Tuesday, September 30, 2008
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."
Monday, September 22, 2008
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
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
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.
William McGurn writes as if he's mighty pleased with himself in his "Main Street" column in today's Wall Street Journal.
McGurn senses a gotcha moment because The New York Times, or at least its editorialists, have stopped using "civil war," a term it began using in 2006,to describe the current mess in Iraq.
"As someone who was in Mr. Bush's speechwriting shop at the time, I remember the horrible stories coming out of Iraq ... The violence was real, it reflected religious divisions, and on the face of it, civil war was a reasonable description."
But, and you knew there would be a but:
"So why did the president resist the characterization? The answer is that he resisted using "civil war" for the same reason the Times likely embraced it: It was a loaded term.
If the conflict in Iraq was really a civil war, the implication was, first, that the United States had no place being there; second, that it was hopeless. "
At least give points to McGurn for being honest about why the term was anathema in the White House, and for confirming the state of denial where Dubya and his acolytes were in residence. Without saying so, McGurn appears to be all chipper about The Surge being a scourge on sectarian violence.
"The fact is, though some of its columnists call Iraq a civil war, the Times hasn't run an editorial saying so since last November. Could that editorial silence be the Gray Lady's way of admitting a mistake? If I were the president, I think I'd take that as a 'yes'."
Well, of course you would, because that would be the easy way out. And even if the Shiite-Shia smackdown isn't in full bore, Baghdad is hardly on its way to becoming the Eden of the Middle East.
If McGurn simply turns to page A20 of today's Journal, he'll see that at least 35 people were killed in a new wave of bombings in Baghdad. If it's not a civil war, then the insurgents didn't get the memo.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Ah, youth, especially the newbies who are braving journalism school, especially when they have to put up with professors who remember when newsrooms still had copyboys and allowed smoking.
On exhibit is one Alana Taylor, an NYU junior who knows she doesn't have it all figure out yet, except for one thing -- print versions of newspapers suck, especially The New York Times.
"Every single journalism class at NYU has required me to bring the bulky newspaper. I don’t understand why they don’t let us access the online version, get our current events news from other outlets, or even use our NYTimes app on the iPhone."
Now, it would be easy to simply say Taylor is a spoiled Missy Boo-Hoo bothered by the fact that she has to be pried away from Facebook long enough to read the Times. As I told her in a comment to her blog post, holding the paper and choosing what to read is still easier and infinitely more rewarding than the online experience can offer, at least for now.
But if you look at her full post in a broader context, she has a point. The NYU J-school apparently still doesn't have a handle on so-called new media beyond teaching some of the technical how-to stuff, according to Taylor.
It's hard, then, for profs to relate to how their students are most frequently interacting with media, which unfortunately does not include reading a print newspaper very often.
In other words, Taylor and her classmates need a mix -- a healthy dose of the new and constant reminders of the old, to remind students of where the bedrock of journalism can be found.
"At this point I may not learn too much I don’t already know about my generation and where it’s taking journalism. But one thing’s for sure — I’m certainly going to gain some insight into what exactly they mean by generation gap."
I already have an idea where her generation is taking journalism, however. And it's not someplace where I'm very comfortable residing.
What I do know is that j-students won't become better journalists when they read some desiccated version of a newspaper on an iPhone.
Buy the Times. Then read it. Get your fingers dirty. It's a small price to pay. You may actually learn something, and for a lot less than what you're paying NYU.
When The New York Times tried to bury the news on a Saturday inside business page that it will combine some of its sections, it wanted to give the appearance that it wasn't resorting to the desperation tactics now being employed at once-august Tribune properties.
No such luck.
First, the requisite quote from Publisher Pinch Sulzberger: “Given the business challenges we face, we are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs that do not affect the quality or quantity of the journalism we provide to our readers. We are not reducing the space devoted to Metro or Sports news. This is simply a way to produce the paper more efficiently.”
My response is, "Yes, but....."
It's troubling to contemplate the demise of the Metro section and see it subsumed into the A section. It'll be kind of like when you travel and pick up the Times' national edition, and they spit out a page-and-a-half or so of New York news to justify the paper's title.
I know, I know. Sulzberger says they're not reducing space. But are we to believe that Metro Editor Joe Sexton will be doing comparable studies of column inches each day to ensure his troops aren't short-shrifted? And if the company experiences continued softness on its balance sheet -- as is entirely likely -- won't it be tempting to trim a page? That'd be less noticeable if Metro was in the back of A instead of on its own.
Then there's Sports, which will be in the back of Business Day Tuesday-Friday, remaining as a standalone section Saturday-Monday. While the Times's Olympic coverage was stellar, it now returns to the limited news hole for the local teams, under the guise that it's kinda, sorta a national paper.
Hockey,except for Rangers home games, will be pretty much left to the wire. Ditto for the New Jersey Nets. The Knicks, because their dysfunction is so much more interesting than their play, will still merit a beat reporter, though Howard Beck probably shouldn't expect to make as many road trips as he has.
Bottom line: if money gets tight, the coverage will be even tighter. With the sports in the back of another section, cutting pages down will be less noticeable. Or, at least that's what management wants you to believe.
When the changes begin Oct. 6, you can see for yourself if Sulzberger is doing more than talking a good game and giving his reporters a chance to write about one.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Some food for thought for White House correspondents, whose lives have been miserable enough with the double-speaking prevaricators who have often presided over the daily briefings during the last eight years. If John McCain becomes president, things won't get any better.
Exhibit A: CNN's Campbell Brown on Monday attempted to quiz GOP spinmeister Tucker Bounds about the qualifications and experience of Sarah Palin, who Bounds has been charged with handling.
Brown committed what to the McCain camp was an unpardonable sin of trying to get a straight answer out of Bounds, which he was thoroughly unwilling to provide. Instead of a few softballs Bounds could hit out of the park on Fox, he instead faced an ace on the mound in Brown, who had no appetite for the mush coming out of his mouth.
Eventually, though, even Brown had no choice but to give up. Bounds could have been waterboarded and he would have stayed on message. However, he didn't come out a winner in this joust. Rather, he just came off as a flaming jackass albeit one who accomplished his objective.
But the story doesn't end there. Seems the McCain camp was supremely peeved that Brown didn't follow script, and in retribution canceled McCain's appearance on "Larry King Live" last night. The reason: Brown had "stepped over the line."
To show how clueless the McCainies are about the media, campaign flackette Maria Comella was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying the decision shouldn't reflect on the "sterling journalistic reputation" of King.
Sterling reputation? Journalism? Larry King?