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.

Yet.


















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 sfgate.com 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 nytimes.com." 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 he had also 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 the killer was after. Linden realizes Skinner was the murderer after seeing his daughter wearing a ring that had belonged to one of the victims.
After confronting him, he claims to have Adrian still alive but will only reveal where he is if Linden goes with him in a car 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 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 he was headed. He pleads with Linden to stop telling her 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.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Headlines Take Different Path to Bradley Manning Verdict

Same Story, Different Entry Points

As the alerts rolled out after the verdict on WikiLeaker Bradley Manning was delivered, news outlets alerted mobile and online users in different ways that caught your attention if not provided the full picture.
There was The Washington Post, which said "Army Pfc. Bradley Manning acquitted of aiding the enemy." But there was the "but" part of the verdict that was omitted.
That part was the hed for the AP version: "Manning convicted of 5 espionage counts in WikiLeaks case," though the lede started out with the acquittal on the most serious charge.
The New York Times, on the other hand, went all Solomonic for its alert: "Manning Not Guilty of Aiding the Enemy, but Convicted of Multiple Other Counts."
And those multiple counts count. If Manning had been convicted of aiding the enemy he would have faced life in prison without parole. But the five other convictions could put him away for up to 130 years. Manning will begin to get an idea of just how long he will get up close and personal with his cell tomorrow, when his sentencing hearing starts.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jew Just Don't Get It, Dave Adlerstein

Jewish Editor in Florida Still in Denial Over Anti-Semitic Crack From Local Pol

There's a time when you have to take your lumps and admit that you're wrong. Dave Adlerstein has the lumps part down cold. As for being wrong? Well, let's just say he has a way to go on that account.

Adlerstein is the city editor of the Apalachicola & Carabelle Times, a small weekly in northwest Florida, where he has parked himself for the last dozen years.

As we wrote on Monday, Adlerstein quoted Franklin County commissioner Cheryl Sanders during a debate over salaries as saying:

“Today’s not the day to do it,” said Sanders. “We’re her (for Nabors’ salary), not to be up here jewing over somebody’s pay. I can’t believe that you all would put a man down who has worked here for 26 years because he don’t have a high school education.”

It was bad enough that Sanders said what she did and some people were caught by surprise that Adlerstein used the quote directly. As he should have. But what's gave this story legs are comments Adlerstein made to Jim Romenesko about why, as a Jew, he wasn't hurt by the remark.

"It doesn’t offend me, unless it’s used to describe someone who cheats you. But haggling and dickering? To me, it’s a proud trait of my tribe, and it’s a solid cut above cold-hearted stiffing someone with a pious grin."

Understandably, Adlerstein came under fire by commenters on Romenesko's blog (including me) for either being disingenuous or completely clueless. You'd think that upon further reflection he'd realize that there was something wrong about what he--and Sanders--said. Guess again.

As he told Annie Groer of The Washington Post yesterday the remark is "not being used as an anti-Semitic crack. If that sounds like I’m an apologist, that is not me. I am not a self-hating Jew and I am not an ignorant Jew who is unaware of the pain of my people.”

Really?

Adlerstein tried to show Groer he knows anti-Semitism when he hears it, because his father was head of the Anti-Defamation League in Columbus, Ohio. But that only makes his defense of Sanders  even worse.

Let's take Adlerstein at his word that he's not a self-hating Jew. Yet, when he says "jewing" is not an "anti-Semitic crack," then what the hell is it? Throw out his lame rationale that it has an analog with "haggling and dickering" and you're left with only one choice. It's only a part of the vernacular among people who don't like Jews. Or just don't know any better. Or both.

Sanders, of all people, realizes this. “It was a bad choice of words and it should not have been made," the Tallahassee Democrat reported. "In no way, shape or form did I mean it to be derogatory or negative, and so I just want to make an apology for that.”

Putting aside the question of what did she mean "jewing" to be if not "derogatory or negative," Sanders, at least, realizes it was a dumb thing to say even during a heated debate.  It's time for Adlerstein to do the same and become aware of the pain of his people.





Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cruise Ad Sails Too Close for Comfort at Conde Nast Traveler

Placement for Norwegian Haven Promo a Little Too Convenient

I've long been a reader of Conde Nast Traveler for its mix of solid reporting, useful advice (thanks, always, Wendy Perrin) and articles about destinations that transport me to my recurring win-Powerball daydream.

One reason is CN Traveler takes its slogan "Truth in Travel" seriously. There's a strict no-junket policy. If a writer went somewhere, the magazine picked up the tab (lucky writer). In the August issue (not yet online), there's an intriguing article about how some cruise lines are creating ships-within-a-ship for passengers who pay handsomely to sail in a premium section closed off to the hordes on the Lido Deck.

One such sanctuary is called The Haven (left)  on Norwegian Cruise Line. So, it was a little curious and somewhat dispiriting to see in the August issue an article, in part, about The Haven experience, paired up with an advertorial about, natch, The Haven.

Now, to be fair, CN Traveler is always filled with special advertising sections and advertorials. It's how you pay for a reporter and photographer to do proper justice to the Himalayan temples of Nepal (p. 74). Even so, editorial and advertising should have put their heads together a little more effectively on the placement for this promo.

To be sure, writer Christian Wright's account of her experience in The Haven, which she contrasted with a stay in the more-egalitarian part of the ship was hardly an unqualified rave. Far from it. But the ad should have had some distance from her dispatch, otherwise readers can't help but wonder exactly whose truth is being told.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Editor Insists Anti-Semitic Remarks OK When It's Your Neighbors Making Them

Oy, Go Away

Jim Romenesko has an item today about how an editor at a Florida weekly raised some eyebrows when he directly quoted one official making an anti-Semitic remark at a county commissioners meeting.

During a discussion over the salary for the new head of the Franklin County road department, chair Cheryl Sanders said:

“Today’s not the day to do it,” said Sanders. “We’re her (for Nabors’ salary), not to be up here jewing over somebody’s pay. I can’t believe that you all would put a man down who has worked here for 26 years because he don’t have a high school education.”

This, according to the account written by city editor David Adlerstein of the Apalachicola & Carabelle Times. Adlerstein. As in Jew.

It wasn't that Adlerstein got the remark wrong. He had it on tape. A few readers, he told Romenesko, were startled that he used it, even though it was a direct quote of an official. But here's the part that gets me scratching. As he told Romenesko in an email:

“I have heard the expression on more than one occasion around these parts in my dozen years at the paper. It doesn’t offend me, unless it’s used to describe someone who cheats you. But haggling and dickering? To me, it’s a proud trait of my tribe, and it’s a solid cut above cold-hearted stiffing someone with a pious grin. But that’s me."

Damn right, that's you. It sure isn't me. I find Adlerstein's response, as a member of said tribe, more offensive than what Sanders uttered. It's one thing to spend 12 years editing a weekly newspaper in the Florida Panhandle, where Jews are badly outnumbered, and become inured to remarks from the idiots among the populace, elected or no. But if you're truly proud of your tribe, Dave, then you would know that "jewing" is not a verb that has entered the lexicon as a synonym for "haggling and dickering." At least, not by those who aren't anti-Semitic.

And since when was the fine art of haggling confined to Jews? Anyone who visits a bazaar in Turkey, the night markets in Hong Kong, hell, a flea market anywhere in this country knows better. Adlerstein needs to get out more.  He can use some enlightenment, along with Sanders.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Getting on the "Anchorman 2" Hype Bandwagon


Headline of the Day

From the New York Post, about a dustup a prominent TV meteorologist had with his estranged wife:

"Ballbuster wife" is teste: WABC weatherman Bill Evans claims low blow in car fight

The story is pretty good too, in the Post's uniquely prurient sort of way.

It's not every day that a reporter gets to write that Evans told police his wife “grabbed the waist band of his underwear and reached for his scrotum with her free hand, subsequently scratching it, which resulted in bleeding."

And that's from the affidavit given to police. You really can't make this stuff up.


The Truth Comes In For a Crash Landing at The New York Times

Noah Gallagher Shannon Backpedals; Hugo Lindgren Keeps Wiping Egg From Face

It's the embellishment that won't go away.

You might remember that compelling Lives column in The New York Times magazine last month in which Noah Gallagher Shannon wrote about two hours worth of anxious moments when the flight he was on prepared for an emergency landing that might not have ended well.

It was a gripping read. Only problem: it didn't ring true with a lot of people. Which is a problem, as the Lives column is meant for nonfiction accounts. In other words, real things that happened in real life. And, yes, maybe a lot of people were caught up in the story initially to not ask, "Hey, how come I never heard about this?" That soon changed.

The man who has most been on the case trying to unspool this yarn has been the great James Fallows at The Atlantic. Last week he interviewed Shannon, who acknowledged he was not as fastidious as he should have been for an account that Fallows labels as "plainly false."

It was driven home to me that it was wrong to give the impression of certainty, of fact, and the things I was a little uncertain or hazy on, I should have qualified those observations, and I think that would have been the better journalistic thing to do--or done more background research. But I didn't at the time, and I have to apologize to the readers and The New York Times for that, and I take full responsibility.

That's a stand-up response and a better one than the B.S. first offered up by Times magazine editor Hugo Lindgren, who labeled the narrative a "personal experience of a fearful moment." Except, it appears, that fear trumped many of the facts surrounding what actually happened.

This is yet another example of how editors give more of a pass to memoirs than for other nonfiction. Too often, even when there is fact-checking, we are inclined to take the author at his word. That rabbit hole turned into a full-sized crater back in 2006, when James Frey fessed up that "A Million Little Pieces" was essentially a work of fiction. Even so, his editor Nan Talese foolishly defended the genre by insisting a memoir was an author's impression of how something happened. And if it never happened? Not a problem, so long as there was an impression that it had occurred. It was a lame explanation then, and Lindgren's variation also comes up short.

Even the Times realizes this, as public editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out yesterday. "The Times needs to stand for truth, not truthiness – yes, even in a memoir-style feature article in the magazine."

She later added: I have reason to believe that in the next day or so, Mr. Lindgren may amplify his current note to readers ... It would be a good move — as would linking to that blog post from the online version of the original article, which is not the case now. A straight-up acknowledgement of the factual problems of this article is the only way out of this."

And that's the truth.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Dishonest Takedown of "Revenge Wears Prada"

N.Y. Daily News Critic Shows True Colors in Review. Green With Envy?

I've done enough reviews of music, TV, films and books to know that, over time, you're going to dislike more than you like. It's part of the game.

No doubt, it's also more fun to write reviews of dreck. The adjectives flow more freely. You're angry that you had to waste your time--notwithstanding the fact that you're getting paid to do so--and you want the world to know that in no uncertain terms. But at least when I did a takedown I was fair. And honest.

The same can't be said about Sheryl Connelly, the book editor at the Daily News in New York (given how the News has been gutting its staff lately I'm surprised Connelly is still on the payroll, but that's for another day).

Connelly went into the storeroom for a few extra gallons of venom to review "Revenge Wears Prada," the sequel to mega-bestseller "The Devil Wears Prada," by Lauren Weisberger. The book, which was released today, will undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and sales based on its pedigree. Connelly, shall we say, is not a fan. In fact, she's more bitchy about Revenge AND Weisberger than Miranda Priestly on her worst day.

Sure, she's entitled to her opinion, such as it is. But where I have a problem is at the end of the review when Connelly writes:

Full disclosure: In a recent conversation with the author, I told her I liked “Revenge Wears Prada.”

I lied politely only because the truth would have been as bad as the book.

It's dubious enough that critics are hanging out with those they would write about. It's not something you're supposed to do. But that Connelly would not only lie but seem to relish in telling us that she did so is bad form.

Lied politely? How about not saying anything at all? In that sense, Connelly is no better than many of the characters she professes to hate in the book.

Full disclosure: Lauren and her husband Mike are friends. And I haven't read the book yet. But trust me, she doesn't need me or anyone else to stand up for her. She'll do just fine, thank you, even in the face of reviewers who have an agenda--likely rooted in deep-seated jealousy that a young author hit it big, real big on her first try--that goes way beyond evaluating the worth of the book.

And that's the truth, more than Connelly is able to muster.



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Lord Could Not Be Reached For Comment

Wolf Blitzer Gets A Dose of Religion from an Atheist

Tug McGraw once said "Ya gotta believe."

Well, not everybody, as Wolf Blitzer found out on CNN yesterday while chatting with a Moore tornado survivor.

Blitzer asked her: "You gotta thank The Lord, right?"
The response, in the nicest way: "I'm actually an atheist."

And she was quick to add: "I don't blame anybody for thanking the Lord."


Blitzer can say amen to that.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Same-Sex Donations Come to the Web

amfAR Makes Sure All Couples Can Reveal Their Charitable Side

Like other charities, amfAR, the AIDS research group, lists titles in a dropdown menu on the form for people making an online donation. But theirs has a twist: For the first time I saw the options "Mr. and Mr." and "Ms. and Ms."

I guess it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given that 11 states allow same-sex marriage, with a 12th, Minnesota, joining the roster in August. And given that amfAR's work obviously resonates with the gay population, such an option would appear to be a no-brainer.

Not so fast. I checked some other gay nonprofits to see where they're at. Lambda Legal doesn't have a dropdown menu, but it does have  a space to fill in a partner's name. At Gay Men's Health Crisis, no "Mr. and Mr.," but you can identify with such titles as "Admiral," "Cantor," "Madam," or "Bishop" (good luck with those), while the Human Rights Campaign just wants first and last names. Maybe that's just HRC's way of trying to guilt spouses into donating too.



Oklahoma City Station Shows Why Numbers Matter Following Tornado

KFOR Falls Victim to Running With Faulty Tornado Death Toll

Not sure if it was a question of wanting to be first, but KFOR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, was a little too jumpy today in wanting to revise the casualty count from the tornado that devastated Moore yesterday.

The station has actually been doing yeoman work over the last 24 hours, as evidenced by what I've seen on the live stream. But this morning, it's website said the death count had gone from 51 to 91, vaguely attributing that jump to the medical examiner's office.

Ordinarily, that should be enough to go on. However, others were not so quick. The Daily Oklahoman was sticking with 51, as did KOCO, the ABC affiliate. That turned out to be the right move, as the death toll was revised downward to 24.

How did that happen. As KFOR briefly explained on its website, officials were double-counting. Fair enough, if somewhat irresponsible on the part of authorities. But before the station reported that number, it should have dug a little deeper. Where did another 40 bodies emerge from? Reporters were continuously on the scene at Plaza Towers elementary school, the scene of the worst devastation. However, no one reported a steady stream of bodies being removed, even though it was apparent the effort there was one of recovery rather than rescue not long after the storm.

These are things that matter. It's of small comfort that not as many people perished in the storm. But it would be even more wrenching for people still looking for loved ones or trying to account for a relative's whereabouts to fear the worst when they hear the death toll take a big jump like that.

We saw this during Katrina and Sandy. It happened after the Boston Marathon bombings. Lots of information being bandied about, but not enough facts to back it up.

I've been there. I know how it is. It's the instinct of any reporter to want to be first. But it's so much more important to be right. It's troubling that in times of crisis, it's a lesson the media needs to keep learning over and over again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Scott Turow: Shadow Chicago Bureau Chief for The New York Times

Best-Selling Legal Thriller Scribe Nails Down Two Stories in One Day for Gray Lady

Every newspaper relies more heavily on freelancers nowadays. Nature of the beast in the business nowadays, such as it is.

But not every newspaper is able to attract and pay best-selling authors to write for them. Thankfully, The New York Times is not every newspaper.

In today's edition, author-lawyer whirlwind Scott Turow appears not once, but twice. The first appearance is a book review of The Third Coast, which Turow describes as an "engrossing, wide-angled cultural history" of Chicago in the mid-20th century by Thomas Dyja.

Not to be outdone by himself, Turow then appears in the sports section, for an essay on why it was probably a good if not popular idea for Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls to not play during the playoffs and not risk coming back too soon from A.C.L. surgery. If that meant the Bulls would succumb to the Miami Heat in the playoffs--and they did--so be it for the longer-term payoff.

Turow, as you can surmise, is from Chicago. Sure, there are other qualified people who can write reviews and essays about all things Windy City. But they haven't written 10 books that have been translated into 20 languages and sold 25 million copies and spawned a few movies.

Nothing like a little star power to keep people from turning the pages so fast.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Benetton B.S.

25-Page Code of Ethics Goes for Naught After Bangladesh Factory Tragedy


The unfolding coverage of the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse that's left about 400 people dead naturally includes coverage of which Western companies were the customers of the manufacturers in this hellhole.

Some companies have owned up to their responsibility, like Primark, a European budget chain that will compensate injured workers, family members of the dead and children whose parents were killed.

The company said: "We have partnered with a local NGO to address the immediate needs of the victims, including the provision of emergency food aid to families. This initiative began in Bangladesh immediately the extent of the disaster became clear."

All well and good if too little, way too late.

Then there is Benetton, which on the day of the tragedy denied any connection to the factory. That is, until labor workers found Benetton-labeled clothes and related paperwork in the charred hulk of the factory.

Well, all of a sudden the united colors of Benetton all turned a version of beet red. Then came a new story. Yes, turns out the Italian retail behemoth had put in one order with a subcontractor, but cut off ties after it determined that "long-standing social, labor and environmental standards" were not being met.

Benetton Group strongly reiterates that none of the manufacturers housed in the collapsed building is a supplier to any of our Group’s brands. We have since established that one of our suppliers had occasionally subcontracted orders to one of these Dhaka-based manufacturers.  Prior to the accident, that manufacturer had already been permanently removed from the list of potential direct or indirect suppliers. In fact, it had come to light that it no longer met the stringent standards that would have made it eligible to even potentially work for us.

Oh.

So, while that's the kind of statement you put out following such a horrible event, what remains unanswered is why that statement emerged five days after the fire. How hard would it have been to determine if there were any links to the company, however attenuated they might be? After news of the collapse spread across the globe--and this is a rare example of a South Asian story that resonates with a U.S. audience--wouldn't it be incumbent upon the company to exercise due diligence not only to get its story straight but, more importantly, to protect the brand and its multi-culti street cred?

After all, Benetton has a 25-page code of ethics on its website. On paper, it's committed to doing the right thing. But when they have to backpedal at such an important moment, the company's  credibility takes a glancing blow no matter how sincere it professes to be about its commitment to human rights and the protection of those who toil for them in rickety deathtraps like the one in Dhaka.

The truth may be ugly. But telling it need not be.





Monday, April 29, 2013

Mike Francesa All Wrong About Jason Collins

No, It's Not Just a "Dramatic Attempt to Sell a Magazine"

Now that the sports story--indeed, the lead story--of the day is the coming out of Jason Collins, it's time for a little backlash. Already.

Teeing it up is WFAN's Mike Francesa, who Deadspin reports is peeved that he even has to talk about it. Francesa, the top-rated radio sports talker in New York, dismissed the first active male player in a major sport in the U.S. revealing in Sports Illustrated that he's gay as little more than a "dramatic attempt to sell a magazine, I guess."

Bad guess, Mike.

Francesa professed to be "honest" to his listeners when he proclaimed that "I really don't care" about the Collins story. Really?

Now, does he not care because he'd rather talk about Tim Tebow getting mercifully 86ed by the Jets, the surprisingly resilient Yankees or the desultory Mets? Or, does he have such an enlightened attitude about gays that he views a player's sexuality as irrelevant to what he does in a game? Or, worse, that he's less than enlightened and gets a case of the skeevies even thinking about a new definition of mano a mano?

Let's, for a brief moment, give Francesa the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't care about someone's sexuality. Roger that. And maybe a lot of his listeners don't either. But they want to talk about it anyway. And they have, dragging Francesa along. As well they should.

Maybe Francesa really doesn't give a hoot about a player's sexuality. It's a safe bet that most people, eventually, will feel the same, if they don't already. Either way, this is huge.
It's a watershed moment in the sports world that has made international headlines. It's an inevitable source of deep pride in the gay community. It also starts a conversation that is both intriguing and needed. And isn't that the essence of sports talk, anyway?

If Francesa doesn't care, he'll need to find a way soon. This is all callers will want to focus on for the next few days. And the stirring, heartfelt story told by Jason Collins is a hell of a lot more interesting than anything the Mets have done lately.






If Brits Don't Hate Jews, New York Times Shows They're Not Too Crazy About Them Either

Two Stories Don't Mince Words Highlighting Views About Jews on Other Side of Pond

I'm not saying that Britain isn't crazy about the Jews. I don't have to. The New York Times has done it for me.

It was striking to read in the most-recent Saturday Profile of John Bercow (below), the speaker in the House of Commons, this passage from reporter Sarah Lyall:

Many members of Parliament hate being lectured or reined in, and Mr. Bercow is not universally popular. Some Conservatives actively loathe him. In describing him, his detractors tend to use words like “cocky,” “pompous” and “ambitious” — the last often code for “Jewish” in an establishment with an undercurrent of anti-Semitic snobbery.

For the uninitiated, that last sentence is striking, even if it is true. Because Lyall's piece is a feature, maybe she was given a little leeway to at least tilt her reporter's hat sideways so she can torch the Tories who view Bercow as a little too uppity for their refined tastes. Even in the Times, it's doubtful that line would've made the cut in a news story. Nonetheless, that kind of candor is refreshing.

Bercow, as Lyall mentions is the son of a used-car salesman turned gypsy-cab driver. That he is not to the manor born may also factor in the antipathy toward him. But by inserting that sentence, she makes clear that the Star of David looms at least as large as the lack of an Eton education.

Then there was an interesting feature in yesterday's sports section about an all-Jewish soccer team in the lower ranks of British football, the London Maccabi Lions. They are also the first club made up solely of Members of the Tribe to win an F.A. Cup match. But, as Sam Borden points out, not everybody is happy for them (surprise, surprise).

Though the Lions have had tremendous success in expanding — there are 26 junior teams and 7 adult teams playing under the club’s umbrella — the response from outsiders is not universally friendly. Intolerance remains a persistent problem in Europe, especially as it pertains to soccer, and Lions teams have not been immune to anti-Semitism.
Often, the worst of the incidents are in the youth games, according to Andy Landesberg, the club’s director of football. But even the first-team Lions have experienced abuse. Gold said there had been relatively few problems this season but smiled when asked how he has instructed his players to deal with overt bigotry.
“We tell them, do it on the field, don’t give in,” Gold said. “Then, afterward, when you’re shaking hands, you can say, ‘You’ve been beaten by a bunch of Jews — how do you feel now?’ ”

In your face, goyim!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chef Un-Wanted

Anne Burrell Show That Finds New Executive Chefs Cooks Up Wrong Version of Reality

I'm not sure if I want to peel off the lid on some of the shows on Food Network and see what's really cooking. After all, the shows are generally well-produced. And that's the problem.

All those pithy comments you see from diners bitching about their dishes on shows like "Restaurant Stakeout?" Well, let's not forget those utterances are within close proximity of cameras and producers, who just might--and often do--coach those at table five to complain on cue once they get the shot straight. OK, so we've long known that the reality in reality TV is often an adjective and nothing more. Still.

On exhibit now is Chef Wanted, a Food Network show starring Anne Burrell, she of the honking voice and spiky blond hair that would get any kitchen flunked by the Health Department for going without a net. The premise is that a restaurant of some renown, for whatever reason, needs a new executive chef. Burrell brings in four cheftestants to cook their hearts out. One of them is weeded out in each of the first two rounds. Then the last two get a chance to run a dinner service for a night.

Invariably, what we see are gradations of chaos, flop sweat, Burrell alternating between unbearable screaming and tough love, and nervous owners watching their livelihoods go up in flames. Eventually, each episode ends with one of the finalists being crowned the winner, given a chef's coat and subject to effusive hugs from the restaurant staff. Happy ending, right, especially after all of the chefs have told us in the beginning that they "need this job," or that working at Fill in the Blank Bistro and Grill would be their dream. Not so.

Viewers can track on a Food Network blog what's happened since each episode was filmed. It features a recap and video with the winner. And with few exceptions, none of them wind up taking the job or leave soon afterwards. Some just had a change of heart. For others, their current employer showed them some love. Two, who competed for spots at New York eateries, turned thumbs-down--one for family reasons, the other determined that the salary would be eaten up by the cost-of-living. Better to stay an executive sous chef in Philadelphia.

Put aside, for the moment, that this is a horrible way for a restaurant to pick the leader of the kitchen. And, that some of the cheftestants have appeared on other cooking shows, like FN's Chopped and Fox's Hell's Kitchen, whose season 3 winner Rock Harper, won on Chef Wanted, but walked away from a chance to run upscale eatery in Cincinnati to stay at a D.C. nonprofit that trains disadvantaged kids in the culinary arts. Given his less-than-satisfactory, though lucrative experience in the kitchen post-Hell's Kitchen, maybe Harper knew better.

Unsurprisingly, blog readers have been whining about this discrepancy. Many feel the restaurants aren't serious about the premise and just want free publicity. Others rant about how there's no communication about salary, benefits, etc. until afterwards. That leaves many a chef with a way to say thanks, but no thanks.

And while all of this tumult has been occurring on a network-hosted blog, Food Network and Burrell have been quiet about these kerfuffles. Ditto for these racy accusations from a chef who claimed to be a contestant from the first season. As I said, peeling off the lid may not be pretty. Or, just leave the lid on and watch what happens, regardless if it really happened. Even the anonymous chef waxed philosophical about his purported experience:

It was a total cluster fuck and shit show to say the least. The editing blew and the show still pretty much blows as far as I am concerned. However, I had a blast doing it. I won, so I can't bitch about that, and now I have a little "appeared on Food Network cooking show" blurb for my resume.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bitten By The Hand That Feeds You

Brian Stelter Gets Cover of NYT Magazine, Then Gets Trashed in Daily Paper

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the supposedly juicy revelations in Top of the Morning, the new book about morning show wars from New York Times TV news whiz kid Brian Stelter.

The book was excerpted in the Times Magazine on Sunday, and I found that piece to be a compelling read. A lot of dirt without too much smarm--at least from Stelter. His numerous unnamed sources are another deal. I have not read the whole book yet, and some reviewers are telling me not to bother. One of them comes from a particularly interesting place--the Times itself.

In today's Times, former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark reviews the book--the Times, for obvious reasons, goes outside its fold to review books written by its staffers--and finds Stelter and his prose very much lacking.

"Mr. Stelter seems to throw out verbiage mainly for his own amusement. His run-on riffs reach the point where he himself ends one big gulp by mentioning a list “longer even than this sentence.”
As sentences go, it’s a veritable life imprisonment, lasting for 109 words. That’s three words more than the mood-setting second sentence of this book, in which Mr. Bell is said to experience “a growing warmth that spread through his broad bosom like the aftereffect of a double jigger of single-malt scotch,” etc."
 
Ouch. So give the Times credit for allowing for an opposing view about one of its wunderkinds on its own pages. Bark is not alone in his sentiments.
 
Henry Goldblatt in Entertainment Weekly graded Top of the Morning with a "C," who accuses Stelter of having a vendetta against Matt Lauer--who wouldn't talk to Stelter--over how he treated Ann Curry during the "Today" mess that led to her ouster (Curry also clammed up). But:
 
"Just as disturbing are Stelter’s Hemingwayesque sentences (in length, not substance), hackneyed analogies (Today is Coke! Good Morning America is Pepsi!), and antipathy for the medium he covers (“Wisely — not a word you will see all that often in a book about television…”).
 
Then there's Andy Lewis in The Hollywood Reporter , who dings Stelter for his "purple prose" and "love of gossip."

Maybe the book isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or, maybe there are a lot of people in the biz who are jealous of Stelter, who founded a well-read blog--TV Newser--at an impossibly young age, and at just 27, files more stories to the Times than just about any other reporter. That could be the topic for another book, though not one Stelter should think about writing.