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.