Tag Archives: media

The New Media 2014

Many who work in the ‘alternative media’ are growing weary of that moniker and believe that a more updated term should be used. Some have suggested ‘the New Media.’ I’m all for it, and I hope it sticks. Whatever name we choose, it is clear that we are overtaking  the dinosaur media, the so-called ‘mainstream’ news sources which have dominated the news gathering and sharing arena for so long.

The advent of the internet and  the world-wide web has changed everything. When I was growing up, the ‘news’ was what I read every morning in The Washington Post and watched every evening on CBS news and local television stations. With the advent of cable, CNN carved out its niche, but the model was the same. Giant corporate conglomerates , who owned media outlets across the spectrum, controlled the flow of news. It was a top-down model. The 99 percent at the bottom were simply news ‘consumers.’ The could choose to believe or disbelieve what they read or watched, but the options for directly sharing what they knew were few or non-existent.

While I was studying at university in the mid 1980s, one of my professors gave us the Ben Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly to read. Bagdikian (b. 1920) showed, in great detail, how all the media sources in the USA, and around the world, were controlled by a few dozen large companies. The pace of consolidation was moving so fast that he was forced to update his book every five years. What was a few dozen companies in the mid 1980s has now become just six: GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. These powerful half dozen corporations control 90 percent of the news.

When I graduated with a journalism degree in 1988, if I wanted to work outside of the grip of these mega-corporations, there were hardly any choices available. However, this article is not focusing on the old, but the new. Starting in the mid 1990s, the new media has slowly but steadily been eating away at the audience share of the dinosaur media- so much so that many of those old media are in danger of going extinct, so rapidly are they losing their customer base.

Through websites, blogging, youtube channels and other DIY avenues, people are directly sharing with each other on a scale never before seen, and directly bypassing the old media channels. The old guard aren’t just becoming irrelevant, they are passing into history. Let us not mourn their passing. “News, Sports, Weather, Gossip, and Crossword Puzzles.”  What a joke. As Jello Biafra once famously said,”Don’t hate the media, become the media.”



A Review of the Press in Viet Nam and Cambodia

Newspapers, magazines and other print media are struggling around the world as we transition more and more into a digital world where we receive all our news and information from online sources. Nevertheless, newspapers and magazines continue to published as they work to find niche markets and explore ways to survive in the new economy.

08_09_2013_001Viet Nam is a one-party state that is not known for having a robust and free press. The organization ‘Reporters without Borders’ publishes an annual list ranking 180 countries around the world on their freedom of the press. Last year, Viet Nam ranked 174th on this list (ouch!) and Cambodia ranked 144th. However, a number of quality newspapers are published here, and one of them is an English language daily Viet Nam News. I read Viet Nam News almost every day and often share stories from it with my students. I appreciate the layout. Typically it is about 30 pages long. It is 28 x 30 cm, a perfect size for reading on the table next to your breakfast and does not require any awkward unfolding. Except for the front page picture, the photos are in black and white and advertising is set to strict limits. The newspaper covers local and national business, environmental, cultural, and social news. Additionally, international news is extensively covered with many wire stories reprinted from Reuters, Agence-France Press, AP, and many others. Articles and opinions from readers and expatriates are encouraged and reprinted weekly.

Thanhniennews publishes their print edition in Vietnamese but has a online English language edition. They used to print a weekly newsmagazine in English called Viet Week which was excellent and covered a broad and interesting range of topics. Unfortunately, this was discontinued a few weeks ago due to financial costs associated with the printing. The people at Thanhniennews have an excellent editorial team and are not afraid to run hard-hitting pieces aimed at government and police corruption, and graft and malfeasance in the business sector. I am always impressed with the quality of their articles.

stock-footage-young-man-reading-newspaper-in-cafeThere are two slick glossy magazines printed here which are aimed at wealthy Western tourists and the expatriate community: Word  and Asia Life. They are mostly what you would expect from magazines in that genre- lots of articles covering restaurant openings with photoshopped pictures of food , reviews of nightclubs, bars, cafes, djs, bartenders, etc. and of course plenty of articles about beach towns and the hot new spots around Viet Nam. Occasionally, they will attempt an in-depth article, but the focus is on fluff, consumerism, and nightlife.

Cambodia has two surprisingly good newspapers based in Phnom Penh: The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post. The former has a layout similar to Viet Nam News and is a compact, dense newspaper filled with articles from sources all over Asia and the world. With a minimalist style, including small black and white photos and small type-face, it might not appeal to younger generations who are used to splashy graphics, but I love it. I grab a handful of issues whenever I go to Cambodia. The PPP is similar though it looks a bit more like a traditional Western newspaper. Articles and editorials critical of the government are not widely seen, but as the country continues to open up and develop, I believe we will see press freedom expanding as well.

Online magazines, news sites and blogs are starting continually. Saigoneer is a website started recently by English speaking expats in Viet Nam and is aiming to cover a broad range of news topics. Lacking many writers, they mostly grab and repost articles from Thanhniennews and others. Khmer440 is site for expats in Cambodia to share their blogging material and occasionally has some interesting material, but regrettably the vast majority of their submissions are low quality gonzo garbage. Asiapundits, based in Korea also gathers materials from writers and bloggers based in Asia and , like Khmer440, has 10 throwaway pieces for every submission that is worth reading.









Hunter S. Thompson’s ghost lives on

In front of me sits a first person article, published in a slick magazine geared toward wealthy expats, about a man who goes on a one day caffeine binge and chronicles his experiences.  I’ve just finished reading an article in well-designed online magazine for Asian expats in which the author writes about his journey through Kuala Lumpur. Writing in a ‘gonzo’ style, which, by the way, the magazine encourages, the author breathlessly relates his rather mundane experiences in a staccato writing style.  Last week, I came across a blogger who attempted to regale his reading audience with tales of late night shenanigans in the heart of Phnom Penh’s red light district.

What strikes me reading all of these articles, and many, many more like them, is the fact that Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy continues to live on, perhaps more strongly than ever.

Hunter S. Thompson, (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author who, during the 1960s and 1970s, invented a new style of journalism called ‘gonzo.’ Writing in the period of the New Left journalism, Thompson’s  unique and unprecedented writing style emphasized writing in the first person and beyond that, even actively involving himself  directly in the story which he was reporting on.

Although he wrote a number of books, and hundreds of articles, Thompson achieved most of his fame through two books from the late 60s and early 70s: Hell’s Angels: the Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

Reading today’s young journalists and bloggers, it’s hard to remember that not so long ago, such first person writing was unheard of  in the journalistic establishment. In fact, nobody had ever really done it before Thompson. He changed everything. Especially after the publication and success of Fear and Loathing, the journalistic world in New York City took notice and suddenly every young wannabe-writer was trying to ape Thompson’s style.

Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine from the late 70s and all through the 1980s, as well as Esquire, GQ and others, and you will see dozens of young writers who were influenced enormously by Thompson. There was only one small problem: none of them had his talent. While these young writers attempted to superficially graft Thompson’s style onto their stories, the effect was nowhere near what the true gonzo master achieved in his writings. Instead, readers were subjected to overly long, boring  and meandering interviews and articles in which the author desperately tried to show that he  was as important as the interviewee.

Here we are now in 2014 and the ghost of Thompson lives on. Many young writers especially feel that they are giving their story much more life by writing that they ‘blasted across the water’ when they took a simple hydrofoil trip across a calm, placid river with a bunch of overweight middle aged tourists. Or, they believe that they are writing something original when they tell us that they ‘stumbled bleary eyed across the chaotic road, dodging screaming taxi drivers and prostitutes, barely avoiding death by collision with a bus …..and so on.


Hunter Thompson is one of my literary idols. When I was 19 years old, somebody slipped me a tattered copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I took it to my room and didn’t come out until I finished it. It’s one of the few books that I’ve ever read which I finished in one sitting.  I laughed so hard that I cried. I remember the book falling out of my hand I was laughing so hard. After completing the book, I picked it up again the next week and re-read it cover to cover. In the intervening years, I’ve gone back to it dozens of  times. Few authors have given me more pleasure  than Thompson. However, I find it unfortunate that his legacy has bequeathed so many writers who feel that getting intoxicated and writing in a gruff first person account is, in and of itself, entertaining. They forget that for all his gonzo madness, Thompson was a first rate writer who had ideas and opinions on the most important topics of his day. He had something to say and his gonzo style was the vehicle he used to get his ideas across. That so many aspiring writers want to copy the style, without the necessary skill and substance behind it, is a poor way to honor the memory of one of America’s great journalists of the 20th century.

The weather channel is having an identity crisis.

Like most people, I like to read up on the weather. I like to know what’s happening in my area and the world in terms of big events like flooding and longer term climatic trends. So therefore, I drop into the weather channel’s website on occasion. However, I need to break this habit and go to other, better weather websites.

Have you seen  weather.com recently? What a metamorphosis this site has undergone. It’s barely recognizable as a weather website anymore. Seemingly suffering from some kind of severe identity crisis, the team at the weather channel has designed a site that is maybe 10% weather, 50% reality show, 25% travel, and 15% discovery channel.

The top section of the site gives a few weather headlines, but scroll down and you come to the other headings, which include ‘Travel’, ‘Science’,  ‘Health’, and ‘Series.’ What any of this has to do with weather is beyond me. Headlines and titles to articles no longer give you any clue to what the article is actually about. They are only used as teasers to pique your curiosity so that you will click on them. They are filled with worlds like ‘stunning, amazing, incredible, and enormous. 


Here are some of the stories listed on the front page of this so-called weather website:

1) “Something no one has ever seen before.”

2) “Daycare owner dies saving toddler.”

3) “The five most beautiful drives in America.”

4) “Life in a tiny house.”

5) “They’re alive.”

6) “In the middle of nowhere.”

7) “Hermit crabs are cannibals.”

It’s almost like flipping through a gossip rag like National Enquirer, just with prettier graphics.

Speaking of websites with identity crises, another fine example of this is the business insider. I came upon this site a few months ago when I found a story about restaurant closings. It took a few visits before I fully realized that this site has nothing to do with business. It’s quite remarkable when you think about it that they managed to secure that domain name and yet manage to talk only about, well, I don’t know. Here’s a few article titles:

“Anthony Bourdain ate an insane ‘foraged’ feast at Noma, the best restaurant in the world. Photos!”

“Here are the awesome new movies Netflix has in May.”

“11 surprising facts about Canada.”

And it goes on and on. If you thought you were coming to a site to get some crafty insider information on businesses, and in-depth analysis on business cycles and trends, sorry mate. No nutrition here, just informational junk food.