Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lost In America: BBC Correspondent Loses His Way Up Brokeback Mountain

It's easy to see how foreigners hold a dim view of the U.S. when the journalists who they rely on for information about all things American don't even know where they are when they file a report.
Case in point: A feature on the BBC World newscast seen here on BBC America about what real cowboys think about "Brokeback Mountain." Interesting approach, and not surprisingly, these rough-and-ready boys (and girls) don't think much about a film they think likens their often-solitary lifestyle into an outdoorsy version of a night at the baths.
The problem: The report by BBC California Correspondent (yes, that's his title) David Willis was filed from Wickenberg, Arizona, where the reporter said cowboys in the "Midwest" were likely to boycott the movie.
Notwithstanding the fact that Hollywood is not exactly courting the cowboy demographic in the first place, this was a boner from a correspondent definitely not home on the range. You can't help but wonder why it's so difficult to pick up a map every once in a while to figure out where the hell you are.
Of course, British journalism is so often about speak first, worry about the facts later. It's a shame such shoddiness is also on display at the BBC.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Santa Faster Than The Speed Of Light




Now this is what any lover of radio would call good news.

ABC Does The Math To Show Us Just How He Made It To All Those Houses By This Morning

Robert Krulwich is always a pleasure to watch on ABC News, just as he was appointment listening during his stretch on NPR, given his innate ability to break down complex subjects to their barest essentials without talking down to the audience.
Many are the journalists who can watch him dumbstruck and wonder "How was he able to do that" and simultaneously thank him for providing them with a nut paragraph they can steal when they have to write a similar story.
And he's well known for planting a tongue firmly in cheek when the occasion dictates. Which happened on the Xmas Edition of "World News Tonight," as he tried to show, with the help of a physics teacher, what Santa was up against in order to make his appointed rounds in time.

So let's say each child gets one toy, two pounds, multiply that by 330 million children and that's 660 million pounds of toys. And that doesn't include Santa, who — on close inspection — is not thin. So that means somebody has got to haul a sleigh that weighs the equivalent of four times the tonnage of the QEII.

And don't forget the 220,000 reindeer.

If you don't subscribe to ABC News On Demand, you can read this version of his report here:

....and to all a good World News Tonight.

P.S. Props to David Muir for being liberated from the dawn patrol at ABC so he could anchor tonight's broadcast.

Jann Wenner Watch: Will Janice Min Be Next To Jump Ship Before She's Pushed Overboard?

Or, Did Timothy O'Brien manage to piss off yet another high-profile mogul?

First, N.Y. Times business reporter Timothy O'Brien got on Donald Trump's shit list for a book that's unflattering at best.
Now, he put Jann Wenner under his formidable microscope in a massive takeout that fronted today's Business section.
The article was fair and thorough, which isn't a good thing for Wenner, who likes to dispose of editors-in-chief of Rolling Stone, Us and Men's Journal when they get too many ideas of their own.
Us major domo Janice Min, despite the runaway success of her title, might be next to get the heave-ho. At Wenner Media, nothing breeds contempt like success, which may have been the undoing of Min's predecessor, Bonnie Fuller.

"I've never heard the charge that I don't know how to handle talent or I'm too jealous of Bonnie Fuller to let her stay around because she won an award," Mr. Wenner said. "That's a new one on me."
Mr. Wenner ... also says he gets along swimmingly with Ms. Min, noting that she won her own editor-of-the-year award - and that it hasn't threatened their relationship.
"The magazine has been more successful than I ever imagined," said Ms. Min, when asked about her relationship with Mr. Wenner. "That has been incredibly gratifying."
Even so, Ms. Min is said by several people familiar with her thinking to bridle privately at what she sees as Mr. Wenner's meddling and bullying. They say, for example, that he forced her against her wishes to run a recent cover featuring the actress Julia Roberts and that the issue sold poorly. Mr. Wenner said he never forced Ms. Min to run the Roberts cover.


The article is a lot more than he said, she said, but the notion that Wenner would ride roughshod on Min, who he's paying a cool $1.2 million a year, when she's helped funnel gushers of cash into his coffers, is troubling to say the least. And O'Brien's not alone in reporting about the fuss at Us.
WWD offers this dispatch:

Sources familiar with the situation say Wenner, who previously allowed Min a high degree of autonomy in running Us, has in the past few months taken to second-guessing her decisions, criticizing her covers, and generally reasserting his authority over her. "He's completely driving her crazy," said one Wenner Media insider. "It's constant."

Yeah, the guy writes the checks, but you'd think he'd have other things to do than fix something that wasn't broken. Vapid, superficial and devoid of substance, yes, but not broken.

Microsoft-NBC Divorce Prime Fodder For The N.Y. Times To Pout Instead of Report

Bill Carter Throws Hissy Fit Over Flacks Who Refuse To Talk To Him

Bill Carter has made his mark at the N.Y. Times because his Rolodex is better than any other reporter covering the TV beat. Head honchos return his call, without him first having to run interference from doe-in-the-headlights publicists too scared of their own shadow. In short, he knows how to deliver the goods for the latest backdoor maneuverings, backstabbings and intrigue at the networks with nuance and extra tidbits his rivals generally can't match.
So, his Christmas Eve dispatch on Microsoft selling its stake in MSNBC to the Peacock Network was jarring to say the least. While Carter reported the basic story, most of his article was tinged with the bitterness of someone who's kept out by security even though he's flashed his backstage pass.

The less-than-celebratory nature of the breakup seemed to be underscored by the timing of the announcement. NBC and Microsoft released the news at 8 a.m. yesterday, the Friday before Christmas, when the offices of both companies were already closed for the holiday weekend.

OK, not a good thing, but that shouldn't be a problem for someone as well connected as Carter. But....

Of the two contacts listed on the release, one, from NBC, had a message on her office phone number saying she would be gone until Tuesday, and the other, from Microsoft, was at an airport with two toddlers ready to fly home for the holiday.
That spokeswoman, Kristen Batch, from a public relations firm, Waggener, Edstrom, said Microsoft executives would have no comment anyway, beyond what was said in the official news release.

Inside baseball, anyone? Carter should know better. The above two paragraphs were unnecessary given the one that preceded them. Yet, he felt the need to flog NBC and Microsoft for having the unmitigated gall not to talk to him. Sour grapes don't taste good. Nor do they read much better.
But all is not lost. Sort of.

Reached at home yesterday, Julie Summersgill, a corporate spokeswoman for NBC, said that despite the timing, the companies were not trying to bury the news on the slowest news weekend of the year. It simply worked out that way, she said.
"Ideally, we would have put this out on Tuesday," Ms. Summersgill said. The deal was completed late Wednesday night, but neither company could apparently manage to prepare an announcement in time to be released Thursday.

Boo freaking hoo, Bill. Grow up. Every once in a while you will encounter a source who doesn't lay prostrate at the Times' door waiting to give you information. It happens, even to you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

TV Tells Tales Of Transit Tribulations, Even If They're Not True

Rush To Get On The Air For Transit Strike Coverage Finds N.Y. Broadcasters Getting Off Track With The Facts
On most days, the morning news shows on New York TV stations are predictable affairs, repackaging yesterday's news, provding constant weather and traffic reports and dollops of peppy features (how to dress your dog for the holidays, anyone?) so you don't have to think too much.
Rare is the day when these programs have to cover breaking news, let alone a transit strike that forced 7.7 million commuters to scramble. Ditto the newscasts, which tried to play a game of one-upmanship.
Lots of reporters and anchors who are already overcaffeinated just so they can make it to 7 a.m. were up and at 'em at 3:04 a.m. when the Transport Workers Union made it official that its members would hoof it to the picket lines. Many pulled all-nighters, which put their Norelcos and mascara to the test, for sure.
While the stations generally did a good job of capturing the frustration, chaos and life alterations that a city without its subways or buses requires, there was at times a rush to keep pumping out info without bothering to check if it was right.
Case in point: at least twice, Darlene Rodriguez was heard on WNBC-Channel 4 telling people they could park at Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium and then get a commuter train. Only problem: It wasn't true.
The railroads had said for days such plans wouldn't be in place for 24 hours after a strike was called.
WCBS Radio was among those that correctly urged commuters not to go to the stadia for anything else except, perhaps, trying to find a carpool to get into Manhattan, although they went a bit far trumpeting that fact as "breaking news" read by News Director Tim Schield, who normally doesn't go on the air.
Later on, WNYW-Channel 5 ran tape of Mayor Mike Bloomberg walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. To their chagrin, the questions asked by a reporter came from Today's Lester Holt, who could be seen in the foreground. Afterwards, Jodi Applegate -- a Today alumna -- chirped, "While this is a national story...." but reminded viewers that if they wanted local coverage, Fox5 was the be all and end all.
Applegate was apparently too busy working to see that her competition at the other networks had preempted the morning shows at 7 a.m. for their own wall-to-wall coverage. So, while Lester Holt may have conveyed the breadth of the strike to the rest of the nation, Channel 4 and the rest refused to cede the airwaves and stayed close to home, and nobody should have expected anything less, including Applegate.

Transit Strike Also Causes Chaos Among N.Y. Media

Newspapers Left Waiting At The Station
When transit union chief Roger Toussaint broke the news at 3:04 a.m. that his 34,000 members would hit the picket lines, TV stations and all-news radio were ready and waiting with blanket coverage for how 7 million commuters would have their lives altered this morning.
Most did a workmanlike job, with a few bumps along the road. More on that in a minute. The real losers: the city's newspapers, which had all gone to bed by the time the strike officially began.
That left the Web, and may have given editors a front seat on how they may be covering news in the future as they fight an increasingly difficult battle to remain relevant. How did they fare?
The Times has a piece on how people coped trying to get to work, featuring none other than Ed Koch, who had the dubious privilege of being mayor for the last transit strike 25 years ago.
Aside from a cute headline, "Our shoes are made for walkin', after union MTA stop talkin'," the Daily News stuck with just a single story making note of the strike but is not providing any real-time updates.
Pretty much the same thing at the Post, whose front page shrieks "Transit Chaos" above a single deck "STRIKE!"
Most of Newsday's city readership is in Queens, which had a head start on the strike Monday when union members for two private bus lines walked out. Besides some info from this morning in the main story, the Web site also has a blog to provide some slices of life as people attempted something, anything, to maintain some semblance of normal.
Over at the arch-conservative, otherwise inconsequential New York Sun, its home page featured a full-length photo of leather-jacketed, jean-wearing Mayor Mike Bloomberg showing his boots were made for walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
And, of course, the Sun weighed in with an editorial predictable for its anti-union hysteria and then for some godforsaken reason advancing the notion of privatizing the transit system. Folks in Britain, where the rail service was broken into pieces and subsequently fell apart, no doubt would have a few guffaws over that.

Monday, December 19, 2005

He's Celibate, Yet He's Screwed: The Recent Ramblings Of Rivers Cuomo

Weezer frontman pontificates on how he rarely got to do it on the road
Good ol' Rivers Cuomo. He said in 2003 he'd go celibate for two years to improve his creativity. That seemed to do the trick for the "Make Believe" album, which spawned two hit singles.
But two years have passed, and now it's time for Cuomo to jump back into the pool. But not so fast. As he says in the latest issue of Blender magazine, he's not missing much.

"Abstinence doesn't require as much self-discipline anymore. We never had any serious groupies, anyway. Our generation got screwed," which sounds odd coming from a guy determined not to get laid.


Friday, December 16, 2005

ABC To Pay Dearly For Dumping Foreign Reporter

ABC News has found out the hard way that the British are not like you and I.
A London court ruled it illegally fired freelancer Richard Gizbert because he didn't want to cover the war in Iraq.
ABC said Gizbert was merely not having his contract renewed, as part of cutbacks.
To be sure, Gizbert is not some peacenik who is morally opposed to war. He's done time in Bosnia and Somalia, among other places. But with a family now, he's decided that insurgents, kidnappings and beheadings of Westerners are bad for his health.
The nerve.

Randal Scandal On "The Apprentice" as King Of Nice Turns To Ice

Sore Winner Comes Out On Top As Latest Trump Butt-Kisser
No doubt, "The Apprentice" made a comeback this season, if not in the ratings -- which are down, but still respectable -- but in the creative ways Donald Trump got rid of competitors, not to mention new levels of bitchiness and hissy fits (thanks for that, Clay).
Through it all, Randal Pinkett rose above it all. Initially, he got the sympathy vote early on when his grandmother died suddenly. More importantly, he was the focus of a love fest among his teammates, managing to fly under the radar when the ca-ca hit the fan, while being firm but fair as project manager, when he had a 3-0 record.
So, perhaps the least-surprising aspect of this "Apprentice" was that Randal would make it to the final. Same goes for Rebecca Jarvis, the 24-year-old wonder on crutches, who Trump was constantly making goo-goo eyes at.
The gimp factor notwithstanding, Rebecca established genuine cred, and going into the final boardroom, there was no clear-cut winner, even if you leaned a shade toward Randal because he's a decade older, has five college degrees and is a Rhodes scholar.
And that may have been enough to convince Trump, who hired Randal to help oversee the renovation of his Atlantic City properties. But Trump wasn't done yet. As Randal celebrated, Trump called him back to the table and asked if he would also hire Rebecca. That's when the man who went all the way being nice, turned to ice.

“Mr. Trump, I firmly believe that this is ‘The Apprentice,’ that there is one and only one apprentice, and if you’re going to hire someone tonight, it should be one. It’s not ‘The Apprenti,’ it’s ‘The Apprentice.’”

Incredibly enough, Trump bought that argument and meekly conceded the point to Randal. Rebecca looked liked someone had just taken away her puppy. Even Trump appeared to be a bit stunned as the band was cued and the show came to a chaotic end.
He desperately wanted Apprenti this Thursday night, and Randal -- no doubt helped by time constraints that prevented Trump from cajoling/goading Randal into a change of heart -- revealed a heretofore unseen selfish streak. Machiavelli would've been proud.
Quite possibly, Trump admired Randal's set of cojones to deny Rebecca, even though it was of no consequence to him.
Randal heard his 15 minutes ticking away loudly, and the thought of sharing them was simply too much to bear. That he sacrificed the integrity that was his ticket to the finals in the process was irrelevant. It was a game, he had won. The spotlight only burns so bright.
In the end, blame Trump. The man who prides himself in being a control freak lost the reins of his own show. If he wanted to hire both -- and he desperately did, especially when they each preferred different projects -- Randal should never have entered the equation. Clearly, he was expecting some feel-good ending to put a warm, holiday glow on "The Apprentice."
But Randal turned Scrooge on The Donald, who can only hope he'll be as big a bastard with the contractors at his faltering casinos.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sid Rosenberg Flames Out Again--Almost

From today's Miami Herald:

790 The Ticket has decided to reunite hosts Sid Rosenberg and O.J. McDuffie beginning today, two days after Rosenberg walked out of their 10 a.m.-1 p.m. show because of a disagreement with McDuffie about the program's content.
McDuffie had wanted Rosenberg to spend more time discussing the Dolphins.

So, for a change it wasn't a relapse to Rosenberg's gambling, drug and alcohol addictions that was to blame. And management apparently thought Sid had a point.
For now, sounds like the Sidster and Juice have kissed, or at least air-kissed and made up, judging from this morning's broadcast.
Of course, that didn't stop Big Giants Fan Sid from getting in a few more N.Y. football plugs in, and even had one of his old phone buddies, Ira from Staten Island, chime in on the Jets.
Love him or hate him, Sid's the NASCAR of sports talk radio, as listeners wait for the next big wreck to happen.
Time will tell if Rosenberg will stop being homesick for New York. For now, don't expect his passion for all things Big Apple to keep burning.
Flame on, Sid, before you flame out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Finding It Hard To Say Goodbye At The Times

Reporters On Their Way To The City Room In The Sky Duly Noted, But Not Much More
When a veteran reporter or editor dies, at many newspapers you will see a longer-than-usual obituary, filled with earnest quotes, a thorough recounting of the deceased's career and some measure of that person as a human being, not just a byline.
But The New York Times prefers a more dispassionate bent to its obits, preferring a chronicle over passion, even when it's for one of its own.
In this case, it was Constance Hays, who died of cancer when she was just 44. She spent most of her adult life in the Times's employ, first as a news clerk, then as a reporter in various capacities at the business and metro desks.
Despite toiling for nearly two decades and amassing untold number of bylines for the Times, her tenure only warranted 300 words in today's editions.
True, journalists labor to ensure they only cover stories and try not to become the story themselves.
But it's not hard to make a good argument for making an exception for an obituary. And when your working life has been defined by one employer, that employer should give a better sendoff than a few column inches otherwise affords.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Anchors Aweigh At ABC As Vargas-Woodruff Combo Take Shape

But History Not On The Side For This Pairing, Even If It Makes Sense. Isn't That Right, Dan and Connie?
The anointing by ABC of semi-star, dutiful fill-in Elizabeth Vargas and reliable, square-jawed weekend anchor Bob Woodruff to hopefully "World News Tonight" forward is an indication of just how far the evening news sweepstakes has lost its luster, and how worried executives are about losing even more audience share.
At first blush, it appears ABC couldn't/wouldn't trust one person with the anchor slot. The only ones who might have been on the same level as Peter Jennings in terms of audience familiarity and likeability were Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer.
So, while Gibson was talked about as the more apparent Jennings successor, he had three strikes going against him from the outset.
First, he and Sawyer are at the helm of a "Good Morning America" renaissance that has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the network coffers and prompted NBC to push the panic button at "Today" and fire executive producer Tom Touchet.
Second, if Gibson did get to sleep in, there was no obvious candidate to replace him at "GMA," where David Westin & Co. would have had to work overtime to placate Sawyer, who'd no doubt wonder why she didn't get the nod.
Third, Gibson is pushing toward 63. While that doesn't qualify anyone for geezer status nowadays, that also doesnt' connote long-term solution. Nor does it address ABC's desperate need to attract viewers to "WNT" who are more inclined to ingest a Power Bar than Geritol.
So, it's Vargas and Woodruff, both in their early 40s, who've both had their share of field reporting and don't need further seasoning, unlike Brian Williams, who was dispatched across the globe a few times to dry off the wet behind his ears before settling in at 30 Rock.
But it's one thing to be worthy, another to be trusted with the sole stewardship of the signature broadcast. And it's clear management couldn't rise to that occasion. What remains to be seen if two talking heads are better than one, especially since Williams has done nothing to damage NBC's position at number one.
ABC already tried this once and failed with Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner, then moved to a three-anchor monster that never roared with Jennings, Max Robinson and Frank Reynolds. And then there was the disaster that was the Connie Chung-Dan Rather pairing.
ABC needs to hope Vargas and Woodruff were good science students in school, as they'll have to ace Chemistry if they ever hope to succeed.
The new pairing also means some program changes, which we'll get to a bit later.