Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Goodbye, Rubio Tuesday

Tampa Tribune Can't Shed Stink of Marco Fast Enough

Granted, Marco Rubio's ears were ringing early last night after the fat lady had wrapped up her aria. It was about 8:15 when he decided it was best to tuck himself and the kids in early. After all, they had school the next day. As for Rubio, he could go back to doing what he does best, not show up in the Senate.

Still, even though Rubio 2016 was sent to the scrap heap early, at least some mention of his campaign's demise would still be prominent on the home pages of Florida newspaper websites. For the most part, that was the case. The Miami Herald this morning is fully invested in its second-day stories (which may have been written many days ago, sort of like an obit).

The Sun-Sentinel leads with how Rubio is the latest victim whose "dreams were crushed by the Donald Trump steamroller." Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times has a couple of post-mortems, while the Orlando Sentinel did its due diligence though the reliably conservative editorial page is a little slow off the mark and more focused on approval for yet another airline terminal.

Then there's the Tampa Tribune, whose lede as of 9:40 a.m. ET was  headlined "Voters in Tampa Bay Area See Dire Consequences if the Other Party Wins." Not a bad approach the day after, but click to other elections coverage and the main story on last night's primary was from the A.P. It's only after you click on a small button for "more elections coverage" do you find a staff-written piece that folds in the Democratic and GOP primaries. It includes a few perfunctory grafs about Florida's not-so-favorite son, but that's it. One article about the most-watched primary of the night.

Maybe it shouldn't come as too big of a shock, given the fortunes of the Trib lately. I visited the newsroom four years ago, before the last Florida primary. I was struck by how many empty desks I saw in the newsroom. Suffice to say, they weren't empty because reporters were out to lunch or covering stories.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Would You (Did You) See This Story Online?

When Plunking Down $2.50 for The New York Times Can Make a Difference

The lead story (at least in print) for today's New York Times is a compelling yarn from Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery about how collection agencies use the courts to sue unwitting debtors, but can legally block those debtors from challenging them in court.
Instead, they must resort to arbitration, a tactic few pursue because it's a process that's too expensive or one they don't understand.
Since my dinosaur-esque tendencies compel me to hold the Times in my hand each morning, I read the piece with my coffee and coffee yogurt (totally spontaneous and unrehearsed). Mind you, I do check in frequently on the Times later in the day on the PC or assorted mobile devices. Which led me to wonder how the top article on A-1 was being played when I went to about noon ET.
Not very well, as it turns out.
I had to scroll down to the Business Day tab lower on the home page. The article--assuming it had been there once--was no longer one of the three visible headlines. Instead, I clicked on the section and found the piece under the DealBook moniker as part of a recurring series. Maybe the night before it had received more prominent play.
Why does this matter?
More people now have digital Times subscriptions than print. Given the trove of content that's being pumped out, it's easy for stories to get shuffled down the screen or hidden entirely. The Times also has a tendency to post stories that may not make it into the paper until a day or two later. That's even more so the case on Wednesday, when the cover story for the Sunday magazine will appear online (If you need a head start on this year's edition of "The Lives They Lived," have at it). It's a journalistic feast, but we may pay a price for all of that gorging.
In other words, there's a need for editors to align the priorities of digital and print more closely. If an article is the top item above the fold on A-1, then it should be prominent for longer on the home page. Think of readers on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii who are getting to later in the news cycle. The debt collection story is one worthy of their time, but they may not get to see it if they don't know to look for it in the first place.
Given that the reporters conducted hundreds of interviews for this series, more readers should be able to reap the fruits of their labors and the Times can justify the expense of backing this commendable project.

No Flipping

Larry Sanders Makes a Comeback, of Sorts

I've been away from the blogosphere for a while, but wanted to chime in on what may be my favorite correction of the year, even though it's got some whiskers. From Dec. 11 New York Times story on the marriage of comedian Carol Leifer and longtime companion Lori Wolfe:

An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the guests at Ms. Leifer and Ms. Wolf’s wedding reception. He is Garry Shandling — not Larry Sanders, a character played by Mr. Shandling.

I always wondered why I never saw the two in the same room.

Doing Sherman Adelson's Bidding in Connecticut

But with Tiny Circulation, Might be Journalistic Version of One-Hand Clapping

The Las Vegas Review-Journal saga keeps getting curiouser and curiouser after Sheldon Adelson was finally outed as the buyer of Nevada's largest daily.
If the R-J newsroom got a little bit queasy when they realized the loud and proud GOP donor was now presiding over their paychecks, no amount of Maalox would have done the trick when editor Mike Hengel announced yesterday he was taking a buyout.
In other words, to be continued.
Now comes a bizarre twist to this story from The Hartford Courant, about why the New Britain Herald, a newspaper with circulation just north of 9,000, published a lengthy story about so-called business courts, including 10 paragraphs devoted to a dustup Adelson had in one in Las Vegas. For a paper the size of the Herald, undertaking such a story is both unusual and unwarranted, given the few reporters left in its newsroom.
Turns out, the Herald's publisher, Michael Schroeder, has a business relationship with Adelson. But that's not where the story ends. The Courant reports it was written by someone named "Edward Clarkin," a scribe no one seems to know anything about, including current and former editors at the Herald or its sister paper, the Bristol Herald.
And for a little extra icing on this cruddy cake, two people quoted in the Clarkin missive said they were never interviewed for the piece and are wondering out loud how they made their way into print.
As for Schroeder, he's not talking about the Herald's newsgathering priorities or much of anything else. Apparently, what happens in New Britain.....

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Is Unemployment Better Than Working For Gannett?

Maybe Not, But.....

I've been chatting this week with a couple of scribes at the Journal News, the Gannett paper in New York's northern suburbs where I toiled in the late 80s. The paper, like many in the chain, is a desiccated husk of its former self both in size and staffing. The circulation has followed a similar pattern, now down to about 55,000 daily where it was 160,000 when I was there.

Those convos got me thinking about Gannett's newest employees, the staffs of 11 dailies in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Texas, as part of a swap with Digital First in which Gannett gave up its 19 percent interest in some California newspapers in return.

Suffice to say, if you're an employee of the El Paso Times, the York Daily Record or one of the nine other dailies that are now orbiting the Gannett mother ship, these are not happy days. Not that you were exactly doing jigs with Digital First, which shares a reputation with Gannett as a ruthless cost-cutter.

Gannett has shown no compunction about staffing its newsrooms to the bare minimums. Copy editing is farmed out to regional hubs as is design. Admittedly, I don't know if the six small New Mexico dailies have separate editing staffs below the top of the masthead. But if they do, chances are they won't for long, if Gannett is consistent with past moves at papers in New Jersey and New York, among others. The same will likely hold for printing presses.

As Ken Doctor pointed out, the move makes financial sense for Gannett, now that it is a standalone newspaper company lacking debt. It also makes sense for Digital First, which is breaking itself into pieces after attempts at finding a buyer for all of its disparate pieces never went anywhere.

Does it make sense for any of the newspapers' employees? Doubtful. It will likely be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

At least they have what fewer people than ever can claim--jobs working for a newspaper.

For now.

Red Cross Bloodied Again by NPR and Pro Publica

And Another PR Fumble by Charity Run Amok

On tonight's "All Things Considered," NPR ran a devastating report from Laura Sullivan about the apparent mishandling by the American Red Cross of hundreds of millions of dollars donated in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The 19-minute report as as startling for its length as it was for its sweeping indictment of broken promises, lame excuses and a choking bureaucracy that swallowed up too many donations. It's a compelling listen that will make you think twice the next time a disaster strikes. The investigation was a collaboration with Pro Publica, where the headline for its report makes very clear where it's headed: "How the Red Cross Raised a Half Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Houses."

In other words, it's not going to end well for the Red Cross.

For NPR and Pro Publica, whose dispatch is also well worth your attention, this is not the first time the Red Cross has come up in their crosshairs. They collaborated last year on a scathing report about how the Red Cross badly botched its response to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy.

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.
“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

And that's just the tippy tip of the iceberg.

In both stories, the Red Cross--to the extent that it's forthcoming--displays a stunning lack of hubris and tone deafness in its response to reporters' questions. To wit, this telling nugget from a portion of the Haiti story about a supposed $24 million project for the "physical renewal" of one Port au Prince neighborhood and a brochure touting its benefits.

[T]he Red Cross' head of public affairs in Washington, D.C., sent NPR and ProPublica an email saying we had mischaracterized the project, though they did not dispute the information in the brochure. NPR and ProPublica were "creating ill will in the community, which may give rise to a security incident," the email says. "We will hold you and your news organizations fully responsible." No security incident happened — but residents did ask if they could keep the brochure.

Kill the messenger? Really? Wow. And it gets better.

NPR published on its website a response from the Red Cross, which just doesn't get it.

The Red Cross is disappointed, once again, by the lack of balance, context and accuracy in the most recent reporting by ProPublica/NPR, which follows the pattern of all their previous Red Cross stories. It is particularly disappointing to see our work misrepresented considering we answered more than 100 questions in writing and provided an interview with the head of our international programs.

Quantity doesn't trump quality, alas. That head of international programs wouldn't answer questions about specific programs, how much they cost and their expenses. The report said much of the money donated never reached people in need and was eaten up paying third parties to run programs after the Red Cross took its own cut for administrative fees. How did NPR and Pro Publica know this? Because it was all in writing. In Red Cross documents.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Brian Williams Falls on His Sword, Sort Of

Bri Bri Says Bye, Bye For "Several Days"

The glare of the spotlight that Brian Williams turned on himself has gotten too bright.

The "NBC Nightly News" anchor/managing editor, who didn't realize that when he was telling stories they were supposed to be grounded in fact, is going on hiatus for "several days" to defog his memory about his non-near death experience covering the Iraq war. At least judging by this announcement from NBC News, it was his choice. Then again, maybe not.

In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.
As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

Interesting that this was put out as a press release. Don't look for it on or the Nightly News home page. I sense there are still hordes of walking wounded at 30 Rock still trying to make sense of this F.U.B.A.R. exercise.

Now, about this several days thing. Better than even it's a poorly chosen euphemism. Lester Holt may be doing more than sitting in--he could be getting fitted for a new chair.

Is Williams a dead anchor walking? Maybe not yet. But he's badly bleeding and nobody at NBC is in a hurry to offer him a Band-Aid.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Nationwide Is Not on the Side of Common Sense

Explain Away All You Want, But the Buzzkill Still Lingers

Now that we're in the midst of Dead Kid-Gate, Nationwide Insurance has come out with a defense, of sorts, of its Debbie Downer of an ad for yesterday's Super Bowl. It's like Pete Carroll made the media buy.

Per PR Newser:

We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”

Noble intentions are swell. But during the Super Bowl? At $4.5 million a spot? And after a funny Nationwide ad with Mindy Kaling had just aired?

On any other day, you would have had parents everywhere sprinting for the Kleenex. Instead, you just pissed them off, including those who had to explain what happened to their kids.

The dialogue Nationwide so desperately wanted about an important topic is overshadowed by the one about the incredibly bad judgment of the company and its ad agency.

If you're tone deaf in the media world, you're toast. And Nationwide got burnt.

Friday, October 31, 2014

White House Charges $60K a Head for Next Charter; I Got a Bargain with Cuomo

Then Again, Watertown's a Little Cheaper to Get to than Beijing

For news organizations who want to cover President Obama's on his next swing through Asia, getting a seat on the press charter isn't a problem. Getting accounting to pay for the trip is another story.

The Washington Post reports each journalist who wants to span the globe with POTUS will first have to ante up $60,000 for a seat. And that doesn't include meals, hotels and so-called ground costs. That'll set the journos back another $10K or so. No word yet on whether the White House will include sodas and an in-flight movie to soften the blow.

That's a lot of samoleans to watch a lame-duck president commune with heads of state, but the big dogs will invariably be on the plane, though they'll be bringing fewer puppies along for the ride. Too many kibbles for a likelihood of not too many bits of news.

Back when I was a reporter for UPI in Albany in the mid-1980s, I took several day trips with Gov. Mario Cuomo as he made public appearances across the state. Interest in Cuomo was high, at a time when he still hadn't decided whether to run for president. UPI was still a viable news service then, at least in name, if not on its balance sheet (the company had gone Chapter 11 in 1985).

Getting a seat on the prop plane wasn't an issue. Only a handful of reporters would be on one of these trips, where you would sit across from him on a bench seat. Maybe he'd give you some news on the flight out--and that would be your story--rather than what Cuomo would actually speak about on the ground. The flight back to Albany was generally off the record or inconsequential; Cuomo would chat with us then about other besides politics.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which was in charge of the governor's plane would, every now and then, send a bill to my office, in essence charging UPI for letting me ride on a plane that was making the trip anyway. Typically, the bill was in the $200-$300 range. I dutifully put it in my manager's box. And it was dutifully forgotten by everyone, including the state. Just as well. UPI was never big on accounts receivable.

The White House, on the other hand? They don't strike me as IOU types. I suspect there may be a few UPI veterans there. They know better.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Filing Dispatches from the Valley of Death

Ebola Reporting Nothing Short of Heart-Rending, Courageous

Ebola has certainly grabbed its share of headlines over the last month, though I suspect it was still viewed with detachment by most Americans. That is, until yesterday, when word came of a Liberian man holed up in an isolation ward in a Dallas hospital. Now it's no longer one of those "African" problems, you know the kind that get a short mention in the wire briefs buried in a newspaper.

Fortunately, some media have ignored the xenophobia and have told the Ebola story with compelling renderings that provide the context for why thousands of foreign doctors and soldiers are pouring into Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to treat the afflicted and stop the virus's spread. It gives you some hope. But just as quickly you realize just what it is they are up against. And soon the hope begins to ebb.

That was my feeling after reading today's story from Adam Nossiter in The New York Times from a forlorn (is there any other) district in Sierra Leone, where he visited what the headline aptly calls "A Hospital from Hell."

“Where’s the corpse?” the burial-team worker shouted, kicking open the door of the isolation ward at the government hospital here. The body was right in front of him, a solidly built young man sprawled out on the floor all night, his right hand twisted in an awkward clench.
The other patients, normally padlocked inside, were too sick to look up as the body was hauled away. Nurses, some not wearing gloves and others in street clothes, clustered by the door as pools of the patients’ bodily fluids spread to the threshold. A worker kicked another man on the floor to see if he was still alive. The man’s foot moved and the team kept going. It was 1:30 in the afternoon.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

AP Goes Op-Ed With Anti-Israel Tweet

It Reports. And Decides.

Someone at the AP went off their meds with this tweet: Apparently, no one has keys to the closet with all the red flags.

Holy crap.

So you know, this is the story the tweet was purportedly based on:

Suffice to say, the story reads differently. In other words, without making judgments. You know, the way you're supposed to do it in the first place.


No apologies from the AP, but at least they walked the tweet back:


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The News Really Does Never Stop

Global Editing Hubs Eliminate the Lobster Trick in Newsrooms

You've heard a lot about the 24/7 newsroom. It all sounds great, unless you're one of the unfortunate souls who--usually not by choice--is assigned to uphold that mandate in the dead of night. But it appears more news organizations don't want a bunch of bleary eyes overseeing their digital real estate.
Nieman Lab has a fascinating piece on how newsrooms are handing off control to staffers in other time zones--not to mention continents--so fresh content can get out earlier. Not only is it a good idea, but it also saves money. Overnight shifts (and I've done my share) normally pay more.
For example, a Finnish news agency shifted its predawn patrol from Helsinki to Sydney. So, when the Stanley Cup final in that hockey-crazed haven ended at 7 a.m. local time, the lowdown came from Down Under.
Pretty cool. And a great idea, which is also employed by digital domos like the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.
Now the news really never stops. Not even for a nap.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Radio Killed the Radio Star

Last DJ Out, Turn Off the Transmitter

There's a great piece in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot by Clay Barbour about the shifting sands in the Hampton Roads radio landscape, which invariably mean, like any other town, uninspiring formats, tight-as-a-drum playlists and fewer DJs saying next to nothing.
All have these changes have supposedly been ordained by the research gods. Actually, they're decreed by station managers and owners who are in a panic trying to save their skins. The younger demos no longer make radio a must-go-to medium, if they make it at all. They download. They stream. They listen to whatever station they want online wherever it may be. Maybe they have a Sirius XM subscription. But terrestrial radio? Nah.
And it's hard to blame them. The formats are bland, stultifying and often played on stations with 15-18 minutes of spots an hour. Most commercial FM rock stations have long since stopped being a place to discover new music. Or even old music. Many classic rock stations have a few hundred songs in rotation, at most.
A happy exception is the AAA, or adult album alternative, format. The Hampton Roads market, as the article notes, has a relatively new AAA station, 102.1 FM The Tide. Think of the format as the 21st-century version of the progressive rock stations that were birthed back when FM was a radio afterthought. The playlists--if they exist at all--are usually expansive, with a mix of old and new, platinum sellers and the undeservedly obscure. The DJs, who know and love the music, can say things other than what's prescribed on so-called liner cards. And stations invariably develop deep connections with listeners.
These are the kind of stations that will usually never be #1 in their markets, but the listenership is loyal and doesn't rush to turn the dial when a commercial airs because, frankly, there's no place else for them to go. AAA stations may not get the most listeners, but they get the right listeners, especially within the 25-49 demo most coveted by advertisers. That's enabled AAA stations like 107.1 The Peak in New York's northern suburbs, to recently celebrate its 10th anniversary.
So why don't more stations try AAA? Because they're afraid. Because they feel it's a niche that won't bring in wheelbarrows of cash. Because they just don't know any better.
Fortunately, Local Voice Media, which owns The Tide, is an exception, and folks in places like Norfolk and Virginia Beach are that much luckier, at least those who are still listening to the radio.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

News About ABC News Doesn't Come from ABC News

Website Relies on AP To Tell Its Big News of the Day

Since it was pretty much of a question of "when," rather than "if," word today that
David Muir would replace Diane Sawyer in the anchor chair at "World News" on ABC was significant if not earth-shaking.
Muir has shown himself to be more than up to the task. Whether that translates into being able to catch Brian Williams in the ratings is another matter. But swapping out a 68-year-old anchor for a 40-year-old model could portend a different look and feel for the newscast, though ABC is likely to deny it.
Even if the announcement didn't cause the tectonic plates under ABC News headquarters on the Upper West Side to shift, it was still a little weird to see how the news about the change could be found, if you go to an ABC News page, via Google News. Nothing from the network itself. Instead, it's the AP story about the move. In other words, ABC relied on a wire to report the story.
Before you write this off as a big-time network F.U.B.A.R., if you go to the ABC homepage, there is a staff-written piece with an accompanying video package. Whew!
But still.
The AP story didn't get there by itself and shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don't Piss on the New York Times Unless You Drink a Lot of Water

Walmart Flack Spends Too Much Time on Snark, Not Enough on  the Facts

A letter to the editor just wouldn't suffice.

Walmart's corporate communications veep David Tovar was really cheesed off about Timothy Egan's column in Sunday's New York Times. He actually had a headstart in generating his outrage, as the column appeared online three days earlier.

The basic premise of the piece by Egan (left) is that Walmart is a big contributor to poverty in this country because of the relatively paltry wages it pays to most of its 1.4 million workers.

Their humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare. A sign appearing at a Walmart in Ohio last year, asking people to donate food so that the company’s employees “could enjoy Thanksgiving,” was a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the nation’s most despised retailer.

Not that this is a new criticism, far from it, but it was made in the Times, in the Sunday edition, no less. The boys in Bentonville prepared to do battle.

That came in the form last Friday of an ersatz letter to Egan, in which Tovar (right) on his blog had some "fun," in his words, and annotated Egan's column and
offered in red ink--not unlike the variety commonly employed by high school English teachers--purported corrections to inaccuracies and distortions. It wasn't meant to be ha-ha funny in its observations. It wasn't meant to call out Egan as a dithering lefty in the tank for the progressives. But it was dripping with enough sarcasm to make you wonder what the hell Tovar was thinking.

Egan is apparently wondering the same, as he told Business Insider:

It seems pretty snarky for a company that puts Smiley buttons on every piece of Chinese-made crap they sell. I didn't see anything concrete, except the dispute over exactly how much they pay [employees] — which is in dispute. I cited two independent studies on their average worker's pay ... One was $8.81 an hour. The other [was under $11 an hour]. Wal-Mart says [it pays] $12-plus an hour, but critics say that is skewed, and they don't include part time workers, a huge part of their workforce."

If you take a look at Tovar's "notes," you'll see a lot of it doesn't exactly refute what Egan says, but tries to put a smiley face on some otherwise damning figures. And some non-sequiturs too. Egan wrote:

Walmart in 2010 pledged to spend $50 million over three years to offset some of the cost for a small percentage of employees who enrolled in a for-profit, online university. So far, it’s been a bust — only about 400 have earned degrees.

To which Tovar chirped: "Most college degrees take more than 4 years. Not 3?"

And that matters how? If you've reportedly committed $50 million to something, yet can show a precious few have benefited, how is that not a bust? Better to have said how many are enrolled and how many are on track to get a degree. But that might not help Tovar make his point, whatever that might be.

For many of his other notes, Tovar is either in furious spin mode (Did you know? Walmart hired over 92,000 veterans last year) or providing examples of something good that can likely be countered with many more worse stories. Conservative bloggers and websites were doing jigs over Tovar's takedown. But just because you write something in red pen doesn't necessarily make it right. It just makes it red, not a good color for a company whose logo is blue.

P.S. On Tovar's blog, he included a letter supposedly written by a store manager in Virginia that sings all the hosannas you'd expect about how wonderful Walmart's been to him. Fair enough. Now let's see if Tovar runs one from one of his cashiers who needs food stamps to feed her family.

Cranky Baseball Writers Get More Reasons To Moan, Thanks to the AP

You Really Didn't Want to Know Much Beyond the Score, Anyway, Right?

The Associated Press has raised the white flag to digital media when it comes to baseball coverage. This memo, released yesterday, details how game coverage will be revamped for shorter attention spans and tinier news holes.
AP writers will still bang out a 300-word story for quick consumption soon after the last pitch is thrown. Then comes the 600-word writethru, which has quotes and a non-hard news lede. Back when there were AM and PM cycles on the wires, a writethru might make it into a paper depending on the deadline. More often, they saw the light of day in afternoon newspapers.
Now that those are relics of days gone by, there's less of a need, at least for the longer version, or so the AP believes.
That's why its 600-word writethru is a traditional game story for the first 300 words or so, then goes to what the wire calls "chunky text," with five bullet points of notes and nuggets.
The purported benefits, as stated in the memo:

EASY TO READ: The format allows consumers to more easily see interesting content, and it can be read faster across platforms.
SPEED: The format is naturally shorter than a traditional game story and can be published more quickly, resulting in a faster turnaround time from AP to newsrooms.
FLEXIBILITY: Customers have the option of using the 300-word traditional game story, or breaking off the bullet point items for briefs on websites, mobile or in print.

And there, in the last sentence, is the heart of the matter--websites, mobile OR in print. Print is last. An afterthought. Or is it?
Take a look at how much space your local paper devotes to out-of-town games. A couple of grafs, maybe? Sure, the longer stories are needed for smaller papers in the region that don't staff a game, particularly on the road. But news holes have shrunk with circulation. You can get the job done in 300 words and not leave them hungering for more. Plus, you get the bullets, which feel like a value add, especially for papers without a beat reporter.
Still, in the end, remember this change is really all about following readers to where they are. And that's not at a kitchen table holding a paper. If they're not at a news site, they're likely on Twitter or a blog. They may not have the time or inclination for a longer piece, sad as that might be.
All this comes on the heels of a story last week from the Nieman Journalism Lab  about a study of newspaper sports reporters and their love/hate (with a slight emphasis on the latter) relationship with social media. They regard Twitter as a necessary evil, though at the same time it reduces anxiety because they don't have to worry about waking up in the morning and seeing they've been scooped by the competition. Everything's already moved online by the time the presses roll.
But at least one of the reporters interviewed acknowledged that if it wasn't for the online platforms, he'd be out of a job. Because he writes a blog--many of which are often filled with items like the AP bullets--that also drives traffic to the newspaper's website.
That's the whole ballgame--eventually, or so newspapers hope, digital ad rates will catch up to readership. It has to for newspapers to survive. If most of your readers are online, but your revenue isn't, eventually there won't be a print product. And no one to read 600-word baseball stories either.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dukes of Hazzard Resurrected by AutoTrader

Good Ol', Or Is It Now Just Plain Old Boys, Are Back

I must confess whatever charms of The Dukes of Hazzard that kept it on CBS from 1979-85 were lost on this city slicker. My viewing was confined to snippets while surfing to another show. I'll assume a swell time was had by all.
Nonetheless, I'll extend a few kudos to the marketers and ad honchos linked up with  at AutoTrader,  who convinced John Schneider and Tom Wopat to reprise, by and large, their role for some spots. The two-minute version is below.
According to Adweek, AutoTrader went all in getting two-time Oscar cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan) to direct. Wopat and Schneider, 62 and 64, respectively, seem no worse for the wear and were reportedly very game for the spot, which took six days to shoot.
As a bonus, the ad has Shooter Jennings singing the DOH theme song, originally done by his late dad Waylon.
And given the director's pedigree and the two-minute (at least this version) spot, look for it to appear at a multiplex near you. Which may be more of a sure thing than getting the best deal at AutoTrader.

Friday, April 11, 2014

If Murdoch Was Dead, He'd Be Rolling In His Grave

Free Advertising for the Competition

Ever hear of Outbrain? Me neither.

The company bills itself as the "world's largest and most trusted content discovery platform." Who knew?

One way it does that is by giving websites, such as those for newspapers, the ability to "install our technology to offer recommendations and help your audience discover more content on your site that is interesting to them." As important: "Add a new revenue stream by offering recommendations to high-quality third-party content on other sites."

Sounds promising, right? Especially for newspapers desperate to wring every list dollar out of digital at a time when print and circulation still accounts for 75-85 percent of revenues. But it appears Outbrain's brain needs to think a little harder.

On one website, there's a link to two New York Times stories, one headlined "Gauging Stephen Colbert as a 'Late Show' Host," and "CBS Works to Minimize Drama After a Dramatic Departure on 'The Good Wife.'"

So far, so good. Only one thing. Both stories appear at the bottom of an item about Colbert on, wait for it, the New York Post website.

Fair dinkum, as ol' Rupe would say, though I suspect he might also have some juicier epithets in his arsenal.

Outbrain may be installed on more than 100,000 blogs and websites where it offers more than 150 billion content recommendations a month. But here are two that don't add up, which is the price you pay when you have bots populating your website instead of people.

Then again, if the Post is actually getting a few bucks by offering this "high-quality third-party content," then maybe the Murdochians can swallow hard and pocket the cash. At least it's not the Daily News.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

NPR Elegy to Peter Matthiessen Airs Just in Time

The polymath award-winning author died Saturday at age 86

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday aired a story today about what it said could be the final work from Peter Matthiessen. The segment led off with word that Matthiessen was undergoing an experimental form of chemotherapy. But it wasn't enough.
Word came tonight that Matthiessen succumbed to leukemia, which he had been battling for more than a year. He was 86.
It was a remarkable life and an even greater literary legacy. Matthiessen is the only writer to win the National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction.
Not that you can time these things, but NPR was fortunate to air a piece just hours before it would have had to have been scuttled. But it's still worth checking out to hear about "In Paradise" and hear some of the last words from Matthiessen himself.
"In Paradise" is about a visit to a Nazi death camp. We'll soon be able to find out whether it resonates more with readers because of the author's recent death. It'll be released on Tuesday--its scheduled publication date, not one to seize an unfortunate moment.

Friday, April 04, 2014

How to Make Morning Edition Hosts Choke Up

Then Again, So Will You

Like many, I'm a big fan of Story Corps, which I tend to catch more on the podcast than its usual Friday slot on "Morning Edition."
The podcast often has bonus interviews and provides additional context and follow-up that you can't get on NPR.
However, sometimes hearing Story Corps as it airs has an extra resonance, especially when it presents stories, like it did today, that force people to start hunting down tissues. That sometimes includes the hosts.
Steve Inskeep has admitted he sometimes has to turn down the volume to keep his composure because the stories are so moving.
It sounded today like Linda Wertheimer forgot to do that, as she was obviously emotional coming out of today's story about a Brooklyn family who lost their 6-year-old son to a genetic disorder.
Of course, it's perfectly understandable when you hear the piece. Just a hazard of the trade, and one that makes Story Corps destination listening on the radio, something the medium has precious little of these days.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Farewell to Brooksie

WINS Legend Stan Brooks Dies

Stan Brooks was literally the senior correspondent for WINS, one of the all-news stations in New York.
Brooks was still reporting for the station just a month ago. He was 86. "Brooksie," as he was known to his younger colleagues (hell, everybody was younger), worked 51 years at the station, though his career in the news business spanned much longer.
You weren't somebody in the Big Apple unless you had been interviewed by Stan Brooks. He was respected not just because he was still a street reporter when many of his contemporaries were in the rocking chair or worse. He knew how to tell a story. Plain and simple.

Cancer took Stan Brooks today. The news business in the city will feel a little different. I never got to work with him, but I do know that if he was at a news conference--impeccably dressed, as I recall, WINS listeners would soon a get a concise report on what happened that was inevitably on the money.

An excellent obit on the station's website by WINS News Director Ben Mevorach has this revealing passage:

Brooksie never use the word ‘I’ as in “I want” or “I need” or “I deserve.” He only used it as an expression of human connection as in “Can I help” or “What can I do” or “I love you.”
When CBS Radio Executive Vice President Scott Herman was the General Manager of 1010 WINS, he promoted Stan to the title of Senior Correspondent. When told the new position also came with a pay raise, Stan graciously accepted the title but would not accept the raise. Mr. Herman said Stan simply said, “I don’t want to make more than any of the other reporters.”
When he talked about his illness and the inevitable outcome, Brooksie said, “Tell everyone that I have been truly blessed with a wonderful life; a life that was more than I could have ever asked for or have ever expected.”  Then in a voice filled with humility and dignity he added, “Don’t worry. I’ll be OK.”

And he will be. Rest easy, Stan.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Arnie. Arnie?

Aside from the fact that it looks like Arnold Palmer had just gotten embalmed, this is a pretty cool cover, as covers that feature Kate Upton tend to be.

A Holiday Miracle: Watching an Airline Safety Video

Delta Continues to Have Fun (to a Point) With Its Pre-Flight Yada, Yada

It had been a while since I had flown Delta, so it was by happenstance that I actually started watching the safety videos during a couple of flights over the weekend. And not because I was bored.
Delta, with the help of Wieden & Kennedy, has for the last year come out with videos that tell you all you need to know, but with a healthy dose of humor. In other words, you want to watch rather than tune out and keep reading the paper. Not that I learned anything new, but that's besides the point. It's refreshing to see an airline taking its job seriously without having to be too serious.
I watched this one, which came out last year, on the outbound flight.

I caught a newer one, released just last month, on the way home.

And keep an eye out for a celebrity cameo. No, Santa doesn't count.
Now if Delta can just work on getting my bag out faster next time, it'll truly be a happy holiday.

Getting Scooped by the Competition about Yourself

Capital New York Beats New York Times to Punch on Departure News

The New York Times made big news about itself Wednesday, when it announced the departure of three big names from its formidable roster, including TV/media wunderkind Brian Stelter (to CNN), NY Times magazine political correspondent Matt Bai (Yahoo) and Times magazine editor Hugo Lindgren (points unknown).
That these three were leaving--on the heels of Richard Berke (Politico), David Pogue (Yahoo), Howard Beck (Bleacher Report) and Nate Silver (ESPN)--was notable in and of itself.
But what caught my eye was the last line in the story about the departures: "Mr. Lindgren's move was first reported by Capital New York."
Yes, they had to own up to the fact that a whippersnapper website--and one about to get snappier since being acquired by Politico--had beaten them to their own punch. Ordinarily, those wouldn't be fodder, even for the media-industry mavens at the Times, though Pogue, one of the paper's biggest stars, received similar treatment.
I'd hazard Lindgren on his own wouldn't have merited a mention. But tack on Berke and Stelter, and you have yourselves a media moment for those keeping score at home. Like me.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Are Newspaper Paywalls Starting to Crumble?

Well, Maybe Not Yet, But....

Ever since paywalls became the new black for newspapers, they have acquired some rather ardent detractors as well as defenders.
In the latter category are The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which have profited handsomely by putting up digital gates. The Times now has nearly 676,000 digital subscribers--also figuring in The International Herald Tribune--while the Journal, a paywall pioneer, has nearly 900,000.
But those papers have oodles of unique content--some of it exclusively digital--that is worth reading and paying for. The same can't be said for most newspapers, though they sure as hell want to make their case. Hundreds of newspapers now have some kind of paywall.
However, for many, that's a problem. They're creating a digital divide at the same time they're cutting staff and content.
All of Gannett's 80 community newspapers have a metered system on their websites. But have you read any of these papers lately? Feh. There's not much there there. And yet Gannett wants you to pony up anyway.
And while early numbers showed that revenue gains from digital subs at Gannett made up for print advertising losses, that may not be sustainable if print subscribers--faced with price increases and shrinking papers--exit more quickly than digital readers enter. Ditto for advertisers. At my local Journal-News in New York's northern suburbs, weekday circulation is 66,000. It was 77,000 just two years earlier. Do you really think digital revenue is making up the difference? Of course not. That's why the J-N laid off 11 percent of its staff in August.
Now the headlong rush to digital gold is being reassessed. First, it was the San Francisco Chronicle that decided to make everything on free again. Now, it's the Dallas Morning News that has signaled retreat. It dropped its paywall in favor of an enhanced experience for "premium subscribers."
How that'll be received remains to be seen (it's free for print subscribers), but unless it's a big-time game-changer, don't expect readers to come a flocking. After all, the reason the DMN dropped its paywall wasn't to be nice. Rather, it bombed with readers. As the paper's CEO said, it didn't create a "massive groundswell" of new subscribers. Quite a euphemism that.
So while the air of inevitability may not be sucked out of the paywall equation just yet, the numbers still have to add up to make it stick. As the San Francisco and Dallas papers have proved, that's a lot easier said than done.

This About Sums It Up

The Daily News tries to out-post the Post. But it works.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Someone at Microsoft Must Be Smiling Over Apple Ad

Very Subtle, but People Get Canned For Things Like This

Now that Apple has unleashed the next generation of iPhones, we won't be seeing two of the best commercials of the year, which were devoted to the iPhone 5. They are tender, compelling and eminently watchable for repeated viewing. The first one tells us in an oh-so-subtle way that you are one with the world if you use iTunes to listen to music on your phone. And you feel real good about that decision after seeing this spot:

More recently, I had been coming across the second spot, which is even better and displays the virtues of Face Time. You see people all over the world interacting with the video chat service in a myriad of ways, some funny, others touching and, for one, a little sad.
There's an excellent chance you've seen the one-minute ad, one of the few you might even rewind the DVR to see. But a couple of days ago I got close enough to the TV to notice a tiny detail in one scene 45 seconds in that might irk a dweeb or two in Apple's marketing machine.
It shows a couple relaxing in an airport boarding area laughing over something on their phone. The logo on the chairs they're sitting on is for Alaska Airlines, whose hub is in Seattle. Which just happens to be very close to Redmond, home of Microsoft.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that maybe I'm getting a little too granular here, even for the folks in Cupertino. But somebody has to obsess about things like this, even for spots that will be relegated to YouTube and Clio Awards clip reels. Thought I'd start the ball rolling.

New York Times Ends Mets' Season Early

That Might Not Be a Bad Thing, But Still....

The New York Times, as I have often stated, has the quirkiest sports section going. On the one hand, you have some top-flight writers (Tyler Kepner, Jere Longman, Harvey Araton) who make the sports pages destination reading.
Yet, the paper has essentially done away with regular columnists--even though it had some of the best over the last two decades--in favor of long, sometimes very long, features that demand your time, which is often a lot easier said than done, even when they are worthy (see "Snow-Fall" and "Jockey."
Maybe those efforts create a resource issue, and a serious one at that. The Times often appears to be covering New York teams grudgingly,  as if it is resentful that the "New York" in its title somehow clouds its designs to be a truly national (and international) paper. That sentiment is often on display this time of year after the Mets have long since entered their irrelevant stage for the season. And that, for a newspaper, can be a dangerous thing.
The Times did not even have a reporter at last Friday's away game against the Cleveland Indians. Instead, it relied on a short story from the A.P. A stringer was wrangled to cover the last two games of the series, while Mets beat writer Andrew Keh was dispatched to cover the U.S. men's soccer team's attempt to qualify for the World Cup.
Even if Mets diehards like myself are not hanging on every pitch in September, that doesn't mean the faithful care any less about the team. The Daily News knows that. So does the New York Post. The team stinks, but it's still covered. And they do. Because, hey, you never know. And that's because what a lot of people are buying the papers for.
Still, last Friday could have been the night rookie Zack Wheeler pitched a no-hitter. Or Daniel Murphy hit three homers en route to a 19-1 rout. Or (fill in the blank) suffered a devastating injury. Hey, what about that bench-clearing brawl? And so on. That the Mets lost that game 8-1 is immaterial. Something big could have happened to arouse the Flushing Faithful. But a Times reporter would not have told them about that.
Last night's home loss was also short-shrifted. It was relegated to one graf and a line that there was a "staff article at" There was, though promising rookie Tim Rohan's dispatch lacks a quote. I wouldn't have minded hearing manager Terry Collins fulminating about his team's absence of offense, anyone's thoughts on playing on 9/11 or Wheeler approaching his innings limit. But who cares? It's the Mets, right?
Similarly, there was not a single story about the Jets in last Saturday's paper, the day before the season opened. There was only a short piece about the Giants. True, they were covered Sunday, but this is the time of the year when fans are foaming for any nuggets on Gang Green or Big Blue. Why should they have to buy a second paper or go online to get their fix?
I actually took the bait this year for a deep-discount subscription deal from the Daily News to ensure my sports needs were met through the year. The paper hasn't disappointed, with at least two reporters covering the Jets and Giants, along with NFL columnist Gary Myers. And the tabs are positively lousy with writers tripping over themselves in the press box preening at the Yankees' flickering hopes for a wildcard berth.
Meanwhile, the Times never got around to replacing national football writer Judy Battista when she decamped to NFL Media. That leaves Jets beat writer Ben Shpigel and Giants scribe Bill Pennington to pick up the slack. Battista's job is in dire need of filling. What about backup freelancer Tom Pedulla? His several decades covering football for Gannett should count as sufficient seasoning for the Times. And, hey, it's a national beat. He'd never have to type in New York if the Times didn't want him to.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Jeff Bezos: Internet Billionaire, News Magnate

Hard to Imagine the Washington Post Not Being Owned by the Grahams? Not Anymore

Wow, talking about being able to keep a secret.

The Washington Post scooped everyone this afternoon with news about The Washington Post, specifically that Amazon founder, CEO and Big Cheese Jeff Bezos is buying the paper for $250 million.

Paul Farhi writes in the Post: "With extraordinary secrecy, Graham hired the investment firm Allen & Co. to shop the paper, company executives said. Allen’s representatives spoke with a half-dozen potential suitors before the Post Co.’s board settled on Bezos, 49, a legendary tech innovator who has never operated a newspaper."

Emphasis on the extraordinary secrecy.

So, what does it all mean in the scheme of things? As far as Bezos is concerned, not much, at least not for now. He's keeping management in place and will stay put in Seattle because he has a "fantastic day job that I love."

It should be noted, as the Post does, that this is Bezos buying the paper and not Amazon, though if he was able to squeeze out a little synergy to pump subscription sales, then who can blame the guy? Moreover, the presence of Bezos may eventually give the paper even more of a push into the digital realm faster than it had planned. That can only be a viewed as a positive, given anemic newsstand sales.

One of Bezos's hallmarks is his patience. This is not a CEO who pulls hair triggers just to satisfy investors. As the book and music business, among others, have found, though, Bezos plays for keeps. It's not a cheap goal. In fact, Amazon lost $38 million last year in pursuit of market dominance. That's won Amazon a lot of fans on Wall Street. It closed today at just under $301 a share. And since Bezos owns 87.1 million shares of Amazon and has a net worth of at least $26.2 billion, he can go long on his growth strategy.

That's good news for the nation's seventh-largest newspaper. The Post has been a poster child for all that ails the newspaper business, what with its hemorrhaging revenues and continued circulation nosedives. If Bezos sees a way out of this mess or empowers others to make that journey of discovery he won't be in a hurry to see results. A Post that was part of a publicly traded company, like it was until today, wouldn't have that luxury.

Sure, it'll be hard to imagine the Graham family no longer being associated with the Post. To be sure, it was a great run, one of the best. But as they leave their legacy, they can rest assured that the newspaper that defined their family now has a secure future.

Looking for Redemption in All the Wrong Places on "The Killing"

Just When You Thought Sarah Linden Would Finally Have Her Shit Together....

(Spoiler Alert: Come back later if you didn't see last night's episode of "The Killing")

No TV show does dread better than "The Killing."
Maybe it's those always-cloudy days, not to mention the drizzle in Vancouver (masquerading as Seattle).
Maybe it's because the rare moments of happiness on the show are quickly followed by portent, implied danger or untimely demises.
It's a cocooned world where the promise of redemption is dashed by dark secrets. The chrysalis struggling to break free of this world is Detective Sarah Linden, played by the mesmerizing Mireille Enos. You root for Linden because she's as good an investigator as she is lousy at being a mom and picking men. More on that in a bit.
"The Killing" wrapped up its third season last night, which was something of a TV miracle after it had been canceled after season two by AMC following the Rosie Larsen debacle. Then content-hungry Netflix rode in to the rescue and paid for exclusive streaming rights, which allowed Fox to charge AMC less per episode and give "The Killing" new life.
Hence season three, for which viewers hungering for quality TV drama in the summer owe Netflix a huge debt of gratitude. For "The Killing" delivered its best effort yet. Showrunner Veena Sud didn't piss off viewers who saw their investment in emotional energy squandered in season one by an unnecessary cliffhanger.
Season four should be a no-brainer for all involved. Sud got it right, though maybe too right.
With last night's finale, we finally saw how the dueling plots of the investigation of the serial killer offing teen prostitutes and the impending execution of Ray Seward (a gripping Peter Saarsgard) were linked.
A lesser show might have revealed this sooner, but "The Killing" this time rewarded our patience.
There was not one false note in the reveal that Linden's boss and sometime lover, Lt. James Skinner (Elias Koteas), was the killer of the girls. We found out Skinner had framed Seward for the murder of his wife, which led to Seward's hard-to-watch hanging in the penultimate episode.
In the finale, Seward's son, Adrian goes missing, soon after Linden and Holder realize it was Adrian--not his mother--who Skinner was after. Linden realizes Skinner was the killer after seeing his daughter wearing a ring that belonged to one of the victims.
After confronting him, Skinner claims Adrian is still alive but will only reveal where he is if Linden goes with him for what turns into a long drive to his lake house, during which he unfurls what's inside his sick mind. Linden is at once seething over what she is hearing and nauseated (literally) that this is a man who she had thought--as recently as that morning after a tryst--that she could make a life with and actually become happy for more than a fleeting moment.
But Adrian is not at the lake house. Skinner instead hints Adrian's in the trunk of the car. And dead (he's actually found hiding by his mother's gravestone). Linden shoots Skinner in the chest. Her partner, Stephen Holder (consistently the show's best-written character played by Joel Kinnaman) had gone to the house after piecing together where Skinner was headed. He tells Linden that Adrian is alive and that Skinner brought her to the house for her to kill him. That should be that. But Linden is too damaged. A lifetime of betrayal and disappointment has caught up to her. One more shot metes out final justice.
In a way, it makes sense. Linden and Holder can't ride off into the sunset. By my count, it was sunny about twice during the show's three seasons.
Still, Linden was in bad need of a reboot. Instead, she chose to become one with the abyss. This presents a problem in the putative season four. The secret she and Holder must keep will hover over any procedural surrounding the next sicko they chase after.
Their pathos--Holder is a recovering drug addict, among other issues--has always existed side-by-side with the murder probes and frequently intersected. But the thread of cop-turned-cop killer threatens to overwhelm all else. Having such an event serve as the locus of a program is what faces AMC's newest offering, Low Winter Sun. It's a premise that threatens to be more tiring than compelling as viewers wonder how long can this be sustained. The answer: not long at all, and the British version on which "Low Winter Sun" is based was only a miniseries.
As for "The Killing," this season affirmed it merits the benefit of the doubt. Root for Sud & Co. to get it right. Sarah Linden deserves no less.