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March 09 2010


US Digest: staff down at Variety; ads down at Ars Technica; sense down at FishbowlDC

It’s the end of something at Variety, and Roger Ebert isn’t happy

The biggest media news from the other side of the pond this morning was the laying off of two of Variety’s marquee critics. Chief film critic Todd McCarthy and chief theatre critic David Rooney were let go amid staff cuts that will see the magazine feature freelance reviews only.

The NYT have the full story here, and PoynterOnline have the staff memo, in which editor Tim Gray seems happy to offend exiting colleagues and readers alike with statements like: “Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers.”

“It’s the end of something, I don’t know what” said McCarthy. The first thing that springs to mind is: your staff job at Variety, Mr. McCarthy. But he may have had Roger Ebert’s subscription to the magazine in mind:

No reprieve on death row interview policy

From Associated Press, news that the Supreme Court has decided against any changes to the federal prison policy preventing death-row inmates giving interviews to journalists.

The decision was prompted by an appeal from David Paul Hammer, an inmate in Terre Haute, Indiana. Hammer claimed that the policy, which came into effect after the Oklahoma City bombing, violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Twenty-three media organisations urged the Supreme Court to hear Hammer’s case.

Ars Technica and its readers kiss and make up after ad-blocking stand-off

An interesting development in the use of ad-blocking software was played out over the weekend by technology site Ars Technica and its not-so-faithful followers. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

After discovering that a shockingly high 40 per cent of their online readership were using ad-blocking software, which removes advertisements from web-pages, the site hit back. All of a sudden, those using the ad-blocking plug-in were unable to see the site’s content, with no explanation.

The quite amazing outcome is that, after publishing a post on the site explaining the damage that ad-blocking software meant for their revenue, and explaining why they had to take the counter-measures, editor-in-chief Ken Fisher received around 1,200 emails from people who had whitelisted the site, preventing its ads from being blocked. Furthermore, 25,000 people went on to whitelist it within 24 hours and 200 people subscribed, paying for the ad-free version.

It seems that the key in this case was communication, getting the message out to an essentially appreciative readership that using ad-blocking software can have seriously detrimental effect on content that you enjoy.

And, it seems like it worked. Good for Ars Technica.

An error within and error within and error within an..hold on what?

Finally, FishbowlDC show everyone else a clean pair of heels in the competition for today’s strangest blog post, which reports in a round about way that the blog Regret the Error made an error reporting on an error made by Wolf Blitzer.

I can’t find an error in the Fishbowl post, which they rightly point out would constitute an error within an error within an error, but as that would also constitute even less of a story than the current one, its probably for the best.

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March 08 2010


US Digest: media echo-chambers; one-man bands; LA (Times) real estate agents

Talking about making sausages

Dispatches from inside the “echo-chamber of mediated Manhattan” today, courtesy of the NYT’s David Carr. Carr has an interesting piece up on what he sees an increasing amount of news on the news: ‘Breaking the story that isn’t

As a media reporter, I’m obviously not one to suggest that the activities of journalists are not a legitimate source of inquiry. But I worry that the incremental needs of an always-on Web — everyone wants to know what the state of play is at any given moment — will imperil the practice of longer-form journalism, the kind that demands time, an open mind, a lot of questions and sometimes results in dead ends.

As a media reporter reporting on a media reporter reporting on over-zealous media reporting, I’m really obviously not one to suggest that the activities of journalists are not a legitimate source of inquiry. As Carr puts it, “the manufacture of sausage is sometimes as much the point as the sausage itself”. These blog posts are little more than an aggregation, a round-up of published material, but Carr has the close online scrutiny of ongoing stories in his sights.

Twitter and blogs may have become part of advancing the story, but it’s more likely that incremental updates on what the reporters are up to — or misleading rumors about same — may harden the opposition, button up sources and sometimes derail investigations.

So at what point does the navel-gazing jeopardise good stories? How much talking about making sausages spoils the taste of them?

Carr’s piece may have been prompted by the attention paid to his paper’s coverage of the Governor Patterson scandal, which he refers to as “wild and wildly off-base rumours”. Paying the most attention was the ever-vigilant NYTPicker.

“The deeper sounds of a small journalistic orchestra

Journalists complaining about cost-cutting moves toward ‘one-man band’ journalism isn’t anything new. Journalists extolling the virtues and opportunities of ‘one-man band’ journalism isn’t anything new either.

But using a handful of good examples Howard Kurtz has produced a decent, objective edition of Media Notes today looking at both sides of the coin. Lazy journalists living in the past be warned, it also includes some intimidating tales of multi-tasking.

The highlight of the piece is the story of one journalist’s remarkable transformation, graduating from suits and ties to baseball caps and a dirty hatchback:

A coat-and-tie journalist who has worked in television news for 27 years, Broom had to reinvent himself – with the aid of a three-day boot camp on shooting video – when he joined the Gannett station in 2007. Now he wears a black jacket and black Channel 9 cap and rarely goes to the newsroom. Instead he cruises the area in an unwashed white Honda hatchback, its front seat filled with a Dell laptop, police radio, tripod and Sony HVR-V1U video camera.

Kurtz’s article is balanced, and doesn’t jump to defend the profession against the suggestion that journalists should be able to do it all, but there is a simple reminder that standards may be at risk:

A one-man band is cheaper, quicker and more nimble — but cannot produce the deeper sounds of a small journalistic orchestra.

No press pass, no get out of jail free card

Student journalist Cameron Burns finds himself on the other side of the story today in The Daily Californian, after finding himself charged at by riot police on a California freeway at the end of last week.

Covering a demonstration over public education funding for student paper The Daily Californian, Burns had left his press pass in the office and was tackled to the ground and arrested alongside the protesters, despite repeated assertions that he was a journalist.

The result? A twenty hour stint in jail and a court appearance scheduled for April 6.

L.A. Times disappears behind paywall Johnny Depp

From Reuters, news of dismay among the L.A. Times’ readership after the front page – “our most valuable real estate” according to Times’ spokesperson John Conroy – was replaced by a mock front page adorned with a huge advert for Tim Burton’s new Disney-backed Alice in Wonderland adaptation.

It seems some readers have been particularly offended by the decision to use a mock-up front page in the background of the ad, which includes the paper’s masthead, although the word ‘advertisement’ is written underneath in small letters.

“We made it clear that this was a depiction of the front page, rather than a real front page of the newspaper,” said Conroy. “We had an unusual opportunity here to stretch the traditional boundaries and deliver an innovative ad unit that was designed to create buzz.”

Perhaps the style of the L.A. Times advert is particularly galling, but as the Reuters article points out, it is not the first quality newspaper to exploit the value of the technique, called a ‘cover-wrap’.

The nationally circulated USA Today drew criticism for a pseudo edition of its newspaper distributed at an AIDS conference in Geneva as a promotion for a pharmaceutical company. The Wall Street Journal and other dailies have run partial wrap sleeves around the outsides of their papers.

I’m not sure how the film reviews page rates in real estate terms, but the film producers are in luck significantly less people will have gone for a viewing there, where the film didn’t make quite the same splash.

Fading to Black have an image of the cover here.

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February 26 2010


US Digest: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern; Newsweek’s yearly results; Winnipeg’s bright future

Starting this week, the editor’s blog will feature an afternoon roundup of all things media from over the pond. From the hugely important to the very inconsequential, check in for a choice of America’s journalistic goings on.

A glimpse of a perfect media world

To the Chicago Tribune first today for a heartwarming paean to Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s, and to Eggers’ own heartwarming paean to the newspaper journalism of old.

Eggers is the founder of independent publishing house McSweeny’s, responsible for, among other things, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Issue 33 of the McSweeney’s quarterly – “so immense it comes in a pillow-size silver, Ziploc-ish bag” – has just been released. It is safe to say that Tribune reporter Christopher Borrelli, who likens it to “a fantasy, a tantalizing mirage — a glimpse of a perfect media world”, is a fan.

The books section runs 96 pages, the Sunday magazine 112 pages. The photos are large and gorgeous, the longest story is about 20,000 words, the arts section is two sections, and, basically, it’s fun.

Really fun.

So perfectly executed that if you work at a daily newspaper — heck, if you merely prefer the feel of news on print, or just adore the beleaguered medium (as Eggers does) — issue No. 33 may bring a tear to your eye.

In interview with Borrelli, Eggers discusses the pragmatic (financial viability) and nostalgic (reading the newspaper as a child) elements of his relationship with the printed word. He also offers a decent response to the accusation that print journalism is elitist:

Readers can tell you what’s important to them by what they look at, but there’s a great danger in that too. When I see a picture of a funny dog wearing a hat on the Web, yeah, I click it too. The problem is that pretty soon you’re down a rabbit hole, and who’s still holding the government accountable? I would much rather have reporters who have been at a subject for a while tell me what’s most important about a subject. Am I really going to cobble together my own news of what’s happening in Afghanistan?

Truth be told, if all the good newspapers called it a day Eggers probably would cobble together his own news of what’s happening in Afghanistan, and it would probably be pretty good. But I suspect this one man publishing phenomenon is not a very good test case for the rest of us. With luck, the San Francisco Panorama – “a nod to Eggers’ adopted hometown and the locality of newspapers” according to Borrelli – which broke even on its first run, will make it into regular print.

Dave Eggers

A glimpse of the real media world

North to the New York Post now, which reports that formal experimentation doesn’t seem to be paying off so well for Newsweek. From Post reporter Keith J. Kelly:

Attempts by Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim and Editor-in-Chief Jon Meacham to reshape the magazine into a lower-circulation weekly with a more Economist-like feel do not seem to be paying off.

Tucked in the fourth-quarter earnings report from parent Washington Post Company were numbers that suggest the magazine lost $28.1 million in 2009, the first year of the process.

Newsweek is one of only two magazines currently published by the Washington Post Company. The other, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, lost $1.2 million bringing the magazine arm losses to a total of $29.3 million.

Politico commentator Michael Calderone was sceptical about the shake-up from the start. From early 2009:

It certainly is a big gamble to mess with the DNA of such an established brand. But given Newsweek’s losses — and the magazine industry as a whole — it’s not a bad time to try and switch things up.

Perhaps some new kind of gamble is now needed at the beginning of 2010, established brand or not.

The hyperlocal/local/niche debate: a follow-up

To, well, anywhere local now with Lost Remote, and a follow up to Wednesday’s US Digest story about local/hyperlocal/niche reporting.

What seemed at first like a fairly innocuous post by the site’s editor Steve Safran provoked a fair amount of discussion. Safran then returned to the fray with a follow up post to address some of the readers’ comments.

Last in: the last in

A little toward the trailing edge of technology, the Winnipeg Free Press, “whose dead-tree edition have been hemorrhaging readers for two decades”, is nonetheless deserving of a runners-up round of applause for finally catching the ‘tweet from local council meeting’ bandwagon.

Apparently, reporter Bartley Kives’ “irreverent tone is perfect for social media”.

Lest the improbably named Bartley Kives get carried away with fantasies of the Twitterati, Duncan McDonagle of Snoo.ws chimes in with a sharp reminder of the realities of modern local reporting in Winnipeg, to which the world’s best-named people clearly gravitate.

And poor old Kives still had to interview participants and write stories for the paper’s website and for the newsprint edition the next morning – as well as keep an eye on council’s debate about garbage containers.

Fear not though, Kives’ humour is very much intact, in evidence in his Twitter report that McDonagle had reported on his Twitter reporting:

Reporter tweets about journalism instructor blogging about reporter tweeting. http://tinyurl.com/yaytn3a #selfpromotion #wpgcouncil

Image of Dave Eggers courtesy of David Shankbone

Image of street map courtesy of Htonl

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February 25 2010


US Digest: Sally Quinn vs gossipers; Deadline vs Gawker; Kevin Smith vs the media

Starting this week, the editor’s blog will feature an afternoon roundup of all things media from over the pond. From the hugely important to the very inconsequential, check in for a choice of America’s journalistic goings on.

Public feuding seems to be flavour of the week this week, with Cheryl and Ashley Cole fighting it out on the fronts of red tops and t-shirts, and Anna Ford and Martin Amis going pound for pound in the letter pages of the broadsheets.

With no shortage of handbags stateside either, today’s digest seems, somewhat tenuously, to be all about what the media had to report on feuding.

Round One: Sally Quinn vs. those pesky gossipers

Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn, who writes a lifestyle column called “The Party”, used her most recent column to address claims amongst gossip columnists that two Quinn family weddings scheduled for the same day were evidence of some kind of family feud.

Unfortunately for Quinn, Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli didn’t take very kindly to the article. More unfortunately for Quinn still, Washington City Post editor Erik Wemple (who, lucky, lucky man, appears in US Digest for a second day running) turned all his communicative efforts to getting some information out of the Post, and quite impressively got around the Brauchli very own eponymous omerta, the Brauchli Doctrine, to get the scoop on his reaction.

That reaction was to bring a swift end to “The Party”, like two surprised parents returning from holiday early. As tragic an event as the failure of the Cole’s marriage, Quinn’s column has been cut from the print edition of the post, Brauchli has banished it to the doldrums of Washington Post online.

And who the hell reads their journalism online?

Amidst a raft of “The Party Is Over” headlines, Gawker, ever moderate in their approach, ran with this gem instead:

Sally Quinn’s Stupid Idiot Column Being Killed, at Long Last?

But very kindly let up in their opening paragraph:

The Washington Post is reportedly considering doing away with Sally Quinn’s godawful self-absorbed rich lady column from hell, which is an embarrassment to the entire institution.

Continuing on with the feuding theme, both the Washington Post and Gawker have their own scraps featured in the press today.

Round Two: The Washington Post vs. New York Times

Michael Calderone from Politico reports on the Post and the NYT trying to pinch each other’s staff. The Times are apparently in the lead at the moment, having raided the Post newsroom consistently for the past few years, but the Post, with a couple of fresh vacancies on the Politics desk, are eyeing up staff at the Times.

Still, it seems that the Times, a full 26 years older than the Post, is keeping the upstart down.

Both papers have long sought out top journalists in Washington and elsewhere, but in recent years, The Times has been able to grab more talent from the Post than vice versa.

Gawker doesn’t seem to think America’s top journos are too well off at either paper right now:

What are those slick bastards at the Washington Post trying now? They are trying―and failing―to hire a bunch of good reporters away from the NYT [...] And that looks even worse for the Washington Post, since all the New York Times can offer its own staffers now are fake sideways promotions, like, why don’t you go from editing this one thing, to writing about this other thing? Because there are no new jobs there, you see. But hey, at least it’s not the Washington Post!

The NYT - not to be poached from

As promised, news of Gawker’s very own new spat:

Round Three: Deadline Hollywood vs. Gawker

The Deadline Hollywood blog’s Nikki Finke claimed yesterday that she had bested Gawker’s stats for the month and, not only that folks, she had done so without having to “bottomfeed about celebrities just to increase web traffic”.

Well, in hindsight, that was probably a mistake. Actually it definitely was a mistake, and Gawker came out of their corner with irrefutable stats to prove it and, more importantly, another great sucker punch of a headline:

Nikki Finke Beats Gawker In Traffic, In Her Own Mind

Finke’s very begrudging correction can be found appended to her post, with a suitable shift of blame.

Gawker - not to be messed with

Enough of media feuding now? Me too. But it’s the theme of today’s post so, the show must go on. In the case of Keven Smith much-publicised set-to with SouthWest Airlines, the show goes on, and on, and on, and…. on.

Round Four: Kevin Smith vs. the media

Having been ejected from a SouthWest airlines flight just prior to take-off because staff were worried his weight was a safety issue, the film director Kevin Smith used his Twitter account, followed by 1,669,611 people, to launch a seemingly interminable campaign against the airline. Clever Southwest.

That bit is old news.

But in a new interview with Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times, Smith has dragged the media into the feud, claiming their reaction left a lot to be desired:

It really sickened me that after all the years I’ve been so open with the press that they didn’t bother to dig at all. I was unfairly bounced and discriminated against, but they never bothered to tell that story. They just went with the easy fat jokes. Every TV show imaginable asked me to go on, from Oprah to Larry King, but I turned them all down because I didn’t want to turn into Octomom.

So Kevin Smith is peeved with the media now too, but still kindly giving them material for their ‘easy fat jokes’ with talk of bouncing and the Octomom. Which, obviously, we are not going to exploit here at J.co.uk, because I’m no good at puns.

Kevin Smith - not too big to get on tiptoes

For more airplane related tales of less-than-respectable reporting, follow this link

Having shamelessly cast aside everything really newsworthy in today’s digest in favour of stories that tenuously serve my feuding theme, I am running short on material. So, finally, and most tenuously of all, the social media story du jour, which sees Conan O’Brien amass way more followers with one tweet than Jesus fed with five loaves.

Round Five: Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno

Conan O’Brien took over NBC’s Tonight Show from Jay Leno back in June 2009, but walked out on the show over a proposed scheduling change that would see it moved it from 11:35pm to 12:05am.

Retired, probably at a loose end, O’Brien did what any self-respecting man would do and joined Twitter, getting off to a pretty funny start:

Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me.

O’Brien’s followers started to stack up at a mind-bending rate. At the time of writing he as 257,328, but by later this afternoon it could easily be 1040.

This fairly innocuous story soon grew into an infant media feud, with headlines uniformly reading something like this:

Conan O’Brien joins Twitter, outdoes Leno again.

Jay Leno’s followers, at the time of writing: a paltry 30,371.

Conan O'Brien - not too busy to tweet

Image of the New York Times building courtesy of ReservasdeCoches

Image of Kevin Smith courtesy of Shane Kaye

Image of Conan O’Brien courtesy of VDTA Info

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