Thursday, April 30, 2009

Boy, I Didn't See This One Coming

Headline for a Boston Herald story with the latest twist in the saga of the accused Craigslist killer:

Philip Markoff's fiancee calls off wedding.

I know, me too. A real shocker.
Still, it's quite a turnaound from two days ago, when she was doing her Tammy Wynette imitation.
Guess it was better to call off the wedding now rather than go through a D-I-V-O-R-C-E later.

Balls, Strikes And A Pink Slip

Baltimore Sun Staffers Get Laid Off While Covering Orioles Game

By now, many have you heard about the latest bloodbath at the Baltimore Sun, which shed 61 more journalists -- one-third of those left -- from the Sun's already-lonely newsroom.
No layoff, no matter where it occurs, is pleasant.
But someone in the Sun brain trust apparently wanted to take that maxim to a new level. From the Guardian in the U.K. comes word that writers and photographers covering the Orioles-Angels game on Tuesday were told during the game their jobs would soon be no more.
During the game. As if they didn't have enough on their mind keeping a close eye on the action, now they also had to think about how to feed their families along with getting their work in on deadline.
The poop in the pressbox was first reported by the Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett, who was there when the news was delivered.
The article doesn't name the journalists, and the Sun isn't talking specifics, but Jeff Zrebiec, who wrote yesterday's game story, and national baseball writer Dan Connolly are likely on the chopping block.
All of which shows Sun managers are a bunch of losers, just like the Orioles.

E-Golenbock: Alert Correspondent Cries Foul Over New Steinbrenner Book

When Facts Strike Out; Checking a Manuscript Too Much of a Bother for John Wiley & Sons

Author Peter Golenbock has been nothing if not prolific for more than 30 years, churning out sports books -- many of them about baseball.
Perhaps the best known, "The Bronx Zoo," about the then-hugely talented but immensely dysfunctional New York Yankees, rode The New York Times best-seller list for 29 weeks in 1979.
Golenbock has since collaborated with several Yankees on their autobiographies, and has now returned to his motherlode with "George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire," about now-enfeebled Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
So, with all that time spent with the Yankees, you'd think Golenbock would have his material down cold. Instead, as CBS News Radio Correspondent Peter King found out, Golenbock merely shows why every author needs an editor. And what happens when he doesn't have one -- at least one who knows the subject matter.
King (full disclosure: a former colleague and current friend), who has logged many hours in and around ballparks during his career, was slated to interview Golenbock about his book. Then he read it and found it riddled with enough errors to have Golenbock sent down to the literary bush leagues for life. Among them, as King writes:
--On page 277, there was a reference to the 1981 White Sox and their General Manager Dave Dombrowski. That would have been amazing because in 1981, Dombrowski was just 23 and hadn’t been in baseball that long (his first GM job came with the Expos in 1988).
--On page 314, he mentions Florida Marlins owner "Bob Luria." Maybe he was thinking of ex-Giants owner Bob Lurie? The Marlins’ owner is actually Jeffrey Loria.
--On page 144, he had Billy Martin trying to get himself fired from Texas in July of 1974 so he could manage the Yankees. He was off by one year; it happened in 1975.
Perhaps the most amazing error of them all came on page 196 when he had the Yanks trading away relief pitcher Sparky Lyle in the spring of 1979. Here, Golenbock contradicts Lyle - and himself - since they co-wrote Lyle’s book "The Bronx Zoo." The last paragraph of that book is a post-script, saying that Lyle was traded away on November 11, 1978.

King called the flack working for the publisher, John Wiley & Sons to cancel the interview and express his dismay. Wiley has since owned up to the problems, as has Golenbock, who has also been roundly attacked by knowledgable fans on Word is the errors will be corrected in the next printing. We'll see.
Of course, Golenbock is hardly the first non-fiction author to get facts wrong. It happens all the time. And that's the problem. Most publishers don't have the inclination or resources -- unlike magazines -- to do proper fact-checking, or any at all. They want you to pay 25 bucks to read nonfiction. After that, you're on your own.
But it didn't have to be this way. Any editor with even an adequate knowledge of baseball would have easily been able to flag these errors before the book went to press. It's bad enough Golenbock was so consistent in his sloppiness. However, Wiley compounded Golenbock's errors by letting them go unchallenged.
Sadly, this not an isolated incident for Wiley. It also publishes the Frommer's travel guides. As I wrote in 2007, my experience using their 2008 guide to Walt Disney World was an experience in frustration, as it was often badly outdated or just plain wrong.
Sound familiar?

Monday, April 27, 2009

One Tough Assignment: Writing About Why You'll Soon Be Out of A Job

Portfolio Shutting Down; Blogger Jeff Bercovici Serves Up His Own Bad News

The whispers got rather loud real fast about the demise of Conde Nast Portfolio this morning on Peter Kafka's All Things Digital blog.
And now it's official.
Portfolio media blogger Jeff Bercovici confirmed to the world at large that, indeed, he and a bunch of others will soon be out of a job.
Too bad. Portfolio was a grand experiment that debuted in a perfect storm of the print media business tanking, while the recession pretty much took care of what advertising was left.
Portfolio was also a victim of its own ambitions. It paid to play to offer up quality articles -- and pay dearly, at that.
For example, Michael Lewis was rumored to have been paid a maharajah-esque sum of five bucks a word for an article in the December issue fittingly titled The End, about the passing of an era on Wall Street.
And you wondered why Conde Nast couldn't make the numbers add up for Portfolio. And now 85 people are out of a job.
Not that Lewis is to blame for the magazine being shuttered. But when Conde Nast is laying off receptionists to help its sagging bottom line, those are luxuries -- along with the endless supply of town cars and business-class junkets -- that could be done without.
Portfolio will be missed, and not just as a source of cannon fodder for Gawker.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Winning a Pulitzer Prize Is Great, But.....

It Gets Harder to Celebrate

Robert Smith on NPR's Morning Edition had a good piece this morning on the sobering reality behind this year's Pulitzer Prizes.
That includes the story of Alexandra Berzon, the winner of the public-service prize. Her paper, the scrappy Las Vegas Sun, has now shrunk to eight pages as part of a supplement inside the larger Review-Journal, which graciously acknowledged Berzon's award in an editorial.
Smith also cites Paul Giblin, who shared the award in the local-reporting category. He couldn't take part in the requisite newsroom celebration at the East Valley Tribune in suburban Phoenix because he had been laid off. That fact was conveniently omitted by editor Chris Coppola in his column about the award (he merely says Giblin now works for the Arizona Guardian online news service).
Coppola does point out, however, that the Tribune, which had already cut its frequency to four days a week, while eliminating circulation in several cities, will now go down to three days a week next month.
That will do nothing to help the Tribune in pursuit of another Pulitzer. But that's not what newspapers should be focused on nowadays, in any event.
First, just find a way to survive to publish another day. Worry about the rest later, Pulitzers included.

Massive Loss By NY Times Co. Could Force Boston Globe Unions to Cave

Dreary 1Q Numbers Accentuated by Ad Plunge in New England

Everyone expected the first-quarter results for The New York Times Co. to be bad. But not this bad.
It lost $74.5 million or 52 cents a share. Analysts had been expecting a loss of no more than 6 cents a share. Ouch.
But that's what happens when ad revenue for all your newspapers falls 28.4 percent. It was even worse at the Times' New England Media Group, where ads plunged 31.6 percent.
That will make today's negotiations between the Boston Newspaper Guild and the Times even more interesting, as the company seeks to wring $20 million of concessions from the unions, who are faced with a threat of the Globe being shuttered.

The Times has already said the Globe is on track to lose $85 million this year. If so, the unions may have little choice but to swallow hard and cough up lots of givebacks, including pension contributions, lifetime job security and 401k matches.
Unions always want to have some leverage when dealing with management. But with this earnings report, leverage has left the building. Left in its place is some guy from finance holding a plug that he looks too eager to pull.

Newspaper Doomsayer at It Again With Magazines

But Sloppy Editing Hurts Credibility of Douglas McIntyre, 24/7 WallStreet

Last month, a list of the ten newspapers that will either fold or go digital from a Web site called 24/7 Wall Street was picked up by and wound up getting a lot more attention than it probably deserved.
It was easy to quibble with at least half of the picks, especially the New York Daily News, whose demise, author Douglas McIntyre opined, was predicated on the fact that it wasn't owned by a big corporation, and based on the performance of other dailies, could lose $70 million this year.
First off, have you seen the performance of newspaper companies lately, at least those that haven't been delisted by the NYSE and NASDAQ? Not being one is actually a good thing.
Further, McIntyre's extrapolating about the News' finances are a reach, to put it charitably. And if the News was in such dire straits, why would it be spending tens of millions of dollars on new color presses?
Anywhoo, that was then. Now McIntyre is back with another list. This one is devoted to the "Twelve Major Brands That Will Disappear" by the end of 2010. Two come from the media, Esquire and Architectural Digest,
In Esquire's case, it's the 97-pound weakling in a crowded category that's already taken a beating. AD is the grandmama of shelter magazines. But it's way-upscale ambitions are out of step at a time when millions of homes are being foreclosed on and its ad pages -- or lack thereof -- reflect that.
McIntyre's analysis is a bit more spot on this time around. But it's marred throughout by having been pushed out without being proofread. The final entry alone, which basically predicts United Airlines will need a merger partner, has at least 10 spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors. And that's just one of 12 entries.
That's why there are editors. McIntyre could sure use one. You can't stand behind your reasoning if it's not coherent in the first place.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No Escaping Cost-Cutting at New York Times

And No Escapes Section Either (Not to Mention Suburban Sunday Weeklies)

The rumors bore out, and The New York Times is thinning out some of its offerings, offing the Escapes section that appears on Friday, along with the regional sections for Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York City.
Escapes will be dispatched to oblivion as of May 1, with some of its offerings melded into the Weekend section. So maybe we'll still get to read about the particulars of vacation homes, weekend getaways and what it's like to live in some idyllic town far away from you. It was usually a pretty good read and I'll be sorry to see it go.
Same goes for the regional sections. Even though they had been watered down the last couple of years by sharing content across some of the titles, they still served a purpose, especially in Westchester -- my neck of the woods.
The local paper, The Journal-News, is so wanting as a publication that the Times was frequently able to offer stories the J-N never even thought of. Ironically, several of the section's freelancers were J-N alumni who had wrested themselves from that vortex of mediocrity.
And that is another part of this story. These sections were written almost entirely by freelancers who now have many fewer outlets for their work in the Times. Indeed, cutting the freelance budget will likely save millions.
There will be a zoned page in a new regional section that will debut May 24. But that doesn't leave room for much. Nor does it likely leave room for restaurant reviews, much needed as most of what passes for reviews in the J-N tend to be fawning rather than authoritative.
But what's more troubling is these and other cuts announced today may be yet another harbinger of more troubling cuts to come. Judging by this memo from Bill Keller, another day of reckoning may be at hand -- and soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

MLB Network Squanders Chance To Be Relevant

Fledgling Baseball Channel Whiffs in Initial Coverage of Death of Legendary Phillies Broadcaster Harry Kalas

The new MLB Network wants to be all things baseball. After all, that's the only reason for its existence.
Today, it proved it's still working out the finer points of that business model.
This afternoon brought word of the sudden passing of Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who collapsed as he prepared for the Phillies-Nationals game in Washington later in the day. Kalas, a Hall of Fame broadcaster, had become as identified with the Phillies as any player, and his fame was known well beyond Philadelphia.
MLB broke in to a taped program called "Cathedrals of the Game" for a brief update from its main anchor, Matt Vasgersian and then quickly returned to the program, which was inexplicably cued up from where it picked up after the last commercial break.
The rub: the network was showing a feed of the Phillies-Nationals game at 3 p.m. ET, just minutes away. So, by re-racking the program they jump in late. But just as baffling, they use the feed from the Nationals broadcast, rather than the Phillies.
True, Nationals announcers Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble said all the right things about Kalas. But the only right call was to switch gears and go to the Phillies cast -- and hear from Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler reflect on their departed colleague.
Also left unanswered is why MLB Network only has in-studio programming at night with its complement of analysts when there were four games being played during the day Monday, including the one it was showing.
Clearly, the network has to be more nimble for when events dictate, especially when ESPN is waiting to clean your clock. ESPN News for a time simulcast its Philadelphia radio affiliate, as listeners called in with their heartfelt thoughts about losing Kalas.
MLB Network doesn't have that luxury, but it does have the ability to react sooner than later, especially with the broadcast resources of all teams available to it.
Fans who went to the network thinking it would be a go-to source of information deserved better.
So did Harry Kalas.

Harry Kalas Dead At 73

"We Lost Our Voice Today"

"Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 world champions of baseball!"

There were many memorable calls in the storied career of Harry Kalas. That he finally got to call a World Series victory for his beloved Philadelphia Phillies last year must have been one he treasured.

Kalas died this afternoon after he collapsed in the press box at Nationals Stadium in Washington.
He was 73.
It's no accident that he's in Baseball's Hall of Fame. You knew the voice. That his unmistakable baritone will no longer be telling Phillies Nation about the latest exploits of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels is stunning, no matter who you root for.
Given that he was with the team since 1971, at least two generations of fans meant following the Phils meant listening to Kalas.
The games will go on. They just won't sound the same.

Merkin Op-Ed Shows Why Public Editors Matter More Than Ever

Clark Hoyt Slams Times Op-Ed Page for Less-than-Full Disclosure on Madoff Piece

Public Editor. Readers' Representative. Ombudsman.
Whatever the title, it's one that has been gradually disappearing from newspapers, as a convenient way to cost-cut.
And that the membership rolls of the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen continues to shrink cannot be a good thing, as yesterday's column by New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt (above) showed us.

Hoyt excoriated the Op-Ed editors for a March 21 piece by frequent Times contributor Daphne Merkin about the Bernard Madoff scandal. The fifth paragraph begins:
"What Mr. Madoff brought to the table, I think, was a sense of mishpocha, of being part of an extended family, but one you carefully chose rather than being arbitrarily born into," and then parenthetically mentions: (I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him.)"
And the winner for understatement of the year is....

As Hoyt and other readers have pointed out, that sibling is none other than Ezra Merkin, a prominent money man who funneled more than $2 billion of his clients' money to Madoff and collected $470 million in fees. Merkin has not been charged with any crime, but is being sued by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for civil fraud.
And yet Daphne Merkin -- with the approval of her editors -- was allowed to essentially skip past that mess. While what she wrote is true, Hoyt notes, it's "about as forthcoming as saying that Milton Eisenhower had a sibling in the United States Army in World War II."
The wording was meekly defended by Op-Ed editor David Shipley, who had sought out Merkin for the piece. Merkin obviously -- and perhaps correctly -- didn't want it to be about her brother. Still, you can't ignore the $2 billion gorilla in the room. And that's essentially what the Times did, and which Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal essentially admitted to Hoyt was an error.
At a time when newspapers are teetering on the brink of oblivion, the last think they can risk is their credibility. They need to be held accountable, just like they do to the public officials and scoundrels who run or ruin our lives.
Ombudsmen can only make newspapers better. And when more readers and advertisers are deciding whether to abandon them for good, newspapers need to be at their best. The Clark Hoyts of this world are the best insurance for achieving that goal.

OMG! A Cheeky "Hannah Montana" Review in New York Times that Works

Jeannette Catsoulis: Tween Wannabe

omg ashley, i’ve just seen “hannah montana the movie”!! and it’s just as awesome as the tv show only bigger and prettier and she doesn’t fall down so much.

Fear not, we haven't intercepted an 11-year-old girl's text message. It's the cheeky lede for The New York Times review of "Hannah Montana: The Movie."

Freelancer Jeannette Catsoulis obviously knew what she was getting herself into and decided to have a little fun. OK, a lot of fun.
Not that I'm going to shell out 11 bucks to see if she hit the mark, but I'll wager a pack of bubble gum she did. However, not all commenters on the Times Web site apparently got the joke.

"surely hannah montana movie deserves a respectful review, is as if they are making fun of her. Miley does not speak this way at all," is a typical comment, grammatical errors and all.

Maybe Catsoulis' detractors should take a look at Miley Cyrus' Twitter feed. They might think she plagiarized the review.

"omgomg! my fans rock! the movie is doing great you guys! omg AND its all cause of you!!!! I LOVE U ALL! IF YOU HAVENT SEEN IT YET CHECK IT!"

A double omg? This is serious.

Catsoulis and Co. can be as snarky as they want. Disney couldn't care less. It's too busy counting money. "Hannah Montana" raked in $34 million over the weekend. It's doubtful many of the girls who invaded theatres over the weekend relied on the Times or any other newspaper to help them decide what to go see.

A Slimmed-Down Ira Joe Fisher Looking Good on The Early Show

We Haven't Seen Much of Ira Joe, and Now We See Even Less

There was never any official reason why Ira Joe Fisher was dumped as the weather guy on the Saturday edition of The Early Show on CBS, but you can guess it was all about the money.
Fisher had also done time on the daily edition of the program, but was relegated to Saturdays and voice-over work.
Fisher had been with the Saturday Early Show since its inception in 1999, but quietly disappeared in 2007, replaced by WCBS-TV meteorologist Lonnie Quinn.
Nothing against Quinn, but Fisher was an avuncular, affable presence on the program, especially when it came time to the Chef On A Shoestring segment. Fisher, shall we say, liked to eat, leading to one notorious moment on the show in 2006, when co-host Tracy Smith is helping cookbook author Nancy Silverton prepare dessert.
"One scoop or two?"Smith asks Silverton about some ice cream.
"I think I'll do one today," and then turns to Fisher, "I don't think you need two, right?"
To which the abashed but hungry Fisher replies: "No, but let's have two."
It was both chastening and inappropriate. So, when Fisher filled in on The Early Show two days ago, it was great to see him, especially so, because it looks like he has shed in the neighborhood of 100 pounds.
Having spent decades on the air in New York and on the network as a jolly if portly weathercaster, it was a startling but welcome change.
Now that there's a lot less of him, here's hoping we can see him more.

Friday, April 10, 2009

New York Times Eating Crow (Sort Of) With Correction of Bird-Brained Story

What Happens When Even The Fact-Checkers Don't Get It Right

Editor & Publisher magazine's head honcho Greg Mitchell has the scoop on a whopper of a correction appearing in this Sunday's Times magazine.
What's discomfiting -- besides that the story, about a supposed vending machine that would allow crows to exchange coins for peanuts, had almost no factual basis -- was that it took the Times nearly four months to fess up to the faux pas.
The excuse: additional reporting, which led to this conclusion: "These details [read: in other words, what would have debunked the story] should have been discovered during the reporting and editing process. Had that happened, the article would not have been published."

Is Eddy Hartenstein the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse?

Or Just a Pragmatist Trying to Keep The Los Angeles Times Breathing?

Don't get me wrong, I find the front-page ad that snaked up the left side of yesterday's Los Angeles Times just as odious as the next guy.

Even the Times seems to be holding its nose in its own story today of the controversy, when it noted: "The Times appears to be the first major U.S. newspaper in modern times to have run a front-page ad in a format that could be mistaken for a news story, said Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication."

So, with all the outcry over the ad for the new NBC show "Southland," Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein regrets the move. Not. "Because of the times that we're in, we have to look at all sorts of different -- and some would say innovative -- new solutions for our advertising clients," Hartenstein chirped, noting the ad garnered a "significant premium" from regular rates.

It's small comfort to know that Times Editor Russ Stanton objected to the ad, but wisely didn't throw himself under the train and quit in protest. As he's seen his staff sliced and diced by buyouts and layoffs, he knows there aren't any jobs out there. Better to fight from the inside than go on the dole as a martyr.

Granted, Hartenstein has the herculean task of trying to right the Times' finances when circulation and ads are like lemmings that have an appointment with the nearest cliff. That means if has to live dangerously, so be it.

I wouldn't put it past Hartenstein to pull a similar stunt again. What may hold him back, though, are the advertisers themselves, who might wind up with more bad press than the extra visibility of a front-page ad is worth. So long to that "significant premium." But then at least you wouldn't have to say so long to integrity.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cleaning Up Athletes' Quotes: An Obligation or Disservice?

Black Sportswriters Split on How to Handle Grammatical Trainwrecks

I only recently stumbled upon a March 20 column by the Maynard Institute's Richard Prince a fascinating discussion on whether sportswriters should quote verbatim athletes who mangle the English language, or fix their quotes without changing their intent so the players sound coherent.
Prince digests an extensive email dialogue by members of the sports task force of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Mike Freeman of started the discussion when citing a transcript of a quote from a player from Tennessee-Chattanooga at the start of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, who said: "When we seen that we got UConn, I mean, we was happy to be up there on the board."
Freeman asked whether the transcription service should've cleaned up the quote (no, the service replied) and what can sportswriters do about the profusion of black college athletes who speak like this.
Some posters said quotes should be fixed because black players are subject to a double standard. Said one: "How many times have you seen a White person quoted as saying 'gonna,' but everyone says that. When the guy's Black, you usually see 'gonna.'"
But J.A. Adande of says he sticks to verbatim, because the actual quotes are easily accessible. "If readers can see the discrepancy it's fair of them to ask what other words we've changed in quote."
There are some who not only favor changing quotes but taking it a
step further. Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel said he actually
counsels athletes on the importance of speaking properly.

"Just so you know," Kelly wrote, "I just helped out an agent friend of mine by instructing three draft prospects on what to say during their team and media interviews. Part of it was encouraging them to use the Kings English. We joked about it a lot, but they got the point."

Just so you know, Omar, however well-intentioned you might be, that's not your job. Nor should you make it yours. At least not while you're writing for the Sun-Sentinel. That's what teams have media-relations staffs for.

Sure, The Boston Globe Can Stop Spinning. Here's How

No Broadsheet Out of Morrissey Street Hard to Fathom, But Not Out of the Question

Let's first work from the assumption that the initial threat by The New York Times Co. to -30- The Boston Globe was a combination of saber- rattling and a cry for help.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I would've dismissed it as a bluff that could be easily ignored in spite of the prodigious amount of red ink spilling from the Globe's balance sheets. But that was before I saw Newhouse playing hardball with the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

I wrote last year how I was skeptical when Newhouse threatened to close the paper, unless a huge chunk of the newsroom -- 40 percent, as it turned out -- took buyouts and agreed to other concessions. After all, how could Newhouse shutter its flagship paper and leave a gaping hole in coverage of the Garden State? However, I'm now a reluctant believer. At blinding speed, the newspaper biz has gone from bad to worse to extremely crappy, with a forecast of more apocalyptic adjectives to come.

That means the Globe, which lost $50 million last year and could lose $85 million in 2009, while not in a death spiral yet, is in the newspaper I.C.U. with little hope of getting out. Sure, the unions can agree to concessions. Heck, maybe those lifetime job guarantees for veteran employees can be disposed of. Higher newsstand prices just enacted can help. But is all that merely putting off a date with the inevitable?

The New York Observer has a piece on how the Globe could become, in effect, a New England edition of the Times. Conceptually, it sounds ridiculous. But so does the notion that a buyer can be found for the Globe, or that the Times can sustain it indefinitely.

The Times would not have to look far for a precedent, namely its own national edition, which features a couple of pages of New York news. That could be swapped out for Boston-area items with a skeletal staff of 6-10 reporters, maybe a columnist and a couple of editors. Same goes for the sports pages, a couple of whiich could be repurposed for a Boston audience. Much of the rest of the paper could go out as is, with a tweak here or there for New England, e.g. a column of local business briefs.

I'm not saying this is an optimal solution -- of course, it isn't -- but it may be the only way to preserve what little capital the Times Co. has left in the Globe without incurring huge costs for a shutdown (one analyst values the Globe at no more than $20 million, a far cry from the$1.1 billion the Times paid in 1993).

Regardless of the outcome, the Globe that readers will see in 6-12 months will be vastly different from the one they have now. Which is a lot different than the one they used to have. All that change has done nothing to make the Globe a better paper.

But at least it's still a paper.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Coupon Nazis Strike Again at Checkout Counter

A&P, Bed Bath & Beyond Busted for Going Out of Their Way to Piss Off Customers.

Coupon clipping is in my DNA. I'm not cheap, but I love a good deal.
Supermarkets ostensibly want the business of folks like me. The ones that operate where I live double my coupons up to 99 cents. So, a policy I found out about the hard way today at A&P is weird, to say the least, not to mention infuriating.
I printed out from the computer a 55-cent coupon for a half-gallon of Horizon organic milk. The coupon came straight from the company Web site. It's the only way you can get the coupon -- Horizon doesn't advertise in the coupon supplements that come in the Sunday papers.
Yet, when I gave my coupon to the A&P cashier, she wouldn't accept it. Why? Because it was an Internet coupon.
Thinking I got stuck with a lunkhead, I asked for a manager. Sure enough, no e-coupons. "I'm sorry, but it's company policy."
What's behind the policy. "I don't know," she said again apologetically. "It's policy. We've asked them to change it and they won't."
It's not like I'd photocopied an original coupon and brought it in for redemption. This was the coupon. But no matter. Suffice to say, I gave back the milk. A&P lost a sale and ticked off a loyal customer.
I went down the road to Shop-Rite, where they took the coupon without comment. A bonus: it was 50 cents cheaper too.
This was my second coupon caper recently. I had been to Bed Bath & Beyond, which I never enter without a wad of the 20-percent-off coupons that show up in the mail every couple of weeks.
The checkout was uneventful until the cashier told me I could only use five coupons in one transaction. Why? "I don't know."
That didn't sit well, as I had 10 items and coupons for each one. She said, "Well, you could do two separate transactions." And so I did.
But that took more time and made no sense. And it cost Triple-B more money too, as they pay a fee for each credit-card transaction.
For whatever lame rationale the company has for this policy, the only thing it does is anger shoppers, which is exactly the wrong thing to do during a recession. The store wasn't exactly overwhelmed with patrons when I was there. Coupons should be the least of their worries.

If anyone from either company would like to chime in, the space is theirs for the taking.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 Barks Up Wrong Tree Singing Praises of

Guilt and Scorn from Spam King If You Have Temerity Not To Sign Up

This morning I checked out a list of the supposed Top 20 best job-search sites, courtesy of
Remember when PC was a fat and happy magazine that came out twice a month? That was then. Now computer and tech print advertising has shriveled like a prune and the magazine is online-only.
Apparently, fact-checking was also a casualty of the cost-cutting.
My attention was caught by mention of a site I had never heard of called, which only searches company job boards. "In theory, this cuts out duplicate listings and shows opportunities that are not posted on other job boards."
In theory, because it wasn't in the budget for me to pay the $29.99 a month to actually use the site, which I departed soon after I saw it wasn't free and someone on live chat tried to engage me.
But, it seems, that was not the end of it.
A few minutes later, an elaborate email arrives that says "We have a marketing problem at Hound."
You betcha.
Then the email proceeds to scold me for running away.

You made a mistake. It’s ok. Lots of people leave without ever completing the sign up process. This is par for the course.

About that marketing problem? Seems it's getting people to pay:

You can go to a soup kitchen tonight for a free dinner if you want but the food and the company will probably not be very good.

In other words, you dumb ass who won't pay us, the best things in life aren't free.
But the bad guys in all this are really the other job boards who charge employers for listings, Hound barks, rather than prospective employees. Hound presumably is a way to help companies that wouldn't pony up for a help-wanted ad and only post vacancies on their Web sites.
Can there really be that many stupid enough to do that? I'm not going to be stupid enough to take the "leap of faith" to find out, even with a seven-day free trial. More on that in a bit.
Who's behind Hound? One A. Harrison Barnes, the wizard running many other career sites, especially the ones ending in "Crossing" that are especially prevalent on HotJobs and aggregators that spider thousands of other sites.
It should be no surprise that the Crossings all charge to see their full listings and to apply for the posted jobs. And if the jobs sound familiar, well, that's because they are. Other job sites have complained Barnes is scraping from their free listings, putting them together with other posts and then charging $29.95 to view them all.

“We visit over 100,000 sites a day and take as many jobs as we can find, classify them, and then publish them on our site,” Barnes told the blog Cheezhead. “In this way, what we’re doing is a lot more advanced than Indeed and Simply Hired.”

So, in essence, Hound is another "Crossing," but one devoted to company sites. It searches so you don't have to. Still, it's hard to verify just how many worthwhile listings would otherwise go unearthed if not sniffed out by Hound.
Put me in the "highly dubious" column. I won't pay to let this dog hunt.
Barnes' name sounded familiar, so I checked another email account. Sure enough, there he was, extolling the virtues of, which bills itself as the "largest portal of legal opportunities in the world."
Never mind that I've been continually spammed by LawCrossing and LegalAuthority despite continually emailing them to be unsubscribed and putting the address on my blocked senders list (sometimes it works).
What's galling is that Barnum, er, Barnes, is selling a dangerous bill of goods.

"...I can get you a job. How confident am I that I can get you a legal job? Just about 100% confident. If you can put on a suit and tie and walk into an interview and not act crazy, I am about 100% confident."

Among those he claims to have gotten jobs for:

A drooler,
People with ridiculous lisps,
Two transvestites (that I am aware of),
A guy who looks like Charles Manson on a bad hair day.

Woo-hoo! There's hope for me yet.
Just how does he do it? Magic. I mean, marketing. Pay him a lot of money to market you, and Barnes'll get you a job. Posh, to the thousands of lawyers who've lost their jobs in the recession. They're on the dole because "99% of attorneys do not know how to look for jobs and just keep doing the same stupid things over and over," Barnes bleats.
At least that what he wants you to believe. Some did, and now they're sorry. Among them: an anonymous California lawyer with an unequivocally titled blog called Legal Authority Scam.
There's someone who's crossed Barnes off his Christmas-card list.
I won't put myself in the position to contribute fodder for that blog, which does make for some interesting reading. But even if I didn't open my wallet, based on this missive from a former employee it appears it'll be hard to make Andrew Harrison Barnes truly go away.
Please work, spam filter. Please.
As for, do your homework before you press the send button. Or maybe you can pay Barnes $29.95 a month to do it for you.