Category Archives: USC Specialized Journalism

Laser Sound

SCA lobbyHere’s what I learned at graduate school yesterday: The sounds that the dinosaurs make in Jurassic Park are a composite of different real animal cries. The sound of lasers shooting in Star Wars is a manipulation of the noise a bal peen hammer makes when hitting a tight cable. Terminator 2 is a landmark film in terms of sound design.

It was actually the most fun and in some ways most inspiring day I’ve had at USC yet. I attended a microseminar in the brand-new fancy Cinema Arts building as part of my duties as an Annenberg fellow. The seminar – on Sound Design, led by William Whittington – was not my first choice, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. Whittington’s book Sound Design & Science Fiction has quickly become a seminal text in the field, but I was afraid this was going to be nerd city.

Actually, Whittington’s the kind of movie fanatic whose love of the genre is infectious. He plied us with clips from Pixar and Apocalypse Now, and I realized this is one of the best things about the Specialized Journalism MA: We get to take courses in other schools, including the storied film school, where figures like Lucas and Spielberg still occasionally roam the halls. I can see the movie industry sucking me in … It’s gotta pay more than journalism.

Much of the seminar was devoted to the six students from three schools – film, Annenberg, and engineering – getting to know each other. That was cool too. We’re planning to meet again later this fall, to go see an IMAX movie. And I’m getting paid to do this!

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Golden, or Gilded, Age?

Coming from the world of actually making, or trying to make, a living in journalism, to the world of talking and thinking about journalism, there’s — surprise, surprise! — a huge disconnect. The faculty here at Annenberg are gung ho about new media and the state of journalism. At the graduate school welcoming presentation yesterday, ours was even referred to as “a golden age.”

If so, where’s the gold? I agree that information technology is creating an explosion of new opportunities. But I don’t see how most of these opportunities are going to be monetized. That huge failure in the system — coupled with the overall recession — means that I know a number of talented, experienced journalists, who have worked very hard to be skilled reporters and writers and to utilize the latest digital tools, who are scratching for chicken feed right now. I’ve also worked for one of those new digital media, and seen it crash and burn. Is this a golden, or a gilded, age?

I do, actually, love this technological revolution, or whatever it is. Blogs follow in my favorite American journalistic traditions, from the pamphlets of Paine to the penny press to fanzines. And I’m happy to be surrounded by others who are excited about this change, instead of hearing the constant bitter grumblings of the newsroom.

But the disconnect between the two spheres troubles me. I spent two decades out of academia because I wanted to be in the real world, not the ivory tower. Thinkers must connect with doers or their thoughts are just dreams. I like happy dreams — they’re much better than waking nightmares. But I don’t want to walk around with a deluded smile.

Former Annenberg dean Geoffrey Cowan is teaching what may be one of the most important courses here, on entrepreneurial journalism. It would probably behoove me, all of us, to take it. Except that I know that I’m a much better writer than I am a businessperson or self-promoter. The problem with journalism these days is maybe you have to be all three.

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Introducing Cherry Bomb

Cherry Bomb 0 00 28-12As Barack Obama recently demonstrated, the standard bribe for getting small children to move across country is to promise a pet. This is how we got Otis, the best little dog in the universe, when Bud moved his daughters to live with me in New York 11 years ago. Now, Cole has Cherry Bomb.

Our second day in LA, we got no bed, clothes hangers, corkscrew, trash cans, or other needed items. We got Cole a red-striped corn snake. He named it after one of his favorite songs.

Check out the videos, assignments for my MA program, shot with the Flip Camera USC has loaned me. The task was to shoot an interview, and to shoot and edit a video using five specific shots in order (hands, face, wide shot, over the shoulder, and one other angle). Since we were kind of house bound this weekend, Cole was my subject for both. And Cherry.

The Interview:

The Shots:

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Cole and a Little Pandemic

The media hysteria over H1N1 has been disconcerting and unhelpful. The initial furor was so clearly reactionary and unthinking that it’s hard to know how seriously to take the threat of infection now that it’s evident that apocalypse is not imminent — yet the disease does continue to spread. These thoughts all came home to roost Friday when Cole came down with swine flu.

Fortunately, we knew as soon as he started getting hot what it was: His best friend Eli, with whom he had spent the day at Lego Land two days earlier, tested positive for swine flu Friday morning. We were able to get Cole on Tamiflu right away, and by Sunday morning, his fever was already gone. Shwew.

And to think Bud and I thought we had cleared all the hurdles on our marathon odyssey life change. As if moving across country on a wing and a prayer weren’t enough, we had to get a little pandemic thrown in. What next? I haven’t even blogged yet about almost getting struck by lightning in July (I’ll post that one soon).

What I have learned from this: Take all those hand sanitizer admonishments to heart, especially if you’re at an amusement park (my friend Shelley recently caught chicken pox at Disnewy Worl). And if you have a child or are at high risk, make sure to get Tamiflu. Our doctor was reluctant to prescribe it, but we pushed, and are glad we did. Fortunately, even though we didn’t get any for ourselves, Bud and I have remained symptom-free.

To view Cole just before he began passing out with fever, check out the next post, my first online videos!

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Jon Stewart: The News?

Dean Gillman was right about one thing in his SJ MA dinner rant last night: The Daily Show is at heart a critique of the news media as much as it is of the state of politics. Jon Stewart himself constantly disavows that he’s presenting news. The core of his show is the re-presentation of stories, the skewering of how the media handles — or mishandles — events, not just the events themselves. His calling card is the montage of the news, his ultimate weapon the clip. Stephen Colbert, of course, has taken this parody critique of broadcast media to the nth degree, casting himself as a better-looking Bill O’Reilly.

But I would argue that just because it’s about the news doesn’t mean it’s not news. There’s a lot of non-satirical media programming about the media that I think still counts as news, such as Robert Hernandez’s favorite, On the Media.

Speaking of The Daily Show, whatever happened to Rob Corddry? He was my fave.

Now roll the clip:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Health Care or Kittens Decision
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Spinal Tap Performance

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In Defense of Miley

Oh, how we love to hate and hate to love our teenage girls. Miley Cyrus’s “pole dance” at the Teen Choice Awards Aug. 9 has ignited the predictable outrage that occurs whenever oversexualized stars cross a line of acceptable pop tartiness. I’m not actually going to defend the artist sometimes known as Hannah Montana. The dance was a pole dance in the sense that there was indeed a pole, but the idol of millions of young girls and boys (including my son Cole) only vaguely pulled one pelvic thrust. She’s no Britney Spears, or Courtney Love. The performance was more of an affront to pop songwriting than to moral decency. Yeah, pairing the Disney icon with a stripper’s, er, tool was some boneheaded — or should I say bonerheaded — producer’s bad idea. But it’s not exactly Nipplegate.

gillman.jpgI do defend our right as journalists to discuss the performance. She may not speak to Howard Gillman, the dean of USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Science, who cited the performance as an example of misguided journalistic priorities at a dinner for us Specialized Journalism MA students last night. But for better or worse, she is one of the most important pop cultural figures of the last few years. Just ask any tweenager. As a cultural critic, I think it’s vital to discuss not just the “quality” music I’d like everyone to listen to, but also to look at what the mass media is foisting upon the public — and point out that Disney divas now seem to be doing the bump and grind. Or not.

Video copyright Fox.


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Just Don't Call Me a Trojan

Usc_football_logoHere I am, 22 years later, back in school. As part of my first class for USC, I have to blog! My fellow students — a really interesting, diverse group, let me add — welcome to my blog. And my friends and readers, please feel free to comment on what we’re studying here. Some of it will be of great interest to you other journos.

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