Nov 29, 2008

The virtue of cheap*

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times profiles reluctant visionary James Macpherson, who has changed the course of journalism by hiring Indian workers for cheap to transcribe Pasadena City Council meetings and rewrite city press releases for his online publication, Pasadena Now:
It’s not easy being a visionary, he said: “I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.”
*UPDATED: (Via LA Observed) Macpherson blogs about his system of using nonprofessional sources to gather video and audio so that it can be used by reporters in India to write a story under the direction of a trained editor. The whole thing reads like a long rationalization: If one experienced editor oversees an operation, it doesn't matter how untrained or distant the newsgatherers might be. Indeed, if you set the standards low enough, most anything is possible.

The bleakness of Black Friday

Peter Goodman of the New York Times offers a welcome exception the tired Black Friday retread.

Instead of counting shoppers and speculating about whether retailers are gonna make out like they hoped, he examines what transformed our annual frenzied ritual of consumption into something that on Friday killed a temp worker at Wal-Mart, an outcome that somehow seemed preordained in an economy addicted to bad habits and desperation.

Goodman writes:
It was a tragedy, yet it did not feel like an accident. All those people were there, lined up in the cold and darkness, because of sophisticated marketing forces that have produced this day now called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.


For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt. Financial institutions have scattered credit card offers as if they were takeout menus and turned our houses into A.T.M.’s. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have excelled at persuading us that the holiday season is a time to spend lavishly or risk being found insufficiently appreciative of our loved ones.


Wages for most Americans have fallen in real terms over the last eight years. Pensions have been turned into 401(k) plans that have just relinquished half their value to an angry market. Health benefits have been downgraded or eliminated altogether. Working hours are being slashed, and full-time workers are having to settle for jobs through temp agencies.

Indeed, this was the situation for the unfortunate man who found himself working at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. Friday, a temp at a company emblematic of low wages and weak benefits, earning his dollars by trying to police an unruly crowd worried about missing out.

In a sense, the American economy has become a kind of piƱata — lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any, making people prone to frenzy and sending some home bruised.

It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things they wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.

No imagination

A group advocating the separation between church and state has sued the city of Rancho Cucamonga, claiming a top city official coerced a private billboard company to take down and destroy a sign that read "Imagine No Religion."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the lawsuit after a Nov. 20 story in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin quoted city Redevelopment Director Linda Daniels as saying, "We contacted the sign company and asked if there was a way to get it removed."

New publisher for LA Times magazine

Editor and Publisher has a short profile of Penn Jones, the recently named publisher of LA, the now monthly magazine from the business side of the Los Angeles Times. Jones seems excited about the job:
Jones said: “LA is flying. The magazine is successfully connecting with The Times influential Southern California audience and with advertisers who feel LA’s editorial environment is one they need to be part of. That connectivity is key and we intend to build LA’s brand as the city’s bright, distinctive voice.”

Shopping news

Something I am not thankful for this Thanksgiving: the abundance of stories about shoppers swarming malls. To the extent Black Friday is a real story it gets way too much play - a conspiracy of convenience between newsrooms with thin holiday staffs looking for filler and retailers happy to get free publicity.

Nov 28, 2008

Collateral damage

In the battle for bargains, there will be casualties. It's just the price of getting 30 percent off.

The barren life

Neither bird nor tree nor rat in sight. Paul Oberjuerge on the lifelessness of Hong Kong.

Public service and private profit

A Los Angeles Times inquiry has found a quarter of California's legislators work outside the Capitol and "have routinely voted on legislation that affects their private income." From the LAT:
...30 of the state's 120 legislators own businesses or hold other outside jobs, according to their most recent statements of economic interest, and some earn more income away from the Capitol than from the public payroll. They own such enterprises as car dealerships, farms, insurance companies, a plastics firm and a real estate appraisal firm. They work in law, agriculture, health insurance and other medical fields.
Two of the lawmakers highlighted in the story are from the San Gabriel Valley. Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, works for a law firm that does work for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, is an opthomologist with a private practice in La Puente.

Legislators are paid $150,000 a year - more if they hold leadership positions - to ensure they don't need to seek outside income. But conflict-of-interest rules allow them to vote on issues that affect their businesses:
California allows legislators to cast votes affecting their industries or professions as long as the measures apply generally and do not affect only one company or agency.

Nov 26, 2008

Didn't heed the messenger

Before September, mortgage backed securities and credit default swaps didn't sell newspapers. It was hard to cash in on a story about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Big packages on the looming threat of a housing crisis took time, research and copious editing to get straight - and a relatively few people read the results. So few, in fact, that when the trouble finally hit, everyone seemed to forget the stories were ever written.

AJR took a look and found that, to a larget extent, the media did warn of the coming doom. But it wasn't the news most of us thought we could use:
Andrew Leckey, director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University, compares the situation to an unwanted Christmas present wrapped in shiny paper and a bow: Nobody wants to open it up to see what's inside. The reading public wants to read only what it wants to believe. Brauchli agrees: "The notion that the business press wasn't paying attention is wrong, and the assertion that we were asleep at the switch is wrong. We were attentive. We were aggressive. We were aware. We wrote abundantly. But it is very hard to get the public's attention for stories warning of complex financial risks in the middle of a roaring, populist bull market."

Dogs and cats living together

Mercury Public Affairs, LLC needed a lobbyist in California. Fabien Nunez needed a job. Now they both have what they want.

Nunez, former speaker of the California Assembly, will become a partner and co-chair in Mercury. He'll work in the company's California office alongside Steve Schmidt, former campaign manager for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain's fall presidential bid, and Adam Mendelsohn, former spokesman for Schwarzenegger.

Schmidt and Mendelsohn continue to advise the governor. Nunez, a Democrat, will be a helpful link to the California Legislature, which may not be able to resolve the budget crisis but will continue to have a Democratic majority for years to come.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has named Southern California mall developer and generous donor Rick Caruso to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, the Sacramento Bee reports. Caruso had flirted with the idea of running for mayor of L.A.

Also, Schwarzenegger appointed former Capitol reporter Bill Ainsworth, who took a buyout at the San Diego Union-Tribune in September, as deputy director of communications for the California State Lottery. The gig pays $91,000 a year.

MySpace momma guilty

A Los Angeles jury found a Missouri mother guilty of two misdemeanors in a case of bullying that led to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl.

(My note: As despicable as the bullying was, I don't see how this conviction can hold up on appeal.)

Alone this Thanksgiving?

Not anymore. Thanks to the power of the Internet and pluck of New York Times reporter Kim Severson plans to live blog her entire Thanksgiving Day holiday, from the flavor of the food to the crazy shit with her family.

Nov 25, 2008

Hyperlocal meets hypercheap

Sam Zell is right, it's tough buck trying to cash in on a Pulitzer. Hell, it's tough to cash in on anything these days. Take Copley's erstwhile Washington bureau. Taking down corrupt Rep. Duke Cunningham won them a Pulitzer and widespread respect; it helped change the makeup of Congress and maybe influenced the outcome of a presidential election. But none of that pays the bills and now Copley is gone.

From AJR:

Gone now are those reporters, along with the rest of their colleagues who monitored San Diego's interests as they played out in the halls of federal power. Empty are most of their former offices, except where Copley has managed to sublet part of its National Press Building space, for which the company has a lease until 2011.

"These days, all the major bureaus have space they're renting out. We've all become landlords looking for subtenants," says Condon, who was bureau chief when he accepted a buyout from the company, which closed the bureau after the presidential election.

"The real tragedy is that as more newspapers cut back, you're not going to have anybody watching the congressional delegation," he says. "In our case, we're sure that there's a certain former congressman who's sitting in prison in Arizona who has got to be saying to himself, 'Why didn't Copley do this two years ago?' Because he'd still be in Congress and he'd still be drawing millions in bribes." (See Drop Cap, April/May 2006.)

"Nobody else would've gotten Duke Cunningham. USA Today, AP, New York Times, none of them would devote resources to a backbench, local San Diego congressman in that kind of detail," he says. "It has to be the local paper."

Copley isn't alone, and it's not just corruption that needs watching:

With America entangled in two wars and experiencing a widespread financial crisis, says former Philadelphia Inquirer Executive Editor and ex-Poynter Institute President James M. Naughton, this is a particularly bad time to cut Washington coverage. "There isn't a community in the country that doesn't have a significant stake in what a new president and a new Democratic Congress is going to do. If they don't have someone following them with a perspective that is very local, they are not going to find out what they need to know before it's too late."

Turkey tussle*

Usually, Thanksgiving Day animus is contained to airports and dining room tables. But a political correctness battle broke out today over the annual turkey feast celebration at Condit Elementary School in Claremont.

From the LAT:
After a handful of parents complained that the Native American headdresses and vests were demeaning, cartoonish stereotypes, the Claremont Unified School District eliminated the costumes from this year's festivities, but allowed the turkey feast to go forward.
This led parents on both sides to a protest outside of the school, which led to a heated exchange, which led to a call to the police. Police also got an anxious call from Claremont Unified Superintendnet David Cash, who told police he feared for his safety after receiving "hate e-mails."

The Times continues:
"It's been wild," said one woman who declined to give her name. Meanwhile, the kindergartners -- some of whom showed up wearing their banned costumes -- frolicked on the playground, eating, running and chattering with friends, [police Lt. Dennis] Smith said. "The kids were oblivious," he added, "as they should be."
*Updated story from the LAT, story from the Claremont Courier.


The argument over whether to call hundreds of billions of dollars flowing out of government coffers and into private banks a "bailout package" or "rescue plan" seems short-sighted to me. Neither term does a sufficient job of capturing the consequences of what's being done, and both imply a positive outcome.

A better and more frightening term is "preservation plan." In trying to prevent a complete meltdown in the financial sector we are preserving a system that is not sustainable.

In some ways our response to the credit crisis reminds me of our decision to fight fires in once remote wilderness areas. Intervention becomes necessary because we have chosen to develop next to forestland. At the same time, intervention interrupts a natural process, making future fires burn hotter and more destructively. Logic says we should let the fires burn, but that means putting people's homes and lives at risk. Preserving homes and lives increases future risk and encourages more building next to forestland.

The risk of failure in resolving the short-term crisis seems to require that we ignore the long-term consequences. How does one undo a cycle of bad decision-making after the cycle has begun?

This financial crisis appears to be circling in the same vicious manner. Intervention becomes necessary because we have become dependent on consumer spending and rising home values to keep our economy moving, and avoid a massive recession, bank failures and job losses. Intervention means propping up a consumer economy that demands more and more injections of credit to survive, whether they come from the government or mortgages or credit cards. Logic says we should let the whole mess collapse on itself, but that puts people's homes and lives at risk. Preserving homes and lives increases future risk and encourages people to go on spending the way they had before.

After all, what will the solution look like but a return to what we now consider to be normal?

*UPDATE: Just how addicted are we to credit? Banks continue to hand out credit cards with limits that have no bearing in reality, despite a rising risk of defaults. An anonymous banker complains to the New York Times that until banks start checking to see if customers can afford to pay back their lines of credit, the cycle of failure will continue. Which means more fires to put out.

Paper: Oakland school's police chief must go

The editorial page of the Oakland Tribune has called on the Oakland Unified School District to fire Police Chief Art Michel for his abusive treatment of a Tribune photographer who he claimed had elbowed his patrol car while she was covering a student protest.

Nov 24, 2008

Water watch

Watershed News warns of possible flooding in areas hit by recent fires.

Fitting end

President Bush today issued 14 pardons and commuted two prison sentences, according to news reports. This is the season for pardons, so none of this was unexpected. However, one pardon in particular stands out as symbolic.

From the Washington Post:
... Leslie Owen Collier, a farmer from Charleston, Mo. He pleaded guilty in February 1996 to two counts of taking bald eagles and one count of using poisoned bait to kill animals on his farm. The victims were three bald eagles, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl, a opossum, a raccoon and seven coyotes. Collier was sentenced to two years' probation, barred from possessing a firearm during that period, and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.
Feeling compelled to do whatever he had to do to protect against another attack on the home front, a man took extreme and ill advised measures to knock out his enemy without regard to the consequences. As a result he wound up destroying something precious to this country and violating a law he probably disagreed with in the first place.

Zell's all business

Sam Zell answers questions about newspapers in a six-pager from Portfolio. Topics include the Titanic, the Pulitzer prize and spadias (those terrible wraparound ads that swallow the front page). Here's a few choice exchanges (questions are paraphrased by me):

Why did Zell buy a newspaper company?
I don't think that I ever woke up in the morning and said, "I want to own a newspaper." I think that the attraction to the Tribune deal was the ability to put the deal together, to apply a business patina to what has historically been a nonbusiness business, and ultimately test the thesis as to whether or not there is a place for the newspaper in the 21st century.
Are newspapers different from other types of businesses?
I think the newspaper industry truly still doesn't understand that it is in a business with customers, and the business must reflect the needs and demands of the customer. And to the extent that we don't do that, we will disappear.
The first audience question came from Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine, who first reminded everyone he was "attacked" in the pages of Slate and then asked how Zell planned to change the culture of journalism:
I'm on the record as saying that, you know, I think that part of the problems with the newspaper industry revolve around the fact that the newsrooms have basically never recovered from Watergate, and everybody wants to be Woodward and Bernstein, and that's the definition of success. Obviously, the newspaper business must be a great deal more than that. So I think we are making progress. I think we are changing the paradigms, many of which were just unwritten rules that we don't put ads on the front page. "Why not?" "Well, because we've never put ads on the front page." "Well, that's a good reason not to." You know, "Well, what do you mean you want to put a spadia on the newspaper?" 'Well, somebody is willing to pay us $100,000 for one day for a spadia on the newspaper." "I know, but it will destroy the integrity of the front page." I said, "For $100,000, you know, who's kidding who? What business are we in?"
(via Romenesko)

Nobody's fault

Phillip Goff, a UCLA professor and psychologist, is working with the Denver Police Department on ways to lessen or eliminate racial and gender bias in its ranks. Goff is considered an expert in something called "racism without racists."

Say what?

Goff explained the "racism without racists" philosophy to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times back in October:
“When we fixate on the racist individual, we’re focused on the least interesting way that race works,” said Phillip Goff, a social psychologist at U.C.L.A. who focuses his research on “racism without racists.” “Most of the way race functions is without the need for racial animus.”
The Kristof column continues:

John Dovidio, a psychologist at Yale University who has conducted this study over many years, noted that conscious prejudice as measured in surveys has declined over time. But unconscious discrimination — what psychologists call aversive racism — has stayed fairly constant.

“In the U.S., there’s a small percentage of people who in nationwide surveys say they won’t vote for a qualified black presidential candidate,” Professor Dovidio said. “But a bigger factor is the aversive racists, those who don’t think that they’re racist.”

Faced with a complex decision, he said, aversive racists feel doubts about a black person that they don’t feel about an identical white. “These doubts tend to be attributed not to the person’s race — because that would be racism — but deflected to other areas that can be talked about, such as lack of experience,” he added.

So, we have one professor who uses the phrase "racism without racists" to describe why bias persists despite a general belief that we are not racist people, and another professor who uses the term "aversive," which means causing avoidance of unpleasant things, to explain the same phenomenon.

My guess is that Goff's language gets you in the door of places like the Denver PD while Dovidio's language is more honest.

OC Register settles with carriers

The Orange County Register has agreed to pay $42 million in damages, benefits and legal fees to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by 5,000 current and former newspaper carriers. The OC Register story is here. You'll notice the story does not include the settlement amount - you'll have to read the plaintiffs' press release (a link is provided) to get that. You may also remember that the judge in the case tried to stop the Register from reporting on the lawsuit, only to be slapped down by a court of appeals.

(via LA Observed)

They huddle together

Ever since the passage of Proposition 13, California cities have had to tie their budgets to sales tax receipts. This explains why city officials are such shameless boosters for big box stores, redevelopment zones and auto dealerships - and why the sharp drop in consumer spending reported this month has California's city managers sweating.

The uncertainty of single-source funding did little to curb spending however, especially on police and fire. After all, anti-crime campaigns win elections and police and fire unions know how to sell effective slate mailers to candidates. Like most of us, city councils chose instant gratification over prudence. They signed off on huge pension obligations and salary increases, knowing any pain wouldn't be felt for years to come.

So how will cities contend with falling revenues - as car sales slow, retail dips and redevelopment grinds to a halt? Few voters are clamoring for fewer cops and few cops are willing to take big salary cuts. In Michigan, where the economic meltdown is more advanced, law enforcement agencies are banding together for form "multi-jurisdictional task forces." From the Detroit News:

"The wave of the future is to make the most of what you have by joining forces," said Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Ken Walker, who served as task force commander at that time. "At the time of the activation, each city contributes their manpower and time and effort. When you get focused people organized, you've got a lot of investigative power."

The story goes on to say there is a nationwide push to increase the number of such task forces. However, the story does not talk about grant funding or seizure laws (one of the reasons law enforcement officials like task forces is it provides opportunities to get federal grants and broadens the territory and gives everyone a share of seized assets). It also ignores questions of oversight and accountability. Unlike a city or county police force that reports to an elected body, task forces often operate under the radar.

Which brings us back to LA Impact, a multi-jurisdictional task force formed by the Los Angeles Police Chiefs Association. In 2004, two open-government experts sued to force LA Impact's governing board to open its meetings and documents to the public. Four years later, the board has hardly budged - in part because no one (media, I'm looking at you) is really paying attention.

Since cop stories are all the rage in the ever-shrinking MediaNews empire, hopefully this trend - if it hits California's shores - will get the notice it deserves.

Nov 23, 2008

Nov 22, 2008

Caltech vs. MIT

For some reason Time magazine has put together a list of greatest college pranks perpetrated by geeky rivals MIT and Caltech.

Nov 21, 2008

Suicide live

A Florida teen broadcast his suicide live on the web. From the BBC:
After several hours, when he had not moved some viewers finally notified the site's moderator, who then called the police.

The boy's sister said: "They got hits, they got viewers, nothing happened for hours."

It is unclear how many people watched the suicide unfold. Some reports suggest that some viewers thought it was a hoax.

The last transmission from the webcam is of a police officer bursting into Abraham Biggs's room, when he discovers his body and then he places his hand over the camera.

Time to kill the rhyme

First off, just because something rhymes does make it wisdom. So let's put a bullet into the tired phrase "No drama Obama" so no more lazy political writers can use it to evaluate the president-elect's cabinet choices and campaign style.

I say this as Hillary Clinton's people confirm to the New York Times that she will take the secretary of state job. Much has been written about the Clintons introducing drama into Obama's drama-less inner sanctum were she to accept the position.

Obama is a drama magnet. The very nature of his candidacy - first African-American presidential candidate - was dramatic. His win was dramatic. His win in the midst of great economic upheaval and two wars is dramatic. His beating Clinton in the longest primary ever recorded followed by an election campaign that made "palling around with terrorists" a household term is dramatic. Rev. Jeremiah Wright surfaced in a most dramatic way and Obama responded with a dramatic speech. And the entire campaign was compared to a television political drama (The West Wing).

The fact that his campaign aides didn't leak much information is not "no drama."

If you want to argue that Obama prefers to be the calm in the midst of a roiling storm, then you might have an interesting point. Then you might ask: Doesn't he court drama? If so, isn't Hillary Clinton a natural choice for secretary of state?

To be the calm at the center of a storm one needs a storm.

Post-election traffic

The post-election let down means many political websites will see a large drop in traffic. Who's done the best at retaining readers? Nate Silver at did a quick study of some top political sites using stats from The list follows:         125% 124% 109% 97% 82% 78% 71% 68% 67% 66% 63% 59% 55% 37% 37% 30% 25% 15% 12% 9%
Let me speculate on some of the numbers. My guess is The Atlantic saw a spike in hits after the election because of its blogs - updates on cabinet appointments and Obama intrigue from Marc Ambinder, which way the broken conservative movement from Ross Douthat and, probably the biggest draw, Andrew Sullivan's updates on California's gay marriage ban.

Drudge Report has probably served two functions - allowing election-fatigued readers to get links to the latest bad economic news and giving anxious conservatives a place to look for dirt on Obama.

FiveThirtyEight kept a large portion of its audience, with readers likely looking for updates on the outstanding Senate races. Silver has also gotten positive attention in the New York Times and elsewhere for his accurate prediction of the election outcome and his book deals.

Time shift

A couple program changes to report at KCRW. Since I learned of them from reading this morning's LA Observed, I'll quote from Kevin Roderick's post:
Program changes at KCRW: On Dec. 1 "Which Way, L.A.?" moves to 7:30 pm, after a half-hour replay of that day's "To the Point," both hosted by Warren Olney. And the new Sunday evening music program for Nic Harcourt means that Kurt Anderson's "Studio 360" airs on KCRW for the final time this Sunday at 6 pm.
This should be good for us (I work for Olney after all) because we'll have a stronger lead-in to "Which Way, LA?" and give "To The Point" more SoCal exposure. Of course, it also means cutting down our national show, which can be tricky sometimes.

Nov 20, 2008

Obama and the BCS*

Since Southern California is home to the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, UCLA and USC, I figured President-elect Barack Obama's comments on 60 Minutes about reforming the Bowl Championship Series might reverberate on the local sports pages. Well, sort of.

Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times had this to say in his column in Thursday's paper:
Take out a quill -- the kind Thomas Jefferson used to pen the Declaration of Independence -- and declare this:

President-elect Barack Obama will solve the Middle East crisis before he solves the Bowl Championship Series.

He'll get the polar ice caps to stop melting before he gets "sensible" people to come to a college football consensus.
Sure nothing is likely to happen, but that shouldn't stop us from speculating.

After some prompting, Larry Wilson, public editor of the Pasadena Star-News and my former boss, gave his thoughts on whether talk of BCS reform should be cause for panic (displayed in the most civil manner possible) in the Crown City. Here's what he had to say:
gary, indeed such an obamaorama of a solution to the mighty woes of the ncaa gridironers would mean an end to the messy but lucrative bcs. but wouldn't it then create a neat and also very lucrative series of playoff games which historic and large stadiums such as the [Rose Bowl] would bid for -- and wouldn't the bowl be the likely place for western regional games? and then every five years it would still likely host the final national championship as well. so i say this is obama's way of repaying his pasadena debt. lw
While the BCS already rotates the "championship" game in this way, the Rose Bowl would have to give up the Pac-10/Big Ten match-up under the playoff scheme. Would a regional playoff game attract the same level of excitement as a traditional rivalry? Is the Tournament of Roses ready to embrace a more egalitarian system? Wouldn't the Coliseum make a play for the playoff action?

I'll be waiting for the Pasadena paper to provide some answers.

*UPDATED: My former editor, Bob Rector, whose columns appear in the Star-News, weighed in on the Obama plan. The chances college football drops the bowl system for a playoff series: A big zero. Bob elaborates:
For one thing, the Pac 10 and Big 10 don't want to further diminish the Rose Bowl game, which would undoubtedly happen in a playoff scenario.

Second, there's too much money to be made under the current arrangement. Dump the bowl games and you're dumping the cash.
Bob did some consulting work for the Rose Bowl and has a severe addiction to UCLA home games. His column on the Obama plan, the BCS and ESPN dominance of college football is scheduled to run in Friday's paper.

Waxman wins chairmanship

California Congressman Henry Waxman has won his fight to become chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, ousting Michigan Rep. John Dingell. From the NYT:
By a vote of 137 to 122, House Democrats ended Mr. Dingell’s nearly 28-year reign as his party’s top member on the committee. Besides installing a committed environmentalist as head of the energy committee, the outcome also removes one of the auto industry’s best friends from a key leadership post.

Joe the Author

Joe the Plumber (whose name is Samuel) will write a book (that will be written by somebody else) just in time to be this year's favorite stocking stuffer (should be thin enough since it's set for release in 11 days). The book will be called "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream" and I presume it will document Joe's fight to appear on television talk shows, his scrappy rise to become opening act (and disappearing act) at McCain-Palin rallies, and his brave resistance to the facts behind candidate Barack Obama's tax plan.

Apparently Joe also fought off the big, elitist publishing houses to ensure his tome landed in the hands of an obscure publisher in Austin, Texas. From the NYT:
In an interview with Fox News Mr. Wurzelbacher said he could have signed a deal with a larger publisher. “But they don’t need the help,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said. “They are already rich. So that’s spreading the wealth to me.”

Nov 19, 2008

Cuts in the North County

The North County Times today slashed 25 editorial employees from its 100 person newsroom - a 25 percent reduction in one swing of the axe. I first learned about the cuts in a thread on

To bake, or not to bake?

A couple cliches of November...

The "cake is baked," a not very cute way of saying "inevitable," has been getting a lot of use in recent weeks. Slightly more folksy than "done deal" and "train has left the station," the baked cake can be used to describe a whole range of inevitabile outcomes, from elections to legislation.

The second cliche isn't a phrase but a literary allusion. Shakespeare's Hamlet has been resurrected to describe the apparent indecisiveness of those offered a place in Obama's White House. Before Rahm Emanuel accepted the chief of staff job, his act was dubbed the "Forced Hamlet." Now, Hillary Clinton is being called "Secretary Hamlet" for dragging her feet on the secretary of state job - of course, several pundits think the cake is baked on this one.

Supreme Court to consider Proposition 8

The California Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban, was passed in a constitutional manner. Meantime, the ban remains in effect.

Post-factual partisanship

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota calls her very own words, captured on tape, an "urban legend."

Rebuild this wall*

Why leave journalism for PR when you can do both?

According to the New York Times, Dan Abrams, chief legal correspondent for NBC, plans to breed the two professions together in hopes of creating a new and profitable species. The hybrid journalist/blogger/consultant would advise and conduct media training and investigations for corporate clients.

Despite the inherent conflicts of interest and ethical issues, Abrams says he will do his best to avoid conflicts and ethical issues:
Working on media strategies with businesses could raise ethical red flags for journalists who were required to be detached and objective about the subjects they covered. Mr. Abrams said the company would “bend over backwards to make sure that there are no conflicts or ethical issues that arise.”
*UPDATE: The publisher of the Longmont (CO) Times-Call has proposed a little cross-breeding program of his own: journalist-valets (via Romenesko).

Tear down that wall

The Los Angeles Daily Journal has removed the Internet filter that kept its reporters from looking at anything management deemed inappropriate, including private email accounts. Now the editorial department can surf the whole World Wide Web just like the rest of us, and look at such naughty sites as YouTube and the L.A. Archdiocese, both of which had been blocked.

The watchdog watches

Kevin Roderick flagged a story in yesterday's L.A. Times about the L.A. District Attorney's decision to forgo prosecution of County Supervisor Yvonne Burke for abandoning her South Los Angeles home to take up residence in Brentwood.

David Demerjian, head of the L.A. District Attorney's Public Integrity Division, said investigators couldn't find a paper trail:
"It's not really about residency; it's about whether or not they lied on any particular documents," said Demerjian...
Aside from the paper trail compiled by the Times when it broke the story of Burke's district emigration, why would the PID have to rely solely on "particular documents" to build a case? Because...
Burke, 76, declined to talk to district attorney's investigators about the matter, according to a memo Demerjian wrote last month outlining his reasons against filing charges.
Now, I'm down with the Fifth Amendment, and from everything I've seen the PID prefers applying pressure to public officials to prosecuting them. But can anyone walk away from this and think the integrity of our public institutions was upheld? Does the DA's watchdog have a long enough leash?

Our trusty public servants

How serious is the Legislature taking the lame-duck session to solve California's budget crisis? The Sacramento Bee gives us some idea:
Democratic Sen. Denise Ducheny -- along with a bipartisan crew of seven other senators -- is traveling in India as part of a foreign outreach trip. The other traveling senators are Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, and Bob Margett, R-Arcadia.
Ducheny chairs the Senate Budget Committee as well as the joint legislative budget committee. Romero is Senate Majority Leader and Ackerman is the former Republican leader. One can only imagine the breakthroughs this group will forge with the Indians.

And if one trip wasn't enough, the Bee adds:
A group of lawmakers is also traveling in China, on a trip organized by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco.
Of course, Gov. Schwarzenegger is in L.A. this week promoting green energy and automobiles.

Nov 18, 2008

From ME to PR

David Satterfield, managing editor of Singleton-owned San Jose Mercury News, has jumped ship and taken a job with the crisis PR firm Sitrick and Company. No replacement has been named.

Satterfield's departure raises questions about further cuts at the Bay Area paper. Last week, eight newsroom employees were targeted for termination at the Merc's sister papers, collectively known as the Bay Area News Group. Management agreed to a stay at the request of the guild.

Satterfield, 49, told his paper he made the move so he could keep his family in the area and "help grow a business." What does Sitrick do? From the firm's press release:
While best known for its communications work in sensitive situations, Sitrick And Company has extensive and successful practices in the more traditional areas of corporate, financial and transactional communications.
What does "sensitive situations" mean? The San Francisco Business Times helps clarify:
Sitrick specializes in crisis management among other areas. It represented former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn [aka "The Boss Who Spied on Her Board"] in her fight over boardroom leaks, for example.
Someone has to spin the crazy for us.

Blue Alaska

Nate Silver has called the Alaska Senate race: Democrat Mark Begich will beat felonious Republican Senator Ted Stevens.

UPDATE: AP calls it, too.

UPDATE II: No recount. Stevens concedes.

Just like starting over

Today's New York Times profiles the and a few other start-up news websites. Are we seeing the rough draft of what will become the news industry of tomorrow?

I've always thought the idea that the World Wide Web would provide some evolutionary jump in what constitutes news coverage was silly and self-defeating - an excuse for bad managers to rationalize bad management and a platform for futurists and hucksters to sell their remedies.

If someone does come along with something better, we should all embrace it. Until then, news providers have to carry on - standards intact. And it looks like the way forward might be simpler than we had first considered - start small and grow up. That's one way to defeat the plague of the downward trend line.

I'm not saying newspapers should shut down the presses. These web-based news companies will need to incubate for a while, jostle for audiences and ad dollars, compete for coverage and mature in structure. They are not rescue boats nor are they replacements for what exists. They are allies, however.

From the NYT:
As America’s newspapers shrink and shed staff, and broadcast news outlets sink in the ratings, a new kind of Web-based news operation has arisen in several cities, forcing the papers to follow the stories they uncover.

Here it is, offering a brand of serious, original reporting by professional journalists — the province of the traditional media, but at a much lower cost of doing business. Since it began in 2005, similar operations have cropped up in New Haven, the Twin Cities, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago. More are on the way.

Their news coverage and hard-digging investigative reporting stand out in an Internet landscape long dominated by partisan commentary, gossip, vitriol and citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs.

The fledgling movement has reached a sufficient critical mass, its founders think, so they plan to form an association, angling for national advertising and foundation grants that they could not compete for singly. And hardly a week goes by without a call from journalists around the country seeking advice about starting their own online news outlets.

Lowe home spared

In the aftermath of the Montecito fire, I couldn't help but wonder if anything had happened to Rob Lowe's home on Picacho Lane - the home that helped spark a firestorm between Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw and her newsroom.

According to a Nov. 14 story, Lowe's home was surrounded by flames but ultimately spared. A list of damaged and destroyed homes provided by Santa Barbara County includes no Picacho addresses.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed lists a few of the well-known people who did lose homes, including News-Press co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger.

Nov 17, 2008

You had me at secretary...*

It was only a matter of time. The Guardian is reporting that Hillary Clinton will accept the job of secretary of state (h/t Drudge Report).

Of course you have to ask yourself: Is the Guardian really the paper that's going to break this story?

*UPDATE: Not so fast. Glenn Thrush at reports Hillary Clinton isn't so sure she wants the job. Patience appears to be wearing thin on both sides - either this is the first test of wills between President and Secretary of State or the calm before the big breakfup.

Behind the curtain

It's been roughly a year since I started this humble blog and humble it remains.

According to Technorati, I've clawed my way up to 333,810th most popular blog in the United States and, according to Google AdSense, I've earned $14.74 from my single advertisement.

Since Oct. 17, I've had 5,935 visitors - 1,795 of them absolutely unique. These visitors have spent an average of 2 minutes 24 seconds on the site and gone 1.66 pages deep.

Still, not a single layoff.


An interesting couple of maps.

Can Oprah save newspapers? (Hint: The answer is no.)

Dee Dee Myers explains why Bill Clinton is in the way no matter what his wife does.

Jason Bentley to host MBE

Jason Bentley will succeed Nic Harcourt as KCRW music director and host of Mornings Become Eclectic. He will start Dec. 1.

Read the press release here.

Last Monday, Harcourt announced he was stepping down to pursue independent projects. He will continue hosting a three-hour music show on Sundays.

Breaking the bowl

What must the White Suiters be thinking this morning?

In an interview broadcast last night on 60 Minutes, President-elect Barack Obama embraced what must be heresy from the standpoint of the Tournament of Roses. After punting on questions about his courtship of Hillary Clinton for his cabinet, a resolute Obama told Steve Kroft he wanted college football to institute a straight playoff system to determine the national champion and would "throw my weight around a little bit" to get it. He suggests the top eight teams battle it out at the end of the season:
That would be three rounds to determine a national champion. It would add three extra weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this.
This would mean an end to the messy but lucrative Bowl Championship Series at a time when the Rose Bowl needs to invest in major renovations. Even more, it could further diminish the grandeur of the Rose Bowl Game - the Grandaddy of Them All.

Already the BCS "championship" game rotates between the top bowls, relegating the Rose Bowl to a less than elite status of being one of five. Of course, the BCS system took some of the shine off the Rose Bowl when it ended the annual tradition of settling the rivalry between Pac-10 and Big Ten champs (the two conferences play in the Rose Bowl only if the top teams are not in contention for the BCS championship and only if the bowl is not hosting the championship game).

Maybe Pasadena's politicians can convince the new president to help make the Rose Bowl home field of the finals. After all, they scratched his back when it counted.

Nov 15, 2008

Fire, water, power

Southern California is burning. Two major fires - Montecito and Sylmar - have destroyed homes, caused massive evacuations and threaten L.A. with blackouts and water shortages. Three other blazes - Brea, Rancho Palos Verdes and Yorba Linda - sparked up today. The winds fanning the flames are expected to remain high all day. The LA Times has many amazing photos.

Irony can be ironic

The Consumerist, a Gawker Media property set up to talk about the effect of the economic downturn on consumers, is up for sale.

Said one observant commenter: "Gawker's gonna keep the boobies... Intelligent discourse? Not profitable."

Abrams and the Times

Listening to Lee Abrams speak Thursday night about the future of newspapers and the Los Angeles Times, I couldn't help but think: He certainly seems to understand what's wrong with broadcast news.

Most of what he talked about - the difficult Times, information is new rock n' roll - he'd already put in his memos, often with the caps lock on. The one surprise came when Los Angeles Press Club vice president Ezra Palmer asked him about Tribune Co.'s TV news properties. The challenge with newspapers, he said, is they are all cerebral and integrity. TV news is "180 degrees" different. He wants to find a middle ground.

"Television news around the country is kind of goofy. Cliche," he said. "Let's get a little more heady with it ... let's try to bring some integrity to this."

Think about it.

At times rambling, Abrams, who shared the stage at the Steve Allen Theater with former Daily News editor Ron Kaye, showed his best and worst sides. He's at his best when cheerleading for an industry that needs to hear its money obsessed bosses still consider reporting to be an integral part of the business. "It's an exciting time to be reporting on, uh, all the shit that's going on in the world," Abrams said.

He's at his worst when he tries to talk about what makes good journalism or warns against getting "mired" in a tradition he so clearly doesn't understand.

Still swooning over the spike in newspaper sales that followed the Obama victory, Abrams said this proved papers are "really relevant" and restored some of that old "newspaper swagger."

The analysis seemed to fit with how things worked in radio, from whence Abrams hails. Deejays played the music, the kids got excited and rushed out to buy the albums. Wednesday, then, was the St. Pepper's of newspapering. Only it doesn't work that way. Online isn't radio and daily newspaper stories rarely get replayed.

Abrams (as Bill Boyarsky notes) showed his frustration with the Times when asked about the paper's recent redesign. In comparing the process here with what happened at the Chicago Tribune, Abrams said the Times continues to carry around "a lot of baggage," like a lingering belief that the paper should be a West Coast New York Times, that keeps it from getting with the program. The Tribune, he said, had broken through its "elitist" mindset, thanks to a few key staffing changes at the top, and had gotten everyone involved in the redesign.

Abrams did praise two recent Sunday editions of the Times; if only they could all be like that, he said, although he couldn't really remember what was in them. "I think they are at the acceptance stage now," he said of the Times staff, adding, "I think if you look a year from now it will be a really hot newspaper."

Neither Abrams nor Kaye spent much time talking about how the Internet had changed the newspaper business model, or how staff cuts affected coverage, or about Fourth Estate responsibilities. Abrams did say he had faith that Sam Zell would figure it all out because "he's a winner." Kaye said the fundamental problem is that newsprint and staff simply cost too much.

Tired of the "stilted speech" of newspapers, Kaye said journalism should be synonymous with storytelling and encouraged reporters to express a point of view. He said the greatest journalism being done right now is on public radio's "This American Life."

Kaye, who blogs at Ron Kaye L.A., described online journalism as being in its infancy; blogging is "amateurish" and newspapers "geriatric." He sees an opportunity online to wants to start a new kind of the Valley Green Sheet, which was the predecessor of the Daily News. The Daily News, he added, needs to cede Los Angeles to the Times and focus solely on the San Fernando Valley.

Kaye spent decades competing with the Times and did not waste the chance to give his diagnosis of where the paper went wrong: "The L.A. Times failed to make L.A. coherent."

(View video of discussion here.)

Nov 14, 2008

538 = 700,000 may be one of the few truly innovative blogs out there. Rather than simply repackaging other people's work and commenting on it, creator Nate Silver took polling information and refined it in such a way that it became more valuable and accurate than what he started with.

Now Nate, who once had plenty of time to do our show, has signed a $700,000 deal to write two books for Penguin.

Penguin also inked a deal with another guest and favorite of mine, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, for a book on the Obama presidency.

Meetings and questions

President-elect Barack Obama met with Sen. Hillary Clinton yesterday, apparently to gauge her interest in becoming secretary of state, and he meets with Sen. John McCain on Monday.

Which of these two meetings is more important to Obama's agenda? Which of the two politicians would he rather work with in the Senate?

Does Obama want to bring Clinton into his administration to clear the way for his domestic agenda, avoiding a showdown over health care reform? Would her nomination make it easier for Obama to nominate Larry Summers as Treasury secretary? With Clinton out of the way, would Obama be free to ask McCain to carry the first major bill - maybe immigration or earmark reform or climate change - right out of the gate?

The DC bureau of tomorrow today

The consolidation of the Tribune Co.'s DC bureau has begun, which means the Los Angeles Times DC bureau is no more.

According to Chicago Reader, eight Times staffers were axed, and we know two of them (h/t LA Observed): James Gerstenzang and Johanna Neuman, who co-wrote Countdown to Crawford, said goodbye on yesterday's blog.

LA Observed guest blogger Veronique de Turenne, who recently got laid off from the Times herself, says Don Frederick of the Top of the Ticket blog may be out as well.

Selling out

Perhaps it was inevitable.

Hobbled by bad circulation, newspapers and magazines have searched for a miracle to restore hope and revenue to their paper-based delivery systems. The journey sometimes led them down dead-end paths of celebrity gossip - a recession proof industry - and irrelevant but entertaining first-person accounts of reporters' lives.

Now, thanks to Barack Obama, the resistable has become irresistable. A rare combination of political leader, cultural touchstone and a celebrity, Obama is newsworthy and he sells papers. No tough ethical debates, no boring Fourth Estate rants, just big photos and long, languishing thumbsuckers:
The morning after the election, Barack Obama's supporters were not the only ones celebrating. Newspaper and magazine publishers from Los Angeles to New York had reason to be happy as well. After years of losing readers to the Internet, steep declines in advertising revenue, publication closures and round after round of layoffs, the print industry witnessed something it hasn't seen in a long time: sold-out newsstands.


"You can't save and treasure a PDF file off of your computer. That's the transcendence of print that everyone in print has talked about, a certain tangible quality that can't be translated online for certain big momentous events."
The analysis glosses over an important fact. A media that depends on a powerful political figure for revenue has an even greater burden to show it can and will hold that powerful political figure accountable - memorabilia collectors be damned. After all, what's the point of selling out if you've sold out.

Nov 13, 2008

The future is now

As Lee Abrams prepares to address the Los Angeles Press Club tonight, his bosses at the Tribune Co. prepare another round of newsroom layoffs at the Baltimore Sun. (via Romenesko)

Hyperlocal media panel

Hey, is there something going on with local newspapers? A panel of experts will gather Saturday in Long Beach to talk about the travails of the industry and consider the future of the hometown press.


Jonathan Gold publishes his list of the 99 essential restaurants in Los Angeles:
...there is the rise of the hypermasculine restaurant, where chefs take the same kind of fierce pride in their arcane meats and cheeses they probably used to take in their record collections. Their whites are always stained with blood, and they exult in the hard labor and difficult conditions of even the modern restaurant kitchen. I include women in this formula: One of my favorite new hypermasculine restaurants, a Skid Row breakfast dive called the Nickel, is actually owned and run by women.

Shenanigans by the Bay

For the second time in two weeks, a journalist with a Northern California MediaNews newspaper has had trouble with an authority figure.

Yesterday, a priest in Fairfield tried to grab a reporter's notebook after the reporter asked about the alleged expulsion of a parishoner from Mass for showing support for Barack Obama. The reporter, Ryan Chalk, works for the the Reporter in Vacaville.

Two weeks ago, Oakland Tribune photographer Jane Tyska had a run in with the Oakland Unified School District's police chief, who, amid a string of profanities, accused the photographer of elbowing his patrol car and then seized her camera without warrant.

Nov 12, 2008

Fake New York Times

Sewell Chan of the real New York Times has the scoop.

Oh, and a note to newspapers as memorabilia boosters, these papers appear to be collector's items as well:
Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a co-author of “The Trust,” a history of the family that controls The Times, said in a telephone interview that the paper should be flattered by the spoof.

“I would say if you’ve got one, hold on to it,” Mr. Jones, a former Times reporter, said of the fake issue. “It will probably be a collector’s item. I’m just glad someone thinks The New York Times print edition is worthy of an elaborate hoax. A Web spoof would have been infinitely easier. But creating a print newspaper and handing it out at subway stations? That takes a lot of effort.”

The free market criminal

America's paper looks at a new wave of cybercriminals - the good news, you're no longer worth their time:
In the past year, cybercriminals have begun to infiltrate corporate tech systems as never before. Knowing that some governments and companies will pay handsomely for industrial secrets, data thieves are harvesting as much corporate data as they can, in anticipation of rising demand.

Elite cybergangs can no longer make great money stealing and selling personal identity data. Thousands of small-time, copycat data thieves have oversaturated the market, driving prices to commodity levels. Credit card account numbers that once fetched $100 or more, for instance, can be had for $10 or less, says Gunter Ollmann, chief security strategist at IBM ISS, IBM's tech security division.

Nov 11, 2008

Thank god...the police*

It may surprise you to learn that people in power sometimes abuse their authority.

*UPDATED: I should have included the Oakland Tribune story of the incident. It's here. As you read it, I ask you to first ponder the notion of a female photographer trying to elbow a patrol car out of her way, and then to consider the description of a student protest as a "moving crime scene."

The cult of buzz*

Ron Rosenbaum has had enough of Jeff Jarvis the grave dancing new media consultant. It's about time, in my humble opinion. I commend anyone interested in the future of newspapers, and news gathering, to read the entire article. Here's a lengthy passage to tide you over:

But Jarvis doesn't seem to recognize distinctions of value. Or to have heard of Gresham's law. (Trash drives out value.) Listen to his blog reaction to the recent bailout/economic meltdown:

Why wasn't the government better at listening to the market? Did it ever ask what it should do? That's not the way government thinks, but it's the way it should learn to think.

Wait, did I get that right? The government should have "listened to the market," the same market that created this debacle and came close to destroying the economy? It's an example of his blind allegiance to the wisdom of the consumer, to quantity over quality and expertise. Everything else is elitism. He's the Sarah Palin of gurus. The crowd is always right.

But what makes him wined, dined, and comped by Dubai to fly to self-proclaimed summits all over the world? It's not just that corporations are dumb enough to waste what's left of stockholders' money to pay for someone to tell them to "listen to the market." No, it's Jarvis' pretensions to guru-hood, his gnomic "laws" and pronouncements. Firing people on the writing side because of the incompetence of the business side is a long tradition in the media business, and Jarvis gives management a New Age fig leaf with which to shift the blame from their own incompetence.

He offers chestnuts like, "The link changes everything," "Stuff sucks" ("Nobody wants to be in the business of stuff anymore. … Google's economy is more appealing"), "Atoms are a drag," and—yes, his contribution to the "X is the new Y" genre—"Small is the new big."

Yeah, down with stuff! Let them eat fake. Sleep in buildings not made with atoms. Everyone should be a new-media consultant, and then we won't need any media at all.

*UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis responds to Rosenbaum - make sure to read through the comments. Also, Simon Owens amplifies on Rosenbaum's column - again, read the comments, where Jarvis makes a surprise appearance.

The new boss

National Public Radio named a new chief executive today. From the New York Times (in more ways than one):
Vivian Schiller, who heads the online operations of The New York Times, will leave the paper to become the president and chief executive of National Public Radio, the network announced on Tuesday.

Ms. Schiller, 47, will take over NPR on Jan. 5, heading a nonprofit corporation with a budget of more than $150 million and an endowment of more than $240 million. It provides news and entertainment programming to more than 800 public radio stations around the country and claims an audience of 26 million people.
In case you were wondering, no, I don't work for NPR.

How do I change the channel on this newspaper?

Tribune Co's in-house brainstormer, Lee Abrams, who will be in L.A. Thursday to tell us about the future, wants to capitalize on the interest people have shown in the election of Barack Obama by doing some smart product placement - with the papers being the product placed in the context of the drama leading up to Inauguration Day.

Here's part of his latest memo (via the Daily Pulp):
Historically, TV kills newspapers in NOTICABILITY because it's while its BETTER CONTENT in print, it's usually not packaged very well and doesn't get the traction it deserves. A little of what CNN and FOX do ala "Historic Election 2008" with big logo, intro music and always at a reliable time are components we can all do better...or hopefully BEST ... or we'll be handing it over to other media...and that would be tragic.
As the Daily Pulp notes, Abrams has several ideas on how to memorialize the election, from features (African-American pioneers) to widgets (countdown to the presidency):
Can we let this simply glide past us? Is there an angle here to maximize the Obama historical fix that seems so hot by:

Marketing Three Month subscriptions with the hook being something along the lines: "Experience the march to inauguration".

Using this hot button to aggressively extend the post election day historical value of what we provide

Treat the next three months as a historical/collectible opportunity that papers provide best.

Instead of a ton of papers being sold this week and Inauguration day, build his election into a marketable newspaper event....where there's something new in the paper EVERY day surrounding his historic election?

If "everyone" wants last Wednesday's paper...why not the next three fully capture the history being made? This is our great strength...and a good time to pull out the competitive stops.
Think about it.

Vandals target Obama supporters

Vandals hit the homes of five Obama supporters in south Torrance over the weekend, "spray-painting cars, walls, trees and campaign signs with swastikas and racial slurs," the Daily Breeze reports. Police are investigating the attacks as potential hate crimes.

From the Breeze:
One Hollywood Riviera resident awakened to find a large Nazi symbol on a tree, the N-word across her garage door and the phrase "Go back to Africa" scrawled across a front wall.

"They had painted a big swastika on my car and spray-painted out my bumper sticker," she said Monday. "It was pretty shocking. Immediately my heart began racing."


Each of the targeted residences displayed Obama campaign signs in their front yards or bumper stickers on their cars. All of the victims were white.

Nov 10, 2008

Weather whiplash

A weather roundup - includes plane crash and death! - and a weather forecast from itinerant reporter Guy McCarthy.

One of us

In a story speculating on whether an Obama administration will rush to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Pasadena Rep. Adam Schiff gets shoved into the Republican column by Rupert Murdoch's Sky News:
But Republican Adam Schiff of California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and former federal prosecutor, said: "Establishing a regimen of detention that includes American citizens and foreign nationals that takes place on US soil and departs from the criminal justice system... would be very difficult."
Schiff is, of course, a Democrat.

The more important question is whether Schiff, rumored to be thinking about a run for California Attorney General in 2010 or beyond, might have a place in an Obama administration?

Troubling numbers at Tribune Co.

Tribune Co., the parent of the Los Angeles Times, reported a $122 million loss in the third quarter, according to Mark Lacter at LA Biz Observed. The bad numbers, he adds, include a $45 million charge for severance packages and termination benefits.

Lacter notes another point of concern:
One more troubling number: Operating cash flow decreased 67 percent to $90 million from $268 million in the 2007 quarter. Maintaining adequate cash flow is especially critical for Tribune because that's what will be required to pare down debt. In some ways, the cash flow numbers are more important than the actual bottom line.

Change comes quickly

Howard "Mr. 50-State Strategy" Dean has decided against seeking a second term as head of the Democratic National Committee. Chris Cillizza at The Fix has a list of possible successors. My early favorite: Bill Richardson. He showed fealty to candidate Barack Obama over the Clintons, his ethnic background could help Democratic outreach to Latino voters and, well, I don't think Obama wants to give him a cabinet position.

Nic Harcourt stepping down

The L.A. radio and music scene is about to experience a radical change.

Nic Harcourt, KCRW music director and host of "Mornings Become Eclectic" for the last 10 years, announced today that he will step down at the end of November.

Harcourt will continue to deejay a Sunday music show at the station as he pursues independent projects: “As a parent of two young children, I believe it’s time for me to explore new career opportunities and expand upon my other activities in movie, television, voice over work, advertising and the Internet.”

Read the station's press release here.

Fuckin' Joe

Apparently the left-wing elitist media is such a bad influence that former Republican Congressman turned talk show host Joe Scarborough was tricked into speaking the word "fuck" when retelling a tale told him by Time's Jay Carney about the potty mouthed White House chief of staff-elect, Rahm Emanuel.

Nov 9, 2008

BANG cuts again

The Singleton-owned Bay Area News Group has told the local guild that another eight newsroom jobs will be on the chopping block come Nov. 14. The guild update is here.

From the Berkeley Daily Planet:
In an e-mail to union colleagues, guild unit chair Sara Steffens notified them that still more newsroom positions were on the block. Steffens herself was the subject of one of the earlier rounds of downsizing.

“In a note sent to the Guild office this afternoon, Human Resources director Laurie Fox said the company planned to cut eight jobs from our bargaining unit, effective Nov. 14,” Steffens reported. “They did not provide any details about which employees, departments or newsrooms may be affected by the proposed cuts.”

The local currently represents 200 staffers in the East Bay papers.
BANG shed 29 newsroom positions in July.

Nov 8, 2008

East meets West*

What the map might look like if Dean Singleton's outsourcing ideas come to fruition.

The map comes via Ken Doctor's Content Bridges and the post includes this interesting nugget:
The five largest markets for newspapers are: China, with 107 million copies sold daily; India, with 99 million copies daily; Japan, with 68 million copies daily; the United States, with nearly 51 million; and Germany, 20.6 million.
Japan has less than half the population of the United States and is as technologically advanced, if not more so. What is Japan doing right and what is the U.S. doing wrong?

*UPDATE: Thanks to an anonymous commenter for passing this on: A very recent Washington Post article attributes the staying power of the Japanese newspaper market to the relatively advanced age of the Japanese population:
...older people here, like older people in much of the world, enjoy reading newspapers. "For them, it is easier to read the paper than to open their PC," said Yoshiyuki Hashiba, a professor of journalism at Sophia University in Tokyo and a former journalist for the Mainichi newspaper for 30 years.

And Japan is chockablock with these people, who are growing in numbers. People 65 or older account for 22 percent of the population, giving Japan the highest proportion of the elderly in the world. The government projects that by 2040, this group will outnumber the 14-and-younger set by nearly 4 to 1.

Newspaper circulation, therefore, is expected to hold up reasonably well for a while, until the elderly can no longer read newsprint and die.

And the Japanese love their newspapers, with the average household having slightly more than one subscription. Sales are 2 1/2 times that of the United States. What might explain that?:
Japanese newspapers have other factors on their side -- a 99 percent national literacy rate and the enduring trust of their readers. A national survey this month by the Yomiuri newspaper found that 85 percent of those questioned said they trust newspaper reporting.

About 20 percent of U.S. readers believe all or most of what they read in daily papers, according to a 2007 "State of the News Media" report issued by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The article points out that Japanese newspapers have resisted putting most of their content online, meaning readers are paying for what they read. As I've argued before, the ease with which information gets passed around here in the United States is great, but giving away the news does more than cut into profits, it diminishes its value both to readers and owners.

Chickens and gay marriage

The chickens are getting a bad rap in the battle for gay marriage.

Several bloggers have criticized (here, here and here) California voters for what they deem to be an absurd contrast in compassion - voting to give farm chickens a better life (Proposition 2) while voting to eliminate the right of gay men and women to marry (Proposition 8).

I can understand the frustration Prop 8 opponents must feel, but this false equivalence minimizes the importance both measures and avoids the hard analysis of why Prop 8 prevailed and what to do next. There are much more complicated issue at work in the California electorate than compassion for farm animals.

Nov 7, 2008


Want a keepsake of Tuesday's historic election? SGVN* has photos of its Wednesday front pages for sale on its websites. Choose between the Pasadena Star-News, which had Barack Obama with 338 electoral votes to John McCain's 141; the Whittier Daily News, which had him up 338 to 156; or the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which had the race at 349 to 144.

*Looks like all the Southland Singleton properties are cashing in. In addition to front pages, you can buy mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts and magnets.

One for each day of the year

Nebraska's 2nd congressional district went blue, giving Barack Obama his 365th electoral vote.

And John McCain will be on Leno on Tuesday.

Hard fall

Southern California newspapers shed at least 143 editorial jobs since Oct. 1. The largest paper, the Los Angeles Times, cut the largest number, 75; the Orange County Register cut 30, the Ventura County Star 17, the Press-Enterprise nine, the LA Weekly six, the L.A. Daily News five, and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group one.

And more cuts are to come... the Times is expected to trim its D.C. bureau mid Novmeber and the Desert Sun of Palm Springs is expected to lose people before the end of the year as part of a Gannett-wide cutback.

Comings and goings

After six years at the paper, Daily News reporter Rachel Uranga takes a buyout, LA Observed reports.

Tribune names Washington bureau chief

The head of Tribune Broadcasting's Washington bureau will run the show for all of Tribune's news operations - including the Los Angeles Times. From MarketWatch:
Cissy Baker today was named vice president of the Washington News Bureau for Tribune Company, overseeing all newsgathering operations in the nation's capital for the company's publishing, broadcasting and interactive divisions. She will also be responsible for coordinating news coverage and facilitating content sharing among the company's media businesses.


Baker helped launch CNN in 1980. In 1982 Baker left CNN to pursue a career in politics. At the age of 25 she ran for Congress in Tennessee's Fourth Congressional District, where her family home was located. While she won the primary, she lost the general election. Singed by that experience, she decided to go back into television and exact her revenge inside the Beltway.

In 1983 she became a Washington correspondent for CNN covering Capitol Hill, The White House and the Supreme Court. She became national editor of CNN in 1985 and vice president and managing editor of CNN in 1988. Feeling the need to get some "fair and balanced" experience, Baker left CNN in 1990 and took a job as vice president and managing editor of the FOX News Service in Washington, coordinating national news feeds and breaking news for Fox affiliates nationwide.
(Via Romenesko)

UPDATE: Kevin Roderick at LA Observed reports that long-time Times bureau chief Doyle McManus will become an op-ed writer.

Also, the consolidation of the various Tribune Co. bureaus is only a first step. Job cuts are expected to follow on Nov. 18, with as many as eight Times staffers being told to go.

Nov 6, 2008

It pays to win

Ever wonder what the Obama campaign is going to do with all that money leftover from it's fund-raising? So did Simon Owens and here's what he found:
An Obama staffer I’ve spoken to just received this email:

"our contributor’s incredible outpouring of support has allowed us to offer all full time salaried staff hired on or before September 6th four additional weeks of severance pay."

The battle over Proposition 8

Tonight on Which Way, LA?: Attorneys for and against Proposition 8* talk about the looming legal battle to overturn the gay marriage ban; Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times breaks down Gov. Schwarzenegger's November budget plan, including a 5-cent a drink tax on booze; and Jim Mayer of California Forward praises Proposition 11's redistricting reform.

*The battle over Prop 8 also hit the streets today, snarling traffic on the Westside.

Ventura County Star cuts*, **

The Ventura County Star, owned by E.W. Scripps Co., will lay off 17 newsroom employees - equal to about 20 percent of the editorial staff. This appears to be a Scripps-wide trend, according to TJ Sullivan at Native Intelligence.

*Sullivan updates his post from earlier today... and "will lay off" now becomes "laid off".

**Reuters on the cuts, Scripps-wide.

Singleton lays off reporters indirectly

The battle between the Eureka Reporter and the Singleton-owned Times-Standards has come to an end, with the Reporter agreeing to shut its doors and layoff its staff:
The Reporter statement said most of the newspaper's staff will not be retained, which Burstiner said is sad both for the paper's current employees and for crops of [Humboldt State University] journalism graduates looking for entry-level jobs in the profession.
Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group sued the upstart paper for millions of dollars under an allegation of unfair business practices. I wonder if that helped push the Reporter over the edge?:

Singleton said the suit, which sought millions in damages, may have played a role in Arkley's decision to close The Eureka Reporter, but is now moot.

"We will not pursue the lawsuit,” Singleton said. “It's not an issue anymore."

All states accounted for

AP has called the last of the hold-out states in the 2008 presidential election: North Carolina falls into the Obama column, giving him a final tally of 364 electoral votes to John McCain's 173*.

Why doesn't that add up to 538? Because one electoral vote in Nebraska remains outstanding (Nebraska and Maine both apportion electoral votes by congressional district rather than by state).

Meantime, Democrats have won 57 seats** in the Senate - three shy of a filibuster majority. There are three Senate seats yet to be decided - Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia - and Republicans hold small leads in all of them. The Georgia seat - Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) vs. Jim Martin (D) - is likely to head to a runoff; the Minnesota contest - Sen. Norm Coleman (R) vs. Al Franken (D) - faces an automatic recount, and in Alaska - convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R) vs. Mark Begich (D) - all of the votes have yet to be counted.

*Only NBC has called Missouri for McCain. Other outlets have yet to assign the state.
**Two of those seats are held by independents who caucus with the Dems. One of those independents is Joe Lieberman, whom many Democrats consider a turncoat for his criticism of Obama during the campaign.


I hear the New York Times will make Peter Baker a White House correspondent. Baker recently jumped to the Times from the Washington Post after his wife, Susan Glasser, was kicked off the national desk.

*UPDATE: Alissa Rubin gets elevated to Baghdad Bureau Chief for the New York Times - she served as deputy bureau chief until today (11/7), when she joined us on "To The Point" to talk about the effect Obama's victory may have on negotiating a security agreement with Iraq.

BBC scrapes barrel

For some reason the BBC Asia Network invited me to do a 5 minute interview on California's reaction to the Obama victory for the Jas Rao Breakfast Show. The segment starts at about the 47th minute on the Thursday show. The interview was done last night for a live morning show in London. Click here to listen to my wisdom.

Nov 5, 2008

See the front pages

Peruse the front pages of America's newspapers this day after Election Day.

California props


Proposition 1A - High-speed rail bond
Proposition 2 - Improves farm animal living conditions
Proposition 3 - Children's hospital bond
Proposition 8 - Bans gay marriage*
Proposition 9 - Expands victims' rights
Proposition 11 - Reforms redistricting process**
Proposition 12 - Loans for veterans


Proposition 4 - Parental notification for abortions
Proposition 5 - Treatment for drug offenders
Proposition 6 - Criminal justice
Proposition 7 - Renewable energy mandate
Proposition 10 - Alternative fuels mandate

* Opponents of Prop 8 have yet to concede and plan a legal challenge.
**The bond is ahead but by only a slim margin with ballots yet to be counted.