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.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shorter OED Lays Waste To Hyphens

We Don't Know How To Use Them, So Dictionary Decides It's Easier To Just Get Rid of Them

Somebody once called me a "grammar Nazi" because I asked them to put a hyphen in a press release between "low" and "carb" when talking about a "low-carb menu."

"But [Competitor X] doesn't do that," my client protested.
"That doesn't make it right," was my gentle reply. "You gain more credibility when your copy is grammatically correct."
"Well, I'll call you back," the client huffed.

In the end, the client was unswayed and it went out as he deemed. It didn't matter that it was wrong. It was just how he wanted it.

Sad thing is many people wouldn't know the difference, given the paucity of understanding about exactly what a compound adjective is. Many media practitioners demonstrate on a daily basis how similarly clueless they are.
Maybe it's blissful ignorance. After all, hyphenated words do look a little ungainly at times. They may be right, but they are hardly etymological things of beauty.
Now comes word that the so-called Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has de-hyphenated 16,000 words. Most are once-compound nouns that have long since lost their hyphens on these shores, such as chickpea, potbelly and ice cream.
That would seem to augur for a full-blown assault on the hyphen. Fortunately, the editors say, the hyphen still has a place when it comes to compound adjectives.
Editor Angus Stevenson gave the example of "twenty-odd people" at a party. But if there was no hyphen, would it be twenty people who are odd?
So low-carb it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dan Rather Not Reporting (Except To The New York Times)

Why Did Litigious Ex-Anchor Give the Gray Lady an Exclusive, Then Go Quiet?

Lost in the hubbub over Dan Rather slapping CBS with a $70 million suit is that he gave The New York Times first dibs on the story yesterday afternoon. The paper then sent out the story on its Web site yesterday afternoon.
Then Rather did a curious thing. He clammed up.
The Wall Street Journal said a "publicist for Mr. Rather said he has an exclusive agreement to speak with the Times and was therefore unavailable for comment."
The question is why that agreement would extend to after the story had already appeared. It's out, the Times had the scoop, now let everybody else get sloppy seconds. But no.
Maybe it was in exchange for a sympathetic, one-sided portrait of the lawsuit that stemmed from his ouster not longer after a discredited report tha raised questions about President Bush's service in the Air National Guard.
Which is exactly what Jacques Steinberg provided.
The better story was in The Washington Post by Howie Kurtz, who had to content himself with quotes from Rather's lawyer, Martin Gold.
But the juiciest material from Kurtz was courtesy of Josh Howard, who was the executive producer of "60 Minutes II," when the report aired and was later forced to resign. While "60 Minutes" correspondents are often crazed working on multiple stories and are heavily reliant on their producers for much of a segment's reporting, Howard says Rather -- despite his vehement contentions that he was little more than a narrator of the report -- has no such excuse.

"He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over every line in the script. It's laughable."

Not so, a 75-year-old man, who despite a few quirks and idiosyncracies, has had a brilliant career, who wants little more than to get back his reputation. That and $70 million.

"Kitchen Nightmares" Cooks Up Unbelievable Stew

Fox Edition of Gordon Ramsay Screamfest Should Take A Lesson From Its BBC Cousin and Give Viewers A Little Credit

The Americanized version of "Kitchen Nightmares" on Fox last night was alternately entertaining and annoying, not to mention sloppy.

The show is chef/demigod Gordon Ramsay's latest incursion on this side of the pond, adapting another one of his wildly successful program -- available on these shores on BBC America -- for a U.S. audience eager to see him snarling at hapless victims of their own ineptitude.
The premise is that Ramsay visits a restaurant failing on its own merits, be they bad food, decor, managerial incompetence or all of the above, and spends a week trying to take it off life support.
Through cajoling, bullying and artful editing, Ramsay is almost always able to reverse the restaurant's fortunes (there was the occasional unhappy ending) after a massive overhaul of food and attitude.
The British version largely leaves Ramsay to his own devices, with the cameras rolling, of course. He even does his own voiceovers. But Fox is having none of that.
Anonymous announcer lets us know what's happening, on the assumption that we're too stupid to figure it out. Then the show ladles on portentous music underneath to reinforce that notion.

Still, the show manages to keep you watching, if only because Ramsay makes for a delicious juxtaposition with the clueless owners, in this case a family that is running its Italian joint out on Long Island into the ground.
But if ever there was a show to dispel the notion that so-called reality TV is meant to give you a fly-on-the-wall look at its subjects, "Kitchen Nightmares" blithely disposes of such illusions.

Item: Most of the kitchen equipment is broken, which is why the chef often resorts to serving pre-cooked frozen dishes. One night, Ramsay's elves gut the kitchen and replace it with brand-new equipment that must have cost six figures.
Item: The show opens with Ramsay descending the steps at the Babylon train station to be picked up by one of the owners, who's 45 minutes late. Yeah, one of the world's leading chefs took the Long Island Railroad. Right.
Item: How does a restaurant devoid of reservations all of a sudden have people pouring in the door? They don't, at least not without a little help. Through the wonders of TiVo, you can read a disclaimer at the end, that the show "may" have helped some patrons pay for a portion of their meals. May?
Item: Another disclaimer says that scenes may have been shown out of the order in which they were filmed. Which would explain a lot.
Item: "Bill collectors" keep showing up while cameras are rolling. Is that a euphemism for something more knee-cappingly sinister? Or is it some of the owner's goomba buddies looking for their 15 minutes. Just asking.

And the producers were asleep at the switch during post-production. At one point, announcer guy tells us it's 11:45, just before lunch service, yet the caption at the bottom of the screen tells us it's 11:45 p.m. Later on, we're told it's 5:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the restaurant opens for dinner. But a few minutes later it's 6:55 p.m., five minutes before it opens. Which means it's time to be terribly confused.

Still, we should be long since past the point where we should be shocked, SHOCKED! that reality-TV shows are not what they appear to be. Which is why you can still enjoy "Kitchen Nightmares" on its own dubious terms.
Ramsay, for all his bombast, is still an immensely watchable guide through a restaurant's seamy underbelly.
Just don't necessarily take what you see at face value, especially next week's episode, which has spawned a lawsuit by the former general manager of the restaurant in question, who claims Ramsay faked scenes and hired actors as customers.

It's not the first time Ramsay has been accused of this, but it should be noted he won a libel suit against the British paper that made the allegation.
Whatever. All you have to is watch the show and be glad you're not on the receiving end of his spit as he gets in someone else's face.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New York Tabloids Juiced About O.J.

He's Baaack! Brilliant Minds Think Alike on the Copy Desk
They hate each other's guts, but you just love it when the Post and the News arrive at the same headline (OK, never mind the pronouns) and even -- in some editions -- the same photos.
Just when things were starting to get a little quiet in the Big Apple, O.J. came through big time. Circulation managers are privately rejoicing.

Dave Anderson Retiring as N.Y. Times Sports Columnist; Will Anyone Notice?

Word in today's New York Times sports section is that Dave Anderson is finally calling it quits as a full-time sports columnist after 36 years, and will pop up in an emeritus role from time to time, mostly on Sundays.
Good for him that he's lasted this long. While it might not be fashionable to knock a guy on his way out the door, allow me a few raps nonetheless.
Anderson was the nice-guy columnist, the glass-half-full writer whose space was filled with gentle observations rather than pointed comments that brought another dimension to a game story. You know, sort of like sports columnists are supposed to do.
I read Anderson regularly because, well, the Times is the one paper in the morning delivered to my door with a regular sports section. But rarely did I get any added perspective, even less seldom was I entertained, or did I get a sense of genuine reportage.
Part of the problem is that Anderson was more fixated in later years by golf, the sport that dominated his column in recent months. Paint-drying play and another anti-climactic win by Tiger begets similar prose.
You kept hoping for the big zing, the lingering food-for-thought moment. Too often, though, Anderson left you hungry.
Fortunately, the Times' other columnists, Harvey Araton, Selena Roberts and Bill Rhoden (who deserves a hustle award for banging out a short column despite being hospitalized yesterday during the Jets' game with vertigo) are not as meek with their views.
With the Times' penny-pinching that has compromised and diminished its sports coverage, it remains to be seen whether Anderson would even be replaced, and, if so, is there an in-house candidate at the ready. Joe Drape? Bill Pennington?
Also, look to see whether the Times will replace Lee Jenkins as its West Coast sports correspondent, now that he has decamped to Sports Illustrated.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Boston Globe Circulation Staff's New Round of Desperation

It Doesn't Matter Where You Live, Just Buy The Damn Paper

About two years ago, my wife took a call from a telemarketer hawking the Sunday Boston Globe for just 88 cents a week for 16 weeks, if you pay be credit card.
Fine and dandy (that's half what I'd pay for a new subscription in Boston), except for the fact that we live 20 miles from Yankee Stadium and 200 miles from the Globe's HQ on Morrissey Blvd., not exactly the demographic New England advertisers are thirsting for.
We politely declined.
But give the Globies credit for persistence. This week they mailed to both my wife and me the same offer, which includes the additional come-on of $2 a week for 7-day delivery.
Yes, the Globe has seen its circulation dip precipitously over the years. And I guess it's easy enough to glom onto the distribution network of its sister paper, The New York Times, which may even be printing Globes for those exiled to the Big Apple from Beacon Hill.
But still.

Friday, September 07, 2007

iPod Takes First Cautious Steps Toward a Radio Hook-Up

Sure, the iPhone's Nabbed The Headlines, but the Device that Started All The Hoopla Gets Better and Cheaper

When you listen to your iPods, the only thing that might get you nostalgic about your Walkman is the inability to take a break from your downloads and listen to the radio.
That's still the case, but now only to a point.
The nascent HD Radio industry (see two posts below) got a big-time boost this week when receivers were unveiled with what's being called iTunes Tagging.
People who own special HD Radio receivers by JBL and Polk Audio ($499), which have a docking station at the top of the receiver for the iPod. If you hear a song you like, you then push a button that "tags" it on the iPod.
The next time you log onto iTunes, you can then preview the song and buy it if you like.

It's expected that hundreds of stations will have upgraded their HD Radio software to enable the tagging.

No word on whether the stations will get a cut of the iTunes kitty from the tagged songs. Either way, it's a win-win for the radio industry, which is getting ready to mount a multi-million dollar ad campaign touting the receivers and the tagging.
Radio companies are starting to place bigger bets on HD, despite the fact that the current listenership is miniscule, consumer awareness is at a very low ebb, and no clues about whether HD will ever be profitable, unlike satellite radio.
But hooking up to iTunes is a great way to find out.

"Damages" Gets Creepier, More Profane

And What The Hell's Up With Zeljko Ivanek's Accent?

Through the miracle of TiVo, I'm now caught up with "Damages," the delightfully demented legal thriller that took up Tuesday nights on FX, where "The Shield" left off.
Week by week the series gets more addictive. So what if Patty Hewes, the lawyer/queen bitch played by Glenn Close is a character who could only be concocted by a sleep-deprived and no one you'd ever meet in real life?
That's the point. She's someone who we'd want our lawyer to be, if only we could find one who is both amoral and charming in one fell swoop. Friends and enemies alike know to be afraid of her. Very afraid. This is a woman with the singular goal of winning at all costs, which often leaves her devoid of human feeling. On the last episode she talked about her first love in college, who worked two jobs to help put her through law school "I dumped him as soon as I got my J.D. He had no ambition."
Hewes is not just frigid, she's frozen to the bone. And like Close's character in "Fatal Attraction," she won't be ignored, and not above killing pets either. We'll see about the rest as the series unfolds.
Speaking of which, by virtue of its late-night slot on FX, the network lets it stretch a bit and allows shows like "Damages" to stretch the envelope, by allowing characters to utter medium-grade profanities like "shit" and "asshole."
Too often, though, as is also the case on "The Shield," writers on "Damages" have a bad case of the shits. Just because you can say it, doesn't mean you always have to. It then becomes a lazy writer's device. Which is bullshit for an otherwise high-quality drama.
"Damages" also benefits from a top-flight cast, including supporting players like Peter Riegert, Casey Siemaszko, Philip Bosco, and Peter Facinelli.
The only annoyance is Zeljko Ivanek's portrayal of Ray Fiske, the lawyer for evil defendant Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson). The normally reliable Ivanek's invested Fiske with a deep South drawl, which might be fine for a community theater production of "To Kill A Mockingbird," but totally out of place for a show that takes place in New York.
Ivanek has more than enough acting jobs to hide behind a bad accent. It's supposed to be a counterpoint to the hard-charging city slickers he's up against. Instead, it's just distracting, a rare misstep for a show that demands and deserves your attention.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ghouls Masquerading As Reporters: When Pushing For a Quote From The Grieving Goes Too Far

Romenesko today featured an Aug. 29 column from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle from Mary Jane Milano, whose 14-year-old son Jeff Milano-Johnson collapsed after being struck by a ball while warming up for a lacrosse game.
As the family dealt with the pain from this unspeakable loss and kept vigil before Jeff's organs were donated two days later, Milano says she, her family and Jeff's friends and coach were set upon by media looking for interviews.

Early Thursday morning less than 15 hours after learning of my son's death, the phone rang in his hospital room. I picked it up to hear a TV reporter on the other end of the line. I almost ripped the phone out of the wall.
Later that same morning, completely emotionally and physically exhausted, barely able to remember to put one foot in front of the other and constantly having to remind ourselves of the need to breathe, we went home for showers. As we did, we were approached by a reporter holding a steno pad. That I did not physically assault him the moment I saw him was a miracle.

Milano doesn't say whether one of the reporters was from the D&C was among the scrum, nor does she identify any of the other prying media outlets, which is too bad.
This media assault came, despite the fact that the family released a statement through the hospital where Jeff was taken, and that was followed by statements from the school district and its athletic director.
Look, most reporters desperately want to avoid making these kind of calls, especially when it's assigned by an editor snug with the knowledge that he's not the one having to do it.
Sometimes you get lucky, and it's a person on the other end who needs a release and is happy to talk about the deceased and their legacy. But most of the time, it's an intrusion, and one that does nothing to enhance the story.
Your sympathy may be sincere, but your motives are anything but pure. That especially goes for the TV reporters who often don't have the foresight to go beyond the "how do you feel" line of questions.
There's nothing worse than the death of a child, except, perhaps, when reporters exploit your grief to make themselves look good.
It's a shame when reporters are so consumed with doing their jobs that they forget to feel ashamed when they cross the line. Milano and others like her are a source of sorrow, not a scoop.

This HD Radio Thing Might Be A Good Idea, After All

More Than Just A Repository For Failed Formats, Side Channels May Be A Viable Source for Inspired Programming, Big Bucks
You can be forgiven if you haven't heard much about HD Radio, or if you've heard about it, you still don't have the foggiest notion of what it's all about.
At its most basic, as radio stations begin sending out their signals digitally as well as analog. By splitting the signal, a station can send out its regular programming, and use the digital side channel for something else.
That something else can be a niche format that is perceived to not have enough legs to generate a commercially viable audience -- like country music in New York -- or to preserve a format that flamed out -- like when the Jack format flamed out on WCBS-FM, which returned to its signature oldies sound.
Oh, and when it works right there's CD-quality sound, few, if any commercials, and no subscription fees (take that XM and Sirius).
Only problem is, HD Radio is one of those things broadcasters like to tout, but nobody can figure out how to exploit, especially since consumers have not exactly rushed to spend $200-$300 on an HD receiver.
Washington public-radio powerhouse WAMU is aiming to change that. It's been running its popular bluegrass programming on one of its HD channels (yes, it has two), and it will now include that rarity of HD rarities, live hosts.
That puts HD Radio into the realm of serious, well-thought-out programming rather than an afterthought. Hard to say whether this can be a harbinger of things to come. WAMU has long cultivated an audience, not to mention eager donors, with its bluegrass shows, and it's not hard to get those dedicated listeners to follow wherever the music takes them.
By contrast, a run-of-the-mill rock station that puts, say, heavy metal on a side channel, might not want to shell out salaries for live DJs who would be heard by an initially puny audience, to put it charitably. That's why virtually all HD jocks are voice-tracked. And even those are small in number.
Building an HD Radio audience will take time and money. But so far, not even broadcasters are convinced it's worth the investment. Until they are, audiences will likely feel much the same.