Monday, December 31, 2007

Thanks And All The Best

The blog's been a tad quiet during the holidays, though for the most part, so was most of the media I take time to laud and lambast.
I'll catch you on the flip side of next year, but just wanted to take the time to thank the thousands of you who've stopped by to read, ruminate and respond.
May we have a happy healthy and anything-but-boring (but for the right reasons) 2008.
Take it easy but take it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Snark, Australian Style


Proof That Foreign Journalists Have Even More Contempt for Our Celebrities Than We Do -- Thanks a Lot, Jamie Lynn Spears!

Watch how this Australian reporter from 7 News almost drowns in his sarcasm. Not that it's unjustified or anything, but he's loaded for bear and loving it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Do They Fact-Check Frommer's Guidebooks, Or Are They Just Plain Lazy....


....Not To Mention Deceptive and Woefully Out-of-Date


In planning a just-completed trip to Walt Disney World (a super-swell time was had by all), I turned to Frommer's as one of the two guidebooks I'd use to plot our travels.
Over the years, I've often turned to Frommer's as a reliable information source, providing a range of choices of attractions, hotels and restaurants in all price ranges. The books are usually filled with commentary written by seasoned travelers who are not hesitant to highlight the shortcomings of a destination as well as its virtues.
But in communing with The Mouse, the Frommer's Walt Disney World and Orlando 2008 came up woefully short, and highlights the need to not rely on a single guidebook for a trip. Fortunately, we had also brought the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2008, the Big Kahuna of WDW books that provided information that was not only more useful but refreshingly current.
Ironically, both books are put out by Wiley, which has a variety of travel imprints under its corporate umbrella.
But when it came to the Frommer's version, somebody isn't minding the store and lays waste to the claim that the book is "completely revised." Because it's not.
If it was, then author Laura Lea Miller wouldn't tell readers that one option to get to Orlando would be taking Delta's subsidiary, Song Airlines. Which would be difficult, given that Song ceased operating as a distinct entity in May 2006, a fact that Delta first announced in October of 2005.
The Soarin' ride at Epcot receives extremely scant mention, even though it's been open since 2005, and is one of the top attractions at WDW.
Things are even worse at the Frommer's Web site, which lists daily admission to the parks at $59.75, and parking at $8 (it's $71 and $11, respectively). And it provides links to rides and attractions that don't exist and none that those that do -- including the aforementioned "Soarin," and the best show in all of the parks --"Finding Nemo -- The Musical."
You know going in that some items in any guidebook will be dated by the time it gets to the printer, let alone bookshelves. You take that for what it's worth and plan accordingly. But there's scant evidence that Frommer and Miller have updated this guidebook in any meaningful way over the last two to three years.
The book boasts that Miller, a freelance writer whose name appears on other Frommer's Disney and Florida books, makes several trips a year to Central Florida.
The question is, where is she going once she gets there, as it sure as hell doesn't appear to be Disney World.

Philly Anchor Finds New York Isn't City of Sisterly Love


Alycia Lane Won't Be Getting Invited To A Gay-Pride Parade Anytime Soon

KYW-TV Anchor Alycia Lane is in hot water for allegedly ripping a New York City police officer a big one and, in the process, calling her a "dyke bitch."
I don't really have a horse in this story, but just wanted a good excuse to print her picture.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Daily News, which broke the story of Lane's arrest, is reporting that she won't be appearing on the air anytime soon, despite the end of a three-week "vacation." That uncertainty's been enough to prompt Lane to hire a lawyer -- to salvage her professional future. Presumably, she also has one for her possible future in the criminal justice system as well.

Dates Disappear Next to Datelines at New York Times

Another Anachronism Bites The Dust

See what happens when you take a week off, and you barely look at a newspaper during a vacation?
The New York Times has dispensed with another vestige of its past, telling the date a story was filed next to the dateline, assuming it was not in New York City.
On the one hand, this tradition was quaint, given that you could assume most stories in the paper were written the day before.
But sometimes it provided the ability to boast, like when a late-breaking story from one of the Asian bureaus could make it to the late editions. Then, editors would insert the actual day as well as the date to let you know the news still had its fresh-story smell.
Dates were also kept on even when the story was several days old, especially if a correspondent had two stories in the paper that day. That way, you wouldn't have to figure out how a reporter could have researched and written stories from Omaha and Houston on the same day. Times reporters may be good, they're just not that good.
Perhaps this is a concession to free up even an eeensy bit of space since the paper slimmed down its page width earlier this year.
But it may also be another sign of bringing the paper even further into the 21st century, as when the Times also eliminated the "Special to The New York Times" bug under all out-of-city dispatches.
Indeed, the front page took another bold leap today with its front-page feature picked up from the Times-0wned International Herald-Tribune on Laotians hired by the CIA to fight during the Vietnam War who are still being hunted by the Laotian government.
The story took up four columns at the top of the fold, and took over the space on the right rail where the lead story ordinarily resides. The Times has often splashed features on A-1 during slow news days, but never at the expense of the lead.
But it was a good package with which to try something different and roast another sacred cow at a newspaper that has rigidly stuck to the same diet for too long.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Saturday Early Show on CBS In A State of Flux --- Again


Ugly Stepchild of News Division Loses Its Only Permanent Anchor -- and Ira Joe, We Hardly Knew Ye

It's not enough that the "Saturday Early Show" on CBS is in the ratings basement, which is in keeping with its weekday brethren.
The show's Web site is buried well within CBS News.com, no surprise given that the news division regards it as both an afterthought and pit stop for its anchors.
In the last year or so, Russ Mitchell (who needs his Web site bio updated) and Tracy Smith, the most recent anchors have decamped to other duties in the news division. Indeed, they are worthy of bigger and better things. But the network kind of forgot, or chose to forget, to replace Mitchell.
After a succession of guest anchors, WCBS-TV's Chris Wragge has more or less stepped into that breach, but has not been named a permanent host.
Smith was replaced in June by Maggie Rodriguez, who will now get to watch the program, as she ascends to the weekday "Early Show" to take over for the departing Hannah Storm next month.

No word on who gets Rodriguez' slot.
Then there is the curious tale of the Saturday Early Show's venerable weather reporter, Ira Joe Fisher (above), who has apparently been booted from the show, although if you drill down to the Web site, you still see him listed as being part of the team, which he has been since the show's inception in 1999.
Fisher is apparently still on the payroll, though now he is only heard doing commercial voiceovers on the weekday "Early Show."
Despite Fisher's banishment (which has irked more than a few readers of this blog), new weather guy Lonnie Quinn, also from WCBS, has not been formally anointed.
The suits at West 57th St. are extremely bullish about Quinn, whose arrival pushed WCBS weekday weather guy John Bolaris to weekends.
Bolaris took that hint, and will return to Philadelphia, where he had last worked before New York, to be the chief meteorologist at the local Fox station.

When Ratings Get In The Way of Journalism: A Cautionary Tale Out Of Boise

And We're Not Talking About Larry Craig; "This American Life" Report Shows When "Exclusive" Stories Should be Excluded From a Newscast

"This American Life" may be one of public radio's darlings, but here in New York, we have to work a little harder to join in the love fest. WNYC airs it at 4 p.m. on Sundays, when you are likely to have other things to distract you besides appointment listening on the radio.
Sure, you can get the show on podcast, but you know how those have a way of piling up.
Fortunately, I found myself in the car last Sunday when Ira Glass & Co. unfurled their streams of consciousness.
Both segments are worth catching up to, but the one I'd especially recommend is, in Glass' parlance, Act 2, a 23-minute essay that recounts how Boise TV stations decided to cover -- or not cover -- a story about how a registered sex offender was working at a city ice rink refereeing kids' hockey games.
It sounded lurid, until some reporters dug a little deeper and found the story wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But that didn't stop one station, KIVI, desperate for ratings glory, from pulling out all stops to splash the story on its newscast and, in the process, letting sloppy packages get on the air when both reporters and their bosses should have known better.
The station's news director, Scott Picken, to his credit, consented to be interviewed. Good for him, even though he isn't portrayed in a flattering light and his decision to run as hard as he did with the story is dubious at best.
Picken claims on his blog that he has not heard the piece by Thanh Tan. It's time he did. Ditto for the rest of his staff.

News Flash: Greenpeace Has A Sense of Humor

A Bunch of Assholes -- But In A Good Way

Here's one PSA you're not likely to see on the telly in the U.S. anytime soon. So, we have to leave it to the Brits to show they have a literally cheeky sense of humor when it comes to saving energy.



Impressive Oil Drilling Spread by New York Times Shows How Newspapers Can Bridge Divide Between Print and Online


Starting To Redefine The Newspaper of the Future With More Explanatory Reporting

Features have, of course, long been part of the Business Day section of The New York Times. Sometimes, they are employed to fill space during a slow news day. On other occasions, they follow up to provide crucial and intriguing angles on a story that's dominated the news.
Then there are others that simply tell a yarn worth spinning. Such is the case with today's takeout by oil reporter Jad Mouawad about tensions that stem from Royal Dutch Shell wanting to drill off Alaska's north coast, and fears by the natives about how that could jeopardize their traditions, most importantly, whaling.
Mouawad and photographer Damon Winter traveled to Barrow for a fair and thorough look at the conflict between Shell's thirst for oil and how those efforts could scare off the bowhead whales, a major source of food for the Inupiat people in those parts.
The piece takes up most of the front page of Business Day and, unusually, the section's entire back page. Seven photographs, including a gorgeous mountain shot (above) that made it to A-1, were devoted to the story, which is augmented by an online slide show narrated by Mouawad.
Yes, this is something that's becoming more de rigueur on more media sites, but here is one instance where it was carried out with a lot of thought and deliberation, not just for the sake of doing it.
As we come to rely on newspapers less and less for a look back at the previous day's top stories, such packages may be the only way for newspapers, even the Times, to offer up a value proposition for readers.
The Wall Street Journal has gradually shifted in this direction, an effort that may only be hastened if WSJ.com, as expected, becomes free and needs to differentiate itself from the bevy of other financial sites.
In the end, both readers and reporters win out. It gives us a chance to read stories we might not otherwise get to see. And it gives reporters a chance to get out of the office, away from their comfort zones and examine what's really happening on their beat.
For Mouawad, Barrow is a long way from Gray Lady HQ on Eighth Avenue, or the comfy environs of an OPEC meeting in Vienna. But he and Winter evidently relished this assignment, and its shows in the end result.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fox's Couch Potato: Jim Knox

Maybe FSN reporter Jim Knox and his producers thought it was a good idea to try and deliver a report while leaping onto a couch.
Maybe he should rethink that decision.



What's next, Jim? Beer Pong during halftime?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Baseball Digression: No Longer Milledge Time in Flushing


Lastings Packed Off To the Nationals, Mets Make Nice Pickup in Brian Schneider and Ryan Church -- Who Could Be in Need of Some Religion in New York

At last, New York Mets Omar Minaya showed some signs of life leading up to the winter meetings, trading outfielder/showboat Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
Look for Schneider to be the Metsies' number-one catcher, which augurs an extremely short tenure for the recently acquired Johnny Estrada. And in Church, you've got an everyday player, reliable and solid if not spectacular.
Church, though, may have some growing up to do. Or at least get a few more clues when he gets to the Big Apple, if an incident I wrote about two years ago is any indication.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Church recalled going to a team chaplain and asking about how to view his Jewish ex-girlfriend.
"I said, like, Jewish people, they don't believe in Jesus. Does that mean they're doomed? Jon nodded, like, that's what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word."

Oy.

Church practically twisted himself trying to be contrite after his remarks were published. But that he had to do so was troubling in and of itself.
Ironically, Church will likely replace in the outfield Shawn Green -- you guessed it, a Member Of The Tribe.
Of course, all will be forgiven if he gets a few clutch hits. As the Mets showed in September, they can use plenty more of those.

ABC News Writers Throw In The Towel With New Contract, And Maybe Throw Away Their Future In The Process

Deal Could Make it Even Harder for CBS Staffers Represented By The Writers Guild To Get A Decent Contract Without Striking

First things first. In another life, I was a shop steward for the Writers Guild of America East while working at CBS News. I helped negotiate two contracts, including the one that's remained in force because the WGA and CBS have been at loggerheads since 2005 over a new deal. And I am still a WGA member, though my status is inactive.
So, it's from first-hand experience that I can state unequivocally that the deal agreed to by ABC News staffers represented by the WGA has a big stink, no matter how the union spins it.
The 250-person bargaining unit has been without a contract since Jan. 31, 2005. Like CBS, ABC was in no hurry to change that. Make no doubt about it, the network got the better of the deal. By far.
At first glance, it doesn't seem that way. There will be annual raises of 3.5 percent, and a one-time $3,700 bonus. Sounds good, except when you do the math and realize that's about 60 percent of the pay staffers have missed out on by not getting annual raises since 2005.
But then come the real concessions. First, the WGA gives up an hour when staffers could be paid a 15 percent bonus for working late at night.
Then come two whoppers: first, the Guild agreed to a reduced payment for when staffers are asked to work a full shift without a lunch hour, which amounts to a pay cut. Editors and writers who have such shifts over the course of a week could lose $5,000-$6,000 annually, more than eating away any salary increase.
Most egregious is agreeing to a two-tier wage scale that would pay new employees at a lower rate if they work in operations, i.e. those who do the interviews and edit the sound you hear on radio newscasts.
CBS Guild members have always viewed the time-and-a-half paid for the no-lunch hour as sacrosanct, even though the company always puts it on the table every three years. It's no longer regarded as the basis for a serious discussion. That the ABC unit would even broach the subject is unfathomable.
Similarly, CBS is demanding a two-tier wage scale, where employees at its local radio stations covered by the contract to have smaller pay increases. That has bogged down talks, precisely because it is one of those Pandora's Box clauses that could mushroom into something more onerous down the line.
But the ABC Guild members are on the verge of creating their version of Animal Farm -- yes, you're all entitled to be represented by the union. No, you're not entitled to all be paid the same, even when you're doing the same job.
CBS negotiators must be giddy over what ABC has wrought. You can practically hear them screaming in unison "Me, too." They smell weakness. The CBS unionistas must prove them wrong.
WGA contracts at ABC and CBS have been rife with concessions over the years, as the networks and the unions adjusted to changing market conditions. But the existing contracts have no fat left. So, it's inexplicable that the ABC rank-and-file would choose to get a cleaver and whack at the muscle.
Plain and simple, this is a bad contract, setting the table for future agreements that will only be worse.
By not taking more aggressive steps to reach a more-equitable agreement and essentially hand the network a large cash windfall, the ABC negotiating committee has made one thing easy for its members -- voting no on this debacle.
This was a deal made out of desperation. Common sense, courage and a firm resolve had long since left the building.

The Davis Cup Is On Where?


Versus Forgets To Advertise Its Own Coverage


An ad in today's New York Times sports section for this weekend's Davis Cup final matches in Portland is all well and good. At the bottom it tells us when to tune in. Except there's scant mention of where.
Turns out it's on Versus, formerly known as OLN, which got a few more eyeballs every year for its Tour de France, I mean Lance coverage, but otherwise slumbered on digital sports tiers and the upper reaches of DirecTV.
Oh, yeah. Versus also broadcasts NHL games, though the ratings have shown few have noticed.
Anywhoo, Versus didn't do itself any favors solving its identity crisis with the ad, whose subhead is USA versus Russia, with versus in vertical small type.
Further down, in even-tinier type, we're told to go to versus.com for the local channel number. But prominently mentioned is the fact that you can watch encore broadcasts on the Tennis Channel (yes, there really is one).
Versus is a long way off from being able to assume most of its viewers have heard of the channel, let alone where to find it.
Let's hope Andy Roddick and James Blake do a lot better than the Versus marketing department.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yet Another Hole For The Mets To Fill, This Time In The Radio Booth

Departure of Tom McCarthy Back To Phillies Needs New Artist To Paint The Word Pictures
Maybe Tom McCarthy was worn down by the commute from South Jersey. Maybe Or, maybe the Philadelphia Phillies made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Either way, he's left the New York Mets radio booth and will come back to the Phils -- whose games he called before heading to Flushing.
McCarty signed a five-year contract and do TV, where greater visibility and bigger bucks loom. McCarthy will reportedly do the three innings of play-by-play that Harry Kalas doesn't do. And if Kalas decides to eventually pack up that distinctive baritone and head off into retirement, there'll be a first-class heir apparent already there.
It doesn't appear that McCarthy will pop on radio, as the Hall of Famer Kalas does for one inning.
In his two years in New York, McCarthy made a great tandem with Howie Rose. Both grew up Mets fans, but never root, root, rooted for the home team. In fact, like all Mets' announcers, refreshingly, they were free to rip the players when warranted.
And given the calamity of September, they had plenty of material to work with.
McCarthy brought an unabashed enthusiasm for the game, as well as a deep knowledge of what was happening on the field. It was obvious he did his homework. New York fans expect nothing less.
Now comes the hard part of finding a new voice to join Rose, who sets a high bar for anyone who sits next to him. I don't expect the Mets will elevate long-time fill-in Ed Coleman, who also does pre- and post-game duties. After all these years, it's evident the team likes Coleman right where he is, and they'll get a bigger voice to handle balls and strikes all year.
Some of the better voices are locked up by ESPN, but others mentioned by the Daily News, include Andy Freed of the Devil Rays and the Phillies' Scott Graham.
Then again, the Mets could turn to a minor-league PBP guy like Dan Hoard of the Pawtucket Red Sox. It wouldn't be the first time. Pawtucket games were once called by a guy named Gary Cohen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Lurks Next for the Merc: A Bold Step Toward Resurrection or the Final March Toward Oblivion

No Way Mercury-News Readers Come Out Ahead Regardless of Final Decisions

Reading Howie Kurtz's piece today in The Washington Post about the San Jose Mercury News' furious attempts to reinvent itself and I wasn't sure whether to just bang my head against the wall or let out a few sobs in solidarity to those left in the newsroom.
It wasn't enough to halve the editorial staff to 200. Now, according to Kurtz, two-thirds of those left will eventually be left working on the online edition. Those who remain will be stewards of a dramatically scaled-down version of the Merc, once the undisputed 800-pound media gorilla of Silicon Valley.
Now? Don't ask. Since its acquisition by MediaNews, the sole objective of its chief Dean Singleton has been to figure out a way to weasel out of union contracts rather than contemplate the best way to put out a viable newspaper. And it shows.
The latest efforts certainly don't sound encouraging. Nor does Executive Editor Carole Leigh Hutton. "We have to have a print product that requires fewer people and less newsprint."
Groan.
Consider one prototype being considered, where the Merc becomes just three sections: Live, Play and Innovate.
Huh? Exactly.
As I've acknowledged before, nobody disputes the Merc faces a myriad of problems, its myopic management among them. Trying to think of a new way to do things may be the only option left.
However, we're still at a point in time where a newspaper's print version is still the straw stirring the online version's drink.
To allocate most of your staff to the Web site and dessicate your newspaper is foolhardy at best. Do any of these focus groups that have slammed the current state of the Merc take a look at how much time people actually spend reading the paper online? And when they read are they really reading, or just skimming?
Would the Merc stoop to serve that clientele, and offer up reportage that's even thinner than it is now?
Dressing up a story with video, a photo gallery, blogs and a podcast sounds great -- at least conceptually. Getting people to actually do something with all that information is another matter. So is assuming that most of your audience is willing to once and for all totally forsake its bond with the print version. In 2007, that's an overly bold assumption.
Kurtz mentions the number of people bitching about the cutbacks in comics and how hard it is to find the puzzles. Something is lost when you don't have a pencil in your hand while being tortured by Sudoku or the Saturday New York Times crossword. They're not meant to be solved staring at a computer screen. It just doesn't feel right.
But then again, neither does what's happening to the San Jose Mercury-News.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Selena Says See-Ya To The New York Times

Roberts Bolts to S.I. for Big Bucks, Somewhat Bigger Profile, What's Next for Gray Lady as Sports Section Continues its Slow Fade?


Sports Illustrated nailed a big fish to apparently swim on its back page, when it recently landed New York Times sports columnist Selena Roberts to replace Rick Reilly, who gave into the temptation of TV and a $2 million annual salary to skedaddle over to ESPN.
This is a great get for S.I., which lost a lot of its luster with the departure of Reilly as well as columnist Steve Rushin.
Roberts once again gives the magazine at least one weekly must-read again.
Which leaves the Times in a bit of a lurch. Its sagging sports section is propped up by a still-strong columnist corps, including Bill Rhoden, George Vecsey and Harvey Araton. But the Times never replaced the recently retired and not-missed Dave Anderson.
As it continues to penny-pinch away, it's hardly a sure thing that the paper will replace both Anderson and Roberts.
After all, this is the same paper that all but gave up on covering hockey, except for New York Rangers home games, notwithstanding the fact that the Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and tickets are once again hard to come by.
Now the New Jersey Nets have been relegated to wire copy for road games and mostly freelancers for home games. John Eligon, who covered the team last year, is now popping up mostly as a reporter in the Metro section, in true Times tradition of sports reporters crossing over to news, i.e. Joe Sexton, Jane Gross, Robin Finn, Michael Janofsky, etc.
Not that their is anything wrong with that, but it nonetheless is troubling that local sports teams become increasingly marginalized while the Times takes the notion of it being a national newspaper a little too much to heart.
To do sports right, get your act together at home before you take it on the road.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bauer Power: Jack's Back in a Killer (Literally) "24" Trailer

UPDATE: FOX Makes It Official: No "24" Until The WGA Strike Is Over. See release:
Finally caught up to the trailer for season 7 of "24."
For those of us jonesing for thepremiere, this morsel was a nice taste of things to come, with the poorly kept secret of Tony Almeida's resurrection, with a devilish twist.
What's not known is how many episodes have been shot, which could prove to be a bad case of Bauerus interruptus if the WGA strike drags on for too long. You thought the terrorists on the show were bad asses. Well, they've got nothing on the writers.
And that could prove to the show's undoing, according to the blog 24 Headquarters, which reports that Janeane Garofalo isn't crossing picket lines, and since she has a big role this season, that's problematic in the least.
It could get worse. IGN, which also keeps close tabs on all things "24," speculates that if the strike lasts until at least January, there wouldn't be enough time to shoot and show a whole season of 24 episodes. That could prompt Fox to shelve the show until 2009. Again, that's just speculation, but given the perilous state of things in Hollywood, not out of the realm of possibility.

Giuliani Threatens To Be A Media Whore If Elected President


Which is What Got Him Into Trouble as Mayor, Until.....


Advertising Age trumpets the troubling news that Rudy Giuliani would hold frequent White House press conferences should he get to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
To White House correspondents bruised from running up against stone walls erected by the Bush administration, that might seem like welcome news indeed. But word to the wise: be very careful what you wish for.


"As president. I'd probably have many more press conferences than anyone since Kennedy. I enjoy doing them. They keep me on top of things. They do mean you make a few more mistakes because when you answer a lot of questions and you are a little more open about it, you are going to have to go back and correct what you said, but it's much better."

Better for whom? Jon Stewart?
During Giuliani's two terms as Big Apple mayor, you couldn't get the guy to shut up. At first, it was refreshing. He appeared hands-on right around the time the city was about to embark on its latest renaissance.
From clamping down on squegee-wielding panhandlers to going after diplomats who didn't pay parking tickets, Giuliani showed he was a man of action and that improvement in the city's quality of life was perception as well as reality.
But as his second term drew to a close, most New Yorkers were tired of his shtick. Soon, he was often on rants about things like jaywalking, which city dwellers consider a right, not a violation, and even told people what water to drink during a heat wave (Dasani).
Giuliani was poised to fade into obscurity as a high-paid partner at some top law firm or something of that ilk. Of course, his legacy was dramatically reconfigured following 9/11, which made him a star, not to mention fabulously wealthy as an A-list consultant and lobbyist.
So, do you still want him blabbing him away in the press room? Well, no one said the White House is a democracy, and Giuliani is notorious for keeping his own counsel. It'll be all Rudy, all the time, if he gets to relocate come 2009.
Reporters may start waxing nostalgic about lazy days in Crawford, Texas, before long.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Denver Doggie Day Care Story More Hype Than Horror


CBS4 Barking Up Wrong Tree in Sweeps Stunt


Few stories grab more attention than tales about pets abused or killed. I found that out years ago while a reporter at the Bergen Record.
I did a series of reports about a shady pet store that, among other things, was marketing purebreds that turned out to be diseased mutts. The number of letters and phone calls I received from readers was unmatched for anything I did before or since.
So, it was no surprise that KCNC-TV (CBS4) in Denver would turn to a tragic animal spot to goose up ratings during sweeps. This one involved owners who left their pooches at doggie day care centers, only to get their pets back dead.
Veteran reporter Rick Sallinger (above) focused on the owners of two dogs who perished in various ways. Their stories could have been served up as a cautionary tale and launched another story -- that Sallinger is set to do tonight -- on what to look for in a doggie day care facility. That should have been that.
The problem is, Sallinger set this up as a trend piece, with "numerous instances" of dogs killed or injured. We see Sallinger poring over more than 500 state inspection reports, which found 10 dogs died and an unspecified number injured.
So, it was numerous if you define that as more than one. But numerous actually means "existing in considerable quantity" or "comprising a great number." Ten doesn't qualify.
Yes, 10 is too many, but Sallinger never tells us over how many years those deaths were recorded, a crucial omission that fails to put his story in proper context. This is especially important when you're dealing with a topic that stirs up raw emotions in so many viewers whose dogs are cherished family members.
Either it's a runaway epidemic of neglect or a number that, from a statistical standpoint, could be expected.
While Sallinger closed out his report stating that most doggie day care centers are "excellent" (how would he know?), that information gets lost amid the four minutes of hype that preceded it.
I knew Sallinger as a reliable correspondent back from my days at CBS, when he would file freelance reports to the radio network. Only because I know he can do better I'd like to think he was put up to this by an overzealous news director looking for some ratings juice in the hyper-competitive Denver market.
Regrettably, though, this story is a dog that definitely will not hunt.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Is Ann Curry Too Cold in Antarctica To Do Another Story?


Maybe NBC's Taking This Green Thing a Little Too Far, Recycling Dispatches From Bottom of the World

Kudos and all to NBC for its Ends of the Earth coverage, where Matt Lauer is reporting from the North Pole, while Al Roker is stationed at the Equator in Ecuador and Ann Curry drew the short straw and grabbed some serious frequent-flier miles to get to Antarctica.
The logistical hurdles for such an undertaking are daunting, even with today's technology, so the fact that the "Today" crew is pulling this off with apolomb is admirable from a journalistic standpoint and we'll look especially good when ratings are tabulated at the end of sweeps.
We'll assume that Curry is doing more than communing with penguins and checking out the PX at McMurdo. After all, this morning she had two packages on "Today." Still, you'd have thought she and her producers would have been able to come up with another story or at least repackage one of them for "Nightly News."
Instead, Brian Williams & Co. had Curry on live for the intro of a piece about how women rule the roost at the bottom of the world, and the toll that can take. It was a good slice of life, but if you were a loyal NBC News fan, there was no need to see that story twice in 10 hours.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Disenfranchised Football Fans May Actually Have to Listen to a Game on (GASP!) The Radio




UConn and Rutgers Fans: That Newfangled Internet Can Also Hook You Up
Rich Sandomir has a column in today's New York Times about how what have turned out to be big games are being seen on more diminutive channels like ESPNU and the Big Ten Network because of prior commitments.
That's good for the networks, bad for a lot of fans, whose cable systems don't carry those channels, or cost extra on satellite, like ESPNU does on DirectTV.
Which means fans, especially in the New York metro area, may have to get used to something that has long been alien to them: listen to the game on the radio. The horror of it all.
In New York, we've long been accustomed to seeing every major-league game on TV. You can even find many of the local college teams on the tube more often than not.
It's a stark contrast to other parts of the country, where games for some teams are still "radio only," a term rarely heard in the Big Apple nowadays.
So, a primer for fans of teams like Rutgers and Connecticut, which unexpectedly is ranked no. 13 in the BCS standings. Those teams square off Saturday night, and you can only watch if you have ESPNU. And if you live in New Jersey or Connecticut, there's a good chance you don't, because the major cable systems have kept it off.
UConn fans should be used to this by now, as this is the team's third appearance this year on ESPNU. Not to worry, the Huskies have a robust radio network whose flagship is WTIC, whose signal booms all over the Northeast and parts of Canada at night (the game starts at 7:15 p.m. ET).
But if you trashed your transistor or don't want to shiver in the car listening, WTIC.com will bail you out.
If you favor a Scarlet Knights call, you are also well-served by 50,000-watt Rutgers flagship WOR.
Who knows? This radio thing may really catch on someday.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

If You Don't Ask, They Won't Tell; Patroon Can Make You Feel Like A Buffoon When You Get The Check

Restaurant PR Blunder: When You Don't Feel Special For Ordering the Special

A buddy of mine took a client out to dinner at Patroon, a well-regarded Midtown restaurant that once earned a three-star review from Ruth Reichl in The New York Times in 1998, though it was knocked down to one star by Eric Asimov four years later.
The dinner tasted good, but the check left a sour taste.
Patroon's been around long enough (since 1996) to have established a pedigree for reliable steaks, seafood, duck and roast chicken at prices that wouldn't be considered unreasonable by Manhattan standards.
And owner Ken Aretsky's been doing the restaurant game long enough at different venues to know how to keep customers happy. Which doesn't happen when you fleece them at the end of the night.
My friend was informed about a special, a whole roasted Bell and Evans chicken infused with truffle butter. Sounds special indeed.
The friend and his dining companion decided to order the dish. Since it's not the type of thing you do in front of a client, he didn't ask how much it would cost, nor did the waiter volunteer that information.
Given that the ordinary organic chicken on the menu cost $26, one could expect at least a nominal boost in price, given that it was a "special" and the "T" word was uttered. But the restaurant was a little too pleased with its bounty.
When the bill came, my friend found out that a "special" chicken at Patroon cost a whopping $100. Which is why the waiter didn't tell them beforehand, but which is why he should have.
Even if you're on an expense-account meal (my friend is actually self-employed), that kind of stunt is not one to countenance lightly. And if you're the one picking up the check, you invariably feel too abashed to make a scene, which the restaurant is counting on.
In the end, Patroon might have provided a high-quality chicken, but pushed it on its clientele in a low-class way. Jacking up the bill without prior warning may give the till a quick boost, but at the expense of future business, which Patroon won't get from my friend.
There are enough steak houses in New York where you can pay a lot for a meal, but at least they give you fair warning on the menu.
For someone who aims to play in the upper eichelon of the New York restaurant scene, what Aretsky and company pulled was strictly bush league.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kai Ryssdal is the King of Naps


So That's How You Spell His Name; "Marketplace" Host Recalls His Start on the Financial-News Dawn Patrol

When I first heard the "Marketplace Morning Report" during breaks of "Morning Edition" on NPR, I initially assumed the newscasts were taped the night before. But then I heard how the European markets were doing "at this hour" and how the Nikkei and Hang Seng had fared overnight.
Then I wondered how the host, Kai Ryssdal, could be so damn upbeat, given he was broadcasting from Los Angeles, where it was the dead of night.
Ryssdal tells the Miami Herald some of his sleep secrets:
I rolled out of bed at midnight and was at work at quarter to one. It would give me two hours to figure what was going on in the world. I would work until noon. Grab a three-hour nap, get the kids from school. I'm married with three kids.
We'd do homework, put the kids to bed and have time with my wife. And then sleep from nine to midnight. So I would have two three-hour naps.
I think we made it work. I had taken a job with my eyes open and understood it was an overnight shift.

Ah, so that's it, keeping your eyes open, something this night person had a hard time doing when he got stuck doing morning drive during more than a decade in radio.
Ryssdal's hours have been a little more sane for the last two years, since he took the reins of the main "Marketplace," which tapes at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time. We emphasize a little. He gets up at 4:45 a.m. to start trolling for news. Old habits die hard, but the dedication uniformly shows up in what goes on the air.
So, belated props for all those years of providing a little public-radio pep, something current Marketplace Morning Report co-host Doug Krizner could use more of. Someone hook this guy up to a Starbucks I.V., stat!

There Is Such A Thing As a Free Lunch (Or Dinner) If You Blog About Food

It's no secret that bloggers are more prone to flattery, flackery and freebies than those toiling in the MSM.
After all, few of us get rich from blogs. Hell, few of us get anything, carpal tunnel and tsouris excepted.
But there are enough blogs being taken seriously that some businesses will do just about anything to get a favorable plug. And they aren't shy about getting said plug.
On exhibit is a New York restaurant chainlet called Smorgas Chef, which was decently reviewed in Zagat, but could clearly use a few more fannies in their seats, given they are prone to offering 1,000-point reservations on OpenTable.com (never a good sign of prosperity).
Smorgas Chef wants publicity, and it's willing to pony up some free herring and gravlax for the privilege. On its Web site, it openly courts food bloggers and reviewers to "write anonymously, objectively and without 'special treatment' that could influence their experience."
You know, special treatment like the promise of a free meal, which comes after the blogger sends in a copy of their review and a receipt from their meal. That gets them a free second meal for up to what was spent on the first visit.
Bloggers can write about whatever they want, the restaurant implores, but "you should cover the usual subjects, like food, presentation, ambiance, tempo, and of course service."
Thanks for that prescient tip, my skoal brothers.
At the bottom of the page, it says "reservations are recommended."
If you do follow that recommendation, make them on Open Table and get those 1,000 points.

Merrill Lynch O'Neal Fallout: 'Times' Dukes It Out With 'Journal' To Write the Best Financial Bodice-Ripper


Call It A Draw: As O'Neal is Shown the Door, Fascinating Portraits of a Ruthless Warrior Conquered and the Mess He Made

With Merrill Lynch Chairman and CEO Stan O'Neal valiantly trying to make a graceful exit after losing the confidence of his board of directors, that meant some financial journalists were in an unaccustomed role of working on Sunday.
Landon Thomas Jr. and Jenny Anderson in The New York Times showed it was time well-spent, offering up an unflattering, but compelling look at an often-brilliant but flawed leader done in by his own arrogance.
At times the piece reads more like a treatment for a melodrama than another sordid chapter in the subprime mortgage mess that left Merrill's portfolio $40 billion in collateralized debt obligations wilting on the vine.
Twice, he came close to leaving the firm and was notorious for his propensity to fall into a funk when things were not going his way. A golf fanatic — his handicap is nine and he belongs to four country clubs — he often plays alone, in addition to the usual rounds with clients and a circle of friends outside Merrill.

Ouch.
Over at The Wall Street Journal, Randall Smith wasn't cutting O'Neal any slack either. Seems O'Neal wasn't a big fan of collaboration.

Mr. O'Neal's aloof management style was on display at the firm's quarterly operations-committee meetings ... Instead of fostering freewheeling interchanges, the meetings were often staged and choreographed, with formal presentations to which Mr. O'Neal would ask questions but rarely entertain discussion....
Also visible at such meetings was Mr. O'Neal's open disdain for Bob McCann. The popular executive had left Merrill but returned in 2003, after an O'Neal purge had thinned the ranks at the top, and took over the firm's core army of 16,000 brokers. If Mr. McCann made an observation at a meeting, Mr. O'Neal would often barely acknowledge it...

Double ouch. If the truth hurts, then O'Neal is in need of a big bottle of Anacin pronto.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times got on the board with a story on the Web site yesterday, but decided to stick with a perfunctory news account devoid of nuance or detail that couldn't be learned anyplace else.
Which meant FT editors had to read the Times and Journal to figure out just how juicy this story really was.

This Wasn't The First Time Lesley Stahl Ticked Off A World Leader


Like Sarkozy, Yeltsin Also Stormed Off In a Hissy Fit Back in 1992

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hasn't been in office long, but he's amply demonstrated over the years how he's very much the publicity whore. But only on his own terms.
Lesley Stahl showed how she found that out the hard way on last night's "60 Minutes."
It looked like Stahl sacre bleu it when she asked him about rumors that his wife left him -- again.
Right before the question, we see Sarkozy pimp-slapping his press secretary on camera for even scheduling the interview. So, the guy's already in a foul mood and loaded for bear. And totally disinclined to play out scenes from his marriage with an American reporter, and a woman to boot.

"If I had to say something about Cecilia, I would certainly not do so here."
"But there’s a great mystery. Everybody’s asking," Stahl pleaded. "Even your press secretary was asked at the briefing today."
"Well he was quite right to make no comment. And no comment. Merci."
Then he ripped out his earpiece and left the room, after muttering "Bon courage."


Not exactly worth the shlep to Paris, if you ask me. Given Sarkozy's temperament, Stahl had to have known such a reaction was possible. But maybe that's why she asked the question.
A more-innocent line of questioning by Stahl sent a 1992 interview with Boris Yeltsin off the rails. She's at his dacha while he's playing tennis. He sits to chat and then accused CBS of being in cahoots with Mikhail Gorbachev to doctor a video that made him look soused, as if producers needed any help in that regard.
Yeltsin then storms off, despite on-camera pleas by no less than Don Hewitt to come back. Yeltsin angrily demurred.

Again, sometimes the better story is in what's not said during the interview. And Yeltsin blowing off steam as well as the interview turned out to be one of "60 Minutes" most-memorable moments.
Sarkozy won't qualify on that account, but it was easy to see why Stahl must have had an acute case of deja vu.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Dark Lord Of Newspapers Descends on Connecticut

Reporters at the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Should be Afraid. Very Afraid

On Thursday came word that Tribune had finally unloaded its smallest newspapers, the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time to a joint venture of Hearst and MediaNews for $62.4 million.
Then yesterday, the next shoe dropped, when it was revealed that MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton addressed the newsrooms and told employees they would have to reapply for their jobs. But don't worry, we'll probably rehire most, if not all, of you anyway.
We'll see.
This is not Singleton's first foray into Connecticut. He already owns the Danbury Times and the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, along with six weeklies.
Here's a telling quote from yesterday's Advocate story on the acquisition: "The newspapers will continue to run independently, but the ability to collaborate 'makes it very exciting for our advertisers, our readers and our employees,' said Singleton...."
Employees should be excited only if Singleton was using excited as a synonym for nervous, if recent history is a reliable guide.
MediaNews is the dominant chain in the Bay Area, owning every major newspaper except for the San Francisco Chronicle, which just happens to be owned by Hearst.
In August, Singleton combined operations of the unionized Oakland Tribune and four other newspapers in Media News' Alameda Newspaper Group with those of the non-union Contra Costa Times and other smaller newspapers.
By doing so, MediaNews contended that unionized employees now made up a minority of staff at the combined operation, so the company would no longer recognize the union. The NLRB is now involved in this dispute and the unions are keeping the PR heat on.
Why does this matter in Connecticut? Because reporters at the Advocate are unionized. Gannett was set to buy the paper in March, but walked away from the deal when an arbitrator ruled it had to honor the union contract rather than force employees to reapply for their jobs and negotiate a new deal.
Given Singleton's union animus, you can bet that the UAW, which represents the Advocate is girding for battle. It's no stretch to see how Singleton could merge the operations of his four Connecticut dailies to dilute the union's strength, just as he did in the Bay Area.
As it is, pressmen and mailers at the Advocate and Time will lose their jobs by the end of the year, as printing of the Advocate and Time will be shifted to Bridgeport and Danbury. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Same goes if you're a reader, as Singleton has slashed and burned his way through the newsrooms at his California properties to make more money. That includes fewer reporters and a centralized copy desk, which has been responsible for some notorious boners.
No reason why he couldn't do that in Connecticut, but there are many reasons, as has been proven in California, for why he shouldn't.
But solid journalism and recognition for the hard work of dedicated employees are usually distant constellations in Singleton's media galaxy. What really does matter? For starters, the $1.83 million Singleton made in the most-recent fiscal year.
Somebody has to pick up that tab, after all. Union contracts make that a lot harder.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Meet FEMA's Newest Lunkhead, Mike Widomski

Disaster Chieftains Do A Heck Of A Job With a Fake News Conference

Al Kamen has a priceless item in his latest Washington Post column about why questions at a Washington FEMA news conference Tuesday about the California fire response were soft at best.
The reason: all of those asking the questions were FEMA employees posing as reporters. That must have really cheesed off MSNBC and FNC, which carried some of the briefing live.
The feeble justification for this came from spokesman Mike Widomski, who said the newser was thrown together at the last minute because the agency had been deluged with calls from reporters.
In the end, news organizations were given 15 minutes advance notice. Reporters could dial into the briefing by phone, but would not be allowed to ask questions.
So, FEMA couldn't wait another hour for journalists to hightail it down to HQ to hear FEMA deputy director Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson pat the agency on the back? Guess not. Then he would have had to field questions that included the K word. Can't have that now.
All of this fakery was viewed as no big deal by Widomski, when quizzed by Kamen.

"If the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that reporters had been asking all day, trust me, I'll be happy."

Then he must be positively ecstatic, not to mention totally clueless. But such is FEMA.
If Widomski's name is vaguely familiar, that's because he was on the receiving end of one of the most notorious emails that sent at the height of Michael ("Heck Of A Job) Brown's reign of error.
It came from Marty Bahamonde, who was the only FEMA official in New Orleans when Katrina hit. Bahamonde had been sending urgent emails to Brownie about how things were going from worse to catastrophic at the Superdome, and not getting much of a response.
Then Brownie's press secretary wrote that "[i]t is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn [sic] that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that [sic] 20 or 30 minutes."
To which Baramonde replied to Widomski and another FEMA flack:

"OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! ... Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don't stab me in the back while I try to sleep."

No indication that Widomski ever replied. Even he must have known it was best to keep his mouth shut.

UPDATE AT 7:30 P.M. ET

FEMA says it's sorry. "Stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It Really Pays To Be Rick Reilly

He's got 10 million reasons to smile

When it was announced a few days ago that Sports Illustrated superstar columnist Rick Reilly was bolting the magazine after 23 years to become a multi-platform icon at ESPN, Reilly made it clear it was pretty much a money thing. Oh, and the fact that he'd get to be on TV a whole bunch didn't hurt either.
But as Keith Kelly reports in the New York Post, it was truly, madly, deeply about the dough-re-mi. Reilly is reportedly pulling in $2 million a year for five years, doubling what he was making at SI. His soon-to-be-former employer had offered $1.5 million. But then there was that TV thing. Seems appearing on SI.com just wasn't enough to satisfy his video jones.
So off to ESPN he goes, just as soon as his non-compete expires June 1. And he's departing in spite of once bearing some ill will toward his new employer, whom he told Gelf Magazine read his columns a little too closely.

GM: You mention in the book [Hate Mail From Cheerleaders and Other Adventures From the Life of Reilly, a compilation of his columns] that ESPN has ripped off some of your column ideas. Have you ever complained about it? Why do you think that's such a regular practice in Bristol?

RR: I feel like I've flat-out handed them five or six Emmys. They take columns I've discovered and written—about people nobody's heard of—and do them as though they found the guy, and then they win Emmys for them. The Jake Porter column. The "picking up Butch" column. The Katrina-survivor basketball column. It's endless. And what bothers me, I guess, is that they give no credit, such as, "as first reported in Sports Illustrated." Or at least do one of their treacly, misty shots of the column. But what can you do? Sue? [Editor's Note: In response, an ESPN spokesman tells Gelf, "We learn of story concepts from a wide range of sources and outlets."]

Funny how $10 million can get you to feel differently. That's Reilly you hear laughing all the way to the bank.

Running The Ratings Numbers at XM and Sirius








And You Don't Have To Count Very High; No Surprise or Sign of Trouble?

Arbitron, with a few caveats, has released the first ratings report for XM and Sirius channels. As you'd expect, with nearly 400 channels between them, the audience is rather spread out. And for most channels, Howard Stern, excepted, rather puny. In some instances, only a few hundred listeners may be tuned in at any given time.
In and of itself, that does not come as a shock. But further down the line, the numbers could have some troubling implications, especially if the two companies succeed in merging.
For example, the two XM stations I listen to the most, adult album alternative channels Starbucks XM Cafe and The Loft together pull in just over 10,000 listeners in an average quarter hour. Over at Sirius, the similarly themed The Spectrum notches 3,700 listeners a quarter hour.
If XM and Sirius merge, as the two companies desperately hope to do by the end of the year, it could be hard to make a case for three similar stations that together can't even muster 15,000 listeners, even if they are intensely loyal and may have predicated their decisions to describe largely on the basis of these channels.
XM has already jettisoned one AAA channel, when it combined Hear Music with the XM Cafe earlier this year.
Still, all those small numbers eventually do add up. And satellite radio listeners can register their discontent with their wallets. People choose to pay $12.95 a month for their subscriptions -- they don't need to.
Here's a cheat sheet for the top channels on both services. The first figure is the average number of listeners per quarter hour. The second number is their channel position, followed by their cumulative audience for the week:

TOP 5 XM TALK
1 20,800 The Virus (202) [O&A] 22 16,800
2 15,500 Fox News (121) 485,400
3 9,300 XM Comedy (150) 422,200
4 9,100 ESPN Radio (140) 262,600
5 8,700 Talk Radio (165) [Beck, Ramsey etc.] 154,800


TOP 5 SIRIUS TALK

1 96,700 Howard Stern 100 (100) 1,225,100
2 30,700 Howard Stern 101 (101) 502,000
3 8,600 Sirius NASCAR Radio (128) 177,600
4 6,400 Blue Collar Comedy (103) 311,200
5 5,300 ESPN Radio (120) 147,100

TOP 5 XM MUSIC
1 27,100 The Blend (25) [lite pop] 548,0002
2 5,100 Flight 26 (26) [AC] 713,700
3 24,900 Willie's Place (13) [trad. country] 437,000
4 22,900 Top Tracks (46) [classic rock] 607,600
5 21,800 Top 20 on 20 (20) 1,055,300

TOP 5 SIRIUS MUSIC
1 20,400 New Country (60) 455,900
2 17,700 Sirius Hits (1) [Top 40] 653,200
3 17,600 Octane (20) [hard rock] 357,600
4 14,300 The Pulse (9) [90s hits] 405,000
5 12,300 Big 80s (8) 450,000

Monday, October 22, 2007

Loss of Rick Reilly Another Blow in Sports Illustrated's Fight for Relevance

Rick Reilly's departure from the back page of Sports Illustrated to front and center on ESPN may indeed have been amicable and a case of big bucks being dangled in front of the already well-compensated columnist, not to mention a case of wanting to try something new.
SI big cheese Terry O'Donnell said Reilly was a big talent whom he would "miss personally."
And who the magazine will miss even more.
No doubt, SI is still all about some of the most stunning sports photography anywhere. Its writing is more often than not prescient and engaging. The larger problem, though, is that in the hypercharged 24/7 realm of the Internet and, especially, the blogosphere, long gone is the need to turn to an SI for sports information, analysis and eloquent recaps.
Instead, you turn to SI for destination reading -- the season previews, the excellent "Where Are They Now" takeout from a few months back. And you look for signature columnists, which included Reilly and Steve Rushin, who quit earlier this year after SI wanted him to do other things besides his nonpareil column (if you haven't read any of his books, now would be a great time if you need a Rushin fix).
Take away the guys who make you think, laugh or cry in the space of one page and you've removed much of the magazine's value proposition.
True, Dan Patrick is fully severed from the ESPN mothership that for so long nurtured him and whatever his proclivities were at any given moment, and he will now have a large profile on various SI platforms.
Nice guy, knows his sports, but he's no Reilly or Rushin.
The magazine knows that, too. It remains to be seen if readers will notice, or care.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spirit Airlines Gets See-No-Evil Treatment from Wall Street Journal

Article On No-Frills Carriers Leaves Out Most Important Part of Story

Scott McCartney, who authors The Middle Seat travel column for the Wall Street Journal, is normally a reliable correspondent on trends in air travel.
Which is why it's puzzling as to why in today's column, which dealt with how budget airlines are trying to position themselves in the marketplace, he omitted one crucial incident that left the article frustratingly incomplete.
At least half of the column focuses on Spirit Airlines' effort to reinvent itself as the capo di capo tutti when it comes to cheap airlines.
It squeezes more seats than other carriers onto its Airbus A-319s. Want water or soda? Two bucks, please. Got two bags to check. It'll cost you $20. Spirit's even testing selling the types of items usually found in a minimart, like newspapers, playing cards and aspirin.
McCartney notes that air on the flights is offered for free, "Spirit sometimes jokes."
Har, har.
"Customers will shift airlines over $5 or $10 when buying a ticket, but once they buy, they are willing to spend." opines Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza.
This is the same Baldanza who caused a PR headache when an email intended for a manager was also sent to a couple who had complained about bad service and wanted a refund after they missed their connecting flight.

"Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."

Needless to say, this spread like wildfire in the blogosphere, where more Spirit horror stories emerged. And despite overwhelming evidence of rudeness and indifference on the part of Spirit employees, airline flackette Alison Russell was resolute, telling the Orlando Sentinel Baldanza had nothing to be sorry for.
Apparently, hubris costs extra at Spirit too.

At the very least, McCartney should have mentioned this imbroglio. As far as I can tell, Baldanza has never commented on it publicly, and McCartney should have tried to get him on the record, as it speaks directly to what really is the theme of his story -- that flying on cheap airlines can come at a price.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fox Business Channel Looks Longingly At Its Future Cousin


Promotes Wall Street Journal on Bag, Even When Its Reporters are Gagged

The bag that held my copy of The New York Times this morning was sponsored by the brand-spanking-new Fox Business Channel, though it was actually touting Wall Street Journal radio reports heard twice an hour on WCBS-AM.
So, while to the uninitiated, it would appear strange that a nascent TV channel would promote reports on a radio station owned by a rival network, it kinda makes sense given Fox and the Journal will soon be corporate cousins once Rupert Murdoch closes on his $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones.
Then again, synergy will have to wait. Dow Jones has an exclusive arrangement for its reporters to be on CNBC -- the dark star of TV business news -- until 2012.
The denizens of Fox Business can read and ruminate about what's in the Journal until then, just like the rest of us.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter An Anti-Semite: This is News?

Why Does The Media Help The "Perfected" Conservative Loudmouth Take Foot Out of Her Mouth Every Time She Sticks It In?
Look, the fact that Ann Coulter feels that Jews need to be "perfected" so they can take their proper place in a Christian society should be treated as nothing more than another stupid thing uttered by a woman way too pleased with her own bad behavior.
With Coulter, you don't know whether she believes the things she says, or just likes to get a rise out of us. Or, maybe it doesn't make a difference.
What's more troubling, as Blogging Stocks notes, is that she keeps getting asked back on one talk show or next to spew her invective about Democrats, 9/11 widows and now, Jews. As if we should care.
The issue is, why do talk-show bookers care? Couldn't they find someone buried in their Rolodex who might also be articulate, attractive (with Coulter, that's really in the eye of the beholder) and might actually have something thoughtful to say. You know, not controversial for the sake of being controversial.
Coulter fulminates because we let her. She always has a forum because, as the consummate media whore, she's always willing to bail out a producer on some cable show or another and be near an uplink or a studio at a moment's notice and let her rag on her liberal outrage du jour.
At least Donny Deutsch, on whose little-watched CNBC program Coulter made those statements, knew to be offended:

DEUTSCH: You said, your exact words were, "Jews need to be perfected." Those are the words out of your mouth.
COULTER: No, I'm saying that's what a Christian is.
DEUTSCH: But that's what you said. Don't you see how hateful, how anti-Semitic (that is)?
COULTER: No.
DEUTSCH: How do you not see? You're an educated woman. How do you not see that?
COULTER: That isn't hateful at all.
DEUTSCH: But that's even a scarier thought.


But Deutsch should have known better than to have invited Coulter on in the first place.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Putting Clues On The Menu at "Kitchen Nightmares"

Gordon Ramsay May Know How To Cook, Just Don't Ask Him For Directions

I finally caught up to last week's episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" on Fox, a show that still manages to be entertaining, even when it assumes its audience is a collective mass of bliterhing idiots.
On the latest installment, chef/mad genius Gordon Ramsay and Co. whipped into shape a restaurant in Bellmore, on Long Island's South Shore, about 25 miles from Manhattan. It's about as suburban as suburban gets.
Yet, in the cutaway shots that give us a break from Ramsay fulminating, restaurant staff members screaming and crying and a chance to crank up some portentous music, we first see a shot of an elevated subway in Queens. Later, it's a shot of a horse-drawn carriage outside of Central Park.
And what does this has to do with Bellmore let alone the fate of the restaurant in question, The Mixing Bowl?
It's the suburbs, people! People live here so they don't have to ride the subway. Why not show the beach or water, both of which are nearby? How about a strip mall? Now that's Bellmore.
Also, once again, we see Ramsay getting off at the Bellmore train station on his way to his date with destiny at the hapless eatery on Merrick Road. Ramsay is fooling no one into thinking he actually spent time with the plebeians who have no choice but to ride the Long Island Railroad. Nice try, though.
On Wednesday, Gordo schleps out to Long Island yet again, this time to the Seascape (not in Zagat's, by the way) in Islip. That's quite a slog on the train, so we'll see if he can instead drive on the right side of the road (literally) to meet his next supplicants.

Friday, October 05, 2007

N.Y. Times Gives A.P. Credit Where Credit's Due

Rare Wire-Service Byline for Reporter Who Made It Into Myanmar

This is one for the clip file.
The New York Times almost never keeps a byline on a wire-service dispatch provided by the Associated Press, Reuters or Agence France-Presse.
Beyond that being S.O.P. at the Gray Lady, the paper is usually not that reliant on the wires for extended pieces, and can turn to its own network of correspondents and stringers.
But the Myanmar junta is making that task difficult, with most stories originating out of Bangkok, and even there news is slow to trickle out, as the military rulers conveniently turned off the Internet just as the monks' protests reached a full boil.
Somehow, though, the A.P. pulled off what appeared to be a bit of a coup when Bangkok hand Grant Peck made it to the Myanmar's new capital, Naypyidaw, and filed a dispatch about what life was like in that remote city. The Times ran the whole story, with Peck's byline on A12.
However, don't fret that the junta is playing favorites with reporters, or that it's even giving the time of day to the press corps. Perish the thought.
Left off the end of the Times' version, but included in the Times-owned International Herald-Tribune, is an addendum that Peck was allowed a "rare visit" to the capital in April.
Still, a nice get.
With what's happening now in Myanmar, we can't know enough.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wall Street Journal's Cranky Consumer Too Irritated To Fact-Check

Diaper Diatribe Against Amazon.com Doesn't Add Up

The normally reliable Cranky Consumer column in today's Wall Street Journal focused on buying diapers in bulk online, a subject that has been near and dear to this correspondent's heart for the last couple of years.
But the article, written by a freelancer named Eileen Gunn, suffered from the same kind of delivery problems it griped about.
Case in point: Gunn writes about ordering a box of 216 size 1 Pampers from Amazon.com for $38.99, but then got hit with a $14.90 shipping fee because she was actually buying the diapers from an independent merchant, BBHealthy.com.
"A spokesman for Amazon said that the company works with its third-party merchants to ensure a good shopping experience," Gunn wrote, "but that their delivery fees and standards are ultimately not under Amazon's control."
All well and good, but the question is why Gunn would have done that in the first place. From my own experience, I have bought Pampers directly from Amazon, which provides free shipping. The diapers in question are available for $39.79.
Moreover, that offer is on the first page after you search for Pampers. You have to drill down to find the BBHealthy offer. True, initially cheaper at $38.99, but then comes the shipping, which would bring the cost to a pricey 25 cents a diaper.
However, if she had bought the Pampers directly from Amazon, it would have been just 18 cents a diaper, just a penny more than the lowest-price site mentioned in the column, 1-800-Diapers.com.
Just as bewildering as the fact that Gunn blew by the Pampers home page on Amazon is the unnamed Amazon spokesman in her article who also couldn't figure out where Gunn went wrong. Instead, he just blubbered about how Amazon "tries very hard to ensure a good shopping experience for our customers."
Which is what happens when you shop for the best price. Only then might you get a little less cranky, not to mention an accurate column.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Flushing Away The Mets' Season: New York Media Still Trying To Make Sense of Amazin' Diamond Debacle

It couldn't actually happen. The Mets would get their act together come playoff time, right? Other teams blow seven-game leads with 17 to play, not these Mets. In your face, Jimmy Rollins.
But here we are, the day after the final chapter in the debacle known as the 2007 season, and now Mets fans as well as the angry mob known as New York sports writers are trying to make sense of it all.
Among the choice words:

General manager Omar Minaya called it "a setback" but pointed out that his team "won 88 games," as if that constituted improvement. Carlos Beltran characterized the team's dismal final 17 games as "a slump." David Wright said it was "a bump in the road."Most ominously, Wright said the team doesn't need a major overhaul, "just a few minor tweaks here and there." And all the Titanic needed was a patch--Wallace Matthews, Newsday

The Mets have the moves in the dugout, but maybe their focus should have been, say, on attention to detail on the basepaths rather than choreography. They seemed bored with their competition at points during the season, and it showed with inattentive play--Adam Rubin, Daily News.

It’s never been more appropriate for a team to play in a city called Flushing--Mark Hale, New York Post.

The Mets had installed extra seating behind home plate for the playoffs, and [manager Willie] Randolph had done a book deal in anticipation of a hearty October run. But in the end Sunday, Shea looked like a place where tumbleweed goes to die--Ian O'Connor, Bergen Record

But enough about what happened on the field. What happened in the stands also mattered. After all, 3.8 million tickets were sold this year. That had to count for something, as Kevin Manahan deftly pointed out in the Star-Ledger.

"Time to go, folks!" one usher yelled. "The season is over. Move it! Now!"
And then they came upon weepy 11-year-old Michael Gambro in Section 41, on the first-base side, tears trickling down the side of his freckled nose.
In the last game of the season yesterday, with a postseason berth on the line, Gambro -- wearing a Jose Reyes shirt and a blue-and-orange No. 1 finger -- had watched his sleepwalking heroes lose, 8-1, to the Florida Marlins. And now, with mom's arm around him, the weight of the worst September collapse in baseball history was breaking his heart... Yes, the season was over, but The Last Fan wasn't ready to go.
"Ma'am," an usher said to Sue Gambro, "you and the boy have to ..." He noticed the tears. "Never mind," he said. "You take all the time you need."


I know exactly how he feels.

Sitting Shiva For The Mets On The Radio

When Bad Things Happen To Good Teams: WCBS Radio's Sports Rabbi Jared Max Finds Clever Way To Make Sense Of Amazin' Collapse

Woke up this morning still in disbelief that my Metsies will be watching the playoffs instead of being part of them following their historical swan dive in the last two weeks of the season.
Fortunately, Jared Max of WCBS Radio found a way to put it all in perspective when he started reciting the Jewish Mourner's Kaddish on his 6:45 a.m. sports report. It might be the only time that the Kaddish could elicit a smile.
Max cleverly carried over that theme for his daily Maxed Out report, a montage recapping the big sports story du jour, and in these parts, there really is only one story.
It's typical of Max, who tends to make the most of his twice-hourly, 90-second reports, with snappy writing, a few knowing smirks, and the voice of the fan always in his head.

Friday, September 28, 2007

New York Times Covers World Cup Soccer -- By Watching It On TV

Jere Longman Shows That Even If You Can't Be Two Places At Once It Doesn't Matter
A couple of years ago, Jim Van Vliet, the San Francisco Giants beat writer for the Sacramento Bee, was fired after he was caught watching the game on TV and writing quotes from players as if he was actually there.
Of course, that's a big-time ethical boner. But now such an approach to covering a game is not only being tolerated by The New York Times, it's being encouraged.
To wit: Jere Longman's dispatch on the U.S. being knocked out of the Women's World Cup by Brazil, 4-0. The game was played in China. Longman was not there. How do we know that? Because he covered last night's game where the Philadelphia Phillies won to tie the New York Mets for the National League East lead (sob). Both articles appeared in today's sports section.
Now, Longman's soccer story is not datelined, so there's no attempt to fool readers into thinking he was there a la Van Vliet.
But the only way he could provide a story that had as much detail as he did was to watch the game, which meant he clocked time watching ESPN2. The Times has rightly calculated that its national audience -- and international readership online -- has more than a passing interest in soccer, which gets more coverage in the Gray Lady than any other New York paper.
Indeed, more than 400 comments followed Longman's online version.
However, until now the Times was relying on the A.P. for most of its World Cup dispatches. As the U.S. got closer to the finals, it instead dispatched Longman to the couch.
What's troubling is the precedent this could set. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on travel, just park your reporters in a Barcalounger and let them type away. Heck, they could TiVo the game and not miss a play if they need to take a leak.
That's not reporting. It's what I do most Sunday afternoons.
If you're not there, fine, but you only look silly if you put out a story that gives the appearance of being at the game, especially when that reporter was clearly somewhere else.
The Times has already sacrificed coverage of many local teams to satisfy beancounters. It shouldn't sacrifice its credibility as well.

Journal-News Library "Victim" Gets Smacked Down By Dozens Of Readers

Online Posters Don't Buy Into Feature Of Woman Who Protests Overdue Book Fine for Dead Mom

At first blush, it reads like one of those juicy human-interest stories: a woman is charged a 50-cent late fee at the library for returning a book checked out by a mom, who died before she could bring it back.
"I was in shock," Elizabeth Schaper told the Journal-News Wednesday. "This has rocked me to my core."
Now, it would be easy to gang up on a seemingly insensitive desk clerk at the library in Harrison, in Westchester County, especially when the library's chief refused to comment on the kerfluffle.
Not so online J-N readers, who've left over seven pages of comments thus far, most of which attack Schaper for being a publicity hound, and for the J-N deeming that this story was news.

"Geez lady, pay the money and go on with your grieving," said one poster. "When my dad died, we paid off his Amex card, do you think we could have skipped out on the bill?"

"I certainly hope this twit reads all these comments from people disgusted by her pity-party pandering."

And those were some of the nicer comments.

To his credit, or maybe he's just a glutton for punishment, local news editor Bob Fredericks chimed in to respond to those who questioned the wisdom of giving this story front-page treatment.
"I figured some people would find it amusing, some outrageous and others sad. In any case, I guessed people would read it and talk about it and that's not a bad thing, I don't think."
Fredericks was resoundingly right on that account. Nonetheless, no matter the desire to spur some water cooler chit-chat, this story straddles a fine line between chronicling one of life's daily outrages or making much ado about absolutely nothing.
One reader points out that in an accompanying video, Schaper notes the book was due before her mother checked out, so it's not as if the fines started ticking during funeral preps.
Another reader turned gumshoe and Googled Schaper's family. Seems they do like their posthumous publicity.
A New York Post story from May told of how Schaper's father -- a decorated World War II veteran with links to the Kennedys -- told her to cancel his subscription to The New York Times if they didn't write an obituary of him. It didn't, and she did. What paper does she now get? Correct.
"He got to love The Post. It was a tradition when he got sick, I would give him the New York Post and he would light up," his daughter said. "He didn't want to admit he read Page Six, but he loved it."
Wonder what he would have thought after reading a story about his daughter's hissy fit over a 50-cent fine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jewish Opponents of Ahmadinejad Speech Miss The Point

Self-Styled Israeli Truth Squad StandWithUs Misfires By Protesting Columbia's Invite of "Madman Iran Prez"
Iranian President/Western World Whipping Boy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finished his speech at Columbia University, where his appearance was a case of democracy in action even if that meant getting pimp-slapped in the process.
The slap came courtesy of Columbia President Lee Bollinger who, as quickly as he defended Ahmadinejad's right to speak, brought up all the things we love to hate about him, calls for the destruction of Israel, likening the Holocaust as a myth, an extremely lousy human-rights record, yada yada.
"You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," said Bollinger, in the soundbite that will be heard around the world (well, maybe not in Iran).
What was both comical and sad about today's contretemps in Morningside Heights was the fact that not only were there protesters of Ahmadinejad, whom the New York Post blithely labeled the "madman Iran prez," but of Columbia for allowing him to speak.
The prime offender in this regard is a group called StandWithUs, which styles itself as a truth squad about Israel, or as its mission statement propounds: "that Israel's side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers and conferences."
Fair enough. But too often what that translates to are attacks by StandWithUs, and those of like mind, at anyone who utters anything that even remotely smacks of being critical of Israel, no matter how benign or justified.
Israel has no shortage of bad press on a good day, so making sure its story is properly told is well-intentioned. However, attempts to correct the record are often obscured by a myopic ball of rage that has no room for balanced reporting. Attempts to do so can mean you're anti-Zionist, a self-hating Jew, or both.
I remember attending a talk sponsored by the UJA several years back, in which one of the flacks from the Israeli Consulate was openly encouraging this kind of behavior, urging those assembled to hold the media accountable whenever Israel is mentioned, especially in the big bad New York Times and NPR.
While I didn't attend the meeting as a media representative, I later introduced myself (at the time I was working for CBS) and reminded her that Israel wasn't a perfect place, and that the media shouldn't be condemned for reporting same. She acknowledged that was true, but remained content to foment the masses anyway.
Such efforts are not only self-defeating, but counter-productive. If you can do is be an Israeli cheerleader without any perspective you squander what little credibility you have.
Which doesn't mean you keep silent when Ahmadinejad shows up in your backyard. You just shouldn't exhibit the same kind of intolerance that his country is famous for.
StandWithUs campus organizer Dani Klein told the Times: "We felt that this went above and beyond the issues of free speech."
Maybe Klein should spend more time in the classroom. He clearly has a lot to learn.