Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A President Dies, But Not In The (Early Editions Of) New York Times

True, word of Gerald Ford's death arrived at an inconvenient time -- going on midnight -- for newspapers on the East Coast that had gone to bed with their first editions or were on the verge of getting them ready for the presses.
But breaking news sometimes has a way of pushing back those deadlines. Ford's passing didn't rise to that level for papers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, whose editions that arrived on my doorstep this morning failed to note.
At that hour, the front page is locked up for copies that are going beyond the city limits. The exception for late news at that hour is sports, as evidenced by the Times recounting the Jets' win late Christmas night that appeared in Tuesday's papers.
You would think, though, that because the sports section has a late close, the Ford obit could have been stuck there, with a quick refer inserted in a box on A-1 to at least cover you for the early edition, saving the banner head for the late city edition.
But even the Times wasn't quick enough to act, which means you have to read its exhaustive obit online. Which may be what editors intended.
Long gone are the days when you had to rely on the print version to get your news, and the Times and the other 400-pound print gorillas have continuous news desks for that reason. Still, if you automatically assume that people will rely more on their computer instead of the front page for their information, then before long fewer people will feel compelled to read that front page and the rest of the paper, the very engine that's driving the Web sites in the first place. Which, of course, means the print versions need, more than ever, to stay relevant. And the first step is to get the most important news of the day into the paper, even if it means pushing back those crucial deadlines a few minutes.
The death of a president would certainly qualify on that account.

Gerald Ford Dies, Networks Yawn

CBS, NBC, Choose Jay Leno and Stupid Pet Tricks Over Breaking News Of Death Of A President
CBS told viewers about the death of the 38th president, with a crawling headline while "The Late Show" played on. And that was it. No special report. Can't interrupt the network's $30 million man. Don't deprive us of Stupid Pet Tricks, though that dachsund that could put himself in his cage was pretty damn good.
The network supposedly learned its lesson 10 years ago when there was no anchor in the broadcast center on the Saturday night over Labor Day weekend when Princess Diana died in Paris. NBC and ABC, along with CNN, had blanket coverage. CBS affiliates were left to wallow in their local programming.
Belatedly, CBS scrambled to put on a perfunctory special report anchored by Vince DeMentri, a local anchor in New York who had just finished his newscast.
The TV news division had taken the weekend off, and it showed. Ironically, it was CBS Radio -- with correspondents Adam Raphael in London and Elaine Cobbe in Paris -- that was first with the confirmation that Diana was dead.
But that episode led to wholesale changes at CBS, including having a correspondent in the building at all hours in case the network had to go live. So how does the death of a president not give rise to that? The network had an obit ready to go. It could get its consultants and correspondents on the phone and cobble together some information. Bill Plante, Bob Schieffer and Mark Knoller come quickly to mind.
But it didn't. Once again, the decisionmakers at CBS News decided to go on holiday and turn their Blackeberrys off. When you work at a network, you don't wait until morning to report the news. The radio news division certainly didn't, cranking out three updates an hour all night. Their colleagues at TV couldn't muster anything close to that effort.
NBC could at least claim it had an excuse, namely MSNBC. But rapid channel surfing as news of Ford's death broke betrayed no hint that the network interrupted "The Tonight Show" when it could have simply simulcasted MSNBC to alert viewers in all time zones about what happened. But there was no apparent game plan -- no black book to consult when such an emergency occurs. You can't assume people will automatically gravitate to cable when news breaks. Own the story unless told otherwise. "Today" more than made up for the network's lapses last night, but it was way too late in the game.
The cable networks acquitted themselves well as the news broke. MSNBC had Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and Andrea Mitchell on the phone weighing in. But why couldn't they have done the same on the Peacock?
ABC got lucky, sort of. "Nightline" was on in the East Coast when Ford's death was announced. At least it covered the news in real time, but only to a point. "Jimmy Kimmel Live" went on as scheduled.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No More Schmaltz in South Florida As Greedy Owners Look To Exterminate The Rascal House

Progress, shmagress. Word today from The Miami Herald that the Rascal House, the venerable Jewish deli/comfort food emporium on Collins Avenue, in what is now called Sunny Isles Beach, will soon be no more.


Seems the town fathers of Sunny Isles Beach, which hasn't even existed for a decade, have something of an edifice complex, as many of the no-frills motels that used to line its part of the oceanfront have been replaced by fancy condos and high-rises.

A similar fate awaits the Rascal House, (above, photo from whose lack of charm is part of its charm. You go for the the copious portions of food, everything from pastrami sandwiches that make the tables sag from their weight to desserts that are a cardiologist's worst nightmare. And those rolls -- small, soft specimens of perfection whose leftovers from the basket the waitress would dutifully bag so you could eat "falayda" -- for later, for the uninitiated.

True, the Jews who would ensure there were lines out the door at the Rascal House almost any time of year are fewer in number, having died off or moved to places like Boca Raton, where the Rascal House made an unsuccessful go of it a few years back. And they weren't replaced by those who now make this part of South Florida home or the perennial vacation spot it used to be for those on a budget.

The last couple of times I went I walked right in without a fuss. Where were the long lines, where you waited according to the size of your party? Something didn't feel right. Still, the restaurant had hung on when its less storied rivals had cooked their last blintz. Now the house that Wolfie Cohen built will soon follow.

Another example of how progress isn't necessarily progressive. Nor will what comes next provide anything that tastes nearly as good as what's been coming out of the Rascal House kitchens since 1954. But tradition will always be trumped by the promise of a well-heeled crowd shelling out millions for their place in the sand.
And speaking about trump, yes, the Donald already has his pawprints in Sunny Isles Beach. That should tell you more than you need to know.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Lot of Blarney in Kearny: When Bad Things Happen to Good Students

Why Do So Many People Hate Matthew LaClair For Being Right?
Matthew LaClair would prefer to be just another junior at Kearny High School in New Jersey. Unfortunately, his history teacher David Paszkiewicz won't let him.
In a story that's gaining in national traction, especially after yesterday's New York Times piece, LaClair recorded the teacher telling his students that if they didn't accept Jesus they would go to hell. For good measure, he proclaimed there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, and that there was no scientific basis for evolution. And let's not forget, Paszikewicz intoned, only Christians would be allowed in heaven.
"Basically, what he said is this is the truth," LaClair told Brian Lehrer on WNYC. (Click here for the interview).
The sad part about the Times story was to find out that LaClair has become a pariah for having the temerity to protest when the church-state boundary was repeatedly trampled on by Paszkiewicz, who's a youth church minister outside of school. LaClair has lost friends and even received a death threat.
Paszkiewicz was described by the school's principal as an "excellent" teacher, even though he appears to have a rather fuzzy knowledge of the Constitution. Judge for yourself from these clips.
And judging is what many people in Kearny, a blue-collar, perhaps too-close-knit town about 10 miles from Manhattan, are doing.
The level of hate directed at LaClair and his father Paul, a lawyer now considering suing the school district is startling and scary. Reading the message boards at make the town seem more like a 21st-century version of Salem.
Give Paul LaClair a lot of credit for giving as good as he got on the boards, and for shredding Paszkiewicz and the district that tolerates his proselytizing, in a letter to the local paper, The Observer.
For now, school officials are hiding under the "it's a personnel matter" excuse to decline to say what actions they belatedly took against Paszkiewicz, who likely would have continued on his "fire and brimstone" approach to history were it not for LaClair.
But the fact that they dawdled in the face of incontrovertible proof of Paszkiewicz's pedagogical malfeasance, and that so many people have blindly rushed to support him, tells you a lot more than you need to know about Kearny.
The odd part, this whole episode may be the best education Matthew LaClair's ever received in Kearny. Suffice to say, he deserves a lot better.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Knicks-Nuggets Slugfest Inspires Rare Moment of Candor on MSG Network

Mike Breen Tells It Like It Is, Rather Than How James Dolan Wants It To Be
Those who admit nowadays to being fans of the New York Knicks were incensed enough by James Dolan, owner of the Knicks and chairman of Madison Square Garden, when he dumped the peerless Marv Albert as the team's play-by-play announcer in 2004.
Besides providing game calls against which all others are compared to, Albert was unfailingly honest with his audience, sometimes too much so, as far as the Knicks were concerned. Dolan, with his typical cluelessness and ignorance of Knicks traditions, preferred a cheerleader instead.
That's something Albert never was nor will be, which is why he now calls Nets games on YES and other NBA games for TNT.
Those who work Knicks games on the MSG Network nowadays are more given toward spin, sycophancy and utter lack of peripheral vision, as Bob Raissman reminded us in his Daily News column on Sunday. It's a shame given that bootlicking broadcasters are not standard issue in New York, unlike in many other cities.
So, it was refreshing that Albert's play-by-play replacement Mike Breen -- an exception to the above -- not hold back on Saturday night when the Knicks and Nuggets squared off to fight instead of shoot hoops.
“Another dismal evening at Madison Square Garden, and this one turned ugly not only from a basketball standpoint," is one of the Breen quotes chronicled by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times.
Or, how about:
"This is turning into some kind of disaster" or "Just makes you sick to your stomach."
Not exactly a cheerleader, huh? But since Breen grew up idolizing Albert, as many announcers did, you wouldn't expect anything less.

Did Isiah Thomas Want To Break a Neck or Foot? Dueling Quotes In The New York Times

Either Way, Bruce Bowen Won't Be Getting Any Christmas Cards From the Knicks
The underachieving New York Times sports section has kicked into gear with its coverage of the latest incarnation of Saturday Night Fights at Madison Square Garden.

Of course, the Mecca of boxing was not expecting Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony and New York Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas to be on the main card.

Lots being written about what Thomas supposedly telling Anthony late in the game "Hey, don't go to the basket" as the Nuggets were finishing up a blowout of the woeful Knicks.

That led to a flagrant foul, 10 players ejected, a sucker punch by Anthony and Thomas at a loss of words trying to explain himself. We should find out later today who will be punished and how badly, but it's instructive to step back in time for another incident in November when Thomas didn't like the aggressive defense being played by Bruce Bowen (left) of the San Antonio Spurs.

"Break his neck," that's what Bowen said he heard, writes Selena Roberts in her column in today's Times.

But Knicks beat writer Howard Beck, in a front-page story on the incident, says "Thomas was also heard shouting to his players to "Break his feet."

Feet, neck, what's a broken body part between friends?

Of course, getting a quote right is far from an exact science, as the media consistently demonstrates.

To wit, Alan Hahn in Newsday says the quote was 'Next time he does that, break his -- foot!', though in a Nov. 14 article, he said Thomas called for Bowen's neck to be snapped in pieces, though I doubt Thomas used an ellipsis.

The Daily News' Frank Isola also said it was the foot, a version echoed by Mike Finger from the San Antonio Express-News.

Confused? You should be. But we are happy to report that Bowen has all limbs and body parts intact, at least for now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NPR Goes Into the Way-Back Machine for "All Things Considered"

Was a little weird but nonetheless comforting yesterday to hear Noah Adams filling in for Robert Siegel on "All Things Considered" yesterday, given that he had been with the weekday edition of the program from 1982-1987 and 1989-2003, and co-hosted with Siegel and Linda Wertheimer for much of that latter stretch.
Adams has been heard occasionally as of late as a "senior correspondent," which is the same title NPR wanted to give Bob Edwards when the put him out to pasture.
Adams, though, actually files reports -- Edwards quit to go to XM before that could happen -- and is also busy writing books.
Actually, Adams' stint is in keeping with the NPR spirit. Many of its stars keep popping up either co-hosting or filing special reports, including Linda Wertheimer, and the nonpareil Susan Stamberg.

Double Dipping With Anderson Cooper

So, Anderson Cooper had a nice story on "60 Minutes" Sunday when he interviewed a former MP whose life has descended into a surreal kind of hell since being the whistleblower on Abu Ghraib.
The Coop is doing five stories for 60M this year, though it's unclear if his arrangement with CBS gives him free rein to recycle those segments for his own "Anderson Cooper 360" on CNN.
But that's just what he did last night. Yes, CBS did get first dibs on the interview. Nonetheless, have to wonder if they were expecting a rival to get a second crack at the story.
Not exactly giving comfort to the enemy, especially when the correspondent works both sides of the fence.
Still, this might not be the kind of precedent CBS envisioned setting, and one they didn't have to visit when Christiane Amanpour was doing similar duty.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

George Riggs Drinks From A Half-Full Cup At The Mercury-News

Forgive the Newspaper Guild, Though, If They Decline A Sip
Hardly a shock that George Riggs, publisher of the San Jose Mercury-News would call the tentative contract he reached with The Newspaper Guild a "good deal for both sides."
While, yes, the number of threatened Guild layoffs was reduced from 69 to 27.51, the upshot is those who are lift will be kicking in serious dollars for health care, losing their pension plan and getting annual 2 percent pay increases.
It's not so much a win-win, as it is a win-save face, which was reflected in the glum assessment by Guild officer Luther Jackson: ``I think we did the best we could in a very tough strategic environment.''
And he's right.
Which is sad.
Assuming ratification, what remains to be seen is the effect on the layoffs on top of the cutbacks already suffered at The Merc, the one-time pig in doo-doo of the newspaper world during the dot-com boom now slashing and burning its way to survival.
There's still a passionate if dispirited bunch of journos there, as evidenced by the Save the Merc Web site. Now we'll see if they'll be allowed to practice great newspapering again, or, as MediaNews, might prefer, fill in the blanks in the spaces where there are no ads.
Those left in the newsroom have to find a way to still care. Same goes for the Merc's readers.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Swallowing Hard At The San Jose Mercury-News

A New Contract Yes, Happiness In The Newsroom, No
The Newspaper Guild at The San Jose Mercury-News reached a deal with owner William "Lean Dean" Singleton.
The best you can say about it is, it could have been worse. Just ask reporters at The San Francisco Chronicle, who agreed to a deal that was just that.
Let's take a look at the more salient details, posted on Romenesko, to see how that once-proud Knight Ridder flagship fared.
--A two-year deal in which the number of Guild layoffs is reduced from 69 to 27.51 (don't ask how they came up with .51) and that the paper has guaranteed there will be no layoffs until at least June 30.
Which means come July 1, all bets are off, except for the one that staff will likely be further trimmed, if circulation and advertising patterns continue as expected. The Guild knows that, so does the Merc. If anything, it gives vulnerable reporters and editors time to look elsewhere before they're tapped on the shoulder.
--A $1,000 signing bonus to ease the pain of now ponying up about 20 percent of the cost of health insurance. That will more than offset the average 2 percent annual pay increases during the contract. Sure, it sucks, but the Merc newsroom is now among the many feeling this pinch.
--Ditto for the frozen pension plan, which will now be replaced by a 401K, with a 50 percent match up to a six-percent employee contribution.
--Victories, if you want to call them that, was the dropping of management's insistence of eliminating the "evergreen clause," which keeps the terms of an expired contract in place while negotiations continue; no 40-hour workweek and no "management rights clause." But those are things that employers throw into the soup during negotiations, with little or no expectation that they become bargaining chips. That's labor relations biz.
Could the Guild have done better? Armchair quarterbacks might say yes, but then again this is a sickly industry that shows no signs of getting better.
The real losers might be the Guild members over at the Philadelphia newspapers, which are still trying to iron out a deal on wages, benefits and pensions after settling on non-economic issues. The union had been threatening a strike but backed off amid signs of progress. But management may be emboldened by what happened at the Merc, the Inquirer's and Daily News' former corporate sibling.
The Guild in Philly may talk a good game, but ultimately they may have no choice but to swallow hard and accept a deal that's not to their liking, just like the reporters at the Merc will likely do.