Friday, October 31, 2014

White House Charges $60K a Head for Next Charter; I Got a Bargain with Cuomo

Then Again, Watertown's a Little Cheaper to Get to than Beijing

For news organizations who want to cover President Obama's on his next swing through Asia, getting a seat on the press charter isn't a problem. Getting accounting to pay for the trip is another story.

The Washington Post reports each journalist who wants to span the globe with POTUS will first have to ante up $60,000 for a seat. And that doesn't include meals, hotels and so-called ground costs. That'll set the journos back another $10K or so. No word yet on whether the White House will include sodas and an in-flight movie to soften the blow.

That's a lot of samoleans to watch a lame-duck president commune with heads of state, but the big dogs will invariably be on the plane, though they'll be bringing fewer puppies along for the ride. Too many kibbles for a likelihood of not too many bits of news.

Back when I was a reporter for UPI in Albany in the mid-1980s, I took several day trips with Gov. Mario Cuomo as he made public appearances across the state. Interest in Cuomo was high, at a time when he still hadn't decided whether to run for president. UPI was still a viable news service then, at least in name, if not on its balance sheet (the company had gone Chapter 11 in 1985).

Getting a seat on the prop plane wasn't an issue. Only a handful of reporters would be on one of these trips, where you would sit across from him on a bench seat. Maybe he'd give you some news on the flight out--and that would be your story--rather than what Cuomo would actually speak about on the ground. The flight back to Albany was generally off the record or inconsequential; Cuomo would chat with us then about other besides politics.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which was in charge of the governor's plane would, every now and then, send a bill to my office, in essence charging UPI for letting me ride on a plane that was making the trip anyway. Typically, the bill was in the $200-$300 range. I dutifully put it in my manager's box. And it was dutifully forgotten by everyone, including the state. Just as well. UPI was never big on accounts receivable.

The White House, on the other hand? They don't strike me as IOU types. I suspect there may be a few UPI veterans there. They know better.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Filing Dispatches from the Valley of Death

Ebola Reporting Nothing Short of Heart-Rending, Courageous

Ebola has certainly grabbed its share of headlines over the last month, though I suspect it was still viewed with detachment by most Americans. That is, until yesterday, when word came of a Liberian man holed up in an isolation ward in a Dallas hospital. Now it's no longer one of those "African" problems, you know the kind that get a short mention in the wire briefs buried in a newspaper.

Fortunately, some media have ignored the xenophobia and have told the Ebola story with compelling renderings that provide the context for why thousands of foreign doctors and soldiers are pouring into Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to treat the afflicted and stop the virus's spread. It gives you some hope. But just as quickly you realize just what it is they are up against. And soon the hope begins to ebb.

That was my feeling after reading today's story from Adam Nossiter in The New York Times from a forlorn (is there any other) district in Sierra Leone, where he visited what the headline aptly calls "A Hospital from Hell."

“Where’s the corpse?” the burial-team worker shouted, kicking open the door of the isolation ward at the government hospital here. The body was right in front of him, a solidly built young man sprawled out on the floor all night, his right hand twisted in an awkward clench.
The other patients, normally padlocked inside, were too sick to look up as the body was hauled away. Nurses, some not wearing gloves and others in street clothes, clustered by the door as pools of the patients’ bodily fluids spread to the threshold. A worker kicked another man on the floor to see if he was still alive. The man’s foot moved and the team kept going. It was 1:30 in the afternoon.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

AP Goes Op-Ed With Anti-Israel Tweet

It Reports. And Decides.

Someone at the AP went off their meds with this tweet: Apparently, no one has keys to the closet with all the red flags.

Holy crap.

So you know, this is the story the tweet was purportedly based on:

Suffice to say, the story reads differently. In other words, without making judgments. You know, the way you're supposed to do it in the first place.


No apologies from the AP, but at least they walked the tweet back:


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The News Really Does Never Stop

Global Editing Hubs Eliminate the Lobster Trick in Newsrooms

You've heard a lot about the 24/7 newsroom. It all sounds great, unless you're one of the unfortunate souls who--usually not by choice--is assigned to uphold that mandate in the dead of night. But it appears more news organizations don't want a bunch of bleary eyes overseeing their digital real estate.
Nieman Lab has a fascinating piece on how newsrooms are handing off control to staffers in other time zones--not to mention continents--so fresh content can get out earlier. Not only is it a good idea, but it also saves money. Overnight shifts (and I've done my share) normally pay more.
For example, a Finnish news agency shifted its predawn patrol from Helsinki to Sydney. So, when the Stanley Cup final in that hockey-crazed haven ended at 7 a.m. local time, the lowdown came from Down Under.
Pretty cool. And a great idea, which is also employed by digital domos like the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.
Now the news really never stops. Not even for a nap.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Radio Killed the Radio Star

Last DJ Out, Turn Off the Transmitter

There's a great piece in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot by Clay Barbour about the shifting sands in the Hampton Roads radio landscape, which invariably mean, like any other town, uninspiring formats, tight-as-a-drum playlists and fewer DJs saying next to nothing.
All have these changes have supposedly been ordained by the research gods. Actually, they're decreed by station managers and owners who are in a panic trying to save their skins. The younger demos no longer make radio a must-go-to medium, if they make it at all. They download. They stream. They listen to whatever station they want online wherever it may be. Maybe they have a Sirius XM subscription. But terrestrial radio? Nah.
And it's hard to blame them. The formats are bland, stultifying and often played on stations with 15-18 minutes of spots an hour. Most commercial FM rock stations have long since stopped being a place to discover new music. Or even old music. Many classic rock stations have a few hundred songs in rotation, at most.
A happy exception is the AAA, or adult album alternative, format. The Hampton Roads market, as the article notes, has a relatively new AAA station, 102.1 FM The Tide. Think of the format as the 21st-century version of the progressive rock stations that were birthed back when FM was a radio afterthought. The playlists--if they exist at all--are usually expansive, with a mix of old and new, platinum sellers and the undeservedly obscure. The DJs, who know and love the music, can say things other than what's prescribed on so-called liner cards. And stations invariably develop deep connections with listeners.
These are the kind of stations that will usually never be #1 in their markets, but the listenership is loyal and doesn't rush to turn the dial when a commercial airs because, frankly, there's no place else for them to go. AAA stations may not get the most listeners, but they get the right listeners, especially within the 25-49 demo most coveted by advertisers. That's enabled AAA stations like 107.1 The Peak in New York's northern suburbs, to recently celebrate its 10th anniversary.
So why don't more stations try AAA? Because they're afraid. Because they feel it's a niche that won't bring in wheelbarrows of cash. Because they just don't know any better.
Fortunately, Local Voice Media, which owns The Tide, is an exception, and folks in places like Norfolk and Virginia Beach are that much luckier, at least those who are still listening to the radio.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

News About ABC News Doesn't Come from ABC News

Website Relies on AP To Tell Its Big News of the Day

Since it was pretty much of a question of "when," rather than "if," word today that
David Muir would replace Diane Sawyer in the anchor chair at "World News" on ABC was significant if not earth-shaking.
Muir has shown himself to be more than up to the task. Whether that translates into being able to catch Brian Williams in the ratings is another matter. But swapping out a 68-year-old anchor for a 40-year-old model could portend a different look and feel for the newscast, though ABC is likely to deny it.
Even if the announcement didn't cause the tectonic plates under ABC News headquarters on the Upper West Side to shift, it was still a little weird to see how the news about the change could be found, if you go to an ABC News page, via Google News. Nothing from the network itself. Instead, it's the AP story about the move. In other words, ABC relied on a wire to report the story.
Before you write this off as a big-time network F.U.B.A.R., if you go to the ABC homepage, there is a staff-written piece with an accompanying video package. Whew!
But still.
The AP story didn't get there by itself and shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don't Piss on the New York Times Unless You Drink a Lot of Water

Walmart Flack Spends Too Much Time on Snark, Not Enough on  the Facts

A letter to the editor just wouldn't suffice.

Walmart's corporate communications veep David Tovar was really cheesed off about Timothy Egan's column in Sunday's New York Times. He actually had a headstart in generating his outrage, as the column appeared online three days earlier.

The basic premise of the piece by Egan (left) is that Walmart is a big contributor to poverty in this country because of the relatively paltry wages it pays to most of its 1.4 million workers.

Their humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare. A sign appearing at a Walmart in Ohio last year, asking people to donate food so that the company’s employees “could enjoy Thanksgiving,” was a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the nation’s most despised retailer.

Not that this is a new criticism, far from it, but it was made in the Times, in the Sunday edition, no less. The boys in Bentonville prepared to do battle.

That came in the form last Friday of an ersatz letter to Egan, in which Tovar (right) on his blog had some "fun," in his words, and annotated Egan's column and
offered in red ink--not unlike the variety commonly employed by high school English teachers--purported corrections to inaccuracies and distortions. It wasn't meant to be ha-ha funny in its observations. It wasn't meant to call out Egan as a dithering lefty in the tank for the progressives. But it was dripping with enough sarcasm to make you wonder what the hell Tovar was thinking.

Egan is apparently wondering the same, as he told Business Insider:

It seems pretty snarky for a company that puts Smiley buttons on every piece of Chinese-made crap they sell. I didn't see anything concrete, except the dispute over exactly how much they pay [employees] — which is in dispute. I cited two independent studies on their average worker's pay ... One was $8.81 an hour. The other [was under $11 an hour]. Wal-Mart says [it pays] $12-plus an hour, but critics say that is skewed, and they don't include part time workers, a huge part of their workforce."

If you take a look at Tovar's "notes," you'll see a lot of it doesn't exactly refute what Egan says, but tries to put a smiley face on some otherwise damning figures. And some non-sequiturs too. Egan wrote:

Walmart in 2010 pledged to spend $50 million over three years to offset some of the cost for a small percentage of employees who enrolled in a for-profit, online university. So far, it’s been a bust — only about 400 have earned degrees.

To which Tovar chirped: "Most college degrees take more than 4 years. Not 3?"

And that matters how? If you've reportedly committed $50 million to something, yet can show a precious few have benefited, how is that not a bust? Better to have said how many are enrolled and how many are on track to get a degree. But that might not help Tovar make his point, whatever that might be.

For many of his other notes, Tovar is either in furious spin mode (Did you know? Walmart hired over 92,000 veterans last year) or providing examples of something good that can likely be countered with many more worse stories. Conservative bloggers and websites were doing jigs over Tovar's takedown. But just because you write something in red pen doesn't necessarily make it right. It just makes it red, not a good color for a company whose logo is blue.

P.S. On Tovar's blog, he included a letter supposedly written by a store manager in Virginia that sings all the hosannas you'd expect about how wonderful Walmart's been to him. Fair enough. Now let's see if Tovar runs one from one of his cashiers who needs food stamps to feed her family.

Cranky Baseball Writers Get More Reasons To Moan, Thanks to the AP

You Really Didn't Want to Know Much Beyond the Score, Anyway, Right?

The Associated Press has raised the white flag to digital media when it comes to baseball coverage. This memo, released yesterday, details how game coverage will be revamped for shorter attention spans and tinier news holes.
AP writers will still bang out a 300-word story for quick consumption soon after the last pitch is thrown. Then comes the 600-word writethru, which has quotes and a non-hard news lede. Back when there were AM and PM cycles on the wires, a writethru might make it into a paper depending on the deadline. More often, they saw the light of day in afternoon newspapers.
Now that those are relics of days gone by, there's less of a need, at least for the longer version, or so the AP believes.
That's why its 600-word writethru is a traditional game story for the first 300 words or so, then goes to what the wire calls "chunky text," with five bullet points of notes and nuggets.
The purported benefits, as stated in the memo:

EASY TO READ: The format allows consumers to more easily see interesting content, and it can be read faster across platforms.
SPEED: The format is naturally shorter than a traditional game story and can be published more quickly, resulting in a faster turnaround time from AP to newsrooms.
FLEXIBILITY: Customers have the option of using the 300-word traditional game story, or breaking off the bullet point items for briefs on websites, mobile or in print.

And there, in the last sentence, is the heart of the matter--websites, mobile OR in print. Print is last. An afterthought. Or is it?
Take a look at how much space your local paper devotes to out-of-town games. A couple of grafs, maybe? Sure, the longer stories are needed for smaller papers in the region that don't staff a game, particularly on the road. But news holes have shrunk with circulation. You can get the job done in 300 words and not leave them hungering for more. Plus, you get the bullets, which feel like a value add, especially for papers without a beat reporter.
Still, in the end, remember this change is really all about following readers to where they are. And that's not at a kitchen table holding a paper. If they're not at a news site, they're likely on Twitter or a blog. They may not have the time or inclination for a longer piece, sad as that might be.
All this comes on the heels of a story last week from the Nieman Journalism Lab  about a study of newspaper sports reporters and their love/hate (with a slight emphasis on the latter) relationship with social media. They regard Twitter as a necessary evil, though at the same time it reduces anxiety because they don't have to worry about waking up in the morning and seeing they've been scooped by the competition. Everything's already moved online by the time the presses roll.
But at least one of the reporters interviewed acknowledged that if it wasn't for the online platforms, he'd be out of a job. Because he writes a blog--many of which are often filled with items like the AP bullets--that also drives traffic to the newspaper's website.
That's the whole ballgame--eventually, or so newspapers hope, digital ad rates will catch up to readership. It has to for newspapers to survive. If most of your readers are online, but your revenue isn't, eventually there won't be a print product. And no one to read 600-word baseball stories either.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dukes of Hazzard Resurrected by AutoTrader

Good Ol', Or Is It Now Just Plain Old Boys, Are Back

I must confess whatever charms of The Dukes of Hazzard that kept it on CBS from 1979-85 were lost on this city slicker. My viewing was confined to snippets while surfing to another show. I'll assume a swell time was had by all.
Nonetheless, I'll extend a few kudos to the marketers and ad honchos linked up with  at AutoTrader,  who convinced John Schneider and Tom Wopat to reprise, by and large, their role for some spots. The two-minute version is below.
According to Adweek, AutoTrader went all in getting two-time Oscar cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan) to direct. Wopat and Schneider, 62 and 64, respectively, seem no worse for the wear and were reportedly very game for the spot, which took six days to shoot.
As a bonus, the ad has Shooter Jennings singing the DOH theme song, originally done by his late dad Waylon.
And given the director's pedigree and the two-minute (at least this version) spot, look for it to appear at a multiplex near you. Which may be more of a sure thing than getting the best deal at AutoTrader.

Friday, April 11, 2014

If Murdoch Was Dead, He'd Be Rolling In His Grave

Free Advertising for the Competition

Ever hear of Outbrain? Me neither.

The company bills itself as the "world's largest and most trusted content discovery platform." Who knew?

One way it does that is by giving websites, such as those for newspapers, the ability to "install our technology to offer recommendations and help your audience discover more content on your site that is interesting to them." As important: "Add a new revenue stream by offering recommendations to high-quality third-party content on other sites."

Sounds promising, right? Especially for newspapers desperate to wring every list dollar out of digital at a time when print and circulation still accounts for 75-85 percent of revenues. But it appears Outbrain's brain needs to think a little harder.

On one website, there's a link to two New York Times stories, one headlined "Gauging Stephen Colbert as a 'Late Show' Host," and "CBS Works to Minimize Drama After a Dramatic Departure on 'The Good Wife.'"

So far, so good. Only one thing. Both stories appear at the bottom of an item about Colbert on, wait for it, the New York Post website.

Fair dinkum, as ol' Rupe would say, though I suspect he might also have some juicier epithets in his arsenal.

Outbrain may be installed on more than 100,000 blogs and websites where it offers more than 150 billion content recommendations a month. But here are two that don't add up, which is the price you pay when you have bots populating your website instead of people.

Then again, if the Post is actually getting a few bucks by offering this "high-quality third-party content," then maybe the Murdochians can swallow hard and pocket the cash. At least it's not the Daily News.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

NPR Elegy to Peter Matthiessen Airs Just in Time

The polymath award-winning author died Saturday at age 86

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday aired a story today about what it said could be the final work from Peter Matthiessen. The segment led off with word that Matthiessen was undergoing an experimental form of chemotherapy. But it wasn't enough.
Word came tonight that Matthiessen succumbed to leukemia, which he had been battling for more than a year. He was 86.
It was a remarkable life and an even greater literary legacy. Matthiessen is the only writer to win the National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction.
Not that you can time these things, but NPR was fortunate to air a piece just hours before it would have had to have been scuttled. But it's still worth checking out to hear about "In Paradise" and hear some of the last words from Matthiessen himself.
"In Paradise" is about a visit to a Nazi death camp. We'll soon be able to find out whether it resonates more with readers because of the author's recent death. It'll be released on Tuesday--its scheduled publication date, not one to seize an unfortunate moment.

Friday, April 04, 2014

How to Make Morning Edition Hosts Choke Up

Then Again, So Will You

Like many, I'm a big fan of Story Corps, which I tend to catch more on the podcast than its usual Friday slot on "Morning Edition."
The podcast often has bonus interviews and provides additional context and follow-up that you can't get on NPR.
However, sometimes hearing Story Corps as it airs has an extra resonance, especially when it presents stories, like it did today, that force people to start hunting down tissues. That sometimes includes the hosts.
Steve Inskeep has admitted he sometimes has to turn down the volume to keep his composure because the stories are so moving.
It sounded today like Linda Wertheimer forgot to do that, as she was obviously emotional coming out of today's story about a Brooklyn family who lost their 6-year-old son to a genetic disorder.
Of course, it's perfectly understandable when you hear the piece. Just a hazard of the trade, and one that makes Story Corps destination listening on the radio, something the medium has precious little of these days.