Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cool Foreign News You're Probably Not Reading Because You Ate Too Much Over The Holidays

The international desk here at Reality Bites Back never rests. To wit:

Tsunami dead still unidentified.
The Bangkok Post: Four years after the tsunami, tourists are still coming back at the same time some of the dead -- including Europeans who were on holiday remain unidentified.
Let's Not Pat Ourselves on the Back Over Iraq Just yet
The Observer: Toby Dodge says complacency is the enemy. Bush may be getting a little too cocky as he begins his exit, and Obama could have a bigger headache to contend with than he thought.
A Deadly Oops
Mainichi Shimbun: A man died at his retirement party after colleagues threw him into the air in celebration and then failed to catch him.
Miracle Survivor of Aussie Plane Crash
Sydney Morning Herald: Calling for help after a plane crash injured and upside down.

The VHS Format Was Left for Dead. Now It Really Is

For back rats like me, it's hard to part with all of those VHS tapes, even if they've been consigned to the garage or some other corner of oblivion in your house.
Ah, the good old days when you battled the mob at Blockbuster on a Saturday night for the privilege of paying four bucks to rent one. Now they're not worth four cents.
Yet, nostalgia will only take us so far, according to The Los Angeles Times. The last major supplier of tapes is clearing out his warehouse.
No funeral services for the format will be held.
And before you start stocking up on your favorite movies yet again, chances are good we can begin the death watch on the DVD.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Brian Tierney Gets Into The Holiday Spirit Drinking From A Half-Full Mug

Parsing Philadelphia Publisher's Propaganda; Saying Ho-Ho-Ho While Staff Makes Do With Lumps of Coal

I'll give Brian Tierney credit for this: As publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, it's hard to put on a happy face every day, even though his column in yesterday's Inky comes pretty damn close.
Still, there's a difference between what he says and what's actually happening, as is often the case whenever Tierney speaks. Let's chew on a few morsels from his missive, shall we?

What makes our Philadelphia newspapers different? First and foremost, we've invested heavily in the quality of our journalism. And we've been rewarded for it with faithful readership, steady growth and profitability.

Faithful readership, huh? According to the latest ABC FAS-FAX numbers, the Inquirer plunged 11 percent in the six-month period ending in September to 300,674 copies. Sunday circulation nosedived 13.7 percent to 556,426. The Daily News circulation free-falled 13.2 percent to 97,694.
Profitability? If you say so. If true, a lot of that's been accomplished by slashing away at the head count, including another 35 bodies as recently as last week.

About 1.2 million people physically pick up and read our papers every day ... And, contrary to conventional wisdom, 30 percent of our readers - more than 300,000 - are young people, between 18 and 34.

Here Tierney engages in the publishing version of wishful thinking. He's not even printing 400,000 copies a day, and he's blithely assuming that three people are reading each one, and that 25 percent of them are in the 18-34 demo. C'mon. It's hard to believe even Tierney believes his papers have that kind of pass-through rate anymore, if they ever did. And any advertisers who buy into that bit of marketing whimsy deserve what they get.

Beyond the newspapers,'s traffic has exploded to 50 million page views a month and more than 2.3 million unique visitors. That's the direct result of the investment we've made in good journalism, technology and creativity.

No, it's not. It's because those younger readers Tierney so badly craves are getting what they need online for free. And do you really think Philly's online revenue is any more than the 10 percent of total revenues being experienced by most newspapers? As a private company we don't know, and Tierney isn't saying, but it's difficult to fathom how Philly's numbers are any different than, say, The New York Times or Washington Post.

Our original news reporting sets the table for the entire region's news output, much of which derives from the work we do. No other news medium - television, radio or Web - can compare to the daily coverage produced by our approximately 400 journalists.

That's true. And it's the spin that every newspaper likes to make -- even though our staff is desiccated it's still a hell of a lot larger than broadcasters or online. But even if the Philly papers are bigger, it doesn't mean squat in the overall scheme of things if they are but shells of their former selves. Quantity and quality have become mutually exclusive.

The Inquirer's foreign-affairs columnist, Trudy Rubin, was back in Iraq last week for a series of columns on developments there.

All well and good. But remember when the Inquirer had six foreign bureaus? Tierney does. And he had little use for them (granted, most were closed by Knight-Ridder before Tierney bought the paper in 2006). Still, he was quoted in The Washington Post: "We don't need a Jerusalem bureau. What we need are more people in the South Jersey bureau."

Ah, South Jersey. And all the rest.

We grew up in towns like Upper Darby, Elkins Park, Springfield, Flourtown and Deptford Township.
We went to school here.
We care deeply about Philadelphia, its suburbs and South Jersey.

Tierney and his fellow investors may care. But if he keeps cutting away, the Inky won't have many people left to cover all those burgs, not to mention Philly.
As Daily News columnist Sty Bykofsky told the Philadelphia Business Journal when the latest cutbacks were announced: “I don’t think they’re going to get 35 volunteers. I think the low-hanging fruit has been gathered. The medium fruit is gone, too. We’re going to the bone.”

And finally....

"We're not trying to create the next multinational media behemoth. We're rebuilding the kind of world-class hometown papers that used to define cities like Philadelphia. That takes time, and it takes investment....."
Since Tierney took over, there is little tangible evidence of said investment, at least in the print product. It's easy to understand why. He bought the papers, the economy cratered and his bankers are getting antsy, as well they should.
Tierney steered himself into a perfect storm, mostly not of his own making. But he doesn't help his cause when he uses the Inky to bloviate, spin and distort what's happening at Philadelphia Media Holdings and why he's being forced to make the choices he has made. Which would be a very different column from the one he ran yesterday.
As someone who spent most of his working life in PR, Tierney badly needs a reminder that a newspaper is nothing without its credibility. Just because you're the publisher and you write something doesn't make it so.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Newspaper Hero Of The Day

And He's Only In Eighth Grade

First things first. Newspaper publishers should find a way to clone Mitchell Walsh, and fast.
Here's a 13-year-old kid from Michigan who loves to read newspapers, particularly the Detroit Free Press.
So, imagine how he reacted when told the Freep and the Detroit News will roll the dice on their future and now only be home-delivered on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The rest of the week you have to go buy the paper or read an ostensibly expanded digital version.
But Mitchell is having none of that. As he wrote on Poynter Online (where his grandfather Bill Mitchell, a former Free Press scribe is diretor): "On weekday mornings, I don't think I will find the time in the middle of the rush to school to search online for the latest news. To me a morning without a newspaper is like an adult without his coffee."
That means the Walsh family is going to have a teenager who's grumpier than usual four days a week.
Mitchell's getting an up-close-and-personal lesson in the sorry science of newspaper economics. Nonetheless, you can't fault him if he has trouble understanding why his faith and devotion to the Free Press is not being reciprocated.

On the winter days when I take out my dog, I slip on my boots, shrug on my coat and trudge down the driveway ... I see a small lump of snow. I pick it up, shake it off and begin the icy climb up the driveway. Once inside, my curiosity takes control. I rip off the clear plastic bag and only then do I see the only good part of getting up at 6:00 a.m.: A freshly printed, crisply folded, daily edition of the Detroit Free Press.

The more cynical of you could simply view this kid as a media savant. But what he really represents is the last vestige of a strong family tradition where everyone read a newspaper, which Mitchell writes is still very much part of the daily routine in the Walsh household.
The problem is, for many reasons that have been well-documented, that became less so in many other homes. I'd hazard a guess that if Mitchell were to poll his classmates about who got a daily paper at home, well over half would answer no.
If you don't see your parents reading a paper, chances are you won't either.
So, it's tragic when a family like Mitchell's actually does want a paper, it won't always be there for them.
It might be time for Mitchell to instead invest in a New York Times subscription. It delivers in the Detroit suburbs --- seven days a week.

Magazines On The Oblivion Express And It's All Your Fault

The Web Will Be The Savior of Us All. Maybe.

There's an interesting analysis on the Editorialiste blog on some of the many ills afflicting the moribund magazine business.
Included is this reality check, that ad dollars were already running flat before the economy cratered. The recession merely kicked more sand in the faces of the 97-pound weaklings cowering in the publishers' suites.
So, does that mean magazines should beat a hasty retreat to the Internet and save a few trees? Not so fast. As Editorialiste notes, magazines need to first clean up the mess they've made online, having been guilty of creating sites that have "poor usability and poor brand representation that served only as subscription centers, rather than as logical extensions of the brand with original content."
That's why I wouldn't sound the death knell for the printed version just yet, nor would Editorialiste.
The best magazines are all about the sizzle as well as the steak. The design, and the graphics are indelibly intertwined with the copy. You could, in theory, producing a compelling online version, complete with interactive doo-dads like podcasts, slide shows, polls and the like.
However, I'm skeptical as to how many people are truly making use of the bells and whistles, at least right now. And by betting so much on the online product, or even making a magazine digital-only, is still a dangerous bet for most titles.
Most people don't have the patience or inclination to read more than 500 or so words at a time on the web. So, long-form pieces either wind up with low readership or they're not commissioned.
That diminishes the overall product. That gives people less of a reason to use the Web site. All of a sudden, that push to get advertisers to pay more for digital and replace their print spend goes out the window.
So, the question remains: can publishers countenance having the print and digital versions peacefully co-exist. More are answering no -- as circulation and ad dollars bleed out -- and are taking their titles online exclusively, but all indications are that's not always the right answer

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NPR Falls On Its Sword

Doesn't Shy Away From Talking Publicly About Layoffs of 7 Percent of Its Staff

The economy claimed its latest media victim today: NPR said it would cut 7 percent of its staff and eliminate "Day To Day" and "News & Notes" because its underwriting has been underwhelming.
This is not a panic move. NPR says it needs to close a $23 million budget shortfall.
So far, it looks like the network's biggest names have been spared, though a poster at FishbowlDC says veteran correspondent Ketzel Levine is among those leaving. She won't be the last.
Props to NPR for not being shy to tell us about what's happening. That included a report on "All Things Considered" this afternoon from media correspondent David Folkenflik.
Given that NPR's listeners are often very possessive of the programs they support, this kind of public bloodletting is not unexpected. Let's hope the seams aren't apparent on those programs that remain.
I, for one, fervently hope that NPR doesn't use the downturn as an excuse to pare back its foreign coverage, already much more extensive than any U.S. broadcaster. In an age when international news is barely an afterthought on most networks, NPR has correspondents based in such places as Kabul, Dakar, New Delhi and Hanoi, in addition to the usual outposts.
"All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" are incalculably richer for being able to tap into that motherlode. So are we for being able to listen to them.

N.Y. Times Tries to Anoint Caroline Kennedy; Doesn't Let Facts Get In The Way

Did Paterson, Ted Kennedy Discuss Who Replaces Hillary? If So, Nobody Asked Them.

Even reporters -- and their editors -- for as august a publication as The New York Times need a little Journalism 101 refresher now and then.
And the Times agrees.
An article in yesterday's paper said that Ted Kennedy has been working the phones trying to get his niece Caroline Kennedy named as Hillary Clinton's replacement as a U.S. senator from New York.
Among those said to be called was the man who will make the choice -- Gov. David Paterson.
The story was attributed to "Democratic aides," who "were not authorized to discuss the conversations."
Uh, oh.
In today's Times, there is another article headlined "Paterson Says Kennedy Has Not Called About Niece," in which Paterson denies the Times report, as does a Kennedy spokesperson.
That would be an otherwise unremarkable utterance -- given that politicians like to give themselves cover -- were it not for the fact that neither Paterson nor Kennedy had been contacted for the first article, as today's piece -- written by David Halbfinger -- concedes.
Somehow, no one thought to call either man for the original article, authored by Halbfinger, with assistance by Nicholas Confessore, Danny Hakim and Carl Hulse. Ditto for the bevy of editors who vet every article on the Metro Desk.
Not even a "refused to comment," or "did not return repeated calls." That couldn't be written because not one of four reporters picked up the phone for the calls even the cubbiest of cub reporters knows to make.
Instead, they were so pleased with their scoop, they never bothered to check whether it was actually true. An editors' note today fesses up:

On Tuesday, both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Paterson said no such conversation had taken place. The Times should have sought their comment before publication.

You betcha.
Now, that doesn't mean the conversation did not take place, only that both parties said that it did not.
Nonetheless, it's telling that the Times didn't do one of those high-horse "The Times stands by its reporting" mea culpas on this one.
Instead, it apparently got burned by sources who thought they knew better, but really knew nothing.
So, good for the Times for not offering excuses. But then again, there really isn't an excuse for being this sloppy.

Crawling Out From Under The Tribune Wreckage Won't Be Easy

Zell Looks To Make Those Who Left Before Chapter 11 Suffer The Most

Out of all the stories I've read about the Tribune bankruptcy, the one that ran in The New York Times yesterday is perhaps the most scary.

What struck me was this passage;

A note on an internal Tribune Company Web site said, “All ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the court.” That made it apparent that employees who recently were laid off or took buyouts would join the long list of unsecured creditors.
James Gerstenzang (above), a reporter who left The Los Angeles Times’s bureau in Washington last month, said he was trying to figure out whether he was one of those people. He said he had just sent in the last paperwork to approve his expected buyout payment — 49 weeks of pay, after more than 24 years.

So, what we have here are hundreds of people -- maybe thousands -- who now have, if Tribune stands pat, the equivalent of the hole in the middle of a doughnut.
I doubt that'll be the end result, but Gerstenzang and his colleagues shouldn't expect to get what they're entitled to. That's not why companies go into Chapter 11 in the first place.
I had a first-hand window into how this works when I was at UPI in 1985, when it filed for bankruptcy. I was owed several hundred dollars from when I was a stringer for them the year before.
One thing UPI didn't like to do was pay its bills, although it turned out there was a reason for that -- it couldn't.
When the dust settled about a year later, I received about 45 cents on the dollar for what I was owed. I cashed that check in a hurry.
Given that Tribune's perilous fiscal state of affairs will only worsen next year, 45 cents would be a great deal in this climate. It's not what distinguished reporters like Gerstenzang deserve, but it does beat the hole in the middle of the doughnut.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Those 1,900 Layoffs at Gannett May Not Be So Bad After All....

Especially When You Consider There Could Be A Lot More Than That Next Year

I've been a constant reader of Gannett Blog recently, in part to keep up with who might be getting the ax at one of my former haunts, the Journal-News in Westchester-Rockland, but to also be reminded of how heartless those in newsroom management can so often be.
Unfortunately, the hundreds of posters on the blog have provided ample material to show that, more than ever, Gannett is utterly without a clue.
But what Gannett is rather good at -- and it's certainly not putting out a quality newspaper at most of its properties -- is making a profit, even when readership and circulation go in the crapper.
And with the recession showing every sign it'll keep us in a full Nelson next year, it sounds like the Gannett rocket scientists are getting ready, if one poster on the blog is correct (and it's hard to bet against him given the state of things.

On my way out the President and Publisher of our very large region told me that there will be more layoffs in February 2009. He/She said that what everyone did this week will be small in comparison to the next round. This person said that Bob Dickey and his senior advisors were looking at another 5,000 to 6,000 people and this time that number won't include "to be hired" heads.
I am glad I am now gone and I do have plenty of stories to tell.

Chances are, wherever that writer winds up will likely be better than where he came from. The tricky part is finding somewhere to land.
Very tricky indeed.

Why You Should Be Scared If You Work For Tribune

The Euphemistic Sam Zell Strikes Again

In reading Sam Zell's mea culpa for why Tribune filed for Chapter 11, as expected, I'm reminded of an old Al Jaffee cartoon from Mad magazine, where you see a pilot coming out to tell his passengers that everything is OK, while he has a parachute strapped to his back.

To wit:

By restructuring our debt, we will reduce the pressure on the company’s operating businesses, enabling us to pursue our vision of creating a sustainable, cutting-edge media company that is valued by our readers, viewers, and advertisers, and that plays a vital role in the communities we serve.

But wait! There's more!

This filing should (my emphasis) not impact the way you do your jobs on a day-to-day basis. We will continue to operate responsibly in a challenging environment – aggressively (euphemism alert!) managing costs and maximizing revenue opportunities.
Uh, oh. Cue the parachute.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tribune Goes To Zell In a Handbasket


Likely Bankruptcy Filing Hardly A Shocker; What's More Surprising is What Took So Long

When I last pondered in August the fate of Tribune, I continued to marvel over the lingering state of denial in which Sam Zell and his gang of sycophants were living in. Nobody really wanted to talk seriously about how the company was going to start paying down nearly $13 billion in debt, including $512 million due in June.

But the real reason was simple: they didn't have the foggiest idea. After all, you can't simply satisfy your bankers by selling assets, especially when many of them are worth less each day (read newspaper division).

Now they're starting to wake up from their idea coma (sorry, Lee Abrams) and find that reality does indeed bite. That's why various news organizations, including Tribune's flagships The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, are reporting tonight the likelihood Tribune will go Chapter 11.

Actually, they weren't the ones who broke the news of their own twisted fate. The Wall Street Journal , where I'm sure Rupert Murdoch is gloating at least a little, gets props for that. But in the end, it's the only real solution at hand. When you owe as much as Tribune does, and your cash flow is choking more than the Cubs did in the playoffs, then you need a bankruptcy court trustee to act as a white knight.

But even if the company emerges from bankruptcy with a balance sheet that shows some signs of life, that doesn't mean its employees should start whistling "Happy Days Are Here Again." All of the properties will have to downsize even more than they have -- if that's even possible. Luxuries like bureaus, badly needed upgrades for digital media and staff critics could become a thing of the past. Ditto for any real reason to read the papers.

And the death spiral continues.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Enjoy Newsday's Sports Columnists? You Won't Soon

UPDATE: Keith Kelly in The New York Post reported it was Johnette Howard, Shaun Powell and Ken Davidoff who will lose their columns, though it's possible Davidoff could remain as a reporter

Three of Them Getting Ax in Long Island Paper's Latest Round of Cutbacks

Cablevision/The Dolans have apparently gotten their first whiff of the newspaper business since it bought Newsday earlier this year and found out it really does stink.
That's why Newsday is cutting 100 jobs or 5 percent of its workforce. It's expected more than two dozen will come from the newsroom.
As editor John Mancini noted in his memo:
"In addition, we will be reorganizing Photo, resulting in a significantly smaller staff. We will also eliminate the Sports Columnist category, which includes three staffers, and the research position in Albany. These decisions will mean further job reductions or will require staffers to move into other job categories."
Newsday used to have a sports section with few rivals. Now it's clout and quality continue to recede.
Exactly who will get canned still isn't known. But if you go by what Mancini says, then Shaun Powell, Johnette Howard and Wally Matthews are vulnerable.
But then there's TV sports guy Neil Best, outdoors columnist Tom Schlichter and high-school columnist Gregg Sarra.
Some could be reassigned. Others will be gone.
They deserve better. Then again, you could say the same for most of the 12,000+ people who lost their newspaper jobs this year nationwide.
It's a dire move, and one the Dolans don't want to talk about, even with its own employees. Which is why James Madore wrote in the paper's account of the layoffs: Sources told Newsday that most of the affected workers would be offered a buyout package and would have two weeks or so to decide whether to accept it."
It's pathetic Newsday would be tight-lipped on specifics, especially to its own people, but at least give Madore credit for being able to get that line past his editors.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Denver: Get Ready To Become a One-Newspaper Town

Rocky Mountain News Is For Sale When No One's Looking To Buy

Scripps is throwing in the towel in Denver.
It's put the Rocky Mountain News up for sale, after deciding the $15 million it expects to lose this year was just too much to take.
"Our 50 percent of the cash flow generated by the Denver Newspaper Agency is no longer enough to support the Rocky, leaving us with no choice but to seek an exit,” says Scripps CEO Rich Boehne.
That's right. Even in the relative sanctuary of a joint operating agreement with the Denver Post, where both papers maintain separate newsrooms, but share business operations, the Rocky is still bleeding cash big-time.
Boehne says Scripps would seek a buyer within the next month. But this line is very telling:
"Scripps said it will consider offers for the Rocky and its interest in the agency through mid-January of next year. If no acceptable offers arise, the company said it will examine its other options."
However, I'm hearing from a source in Denver that's a thinly veiled euphemism for closing the place down.
Given the free fall that the newspaper business finds itself in, a buyer is highly unlikely to emerge, especially if it needs financing to complete a sale, as any suitor most certainly would.
Sad to say, but the fall of the Rocky could be the first of many in 2009.

Meanwhile, Michael Roberts in Westword offers this trenchant observation:

"[T]here's a sense among multiple Rocky staffers that the Denver Post is in financial trouble, too -- perhaps even worse than its crosstown competitor. This scenario suggests that the two papers have been engaged in a staredown for quite some time -- which explains an on-the-record rhetorical question from reporter April Washington: 'Why does Scripps always blink first?'"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We Bombed In White Plains: Journal-News Axes Drama Critic Jacques Le Sourd

After They Trimmed Fat, Now Gannett Is Trimming What's Left of Muscle

As Gannett goes about the business of gutting its newsrooms as part of an effort to trim 10 percentof its staff, there is little rhyme or reason of who stays and who goes.
Well, maybe not quite. Sometimes, it just comes down to money, which is easy enough to do when most of your newspapers are non-union.

And so it goes for Jacques Le Sourd, who has been the drama critic for Gannett, in whatever it has called its newspapers in New York's northern suburbs, since 1975.
Now, it's one lumbering title, The Journal-News (a former employer of mine), which announced yesterday it was cutting 36 employees. But none were mentioned by name. However, word quickly got out yesterday that Le Sourd was among them, and his departure was duly noted by Michael Riedel in the New York Post.
You could make an argument that a theatre critic is a luxury best disposed of at a time of austerity in the news business. And the Journal-News has never been mistaken for an overstaffed operation.
Still, Le Sourd is as close to an institution as the paper had, and not just because he lasted as long as he did. Le Sourd's criticism was winning because it was informed, unflinching and always honest. The guy's B.S. detector was always on.

"The show features really bad acting, a hideous set, ugly costumes, ridiculous choreography, a grim-looking chorus, a dumb story and an overall, giant leap backward when it comes to concept."

"The show has substandard songs. It has stars ready to deliver material that they don't get from the authors. It has a book that twists on itself so it winds up in a hopeless gnarl.
By the time you find out whodunit, you really don't care."

Le Sourd could be withering, but not in the John Simon sort of way -- being vicious for the sake of being vicious.
If he didn't like something he was not shy. But this was clearly a man who loved the theatre and was happy to share his passion when something worked, like Spring Awakening.
"This show does what we had almost forgotten Broadway shows are supposed to do: For a couple of hours, it takes your mind out of the preoccupations of your life, to a different time and place."
The Journal-News functionaries believe they can get by without Le Sourd. Maybe so. But that's not a good thing, especially when the paper keeps offering fewer reasons for why people should spend (now 75 cents!) their money on its pallid product.
Judging by the latest circulation numbers (101,000 and falling), the J-N keeps getting panned by readers. It's a safe bet that Le Sourd won't be one of them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Everyone Knows PR Writing Is Bad...

Now That We Have That Out of the Way, Does the Industry Have The Guts To Do Something About It?

There's an interesting discussion going on at (and not because I contributed to it) about why many in the public relations business simply don't know how to write well, or how those who do are stymied by clueless superiors.
As Mark Ragan notes: "one of the kids hired by the agencies and billed out at $150 an hour have the slightest idea what they're writing about. They don't understand the product or the client. They have no background in the industry, and they never learned how to write in college."
Exactly. And they are not alone. Their bosses and, probably, their boss' boss, are likely in the same boat.
The problem is several-fold. PR people:

--Put out crap masquerading as a press release because "that's the way it's always done."
--Are often clueless about the media because they often don't have a journalism background, don't read newspapers, watch or listen to the news.
--Often have clients who are just as obtuse, and are afraid to stand up to them or their lawyers, who insist on adding buzzwords, jargon and assorted gobbledygook that make the release all but useless to a reporter.
--Have a stunning lack of hubris and prefer operating in a vacuum.
--Are faced with a shortage of mentors who can show them a better way, i.e. writing an article like a feature or in the style of a news article to increase the chances of verbatim pickup.
--Get hired by people looking for other skills, such as strategic thinking, budgeting and ability to butt-kiss. Writing goes to the back of the line.

Most commenters gave an "amen" to Ragan's view, although there are a few naysayers like "Ray," who is resentful of journalists who love to hate PR people and then later switch careers and "think they can be immediate PR experts."
Chances are, Ray, if you spent a few years in the news business, it wouldn't take long to get the hang of the PR thing and make the transformation from hack to flak. But the other way around? Not a chance. The sooner the PR world -- especially agencies -- owns up to that, and embraces media professionals rather than shun them as no-goodniks, the better.

Food Network Magazine Takes a Real Shine To Its Stars

Paula Deen Never Looked This Good. Never.

Motivated more by what Hearst could bring to the table with Food Network Magazine, than a need to know the inner thoughts of Alton Brown and Tyler Florence, I plunked down a hard-earned $3.99 for the debut issue.
To its credit, the magazine is more than just an infomercial for Food Network, though it is certainly that as well.
The recipes don't require too much heavy lifting --- Cranberry Pomegrante Terrine, anyone? -- but are by no means dumbed down.
There are some quick, um, bites for features, including a fun quiz that challenges you to identify chocolate bars based on a view of their fillings (not as easy as it looks).
I also liked the On The Road section, which features regional food, recipes and items from those who often catch a meal away from home (Virgin America flight attendant Cassie Dole reveals she gets a $1.75 food allowance for every hour she's on the clock -- about $500 a month. And she's able to skirt the security rules on liquids, so she can carry lots of yogurt on board. Good thing: the crew doesn't get fed during flights).
But in the end, everything does center on the network stars, who are all smiles and then some. It was a little jarring and not a little scary to see on page 117 an artificial-looking Deen gesticulating toward us. Whomever was working Photoshop over at Hearst had quite the field day.
Either that, or they borrowed an exhibit from Madame Tussaud's. It's like she's frozen in time -- from 30 years ago.
Let's at least hope those White Chocolate Cherry Chunkies she's making in the photo are a little fresher.

Not Sweating the Details at iPhone Life Magazine

The Premiere Issue May Be The Premier Issue. Or Not.

I already get way too many magazines, but every once in a while head over to a newsstand to see what I'm missing.
Yesterday, with some time to kill in Grand Central Terminal, I stumbled upon a new title called iPhone Life, whose oeuvre shouldn't be too hard to detect.
It's put out by Thaddeus Computing, a small Iowa-based outfit that also puts out Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine.
Whatever the company spent on starting iPhone Life, it came at the expense of a copy editor. Otherwise, we likely wouldn't have been told on the cover that the premiere issue is the "premier issue."
This wasn't just a careless typo, apparently. It's prominent on the Web site as well, and more than once, to boot.
Good luck, anyway. Yes, spelling still counts in publishing -- at least for now.
Thaddeus does deserve props for an unusual blowout card (the same offer is available online), in which it invites people to subscribe for $25 and get all issues through 2010, though it doesn't commit to a hard number, beyond saying it'll be at least eight.
In this environment, it's easy to undertand why Thaddeus doesn't want to commit to a publication schedule, especially when more deep-pocketed publishers are cutting back or 86ing titles altogether.
Still, it's a bit weird. They're holding out the promise of more than four issues a year. But given the sorry state of the magazine business, don't get too excited. Better to content yourselves with the eight issues, assuming, of course, iPhone Life even makes it to 2010.

Friday, November 21, 2008

StoryCorps To Make Black Friday A Time To Listen, Instead of Shop

National Day of Listening an Ideal Alternative to the Malls Next Week

The folks at StoryCorps have chosen the day after Thanksgiving to extend their mission beyond their segments, which are a staple every Friday on NPR's Morning Edition.
They're behind what's called the National Day of Listening, in which people are being asked to record a one-hour conversation with a loved one, colleague, friend, mentor or anyone who intrigues them or has touched their lives. A few examples can be heard here.
I remember doing something like this with one of my grandmothers many years ago. It allowed me to hear her speak about things I otherwise might never have known; the struggles of a young bride, a difficult relationship with a stepmother; remembering her father's final days.
My family and I heard these stories because we stopped what we were doing long enough to listen. And learn. And understand.
We may often view those around us as ordinary people. Maybe they are. But they have often lived remarkable lives, something that StoryCorps, as good an oral history of Americans as any, proves every week.
Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself. I know it works. My grandmother is gone, but her words and her legacy is very much alive.

Effective Marketing Through Anti-Semitism?

It Took Three Days, But Larry Bodine Finally Got It; Law-Firm Marketing Guru Forced to Backpedal For Being More Than Just Politically Incorrect

Larry Bodine is a respected marketing advisor, with a long background in both PR and journalism. But he's proof of how smart people can catch a bad case of the stupids when they think they're being clever while trying to make a point.
Which means he should have known better before posting on his blog Nove. 14. The post reads in part:

I was conducting business development training at Joliet, IL, law firm when the focus turned to "30-second commercials" or "elevator pitches...."
The silver-haired senior-most litigator at the firm came up with the BEST elevator pitch ever. The senior partner said, "when I step onto elevator at the top floor, I size up the other person to see if he is a business man. I know they don't like lawyers."
"When they ask me, 'what do you do for a living?' I answer I'm a Nazi medical researcher." (my emphasis).
The businessman will react with shock. "Then I say, 'I was kidding. I just said that because I'm a lawyer...."
This always gets a laugh from the businessman.

Hardy, ha, ha.

It was bad enough that Bodine had the extremely poor judgment to repeat this for hundreds of other law-firm marketing professionals (and potential clients) to read.
But he dug in deeper when one reader objected to the joke being in "extremely bad taste."
Bodine replied:

Ken: the guy was JOKING. It was humor. To achieve a laugh, one must often exaggerate. The joke may offend you, but it works great for this rainmaker. Everybody's got a different style. You should use the one that works best for you.

Yes, because genocide can be a real knee-slapper in places like Joliet, right Larry?

Well, maybe not. Sufficiently chastened, Bodine posted again three days later to apologize. "In the clear light of morning, it is clear that it was anti-Semitic and repellent."

Ah, so it had been cloudy three days earlier. That explains it.

"A friend called me, recounting how he heard a Holocaust survivor describe being evaluated by Dr. Mengele in a concentration camp," Bodine wrote, "but was fortunate to be passed over. I was horrified and immediately deleted the blog post."

Give Bodine credit for owning up to posting something that transcends dumb, and likely would have gotten him fired if he was an employee rather than running his own shop.
What still boggles me is what was the process that led to thinking this was acceptable discourse in the first place?
If the lawyer had said "burn crosses for the Klan" or "beat up Mexicans trying to sneak over the border," instead of "Nazi medical researcher," it's highly doubtful that even Bodine would have posted it.
Since when did Nazis not on Hogan's Heroes become funny? That's the one part Bodine has yet to explain. Maybe just as well. He's already said more than enough.

The Sky Is Falling, The Sky Is Falling. Whoops, It Already Fell

Chicken Little Already On a Skewer; Looking For A Bottom for Newspaper Stocks? Join the Club. The Situation is Shrek Ugly

As I write, stocks are inching higher, as a few bargain hunters tip-toe through the markets while Citigroup tries to figure out its next move -- merger, sale or none of the above.
Some newspaper stocks, like Gannett, are benefiting, but others, like The New York Times, continue heading ever closer to the crapper. Of course, it didn't help when the Times announced yesterday it would take a meat grinder to its dividend.
You knew things were bad, but until you look at a chart of newspaper stocks, you may not have realized how stinkin' awful the balance sheets are, and how little Wall Street thinks of newspapers as a viable business model.
Belo is just north of two bucks a share. McClatchy is wheezing to oblivion at $1.51, while Lee clocks in at $1.25 or so.
Things could be worse, though, if you held stock in GateHouse Media, lightly traded on the pink sheets at 7 cents, or Journal-Register, which a few masochists are trading for just over a penny. The entire market cap for the company is about $472,000. Somehow, no one's rushing to snap up shares.
And with 2009 showing every sign of being worse than this year, it's a safe bet the list of newspaper stocks will soon be shorter, not because the companies have been delisted, but because they've ceased to exist.

Friday, November 14, 2008

You Knew Journal Register Was Bad. But This Bad?

Turns Out The Company Was Being Run By Idiots Even When Its Stock Was Worth Something

As word emerged this week (see below post) on the likelihood of Journal Register shutting down two dailies and 13 weeklies in Connecticut, it could have been construed as just another casualty in the latest annus horribilis that's overtaken the news business.
But in reading an insightful blog post from Rick Edmonds, it turns out the company was already busy digging its own grave a year before the nationwide downturn in circulation and ads.
This is a company that was proud of the fact that managers would check reporters' odometers to make sure they weren't padding expense accounts.
This is a company where "you would be fired if you left before your work for the day was finished, but you would also be fired if you put in for overtime."
But Edmonds gets to the heart of the matter, namely that running a news organization on the cheap may allow you to temporarily curry favor on Wall Street. However, all that penny-pinching would soon be evident to readers who'd see their papers became ever more mediocre.
"It also left the company little wiggle room to cut more in hard times," notes Edmonds.
That's why Journal-Register stock is delisted, and is selling for just over a penny. In fact, you could buy ALL of the outstanding shares in the company for just $462,000.
But why would you want to?
Yet, no reason to feel sorry for the J-R chieftains. They helped create the mess they're wallowing in, after all. Save your sympathy for the employees of these papers, who've soldiered on in spite of immensely difficult conditions. Dealing with heartless management is the least of their problems when faced with losing a job.
And suffer the readers. Even if the J-R papers are a shell of their former selves, at least they are there when needed. If they go, there's no one or nothing to replace them. Like them or not, their absence will be conspicuous, especially when no other media organization steps in to fill the vacuum that will be inevitably created.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Journal Register Killing Its Newspapers In Order to Save Them

Another Chapter in this Media Miasma as New Haven Register Cuts 20 Jobs

When your stock is selling just north of a penny of a share, and has been delisted, it's understandable when you need to take drastic measures to survive.
But it's one thing to take drastic measures. It's another thing to simply slash and burn because you're in a state of panic and haven't bothered to come up with a coherent business plan. Such appears to be the case at Journal Register.
Its latest move today, according to the Associated Press: get rid of 20 jobs at its flagship -- such as it is -- property, The New Haven Register, including five in the newsroom. That represents about 7 percent of what's left of the newsroom staff.
True, that's wholly in line with what lots of other newspapers have been doing. But it indicates a Defcon 5 situation at Journal Register. Instead of shoring up its biggest papers, it's cutting from all corners.
And that can't be good, especially in light of news earlier this week that the company would close two smaller papers, the Herald in New Britain, and the Bristol Press unless -- in the unlikely event -- a buyer was found by January. A similar fate awaits 11 Connecticut weeklies put out by Journal Register.
The sad part is these moves, given the company's crushing debt load, resemble more of a Band-Aid and less a tourniquet.
But at this stage, Journal Register probably can't afford tourniquets.

Media Misery Loves Company

Things Suck In The U.K. Too

A crappy economy combined with ultra-leveraged fat cats in over their heads is a big reason the U.S. media business is so sickly.
Of course, changing tastes and consumer habits are also big contributors to the mess we're in.
But maybe because we don't hear as much about it on this side of the pond, it was easy to assume that media elsewhere was not as vulnerable, especially given that in many countries print media circulation is actually increasing.
Assume no more. It's a small, interconnected world, after all, judging by the Guardian's media page.
To wit:
The Daily Mail's parent company is axing 300 jobs.
Haymarket is slashing 50 jobs at its U.K. properties.
The London edition of Time Out will shed 13 positions.

And so on.

If you've been on the receiving end of a media downsizing in the U.S., it may be little comfort that you have plenty of company.
But when you see how quickly and perniciously the contagion has spread, it's at least more understandable.

Friday, November 07, 2008

With Section Consolidation, N.Y. Times Sports Coverage Less Colorful

Gray Lady Really Is Gray; Meanwhile, Hockey Coverage Takes Yet Another Step Toward Irrelevance

One consequence of The New York Times consolidating sections to save money is that the once-standalone section fronts often have black-and-white photos instead of color.
This is often the fate of the sports section on the four days when it runs inside Business Day. It looks cheap, and given that there's often some compelling art, the section is less of a grabber and makes stories easier to overlook.
I remember thinking how unthinkable color photos in the Times once seemed. Indeed, the paper was relatively late to the game, but has since made the most of the technology. The Times needs to make sure it doesn't lose that edge in sports.
Then again, it's just another slap-in-the-face for sports in the Times. It's been well-documented here about how the paper has cut back on coverage of many local teams. Regular hockey coverage is down to a single writer, Lynn Zinser, who mostly covers only New York Rangers home games.
But now, not even that. Last night's Rangers 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was noted on page B-17 by an A.P. story. The Times couldn't even muster one of its stringers, like Dave Caldwell, to cover the game, though it did send veteran photographer Barton Silverman to the game.
Somehow, the St. Petersburg Times had enough its kitty to send a reporter on the road to cover the Lightning. So did the cash-starved Tampa Tribune, along with at least five other New York-area papers.
But not the Times. When the team with the best record in the N.H.L. is playing about seven blocks from your newsroom, that's pretty sad.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

With Election Over, Mitre Wants Lloyd Constantine To Knock Around HBO

Libel Brouhaha Over "Real Sports" Report About Child Labor For Soccer Balls

If you never got to see the devastating report on HBO's "Real Sports" back in September about how top soccer-ball manufacturers use contractors in India to "employ" children to stitch soccer balls, time to find it on a rerun, YouTube or a podcast.
It was a damning indictment of an industry that conveniently looks the other way, while kids as young as six years ago effectively become indentured servants.
The report delivered a glancing blow to companies like Mitre, which saw its business wilt in the U.S. It is not amused. And they are suing HBO, claiming the children and their families seen in Bernard Goldberg's dispatch were paid to appear in the story and were never employed by the company.
Mitre is employing high-profile Lloyd Constantine to take on HBO, with what Mitre says is video rebutting the HBO report.
Even if you find Goldberg's politics and view on the media execrable, you still need to give props to his reporting chops. Watching his work on "Real Sports," it takes no effort to believe that he's indeed keeping it real. It's what he's been doing for three decades; no reason for him to stop now or risk everything for a good soundbite.
Goldberg's no stranger to child-labor issues. His 2004 report on boys illegally being used as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates won an Emmy.
Mitre may have video. But so what? It could well have come from fearful people, exploited all their lives who were pressured to speak in order to hold on to what meager earnings they get. And if Mitre claims are based on the fact they didn't employ those seen in the report, then they should watch it again.
Goldberg never makes that claim. Rather, it's the use of contractors and subcontractors who carry out the dirty work of Mitre and other manufacturers. They are well-insulated for a very good reason. True, some companies do have child-labor policies and employ people to police their vendors. But as "Real Sports" demonstrated, that's a lot easier said than done, if it's done at all.
Just because you hire an attack dog like Constantine doesn't mean you have a case. Perhaps Mitre's money would be better spent ensuring 6-year-olds in India aren't stitching soccer balls being kicked by 6-year-olds in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Now That It's Happened, Media Tries To Relish Its Own Obama Moments

Random Thoughts As History Is Made

--Interesting watching black reporters and commentators on TV reacting to the Obama win. Byron Pitts on CBS was eloquent in describing a conversation he had with his mom tonight and asking her how she felt. "Glory, halleleujah," she said. Pitts also held up a picture from his office, of the Memphis garbage workers who Martin Luther King Jr. had come to support before he was killed 40 years ago. A long road indeed. Roland Martin on CNN -- a steadfast Obama supporter, was choking back tears as he talked about what tonight meant to him. Before Obama went over the top in the electoral college, meanwhile, a black McCain supporter on WCBS-TV was asked what it meant to him that an African-American could be president. He was resolute. It's important, he said, "but I still don't think he's the right man for the job."
--Headline from the The Sun in the U.K. -- in its typically understated fashion: "Obama Slamma."
--Hed from the Sydney Morning Herald: U.S. voters reject George Bush nightmare
--Karl Rove, taking a break from crocodile tears, said on Fox it wouldn't be a black family in the White House, but an American family. Thanks for sharing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

R.I.P, Tony Hillerman

Any good journalism ultimately involves telling a story. What separates the artful from the mundane is the ability to find that nugget, that tiny detail that makes the story truly worth reading.
Tony Hillerman was never mundane.
Like millions of his fans, I was saddened to hear of his passing yesterday at age 83 in his beloved New Mexico.
The Navajo mysteries featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, like "Dance Hall of the Dead," "Skinwalkers" and "A Thief of Time," have a prominent place on my bookshelf. They helped fuel a special kinship to the land during the trips I've made to The Rez and elsewhere in the Southwest where Hillerman's characters roamed.
Hillerman's voice was not that of a voyeur, but of someone with a reverence and unending fascination with the tribes who provided the backdrops for his absorbing tales. It's quite a legacy and a loss that will be felt in all corners of the literary world, not just the Four Corners in the Southwest.
Marilyn Stasio's obit in the Times reminded me that Hillerman first cut his teeth as a scribe, after he returned a wounded hero from the killing fields of Europe during World War II.
I'm proud to say we both have covering state government for UPI on our resumes, though he got to do it in Santa Fe, while I shivered through stark winters in Albany. He was destined to tell better, longer and more compelling stories than the wires would allow. It was a destiny that was amply fulfilled with each succeeding book.
As the Navajo would say, Hágoónee', Tony.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Palin Interview A Good Get For Chicago Tribune, But...

Does Jill Zuckman Get It?

The Chicago Tribune landed an exclusive, rare interview with Sarah and Todd Palin. While it was nice to see Palin grant a one-on-one with a newspaper reporter, in this case Jill Zuckman (far right), a read of the transcript indicates some missed opportunities. Or, maybe just a lack of time.
But if time was indeed not on Zuckman's side, all the more reason not to lob softballs at Palin. Maybe having Trig in the room during the interview unnerved Zuckman enough that she held back on the questions she really wanted to ask.
Instead, the interview dwells on:

1) Children, with special needs, like Palin's baby Trig:
I think the significance of the last six months now has been that Trig, for us, how do I explain it? He's been part of, what has been in our heart all this time in desiring to assist these families with special needs.

2) Being held to a double standard as a woman:
Certainly there's a double standard. But I'm not going to complain about it , I'm not going to whine about it, I'm going to plow through that because we are embarking on something greater than that, than allowing that double standard to adversely affect us.

3) That $150,000 wardrobe malfunction:
That whole thing is just, bad! Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are. The clothes that were loaned to us during the convention. And I don't think it was anywhere near...What did they say ... $150 grand? It wasn't anywhere near that.

And that was pretty much that. Palin stayed on message, even talking issues of intense personal interest to her. Zuckman didn't press on more-substantive issues and soon she was out the door.
In other words, both squandered a chance to tell us more than we already knew.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not Enough Horny Lads in Singapore Kills Off Maxim

Too Titillating or Not Enough Tits?

Singapore will never be confused for a den of iniquity. That should have been enough for the local edition of Maxim to survive. Lads on the make or who wish they were had a veritable media oasis where they could feast.
But maybe the nation-state's puritanical ways still loom large enough to scare enough guys from picking up the title, even if they could squirrel it away from their girlfriends or moms.
SPH magazines said falling circulation and "borderline profitability" prompted it to shutter the Singapore Maxim.
Of course, Maxim has suffered from lad-mag fatigue all over the globe. It could just be that it took Singapore a little longer to fall in line.

Foreign, um, International News You're Not Reading Because You're Too Depressed About the Economy

It really is a great big world out there. Some far-flung dispatches coming into the overseas desk:

Naked Marine Wearing Condom Threatened Rape, Former Gitmo Prisoner Claims
Australian national Mamdouh Habib says in new book the condom had "God is great" written on it, to compound humiliation, says Sydney Morning Herald.

No Thai Tranny Pageant
All the political turmoil in Thailand means one of the big social events of the season in Bangkok -- a transvestite beauty pageant, has been postponed indefinitely, AFP sadly reports.

Teaching Corporal Punishment at a Young Age
A 5-year-old Indian boy caught playing hooky was bound and dragged for 50 meters by one pissed-off principal, according to the Times of India.

Sex Change Turns Hen Into Rooster
The Sun (who else?) has what it calls an "eggs-troadinary" story, which no reporter takes credit for. Yes, they chickened out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dallas Morning News Show How Not to Lay Off People

Twisting In The Wind Can Be Worse Than Eventually Getting Pink-Slipped

I've been following the travails of what's left of the staff at the Dallas Morning News on the blog News Buyout 2008, which chronicles the latest reductions at what was once regarded as the nation's 10 best papers.
This was supposed to be the week when the grim reapers from Belo would swing the ax once more for the latest round of "involuntary separations," or whatever euphemism H.R. has cooked up.
So far, nothing, although some hints are given on how to read the tea leaves.
"Was an HR official seen in your department with an arm full of folders? Was the conference room's windows covered up with paper? Were cardboard boxes laying around today?"
Sigh. Having been through something like this before, it's the absolute worst way to lay off people. But it's the lawyers who control the process, and they don't give a rat's turd about morale. Still, how long does it really take to get all the necessary ducks in a row?
As one person on the inside commented on the blog:

"It's miserable. It's impossible to concentrate in the office (and the few chipper souls who seem to be oblivious to this don't help) and outside of the office you have brief moments when you realize you're actually not thinking about losing your job."

The ironic part, as one poster noted, is that the longer Belo takes to wring its hands over the cutbacks, the more expensive it gets. And isn't money, or the lack thereof, why you're doing the layoffs in the first place?

"The ONLY upside is that we all get to collect an extra week's pay that will be sorely needed after this shit shakes out. But the mental strain that the newsroom has been put under thanks to this delay almost makes that not worth mentioning."

I wish everyone at the DMN luck. Having been involuntarily separated myself back in July, I know the road that lies ahead is filled with potholes, regardless of whether you keep your job.

N.Y. Times Has Cash for Notecards, But What About the News?

No Reflection on Damon Winter, But We Need More News, Fewer Gifts

It was super-swell of The New York Times to enclose a gift "as a loyal subscriber" in last Sunday's paper. Inside an envelope, was a series of three notecards illustrated by photographs from the immensely talented Damon Winter.
Winter joined the Times as a staff photographer last year, a no-brainer pickup after looking at his work from The Los Angeles Times.
This showcase with the notecards is evidence the paper knows a good thing when we see it. Looking at his portfolio, it's hard not to.
Nonetheless, I'm concerned about the expense in sending out packages of notecards to hundreds of thousands of customers, some of whom jno doubt threw them away with the circulars.
Given the belt-tightening that is too often apparent in the daily paper, I can't help but wonder if this is money that could have been better spent for newsgathering. Most likely, the Times would argue the Winter cards are part of the marketing budget and have nothing to do with editorial.
But all of the money ultimately comes out of the same, increasingly ragged kitty. And more of that should be spent on sending Winter on more assignments, so his outstandng work can be seen in the paper more often.

Who's The Bigger Lunkhead? Michele Bachmann Or Her Press Secretary

Anti-American Obama Crack On "Hardball" Could Cost GOP Loudmouth Her Job

When last we left Michele Bachmann, she was appearing on "Hardball," and telling Chris Matthews that she was "very concerned" that Barack Obama "may have anti-American views. That's what the American people are concerned about. That's why they want to know what his answers are."
All of a sudden what looked to be a cakewalk for the Minnesota Republican in her House race has now turned into a nailbiter, with Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg (love that name) getting a big jump in donations.
Aw, jeez, wouldn'cha just know it, but now Bachmann is eating her own words and blaming Matthews for giving her indigestion.
First off, Bachmann claimed she had never seen "Hardball" before she came on the show last Friday, and didn't know what the show was all about. That's a real whopper given her propensity for being a media whore, especially on cable, as aptly points out. For a freshman Republican, Bachmann has shown more than her fair share of ambition. She has made herself readily available for bookers entranced by her attack-dog routine.
Bachmann accused Matthews of goading her into saying things like "the people Barack Obama has been associating with are anti-American, by and large, the people who are radical leftists."
Chris Matthews can do many things, but one thing he can't do is force a congresswoman to utter dumb statements. Bachmann can do that on her own, thank you very much.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. It was Bachmann who Radar magazine dubbed America's holiest congresswoman. Among her crusades: founding a charter school where she sought to prevent Disney's "Aladdin" from being shown. The rationale: she felt it promoted paganism.
So maybe watching MSNBC isn't must-see TV after all. But still. Somehow you or someone who works for you knows who the hell Chris Matthews is, and that the last thing he's going to do is lob softballs. Not knowing that could mean Bachmann won't be in a position to have a sophomore slump.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tsunami of Red Ink Washes Over NBC Weather Plus

It's no surprise that NBC is shutting down the 4-year-old Weather Plus especially after NBC Universal acquired The Weather Channel.

What is a bit of a shocker is word from NBC News chief honcho Steve Capus that the network would have pulled the plug even if TWC hadn't come on board.
As Television Week reports, it seems most affiliates put up a cold front when it came to using digital subchannels to house Weather Plus. Not enough affiliates means not enough revenue. Not enough revenue means unemployment.
However, that likely won't apply to the likes of Jeff Ranieri (right), who's made a name for himself doing live shots in weather hot -- and cold -- spots for "Today" and MSNBC, sort of a higher-octane version of Jim Cantore.
Willard Scott can't go on forever (can't he?) and Al Roker's never looked too enthused when he has to stand on a Gulf Coast beach with a Category 3 whopper just off the coast. Ranieri's got game, and it's a safe bet he'll keep on playing across the NBC platform, Weather Plus or no.

Bringing The Star-Ledger Back From The Brink

But It's A Safe Bet New Jersey's Largest Paper Will Be Back There Before Long

So, the bullying and threats by Newhouse at The Star-Ledger worked.
Enough non-union employees took a buyout, while two unions pressured to accept deep concessions gave the company what it wanted.
All parties were told they basically had no choice. Newhouse had threatened to sell or shutter the paper if it didn't get its way. Everyone decided to swallow hard rather than bluff.
As readers of this space know, I've long been skeptical of Newhouse's threats to shutter the Star-Ledger, despite claims it loses up to $40 million a year putting it and the Trenton Times out.
Getting rid of the Star-Ledger would have effectively spelled the end for two other papers, the Jersey Journal and the Staten Island Advance, which rely on the Star-Ledger for some of their content.
Maybe Donald Newhouse was that serious. Still, the thought he would invoke newspaperdom's version of the nuclear option remains hard to contemplate. But I can understand why staffers didn't want to find out.
Meantime, the Star-Ledger's newsroom will be about one-third thinner, after 130 reporters and editors take voluntary buyouts. What's telling is a lot more than 130 signed up to leave.
Editor Jim Wilse says the Star-Ledger will remain the "watchdog" of New Jersey despite the cuts.
Sounds like he's barking up the wrong tree.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cool Foreign News You're Probably Not Reading Beacuse You're Obsessed With Sarah Palin

Some dispatches from correspondents flung far and wide:

The Guardian reports on how the major domos in the Yakuza, Japan's version of the Mafia, are trying to skirt laws that make them liable for crimes committed by their henchmen.

The Times of India has word on how the winner of Mr. Gay UK is now on trial for killing a man, and then cooking and chewing on pieces of the unfortunate chap. But it stands to reason. Defendant Anthony Morley has worked as a chef.

The Sun is very pleased with itself a day after an expose that found Starbucks outlets in the UK are told to leave tap water running all day, wasting 23 million liters of water daily. After the story ran, the chain reversed its policy.

The Globe and Mail has word on a gym in North Vancouver that caters to parents who want their kids pumping iron as soon as age eight. Soon they'll want to mix in some HGH with their Lucky Charms.

And The New York Times, one of the few U.S. papers that still has foreign correspondents (after the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, can you think of any more?), has sad news out of China that attempts to get two giant turtles to engage in a little terrapin nooky have gone for naught.

Phoenix Suburbs Lose East Valley Tribune as Daily; Could Be First of Many

Shrinking Its Way To Profitability, Oblivion

A double whammy for readers of the East Valley Tribune in the sprawling Phoenix suburbs. First, it's going to stop circulating in Tempe and Scottsdale. Then it's going to cut back to four days a week and become a free paper.
Free is good, right? Not necessarily. It might get more people to pick up the paper if they don't have to plunk down 50 cents. Then again, it's going to be harder to prove to advertisers who's reading the paper and how dedicated they are if they don't have to dig into their wallets to read it.
Freedom Communications, which owns the paper, is among the many suffering mightily from circulation declines, advertisers fleeing print and an economy that especially soured in the Valley of the Sun, where the real estate bubble turned into a mushroom cloud.
So, for now, it's better than nothing, or that could be the end result, after the paper trims the 40 percent of its staff who will exit with the change in frequency.
"We are not giving up on investigative and enterprise journalism," Tribune publisher Julie Moreno says.
But good luck finding it once these changes take effect.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Why StoryCorps Should Sign Kleenex As An Underwriter

"Morning Edition" Friday Mainstay Grabs Heartstrings, Then Rips Them to Little Shreds

My wife often tells me how she listens to the weekly "StoryCorps" segment on NPR's Morning Edition on Fridays while driving to work and often starts to tear up.
I usually catch "StoryCorps" on podcast, but today I heard it in the car. Now I know how she feels.
For the uninitiated -- and please do change that status soon -- ordinary folks come to StoryBooths, basically mobile recording studios that travel the country, and talk about their families, their jobs, passions, triumphs, tragedies and guideposts that have made up their lives and legacies.
Since 2003, over 35,000 stories have been recorded, and one is broadcast each week on NPR. To be sure, not all of what we hear is tinged with sadness. Sometimes, we hear two family members sharing memories and perhaps healing wounds. Other times, the conversations are a way to say thanks or a version of "I love you."
For a few minutes you feel like you know these people and are glad to have met them. But "StoryCorps" grabs hardest, like it did today, with its tales of loss, especially when participants can celebrate a life instead of mourn a death.
Such is the tale of Andrea St. John, who fell in love with fellow teacher Kevin Broderick, who was dealing with a rare form of cancer.
St. John talks about when it became clear Broderick was terminal, she put on a dress she told him she'd wear at his wake. Broderick started to cry, and St. John apologized. But he told her, "It's just that you look so beautiful. I'm so glad I got to see you in that dress."
Broderick later told her when had gotten up that morning, he realized he was ready for the end. St. John asked him what that was like.
"Well," I guess it's the same thing you felt when you put the dress on this morning."
It's moments like these that make "StoryCorps" a treasure. And even if you wind up with a lump in your throat or shedding a tear, it will make your day.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More Signs of Misery for White House Press Corps If McCain is Elected

Prickly Candidate Gets In Huff At "Tough" Questions Leveled by Des Moines Register

No doubt that Sarah Palin's biggest fan is John McCain. Not that he has a choice in the matter. So, he's extolling her virtues even if he doesn't necessarily have his facts straight or uses them a little too conveniently or unfortunately.
To wit: When McCain enumerated Palin's experience to the Des Moines Register editorial board, he cited her membership in the PTA, among other things.
Watch these clips from the Register session to see a McCain in action who appears to have little patience to field anything more than the softest of tosses from the media.
Which is not exactly what the White House Correspondents Association would have in mind, should McCain take up residence, liberal accusations to the contrary.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Relying On The BBC To Keep Alive 'Story of Possible U.S. Involvement In Rendition

Foreign News Takes Backseat to Election and Market Meltdown, But There's Still Plenty To Talk About

One of the beauties of the BBC is that it's not tethered as much as the American networks to its home base. Since versions of the Beeb are seen or heard just about everywhere, its correspondents go just about everywhere to cover worthy stories.
That means we got to hear this morning on Newshour a chilling report from Robert Walker on Africa's version of Guantanamo in Ethiopia, which may well be facilitated by -- wait for it -- U.S. operatives.
What's especially compelling about this report is that Walker actually speaks to a detainee in an Addis Ababa prison cell who has bribed a guard to get access to a mobile phone. Which shows you one way this version of Guantanamo is decidedly different than the real thing.
It's the kind of story you almost take for granted from the BBC, even as that organization finds itself not immune from budget cutbacks and shifting priorities.
So, it should come as no surprise that the BBC is also covering the U.S. election with aplomb. One way is by taking a bus across the country to chat with a wide spectrum of folks and perhaps puncture a few myths and perceptions about Americans along the way.
Today's stop was in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, which means the bus will conveniently find itself in St. Louis tomorrow for the Palin-Biden showdown.
Speaking of which, the BBC has an illuminating sidebar on how Palin kicked serious butt in debates when she ran for governor in Alaska.
It could mean Biden won't be able to walk all over her inexperience tomorrow. Or, it could mean the klieg lights on the national stage could show the cracks in that aw-shucks, hockey-mom populist routine that got her elected.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Too Much Competition, Not Enough Money and a Lack of Hubris Force The New York Sun To Set

Even if you found the neo-con editorial pages of The New York Sun to be off the grid, if not just plain goofy, you can't take pleasure in the fact that the broadsheet published its last edition today.
At the very least, the Sun showed what a scrappy underdog paper can do to keep the bigger dailies on its toes, with dogged coverage of Manhattan and local politics. It aggressively covered all things Israel, and was a big thorn in the side at the United Nations.
The Sun also distinguished itself with thorough coverage of the arts world, and spent what meager resources it had for sports by employing extremely able columnists like Tim Marchman and John Hollinger.
Even if the Sun's circulation was tiny relative to the Times and the tabloids, the big boys definitely took notice. That's why they, along with The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among others, eagerly hired away Sun staffers.
True, the Sun was far from perfect, as I pointed out back in March. At times, the wall between news and op-ed would come crashing down, as it often did with Jacob Gershman's coverage of Albany.
Managing editor Ira Stoll, also one of the paper's owners, not only condoned such a stance, but seemed to encourage it.
Too bad, as it turned out, as the paper needed as much credibility in its fight to stay alive. All for naught, as it turned out, but still too bad.
As Mayor Mike Bloomberg noted: "The Sun shone brightly, but too briefly."

CNBC: A Day After The Hysteria

Bartiromo, Ratigan, Come Off As Money Vigilantes

As I write, CNBC is on in the background, just as it was yesterday. The difference is the Dow Jones is up nearly 400 points instead of being down over 700.
That means the channel's reporters are exuding a sense of calm instead of the extreme panic that set in when it was apparent the bank bailout was a goner in the House.
The drama created by that vote brought out the very best and worst in CNBC.
The best: the network was the undisputed authority on TV. You knew it had the unique ability to cover the reaction and fallout from every angle, be it the White House, Capitol Hill, all manners of market and exchanges, while having ready access to pundits who might have some idea of what they're talking about. I say might, given that even the so-called experts were thrown for a big-time loop by the GOP.
The not-the-best: In the rush to get news on the air, single-sourced items got on the air that did not pan out. At times, Charlie Gasparino and Steve Liesman were trying to outscoop each other. Gasparino proclaimed they were going to try and vote again, only to have Liesman shoot him down about 10 minutes later when a "source" told him there was no way that was going to happen.
Yes, it's important to get the news out fast, but given that traders dumping billions upon billions of equities would invariably be tuned in, it was vitally more important to get it right. And unless your source was Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner, then it was probably a good idea to double-check before you report.
The worst: The Dow really began to plunge in the last hour, when Maria Bartiromo and Dylan Ratigan host "Closing Bell." Both were noticeably angry, in itself a curious stance they are supposed to be reporters not commentators. But there was Bartiromo effectively castigating those of us on "Main Street," for having the temerity to oppose a $700 billion bailout, which may have led to the House having a change of heart.
Bartiromo spit out how what happens on Wall Street affects Main Street, e.g. the trickle-down effect if credit markets are frozen. The thing is, she was right. But that doesn't mean what was on the table was the only solution, as loudly noted by Rick Santelli, the combustible reporter stationed at the Chicago Board of Trade.
Santelli betrayed his feelings on the bailout as he bellowed to Bartiromo about how many Americans feel they've been "led down a primrose path" and aren't so eager to accept a solution just because Hank Paulson told them to.
Bartiromo was having none of that, still in a huff over the no vote. CNBC had plenty of people on the air Monday giving their opinions. She didn't need to be one of them.
Today, though, she was all smiles. Nothing like a rally to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Financial Armageddon can wait for another day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

McCain Camp Only Grudgingly Wants First Amendment to Apply To New York Times

The Gray Obama Lady?

The McCain campaign continues to unearth new enemies in the media, or at least perceived enemies.
Of course, we've been through this before with Campbell Brown. But it appears campaign head honchos like Steve Schmidt are once again in "if you not for us, you're agin' us" mode.
Mike Allen of Politico says Schmidt was in a fulminating mode when asked about a recent Times story about campaign manager's Rick Davis' links to a lobbying group with close ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"This is an organization that is completely, totally, 150 percent in tank for the Democratic candidate, which is their prerogative to be," said Schmidt in a snit. "But let’s not be dishonest and call it something other than what it is.”
Time to get a new layer for that thin skin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Bearish Football Story That Has Nothing to Do With Chicago

Anchorage Daily News Shows How To Cover Sports From the Top of The World

Barrow, Alaska, is not exactly one of those places you want to spend too much time in this time of year. It gets cold in a hurry. And it won't get warm anytime soon. Oh, yeah, sunlight's also a fleeting concept come the fall. Such is life as you get closer to the Arctic Circle.
What Barrow also has is a high school football team that may host its first state playoff game. That's a big deal when you consider the North Slope Borough School District will pay for plane tickets for its opponent.
But it's an even bigger deal when you take into account some of the occasional visitors to the football field -- namely polar bears. Even in Barrow that's unusual, writes Kevin Klott in the Anchorage Daily News.

"But no need to fear, football fans -- at least that's what Barrow athletic director Frankie Arnhart says.
When the sea ice is near shore, Arnhart hires gun-slinging maintenance men to sweep the area clear of bears before game time.
"The polar bear patrol goes all around the area to make sure it's safe," he said. "But when activity is on the field, no bear has ever approached."
If a polar bear happened to get too curious and approached spectators, Arnhart said the guards would shoot rubber bullets to scare it off."

Then again, it doesn't sound like there are too many spectators. The field doesn't have bleachers, and most people watching the games do so from the comfort -- and safety -- of their cars and trucks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saber-Rattling at Star-Ledger to Intimidate Unions

Despite Losses, Threat by Newhouse to Close the Paper Rings Hollow

Given its dominant franchise in New Jersey, it's hard to believe the Star-Ledger loses money, but there's little argument that it's bleeding gobs of cash.

Newhouse, which owns the Newark-based paper, wants 20 percent of the staff out the door -- or it threatens to sell the Star-Ledger. The rub there, at least in the newsroom, is Newhouse guaranteed lifetime employment so long as reporters didn't unionize. But that only applied if Newhouse owned the paper. With a new owner, all bets are off.

The Star-Ledger does have a few pesky unions to deal with. One represents the drivers, who have the unmitigated gall to not lay prostrate in front of Donald Newhouse and throw cash at his feet.

The drivers aren't giving Newhouse the concessions it wants, so now it's taken the drastic but legally necessary step of announcing that if the drivers don't cough up some bucks, it'll either sell the Star-Ledger or close it in January.

"It is most unfortunate that we have to send out this notice, but the Drivers have left us with no choice," publisher George Arwady wrote in a memo to employees.

Arwady is playing a dangerous game of chicken. The Star-Ledger's troubles may be real, but saber-rattling does nothing to solve them. It's hard to take his threat to close the paper seriously, given that its reporters supply a lot of other content to other Newhouse papers in the region, including the Jersey Journal, the Trenton Times and the Staten Island Advance.

Get rid of the Star-Ledger and you cripple the other titles, which have already been hobbled by mediocrity, thin staffs and declining numbers. Donald Newhouse is too smart to let that happen. The drivers know that. Which doesn't mean they won't have to give up some of what's in their contract. But they also know that what's ailing the Star-Ledger isn't of their making.