Tuesday, November 30

Cows of the Future: Cyberspace vs. Meatspace

This is the kind of thing that passes through my aforementioned Global Omniscience and Domination Hypertext Editorial Arcana Display (GODHEAD): CME Celebrates Fortieth Anniversary of Live Cattle Futures Contract.

CME, the largest U.S. futures exchange, today celebrated the fortieth anniversary of its live cattle futures contract, the first futures contract based on a non-storable commodity, which began trading on Nov. 30, 1964. Live cattle futures volume has grown from approximately 59,000 contracts in 1965 to nearly 4.44 million contracts in 2003. In 2004, approximately 3.64 million live cattle contracts traded through October, with nominal value for October contracts alone reaching nearly $11.7 billion.

Not the most inspiring news story on the face of it, though with recent fears of what a mad cow outbreak would do to the global beef machine that so exercises PETA, it seems like a timely PR gambit designed to emphasize the growth and stability of the commodities system and calm the herd of investors spooked at the smell of a biowar predator lurking nearby, looking to destroy our BBQing Way of Life.

I suppose I should not talk about the GODHEAD project in too much detail, now that I actually get paid to process open-source intelligence for people trying to make money from it. It's just a bookmarked group of Firefox tabs that opens up when I fire up the browser with all the URLs worth checking first thing in the morning to gauge the drift of the Zeitgeist and to see what competitors and semi-peers are focusing their reporting on at the moment so I can think, "What would the SIN spin be on a story like this? Is this something we have the resources to dig deeper into than the other guy? What's the untold part of this story that our readership needs the details on?"

But of course there is still no substitute for knowing a bunch of people in meatspace and on telephone networks who know things about things. That method of interfacing, inconvenient as it is, will probably be with us for a while. Sure, I have a fancy PDA, but the fact is that jotting things in 50-cent reporter's notebooks is still the best way to simultaneously record and structure information on the fly, mentally editing out the bullcrud as you listen for the nuggets of newsworthiness.

Wetware is the value-add, dude, and meatspace is the bottom line.

Monday, November 29

Our Shaman in Kiev

"Putin, don't become a terrorist." Have a look at the Ukraine Archives of Le Sabot Post-Moderne for some moving commentary live from the ground in Kiev, from the, er, blogger presently known as the Disco Shaman:

One of the tragic things I see developing is that the Western media narrative seems to be falling into a US vs. Russia play. And I'm seeing more and more commentary in that vein on the web. So few seem to grasp that this is about an entire system, not about an election. Yes, the people are rallying for Yushchenko, but it goes so, so much deeper than that. The events in Ukraine are about a people fighting free of the grayness, corruption, abuse and fatalism of the post-Soviet era. All of you, Right or Left, need to see them as people. Yes, there are geopolitical ramifications. But they should be so incredibly secondary to the humanity of the Ukrainian people -- these are flesh and blood human beings who are fighting to be free of a vicious, grinding system. People are proud to be Ukrainian, proud that their country is now known for something other than mafia, dead journalists, and corruption. People who a week ago were convinced of their own powerlessness are now standing fearlessly, singing together, "We are many, we are one, we can't be stopped!" Can anyone be so dead of heart not to find this beautiful?

I find this blog of the Shaman's a beautiful thing. And there are many others.

Friday, November 26

Thankfully

That's me and my wife, the Foca Louca, at last summer's Coney Island Mermaid Parade. "Foca," by the way, means "seal" in Portuguese--as in the aquatic mammal--and is also Brazilian slang for a neophyte journalist. Neuza is actually quite the veteran, and still writes her column for a S�o Paulo lifestyle magazine.

If it weren't for the FL, there would have been no deep-fried turkey from Jive Turkey for Thanksgiving yesterday! I would have been able to stare at professional football all afternoon instead of "Gone With The Wind" on Turner Movie Classics. My personal den of contemplation at home would not be so comfortably furnished, there'd be no one else logged onto my personal WiFi network, my feet would get cold at night and there'd be no clean socks to layer on.

Thankfully, this lovely Brazilian woman has found a way to put up with me. Putting up with her fanatical Beatlemania and her inability to refrain from adopting small furry creatures is a small price to pay for having my life transformed into a paradise on earth! Thank you, Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, Allah, Hindu deities, Coyote, Papa Legba, 12-Step Higher Power, and the various orix�s, for bringing me an angel devil in a blue dress paulistana. And thank you that we didn't wind up like this typical middle American family grouping:

A man was charged with stabbing two relatives after they allegedly criticized his table manners during Thanksgiving dinner. Police said the fight broke out Thursday when Gonzalo Ocasio, 49, and his 18-year-old son, Gonzalo Jr., reprimanded Frank Palacious for picking at the turkey with his fingers, instead of slicing off pieces with a knife. Palacious, 24, described by police only as an uncle, allegedly responded by stabbing them with a carving knife. He is charged with domestic assault and assault with intent to murder, Detective Sgt. Thomas R. Radula said.

Thursday, November 25

FT Rhymes with Redundant-C

Pearson's FT Makes Staff Redundancy Plan Inquiries (Wall Street Journal):
Pearson PLC's (PSO) Financial Times newspaper has asked its journalists whether they would consider taking early retirement or voluntary redundancy next year, but said that it has no firm plans to offer such a scheme. A spokeswoman for the paper Thursday confirmed that a memo from Editor Andrew Gowers sent to staff earlier this week made such a request, but said it was only to gauge interest and may come to nothing. An article in the Times of London Thursday suggested the move was a sign the money-losing Financial Times was preparing deeper cost cuts.

Argh. I give thanks that I still have a job, despite the fact that the media division to which we belong was just sold to Bahrainis and my editor in chief just resigned to go to a hedge-fund publishing concern, leaving me in temporary charge of the whole kit and kaboodle--not the gig I signed up for or prepared for. Maybe five years from now! Much depends on the editor in chief we get in to replace the irreplaceable man. I see rubber chicken in my future, and very long days.

The Good Guys

So much bashing of the news industry these days. There are still good guys out there, though. Here's my friend the Monkey Woman with one of them, in fact: Pat Kiernan of NY1, the local news anchor on the best damn 24/7 cable news channel there is. Pat once vanity-Googled himself, found a post on my old blog, and wrote me a nice, funny e-mail. I'm not a celebrity-worshipper, but I admit I was star-struck. Nobobdy makes smart-ass remarks about the day's headlines quite like Pat.

The MW, meanwhile, has just conquered the NY Marathon and is on a road trip to Graceland and the Redneck Riviera, promises to bring back Elvis memorabilia. She's also a member of the Polar Bear Club.

Wednesday, November 24

Editors cite cutbacks, increased workloads, lack of recognition.

2004 Salary Survey ShowsUnhappy Job-Satisfaction Results:

Subhed: Editors cite cutbacks, increased workloads, lack of recognition. After recently hearing these results, one editorial director of several publications told attendees at a meeting of the Magazine Association of the Southeast, "We [editors] have always been unhappy."

Again and again, editors in the survey cited budget cuts and increased workload, especially when staff positions are lost with no concomitant pay increase to balance the additional workload. This is an historic theme, for even when markets are doing well, low morale and high stress are significantly evident.

What can be done? An improving economy will help, but a certain lack of both human resource competency and knowledge of the editorial process on the part of publication management apparently exists no matter the economic climate.

Emphasis mine. Sounds about right, judging from my experience with those bastards with whom I signed that non-disparagement agreement in order to get my severance from that last publishing fiasco I shed blood, sweat and tears for. I may actually soon be in a position to discover whether I have this complaint or not. Ora pro nobis.

Tuesday, November 23

Langue sauce piquante

From the copy desk of Le Monde--a recent jumper-on to the blog bandwagon--comes Langue sauce piquante and the year's most interesting bit of punctuation arcana in any language.
Dans Chier dans le cassetin aux apostrophes, r�jouissant lexique paru il y a peu, on lit que "l'origine de ce mot est certainement due � ce que les couillards pendent en bas d'un texte".

Furetant dans le vocabulaire du blues, on d�couvre que les testicules y b�n�ficient du terme imag� de balls. Des "boules" qui, si elles deviennent bleues (blue balls), sont alors synonymes de syphilis ou de v�role. On sera plus doux pour elle : portrait de la coquille en petite v�role du texte...

'Armageddon': Morgan Stanley Bear Bares Stern Warning

So you voted for moral values over fiscal responsibility. Now what? Economic 'Armageddon' predicted:

Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish.

But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity.

His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic "armageddon."

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, "it struck me how extreme he was — much more, it seemed to me, than in public."

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that ``we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.

In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded.

Less a case of "Armageddon," maybe, than of a "Perfect Storm."

Roach marshalled alarming facts to support his argument.

To finance its current account deficit with the rest of the world, he said, America has to import $2.6 billion in cash. Every working day.

That is an amazing 80 percent of the entire world's net savings.

Sustainable? Hardly.

Meanwhile, he notes that household debt is at record levels.

Twenty years ago the total debt of U.S. households was equal to half the size of the economy.

Today the figure is 85 percent.

So you'll have your culture of life, but will it be a life worth living?

I kid, to a degree. Even so, I'm moving my capital to a hedge fund in Bermuda and thanking Jah that I paid cash for my apartment. Now to zombie-proof the place ...

Algorithm of the Week

I'm roaming around the Web looking up stuff on patenting business methods and algorithms and I stumble across this from iChris.ws:

It's an illustration from U.S. patent 6,751,348, "Automated detection of pornographic images."

  1. Compare each pixel's color with library of skin colours (white/black/etc.)
  2. If it's single pixel, it's ok. If it's an area of skin color, it's probably skin.
  3. Using some algorithm to determine if it's a face or not. If it's just face, it's probably portrait, which is ok.
  4. Determine from the shape which body part(s) is exposed.
  5. Determine if the post is erotic.

Amusing aimless thought process: start thinking of ways in which the algorithm could be spoofed. No. 5 is no easy determination to make, whether by software or by wetware.

Neighborhood Update: Karmic Panhacking

There are tons of Falun Gong running around Wall Street these days. They're standing out on Water and Whitehall holding up graphic banners portraying the results of torture on Falun bodies.

Over thirty Chinese men who appeared to be working with Argentina's Chinese Embassy beat Falun Gong practitioners and tore their banners with knives Tuesday. The beating took place outside the Hilton Hotel where Chinese President Hu Jintao and his delegation were visiting.

Who the hell are these people? My German friend insists they were responsible for a horrible terrorist massacre in Moscow. What? Surely she is mixing them up with the Chechens, right? Nope, she insists, it was those tai-chi doing massage-giving peace freaks out on the street--the ones who hacked the Hong Kong satellite this weekend, they say.

Newsgrist is writing about this, too. Here's a Times article, and an oldie but goodie anthology of coverage.

Panic! Only Hysteria Can Save Us Now!

Today's terrifying meme: USA Patriot Act II would make news gathering a crime.
Think the first Patriot Act was a civil rights and personal privacy tragedy? Just wait until you see Patriot Act II. Section 102 of the police state bill would make it a crime to engage in any information gathering, meaning that people who gather news headlines on the Internet would suddenly be deemed criminals and terrorists.

This is all based on some guy's summary of a draft Patriot II released by the Center for Public Integrity almost two years ago. The guy's analysis:

SECTION 102 states clearly that any information gathering, regardless of whether or not those activities are illegal, can be considered to be clandestine intelligence activities for a foreign power. This makes news gathering illegal.

Well, the actual provision redefines "clandestine information-gathering for a foreign power" to include clandestine information-gathering that may not be illegal under federal law. But you still have to be an agent of a foreign power to be charged with it. You know, like an al-Qaeda operative casing buildings near Wall Street--although you'd have to redefine "foreign power" to include him in ... At any rate, I guess if you wear your old-fashioned reporter's hat with a note tucked into the band reading "I blog for the government of Freedonia!" you'll be all right.

Just because a meme is virulent doesn't mean it's not perniciously stupid. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The proposed language does bring up an interesting case, however: What if I were an Iranian journalist who wanted to do a hidden-camera sting exposing how taxi drivers at New York's international airports take roundabout routes to run up the meters on innocent out-of-towners? Would I be economically benefiting a foreign power by saving Iranian tourists money, and therefore qualify as an "agent of a foreign power"?

Sunday, November 21

Punching Up the Lead

Add Bob Baker's Newsthinking to the growing collection of free advice on the art of the lede:
"I want stories with voice," your editor is saying. "And discipline. And detail. I want stories that evoke a sense of place." And here's the kicker: Your editor wants all those qualities in the same story.

Yes, he does. But more to the point for our humble little rag are the don'ts, epitomized by the following:

In an effort to create a debate on a significant grammatical issue that appears to bedevil many newspaper writers, I would like to undertake a discussion of overwritten dependent clauses.

Succumbing to sloth and time pressure, I let a lot of those through, the rote "Although X is verbing Y, Z is bucking-furthering trend T by verbing AA"--the crude Toulmin schema lede. Note to self: Produce style guide, add lede vigilance to New Year's resolutions along with quitting smoking.

And a little horn-tootling on my own behalf. Compare today's head in the WSJ:

Bears (Take Interest) in China's Shop

with mine from an Oct. issue:

The China Bulls

Clearly I thought of the "bull in the china shop" angle first, though the WSJ editor puts a twist on it. However, in my book, using punctuation other than 'single quotes' in a headline is bogus, especially if you need to insert a parenthetical to make a pun work. Yah!

Saturday, November 20

The Part of theTruth That We Know Best and Nothing But The Truth

Rather than blogging the Big Issues here, I try to blog A Day in the Life of a Content Quality Assurance and Creativity Cat Herder: Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, and so on.

But I like the devil's advocacy Jay Rosen of Pressthink is up to these days:

oppose those who, holding to a particular professional religion in journalism, continue to claim that it is the religion-- the one way to practice a commitment to truth-in-reportage. It simply isn't true that truthelling in journalism ends when you leave the neutral zone and abandon the view from nowhere. If that were the case, then Salon.com--which, Scott Rosenberg told me, "self-identifies as opposition press"--would not be capable of truthtelling. Neither would the Weekly Standard, or TomPaine.com, or the National Catholic Reporter, or Reason magazine. But they are capable of truthtelling, so Shaw is leaving something out. What's he's leaving out is the possibility that other religions are spreading the good word about journalism-- and maybe even better ones will emerge for the times in which we live. I oppose, then, the simple-minded and far-fetched claim that The Contraption has only one truly thinkable alternative, which is bias-- news-as-propaganda, Pravda-style, for people who don't think. This is Shaw's "suggestion" in the sense that he examines no alternatives but those two: believe in objectivity or abandon yourself to bias.

My emphasis. I am attracted to that point of view. After all, isn't "all the news that's fit to print"--the New York Times' famous motto--the pinnacle of arrogance? How about "the world as seen from a vital and fascinating international city"? That's a marketing promise your editors can actually cash.

On the other hand, I hate to see the press and media line up behind the two political donation soliciting corporations that have put themselves in charge of fabricating candidates for officed. That's why I don't belong to either one of them. Where is there a newspaper, TV channel or radio station that caters to my specific fiscally conservative, libertarian-leaning, secularist, humanist, quietly Christian socialist, internationalist, urban, pro-labor AND pro-business, anti-Big Government, Social Security trust fund-supporting, California-born, Brooklyn-dwelling, harshly skeptical, flippy-floppy, pragmatic self? Mostly I have to produce it myself, using RSS, blogs, MP3, and maybe TiVO at some point. I don't rely on the Times for my entire worldview--I like the Scotsman for international news, even though I don't keep up with Celtic vs. Rangers, but I do keep up with Corinthians through the Folha de S. Paulo--but it is definitely part of my daily mix tape. They grow good writing on certain topics there, the way that France grows good grapes and Iowa grows good corn, even if most of what they have to say about, for example, blogging, is hogwash for the Style section. ...

We are a multitude of micromarkets. Cater to us!

Friday, November 19

Financial and Decorative Transformation

The Journal of Financial Transformation is just the kind of nerdfest that I have taken up as my preferred genre of bedside reading lately, what with this new beat that I must try to pretend to understand.

My lovely wife Neuza has done wonders finishing up my cavern-like, booklined study at home—over my dead body, apparently, as I swore it would have to be before she ever laid a finger on my fortress of solitude.

Now that she's around, hopefullly the cat will never pee on my blogging armchair again. Iggy, the little bastard.

Interesting article in JRT from a consultant working to get a credit-card payment system up and running in Iraq under the CPA:

First lesson: No contract, no client. In my zeal to get the job done, self-interest took a back seat. ... Second: Corruption can frustrate the best technology, and the Iraqi banking sector has been a magnet for returning exile carpetbaggers ... our system was nearly derailed by the malign influence of a few interlopers. And finally, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.

We ran a story a while back on the fellow who was building the technical infrastructure of the Iraqi Stock Exchange and recently had a follow-up e-mail from him along similar lines. ... Don't think I should blog the details, maybe we will follow up with another story.

Editors Alternating the Factory Floor

editorsweblog.org: Editors-in-chief as industrial production managers, from EditorsWeblog.org, translates some observations from a German publishing bigwig, Kurt W. Zimmermann, editor in chief of Weltwoche:
Zimmermann claims that editors-in-chief have become 'industrial production managers' over the years. Having to survey personnel, finances, and process management, editors are no longer able to write articles on current sociopolitical developments. He illuminates, 'This changed position of the 'journalistic elite,' its shift from publicists to editorial managers, has alternated the media landscape, and results in more and more excellent newspapers with less and less excellent journalists.'

Oops, bad translation! (Original article, in German, from Persoenlich.com.) I think what is meant is "more and more excellent newspapers with fewer and fewer excellent line and copy editors."

And I don't really think the guy meant to say that editors are no longer "publicists"--our sworn enemies, like hyenas and lions.

And if it were actually possible to have more excellent newspapers with fewer excellent journalists, then, well, we'd have more excellent newspapers, wouldn't we?

Thursday, November 18

The Arcane and Aggressive World of Trading

Owner of Big Electronic Stock Trading System Is Said to Be for Sale: Big news for followers of what the NYT calls "the arcane and aggressive world of trading" ...
A sale would accelerate consolidation in the arcane and aggressive world of trading, where exchanges fight to be the place where trades are executed. The New York Stock Exchange controls about 80 percent of trading in its listed stocks. On the Nasdaq market, however, trading is divided among three electronic giants: Nasdaq, Archipelago and Instinet.

Our market structure editor "went over to the dark side" so we haven't been vigilant in this sector. That was my one contribution to the enterprise last week, a week when I was zonked by toothache pain and strategically administered vicodins--"Let's see, I don't have to think creatively for the next four hours, so I can afford to alleviate the bone-ache in my jaw"--I tracked all her coverage in the archives and marked down the bare minimum of stories we need to pick up the slack on following up on.

Streaming Piles of News Alerts

Beavers Make Dam Out of Stolen Money:
These eager beavers had a whole new slant on money laundering. A bag of bills stolen from a casino was snapped up by beavers who wove thousands of dollars in soggy currency into the sticks and brush of their dam on a creek in eastern Louisiana. 'They hadn't torn the bills up. They were still whole,' said Maj. Michael Martin of the St. Helena Parish sheriff's office. The money was part of $70,000 to $75,000 taken last week from the Lucky Dollar Casino in Greensburg.

Ha ha. [Rim shot.]

I am constantly fiddling with what I like to call my World Domination Control Panel—a bookmarked set of Firefox tabs that open up to all the news sources I want to peruse first thing in the morning to know the state of the microverse I'm supposed to know something about, so that I can pretend to know about it more convincingly.

I am not exactly thrilled at how much effort it takes to calibrate the queries that I have e-mailed to me all day long, from the likes of Google Alerts, BusinessWire, PRWeb, PR Newswire, PubSub, and, oh, there must be others. I still wind up plowing through a lot of crap that doesn't interest me, and spending time fine-tuning my queries: "SEC -college -football -sports -league -gators -seminoles" ...

Probably just means I'm too stupid to use these fine tools properly, right? After all, I majored in philosophy and lit ... classic underachieving stoner majors.

Money-laundering is a pet topic of mine these days. Seems there is much more than meets the eye. Having a quiet but seismic effect on the international financial system.

Google for Scientists and Scholars and the Rough Trade We Work In

Google Plans New Service for Scientists and Scholars (NY Times, via Technorati)

Beautiful. Ranks search results for a given search string by numbers of citations, and provides a link to the item's "citation ecosystem"—the articles that cite it. Once again, Google earns the hype by being quietly and simply innovative and just plain old incredibly useful. This should really throw some weight behind the open access movement.

Here's something that popped up from my first experimental search on the new doodad: Do Ads Influence Editors? Advertising and content biases in the financial media. Very timely in that our publication did a story last week that touched on a subject a company that advertises with us would rather we not touch upon. I won't get into details—they're not really relevant to me blogging about my job, which doesn't involve ultimate decision-making on this kind of stuff—but the fact is I admire my boss for doing it. We have been issuing declarations of independence in small doses for a while, betting that doing things the old-fashioned way will make readers find us more interesting and useful. Our gimmick? Plowing through public records like EDGAR. Diabolically clever of us, don't you think? The gall of it, using legwork and brainpower to excavate information buried in plain sight. We do the Plain English work so you don't have to.

Here's another interesting little item on coverage of neo-liberalism at war by Australia's financial press (PDF).

Must close. The bastards actually insist, in this age of virtual workplaces, that I show up in person. Must bathe and hit the subway.

Tuesday, November 16

Dow You, Mr. Jones?

MediaDailyNews 11-16-04:
Just last week, CBS MarketWatch and Dow Jones were battling it out for the Web-surfing audience, with MarketWatch going so far as to run an online ad campaign emphasizing that content was always free on its site, in response to a Wall Street Journal Online ad campaign touting a free week on its normally paid-subscription site.

Now MW has been sold to DJ for half a bill. Big news for those of us in the business of attracting the same kinds of eyeballs, or some subset thereof.

What do you think? Has the world just gotten smaller for those who pride themselves in never having to pay for it?

The angle everyone is discussing is the merger of a paid-content business model (Dow Jones) with a free-content model (MarketWatch). Consenus of the pundits and ratings agency: bad idea. What interests me is the staffing question. The idea is that the two editorial brands are very distinct, with distinct audiences, and there's little overlap among the advertising base. But the MarketWatch staff is going to have to join the employment contract that governs Dow Jones' unionized employees ... Sounds like a situation conducive to block trading, as it were. Just look what is going on at Reuters right now:

Reuters journalists have voted informally in favour of strike action in protest at budget cuts they fear will lead to the loss of up to 250 jobs. Staff in the news agency's 250-strong London base voted by more than five to one in an informal ballot asking if they would be prepared to strike. The result of the poll - which is not the formal mandate for industrial action required by law - was branded a "crystal clear message" to management by the National Union of Journalists. "Managers want to sack journalists with a proven track record of skill and expertise that have served the agency well," said Barry Fitzpatrick, the NUJ national organiser for newspapers and agencies.

Hey, as long as it has the same logo, who cares who writes it? If the midget is wearing a New York Yankees uniform and his name is on the roster, then it's a legal at-bat. Beside, can you imagine Jon Friedman working for the geniuses behind the Opinion Journal? Look for all the pre-Khmer Rouge CBSness to be purged mercilessly, is my dumbass guess.

WSJ.com founding editor joins Yahoo News

WSJ.com founding editor joins Yahoo News (EditorsWeblog.org). More signs of the apocalypse? This disclaimer in Yahoo's release was interesting:
"According to Craig Forman, the VP and GM of media and information, Yahoo News will not move into original content, and its core strength remains in aggregation...despite the hiring of Neil Budde."

Why hire an editor if your aggregation algorithm does all the work? Could the answer be that editors don't edit as much as they used to ... if they ever did ... ? Budde was actually more of a publisher, which is a different thing entirely.

There was a session at the Online News Association last weekend on automation, by the way.

Monday, November 15

Marvelous Jarvis

Via Tech Law Advisor, news of a neat little scoop for "citizen journalism," scored by Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine:
Jeff Jarvis uses FOIA to break this story on how just 3 viewers were able to get the FCC to levy a $1.2M fine against Fox for "suggesting ... sex on a show that had already been canceled because the marketplace didn't like it anyway."

Fox: Bible Belt values during the news hour, trailer-trash titillation in prime time. But let's not forget the Simpsons ...

Note that Jeff is actually a media professional by day, so it's not like he had no previous know-how about how to pull this kind of thing. Still, it's an exciting proof of concept, in that he did it in his capacity as a citizen-scribbler, on his own time. Nice going, man. I just wish corporations had to respond as promptly to the same kinds of queries.

Shanghai and the Shadowy, Shady Shills for Shiva

You can add our parent company--new name to be announced soon--to the list of accredited U.S. media organizations in Shanghai. That's pretty exciting. The bureau will run out of an MT apartment for a while, but still, prospects of some on-the-scene reporting (albeit with government minders everywhere) ...

More cause for excitement--or bemusement, or whatever the appropriate emotion is--if you're a noncommissioned press-watch officer: The trouble Conrad Black and Hollinger International have gotten themselves into, what with RICO charges (dropped) and embezzling allegations and all. The WSJ today says that

U.S. securities regulators are expected to file civil-fraud charges as early as today against newspaper baron Conrad Black and his deputy, David Radler, according to people familiar with the matter.
The lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to accuse Lord Black, Hollinger's former chairman and chief executive, and Mr. Radler, the company's former president and chief operating officer, of engaging in transactions with Hollinger that benefited them but that hurt the company and weren't disclosed to investors, these people said.

These guys are good pals with Richard Perle and run a whole lot of right-wing rags, including the NY Sun--now $0.25 and shoved in your face by colorful New York characters when you emerge at Bowling Green and all over town, reminiscent of the Post putsch of a couple years back. Note the editorial today tongue-lashing the litigious jackals victimizing poor Merck--tort reform now! Down with junk science!--and the Hollywood-style explosion photo--Iraqi saboteurs--front and center, very eye-catching, very oriented to the submammalian primal-fear mechanisms of the forebrain. Corporate America, awake! Your Mercedes is in danger!

The World Socialists like to call 'em "a financial oligarchy out of control." We call them transnational cultural-industrial war industry tycoons.

My week? Beginning with a nasty toothache and a small bout of subway agoraphobia, thanks. And too much "maybe" in response to "You got something for me this week?" Oh, and one elevator serving ten floors, instead of the usual six.

Sunday, November 14

The Givers of Quote

Daniel Okrent weighs in on frequent trips to the expert Roladex to fill up empty paragraph inches. See, it's not just the trade press that does it. Not that there's anything wrong with experts, especially if the expert has something fresh to say. We've just been thinking we need to expand the stable--especially when certain analysts get complacent about getting their names in the paper and don't make much of an effort anymore.

I think the spread of services like ProfNet should help make the market for experts seeking publics and reporters seeking smart words to stick in the middle of the inverted pyramid more efficient, more liquid, and more competitive. Phoning me up in the middle of a production day to pitch someone will hopefully become a thing of the past, hint, hint.

But the fact is that we're in a time-pressured business, and Plan B is always going to be that guy or gal who always comes through for you with great quote at the drop of a hat.

PR people tend to think reporters are corrupt nepotists in this regard, but the fact is that if you're on deck, warmed up, situationally aware, and ready to speak in original, well-formed English sentences, tailored to the situation, when the phone rings, then you've got an edge, and that's the innocent explanation and trade secret: We work in a prose factory, and publishing yada yada that sounds good but means nothing, if distasteful, is preferable to dead air and sticking a house ad in at the last minute to take up space. I suppose I could get drummed out for revealing the secret sauce. But I swear to you I try to minimize it myself in my own modest corner of the truth-discovery industry. Writes Dr. Dan:

there are often good reasons to turn to experts - for instance, when the desk dumps an assignment in your lap three hours before deadline, on a subject you know little about. But there's also the need to protect that precious piece of the journalistic ethos, objectivity - in the words of one deputy news editor, Philip Corbett, "not only a worthy goal, but probably our most important one: the goal that underpins most of our other ideals, like fairness and accuracy." And reporters think that getting an "expert" to comment adds the aura of objectivity.

In recent years, though, the concept of objectivity has taken a bit of a beating. Some journalists (and critics of journalists) argue that it is in fact unachievable; we all bring our experiences, sensibilities and innate prejudices to the door, and even the act of attempting to leave them on the stoop will alter our approach.

That's how I feel about it: Of course you're making judgments, as a reporter, about what to put in and what to leave out. It's part of your job: boiling thing downs to what in your judgment is essential. But you should include cues about the process, including some info that would indicate why a particular analyst or talking head should be listened to on this particular subject. Not just that they cover the general area and got back to you by press time, but that they worked on a deal involving the parties, or have an unique theory, or have a good track record on similar cases, or SOMETHING. I saw a guy who was very useful to talk to last week sneaking in on a generic basis this week and I'm going to cite this Okrent thing when I bring it up in the post-mortem (provided time is available).

Saturday, November 13

Thou Shalt Not Puke on Deadline Day, and Other First Principles of the Biz

None of the editor's Web logs that guys like Ed Cone are hyping these days as redefining the relationship with our readership really does what blogs are really good for: Talk about what it's like to do that work all day long in the most humdrum terms, like consumer reviews of pencil brands for marking up proofs, dictionaries you love to hate, what to do when you don't know something you fell like you're supposed to know, wondering whether your writers hate you ... It's just a job like any other, after all. Case in point:

I broke the first commandment of a small news and production team this week: Thou shalt not succumb to intestinal microbes a few hours before the drop-deadline. Sorry, gang. If it's any consolation, I suffered a great deal from cold sweats, fever nightmares and the taste of Pepto-Bismol in massive doses. It seemed like everything was pretty well under control when I bugged out at 2:00 p.m. to go drive the porcelain bus.

It does remind me that I still have a lot of progress to make towards "working myself out of a job," as the Chief put it when I began. Haven't done a post-mortem in a couple of issues or made progress on getting the bigwigs to buy into a nice little intranet for our team. Haven't gotten out a style guide that would codify the official position on issues I wind up dealing with on an ad hoc basis all the time--like stories that use quotes from sources to advance the exposition of a story. Had to spend time negotiating a clarification with a source this week for just that reason.

You know what I mean: A source narrates a bunch of facts that you are going to use in your story, using very informal language, jargon, ers and ums, in scattershot fashion. You're pressed for time, so you just throw quotes around the whole thing and stick it in there. What you are supposed to do is boil the whole thing down to plain English and check up with the source to make sure you got it all correct. The best way to do it is to run it by them while you have them on the phone: "So, is what you're saying that x, y, and z, therefore a, b and c?" You get them to elaborate and refine their answer. Otherwise you might as well just run transcripts of all your phone conversations. That's typing and oral comprehension, not writing a news story.

Quotes are for rendering faithfully the opinion and attitude and phraseology that are uniquely the speaker's and that are of value for precisely for that reason. It would be a crime to write, "The incumbent pledged that he would not institute new taxes" instead of quoting the "read my lips" remark, of course. But factual stuff on background? Make sense of out the off-the-cuff hash, please. Come on, people! You're being lazy!

I'm also feeling a little swamped by the task of trying to catch up with what for me is a new beat so as to be able to ask the right questions when I'm querying my reporters. The paper I work at focuses on a a beat that's a little bit off the beaten track: the big biz publications and research firms don't publish indexes of the players in our space and lump all of them together in one category, the way they do, say, the construction industry or retail donut franchises. It's more of a value chain than an industry, really, to use the consultese. Our senior editor did a story touching on that this week: A research firm that looked at a segment of the banking industry from a unique angle and came up with a contrarian view about valuation method and business strategy for those players.

Plus there's so much change going on. Banks are buying broker-dealers, investment banks are buying consumer banks and cross-marketing investment services, equities-dominated exchanges are moving into derivatives and bonds, electronic trading is pushing out the apron-wearing specialists, cross-border transactions are more and more the norm, everybody is opening up offices in China ... And the regulatory bodies, oof. Homeland Security alone, what a tangled web we weave. Reminds me of a story I read recently about a government committee set up to simplify the sorting of mail in some department, wound up doubling the number of steps in the process ... those big-gov opponents do have a point about stuff like that, don't they?

So I spend a lot of my spare time trying to draw up lists and draw diagrams and generally trying to organize it all in my head (using the wiki in my eGroupWare managing editor's control panel). And, of course, I have a big OPML file and a multitab bookmark designed to feed me the highest possible concentration of relevant information first thing in the morning so I can know what's already being said, or what's not being covered, so we can keep bragging about our unique coverage. Everybody wrote about a certain banking scandal recently, but we were the only ones to get into the real specifics, even though the foreign regulator was reluctant to go beyond the vague characterization of the misdeeds in its press release.

And reading the competition, and the semi-competitors ... Not that I have much time for all that: there's plenty of line-editing and keeping track of what's out on assignment to do to keep me going all day.

And of course my wife, recently arrived from Brazil, can get to feeling lonely if I keep my nose in my infernal machine all the time, or spend my time on the subway reading about the USA PATRIOT Act, money-laundering, and hedge funds on my little PDA--hey, went to Tillie's on DeKalb today after another couple of hours in the dentist chair with Doctor Dan using my jawbone for leverage as he crammed more junk into smoke bone, and was able to surf the Web there on their new WiFi hotspot!--instead of chatting with her about the in-laws, the Beatles, and our interior decorating plans.

Well, you know, I'm just going to keep working at it. I love my job ... and my wife! It's all new for us, me being an official corporation man and all and working 8 to 6 like a normal human being and her weathering Brooklyn winters on a regular basis after a life in the tropical greenhouse effect of S�o Paulo ... Beats boredom and ennui, that's for sure.

Thursday, November 11

Shifting Terms of Authority in the Newspaper Press

PressThink: Matt Welch on Shifting Terms of Authority in the Newspaper Press:
Always be understanding your market advantage (a large newsroom full of people with valuable fact-gathering & vetting experience), and how you can leverage that to beat the snot out of the competition. (By, for instance, running fact-checks in the Book Review section, or calling out factual BS in letters to the editor, or assigning web-only editor/bloggers to track inflammatory political stories & rumors.)

Wise advise for the beleaguered bird-cage liner industry from Matt Welch. More controversial:

If you want to react to the New Reality in the most dynamic way, consider swallowing the Jay Rosen Pill & becoming an opposition press. Or more precisely, a news organization with a specific political profile. Truth is, tons of these already exist (alt weeklies, and dailies like the WashTimes, NYsun & Post, Pitt Trib-Review, etc.); but embracing it with zest could be very lucrative & fun for the trailblazer.

Me, I think you should think ahead of the trends, sell that nonsense short, and prepare for the fact that the business is going to swing so far in that direction that people are going to get sick of compensating for the filter and start yearning for to-the-point, just-the-facts old-school journalism again. Or how about consistently finding stories that your competitors don't cover, but that people really need and want to know about, and doing a good job covering them?

Wednesday, November 10

Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

The business managers from the SEIU were hanging around in the lobby yesterday in their snazzy aviator's jackets--could it be we'll be having a janitor and security strike? I heard the nice old guy who looks after our floor talking about it the other day. Maybe we'll see the famous giant rat out front one of these days.

Above: the view from our cubicle farm. Not bad, huh? The blue patch at top left used to be dominated by the Twin Towers. We supposed to be seeing the Freedom Tower rising 1,776 feet into the air there within five years or so.

My new reduced-rate membership at New York Health and Racquet Club makes me feel loved. If I must be a cog in the machine, then let me be a cog in the machine with a sauna right across the street from where I work.

That new burrito joint, Chipotle--how behind-the-trend trendy can you get?--on Whitehall has got lines around the block. Pretty mediocre, really, but there's not too much real Mexican in New York (lots of taco and burrito stands Chinese-style, which is a cuisine unto itself) so I guess that explains the latest mania. I wind up at Mickey D's on Water Street because time is money.

Uncharitable thoughts about the young Arab man manning the halal lunch stand out there on the sidewalk in front of this rickety, mismanaged old International School midrise. Is that how they cased us, got all those digital photographs that wound up on a PC in Karachi? Hell, I have my digicam with me today to take some snaps of the view, give you a Red Actor's eye view of the scene at SIN. Let's face it: Anyone is capable of doing anything at any time. You should have to keep your soul constantly prepared for surprise--and some extra cat food and candles for sieges.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Global Rich List:

You are in the top 0.779% richest people in the world. There are 5,953,222,435 people poorer than you.

Oh, and in case you?re interested you are the 46,777,565th richest person in the world.

From the del.icio.us/SIN inbox--my ad hoc work blog, where I log passing interests of the moment, stuff I need to learn about to edit the week's influx of stories. I monitor a bunch of different keywords and few economics and business contributors, although the social bookmark site is pretty geek-dominated. If only they would release the source code, we off-topic altergeeks could ghettoize and stop bothering the codeheads!

All part of my ongoing effort to maximize the flow of relevant content into my head as early in the morning as possible. It's not as easy as it should be. Just started using PubSub in addition to the other business news and PR wires, for example. (They had a rep at BloggerCon, by the way.) Not yet seeing where it's an improvement on PR Newswire or BusinessWire for my needs, really--but don't mistake that for a considered review. My pub covers a weird little sector that's not really part of any standard taxonomy of the business world covered by research and the business press, so it could be that I am going to have to construct my own index out of various and sundry lists and enter all the tickers manually.

Also seems like a mistake for PubSub to market themselves through Gush--although I haven't looked at it lately, maybe I should give it another shot. I found it to be a bandwidth and attention hog when I test-drove it before.

Specialists and Generalists in Old Bombay

GoM meet to focus on definition of 'news', from the Financial Express's Nivedita Mookerji (India):
he Group of Ministers (GoM), which has been set up to take a relook at print media policies, would focus on the definition of 'news and current affairs publications' and 'specialty/technical journals', according to sources in the government. Quite a few print media applications, either seeking foreign investment or permission to publish, are pending with the government as there's no clarity on what constitutes news and current affairs and what does not. As an industry insider pointed out, even a cricket publication could fall under 'news and current affairs' as the game often hits the front page of newspapers. Frequency of a publication, its subject matter and branding are among the factors to be considered, while fixing the definition of ?news and current affairs?.

Why does this matter? Because the press law limits the amount of foreign investment in news publications to a greater extent than in specialty and technical journals:

Currently, 'news and current affairs' publications are allowed up to 26% of foreign direct investment (FDI), while specialty/technical journals can have a maximum of 74% foreign investment.

This is common elsewhere in the world. In Brazil, for example, no news outlets can be supported by foreign investment since the days of the Estado Novo.

Also, foreign newspapers are not allowed to be published from India, irrespective of whether a venture has any FDI or not. For instance, Cybermedia had applied to the government last year to publish BusinessWeek from India in a modified format. When contacted, Cyber-media chairman-cum-managing director Pradeep Gupta told FE, "We applied under specialty journal category". Cybermedia-Business-Week plan is to bring out a monthly with 60 to 70% international content. (As per current syndication rules, no Indian publication can have more than 7.5% of international content under automatic clearance. For anything beyond that, one needs to take government permission.) The product is likely to be priced in the range of Rs 50 to 70, Mr Gupta said. The news-stand price of the American weekly magazine, Business-Week, in India is Rs 120. Cybermedia case is likely to be referred to GoM, it is learnt. Among others, Bennett Coleman's application for publishing Wall Street Journal may also be taken up by GoM.

Imagine if a company like German magazine giant Bertelsmann (parent of Gruner + Jahr)--or the NEWS Corporation, prior to its Delaware reincorporation reincarnation--were subject to this kind of regulation here. Is there undue foreign influence in National Geographic and Fast Company? Are we being subjected to Old Europe propaganda in Family Circle? Didn't you hear that Bush campaign spokesman say recently on TV that "France is our enemy"? Should we force Vivendi to shed Universal, lest it corrupt our youth with Gallic anti-what we stand for in its summer comedies and costume epics?

Blogging As Typing, Not Journalism

Blogging As Typing, Not Journalism from CBS's Eric Enberg evokes Hemingway's famous remark about Jack Kerouac:
As the election campaign unfolded, operators of some of the internet's politics-oriented blogs, no doubt high on the perfume of many "hits" and their own developing sense of community, envisioned a future when they would diminish then replace the traditional media as the nation's primary source of political news and commentary.

One of the more self-important of these blog-ops, Andrew Sullivan, declared in a newspaper article in September that the internet upstarts had become, along with cable-TV, the new "powerbrokers in American politics and culture," primed to unseat "old media." In another piece he compared the new and old thusly: "Critics of blogs cite their lack of professionalism. Piffle. The dirty little secret of journalism is that it really isn't a profession, it's a craft. All you need is a telephone and a conscience and you're all set." That hubris was rampant through much of blogland as election night rolled round.

As someone who has fact-checked Sullivan from time to time, I am sympathetic. He reminds me of the Vichy editor sent in from Cleveland to preside over the dismantling of my last publication who commented that the copy desk could be dispensed with "if we'd only all just make sure to spell check."

CBS, of course, has reason for sour grapes after the Rathergate incident, for which they really only have themselves to blame (or rather, Rather, who bumbled like a big, dumb egotistical walrus in making himself the story rather than the President's military record).

But I've had my say on all that. It just goes to show you that journalism is a matter of a disciplined team of dedicated people cooperating in a certain way under a certain shared ethical code. Bloggers like to say, "the comments are my editor," but the fact is that when people bother commenting at all, it's more likely to be a gang of partisans contributing to the echo machine effect and heckling any fact checkers and dissenters as "trolls."

Still, there's nothing to say bloggers can't commit journalism and compete with the pros. It's not rocket science, after all! It's a handful of simple principles and a whole lot of legwork, mostly: Sullivan has a point there about it being a "craft" ... not that he follows his own advice, having preferred rock stardom to working with the team over there at New Republic. Journalism is really factory work in many ways, which is why folks like Sullivan are so galling: They're a bunch of suits who've read too many books on the cult of entrepreneurship, deluding themselves that they have found the ultimate way to nullsize and nosource the workforce and produce the same quality product with sheer b-school marketing brilliance, computers, and cross-genre cross-marketing gimmicks like appearing on Bill Maher and Hardball. You still can't run good play-by-play unless you have someone at the stadium and a crack pit crew ready to knock it into shape and turn it into hot lead.

Sunday, November 7

Sobering Thought

It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, the epigraph to Chapter 5:
I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne.

See also Bill Moyers' Journalism Under Fire:

A profound transformation is happening here. The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public's need for news second to their own interests ? and to the ideology of free-market economics. Nor could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering know-nothings of talk radio, a ceaseless conveyor belt--often taking its cues from daily talking points supplied by the Republican National Committee--moves mountains of the official party line into the public discourse. But that's not their only mission. They wage war on anyone who does not subscribe to the propaganda, heaping scorn on what they call "old-school journalism." One of them, a blogger, was recently quoted in Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard comparing journalism with brain surgery. "A bunch of amateurs, no matter how smart and enthusiastic, could never outperform professional neurosurgeons, because they lack the specialized training and experience necessary for that field. But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What can they do that we can't? Nothing."

The difference is that they are some things we won't do. The same can't be said for the noise machine. So watch your ass, and stick together.

Saturday, November 6

Colin and Neuza Blunder Out of Blogger Con and Some Son of a Gun Steals their Cab

this is an audio post, click to play

Frankly, I've exhausted my BloggerCon blogging by leaving some comments here and there on the top results from the conference's Technorati Cosmos. Our arrival was sandwiched by two ten-hour days working in the much-maligned "old media" and some really annoying transportation fubars, including the theft of our radio-dispatched cab by some other conference-goer who said "Yep, that's me" when the driver asked if they were us. Talk about your core value of trust.

I did have fleeting conversations with Scott Rosenberg and Ed Cone--fixed smile and edging away, edging away, though I thought I was perfectly polite, and observed the Gricean maxims--be relevant, be brief, and so on. A preponderance of chiefs and not much interest in lobbying from the rank-and-file Indians. Still, I met this normal guy who lives in Harlem and runs videoblogging.info who actually came up to us and said, "Oh, you're that translate the blogs guy, cool." That was kind of nice and ego-gratifying and embarassing. Dude, my link to you is worthless in the economy of non-semantic link-ranking, but I'm like totally into what you're doing. I'll be in touch. And check out my maiden vlog.

Kind of embarassing that my blog was down during the conference, with tech support at Lazy Lizard acting as sluggish as their namesake. (I think I am going to port everything over to Lunar Pages, which hosts my wiki and a bunch of other weird stuff I like to futz with.)

As I told Scott, the one thing you never hear at sessions on journalism are front-line, rank-and-file journalists saying what you hear in newsrooms and freelance-haunted bars all the time: "I wrote a great story, and that slimeball of an editor fucked it up." Case in point: that Wall Street Journal reporter and her private dispatch from Iraq. Editors and reporters often have a conflict of interest. The best editors used to be, and spiritually still are, reporters--Bernstein is an example--but that seems to be less common in the business these days: the editor's desk moves ever closer to the marketing department.

(I try so hard not to get that rep with my writers, but they probably feel the same way about me sometimes. I need to produce that style and editorial handbook I promised. There's a fine line between shaping stories, finding the compelling angle, and distorting them.)

No, these things always seem to chaired by managing editors (Rosenberg) or think-tankers (those people from the OJR) and producers-turned-research-fellows (MacKinnon): Canny careerists, in a word. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's hard to see how this purported "users' conference" can live up to its stated values when the microphone is in the hands of management and not labor.

My deep thought about the whole thing: Blogging is doomed to be a flavor of the month because for all its communitarian rhetoric, it's essentially egocentric, and the technical demands, and the investment of time and energy, of supporting its "core values" are going to be too much for the kind of people who might want to make use of it. (I'd link here to my ramblings on what I call "karass discovery," but my site is still down.) As Brazilian users of Blogger.com.br found out, the only way to maintain your independence is to own your own domain, and even then, the Brazilian libel laws can destroy you from one day to the next. (Reminds me, had a nice short chat with an Aussie journo who brought that point up in the journo session, can't remember his name, it's in my low-tech reporter's notebook: I only had my Axim, which actually performed well on the wireless network there but made me realize I need a backup battery.) Really, participating in a LISTSERV or a forum or a social network is a lot more gratifying, and a lot less hassle.

I remember reading a really good article about this on a French Web site, which turned up its nose at "blogging" and argued we should all be talking about the broader category of "do-it-yourself content management," with an emphasis on facilitating community.

Blogging is so Ayn Randian and "I am my own product and brand," really. One thing bloggers could learn from the pros: That stuff that seems so polished in the press? It's not actually the product of a single genius person, but a team of people going through a pretty elaborate process to try to get it right. It's just that the talking heads and the celebrity editors get out in front of it and put their brand on it--then turn around and blame the little people when they make asses of themselves.

Oh, well, I have now committed my desultory rant. It's good to be back at work, actually, trying to nail down the road map for the close and wrinkling my brow over how to get all the good stuff into the lead and cast things in the active voice and all those lovely old rules of thumb and superstitions I've accumulated over the years, like frequently sharpened files and rasps. Neuza is sitting here on the sofa with me going gaga over the Beatles Anthology I got her for a coming-home present. The episode about the Beatles and Imelda Marcos is actually pretty amazing.

Over and out. Cameraphone shots will go to Flickr shortly. Let it not be said I, the participant-observer, did not try out every possible gadget!

Blogger Con Post Mortem

this is an audio post - click to play

Blogger Con: Lessig Among the Apostles

this is an audio post - click to play

Blogger Con: Free Lunch, Blue Jays and NameTags

this is an audio post - click to play

Blogger Con: Stammers from a Users' Conference Sans Users

this is an audio post - click to play

Blogger Con: Monkey See Audioblog, Monkey Do Audioblog

this is an audio post - click to play

Brooklyn to BloggerCon: Arriving on the Playing Fields of Paradise

this is an audio post - click to play

I suppose I'll have some time to review my notes on BloggerCon this evening after my 10-hour work day. In a nutshell: BloggerCon III was a weird combination of an industry conference and an academic conference, with all the creepiest parts of both; for a gathering that likes to call itself, in principle, a "users' conference," the phrase "the blogging industry" sure was coming out of a lot of people's mouths, and the accomodations made to the Webcast made the whole thing feel as formalized and empty as a meeting of the UN General Assembly. You probably got more out of it if you ran it in the background on IRC while watching college football on TV. That being said, I'll see if I can glean something from my notes on the journalism session.

Thursday, November 4

Times, Too, Doing The Circ Jerk

The circulation jerkulation speculation widens:
A wide-reaching federal investigation into newspaper circulation practices has knocked on the door of a fourth New York daily--The New York Times. The Times said yesterday it received a subpoena for documents from the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn. The paper said the order--received on Tuesday, when the New York Post and the Daily News also got subpoenas from the Brooklyn office--was issued in conjunction with the ongoing grand jury probe of circ operations at Newsday. The subpoena covers a three-year period--from when the Post began to show industry eyebrow-raising circ gains after cutting its price in half, to 25 cents, on copies sold in the city. The Times, while declining to say what documents the feds want, added that the U.S. Attorney's office "informed us that The Times is not a focus of the investigation."

Sounds like they could be preparing the grounds for some kind of antitrust or restraint of trade charge, doesn't it? Should be fun to watch and see if the yellowest of the yellow press gets its comeuppance at last as the Grey Lady looks on snootily and sniggers, thus: Slam Comes to Slap as The Post and The News Fight It Out.

At last, an issue that eclipses even the cut-and-slash over Paris's breakup and the results of Britney's pregnancy test: circulation padding. Yesterday, under the screamer, "Paper Probe Grows," The Post said The News had received a federal subpoena seeking information about its circulation practices. This, only a day after The Post crowed, under the headline "News Keeps Sinking," that it had "narrowed the gap on The Daily News." Advertisement Free IQ Test Meanwhile, The News trumpeted yesterday that "Feds Seek Post Records," reporting that its rival had received a subpoena from the United States attorney's office in Brooklyn seeking advertising and circulation records. Actually, The New York Times also received a subpoena yesterday from, and is cooperating with, the United States attorney, "which has informed us that The Times is not a focus of the investigation," said a spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis. But the News's story about The Post also called attention to "industry eyebrow-raising circulation gains after cutting its price in half - to 25 cents - on copies sold in the city." Yesterday, Martin Dunn, editorial director and deputy publisher of The News, commented: "I know I'm in the industry and my eyebrows are raised." To which Col Allan, editor in chief of The Post, fired back: "We have serious questions about what The Daily News publicly claims to be its sale." The latest fisticuffs followed an extraordinary three-page, 2,982-word investigative article in The Post last week claiming that practices involving retail and home-delivery distribution "could serve to artificially boost the News's paid circulation." Subsequently, The News's own riposte disputed those allegations, and a spokeswoman for the paper, Eileen Murphy, said that "all we do is in compliance with the rules" of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industrywide clearinghouse and umpire. "It baffled me that The Post had someone there who could write anything as long as three pages, and spell a word as long as 'circulation,'" Mr. Dunn mused.

I'd personally just as soon they did one another in. Not that I'd like to see the fine journalists working at each paper out of a job: I'd just like to see the tabloid artists from the old British Empire run out of town in favor of some local publishing money with a stake in Gotham for Gothamites.

Wednesday, November 3

Post Circulation and Pricing Bust?

The New York Daily News, via SPJ Press Notes:
The New York Post has received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn seeking circulation and advertising records going back to 2001, sources said yesterday. The subpoena covers the period from when the Post began to show industry eyebrow-raising circulation gains after cutting its price in half -- to 25 cents -- on copies sold in the city. The demand for advertising records is believed to reflect interest in how ad rates were affected by circ increases. "We welcome the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office," New York Post general manager Geoff Booth said through a spokesman. While not disclosing the scope of the order, Booth added, "We'll cooperate fully with all the requirements of the subpoena."

The Post is the only paper I have ever seen that runs its own circulation figures as a business news item. Of course, the rival Daily News loves to run stories like this one about its archrival, alongside shock headlines like "Anarchist Horde to Storm City!"

Nothing quite matches the Post's "Osama Urges Bush Defeat" of Oct. 31 for misrepresentation and sleaze, though. If New York were a sovereign nation--not a bad idea, that--we'd be complaining of dumping by foreign media companies in an attempt to drive local media out of business and influence our political processes.

Tuesday, November 2

Ohio Gozaimasu

Election results from Ohio, courtesy Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell:

Very hip! E-government kudos to our Buckeye compatriots.

Robot Editor's Shocking Lapse in Taste!

Why algorithms make poor editors:
Today is the big day! I'm giddy with anticipation, and am doing all I can to control my bowels from leaking their repulsive contents.

That's the lead election story on the automated Google News board at this hour, courtesy of the student newspaper at Ohio State University, the Daily Barometer. Colorful but uninformative, wouldn't you say?

Not that I am peeking, mind you: I am very attentive to my work today, serenely confident that the American electorate will do the wise thing. Oops, need some more antacids ...

Cheating

Source: Ohio Voter Suppression News: Franklin County hit with phony leaflets. Someone needs to go to jail. In the meantime, program this voter fraud hotline into your speed dial: 1-866-OURVOTE (1-866-687-8683).