Sunday, May 27, 2007

Grade-School Girls, Grown-Up Gossip

Grade-School Girls, Grown-Up Gossip

WHEN Britney Spears shaved off her signature blond locks, Alexis Gursky, 9, found herself wondering not why Ms. Spears picked up a razor in the first place, but why she did not do more with the hair she shaved off.

“I just thought it was a little weird to just do it and not to give it to people who have cancer,” said Alexis, a third grader in Manhattan.

And while scores of people were petitioning Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to keep Paris Hilton from having to report to jail on June 5, Jessie Urvater, 8, could not muster any sympathy.

“I don’t like Paris,” said Jessie, of Manhattan, who was quick to point out that hotel heiresses are not above the law. “I think she should go to jail.”

Well before they experience puberty, children today are deeply immersed in the dirty laundry of celebrities — their eating disorders, bouts with drinking and drugs, and run-ins with the law (and one another). The gritty details are all around them: on the Web, on cable, at the top of the network news and splashed across the covers of magazines.

The prevailing wisdom is that exposure to vast amounts of gossip, particularly about Hollywood’s so-called bad girls — Ms. Hilton, Ms. Spears and Lindsay Lohan, to name the most frequently chastised — is leading America’s impressionable 8-to-12-year-old girls into the gutter. But the reality is more complex.

In interviews, tweens tend to be highly judgmental of the much-publicized antics, turning them into age-appropriate morality tales that would make their parents proud and bring comfort to those who fear the next generation will be made up of pantyless party girls known more for their D.W.I.s than their G.P.A.s.

Ms. Hilton, said Jamie Barton, 10, of Mobile, Ala.: “spends all this time acting like everyone else doesn’t mean anything. It’s just me, me, me.”

Said Diamond Martin, 12, of Parlin, N.J.: “I don’t see her as a role model. I’m not sure what she’s really ever done, actually.”

That tweens are not traipsing after the drunken pied pipers who erupt in the gossip headlines is not surprising to child behavior experts.

“I would be shocked if they did,” said Dr. Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a professor and chairman of the human development department at Cornell University. After all, he said, 8- to 12-year-olds are by and large “really heavily under the influence of their parents.”

That does not mean, though, that gossip culture is harmless. “There may be a delayed effect,” said Dr. Richard Gallagher, the director of the Parenting Institute at the Child Study Center of New York University. “When kids know that some behavior is possible and that it doesn’t lead to total ruination of your life, they may, as they get older, be willing to entertain that.”

But until then, many children view the unseemly behavior through a lens of common sense that some celebrities themselves appear to lack.

“They should really do good things that they want other people to do,” said Rachel Steir, 11, of Manhattan, “not smoking, taking drugs, thinking that they need to lose so much weight.”

That children today are exposed to much more scandal than those of previous generations is not in dispute. Like many girls, Courtney Barton, 12, of Mobile, Ala., said she does not seek out celebrity gossip, but encounters it everywhere: “I hear these things about all of them on the radio, Internet and TV.”

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the death of Anna Nicole Smith, on Feb. 8, constituted 9 percent of news coverage the week she died (she died midweek). That same week, 8 percent was devoted to the 2008 campaign and 3 percent to the Super Bowl. Pew also found that in the two days following Ms. Smith’s death, “nearly a quarter of the news from all sectors (24 percent) was devoted to this story, and fully half of cable news.”

Of course, Ms. Smith’s accidental drug overdose is old news by now. Children have moved on to Us magazine, where they can read about Ms. Lohan reportedly snorting cocaine, or to, where they are informed that the estranged husband of Anne Heche, the actress, “craves porn, poker and money.”

Gone are the days when children who wanted to learn the meaning of a naughty word or slang term had to find a dictionary or a more worldly pal. Today, Wikipedia can explain in a matter of seconds that badonkadonk is a term for a woman’s buttocks.

Michelle Dale, a second-grade teacher in Brooklyn who works with the youngest of the tweens, said she is “always blown away” by all the things her students know about. “The movies that these little second graders have come in and watched,” she said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ ”

In interviews, children expressed their detailed knowledge of Angelina Jolie’s penchant for adoption (though they never mentioned her previous marriage to Billy Bob Thornton or the vial of his blood she wore around her neck). They knew about Ms. Hilton’s sex tape, Ms. Lohan’s dramatic weight loss and Ms. Spears’s underwear-free club outing. Saturated with such gossip, they had formed some very strong opinions about what is good, bad and just plain weird.

Caroline Lee, 11, of Greenwich, Conn., pointed out Ms. Spears’s public parenting blunders, including driving with a baby in her lap: “I feel kind of like she’s a little young and she’s not the right kind of mom,” Caroline said.

But Ms. Jolie, Caroline said, is “a good mother. She takes care of her kids.”

“She’s not as strange and bad as Britney and Paris and Lindsay,” she said, adding that “she adopted so many kids and she also helped places that needed help.”

Of Ms. Lohan, Sophia Ambrosino, 12 , of Manhattan, lamented the passing of the young actress’s red-haired, reproach-free “Parent Trap” days. Now, she said: “There are things that she does just to be on the cover of something. I liked her when she was little.”

Arielle Urvater, 11, also said while once she was a fan of Ms. Lohan and Ms. Spears, she is no longer. “We’re well educated,” she said. “We know that drugs aren’t good and that smoking isn’t good.”

Tweens often think in moralistic terms, especially if they have a solid family support system or role models, Dr. Savin-Williams said.

But around 12 or 13, it is not unusual for a child’s individual values to give way to peer pressure, some child experts said, and children may be influenced by what they perceive to be cool, not what they instinctively know to be right.

“The younger kids are a little freaked out by Paris,” said Susan Schulz, editor in chief of CosmoGirl. “For the most part they’re still very good kids at that age.”

But, said Ms. Schulz, when they are teenagers, “every kid is trying to have a Paris Hilton kind of night at their prom.”

And that is exactly what some adults fear.

“I don’t think there’s any question that kids are getting more and more information at a younger and younger age,” said Dr. David Walsh, a psychologist and the founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family. “And there are very few filters available.” The result, he said, is the “adultification of youth.”

“Kids have information but not necessarily the emotional maturity to absorb the information,” he said. “We’ve got kids who are at the simple arithmetic phase in terms of their emotional maturity dealing with quadratic material.”

Dr. Gallagher of N.Y.U. suggested parents discuss celebrity misbehavior with their children. “You have to talk about it before someone else does,” he said. “That helps the kids digest it more effectively.”

Most of those conversations will likely be with and about girls.

“The bad boys have been replaced by the bad girls,” said Ted Harbert, the president and chief executive of the Comcast Entertainment Group, which includes E! Entertainment Television, Style Network and G4. “You just don’t hear as much of these guys who get in trouble as much as we used to in the ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ generation.”

“The girls don’t want to just leave it to the boys to get in trouble,” he said. “They want their fair share of time in the principal’s office.”

But what about all those thoughtful things tweens say about celebrities’ bad behavior and their embrace of good clean role models?

Dr. Walsh said: “A kid can write a well-thought-out essay about why a behavior is not good, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to carry over to their behavior. Thinking ability is right on track but emotionally ability lags.”

Yet the girls interviewed cited wholesome-seeming celebrities as their favorites: Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Dakota Fanning, Anne Hathaway and Ms. Spears’s younger, scrubbed sister, Jamie Lynn. Is it possible that today’s tweens have seen enough to inoculate them against the pressures of their teenage years?

“As I grow older I see more and more how bad they are,” Arielle Urvater said. And yet kids her age cannot help but be interested, she said.

“They’re famous, pretty and all the boys like them.”

Bill Keller:NYT "Our Stories Are Too Often Too Long

Bill Keller: "Our Stories Are Too Often Too Long"

Today the New York Times held its "Throw Stuff at Bill" (that would be Keller!) meetings—one this morning and two this afternoon. We got a report about the early afternoon session, and learned that the future of the Times is all about Sewell Chan, among other things.

The bulk of Keller's presentation (which was followed by a Q&A) had to do with the Times' transition to "journalism on the web" and the evolving "web-print relationship." Newsroom editors, he said, "need to be better informed about features that appear in their sections. They don't necessarily have to know how to put up a slide show or put up a graphic, but they need to know who does what." Excellent plan!

He also spoke about the "gradual reallocation of resources from print towards digital" and copy editors being moved to the day side, so that there could be a "greater flow of fresh quality edit material." We imagine a chill swept quickly over the room! Then he brought up two of the Times' stars: Sewell Chan, who has become a "full-time, online Metro journalist"; and the comely Ariel Kaminer, who—assuming we heard this correctly—is becoming a "cultural impresario." Snarf.

"We can't let our reverence for quality become a straitjacket in new media," he warned. "The web environment is different... We can offer guidance but we cannot insist on the same control we exercise over print."

That, it would seem, might be a difficult lesson to absorb. But Keller hurried to make his charges feel better! "Online and in print, we are the New York Times," he intoned, not entirely convincingly.

He spoke of the new building: "Pioneers have already settled in our gleaming frontier." He brought up some of the complaints that the "pioneers" have had, including fire alarms having a mind of their own and motion-sensor lights not working. "There have also been reports of a rat sighting," he said, though he hurried to say that it was unsubstantiated. "The mice aren't scheduled to move in until June 15." Laughter! Relief!

"I implore you to be versatile," he implored. "It's an immense improvement over our venerable, but cramped and deteriorating, building on 43rd Street. The company is heading for a long future."

Part of the future includes a reduction in the size of the paper at the end of the summer. "Folks, it ain't that different," he said. There's that warm Bill Keller we all know! "It's an inch and a half narrower. There's no dramatic makeover of our design." In contrast to the Wall Street Journal's redesign, he said that the Times would "absorb the change without a great deal of fanfare." He said the changes include a display page for the foreign desk, and limiting the jumping of A1 stories to other sections.

While the paper will be adding pages, the "actual reduction of the newshole is about 5 percent," he said, which will give editors "some incentive about being a little more ruthless about throwing stories back for cuts. Our stories are too often too long... The 1200 word stories could be 800 or 900. There are editors at a Page 1 meeting boasting that a story is only 1400 words." (Good thing Sewell is only writing for the web, then.)

Then it was time for questions. Someone asked how the Times plans to make money off the web. "I heartily believe we will," Keller said. "How, is a lot more complicated." He talked about Wall Street, and doing PowerPoint presentations. "There's a phrase they use in drug and alcohol rehab—'fake it til you make it.' That's basically what we're doing."

Another person asked about Rupert Murdoch's bid for the Wall Street Journal and how that might affect the Times. Keller seems to think that if Murdoch wins the bid for Dow Jones, he will invest in Bloomberg-type news. "I don't think we want to go into the newswire and business newswire service," he said. "It's not our strength. We can respond in a smart way by providing more of what we provide now, which is stuff that if you're interested in business, you have to read. Smart analysis, columns, news of that kind." He speculated that Murdoch might be interested in starting a magazine to go with the Journal. "He doesn't seem to like the Saturday Journal," Keller remarked. "We're pretty good at magazines. I'm quite confident that if he comes up with something we will be able to respond. There are a lot of people at the Wall Street Journal wondering if we're the last lifeboat in the ocean."

Someone asked whether the hiring of online staff would affect hiring or staffing the paper. "Mostly, no," Keller said. "The web creates openings for very specialized jobs. Sometimes you have to go out and hire them from other places. But in the reallocation of resources from print to digital, we're not talking about closing down print slots and opening up web slots."

And then someone asked about City Room, which is Sewell Chan's new project, and is basically a mini-New York Times, but online and only about New York. "The idea is that the New York Times is not giving up New York City... We're taking one of our most inventive and productive journalists and setting him loose. He will do all different kinds of news without any narrow portfolio." God help us

Patterns, measurements define 2006-07

Patterns, measurements define 2006-07 seasonby Paul J. Gough

May 25, 2007

Overview: Patterns, measurements define season
Ratings rerun: Fox, CBS on top
Thursday, Monday are battlegrounds
Chart: Final series ranks
Network news makes headlines

NEW YORK -- It has been a wild and in some cases wacky season for network TV, culminating in a hunt for millions of missing viewers that is so complicated that it's worthy of its own episode of "CSI."

On the surface, it is status quo -- CBS extended its winning streak in total viewers to five years, while "American Idol"-powered Fox bagged a third consecutive season victory among adults 18-49.

But underneath, a sea change has been brewing.

"I think we'll look back and see 2007 as the watershed when all the things we talked about -- viewing behavior and audience measurement of that behavior -- all came together to start the new era," NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel said. "We've talked a lot about change and everything, but this is the first year we've seen it in a profound way."

At the beginning of the season, Nielsen Media Research introduced "most current" ratings, cuming the audiences that watch a show live as well as those that record it on a DVR and watch it up to seven days later.

But even with those additional viewers counted this season, primetime television viewing dropped significantly compared with last season.

The steepest decline was in live viewership, which fell 10% year-over-year among the four major broadcast networks. Adding in DVR viewership, which can boost shows' ratings by as much as 25% or more, the Big Four were still down 5%.

Things turned for the worse in the spring when many of TV's best and brightest fell to season or even series lows. That list includes "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "CSI: Miami" and "ER," among others. Even "Idol" wasn't immune though it hasn't seen a year-over-year decline.

The reasons seem myriad. Explanations include poor comparisons with the Winter Olympics, which boosted viewership levels last year, the lack of stunt counter-programming, a three weeks' earlier start to daylight-saving time, an abnormally high amount of repeats in February and March and a shift in viewing behavior brought on by the DVR, streaming video and the growing number of ways network TV is consumed these days.

"It's never one thing," said Fox scheduling czar Preston Beckman, who acknowledged that the early start to daylight-saving time and the increase in DVR penetration has changed the game.

He thinks that the networks also have learned the hard way that viewers are annoyed by their favorite shows going on hiatus or repeating. It's something Fox took into consideration three years ago when it scheduled "24" straight through. Nielsen said that only 66% of program minutes in March were original compared with 80% a year ago.

Daylight-saving time generally shaves 3% or 4% off viewing, something the networks saw three weeks earlier this year. It particularly hit the 8-9 p.m. hour and such shows as NBC's "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." But even when things started evening out, the ratings remained down.

"Probably the two had a compound effect and moved people away from their normal March viewing patterns into a lower general pattern of television viewing," CBS research chief David Poltrack said. "We haven't really recovered from that."

Mindshare research director Debbie Solomon thinks that the long hiatus periods and schedule shifts are coming back to haunt the networks and turn off viewers.

"They're not leaving the set, they're leaving the shows," Solomon said. "It's important to make that distinction. The networks have been playing so many games with scheduling and a lot of programs have gone on long hiatus periods and a lot of changed nights. ... I think viewers have given up trying to find their shows."

And unlike the past two years, when several shows debuted in the winter and spring -- "Office," "The Unit," "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "Deal or No Deal" and, of course, "Grey's Anatomy" -- this year fewer programs were introduced and only three, ABC's "October Road," Fox's "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and CBS' "Rules of Engagement" stuck.

"And certainly you wouldn't put them in the same class as 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Deal or No Deal' in terms of strength," Poltrack said. "This was a spring where the networks were not reinvigorated with new programming as in years past. Hence, more repeats. This led to some lowering of overall viewing levels."

Fox's Beckman doesn't think that the decline is as severe as it seems when just looking at live-plus-same day. It's a function of the fact that the average Nielsen home is three or four times more likely to be recording programming and playing it back later than it was a year ago.

"When you incorporate the live-plus-seven (ratings), you see that viewing isn't down as much as it appears to be," Beckman said. By that yardstick, such series as "24," "Lost" and "Idol" are flat or slightly up compared with a year ago.

NBC's Wurtzel doesn't think that there's a mass departure of network TV viewers. It's just that there are more choices and people are consuming media differently.

"It may well be that for a lot of people they don't feel the need to be there day-and-date for conventional television anymore," he said. "I do not believe that people aren't interested in television. That doesn't make any sense."

But Beckman believes that with the networks putting so many shows on so many platforms, it is leading to a growing perception that viewers don't have to watch it on network TV. The trick, he said, is whether the loss in potential advertising revenue is offset by the gains in the other ways the shows are being sold.

NBC is asking Nielsen to look into its measurement to make sure that there's nothing hinky there, like a few years ago when young male viewership dropped precipitously. Nielsen said it's looking into NBC's concerns and plans to report to its clients before the Memorial Day holiday.

"What we've found is that people aren't watching less TV this season, they're watching slightly less live television," a Nielsen spokesman said.

Wurtzel is more concerned about the changes in the HUT (households using television) and PUT (persons using television) levels, upon which the viewership and ratings are based.

"I would be surprised if there was a proverbial smoking gun. I think it's going to be a lot of different things," he said. "But I think we really have to understand what the Nielsen situation is, either to say we've got to deal with it or to say it's been taken off the list."

Network season rankings
Network Total viewers (in millions) % change from 2005-06
CBS 12.5 -1%
FOX 10.4 +3%
ABC 9.9 -8%
NBC 8.9 -9%
CW 3.2 n/a
All data reflects "most current ratings"--live-plus-seven through availability and live-plus-same day for the final week of the season.

Adults 18-49
Network Total viewers (in millions) % change from 2005-06
FOX 4.0/11 -2%
CBS 3.7/10 -3%
ABC 3.5/10 -13%
NBC 3.1/8 -6%
Adults 18-34
CW 1.5/4 n/a
Source: Neilsen Media Research, Sept. 18-May 23. Mulls Launch of "Business YouTube" Mulls Launch of "Business YouTube"
Mike Shields

MAY 24, 2007 -

John Byrne, BusinessWeek's executive editor and the acting editor-in-chief for, said that company is looking to create a "business YouTube" essentially an online video hub for wannabe moguls to post short pitch videos for a new ventures or companies.

The site is also exploring the launch of an online-video-based contest that would invite anyone with a idea for a new business to submit a plan on the site with the chance to land $500,000 in venture capital funding.

Byrne, speaking during a panel session at the Interactive Media Conference in Miami, Fla. on May 24, said that like on YouTube, users would rate each proposal and ultimately vote on the winner, who would receive half a million dollars from a VC firm to invest in the proposed business.

To help create the YouTube-like platform, Byrne said the company was looking to purchase a new technology platform.

According to Byrne, the drive behind the proposed launch, given its potential appeal among non-BusinessWeek-readers, is to help widen the site's audience while also boosting repeat visits among existing users.

Given the challenging economics of print, and the need to cash in on larger online audiences, is "Looking to do things that are highly engaging but are completely non-journalistic in many ways," he added.