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.