How journalism changed America

For more than 300 years, investigative journalism has been a driving force in the American reform tradition.
Now a collection of these articles has been assembled by a Knight-Ridder editor and a New York University journalism professor.
In Muckraking: The Journalism That Changed America, Judith and William Serrin include passionately written material published from mid-1700 to today.
Although the term “muckraking” was coined to describe shameful conduct, the authors say it should be an accolade. They agree with the famous saying that “The job of a journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The book is divided into 13 sections, including those on the poor, politics, America at war, railroads, and oil.
In the early years of American history, journalists such as Frederick Douglass rallied public opinion to end slavery. In the same era, Edwin Markham pushed child-labor reform laws.
There is one of the Watergate articles by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Among other well-known reporters are John Steinbeck, Drew Pearson, Edward R. Murrow, Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens, and David Halberstam.
The interesting stories include that of Robert S. Abbott. He founded the Chicago Defender in 1905 with 25 cents in capital and a borrowed card table. Within 10 years, it became the most important black newspaper in the country. Heurged Southern blacks to move north.
Some of the important material came from smaller publications such as the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly; McClure’s; The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald; Jewish Frontier; and Harpers.
These reporting gems show how strong American journalism can be.

Muckraking! The Journalism That Changed America edited by Judith and William Serrin, New Press, 392 pages, $25.


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Netbooks aren’t as capable as PCs

Netbooks aren’t as capable, but are smaller and cheaper than a PC

The small netbooks are lightweight, less expensive than a PC, and can fit into a handbag or a briefcase.

More than 11 million consumers bought one for as little as $269 in 2008, and prices may continue to fall. PC makers say notebook computer prices could be affected by the trend, possibly with a 20 percent drop from early 2008 prices by the end of 2009.

The $269 netbook is made by Asus ‘Eee PCs (Eee stands for “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play.”). They are designed for basic tasks of Web surfing, email and word processing. They use Wi-Fi but have a limited storage drive capacity. To keep costs down, some Asus models ship with the Linux operating system rather than Microsoft Windows.

The keyboards are small, which could be a problem for some adults, but the size is perfect for kids. Dell’s $349 Inspiron Mini 9 has an 8.9-inch LED screen. It has 512 MB of system memory and Intel’s Atom 1.6-Ghz processor.

You can order it with Windows XP operating system instead of Linux. Dell has three netbooks, all of which have USB ports, other features and four hours of battery life, depending on the applications being used.

The $349 Acer Aspire One has a bright 8.9-inch screen, a 120-gigabyte hard disk and one gigabyte of memory. It’s about an inch thick. The keys are large and separated in order to make typing comfortable for limited work.

For $50 extra, you can get twice the battery power.

Shopping, buying encouraged by brain activity

There’s a reason why you go to the store for one item and come back with five or six. Shopping boosts your mood and makes you feel good.

That’s the conclusion of Gregory Burns, author of “Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment” (Henry Holt).

Burns writes that “recreational shopping” and “retail therapy” have a real chemical reward.

Shopping triggers release of brain chemicals that give you a shopping high. It’s genetic. With Christmas coming soon, science has new information that could help you keep spending in line and help you understand the highs of buying the lows of buyer’s remorse.

Blame your buying partly on the brain chemical dopamine. It plays a crucial role in our mental and physical health and is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine is released when we experience something new, exciting, or challenging.

Shopping can be all of those things, according to Burns, an Emory University neuroscientist. Dopamine is like a fuel injector for action, he writes. It urges you to seal the deal, even though you may never use the item. Once you have it, however, you get a let-down feeling.

To make better shopping decisions, experts recommend:

* Buy only what’s on your list.

* Use cash or debit cards to keep you from buying things you can’t afford.

* Window-shop when stores are closed or your wallet is at home.

* Don’t shop with friends or relatives. The novelty puts you at a higher risk of buying things you don’t need.