Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, August 12, 2013 6:16 pm

Quote of the day, newspaper-industry edition:

Charlie Pierce:

Nobody, I assure you, knows anything. They’re just bailing like hell, and people like [Washington Post buyer Jeff] Bezos and [Boston Globe buyer John] Henry are the newest, shiniest buckets.

In the case of the Post, I suppose it’s possible that Bezos will bring Amazon.com’s customer-service technical know-how to the business side in salutary ways. But the content side has problems you don’t have to be a technology entrepreneur to see: It’s too focused on the horse race at the expense of policy coverage, it’s too focused on inside-the-Beltway middle-school cat fights at the expense of the kind of policy reporting a national newspaper ought to strive to provide, and its op-ed page is, with a few honorable exceptions, staffed with hacks who are either flat wrong or else clinging to a world view that went out of style the day after the Berlin Wall fell. His best hope is to turn the Post into an online-first operation and then look for ways to phase out or kill the print edition, and even he seems in no hurry to do that.

As for Henry, it’s hard to see what he gets out of this besides (even more of) a megaphone for his Boston Red Sox. He’s paying 5% of what the New York Times paid for the Globe 20 years ago and no matter what he does, he’ll be lucky to sell at a profit in his remaining lifetime.

Friday, February 22, 2013 8:41 pm

Want to run a newspaper? Here’s how you do it right.

Finally, finally, finally, the owner of a newspaper has told the geeks, waterheads, nematodes, mouth-breathers and knuckle-dragging readers who masturbate to gun ads but can’t STAND the possibility that their local newspaper might publish a story about two happy people doing something that’s none of their damn business to take their whiny, misprioritized complaints and shove them north toward their tonsils.

God, I need a cigarette. And I haven’t smoked in almost 35 years.

Our story begins when Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven — yes, that’d be two people with ladyparts — got married in, believe it, Jones County, Missafreakingsippi, the left ventricle of Bat Country. The Laurel Leader-Call newspaper did a front page story, acknowledging the historic (albeit legally unrecognized) nature of the event, and then basically letting the protagonists speak for themselves and for each other — not an approach recommended for political coverage, but perfectly acceptable for a wedding story. (Bonus pathos: Craven has Stage 4 brain cancer.)

Well, Leader-Call readers freaked out. They called. They wrote. They virtually spat on the paper’s Facebook page.

So how did the paper’s owner, Jim Cegielski, respond?

Did he pretend there was no controversy? Or that if there was, it was OK to ignore it? Did he, God forbid, send an underling out to lie to people about his position or lack thereof instead of manning up and doing his job?

Oddly, no.

He stood up. He took responsibility. He told the people who were wrong that they were wrong. He told them to stop misbehaving toward his employees just because they’d read a story they didn’t like. And he told them that if they didn’t like all of the above, they could get bent. (If the link doesn’t go directly to Cegielski’s column, flip to page A5, where it’s at the top.)

And the horrible financial price the paper paid for this optimally competent exercise of its privileges and duties? Fifteen canceled subscriptions. Even in Laurel, Mississippi, that’s the equivalent of a few households going away for a long weekend.

So here’s a suggestion to people who want to run newspapers that both make money and bond with with their communities in ways that make long-term profitability even possible: Do your jobs. Be right. And when you are right, take no shit from those who are wrong, particularly when it’s aimed at your underlings. Even most of those who disagree with you will respect that; wanting your boss to have your back is a nonpartisan policy goal in and out of newspapers.

I’m sure Warren Buffett’s BH Media already has some decent ideas about how to dig the News & Record out of the hole it has dug for itself in the past five or so years (not all of which, I hasten to add, is local talent’s fault). But I’m betting that sending someone to Laurel to buy Jim Cegielski lunch and listen to him talk for an hour would not be a bad strategy at all.

(h/t: Gawker via Athenae)

 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:27 pm

Institutionalized

As befits one of the holders of prime New York Times op-ed real-estate, columnist David Brooks has analyzed American society and concluded that the problem is … us:

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

I guess Brooks didn’t get the word about the brown acid.

Because, see, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monicagate, torture and other war crimes, and even The New York Times helping lie this country into a war and sitting on a story about unconstitutional and criminal government wiretapping for more than a year while the guilty president who ordered it won re-election, have had nothing to do with collapse of people’s faith in institutions. Nor has the fact that the economy got blown up by the greatest white-collar crime in history while  the people responsible are still massively wealthy and the people who warned about it are continually ignored. Nor has the fact that government in general and the Republican Party in particular are hell-bent on looting this country until there is nothing left to steal.

And Jesus H. Child Molesting Vaginal Ultrasound Christ with Jimmy Swaggart Sauce and Jerry Falwell on top, what could institutional religion possibly have done to warrant such a massive loss of trust?

Without having done any polling, I’ll grant Brooks one possible point: It might actually be true that institutions aren’t performing significantly worse now than they did in 1955 (they were screwing up in 1925, too, and the result was the Great Depression). It might just be that thanks to the Intertubez, we just know more about the screwups than we used to. Certainly I don’t think the Catholic Church’s skirts were any cleaner in 1955.

But the reason followers aren’t following leaders the way they used to has nothing to do with vanity on the rabble’s part. (I and people like me don’t think we’re better than everyone else around us, but let’s face it: If Congress, the Roman Catholic Church and The New York Times op-ed page are the standard, then the bar’s really not all that high.) It’s not even explained entirely by the fact that leaders have manifestly screwed the pooch and/or sold themselves to the highest bidder, over and over again. No, what really gets our goats is that if you have enough money and/or profess to believe certain things, you can commit the most calamitous misfeasances, utterly without consequence — indeed, you can make a career out of failing upward – while those who were right are marginalized and ridiculed.  Blogger Driftglass has neatly encapsulated the phenomenon:

That last bit’s the most maddening part, and for Exhibit A, you need look no further than David Effing Brooks himself,  sitting in his comfy office at the Times Almighty and pulling meretricious and/or delusional observations out of his lower digestive tract, not only getting to keep his lucrative job but actually being celebrated as a public intellectual. He has decided that this country’s biggest problem is that you and I haven’t suffered enough. God help us.

Saturday, May 5, 2012 6:40 pm

Fire Robin Saul.

My friend Ed Cone has ragged on the News & Record in recent days because of its (lack of) coverage of Amendment One, the proposed amendment to our state constitution now before North Carolina voters that would deny legal recognition to any union except the marriage of one man and one woman. (If you’re not from around here and want to know more about the proposal, Google is your friend.)

He’s particularly annoyed that it hasn’t taken an editorial position on the issue. I’ve been annoyed, too, but only a little. First, the referendum isn’t ’til Tuesday, so I figured there was still time for the paper to take a stand. (Which stand is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion, although obviously I have a preference.) Second, I left the N&R more than three years ago, and while I miss the people, I don’t miss the job. So I don’t worry overmuch about its internal politics. Third, the place is so short of resources now that major gaps in its coverage no longer surprise me.

So I wasn’t inclined to get involved in online discussions about the N&R’s coverage. What prompts my involvement now is that apparently, in the past few days, multiple people contacted media blogger Jim Romenesko, who for years covered media for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies before going out on his own several months ago. Could Jim inquire, they asked, why the N&R hasn’t yet run an editorial on Amendment One?

So Jim did.

This is the email I sent to [publisher Robin] Saul and editorial page editor Allen Johnson III:

Good afternoon Robin and Allen,

One of my readers sent this email:

“I would be grateful if you could get publisher Robin Saul on the record regarding whether he has banned editorials on ‘moral issues,’ including but not limited to the upcoming referendum on Amendment One, which would add a ban on all civil unions besides heterosexual marriage to North Carolina’s constitution.”

I’d appreciate a response to this.

Johnson sent this reply:

Jim, thanks for your note.

Here’s an official statement:

The News & Record editorial board could not come to a consensus on the marriage amendment issue. Therefore, we’ve elected not to officially support or oppose it. We’ll leave this highly personal decision to individual voters.

Note that the statement does not address the alleged “moral issues” ban.

* * *

I have a number of problems with the response Romenesko got. To explain why, I’ll provide a short bit of background for non-newspaper folks, starting with an explanation of what a newspaper editorial board is and does.

That board is the people who, at most medium-sized and large papers, determine a paper’s editorial position on an issue. (At smaller papers, it might be just one person — editorial-page editor, executive editor, even the publisher — who does this.) Who’s on the board varies from paper to paper, but at most papers with boards, the board includes everyone who writes editorials for the paper — the unsigned opinion pieces that represent the opinions of the paper as an institution. And it also typically includes the publisher. Some publishers take part in the daily discussion, some just want to know what the rest of the board has decided before anything goes to press, and some fall somewhere in the middle. Each paper and each publisher chooses the arrangement that seems to work best for the institution’s unique circumstances.

Editorial boards, particularly large ones dealing with complex issues, commonly fail to reach a consensus. But if the issue or election is of any import, lack of consensus is just a step in the process, because from the standpoints of journalism, ethics and business, ignoring the issue is not an option. The culture of newspapers says that on big issues, you find out all you can and you render a considered, informed opinion based on the facts and what you see as your public’s best interests because that’s why Jefferson, Madison et al. put freedom of the press into the First Amendment and the First Amendment into the Constitution.

So the board haggles until it reaches consensus, or the majority wins, or in extreme cases the publisher may break a tie or even overrule the majority. All these mechanisms are accepted and considered ethical in the business as mechanisms, even when a publisher overrules his united staff. People might disagree bitterly with the publisher on a particular issue, but everyone knows that he has the right to impose his viewpoint as the official, institutional opinion of the paper. What’s not an option, what’s not OK, what’s never acceptable, is to let a major issue slide by without comment and just hope that nobody notices.

So that’s the editorial board. Now a little bit about the job of publisher. Being a newspaper publisher in a market this size is a pretty sweet gig. Even as your paper in particular and the industry in general circle the drain, you get paid very well, and among the local establishment you’re considered a player, which is a benefit if that sort of thing matters to you. If you make your numbers, then generally you can keep the job as long as you like, and as long as you don’t actually commit fraud, no one whose opinion matters to you is going to care much how you make your numbers, even if it means destroying the paper’s credibility and laying a lot of people off and ruining their lives. Sucks for your employees and your readers, but for you, life, in short, is good.

But once every few years, a candidate or an issue comes along that a newspaper simply has to take a stand on — in its news pages, its editorial pages or both — or else it is committing malpractice and undercutting an intangible but very real part of its already-dwindling financial net worth. And that’s the one time when being the publisher can get sticky. The guy who runs the bank or the insurance company or the factory has his own problems, but at least he doesn’t have to deal with this one.  The newspaper publisher does, and in most of those situations, no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people very angry, and some of those people may be quite wealthy and powerful. Most of the publishers I worked for during a quarter-century in journalism did a more than fair job of this, which is why, in general, I’ve never particularly begrudged the publishers I’ve worked for their pay and perks.

With that background perhaps you can begin to see where Robin Saul has gone wrong.

First, the decision not to publish an editorial on this proposal is cowardly. (As Ed notes in the comments on Romenesko’s piece, the story of a blanket ban on editorials on “moral issues” appears to have been just that: a story, and one intended only for internal consumption at that.) Amendment One is the most important statewide ballot initiative in my 52 years of living in this state; it could have serious and negative everyday implications for my fellow citizens and appears likely if enacted to generate a whole passel of lawsuits. As I just noted, newspaper publishers don’t get a pass on things like that.

But Robin Saul did just the opposite (and I’ll explain in a second why I single him out rather than blaming the paper as an institution). He took a pass. He chickened out. He dismissed as a “highly personal decision” what is in fact the most important public-policy issue to go before my state’s voters in more than half a century.

That’s bad enough. What’s more, by issuing the statement that the paper did, Saul is trying to deceive readers in such blatant fashion that one can’t avoid the inference that he thinks his readers are idiots. Now, here’s why I say this:

First, recall what I said above about editorial boards and their duties. Now note that the News & Record’s editorial board, according to the box on page A10 of Thursday’s print edition, consists of only three people: Robin Saul, editorial page editor Allen Johnson and editorial writer Doug Clark. Nobody else. Allen and Doug have taken individual stands in their respective signed columns. And those stands agreed. Therefore, if the editorial board “failed to reach consensus,” it was because Robin Saul disagreed with Allen and Doug and is overruling them not by making them run a pro-Amendment One editorial, which at least would be consistent with industry ethics, but by making the paper sit this one out.

That’s being a coward.

For Robin not only to obscure his role in this dynamic but also to dismiss Amendment One as a “highly personal decision” suggests that he thinks readers are stupid.

And if he had stopped there, that would have been bad enough. But he didn’t. Instead of taking a stand himself, accepting the responsibility that goes with the pay and perks, he sent Allen Johnson out to lie to Romenesko and the world for him.

That’s being a bully. Indeed, to paraphrase a federal prosecutor in the closing arguments of televangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial, it was the kind of thing only a person who is used to exploiting, manipulating and humiliating human being after human being, without ever suffering any consequences, would even have had the guts to try.

I haven’t talked to Allen about this. But he and I worked together for 22 years, disagreeing often but respectfully. Allen is smart, proud, dignified and honest, and I don’t care how bad things are at 200 East Market, he deserves better than this. What could he possibly have done to make Robin choose to humiliate him in this way?

Of course, almost no one will care. Journalists like to pretend otherwise, but the truth is that no one much cares what goes on in a newspaper office as long as the paper arrives on time, dry and accurate, and most days that’s only for the best. But this is not one of those days.

We now have incontrovertible evidence that the man running the News & Record is a liar, a coward, a menace to the human resources he is paid to steward and a man who believes his readers are idiots.

I quit mourning for the News & Record and the journalism business a long time ago; most of their wounds were self-inflicted anyway, and they started long before Robin Saul came to town. But outrage at bullying is an evergreen for me, one that transcends era, job, industry, geography, race, class, gender and all the other things that divide us. Bullying enrages me as much at age 52 as it did at age 12. And almost everything that’s wrong in this country today and that has gone wrong throughout our nation’s history essentially boils down to bullying, whether it’s slavery or driving the Cherokee to Oklahoma or robosigning mortgage documents or, for that matter, arrogating the power of a secular state government to tell gay couples they can’t have the same rights you enjoy, because the Bible says so.

And while Jesus had nothing to say on gay marriage, he was clear on bullying. He said the most important thing you can do is to love God, and that the way that you love God is by loving that part of God that is in every other human being you meet, even — especially — the people who are lower on the totem pole than you. That’s as clear a ban on bullying as you can find everyanywhere. And everything else, he said, depends on that, nothing else you do or refrain from doing matters unless you do that, and he made it that easy to understand because he knew how hard it would be for us to do, how very much against our paranoid, selfish, fearful, clannish, sinful natures it would be for us to obey those two simple laws.

And he was dead serious about it: When he came into the temple and found the banksters of his day ripping off the devout, the Prince of Peace put his sandaled foot up their asses.

I have no idea what religious beliefs, if any, Robin Saul holds. But if he thinks of himself as a Christian, he had better pray that Jesus doesn’t come back tomorrow. Otherwise, the fact that he ought to be fired will be the least of his problems.

Thursday, October 21, 2010 8:52 pm

The problem with newspapers

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: ,

Athenae, another former scribe, FTW:

For what it’s worth, I think most reporters do genuinely think of what they do as public service. I know I did. I was and am proud that for a decade I never had to wonder if what I was doing made a difference in the world. I knew it for sure. It’s the place from which all my rage at the current state of newspapers comes, because people who do feel that way are being lied to and stolen from and treated like dirt, but not by bloggers. By their bosses. By their ownership. By a system that declares that their service should be directed to where a profit can be made instead of a difference, and then demands that they hold to a standard of high-mindedness the higher-ups never apply to themselves.

UPDATE: The New York Times’ David Carr has a scalp hanging from his belt tonight. Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels is gone.

On the one hand, payback’s a bitch, innit, Randy?

On the other, Michaels was only a symptom. The issue is that the newspaper business, facing change that would have challenged the brightest, bravest and most principled leaders, got leader who instead were craven, greedy and, by and large, dumber than a box of rocks. Sam Zell is still in charge at Tribune Co., so while Michaels may be gone, the business model — which was never anything more than cover for Zell and a few others to steal Tribune Co. employees’ retirement savings — remains the same.

The newspaper bidness jettisoned a lot of dead weight over the last decade, but it also jettisoned a lot of bright, talented, dedicated people who loved the business, loved their country and loved what they did. A lot of those people were my friends. And friend or stranger, good or bad, a lot of them took hard financial hits even before they finally were shown the door.

And that doesn’t even begin to get at the damage done to the people the business supposedly served, the readers and advertisers. They’ve all been screwed, too, although most are only dimly aware, if at all.

I’d thought about doing my own video someday, with this as a soundtrack — my own little commentary on what the bastards have done and the people they did it to. I don’t have the time or energy now, but this song popped up randomly on the Droid earlier this evening and, combined with the Michaels firing, I just thought it was appropriate.

Good night. And good luck.

 

 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 9:42 pm

But the Internet killed newspapers! Really!, or, This, says the former frat boy, is why you don’t want frat boys running things

“Bankrupt culture.” Heh.:

In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded. …

It was a preview of what would become a rugged ride under the new ownership. Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels, who was promoted to chief executive of the Tribune Company in December 2009, arrived with much fanfare, suggesting they were going to breathe innovation and reinvention into the conservative company.

By all accounts, the reinvention did not go well. At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse. Less than a year after Mr. Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed.

The new management did transform the work culture, however. Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.

The company said Mr. Michaels had the support of the board.

Let me ask you a mostly rhetorical question: Can you imagine just how poisonous the workplace banter must have been, how profane the invective must have been, to “shock and offend” people who had spent their careers  in a motherfreakin’ newsroom? Because I’m a pretty imaginative guy — just ask some of the people I’ve cussed out in my life — and I’ve got nothin’.

Media companies are in the business of aggregating eyeballs and delivering various demographically sliced ‘n’ diced segments of those eyeballs to advertisers. We have, in Sam Zell, and the “friends and family” he brought in to run one of the country’s great media companies, a guy who was a massive, flaming failure in both the aggregating part of the business (the so-called content end of the business) and the delivering of those demographically sliced ‘n’ diced segments of aggregation to advertisers (the so-called business end of the business) … if, that is, you define business success as it traditionally has been defined — quality product/service, decent income for employees, decent return for investors.

But I suspect that Zell defined it somewhat differently and that the outcome was pre-ordained. I know of no one, and I include Zell himself in that generalization, who seriously expected this deal to ever attain profitability. Consider:

Mr. Zell’s first innovation was the deal itself. He used debt in combination with an employee stock ownership plan, called an ESOP, to buy the company, while contributing only $315 million of his own money. Under the plan, the company’s discretionary matching contributions to the 401(k) retirement plan for nonunionized Tribune employees were diverted into an ownership stake. The structure of the deal allowed the Tribune to become an S corporation, which pays no federal taxes, making taxpayers essentially silent partners in the deal.

The $8 billion in new loans used to finance the deal left the company with $13.8 billion in debt. But Mr. Zell was convinced that by quickly selling the Chicago Cubs and other assets while improving operating margins, the company could emerge as a valuable property. It was typical Zell: a risky approach to gain control over a large, distressed asset while minimizing his own exposure, something he acknowledged in a company newsletter:

“I’ve said repeatedly that no matter what happens in this transaction, my lifestyle won’t change,” he wrote to his combination employees/shareholders. “Yours, on the other hand, could change dramatically if we get this right.”

Yup. You thought you’d be living your retirement in modest comfort. Instead? Penury.

This deal wasn’t structured to make money for investors. This deal was structured to screw as many non-Zell stockholders, bondholders, employees and other investors as possible. Little personal exposure? Check? Borrow out the wazoo? Check. Jeopardize employees’ retirement savings while bullshitting them to their faces? Check. Screw the taxpayers in the process? Check. The bugs weren’t bugs, they were features. This was a classic RICO enterprise:

More than the Tribune’s creditors took a haircut: the shares that about 10,000 nonunion employees received in the ESOP deal are now worthless as a result of the bankruptcy, although at the beginning of this year, the company replaced the ESOP plan with a cash incentive contribution. But if and when the Tribune exits bankruptcy, the value of the company will be worth substantially less than when Mr. Zell bought a controlling interest. Under a proposed settlement filed recently with the court, senior lenders, including the Angelo Gordon hedge fund and Oaktree Capital Management, would receive $5.5 billion, while other lenders with less priority would receive far less. The case is in mediation.

“How can anybody say that they have done a good job?” said Henry Weinstein, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who filed a lawsuit, still pending, that contends that the use of employee pensions to finance the deal was illegal.

“Anybody can make money when you are not servicing the debt and cutting people. Zell and the people he brought in had no idea what they were doing.”

And Mr. Zell? On Aug. 13, his lawyers suggested that if other junior creditors were paid, he should get his money back as well.

Of course he should.

Despite the company’s problems, the managers have been rewarded handsomely. From May 2009 to February 2010, a total of $57.3 million in bonuses were paid to the current management with the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy. In 2009, the top 10 managers received $5.9 million at a time when cash flow was plummeting. …

Other proposed bonuses on the table for 2010 could bring the figure for management pay enhancements to more than $100 million, and those bonuses are heavily weighted to top management.

Why milk the company so badly (I mean, other than the obvious reason, “Because I can!”?) Because Zell didn’t just want to make money, he wanted to make money by personally screwing a bunch of people he obviously held in contempt out of their retirement savings. For him, that was icing on the cake.

And how do we know that he held them in contempt? Consider this:

Mr. Michaels remade Tribune’s management, installing in major positions more than 20 former associates from the radio business — people he knew from his time running Jacor and Clear Channel — a practice that came to be known as “friends and family” at the company.

One of their first priorities was rewriting the employee handbook.

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

Shorter handbook: We’re going to act like total flaming jackasses, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Some perspective here: I spent some time in the music bidness and some time in the radio bidness. The music bidness is notoriously sexist and always has been (cf. Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville”); what’s more, it also has been an excuse for people to act like overentitled jackasses because that’s rock ‘n’ roll/punk rock/gangsta, or something. Now, your average radio executive will never be mistaken for Prince or Jay-Z in either looks or talent, but execs at chains the size of Jacor and Clear Channel make enough money to overcome an awful lot of ugly, such that the average 21-year-old pneumatically torsoed airhead can’t tell the difference and will service him in his convertible while he’s hauling ass down the 101.

Only here’s the problem: Employment law applies even to rock ‘n’ roll. And if I worked for Tribune HR and read that handbook, I’d be getting the company lawyers on the phone or getting my butt out of Dodge. Because while the executives wouldn’t care if this stuff got made public — in certain circles, it would even enhance their cred — anyone else I might ever work for in the HR field would consider me an abject failure.

Oh, but they’re not done yet:

According to the company’s monthly statements, cash flow is on the rise and the company has $1.6 billion in cash on hand, about half of it from the sale of the Cubs, which Mr. Zell eventually managed to sell. “We are just getting started,” he said in the announcement.

And management still is confident that the new thinking has Tribune on the right track. The company recently announced the creation of a new local news format in which there would be no on-air anchors and few live reports. The newscasts will rely on narration over a stream of clips, a Web-centric approach that has the added benefit of requiring fewer bodies to produce.

“The TV revolution is upon us — and the new Tribune Company is leading the resistance,” the announcement read. And judging from the job posting for “anti-establishment producer/editors,” the company has some very strong ideas about who those revolutionaries should be: “Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass.”

As with Howard Kurtz moving from The Washington Post to the Daily Beast, we’re supposed to believe that people who, in decades of work, have yet to produce so much as a fragment of a single anti-establishment, revolutionary, creative idea are now going to be the revolutionaries. It could happen. Stranger things have. But I have done enough hiring to know that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. And past performance shows that as both content producers and business people — indeed, as fiduciaries of any type whatsoever — Sam Zell and his frat-boy buddies make excellent Visigoths.

So if you’re wondering about the causes of the fall of American journalism, stop.

It didn’t fall. It was pushed.

UPDATE: I’ve read a number of pieces responding to this article and have a couple of additional thoughts.

  1. Although Tribune Co. owns what were once some very good papers, the Tribune itself was never all that good. Not a huge detail for the purposes of this post, but if you’re in the business, it matters.
  2. American’s ability to be fascinated by shiny objects has them primarily talking about the boobies ‘n’ cigars ‘n’ bad language. And, honestly, I’m sure Sam Zell is perfectly happy to have bloggers and “real” journalists and everybody else talking about the boobies and cigars and bad language. Why? Because if they’re talking about the boobies and cigars and bad language, then they’re not talking about the fraud or the breaches of fiduciary responsibility or the RICO Act violations.

UPDATE: The next time some half-wit tells you government should be run more like a business, ask if Tribune Co. is the business he means.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 8:57 pm

Why people want to see free markets dangling by the neck from the nearest lamppost

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:57 pm
Tags: , , ,

This:

Tribune Co. proposed paying its top 43 executives a severance package of cash and benefits if they are asked by a new board to leave the company after the Chicago-based media conglomerate emerges from bankruptcy.

The company didn’t put a price tag on the package, but said it amounts to 2.5 times salary and bonus for Chief Executive Randy Michaels, and 2.25 times salary and bonus for Chief Operating Officer Gerry Spector. Both would be entitled to 24 months of the company’s group health benefits.

Nine other top executives, including Tony Hunter, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and Eddy Hartenstein, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, would get 1.75 times salary and bonus plus 24 months of benefits. A list of 32 others would get 1.5 times salary and 18 months of benefits.

This is particularly outrageous to me because I devoted 25 years of my life to newspapers and because I can quantify some of the opportunity costs the community incurs when this kind of thing happens in the newspaper business. For example, the amount of money we’re talking about here will run into the tens of millions. I suspect that’d be enough to buy the Greensboro News & Record and still have plenty left over for some reasonably high living. Or, looked at another way, that money could keep a fairly good-sized newspaper fully staffed for years without any other source of revenue.

But this episode is in other ways no different from what happens every year at many, many other large corporations in all kinds of industries in this country. Stockholders’ money is wasted, jobs — and, in many cases, workers’ lives — are destroyed, the rich get richer, and God forbid you suggest any kind of government help for people who have the unmitigated gall to remain unemployed in an economy in which there are four workers for every job of any kind. ‘Cause that’s socialism, and by God, that’s un-American.

Well, considering what passes for “American” in the U.S. economic and legal system, I’m starting to wonder whether an invasion wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Monday, June 14, 2010 10:58 pm

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere

I followed a link to a Miami Herald story, posted Saturday morning, about a piece of the Deepwater Horizon rig that washed up on a Florida beach. And I was struck by the fact that 60 or so hours after the piece was posted, there were still no comments on it. “Geez,” I thought, “have we finally run out of outrage?”

Then I tried to comment, and the Herald made me try to register in its new commenting system.

And now I know why there are no comments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 9:30 pm

Money doesn’t quite change everything

Journalist Matt Steinglass makes the case that the often-crappy coverage provided by mainstream American news media is purely a matter of market economics:

I understand Brad DeLong’s frustrations with journalists failing to get complicated stories about economics and economic policy right. I don’t know anything about the specific cases in which he feels some reporters at the Washington Post weren’t trying to get it right. But as a broad response, I would have to say: for most of us, the level of detailed and scrupulous reportage which he expects on every story entails an amount of work that almost no journalistic institution in the world will pay us enough to do, anymore.

This isn’t really a complaint; it’s more of an observation. The quality of reportage, both financial and otherwise, is going to keep going down. And it’s going to keep going down because there isn’t a market for quality reportage. It doesn’t pay any more to interview 10 sources for an article than it does to interview 5 of them. And it doesn’t pay any more to come up with an interesting or accurate way to tell a complex story than it does to resort to a well-worn format such as “there’s a heated debate over”, present one side, present the other side, come back to somebody saying there’s a heated debate, ends.

It’s not so much that the answer to the question “why oh why can’t we have a better press corps” is “because no one will pay for one.” I’d say that the question should be “why oh why can’t we have better reporting”, and the answer is “because no one will pay for it”.

OK, I’ll admit it’s been 16 months since I’ve darkened the door of a newsroom. But I did spend a quarter-century in one before that, and I not only experienced a lot of what has happened to American journalism, I accurately predicted a good bit of it. And, yes, market forces did a lot of damage.

But they by no means did it all. In fact, I would argue, they didn’t even do the majority of it.

The worst damage was caused by the business side’s failure to drive the transition from primarily print to primarily online. Relatedly, the business side failed to develop a business model capable of supporting quality journalism — because it never really tried. Intead, it continued to act, for far too long, as if the 20-, 30-, even 40-percent pretax profit margins to which the industry grew accustomed during a period that, even at the time, was obviously a historical blip could be sustained forever. Not so much, it turns out.

But we’re not getting crappy coverage because of market forces alone.

Lack of money is not what makes the Washington Post op-ed page suck so relentlessly. Lack of money is not what makes reporters adhere to narratives that either are well past their sell-by dates or were never true in the first place. Low pay is not what makes reporters write stories, and editors let them into the paper, that don’t explain 1) what the news is and 2) why I should care. Low pay is not what causes reporters to make unsupported factual assertions. I see all of that and more in the Post, the Times and many other major-league news outlets all the freakin’ time, and you cannot convince me that money is the only problem. The problem also is that people either don’t know how to do the job, don’t care about doing it well or are, philosophically or literally, on the take.

David Broder didn’t always suck as badly as he does now. But somewhere along the way, he stopped reporting and the people who edit him stopped caring; had either of those things not happened, the fact that the world has changed while his world view hasn’t would be irrelevant. Whether that was a deliberate choice on his part and his editors’ part or not, the financial travails of The Washington Post and its (still quite profitable) parent company had nothing to do with it.

Monday, May 10, 2010 8:12 pm

I did not realize The Onion is now doing help-wanted ads

Filed under: Fun,Journalism,Sad — Lex @ 8:12 pm
Tags:

BHUTAN OBSERVER VACANCY
reporters needed for immediate recruitment. Indi-
viduals wishing to pursue a long-term career in the
print media
may apply to the editor. Call 17624833,
write to editor for details.

(h/t: Lisa Napoli)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 9:40 pm

Don’tcha love it when a plan comes together?

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:40 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The former Chapel Hill HQ of Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper is going to become a distillery:

Scott Maitland, owner of Chapel Hill’s Top of the Hill restaurant and brewery, paid $2.15 million for the 0.8-acre site, which includes about 10,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of warehouse space.

Maitland will lease the office space, including 5,000 square feet to The N&O for its western Triangle news and advertising staff. The remaining space will be set aside to brew vodka and gin under Maitland’s Top Spirits company.

“Believe it or not, printing a newspaper and running a distillery are considered the same class of activity, and so the building is zoned correctly,” he said.

Well, I always thought so.

I had heard the N&R was thinking about selling some of its property. I think they ought to either go into the libations bidness or enter into some sort of partnership with (nearby) Nattie Greene’s or (not so close by but still very good) Red Oak. That kind of efficiency would certainly help the remaining news/editorial employees.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 8:36 pm

Odds and ends for 1/19

He got that nickname the old-fashioned way: Blogger Ben Shapiro betrays such staggering ignorance of how the world and people work that he was long ago dubbed “The Virgin Ben.” He has branched out into writing about cinema for know-nothing blogger blowhard Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site, and his virgin effort there suggests that he has never so much as held hands in a movie theater, either. (Tintin has better snark on this subject than I do.)

Dead. Bank. Walking: Citi lost $7.6B in 4Q2009. It should have been nationalized a year ago.

Why does Lisa Murkowski hate clean air and her own constituents’ villages?: On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on a measure sponsored by Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who is the leading beneficiary of utility-industry political contributions, to gut the Clean Air Act. Murkowski’s bill was written by two staffers she hired away from lobbying positions with the utility industry.

You know all those YouTube clips from the movie “Downfall” that have Hitler raging about everything from subprime mortgages to “The Tonight Show”?: The director of “Downfall” loves ‘em. It makes me happy to know that.

So far the good guys are winning: Blogger Marcy Wheeler, herself a lawyer, says the plaintiffs’ attorneys in Perez v. Schwarzenegger are outlawyerin’ the attorneys for the defendants (i.e., gay-marriage opponents). She also says science is winning, which is even better news.

More from Marcy: “Call me crazy, but …”: The FBI, between 2002 and 2006, illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone-call records. “Call me crazy,” Marcy says, “but since we know the FBI and NSA were illegally wiretapping organizations like al-Haramain in 2004, you have to wonder whether this was an attempt to clean up poison fruit from earlier, even more illegal surveillance.” OK, Crazy Lady, yes, we do have to wonder this. But only ’til the forthcoming Inspector General report proves it, I suspect. UPDATE: IG report here (306pp .pdf); as of early 1/21, I haven’t read it.

Some of the best and worst of local-TV journalism, all in one clip. (h/t Neill McNeill on FB) Contrast with this, on an arguably far more serious subject.

Racism is dead. OK, maybe not. (Warning: If you read the comments under that column, your brain cells that die will not be replaced.)

Public service: Alan Wolfe reads Game Change so you don’t have to. Bonus: He concludes that the DFHs are right.

Public screwing: The Charlotte Observer lays off more people. Memo to newspapers: You can’t cut your way out of this crisis. Memo to commenters: It ain’t the bias, it’s the advertising, and, oh, by the way, I’d really like a 7.0 earthquake to take out your house tonight while leaving your neighbors’ untouched, you self-righteous jackasses.

Shorter James Kunstler: Reality will not ignore YOU (Where have I heard that before?): “… reality doesn’t care what anybody believes, or what story they put out.  Reality doesn’t ‘spin.’ Reality does not have a self-image problem.  Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don’t like reality very much because it won’t let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do?”

RIP: Carl Smith and Kate McGarrigle.

Have they found a real, live (dead) chupacabra?: Nah. But it sure looked like one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 7:16 pm

Odds and ends for 1/13

Espwa: Our church supports an orphanage in Haiti, Espwa (which means “hope”). The orphanage has a blog. The residents and staff, through (literally) shaken by the earthquake, escaped injury, although several lost loved ones elsewhere in the country. Moreover, the orphanage gets all its food and supplies overland from Port-au-Prince, and it’s not clear right now whether the roads are passable, let alone what shape the city’s shipping infrastructure is in. You can contribute online here.

Goldman Sachs CEO admits under oath to fraud, walks free anyway. No, that’s pretty much what happened. (UPDATE: But Jack Welch calls this “uneventful,” which tells you all you need to know about Jack Welch.)

Jackasses: The SEC, which ought to be clearing up the mysteries around AIG’s use of taxpayer money, instead is trying to bury them. And make no mistake: This would not be happening without the knowledge and approval of Barack Obama. Memo to the Democrats: One real good way to lose Congress is to let hosers like Rep. Darrell Issa play the good guy.

Steepening curve … and not in a a good way: A month ago, the Mortgage Brokers Association was predicting that its members would originate 24% less in mortgages in 2010 than 2009. Now, they’re saying that figure will drop 40%, from $2.11 trillion in 2009 to $1.28 trillion in 2010. That’s the lowest level since $1.14 trillion in 2000.

A clawback, but not for the taxpayers: A large pension fund has sued Goldman Sachs over its bonus policy, asking that money that would be going to Goldman employees go instead to it. Where that budgeted $22 billion in bonus money really needs to be going is the taxpayers, inasmuch as fully two-thirds of Goldman’s 2009 revenues were more or less directly attributable to taxpayers. But I suppose the retirement savings of cops and firefighters is a more productive place for it than Goldman execs’ pockets. And that is where the money (much of it, at least) will go, because Goldman will settle this toot de suite. It does not want its folks answering questions under oath.

A nation of pants-wetters, or, that high-pitched whine you hear is Ben Franklin (“He who would give up liberty for safety deserves neither … and shall have it”) spinning in his grave fast enough to light up Pittsburgh: A majority of Americans want to give up civil liberties to make themselves safer. Cheese and crackers, people, what are all the GUNS for … to HIDE BEHIND? MAN. UP. Or else the terrorists really do win.

Memo to aides to Massachusetts Dem Senate candidate Martha Coakley: I realize that losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to a guy who posed nude for Cosmo might make one’s candidate a bit, um, testy, but still, don’t shove reporters. Or move to China if you want to do that stuff.

Jan. 23 is National Pie Day. I think I may head over to K&W and have some of the chocolate-creme to celebrate.

From Facebook’s Overheard in the Newsroom: Design Editor: “I want the font that makes people addicted to reading newspapers again.” Commenter Bruce Reuben: “The font would have to be made of crack.” Lex: “The font that looks like kick-ass, take-names accountability journalism. Yeah. That. Also.”

Harold Ford: Strikingly un-self-aware. I’m not a huge fan of Sen. Kristen Gillebrand, but having lived in NY I think she’s far more in tune with people than Ford is. As someone else put it, there’s a reason Alabama doesn’t send gun-confiscating atheists to the Senate.

Nobody does human like Tolstoy, as Ishinoy reminds us.

Tucker Carlson won’t tell you, so I (and Crooks & Liars) will: His new site, The Daily Caller, will have a whole section devoted to “environmental scepticism” [sic]. His primary funder — $3M in the first year alone — is a huge global-warming denier.

Now it’s up to Harry Reid … and Barack Obama: Arlen Specter says he’ll back Dawn Johnsen to head Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. So that’s 60 votes. Let the flushing of the Aegean stables begin.

Somali pirates have scared off shipping … including the illegal trawlers that had depleted fisheries, so that legit fisherpeople are having a great year. Hey, you take your good news where you can find it.

Shorter WSJ: Watching TV will kill you dead. (I was never allowed to summarize medical research like this when I was a professional medical writer. I must say, this is fun.)

Bitters shortage: Does anyone who is not either a watcher of or a character on the AMC series “Mad Men” even drink Manhattans? And if so, why?

It’s over: Dan Rather’s lawsuit against CBS has been tossed, probably for good. In effect, the state court system’s Appeals Division identified problems in his case, then refused to allow any depositions or discovery, which could have, as the lawyers say, cured those deficiencies. Oh, well. Sucks to be him. That said, regardless of Rather’s error in relying on documents whose provenance he couldn’t/didn’t verify, other evidence indicates quite clearly that Bush was, in fact, AWOL.

What I’ve learned from reading about “Game Over” (besides the fact that I don’t want to read the whole book): You can make a lot of money publishing anonymous, 2-year-old gossip. And in real life, people who are dying of cancer and whose spouses are cheating on them don’t always behave as nicely as their Movie of the Week counterparts. OK, I already knew that last one.

I think this comment from liveblogger Teddy Partridge tells you all you need to know about the competence of counsel for the bigots defense in the California gay-marriage trial: “Sorry, this lawyer is asking really long questions and requiring YES or NO answers which makes liveblogging almost impossible”

Busted: The American insurance industry, while publicly claiming it favored health-care reform, was giving money to the Chamber of Commerce to produce and air anti-reform TV commercials. I am shocked, shocked, etc. Someone explain to me again why it’s a good idea to point a gun to American taxpayers’ heads and make them give these companies money. Someone else explain to me why the Chamber and the insurance trade group should get to keep their tax exemptions, kthxbai.

Speaking of health care, there’s this notion floating around that taxing health benefits will lead employers to give more to employees in the form of wages. However, this notion is not true.

Quote of the day, from Sen. Harry Reid: “I have no regret over calling [former Fed chairman Alan] Greenspan a political hack. Because he was. The things you heard me say about George Bush? You never heard me apologize about any of them. Because he was. What was I supposed to say? I called him a liar twice. Because he lied to me twice.” Cue Republican efforts to frame this comment as a “gaffe” in 3 … 2 …

This thing where Giuliani said there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. under Bush? That was no one-time bit of misspeaking. That was an emerging Republican meme. Guys, Goebbels was a cautionary tale, not an exemplar.

Some judges just need impeachin‘, starting with Warren Wilbert, the Kansas judge in the murder trial of Scott Roeder, who assassinated* abortion doctor George Tiller. Wilbert will let Roeder argue that his killing of Tiller actually was voluntary manslaughter because, in some parallel universe, Roeder wordlessly put the barrel of a .22 to Tiller’s head and pulled the trigger because Tiller was doing something besides providing a legal and needed medical service. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear Wilbert just declared open season on abortion providers.

*He has signed a statement admitting to the shooting.

How Lucky could save the planet!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:34 pm

Chart of the Day

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 11:34 pm
Tags:

The End of Newspapers:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/15

A way to balance the budget?: For the second straight month, the U.S. Treasury auctioned 1-month T-bills at 0.0% interest. The national budget gets significantly smaller if you whack out interest on the national debt, y’know.

All I want for Christmas is a repeal of Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

BOHICA: As part of “paying off” its multi-billion-dollar loan from the taxpayers, technically insolvent bank holding company Citigroup gets to keep $38 billion in tax credits that regulations normally would require it to give up. That figure will easily overshadow any profit the taxpayers may get from selling Citigroup shares. Merry. Freaking. Christmas.

But maybe Christmas is coming early; or, Who are you and what have you done with Sen. Jim Bunning?: Remember those 15 questions that the Cunning Realist suggested should be asked of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke during his reconfirmation hearings? Unbelievably, a senator asked them. Even more unbelievably, the senator in question was Jim Bunning, heretofore a leading candidate for the title of Biggest Waste of Carbon in the U.S. Capitol.

You may now kiss the D.C. City Council: The District of Columbia has legalized gay marriage. Congress, per the Constitution, gets 30 legislative days to review the law once D.C.’s mayor has signed it, but the Democratic leadership will keep that puppy bottled up until the deadline has safely passed.

No room to talk: Panthers defensive backs Chris Harris and Chris Gamble need to STFU about Patriots WR Randy Moss. While they are having good years, and they did shut Moss down on Sunday, they apparently chose to ignore Wes Welker’s presence on the field. And what really matters is that yet again, the Panthers have failed to achieve consecutive winning seasons, while the Pats almost certainly are going to the playoffs.

Wardrobe police: Is Roy Williams gonna have me thrown out of North Carolina for wearing a Panthers jersey in Chapel Hill?

Shorter Janet Tavakoli: Except for Paul Volcker, the bankers don’t get it.

Brother can you spare your Visa card?: The Miami Herald, which recently laid off 199 people, is now attaching to each article a link through which people can contribute money online … to the paper, not the laid-off employees. The last time I can remember anything like this happening was when I was a kid and Ted Turner went on the air in Charlotte to ask people to send him money to keep Channel 36 on the air. (Yes, that’s Turner Broadcasting’s Ted Turner, and, yes, he repaid it.)

CBS Sports: “If any of our announcers talk about Tiger Woods, we’ll shoot this dog fire them.”

Best banking idea I’ve heard in a while: If Barney Frank has his way, only retail banks will be able to borrow from the discount window. At worst, this gets some banksters off the federal teat. It may even significantly ease the current credit crunch.

Quote of the day: “You’re either part of the solution or you’re a tool of ACORN.” — Conservative Brown, Boy Detective, by Tom Tomorrow.

Smarter Washington Post, please: The Post publishes a bunch of contextually challenged nonsense regarding the national debt. Economist Dean Baker rips them a new one. Yes, the national debt is too high and rising, but the bigger and more urgent problem is joblessness. The Post wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare but just doesn’t have the stones to say so.

Smarter Washington Post, please, cont.: Charles Lane criticizes colleague Ezra Klein’s criticism of Joe Lieberman … while also conceding that Klein’s factual claim is correct. Idiot. All you need to know about Lane is that he was Stephen Glass‘s editor. All you need to know about Klein is that Joe Lieberman finds him bothersome. (But here’s useful background on the contretemps.) Also, I posted the one-word comment “FAIL” on Lane’s blog post earlier; as of 10:30 p.m., it had been deleted, which fact I shortly thereafter commented upon. We’ll see if the 2nd comment stays up.

Smarter judges, please: U.S. District Judge William Duffey tells two Muslim defendants at a sentencing, “I’ll say this, our Gods are very different.” Uh, no, infidel; Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

If you like what Joe Lieberman is doing to health-care reform, wait’ll you see what he has planned for Social Security and Medicare.

Terminated; or, Cue the Limbaugh smears in 3 … 2… 1 …: Arnold Schwarzenegger throws Sarah Palin under the (hybrid?) bus.

Jerome “Swiftboat” Corsi asks,”Could it be that President Obama intends to bankrupt the USA in order to destroy free-enterprise capitalism itself?” Sounds like fun! Let’s play! Could it be that Jerome Corsi is a paranoid psychotic? Could it be that Jerome Corsi wouldn’t recognize the destruction of free-enterprise capitalism THAT’S NOW GOING ON, LED BY INVESTMENT BANKS, if it bit him in the ass? Could it be that Jerome Corsi has a financial motivation to misrepresent what the president is trying to do? Hey, this is fun! I could do this all day!

Paying for your wars: The Greatest Generation, so revered by conservatives, had no problem with this concept; indeed, they inculcated it in their children. So why do today’s Congressional leaders have such a problem?

Why is private health insurance such a bad idea? Let me the Main Street Alliance draw you a picture:

Back from the dead and ready to incriminate?: Some 22 million White House e-mails from the first Bush 43 administration have been “found,” four years and change after they “went missing.” In a perfect world, Karl Rove will be going to prison as a result for having 1) outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame and 2) obstructed a criminal investigation into the outing thereof. In the world we live in, we’ll probably find out that the missing $12 trillion in U.S. wealth, much of it sucked out of the home values and retirement savings of the middle class, is now in some Nigerian barrister’s bank account.

Math: About fifteen times as many people die in the U.S. every year as a result of lack of health insurance as died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

No methaqualone for you, says the Methaqualone Nazi!: The new Republican Party-sponsored Web-link shortener, GOP.am, includes this in its terms of use: “If you use it for spamming, illegal purposes or to promote lude content, your GOP.AM URL will be disabled.” Earlier, bloggers and commenters for Balloon Juice were using the site to provide links to bondage sites. Hee.

Monday, December 7, 2009 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 12/7

It’s not a game, but somebody forgot to tell the Labor Department:

The real Climategate. ‘Nuff said.

Remembering Mark Pittman: This guy was the real deal.

And if we follow this line of logic to its painfully obvious conclusion, we learn …: Warren Buffett thinks federally subsidizing a competitor of his Business Wire would be bad. How long before he concludes the same thing about subsidizing another of his key investments, Goldman Sachs?

Fire ‘em. And lock ‘em up: Someone at the FDIC is passing inside information. Mary Schapiro needs to be fired, beaten and driven across the landscape like a mangy bison.

Clarity: This is bizarre, in a good way — Zero Hedge and Google have formed a partnership to, among other things, translate government financial info into plain English.

Your flawed premise. Let me show you it: Two (out of the more than 6,000) members of the Academy of Motion Picture Whozawhatsis call for Al Gore’s Oscar to be rescinded in light of the hacked e-mails about global warming. Which would be fine except that Al Gore never got an Oscar. The Oscar went to the director of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Who was not Al Gore.

Opaque is the new transparent: A government meeting on open records and transparency is closed to the media and public. Write your own punchline.

Bummer: Obama rules out drugs, hookers as economic stimuli. Dang.

Someone remind me again who the terrorists are?: AIG execs threaten to walk out en masse if they don’t get their bonuses. Door. Ass. Quoth Digby: “This could be Obama’s equivalent of Reagan and the air traffic controllers if he wants it to be.” Precisely.

Well, yeah, if, by “narrow, ideological interest group” you mean “three-fourths of voters”: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., says only a few politically motivated people want a public option for health insurance.

How did I miss this?: Slate had a “Write Like Sarah Palin” contest. On the down side, to be competitive I’d’ve had to drink at least a case in one sitting.

Silenced: Former Guantanamo prosecutor Morris Davis, who once resigned rather than run what he thought was a rigged system of justice at Guantanamo, has been fired from the Library of Congress for continuing to criticize the military-commission system publicly and calling former AG Mike Mukasey out for the pants-wetting anti-American baby he is. The ACLU has taken Davis’s case. Good.

Blessings: Former Fox “News” host Eric Burns counts his: “I have several. Among them is that I do not have to face the ethical problem of sharing an employer with Glenn Beck.”

Quote of the day: From Balloon Juice’s John Cole, on “bipartisan” health-care reform: “You know, as much as our national political chattering classes are enamored with the baby Jesus, I find it amazing that none of them ever managed to hear the story of King Solomon. … every Senator apparently [is] eager to rush home to show off their half of the bloody baby.”

Quote of the day runner-up: From Doc at First Draft, on the Dallas Morning News’ plan to have its news editors reporting to advertising execs: “You can say that there’s a line that’s drawn and that we don’t cross it. That’s all fine and good, but when you keep moving the line the way the DMN has now, you are never sure if you’ll cross the line or the line will cross you.”

Uh, dude?: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., nominated his girlfriend to be a U.S. attorney. That’s not good, but as Marcy points out, Baucus is responsible for an even bigger screwing than that.

So, Bowl Championship Series, how’s that Jenna Jameson-led abstinence campaign going?: Former Bush White House spokesliar Ari Fleischer compares the current college-football bowl system, now despised by a miniscule 85% of Americans, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as an irreplaceable tradition.

Inevitable headline: Doh!: Cartoon character C. Montgomery Burns outpolls Rudy Giuliani in NYC mayoral race.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:21 pm

Odds and ends for 11/24

  • Memo to college football’s Bowl Championship Series: Hiring Ari Fleischer to improve your image is like hiring Jenna Jameson to be the spokesbabe for abstinence.
  • Just a few questions for the global-warming deniers who claim the recent hacked scientist e-mails prove global warming is a hoax: “Which studies were compromised, how? Be specific. Cite papers and data sets. What is the evidence? Where is it? What work is affected? How? Show me the evidence that says so. This supposed scandal involves perhaps a half dozen people; how does it affect the work of the 3,000+ others whose work makes up climate science? How does it affect the work that was done before the alleged culprits graduated from university? The work from before they were born? Of the 30,000(ish) studies that make up climate science, which ones are undone? Where is the evidence? Be specific … show us exactly how and why?”
  • BONUS: Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’
  • And relatedly: “The number of Americans who believe global warming is occurring has declined to its lowest since 1997, though at 72 percent, it’s still a broad majority. The drop has steepened in the last year-and-a-half — almost exclusively among conservatives and Republicans.” And this Republican invites you deniers to just go right on fooling yourselves.
  • Did I see that right in the paper this morning — that Detroit’s 80,000-or-so-seat Silverdome was sold for $583,000? Yup. I saw that right. Wow. There are more expensive houses within two miles of mine. The thing cost $55.7 million ($222.7 million in 2008 dollars) to build back in the 1970s. I don’t think Detroit real estate can go much lower.
  • Robert Reich, in a nutshell, on what’s wrong with health-care reform without a real public option: “Our private, for-profit health insurance system, designed to fatten the profits of private health insurers and Big Pharma, is about to be turned over to … our private, for-profit health care system. Except that now private health insurers and Big Pharma will be getting some 30 million additional customers, paid for by the rest of us.”
  • Your stupid: Let me show you it: A Democratic Senate aide suggests that people who favor a public option are being “stupid” by criticizing Democratic senators who don’t. With support for a public option at 72%, BuggyQ at First Draft explains who’s really being stupid.
  • Your stupid: Let me show you it, The Sequel: Ezra Klein points out a basic flaw in the argument that the health-care reform bill will increase the deficit so we shouldn’t pass it: “I’m confused by the budget hawks who that take the line: ‘This bill needs to cut the deficit, and I don’t believe Democrats will cut the deficit, but since the actual provisions of the bill unambiguously cut the deficit, then I guess Congress won’t stick to it.’ People who want to cut the deficit should support this bill, and support its implementation. The alternative is no bill that cuts the deficit, and thus no hope of cutting the deficit.(Emphasis added for the C students out there.)
  • Asked and answered; or, Your stupid: Let me show you it, Reloaded: Michele Bachmann, the batsh*t insane congresscritter from Minnesota, asked the other day why Democrats didn’t support her. Because she seemed genuinely puzzled, the kids at TPM put together a photo essay.
  • Strange: I don’t know what’s stranger — that Lincoln, Nebraska, is the second-strangest city in the country or that Nawlins didn’t even make the top 75. (Raleigh was #34, not all that far behind LA at #28; Florida was the strangest state, which will surprise no one who has ever read Carl Hiaasen; and N.C. came in 48th out of the 50 states plus D.C.)
  • Stranger: If Santa got drunk and started Twittering, the results might look like this.
  • I’ve got your newspaper war right here. (Photo NSFW) As my friend Jon Lowder, who tipped me to this, said, “Somehow I don’t see this kind of action breaking out in the heated battle between the N&R and the W-S Journal, but we can dream.”

In fact, I think that’s what I’m going to go do right now. I may or may not blog again anytime soon this weekend, so if I don’t, Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009 8:41 pm

Roundup

Quick comments on some stuff bubbling up:

  • Apparently the president is “open” to the idea of some sort of tax break for newspapers that convert to nonprofits. Very bad idea — the government help, that is, not necessarily that type of conversion. For one thing, we can’t afford it. For another, it would be subsidizing an industry that has steadfastly refused to change its business model to adapt to changing market conditions. (Econ 101 was a long time ago, but I believe the technical term for such an expenditure is “throwing good money after bad.”) And news media need to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with the government if they are to do their jobs effectively. Converting to nonprofit status might or might not be a good idea (and some newspapers, such as the St. Petersburg Times, are owned by nonprofits already), but taking government money or tax breaks is bad for the industry and bad for the taxpayer.
  • Speaking of old media, Zero Hedge delivers the worst flaying of old media since the centurion scourged Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.” (Caution: that video link is beyond graphic)
  • It is way beyond time to stop talking about the economy in terms of the Dow and start talking about it in terms of jobs. (That said, this blogger seems not to grasp that we’re already having a class war, and as Warren Buffett has famously observed, the rich are winning.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 8:10 pm

Why newspapers are doomed

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,

Although the survey phrasing is imperfect, I think this one slide says it all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 7:04 pm

Rule 4a of Journalism: Always do the math

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 7:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

It is a commonplace not only among the public but even within the newspaper industry that Craigslist is killing newspapers by sucking away classified-advertising revenue,.

Here’s my question: How?

Craigslist revenue has only now topped $100 million a year.

Drop in newspaper classified-ad revenue in the most recent year? About $4 billion.

Someone want to explain this to me? Because even this English major knows that that math don’t add up.

(h/t: Tosczak)

UPDATE: My bud Jon Lowder e-mails a link to this Jeff Jarvis piece posted today, which may explain much of the discrepancy. It’s more about the big picture, although it uses newspapers-vs.-Craigslist as an example.

I need to think some more about whether I buy Jarvis’s argument. He argues that old economic metrics no longer apply. Problem is, we’ve heard several times in the past couple of decades that the old rules didn’t apply, only to find out, quite painfully, that they indeed still did. I’m not enough of an economist (at least, not yet) to figure whether there are holes in Jarvis’s thesis.

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