Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
A Little OMG at the End Wouldn't Have Been So Bad
After staying up late-ish to watch the finale of "Homeland," I got another good reason to justify the $13 a month I fork over for Showtime and its companion channels.
This was taut, seat-of-your-pants storytelling from start to almost finish, with a pitch-perfect cast (career highlight for Mandy Patinkin, left) who deftly took on scripts that found just the right mix of tension without verging into comic-book melodrama.
Let's face it (spoiler alert). Even if you knew the show was renewed for another season, you couldn't be completely convinced that Brody wasn't going to blow himself, the evil vice president and lots of other D.C. V.I.Ps to smithereens. Sure, it would have been a very different show, but that's, er, show(time) biz.
After all, "Boardwalk Empire" offed a major character in the second-season finale (sorry, Michael Pitt) and it will need to change direction.
That we now get a different brand of psychological thriller on "Homeland" is fine by me, though exactly what kind is hard to say, if this interview with executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, is to be believed.
As for the ending: it wasn't the letdown that was the finale of the rookie season of "The Killing," which essentially gave loyal viewers the finger with a cop-out ending that had lots of folks saying "WTF," but not in a good way. Rest assured, I'll be glued to AMC when it returns, but we all deserved better.
For "Homeland," it wasn't that it wrapped with any false twists. It's that it didn't twist at all at the end, as if it ran out of steam, signaled it was getting ready to regroup (just like Carrie, after she receives her electroshock therapy) and faded to the credits. This is a show that's more bang than whimper. It didn't act that way at the end, though Gansa defended that approach to TV Line:
"It was actually something that I learned working for Howard on 24, that there’s a lot of merit in the denouement of the story. In 24, the big event often happened in the penultimate episode or early on in the last episode, and there’s a lot of wonderful ground to cover after it’s over — and in certain ways, that’s where the character really comes to the fore."
Meh. But I'll be back, looking to say "WTF" in a good way.
The New York Times brass has shown themselves indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the sports column. Maybe it's because the stars who pen the column cost too much. Maybe it's easy to discard when the news hole shrinks. Maybe it's just plain dumb.
George Vecsey penned his final regular column on Saturday (that the Times would not showcase such a lamentable occasion in the Sunday paper tells you a lot). That means only Bill Rhoden is the only regular "Sports of the Times" columnist left.
Yes, there is pointed analysis about a particular sport without it verging into a full-fledged column, e.g. Tyler Kepner "On Baseball," etc. And this is not to say the section, for whatever its flaws on coverage of local teams, is not well-written.
With the likes of Ben Shpigel, Mike Tanier, Jere Longman and Bill Pennington, among others, cranking out copy, writing is the least of the Times' problems.
But a column is destination reading in a sports section. If you operate on the premise, as the Times does more aggressively than any other major paper, that many readers need less game-day coverage, then a column provides those points of differentiation that may be the only thing saving the section from irrelevance (that massive takeout by John Branch on the death of hockey goon Derek Boogaard is another way).
It was bad enough that the Times booted Harvey Araton from his column in 2009 after 15 years, briefly reassigned him to do features elsewhere in the paper, then brought him back to write for the sports pages. He's done a lot of extended enterprise pieces, and a lot of those On (fill in the sport), er, columns. But the lack of hubris is apparently too much to overcome for the Times to put him back as a columnist. Sports editor Joe Sexton would do well by taking this step, and finding a brash third voice as well (Wallace Matthews, anybody?).
As for Vecsey, it was a great ride. That he will still be writing for the Times on occasion is cause for comfort. But I'm sure that he is the last person who views himself as irreplaceable. The Times needs to prove him right.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Michael Calderone on HuffPo has the scooplet on Herman Cain's appearance yesterday on CNN. Cain was initially portrayed as rushing to the network's Washington studios to pre-empt Ginger (my 15 minutes are almost up) White's accusation that she and Cain did more than exchange pleasantries over pizza for 13 years.
Taylor was interviewed by WAGA-TV in Atlanta and Cain parried with Wolf "Blitz" Blitzer on "The Situation Room" that he's known White for a long time, just not in, you know, that way.
Well, CNN had actually booked Cain on Sunday to appear the following day. Calderone reports:
[D]uring a commercial break Monday after the first of three segments, CNN producers began to see tweets referencing an upcoming story by Atlanta TV station WAGA that included an interview with the woman making these new allegations. Producers then contacted a Cain staffer in the network’s greenroom, according to Washington DC bureau chief Sam Feist. While seated during the commercial break, anchor Wolf Blitzer asked Cain about the forthcoming Atlanta report. The candidate acknowledged that his campaign had been contacted about it and would be willing to discuss it on air.
Getting the go-ahead, Cain and The SitRoom became one.
Not that watching Fox News Channel causes brain cells to leak out, or at least I don't think so, but here's a fun fact emanating from a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
Seems that the average Fox viewer is likely to know less about crucial current events than someone who doesn't watch any news.
Can I get a "Duh"? Or, because it's Fox, how about a "D'oh!"
Granted, the poll confined itself to asking about the Middle East. But those who watch Fox, according to the pollsters, were 18 points less likely to know that the Arab Spring that sprung in Egypt overthrew Hosni Mubarak, and 6 points less likely to know that Assad was still in charge in Syria.
In contrast, according to FDU: people who report reading a national newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today are 12 points more likely to know that Egyptians have overthrown their government than those who have not looked at any news source. And those who listen
to NPR are 11 points more likely to know the outcome of the revolt against Assad.
Monday, October 31, 2011
So, Herman Cain fessed up to being accused of sexual harassment, just not having harasssed anyone.
In fact, he says he's been "falsely accused," following the weekend bombshell report from Politico, citing two women who accused Cain of inappropriate behavior when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Politico said the women received "five-figure payouts" in return for their silence. What say, you Herman?
“If the restaurant association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it and I hope it wasn’t for much. If there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers at the restaurant association."
You might wonder what the restaurant association (sorry, can't say NRA) has to say about all this. Keep wondering. If you go to its online press room, the lead story is Restaurant Performance Index Rose Above 100 in September, as Sales and Traffic Levels Improved. In other words, the type of story they'd rather be commenting about, not the one people want to know about.
Fun fact: Three of the top four leadership positions at the association, chair, vice chair and president/CEO are filled by women. Who must really be loving this story now.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
I don't know when the edition of the Financial Times that shows up at my door six mornings a week goes to bed.
Actually, now I have a pretty good idea. It's way before the first bulletin about the death of Steve Jobs first started clearing the wires around 7:30 p.m. ET.
Not to worry, dear chaps, I understand the FT is a British enterprise even if it is printed in 23 cities across the globe. It appears the basic guts of the paper remain the same, at least in print whenever they wrap up for the day in London.
Ordinarily, that would not be a problem, except when it is, like when breaking news hits relatively late in the U.S.
To be sure, the FT has a sizable editorial operation on this side of the pond and an outsize influence and presence in relation to its circulation. But there apparently is no way for anyone here to remake a front page before the U.S. press run.
Yes, the FT is playing catch-up online as we write. However, major events like the Jobs death point toward the need for a more-nimble print product as well. When you charge $2.50 at the newsstand, readers are entitled to more than what you were able to get into the paper before the editors in London called it a night.
Monday, October 03, 2011
Saturday, October 01, 2011
"Person of Interest" Has a Disinterest in New York Geography
The current issue of Entertainment Weekly has a take-out on the 15-year anniversary of South Park, which cleverly includes creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone rating their favorite episodes and those they say had the biggest sucking sound.
In the latter category are 53, count 'em, 53 episodes, at least in the eyes of Parker. That's the sum total of the first three seasons.
"Okay, we were like 26, 27. But it's like Really? We thought that was funny? We thought that was well-written? Oh my God, this is terrible."
On the other hand, in rating the 15 best episodes, Stone cites the first episode of season two, the classic "Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus."
"I love that episode. It's so f...ing weird, and it's so different, and the fact that nobody else really liked it makes me like it more."
For those who need their Stone-Parker fix, the pair have said there will definitely be a "Book of Mormon" movie. In the meantime, I'll settle for the show, though my tickets won't get me in until April.
Friday, September 09, 2011
Cable and satellite TV companies take a perverse pleasure in bitching and moaning about how much they have to pay to carry the ESPN suite of channels, which is already nearing five bucks a subscriber. And that's without the $15.2 billion in additional coin the gang in Bristol will fork over to the NFL for the rights to Monday Night Football through 2021.
Since Disney doled out the cash for less-than-altruistic reasons, there's every expectation that subscriber fees will be jacked up once again to pay the pigskin tab.
Now, the New York Post reports Dish Network doesn't want to play ball and may pull the plug on the Worldwide Leader in Sports. But can it?
I mean, it could, but is that the satellite equivalent of hari-kari. This is ESPN, not the Cooking Channel or Current TV. It's ESP-friggin-N, as in no way can you not have it as part of your channel offerings.
Actually, Dish's threat has a proviso. It would reluctantly pay the presumably higher fee if it could put the ESPNs on a higher-priced sports tier and not as part of its basic cable package. It's obvious why ESPN wouldn't want that. But would it risk losing access to Dish's 13.5 million subscribers? On the other hand, would Dish suffer mass defections if ESPN wasn't on its roster?
The company may take that chance. It already took a hard line against regional sports networks, which is why you don't see YES, MSG or SNY--and why Dish probably doesn't have much penetration in the New York area.
But ESPN? C'mon. Dish may have to suck this one up. If it doesn't, you know DirecTV will be ready with open arms---and satellite dishes of its own beaming down ESPN. Sure, it won't be cheap, but not having the network will be a lot more pricey.
On the front page of today's Business Day section of The New York Times, there's an article headlined Fed Chief Describes Consumers As Too Bleak. Ben Bernanke gave a speech yesterday in Minneapolis, where he said, sure, there are reasons to be depressed about the economy, for all of the obvious reasons. But as sort of a bizarre coda, he tacked on: "Even taking into account the many financial pressures they face, households seem exceptionally cautious."
The way Bernanke sees it, consumers are in panic mode and hoarding cash. They believe the sky is falling, when clouds are merely darkening.
He's entitled to his opinion, but being as trenchant a student of economic history that he is, Bernanke should also know that perception definitely bleeds into reality.
As evidence, the article at the bottom of the same page headlined Customers Hurting, Wal-Mart is Bringing Back Layaway. Seems enough customers have given up on credit cards and used up their gift cards.
As Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer told the Times: It just tells us the customer's still struggling, as they tell us about their concerns with energy prices, housing prices, the job security .... it tell us that this is a fragile economy and the customer needs our help."
I don't know how many Fed chiefs have ever stepped foot in a Wal-Mart. Bernanke could sure use a visit.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Check out this big-time, kick-ass story from Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports about a college football booster gone rogue.
In this case, it was a convicted Ponzi schemer named Nevin Shapiro, who over eight years lavished dozens of University of Miami football and basketball players with gifts, entertainment, rides on his yacht, and a healthy supply of hookers. Not surprisingly, all of this is a no-no under NCAA rules.
Seems that Shapiro got all cheesed up over the fact that a lot of his "friends" suddenly lost the ability to return a call after he got in trouble with the law, and decided to spill the beans to Robinson, after abandoning the idea of a tell-all book.
Robinson spent 11 months reporting the story, including 100 hours of jailhouse interviews with Shapiro. In addition:
"In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking."
Kudos. The sweat equity paid off in dividends. It's a great read.
As for the Miami Herald, well, you can only imagine the cursing emanating from the sports department. So, the main story today gives credit where credit is due and basically gets reaction to a story that cleaned the Herald's clock. Columnist Greg Cote also weighed in pondering the tenuous future of the high-profile football program in Coral Gables.
The Herald can play catch-up. But the damage has been done. Robinson has left town.
Friday, August 12, 2011
During the time he spent as a religion reporter at The New York Times, I rarely found fault with the work of Ari Goldman. He knew his beat, especially on Jewish matters, and made the most of the space he was given, usually in the Saturday editions.
In the latest Jewish Week, Goldman recounts what it was like covering the Crown Heights riots 20 years ago, precipitated by a black youth fatally struck by a car, which led to an Australian yeshiva student being stabbed to death.
It was an ugly episode in New York City, which spilled over into how it was covered by the local papers. Goldman writes about how he was among those who covered the riots, but was dismayed to find his dispatches ignored or rewritten. Goldman said much of the violence was driven by anti-Semitism. Yet, he says, the Times' initial coverage portrayed it as a full-on race riot.
I was outraged but I held my tongue. I was a loyal Times employee and deferred to my editors. I figured that other reporters on the streets were witnessing parts of the story I was not seeing.
But then I reached my breaking point. On Aug. 21, as I stood in a group of chasidic men in front of the Lubavitch headquarters, a group of demonstrators were coming down Eastern Parkway. “Heil Hitler,” they chanted. “Death to the Jews.”
Yet, he held his tongue. Apparently, he was a good company soldier who liked his job a little too much. But he had a change of heart:
“You don’t know what’s happening here!” I yelled. “I am on the streets getting attacked. Someone next to me just got hit. I am writing memos and what comes out in the paper? ‘Hasidim and blacks clashed’? That’s not what is happening here. Jews are being attacked! You’ve got this story all wrong. All wrong.”
I didn’t blame the “rewrite” reporter. I blamed the editors. It was clear that they had settled on a “frame” for the story. The way they saw it, there were two narratives here: the white narrative and the black narrative. And both had equal weight.
So, the Times eventually straightened out the narrative, at least to Goldman's satisfaction. But many Jewish Week readers were left wondering why Goldman waited 20 years to tell his story? He's been a former Times employee for well over a decade, and yet only now we're first hearing about this--a potentially important teaching moment for journalists now and in the future.
As one commenter noted:
Mr. Goldman should have the necessary courage to name the pusillanimous editors he is castigating with his recollection. There is no corrective measure better than public shaming. Blaming an institution in this generalized way is a weak tea for a story that is 20 years old.
Goldman harshly questioned the motives of his editors. Now, it behooves him to provide answers for his silence two decades later.
SportsNewser has an item about how regular-season New York Jets games will also be heard on 710 ESPN--in Los Angeles.
In some respects, the decision is a no-brainer, rather than a display of a lack of brains. The Jets' QB is Mark Sanchez, the former USC golden boy who decamped for the NFL draft and is now among the richest denizens of the Meadowlands.
Still, this is L.A. Are there really enough fans out there?
”There is tremendous passion for the NFL here in LA, and this partnership with an elite franchise will further energize the Southland’s sizable population of football fans, who continue to express excitement about the potential return of an NFL team to the region,” chirps station GM Scott McCarthy.
After all, this was a town that couldn't hold on to either the Rams or the Raiders. What's changed? And if listeners were truly interested in what the Jets were up to, aren't they the ones more inclined to pony up for the DirecTV NFL package? Even if they didn't, at least six games will be on national TV, and several more, including those against the Raiders and Chargers, will likely wind up on L.A. stations.
So, where does that leave 710 ESPN. Essentially in a no-lose situation. Listenership would likely be light anyway on a football Sunday. Bulking up on game coverage means not having to pay a host or run irrelevant syndicated shows. And the Jets are already on ESPN in New York.
Sure, this is an out-of-market stretch you rarely see. But the revenue from a few extra local spots will cover up those stretch marks in a hurry.
And if you have guys in Tarzana and Redondo Beach screaming J-E-T-S, so much the better.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Much has been written about the bizarro, those-who-live-in-glass-houses-shouldn't-throw-stones editorial in today's Wall Street Journal that gets all righteous on the anti-Murdoch minions over the News Corp. hacking scandal.
Suffice to say, all the WTF comments from the likes of Jay Rosen, Staci Kramer and Keith Olbermann are predictable if justified.
The editorial is weird, even by WSJ standards. Sure, it's nice to stand up for the old man and his company who issue your paychecks. But the grapes peeled on page A12 aren't sour; they're putrid rounds of multi-colored mold.
In braying for politicians to take down Mr. Murdoch and News Corp., our media colleagues might also stop to ask about possible precedents. The political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with payments to British security or government officials in return for information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First Amendment.
Of course, it's the Journal, so the "political mob" is code for Democrats, though Journal fave Peter King has also whispered about the need to check out whether News Corp. was hacking phones of 9/11 victims.
Fare-thee-will to the First Amendment? Please. The problem isn't just what was written. It's with how that information was obtained. And even, as the editorial suggests, the "foreign-bribery law has historically been enforced against companies attempting to obtain or retain government business," so what?
There's nothing wrong with prosecutors getting creative to prosecute a felony so long as they have the law on their side. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. This priggish self-righteousness is beyond the pale, even for the Journal editorialists, who make one last gasp in saying:
Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street Journal doesn't pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.
No sale. And that's what this is about anyway. If journalists want to engage in checkbook journalism, that's their business, however sordid it might be. That's not forbidden. But if that information is illegally obtained, then it's go time in the criminal docket. It's all too easy to wonder whether the Journal would get as uppity if the name in the spotlight was Sulzberger instead of Murdoch. All too easy indeed.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Wow. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Destroying the village in order to save it. Find your analogy, and somehow it'll fit with word that News International will shutter the News of the World tab after a sordid run of 168 years.
Never mind that the Sunday paper is the largest-selling English-language newspaper in the world. Rupert Murdoch--through his surrogate, son James--simply had enough after the phone-hacking scandal that threatened to blow back on his media empire big-time. James Murdoch wrote in a letter to staff that was published on NoW's website:
So, just as I acknowledge we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the Company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.
Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper.
This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.
And to show the Murdochs are horribly, truly contrite, all profits from this weekend's final edition will go to "good causes.'
Any advertising space in this last edition will be donated to causes and charities that wish to expose their good works to our millions of readers.
These are strong measures. They are made humbly and out of respect. I am convinced they are the right thing to do.
You have to think that a younger Rupert Murdoch would've flipped the British establishment the bird if he he had found himself in a similar situation. But this is the 80-year-old version, worried about legacies, ignominy and, oh yes, stock prices.
This was an immensely profitable paper, with a 2.6 million circulation, to boot. But fear not, Britons: your weekend dose of filth will not disappear entirely. The Guardian reports The Sun, the nation's leading daily tabloid distinguished by its buxom--and always topless--Page 3 girls, is readying for a Sunday launch.
It'll soon be safe to gag on your Weetabix again while having your morning coffee.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
It's Harder to Sell the Drama of the Wildfire Online
Most of the top half of the front page of today's New York Times national section is covered by a stirring photo of the Arizona wildfire shot by Joshua Lott of Reuters. It's a winner, pure and simple.
You can see a smaller version of it here.
And that's the point. It looks good on the monitor. But it looks a helluva lot better at the top of a broadsheet.
Before you start dancing on a newspaper's grave, open up today's Times to page A-12. While the paper's been making this abundantly clear for a while, it's always good to be reminded that The Gray Lady knows a thing or two about color.
Sometimes, celebrities getting involved in social causes can be a little too hollow, overly precious. Good intentions will only take you so far beyond a six-second blurb on Access Hollywood.
Thankfully, Mark Ruffalo doesn't fall into that category. Ruffalo has been a steady but strident voice against moves by oil companies to ban hydraulic fracturing in the quest for oil embedded in ample shale reserves in upstate New York.
Ruffalo, who has a home in the Catskills, and his compadres are concerned that all that drilling will spell the end of the clean water the region is famous for (not coincidentally, it's the source of much of the Big Apple's water supply).
So, Ruffalo enlisted some of his celebrity buddies (Zoe Saldana, Ethan Hawke, Nadia Dajani, Josh Charles, Amy Ryan) to soft-pedal the anti-fracking message, and it comes at a time when Albany is considering a moratorium on hydaulic fracturing. Suffice to say, lobbyists for the energy companies are enjoying this big-time. And having to contend with a little movie-star firepower will only keep the needle moving on those billable hours.
Here's the ad:
Friday, May 20, 2011
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York is spearheading an important fellowship for law students that will enable them to study professional identity and ethics by looking at the role lawyers and judges played in the Holocaust.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Rupert Murdoch was professed not to be a big fan of the A-hed, those indelible features on page one that are part of what makes the Wall Street Journal a must-read.
While the long feature that used to run down the left column disappeared, the main A-hed, whose prominence has been somewhat diminished below the fold, has soldiered on. We're all the better for it, as it allows editors and writers to showcase their finest wares.
A prime example comes today from this item about the growing interest in sewer tourism in Europe. Seems that if it smells, it still sells.
The headlines are brilliant:
It's Flush Times for the Darkest Stop on the Grand Tour—Europe's Sewers
If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Vienna or Paris; Love Among the Effluent in Brighton
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
When news breaks in a big way, it's always a parlor game for media dweebs to see who's on the air where and when.
And so it was on Sunday night, when Osama lost out to Obama in a big way. Brian Williams was the only Big Three anchor in the chair when the networks started interrupting our regularly scheduled programming around 10:45.
Given that it used to be my former home away from home, I wondered where Katie Couric might have been, as I watched the eminently capable Russ Mitchell (the regular Sunday night anchor), QB the coverage before and after the president with his usual aplomb.
Nonetheless, that still begged the question of where was Couric. Never mind that she's on her way out. She was still in. But not on Sunday night. Broadcast & Cable put the Katie question to CBS News prexy David Rhodes. His response.
Russ [Mitchell] is the weekend anchor and was on the shortest string, so he had been in, he was suited up, so to speak. Events unfolded very fast. What the real strength last night for us was the Washington and national security coverage. We had Lara Logan, Bob Orr, Juan Zerate all part of the coverage because they were the ones pursuing this. It was basically a very tight timetable and we were able to get on the field with a very, very good team.
Was she still traveling back from London at that point, or she just wasn't able to get in in time?
It doesn't really matter if she was able to get in or not able to get in. The thing that we were most concerned with as an organization was having the reporting that we had in there last night. If you look back from 10:45 up until the president did speak later in the 11 p.m. hour, we had more people on the story and more information about what was happening out there than anybody else.
Actually, it does matter. And Rhodes knows that. There's no way he would've spoken like that if Couric wasn't a lame duck. Answering the way he did gives the impression that she was indeed in New York, but they couldn't track her down or she didn't pick up the phone. That's not to say either of those scenarios is incorrect, but his response can turn perception into reality. Always better to say something than nothing.
Amid all the reporting, much of it excellent, on Osama The Day After, there really should be no hyperbole needed for a story of epic proportions. The Sacramento Bee feels otherwise.
On its home page, there was the above headline. But when you click through to the story from McClatchy's Jonathan Landay, it's the inside story on the raid.
Nothing about cowardice. In fact, since the story--in a somewhat different account than others--says "one of the raiders thought he recognized the leader of al-Qaida, and dropped him with a shot to his left eye," there was likely little time for Osama to do his Bert Lahr routine.
Something for the copy desk to consider going forward.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I actually enjoyed reading Mediaweek to get some quick updates on the business behind the media business. They had some veteran writers who knew their turf, like Anthony Crupi, Lucia Moses and Mark (Mr. Television) Berman.
But those updates were the problem. They were too quick. The publication had become Biafra-thin, usually topping out at 24 pages or less. It also cut back on its publication schedule. In the summer and winter, it was Mediaweek every other week or so.
Then ex-parent Nielsen got rid of most of the staff a couple of years back and a lot of the copy was shared with sisters Adweek and Brandweek and wholly irrelevant to those interested in print and digital media. There would be perhaps 4-5 pages of unique content. Tops.
Newest owner Prometheus Global Media has finally decided to put Mediaweek and Brandweek out of their misery, consolidate them into slightly less sickly Adweek and really go mano a mano with Ad Age.
"It's time for one conversation, not separate ones," is the spin from editorial director Michael Wolff. It might make sense, ostensibly. That is if you're not one of the journalists who are now out of a job. Synergies won't make your unemployment check any bigger.
And will it make Adweek any better?
Saturday, April 02, 2011
Lots of little hiccups can add up to a big headache, especially on national TV. To wit, the Saturday version of "The Early Show" on CBS (a former employer of mine).
Suffice to say, not their best edition this morning. At the beginning of the 8 a.m. hour, co-anchor Russ Mitchell (who appears underwhelmed being back on the program he helped originate in 1997), threw to a live report from Tripoli and correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, an excellent reporter who may be getting worked a little too hard. Twice she called Mitchell "Jeff," Jeff being Jeff Glor the newsreader on the weekday "Early Show."
At the end, Mitchell simply had to say "I'll take it, thanks, Elizabeth." While reading the headlines a few minutes later, Betty Nguyen had an item about an earthquake in Chile. However, a graphic popped up with the country spelled "Chili." Must have been a spicy temblor.
About 20 minutes later, Mitchell, whose work I normally admire, was interviewing Bob and Suzanne Wright about Autism Speaks, a day after 1,000 buildings around the world were bathed in blue to mark World Autism Awareness Day. The Wrights have been prominent spokespersons for the cause since their 6-year-old grandson was diagnosed as autistic.
What Mitchell left out of the intro--presumably under strict orders--was any mention of the fact that Wright was the longtime chairman of NBC/Universal, a grievous oversight that Suzanne--a real force of nature--corrected in about three seconds to an abashed Mitchell. That wasn't what the segment was about, but it's still a part of the story.
Wright was able to use his stature in the media business as a way to elevate autism awareness and end what The New York Times called "internecine warfare" in autism research. He would not have been on the couch this morning were it not for that. It couldn't be ignored. Suzanne Wright knew better. So should CBS.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
I never quite knew how I felt about David Broder's dual role as both a reporter and columnist. You could see the results of his indefatigable, wear-out-the-shoes approach to political reporting for decades on the front page of the Washington Post.
At the same time, Broder, who died today at age 81 from diabetes complications, wrote a column twice a week that was a lot more than his emptying what was left from his notebook. Potentially, the column could compromise the integrity of his reporting. This wasn't supposed to be the way you did things in the news business.
However, Broder proved time and again he was worthy of an exception. Post colleague Dan Balz showed why in a glowing tribute. Balz unhesitatingly called him "the best political reporter of his or any other generation. He defined the beat as it had not been defined before. He spent a lifetime instructing succeeding generations of reporters - never by dictate but always by example."
That's not just the stuff of eulogies. It's fair to say that anyone who froze their butt off covering the New Hampshire primary or lost track of which state fair they were at during the height of a presidential campaign would likely agree.
NPR Prexy Vivian Schiller barely survived Juan Williams.
But Ron Schiller (no relation)? Nah.
After it was revealed yesterday that outgoing NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller was O'Keefed (as in conservative stingmeister James O'Keefe) and taped saying the Tea Party was racist and that NPR should cut the umbliical cord of federal funding (a humongous no-no), Vivian Schiller was ousted from her job, according to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. The official word is she "resigned" and that the board accepted that decision with "deep regret." Yada, yada, yada.
Even if Vivian had nothing to do with Ron except a common last name, enough was most decidedly enough. The buck had to stop here, a view that Schiller concurred with in a New York Times interview, especially when the federal bucks are in danger of stopping as well.
NPR needed someone to clean up this mess pronto, and the board rightly decided that Vivian Schiller was lacking in the janitorial sciences. Now there's a big hole to fill at a watershed moment for NPR (the network, not the news operation, which still does top-flight work).
Finding a suitable candidate won't be the hard part. The hard part is identifying a suitable candidate who will want to take on what will be in the short- and mid-term a thankless job.
Friday, March 04, 2011
At first blush, the item on Yahoo News looks rather ominous: a Democratic lawmaker in Wisconsin is tackled by police as he tries to enter the Capital in Madison
Cops have been trying to limit access, but you'd think they'd let in someone who actually works there. Apparently not, as the raw footage captured by WISN-TV shows.
So, it's easy to leap to the conclusion that Republican Gov. Scott Walker has unleashed the goon squads on the opposition after getting really, really cheesed off about the budget standoff. Not so fast.
The Yahoo item actually spends most of its column inches giving a broader brush of the Wisconsin impasse and actually spends precious little time focusing on tackled House member Nick Milroy.
So, if you want to find out more (and you should), there's a bit of a surprise when you go to the WISN site, where a follow-up story quotes Milroy as saying he was "aggressive in trying to enter the Capitol, and they were aggressive in trying to stop me."
"It may have looked violent on the video, but I had a puffy jacket on."
Now, questions do need to be answered as to why police turned him away after he showed I.D. So far, radio silence. So, Milroy, who took off the puffy jacket for a news conference, will have to do.
"I wasn't putting anybody to a test. It's been a long couple of weeks for law enforcement officers; it's been a long couple of weeks for me."
As Milroy told TPM, he doesn't blame the officer who took him down. Instead, he blames Walker and whomever made the decision to disable the Capital's keycards.
He has plenty of company.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Hey, newsies: I'll throw a trend out there before the Tea Party or Bill O'Reilly can lay claim.
Seems the wild and increasingly wacky West is also where governors are choosing to ignore federal laws that they don't feel like enforcing. No matter that that's not the way our system of government works. But don't let the Constitution stand in the way of a populist revolt.
Exhibit A: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he'll defy federal protections for gray wolf packs that he says have been hurting elk herds. He's cheesed off that the wolves haven't been knocked off the endangered species list even though their numbers have grown. So, he's encouraging livestock owners in the northern part of the state to shoot away, federal laws be damned.
That might be that kind of rabble-rousing you'd hear from a rancher, which Schweitzer also happens to be when he's not allegedly running his state. But his day job, for now, is governor. You'd think he'd lead by example. Suffice to say, this won't be a case study in local civics classes.
Ironically, Schweitzer received kudos from groups like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition for an order he signed Tuesday that blocked the importation of bison from Yellowstone National Park to Montana slaughterhouses. As the Associated Press reported:
The Democratic governor told The Associated Press that he was worried the shipments could spread brucellosis to Montana livestock. And he said he was sending a message to federal officials in Washington, D.C., to rein in a diseased bison population that regularly spills out of the park and into Montana.
Caught off guard by the governor’s action, park administrators scrambled Tuesday to craft a response. Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash noted that the slaughter plan was agreed to last month by the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. He said past bison shipments did not lead to brucellosis infections in cattle.
You have the sense Schweitzer's falling off the holiday card list at the Department of Interiorl
Then there's Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, who said today he won't enforce the federal health care reform law. A judge in Florida last week struck down the law as unconstitutional and Parnell says he considers that the law of the land.
It appears, though, that Parnell's thought processes are suffering seasonal affective disorder. What Parnell doesn't know or is conveniently ignoring is that the judge in Florida Roger Vinson, said the law remained in effect while the ruling goes through the appeals process. And heaven forfend that Parnell would even look at two other federal court decisions that said the law passes constitutional muster.
Of course, Alaska was one of 26 states that was party to the Florida lawsuit. It's nice to be vindicated. Except when you're not. Parnell is not.
Next up: what will the Obama administration do about all these gubernatorial ne'er do wells? And will others join their club? Bear in mind that the only beverage served in these clubs is tea.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
With his usual lyrical prose, George Vecsey stepped away from his New York Times column in Sunday's paper for an excellent profile on Bill Russell, on the eve of Russell receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
As Vecsey notes, Russell is about a lot more than being the best center in basketball history, though that would be enough.
Russell was a shotblocker against all others must be measured now and forever. But as ferocious as he was on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden for so long, there was a tender side Vecsey was able to reveal when talking about Ruseell and his third wife Marilyn:
He and Marilyn were invited to the Obama inauguration in January 2009, but she was dying of cancer in Seattle. She urged him to go, but when he landed in Washington, he heard she had taken a downward turn, and he got back on a plane.
“We held hands and watched the inauguration,” he said. “We sat there all night, and then I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to take a shower, now wait for me, I’ll be right back,’ and she said she’d wait. Well, as soon as I left she died. So I said to the nurse, ‘She promised she would wait,’ and the nurse said this happens quite commonly. A lot of people don’t want their loved ones to see them die. And so it was like we shared this moment together and she did not want me to see her die.”
If Russell choked up telling this story, Vecsey does not tell us. Suffice to say, more than a few people reading this article must have.
Whatever. Arcade Fire won best album, for "The Suburbs," much to the bewildered shock of Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson who presented the awarded and clearly had never heard of the group before.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Gannett Blog printed today a scathing farewell column from Frank DiLeo, who for the second time in two years has been laid off as the sports columnist for The Daily Record, in Parsippany, NJ.
You have to read it on the blog, because the paper didn't post it on the website. No big surprise there, with such passages as:
Those of you who know me well know that I don't put much stock in emotion. But I can't help but to feel like a rube on the midway for thinking that someone as young, talented and loyal as I was would be able to stick with a company after proving time and time again that there was nothing I couldn't or wouldn't do for the good of the corporation.
I've worked through pneumonia many times, bronchitis, pleurisy, broken ribs, migraines, a gallbladder that stopped functioning for six months and many other ailments that I ignored doctors orders to stay home. All for the good of the company. This is where it got me.
Somehow, that made it into the paper. Quite a feat. Either that, or someone screwed up royally. Either way, thanks for fighting the good fight, Frank.
All Gannett papers have had staff reductions, but the company's New Jersey properties have really taken it on the chin. Last month, it was announced that newsroom staff at the DR, the Courier-News in Bridgewater, and the Home-News Tribune in East Brunswick would have their newsroom staffs cut in half. This, after being whacked a couple of times already in the last year, with most copy and design functions being shipped down to the Asbury Park Press.
So, even with the desiccated news holes and lonely newsrooms, there were still dedicated working stiffs like Frank DiLeo who soldiered on. They're pretty much gone now. I suspect the few readers left will notice the difference. Not that Gannett really cares. Why should it start now?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
"Morning Edition" thrives on NPR because not everybody needs to have traffic and weather together running in the background on a continuous loop.
It has the second-highest radio audience nationwide (behind only Rush Limbaugh) because it gives the listener some credit for actually having a brain and the attention span to listen to something different while communing with a bowl of Cheerios or stuck on the interstate.
Today's report by Nina Totenberg, mainly about the remarkable story behind cellist Pablo Casals playing at the White House is a perfect example. Running 7:18, it's a compelling narrative about a special moment likely unknown to many listeners, including me.
The larger theme of Totenberg's report is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of JFK's inauguration by the D.C. performing arts center that bears his name. As Totenberg notes, before the Kennedys, there was little in the way of regional arts companies and no such thing as the National Endowment for the Arts.
That all changed under Kennedy, a part of his legacy not as well-known or appreciated. The Kennedy Center's gala on Feb. 6 will change that. Meantime, Totenberg's piece is a fine primer. Well worth the listen. You'll have plenty of time to check on the traffic later.
Friday, January 07, 2011
In case you needed to get depressed, check out this doozie from City Beat in Cincinnati (hat tip: Gannett Blog) about how The Enquirer, the unfortunate daily paper of record in those parts, has a new editor with a checkered history of sending articles out for prepublication review--to the companies that are the subject of those articles.
As if it wasn't already bad enough in Cincy (and we're not talking about the just-concluded Bengals season), the Enquirer has as its business editor the son of Kroger's ex-CEO, who's a major domo in the city's business establishment.
This, from a paper that has historically been limp-wristed taking on the business powers that be. New editor Carolyn Washburn is likely to make a bad situation worse.
Yes, The Enquirer is a Gannett paper. Yes, that is why you're not surprised this is happening.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Got a chuckle but, fortunately, not a heart attack from a recent recipe in The Wall Street Journal that the paper was forced to correct:
Preparation of a blood orange tart described in a Dec. 18 Off Duty article about citrus desserts requires a half pound of butter. The recipe incorrectly called for a pound of butter.
But what's four sticks of butter between friends---and their cardiologist?
Yes, it really is a big deal when star investigative reporter/bulldog/politicians' pain-in-the-ass Wayne Barrett gets the heave-ho from the Village Voice. And then fellow Voicer Tom Robbins added an exclamation point when he quit in protest.
Barrett was at the Voice since 1973. You could probably find his mug next to muckraker in the dictionary. But being a part of the furniture going on 38 years also means you're making a certain salary, and Barrett's six-figure check was a little too rich for the fast-fading Voice alternative-weekly empire.
So, while his exit is a blow, let's put it into perspective. The Voice stopped being relevant sometime in the mid-90s, when it had a greater preoccupation with the porn ads in the back than with the content in the front.
The tone became more frothy. Iconoclasts were quiety shown the door. Its once-formidable roster of critics was gradually winnowed down to a B-list of less-compelling scribes.
Through it all remained the likes of Barrett, but when you're mired at a place like the Voice, even his best work could amount to one-hand clapping. So, his departure is the end of an era, but little else.
However, it could also be viewed as an opportunity, even for one of the bottom-lined-challenged dailies to pick up a thorn in the side who can still bring it at age 66. True, it's anything but a sure thing Barrett would be a good fit. After all, the Jack Newfield era at the Post was hardly one for the ages. But it's worth a gamble to show readers what they missed by not reading the Voice. Which was wasn't much, except for Barrett.
So, word came down that Gannett wants to again prey on its beleaguered employees and prop up its profits (yes, the company is still very profitable), by making just about everyone take an unpaid one-week furlough.
There were furloughs last year. And the year before, to accompany several rounds of layoffs.
"Our top line revenues, however, while improving, remain short of where they were a year ago," said Bob Dickey, head of the community publishing division and head purveyor of crocodile tears.
"This is compounded by a still challenging and uncertain economy, as well as increasing expenses. To help us manage through these challenges, we have made the difficult decision to implement a furlough across USCP during the first quarter. This was, quite frankly, an option I had hoped we could avoid. Furloughs, while difficult, do allow us to protect jobs."
As Gannett Blog's Jim Hopkins points out, Gannett's board awarded $4 million in executive bonuses last year for savings achieved in 2009 because of furloughs.
It's not that the company is losing money. It's just not making enough money as it perceives institutional investors want it to make. Maybe it's a reason why the stock was up as I write this on Wednesday afternoon.
Judging by my local Gannett paper, The Journal-News, (a long-ago former employer of mine), it's obvious every day that the company long ago stopped caring about putting out even a pale imitation of a newspaper.
With the latest furloughs, Gannett shows it cares even less about its employees.