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.