Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vermont Paper Threatens To Hit the AP Where It Hurts To Protest Bureau Chief Firing

But Is Threat To Cancel Service A Lot Of Barking Without The Bite?

Give a lot of credit to the St. Albans Messenger in Vermont, the daily that covers the state's Northeast Kingdom hard by the border with Quebec.
Like other Vermont newspapers, it's bewildered and more than a little angry that the Associated Press canned longtime Vermont bureau chief Christopher Graff and then refused to explain why, other than hiding behind the mealy-mouthed pronouncements that it was a "personnel matter."
Graff is something of a rock star in Vermont journalism, widely respected for his knowledge and fairness by both the news organizations that are AP members, along with the politicians he made a living writing about, to the point that Vermont's governor and Congressional delegation jointly penned a letter asking for his reinstatement.

That was followed by a letter from Messenger editor and publisher Emerson Lynn to AP Chairman Tom Curley:

We are asking that you restore our trust in the Associated Press. We are asking for a full and satisfactory explanation as to what prompted Mr. Graff 's dismissal. Failing that, please forward us the information regarding our need to cancel our AP memberships.

Ah, but there's a rub. There always is, as Lynn concedes. Small papers like his rely "disproportionately" on the AP to provide them with news. They are less likely to subscribe to a supplemental news service, like the one offered by The New York Times or Knight Ridder. And, absent its own network of stringers statewide, no other organization is in a position to supply news from all other Vermont let alone the rest of the world.
So, the Messenger is stuck between a stubborn wire service that refuses to let the sunshine in and the hard facts that without the wire, the slender paper becomes that much thinner.
If it's truly serious about giving the AP the heave-ho, rather than merely scolding it in print, perhaps the Messenger can enter into a cooperative arrangement with other newspapers of like mind to swap stories of statewide interest to help fill pages.
Of course, that would still raise serious coverage gaps that only the AP has the wherewithal to fill. That may have been different back in the days when UPI was still a growing concern, and the AP actually had to compete. But domestically it does not, as Reuters subscribers know all too well, and its members know that.
It creates a certain arrogance, a flip-the-bird approach to accountability for its actions, which in the Graff case are questionable at best.
Still, telling the AP to go take a hike is a foolhardy proposition for a newspaper that lacks a Plan B, and in this case would all but kill the Messenger.

David Rosenbaum's Murder Spurs Many Cautionary Tales

Washington Post continues to lead the way in probe of death of New York Times D.C. Stalwart

It was bad enough that David Rosenbaum, who was murdered in January, not long after retiring from full-time duty as one of the bulwarks of The New York Times Washington bureau, was left to die on a quiet street after a senseless robbery and brutal attack.
What is worse, though, is the laconic, detached and downright incompetent response by paramedics and medical staff at Howard University Hospital, where Rosenbaum was eventually declared dead.
The Washington Post, through several columns by Courtland King, and in a stinging editorial yesterday, have not treated Rosenbaum's death as just another street crime. Neither has the district.
Rather, all have employed it as a metaphor, of sorts, for the sorry state of emergency care for many in the nation's capital, whether they're in an Anacostia housing project, or an exclusive Northwest street, where Rosenbaum was assaulted.

As the editorial notes, this probe could not have come at a worse time for the hospital:
And to think: Howard University is asking that the city spend $200 million and that the federal government guarantee an additional $200 million so the university and the city can build a $400 million medical complex that Howard medical professionals will control and operate.
Good luck with that.

Continued kudos to the Post for persisting with the Rosenbaum story, especially King, who has revealed that Rosenbaum may very well have survived his injuries if not for the medical response to his injuries so bungled.

As for the Times' coverage of Rosenbaum's death and the subsequent investigation? As we've noted previously in this spaced, let's just say that you'll need to read the Post.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Toxic Avengers: Bergen Record Wins Top Investigative Award

Congrats to my former colleagues at the Bergen Record for scoring the IRE Medal, the highest award given out by Investigative Reporters & Editors for a series on how tons of toxic waste that was the legacy of a Ford plant has caused an environmental mess and affected the health of thousands of nearby residents.
I haven't worked at the paper in nearly 15 years, and it's heartening to see bylines on this series from colleagues who were there during my tenure, including Mary Jo Layton, Jan Barry and Lindy Washburn.
I give them credit for their perseverence as The Record by the early 1990s had slipped from its pedestal as one of the best, medium-sized dailies in the country, not to mention the best paper in New Jersey.
Like many, then, it was affected by a recession, and a plunge in advertising linage, while the news hole and opportunities for enterprise and investigative reporting shrunk accordingly.
A generous profit-sharing plan dried up, as did matching contributions to the 401k plan. In 1991, The Record froze pay and forced reporters to take a one-week unpaid furlough. Layoffs ensued. No surprise that morale and Dumpster were often used in the same sentence.
So, give the powers that be in Hackensack credit for resurrecting the kind of reporting just as good as at any metro daily (where many Record alumni now labor) that made The Record a place reporters want to be and an investigative series you want to read.
Another former Record colleague, Robert O'Harrow Jr. of the Washington Post, was a winner with Scott Higham in the IRE's largest newspaper category for a devastating look at how the Department of Homeland Security wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and fell short of its core mission.
Both articles also come with lots of extras on the web, and are proof that newspapers, while coughing and wheezing as of late, have miles to go before they sleep. In fact, such reporting may prove to be their salvation. In other words, give readers more of what they can't get anywhere else.

Will The Last Person Out At Cargo Magazine Please Unplug The Web Site?

Conde Nast announced yesterday, to the sobs and wails of metrosexuals everywhere, that it's deep-sixing men's shopping magazine Cargo with the May issue.
It won't be missed. While it tried to be all things to many people, it wound up being too much of nothing.
Everything from fine wine to the latest thong underwear was covered, reviewed and dissected in breathless, hipper-than-thou snippets that broke the barrier of superficial and crossed over into the territory of just plain insipid.
A magazine that was designed for men who didn't have time to read was a victim of its own mission. Even that dubious demographic didn't want Cargo.
Meanwhile, the magazine still exists, sort of, online at, which hasn't gotten the memo yet that its print brethren is history. In fact, there are still links all over the site to order a subscription.
And if you are among the huddled, trendy, Zegna-wearing, RAZR-toting masses who fear Conde Nast is running off with the $9.97 you shelled out for your subscription, relax. Now you get GQ instead. GQ is sort of like Cargo's big brother, the one with a brain.

N.Y. Times TV Critic Flunks History

Alessandra Stanley Forgets To Fill In Blanks When Talking About Classroom Shows
In her perfunctory review of the new NBC sitcom "Teachers," New York Times TV major domo Alessandra Stanley intones "it has been a while since a school served as a setting for a television show -- "Room 222" and "Saved By The Bell" are ancient history; Fox canceled "Boston Public" in 2004."
So, then, would "two years" really qualify as "a while?" But I quibble.
The last blackboard was erased on "Room 222" 32 years ago. And surely the Video Contessa of West 43rd St. could have done better than citing "Saved By The Bell."
Indeed, there was a little show on in the 1970s, Alessandra, called "Welcome Back Kotter." And 1986 brought us "Head Of The Class," first starring Howard Hesseman, then Billy Connolly for its last season in 1991.
Last time I checked, "The White Shadow" took place in a high school. Most of the immortal and shamefully underwatched "Freaks and Geeks" was centered around school activities, as was "Undeclared," if you throw college into the mix. If so, you could take the next step to the TV version of "The Paper Chase."
Do your homework, Alessandra!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thin-Skinned Associated Press Scalped By Members For Dumping Vermont Bureau Chief

Green Mountain State Media Seeing Red From Ouster of Christopher Graff

Wire-service reporters are often an anonymous breed. You're taken for granted by your member newspapers and broadcasters, who expect you to dutifully churn out anything and everything they can't or won't cover.

At least that was my experience working for UPI in Albany back in the 1980s. But that experience is apparently different in a smaller state like Vermont, dominated by small, local papers that rely extensively on the Associated Press, especially on beats like the Statehouse.

Which is why Vermont editors are nearly unanimously up in arms after the AP dumped Vermont bureau chief Christopher Graff, a 27-year veteran widely respected and better known than the typical wire scribe, as he also hosts a show on Vermont Public Television.

Why the AP gave Graff the heave-ho is unclear. He's not talking, as he signed a non-disclosure agreement, apparently as a condition to getting severance. The AP is clamming up, saying it doesn't talk publicly about personnel matters.

But what may have been the last straw was a column by Sen. Patrick Leahy that Graff put on the wire in conjunction with the AP's observance of Sunshine Week. Leahy pilloried the Bush administration for its jihad against the federal Freedom of Information Act. The AP pulled the column less than an hour after it ran and advised editors not to run it. This, despite the fact that the AP ran a similar Leahy piece without any brouhaha.

It's always comical and a bit sad when news organizations doggedly pursue comment from their subjects, yet are just as reticent when the spotlight's turned on them. But this bunker mentality isn't sitting well with those who feed the AP's coffers and viewed Graff as an invaluable resource.

As the Brattleboro Reformer noted in an editorial today:

The AP should be embarrassed by their decision to fire Graff and the perception that it gives to Vermonters that the AP has given in to the claque that constantly screams about "liberal bias" in the news media.
But it's not only that. The AP casually discarded one of Vermont's best journalists and weakened its reporting on statewide issues as a result.

Many other Vermont journalists, according to the Valley News, including Marselis Parsons, news director at WCAX-TV
"I was flabbergasted when I was told this was going on. I thought it was a joke," Parsons said. "I think if there is more to it (than the Leahy column), they owe their members -- not just clients, we are members, damn it, of a cooperative, a more rational explanation."

Still, the AP may be able to successfully avoid one by citing employment law and privacy considerations. Or, it could release Graff from his non-disclosure agreement so he could tell his side of the story. Unlikely, since somebody at AP HQ in New York would then have to be held accountable for a bone-headed move.
Maybe the AP could take the even-easier way out and reinstate Graff. But that would be too easy. And for an institution like the AP, which can afford to be arrogant because its members have nowhere else to turn for statewide coverage, that is likely too much to ask.

When Working For The New York Times Means Always Having To Say You're Sorry

A Look At How The Gray Lady Fessed Up To Nicholas Confessore Piece On Faux Katrina Victim
Nobody's perfect, as journalists demonstrate on a daily basis. To what extent their employers own up to those shortcomings is another matter, but The New York Times does it better than most. Usually, it's a misspelling, wrong date or errant occupation. Or, sometimes you just get the whole darn story wrong.
Which is when the paper unsheaths the dreaded editors' note, like the one that appeared yesterday about a March 8 story by Nicholas Confessore about the trials and tribulations of a supposed Hurricane Katrina victim in Queens, as she struggled to get federal aid for her family.
Only thing: prosecutors say she's a phony and charged her with fraud.
As the editors intoned:

For its profile, The Times did not conduct adequate interviews or public record checks to verify Ms. Fenton's account, including her claim that she had lived in Biloxi. Such checks would have uncovered a fraud conviction and raised serious questions about the truthfulness of her account.

That resulted in a long, public blood-letting in another story by Confessore yesterday that revealed Fenton's rather-checkered history. In effect, he was forced to write about all the things his editors said he should have done before the first story so the paper and he could give a big "We're sorry" to its readers.

OK, the Times was hoodwinked and is holding itself and Confessore accountable. Seems fair enough.
But the self-righteous among the Fourth Estate should, instead of getting sanctimonious, be instead breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn't them who got taken. Essentially, Confessore set out to work on a human-interest story linked to Katrina that had a local angle. As he noted, he approached a Queens pastor active in aiding Katrina victims, who indicated Fenton might be willing to be profiled.
You could argue that any inquiries into her background shouldn't have ended there. Better, though, to argue a reporter could feel sufficiently comfortable with a pastor's referral and start to tackle a story that's linked here:

Either way, it's a stretch to think that, absent any evidence, a reporter's first step would be to initiate a background check on a hurricane survivor just trying to navigate the federal bureaucracy.
Where you could more validly contend Confessore slipped up is by not extending his reporting to her purported family -- a husband and five kids ages 9-21. None of them were interviewed. And it appears the husband doesn't exist, and four of the kids have either been adopted or are in foster care.
This could have -- and should have -- been turned into a family's saga, rather than one woman's stor. In turn, it would have unraveled from there, or at least turned into another tale about a well-schooled hustler gaming the system and being just another FEMA fraudster.
Still, Fenton made for a compelling subject, as Confessore's initial, well-written article conveys, to the point where he was lulled into complacency. And given the same situation, so would many a reporter.
It's not the first time a reporter has been duped, and it sure as hell won't be the last. That won't make Confessore feel any better, I'm sure. But he's been raked over the coals enough. He'll not only learn from his mistakes. We all can.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The New York Times Rocks On; Beefs Up Its Music Critic Corps

At last, the paper of record discovers a genre
Hasn't been apparent if it's happened earlier, but I noticed in today's N.Y. Times arts section two reviews that said "Rock Review" for the teaser head. That's notable, as the Times, no matter how hard or loud the music, has long said "Pop Review," as if System of a Down and the Backstreet Boys could somehow be lumped into the same category.
In any event, good to see the Times arts domos getting some new pop/rock reviewers into the fold. Laura Singara, who's toiled for the late Tracks magazine and the Village Voice, has been getting some ink of late. Today's paper had her engaging take on a rare concert by cult faves Silver Jews.
Also, on the same page was a review of a Stereolab show by Hawaii native Nate Chinen, who's also done time at the Village Voice, Philadelphia City Paper and Billboard Online, among other outposts. Chinen's also co-wrote the autobiography of jazz impresario George Wein.
Chinen knows his stuff, no doubt. But he has to avoid catching Parelesitis, the contagion spread by Times chief rock critic Jon Pareles, who gets so enamored with his music erudition that he often forgets to tell you whether the music is actually worth listening to.
Chinen needs to avoid writing more sentences like these, from the Stereolab piece:

For much of its 15-year recording history, this British band has produced a gleaming alloy of retro-rock that offers the cool reassurance of meticulous order. But the group has also trafficked in pseudo-Marxist rhetoric, despairing or superior or alarmist in tone.

Huh? Is someone at the copy desk actually reading this stuff? Or, do they have no clue and hope the critic does?

Better instead, to emulate Kalefa Sanneh, whose lead sentence in a review of the new Kenny Rogers album is a typical winner.

Barely five minutes into the new Kenny Rogers album, the guy starts singing about swastikas.

Rock On!

All The News That's Not Fit To Print But We'll Take Your Money Anyway

Sudan Latest Country to Print Reams of Investor Propaganda in New York Times

UPDATED 3/21/06
Lloyd Grove in the Daily News has a follow-up on the Sudan propaganda screed published in yesterday's Times, including word that the spread cost an estimated $929,000 to crank out.
Oh, and if you thought swords being turned into plowshares was the answer to all things that ailed Sudan, think again, says Human Rights Watch:

If you pick up The New York Times on Monday and feels a little thicker than usual, chances are it's because some third-world country has paid to make it that way.
Moldova, Kazakhstan and a few African nations are among those who've put out eight-page advertising supplements that, in effect, tell you how wonderful they are, please invest your money here and we'll make sure there's no coup that will nationalize your factories.
Rare is the person who actually reads these things, but that doesn't stop these countries and their PR machines from trying. The latest entry is Sudan, whose rendition is remarkable for spreading a little sunshine among the spin. But just a little.
To wit, this unintentionally amusing passage:

Ministers are frustrated that coverage of Sudan in the international media has focused almost exclusively on the fighting between rebels and Arab militias in the western province of Darfur.

You think?

Geez, you just hate it when facts get in the way of good propaganda.

You could see how Sudan would be cheesed off at the Fourth Estate for reporting on a genocide in Darfur that has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives, displaced nearly 2 million and forced 3 million people to rely on humanitarian assistance.
And, oh that pesky militia? They kind of, sort of have government backing, all the while raping and murdering villagers, and stealing their food and livestock after burning down what was already a sorry excuse for a home.
Isn't it enough that Sudan finally ended a 25-year civil war that killed more than 2 million people and actually has a functioning government (in your face, Somalia)?
Those darn journalists, always looking at the glass half-empty.

There's evidence that Sudan is hoping that all would be forgiven on pages 4-5 of the supplement, which boldly proclaims the opportunities to find new sources of OIL (their emphasis and color). Ah, now you got our attention, we who live in the land of $3-a-gallon-for-premium gasoline.

Alas, though, lest ExxonMobil and Halliburton start salivating, the supplement also has a headline that reads: "Huge projects required in road, rail and water infrastructure."
You see, Sudan is slightly larger than one-quarter of the U.S., it has but 2,250 miles of paved roads.
So, there is no road to the black gold. You have to build it yourself. And if you can feed a few thousand refugees along the way (after all, if you build it, they will come), well, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Why Would NBC Frown On Campbell Brown?

If Katie Bolts To CBS, Best Choice Is Already In-House

Today's Wall Street Journal has a thinly sourced story about NBC brass contemplating who'll get to keep Matt Lauer company should Katie Couric weary of the predawn patrol and relieve Bob Schieffer at the "CBS Evening News."
In the article from Brook Barnes, there is a cryptic sentence about the chances of Campbell Brown, who co-hosts "Weekend Today," moving over to replace Couric.

"Ms. Brown has star wattage, but NBC worries her hard-news bent wouldn't fit well with the fluffy segments that are the "Today" show's bread and butter."

Well, whomever "NBC" actually is, either hasn't watched Brown that carefully, is a poor student of history, or both.

The 37-year-old Brown has indeed established her hard-news credentials, first in Washington and especially notably in post-Katrina New Orleans. But she's also established a down-to-earth, unpretentious and engaging persona during more placid times on "Today."
She's proven equally at ease grilling Bush administration officials as learning how to grill a steak during a cooking segment.

If she's not a huge fan of the fluff, Brown does a great job of hiding that. If nothing else, she's proven to be the consummate team player on the ensemble that "Today" really should be, rather than the Couric star vehicle it is now -- the "Where In The World Is Matt Lauer" gigs notwithstanding.

And who's to say she wouldn't be a fit for such segments? After all, Couric came to NBC as a Pentagon correspondent and joined "Today"as its first national correspondent in 1990, back in the days when she was still "Katherine Couric."
Couric didn't exactly have many fashion and wedding segments under her belt when she first took over. Somehow she's managed.

The Journal points to Meredith Vieira winning the hearts and minds at 30 Rock. Wishful thinking, as the article suggests. Besides, she has an extremely cushy and lucrative gig at "The View."
Remember, this is the woman bounced off "60 Minutes" because she had the temerity to get pregnant. With three teenagers in the house now, it's hard to see her bounding out of her Westchester home in the dead of night right about now.
So, if Couric leaves, and we're still not sure why she'd do that even if it meant getting to sleep in -- look for Brown to get the nod.
Meantime, NBC worry-warts have time to backpedal and catch her on "Weekend Today" to see that all will not be lost -- and that includes Today's sizeable lead over Good Morning America -- should the Perky One take her leave.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Nets Net Zero In New York Times Sports Section

No Kidding, Jason Kidd: Fair To Middling Coverage Of Team Is Now Just Piddling
Last fall, this space gave The New York Times some justified jolts for basically ignoring hockey. Jason Diamos was assigned to not only cover the surprisingly resurgent Rangers, but also serve as all things NHL.
The Islanders and Devils are usually relegated to AP wire stories, which the Times offers with no sense of embarrassment, even though four or five other area papers have beat writers at those games.
At the time, I wondered if such parsimony in the sports section would extend to the New Jersey Nets, who, though they toil just eight miles away from Manhattan, would get short shrift because they're geographically undesirable.
No matter that they're in first place in the NBA's Atlantic Division and are a far more interesting team to watch than the beyond-pathetic Knicks.
Nonetheless, the Nets' last two road games, in Oklahoma City and Houston, were noted only by brief AP dispatches. Nominal beat writer John Eligon is absent -- perhaps a few comp days after Torino duty -- and the paper couldn't be bothered to reassign someone else or cobble up a stringer.
How sad and uninspired, to keep Knicks man Howard Beck detailing the dreary goings-on at MSG for another Knicks debacle only to detail the tedious soap opera between Larry Brown and Stephon Marbury when he could be covering a real game.
This is a sports section that often shows it knows better, yet often has this maddening case of myopia when it comes to local teams.
The Times pulled out the stops for its Torino Olympics coverage and became a must-read for those 16 days.
The World Baseball Classic is getting its due, while the spring-training scribes, as good as any other paper's -- are doing their usual yeoman work.
So what's up with the off-Broadway, playoff-bound local teams? Hard to believe that the coffers have run bare in the travel budget. This is the Times after all. Coverage first, worry about how much it costs later. But maybe such niceties don't apply to the sports section.
If not, why not?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Shot In The Dark: After All The Wait, The Sopranos Doesn't Hit All The High Notes

First thoughts:
You know the opening credits are old when you see the price of gas at the Sunoco station drives past is 97 cents.
But I digress.
While Tony getting shot by Junior certainly had its shock value, where this thread will head next is rife with predictability. Lots of goombahs kissing each other while they lay prostrate in front of Tony's hospital bed.
Then Tony busts his stitches more than once as he tries to whomp Janice with his bedpan, while Bobby's at home playing with his trains.
Meanwhile, Chriss-tuh-fuh and his AA sponsor go on a bender as he dreams the dreams that capos-in-waiting dream.
And so on.
I expect Tony Soprano to stay in his hospital bed longer than Tony Almeida of "24," (he who's able to help foil terrorists minutes after getting out of surgery), which means there'll be lots of machinations involving "our friend from New Jersey" and his future, rather than the more interesting personal dramas that have made these characters so endearing.
But then again, David Chase has been the comeback kid more than once when "The Sopranos" lost its creative footing. Nineteen more episodes to go to meld the hype with what the rest of us get to see Sundays at 9.
Get well, soon, Tony. And perhaps reconsider getting Uncle Joon into that assisted-living facility. I hear they don't allow guns there.

Friday, March 10, 2006

St. Pete Times Tries To Skate Around Conflict of Interest

Paper Says Naming Rights to Arena Shouldn't Prevent It From Pushing for Tax Break -- Oh, Yeah?
Give the St. Petersburg Times credit for not coasting on its accolades, including six Pulitzer Prizes. It's not by accident that it has become Florida's largest newspaper as well as its best.
So, for a paper that practically oozes integrity, it was more than a little bit curious when it ponied up $30 million so the arena formerly known as the Ice Palace would now be called the St. Pete Times Forum.
Which put the Times in an odd position Wednesday, when it editorialized for doubling to $4 million a state sales tax rebate for pro sports teams that build or renovate a sports facility. Self-interest? You bet.
But before you start slinging those darts, Gloria Cooper, the paper did note:
"This newspaper is sensitive to the appearance of a conflict .. But the public benefits outweigh the monetary gain to a team that has its finances headed in the right direction," in this case hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning.
The paper opined that using the money would allow the Forum to lure other events, provide an incentive for teams to stay and "deepen a community's fan base."
The latter is where the Times badly stumbles. In the end, the venue is only as good as the teams it houses. After the initial wow factor of a new or spiffed-up facility, fans want to see a competitive game, and not shell out big bucks to assess the quality of waiter service for the club seats
(At least the Forum has no such worries, for now. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions, although this season has been one filled with underachievement and a paucity of goals).
If you build it, they will come, but only for so long, if the team stinks. See the Colorado Rockies/Coors Field and Cleveland Indians/Jacobs Field exhibits on your way out.
Oh, and about that worn-out and discredited economic boon new sports venues supposedly bring:
"In Florida many cities could see publicly owned venues capitalize on the rebirth of downtowns, where taxpayers have millions invested in trolleys, parking garages and tourist facilities."
The Times need only look in its hometown to highlight the fallacy of that argument.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays play at dreary Tropicana Field, a mistake of a ballpark for a team that deserves nothing more. But if you've ever been to downtown St. Pete, the lack of a beehive of activity and meaningful commerce near the stadium is evident.
So, the Times is "senstive to the appearance of a conflict," then becomes conflicted anyway. And just what was to be gained by spending $30 million to plaster a name on a hockey arena? Perhaps that money could have been spent better on -- and here's a radical proposition --covering the news. It may not be as exciting as a hockey game, but we all come out winners in the end.

ESPN's Sleight Of Voice on World Baseball Classic Broadcasts

Boog O'Brien? Dave Sciambi? Just How Do They Get Those Voices To Sound Alike?
Your mind can play tricks on you watching baseball at four in the morning, which is where I found myself while trying to placate a 10-month-old with an ear infection.
On ESPN and ESPN2, they were wrapping up delayed broadcasts of World Baseball Classic matchups. It sounded like Dave O'Brien was with Jeff Brantley in Kissimmee on the Deuce calling the Dominican Republic's thrashing of Italy.
But over at the mothership, wasn't that O'Brien and Rick Sutcliffe at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix for the Mexico-Canada smackdown? Turns out, that was the case, with Jon "Boog" Sciambi voicing the other game, doing an indelible O'Brien rendition, meaning nothing flashy, knowing when to shut up and when to inject just the right amount of emotion into a call.
Competent, workmanlike and professional, but at four in the morning, a little eerie.
How did the two collide. Might be familiarity more than anything else, O'Brien used to call Florida Marlins games, while Sciambi was the number-two radio voice for the now-moribund Marlins for the last eight years.
Both also have a tangential connection to the Mets. For the last several years, O'Brien called about 40 Mets games on WPIX-TV. That gig went away with the formation by the Mets this year of their own network.
Team ownership wanted the same lineup in the booth for all 150 games it'd broadcast. O'Brien was reportedly offered that job, but ESPN really showed him the money, and he's now one of their go-to guys on the diamond as well as for college hoops.
Sciambi had an offer to do Mets radiocasts, replacing Gary Cohen, who moves to the TV job O'Brien spurned. But he's instead opted to stay in South Florida -- where he also turned down the Marlins TV job -- for a mix of doing sports talk on 790 The Ticket and ballgames on ESPN.
Speaking of the World Baseball Classic, have you started to care? Do you have any plans to start to care?
When's Opening Day, anyway?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Injecting Life Into Obits: You Have To Know Someone at The New York Times To Avoid Prose Being Prosaic

Impressive Douglas Martin Eulogy of Danny Perasa Should Be Rule, Not Exception
This space continues to mourn the dead, or at least how the dead are often treated on the obituary pages of The New York Times. Misplaced priorities and turgid writing too often take the place of insight and some measure of who the deceased really was.

Stepping away from the prosaic status quo was an obit written by Douglas Martin of Danny Perasa, a longtime member of the Times office staff, who gained a following among NPR listeners as he and his wife spoke of a most enchanted marriage as part of the StoryCorps project.

Perasa died last week at age 67, and was given a fitting send-off by Martin.
Daniel Anthony Perasa was born on Oct. 9, 1938, in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, where he spent most of his life. The doctor who delivered him predicted that the weak baby would live no more than five years. As it happened, the doctor died on Oct. 9, 1943, the very day Danny was not supposed to see.
"It was my first funeral," Mr. Perasa said. "I enjoyed it immensely."

The obit is full of such pearls. But earlier, there was this telling line:

"Mr. Perasa's therapy for diabetes was very long walks. On some, he was accompanied by this reporter, who often sought his wisdom."

Ah, so that's how you get an obit with feeling in the Times, know the guy who's writing it. Hate to be cynical about it, but the horribly detached, antiseptic renderings that are typical of a Times obit send you in that direction.

Let's hope new Times obit editor Bill McDonald will take a hint from the Perasa paean and commission many more such farewells, especially when one of the Gray Lady's own bows out, but also for those great and small who lived a good life that deserves to be recounted.

As Martin notes, the Perasas recorded a final piece that aired on NPR last Friday, the same day Danny died. You may not have known them, but you wish you did. Bring a hankie.