Monday, November 28, 2016

"The Affair" Cheats on the LIRR

Don't Mess with the Train Nerds

On last night's episode of "The Affair," we see Alison (Ruth Wilson) making her season 3 debut sitting on a train. Given that many of her story arcs take place out in Montauk, it's easy to assume she's heading there.

But then the episode cuts to a shot of an Amtrak train heading through verdant farmland. So, she's headed somewhere up the Hudson Valley. Intriguing. notice the train interior and it's not that of an Amtrak train. Then you see her getting off. Lo and behold, the train not only belongs to the Long Island Railroad, Alison is getting off in Montauk after all.

Yeah, yeah, get a life, train nerd. I hear you. But how hard could it have been to get a shot of an LIRR train. Maybe it was cheaper to use stock footage of an Amtrak consist, but for a show that tries hard at being authentic in both its settings and emotions, it does stand out.

It's like when "Law and Order" detectives were routinely visiting Manhattan apartments that, in the actual street grid, would have been located somewhere in the middle of the Hudson River. It wouldn't have been that hard to come up with a fake address that sounded real. "Law and Order" could have been mildly forgiven that its writer's room was in L.A.

For "The Affair," however, what happens is very much about where it's located. And you wouldn't want Alison getting off at the wrong stop. She's messed up enough as it is.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Viva Miami Herald with Fidel Finale

Glory Days Long Since Passed, but South Florida's Faded Prime News Source Still Owns Story

An editorial in today's Miami Herald is headlined "Damage Done, Fidel Castro Was Irrelevant Long Before He Died."
True enough and well put, from a newspaper that has struggled to stay relevant itself.
Not long ago, the Herald routinely showed up on lists of 10 best newspapers in the U.S. Until the mid-90s, the paper was fat with ads and ambition, with reporters spread over Florida from Key West all the way up the Treasure Coast to go along with overseas bureaus stretched from Jerusalem to Managua.
Of course, the Herald was not immune to the malaise that afflicted all newspapers as the web swallowed its content creators whole. But the paper's problems were magnified by the fact that as its core readership went elsewhere or died off, they were being replaced by a Latin diaspora that didn't read English papers if they read any at all.
In 1973, the Herald had a weekday circulation of nearly 405,000. By 2013, it was down to about 130,000. It fell off the list of the nation's 25 largest newspapers six years ago and is third or fourth in circulation just in Florida, depending on how you count.
Fidel may have gotten a final middle finger in the air by dying late enough for his demise to be announced after the Herald had gone to bed. In more flush times, this news would have warranted an extra edition.
These are not flush times.
The Herald's been down for the count for years, but got off the mat when word came that El Presidente had breathed his last. Given that the Herald had been unrelenting in chronicling the many abuses of the Castro regime and, along with its sister El Nuevo Herald, had served as the media lifelines for the hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Miami-Dade, you would expect nothing less. But the way newspapers have shrunk, you've learned to expect less.
Fortunately, the Herald delivered today, while it still can.

OK, Now Go Buy OK Go's Records

Someone's Gotta Pay for These Videos

A lot of people are justifiably enjoying OK Go's latest video for "The One Moment."

More than 14 million views, as of this writing, notwithstanding the fact that the album the song comes from was actually released in 2014. This prompted me to revisit some of their other other-worldly videos for tracks like "Upside Down and Inside Out"

and the one that started it all in 2006, "Here It Goes Again," you know, the treadmill video.
All of these may obscure the fact that OK Go is a pretty damn good band, which deftly knows how to embrace pop conventions without being swallowed up by them. The beats may sound familiar, but they're hardly derivative.
Still, despite the viral tag that's automatically conferred on their videos, I was hard-pressed to think when was the last time I've heard them on the radio. And the Billboard charts have not exactly burned up with the group's record sales. We're too busy trying to figure out how did they pull that off to buy their music. Viral success doesn't always pay the bills, after all, as this Guardian article noted in 2010.
I'm as guilty of that as anyone, with only "Here It Goes Again" on my iPod back in the days when .99 typically bought you a single. Not that this is news to OK Go. "We're that fucking video band," frontman Damian Kulash once said. Still, they've embraced the moniker, corporate sponsorships and all, and it's safe to say they're getting a few pennies every time someone watches the ads before clicking on the videos.
Nonetheless, if the music was crap it wouldn't matter how elaborately choreographed or ingeniously executed the videos are. That's a right a band to listen to rather than just watch. This could be the one moment for that to happen.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Bush League Coverage of the Major Leagues

Mets Net Zero In Pages of New York Times

So, just as soon as I got finished extolling the Times for its Muhammad Ali coverage and magazine wizardry over the weekend, along comes an 18-wheeler running up hard in the blind spot of the Times sports section, namely adequate coverage of New York teams.

The Times will soon have a new Mets beat writer, imported from the Washington Post, after Tim Rohan left for Monday Morning Quarterback. In the meantime, they won't shell out for another scribe on the current roadtrip. Today's paper had an AP blurb about Saturday's game. The write-up on today's tilt with the Marlins that's online was done by a desk man in New York who apparently watched the game on TV

While this isn't the first time the Times has pulled this stunt before, it's usually been reserved for late September games when the Mets were long ago eliminated from playoff contention. This, thankfully, is not that team. So, why treat them as such? The Yankees aren't subjected to that treatment. And neither should the Mets, with not only a better record but also exponentially more interesting to watch and read about. 

We get it. There are more people reading the Times outside of New York than in. But If the New York in The New York Times is strictly window dressing, then let us know once and for all. In the meantime, don't subject us to bush league coverage of the major leagues.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Why Print Still Matters, Part II

An Inspired Idea, Above 800 Feet

If you don't normally plunk down five bucks for the Sunday New York Times, tomorrow may be a good excuse for an exception.

The magazine, for its New York issue, is centered on life above 800 feet. It's a different idea, to be sure, with some mind-blowing photography highlighted by the double-fold cover of a guy climbing the spire of the World Trade Center (much better him than me).

But what's especially mind-blowing is that the whole issue is presented sideways, calendar style, as if to bring home the perspective of life literally at the top. In other words, not something you can experience on your iPad. Thank goodness there are still creative types who have not run out of ideas in newsroom. Ditto for them having bosses who let them roam free.

To be sure, the Times hasn't forgotten about its digital diehards, who now make up the bulk of the readership if not the revenue. There is a VR component to the web version. And, being a non-millennial, while I've been a reluctant adopter of the medium, if ever there was an opportunity to showcase it as more than a gimmick bound to be the 21st-century version of the 8-track tape, this story is it.

Why Print Still Matters, Part I

Muhammad Ali's Death On Deadline Doesn't Stop The N.Y. Times

The copy of The New York Times that's hurled on my driveway every morning doesn't always contain late sports scores. It's a fact of life I've grudgingly learned to accept as the price of business for living in the suburbs north of the city. So, it was more than a mild shock to see extensive coverage of Muhammad Ali's death on the front page and the sports section even though the story had broken after midnight.

Because the Times is, well, the Times, it has a deep stable of correspondents, current and former, who actually covered Ali. That's why heavyweights like Bob Lipsyte, had his byline on the obit, which started above the fold on A-1. That's why remembrances were in the can from former columnists Dave Anderson and George Vecsey, sterling as usual.

The obit jump, along with a photo gallery and the columns, took up the first five pages of the sports section. Which meant a lot of hustle in the newsroom with no time to spare. True, reports of Ali's imminent demise were out there. But it's one thing to know about something, it's another to actually crank out the product on deadline. The Times kicked some serious butt on that account.

So, what does this have to do with print? After all, the aforementioned content is on, which now has more than twice the subscribers of the daily print edition. And those stories have since been supplemented by others from the Times stable from those still at the paper, including a Michael Powell column and Rich Sandomir's reflection on Ali's relationship with Howard Cosell.

The point is, there's still nothing quite like spreading out a newspaper to look at the dramatic photos, complemented by dispatches from sports writing heavyweights in one package. If  you're clicking and skipping, you'll inevitably miss out on something. And if Ali, in his prime, was the greatest show on Earth, why miss a minute?

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.