Thursday, December 25, 2008
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.
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
We went to school here.
We care deeply about Philadelphia, its suburbs and South Jersey.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Monday, December 08, 2008
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.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
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
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
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
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.
By the time you find out whodunit, you really don't care."