Thursday, December 27, 2012

Good Night and Good Luck, Newsweek. You'll Need It

Shift to Digital Only Could Presage Fade to Black a Lot Sooner Than Later

Thanks to premiums from public radio pledge drives, my Newsweek subscription runs for another two years. Whether the magazine has another two years in it is another question.

The final print edition of the venerable magazine has arrived. The website does a nice job of saying goodbye to its print self. It was quite a run.

And now we all need to read it online. But do we really? And will we? Scuttling the print edition made financial sense, given the tsunami of red ink that regularly flowed past Tina Brown's office. But to more of us, the magazine had long since ceased its reason for being, sad as that is to contemplate.

I'm actually not a hater. A lot of media pundits took pride in dumping on Newsweek, as unfair as it was, at times, maddeningly easy to do so.

A look at the Dec. 17 issue, with the "Who Was Jesus?" cover showed a magazine trying to find its way. There were some striking two-page photos (Les Miserables stars, combing through wreckage of Filipino typhoon, First Family at the tree lighting). There were two, decent quick-read columns from Paul Begala and David Frum.

There were also some nice-to-read-if-you-have-time features on foods that are vulnerable because of climate change ("The Pasta Crisis") and the possible bubble in the runaway prices for fine art ("The Art World's Spending Spree").

In other words, all right for what it was, but nothing that you absolutely had to have or couldn't get anywhere else, more or less. And there wasn't much of it. The magazine topped out at 56 pages. Yikes.

So, will things be any better for Newsweek online? Doubtful at best. If you thought the competition was brutal at the newsstand, just wait, Tina. You can hope, but certainly can't assume, that people will park themselves and their iPad to read the "magazine."  There's simply not enough time or bandwidth. What truly ails Newsweek is not that fewer people were buying the print edition. What ails Newsweek is Newsweek. If it's not a must read, it won't be read.

Brown and what's left of the staff need to give us a reason to keep coming back every week. She needs even more reasons to get people to sign up for the first time. Double ditto for advertisers. So far, we've heard little about how that'll be accomplished. I'm not sure Brown has it in her to pull it off, but I doubt anyone does.

Journal-News Takes Unwarranted Flak over Gun Map

Wheezing Gannett Paper Shows Signs of Life Fulfilling Its Journalistic Mission

You know it's a slow week when a newspaper becomes news. And you know it's a really slow week when that newspaper is The Journal-News, the underachieving (to put it charitably) Gannett property serving New York's northern suburbs (and a former employer of mine from way back when).
The J-N fell into the media's crosshairs this week following publication of an intriguing map that showed readers the names and addresses of registered gun owners in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
All in all, a pretty cool idea for a paper that's usually devoid of inspiration. Not surprisingly, lots of folks are in a tizzy over this information, and not just the nattering nabobs of negativism at the NRA.
While waiting for my car to be fixed this morning, the TV in the waiting room was turned to Fox & Friends, where substitute co-host Clayton Moore, who will never be mistaken for a rocket scientist, just shook his head and said it's "wrong" what the paper did. His compadres on the couch, Kelly Wright and Juliet Huddy were also doing their "tsks, tsks" and expressing as much outrage as they could muster without a second cup of coffee.
That's been typical of much of the coverage I've seen, which includes useless person-on-the-street interviews that make no mention of the First Amendment or public record laws.
The value of this information is certainly arguable. At best, the map is an interesting sidebar to Newtown. But the fact that some of your friends and neighbors are legally exercising their Second Amendment rights as currently interpreted by the courts is not terribly newsworthy in an of itself.
And the Journal-News could have handled the contretemps a little better. I'm not sure what was the point of the note attached to the article accompanying the map, which mentioned that reporter Dwight Worley, who wrote the piece, "owns a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum and has had a residence permit in New York City for that weapon since February 2011."
Bully for Dwight. But so what? Does that make him any more qualified to report the story? Nah. Go back into the J-N archives and take a look at the gun control stories I wrote. In 1988. And the last gun I fired was at the riflery range in summer camp.
Also, why is the paper not being more forceful in responding to the reaction to the pece? It has, alternately, either not commented or issued mealy-mouthed canned statements, like this one from publisher Janet Hasson:
“We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial. But we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”

That's the best you can do, Janet? Given that she's never worked as a reporter., maybe it is.

Monday, December 03, 2012

I Was Rooked by Nook

You Took That Book, Says Nook. No, Take a Look. Don't Treat Me Like a Crook

I'm not an early adopter. I held on to my LPs for dear life (I actually still have most of them) even after record stores (remember them?) made CDs the medium of choice. I took people at their word when they told me how much they loved that first-generation iPod (you know the one that cost about a C-note for each of its 4 gigs).
However, when the Nook Color hit stores a couple of years ago, I was smitten and took advantage of a special discount to bestow upon myself an early Channukah present. Since then, it's been a worthy compact companion whenever I hit the road. Having some books, magazines, apps and Wi-Fi in one attractive package was a treat. The iPad could wait. This worked for me, and for a lot less money.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go shopping from the comfort of my bedroom in search of a new read. After subjecting my wife to some harrumphing over the price of new e-books, I came upon a $2.99 deal for "Love Me, Hate Me," a book by Jeff Pearlman about Barry Bonds. I confirmed the download with the press of a button and when I went to check my bookshelf, there it was, as usual. Except, it had been joined by another book I had never heard of, had never seen and never ordered called "Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Every Day."
And, as it turns out, a book for which I was charged $10.19.
Now I'm sure it's a swell book. But I don't want it. Barnes & Noble is free to take it back. If only.
The next morning, I go to to find out how to no longer have dancers among my Nook. I thought I hit paydirt under the FAQs:

Is there a refund for books, periodicals or apps? If I accidentally purchased the wrong book, can I return it?
Please contact customer service at 1-800-THE-BOOK (1-800-843-2665).
I did as I was told. Nobody could give me an answer. My misfortune. Turns out, it was Pass the Buck Day at what B&N labels customer service.
Instead, I turned to another tactic I've had success with: Nook Customer Service has its own Twitter feed, where I blithely assume empowered reps toil away to prove their mettle when Nook spews out the wrong book. In under 140 characters, I explain my plight, and was told to email "Dan" and relay him my tale of woe.
Turns out "Dan" was too busy, so I hear from "James." After he gets some additional info, he writes back to inform me that per the T&Cs, I am not entitled to a refund and attempts to prove he's right by sending me link to the UK Nook page, which doesn't open. Nor did James, despite me providing my address, realize that I was writing from the U.S. Nonetheless, he "apologised for any inconvenience." As for where that language is on the U.S. version of the home page, I'm still looking.
So, I write back to James, whose tea time I apparently disturbed, that I deserved more than a generic response, not to mention a link that works. He wrote back:
We have answered your email regarding your individual account and as previously stated we are unable to issue a refund. We will pass along your feedback to the proper department regarding.
That's exactly what he wrote. James couldn't be bothered to finish the sentence.
I have only so much fight in me over $10.19, though a challenge to American Express might be in order. You'd think, though, the Nookies would give me the benefit of the doubt, or at least equivalent of a get-out-of-jail free card for a loyal customer. But no.
To put a sour cherry on top of all this nonsense, I get an email last night that the Nook customer service Twitter lunkheads had favorited my initial message: "Instead of passing the buck on fone, how about resolving refund for downloaded book never ordered?"
And that's one of your favorite tweets, why, old chaps?
Dan and James and Co. must have been having a real bad day. Judging by my experience, one of many.
UPDATE: The morning after I posted the blog, I received an email from Nook that I would be receiving a refund. That was followed by another email bestowing upon me a $10 gift card. That was followed by another email from a Nook rep apologizing (with a z) and insisting that this was not representative of the customer service they strive for. I'll take him at his word. It's nice the company did what they did, but it shouldn't have taken a rant on a blog for it to happen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

News Flash: Reporters Are Human

The Aftermath of Sandy Begins to Take Its Toll

I remember watching the coverage after Katrina and seeing reporters and anchors getting royally pissed off at officials they interviewed as they watched the chaos unfold in New Orleans.

So far, none of that in the aftermath of Sandy, though it helps that "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie" isn't on call at FEMA, along with governors in three states and Mayor Mike in NYC giving regular briefings and giving the impression of staying on top of the devastation to the extent possible.

It was interesting, then, to see an exchange a little while ago on WNBC-TV, where anchors Tom Llamas and Erica Tarantal were doing a Q-and-A with crusty veteran New Jersey reporter Brian Thompson (aobve). They asked him to reflect on what he's seen after working 18 hours straight.

Thompson had spent the morning reporting from Seaside Heights (the home of "Jersey Shore," BTW), which took more than a glancing blow from Sandy. Thompson (literally) took off his reporter's hat to reflect on the preceding hours and began to get emotional, but not because of the devastation he had bore witness to, but because it was his idea to head down there, and he and his crew were trapped there duirng some anxious moments. Not only that, he had encouraged another reporter, Brynn Gingras and her crew to come down there. They were forced to retreat to a hotel, after their live truck was nearly consumed by flood waters.

Thompson got emotional, saying he felt guilty about putting those folks in harm's way. Everyone's OK, but Thompson knows it could have gone in a different direction. And while TV crews are devoted in these situations to going out so we don't have to, it's not worth dying for. Just because you're driving around in an SUV with a satellite dish and microwave connection doesn't make you invincible. It's a lesson worth remembering, though I have an impression that when the next major natural disaster strikes, news directors and those whom they dispatch probably will.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Switcheroo by Yahoo

Another Homepage Extreme Makeover

Even though I had already downed two large cups of strong Zabar's Royale Blend this morning, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the new design of the Yahoo homepage. This is a big deal, as it's always been what's opened up first, at least on my home PCs ever since I started dabbling with this Interweb thing.

I actually do like having the weather on the top right with a three-day forecast, rather than having to click on a link in a column to the left. However, I have no need nor a desire to have astrology info right below.

More importantly, right down the middle of the page, where categories of stories had been beyond the multimedia stories at the top, there is now just a giant mishmash of everything grouped under "top stories."

You can click a link to the left to see stories in four categories (World News, Entertainment, Sports and Business), but gone is a link to local news, among other categories. True, you can recreate some of that in an RSS feed, but no matter how hard I try, I too often forget to go to My Yahoo for that, though when I do it can be useful (there I said it, RSS feeds are swell, but have often do you really peruse them? Be honest now).

My hope is there's a way to rearrange things so that you can make the page more user-friendly for each of us. But it does not appear Yahoo is offering a road map on how to do that. Or maybe I just need another mug of coffee.

A Presumptuous Name for WSJ Real Estate Section

Or Maybe I'm Just the Wrong Demographic

The Wall Street Journal debuted its semi-vaunted real estate section on Friday. So you won't miss it, the paper went for broke and named it Mansion, ostensibly in tribute to the Journal's ultra-monied readers. Or, at least, a critical mass of the readers the paper wants to have.

No doubt, the section was created with advertisers in mind--and ads do take up the majority of the section's 16 pages. Many of them do tout pricey residences of one sort or another, including the aforementioned mansions. Looking for items on mortgage trends or the trials and tribulations of finding the right space, like The New York Times does weekly with The Hunt column in its real estate section (because we really do need to know how those coeds snared that bargain sixth-floor walkup in Alphabet City). Look elsewhere. The Journal assumes its readers don't need to bother themselves with such twaddle. Hell, they pay cash. Mortgages are for pussies.

Still, even for the Journal, Mansions sounds more than a tad presumptuous. Then again, Split-Level Colonial or One-Bedroom Co-Op doesn't quite have the same cache.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Spinster School Marm Running for Senate?

Hideous Photo of Elizabeth Warren Doesn't Help Her Cause

Out of all of the photos The New York Times could have showed of Elizabeth Warren from last night's DNC festivities, surely they could have found a better one than the clunker by Todd Heisler the desk slapped on page A-16.

Warren, the Massachusetts Senate candidate and a good-looking woman to boot, comes off looking she's off to prep for her 42nd year teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in northern Maine circa 1966 before she goes home to take care of her four cats.

Which isn't to say Heisler took a bad photograph. It's just one that makes Warren look bad. Better was one found on the website of Warren speaking, taken by Doug Mills.

Now that's what I call a candidate.

Man In the News Profile Weird Excuse for an Obama Elegy

Peter Baker Does in New York Times Exactly What Beat Reporters Aren't Supposed to Do

There are the accepted rules of journalism. Then there are The New York Times rules.

The Times rules allow its beat reporters to go off the reservation. They will find occasion to offer analysis, teeter on offering a viewpoint or just plain turn into a scold on a topic they are not happy about.

Such is the case with this morning's A-1 profile by Peter Baker headlined "4 Years Later, a President is Scarred but Still Confident." Baker gets a jump from the front page to a full open page to climb into Obama's brain and let us know thoughts are lurking inside. It's a strange, even dangerous place for a White House beat reporter to be. But Baker is undeterred, to mixed results.

The article reads like a magazine takeout. There are the assorted talking heads, named and unnamed, to provide Baker with the requisite reinforcement for his talking points, which center on how Obama was forced to change his game plan, even if he was not able to change himself.

This is a president who has yet to realize the lofty expectations that propelled him from obscurity to the Oval Office, whose idealism or naïveté or hubris has been tempered by four years in the fires. Long after the messiah jokes vanished, the oh-so-mortal Barack Hussein Obama is left to make the case that while progress is slow, he is taking America to a better place — and that he will be a better president over the next four years.

If Denver was all about promise, Charlotte is all about patience. Whether Americans grant the 44th president a four-year extension will depend in part on his ability to reconcile the heady aspirations of 2008 with the messy results of the four years that followed.

If this doesn't sound like something a news reporter would write, that's because it's not. But that's the point, And it's not necessarily a good thing. By authoring such a piece, Baker has essentially played his hand with the White House. The portrait of Obama is at times unflattering, severe and fleetingly sympathetic. But the thin skins in the West Wing are unlikely to take kindly to this portrait. Which could compromise Baker's ability to be as effective in his cubicle as he now is.

If Mr. Obama has changed over his presidency, in part it suggests Americans never really knew him to begin with. Where conservatives see an unremitting liberal, supporters on the left wish he were. To mystified admirers, it is unrequited love. When they read in David Maraniss’s biography of how a girlfriend told him, “I love you,” only to have him reply, “Thank you,” some joked they knew how she felt.

On the hustings, Mr. Obama is more careful to reply in kind. When someone shouts out, “We love you,” he calls out, “I love you back.” But sometimes it does not feel that way. His has become a bloodless presidency, built on cold calculations, not quixotic crusades.

An article with the above passages can certainly have a place in the Times, or any other worthy newspaper. However, the enterprise becomes more dubious when it's authored by a reporter whose tendencies should not be betrayed by his dispatches. Here, Baker has opened a door and let us have a look at something we weren't supposed to see.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You Mean Everything In Star Magazine Isn't Accurate?

JusJen Engagement Has Gossip Rag Ducking for Cover

Like you, I am over the moon that Jennifer Aniston has once again found true love, this time in the arms of actor/writer Justin Theroux. The couple's reps breathlessly announced their engagement yesterday. So now, Theroux has officially consigned himself to a life where he can do little more than pee in private without fear of a paparazzi sticking a telephoto lens in his mug.

Ever since Aniston first hooked up with Brad Pitt, the gossip mongers at American Media, which publishes the Star, the National Enquirer, the Globe, etc., have chronicled her every move. If a good-looking guy so much as got within three feet of her, he was already being romantically linked to Aniston, who, by the way, should have also given birth to twins by now to fulfill the wishful thinking of Star copy editors.

Full disclosure: we get the Star at home (cheap subscription, great for reading on the can, yada yada). The latest issue has a headline blaring: "It's Over," in a reference to JusJen. Apparently, Theroux was pining just a little too hard for an old flame.

Apparently not.

Don't bother looking for this faux pas on line. Star has integrated its web offerings on RadarOnline, which provides ample cover to hide the "exclusives" that come up a crapper. Radar has its own engagement quickie just to get on the board.

I know, my naivete shocks even me. In this day and age, I would have thought these magazines would try to do at least a little fact-checking to avoid the wrath of vengeful lawyers. And, no doubt, Star and its ilk get it right sometimes. Still, so much of what is in these mags amount to little more than trial balloons. Stories attributed to "close friends" and "insiders" may be little more than a manicurist assistant who may have overheard one end of a phone conversation and then calls Star looking for a quick payday.

Actually, if you're looking for some more solid journalism I place more faith in the dogged reporting Radar has been doing on Jerry Sandusky. That coverage has been quarterbacked by David Perel, Radar's managing editor and the former executive editor of the Enquirer (and a former colleague of mine at the University of Maryland newspaper The Diamondback). The latest allegation is that Sandusky and a Penn State booster may have abused a boy on a private plane. At the very least, I have faith that Perel knows how to report a story, not merely write one.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Brian Ross: When Sorry Is Enough

But Ben Sherwood Takes Him Out to the Woodshed Nonetheless

"When we make a mistake, we own it..."

Such are the words from ABC News prexy Ben Sherwood, when talking about the egg laid by Brian Ross last week, when he said that Aurora gunman James Holmes was a member of the Tea Party.

Of course, it was a Jim Holmes of Aurora on the Tea Party site, just not that Holmes. Because, Holmes is such an uncommon name so how could Ross not have assumed it was the same guy. Oopsie.

Sherwood characterized the unintended character assassination at the Television Critics Association summer tour as an "unfortunate mistake," to put it extremely mildly.

As The Wrap reported Sherwood saying:

"I challenge the assumption that 'more mistakes are getting mad. We do live in a totally different news cycle, and that's one of the reasons why we want to learn from an episode like that Brian Ross episode and make sure that our procedurals and protocols are as absolutely strong as they can be, and that everybody understands that the reputation of ABC News is on the line."

Darn tootin'.

Still, this says a lot about the star system at ABC. Ross is a celebrated investigative correspondent. To do his job right, he needs to check, verify and check again before his stories hit air. Usually, there's likely an ABC lawyer reviewing his longer pieces. But on breaking news? Nobody questioned Ross because he was, well, Ross. Fair enough, but why did Ross make this association without checking its validity? Simple. He got caught in the moment. He wanted to be first and hoped he was right. Double oopsie.

And if this means that the stars shine a little less bright at the networks because of debacles like this, then that can be one of the few good things that will emerge from this tragedy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ann Curry Deserved Better, but Getting Booted Off "Today" Could be a Win-Win

Now She Gets to be a Journalist Again Full-Time

Now that NBC can stop blaming Ann Curry for the bid case of Nielsen hiccups at "Today," it's time to look at the half-full part of her ouster from the couch in Studio 1A.
Curry's always been a solid reporter and has gone pretty much everywhere for NBC over the last 20 years. Everywhere includes Antarctica, Iran, the tsunami zone and dozens of port of calls in between. She'll now lead a hand-picked team that will go spanning the world covering big stories and reporting on multiple NBC shows and platforms.
It's the kind of job that any reporter in the substance-starved world of TV news would kill for. Curry told USA Today she's certainly grateful, but as she told viewers this morning during a tear-stained farewell, this wasn't the way she wanted to exit.
Understandable. Her ego now has a big-time contusion that'll take a long time to heal. But when she's immersed in this dream gig doing what she does best and not having to wake up at four in the morning, that's a win-win.

In case you didn't see her classy farewell:

A Big-Time Oops: Why You Should Wait for the News Before You Hit Send

CNN Jumps the Gun with Wrong Headline on Affordable Care Act Decision

Look at the banner headline in black at the top. It was still up 10 minutes after the decision was handed down. Hello, Atlanta. Go for the venti instead of the grande, folks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Such a Big Shocker in the Big Easy

As Times-Picayune, Alabama Papers Go to Three Times a Week, Could Open the Floodgates for Others to Follow Suit

Somebody had to do it. But what's now an exception could become a trend.

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, along with three Alabama dailies, will only print three times a week--Wednesday, Friday and Sunday--starting in the fall. The papers, all of which are owned by Newhouse's Advance Publications, will allegedly beef up their digital presence.

The news is sad, especially for those of us who still desperately want to turn the pages of a newspaper rather than click to the next story. But it's no longer news that circulation has fallen off a cliff, along with ad dough-re-mi. The Birmingham News, for instance, has seen circulation crater by 29 percent in just five years. With numbers like that you rethink your business model pronto.

As the T-P's noted in its story about the reduction: "the changes coming in the fall were necessitated by revolutionary upheaval in the newspaper industry. These changes made it essential for the news-gathering operation to evolve and become digitally focused..."

Ah, digitally focused. Makes all the sense in the world, right? So, why aren't advertisers convinced? At many newspapers, online ads account for only 10 to 20 percent of revenue. The rest comes from print ads, subscriptions and newsstand sales. It really is an open question of whether you don't print it, they will follow you to the web.

Nonetheless, it's a safe bet that more newspapers will head down this sorry path. They've cut page widths, head counts, news holes while increasing newsstand prices. And yet they still wonder why they're losing readers. If your audience only wants a paper three days a week and your advertisers feel the same, who are you to say no? It does save a lot of trees. Trims payroll too.

Still, it'll be weird for Saints fans not to be able to read about Sunday's game the next day in the paper. Then again, if you're to believe Advance, they've pretty much stopped doing that anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sinful Stupidity at Reno TV Station

Promo at KOLO Implies Gay Marriage is a Sin, Then Says Sorry

The TV Spy blog has an item about a promo run amok at KOLO-TV in Reno, which intoned "Historically, Nevada has made a living off of sin — quickie divorces, prostitution, gambling. What’s one more sin added to the list if it will improve our economy?”

No surprise, the outrage flowed fast and furious. Later, the station apologized for the "poorly written play on words."

Fair enough, but how is it that no one at the station realized it was a dumb thing to say, unless they truly believed it was true? There was a producer of the spot, apparently clueless anchor Sarah Johns, not to mention a news director and other station management.

Really? The spot was a Re-no-no.

The Good and Not as Good in Buffett's Media General Purchase

At Least There's a Newspaper Still Standing in Richmond and Beyond

That Berkshire Hathaway bought Media General's newspaper division, with the exception of the Tampa Tribune, has to be viewed as nothing but a positive for the remaining employees, who have been blistered by layoffs, furloughs, benefit cuts and pay freezes over the years. In that regard, Media General is no different from every other newspaper company, battered, belaguered and waxing nostalgic for better days that will never return.

So, along comes Uncle Warren to the rescue. The Oracle already owns newspaper properties, including his hometown Omaha World-Herald and the Buffalo News. He also owns a significant minority stake in The Washington Post Co. Buffett likes to make a profit as much as the next billionaire, but his management approach is fairly hands off. Install the best managers who know how to hit their targets and watch the money grow.

That's a much taller order nowadays in the newspaper business, which is why the division went for a mere $142 million plus a $400 million term loan to pay down debt and a $25 million revolving credit line. That's for 63 daily and weekly newspapers. But Media General has fallen far and fast. Ten years ago, it would have cost you $54.50 to buy a share of the company stock. It closed today at $4.18, and that includes a $1.04 bump after the purchase was announced.

Buffett again professed his love for newspapers today, warming the cockles of this ink-stained wretch's heart.  Clearly, he's not doing this to lose money, but he's certainly not expecting to make a mint either. Been there, done that.

The Big World Beyond the Big Apple

Geography Lessons Needed at WNYC

There's many a story of born-and-bred Manhattanites who have little conception of the world around them. If it's a question of how to get to there from here and you can't get there on the 4 train, then why bother?
This became apparent yesterday while listening to Janet Babbin do the local news at 7 p.m. on public radio station WNYC. Babbin read an item about what was the apparent suicide of Mary Kennedy, RFK Jr.'s estranged wife. We were told that Kennedy's body was found at the family home upstate.
Turns out upstate was in the hamlet of Bedford in Westchester County, which is immediately north of the city after you leave the Bronx. Upstate? Well, yes, as it's up from WNYC's studios in West Soho.
But nobody who lives in Westcheser, including me, thinks they live in upstate, even those in the county's northern reaches, which includes comparatively bucolic Bedford. If you can get to midtown in an hour with no traffic than you're not upstate. You're merely in the suburbs, where many WNYC members reside.
If I truly lived upstate, then I wouldn't have been able to hear Babbin tell me where I don't live. But she should come visit, especially during the summer when everybody escapes the city, er, Manhattan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ian Eagle, Mike Fratello Will Be Picking Out China Patterns, After All

On-Air Pissing Match Goes Viral, But They Insist It's Part of Their Shtick

Well, it at least sounded controversial.

The sports blogs were a buzzin' yesterday over a bizarre exchange that New Jersey Nets' TV announcers Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello had at the end of a game on Sunday.

It sounded like Eagle was calling out the Tsar of the Telestrator for being "patronizing" in explaining a slip screen. Fratello sounded a bit taken aback, but tried to laugh it off as the broadcast went to a commercial.

Eagle was having none of it when he was asked by Fratello whether he had a bad day on the ride from a game in Philadelphia: "That was two hours with you, which is why I've had enough tonight."


Turns out it was much ado about nothing much. At least according to the players in this drama.
In a Daily News interview, Eagle insists it was all a put-on, and it's something they do every game.

"What happens sometimes is the local audience knows what we’re up to, but when someth"ing like this goes viral the unfortunate part is the familiarity goes out the window. There are people who just don’t get it, they’re not in on the joke..."

Exactly. That's the problem. Nobody knows about this, because the two are broadcasting Nets games, which for many years have not offered viewers a reason to stay glued to their chairs. So, if Eagle and Fratello do their usual act, it's easy to see how few might notice unless their gift of gab got overly generous.

As Bob Raissman in the Daily News notes, Eagle is a disciple of Marv Albert, the Sultan of Sardonic, who frequently had Fratello as a broadcast partner. The Tsar knows dry wit when he hears it as much as how to execute a pick-and-roll.

Of course, it should come as little surprise that Eagle can inject some levity into an otherwise-dreary broadcast. It's in his DNA. His father was Jack Eagle, who spent decades working the Catskills as a comedian, though you might remember him best as Brother Dominic from the 1980s Xerox commercials.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

High Holy Days Come Early for Mets Announcers

Can I Get an Oy?

During a languid Mets-Yankees spring training game this afternoon, new Mets play-by-play announcer Josh Lewin mentioned that a young hitter destined for the minor leagues named Wilfredo Tovar was coming to bat for the Amazin's.
Tovar is pronounced (TOE-vah), or at least that's how Lewin said it.
Then he told his partner Howie Rose, "His nickname isn't L'Shanah," and both had a good laugh.
For those of you who aren't Members of the Tribe--L'Shanah Tovah is Hebrew for "For a good year," which is what Jews--like Rose and Lewin--say at Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year.
Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see if both take off for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The Mets have a day game on Sept. 16, so they avoid issues on the first night (Lewin also calls San Diego Chargers games on the radio, so he won't be there anyway). The next day, however, when you do the heavy lifting in temple, the Mets have a night game at home against the Phillies.
Ed Coleman, the pre- and post-game host usually fills in for play-by-play. That perhaps leaves a gap for a night. Hey, they could always ask Gary Cohen at SNY to move back to radio for a night. Cohen, despite his name, has never let a Jewish holiday get in the way of a Mets game.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Did Mike Daisey Tell a Doozy?

Or Does "This American Life" Have Trouble Telling Fact from Fiction?

Mike Daisey is the monologuist best known for "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which details, among other things, the often-squalid conditions under which the smartphones, computers and iEverything that enable us to continue to exist are made.
Daisey's on a national tour for his acclaimed production, which focuses on the perils of life at Foxconn but the profits that are subsequently amassed in Cupertino and beyond.
"This American Life" recently aired an excerpt from the play, which seemed like the kind of thing you'd hear on the program.
However, host Ira Glass was all agog today in a Facebook post that screeched: "We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend's episode of our show will explain the errors in the story."
Glass is actually devoting the whole show to picking apart "Steve Jobs," as this press release details.
Now, while I would certainly expect there to be a strong factual current running through Daisey's narrative--and Apple has given him ample material to work with--I would not expect that he's merely distilling facts gleaned from newspapers and Wikipedia to keep audiences entertained. It is done in a theatre after all. However, that notion is apparently lost on Glass.
As Daisey points out on his blog:

My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

From the sound of it, Daisey will be a lot more careful about whom he gives clips to:

The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.

Of course it does. Why Glass fails to realize this is a head-scratcher. He might be too busy playing with his new iPad to realize the distinctions.
Granted. This was the most downloaded podcast in the show's history, some 888,000 to date. And a performance "TAL" was to host of "Steve Jobs" in Chicago next month has now been canceled. This was more than passing interest for Glass. But still.
Not that Glass is a stranger to drama. "This American Life" is usually presented in a series of acts.
On this weekend's show Act I can be entitled "What the hell were we thinking?"

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Daily Caller Catches a Case of the Stupids While Sticking Up for Limbaugh

Claim That Stock Dropped After Company Stopped Advertising on Rush Is Beyond Moronic, Even for Neocon Apologists

By one recent count, at least 40 advertisers have bailed on Rush Limbaugh following Slutgate. Despite the fact that his royal boorishness has uttered what sounded like an apology (though because he's on radio we can't see if he had his fingers crossed), many companies are heading to the sidelines, at least for now.
Among them is Carbonite, a company that automatically backs up computer files and helps you recover then if they're lost.
Limbaugh may be chastened, but the Dittoheads, as his most fervent listeners (trust me, nothing to be proud of) like to call themselves, are undeterred. Among the apologists is Jeff Poor, who writes for neocon online mouthpiece The Daily Caller founded by Tucker Carlson.
Poor wanted to show that Carbonite paid a price for its folly of leaving Limbaugh. Yet, in the process did a piss-poor piece of journalism, if you want to call it that. The premise of what Poor wrote is that after Carbonite announced its decision on Saturday, it went on to get thumped at the NASDAQ Monday and Tuesday.
The piece, which was unsurprisingly picked up by Fox Nation, doesn't come out and say outright that the stock plunged because of the rush to leave Rush. But Poor wouldn't have bothered with the article if that's not what he and his minders had in mind. The headline "Investors flee Carbonite after Limbaugh announcement" says it all. The only problem: Poor offers nothing to back up that statement. Which is why the story has to be finished before the headline is written. Of course, why let the truth get in the way of a good headline that's bound to get you to the top of search results, right?
The Carbonite stock went down, but there is not a scintilla of evidence that it was because of Limbaugh. If you recall, Tuesday was a bad day for the market. Perhaps it was a worse day for Carbonite, which ranked 18th on the list of biggest decliners for the day. But Limbaugh? Please. If Poor had bothered to do even a sliver of research, he'd know that Carbonite has been on a losing streak. Its $8.35 closing price on Tuesday put it near its 52-week low. The company's been losing a healthy chunk of money. Its 2011 earnings were minus 84 cents a share, which was actually good as analysts were expecting it to be as bad as minus 89 cents a share.
In other words, when the stock market is going to have a bad day, so is Carbonite. And it has nothing to do with not sponsoring the motor mouth of midday radio. If anything, that was a smart busines move.
By the way, Carbonite stock closed today at $8.61 up 3.1 percent. Forgive me if I refrain from holding my breath waiting for Poor to write that story.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Lines Up for Sponsor Spankings, But He'll Come Out the Winner in the End

Advertisers Will Give Loudmouthed Lunkhead a Time-Out, but He Has Too Many Listeners at Stake to Ignore

Sometimes it pays to be a flaming asshole.
And nobody knows that better than Rush Limbaugh. Sure, he's been singed by his own words as a small parade of advertisers bail on the right-wing voice of lack of reason after he called a Georgetown law student a slut for testifying about birth-control policy.
And, yes, Limbaugh, is sorry, truly sorry, for also calling Sandra Fluke a prostitute. For now, though, advertisers are calling bull on Rush. For now, he'll need to be contrite by filling time with more of his usual odious venom where ad spots would otherwise be.
And regardless of whether you believe Limbaugh is sincere (and Ron Paul doesn't), all the outrage over his boorishness won't add up to anything in the long run. That is, unless Limbaugh loses listeners along with the advertisers.
You see, Limbaugh doesn't get paid in the neighborhood of $40 million for nothing. For three hours a day, he's on nearly 600 stations with a listeners that have been estimated as high as 20 million, though that total is hotly disputed. Whatever the number, it's a lot and likely still enough to make it the most-listened to radio program in the country. Which is why we care even two craps about what he said. And it's also why he still has a job and why Premiere Radio Networks, his syndicator, hasn't looked for an out in his contract that runs through 2016.
So, amid his sackcloth and ashes routine comes the reality that the advertisers will feel they can't afford to not be part of the bombast. And for what?
Sandra Fluke will be a footnote. And Rush Limbaugh will still be an asshole.

Abe Rosenthal and the Circus

Legendary N.Y. Times Editor Didn't Need His Reporters Pure, Just Uncorrupted
On a recent Freakanomics podcast, Stephen Dubner was chatting about bias in the media with New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, son of legendary editor A.M. Rosenthal, (left) who ran the news report at the Gray Lady for more than two decades.
Rosenthal the younger told the story about how his father hired a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, only to fire her after he found out that she had slept with a source while working there. The old man was asked why would he care about something that happened in Philadelphia. His response was a classic, though probably typical of Abe Rosenthal: I don't care if you fuck an elephant as long as you don't cover the circus."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Soft Hard Sell from Chipotle

Now Let's Get Out There and Slaughter Some Pigs (Humanely, Of Course), I'm Famished!

My favorite commercial of the year so far has to be the long version of the Chipotle spot, known as "Back to the Start," which has Willie Nelson singing Coldplay's "The Scientist" as a backdrop to the story of a farmer who starts small, thinks big, regrets his choices and self-redeems himself by going back to his roots.
It's a touching parable that has everything to do with Chipotle and its company values (well-sourced products, properly grown, humanely raised and harvested, etc.). If you've never been to a Chipotle (and that's becoming increasingly difficult), the message might be a bit flummoxing. But it's compelling nonetheless. To what extent it'll make you feel better when there's a humongous line at lunchtime standing in the way of you and your burrito bowl is debatable, but it's a commendable bit of marketing well worth two minutes and 20 seconds of your time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Whitney Houston: An Accident the National Enquirer Was Waiting to Happen

It's Not Like They Knew What Was Going to Happen, But.....
The latest issue of the National Enquirer came out just a little too early for the only celebrity story that really matters right now. But you just know they're foaming at the mouth waiting to hit the send button on the presses for the next edition. To wit:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

As TV Stations Go to Cover Dolan's Elevation to Cardinal, Let's Hope They Ask the Right Questions

As Chief Mouthpiece for Archbishops Losing Hearts and Minds on Contraception Contratemps, He Has a Lot to Answer For

It's a big week ahead for New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who on Saturday is set to be elevated to cardinal. Local TV and radio stations are taking proper note and are devoting considerable resources and correspondents to covering the event, including live coverage at, yawn, starting at 4:30 a.m.
Obviously, this is a big deal. But let's hope that the stations don't jump the gun on deifing Dolan. No doubt, Dolan makes for good media. He's avuncular, more of the people than many higher-ups in the Roman Catholic Church and is often shown having a good laugh even at his own expense. However, make no mistake. There is Dolan the people's cardinal, and there is Dolan the extreme conservative who has lead the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the lead agitators against the Obama administration's rule requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to provide free insurance coverage for contraception.
It has been Dolan who has made this into a battle over religious liberty and a blatant infringement on First Amendment rights, when it is nothing of the sort. It is not a battle over insurance coverage, but over contraception itself. No one should be fooled by Dolan's somewhat conciliatory words today after he landed in Rome. As The New York Times reported,

Archbishop Dolan said in a brief interview that “there are so many unanswered questions” regarding the compromise, and that it was “too early for us to give a judgment one way or the other.”

At the same time, Dolan made it clear the compromise to limit the religious institutions' exposure to the coverage by having it provided directly by insurance companies was still too much to countenance.
In other words, little or nothing has changed about how the bishops and Dolan feel about this, regardless that most of their female parishioners--98 percent by one Guttmacher Institute--have used birth control.
The media covering Dolan's elevation should not be so awed by his red hat on Saturday to not confront him with these and other questions. A change in title does nothing to change that.

Whitney Houston Shows Why Newsrooms Never Assume Nothing Will Happen Over the Weekend

Meanwhile, a Call for Less Fawning Coverage; Don Lemon, We're Talking to You

While jumping in between the cablers' Whitney Houston coverage last night, it was clear the networks had learned from others' past mistakes. Then again, they made some new ones.
At least their programming dictated that there were live bodies in the newsroom for breaking news, though it's safe to say the crew at MSNBC was skeletal because the net was settling in for its weekly dose of prison reality shows. But they were at least nominally up to the task of covering the ultimate demise of a pop diva turned 40-car pileup.
Nowadays, nobody assumes it's going to be quiet on the weekend. Heads were rolled--or, at least, shuffled when I was working at CBS and there was no one from the TV network who was ready to go on the air late Saturday night on Labor Day weekend in 1997 when Princess Diana was on the losing end of an escape from paparazzi in Paris.
The network eventually had to rush in Vince DeMentri, an anchor from WCBS-TV to fumble his way through reading wire service bulletins until Anthony Mason was rustled up to head up coverage. Meanwhile, at CBS News Radio, where I worked, London bureau chief Adam Raphael and Paris correspondent Elaine Cobbe were riding herd on the story. Raphael was first in the U.S. to confirm that Diana was dead.
So, now every network always has a correspondent in the building at all hours who can go on the air on short notice. And so it was last night.
As the cable nets went balls-to-wall with Whitney well past midnight, they gradually gained their footing after playing the same, tired file tape they had. Gradually, they scared up more while frantic bookers tried to find someone, anyone, with anything relevant to say.
Most of the coverage I saw was fairly even-keeled. A notable exception, however, was CNN's Don Lemon, who was a little too start-struck. That was painfully evident when he was interviewing professional has-been Jermaine Jackson about Whitney/Michael parallells, and Lemon was name-checking any connection he had to the former pop royalty in an effort to establish his bona fides with Jermaine. It was a treacly interaction from a newsman who ought to know better.
Of course, that was then. And after the requisite tribute on the Grammys tonight, the media will inevitably rev into "it's-a-shame-but-not-exactly-a-shocker" mode. In fact, that's already started, as this story on Yahoo indicates.
You just know that this will be the only story on TMZ this week, while Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood have likely commissioned new sad music while they show Whitney montages. The juxtaposition of an erratic addict who could not discard her demons as opposed to the divviest of pop divas with scary talent is a great story. Now the Don Lemons of the world have to be prepared to cover it from all sides.