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Popcorn: Journalists, birds and 'pervs'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2013 - Welcome to "Popcorn." Every week, Beacon staffers will share little kernels of what we've been reading -- books, articles, blogs, whatever -- that have gotten us thinking.

'Beacon of hope in St. Louis?'

As the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio head toward merger later this year, the move is being closely watched nationally as a potential model for reinvigorating local news coverage. This week, Deron Lee, reporting for Columbia Journalism Review, looked at what's at stake.

"The public media world is not always known for visions of grandeur and entrepreneurial spirit, but count this as one more sign that the landscape has changed," he writes. He quotes Jan Schaffer, executive director of the J-Lab journalism innovation project, who says of the combined newsroom: “There will be some serious news chops here.”

After a year of exploration and planning, the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio believe we can serve St. Louisans better as one. We're pleased that our efforts are making St. Louis a national leader in journalistic innovation

-- Margaret Freivogel, editor

'The Goldfinch'

In the writer Donna Tartt’s transportive new novel “The Goldfinch,” Audrey Decker, walking on the narrow edge of the precipice of doom, provides her 13-year-old son, Theodore, a lesson on 17th century Dutch painting that is at once historically informed and divinatory. This passage from her lesson concerns “nature morte,” the “still life.”

The boy asks:

“How long did it take him to paint that?”

My mother, who’d been standing a bit too close, stepped back to regard the painting – oblivious to the gum-chewing security guard whose attention she attracted, who was staring fixedly at her back.

“Well, the Dutch invented the microscope,” she said. “They were jewelers, grinders of lenses. They want it all as detailed as possible because even the tiniest things mean something. Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life – a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple — the [painter is giving you a secret message, He’s telling you that living things don’t last — it’s all temporary. Death in life. That’s why they are called natures mortes. Maybe you don’t see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot. But if you look closer -- there it is.”

-- Robert W. Duffy, associate editor

'Sound Reporting'

OK, I may be cheating a little. I am still reading "Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production" by Jonathan Kern and haven't quite finished it. But I am hooked.

Obviously, much of my interest in this book is motivated by the impending merger of the Beacon with Saint Louis Public Radio. But I have always been a huge fan of National Public Radio -- awed by its consistency of sound, diversity of material and quality of presentation and content. No matter where I am in the country, I can identify a public radio station by its sound within seconds.

This book is full of engaging anecdotes featuring well-known on-air personalities, technical details of production and practical how-to guidance about how NPR does what it does. It also provides a wonderful introduction to writing for the radio -- tips from which all writers, no matter their medium, would benefit. Never ever does it lose its conversational style; reading the book is like talking with a mentor.

But above all, "Sound Reporting" stays firmly rooted in journalistic principles of fairness, accuracy, balance and honesty. Whether you're on air, online or in print, that is what it's all about.

-- Susan Hegger, issues and politics editor


When I saw the name of Jesse Bering’s new book, “Perv,” I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, especially given the cover’s beckoning sheep. But then again, it was reviewed (somewhat) favorably by the New York Times, so why not?

Yes, “Perv” delves into bestiality.As a scientist and expert in human development, Bering offers insight into the depths of all desire. But as a gay man growing up in the ‘80s, he also understands on a personal level the shame around unusual attractions.

As he slept with his Superman doll, the words of adults declaring AIDS to be “God’s clever way of getting rid of the queers” ricocheted through his mind. Even before he knew what sex was, Bering was horrified to notice the ribs that were beginning to show through his skin. Rather than chalking this development up to being a growing boy, he was convinced that “I had indeed started wasting away from this unholy affliction.”

If we examine our desires closely, “We’re all perverts,” Bering asserts. But what he seeks, for all people, is understanding. “We’ve become so focused as a society on the question of whether a given sexual behavior is evolutionary or ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: ‘Is is harmful?’”

-- Nancy Fowler, arts reporter