Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Delicate Marketing Dance: DNA Testing Goes Mainstream

So Where Do These Kits Go In the Drug Store, the Condom Aisle?

I stumbled upon an ad the other day for a swab-at-home DNA Paternity Test from a deftly named company called Identigene.

Apparently, it's the only over-the-counter test of its kind. As such, it's a little weird to see a product like this being touted in a magazine let alone on a store shelf. Then again, we don't think twice anymore about ads for condoms, douches or vaginal-itch cream.
Ads like these, for better or worse, have become a fact of life -- literally so, for Identigene.
In case you were wondering, the collection kit goes for $29.95. The test itself is another $119.
Sort of.
As the kit's website points out, there's a difference between this test and a legal test, in other words, one that would be admissible in court. The testing methodology is the same; the only is it involves an independent party who would verify identification and witness the collection. That'll run you another $250.
Interestingly, Identigene is playing to people who want both outcomes. On the home page is a link to the ABC show "Find My Family," a Kleenex-fest where long-lost family members are reunited, kids looking for birth parents, etc. Identigene provides the DNA testing for the show.
Next to that link is one for a New York Times magazine from November about men who find out through DNA testing that they weren't the father of their children after all, and how a negative paternity test isn't necessarily the end of the story.
Either way, Identigene is there to help -- for $149-$399, of course.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New York Post Gives Us The Sizzle and Steak on Plane Bomber

And the winner of front page of the day is.....

Of course, it's easy to have a laugh now, but.....

Monday, December 28, 2009

Decision by Wall Street Journal to Cancel Wine Column Leaves a Bad Taste

Departure of Dorothy Gaiter and husband John Brecher Leaves Big Hole in Journal's Lifestyle Coverage

The Wall Street Journal wine column from husband-and-wife team extraordinaire Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher was destination reading for me every weekend in the Wall Street Journal.
As I became more interested in wine, I always looked to them to help become more educated about vintages and varietals, a massive undertaking that Dottie and John pulled off impeccably. Obviously, they knew a lot more about wine than you or me, but were never uppity about their expertise. Their knowledge was easily imparted, freely shared.
So, it was with more than a measure of sadness that they mentioned, almost in passing in Saturday's column, that it was their last one. No explanation, but as the Vinography blog adeptly notes, most likely an economic one.
Until now, I had appreciated the Journal's decision to keep the wine column humming, as I noted in a posting last year. After all, the paper had to pay two salaries as well as the tab for the dozens of bottles of wines sampled for each column. But the couple showed they were worth it.
Dottie and John were nothing if not thorough. Maybe too thorough for Murdoch's beancounters.
What made their column truly great was how their passion for wine was intertwined with their love for each other. Discovering wine and telling us about their great finds was a grand adventure for them that we were privileged to be a part of.
Their column and family life often intersected -- a trip to Disney World with their daughters also included sitting at the chef's table and drinking expensive wines at the resort's top restaurant -- meant readers felt like we knew them as well. That's why I'm referring to them by their first names, just like they did in the columns.
Whether it was a $6 bottle of Vinho Verde or a $1,500 Chateau Latour, they showed us how drinking wine can at once be a deeply personal, fun, and wholly subjective experience. Their "yuck" could have been your "delicious," or vice versa, and that was perfectly fine.
Dottie and John often got some of their biggest responses for the annual "Open That Bottle Night," which occurred at the end of February, and encouraged people to uncork some wine that had a special meaning or significance. This communal gathering celebrated wine for wine's sake, not to glorify oenophilic snobbery.
That's something you can't take for granted nowadays in wine journalism. All the more reason to hope that Dottie and John land elsewhere. I'll drink to that.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No Business Like Snow Business on New York TV

Nothing Like a Blizzard to Get the Competitive Juices Flowing, But....

From my perch in Westchester County, the first big snow in the New York area was so-so.
We got a mere eight inches, compared to the rest of the family blitzed by at least 21 inches on Long Island, where Newsday captured this picture. Other areas got more. In other words, the kind of story that keeps people glued to their TVs. Nothing like having reporters do live shots in a blinding storm to tell you it's snowing so you don't have to find out for yourself.
Not surprisingly, the stations trotted out a lot of their first-string anchors and weather guys. Chuck Scarborough is usually anywhere but a studio on a Saturday night, but there he was on WNBC-TV with Melissa Russo, while regular weekend co-anchor DeMarco Morgan was booted outside to do stand-ups from Times Square. Talk about being big-footed.
WNBC has slashed and burned its staff, and shed many a veteran reporter as it cut costs concurrently with its plunging ratings. But it was relatively game last night. While I didn't see it because I have DirectTV, the station had a continuous storm broadcast on one of its digital side channels anchored by David Ushery.
From what I can gather it was solid, public-service journalism, more akin to what you'd get from an all-news radio station. But what WNBC really should have done was put that broadcast on the main channel. It's not like there was a compelling need to run WWE wrestling when the area was being bodyslammed by the snow.
I didn't find out until almost after the fact but WNYW/Fox 5 trotted out Ernie Anastos and Rosanna Scotto for a 9 a.m. broadcast this Sunday. It may have been lightly attended given the station normally is running religious programming in that slot, so if you weren't watching the 10 p.m. news the night before, you were likely somewhere else. Like WABC/Channel 7, the usual clock cleaner in New York when it comes to news ratings and staff.
The station had the equivalent of a weekday complement of reporters in the field, with at least eight checking in for live spots, with two weather anchors, including weekday mainstay Lee Goldberg pulling duty Saturday and Sunday.
The coverage was solid, workmanlike fare if somewhat limited by the predictable nature of the story itself. But they made the most of what they had. The only one who came up short was weekend weather anchor Heidi Jones, who was dispatched to the LIRR station in Mineola to report on the myriad delays on that system.
Only problem: Jones really didn't know what she was talking about. First, she kept talking about suspensions of service at places like Far Rockaway, Long Beach and West Hempstead. True, but those are also the names of branches on the line, which meant about 20 stations had no service. She repeatedly showed she didn't know the difference and nobody bothered to correct her.
Ditto for when she kept talking in the present tense about a train that broke down overnight, and how passengers were still stuck on the train when reported the train had been towed to a station and passengers were placed on another train.
That's when producers come into the picture. If a reporter is stuck doing stand-ups, somebody actually has to be making calls to ensure the information is correct and current. It was a rare misstep for a news operation that otherwise sets the table for how TV news is covered -- or not -- in this market.
P.S. Memo to the staff at NBC New, the website for channel 4: this picture was taken in Maryland, not New York. Thought you might want to know.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fairies Sprinkling Dust at Wall Street Journal

Must Be Something in the Air on Sixth Avenue

More than one person was grasping for the same , ethereal analogy in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
On Page B5 in a story about The Limited's success with its Bath & Body Works division, Limited big cheese Leslie Wexner is quoted as saying the results are not "just fairy dust."
Then on Page B6, a story about Peter Ligouri being hired by Discovery Communications to be its COO quotes him as saying "The biggest challenge is having the magical fairy dust."
Because, after all, you don't want the unmagical fairy dust.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Cynical Yet Pragmatic Move by Tribune and Scripps-Howard

Companies Hope Non-Subscriber Turkeys Will Pay to Gobble Up Circulars and Coupons

From the why-didn't-someone-think-of-this-sooner file comes this item from Bloomberg, reporting that Scripps and Tribune will jack up the newsstand prices for their papers tomorrow to squeeze a few more coins out of casual readers grabbing the papers for the Black Friday sales ads.
And we're not talking just another quarter or so. In some cases, papers are charging the Sunday price or even more.
“It’s a once-in-a-year sort of event for us,” said Mark Contreras, senior vice president of newspapers for E.W. Scripps, publisher of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, told Bloomberg. “The Thanksgiving paper in every place we offer it is the biggest newspaper of the year.”
Scripps and Tribune aren't alone. The Washington Post and the Kansas City Star are also boosting prices.
Contreras said the largest Commercial-Appeal of the year comes out on Thansgiving, when circulation more than doubles to 195,000. "Frankly, I don't know why you wouldn't charge more," he added.
Neither do I. But let's keep it in context. That big paper Contreras is so pleased about will largely come from preprinted ad inserts. In other words, they cost the paper nothing to print, only to distribute. So, profits from higher newsstand prices can be considerable.
But don't think for a moment that more ads mean more articles. Similar to the Detroit Lions' chances of winning tomorrow, its not going to happen.
One MediaNews executive is quoted as saying the Thanksgiving papers offer "real value" because shoppers can ostensibly see all of the best sales in one place.
Let's be clear: the real value is to the publishers, who need to do anything and everything they can to prop up revenues. It also might be the only way they can say happy Thanksgiving with a straight face.

Marcus Brauchli Puts Happy Face on Closing of Washington Post Bureaus

Convinces No One But Himself That Coverage Will Be Undiminished

Not a big surprise, given the state of affairs in the newspaper business, but still regrettable, is word from The Washington Post that it will shutter its last three national bureaus. The remaining reporters in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York will get a chance to work back at the mother ship, but their assistants are out of a job.
You don't need one hand to count the number of papers with a sizable bureau presence outside of Washington. In fact, you can stop after The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Everyone else has pretty much closed up shop and relied on those papers and the A.P. to do the dirty work.
We get it. It's the new paradigm. Unfortunately, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli doesn't get it, or if he does, isn't letting on. He's quoted in the NY Times saying the Post's "commitment to national news of interest to our readers is undiminished."
All well and good. Only problem: the Post will be doing most of its committing the same way most of the 1,400 remaining papers do: using the A.P. Sure, they can parachute in when something big's going down, and no doubt they will. Then again, the Post's newspaper division lost $166.3 million in the first three quarters this year. So, maybe not.
But there's nothing quite like being there, especially in New York. Now the Post will have to figure out whether to send a reporter to a story outside of D.C. by reading about it somewhere else. At least the Post still has a dozen or so foreign bureaus.
For now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New York Times Turns In Wrong Direction to Take a Look at Effects of Recession

And the Main Subject of the A-1 Article by Michael Luo Agrees; When a Comments Section Actually Serves a Useful Purpose

The above-the-fold piece on the front of today's New York Times has a compelling headline: Job Woes Exacting a Heavy Toll on Family Life .
The copy editors did their job. But it appears everyone else involved with the story did not.
The piece by Michael Luo rests on the notion that the "greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological."
All well and good, except for the fact that Luo goes off the tracks when he focuses on a surburban Dallas man named Paul Bachmuth and his family. Luo adequately chronicles the trials and tribulations the family has experienced since he was laid off in December from a $120,000-a-year job as an energy consultant, including therapy and more than a few arguments and fights.
But the portrait is woefully incomplete, as evidenced by a photo cutline that says, in part: "Mr. Bachmuth ... at a job fair; he got a job offer last week."
Good for him. But why isn't that mentioned in the story? Is he going to take the job? Will the stress and pain that his layoff engendered now go away? Might there actually be a happy ending albeit one woefully inconvenient for the premise of the story?
We don't know, and maybe never will. The article enigmatically ends with a vignette about one of the daughters:

At night, she said, she has taken to stowing her worries away in an imaginary box.
“I take all the stress and bad things that happen over the day, and I lock them in a box,” she said.
Then, she tries to sleep.

If the Times could update the story in a cutline, it's inexplicable that it wouldn't update the story itself -- one that could have changed the story and most likely improved it. Someone else not impressed by how Luo handled the subject is none other than Paul Bachmuth, who in the online comments for the article gave some hint about how he was put through the sausage factory of newsgathering.

Michael Luo sent in an e-mail to a job networking group that I belong to. That is how he found me for this story. I had read a number of Mr. Luo’s articles on the recession and its impacts, and was very happy that someone out there was reporting on this important issue. I agreed to be the subject of this story in the hope that it might help others. However, I conveyed to Mr. Luo many times that I did NOT want the story to portray me and my family as “victims”. We are not. The last thing in the world I want is for people to “feel sorry for me.”

Given that Luo reveals how despite the fact Bachmuth's wife took a part-time job, but did little to help out around the house while idled that's unlikely. But I see his point.
It's a danger when the media tries to report on trends, or perceives a trend and tries to create one. There are no hard numbers on how widespread this problem is, and it might not be one, certainly in relation to the stresses that layoffs otherwise bring on.
No doubt, finding people to go on record to talk about something so difficult is not easy, and I have no doubt Luo labored to find the right subjects. But the Bachmuths weren't them. And the way the article ends it's almost as if Luo got up and left when a bell rang in the newsroom. Shift over. Narrative be damned.
In other words, we didn't get the whole story. When you charge at least $2 for a copy of the paper, it's not too much to ask for, especially when many people out of work can't afford that in the first place.

Time to Bargain for More of David Segal's "The Haggler" Column in New York Times

The "Action Line" Column Moves into the 21st Century

Among my destination reads on Sundays -- at least when it's in the paper -- is "The Haggler" column by David Segal in the business section of The New York Times.
Ostensibly, the column is a distant cousin of those "Action Line" and "On Your Side" columns of yore, where readers would write in seeking help when a utility company screwed them over, or the TV repairman ripped them off.
Segal performs that service, in a way, but uses the space to showcase his witty, gifted writing in the process. Sure, he takes his mission seriously, but too much so. And he merrily skewers the screw-ups who have wronged those who've written for help.
It's a fun read. Too bad, it only appears every two weeks. That's because Segal's real job is to write longform features for the Sunday business section, which are off the beaten path from the usual fare.
Times editors have given him the license to write with a little more abandon, almost as if he's writing for a magazine. Indeed, these are the kinds of pieces that would fit in nicely in a place like Fortune or the late, lamented Portfolio.
At times he'll use the first person or the "this reporter" to show he's a little further invested in the story and its outcome. It might not be how they normally do it at the Gray Lady, but it keeps you reading, no small feat when confronted with 2,500-3,000 words on a Sunday when you have football, kids and laundry to otherwise distract you.
At times, Segal stretches a little too far, as he did in an otherwise-admirable Sept. 27 piece that focused on how the recession hit close to home in Columbus, Nebraska when a wind-tower plant had layoffs.

You can see management’s unfettered hand in the vaguely Dickensian hours that many here work, and you sense an emphasis on unfettered growth in the just-build-it ethos that governs the stretch of strip malls on the road that bisects the town. It’s fast food, a Wal-Mart, a J. C. Penney, check-cashing outlets and dozens of other stores. The traffic to this generic stretch has come at the apparent expense of a fading but picturesque downtown — a Hopper-esque setting, with a railroad station, some gorgeous early 20th century buildings and a former opera house that is now a minimall.

What does vaguely Dickensian mean, exactly? Segal mentions unions are a non-entity in Nebraska because wages have been pretty good, but Dickensian implies those workers made some kind of Faustian bargain to get that money. If they work more than 40 hours on the floor, they're getting O.T. Nothing Dickensian about that.
Still in all, a great read, and it's does an ink-stained wretch's heart good to see the Times recognizes Segal's talent and lets it run rather than tamp it down because "that's the way we do things around here."
Now if we could just get a few more Haggler columns......

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Let's Hope Windows 7 Works Better Than Microsoft's Copyrwriters

Bad Grammar Shouldn't Overshadow Good Product

In a few days, I should have my brand spanking new copy of Windows 7, the OS that's giving Microsoft some long-lost love in the media.
I'm excited, not just because I'm swallowing the hype hook, line and sinker, but because it means good riddance to Vista, which has been the bane of my laptop's existence.
So, it's only proper that Microsoft has given Windows 7 a nice and proper, even peppy ad campaign on multiple platforms, with people claiming credit for claiming all the gee-whiz stuff in Windows 7 was their idea -- like this spot.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

The spots work, just like Windows 7.
So it was more than a bit jarring to walk past in Grand Central Terminal a Windows 7 billboard that says "I told them it should require less steps. Now it requires less steps."
Less? Less?
Did they listen to you when you were speaking? And nobody corrected you and told you it was "fewer steps?"
This is not quite on the level of "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should." English teachers cringed whenever they heard "like," rather than "as."
But Microsoft is a company that is nothing if not fastidious. Having worked with its PR agency in a previous life, I know words matter to the company.
So should a good editor.
They could use one in a hurry.

At Least Scalia Gets The Language Right

Acid-Tongued Righty Not "Gruntled" About "Choate"

When it comes to judicial philosophy and, well, probably just about anything else, I'm not in sync with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the righty power hitter on the Supreme Court bench.
But Scalia's a lover of words, as he makes abundantly clear in many of his tart, acerbic and always-considered opinions. You may not agree with what he writes, but you'll never be bored reading him.
But as the AP's Mark Sherman reports, Scalia decided a language lesson was in order from the bench. His antenna went up when an unwitting attorney said "choate," as an ostensible opposite of "inchoate." Scalia cried foul.
"There is no such adjective. I know we have used it, but there is no such adjective as 'choate.' There is 'inchoate,' but the opposite of 'inchoate' is not 'choate,'" Scalia said
Point taken. The attorney was ready to move on. Scalia was not.
"Any more than the, I don't know," Scalia said. "Exactly. Yes. It's like 'gruntled,'" he said.
The lawyer tried to continue: "But I think I am right on the law, Your Honor."
But Scalia wasn't focusing on the law. He was going to finish his English lesson. "Exactly. 'Disgruntled,'" he said, adding that some people mistakenly assume that "the opposite of 'disgruntled" is 'gruntled.'"
Such are the exchanges that cause lawyers to start drinking heavily after a morning at the Court.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

TV Breast Exams Straddling Line Between Good Idea and Ratings Ploy

Why Do This When Exams Play A "Small Role" in Detecting Cancer

Of course, any weapon to fight breast cancer is both welcome and needed. And WJLA-TV in Washington is running with the notion in a big way.
As part of a four-part series on the disease, it will show on their newscasts today two women fully exposed as they do a breast self-examination. No drapes or tasteful concealments. This will be a frontal assault on a long-time taboo.
On the one hand, you can argue that providing women with as much information as they can to head off a killer disease while it could still be treatable is only a good thing. And this is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so you do have that tenuous synergy.
Then again, even the American Cancer Society is ambivalent about breast self-exams. The Washington Post notes the Society says "self-exams play only "a small role" in finding breast cancer. On its Web site, the society says 'it's okay not to do [a self examination] or not to do it on a fixed schedule.'"
Not only that, the society had no comment about the WJLA series. In other words, the bandwagon passed by and they conveniently forgot to jump.
Given that, you could view -- should you choose to view this -- more as a ratings ploy than a good idea. WJLA, though, gets to hide behind the cloak of performing a valuable public service, and tow the "If we could save just one life with these reports" line and not look opportunistic.
It's actually a rather ingenious maneuver. Whether it actually has any impact is another matter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight With Jay Gallagher

As Gannett's Albany Bureau Chief Battles Pancreatic Cancer, He Offers a Profile in Courage -- and Good Humor

I first met Jay Gallagher when I was a cub reporter for UPI in Albany, and he was the bureau chief for Gannett News Service. We both did time on the Legislative Correspondents Association softball team, and though I didn't know him well, he was always friendly and did a great job of keeping the follies that masqueraded as state government in perspective.
Later, we'd work a little more closely when I made a few trips a year to the capital as the state reporter for Gannett's Rockland Journal-News.
I haven't seen him in 20 years, but kept seeing his work, which wasalways solid, more-than-workmanlike.
I hadn't recalled seeing his byline recently, so when I had occasion to speak to a colleague in his office, I was floored by the news that Jay was diagnosed in June with pancreatic cancer. Apart from Osama bin Laden, it's the kind of news you never want to hear about anybody, let alone a former colleague, a good guy and great family man.
But as I have found out, Jay is someone disinclined to throw himself a pity party. Instead, he's devoted himself to beating considerable odds and, at least some of the time, blogging. It's good reading, and if it gets you to send a check to The Lustgarten Foundation, which is devoted to pancreatic cancer research, so much the better.
Like I did, you can give some money to the cause. And you can also send Jay some good thoughts and a spare prayer or three. Maybe those can help too.

Maybe We Should Give David Hunke the Nobel Prize in Economics

USA Today Publisher Has His Crystal Ball Working Overtime

So USA Today, that erstwhile companion outside your hotel-room door -- indeed, it was waiting for me this morning at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead, N.Y. -- will be chastened when the newest FAS-FAX numbers will show its circulation plunged 17 percent.
In other words, it's behaving like just about every other American newspaper, er, newspaper in the USA.
But USA Today publisher David Hunke, in the glass-is-half-full style that was once the hallmark of the paper, told his troops: fear not.

Before this year, our largest circulation declines came after the attacks of September 11th in 2001. And when the travel industry rebounded in the months that followed, USA TODAY did, too. We fully expect to see circulation increases again as the economy recovers. I'm encouraged by the fact that despite the tough travel economy, we have not lost a single hotel relationship during this recession.

I realize it's Hunke's job to say such things. Nonetheless, let's get real. Even if the economy rebounds, I suspect that hotels will take a closer look at just how many copies are being ordered. Instead of blithely dropping them in front of every occupied room, you will see a greater trend toward having them in the lobby, where people can grab them to pore over breakfast or on the way out the door.
Second, Hunke may be confusing crowded planes with increased business travel, his bread and butter. Planes are more crowded only because there are fewer of them. There are still plenty of rooms to be had at hotels.
Finally, Hunke has a more-aggressive rival for the hearts and minds of travelers: The Wall Street Journal. It makes a big deal of telling guests at Marriott properties they can choose the Journal as the paper they get in the morning.
In other words, while it's reasonable to expect USA Today can get back some of the 400,000 copies it no longer has to print. And it sure is swell that they can be found in 22,000 hotels. But there's a new paradigm out there, for the hotel business as well as the newspaper business. They both suffer from the same malady: there just aren't as many people who want or need their product as there used to be. And that's not likely to change anytime soon, if ever.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New York Times Pay Strategy Shouldn't Rest on Backs of Subscribers

Let the Freeloaders Ante Up; Leave the Rest of Us Alone

The New York Times has most of us over a barrel. It knows that for most readers it's a hard habit to break, despite the miscues, cutbacks, and price hikes.
If you pick up the Times every day at the newsstand, that means you're currently shelling out $884 a year for the privilege. It's less if you subscribe, but you're still in for $500 or more, depending on where you live. So, as word comes that the Times could be, possibly, may be moving closer toward a consensus on a pay model for, let's hope loyalty counts for something.
That means not charging subscribers, in other words your most loyal customers, for the privilege of checking articles online or going back into the archives. We already pay enough, far more than subscribers for any other paper. As an example, new subscribers of The Washington Post can sign on for $1.50 a week for 26 weeks. That's less than the $2 newsstand price for the Times -- for one day.
Those of you who would bring up the Wall Street Journal, and its separate charge for the online version should consider this: unlike the Times, the Journal has been aggressive with subscription discounts, as low as $99 a year with online access included. At that price, it's a no-brainer to subscribe. Tacking a charge onto for subscribers: not such a no-brainer.
True, it is the straw that stirs the drink for other newspaper sites. But if you already get the paper it's not so chock full of unique content that it's a must-buy. It's good for emailing articles to other people or catching up on a column you didn't get to read on the train. looks great, it reads nicely, but it's not necessarily a necessity.
That's not the case if you don't get the dead-tree version, and those freeloading folks are the ones who should cough up some dough to keep the Sulzbergers and their bankers happy.
I've done my part.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

William Safire Not Resting In Peace?

Fallen Language Guru's Illness Obscured by Lack of Truthiness in NYT Magazine

No doubt, the brass at The New York Times knew William Safire's time was limited -- as it sadly is for just about anyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
That he solidered on in his last weeks still producing On Language columns as late as Sept. 19 (though it's not known when he actually wrote them) is a tribute to his fortitude and determination.
Regardless of whether you shared his world view -- and I usually didn't -- you know that as a man who loved words, he'd insist on the right ones.
So, was it disingenuous, sloppy, or just plain wishful thinking, when Sunday's On Language column, written by Ben Zimmer, had a note at the bottom that Safire "is on hiatus for a few weeks." This, on the day he died.
True, the magazine goes to press early in the week. But a hiatus? C'mon. You can just feel Safire itching to get out a red pencil and strike that sucker. Nothing wrong with telling the truth artfully.
"William Safire is off this week." After all, he was.

Nick Jr. Throws Parents for A Scare

Noggin Gone, But No Big Whoop, as It Turns Out

We were thrown for a loop last night as we fired up the wide-screen for the 4-year-old denizen of the condo so he could get cranking on his TV day before the parents pull free from the pillows.

So, imagine the horror when Noggin had disappeared, to be replaced by Nick Jr.

The shows looked the same, but the name had changed. For me, that was cause for concern. The Nick Jr. brand had been used for the block of shows for pre-schoolers on during the day on Nickelodeon. The problem: the shows are lousy with commercials. Noggin is spot-free.

But we can all rest easy. As stated on a well-buried FAQs page:

Nickelodeon has been the trusted brand behind NOGGIN since its inception. The channel's former brand name was actually Nick Jr.'s NOGGIN. We're making this name change to strengthen the existing connection between Nickelodeon, our educational mission, and our preschool offerings on-air and online.

OK, then. And, yes, no commercials. I can rest easy. And my son can watch Blue's Clues without being bombarded by toy commercials. A win-win.

Friday, September 18, 2009

When Nothing May Be Better Than Something

Not Yet Time for the Requiem for the Chicago Sun-Times, But It Will Be Soon

Chicago Tribune media writer Phil Rosenthal may be loathe to admit it, but chances are he's hard at work on the obituary for the Chicago Sun-Times. Not that he takes any joy in such an assignment -- hell, his own paper's in trouble -- but a job's a job, and pretty soon a job will not be what hundreds of Sun-Times Media Group employees will soon have.
If their papers go under, it may be of their own doing. But then again, you can't blame them. Financier Jim Tyree has offered the unprincely sum of $25 million to take over the entire company, which has been teetering on the edge of financial ruin for some time.
But Tyree's no altruist, and says he'll only sign on if the unions lock in a temporary 15 percent cut, do away with seniority and reduce maximum severance from 50 weeks to four weeks, and other work-rule changes. In other words, Tyree told the unions "Let me gut your contract and then I might do you a favor and let you keep your jobs if I feel like it. And, by the way, this is non-negotiable."
Not surprisingly, the Sun-Times unions have said a resounding no to Tyree's offer, notwithstanding the fact that no other offer is on the horizon and the company has threatened that all 1,800 company jobs would disappear.
At first blush, this appears to be more than a high-stakes game of chicken. Tyree is prepared for the Sun-Times to be a money-losing concern at least for the short-term, but only if his conditions are met. The unions aren't going to advocate their oblivion nor will the rank-and-file sign away their security.
If these are negotiating tactics, you can sure fool me. If Tyree doesn't want the Sun-Times badly enough, then it's likely game over if it isn't already. There should be a place for a scrappy tabloid in a place like Chicago. But the end of that story has already been written, and not just by Phil Rosenthal.

Peter Abraham Bolts the Bronx for Beantown

Big Loss for The Journal-News as One of Its Only Stars Heads to The Boston Globe

Peter Abraham was sort of the last man standing in the sports department at The Journal-News, the Gannett embarassment in New York's northern suburbs.
Abraham was the only beat reporter left at the paper covering a pro sports team, after the J-N yanked its Mets coverage and the football writers departed in the latest, recently concluded staff purge.
Abraham covered the Yankees, a coveted beat and one of intense interest for many people who live in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. Even the brain trust in Harrison knew to leave that coverage alone.
Abraham not only established himself as a credible baseball writer, but he garnered a following online with an exhaustive Yankees blog, which I'm told is by far the most-popular feature on
Abraham broke the bad news (at least for them) to his followers yesterday that he's leaving Gannett to cover baseball for The Boston Globe. I know, I know, a Yankees guy covering the Sox. But remember, he doesn't root. He writes. And writes well.

"If there was a way to work for a larger paper and to advance professionally while still covering the Yankees, I would have really had a dilemma. But you don’t need me to tell you what is going on in the newspaper business. The Globe offered me a great opportunity and, frankly, I would have been foolish not to take it."

Most of those who've written in agree, even if they're sorry to see him go. And they have a plenty of company. As of this writing, 773 comments have been logged on Abraham's announcement. That's quite a tribute. More so, it's a daunting if not impossible task for his successor. And, yes, we're told there will be one. Even Gannett recognizes the need for that.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Hilda Solis Meets The Clash

Bizarre Yet Intriguing Labor Day Mashup of Obama Administration and Rock on Satellite Radio

Good thing I was pulling into a parking spot and not on the road, because I might have veered into the wrong lane when I heard the one and only Hilda Solis, whose day job is U.S. Labor Secretary, introduce "Career Opportunities" by The Clash on SiriusXM satellite radio's The Spectrum channel.
It's not every day you hear a cabinet secretary talking up a record by an iconic group that, shall we say, had less than a warmhearted view toward all things government. Then again, The Clash recorded that song while Barack Obama was still in high school. Times do indeed change.
Turns out, Solis taped a whole slew of intros for songs about working folks, including Devo's version of "Workin' In A Coalmine," BTO's "Takin' Care of Business," and Springsteen's "Workin' On a Highway."
A nice, mostly nonpartisan gimmick. If ever an administration had street cred, this is the one.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Daily Beast Item on Gibson Having Hissy Fit Over Sawyer Doesn't Add Up

Rebecca Dana Pretty Much Admits as Much, But Prints It Anyway

A Daily Beast post by Rebecca Dana on the Diane Sawyer coronation at ABC's World News quotes a source as saying Charles Gibson was "livid" upon hearing the news that Sawyer would take his place as anchor after he retires in January.
That's all we get on these alleged contretemps, for Dana then writes:
An ABC executive called this “nonsense,” and [ABC News President David] Westin said he told Gibson from their earliest conversations about his retirement that Sawyer would be his replacement.
No other anchors were even considered for the job.

We don't know who Dana's source is, of course. But no matter how reliable, if Dana thought about it for even a minute, she would have realized that the statement makes no sense.
Simply, who else is within the ABC stable who could seamlessly slide into the chair and have the name recognition demanded of the 7 million or so oldsters who still tune in? Even if Westin went outside the network, who's available that could keep people tuned in or even away from the competition?
CBS knew it didn't have a deep bench when it plucked Katie Couric from "Today" and those early wake-up calls for a cool 15 million per annum. John Roberts found that out the hard way, which is one reason he's at CNN.
ABC's in a similar pickle. Even putting aside Bob Woodruff's injury, his planned pairing with Elizabeth Vargas following the death of Peter Jennings felt more like a stopgap than a solution. Vargas could still be an option when Sawyer eventually hangs it up. Maybe others would be ready by then (Chris Cuomo? Bill Weir? Terry Moran? A player to be named later?). But for now, goose eggs.
Now, ABC has to fret over who replaces Sawyer on "Good Morning America," no small decision given its cash-cow status at the network. My thinking is that Weir or Kate Snow, his co-host on the "GMA" weekend editions, would make a great fit.

The Dust Settles at The Journal-News

But is What's Left Worth 75 Cents? Hint: The Paper is Owned by Gannett

Now that The Journal-News, the mediocrity -- to put it generously -- that is the sort-of newspaper of record for Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties north of New York has gone through its version of Gannett's garroting of personnel, the effects aren't obvious -- yet.
But they will be soon.
The front page looks much the same, not that that's necessarily a good thing. You have to drill a little deeper, not a difficult exercise when the paper is as thin as day-old gruel. The A-section is mostly filled with cop briefs and jumps from A-1. Lots of items about crime in Yonkers and Mount Vernon. Not so much about anything else.
Then there's the rest of the paper. Want to read about local business news. Good luck. The whole business staff was laid off. Hey, what about the Jets and Giants? Sorry, you'll have to take what the A.P. doles out: both beat writers took severance rather than go through the indignity of reapplying for their jobs, like everyone remaining in the newsroom did. Same for some of my older colleagues who remained from when I worked there 20 years ago. Godspeed.
True, some familiar bylines remain. Good for them, at least good in the sense that they still have a job let alone one in the news business. That'll help provide a little context to stories and they'll at least know how to spell names right.
But the question remains over exactly what are they going to cover. The answer, given the number of reporters left: not much. They just can't. Not that Gannett really cares. It's obsessed with a future that is all about digital and multimedia doo-dads and social media what-nots.
Of course, they should be obsessed with that nowadays, just not at the expense of the core product. Too many desperate and clueless newspaper executives forget about that. Gannett has shown little evidence of ever knowing that in the first place.
The brain trust there sees all those dollar signs taunting them if they make these cost savings, but forget that all those cutbacks result in a product that's unadulterated crap on any platform.
Such is the Journal-News.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reader's Digest Bankruptcy Merry-Go-Round

How to Flip-Flop Your Way into Chapter 11

From a memo this winter that Reader's Digest Association CEO Mary Berner sent to employees:

As you may have seen, Bloomberg News Service has widely distributed an article reporting that RDA hired Kirkland & Ellis, a law firm that advises in bankruptcy cases and other forms of restructuring ... From this, starting with one unattributed source supposedly "familiar" with the situation, some news articles jumped to conclusions that RDA is filing for bankruptcy.

I want to assure you that this is not true.

Now it is.

RDA announced today it will enter a voluntary pre-packaged bankruptcy plan . Berner was singing a decidedly different tune.
"This agreement in principle with our lenders follows months of intensive strategic review of our balance sheet issues to financially strengthen the company. Restructuring our debt will enable us to have the financial flexibility to move ahead with our growth and transformational initiatives."
Folio had reported on Friday that RDA was on the verge of missing a massive debt payment this week. Now that will indeed happen.
The company told FishbowlNY its cash flow fell $15 million short of its annual debt obligations. Yet another case of a company in deep with its bankers -- $2.2 billion worth -- at a time when the core of its business model melts down. Already, the main Reader's Digest was cut back to 10 issues a year.
It's not a question of enough readers, just not enough of the ones advertisers are willing to pay a premium to reach.
Yes, RDA is about much more than the diminutive magazine that's been a staple of waiting rooms the world over, as Rachael Ray and Rick Warren will tell you. But as the Chapter 11 filing confirms, you need a few more tentpoles to stay solvent.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Latest Layoffs Won't Be End of Bad News at Journal-News

Northern New York Suburbs Short-Shrifted by Short-Sighted, Desperate Management, Greedy Gannett Corporate Overlords

The Journal-News, the Gannett newspaper that purportedly serves Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties north of New York, is dying and it doesn't even know it.
The latest signs that a flatline is nigh: Wednesday's announcement that the paper was cutting 50 jobs -- representing 26 percent of current positions -- of its newsrooms, while excising 20 jobs from the ad department.
Now, this would be just another lamentable layoff post, were it not for the fact that Gannett has actually eliminated all 288 jobs in the news and ad departments. Everyone can apply for new, redefined positions, with snappy titles like "visual specialist" and "local beat reporter." But 70 will be shown the door by Aug. 28. They'll join 57 people in other departments who were canned last week.
It's scary that a lot of people I know -- I worked at the J-N 20 years ago -- are in danger of losing their jobs in a business where they've worked most of their adult lives with little hope of finding another news job if they don't make the cut.
What's even more frightening is they could have even more company sooner than later. Publisher Michael Fisch told a staff meeting that revenues have plunged as much as 35 percent in the past year.
That's money that is never coming back. And judging by the product, why should it? The paper has shrunk its physical size along with its reporting staff. It's essentially given up on covering professional sports. Most towns get only spot coverage, and much of the writing appears to have spawned from press releases.
The J-N has shown it still has a pulse by competing vigorously on the coverage of the crash of Diane Schuler, the wrong-way driver on the Taconic State Parkway who killed eight people, including herself. Of course, you would have assumed the paper would own the story given that it happened on its turf.
But the J-N, as I have pointed out previously, has too often been indifferent or clueless to big stories in its backyard, and has gotten its clock cleaned by The New York Times or stumbled badly on coverage of a rare Westchester tornado, where there was little evidence any of the numerous reporters credited with writing ever left the newsroom.
It's inevitable there will be gaping coverage holes. Even less news will appear in a paper that already has too-few reasons to buy it. Yet, in a remarkable display of cluelessness, Gannett raised the daily newsstand price to 75 cents.
Daily circulation is now about 95,000 and falling. It was about 160,000 when I was last there. Do the math. No matter how hard you try, they don't add up to anything that can be construed as good news for Journal-News employees -- or readers.

Weird Editors' Note of the Week

In Reporting on Jacko Estate Fight, New York Times Says It's Sorry for Doing What It Always Does

This editors' note appeared in yesterday's New York Times:

An article on Aug. 4 about a judge’s ruling granting permanent custody of Michael Jackson’s three children to his mother, Katherine Jackson, and an editors’ note last Thursday, said that lawyers for Mrs. Jackson were considering challenging the two executors of Mr. Jackson’s will on the grounds that they allegedly took advantage of addictions that incapacitated him and impaired his judgment. That allegation was attributed to “people close to the Jackson family who asked not to be named,” and in later copies of the newspaper the original article reported that a spokesman for the executors denied it. Times editors should not have published the anonymously made accusation, unsupported in the article by any evidence or publicly available corroboration — with or without a denial.

So, first we have an editors' note that is, in part, about another editors' note on Aug. 6, which admonished those who worked on the story by saying "The article should have noted that the reporter sought a response from the executors, but that a spokesman declined to speak on the record."
But now the editors apparently feel they didn't go far enough in flagellating the copy desk when it said "Times editors should not have published the anonymously made accusation, unsupported in the article by any evidence or publicly available corroboration — with or without a denial."
What they don't explain is why that anonymous sourcing is more problematic than any other no-name attribution that peppers the Times' pages. The note reads like a pre-emptive strike against a possible lawsuit, however flimsy its foundation would have been.
Then again, if the "people close to the Jackson family" are really not that close, or don't have access to the right information, then your sourcing could give you a case of the heebie-jeebies.
There are too many people wanting to lay claim to even a sliver of the Jackson legacy, and they're stuck in a petri dish where innuendo, rumors and distortions can thrive.
Being first with a story is nice. But being right is a whole lot better. The Times is apparently convinced it wasn't right.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Will Sam Sifton Have a Make-Up Artist on Staff?

Trying to Succeed as the Next New York Times Restaurant Critic When Every Punk at the Front Desk Knows What You Look Like

Good luck to Sam Sifton (right), who today was named the next New York Times restaurant critic. Hope that gym membership is paid up.
After all, becoming pleasantly plump isn't a requirement for the job. However, it could be one of those unpleasant side effects. Ah, but what a job.
Now about this little matter of your mug being pasted on the wall of every restaurant kitchen from Red Hook to Tottenville, that could get a little tricky without a little tonsorial prestidigitation, not to mention a hat and fake beard.
My guess is he already has a couple of months worth of reviews in the can to get a head start on the front of the room trying to hunt him down.
And you can recognize him and kiss his balding pate all you want. If the food sucks, it sucks. And I doubt he'll by shy about letting us know that.
Now comes the jockeying to replace Sifton as arts editor. And you thought reviewing restaurants was rough.

The Primadonna in the Newsroom a Prime Problem for The New York Times

Fear and Loathing on the Copy Desk: What Happens When the Alessandra Stanleys of the News Business Are Coddled, Primped and Revered

James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times has a searing look at the star system at The New York Times, which helped foster the F.U.B.A.R. assessment of Walter Cronkite by Alessandra Stanley that had more holes than your typical brick of Swiss cheese.
Rainey builds on a problem I pointed out as far back as 2005, that Times editors, particularly in the arts section, don't challenge their critics to write better or more accurately, especially Stanley.
Rainey quotes former Times public editor Byron Calame as saying "a lot of New York Times editors don't feel, in their gut, they have the right to challenge veteran and star reporters and columnists the way they need to."
No kidding.
And why? Maybe, as Calame suggests, it just wasn't worth the headache when it came to Stanley.
As Rainey writes:

Both of the Times' former public editors -- Daniel Okrent and Calame -- told me their critiques produced sharp rebukes from Stanley. Okrent -- who once criticized the critic for tone, not accuracy -- remembers her as "extremely defensive and hostile," while Calame said she attacked him as a nitpicker.

Stanley has been vigorously defended by Times executive editor Bill Keller, making her, as Rainey accurately labels her one of the "entitled ones."
It's a nice moniker to have, especially when your reviews make their way to the copy desk.
But what Keller and his minions have consistently forgotten, merely being able to write cleverly and intelligently dissect a TV show is not enough.
You have to first remember you are still a journalist. That means get your facts straight and let the rest flow from there. Failing that, anything else you do or say will lack resonance and be devoid of credibility. A critic is nothing without those attributes.
If Stanley is so important to the Times, then her shortcomings as a reporter need to be more closely scrutinized. It's not that she doesn't know better. She served as Rome bureau chief and a White House correspondent. You can't stay in those jobs by getting facts sort of, kind of, right.
So, it's hard to see why she -- and the Times -- blithely fail to apply the same criteria to TV criticism. The Arts pages may be in the C section, but they deserve A-list treatment. And when the Times allows Stanley to slide, as she has, it deserves an F.

UPDATE: Bill Keller responded to Editor & Publisher with the complete text of his email conversation with Rainey. He actually agrees with many of my sentiments about feckless editors. But putting them into practice is another matter altogether.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Euna and Laura Coming Home With Bubba

It's Good News! Really. Did Someone Forget to Say Smile?
Bill Clinton's a rock star again, now that North Korea has pardoned journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.
Guess Kim Jong-Il was suitably impressed that a former president made the schlep to say "pretty please, end this diplomatic nightmare so we can all go to bed happy and maybe, just maybe, restart those six-nation talks. Plus, I brought you a stack of new DVDs already dubbed." Or something like that. After all, it was described by KCNA as an "exhaustive conversation."
Either way, congrats to Lee and Ling.
And still no mention of this on the Current TV site.
Lighten up, Al. It's over. Time to celebrate. Unlike these guys in the picture.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Alessandra Stanley Is the Luckiest Critic on the Planet

It's No Longer Enough to Merely be Good, But Error-Prone Times TV Critic Keeps Having Teflon Sprayed On Her By Bosses

In reading Clark Hoyt's column in yesterday's New York Times, it was good to see the paper at least had a clue about the myriad of mistakes chief TV critic Alessandra Stanley is wan to make when she serves up a review.
But what Hoyt left unanswered is how Stanley has been allowed to do her job for so long when she's so often wrong.
The latest contretemps involved her July 18 appraisal of Walter Cronkite, which was bad even by Stanley's standards.

As Hoyt tells us:

"The Times published an especially embarrassing correction on July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article — an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite."

Hoyt goes on to expertly dissect what went wrong both with Stanley's prose and the editing that allowed it to make it into the paper in its addled state. To her credit, Stanley told Hoyt "This is my fault. There are no excuses."
But what about all of her other mistakes over the years? The Times apparently knew the modus operandi of Stanley, who Hoyt labels a "prolific writer much admired by editors for the intellectual heft of her coverage."

Yet: "Stanley was the cause of so many corrections in 2005 that she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts," Hoyt writes. And even though her error rate went down "precipitously" since then, she's now riding near the top of the error chart and will "again get special editing attention."

I've been among those who have flogged Stanley in the past for her errors, her rhetorical excess, and for playing fast and loose with facts that she risked a lawsuit and engendered a rebuke from another Times public editor in 2005.
Yet, somehow she manages to keep her job, when mere mortals like us who toil in the news business would have been out on our butts if we botched copy as often as she did.
Surely, there are other TV critics who could provide "intellectual heft" and also get their facts straight. Yet, Bill Keller and the rest of the Times brass refuse to take off their rose-colored glasses and instead squander precious resources on fact-checking her every word.
When I went to the Times website to look at some of Stanley's recent work, I kept getting an error message that said "This page encountered an error."
Don't I know it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mets Once Again Rewrite the PR Playbook

GM Omar Minaya Gets Pimp-Slapped By Boss for Lying about Daily News reporter Adam Rubin

First, the New York Mets opened eyes (see below post) by sending an email to fans from General Manager Omar Minaya about why he fired VP of Player Development Tony Bernazard (basically he was an insufferable blowhard who became a walking migraine).
But what the email didn't have was what Minaya really wanted to say, namely that the articles in the Daily News that highlighted Bernazard's bloopers was part of an elaborate play by beat writer Adam Rubin to get a job in player development with the team.
Only problem: it wasn't true, and Minaya knew that. Rubin's worst offense was asking Minaya generally how one got a job in player development (a fair question, given the perilous state of the newspaper industry). But lobbying? C'mon.
After Minaya issued a non-apology, it was finally time for semi-reclusive team COO Jeff Wilpon to finally pipe up. And he isn't happy.
Wilpon said: "After some reflection, I thought it was important to come out and talk to everybody. We're very sorry about what happened (Monday). It was the wrong forum. The wrong time. The wrong situation for Omar to express himself in that way."
But he really didn't have a choice. The press corps has been pissed off big-time over this episode. And given that the Mets are a team that have excelled at underachieving, it's easy to pile on, and even easier to ignore that the Mets have gone on a rare four-game winning streak.
Despite his emergence from the woodshed, Wilpon said Minaya still has a job. But what he didn't say is for how much longer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How's This for Damage Control: Mets Fire Misbehaving VP and Then Tell Everyone Why

Why It Really Sucks to be Tony Bernazard Right Now

The New York Mets did what they had to do, and got rid of vice president for player development Tony Bernazard, after he became unhinged, not to mention shirtless.
Among his most-recent distractions: removing his shirt in front of some of the Double-A Binghamton Mets, questioning their manhood and challenging them to a fight. He also nearly came to blows with star reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and ripped a colleague a new one after it was suggested he wait to take a seat occupied by an opposing team's scout.
So, the fact that Bernazard was dumped is no big surprise. What did open my eyes, however, is opening an email the Mets send to fans, and seeing a message from General Manager Omar Minaya that succinctly yet completely explained why he fired Bernazard. Such moves are usually kept under wraps, or companies simply say "we don't comment on personnel matters."
Nothing about this incident particularly compelled Minaya to make an exception to that rule, but good of him to do so. Here's what he wrote:

I wanted for you to hear directly from me today regarding an update on the investigation of Tony Bernazard, our Vice President of Player Development. Prior to a series of articles published in the media, our Baseball Operations and Human Resources departments had begun looking into several matters involving Tony.

Once those reports became public, we accelerated our investigation. We wanted it to be thorough and complete it as quickly as possible while still being fair to Tony. That process concluded over the weekend. Yesterday, I met with Tony in person to have a frank conversation about what we had learned following interviews with numerous people. I also wanted for Tony to have the opportunity to give his side of the story. After meeting with Tony, and giving a lot of thought to the facts, I came to a decision on Tony's status which I shared with Ownership last night.

My recommendation was that we needed to part ways with Tony, as his behavior in his interaction with others was inconsistent with our organization's values. Ownership agreed with my assessment and accepted my recommendation. I spoke with Tony this morning and informed him of my decision to terminate his employment with the Mets. Personnel decisions are never easy. And one can't make them without giving it a lot of thought. It's even harder when you know someone as I do Tony.

Tony and I go back a long time. He is a dedicated baseball man who loves the game, someone I like and respect, and someone who has contributed to the Mets. In the end, however, I just told him I couldn't leave him in his position after all that had transpired. As General Manager of the Mets, I am fully accountable for our Baseball Operations department -- on and off the field -- and stand by this decision. Thank you for your ongoing support of the Mets.

Now what I'd like to really read about is Minaya making a few more trades before Friday's deadline, so I don't lose interest in the Mets before Labor Day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harvey Araton Yanked As N.Y. Times Sports Columnist

Be It Cost-Cutting or New Direction, Diminishing a Distinct Voice Still a Bad Idea

I finally caught up to an item from The Big Lead that said New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton was being booted from his perch to take on a new role writing features.'
Araton's been blessed to have that vaunted post for 15 years, and has long been a destination read. His writing, especially about tennis and basketball, is engaging, skeptical and well-reported -- a vestige from his days as a beat writer.
Araton is clever without resorting to cheap shots. And unlike other columnists who seem to relish being the first to call for a coach or manager to be fired, Araton's not one to jump on bandwagons.
So, then, why would the Times do away with such an asset? It can't be for cost-cutting reasons, if Araton is still on the payroll in another capacity.
The Big Lead said "[o]ne source claims the Times is veering off beat coverage and columns - wise move - and focusing more on offbeat features..."
You could perhaps -- just perhaps -- that veering off beat coverage is a wise move. And the Times has done just that with all college teams, the Devils, Islanders and only partially covering the Rangers. Such are the casualties of both cost-cutting and the Times' self-definition as a national newspaper.
But cutting columnists should in no way be defined as a wise move. If beat coverage is less essential in the digital age, then sports sections must justify their existence with distinctive voices and content that can't be had anywhere else. In other words, a columnist.
The Times has already thinned its columnist ranks. After Dave Anderson retired, and Selena Roberts fled to much-greener pastures in Sports Illustrated, neither were replaced.
So maybe you don't need five. But two? And one of those two, George Vecsey -- good as he still remains -- has been an ink-stained wretch for half a century. How much more does he have left in the tank? And when he decides to power down his laptop will the Times replace him?
For now, let's hope the Times doesn't have to answer those questions anytime soon. But what sports editor Tom Jolly should address is how taking away a columnist makes sense. At a time when his section is often less than six pages -- and way too much of it is taken up lately by cycling (blanket coverage of the Giro D'Italia? Really?) -- the sports department needs to make the most of its precious allotted space, not less.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Happens When You Outsource Your Writing to Bangalore

Providing Basic Facts a Casualty of Cost-Cutting at Reuters

The short Reuters item about the sale by Cox of three newspapers had a few cracks showing in its inverted pyramid.
It said the company would sell the Waco Tribune-Herald, along with the Daily Sentinel and the Nickel.
Do you want to know where the latter two newspapers are located? So do I, but the story never tells us, which is what happens when Reuters outsources some of its business writing to India, but then doesn't spend some of the money it's saved on fact-checking.
A click on Romenesko revealed the Daily Sentinel is the daily newspaper in Grand Junction, Colo.; the Nickel is a shopper in that city.
But why was that so difficult to add to the Reuters story? The A.P. had no such problem.
I thought maybe Cox had left it off the press release, and they were too busy or lazy in Bangalore to look it up. However, Grand Junction is mentioned in the lead, so no excuse.
You get what you pay for, and that's not much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Couldn't Someone Have Saved the Eagle Times?

Demise of Small New Hampshire Daily Could Be an Anomaly. Or it Could be the Harbinger of Things to Come

Many of the newspapers that have either closed, or are in danger of closing, have been battered by competition or the declining need or desire for a second read who often don't have the time or inclination nowadays to read even one paper, e.g. Denver, Seattle, Tucson.
But the conventional wisdom has been that one-newspaper towns, while not immune to the meltdown in the industry, were better insulated, especially in small towns where there were few other sources for news or better vehicles for advertising.
So much for conventional wisdom, with word last week that the Eagle Times in Claremont, N.H. abruptly shut down after Friday's edition.
Maybe it's not a big deal to you, but it is to folks who live in the communities served by the Eagle Times.
What's troubling is not so much that the paper was losing money, although you'd think that'd be harder to do when you don't have much competition for ads -- even in a down market -- from traditional media.
Rather, it's disconcerting that no other company stepped up to buy the paper at any price in the year it was on the market. Not a single entity viewed a daily paper as a viable medium worth saving. The die was cast. Now the Eagle Times withers, similar to the factories and commercial activity that long ago vanished from this hardscrabble corner of New Hampshire.
The Eagle Times was family-owned, but that means squat in this current environment. All the big newspaper chains are on the ropes or in bankruptcy, so it's not a question of resources. The real question is how many more papers like the Eagle Times are out there?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gannett Blog Jumps In the Lifeboat While the Dance Band on the Titanic Warms Up

Jim Hopkins Bids Farewell Just as Gannett Finishes Getting Rid of Another 1,300 Newspaper Employees

First things first. A thanks to Jim Hopkins, who started the popular, incendiary Gannett Blog, which dutifully -- and sometimes stridently -- covered the disintegration of a once-mighty media company by executives who somehow manage to be both greedy and clueless at the same time.
For various reasons -- money most among them -- Hopkins decided to put a -30- on new blog posts as of last night. But he went out with a bang, no thanks to Gannett, which laid off another 1,300 employees from its newspaper division.
Just when you thought there was anything left for Gannett to cut, the beancounters worked their magic. Now there are even fewer reasons to buy the company's mostly mediocre papers. Of course, that won't stop them from raising the cover prices again in the near future.
One property that escaped, for now, unscathed is one of my former employers, The Journal-News, the paper of record for New York's northern suburbs. Or at least the paper.
As the J-N is now absorbing the copy editing and graphics departments of the wheezing Poughkeepsie Journal, management decided to hold off on the pink slips until August so those operations could be properly integrated.
The J-N had a daily circulation of around 160,000 when I worked there 20 years ago. It's now down near 92,000 and sinking while it shrinks: pages are smaller in keepig with the desiccated reporting staff. As one anonymous scribe posted on Gannett Blog:

I am a Westchester reporter. Twice last week -- TWICE -- I was interviewing someone and they said to me:

What is The Journal News? Can you imagine this for any other semi-major daily paper?(For all you readers outside the area: The Journal News is the name the paper was given when a group of smaller local dailies was merged in late 1998. More than 10 years later, the new name hasn't really caught on.)When I joined the company, circulation was 155,000 daily and 170,000 Sunday ...

These were sources in Northern Westchester, but I find the single place with the fewest people who know about us is Scarsdale. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I've had to explain what The Journal News is to someone from Scarsdale...

The area IS weird when it comes to local versus local, local. People live in about 75 towns and don't seem to have a regional feeling at all. If you live in Yonkers, you just don't want to read about Armonk or Peekskill or Brewster or Nyack, especially if all you're reading is the local municipal stuff or a feature about a tiny community festival.

However, the people here are sophisticated and appreciate a good story that's newsy about anywhere in the area, whether it's a scam or corruption revealed or a compelling personality featured or a new innovation explained....

We have lost A LOT of reporting staff. There is no question that readers today are getting FEWER stories than they did six months ago -- and A TON less than they did three years ago. There is news that goes uncovered and features that go unwritten.Is there any mystery why there are fewer readers? Why pay the same -- or more -- for a thinner paper?

Sad, but oh so typical, for Gannett.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wall Street Journal Needs to Spend More Time On The Couch

Let's Keep Jason Gay's Butt Planted in Front of the TV More Than One Day a Week

It's all too rare in newspapers nowadays to have destination reading, especially in the sports section. Columnists quit or get fired. Beat writing is, well, beat writing, assuming the paper is even covering the team anymore.
That state of affairs is why going to the back of the Marketplace section to read Jason Gay's "The Couch" column in Monday's Wall Street Journal is a must.
Sure, you get insights without the bombast. But what you mostly get are laughs, and plenty of them. From yesterday's column:

Well, at least it wasn't a boring Wimbledon final, like last year's.

What can you say about Sunday's All England Club epic match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick? Here's what we can say: We started, as usual, with breakfast at Wimbledon. Then we had brunch at Wimbledon. Then we had lunch -- a cold chicken sandwich at Wimbledon. Our house guests had cocktails at Wimbledon. Then more cocktails at Wimbledon. We debated marinating a steak at Wimbledon. Then we grew terrified: was this all-time classic sporting event going to preempt NBC's "Merlin"?

Or this gem about the U.S. collapse to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final:

It was cruel and mesmerizing to watch. The yellow-and-green soccer juggernaut scored early in the second half and relentlessly pounded U.S. goalie Tim Howard until they finally prevailed 3-2. When it was over the American players were crestfallen. They'd come within one half of a Wheaties box. Now they had to watch Brazil celebrate a title, which is like watching Derek Jeter celebrate getting a phone number.
"It's one thing to see the Promised Land," intoned ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, whose hair we vastly preferred in its mangy, Big Lebowski form, as opposed to its current Dead Poets Society clean look. "It's another thing to get there."

Since Gay's column often features an item on TV the day before, it's clear he doesn't need much turnaround to turn in A-level work. The Journal should give him the chance to let a few more missives loose during the week, so we don't have to wait a whole week to once again sit on The Couch.

Federer's Epic Win Also a Victory for The New York Times

Nothing Like Some Color Full-Page Ads to Soothe A Publisher's Soul

The five-set thriller at Wimbledon was entertainment on a grand scale, enough to make you not get too hot and bothered about missing out on some high-quality outside time on one of the primo weather days of the year.
Almost as happy as Federer was the ad department at The New York Times, which played host in yesterday's sports section to a full-page color ad featuring Federer from Gillette. And on the back page was a full-pager from Lacoste, which congratulated runner-up Andy Roddick, dour but stoic after his five-set defeat. You can bet your alligator there was another version of the ad ready to run had a few shots gone the other way.
Not to be outdone, Federer was on the back page of today's Business Day section, which contained the sports pages. This time it was Rolex shelling out the bucks so we could get a close look at Federer planting a big wet one on the Wimbledon trophy.
And, yes, there's a big shiny Rolex on his left wrist.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Art of Artful Phrasing in The New York Times

Jennifer Steinhauer Goes Balls to the Wall Trying to Describe California Budget Crisis

In case you didn't get to the end of yesterday's story in The New York Times about the latest budget woes in the Golden State, you should catch up to how Jennifer Steinhauer bobbed and weaved out of saying what she really wanted to say.

Political posturing infused the Capitol last week, with the governor and the Legislature decrying one another. Darrell Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, sent Mr. Schwarzenegger a package of mushrooms in response to the governor’s saying the Legislature was “hallucinating” with its budget plan; the governor sent Mr. Steinberg a sculpture of a bull testicle, suggesting something like backbone, only not quite, would be needed to make tough cuts.

Clever and cute.

Should Johnny Gilbert Be Worried?

TV Ad Still Running with Him, Ed McMahon and Don LaFontaine Even Though Latter Two Now Appearing Posthumously

The New York Lottery has had no problem running this ad featuring three storied announcers, even though one of them, Don LaFontaine, has been dead since last year.
Now that Ed McMahon has joined him in voiceover heaven, maybe it's time for this spot to finally be retired.

After all, only Johnny Gilbert, the third announcer in the spot, is around to collect residuals.
R.I.P., Ed. Say hi to Karnac.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ann Curry Is Pissed Off

And If You Care About Foreign News, Maybe You Should Be Too

Heard yesterday at the 140 Character Conference on social media in New York, this broadside from NBC's Ann Curry, who's often popping up in some remote locale when she's not reading the news on "Today."

Here's what's pissing me off. The reason I have to fight every time to do these stories is because the truth is that it's hard to get the majority of Americans or even a significant number of Americans in NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS's world, to care. I think journalism is a battle and I feel the scars and I see the blood on my sword on a daily basis for fights for foreign coverage to be more present in our broadcasting.

Curry had been in Iran to cover the elections there, and has been sent out on just about every major overseas assignment in recent years. So, it's a bit of a surprise to hear she has to convince the brass to put her on a plane when big news breaks on another continent.
Her remarks came amid some testy exchanges on the panel with CNN's Rick Sanchez. For more of that, read here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are These SNY-TV Ads Racist?

Mandeep and Sharvarish Seem Like South Indian Versions of Stepin Fetchit

Maybe it's just me, but the more I watch a series of spots for SNY-TV, the more I wonder if I'm watching stereotypes gone amok.
They feature two South Asians named Mandeep and Sharvarish, presumably Indians, who own a New York sports memorabilia shop. Some of the ads are nominally funny. Others are merely bewildering.
But what's troubling are the centerpieces of the ads are little more than caricactures that fulfill the worst prejudices of anyone whose only contact with Indians is from the back of a cab or watching "Slumdog Millionaire on DVD.
Judge for yourself:

Of course, you could argue, maybe I should lighten up. But if SNY tried pulling off these ads with a couple of blacks who sounded like they just came off the plantation, or Hasidic Jews one step removed from the shtetl, you might feel differently. And so would SNY.

Wall Street Journal Hearts Cholesterol-Drug Ads

More Health Coverage is Nice, But Ads Shouldn't Be So Intertwined With Editorial

It's great The Wall Street Journal is bulking up its health and fitness coverage in the Tuesday edition of the Personal Journal section.
After all, why not provide more of the news its aging readers can use before they age out. Case in point is a column called Heart Beat by Ron Winslow about all things related to the ticker, that is, the one that doesn't spew out stock prices (remember them?).
The column focused on why it's not enough to simply lower the LDL, or bad, cholesterol; that the HDL/good cholesterol and triglycerides also play a big role and why exercise and diet need to act in concert with statins.
It's a subject near and dear to my, um, heart, given that I pop a Zocor every day.
All well and good content-wise. However, I was a little troubled that the article was flanked by an ad for a new drug called Trilipix, which is designed to be taken with a statin to, you guessed it, raise good cholesterol and lower triglycerides.
Nowhere does the column mention Trilipix. However, the ad should have been placed elsewhere in the section. It's one thing to live in the neighborhood. It's another to be the nosy next-door neighbor.
Even if there's no quid pro quo, it does the Journal no good to leave the impression that there could have been.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Can the iPhone Save Journalism? Nope

Apple's Darling Thrives on Short Attention Spans; Journalists Don't

Atlantic blogger Derek Thompson wondered aloud about whether the new, whizbang iPhone could prove to be an inhaler for the wheezing news industry.
Seems there's an app called Scrollmotion that promises to 220 magazines and newspapers, along with 1 million books.
Of course, you'd be paying for this; a presumably premium selection of articles and news sources aggregated so you don't have to do the heavy lifting.
Trying to apply the iTunes model to news has its own set of problems, as Thompson notes, including the fact that, information is disposable and hardly unique, unlike music you would buy.
But the biggest problem is one of size: are you really going to spend enough time on an iPhone to read enough content you'd pay for? It's fine to check Gmail or Facebook, but to read a column, movie reviews or an analysis of the TARP program, the iPhone is just too small and distracting (all those other apps, oh, la, la) to make reading a meaningful experience.
If you're going to pay for your content -- and sooner or later, all of the good stuff online will cost you one way or the other -- the Kindle, or your laptop or PC is infinitely more commodious to read anything for more than 90 seconds at a time.
For media outlets who don't care how much you read, as long as you ante up for it, such a strategy will only nip them in the arse before long. People will soon realize there's a lot less than meets the eye -- and for good reason.
All of this isn't to say back to the drawing board. But desperate media outlets should be looking elsewhere for a savior. Scrollmotion ain't it.

Will Bunch Avoids Being Thrown Under the Inky's Bus

Give Brian Tierney Credit, For a Change: Philadelphia Daily News Writer Gets to Slam Newsroom Brethren Without Getting Slammed

Philadelphia Weekly has a good piece out on local media badboy Will Bunch, a senior writer for the Philly Daily News.
I think Bunch is kinda cool, and not because he went to the fancy-schmancy private school down the road from where I live and worked on the school paper with Keith Olbermann.
Rather, I like it that he gets to criticize bigger sibling the Philadelphia Inquirer and doesn't wind up on the unemployment line in the process.
Bunch got the Inky brass all hussied up because he ripped the choice of Bush torture-meister John Yoo to be a regular columnist in his Attytood blog. He also had a few things to say when the Inquirer inked former rightie senator Rick Santorum to pen a column.
Of course, that's over at the Inky, not the perpetual-underdog-and-loving-it Daily News. “It might have been a little more complicated if the hire had been at the Daily News," Bunch told Philadelphia Weekly.
All of this doesn't mean Bunch has a death wish. Brian Tierney, the major domo of Philadelphia Newspapers, has remained skewer-free in Attytood. Bunch instead leaves that to blogs like this one. As he said diplomatically: “He’s entitled to have influence on the editorial boards–owners and publishers always have. He pledged not to interfere in news operations and to my knowledge, and I’m pretty plugged in at the Daily News, he has honored that pledge.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sending Good Thoughts to Pyongyang Central Court

Trial of Current TV's Laura Ling and Euna Lee Set for Tomorrow

Unlike the high-profile campaign to get Roxanne Saberi out of Iran, any efforts to get Current TV's Euna Lee and Laura Ling out of North Korea have been well-concealed.
We're assuming there's a good reason for that, given the loose cannons in control in Pyongyang, some of whom would dearly love a propaganda slam-dunk against the U-S.
The pair were detained March 17 and charged with illegally crossing into North Korea from China and other so-called "hostile acts" that could land them up to 10 years in a labor camp.
North Korea has denied diplomats -- in this case, Swedes representing U.S. interests -- since March 30 in contravention of international law. Surprise, surprise.
And we can all guess how a purported trial will turn out. Will Kim Jong-Il and his gang put on a show, convict the two and then give them an unceremonial boot from the country? Or, will North Korea try to scapegoat Lee and Ling while the contretemps over the missile tests rages on? It probably also doesn't help that nobody knows who's really in charge over there and what their agendas might be.
Current is, of course, Al Gore's baby. It's hard to tell whether that's hurting or helping the reporters' cause. The channel has put up a wall of silence about Lee and Ling in the apparent belief that saying nothing increases the chances of not pissing off the notoriously pissy North Koreans.
Let's hope Kim and Co. know that silence doesn't mean Lee and Ling have been forgotten. On that front, North Korea cannot win.
Let's also hope they consider the trial their own little show -- a perverse amusement to brighten their otherwise-dour lives -- and then remember that when the show is over, it's time for the performers to go home.