Friday, December 17, 2010

A Groupon Too Far?

Nothing Wrong with Trying, But....

Semi-full disclosure: I'm a fan of Groupon, have even seized on a few deals. It and a half-jillion other social shopping sites now clog my in-box daily. No big whoop. Thrill of the hunt and all. But you have to wonder if some of Groupon's 3,000-plus sales force is trying, too hard. Or, maybe, not hard enough.

Exhibit A: Today's Manhattan offer is for a weekend stay at a Days Inn. In the South Bronx. It's touted as being near Yankee Stadium. Too bad we're over four months from Opening Day. Now there has been a trendlet in the lodging industry in the New York area toward more motels being built in the boroughs, some in places you might not think to stay in or really want to rest your head. But the thinking is, people still come to those neighborhoods to visit friends and family. Or, are just suckers for a good deal and don't mind a little adventure.

But a Days Inn? In the South Bronx? Good luck with that, hopefully better than what the Yankees had with Cliff Lee.
As of this writing, four people had seized on the offer, 11 shy of the 15 needed to make it active. But before you take the plunge, bear in mind that New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day are blacked out. Because nothing says love like an evening stroll on Brook Avenue.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Why is Henry Freeman Smiling?

Sure, It Didn't Help That He Worked For Gannett, But He Did Preside Over a Paper That Imploded on His Watch

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 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

Winners and Losers in The Early Show Shuffle

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

Winning Headline of the Day

For a front-page refer in The New York Times about police cracking down on locals playing chess in an upper Manhattan playground:

Police! Drop the Pawn!

Curiously changed online to:

'Police! Step Away From the Chess Table'

First attempt was check and mate.

Ex Times-Picayune Photographer Offers a Troubling Word Picture

What Happens When You Get Too Close to Your Sources

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

Untruth in Labeling

Original Butter? That's Just Un-Wise, Wise

Amid the kids' Halloween booty yesterday was a snack-sized bag of Wise popcorn with "Original Butter." Because you wouldn't want your butter to be accused of being a copycat.
Turns out "Original Butter" is something else entirely, as right under that label on the package is the disclaimer "artificially flavored."
That means "Original Butter" is something else, as the nutrition label indicateds. But there's no butter. Not even close.
So, it appears the FTC allows a company to call a product whatever it wants, as long as it's upfront about what it's not. "Original Butter" is just a name for a flavor. Despite common sense, it doesn't connote that there's actual butter, just the appearance of such. It's not dishonest, just disingenuous.

New York Post Should be Sacked for Cheap Tease on Eli Manning

It's One Thing to Get Readers to Turn the Page. It's Another to Have Something There When You Do

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.

Barron's Bearish on Its Integrity

Just Because You Call It An Ad Doesn't Make It Right

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, 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

In Cablevision-Fox Spat, Newspapers Come Out the Winner

Rupert Murdoch Helps Contribute to the New York Times' Bottom Line

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

Break Out the Tourniquets: Ax Starts Swinging at Newsweek

A Reduced Staff to Go With a Reduced Magazine

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

Ding Dong, the Witch is...Fired

The House (Of Scorn) Finally Falls on Daily News Features Dominatrix Orla Healy

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

Tumbleweeds Aren't Rolling Through Newsweek's Office. Yet.

Exactly Why is Sidney Harman Bothering?

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.

When The Subways Don't Suck

TBS Takes Over the Shuttle to Push Baseball Playoffs and Maybe Usher in a Paradigm Shift for Ads

Part of my regular commute involves taking the subway shuttle between Grand Central Station and Times Square and back. It's a quick ride, unremarkable on a good day. Except when it's not.

The shuttle trains have become a breeding ground for innovative ad campaigns that effectively do a full body wrap around the cars, inside and out, with a single theme that basically takes over just about every inch of real estate save for the windows.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the local zoos, HBO, for a "Deadwood" campaign, and HGTV have taken the plunge. These has been increasingly common on buses, but it's more striking when three or four subway cars are tricked out all over.

Now, TBS has one-upped with a full-wrap that includes TV screens to promote its baseball playoff coverage. Even depressed Mets fans, like your faithful correspondent, know when to say wow. Four screens in each car (on the shuttle that runs on track 3, for you subway geeks) are showing random baseball clips. But the cool part comes when the playoffs get cranking, and they'll show highlights from the previous night's games. It won't be anything you couldn't catch on SportsCenter, but it'll give you someplace else to look when the panhandlers come through.

Given the usual desultory state of subway ads (excepting you, Monroe College) that often mirror the quality of the service, one can only hope for more of the same on other lines.

Dr. Zizmor and Zoni Language Center? Yer, out!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

R.I.P., Paste

From Our Too-Bad-But-Hardly-A-Surprise Department

Especially in the publishing business, a loyal subscriber base, street cred and a distinct market niche can mean jack squat in the fight for survival.
Such is life, or the end of it, for the print version of indie music mag Paste, which made it official yesterday that it's gonzo.
I was one of those who coughed up some bucks to help save the magazine back when it was on life support a couple of years ago. It was one of those feel-good, grassroots stories, you kind of expected Jimmy Stewart to come out and deliver a homily about angels getting their wings.
But the patient remained sick. The subsequent issues were painfully thin. The record labels were hurting and all those small labels just didn't have the dough-re-mi to let Paste whistle a happy tune to its bankers.
This leaves people interested in keeping up with what's hot and fresh for the artists who depend heavily on Americana and Triple-A radio airplay (e.g. Sufjan Stevens, The Hold Steady, Okkervill River) that much more difficult, especially with the apparent demise of the samplers that were available with each issue. I know that I purchased CDs after hearing sampler tracks, and I trust that I wasn't unique in that regard. With that pipeline shut off, bands are going to have to hustle that much more for attention, not to mention concert bookings and album sales.
To show how troubled the music business is, Paste was unable to survive even though it was the last mag standing in this genre, after Harp folded in 2008, following the lamentable path of Tracks and No Depression.
For now, there is at least, which will remain active. It's something, true. But for indie artists and their fans, it likely won't be enough.

Why You Need to Appreciate Winning Headlines Now More Than Ever

Search Engine Optimization Threatens to Suck the Lifeblood Out of Copy Editors

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

Ethan Bronner Rants Instead of Writes in New York Times Coverage of Gaza Mall

Provocative Article Reads as an Analysis Piece but Wasn't Labeled as Such

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:

But the broader point many of these advocates are making — that the poverty of Gaza is often misconstrued, willfully or inadvertently — is correct. The despair here is not that of Haiti or Somalia. It is a misery of dependence, immobility and hopelessness, not of grinding want. The flotilla movement is not about material aid; it is about Palestinian freedom and defiance of Israeli power.

Says who? Says you?
In the above passage, Bronner has not only tipped the balance, he's teetered over the edge to pure opinion. A reporter shouldn't be telling us when something is correct. That's for us to decide. And however you feel about the flotilla mess--and many American Jews are deeply conflicted over this--there remain two sides to this issue. By not acknowledging that, Bronner has compromised himself as a reporter. Then again, this dispatch indicates he's grown tired of that job. However, the front of the A section is no place to audition for a spot in the back.

Stop The Insanity. Then Go Back to Sleep

Does New York Need Four Local 4:30 a.m. Newscasts? Does It Need Any?

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

The Steven Slater Blowback Has Begun

Just When You Thought You Found Your Latest Folk Hero, His 15 Minutes May Be Going Down the Chute Faster Than He Did

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

Thank You, Daniel Schorr

A Real Legend Dies at 93

I realize NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr was 93, but I just really never thought of him as old. Or someone who would no longer have such interesting talks ever Saturday with Scott Simon on "Weekend Edition."

He was always there. He always seemed to know just about anything about the events that mattered the most in national politics and world affairs that week. He was still a force. Who happened to be 93.

With his passing, we lose a vital link to some of the grander, noble traditions of journalism. And we lost a helluva reporter. Thanks, Dan. Go in peace.

Digital Revenue at New York Times May Finally Signal a Real Paradigm Shift

Now We're Talking the Kind of Numbers That Really Matter

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

A (Glenn) Close Call: Damages Gets a Two-Season Pickup

But There's a Catch: New Episodes Will Only Air on DirecTV

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.
And despite the ratings, "Damages" lives on. DirecTV says it will bring back "Damages" for two 10-episode seasons starting next year, and relieve FX of the burden of canceling the show. The catch: unlike "Friday Night Lights," another ratings-challenged reclamation project, "Damages" will only air on DirecTV's 101 channel.
That alone might not be the best reason to dump cable for DirecTV, like I happily did six years ago. But it's pretty damn (Glenn) close.

When Is Long-Form Journalism Too Long?

Washington Post's "Top Secret America" Might Be Too Much of a Good Thing

My first thought after seeing the opening salvo in the Washington Post's on the unwieldy national security and intelligence apparatus was wow. Simply wow.
First off, look at the front-page layout above from today's paper. The story is basically the front page. But that's just the intro. The real saga--the first of three parts--starts inside and goes on for four open pages. Four.
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.
But therein lies the rub. I'm a newspaper dweeb. Always have been, always will be. But the question is, how many like me are out there. If you're crammed onto the Metro on a Monday morning, are you going to start chewing on a massive enterprise piece, no matter how worthy?
To be sure, if you are not one of those people, the story's website does a more-than-adequate job of bringing the story to life. You can then digest it at your own pace. And you should.
My first question is, why try to cram this behemoth into three days? It seems you could just as effectively tell the story in five or six days as you would three. The yeoman work put in by reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin would have resonated just as loudly. But faced with four open papers to sift through, I fear a lot of readers will simply skim or give up, rather than dive in.
That might have been different if the Post had started the series on Sunday, when people have more time. Which leads me to my second question: why didn't it start then, especially when the Post has a much-larger circulation, 798,000 compared to 578,000 during the week?
One answer came from managing editor Raju Narisetti, who told The New York Times that news sites see dramatically more users during the week than on the weekends. "In my view, it's the first project done at The Post where the power of the project lies online," he said.
Ah, so. It makes eminently perfect sense. Yet, print is still wagging online's dog when it comes to revenue. The Post didn't take up the better part of five pages just to provide fodder for an online venture. Or, maybe it did. If all those extra page views turn into bigger ad bucks, then we'll know the real back story.
And it won't be a secret.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dave Kindred's "Morning Miracle" About the Washington Post Without the Sugar Coating...

But Maybe A Dollop of Empty Nostalgia Instead

I'm looking forward to getting my mitts on Dave Kindred's book "Morning Miracle," his paean to the Washington Post subtitled "A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life."
Indeed, it's not the paper it once was. Then again, no paper is.
The book, which hits stores July 20, was favorably reviewed in the Post yesterday by American Journalism Review editor Rem Rieder.
Rieder affirmed this was a book worth reading for lapsed news scribes like myself, or anyone who gives a damn about what happened to journalism and what can still be done to right the ship.
The only troubling note was a sentence Rieder quoted, where Kindred waxes: "I love the smell of newsprint in the morning, and my favorite time of day is thirty minutes to deadline."
First off, when's the last time Kindred smelled newsprint? The Post and most other papers are printed on offset presses that produce smudge-free papers. Long gone are the days when you had to wash your hands or wear gloves after reading the Post or Times.
As a cub at the UPI Albany bureau, I would go down to the mailroom as the Times-Union was coming off the presses and got a few copies to take up to the bureau. I don't remember much of a smell. What I savored was the crisp, folded paper in my, yes, smudged hands. A morning miracle indeed, or at least an 11:15 p.m. miracle when the T-U's bulldog edition came out. But a smell? Meh.
Still, Kindred remains a print guy through and through. In that sense we are, um, kindred spirits, and I'm sure to soak up his dispatches from the front of what is hopefully a winnable war, at least in D.C.

Getting the Facts Straight About the Mets

Fox Gaffes Show When Producers Need to Step Up to the Plate More Aggressively

While watching the Mets on Saturday against the Washington Strasburgs, the usually reliable Joe Buck got tripped up a couple of times. At least, I know he got tripped up. If he knew, or if anyone in the Fox truck knew, they kept it a secret.
No one expects announcers to get everything right all the time, but it's not too much to ask that when they do screw up, that they at least make some version of a correction.
First, Buck mentioned Mets reserve catcher Josh Thole, who started Saturday's game. After Thole got a hit, Buck said Thole was now "3 for 7 in his Major League career." All well and good, except that wasn't true.
Those were Thole's stats for 2010. But he had 53 at-bats in 2009.
Buck actually made reference to Thole's "career" stats twice. So, why did nobody in the Fox production truck, which surely has access to anything and everything put out by the Elias Sports Bureau, not know that what Buck said wasn't true, or if they did, whisper something in his earpiece so he could correct himself?
You might think I'm getting overly lathered about a remark over a third-string catcher. But when you're broadcasting a game that's being seen in New York, you're talking to a lot of knowledgable fans who know Thole is relatively new, just not brand-new. There's nothing wrong with getting it right, hubris be damned.
Buck dug his hole a little deeper later in the game when he talked about the once-precarious state of Mets Manager Jerry Manuel's job, and how he had gone to see the "Broadway musical Fences" and was told by Denzel Washington to hang in there.
August Wilson's "Fences" is indeed a Broadway classic, But it is decidedly lacking in hummable tunes, which is why it won the Tony last month for Best Play Revival.
Might be time for Joe Buck and his producers to take in a show next time they're in town.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Washington Newspaper Woes a Metaphor on an Anomaly?

Maybe the News Cycle Pedals Too Fast Around the Beltway. Or, Maybe the Buisness Model for Newspapers is Sicker Than We Thought

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

Simon Rich--Boy Wonder

Looks Like He'll Be Getting Carded in Bars Until He's 40

About all I know about Simon Rich is that he's a preternaturally talented writer -- the youngest ever hired by Saturday Night Live, nailed a two-book contract from Random House before he graduated Harvard and, oh yeah, his parents are Frank Rich and Alex Witchel.
And judging by all the huzzahs that have come his way, he earned his own cred and didn't gorge on the fruit from the nepotism tree. Bully for him.
What I haven't been able to figure out yet, though, from my semi-cursory research, is that even though he was born in 1984, every photo of him that's on the web makes him look like he's about 12. The one (left) that accompanied the review of his first novel, Elliot Allagash in today's New York Times looks like an outtake from his confirmation/bar-mitzvah or whatever. Ones I spotted elsewhere also revealed no signs of facial hair. Pretty freaky. But talented. Enough so, to get him reviews in the daily Times and the Book Review on May 20.
Both mostly positive assessments, of course, were done by Times outsiders.
Just wondering, but if his old man wasn't a big cheese at the paper would he have gotten that treatment? As I said, just wondering. Simon does have his own set of chops, but the double review treatment for a first novel -- his previous book, "Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations" was a collection of quickie satires and comic observations -- is accorded to few and far between. For now, every review, like this one in the Chicago Tribune, will tag him Son of Frank -- even when that's not the sum of his many parts.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

As Helen Thomas Continues to Extract Foot From Mouth, a Little Context

Outrage Over Her Anti-Semitic Remarks Trumped By Her Irrelevance

Patrick Gavin has an excellent takeout on Politico that puts as harsh a spotlight on the Helen Thomas F.U.B.A.R. as you would want for a washed-up 89-year-old hack whose relevance as a force in the White House press room really faded about 20 years ago, around the time the majority of major media had finished abandoning UPI.
Sure, there's lots that can rightly be said about Thomas being a trailblazer, a pointed questioner, a dogged chronicler of presidents going back to JFK, blah, blah, blah.
You can also say she was more than a tad overrated. Back when I was a cub reporter in the 1980s at UPI, I'd be able to see how Thomas' copy came into the desk. Suffice to say, those in the slot had their work cut out for them. She filed in multiple tasks. It was up to the editors to craft a narrative.
Granted, if you were on deadline and were banging out copy at a place where the slogan was "a deadline every minute," you often didn't have the time to make it pretty. But putting together stories like this was Helen's M.O. To her credit, she was the first to admit that her copy would be rewritten. She was a reporter first, a wordsmith a very distant second.
No doubt, she worked hard during her prime. Thomas and her UPI colleagues had no choice, because getting beat by the A.P. was not an option. She may have been a role model. But she was hardly the complete package as a journalist.
And now we find the same could be said about her as a human being. How sad, yet at the same time a valuable cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they're indispensable and doesn't know when to sign off. Instead, Thomas got the hook. She deserved nothing less.
Somewhere, a cabal of press secretaries for Republican presidents are having a damn good laugh, no doubt hoping the door hit Thomas good and hard on the way out.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Honolulu Advertiser Put to Sleep As It Goes To Bed

A Final Aloha for Hawaii's Main News Source

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

Honolulu Advertiser Continues Its Fade to (David) Black

As Hawaii's Oldest Paper Reaches its Pau Moment, Longtime Writers Put on a Brave Face

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

Down in the Gulf, the Clueless Just Keep Getting Cluelessier

BP Media Relations Advisers Masquerading as Douchebags by Bigfooting Independent Contractors into Silence

And the hits just keep on coming with BP.

A nice get from 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.

Putting Al-Tipper in Perspective

Bubba-Hillary Still the Alpha Dogs, but When It Comes to Wedlock?

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

WSJ's Greater New York Section: Not Great. Yet.

Sure, the More the Merrier, but Make the Section Relevant First

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

Thirsty? How About Some Soy Jizzum?

The Gang at Fox 5 Near and Dear in the Heart of YouTube Land

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

Idaho's Governor Not Having A Ball With This Story

C.L. Otter Not Gettin' Along with the Little Doggies

From the Eastern Media Elite Desk comes this snicker after reading an item from the A.P. in The New York Times about how Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter was back on the job after two nights in a hospital with fever and dehydration.
Seems the 67-year-old Otter felt ill last weekend while, wait for this, helping Lt. Gov. Brad Little brand and castrate calves.
Turns out, it was the second time this year Otter has assisted Little with ball-shearing duties at his ranch. "He likes to help, it's a nice change of pace," Little told the AP.
After all, he can only threaten to cut the balls off of legislators. The calves: not as fortunate.
It's not necessarily the kind of story you'd say "Only in Idaho" about. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, for one, is a rancher and likely knows his way around an emasculator (that's what one implement is really and aptly called).
It's safe to say most of Otter's counterparts on the other side of the country are exposed to calves only if they order the veal marsala at their favorite Italian joint.
Meantime, glad ol' Butch is back in the saddle again.

Wall Street Journal Editors Should Make Their Own Paper a Must-Read

Photo Cutlines Really Are Part of the Paper Too

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

When Less Really Is Saying Less

An "Undisclosed Illness" for Yankees Trainer Gene Monahan in The New York Times is Cancer Just About Everywhere Else

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

The Truth Shall Not Set the Vatican Free in Abuse Scandal...

So It Attacks The New York Times for Telling the Truth; Denial is Also a River That Runs Through Rome

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

Remembering Ron Lundy

WABC Radio Great Dies of Heart Attack at 75

If you grew up listening to radio in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, then you knew Ron Lundy, because you listened to WABC, where Lundy ruled the midday shift.

"Hello, Luv!" he boomed to millions of us on WABC and later on WCBS-FM until his retirement to his native Mississippi in 1997.

Lundy had been in failing health lately, and a heart attack finally took him yesterday.
A classy tribute from Bob Shannon on WCBS-FM can be heard here.
The New York Radio Message Board is awash with heartfelt tributes and great stories, including this one from Vince Santarelli involving Lundy's close friend Dan Ingram, another radio legend who followed Lundy on WABC:
When Ron came to New York to sign his contract, he finished up and popped his head in the studio door and told Dan Ingram, "I'll see you in two weeks."
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.
He was lucky that night. Just damn good the rest of the way. Go in peace, Ron.

Trade Schools Flunk Crucial PR Test with New York Times

Many Only Make Matters Worse in Scathing Front-Page Article

The article in Sunday's New York Times about the precarious mix of high debt and low pay for many students of for-profit colleges and trade schools was a real education.
Peter S. Goodman expertly pried the lid off of the often-unseemly recruiting practices of many schools, which left students awash in broken promises and mounting bills.
Let's hope that some of the schools mentioned use the piece as a cautionary tale, not for how to do right by their students -- although that would be a welcome byproduct -- but how not to turn into a quivering mass of gelatin when a reporter calls.

To wit, ITT Educational Services, one of the industry's top names, where a former financial aid officer told of risking the wrath of management if she told prospective students for computer and electronics trades about likely job prospects, which weren't good.

“If you said anything that went against what the recruiter said, they would threaten to fire you. The representatives would have already conned them into doing it, and you had to just keep your mouth shut.”

Offered an opportunity to reply, ITT's flackette demurred. And you know what that means for the average person reading the article: Guilty as charged.
A major opportunity to score brownie points was wasted, and proof of why a company of any size should have a crisis communications plan in place rather than diving for the bunker and acting clueless.
The same goes even when you do choose to cooperate with the media. Career Education Corp. spoke with Goodman, who focused on the experience of a former student at the company's Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Portland, Ore.
While the company wouldn't comment on that student, citing privacy concerns, it did send Goodman the names of other students to talk about their experiences. That's when the journalistic equivalent of a wet dream began.

One came with a wrong number. A second had graduated 15 years ago.
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.

Not exactly fodder for your testimonial page, huh? It's basically a reverse gotcha. Career Ed walked into an ambush of its own making, one that a few phone calls could have easily avoided.
Instead, kudos to Goodman, whose article may help steer students away from a life of big debts and small payoffs, while hopefully shaming these schools into doing more than just lining their pockets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wall Street Journal's Lifestyle Coverage Goes on a Diet

First, It Scales Back on Wine Coverage, Now It's Dumping Restaurant Reviews Too

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

More Fallout from "Last Train to Hiroshima"

Charles Pellegrino's Editors More Out of Touch with Reality Than He Is

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."
Come again?
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

What's Up, Doc: Emrick Has Another Gold Medal Run Calling Olympic Hockey

And You Don't Have To Believe In Miracles to Get Excited

As the USA's 5-3 stunner Sunday over Canada in Olympic men's hockey continues to sink in, thoughts inevitably wander over to the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 30 years ago, and all. Even if it was edited and on tape delay and some of us found out the score too early (thanks, Rene Poussaint), it was still a great moment and one that will define the career of Al Michaels doing the play-by-play.
So, it was pretty classy of him to tell Richard Sandomir in The New York Times how he was hardly wistful about not being behind the mic calling the games in Vancouver.

“Here’s the reality: Mike Emrick might be the best guy to ever call hockey,” he said, referring to NBC’s play-by-play announcer. “I can’t do it one-tenth as well.”
Which tells you all you pretty much need to know about Emrick, who the diminishing number of New York-area hockey fans have been able to enjoy for 20 years in his regular job as the TV voice of the New Jersey Devils.
There have been other stops along the way, but the Devils gave Doc (he has a PhD in broadcasting from Bowling Green) an entree to a much broader canvas on which he paints eloquent word pictures that are at once intelligent, insightful, and in perfect tempo with the pace of the game. He's an exquisite student of hockey, but he's never a show-off. The knowledge is parceled out only when needed. It's always about what's on the ice, not him.
As an example, Sandomir noted that Emrick said following a particuarly frantic period of play: “It’s kind of nice to have it peaceful right now. I hope I’m not yelling too much.”
Not to worry.
More recently, he's been calling Stanley Cup games and the Winter Classic on New Year's Day for NBC, so he's hardly a poorly kept secret. It's not like he only brings his A material for the network. He has no B material.
But viewers who only watch hockey once every four years will notice just how good hockey can be. And Emrick will be a big reason for that, no matter what the final score is.

New Music Channels on DirecTV: Sonic Crap

DirecTV Dumps Sirius XM To Save Dough and Latches on to Pale Imitator

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

Killing the Tigers in Order to Save Them

Fascinating Wall Street Journal Piece Opens Rare Window to Chinese Tiger Farms

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.