Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Would You (Did You) See This Story Online?

When Plunking Down $2.50 for The New York Times Can Make a Difference

The lead story (at least in print) for today's New York Times is a compelling yarn from Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery about how collection agencies use the courts to sue unwitting debtors, but can legally block those debtors from challenging them in court.
Instead, they must resort to arbitration, a tactic few pursue because it's a process that's too expensive or one they don't understand.
Since my dinosaur-esque tendencies compel me to hold the Times in my hand each morning, I read the piece with my coffee and coffee yogurt (totally spontaneous and unrehearsed). Mind you, I do check in frequently on the Times later in the day on the PC or assorted mobile devices. Which led me to wonder how the top article on A-1 was being played when I went to about noon ET.
Not very well, as it turns out.
I had to scroll down to the Business Day tab lower on the home page. The article--assuming it had been there once--was no longer one of the three visible headlines. Instead, I clicked on the section and found the piece under the DealBook moniker as part of a recurring series. Maybe the night before it had received more prominent play.
Why does this matter?
More people now have digital Times subscriptions than print. Given the trove of content that's being pumped out, it's easy for stories to get shuffled down the screen or hidden entirely. The Times also has a tendency to post stories that may not make it into the paper until a day or two later. That's even more so the case on Wednesday, when the cover story for the Sunday magazine will appear online (If you need a head start on this year's edition of "The Lives They Lived," have at it). It's a journalistic feast, but we may pay a price for all of that gorging.
In other words, there's a need for editors to align the priorities of digital and print more closely. If an article is the top item above the fold on A-1, then it should be prominent for longer on the home page. Think of readers on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii who are getting to later in the news cycle. The debt collection story is one worthy of their time, but they may not get to see it if they don't know to look for it in the first place.
Given that the reporters conducted hundreds of interviews for this series, more readers should be able to reap the fruits of their labors and the Times can justify the expense of backing this commendable project.

No Flipping

Larry Sanders Makes a Comeback, of Sorts

I've been away from the blogosphere for a while, but wanted to chime in on what may be my favorite correction of the year, even though it's got some whiskers. From Dec. 11 New York Times story on the marriage of comedian Carol Leifer and longtime companion Lori Wolfe:

An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the guests at Ms. Leifer and Ms. Wolf’s wedding reception. He is Garry Shandling — not Larry Sanders, a character played by Mr. Shandling.

I always wondered why I never saw the two in the same room.

Doing Sherman Adelson's Bidding in Connecticut

But with Tiny Circulation, Might be Journalistic Version of One-Hand Clapping

The Las Vegas Review-Journal saga keeps getting curiouser and curiouser after Sheldon Adelson was finally outed as the buyer of Nevada's largest daily.
If the R-J newsroom got a little bit queasy when they realized the loud and proud GOP donor was now presiding over their paychecks, no amount of Maalox would have done the trick when editor Mike Hengel announced yesterday he was taking a buyout.
In other words, to be continued.
Now comes a bizarre twist to this story from The Hartford Courant, about why the New Britain Herald, a newspaper with circulation just north of 9,000, published a lengthy story about so-called business courts, including 10 paragraphs devoted to a dustup Adelson had in one in Las Vegas. For a paper the size of the Herald, undertaking such a story is both unusual and unwarranted, given the few reporters left in its newsroom.
Turns out, the Herald's publisher, Michael Schroeder, has a business relationship with Adelson. But that's not where the story ends. The Courant reports it was written by someone named "Edward Clarkin," a scribe no one seems to know anything about, including current and former editors at the Herald or its sister paper, the Bristol Herald.
And for a little extra icing on this cruddy cake, two people quoted in the Clarkin missive said they were never interviewed for the piece and are wondering out loud how they made their way into print.
As for Schroeder, he's not talking about the Herald's newsgathering priorities or much of anything else. Apparently, what happens in New Britain.....

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Is Unemployment Better Than Working For Gannett?

Maybe Not, But.....

I've been chatting this week with a couple of scribes at the Journal News, the Gannett paper in New York's northern suburbs where I toiled in the late 80s. The paper, like many in the chain, is a desiccated husk of its former self both in size and staffing. The circulation has followed a similar pattern, now down to about 55,000 daily where it was 160,000 when I was there.

Those convos got me thinking about Gannett's newest employees, the staffs of 11 dailies in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Texas, as part of a swap with Digital First in which Gannett gave up its 19 percent interest in some California newspapers in return.

Suffice to say, if you're an employee of the El Paso Times, the York Daily Record or one of the nine other dailies that are now orbiting the Gannett mother ship, these are not happy days. Not that you were exactly doing jigs with Digital First, which shares a reputation with Gannett as a ruthless cost-cutter.

Gannett has shown no compunction about staffing its newsrooms to the bare minimums. Copy editing is farmed out to regional hubs as is design. Admittedly, I don't know if the six small New Mexico dailies have separate editing staffs below the top of the masthead. But if they do, chances are they won't for long, if Gannett is consistent with past moves at papers in New Jersey and New York, among others. The same will likely hold for printing presses.

As Ken Doctor pointed out, the move makes financial sense for Gannett, now that it is a standalone newspaper company lacking debt. It also makes sense for Digital First, which is breaking itself into pieces after attempts at finding a buyer for all of its disparate pieces never went anywhere.

Does it make sense for any of the newspapers' employees? Doubtful. It will likely be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

At least they have what fewer people than ever can claim--jobs working for a newspaper.

For now.

Red Cross Bloodied Again by NPR and Pro Publica

And Another PR Fumble by Charity Run Amok

On tonight's "All Things Considered," NPR ran a devastating report from Laura Sullivan about the apparent mishandling by the American Red Cross of hundreds of millions of dollars donated in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The 19-minute report as as startling for its length as it was for its sweeping indictment of broken promises, lame excuses and a choking bureaucracy that swallowed up too many donations. It's a compelling listen that will make you think twice the next time a disaster strikes. The investigation was a collaboration with Pro Publica, where the headline for its report makes very clear where it's headed: "How the Red Cross Raised a Half Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Houses."

In other words, it's not going to end well for the Red Cross.

For NPR and Pro Publica, whose dispatch is also well worth your attention, this is not the first time the Red Cross has come up in their crosshairs. They collaborated last year on a scathing report about how the Red Cross badly botched its response to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy.

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.
“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

And that's just the tippy tip of the iceberg.

In both stories, the Red Cross--to the extent that it's forthcoming--displays a stunning lack of hubris and tone deafness in its response to reporters' questions. To wit, this telling nugget from a portion of the Haiti story about a supposed $24 million project for the "physical renewal" of one Port au Prince neighborhood and a brochure touting its benefits.

[T]he Red Cross' head of public affairs in Washington, D.C., sent NPR and ProPublica an email saying we had mischaracterized the project, though they did not dispute the information in the brochure. NPR and ProPublica were "creating ill will in the community, which may give rise to a security incident," the email says. "We will hold you and your news organizations fully responsible." No security incident happened — but residents did ask if they could keep the brochure.

Kill the messenger? Really? Wow. And it gets better.

NPR published on its website a response from the Red Cross, which just doesn't get it.

The Red Cross is disappointed, once again, by the lack of balance, context and accuracy in the most recent reporting by ProPublica/NPR, which follows the pattern of all their previous Red Cross stories. It is particularly disappointing to see our work misrepresented considering we answered more than 100 questions in writing and provided an interview with the head of our international programs.

Quantity doesn't trump quality, alas. That head of international programs wouldn't answer questions about specific programs, how much they cost and their expenses. The report said much of the money donated never reached people in need and was eaten up paying third parties to run programs after the Red Cross took its own cut for administrative fees. How did NPR and Pro Publica know this? Because it was all in writing. In Red Cross documents.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Brian Williams Falls on His Sword, Sort Of

Bri Bri Says Bye, Bye For "Several Days"

The glare of the spotlight that Brian Williams turned on himself has gotten too bright.

The "NBC Nightly News" anchor/managing editor, who didn't realize that when he was telling stories they were supposed to be grounded in fact, is going on hiatus for "several days" to defog his memory about his non-near death experience covering the Iraq war. At least judging by this announcement from NBC News, it was his choice. Then again, maybe not.

In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.
As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

Interesting that this was put out as a press release. Don't look for it on or the Nightly News home page. I sense there are still hordes of walking wounded at 30 Rock still trying to make sense of this F.U.B.A.R. exercise.

Now, about this several days thing. Better than even it's a poorly chosen euphemism. Lester Holt may be doing more than sitting in--he could be getting fitted for a new chair.

Is Williams a dead anchor walking? Maybe not yet. But he's badly bleeding and nobody at NBC is in a hurry to offer him a Band-Aid.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Nationwide Is Not on the Side of Common Sense

Explain Away All You Want, But the Buzzkill Still Lingers

Now that we're in the midst of Dead Kid-Gate, Nationwide Insurance has come out with a defense, of sorts, of its Debbie Downer of an ad for yesterday's Super Bowl. It's like Pete Carroll made the media buy.

Per PR Newser:

We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”

Noble intentions are swell. But during the Super Bowl? At $4.5 million a spot? And after a funny Nationwide ad with Mindy Kaling had just aired?

On any other day, you would have had parents everywhere sprinting for the Kleenex. Instead, you just pissed them off, including those who had to explain what happened to their kids.

The dialogue Nationwide so desperately wanted about an important topic is overshadowed by the one about the incredibly bad judgment of the company and its ad agency.

If you're tone deaf in the media world, you're toast. And Nationwide got burnt.