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.