Aug 31, 2009

Jenna Bush reporting

A lot of thought has gone into trying to figure out why Jenna Bush Hager is a correspondent for "Today."

Column lynch

Tina Dupuy wants to get paid - or at least go viral. The co-host of fishbowlLA has sent a video letter to the Tampa Tribune to demand $75 for an opinion column she sent to the newspaper. The paper published it without offering her remuneration - or even notification.

Four in the morning

1. Another consequence of cutbacks at newspapers: Fewer papers are spending the time and money to fight for public access to court trials. The story mentions the Riverside Press-Enterprise, which helped set the standard for access to court trials in a pair of cases in the 1980s. NYT

2. One company - and I know there are others - thinks jargon and misdirection are the new news. From the NYT:
...the suburban newspaper is at the vanguard of the industry: reporters at The Journal News don’t work in a newsroom, they are part of an “Information Center”; they don’t cover beats, they cover “topics”; and in a new wrinkle to an old story, the staff was not being laid off, but becoming part of a “comprehensive restructuring plan."
Apparently, you no longer need to leave the newspaper to work in PR. NYT

3. Hard-hitting journalism is expensive: A jury awarded a doctor who was the subject of several articles in the St. Petersburg Times $10 million in a libel lawsuit. Even if the paper wins on appeal, the lawyers have to be paid. St. Petersburg Times

4. The Hartford Courant had some trouble managing both aggregation and attribution - it was taking stories from other papers posted to its website and then putting them in the newspaper under a Courant byline. Courant

Towers still standing


The observatory and communications towers on Mt. Wilson remain threatened, but a look at the live web cam this morning shows they're still standing.

Aug 30, 2009

Station Fire update*,**

From the LA Times: Two firefighters have died south of Acton. The fire has grown to 42,500 acres and has destroyed 18 homes. Flames are threatening Mt. Wilson Observatory and a host of television, radio and law-enforcement transmission towers nearby.

*Update: The two firefighters were killed in a vehicle accident near Mt. Gleason, the Times and Star-News report.

*Update II: The transmission towers on Mt. Wilson are crucial to local law enforcement and maybe to the firefighters battling the blaze. From NBC Los Angeles:
Loss of communications facilities there would cripple fire and police departments across Southern California, which not only use mountaintop transmitters to communicate in the field but in many cases relay signals from other mountaintop sites back to dispatch centers via microwave facilities that are now threatened.

Mt. Wilson threatened*, **

Flames from the Station Fire are less than two miles from the Mt. Wilson Observatory and fire officials expect they will hit the area, home to television and communications towers, in the next two to four hours.

From the LAT:
“It’s a serious situation,” said Bob Shindelar, operations branch director of California Incident Management Team 5. “Is the observatory going to make it? We’re doing everything in our power. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it is impacted by fire today or tomorrow.”
(Sceen grab from a live web cam tracking the fire's advance.)

*Update: This is certainly one way to get the television stations' attention.

**Update II: The transmitters serve more than television and radio stations. They include cell phone towers and transmitters for the FBI, CIA and Secret Service, the LA Times reports. There's also the matter of the historic Observatory and Hale's 60-inch telescope.

Orange County Register owner to declare bankruptcy

Freedom Communications, the parent company of the Orange County Register, is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

From the WSJ:
With annual revenue of about $700 million, Freedom owns the Register and more than 30 other daily papers and eight TV stations. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization -- a popular measurement for leveraged companies -- have declined about 75% over the past five years to about $50 million. ...

Freedom's lenders, which hold roughly $770 million in debt, are expected to take control of the company as it operates under bankruptcy protection. They include J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., SunTrust Banks and Union Bank of California.
The Register was started in the 1930s by R.C. Hoiles and the Hoiles family has had a majority ownership of the paper ever since. That would change under bankruptcy:
Family members representing about one half of the Hoiles clan sold their stake in the company as part of the recapitalization more than five years ago. The stake of the remaining half likely would be wiped out by a bankruptcy filing.
(via LA Observed and Romenesko)

Station Fire updates

Los Angeles Times: Afternoon winds continue to push the flames toward Acton. The fire line stretches 19 miles, and more than 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.

Pasadena Star-News: Some La Cañada Flintridge residents allowed to return home; some Altadena residents choose to stay put.

Pentagon cancels Rendon contract

The Pentagon has canceled a contract with the Rendon Group to develop profiles of reporters covering the military in the Afghanistan war zone, Stars and Stripes reports. The decision follows a week's worth of revelations from Stars and Stripes and elsewhere that the profiles, which rated reporters on whether they provided positive, negative or neutral coverage, were used to block at least two reporters from being embedded with military units.

Flames on the march


The flames appear to be advancing toward the Mt. Wilson Observatory. This is a screen capture from a live web cam near the observatory.

A few complaints about fire coverage*

I've seen and heard a few complaints about the coverage of the Station Fire from both the print and TV side. LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne let out a few frustrated tweets last night:
For a fire to threaten Tujunga on one end and Pasadena on other is like threatening Tribeca and S. Bronx, or G'town and Chevy Chase. Huge.

NYT might want to think about putting fire *somewhere* on homepage. As of 10 pm LA time, nada.
The New York Times now has a story up on its homepage.

LA Observed noted that Channel 9 got around to covering the fire from the perspective of the station's helicopter pilot:
Channel 9's fire coverage in the 9 o'clock hour included several minutes with reporter Dave Lopez on the battle by firefighters to save the La Cañada Flintridge home of the station's helicopter pilot, Larry Welk.
The post goes on to relate complaints from an LAO reader and LA County Supervisor Mike Antonivich about the dearth of coverage.

*Update: LA Observed has this from TV anchor John Beard:
Are LA TV Stations not doing live fire coverage (with lives at risk) because they spent so much on excessive Michael Jackson coverage?

Will LA tv take another day off as fires thrtn hmes and lives? Does anybody in mgmnt have the guts to spnd $$ to give viewers critical inf0

Animal victims of the Station fire


Dramatic shot from Gene Blevins of the LA Daily News of two horses singed in the Station Fire. A larger version is here.

View from Mt. Wilson


A view of the Station Fire from a live web cam near the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

A specialized diet at Readers Digest

To survive both the decline in print and America's great differentiation, the now-bankrupt Readers Digest plans to transform itself from a general-interest publication into something better suited to our fragmented society.

As Robert Rector observes, Readers Digest once traded on a caricature of the upright, white, suburban middle-class family and, in doing so, gained a broad audience in an America that strove to be a being part of that world. The Internet has punctuated and amplified the cracks in this worldview, and now Readers Digest must become a caricature of itself. It will strip away the veneer of mainstream appeal and follow the cultural guideposts of the sect called American conservative.

Rector writes:
...the Digest, after years of trying to broaden its appeal, is being pushed in a decidedly conservative direction.

It is cutting down on celebrity profiles and ramping up on inspiring spiritual stories. Out are generic how-to magazine features; in are articles about military life. ...

Indeed, the Digest plans to introduce a new multifaceted effort produced with Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor, called the Purpose Driven Connection. For about $30, subscribers get a quarterly magazine with religious workbooks, along with DVDs featuring Warren, and membership in a social-networking Web site, including tips on what to pray for each week. It is available through churches and at Wal-Marts.

Station Fire heads toward Acton

The Station Fire, which grew to about 35,000 acres overnight, continues to spread toward Acton where evacuations have been ordered. On its other end, the fire threatens the Mt. Wilson Observatory above Pasadena.

At left, a great photo from Wally Skalij of the LA Times. More photos here.

Aug 29, 2009

Station Fire spreads, mass evacuations ordered

From the Los Angeles Times:
The Station fire in Angeles National Forest tripled in size today, spreading rapidly to the east and west and threatening at least 10,000 homes in a broad swath of foothill neighborhoods in areas including La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Glendale, Altadena and Big Tujunga Canyon as temperatures reached triple digits and flames drew closer to homes.

Three to five homes in rural Big Tujunga Canyon were lost, authorities said.
The Times reports the fire had reached 20,000 acres as of Saturday and forced the evacuation of 4,000 homes. At least three people were injured.

Stories: LAT, Pasadena Star-News

Twitter updates: LAT, PSN, LA County Fire, California Fire News, KTLA

Also, LA Observed has a time lapse video of the spreading smoke.

(My bad photo above)

Aug 28, 2009

Denver partnership dissolved

MediaNews Group has formally dissolved its Denver partnership with E.W. Scripps and, as a result, has taken full ownership of several Colorado dailies.

More important for workers in the Singleton empire, MediaNews has refinanced the partnership's debt, buying the cash-strapped company a little more breathing room.

Rated and rejected

The U.S. Army now acknowledges that it rejected reporters applying to embed with military units based in part on the ratings developed by the Rendon Group.

From Star and Stripes:
“If a reporter has been focused on nothing but negative topics, you’re not going to send him into a unit that’s not your best,” Maj. Patrick Seiber, spokesman for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, told Stars and Stripes. “There’s no win-win there for us. We’re not trying to control what they report, but we are trying to put our best foot forward.” ...

In at least two instances, Seiber said, he rejected embed requests based partly on what he read in the profiles — once because a reporter had allegedly done "poor reporting" and once because a journalist reportedly had violated embed rules by releasing classified information. The latter allegation, if true, would have been grounds for automatic denial of an embed request even in the absence of the profile.

Aug 27, 2009

Journalism and the public interest

American Public Media, which producer Marketplace and other public radio shows, has a job opening in Los Angeles for something called a "public insight analyst." The job entails gauging public opinion through the use of surveys, meetings and games to shape news coverage.

Here's how the listing describes it:
The analyst job involves using many tools - from knowledge management and database software to interactive games and public meetings – and applying news judgment to turn public insight into coverage.
The hybrid PR-news position stems for Minnesota Public Radio's Public Insight Journalism initiative, which helped launch the Center for Innovation in Journalism.

The CIJ sounds a little like the community journalism movement of old, except with more sophisticated tools. Here's CIJ what it has to say about traditional newsers:
Yet most newsrooms still operate with a "we know best—and we'll tell you what you need to know" model. That world is vanishing and taking the audience with it.

No more robots

The FTC has put an end to most commercial robocalls, according to the LA Times:
Such prerecorded commercial calls offering services and products such as carpet cleaning or car warranties will be a thing of the past unless telemarketers have written permission from consumers that they want to receive these calls, the commission said Thursday. Violators will face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.
Automated calls for debt collections and flight information will still be allowed, as will those from banks, insurers, phone companies and, of course, politicians.

Job seekers alert

The North County Times is apparently looking for a business reporter.

New Yorker hires ME

The New Yorker has hired Amelia Lester as the magazine's managing editor. She's 26 years old.

According to the New York Observer, Lester grew up in Sydney, graduated from Harvard, where she wrote for the Crimson, and most recently worked as an editor at Paris Review. She used to be a fact checker at the New Yorker, working with writers Sy Hersh and Jane Mayer.

Lester replaces Kate Julian, who's moving to DC, the Observer reports.

Superfund settlment in San Gabriel Valley

Northrop Grumman has agreed to pay $21 million to clean volatile organics from groundwater under the Southern California cities of Industry, La Puente and Walnut, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced. The settlement was brokered by the EPA as part of a larger Superfund project.

From the press release:
Northrop Grumman, representing all of the settling defendants, will spend an estimated $21 million to build a groundwater cleanup system that uses wells to pump out contaminated groundwater, preventing it from further migration. Northrop Grumman will also install water conveyance pipelines and construct a treatment plant to remove Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) contaminants from the groundwater. The treated water will be used for drinking water supply, water reclamation projects, or discharged to surface water.

Tweet, tweet. Who's there? Advertising

Generally I try to avoid knowing what Perez Hilton is up to, but he appears to be on the vanguard of a new advertising scheme that sends readers to advertisers through the casual use of a hashtag. Instead of learning more about the Iranian election (i.e., #iranelection), Hilton wants readers to learn more about Gap.

Of course, there are questions of ethical questions when someone who's not portraying themselves as a spokesman for a product is actually a paid spokesman for a product. We'll see if there's any Twitter backlash to the hashtag ads.

Bondholders call Trib purchase a bankrupt deal

The bondholders who helped gave Sam Zell the leverage to takeover Tribune Co. through a massive borrowing scheme now say the deal was fatally flawed from the start. In other words, Tribune was destined for bankruptcy court before the ink dried.

The technical term for all of this is a "fraudulent conveyance," but I'm sure Tribune Co. employees can think of a few less jargony terms.

The bondholders might ask the bankruptcy judge to appoint an independent investigator to look into the deal to see if senior lenders, such as JP Morgan, and Tribune managers sold them a bill of goods.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Such allegations can be difficult to prove, entangling opposing bankers and lawyers in a debate over what was a proper valuation at the time of the deal. "Insolvency is an easy concept to state but a difficult concept to prove," said Bill Welnhofer, managing director and head of restructuring at investment bank Robert W. Baird & Co. in Chicago.

The bondholders' filing seeks disclosure of emails, interviews and internal memos used by Tribune, its financial advisers and its lending banks. It requests information about what is known as a solvency opinion -- an independent evaluation of a company's ability to pay its debts following the assumption of debt.

Tribune Co. said it had every reason to believe at the time of the deal it could manage the debt; things just turned out worse than expected.

Uncle Sam wants you to stay positive*

Star and Stripes offers more details of the Pentagon's program to profile reporters and rate their work as "positive," "negative" or "neutral" before they're embedded with military units. The paper also found evidence that the ratings are used to shape coverage of the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan.

From Star and Stripes:
One reporter on the staff of one of America’s pre-eminent newspapers is rated in a Pentagon report as “neutral to positive” in his coverage of the U.S. military. Any negative stories he writes “could possibly be neutralized” by feeding him mitigating quotes from military officials.

Another reporter, from a TV station, provides coverage from a “subjective angle,” according to his Pentagon profile. Steering him toward covering “the positive work of a successful operation” could “result in favorable coverage.”

The Pentagon had denied an earlier story that the ratings system, developed by an outside contractor, the Rendon Group, was used to determine which reporters would be embedded and even denied the ratings system existed. The evidence seems to contradict this. Again from Stars and Stripes:

“The purpose of this memo is to provide an assessment of [a reporter from a major U.S. newspaper] … in order to gauge the expected sentiment of his work while on an embed mission in Afghanistan,” reads the preamble to one of the reporter profiles prepared for the Pentagon by The Rendon Group, a controversial Washington-based public relations firm.
*Update: The Pentagon is now looking into the program that it once said didn't exist, Stars and Stripes now reports.

Aug 26, 2009

Knife sharpening in San Francisco

The union representing workers at the San Francisco Chronicle says management plans to cut more jobs. How many and when are still unknowns.

From the SF Weekly:
When asked how many layoffs were possible, [guild rep Carl] Hall noted "Obviously that's the question everyone wants to know." He also added that no reason was given for the paper's announcement other than "what one might infer: I guess it's a continuing problem of getting costs in line with revenues given the state of the economy and the goings on in the news business."

Ralphs pulls ads

Today's report on LA Observed that Ralphs had pulled its ad inserts from the Los Angeles Times reminded me that I'd received an email a week or so ago from a knowledgeable source who said he'd heard the grocery chain planned to cease advertising altogether in the Times and all LANG newspapers beginning in September. I haven't confirmed this, but was told Ralphs would rather advertise directly through the mail.

If true, this would represent a big blow to the newspapers' already beleaguered bottom lines. In addition to big drops in classified ads and losses from cutbacks in retail and auto spending, the past year has seen a few major advertisers, including Gottschalks and Circuit City, shutter their doors forever.

Antonio's 'Watergate'

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gets caught watering his lawn outside the hours proscribed by the cities water conservation ordinance. From NBC4:
During the past month at the mayor's house, back yard sprinklers were running at 2 a.m. on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday -- all in violation of the law.
Other government got caught, too.

(via fisbowlLA)

Ted Kennedy was 77

From the John Broder at the New York Times:

He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.

The full obit is here.

Aug 25, 2009

Eleventh

California ranks 11th in an annual survey of average Internet speeds for the 50 states and three U.S. territories. Delaware, home of the credit card company headquarters, is first. Puerto Rico is last. Montana ranks as the state with the slowest speeds, falling behind Alaska, which had the distinction last year.

The survey was done by the Communication Workers of America, which would like to see the government spend more money on upgrades. From the summary:
The results of this third annual Speed Matters survey of Internet speeds show that the U.S. has not made significant improvement in the speeds at which residents connect to the Internet. The average download speed for the nation was 5.1 megabits per second (mbps) and the average upload speed was 1.1 mbps. This was only a nine-tenths of a megabit per second increase (from 4.2 mbps to 5.1 mbps) since last year. At this rate, it will take the United States 15 years to catch up with current Internet speeds in South Korea. And when compared to the rest of the world, the United States ranks 28th in average Internet connection speeds.
Oh, and Jessica Biel is the celebrity most likely to give you a virus.

(via Chicago Tribune)

The takeover continues

In addition to telling you what news is relevant to your search, Google will now tell you what's interesting to read. Not sure if this is in some way hooked into the Google Trends, which now rates stories by their relative hotness. For instance, Avi Ben Stella, the possibly imaginary 12-year-old boy in critical condition after a car crash, is "spicy."

Aug 24, 2009

The "in" crowd

Apparently the world of tech is controlled by a loose-knit cabal of about 2,000 people:
You see, there’s a gang of about 2,000 people who really control tech industry hype and play a major role in deciding which services get mainstream hype (this gang was all on Twitter by early 2007 — long before Oprah and Ashton and all the other mainstream celebrities, brands, and journalists showed up). I have not seen any startup succeed without getting most of these folks involved. Yes, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is the parade leader, but he hardly controls this list.
(via Bloggasm)

What do you see?

The Lede blog at the New York Times is crowdsourcing the 2004 inspector general's report that details abuses in the CIA's detainee interrogation program.

Unfortunate lessons in activism

Last week, the Pasadena Star-News wrote a story summarizing the performance of Pasadena Unified School District students on a statewide standardized test. The article contained a factual error in the first paragraph and a correction needed to be made.

According to an essay from Peter Dreier at Huffington Post, a parent involved with a well-connected advocacy group, Pasadena Education Foundation, organized a campaign to push the paper for more than a correction of fact. He wanted a correction of tone. Members of PEF and other local advocacy groups wrote emails to and called the managing editor, and met with the paper's public editor, Larry Wilson, to share their frustration. They argued that this wasn't a one-time mistake but part of a long pattern of anti-public school rhetoric from the Star-News.

Or, as Dreier, an Occidental College politics professor, PUSD parent, PEF board member and progressive activist, wrote:
...the Star-News' coverage of PUSD had consistently been negative for years, rarely reporting on its successes, mostly focusing on problems, contributing to a misleadingly negative public perception of the public schools - so negative that about one-third of school age students, mostly from middle-class families, attend private schools.
Dreier skips over decades of racial and socioeconomic upheaval in Pasadena to blame the paper for the sorry state of PUSD.

In response, the paper's editors directed the reporter to write a second story, this one casting the test results in a wholly positive light. The less favorable, but completely factual, information about the school district was left out.

Dreier provides some insight at the end of his 2,180 word essay as to why the activists were so active this time around:
Some of them intend to show up at the School Board meeting next Tuesday, congratulate the board members and staff for improvement in test scores, and urge them to put a ballot measure before voters next year to increase local property taxes to raise funds for PUSD schools. Under California law, more than two-thirds of voters have to vote "yes" to enact a parcel tax increase. But the PUSD activists believe that not only do voters understand that the state government's drastic cuts are devastating local schools, but that voters will support a tax increase if they know that the schools are getting better.
(via LA Observed)

*Disclosure: I worked for the Star-News and have written a few stories about PUSD and PEF.

The more things change....

In what seems to be a case of creeping professionalism, Wikipedia plans to impose an editorial review process before information can be published about living people. Michael Snow, chairman of the Wikipedia board, told the New York Times:
“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks ... There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”
The decision comes in response to several well publicized hoaxes - but also in recognition of Wikipedia's increasing influence as a primary online source. Again, from the Times:
The new feature, called “flagged revisions,” will require that an experienced volunteer editor for Wikipedia sign off on any change made by the public before it can go live. Until the change is approved — or in Wikispeak, flagged — it will sit invisibly on Wikipedia’s servers, and visitors will be directed to the earlier version.

-snip-

Under the current system, it is not difficult to insert false information into a Wikipedia entry, at least for a short time. In March, for example, a 22-year-old Irish student planted a false quotation attributed to the French composer Maurice Jarre shortly after Mr. Jarre’s death. It was promptly included in obituaries about Mr. Jarre in several newspapers, including The Guardian and The Independent in Britain. And on Jan. 20, vandals changed the entries for two ailing senators, Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd, to report falsely that they had died.

Four today

Coming off a weekend away from the computer, so excuse me if some of these are a bit stale.

1. The good news: The Pentagon has hired the same firm that helped put together the Iraqi National Congress, which fed false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to vet reporters who want to embed with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. From Stars and Stripes:
Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials. It conducts similar analysis of general reporting trends about the war for the military and has been contracted for such work since 2005, according to the company. ...

U.S. Army officials in Iraq engaged in a similar vetting practice two months ago, when they barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division because the reporter “refused to highlight” good news that military commanders wanted to emphasize.
2. How long before the Sun-Times sets?: The Chicago Sun-Times better make a deal soon or it might perish in bankruptcy court. Chicago Tribune

3. California watched: The Center for Investigative Reporting has announced its California Watch team. Former LA Timesman Robert Salladay, who had California's Capitol wired, will be a contributing writer and special adviser. Most of the members have a deep background in newspapers, which makes one wonder where the next generation of California Watchers is going to come from. CIR

4. The unkindest cut: Sam Zell, who may not be long for the Tribune Co., gets the rough treatment from Advertising Age:
The big man walks away a small man -- diminished in the eyes of history. He could have shuffled off this mortal coil with his legend as a real-estate genius intact, but instead he'll mostly be remembered for helping to drive the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times and his other papers more quickly into the ground. Surely he'll be the last big man to try to become even bigger through media moguldom.
Fine, fine, pile on Zell. But the more salient point in the article is buried at the bottom:
But to bring this full circle to Mark Zuckerberg [founder and CEO of Facebook]: You could think of a guy like him, if he has lasting power, as the prototypical media mogul of the future, I suppose. Except that Zuckerberg, really, is a post-media mogul: a manager, basically, of an incredibly vast digital spreadsheet that we're all kind enough to fill for him with our personal data and updates and pictures and whatnot. He's running a virtual Trapper Keeper, and it'd be totally empty if he hadn't somehow convinced 250 million people to B.Y.O.C. -- bring your own content.

The content king of the past had pretensions to controlling us -- or at least the body politic, the public conversation, the local and national agenda -- by controlling information. But the content king of the future has it much easier; he controls us more directly. Because, loyal subjects that we are, we surrender our information to the king willingly.

Aug 21, 2009

Tribune unloads the Cubs

The Tribune Co. - owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other papers - has made a deal to sell the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to the Ricketts family. The proceeds will help pay down debts owed by Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last December.

From the press release:
The Ricketts family has signed a definitive agreement with Tribune Company to acquire a 95 percent interest in the Chicago Cubs National League Baseball Club, Wrigley Field and Tribune’s approximately 25 percent interest in Comcast SportsNet (CSN) in a transaction valued at $845 million. The Ricketts family will have management control of the joint venture as its 95 percent owner. Tribune will retain a five-percent ownership interest.
The deal must still be approved by a bankruptcy judge.

Aug 20, 2009

Pre-photoshop prudes

There was a time when newspapers wanted to cover up celebrity skin! Sociological Images has a few old photos from the Los Angeles Times that show what they did when faced with a salacious shoulder.

Shop talk

Bill Mitchell at Poynter interviewed former Los Angeles Times reporter Scott Martelle about The Journalism Shop, a coop formed by former LAT writers and editors to help them find freelance assignments - in and out of journalism.

Martelle:
Veteran journalists need to realize that the environment in which we built our careers will not return, and we have to focus as individuals on finding roles in this quickly shifting, unscripted play. We have to realize that no institution -- or deep-pockets philanthropist -- is going to come along and save us. We need to get entrepreneurial if we want to stay in journalism, and if we want to be part of figuring out whatever the new journalism might be. That takes a lot of risky, hard work. Yes, there is indeed life after newspapers, though it's harder to get your phone calls returned. And there is a disturbingly large number of us out there.
The full interview is here. Martelle blogs here.

Etiquette lessons for a suddenly social media

Newspapers are crafting new rules for journalists facing new situations in a new media environment. AJR

Casting ballots in Afghanistan

Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers leads off the discussion on today's "To The Point" about the Afghan elections. He's joined by Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, who's in Kabul to monitor the election; Nathaniel Fick, head of the Center for a New American Security, and Nicholas Schmidle, journalist and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

Aug 19, 2009

Barely news

It may shock you to learn that local television stations don't always have the highest standards when it comes to their news broadcasts. KNBC seems eager to wallow in this reality, as illustrated by the screen shot of the station's top stories captured by Kevin Roderick at LA Observed.

Roderick writes:
Notice in the screen grab that the very top story in the left-hand column is that PETA ads feature stars who also are...naked. Not visible is another story slightly down page about celebrities in bikinis, with a photo of Britney Spears. I know local TV stations are on life support these days, but geez.
Indeed, everything on the page starts to look like a double entendre.

Roderick adds:
Perhaps this all fits with KNBC's hire yesterday of Alycia Lane, a newscaster-slash-tabloid fave who first came to national attention for her bikini photos — a hire that one newsroom source calls a real "head scratcher" in these times of cutbacks.
You might also have noticed in the upper left of the page NBC's new mood rating tool, which is designed to make you feel part of it all.

I am laughing at NBC.

Dim bulbs

They warned us back in March that advertisements on newspaper sites would get more annoying to get our attention. Yesterday, the New York Times and BMW had a doozy, with an ad that turned down the lights on the computer screen. When readers investigated the cause of the disruption, they discovered, unfortunately, a BMW ad.

The two companies seem thrilled with the results. Some readers offered a different assessment. From MediaPost Publications:
"BMW was looking for a new, never-been-done-before idea to launch their new Advanced Diesel Online Technology online," explained Times spokesperson Stacy Green. "What we developed was a unique and never-before-done execution on our site." ...

But if Twitter is any barometer of public reaction to the effort, annoyance and anger trumped awe and appreciation. "Big thumbs down to @nytimes for running a BMW ad which darkens the screen, with no apparent/easy way to disable the ad," complained lx69 in one tweet. "That BMW ad on the NYTimes.com home page? Super-annoying," wrote lseward, in another.
Expect more and worse to come.

(via Nieman Lab)

'60 Minutes' creator Don Hewitt has died

Don Hewitt, creator of '60 Minutes' and pioneering figure in broadcast news, has died. He was 86.

From the New York Times:

During a career at CBS News that lasted more than half a century, Mr. Hewitt served as a living bridge — from the birth of television journalism in the long shadow of radio, through its golden-age as an unrivaled fixture in dens and family rooms, to its middle-age present, under siege from the Internet. As a director and producer, Mr. Hewitt helped shape the early broadcasts of pioneers like Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards and Walter Cronkite, and presided over CBS’s coverage of such watershed moments as the presidential debate between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960; the assassination of Mr. Kennedy in 1963; and the NASA space missions of the late 1960’s

But it was as creator and executive producer of “60 Minutes” that he had his biggest impact — imagining, in effect, what an electronic version of “Life” magazine would be like, and then bringing that confection to the screen with a mix of hard-hitting investigative pieces and celebrity profiles. As tour guides, Mr. Hewitt recruited a cast of reporters that included Mike Wallace and Dan Rather, and later Leslie Stahl, who were soon as recognizable as the politicians they confronted and the entertainers they interviewed. Whatever their line-up in a particular television season, they were presented to their Sunday night audience as equals.
Hewitt died of cancer.

Aug 18, 2009

No violence (reported)

To make sure reports of violence don't deter people from going to the polls on Thursday, the Afghan government has barred news outlets from reporting on any violence on Thursday.

From the New York Times:
...the Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement asking all domestic and international news agencies to refrain from reporting any violent attacks between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on election day.

The National Security Council ad made the decision “in view of the need to ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people in upcoming presidential and provincial council elections, and prevent any election-related terrorist violence,” the statement said.

From Russia, with spin

Russia has hired the PR firm of a Mark Saylor, a former LA Times editor, to help in the PR war between the Republic of Georgia and the two breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abhkazia. Saylor's Saylor Company, based in Pasadena, will get $30,000 a month for the work. LA Daily has the story here.

(via LA Observed)

Meet the new boss

The new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune met privately with employees and laid out their plans for the future - and dissed the old owner for letting the paper get fat. At least a few employees seem to be relieved.

From the Voice of San Diego:
"I went into the meeting not super receptive, given that this is the management team that had laid off more than 100 people the day before," said one newsroom staffer. "I came out feeling better about the future of the paper than I have in two years."

Two other newsroom workers agreed with that assessment, and all three said they were hopeful and impressed by the new management's willingness to criticize the old regime. (The staff members requested anonymity for fear of antagonizing the new bosses.)
Employees were told the mass layoffs are over, but changes in production will probably mean more people will lose jobs in the near future.

The right stuff

Sue Laris at LA Downtown News has begun a comment thread to ask readers what things they think the embattled Los Angeles Times does right.

Laris writes:
Put yourself in their shoes. Could you really continue to work at all if someone were trashing you every hour of the day? How would you stand up to that kind of pressure? Isn't it really rather amazing what they do right? I'll comment on some of the things I think they do right. What do YOU think?

Robert Novak dead at 78

Conservative columnist and commentator Robert Novak died today of complications from brain cancer. He was 78. Chicago Sun-Times, AP, NYT

Aug 17, 2009

Meaningless

Someone is killing words.

In an interview with der Spiegel last month, Wired's Chris Anderson declared "journalism," "media," "news," and "newspapers" to be among the victims:
Sorry, I don't use the word "media." I don't use the word "news." I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.
Anderson then proceeded to dig up their bones to further his point:
I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don't go to mainstream media directly to read it. It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We're tuning out television news, we're tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it's just that it's not like this drumbeat of bad news. It's news that matters.
Maybe we should let those social filters work a while longer before we change the dictionaries.

In related news, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen added his own word to the hit list, telling fishbowlLA that "blogger" wasn't long for the world. Somehow I don't think many people will miss it if it goes.

Four today

1. Who does David Segal think he is writing about the Weinsteins!? The Wrap

2. Salon.com drops six from editorial department. Gawker

3. Huffington Post and Facebook team up and make social news. BoomTown

4. Former CityBeat and LA Weekly writer Matthew Fleischer ends up at True/Slant. True/Slant

Don't let the bedbugs bite

The Hartford Courant allegedly fired consumer affairs columnist George Gombossy for writing a critical column about one of the paper's major advertisers.

From the Consumerist:
The last column, which the paper refused to run, is about a Connecticut Attorney General investigation into mattress emporium Sleepy's. The chain is accused of selling used mattresses as new, and—even worse—selling used mattresses infested with bedbugs as new. Ew.
Gombossy said he plans to continue his column as an independent blogger.

(via Romenesko)

Aug 16, 2009

Capture the flag

Drudge Report claims a victory in the war over health care reform. White House says not so fast (sorta).

TMI?

The line separating private from public has shifted dramatically with the rise of the Internet culture. As we search and set up accounts on various social and work sites, we leave pieces of our identity behind. Data collectors have begun to stitch those pieces together to create a rough outline of our identities. A few websites, PeekYou and snitch.name among them, let users track individuals - famous and not famous at all - and get automatic updates when new pieces of the person's identity are deposited.

Testing the limits of free speech

The upcoming trial of Internet radio host Hal Turner could test the boundaries of political speech in this country.

Turner is to be tried for statements he made on his blog after a three-judge panel handed down what he deemed to be a bad ruling in a gun rights case.

From the Washington Post:

"Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed," Turner wrote on his blog on June 2, according to the FBI. "Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions."

The next day, Turner posted photographs of the appellate judges and a map showing the Chicago courthouse where they work, noting the placement of "anti-truck bomb barriers." When an FBI agent appeared at the door of his New Jersey home, Turner said he meant no harm.

He is now behind bars awaiting trial, accused of threatening the judges and deemed by a U.S. magistrate as too dangerous to be free.

The First Amendment makes explicit the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" along with the more general right of free speech. Does Turner's opinion that the judges deserve death, however vile, constitute a threat? Does the reference to the "tree of liberty," with its patriotic and violent associations, amount to a call for violence? Is posting a map of a courthouse and pictures of the judges an incitement to act?

Aug 15, 2009

Union dues?

Shortly after Platinum Equity bought the San Diego Union-Tribune in March, the union representing police officers in Los Angeles wrote a letter to the news owners demanding they make the paper's editorial pages more union friendly, even if it meant firing the editorial page writers.

Here's a part of what Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, wrote to Platinum CEO Tom Gores:
"Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced."
On Wednesday, the new owners took a step in that direction by laying off the editorial and opinion page editors, along with more than 100 other workers. I know of nothing that suggests this is anything more than coincidence, but I agree with Ben at Infinite Monkeys that it deserves closer scrutiny.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, Platinum Equity "relies on a $30-million investment from the pension fund of Los Angeles police officers and fire fighters, along with large sums from other public-employee pension systems around the state, to help fund its acquisitions of companies."

A touchy subject

A well-known artist who made his bones in the street and who's been arrested 15 times for tagging - his latest arrest ended in a plea deal just last month - decides to apply an anti-graffiti coating to his Echo Park studio to protect the brick facade from taggers.

A laid-off former Los Angeles Times reporter who now blogs about the Echo Park neighborhood points out that a well-known artist who's been arrested 15 times for tagging has put a coating on his Echo Park studio to protect it from graffiti.

The artist, a self-described defender of free expression, lashes out at the blogger, calling him "desperate" and a "slime."

Forget the artist's intemperate words. There's an interesting story here about changing definitions and worlds. Here's a rising artist, Shepard Fairey, who still perceives himself as an outsider and who's struggling with the fact that he may no longer be "street" (consider the symbolism and scope of his plea deal); who's probably wondering if he's trapped in the mainstream now that his artwork has achieved mainstream status (consider the genesis and appropriation of his signature artwork); who's contending with changing values as he gets older and more established; and who now finds that he's no longer the instigator of outsider action, but the target - even though Jesus Sanchez's blog post was about as gentle a poke as could be delivered.

Or maybe its just an Echo Park dust up.

Aug 14, 2009

Slipping down the slope

What could be worse than "death panels" for grandma? Gays with scalpels! TNR

After all, it's a business...

Ethics are only for reporters who aren't making real money.

Forty years of Woodstock

How Woodstock reshaped politics, music and consumer culture on today's To The Point.

Guests: Dale Bell, associated producer of the Oscar-winning documentary; Rick Perlstein, author of "Nixonland"; James Miller, author of "Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977" and professor at the New School for Social Research; Rich Galen, communications director for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Research Center on Social and Demographic Trends.

Turning ships into boats

Having just cut 57 positions, the Gannett-owned Journal News in Westchester, New York, announced that it will eliminate all 288 of the remaining news and advertising jobs and then hire about three-quarters of them back.

From the New York Times:
After the redefined jobs are filled, there will be 20 fewer positions in advertising and 50 fewer positions in news, reducing the newsroom staff (which includes Web employees) by more than a quarter. ...

A reporter who has been at the paper for more than 15 years said that matching old jobs to new was confusing. “For example, there are no photo jobs listed, but ‘visual specialists,’ ” the reporter said, while the closest jobs to traditional print reporting seemed to be “topics beat reporter” and “local beat reporter.”

“It seemed obvious that a lot of the local communities we cover will get shorted on coverage, mainly because there’s not enough people,” said the reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns over the job.

Former Journal News employees will begin interviewing to become new Journal News employees next week.

Aug 13, 2009

Union-Tribune cuts 112

An updated story in the San Diego Union-Tribune puts the number of workers laid off yesterday at 112 - that's fewer than the 200 estimated by PaidContent, but still quite a crowd. The paper's new owners, Platinum Equity, had already cut 192 workers in May.

The U-T story is mucked up with a lot of noise about advertising and micro-zoning initiatives, and doesn't include a breakdown for how many people were cut from the newsroom. The paper's online rival, Voice of San Diego, has reported some of those names.

Four today

1. Richard Serrano, late of the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau, has landed at the Las Vegas Sun. LAO

2. A Gannett paper in Utah has refused to print a same-sex wedding announcement. AP

3. Newspaper cuts in Wisconsin. Wisconsin State Journal

4. Josh Marshall gives an early nod to the LA Times redesign. TPM

Les Paul, guitar legend, was 94

From the New York Times:
Les Paul, the virtuoso guitarist and inventor whose solid-body electric guitar and recording studio innovations changed the course of 20th-century popular music, died Thursday in White Plains. He was 94. ...

Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.
The rest is here.

Aug 12, 2009

LATimes.com gets a facelift

The Los Angeles Times has launched its redesigned website. Here's the note from editor Russ Stanton and online managing editor Meredith Artley. And here's a screen shot:

Layoffs at the Union-Tribune*,**,***

The Boston Globe signaled last week that layoffs were coming to the San Diego Union-Tribune and now the Voice of San Diego has confirmed the cuts are underway:
Bob Kittle, the editorial page editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune, has been laid off, according to newsroom sources. So has Bernie Jones, the editor of the newspaper's opinion page. ...

The newspaper is in the midst of laying off staffers throughout the business. We're working to confirm the size and scope of the layoffs[.]
The Globe mentioned the pending layoffs in a profile of the paper's new owner, Platinum Equity of Beverly Hill. The company, which bought the Union-Tribune in May and promptly laid off 192 employees, has put in a bid to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.

*Update: PaidContent reports 200 people have been laid off at the Union-Tribune, which would cut the total workforce to 650.

Here's a part of the U-T's story announcing the layoffs and other changes at the paper:

The San Diego Union-Tribune said Wednesday that it is eliminating an undisclosed number of jobs as part of a package of initiatives that also includes new editorial and advertising offerings.

The company announced an advertising program that will allow micro-zoning for small businesses at lower, localized rates, as well as an editorial effort that will produce more local coverage of targeted communities.

It also announced a planned redesign of the company's SignOnSanDiego.com Web site, as well as an investment in a pagination publishing system it said would significantly streamline the newspaper's production process.

The company also said it would partially reverse pay cuts for remaining employees that were implemented in February.

“These initiatives, taken as a whole, strike a balance between our short-term economic reality and our long-term aspirations for growth and reinvention of our product,” Union-Tribune Publisher Ed Moss said.

(h/t LA Biz Observed)

**Update II: According to the communications director for San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, the U-T has fired military reporter Rick Rogers, cops reporter Mark Arner, photographer Laura Embry and North County editor Jim Okerblom.

(h/t Romenesko)

***Updated: The Union-Tribune has reported that the number of laid off is 112, not the 200 PaidContent reported.

Fred Kinne dead at 93

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Fred Kinne, an unflappable editor who helped lead The Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 1978 PSA plane crash, died Sunday night in La Mesa. He was 93.

In a newsroom, Mr. Kinne was a commanding figure who was calm under fire and had a way of eliciting the best from people. His long journalism career also included editing positions at the San Diego Daily Journal and The San Diego Union.

Read the full obit here.

(via fisbowlLA)

AP lock box

Nieman Lab got hold of a confidential AP memo that outlines strategies to protect online content. One of the ideas is to block both AP member and readers from putting "unique" AP content on their websites, directing them instead to a central AP hub.

From Zachary Seward at Nieman Labs:
Utility content, [AP general counsel Srinandan] Kasi told me, might be your traditional breaking-news story: “So a headline item that says, ‘Mid-air collision outside of New York and tourists die,’ let’s say. You can imagine, in the New York area, there are lots of media covering that story.” The AP would treat that content as it always has, putting it on the wire for members and customers to publish on their own sites. But other pieces of content — say, an infographic or a sidebar documenting the history of similar collisions — would be held off the wire and published only on a central AP site, Kasi said.

The plain-vanilla wire story, meanwhile, would point to the more in-depth material in the form of a link. He explained: “We have unique pieces of data, maybe, or we have a unique visual narrative, a graphic. We have unique photos, a photo gallery, and so on. How can you use some pieces of content to drive traffic to other pieces of content? That’s really what’s being addressed here.”

I should note that this has nothing to do with the AP’s print offerings, and the AP has various online feeds for customers that could see different changes.

Two for the Times*

The Los Angeles Times is expected to launch its redesigned website tomorrow, with a formal announcement and details of the changes to come tomorrow morning.

Also, the Times and the Chicago Tribune are consolidating their national sports desks. Sam Farmer and Chris Dufresne of the Times will cover the NFL and college football, respectively, for the two papers.

*Correx: The Times will formally announce the redesign tomorrow but launched it tonight. It's here.

Two AP journalists wounded in Afghanistan

An Associated Press photographer and videographer were hit by a roadside bomb while traveling with a U.S. military unit. AP

Aug 11, 2009

The end of downward trend lines?

The absence of bad news counts as good news for newspapers these days. Which is the proper context to consider this report from Borrell Associates, showing newspapers enjoying a "modest bounce" in ad sales over the next five years.

Architects of harsh

Scott Shane profiles the two psychologist who helped develop the "harsh" interrogation tactics used in the early days of the war on terror. NYT

Guild gets peek at Tribune bonus plan

A judge ruled today that the union representing newspaper workers at Tribune Co. will be able to look at the company's proposal to hand out $70 million in bonuses to top managers.

From AP:
The judge agreed to allow the Chicago-based company to keep under seal a compensation consultant's report underlying the bonus plan and said information to be shared by the Tribune will be restricted.

"It's going only to the Guild," Carey ruled, denying the Guild's request to share the information with other unions, including those that joined in its objection to the bonus plan. ...

The company defended the proposed bonuses, saying they are based on specific performance targets and are needed to retain key employees facing significant industry challenges while working toward a successful reorganization. The bonuses, the company said, will help attract top-tier management talent if needed.

Four in the afternoon

1. Something funky in the South Bay. Daily Breeze Managing Editor Toni Sciacqua tweets: "That funky smell some of you may have noticed is apparently a methane pocket that "belched" near the Redondo Marina. Story soon."

2. KCET.org continues its "Better Know a SoCal blogger" series with a profile of Cindy Mosqueda, who blogs at "Loteria Chicana." KCET

3. Female journalists age 18 t0 30 have a chance to earn minimum wage, plus cash bonuses, for a mysterious and possibly scuzzy Hollywood outfit. fishbowlLA

4. Is something amiss inside the union representing LANG journalists? Stress-Telegram

Pasadena Weekly turns 25

The Pasadena Weekly formally celebrated its 25th anniversary with a small party at its office in downtown Pasadena on June 30. The alt weekly then moved the festivities to a bigger venue, the sidewalk in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, for a citywide celebration. Mayor Bill Bogaard made a few opening remarks and then introduced the evening's entertainment, 80s cover band The Spazmatics. Hearing Bogaard say the name made it all worthwhile.

The celebration also marked the final day for PW writer and deputy editor Joe Piasecki. He's left the paper to pursue a master's degree in specialized journalism at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. Piasecki, a 2001 graduate of USC, was awarded an Annenberg Fellowship to help pay the freight. Staff writer Jake Armstrong will take over as deputy editor.

*Edited

Bad connection

A New York Times incorrectly linked a race-based riot at the California Institute for Men in Chino with a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that ordered prisons to stop segregating prison populations by race, according to a report on Witness LA.

Aug 10, 2009

Google comes calling

The new Google Voice offers a host of useful tools for journalists, Poynter says. Here's the Google page with an overview. The service is only available by invitation, but the wait is supposed to be relatively short.

Doing public business in private

Attorneys for the city of Dallas, Texas, have proposed a novel legal theory to keep public business private.

The Dallas Morning News has sued to force a former mayor to turn over emails concerning a city-backed housing project that's at the center of a federal corruption probe. The city refuses, arguing the emails are on the former mayor's private BlackBerry and therefore private information.

In other words, what defines public versus private information is not the content or purpose of the communication (i.e., discussing public business), but the status of the device used to do the communicating.

From the DMN:
The main issue in the case is whether the Public Information Act requires government agencies to release messages that deal with public matters but are made using an official's personal e-mail account or mobile device.
A lower court has ruled in the newspaper's favor twice now but the case is on appeal. If Dallas wins, I'd guess city officials will forgo their publicly financed computers and cell phones for something a little more secure.

Hell, why not hold public meetings in private living rooms?

City lawyers have thrown an added twist into the case. They argue that only the two journalists who sought the emails, not the newspaper, have standing to bring the suit under the Texas Public Information Act - nevermind that the city is spending public money to defend what it deems to be a private matter.

(via Romenesko)

Tribune reporter heads back to school

San Gabriel Valley Tribune reporter Jennifer McLain signed off Unisys for the last time on Friday. She's leaving the paper after three years on the job to study public administration at USC. Here's her parting note to readers on the Leftovers from City Hall blog:
Today marks my last day with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune after working here for three years and a month. My time as a reporter here has been extremely rewarding and what I always hoped it would be. After all, the San Gabriel Valley is heavy on crime and has its share of political controversy. What's not to love?

My time as a blogger, on the other hand, has been extremely humbling. After 933 blog posts and the 4,696 comments that followed since we started the Leftovers from City Hall blog, I had to swallow my pride many a time, whether because I was a little too honest or had a post with one too many errors or, well, you get the picture.

Readers, thank you for your patience and your attention. It is my experience at the Tribune, the government accountability stories and the many contacts I've interviewed through the years that have inspired me to pursue a career in public service. Beginning Aug. 24, I will attend USC to pursue a master's degree in public administration. Thanks for dealing with me through the years.

Sincerely,

Jennifer McLain

I had the pleasure of working with McLain in my brief stint as an SGVN editor. I wish her the best in a new career.

Aug 9, 2009

Up in Seattle, down in Philly

Subscriptions are up and so are profits at the Seattle Times, which has benefited from the closure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. NYT

Bankruptcy blues still grip the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. NYT

Aug 8, 2009

The Platinum treatment

The Boston Globe profiles Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity, which bought the San Diego Union-Tribune in March and has put in a bid of $35 million to buy the Globe from New York Times Co.

Tom Gores is the billionaire owner. He's 45. He's used the cash he's made from his private equity investments to produce a Lindsay Lohan slasher film.

Good taste aside, the description of what's going on at the Union-Tribune should have the Globe staff frightened. In addition to the 192 layoffs instituted shortly after Platinum Equity bought the San Diego newspaper, the company has barred employees who leave from recruiting current employees for new ventures and hired "consultants" to monitor the productivity of reporters and editors.

The private equity firm brought in Ed Moss, a veteran downsizer who's worked at both the Akron Beacon Journal and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, to become Union-Tribune publisher.

The Globe reports that another round of layoffs is expectd at the Union-Tribune next week.

Then there's the aggressive manner in which Platinum's attorneys tried to squash a story about two sexual harassment lawsuits that, along with those productivity consultants, raises serious questions about editorial independence and ethics.

Many argue Platinum only got into the newspaper game for the real estate - and the Globe has some prime real estate of its own.

From the Globe:
“They don’t care whether it’s a newspaper or a dairy or a gas station or a small engine manufacturer,’’ said the person close to the transaction. “They’re looking at the fundamentals of the business. If they think they can make money at a certain transaction price, they’re interested in that business.’’
Platinum Equity already has a regional office in Boston.

Aug 7, 2009

Four Friday

1. World's oldest Sunday paper considers closing. Newspaper Death Watch

2. Mark Halperin at Time magazine doesn't like town hall mobsters (but he still likes Drudge). TIME

3. Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor, has some thoughts on health care reform: Beware the "death panel." Facebook

4. Errol Morris looks at the lies about lying. Part 1 and Part 2

10 things I like about you

Should newsrooms operate on the star system? Well, they do. So maybe the better question is, how does a newsroom create a star system that doesn't snuff out fresh talent, reward editor's pets, or excuse lazy editing?

One way is to remember that the quality of the stars generally reflects the qualities favored by the editors. Steven A. Smith offers his list of 10 qualities that make a star journalist: heart, intellectual curiosity, fearlessness, fear, patience, skepticism, a less-than-empathetic personality, adaptability, quiet leadership and disrespect of authority.

Smith expounds on each. It's worth a read.

What's all the hubub about health care?

Who's fighting against health care reform? And who's fighting for it? Listen to today's "To The Point" with Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, Republican strategist David Winston, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and Steve Kornacki of the New York Observer. The cure for sound-bite journalism.

California budget squabble continues

The California budget battle isn't over yet.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today he will sue Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to restore about $489 million in cuts made after a budget agreement was reached. Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto authority to slash funding from health and welfare programs.

Steinberg's office sent out the following statement:
“We elected a governor, not an emperor. In making these line item vetoes the Governor forced punishing cuts on children, the disabled and patients that he couldn’t win fairly at the bargaining table. And in doing so, he overstepped his constitutional authority.”
The Sacramento Bee got this response from the governor's office:
"Because the legislature failed to send him a balanced budget after months of debate the Governor was forced to make these difficult cuts. While Democrats are focused on a protracted legal battle to dig the state back into deficit the Governor will continue to focus on moving our state forward and getting Californians back to work."
Democrats have been working themselves up to file a lawsuit for about a week.

SGVN ad man dismissed

Sources tell me Randy Heltsly, V.P. of Advertising and Marketing for the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, was dismissed today.

The Interntubes are fragile

According to a Facebook executive, a fierce denial-of-service attack aimed at a single Georgian blogger yesterday was what brought down Twitter and disrupted service on Facebook, LiveJournal, Blogger and YouTube.

CNET News has the story:
The blogger, who uses the account name "Cyxymu," (the name of a town in the Republic of Georgia) had accounts on all of the different sites that were attacked at the same time, Max Kelly, chief security officer at Facebook, told CNET News. ...

Political conflicts between Russia and its former republic spilled online last year with DoS attacks and Web site defacements going in both directions.
Are these sites really this vulnerable? Do the Russians (clearly implicated here) have that much technical kung fu? Or is there more to the story than an attack on a Georgian blogger?

*Also, one year ago today Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, marking the start of a 5-day war.

Aug 6, 2009

Bicoastal cutbacks

The New York Times Co. confirms what everybody knew, which is that the Boston Globe has been put up for sale. Additionally, the company wants to trim the payroll by 10 percent at two of its smaller papers, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Petaluma Argus Courier, both in California.

From Editor & Publisher:
The papers are seeking savings in salary reductions, buyout offers and possibly layoffs, the Press Democrat reported.

The Press Democrat employs 325 people and the move will affect all union and non-union staffers across all departments. The Argus Courier has 16 employees.

A 5% pay cut will go into effect Jan. 1 for managers while non-union employees will experience a 3% reduction in salary. This is in addition to the 2.5% cut instituted in March.
(via FishbowlLA and Romenesko)

Not for sale (anymore)

Cox Enterprises sent out a memo today alerting employees that the Austin American-Statesman is no longer for sale.

It sounds as if the company didn't so much want to keep the paper as no one offered the right price. From the memo:
I am pleased to announce that the Austin American-Statesman is no longer for sale and will remain part of Cox Enterprises. Since Cox announced its intent to sell the paper in August 2008, the Statesman received substantial interest from potential buyers. However, Cox did not feel that the offers reflected the true value of the Statesman.
The memo goes on to list 19 papers it has sold and two others that remain on the market.

(via Romenesko)

New publisher at the Daily News

The Los Angeles Newspaper Group today named Jack Klunder, former president of the Los Angeles Times, as publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Klunder left LANG in 2005 to head up the circulation department for the Times, where he'd worked before. Late last month, Times publisher Eddie Hartenstein announced Klunder was leaving for points unknown. Now we know.

This is the second new publisher for the LANG chain in as many days.

From the Daily News:

The appointment, which takes effect Aug. 10, marks Klunder's return to the nine-paper Los Angeles Newspaper Group (LANG), where he served as vice president of circulation from 1999 to 2005.

"Jack's understanding of our market and his impressive track record make him ideally suited to run the Daily News," said Fred Hamilton, LANG's chief executive officer.

Klunder was the Times' executive vice president of circulation and distribution from 2005 until earlier this year, and was responsible for all circulation, advertising and newspaper operations while serving as Times president in 2008. He'd previously spent 20 years in various management positions at the Times, from 1976 to 1996.

Before joining LANG for the first time, Klunder was a founding partner of Equant Marketing Group, which established an inbound/outbound call center in Denver and generated $12 million in revenues within two years.

Klunder received a business management degree from Pepperdine University and a graduate degree from UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

Klunder is married to Dee Dee and has four daughters.

Aug 5, 2009

Growth industry

Just over one-third of Internet users visit newspaper sites, according to a recent NAA survey.

Or to put it another way, roughly two-thirds of Internet users don't visit newspaper sites.

Nieman Journalism Lab dug a little further into the NAA's numbers and discovered that newspapers account for less than 1 percent of total online page views and less than 1 percent of total time spent online.

To put it another way, 99 percent of the time people are online, they're looking at something else.

Which means there's quite a lot of room to grow.

Budd Schulberg dead at 95

Screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg has died. He was 95.

Four in the afternoon

1. The New York Times has named a new restaurant critic and it isn't Jonathan Gold. LAO

2. A columnist at The Detroit Metro Times finds the new AnnArbor.com less than satisfactory. Metro Times

3. J-school grads finding fewer jobs, fewer job benefits. University of Georgia

4. Get born again in Kenya!