GONE FISHIN’: Fortunate Son Edition

The weekend started on kind of an auspicious note, when Amy asked for Chinese food. Apparently, our local restaurant got its fortunes sponsored by the crypto-currency exchange, FTX, which collapsed in November amid allegations of financial malfeasance and fraud. Clearly, it’s hard to take advice from a company that has been compared to both Enron and Bernie Madoff, so that was a bit unsettling.

Even with that somewhat odd start and weather that could be described as “mid-November Seattle,” the weekend was a welcome end to my 15th year at UW-Oshkosh. We headed down to Milwaukee to celebrate Mother’s Day with my folks and had a wonderful time filled with food, laughter and fun.

As I sit here reflecting on the last three days and those 15 years, I realized that I really am extremely fortunate.

I get to see my parents on a regular basis and they are both still so vibrant and amazing. Whether it’s holidays or baseball card shows or rummage sale, we just enjoy each others’ company so much, it almost seems magical. When we chose to come home to Wisconsin all that time ago, Amy and I made the decision to give our daughter something we both treasured in our lives: The opportunity to spend more time with grandparents. Zoe has treasured that time and I know my parents have too. It was probably the best decision we’ve ever made.

I’m so lucky to have a wife who knows me like the back of her hand and a kid who still cares what I think, even as she climbs toward adulthood. I’m lucky to have a job I love, students with whom I have bonded and an office that serves as a shrine to way too many bobbleheads. I’m lucky I can enjoy my hobbies and help my wife enjoy hers.

I also know how lucky I am to have educators who trust me and use the books I’ve written. It’s a little weird when I run into people who tell me, “Hey, I’m using your book!” I’m grateful and embarrassed a bit at the same time, and it feels extremely weird to have my last name used as descriptor, as in “Don’t forget to read Filak Chapter 3 for the quiz…”

Without you all, my work is basically a coffee coaster or a shelf filler. I can’t thank you enough for that.

As is the tradition this time of year, the blog is going into hibernation for a bit. If anything crucial happens, I’ll hop back on for a day or two. Otherwise, we resume a weekly summer schedule somewhere around mid-June.

Have a great summer and thanks again.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

An Update on the “Exploring Mass Communication” launch

(Contrary to popular belief, this is not video taken outside of SAGE’s main office after I announced my intro to media book was almost ready to launch…)

After I published Tuesday’s post, announcing the launch of my intro to media text, “Exploring Mass Communication,” a few funny things happened:

  1. I finally learned what it was like to be a popular kid, which was super cool. I got a lot of notes from people I hadn’t heard from in a while and some from folks I’ve never met, congratulating me on finally moving the boulder to the top of the hill. I never knew that many people actually read this thing, so hearing from all of you was really, really special.
  2. I figured out that the “Contact” form on the website actually works, as a bunch of people were hitting me up to get hooked up with a desk copy. Of all the times I’ve noted, “Feel free to contact me,” this was the first time people actually really did that, so I was super pumped up about people being as nerd-level excited about this book as I was.
  3. My editors at SAGE freaked out.
    1. First, I don’t think they’re used to working with journalism people like me, who when we get information, we do something with it immediately. (I’d insert a video clip from “The Paper” here where Henry Hackett justifies stealing a scoop off the desk of a competing newspaper by saying, “You realize you were talking to a journalist,” but it ends with some “aggressive vernacular.” So, I’ll link it here instead. Wear headphones and don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Unless I’m told otherwise, if someone sends me something and I think other people are going to want to know that thing, I’m publishing it.
    2. Second, I think they read the headline as being a direct marketing pitch instead of a sarcastic note to my fellow burnt-to-a-crisp educators. They’re thinking, “Oh my GOSH! Professors are going to be expecting print copies on July 15 so they can put on those jackets with the elbow patches and peruse a full printed copy while quaffing wine on their decks for the remainder of the summer!”
      When they expressed that concern about unrealistic availability expectations, this was pretty much my response:
      Goodfellas Henry Hill GIF - Goodfellas Henry Hill Ray Liotta GIFs
      In short, I know my people, and this book release is not a “Harry Potter” midnight launch.
    3. Third, they weren’t expecting the kind of response you all gave them for this book. Usually, it takes a detailed strategy and a bunch of fliers and probably some begging to get people to look at a textbook. You all were like, “GIMME!” which, again, made me feel like a cool kid, so thanks again for that.

Rather than take down the previous post, as was suggested, I’m a fan of transparency in situations like this, so here’s the skinny on what is going on:

  • To clarify the launch dates: the Vantage/Digital edition is going live at the end of July for a soft launch. The printed version gets to the press this summer and will be available for purchase starting in January.
    I honestly don’t think that’s as huge of a panic point as my editors did. I mean, there’s NO WAY any of us were going to flip an entire pit class curriculum for a fall 2023 launch in SIX WEEKS based on a book we’ve never seen and a pitch from a dork who is writing a blog. Depending on if you’re normal or as twitchy as I am, this launch schedule gives you just the right amount of time to figure out which way you would like to see it and if it fits your needs.
  • Anyone who hit me up for a desk copy has been connected with my friend, Staci Wittek, in the marketing department and you’ll be hearing from her throughout the process, so you can decide if you want a digital peek or you want to wait for the dead-tree version. Either way, you’re on the guest list, so  you’ll be getting into the party. If you want to be added to “Staci’s Magic List of Wonder,” hit me up through the Contact Page and I’ll hook you up.
  • The folks at SAGE said that with the comparatively early launch of the digital version, they’ll be reaching out to some of the folks who were asking about the book, desk copies etc. to see if they want to be part of some sort of early adopter thing, where your class gets to be the first to test out the Vantage thing and such. For people who want to get going on taking a shot at using the book sooner rather than later, this is kind of a cool opportunity.
  • I’m still here, so if you have questions about the “Exploring” text or need a peek of something or other, hit me up and I’m at your disposal. The best part of my day, every day, is being helpful to folks, and I really do love working with people in this field, so feel free to reach out on this, any of the other books or anything in particular.

Hope that clears things up for everyone. And thanks again for making me feel cool. It made the whole five-year process totally worth it.

Have a great rest of the semester and a wonderful summer.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)



For your summer reading pleasure: Vince Filak’s “Exploring Mass Communication”

Very little good can come from a 4 a.m. email., unless your publisher has an office in India:

To call this book a “journey” would be to call Godzilla a “lizard:” It’s both accurate and yet reductive. To put it in perspective, it took me less time to finish my undergrad degree (complete with two majors and two additional minor/sequence things) than it took to do this book. In fact, I think it took less time to finish my master’s and Ph.D. combined than it did to get this thing ready for public consumption.

It began when my editor/monorail salesperson and I were talking one summer and she did the, “I’m going to start another project… You probably wouldn’t be interested in it…” thing, and well… yeah… I bought the monorail.

For every book, I put a giant Post-It note on the wall, in which I check off chapter writing, editing and so forth. This time, I had to redo the Post-It three times, as changes and new ideas kept pouring in. We did at least six sets of chapter reviews, where we kept revising and resubmitting. (I’m working on a larger blog post on what this whole kind of process entails… It’ll be amusing, I promise.)

At one point I even asked my editor, “Look, can I like pay some kind of fee and just buy my way out of this contract?” The answer was no, which, in retrospect, was fortunate.

Here’s a sneak peek at what makes this book different from the 14 other intro texts I read at least five times each (no lie) and why I am glad we finally got here:

  • CHAPTER ORGANIZATION: One of the complaints students had about their textbooks was that they felt like they were playing a game of “Where’s Waldo?” to get the important information for the learning objectives or tests. For this book, we hit them in the face with it:
    • All learning objectives are listed at the front of the chapter.
    • Each chunk of the chapter has the specific LO listed with it.
    • At the end of each chapter, there’s a recap of the LO and the specific items that go with it.
    • In short, you know what you need to know and then we show you where to find it and how to use it.
  • PRACTICAL CONTENT: The goal of the book was to be both broadly theoretical and specifically practical in terms of application. Thus, we cover history, but we then explain WHY it matters. We talk about theories, but then we talk about HOW they can be applied. We also go through the ways in which the media interweaves in people’s lives in a variety of ways. Even more, we list off potential career options in each media field for the students.
  • INCLUSIVE APPROACH: We wanted this book to be more than a look at “the usual suspects” that we cover in many media overviews. Yes, there were a lot of straight white guys who did stuff that helped shape media today. That said, there are a lot of folks across the racial, gender and sexual orientation spectra who made huge differences and contributed in ways that often get overlooked or marginalized. (My favorite cool discovery: The first home gaming system that allowed people to use the “cartridge” approach wasn’t the Atari 2600, but was the Fairchild Channel F, created by Jerry Lawson, one of the few computer engineers of color back in the 1970s.)
    In each chapter, we tried our best to showcase the trailblazers as well as show a broader array of content that sought to be more seamless in our discussion of individuals who mattered (as opposed to loudly shouting, “Hey! Look over here! We’re featuring a Black History Moment!” every time we talked about someone other than a straight white guy).
  • TONS OF EXTRAS: Professors often want to have assignments or discussion questions available to help the students engage the material and demonstrate competence regarding the material. We dumped a boatload of options into this on the teaching website, but we also did targeted extras as well. Each chapter starts with several thought-provoking questions to “prime the pump” for students as they start reading. Each chapter also has discussion questions, activities and assignments at the end. In some of the features, we offer a “Next Step” approach to help students immediately apply what they’ve learned through a short writing assignment. And, is the case with every book in the “Filak Franchise” (I still can’t get used to that phrase…), I’m ready, willing and able to write a post, create an assignment or work with an instructor on something they want.
  • FORMATTING FUN: Not only do we break the chapters down into bite-sized chunks and simple subsections, but we also have the book available in all sorts of formats from traditional dead-tree books to online e-books and digital copies. SAGE even rolled this one into its Vantage system, which does an amazing job of integrating all sorts of resources and learning systems into the text.
    (In all honesty, I’m still not exactly sure how Vantage operates. All I know is that it’s either amazingly thorough and awesome or I’m part of a social science experiment where the people from SAGE are seeing how much superfluous stuff they can make me do by simply saying, “The Vantage System requires X…”)
    In short, if you learn better in a specific way, the book caters to it.
  • IT’S CHEAP(ER)(ISH): If there’s one thing I heard repeatedly over the past four years it was, “Textbooks cost too much money.” I get it, although after hearing in every review that “Cost will be a primary factor” in deciding whether to use the book or not, I pitched the idea to SAGE of renaming the book, “FILAK’S FIVE DOLLAR BOOK OF MEDIA STUFF” and then just writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted to do it. That was a “hard no” from the powers that be, but I did get them to price it under the others at the market and to make cheaper digital versions available  so that the kids don’t have to sell a kidney to read this thing.

I know that some people view textbooks (and subsequently textbook authors) as something between a door-to-door vacuum salesperson and that white stuff that grows in the corner of your mouth when you get really thirsty. That said, I’m honestly proud of what we’re trying to do here: Give instructors a good tool that can be helpful in teaching a new kind of student important material that can provide a foundation for a mass com intro class.

If nothing else, the cover is so pretty it made me smile, so that’s worth the five-year wait, right?

Despite my disdain for book pimping, if you are interested in getting a look at the book or a desk copy, hit me up through the contact page and I’ll get the SAGE folk in touch with you.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)


A deeper look at a “Requiem for the Newsroom:” What we really lose as journalists when we lose that shared space and time

Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times last weekend poured one out for the old-time newsroom:

I’m mystified when I hear that so many of our 20-something news assistants prefer to work from home. At that age, I would have had a hard time finding mentors or friends or boyfriends if I hadn’t been in the newsroom, and I never could have latched onto so many breaking stories if I hadn’t raised my hand and said, “I’ll go.”

Mary McGrory, the liberal lioness columnist, never would have gotten to know me at The Star, so I never would have gotten invitations from her years later like this one: “Let’s go see Yasir Arafat at the White House and go shopping!”

As Mayer recalled, when a big story broke at The Star: “You could see history happening. People would cluster over a reporter’s desk, pile into the boss’s office, and sometimes break into incredibly loud fights. There were weirdos in newsrooms, and fabulous role models occasionally, and the spirit of being part of a motley entourage. Now, it’s just you and the little cursor on your screen.”

Dowd’s column toasts a lot of the things that I loved about newsrooms: The weird quirkiness of working with a group of people just this side of the cantina scene from “Star Wars,” the post-work drink/cuss sessions, the adrenaline pulsing through the entire building when a major story was in the works.

All of these things were fun, although I often wonder if most of them would exist today in our sterile, HR-driven, “watch these videos on (fill in the topic of the day that people fear getting sued over) so we can say we told you not to do X” environment. A veteran reporter once told me about his time as a newsroom cub when he got to know the veteran cops reporter. The woman, a rarity at that time, used to bring a six-pack of Pabst to the police station to loosen the tongues the cops she knew. She also carried a two-shot Derringer in her purse.

(I’d be more skeptical, except the source is one of the best journalists I’ve ever met. I’m still not good enough to carry that guy’s typewriter. Oh, and at one point when I complained of a headache and asked if he had something to ease the pain, he directed me to one of his desk drawers, which contained a fifth of some rot-gut vodka.)

Although it’s easy to look at the past with rose-colored glasses, I’m sure the newsrooms from “back in the day” weren’t all that great for women, people of color, non-Christians and other folks along those lines. However, the concept of a newsroom, that central junction point for people and ideas to germinate, remains essential to journalism for a number of reasons:

SIMPLE CONNECTIONS: As much as the internet connects us, it also allows us to be isolated in ways not possible in the newsroom of old. Yes, we can look up much more information online than we could get from a grouchy old copy editor who memorized the AP style guide and still remembers who won the mayoral run-off election back in 1963.

That said, I know that when I was working on a story that crossed news and sports boundaries, for example, I could walk 10 feet across the room to one of the sports folks and ask a couple questions about how they would approach a specific aspect of the story. The same was true when one of them needed some help on a story that involved an aspect of crime.

When I needed more context for a photo for which I had to write a caption, I could duck back into the photo bubble and ask the shooter what caught their eye. When the shooter had some information that mattered to the captions, I often got a visit at my desk. (I could always tell when something was important to Joe Jackson, one of my favorite photo folks, because he’d quietly place his hand softly on my shoulder before saying, “When I was taking this shot, I was seeing/thinking/feeling…” It made my job much easier and it helped me to better understand what to look for in quality photos.)

Years later, as an adviser, I knew that if I was in the newsroom, the kids would ask me to look at a layout or check a headline. They’d also yell, “Hey, Vince, is (X) a real word?” and I could yell back, “Not unless the dictionary’s changed in the last 5 minutes.” I also knew that they wouldn’t bother to call my house or email me to get those answers if I hadn’t been there.


COLLECTIVE WISDOM: Again, not to harp on how technology has changed us, but knowledge and wisdom aren’t the same thing. By merely being around good people who were doing their jobs well, I was better able to improve my own craft.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my desk at the State Journal was jammed up against the one Pat Simms occupied, putting me in the perfect position to basically get smarter through osmosis. I could hear how she used strong questions to quash BS answers before they could get started. I listened to how she worked a source until she was sure she had the best version of whatever the story was from that person. I also learned how to turn a story around quickly, with limited time and even less flab.

Spending time near editors like Phil Glende and Teryl Franklin (to name only a few) gave me a sense of how to find holes in a story and how to fix them if the reporter couldn’t. I watched the copy desk clean the copy thoroughly and quickly by figuring out who could do what the best and making sure that person got that specific job. In a lot of ways, watching the pros operate in person was like watching an orchestra perform live. (Some days it looked like Cirque du Soleil being performed with chainsaws on an oil-slicked linoleum floor, to be fair.)

It’s not the same when it’s not live.


SOCIAL NORMS: One of the best journal articles I ever read for my doctoral program was Warren Breed’s 1955 study of social norming within a newsroom. Breed examined the ways in which knowledge and practice was shared among those in a newsroom and found that journalists tended to eschew formal documents or written policies. Instead, they shared information one to another as a way of training younger generations to behave as those before them had.

Reflecting on his seminal study more than 40 years later, Breed recalled how he was writing about a parade of some kind and an older journalist advised him to hype up the patriotism. The vet mentioned that he should start with something about the bands playing and the flags flying. Breed did as he had been advised and was later praised for his effort. A few years later, he found himself doling out similar advice to a novice writer, who also led his story with the image of flags waving and bands performing.

The idea can seem a little problematic in some ways, especially if you realize that this can really narrow the view of what makes for “news” or how to “do news right.” However, a lot of the norms that I picked up in the newsroom meant a lot in terms of imbuing me with some important lessons.

For example, it’s easy to blow off a deadline (or a demanding editor, who is steaming over your inability to make a deadline) if you’re in your home 50 miles from the editor in question. However, when I watched a person blow a deadline by five minutes and then saw that five minutes turn into 10 more at the editor’s desk and 15 more at the copy desk, I saw the chain reaction associated with that failure. In addition, I knew when an editor was circling my desk like a shark, I stepped on the gas pedal a little harder in banging out whatever I was working on.

Even more, a lot of social norms that matter more now than ever get passed down from our mentors in a one-on-one situation. I know that journalistic malfeasance has happened as long as journalism has been around, but I know that feeling a stronger collective “we” made any one person less likely to take the easy way out. I can’t imagine having to see Teryl every day if I had faked a source, got caught and had to live with it in that newsroom. A random editor halfway across the country that I never met? I’d like to think I’d be just as honest, but I can’t say for sure.

I learned from folks like George Hesselberg that we get stuff right all the time. That’s a value that came from his mentor and I’m sure it came from someone else all the way back into an even further bygone era. The norms we shared remain in my mind to this day as well as the bonds of friendship we still share today.


FAMILY: This may be a bit more Polly-Anna-ish and more like what Dowd was talking about, but I have to admit, newsrooms and the people I met in them became like a second family to me.

(We used to joke at the Daily Cardinal that we were a family, in that we all drank and hurt one another, but I digress… Besides, the godparents of my kid came from that newsroom, so it couldn’t have been all bad…)

I’ve yet to hear a student come back to campus for a “Reporting Class” reunion or a “J-412 Tenth Anniversary Celebration,” but they come back for student media events. They reconnect with people who chewed the same dirt as they did in the windowless bunker that the university provided as a newsroom, where the coffee pot always burned everything to a crisp and the carpet smelled like wet feet.

They also connect with others from previous generations who have been through the same kinds of things. Just having lived through that experience makes them kindred spirits.

To lose those connective threads seems so sad to me, and I’m not even a people person.


The University of Wisconsin Madison is right that the First Amendment protects the speech of racist idiots, but that’s not as bad as it seems

THE LEAD: My alma mater made the news this week for all the wrong reasons:

A video of a University of Wisconsin student using racist slurs and references began circulating on multiple social media platforms Monday.

The video showed a white UW student using racial slurs and expletives directed toward the Black community. Others could be heard laughing at the rant in the background of the video.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Some media outlets have named this person and identified her as a UW-Madison sophomore. The U has only confirmed she is a student, and various other outlets have not verified her name. I couldn’t independently verify the person’s name, so I’m not using it. Restraint is the better part of valor in cases like this.)

SEE IT NOW: Here’s an “edited for TV” version of the video:




  • Mnookin is right about the First Amendment and the way in which it protects even the most odious speech. Governmental agencies cannot be curtail or punish speech, with a few notable exceptions, such as if the speech contains a true threat or falls under the fighting words doctrine of inciting imminent lawless action.
  • The second scenario clearly doesn’t apply here, as she wasn’t inciting a group to do something violent. As for the first one, not to appear glib here, but unless people viewing the video could realistically believe this student could become a ghost and haunt them, while forcing them to “pick cotton” until they died, it doesn’t apply either.
  • The First Amendment provides both the disease and the cure in this case, in that the best way to deal with bad speech is through more speech.
    • The students who have written on various platforms, expressing their outrage and sadness, are availing themselves of their right to speech and press.
    • The students who gathered to let the school know they aren’t happy with this student or the school’s response are availing themselves of their right to peaceably assemble.
    • The students signing the petition that demands this kid get the boot from Badger Town are relying on the right to petition the “government” for redress of grievances.
    • This is how this kind of thing is supposed to work.

DYNAMICS OF WRITING FLASHBACK: Sadly, this isn’t the first time the blog has looked at a situation like this. In 2019, here at UWO, a student posted images on Instagram to “out” several other students who had a whiteboard filled with slurs and a swastika flag in their home. At the time, we touched base with legal eagle Frank LoMonte for a walkthrough on free expression and what was likely to happen to the students who “expressed” themselves in this fashion.

DOCTOR OF PAPER HOT TAKE: I’m not in favor of suppressing speech at any level, even when it comes to terrible speech like this. It’s not that I like the student’s speech (I clearly don’t) but I know that if we start suppressing speech based on content or viewpoint, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes after YOUR content and viewpoint or MY content and viewpoint.

Therefore, what happened is abhorrent, but the backlash that has ensued illustrates a point many people truly don’t understand when it comes to the First Amendment: Free speech does not mean consequence-free speech.

That said, here are some things to think about regarding this situation that aren’t being talked about right now:

  • The university is wrong when it says it can’t boot this kid out of school.
  • Whether the university decides to bounce this kid or not, the outcome will be the same.
    • If I had to guess here, I’m thinking the U is running clock on this situation, hoping to get to the end of the semester and then figure out its next move. I don’t like that kind of mealy mouthed approach to dealing with this, but I also understand that the U might consider it the safest way forward from a legal perspective.
    • At this point, this kid has to know there is NO WAY she’s coming back to this campus in the fall, given the fallout she’s already faced. As more places confirm her name, it’s going to be everywhere and she’s not going to be able to escape the consequences of her stupidity. Think about every time a TA calls roll in a class and all the heads turn knowingly in  her direction. Think about who the hell is going to want to be her roomie next year. She’s headed somewhere else.

KEY TAKEAWAY: As frustrating as it is for ANYONE who thinks, “How the hell can this university let this racist idiot stay here and let her racist stupidity slide?” (And, I count myself among those feeling frustrated), I think a key thing to remember is that the First Amendment works.

  • Nobody stopped her from posting her stupidity, thus, her free speech rights remained intact.
  • The free speech reaction from seemingly everyone on this side of the planet regarding her stupidity has brought the issue to the forefront in a way that is forcing people to deal with the situation.
  • The continued pressure brought to bear in reaction to this student’s stupid expression is likely to create the proper outcomes:
    • The kid is catching hell from every corner of the universe.
    • The kid is likely to be “gone” from school.
    • The school is likely to further solidify its position against people who behave like this.
    • The message of, “We’re not there yet,” when it comes to issues of race is once again highlighted.
    • In light of all of this, the university is going to have to pony up more time, resources and education to deal with this issue.

In the end, all of this is the result of speech and the protections afforded to it in this country.

Today’s End-Of-Semester Vibe

How I feel going into the final two weeks of the semester:

The blizzard (real snow, no kidding) on May 1 and my half-empty classrooms aren’t helping matters any, but believe me, these last two weeks can’t finish up fast enough.

I’m working on a few longer pieces with more detailed stuff, so this week might literally be just this, but we will at least end the semester on a bang.

Or I’ll look like this lady in the video.:


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

A Resolution to Cardi B’s False Light Lap Flap Suit and a Reminder to Be Careful in Taking Stuff off the Internet (A Throwback Post)

I apparently haven’t been paying enough attention to Cardi B these days, as I managed to miss the jury verdict in October related to “tattoo-gate” and her album cover I’m still not allowed to show you:

Rapper Cardi B didn’t violate a man’s right of publicity by transposing his back tattoo onto a model for the racy cover of her 2016 mixtape, a California federal jury said Friday.

Kevin Brophy Jr. initially sought $5 million for the transposition of his distinctive full-back tattoo onto the back of another man suggestively performing a sex act on Cardi B on the cover of “Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1.” A jury disagreed, apparently accepting the rapper and reality TV star’s argument that the 2016 cover for her first mixtape was transformative fair use.

In December, a judge denied Brophy’s appeal:

“The jury had an ample basis for its verdict. For example, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the back tattoo on the model on the mixtape cover at issue in this suit was not sufficiently identifiable with Brophy to constitute misappropriation of his likeness or depiction in a false light. Because the model’s face is not visible, identification based on facial appearance is impossible,” Judge Carney wrote.

Even more compelling, he wrote, was the small part the tattoo played in the overall composition of the cover art.

That said, Brophy isn’t giving up. In January, he attempted to revive the suit, arguing that the original trial had significant problems with it.

The first of these alleged prejudicial errors of law involves Brophy Jr.’s purportedly being “deprived of his fundamental and substantial right to cross-examine Cardi B at trial.” Ahead of this trial, the court determined that “each party would have two opportunities to examine each witness,” per Brophy Jr.’s motion.


Regarding the second of the above-noted “prejudicial errors of law,” the filing likewise takes aim at the court’s alleged decision to exclude evidence from Cardi B’s separate defamation trial. The “Up” artist won the latter (albeit as a plaintiff) with the same trial counsel as in the tattoo suit, and Brophy Jr. says that the defamation matter’s claims “are strikingly similar to the claims in this case.”

I still have no idea how he didn’t manage to pull a false-light claim out of this, other than the idea that the model didn’t look enough like him to make people think he was the “model.” Either that, or he couldn’t prove that reasonable people would find it “highly offensive” to be considered the “lap friend” of Cardi B on that album cover.

In any case, here’s a look back at how this all got started and a couple good lessons that still stand up, regardless of who ends up winning…



Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” prequel gets her sued on allegations of invasion of privacy (and two things you can learn from this debacle)

Trying to find fresh and relevant cases involving “misappropriation” or “false light” claims of invasion of privacy can be difficult.

Thank God for Cardi B.

A suit that is headed to trial later this year will determine if the rapper engaged in both of these acts when she included a distinctive tattoo on one of her album covers:

A federal judge in Santa Ana, California, has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that a man’s distinctive back tattoo was used without his permission in a sexual picture on an album cover by rapper Cardi B.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney of the Central District of California refused to dismiss the suit by plaintiff Kevin Michael Brophy Jr., who sports a full back tattoo that shows a tiger battling a snake.


Brophy said his likeness was misappropriated in the photoshopped image in “a misleading, offensive, humiliating and provocatively sexual way.” He alleges misappropriation of likeness or identity, violation of the right to publicity under California law, and false light invasion of privacy.

Based on the decency standards my editors have for me here, I can’t include a copy of the album cover (I tried adding it to a Facebook post on this and I got flagged for violating community standards…). I also can’t mention the title of the album cover or even EXPLAIN what it is that is happening ON the album cover here.

Just Google “Cardi B,” “album cover” and “Gangsta” and you’ll like find it.

Essentially, let’s just say that Cardi B is drinking a beer while the male model upon whom Brophy’s back tattoo has been superimposed is doing something where the tattoo is fully visible and the man’s face is not.

The concept of misappropriation is the use of someone’s image without their approval. A simple example of this would be if one of my students was running for student body president and thought my endorsement would be valuable to him. Thus, he grabbed a photo of me teaching and included it on his posters without asking for my endorsement.

False light claims tend to put two true things close enough together that people will see them as related, even if they’re not. In cases like these, the court is looking at the “gist” of the material to see if a falsehood is implied. For example, in Solano v. Playgirl, Inc., actor Jose Solano won a false-light suit after the magazine published his photo along with headlines implying he posed nude in the magazine, which he did not.

Some states, like Colorado, don’t recognize these kinds of legal nuances, rolling them instead into either general defamation or copyright claims, depending on what is at the core of the case. In other cases, the claims are without merit and get tossed quickly, leaving few true battles over who has the right to control a personal image.

In this case, it’s a daily double, in that the “misappropriation” claim of Brophy’s image (it’s a heck of a tattoo…) and the “false light” claim (that isn’t Brophy on the cover, but anyone who knows him and that tattoo would be hard-pressed to determine that on first glance) seem to fit the definitions perfectly.

The rapper’s legal team asked a federal judge to toss the suit back in December, arguing the album art was covered under a fair-use claim, in that the reworking of the tattoo into the piece made the work transformative. The court disagreed and the case will move forward to trial in the near future.

To say Cardi B is displeased with these allegations would be a slight understatement, based on her deposition:

“I’m really upset because I really have to be with my kid. All because of some bulls**t trying to get money and then $5,000,000. Are you f***ing kidding me? That mixtape didn’t even make, not even a million dollars.” Cardi added, “I got real lawsuits with real sh**, and I got to deal with this bulls**t. This is four hours long taking away from my time, my job, my motherhood.”

Ah, yes… If I close my eyes, I can almost hear my own mother’s voice uttering those exact words…

In any case, regardless of how this turns out, here are two key things you can learn from just watching this train wreck take place:

Permission for use solves almost everything: In reading through the coverage of this case and the depositions, it turns out the guy who designed the cover just Googled “back tattoo” and grabbed this one at random. (It also turns out he was paid $50 to build the cover, which could be the cautionary tale of “You get what you pay for,” I suppose.)

I would bet every dollar in my pocket right now against a pile of nothing that when this guy built the cover, he NEVER thought anyone would complain about their image being used in this fashion. The… let’s call it “up close with Cardi B”… nature of this image would likely be bragging rights for almost every human male on the planet, I would imagine.

In this case, he appears to have found the one guy with the one tat who didn’t feel this way. That’s why it’s important to ask people for permission to use their stuff. I could assume that any journalism outlet would LOVE to have its stories or photos or illustrations included in a textbook to illustrate how the true greats of the field operate. However, my publisher believes in covering its keester, so we have permission forms that get signed and stored.

Maybe Brophy is making a power play and could care less how he would be portrayed on an album cover, so long as he got paid. Maybe Brophy is truly a man who views this representation of him as “misleading, offensive, humiliating and provocatively sexual,” and is truly upset by this. Who knows? The key is that it’s his right to have his body portrayed as he sees fit, which is why this is going to court.

Permission would have made this much easier to figure out, so make sure you get it.

“But it’s JUST for X” is never an excuse: Somewhere in the sprawling field of asterisks that populate Cardi B’s quote above is the notion that the album only made $1 million, so to have to pay out $5 million is ridiculous. The problem here is that she’s not being sued for a portion of revenue. She’s being sued to penalize her for her actions.

The law can be more or less forgiving in certain situations, but it is the law. Therefore, deciding to steal something and then say, “but it was JUST…” isn’t necessarily going to keep you out of trouble. I can’t remember how many times I’ve critiqued a high school or college paper that basically stole an image and published it. (Writing “Photo courtesy of Google” didn’t make it any better.) When I pointed out how much trouble this could create, I got the “Well, it’s JUST for a HIGH SCHOOL newspaper. I’m sure people have better things to do that try to sue us.”

Maybe. But a) Is that a risk you want to take? and b) Is that the lesson you want to teach your students? (“Steal small, kids, and you’ll never have to take responsibility for it!”)

I’ve seen this happen both ways, with bigger news outlets stealing from student newspapers (One told my photographer, “You’re just a student publication. You should be happy we’re using your work…” Um… No…) and student papers stealing from the big dogs. Both cases are wrong and in both cases, you can get into trouble for doing it.

I’m sure this guy who got paid $50 to design this thing for one of the myriad women who would likely crash and burn on “Love and Hip Hop” was thinking, “I’m just doing this thing for beer money. No way anyone buys this stupid thing.” However, he hit big, so now everyone is paying the price.

It’s like speeding: Sure, you might get away with five over, but when the cop in Rosendale pulls you over for doing 31 in a 30, the “But I was just speeding a little!” excuse is not going to fly.

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions: Journalism Educator edition

Despite my parents’ best efforts, I got addicted to Mad magazine as a kid and fell in love with Al Jaffee’s acerbic wit. I’m sorry, all my former, current and future students…

Al Jaffee probably had a bigger influence on me than most people wished he’d had. The longtime cartoonist for Mad Magazine who died earlier this month at age 102, was both a gifted artist and a gifted humorist.

During his time at the publication, Mad had an amazing collection of talent, and each artist brought their own special vibe to the publication. Paul Coker drew his “horrifying cliches,” movie parodies and single-panel pieces. Sergio Aragones literally filled the magazine with his dialogue-free sketches, as he drew in the margins of the various spreads. Don Martin did some truly ridiculous cartoons, of which my favorite was the detective-wannabe Lance Parkertip, Noted Notary Public.

Jaffee, however, wrote his way into history with his “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” which did exactly what the title promised. He’d present one of the dumber questions people tend to ask, and follow it with a series of sarcastic, snide or otherwise snappy responses, intended on laying low the idiot inquisitor.

As a kid, I took to Jaffee’s biting snap-backs like a fish to water, using his style of humor to keep bullies at bay in grade school and dabble in some class-clowning in high school. As I got older, I was told this kind of thing wasn’t age-appropriate for me but hey, if a guy can do this kind of stuff until he’s 102, I’ve got some time left on the clock.

In honor of Jaffee’s passing, here are a few Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions most of us tend to get as journalism educators:


“Sorry, I overslept. Did I miss anything important in class today?”

  • “No, we only did a bunch of unimportant stuff, like we do most days.”
  • “No, we just sat here and thought about how much we missed you.”
  • “Yeah, it was the best! We didn’t have to slow down and reexplain everything to this one kid who never pays attention and is constantly missing stuff while he’s Snapchatting the class period away.”


“Is this going to be on the test?”

  • “No, I enjoy throwing random facts at you for the sake of seeing how you react. It’s like my own little version of giving a lab rat an electric shock.”
  • “I’m not sure yet, but God forbid you be presented with information that might be valuable in its own right.”
  • “Probably not, because even though I said, ‘You want to write this down, because it’s going to be on the test,’ at least 912 times, I’m still debating how to handle this.”


“Why did I get an F on this assignment?”

  • “Because the university hasn’t figured out a way for me to give you anything lower.”
  • “Because given your writing ability, I figured this was as far as you ever got in learning the alphabet.”
  • “I understand that it’s probably a mystery, shrouded in the 20 or so sentences of feedback I wrote at the bottom of your paper, clearly outlining every point deduction.”


“Can I get an extension on this paper?”

  • “If you mean you want me to make the paper longer, sure.”
  • “Absolutely, because the six weeks I gave everyone else to accomplish it clearly wasn’t enough time for you to craft your incredibly expansive effort.”
  • “But what will I do in the meantime, as I wait to consume your exquisite prose? How will I pass the time as I await the dawning of your genius?”


“Can I do some extra credit to make up some points?”

  • “Given the effort you put into your ‘regular’ credit, giving you extra credit right now would seem to be an exercise in futility.”
  • “Sure, because when I said at the beginning of the year, and at least 12 times since, that the class will offer NO EXTRA CREDIT, I only meant that for other people who didn’t have the chutzpah to ask for it.”


“Do I HAVE to take the final exam?”

  • “I lack subpoena power and the university doesn’t equip me with a gun, so I can’t force you to do much of anything. That said, you probably won’t pass the class without at least a decent attempt.”
  • “Given that it won’t save your grade, no matter how well you do, I’d actually prefer you avoid wasting both of our times.”


“You know I’m graduating in two weeks, right?”

  • “Well, not if you need this class to do it…”
  • “That puts me in a quandary, as to pass you would mean I gave up on any standard I had for this class whatsoever, but to fail you would mean I’d need to tolerate your pointless presence again for a whole semester. Let me think about how much I hate myself right now and I’ll get back to you.”


“Is there ANYTHING I can do to pass this course at this point in the semester?”

  • “Can you invent a time machine and travel back to the start of the term when I told you to make sure you kept up with the reading and the assignments and kick your own ass to make sure you did so? If not, probably not.”
  • “Well, I’d ask for a bribe, but given your performance in class to this point, you’d probably screw that up, too.”


“Do you know who my father is?”

  • “Does HE know how to build a time machine to fix things for you? If not, I’m not sure how this is relevant to your grade.”
  • “No, but that’s probably because he found out how poorly you’re doing in school and immediately entered some form of witness protection.”
  • “No, but maybe a “23 and Me” kit could help.”

If any other pathologically stupid questions have come your way and you’d like some snappy answers, feel free to hit me up here and I’ll do my best to put together another list at some point.

Elon Musk said he “learned a lot” from his SpaceX rocket explosion. So can media professionals.

You know you’re rich when you can have what equates to a multi-million dollar firework explode after four minutes in the air and refer to it as a learning experience. Elon Musk noted after his SpaceX rocket blew up that he “learned a lot” from the flight that lasted about half the time of the Rolling Stones’ “You can’t always get what you want.”

As much as it would be fun to beat up on the guy who somehow turned Twitter into a place that has baffled Stephen King, a more valuable use of our space here might be to turn this into a learning experience for media practitioners across the spectrum.

Thus, let us begin with…

NEWS LESSON 1: When it comes to leads, just tell me what happened.

A friend and colleague sent me an array of leads as a reminder of what can happen when writers get too into themselves…

This shit is remarkable:

Washington Post:

SpaceX’s Starship lifted off the pad in Southern Texas and cleared the launchpad, its first milestone, but then began tumbling as it was preparing for stage separation and the vehicle came apart some four minutes into flight.



SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, took off from a launch pad on the coast of South Texas on Thursday at 9:28 a.m. ET, but exploded midair before stage separation.



SpaceX’s huge Starship rocket, the most powerful ever built, blasted off on an unpiloted maiden flight Thursday and successfully flew for more than two minutes before tumbling out of control and exploding in a cloud of flaming debris.



SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Thursday launched its Starship rocket for the first time, but fell short of reaching space after exploding in mid-flight. No crew were on board.



SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — The most powerful rocket ever built put on quite a show during its debut space launch.

As my friend noted, each lead seems to avoid the fact that a giant missile blew up and created quite a mess for people who were wondering if Musk’s effort would be better or worse than his work with Twitter.

The lesson here is simple. Just tell people what happened and why they should care in your lead. If you feel the need to wax poetic about a massive ship breaking free from the celestial bonds of Earth, go to a poetry slam.


NEWS LESSON 2: Completeness and clarity matter a great deal.

Shortly after the rocket turned into a flying junkyard, “think” pieces started to emerge about how this wasn’t really as bad as it seemed:

About four minutes after SpaceX‘s gargantuan rocket lifted from its Texas launch pad, it burst into a fireball over the Gulf of Mexico, never reaching space.

Though SpaceX hasn’t shared many details yet about what happened during Starship’s maiden voyage, one fact is known: It was intentionally ordered to explode.

This and several other stories noted that it wasn’t an unexpected explosion, but one deliberately set off by the SpaceX folks because of the risk of falling debris and other similar concerns for people on the ground.

That’s important to know, but it’s also worth noting that the REASON they blew this thing up was because the rocket had started to malfunction around that time. In other words, either way, this thing was not going to be a fully realized launch.

Both of these points are worth making clear right up front on stories that discuss the rocket, although it seemed like half the stories out there were doing some version of a “Ha Ha! Elon Sucks!” story and the other half were doing the “Oh, you simpletons. You do not understand the genius of Elon” stories.

Both are half true, in a way, but neither is clear or complete.


PUBLIC RELATIONS LESSON 1: Manage expectations

Dovetailing nicely with the info above, the first lesson good public relations practitioners learn is how to convey important information of interest to an audience in a transparent and direct way. In this case, that seemed to be lacking.

The follow up stories touch on how this taught people a lot, or how rockets fail a lot before they succeed or how they never really intended this thing to be totally successful. All of these things might be true, but the timing of those pieces is really terrible.

If you manage expectations people have for an event, you can better control the narrative  in terms of what people should expect or not expect. For the longest time, people got used to NASA tossing spacecrafts into the heavens with nothing but total success. Musk probably knew (I’m guessing based on what’s coming out now) that this wasn’t going to be that.

Rather than tell people, “Hey, this thing is going to be in the air about as long as it takes to blow $20 in a slot machine at the Las Vegas airport,” he didn’t mention what could happen. Thus, the reaction from pundits and suddenly all of the “we learned stuff” responses sound like trying to polish a turd.

Put it this way: If I go to the mechanic to get my car fixed and he tells me, “It’s going to cost $300 and take two hours,” that’s my resting pulse for expectation. If he comes in at $250 or it takes an hour and a half, I’m going to be thrilled. However, if he tells me it’ll cost $250 and will take an hour and a half, but instead it’s $300 and two hours, I’m going to be upset.


PUBLIC RELATIONS LESSON 2: Don’t give people a reason to mock you.

Perhaps the one thing people will remember most of this mess was the linguistic calisthenics that Musk and crew used to explain the rocket’s demise:

This approach to reality reminds me of the time that I covered the Mifflin Street Block Party, which devolved into fire, arrests and the destruction of a fire truck.

When I called the police to determine if they called a 10-33 (Riot in progress), I was told I shouldn’t call it a riot. I then outlined all of the stuff I saw there: A car burned to a shell, porches ripped to pieces, fires torching the street, kids screaming “f— the pigs” and more before asking, “If it wasn’t a riot, what was it?”

“It was a large, prolonged disturbance,” the officer said before hanging up on me.

A “rapid unscheduled disassembly” is not only jargon, but it’s clearly mock-worthy. I get that you don’t necessarily want to be this blunt in your assessment of the launch, but come on… You might have been better off going with “we had an oopsie” at that point.

If there’s one thing the internet is good at, it’s mockery. The last thing you want to do is softball it in for the folks out there who really enjoy roasting the hell out of you.


A helpful attribution word search for beginning writers (A Throwback Post)

Maybe grading too many intro to writing papers in a row has me punchy, but I often wonder if my voice is somehow only audible to dogs. After an entire semester of pounding single-sentence paragraphs of paraphrase, quotes as their own paragraphs  placement of attributions and more into my kids’ heads, I am only marginally surprised that none of it has stuck for most of them.

That said, if I have noticed one thing above all else, it’s an almost pathological fear of the word “said” as a verb of attribution. I’ve gotten “noted,” “explained,” “delineated,” “clarified,” “mentioned,” and “commented” list a few. The most frequent one that has become popular is “expressed.” When a student relies on this, I want to send this video back to them just to break the habit in a truly horrific way:

That said, for those folks who might prefer a little less mess, here’s a word search I made a few years back that might help students  find attribution verbs that are acceptable in journalism:


An attribution-verb word search for beginning journalism students

Professors are always looking for exercises to help their students learn important lessons. After my introductory media writing class had a few “issues” with properly attributing quotes, I decided to put together this handy little word search. Feel free to steal it and use it:


Let’s just say that Wednesday was a trying day…

Hope the rest of your week goes well.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)