Friday, December 17, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
When the news came down that Henry Freeman would be retiring/pushed out as executive editor of The Journal-News, the newspaper by default in New York's northern suburbs and a long-ago employer of mine, it was hardly a shock.
After all, the paper is a daily exercise in extreme mediocrity. Not that it was ever a great paper--few in the Gannett stable can ever hope to be when corporate is squeezing every pore for profits at the expense of the product--but at least it made an attempt to cover its territory. Every town had a reporter assigned to it, while high school sports received blanket coverage. Even most of the pro teams had beat writers.
Suffice to say that train left the station a long time ago. The train analogy is actually more than apt. Freeman, according to the article/quasi-eulogy about his departure, is a big rail buff, and will soon embark on a 7,500-mile trip. It'll be one where he'll never have to read The Journal-News. That'll mean he'll have a lot in common with people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
I did a little poking around for some old circulation figures and stumbled upon the ABC Fas-Fax numbers from March 2006, when daily sales were over 141,000. Fast forward to the latest tally from the end of October, and the J-N has dipped below 80,000. That's nearly a 47 percent decline--in three-and-a-half years.
Of course, the newspaper industry has been reeling for much of that time, so Freeman can't get all the blame for that drop. But he also didn't do anything to ameliorate the situation. On his watch the news hole shrunk. So did the physical size of the paper.
There was less room than ever for copy, yet Gannett had the cojones to raise the newsstand price. Meanwhile, the slow-to-update lohud.com website remains, at best, an afterthought. It's just like most other Gannett papers, which have the same desultory, cookie-cutter design online.
Meanwhile, the staff has suffered one round of cutbacks after another. Except when there is breaking news, reporters are now only covering parts of the counties where the J-N still sells papers. Otherwise, you're out of luck, though it seems every stabbing in Yonkers and Mount Vernon is dutifully recorded. The J-N is doing the local weeklies and Patch a deep favor while digging its own grave one shovel full of dirt at a time.
So, again I ask, why is Henry Freeman smiling?
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
But After All is Said and Done, Will It Amount to Anything?
Now that CBS plans to give the umpteenth makeover to "The Early Show," it's a good time to look at who over on West 57th St. is having a good day after today's announcement, and who needs a hug.
First, the soon-to-depart:
Harry Smith: He's been a good soldier and then some, toiling away on the show since 2002, with a steady parade of co-hosts. Of course, he's been down this road before, when he was on "CBS This Morning" from 1987-96. So, now he gets to sleep in, while serving as a national correspondent and the primary fill-in on the "CBS Evening News," "Sunday Morning" and "Face the Nation." Pretty sweet deal, and he may just be biding his time until June, when Katie Couric's contract expires. There's little doubt her tenure as "Evening News" anchor will end then, and she'll be in a drastically different and less-remunerative role at the network should she stay.
Maggie Rodriguez: She's also been a fill-in anchor at "Evening News," but too low-profile to get the chair full-time. As of now, she will be reassigned, though to points unknown. Since she's been an anchor, hard to believe she'd go back in the field. In this business, you save face above all else.
Dave Price: He broadened his portfolio to go beyond weather, and became sort of a wacky features guy as well. To wit, a repeat of his stunt from last year where he gets plunked in Alaska, and then has $50 and his resourcefulness to find a way home. The CBS press release said he'd slide into a new, undefined role. But it's doubtful there's one there for the taking to match his skill set.
Chris Wragge (above right): He's been doing "The Saturday Early Show" for a while, displaying a remarkable amount of spunk for someone who'd been doing the 11 p.m. news on WCBS-TV just hours before. But he's shown his versatility at channel 2, having first arrived as a sportscaster and did well enough to be the star anchor.
Erica Hill (above left): She had teamed with Wragge on Saturdays, and the chemistry was there. Hill's a gamer, and can be as credible interviewing a senator as she is deft handling cooking segments. Now sliding over from the newsreader position to co-anchor, it's a transition that should prove seamless.
Marysol Castro: Upgrade. She's been toiling for years as the weekend weather gal on "Good Morning America Weekend." Now she finally gets a weekday gig, more bucks and not have to leave her husband to deal with their kids on weekend mornings.
Jeff Glor: He takes over as weekday news reader. Indications are he'll get out of anchoring the Saturday "Evening News," though they may call on him to take one for the team and anchor holidays, like he did on Thanksgiving.
A few questions: Will all this shuffling make a difference? In a word, no.
CBS is averaging 2.7 million viewers in the morning, compared to 4.3 million at ABC and a whopping 5.3 million for the gang at the money machine known as "Today" on NBC.
There's nothing wrong with freshening a show's look and feel, but nothing is being put on the table that will a meaningful dent in the Nielsens.
The new, um, cast can do a workmanlike show and not embarrass the network or themselves. But, for now, they offer no reason for someone currently watching one of the other shows (or a local breakfast show, or "Morning Joe" or "Fox and Friends") a compelling reason to defect.
The strategy may be to concede third place, but make it a more respectable third than it is now.
CBS will also now have to find another anchor for the Saturday "Early Show" as well as a high-profile anchor for WCBS-TV. Those have also been positions that have been anything but stable over the years.
Somewhere, Captain Kangaroo is having a good chuckle.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Police! Drop the Pawn!
Curiously changed online to:
'Police! Step Away From the Chess Table'
First attempt was check and mate.
Alex Brandon, who worked for the New Orleans Times-Picayune post-Katrina, testified yesterday in a federal trial for five current or former NOLA cops accused in the death of a man in Algiers in the days after the hurricane's mayhem.
Brandon was embedded with the police department's SWAT team when he came upon an incident with two men on the ground in handcuffs jawing at police. One of the cops on trial told him not to take a picture, and Brandon obeyed. "It was, for lack of a better term, an order."
Putting aside the wisdom of following the order, what troubles me is this graf from the Times-Picayune story on the trial:
As a Times-Picayune photographer for 10 years, Brandon was well known (sic) for his extensive network of police contacts. He was also close to many police officers, a fact he testified to on Wednesday, saying he considered many of the SWAT officers to be "good friends."
Brandon now works for the AP in Washington, so the big stink he would have set off in the T-P newsroom from that statement was averted. Or could Brandon have returned to his office odor-free? Maybe Brandon's editors knew he was cozy with the cops, and exploited that so he could get up close and personal during Katrina's desperate hours. Perhaps the thought is in situations like this that expediency trumps integrity every time. Nonetheless, it does take some of the sheen of the T-P's yeoman coverage five years ago.
There's nothing wrong with being cordial, civil, even avuncular with the subjects you cover. Go ahead and like them. Hell, even admire their accomplishments. But whatever you do, don't become their friends. Then you're done as a journalist, as in stick-a-fork-in-you-because-you're-done done. You just don't do it. Or it really is end of story. The A.P. might want to remind Brandon of that going forward.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
I'm not a regular reader of The New York Post print edition, but if someone decides to leave a copy on the train, I'm only too happy to pick it up, me being a foe of litter and all.
That happened to me on my home Friday night. Uncharacteristically, I work my way back to the sports section instead of my usual vice versa. Most of page 3 is taken up with a photo of Giants QB Eli Manning and his wife Abby, who the cutline tell us are "young rich and famous." Duh.
It goes on: "They are sports royalty in demand for social and charity events. He led the Giants to the 2008 Super Bowl championship, and she's the beautiful cheerleader who's been by his side since they were kids. It would seem that they've got it all, but do they?"
Uh, oh. This is a Page Six exclusive!!!!! It was almost Halloween, after all, so time to cue the skeletons to come out of the closet. A breathless dash to page 14, that day's home for Page Six, which reveals that Eli may be throwing Hail Mary's into a Diaper Genie before long. If all goes well, baby will make three in the spring. Mazel tov.
So, the answer to the above question is a resounding yes. The Post wanted us to believe otherwise, but we had little choice to fall for it hook, line, and screen pass. Still in all, they should be whistled for a journalistic cheap shot, even by the Post's shaky standards.
While thumbing through this week's issue of Barron's, a curious and disturbing site awaits on page 21 below a short item about a possible successor to Warren Buffett: an ad.
Not just any ad, but one for a company called FirstHourTrading.com, a firm that plies its wares to the alpha dogs known as day traders.
It's not the product that's being sold that's problematic. Rather, the ad--notwithstanding the fact that at its top has the disclaimer "paid advertisement," looks like an article with the exact font and typeface Barron's uses for its own articles.
Of course, advertorial designed to look like regular copy is a time-honored ploy. But graphically, it's almost always dissimilar enough for even the most-casual readers to figure out that The New York Times didn't just do a gushing profile on Amish heaters.
Barron's, however, is calling signals from a different playbook. Even if it doesn't hide the fact the space has been paid for, the ad still leaves a big stink. It's the kind of questionable tactic you might read about in a publication, say, like Barron's.
Well, maybe not anymore.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Now that Cablevision and Fox are about to enter their fourth day of a standoff that's resulted in 3 million cable customers in the New York area without local channels 5 and 9--it's beginning to get a little tense (though not in my house, where all is harmonious with DirecTV).
This has become a big-time hissy fit over retransmission fees with nobody winning the PR war. But both sides sure as hell are trying. And spending a fortune on full-page ads in the process. Collectively, they've dropped a healthy six-figure sum at The New York Times alone. The local tabs and Cablevision-owned Newsday have also gotten their share.
That means Fox grand poobah Rupert Murdoch is dumping valuable cash into the arms of his competition--remember, he also owns the New York Post, while the cable blackout rages on.
That's may be why you don't see any editorials calling on both sides to go to binding arbitration to ensure Cablevision homes can watch the World Series, especially if the Yankees can make it past the Rangers.
Because, hey, there's always the radio. And tomorrow's newspaper to read all about it.
Friday, September 24, 2010
The media landscape was on fire today.
Or maybe, that's just fired up, after double bombshells of CNN's big cheese Jon Klein's employment being canceled by the network. Ditto, more or less, for one-time NBC wunderkind Jeff Zucker's imminent departure from NBC (way to work the shoe leather, Bill Carter).
Of course, a reported $30 million kiss goodbye from Comcast will salve his wounded pride.
As it happened, this was also the day Newsweek owner Sidney Harman was scheduled to hand out pink slips, as Dylan Stableford at The Wrap reported.
True to his word, out the door they are going, with about 25 percent of the staff expected to be lopped off the masthead by sundown. They are involuntarily joining a lot of high-profile colleagues who bailed out over the summer.
We'll soon see if there's much a magazine left to put out by those who are left.
UPDATE: Via Business Insider, a Newsweek spokesman says the final number of pink-slips won't be all that bad. Unless, of course, you're among them.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I worked for my share of jackasses, bullies and lunkheads during 20 years in the news business, which isn't unique in having dullards in charge, only that they can be more colorful and outrageious in the pain they inflict on others.
All the more reason, then, I am grateful I never had to cross paths with Orla Healy, who was in charge of features at the New York Daily News.
I say was, as the Village Voice is reporting Healy got the heave-ho today, which no doubt has set the corks a poppin' over on West 33rd.
Talk about hate. Here's how one source variously described her to the Voice: "a window into fascism in the world," a "sadist" and part of a "gangster regime that took root."
Holy, Anna Wintour, Batman!
At the same time, the Voice was told Healy wasn't fired for being a bitch, just merely a lackluster editor who wasn't doing much to pump up the lifestyle and entertainment coverage, despite those nifty presses that can print color on every page. In other words, little sizzle, even less steak.
In the end, that's the great equalizer in the news business. If you can produce results, you can be the biggest shitbag who ever turned up on a masthead. If not, then you're just another schnook who will have to pay 50 cents to read the paper, just like the rest of us.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
In an interview in Media Matters, Newsweek's Howard Fineman, while explaining why he's decamping for The Huffington Post, predicted, his journalistic home for 30 years would no longer be in print by 2015.
I think he was being rather charitable.
It's not just that Fineman, Evan Thomas, Michael Isikoffk, Fareed Zakaria, Jon Meacham and just about all of the other big hosses at Newsweek have unhitched from that once-invincible wagon train.
True, these guys were big deals, and they could still bring it with eminently decent journalism. The cover story two weeks ago by Thomas and John Barry on Robert Gates was a grabber, as have other top-line enterprise pieces in recent weeks. I'm sure I'll get to the piece on the threat to traditional masculinity in the current issue real soon.
But about that current issue, and the bigger problem. It's all of 64 pages. You don't make it to 2015 when you're 64 pages.
Nor do you when a lot of the magazine looks downright ugly. The fonts and text look like an experiment gone bad circa 1975, sort of a cross between The New Republic and U.S. News and World Report at its wheeziest.
Sure, it's no longer a digest of the previous week. Like Time, it focuses now on trends, analysis, point of view. But too much of it is simply stuff you can get elsewhere in one variation or another. There's nothing wrong with it. However, there is not enough that is truly distinctive to make it a value proposition. I'm only seeing it because a 6-month subscription started showing up in our mailbox. If I had to pay...let's just say, I wouldn't. I have a hard enough time digesting two papers a day minimum, along with the other 15 magazines that pile up at home.
There's not enough there there to give up something else whose time spent reading I would devote to Newsweek.
So, as the magazine's new owner Sidney Harman prepares to affix his stamp, not to mention his checkbook, it will be intriguing to find out how Newsweek will be reinvented yet again. However, it should be telling to Harman and just about anyone else when Fineman, et al., know better not to find out.
But if this Newsweek thing doesn't work out for Harman, I'm sure there are a few newspaper publishers who would be eager to take him out to lunch. Pronto. They don't want to wait for 2015 either.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
It's no secret that a headline that grabs you while scanning a newspaper and one that aims to accomplish the same thing online are often mutually exclusive.
After all, many folks find their way to a story through a Google search. Hence, if a paper wants their story to be on the first page of the search results instead of page 38, it is "optimized."
At best, the practice is a necessary evil. We live and die on page views, after all. When done right, online headlines are inevitably more basic, matter-of-fact. Nobody tries to be clever entering search terms. Concurrently, headlines are often written to match. And a cottage industry, of sorts, has even sprung up to show editors and bloggers how to optimize optimization.
Too bad. That means a lot of creative thinking gets left on the printed page, or isn't fully appreciated in its fuller context.
That came to mind this morning, while looking at the front page of the Home section of The New York Times. The cover story, about the makeover of the Oval Office, was headlined "The Audacity of Taupe." Simple. Clever. A real winner.
Now, it should be noted that you will see that headline if you go to the online version. Credit the Times for sticking to its guns on most of its web pages. But my unscientific survey has found many other papers who drain the juice from the print heds (I'm talking to you, Washington Post).
Again, necessary evil. But it doesn't portend well for other parts of stories, including photos and the copy itself. And even with the intact Times version, you don't fully appreciate the sweep of the story, lending even greater credence to why the headline matters.
On the front page, the Oval Office photo takes up most of the space above-the-fold. That makes you appreciate the headline all the more. Online, the image is a respectable 600 x 353 pixels, but it's just not the same. You might glance at the story but will you read it? Maybe. But its presentation is essentially indistinguishable from any other main story in that section.
But will I read the printed version? You bet. Even if Home is not a normal go-to section for me, it became one today.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
You'd think The New York Times would have the drill on Mideast coverage down cold by now. After all, the dispatches from its reporters in Israel, Cairo, and Beirut, are arguably parsed more carefully than any other news organization.
Jewish groups--and I've seen this first-hand--like to pounce on anything remotely critical of Israel as anti-Zionist bias, while many Arabs typically believe the Times is in the tank for whomever is holding their tenuous sway over the Knesset that week.
So, a dispatch from Ethan Bronner (left) in Monday's paper undoubtedly further raised already-arched eyebrows.
It concerned a mall of sorts, which sprang up in Gaza City. Bronner's writing was anything but objective, more critical than observational. True, he put the mall in its proper context and sorted through the rhetoric on both sides about its significance. The problem: the tone in his writing was more strident than what should appear in the front of the A section and read like something that belonged more in the back, where the op-eds and columnists are. To wit:
To the commentators who have never been here, certain points need to be cleared up. To those who contend the mall is proof that Gaza has construction materials: the building is 20 years old. To those who have described the mall as “gigantic” and “futuristic”: it is small and a bit old-fashioned. To Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, who wrote that the mall “would not look out of place in any capital in Europe”: it would.
This is commentary, not reportage, plain and simple. Again, Bronner may be on target with his observations. The problem is in how they are presented. And this:
New York TV stations will soon get to really find out just how many insomniacs, early risers, and stoners are out there, with word that WABC-TV, the Nielsen news king, will join the scrum jockeying for droopy eyelids with a newscast at 4:30 a.m.
Bear in mind that channels, 4, 5, and 11 are already squaring off at that unholy hour. The question is why.
The easy answer is that the infrastructure is already in place. The talent is already in the building. Just bring them in a half-hour earlier, recycle packages from the 11 p.m. cast, and, poof, instant show.
If you thought the anchors were too perky at 5 a.m., just wait.
Stations get to keep all the moola from spots sold. In contrast, channels 4 and 7--home of WABC--have to forego some of that with the network shows now on.
But how many people really are out there? I first encountered the 4:30 phenomenon in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, when I had to get up way early for a flight. KABC was chugging along. But out there, it's a tad more understandable. People commute from insane distances because it's otherwise too expensive. And those commutes start early and last a while.
I doubt, however, the number of denizens on the pre-dawn patrol is as large in New York. Granted, train lines have added more service before 6 a.m. to accommodate demand. But still. It's a small slice of TV pie, at that hour. Not to mention that WPIX, channel 11, will now bump up its start time to, wait for it, 4 a.m., which will give it a five-hour block of morning news and a lot of pissed-off staffers.
As for me, I'm fine with "Morning Edition" on NPR, thank you, eternally grateful that the stellar crew there wakes up in the middle of the night and I don't have to.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
OK, I'll admit it, I was ready to anoint Jet Blue flight attendant-gone-bonkers Steven Slater my fave guy of the week in that Howard Beale-esque way of his. We all need a little flair of the dramatic now and then, especially when he got to fulfill the fantasies so many of us have had. And grabbing two beers while he alit from the back of the plane. Classic. Just classic.
But not so fast, thanks (or thanks for nothing, killjoys) to the Wall Street Journal, which found passengers who said Slater instigated the confrontation that led to his big-time hissy fit and was a douche to another woman who asked for help cleaning up coffee someone had spilled on her seat.
Yes, yes, two sides to every story, and we've more or less heard Slater's version. It got him liked in a big way on Facebook. But it may not be the only version. Or the correct one. And anyone who's ever been treated rudely by a flight attendant (fortunately, few and far between for me, but those few have been doozies) can understand why.
Given the cattle-car nature that typifies flying nowadays, you can also understand how someone like Slater could boil over. But that doesn't mean we have to applaud him in the process.
Friday, July 23, 2010
From yesterday's New York Times story about its parent company's 2Q earnings report, this paragraph screamed out for attention, as well it should.
"Digital advertising revenue grew 21 percent, while the decline of print revenue slowed to 6 percent, leaving the company’s overall advertising revenue essentially flat. As a result, online advertising became a larger share of the company’s overall advertising revenue, climbing to 26 percent of the company’s total advertising take."
That number is quite the revelation, given the conventional wisdom that online ads typically accounted for only 10 percent of revenue. That may still be the case elsewhere, but the Times has shown it's possible to move off that number in a meaningful way.
Of course, that's significant when circulation for the print editions continue their swoon, even if the actual total number of readers when you figure in digital is actually quite robust. Hopefully, that can translate into publishers not getting the itchy finger to slash away at budgets for the core product, thereby leaving little to read for the online edition. Too many newspapers have tragically forgot that part of the equation, which is all the more annoying when they want to impose some kind of pay wall. First, they cut staff and content, while raising newsstand prices. Then they want to charge for access to a website with a desiccated product.
That the glue to fix the broken newspaper business model may finally be found in cyberspace is a big deal. The Times has shown that a good website--in other words, a distinct product that's more than just a slick repackaging of the newspaper--is not only a good idea, but it makes good business sense. Finally.
Monday, July 19, 2010
It looked like we'd be leaving Patty Hewes for good on the pier outside her house in the Hamptons at the end of the third season of "Damages."
The show was critically lauded, gushed over by the brass at FX, but it just wasn't getting enough love with the Nielsen families. Too bad, they didn't know what they were missing.
As delectably played by Glenn Close, the ruthless--to put it charitably--lawyer Patty Hewes had enough issues to have kept Freud and Jung working overtime. She knew how to bring adversaries to their knees, but her personal life was a royal mess, one that she often made. It made for great TV. And Emmy nominations.
The season just concluded was arguably the best of the three. A big reason for that was the startling but fully satisfying casting of Martin Short as a scumbag lawyer for a family whose scion made Bernie Madoff look like a striver. Short got an Emmy nomination for his troubles, along with Close and Rose Byrne, right, whose Ellen Parsons was alternately Patty's, mentee, confidant, nemesis and would-be murder victim.
"Damages" has always been good like that. Darrell Hammond, of all people, played a hitman in season 2, while Lily Tomlin had a prominent role this year. Throw in the likes of Ted Danson, Zjelko Ivanek, Keith Carradine, and Michael Nouri, among others wending their way through keep-you-guessing-till-the-end plotlines, and you have a most-satisfying hour of TV.
Granted, there are graphics, sidebars, links, refers and other stuff of 21st-century newspaperdom. And I've committed to reading it. Honest. If the Post can spend two years putting together this mastodon-sized piece of Pulitzer bait, then it behooves me to see what they can do.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
The recent struggles of The Washington Times have transcended being taken seriously as more than just the scrappy conservative alternative to The Washington Post. Its very survival has been called into question when 60 percent of the editorial staff got the heave-ho last year when the Unification Church grew weary of subsidizing what has never been a going concern.
Not that the Post has had the luxury of gloating. It had its own round of layoffs last year, closed its remaining domestic bureaus, and trimmed staffing from its admirable website. Oh, yeah. It also loses a lot of money.
In this year's first quarter, the newspaper division booked an operating loss of $13.8 million. Yes, that's better than the $53.8 million lost a year earlier. But it's still a big-enough chunk of change that institutional investors won't countenance for long.
And the hits just keep on coming, as the company reported in its earnings release. Daily circulation was off 12.5 percent, with the Sunday numbers dipping 10.4 percent compared to 2009.
In an online chat today, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli admitted that the boffo revenues from the Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan educational division may be keeping the newspaper afloat.
"That's an interesting and hypothetical question," he said, in response to a query about whether the Post would still be in business if not for Kaplan. Brauchli said one look at the financials showed how much the entire company depended on Kaplan, not just his product.
So, what gives D.C.?
Is everyone so crazed down there that they don't have time or inclination to read a paper? Does everybody wake up with a Blackberry pinned to their forehead, so they can start emailing right away and read Mike Allen's Playbook while in their pajamas? Maybe it's the Post's crappy app, not worth the price of admission at $1.99. Or, maybe too many of the right people already know what they need to know before it hits the paper and move on to Roll Call or The Hill.
Sure, the Post is still a potent journalistic force, even if it's been defanged somewhat by newsroom cutbacks. And, no, I don't think as so goes Kaplan, so goes the paper. There are still 562,000 daily copies printed, with another 780,000 every Sunday. That still adds up to a loyal readership.
But if the Kaplan spigot started to trickle rather than gush, you'd see a newspaper that would have no choice but to further compromise its already-less-ambitious vision. And that would be a shame.
Given that Washington is, well, Washington, it's hard to tell whether the Post is caught up in its own circumstances or part of the industry-wide malaise. I suspect it's a combo of both. Either way, it doesn't bode well for those of us who have come to count on the Post as both a watchdog and dutiful chronicler of all that matters in and around the Beltway. Let's hope that interesting and hypothetical question doesn't get a real answer anytime soon.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Monday, June 07, 2010
The Honolulu Advertiser box that I came across today in Maui was empty by the time I got there. Maybe there was a rush for the final edition of the 154-year-old paper. Or, maybe the circulation department had already thrown in the towel.
Either way, the Advertiser will now be referred to in the past tense, as its name becomes part of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, an amalgam with the surviving Star-Bulletin, which debuts tomorrow.
But Sunday remained a day of elegies, eulogies, salutes, and ruminations for the fallen paper, which was sold by Gannett to Star-Bulletin owner David Black for a reported $125 million. That's the discounted price for a monopoly in today's semi-moribund newspaper business.
To put the end in the perspective, it's only proper to hear from an Advertiser veteran -- and there were many -- like Pat Glaser, an editorial assistant for many years.
Said Glaser: "I'm going to miss our big, dysfunctional news family. I wish us all the very best."
As do I.
Friday, June 04, 2010
As the Honolulu Advertiser has its -30- on Sunday, the first reaction is that David, in this case David Black, owner of the rival Star-Bulletin who's buying the Advertiser, firmly kicked the butt of Goliath, played out in this version by Gannett.
But there's no happy ending here. Honolulu will be a one newspaper town next week. And 430 people who had a job will mostly now have a hard time figuring out where their next paycheck will come from. Severance agreements from mostly union contracts will help, but for many who spent their career in newspapers in Honolulu will have to find another line of work.
It would have been a lot easier to bid good riddance to Gannett if the Advertiser had been sold to someone else. After all, it was Gannett that had tried to buy the Star-Bulletin in 1999 to shut it down and end its joint operating agreement with Liberty Newspapers.
But a local outcry and the federal government kiboshed that. In came Black from Canada, who instead bought the S-B from Liberty to keep it alive. How times have changed.
As the newspaper industry has tanked, Black has claimed he's lost $100 million running the S-B. Gannett has said it's also in the red. It chose to bail, rather than fight. Even though it had suffered the cuts every other paper has been forced to endure, the Advertiser was still a better-than-average Gannett paper, which still managed a 115,000 daily circulation, compared to just 37,000 for the S-B.
It's a tight-knit news community on the islands, filled with scribes who are natives or have become one through decades of service at either paper. As an example, the writer of today's Advertiser story about the closure was written by Rick Daysog, who wrote the story linked above from the Oct. 20, 2000 edition---of the Star-Bulletin.
I've been reading the Advertiser the last couple of days as I take a break from some R&R in Hawaii, and the farewells in the paper are getting louder and more insistent. They include food editor Wanda Adams, who had a front seat as the island's cuisine evolved into a world-class fusion of flavors and reverence for locally grown and caught food. She's working on starting a website. Best to her with that.
Today, we heard from golf columnist Bill Kwon, who worked more than half a century at both papers covering sports all over the world. And while I'm sure he'd still rather be working, his column is headlined "For five decades I had the best job in the world," and you know he means it. He really did have a great ride.
Too bad a lot of other talented journalists won't get to say the same when the new Honolulu Star-Advertiser debuts Monday.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
And the hits just keep on coming with BP.
A nice get from News21.com shows the lengths the company will go through to cow into silence the fishermen who's lives it has destroyed now that they are doing anything they can to contain the spill.
That included "news releases, marketing information, or any other public statements" if they wanted to keep working on the cleanup. Which they pretty much had to, since there is no other source of income.
BP has since backtracked on some of that language, but the damage is done. All of a sudden, yet another PR strategy is stuck in the muck washing ashore with another wave of bad ideas that has laid waste to a way of life.
This comment from a Democratic operative to Politico pretty much sums up the news on Al and Tipper calling it quits:
Can you believe that Bill and Hillary are still married and Al and Tipper are getting divorced?
Not really. It was about as likely as a climate-change bill making it through Congress this year. But now.....
Friday, May 07, 2010
Rupert Murdoch made no secret of why he wanted to create a section devoted to New York news within the Wall Street Journal. He wanted to squash The New York Times like a diseased bug, eat all the Sulzberger young and dance on their graves in some kind of bizarre pagan ritual holding aloft a copy of News Corp.'s latest earnings report.
OK, maybe not the pagan ritual, but you get the idea.
Simply put, Murdoch doesn't want the Journal to be a second read, like it is for me after I polish off as much as the Times as I can during my commute. He wants the Journal to be all the wealthy, powerful, and influential digest with their venti soy latte and brioche. Of course, if they want to use it to hide the fact they're actually reading The New York Post, no harm, no foul.
But the Greater New York section is not a category killer. It's more like an eager puppy, jumping up and down, not always peeing on the paper (the Times, of course), but eager to please.
First, the good:
---The mostly featurish approach to local sports coverage works most of the time. The Journal assumes you found out elsewhere what the score was, and if you really care what the Mets did, there are innumerable sources for recaps and analysis. But the real saving grace of the sports coverage is columnist Jason Gay, whose "The Couch" column in the regular Journal on Monday is destination reading. It's at once funny, knowledgable and reverential. But can we do away with the courtesy titles in sports stories? "Messrs. Burnett, Sabathia, and Teixeira, whom they signed in a....." Yeesh.
---The Journal made a good pickup in having Jason Gershman cover state government. He knows his way around the miasma that is Albany. At the same time, he has seamlessly shed the ideological bent that marked his reporting in the late, lamented neocon-fave The New York Sun.
---The aggressive real estate coverage definitely adds to the conversation about a topic that nobody can stop talking about.
Not as good:
--The lack of a voice. The section badly needs a feisty columnist to hoist a few petards and let us know when the glass really is half empty, like the Times has with Jim Dwyer and Clyde Haberman. Right now, the only columnist is Ralph Gardner Jr., who takes a more gentleapproach to view life in the city. A recent column focused on a guy who used to work in finance and now wears a lobster suit handing out fliers in midtown for a seafood joint. Nothing wrong with that sort of thing, but maybe not every day, and not at the expense of something hard-hitting.
--The Heard & Scene society coverage. Maybe it's just me, but I don't give two craps about who's attending what charity ball and the designer togs they're wearing. I have a feeling, among readers under 65, that I'm not alone. If you only have a 12-page section, squandering precious real estate on floss and dross just makes me finish the paper faster.
---If you're going to call the section Greater New York, then cover Greater New York. That means the world outside of the five boros, where so many of the Journal's readers live. I'm not saying you have to set up bureaus in Greenwich or Scarsdale, but there are enough interesting stories in the 'burbs going uncovered by the desultory and/or desiccated papers there that could have broad appeal for Journal readers.
---The lack of coverage about New York's blood sport: dining out. Inexplicably, the main Journal scaled back on food and wine, when it effectively dumped freelancer Raymond Sokolov's restaurant column in March and got rid of nonpareil wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter in December.
To be sure, it really is a compliment to say that the section is a good complement to the rest of the Journal. But it is not a replacement for the Times, which for diehard readers -- from arts coverage to Maureen Dowd, from the crossword puzzle to Floyd Norris -- is simply too hard a habit to break.
There may come a point where, if you don't already do so, you might start reading the Journal because of the Greater New York section. However, it's nowhere close to getting you to stop reading the Times for the same reason.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Fox 5 New York morning anchor Rosanna Scotto's been in the TV news game a long time now. But that doesn't mean light-hearted banter comes easy to her. Sometimes, it's better just to read the teleprompter. Or shut up. Then again, if she had done the latter, we wouldn't have this to show you:
And it's already prompted a remix:
Thanks people with no hobbies!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Taking up about a third of the real estate above the fold on the front page of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal is a photo of a street battle in Managua firing at a hotel where Nicaraguan lawmakers were meeting to try to repeal a decree President Ortega issued extending the terms of some officials.
All well and good. Nice picture and all. But what I just wrote above is all you'd have found in the Journal about this story. Normally, big display art would normally lead to a story inside the paper if it didn't accompany the photo. Not here. If the photo is deemed worthy enough to occupy A-1, there needs to be more to the story. There needs to be a story, first and foremost.
And if you do a story with matching art, make sure the photo's cutline refers to it. On page A10 in the same edition, the story headlined "Airports Reopen, Safety Debate Lingers" had a photo captioned: An Icelandair plane takes off Tuesday from Glasgow International Airport bound for Reykjavik in Iceland."
Only problem: The photo clearly shows the plane is one from Lufthansa and, as an online correction noted, it was taking off from Dusseldorf.
Glasgow. Dusseldorf. Hard to tell them apart after all that volcanic ash mucking up the works. But at $2 a copy, you expect Journal editors to be paying more attention to not-insignificant details like that.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Among those receiving World Series rings yesterday was Yankees trainer Gene Monahan who has been with the team since 1973. Monahan was moved to tears by the ovation he received. Why? You really wouldn't know by reading The New York Times.
Stalwart columnist George Vecsey said Monahan is "not working this spring while battling an undisclosed illness."
Yankees beat writer Ben Shpigel is no less ambiguous:
"Gene Monahan, the beloved longtime trainer who missed spring training because of an undisclosed illness, surpassed that. During the ceremony, Monahan was called forward first, and the Yankees honored him by having him stand alone with his ring by first base."
“Knowing what he’s going through, it was really emotional,” said Girardi, who fought back tears after the game as he spoke about Monahan. “We’re all thrilled to see him here.”
But Monahan's illness is anything but "undisclosed."
In the Daily News, baseball writer Bill Madden devoted his entire column to Monahan, and told us he's battling cancer and receiving daily radiation treatments on his neck and throat, including one that morning in the clubhouse.
George King and Brian Lewis also devoted an article to Monahan in the New York Post, while Erik Boland in Newsday and Chad Jennings in the Journal-News also mentioned the cancer. And so on.
It's inconceivable that both Shpigel and Vecsey both don't know the true nature of Monahan's illness. They're too good reporters to slip up like that. Rather, they appear to have been muzzled by a P.C. copy desk that wants nothing short of a press release or full confessional confirming the disease before they will let the C-word make it to print.
But Monahan's diagnosis was hardly a secret. And upon seeing its rivals write about his battle in an unvarnished way -- complete with quotes from Monahan about his ordeal -- sports editor Tom Jolly or someone in his minion could have fixed the omission online or in late editions of the print version.
Saying his illness is undisclosed is not just incomplete. It's wrong. Monahan's not hiding from the truth. Neither should the Times.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Ah, nothing like a tsunami of stories about pedophile priests to put a damper on Holy Week. And it seems like the Vatican has had enough -- with the media coverage, that is.
Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Associated Press: "I am not proud of America's newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness."
This harrumphing is over the startling and sad story by Laurie Goodstein about how the church mishandled the case of a Wisconsin priest accused of molesting deaf boys, even though officials knew going back to the 1950s he may have been up to no good.
What has the Vatican incensed, though, is that Goodstein reported that Milwaukee's archbishop sought to have the priest defrocked and appealed to the office run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, and was apparently discouraged from pursuing further action. At no point did the Times report that edict came from Ratzinger. But Levada still views that as guilt by association, and he's not a happy camper.
But, of course, as a Times spokeswoman pointed out to the A.P., the Church never disputes the accuracy of the article. It merely doesn't like what it says.
Just for chuckles, I looked to see what Bill Donahue, the president/mouthpiece of the Catholic League had to say about this, if only because Donahue always reflexively attack anything and everything that even remotely smacks of being anti-Catholic. He didn't disappoint.
Donahue also went into kill-the-messenger mode. "Why did the victims' families wait as long as 15 years to report the abuse? Why were the civil authorities unconvinced by what they uncovered? Why did Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland wait almost two decades before he contacted the Vatican?"
Again, Donahue never says that they're lying. But that doesn't stop him from questioning motives anyway.
That's typical Donahue and it appears the Vatican is reading from the same playbook. That's a mistake, yet another one it has made as this scandal begins to spiral out of control.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
A classy tribute from Bob Shannon on WCBS-FM can be heard here.
Dan responded, "the hell you will. You're going to stick around and when I get off the air tonight, we're going out for drinks and steaks and talk."
Ron himmed and hawed and finally called the airport to arrange a later flight. The two went out after Dan got off at 6 and had a good night.
Later on , they found out that the plane that Ron was originally supposed to be on, crashed into Lake Michigan with no survivors.
A third, Cherie Thompson, called the program “a really positive experience” but declined to discuss her debts or earnings. The fourth, Ericsel Tan, graduated in 2003 and later earned $42,000 a year overseeing catering at a convention center near Seattle. He said his success reflected his seven years of kitchen experience prior to culinary school.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Wall Street Journal's going all schizoid on us, and it has nothing to do with its wacked-out editorial page.
At the same time, the Murdochian paper of record for the financial set is ramping up with a mysteriously intriguing New York edition, it's nipping and tucking other resources, and not for the better.
Pete Wells reports in The New York Times food blog that restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov called it quits after he was asked to cover food trends instead because the paper was abandoning restaurant reviews.
Sokolov, who had ridden a most-filling gravy train filing entertaining and informed reviews from all over the country, demurred.
Maybe the bean counters got all cheesed off when Sokolov filed a column from Vegas, where among his stops was a new Japanese restaurant called Shaboo, where the tab runs $500 a head. Tax, tip, and wine extra. And he wasn't dining alone.
But those kind of expense reports didn't seem to bother the Journal much, though that seems to have changed more ever since ol' Rupe got his mitts on the paper.
In December, the Journal dumped the husband-and-wife team of John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, who wrote an estimable wine column.
The Journal, just like it promises with restaurants, didn't abandon wine coverage entirely. But it's more intermittent and largely devoid of insight let alone personality.
Sokolov's departure means yet another reason the Journal's Saturday lifestyle coverage is less appetizing.
What was once a must-read over the weekend is now a I'll-maybe-get-to-it-if-I-have-time-after-reading-the-Times-and-FT read.
At a time when he's adding a New York edition, Murdoch should be running headlong at his competition, not running from it.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Much has been written in the last week or so about the book "The Last Train from Hiroshima," and how Henry Holt & Company after author Charles Pellegrino confirmed he was duped by his primary source who claimed to have been a last-minute replacement on one of the planes that escorted the Enola Gay, which dropped the a-bomb on Hiroshima.
So, the book, which was originally going to be corrected in future editions, is now kaput. Holt said it acted not only because of the lies told by that source, but also because Pellegrino may have fabricated other sources in his book, which he vehemently denies.
Beyond this pathetic case of he said, they said lies a larger issue, namely getting facts straight before the book goes to press.
It is what editors do, after all, besides checking that you used the serial comma and didn't split infinitves. But maybe not.
As Robert Gottlieb, the famed editor who worked at Knopf and helmed The New Yorker -- known for its annoyingly fastidious fact-checking department -- told The New York Times:
"It would not be humanly possible to fact-check books the way magazine articles can be fact-checked, just because of length."
So, by Gottlieb's standard, if a 500-page manuscript at least smells right, that's good enough. Facts? We'll just cross our fingers and hope for the best. What twaddle.
Even worse is Pellegrino's editor at Holt, a 15-watt bulb named John Macrae, who told the Times "the difference between fact and fiction is a very fine line."
To be sure, the Times article by Motoko Rich does state that Macrae questioned more than 250 parts of the book, but he was more interested in survivor stories and less focused on how the bomb was dropped, the fabricated story of which led to the book's demise.
But let's go back to Macrae's whopper just above. "The difference between fact and fiction is a very fine line."
Here's a guy who has trouble distinguishing between the two and yet he's a high-ranking editor at a major publishing house. How sad. Maybe that's why the book industry has to undergo a ritual humiliation every couple of years.
Macrae sounds like he's channeling Nan Talese, who got burned in 2006 by James Frey in the "Million Little Pieces" debacle. Back then, she said: "At the New Yorker and Time and Newsweek you have experienced people who know where to go and what's right and what's wrong. We don't. There's been a traditional dependency on the author."
Talese was also the one who insisted that memoirs should be held to a different standard than an autobiography, but that's another sorry issue.
So what we're left with are publishers unwilling to spend a little extra money and time vetting a book like "The Last Train to Hiroshima" that sheds a different light on a pivotal moment in history. Instead supposed publishing pros offer lame mea culpas for a massive FUBAR like this one.
Holt paid a steeper price than what fact-checkers would have cost because of the hit its reputation took over this embarrassment. It's a stain that won't wash away anytime soon.
But what's even sorrier are excuses like the ones coming from Gottlieb, Macrae and Talese, and why it's only a matter of time before I'll be blogging about the next dubious manuscript to get pulled from circulation.
We're supposed to learn from our mistakes. Too bad the book industry is a little slow on the uptake.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
While it's far from perfect, I have always found much to like on satellite radio, particularly what was put out by XM. Even after it merged with Sirius, there was still plenty to keep me listening for the adult album alternative and singer-songwriter tracks I gravitate to most often.
Given that only one of our cars -- the one I'm usually not driving -- has XM, I usually listened via DirecTV. Spectrum, The Loft, and The Coffeehouse were often on in the house. No more. A couple of weeks ago, DirecTV dumped SiriusXM for something called SonicTap, programmed by an outfit called DMX Music that, among other things, puts together music channels for cable systems.
DirecTV never said why it made the switch, so you can assume money was the overriding issue. It can't be because DMX is delivering a better product when just the opposite is the case. It's what happens when you have a computer program a channel instead of a person. Algorithms may work on Pandora, but DMX shows no signs it's invested in R&D to offer an intelligent music mix.
To wit: Spectrum is now called, stultifyingly enough, Adult Alternative. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
The Loft, which was laden with a very deep playlist and quirky, compelling specialty shows from the likes of David Johansen and Lou Reed, along with New York radio legends Vin Scelsa and Meg Griffin, is now called Singer-Songwriter. Unfortunately, these singer-songwriters are usually heard on adult contemporary stations. Again, no clue.
As for The Coffeehouse, the channel is now called Coffeehouse Rock. But the lunkheads at DirecTV and DMX apparently never heard the channel, which is devoted mostly to acoustic performances and alternative versions of well-known tracks. It was the perfect accompaniment to reading a book chapter before bed. Now it is the aural equivalent of a double espresso rather than the soothing decaf it once was.
So, now I have a good excuse to turn off the TV a little sooner. Time to get reacquainted with the stereo and the CD collection. I'd rather DIY my music choices than DMX them any day.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Today's Wall Street Journal has an item about a proposal by two economists to legalize sale of tiger parts in China to combat poaching and reduce the rate that the habitat for wild tigers is shrinking.
And these parts would come from farm-bred tigers. That's right, farm-bred, which is legal in China, where 6,000 tigers are bred in captivity. I was initially in a bit of denial when first wondering why there are tiger farms in the first place.
Were that that many zoos out there that needed to restock? Nah. The article by Beijing correspondent Shai Oster notes that some farms exist for research. After all, wild tigers in China have been virtually hunted to extinction. Then there are those that tourists can visit and feed the tigers live cows and chickens.
But it appears they really exist to harvest parts for use in traditional medicines, parts that can sell for up to $70,000 on the black market when taken from one animal. Yes, these sales have been banned since 1993, but Oster reports some farms have freezers filled with hundreds of carcasses in case the ban is lifted.
It's a fascinating story, one that makes a good case for why newspapers need their own foreign reporters and not rely on wire service reporters who are too caught up in the day-to-day work to do too much enterprise reporting.