in an assisted living home, signed away her copyright to Mockingbird, leading to an ugly legal battle to recover it. This Vanity Fair feature from 2013 is absolutely worth your time.

So, when Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter, announced that she had stumbled upon a long-lost manuscript, and publisher HarperCollins added that Lee was “happy as hell” to publish it, one had to wonder if someone else close to Lee was taking advantage of the author who now permanently resides in a nursing home. Continue reading “Why I’m not reading Go Set A Watchman”

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Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy

There will never be a n*gger at SAE
There will never be a n*gger at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
But he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a n*gger at SAE

Some ignorant frat guys from the University of Oklahoma sang this on a bus. It was filmed and shared online. Within 24 hours, the university severed ties with the fraternity and shut down their campus house. Within 36 hours, two students appearing to lead the song had been expelled.

They deserve it. The existence of this line of thinking, much less the existence of a welcoming audience for such a message, makes me angry.

They deserve it. But they cannot be expelled, because it runs counter to the purpose of institutions of higher education and foundational American beliefs about expression.

Continue reading “Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy”

Mass layoffs or ‘job notifications’? Advance’s attempt to spin its Deep South newspaper guttings

Six hundred employees at four Deep South newspapers lost their jobs Tuesday, as Advance Publications continues its transition to primarily digital news. The cuts hit newsrooms surprisingly hard, especially in the wake of Advance’s earlier commitment to “significantly increase online news-gathering efforts” and offer “richer” “deeper” “robust” “enhanced printed newspapers on a scheduled of three days a week.”

In May, Advance announced limited print schedules and a revamped online approach for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register, and the Huntsville Times.

[RELATED: Times-Picayune, part of New Orleans culture, scaling back; Alabama papers hit, too]

The Times-Picayune lost 49% of its news staff on Tuesday. The Birmingham News purged 60% of their journalists. In moves that cut roughly one-third of each newspaper’s overall staffing, it would seem that the actual news gatherers were hit disproportionately hard.

Advance promises that a portion of these positions will be refilled, no doubt by less experienced, more affordable reporters. Still, fulfilling the watchdog role of the press is awful tough work when there aren’t capable bodies there to do the groundwork.

And if yesterday’s events were any indication, the NOLA and AL media groups are going to have a lot of trouble covering their respective cities. Just look at how poorly they covered themselves…

Continue reading “Mass layoffs or ‘job notifications’? Advance’s attempt to spin its Deep South newspaper guttings”

Times-Picayune, part of New Orleans culture, scaling back; Alabama papers hit, too

Today is another in an almost decade-long line of sad days for the newspaper industry. Ownership of the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced Thursday that the newspaper will cut its print distribution to three days a week and shift resources to its website, NOLA.com. By the end of the afternoon, three more dailies in Alabama had been similarly downsized.

This is not just another small newspaper trimming down, or a competing paper in a large city getting out of the print business. With a daily circulation of over 150,000, the Times-Picayune is the largest newspaper to scale back printing dates and New Orleans is now the largest city in America without a daily newspaper, according to Poynter.

The move is part of a larger strategy for the newspaper’s ownership group, Advance Publications (often referred to as Newhouse, after the family that owns the company). Hours after the Times-Picayune news, Advance announced the same print schedule for the Birmingham News, Press-Register of Mobile, and the Huntsville Times – leaving three of the state’s four largest cities without a daily newspaper. The Alabama newspapers will place more emphasis on AL.com. Advance also recently consolidated a number of their Michigan newspapers and decreased printing days, eliminated home delivery, or took both measures in various markets.

The new NOLA Media Group promised more intensive online news-gathering “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” and feature-heavy print editions on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday – “the most valuable days for the newspaper’s advertisers,” said NOLA’s president Ricky Matthews in the group’s official release Thursday morning.

Continue reading “Times-Picayune, part of New Orleans culture, scaling back; Alabama papers hit, too”

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