Monday, March 24, 2008
Consumer groups and the National Association of Broadcasters took a bruising today, after the merger-happy Bush Justice Department gave its blessing to Sirius taking over XM to create satellite radio hegemony.
Or so we're led to believe.
Now it's the FCC's turn. No clear indication, based on previous FCC rumblings, that this is a fait accompli. But it's probably more of a done deal than not, especially if the commission's deliberations and likely court challenges are swept aside before Jan. 20, 2009.
After that, all bets may be off, especially if a Democrat starts redecorating 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Either way, if this drags on too long, the ultimate loser will be the millions of sat radio listeners. The more both companies have to remain independent entitites, the more debt piles up. More debt will mean more cutbacks eventually.
You can already gird for redundant channels being combined. That's a given. Two channels devoted to classic alternative rock or progressive country just won't be needed when there's only one roof to broadcast under.
The larger issue is whether the new Sirius will skimp on what's left -- doing just enough of what it needs to do to retain listeners while it still bleeds red ink, rather than continue to innovate. Sirius big cheese Mel Karmazin is saying all the right things -- now. But Mel's all about the money, and while he recognizes the value of good talent (see Howard Stern), that may only take him so far if the banks start breathing heavier around Sirius HQ.
I want to root for The New York Sun, really I do.
Its neo-con editorial page may be cretinous, but I'm all about having as many media voices in the city as possible. Besides, the arts coverage is often laudable, as is Paul Adams's trenchant observations on the restaurant scene. And the paper's shoestring of a sports section features some intriguing columnists, including basketball writer John Hollinger and Tom Perrotta on tennis.
So, even if it's a distant fourth in the newspaper wars -- assuming you believe the slim broadsheet is even in the skirmish -- you want it do well, or at least well enough to survive.
But the Sun does nothing to help its cause when it prints -- at disturbingly frequent intervals -- news that really isn't. In an effort to do more than parrot the other N.Y. papers, the Sun will lead with some kind of analysis or news feature. Good approach, but be careful what you wish for.
Friday's edition led with a story headlined "Albany Starts To Wonder At Paterson," which sought to keep alive the New York's newest governor's revelations days before about how he and his wife cheated on each other.
The story from Jacob Gershman led off:
Concern is growing in Albany over the prospect that, even as Governor Paterson races to get on top of the budget crisis, the disclosures of his private sexual affairs have damaged — perhaps irreparably — his capacity to execute the state's highest office.
Says who? Apparently, attribution's not a strong suit at the Sun, and we'll soon see why. Two grafs down is a quote from Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio about how Paterson's already damaged goods. Muzzio puts in an appearance later in the story.
But that's it.
Nowhere else is anyone quoted to back up the lead, let alone find someone in Albany, where concern is allegedly growing. Muzzio's office is on Manhattan's East Side.
Instead, Gershman -- a little too pleased with himself, but with the apparent blessing of his editors -- sounds more like a columnist than a reporter. To wit:
Mr. Paterson finds himself lumped together with two disgraced former state leaders, Eliot Spitzer and James McGreevey, as charter members of the "Governors Gone Wild" club.
Albany lawmakers are now questioning the political wisdom of his decision to hold a press conference on Tuesday, at which he invited the Albany press corps to quiz him on his sex life for half an hour.
It should be noted it was Gershman, who generated a scintilla of buzz, when he asked Paterson (watch clip) at his first news conference after being sworn in if he had ever patronized a prostitute.
So, it's not that he's clueless or connected. Gershman's been in and around Albany long enough to develop sources. And judging by other newspapers' blogs that quote him, he is read by his peers.
The answer is the Sun's limited resources mean it couldn't afford a Chinese wall between news and editorial. Which means it really can't be taken seriously as a news outlet except by those who are like-minded, in other words venemous Democrat-bashers.
That allows you to be a writer and not a reporter, thereby allowing you to quote a professor who just happens to agree with your preconceived notions.
And if you think it's just a matter of Gershman being lazy rather than having an agenda, then ask why he and his managing editor, Ira Stoll, penned a piece in neocon bible Commentary in November evaluating Spitzer's first term.
Which means that Paterson's peccadilloes are prime fodder for Gershman & Co. He may be smelling blood. But I smell something else emanating from articles like these.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Tribune high priest Sam Zell has said he didn't want to sell any of his newspaper properties after he bought the company.
But Zell says a lot of things, some of them meaningful, others profane, and some he has had to backtrack on. Some of that's understandable, as advertising revenue continues to shrink -- and this once-mighty bastion of journalism leaks vats of red ink.
So, now comes opportunity, in the form of a possible sale of Newsday , which could fetch $350 million and up.
And in the hunt are Mortimer (Daily News) Zuckerman and Rupert (Post) Murdoch, who the Times described as being interested in a joint venture.
Oh, yeah, there's also James Dolan of Cablevision, but despite that company's deep pockets, Dolan has proved himself to be a doofus of the first order in his stewardship of Madison Square Garden, in particular the woeful Knicks. He knows newspapers like I know quantum physics.
So, let's stick with Mort and Rupe. Obviously, they're looking, initially, to find a way to broaden their reach to advertisers and maybe hurdle the other to oblivion once and for all. And despite its diminished size and stature, Newsday -- despite its previous lies about its circulation -- is still the 10th-largest newspaper in the country and primarily serves two of the country's wealthiest counties.
So, it could make sense from a business standpoint, not to mention a salve for the raging egos of this pair.
But I'd worry, as I'm sure many Newsday editors and reporters do, as to what a joint venture could morph into -- not the least of which is an eventual outright purchase.
First, you're merging ad staffs and back-office operations. Then, hey, as long as we're at it, do we really need to send reporters from both papers on the road to cover the Mets? Couldn't we get by with two fewer reporters covering eastern Suffolk? Couldn't one theatre critic suffice? Etcetera.
Chicken Little? Don't think so, if you look at what's left of the Media News-owned newspapers in California that have had their staffs eviscerated by "Lean Dean" Singleton. It could happen out east if things get bad enough, and despite the economies of scale that a joint venture could bring, it may not be enough in the long run to stop the outflow of circulation and ads.
Having read the paper for parts of four decades, I know first-hand that Newsday was a great newspaper. Now it is merely good. Still better than most, but with the latest round of buyouts, traveling in the wrong direction to a fork in the road, where Murdoch or Zuckerman anxiously wait.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
CNBC is patting itself on the back for landing a sit-down with the hubris-challenged Dennis Kozlowski at Mid-State Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where the former Tyco chief is doing 8 to 25 years for treating the company, as one prosecutor said, as his "personal piggy bank."
Tonight's interview with the man with the golden shower curtain is billed in an ad in The Wall Street Journal as his "first interview from behind prison walls."
Actually, it's more like the first interview from behind prison walls since Morley Safer took the "60 Minutes" cameras to Kozlowski in a segment that aired nearly a year ago.
And while they were touting the second first interview, CNBC spelled Kozlowski's name in the ad wrong, making it "Koslowski."
Trying to find info on CNBC.com about the interview, which is part of the "American Greed" series, is maddening at best.
Wanna watch a video clip? Good luck. The ones on the site either don't load, provide any controls, or only play the audio. On top of that, much of the information on the web page for the Kozlowski piece is actually devoted to another story.
In other words, a real mess. Hopefully, the story, reported by Bertha Coombs, is markedly better. Just remember, though, this isn't the first time you heard it.
Dow Jones Newswires and the Associated Press engaged in a game of chicken over higher rates the latter wanted to charge the former.
In the end, they both lost. DJ loses a vital news source, and the A.P. a reliable source of revenue, though it will pick up Agence France-Presse has a kinda, sorta substitute.
All this could mean a last-minute reconciliation, as both sides actually share office space and other operations, which makes undoing this arrangement a pain in the butt more than anything else.
The weirdest part of all this was reading about how DJ was dumping the AP for AFP on Reuters, DJ Newswires' bitter rival.
Everybody wants a piece of this action.
Monday, March 17, 2008
If you want to read online the review by Elissa Altman from the Feb. 28 Hartford Courant of Prime Steak & Seafood in Torrington, Conn., you're out of luck on the newspaper's Web site, though you can find it in the Google cache.
Among the choicer morsels:
"Of all the dishes on the menu, the swordfish won the prize for perfection, and the apple and spinach salad was delicate and delicious. When your rare steak shows up a dark steel gray, it's within your rights to send it back. Because you'll have to."
"Very nervy, this place, to open during a near-recession and then charge Max-style prices for food that falls qualitatively below a chain family restaurant."
"Tables are outsized, and there are simply way too many packed into this moderate space, leaving one to deduce that a key part of the restaurant's business plan is to squeeze diners in tight and charge them outrageous sums for mediocre food. After our meal, it was certainly hard to think otherwise."
The Courant yanked the review after the restaurant complained it was inaccurate and laden with hyperbole. Then the paper issued a correction and publicly announced that Elissa Altman had written her last for the Courant.
All of that set off message-board speculation about censors afoot, although many slammed Altman for dinging a restaurant they loved.
It does appear that Altman was guilty, at the very least, of being sloppy. She got wrong some prices and inaccurately wrote that the restaurant has no Web site. She also write of being there with "dining companions" when, in fact, she just had one other person with her. Altman's defense? "While I referred in my review to my 'dining companions,' I was indeed dining with just one other person. This is, to my understanding, accepted and commonplace reviewing practice done both for the sake of maintaining anonymity...," she lamely told reader representative Karen Hunter.
Hunter excoriated Altman for the dining-companion lapse, but sent the wrong message, when she quoted from the ethics code from the Association of Food Journalists that reads in part: "Negative reviews are fine, as long as they're accurate and fair. Critics must always be conscious that they are dealing with people's livelihoods. "Negative reviews, especially, should be based on multiple visits and a broad exploration of the restaurant's menu."
Taken to the nth degree, that puts Altman, or any reviewer that can't return to a restaurant multiple times in an untenable position if they don't like a place. Altman told Hunter that "the budget places strict limitations on both the number of guests a reviewer is able to bring, and the number of times a reviewer is able to visit."
Is the Courant, given its precarious fiscal state under Tribune ownership, going to pony up for a revisit if a critic says the place stinks? Doubtful.
The key, then, is to back up the critic if the review sparks a backlash like this one did -- so long as the review is based on accurate information. Altman's piece doesn't meet that criterion. But Hunter's display of the AFJ code gives you the uneasy feeling the Courant won't want to get singed by other negative reviews going forward and may avoid them entirely.
That's one move that would certainly leave a bad taste.
Now that Eliot Spitzer's been safely tucked away to ignominious oblivion, those of us in the metro NY area can re-fix our gaze on the battling McGreeveys. That would be Jim, the former New Jersey governor and would-be gay icon, and his supposedly oblivious soon-to-be-ex Dina Matos McGreevey.
The two are duking it out in divorce court and civil court, over everything from custody of their daughter, to punitive damages for being cheated out of perks she anticipated getting her mitts on before McGreevey prematurely bade the governor's mansion farewell.
Matos McGreevey has portrayed herself as a victim, who said she had no inkling her hubby was playing for the other team. Which has apparently cheesed off a former McGreevey aide, who says that's a crock because he had a lot of three-way sex with both of them.
Teddy Pedersen gave interviews to The New York Post (who dubbed him a "three-way sex stud") and the Star-Ledger, both of which are worth reading because each one fills in blanks from the other's stories.
Pedersen told the Post he spent many an evening with the McGreeveys before they were married that started with dinner and culminated in a "hard-core consensual sex orgy" that Pedersen says shows she was a "willing participant" rather than a "victim."
In fact, Pedersen implied his presence was welcomed by Dina "to get Jim's motor running," so she could fulfill her ambitions to become a governor's wife, although it was Matos McGreevey who says she was duped by McGreevey so he could ride a beard all the way to Trenton.
The Post said Pedersen "lives with his girlfriend of several years," but uncharacteristically never directly addresses whether Pedersen and the gov got it on, though he said McGreevey liked watching him do the mattress mambo with Dina.
The Star-Ledger was more direct, making no mention of a girlfriend. "Pedersen did not say if he was gay or bisexual and only described having contact with Matos McGreevey during the trysts. He also said he never knew for sure if McGreevey was gay. "I had heard the rumors in circles outside of work," he said. "In hindsight, there might have been light interest (in me), but it didn't seem like he was gay."
So is Pedersen just looking for a quick payday and an appearance on TMZ? Actually, he was subpoenaed by Dina for the divorce trial, although she probably didn't calculate he'd blab about that.
Probably the best response in this situation is to clam up, especially before a court session. However, Dina also has a book to sell, a book that could quickly become fodder for the fireplace if it's proved she willingly lived a lie. Which forces her to go on offense and tell the A.P. that Pedersen's claims are "completely false."
Friday, March 14, 2008
It helps to be a satellite radio company and have a few channels lying around.
Sirius will open up a channel this weekend and call it Client 9 Radio to thoroughly dissect, roast and drink the blood of the carcass that was Eliot Spitzer.
Because let's face it, you just can't enough of The Spitz.
That's why right-wing talker Andrew Wilkow will break bread with James Tedisco, the powerless Republican leader in the New York state Assembly, who grabbed more face time on TV than he's ever had by being the first to call for Spitzer to resign or be impeached.
That's why lefty-turned-righty Ron Silver will explore the cuckolded prominent Jew angle with Alan Dershowitz. We made up the cuckolded Jew part, but, hey, you never know.
And that's why, most importantly, the morning show on Playboy Radio will hear the deep thoughts of high-priced hookers about the scandal. Yes, penetrating thoughts indeed.
With programming like this, betcha can't wait for that merger with XM to go through, huh?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
An item in the Portland Press-Herald about 27 positions being eliminated at Maine's largest paper is, at first blush, no different than the dozens of articles other newspapers have printed about their own staff reductions.
But what is revealing here is that the cutbacks affect "almost every department" in the newspaper including its web site, Maine Today.
Given that's where many of its readers are heading, you'd think Maine Today would be the one sacred cow Down East.
If not, then it only highlights how lousy the advertising climate is, if as publisher Charles Cochrane says, the numbers this year are off from "the weak results posted last year."
And you thought Maine was already cold enough this time of year.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Today was when employees at The San Jose Mercury-News were told to wait by the phone at home to find out if they still had a job.
In the end, 34 employees were pink-slipped that way, while another 16 took buyouts. That brings the newsroom headcount down to about 180, less than half of what it was in 2000.
There had been previous staff reductions in 2006 and 2007. We'll have to wait and see whether these are the only roster buzzcuts this year.
Given the state of the economy, that's far from a sure thing, as opposed to the guarantee that just about anybody still at the Mercury-News, especially those who remember what once was, isn't happy they're still there.
Newspapers big and small, such as the Sun-Sentinel in south Florida, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, anxious to trim budgets, have decreed that arts critics of various stripes are expendable, in favor of running reviews from syndicates and wires.
So, when longtime Daily News chief film critic Jack Mathews announced recently he'd spent enough time in screening rooms, and would be headed to a long-awaited retirement on the Oregon coast, the betting money was on the News using that as an excuse to eliminate his position.
Happily, that is not the case and FishbowlNY reports Joe Neumaier, the paper's Sunday feature editor, now has the job.
Neumaier's a seasoned film writer for a variety of pubs, and at least in the press release, he's saying all the right things about the right way to approach a film critic's job, someone passionate about the movies without being an obsessive, nit-picky fan or egghead academic.
His reviews of "10,000 B.C." and "Married Life" show he's off to a good start.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
For both business and pleasure, I've rented cars from National many times without incident thanks to membership in their Emerald Club, which allows me to bypass the counter and pick my own car in most locations.
A seamless car-rental process is far from a sure thing, and as corporate travel tightens and leisure trips may slacken due to a recession, it behooves a company to know its customers' likes and dislikes.
So, a survey of the vox populi could certainly prove helpful. So can hiring the likes of Synovate, a leading market-research firm, to conduct the survey and parse the numbers. But even supposed experts like Synovate can show they're seriously lacking a clue, and wasting National's money in the process.
Last week I received an invitation to complete a survey "evaluating the car rental process." I was favorably predisposed to take part until I got to the part about it taking "approximately 40 minutes to complete."
I never clicked on the link to see whether they were joking, but surely they do indeed jest. What chucklehead at Synovate reasonably expects business travelers, National's bread-and-butter, to take that much time from already-crammed schedules to answer a survey without any incentive?
Other online surveys I've been asked to fill out -- and which take 5-10 minutes tops -- often provide entry into a contest for iPods, gift certificates, plane tickets and the like. It's a small but significant carrot to get you to carve out a few minutes.
But 40 minutes? Now you're getting into focus-group territory, where market researchers dole out more than a few pennies for your thoughts.
Anyone who has the time and inclination to fill out the National survey could hardly be construed as a representative customer, given the company's emphasis on the corporate traveler (leaving the leisure driver to its sibling Alamo).
If you want my time, you need to do more than simply say "thank you." Offer up a little something extra and maybe you'll get my attention, not to mention those whose opinions really matter to National.
Romeneseko's been lousy with posts the last few days that make you want to reach out to anyone working at a Media News-owned paper in California and give them a hug.
Item: If you work for the San Jose Mercury-News, you've been told to wait by the phone Friday morning. If no one calls to say you've been canned, then it's safe to head to work in the morning. Gotta love having that hang over your head all week.
No word yet on how much the newsroom will shrink, but bear in mind, at roughly 200, it already is down to half the bodies it had in 1999.
Yet, there is one happy camper amidst the Merc mess: that would be Susan Goldberg, now the editor at the Plain-Dealer in Cleveland, who left the top editiong job at the Merc last year. In a revealing interview with Cleveland magazine, she said: “I just wanted to get out of the whole situation. It was just very unhappy. I didn’t see where it was going to end.”
Unforutnately, those left at the Merc might get the opportunity to find out.
They could get a preview by looking to their corporate brethren in SoCal.
First stop, the San Fernando Valley, where Daily News editor Ron Kaye got all teary-eyed last week, as he told staffers that another 22 editorial positions were going bye-bye. That leaves just 100 of them to put out the paper.
Then came word that Lean Dean Singleton was essentially folding the Daily Breeze in Torrance and the Long Beach Press-Telegram into one operation. Both papers will exist, at least to readers, as separate entities (for now), but the P-T loses its copydesk to the Breeze, which itself cut nine newsroom positions.
So there are fewer people doing less. A lot less.
And as newspaper chieftains try to figure out a way to recapture at least some of the revenue that has been leaching out of their ledgers, still Singleton -- and others of his ilk -- believe that cutting the muscle and the heart out of the product you want people to buy is somehow a way to stanch the bleeding.
No easy answers, I realize, but the one Singleton keeps coming up with rings hollow.