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."


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 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."
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, 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.