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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The First Newspaper Bailout of 2009?*

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —
Attention Los Angeles Times, Rocky Mountain News, and any other great American newspapers flirting with death in 2009 ... a little paper in Bristol, Connecticut, might have found a path to salvation.

The only question is whether it's ethical.

It's help from the government, an idea that's been proposed by countless reporters, politicians and pundits in the past few months, though, until now, it's yet to progress from the idea stage into any hall of power.

The Connecticut Assembly may be the first to press the issue.

Reuters is reporting that state Assemblyman Frank Nicastro wants to keep his local paper, The Bristol Press, from closing.

He also wants to help The Herald in nearby New Britain.

As Nicastro says, "the media is a vitally important part of America."

But, having just gone through a historic presidential election during which one side repeatedly tried to bash and blame the media for its failings, this idea appears doomed, as it very well should be.

From the Reuters story:
Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

"You can't expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it," he said.

As a reporter who turned down even the offer of coffee from any elected official I ever covered, it's impossible to fathom how newspapers can embrace government subsidies and still adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics. Nonetheless, there it is.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

*UPDATE 04:20 p.m. 01/01/2009: The accuracy of the Reuters story is being disputed by a single source, although there is no indication that any correction has been requested of Reuters, nor that the news service has even been contacted. Absent that, it might just be a non-denial denial.
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Beyond Baroque Gets a New Lease!

Photo from Beyond Baroque at flickr
A notice has been posted at the Beyond Baroque Web site that says the arts organization has finally completed negotiations (make that nearly 10 full months of negotiations) and signed a dollar-a-year, quarter-century lease with the City of Los Angeles for its home in Venice Beach.

Here's the notice posted by Beyond Baroque President Fred Dewey:
"On Monday Dec. 22, 2008, Beyond Baroque signed a lease with the city assuring its home at 681 Venice Blvd for the next 25 years. We are grateful to the City, 11th District Councilman Bill Rosendahl and his staff, and to all the many, many people who helped make this historic day possible. -- Fred Dewey."

You might recall that the Los Angeles City Council gave the deal its blessing way back in late February.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

* Cross posted at LA Observed.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Say Nice Things About Detroit

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —

Many efforts have been launched in the past 30 years or so to improve the image of Detroit, including that silly "Say Nice Things About Detroit" campaign, and the ridiculous "Do It In Detroit" slogan.

Both efforts failed and, well, I left a long time ago, so I'm hardly a spokesperson.

Nonetheless, in tribute to my friends in Detroit, I snapped this shot of Detroit Street the other day here in Los Angeles.

Here's hoping 2009 in Motown is better than 2008.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Monday, December 29, 2008


Another Fake 'True Story' Exploits Tragedy

— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
Another hoax disguised as a memoir sinks to new lows by fabricating a tale of love in ... a Nazi concentration camp.

I've yet to read any account that explains why this premise didn't strike anyone as too weird to be true: A Jewish girl disguised as a Christian repeatedly returns to a fence at a concentration camp and tosses food over it to an imprisoned Jewish boy. At the first meeting it was, supposedly, an apple that the girl shared. This was supposed to have gone on for about seven months, until the boy was transferred. Then, years later, in New York, the boy, by then a man, goes on a blind date at Coney Island and discovers that his date is ... the girl at the fence!

Yep. I know. Doesn't sound like the severe SS security at any concentration camp I've ever read about. Apples over the fence? Why not a hacksaw? A gun? A shovel? Yet, there it was, the basis of the title and subtitle -- "Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived."

The guy got on Oprah, TWICE! News stories were written about him and his book. He did the TV tour — CBS, Lifetime, etc...

And, although the author was in fact a prisoner in a concentration camp, the apple story was a fake.

The New Republic makes the whole publication process for this particular book sound a bit strange.

TNR says the hoax was revealed after a reporter (buoyed by interviews with top scholars) repeatedly confronted publishers, who defended the book until mounting evidence made defending it impossible.

This from the TNR post:
The day after [Gabriel] Sherman’s second article appeared, Rosenblat confessed to his agent, Andrea Hurst, that he had fabricated the love story, and Berkley announced that they are canceling the publication of the book. Following the announcement, Kenneth Waltzer, the Michigan State professor who originally questioned the story’s veracity, spoke to Sherman about the danger of Rosenblat’s fabrication. Hurst emailed a statement to say that she is “stunned and disappointed” by the lie. [Harris] Salamon says that he will still be making the movie as a “fictionalized adaptation of his story,” but that he "may rewrite elements of the script to reflect recent revelations.” Sherman also spoke with Rosenblat's son after the revelation, who described the episode as "always hurtful."

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Sunday, December 28, 2008


LA Today: A Photo of Griffith Observatory

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —

The usual curtain of smog in Los Angeles makes it easy to forget there are mountains just beyond Griffith Observatory. So, I took advantage of the clear winter weather today [12/28/2008] and snapped this shot from Mulholland Drive.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Friday, December 26, 2008


The End of 25-Cent Parking in LA

— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
The City of Los Angeles is in the process of making you pay more at the curb.

And, in case you haven't noticed, you're already paying more at The Los Angeles Public Library.

The old fee structure that allowed visitors to the central library downtown to pay a mere $6.50 for three hours of parking during library use has been increased to a charge of $9. The maximum rate is still $36.50 a day, which adds up quite quickly after the third hour so don't dawdle in the stacks.

As for those meters, the city plans to reset those that charge 25-cents-an-hour to return no more than 15 minutes per quarter. The most expensive city meters will top out at $4 per hour.

Of course, this does not affect non-city meters. You could pay more or less in other municipalities such as West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, or Santa Monica.

Earlier this month, I noticed that the city meters outside my Westside post office ceased to provide an hour for 50 cents, so it seems some have already gone through the change. Makes me wonder how many people will end up paying a parking ticket in the next few weeks for failing to look at the minutes provided per quarter.

Some of the new meters are supposed take credit cards, though I haven't seen any of those yet.

Perhaps the bigger issue for curb-side parkers will be the end of free-after-6 p.m. parking. Come 2009, LA parking meters won't go dark until 8 p.m., at least. Some meters will go later, so check those signs.

Remember the lesson of the 9-minute meter.

— TJ Sullivan in LA


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Happy Holidays! See You Friday!

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008


30th Anniversary of Bukowski's 12-24-78

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —
Wednesday is the 30th anniversary of Charles Bukowski's ode to Christmas Eve. And so, in recognition of that occasion ...
by Charles Bukowski

I suck on this beer
in my kitchen
and think about
cleaning my fingernails
and shaving
as I listen to the
classical radio station.
they play holiday
I prefer to hear Christmas
music in July
while I am being threatened
with death by
a woman.
when I need it —
when I need
Bing Crosby and the
elves and
some fast

now I sit here
listening to this
slop in
season — it's such
a sugar tit —
I'd rather play a game of
ping-pong with
the risen ghost
of Hitler.

amateur drunks run their cheerful
cars into each other
the ambulances sing to each
other outside.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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LA's Journey From Richest to Worst

— Photo By TJ Sullivan —
Two years ago, scant media attention was being paid to the fact that Los Angeles was the least affordable housing market in the US.

Most of the real-estate news back then revolved around what big money was being made in housing.

At about that same time, the California Asssociation of Realtors quietly reformulated the way it calculated housing affordability. And, as a result, LA appeared more affordable than previously thought.

The old formula had served CAR well for 22 years, so why the change in 2006?

CAR said it was to "better reflect the realities of today’s real estate market," which was another way of saying the new formula accounted for the reality that pretty much anyone with a heartbeat could get a home loan. And we all know how that's turned out.

Today the story is quite different.

Today Los Angeles tops the list of Fortune magazine’s worst real estate markets for 2009.

No surprise there.

This from CNN's report on Fortune's list:
The housing market hasn't bottomed out yet. For the third quarter, the closely-watched S&P Case-Shiller national home-price index fell 16.6%, and experts are predicting further declines. Of the top 100 markets, here are 10 with the worst forecasts.

1. Los Angeles

2008 median house price: $375,340
2009 projected change: -24.9%
2010 projected change: -5.1%

The median home price in the L.A.-Long Beach-Glendale metro area is projected to fall nearly 25% in 2009 - the biggest drop in the country ...

More at CNN and LA Biz Observed.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Sunday, December 21, 2008


If They Called, Would You Bail?

— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
Why don’t Americans want to bail out the auto industry?

Remember the first time you drove a new car off the lot?

I do. I was in my 20s in New Mexico, unworldly in all kinds of ways, but alert enough to realize the portent of my first new-car purchase. I spent weeks preparing for it, read three books about the typical car-salesmen cons, and, in the process, eeked out what last few miles were left in my Chevrolet Chevette, which was already a well-used vehicle when I purchased it as a college student.

Despite all that, the deal still went horribly wrong.

Before I even stepped on the car lot, the Detroit voices in my head were castigating me. Hell, I wasn’t even buying a car, but a pickup — a cherry-red, four-cylinder with neither air conditioning, nor a radio — the kind of two-seater that those imaginary voices said were for “hicks and farmers.” But that was hardly the most heinous aspect of the transaction. What really upset the assembly-line philistines in my psyche was that I was about to buy a rice burner, which in Detroit was only slightly more vile than ransacking your best friend’s house, shooting his favorite dog, then bragging about it by having “I shot the bitch” tattooed on your forehead.

But that was Detroit, and I had no intention of ever going back. I worked hard for my money and I wanted quality in return, which I doubted Detroit could provide. I learned first hand from the mothers and fathers of friends and girlfriends who toiled in the plants of the Big Three to always be wary of those sour rides that rolled off the line in the late afternoon, when weary workers were less attentive to detail. Imperfections that became “the dealer’s problem” inevitably became the source of some sorry buyer's regret (and no doubt the inspiration for so-called "lemon" laws). As for buying a pickup, I needed a vehicle with clearance enough to traverse the worst of high-desert dirt roads, both for recreational and journalistic purposes.

Too many times had that dying Chevette of mine bottomed out en route to report on some back-road standoff with a drug-crazed unfortunate holed up in his grandmother’s clapboard house, putting holes in the dirt and sky with a .45-caliber ACP while begging the deputies to do what he was too scared to do himself.

I bought a foreign pickup assembled in America from a typical American car dealership and, try as I did to get a fair deal, my hopes ended up shot full of holes.

The way I figured afterward, I probably paid about $1,000 too much for what was then a truck with a $10,000 sticker in the window. I did everything those books had said, negotiated the trade-in before bargaining for the new vehicle, then spent five hours dickering down 15 percent from the price tag. But, in those pre-Internet days, I had far less information than the dealer did. When the suit brought out a piece of paper labeled “Invoice Cost,” I had nothing with which to fire back.

Later on, it stung a little more. The vehicle I’d been told had “tens” of miles on it actually had hundreds. The odometer had no tenths column.

Intent on embarrassing myself professionally as well as personally, I had to ask why such swindling wasn’t worth reporting. A friend drew my attention to the obvious answer — all those full-page ads in every mid-sized daily newspaper. These guys were big advertisers. What newspaper would want to piss them off? I expect a few took on their local dealerships over the years, but it doesn’t appear to have made any difference.

Getting ripped off by the local car dealer has been a part of American life since … forever.

Just business, they say.

That’s how life is.

Which brings us to 2008 with US taxpayers being begged to bail out the very industry that’s primary connection to the end user is the lying, cheating, swindling salesperson.

We all know it. We can buy books about it. Movie plots have focused on it. Stand-up comics have put legions of kids through college telling jokes about it. Indeed, it’s the very reason that manufacturers began promoting what-you-see-is-what-you-get pricing just as the Internet began providing consumers with access to more information.

I grew up in Detroit, in the city itself. Some of my closest friends and immediate family work in the industry, on the noisy assembly lines, in the partitioned offices, and in the coat-and-dagger coat-and-tie dealerships. Their stake in this is bigger than mine, though there’s no doubt in my mind that if their jobs go away, many more of our jobs will go away too.

Those who have taken the time to look at the data and the implications can’t help but see the need for pre-emptive financial assistance. But a bail-out?


If the salesperson who sold you your car were to call from jail, weeping and begging for you to please, God, please come bail them out, would you? Or would you remember that line they fed you as they handed you the keys, the one about how they usually don’t let cars as good as this go for such a low, low price … or what a great deal you got … or what a shrewd negotiator you are …

Why don’t Americans want to bail out the auto industry?

Remember the first time you drove a new car off the lot?

— TJ Sullivan in LA

* Cross posted at LA Observed.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008


'Follow the Money'

— Associated Press photo via NYT —

"It leads everywhere. Get out your notebook. There's more."

Deep Throat

Aug. 17, 1913 –
Dec. 18, 2008

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Coming Soon: 'Edgar Sawtelle' ... The Prequel

Without question, the best book I read in 2008 was David Wroblewski's first novel -- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle -- news of which made today's deals report from Publishers Marketplace.

Contained within the ample list of mostly non-fiction and foreign-rights transactions was the welcome report that Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, plans to publish another book from Wroblewski, a prequel to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Intent on crafting the tale into a trilogy, Wroblewski promises to focus the next installment on the life of John Sawtelle, grandfather of Edgar. I hesitate to say any more lest I give away too much about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I can't recommend strongly enough.

Published in June, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle "has over 1.4 million copies in print and became an Oprah pick in September," says Publishers Weekly.

As with the first book, Wroblewski was again represented by Eleanor Jackson.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


President-elect Barack Obama, The LA Days

Photo by Lisa Jack

TIME Magazine named Barack Obama its Man Person of the Year today for 2008, and included with its coverage a photo essay titled "Obama: The College Years," a collection of very cool photos of the president-elect back in 1980, when he was a freshman at Occidental College here in Los Angeles.

The photos, shot by fellow student and aspiring photographer Lisa Jack, reveal "a playful side of the President-elect," says TIME. The photo above is one of those.

Just a little more than a month to go before we can drop the "elect" from that title and simply call him "Mr. President."

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Carrie Fisher Dishes at Book Soup

— Photos by TJ Sullivan —

It was not the kind of signing readers have come to expect.

Attendees of Carrie Fisher's book signing tonight learned upon arrival at Book Soup that the author/actor would not be signing books, but rather had put her mark on copies of Wishful Drinking ahead of her appearance.

Nonetheless, Fisher showed up on time to charm and amuse a generous and appreciative group of readers who trapped her in a corner against a wall stacked with cat calendars for more than an hour. The presentation was all Q&A, with brutally honest responses from a woman with nothing left to hide.

What happens when Fisher, adult film star Ron Jeremy, and a Catholic priest walk into a bar? See my blog post at NBCLosAngeles.com.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Life After The New York Times Book Review

LA literary blogger and author Mark Sarvas is proof that being pilloried in New York Times Book Review isn't the end of the world.

Despite the skewering he received in that most-revered of New York publications, Sarvas, who bangs out The Elegant Variation here in Los Angeles, has received praise from several other respected corners of the literary world this year for his debut novel HARRY REVISED. And this month it was named a "Good Read of 2008" by a critic for the Denver Post.

Publishers Weekly said back in May that "there may be legions of writers spurned by his blog just willing for Sarvas to fail," but yours truly is not one of them.

Here's to Mark and his creation, Harry Rent, a good reason to order a sandwich and keep reading, regardless of whether you're late for that appointment.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Is the E.W. Scripps Lighthouse Fading?

When I was a writer for E.W. Scripps newspapers in New Mexico and California during the mid-to-late 1990s, the corporate suits would visit us every so often and allow the newsroom staff to ask them questions, sometimes to disastrous effect. (What'd they expect from a room full of journalists?) Direct, though courteous, someone always seemed to inquire after company finances with something like: "What are you guys doing with all the profits we're raking in?"

We were told that some newspaper profits were being used to help pump up Scripps' cable networks -- HGTV, the Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living, etc... The practice was sold as being good for the company, a way to ensure a stronger and healthier business for all our benefit. We believed. What else were we to do? Investigate our bosses? We had a paper to put out.

In hindsight, we probably should have been a bit more skeptical, considering what the suits did once their cable TV ventures became self-sustaining. Rather than return that goodwill to the newspaper side, Scripps chose instead to split the two divisions into separate companies, a move that was finalized earlier this year.

When it was announced in 2007, USA Today described it as splitting the "stagnant newspaper business into a separate company."

One analyst was quoted as recommending the move as a way to "unencumber" the cable side from newspapers. Funny, that's not how corporate looked at the cable side when it was an encumbrance to the newspaper side.

Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) began trading as a separate company this summer, with the newspapers holding onto the old SSP designation.

Fast forward to this week. SNI was at $21.13 a share at today's close and SSP was at $1.74, up a few cents after closing yesterday at an all-time low of $1.68.

Why an all-time low? Perhaps it had something to do with the massive sell-off reported by Fitz & Jen over at Editor & Publisher. Apparently the second-largest institutional holder of E.W. Scripps stock -- a 5.13 % stake of 2.135 million shares -- decided to take the money (or, perhaps we should call it spare change) and run.

I assume the largest holder of E.W. Scripps stock is still the Scripps Family Trust, which has been the saving grace of print journalists because it mandates newspaper ownership.

Still, none of this is good news, neither for our friends in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain News (who found out less than two weeks ago that Scripps was putting them up for sale), nor for our colleagues in the suburbs of LA at the Ventura County Star (who were among the victims of the multi-paper cutbacks Scripps instituted last month).

Silly as it seems to even bother asking the question, it'd be interesting to hear someone from Scripps address why anyone should believe the company still has a long-term commitment to newspapering. Based upon its actions in the past year, things sure don't look that way.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Monday, December 15, 2008


Newspapers Don't Matter

Photo By TJ Sullivan
Somewhere in all the muck journalists have been tromping through the past few weeks, The New York Times columnist David Carr has found a saber.

Not that the readers of these pages need to be reminded, but the past week alone has been bad by any measure. We've learned that two once-great newspapers in Detroit (my hometown) are mulling a plan to cease home delivery most days of the week. We learned National Public Radio intends to lay off 64 staffers companywide, most of them here in Los Angeles. And a mere seven days ago the Monday morning bankruptcy bomb was dropped by Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co.

Tragic as all that sounds, it's nothing compared to the many other layoffs and closures of the past few years, the most recent of which was the announcement by E.W. Scripps Co. that Denver's Rocky Mountain News has been put up for sale. (Does anyone doubt how that's sure to end up? Remember how well the sale of The Albuquerque Tribune went?)

Yet, Carr writes in today's edition of The New York Times that this industry in search of relevance has "found a compelling spokesman" in Democratic Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich.

Blaggy's scandal, Carr says, is justification for the importance of investigative journalism:
The governor said he would withhold financial assistance from the Tribune Company in its effort to sell Wrigley Field unless the newspaper got rid of the editorial writers. “Our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ’em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support,” he told his chief of staff, John Harris.

Who says the modern American newspaper doesn’t matter?
Not that I'm happy about this, but I'll say it.

Newspapers don't matter. Otherwise people would be reading them.

And, besides that, I'll ask the more important question -- Why wasn't Blaggy calling for the head of a reporter instead of a deputy editorial page editor?

Carr doesn't sidestep any of this. As he points out, "much of the current investigation is being led by the office of the United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald," not a newspaper.

Sure, Chicago's skilled journalists were on the story, reporting that the governor’s wife, Patti, rode the real-estate bubble like everyone else and pocketed more than $700,000 in commissions, a lot of it from people doing business with the state, but that's not the scandal.

In the words of Ben Bradlee, "you haven't got it … not good enough," which is in no way intended as a cut on Chicago's talented journalists, but rather an example of the tragic casualties we can all expect as a result of cutbacks industrywide.

Carr highlights that no evidence suggests Tribune cooperated with Blaggy's desire that pink slips be rained down on that deputy editorial editor, but that we even have to wonder about it says more than anything else.

There's an oft-quoted statement by Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell in Carr's piece. It's the one that goes: "I haven’t figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize.

Relevant? What's been most relevant in newspapers for the past decade, at least, has been the struggle to hold onto readers and revenue at any cost. The public service role of journalism has been shorted and continues to dim more each day, so much so that I feel torn each time I'm asked to provide a letter of recommendation for a former student interested in pursuing a graduate degree in journalism.

Newspaper readers — mostly former readers — don't sympathize with this situation, which is why it's bound to get worse before it gets better.

The public is not going look at the Blaggy scandal and slap itself on the forehead in recognition of the threat posed to democracy by shrinking newsrooms. The public is learning everything it cares to know about Blaggy from TV and blogs. Newspapers? You mean those things to which the blogs hyperlink out? Face it, we are losing a generation of readers, and if you doubt how serious that may be, ask a Gen-Xer when they last went to a horse track — now there's a dying industry that's now lost a couple generations.

More newspapers will close and, soon, some journalism schools will close too. And, in the meantime, crooks and liars are getting a lot more comfortable.

As I often tend to quote:
Thomas Jefferson said: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
More scandals will happen. Far more damage to democracy will be done. It's inevitable. The only way the public is going to realize why newspapers matter is when the harm caused by their absence is undeniable.

The reason it's come to this is complicated. No one thing caused it. But, newspapers have to know that they're to blame for a lot of it. They poisoned their own ink wells. They've been so focused on profit for so long that the public no longer sees them as a public service, but rather as just another business.

Can Blaggy change that? Yes. But it's going to take a lot more Blaggys, dozens, in states and counties and cities and everywhere that the watchdog of the print media is no longer on duty.

Ever wonder what the world would have been like if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein hadn't uncovered Watergate? I fear we'll learn the answer in the next couple decades.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

* Cross posted at LA Observed.
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Amen, Timothy Egan, Amen

Photo by TJ Sullivan
Any moment now, Joe the Plumber's book is expected to be flushed out the pipes of the publishing industry like a clog of matted hair and mucus, so it seems a fitting time to highlight the wisdom expressed in Timothy Egan's op-ed piece from The New York Times, which ran about a week ago.

The lesson is timeless:
The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Amen, Timothy Egan. Amen.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Sunday, December 14, 2008


Holidays In LA: Fresh Powder at Bob's

Photosby TJ Sullivan

I was at The Grove shopping center this morning, that fake downtown streetscape that Rick Caruso built adjacent the Los Angeles Farmers Market on West 3rd Street.

Love the Farmers Market, but The Grove?

There's not much there for me, though I must admit that, this time of year, the fake snowstorms are fairly cool. The flakes aren't real. They're some sort of synthetic liquid. But, they look authentic enough to fool cameras, and maybe your inner child, if you're in the right mood.

The truth of it is it's the snowy powdered sugar atop the beignets at nearby Bob's Donuts that puts me in the holiday spirit, and I suspect a few other Los Angelenos as well considering the always-steady stream of customers at the counter. Now, if there was only some way to get The Grove to drop powdered donuts from its rooftops every evening beginning at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., until Dec. 31 ... Something like that might actually change my mind about the place.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Saturday, December 13, 2008


How Bad Off Can We Be If So Many People Are Dying To Spend $360 On A Kindle?

An amusing look at Amazon's Kindle.
I want the Kindle to catch on.

I swear to my book-loving God I do, and, yes, I know for a fact he/she loves books because the bible has sold more than five billion copies since 1815, which I'm pretty sure is better than even JK Rowling, not that I mean any disrespect at all ... to Ms. Rowling.

But something about this whole Kindle craze just doesn't figure.

We're still in so-called "trying" times. Things are still supposed to get a lot worse. Layoffs have hit nearly every industry, including book publishing, kids are writing tragic letters of loss and heartache to Santa Claus, and Jay Leno is moving to prime time because "with the economic situation a lot of people go to bed earlier."

Ok, so I have NO idea where Leno got that little factoid about how the onset of poverty improves sleeping habits, but the stuff about the layoffs and the Santa letters has been verified, and yet Amazon.com has somehow managed to SELL OUT its entire stock of Kindles at a cost of $359.00 each!

It's revolutionary. It's cool. I get all that. I've held one, used one, envied a person who owned one but ... How? Why?

And if the answer is simply the fact that Oprah Winfrey touched a Kindle and said it was good, then somebody get that woman to Wall Street, give her a megaphone and get out of her way!

In the meantime, I'll just have to envy those who have Kindles, marvel at all the books they can carry all at once, and hope that soon they'll be carrying mine in there too.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

* Cross posted at LA Observed
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Friday, December 12, 2008


Are You There Agent? It's Me, TJ ...

Judy Blume, author of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and more than 25 other books, published her first three novels without an agent.

Three books.

She also has a nicely designed Web site, on which she's posted quite a lot about her personal experiences as a writer. She even includes a bit of advice on how to live a writer's life, for kids as well as adults.

Her remarks on rejection are particularly compelling:
"For two years I received nothing but rejections. One magazine, Highlights for Children, sent a form letter with a list of possible reasons for rejection. 'Does not win in competition with others,' was always checked off on mine. I still can't look at a copy of Highlights without wincing.

I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent.

Don't let anyone discourage you! Yes, rejection and criticism hurt. Get used to it. Even when you're published you'll have to contend with less than glowing reviews. There is no writer who hasn't suffered."

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Thursday, December 11, 2008


Books Make Great Gifts Because ...

This video, from the Association of American Publishers (which I first spotted over at the LA Times' Jacket Copy blog) offers some nice snippets about the value of books from some of the publishing industry's best-selling authors, and the guy from The O'Reilly Fakakta, or whatever they call that show. (Seriously, if anyone knows how Bill O'Reilly got into this thing, please pass along his secret so that we all might benefit next time).

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Beyond Baroque Gets $20,000 Donation

Photo from Beyond Baroque at flickr
A news release from the Venice-based, Los Angeles literary arts center Beyond Baroque says the organization is "nearing completion" in its nine-month effort to nail down that dollar-a-year, quarter-century lease approved in late February by the City Council.

Good news indeed, but perhaps better than that was the announcement of a sizable financial contribution, coincidentally in the same amount as the organization's reported cost of maintenance for one year:
To mark the launch of the 40th Anniversary Campaign, [Beyond Baroque President Fred] Dewey announced a $20,000 donation from a major LA artist living in Venice who, though preferring anononymity, began in the underground and is very sympathetic to the institution’s spirit. He joins internationally celebrated donors to Beyond Baroque Ed Ruscha, Mike Kelley, and others.
While other non-profit groups, including National Public Radio, have recently bemoaned devastating drops in donations and sponsorships, Beyond Baroque once again demonstrates its ability to beat the count and remain in the fight.

Also in the release, Beyond Baroque announced the names (brief bios included) of newly installed members of its board of trustees. I couldn't find the news release on the Beyond Baroque Web site, so I posted a copy of what Dewey emailed this week. It's at this link.

* Cross posted at LA Observed.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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A Few Changes Around The Web Site ... Comments Function Is Switched On

Art by TJ Sullivan
Regular readers have no doubt noticed a few changes around the site, particularly the partitioning of the blog pages into three columns from two, and the addition of advertisements to the right column.

Rest assured, we (and by that we mean "I," as in "me," but since so many other bloggers are referring to their singular selves as "we," we figured it's something cool bloggers do, so, uh) ...

Where were we?

Oh, yes, we were assuring you that, though we may look different, we're still the same.

Other recent changes include switching on the comments function. We'll see how this goes. Some of our favorite sites use them, and some of them don't, all for very good reasons. Provided there aren't too many patently lunatic posts, or personal attacks we have to spend time deleting, the plan is to leave the comments function up and open indefinitely. Please sign up so we know who you are. Unless you're tipping us to a scandal of Watergate-like proportions, there's really no cause to keep your identity secret, and even then, well ... we'd still prefer to know who you are.

More changes will be going online in the next few weeks throughout the Web site. As always, please feel free to drop us an e-mail (any one of us) to offer a comment, compliment, criticism, or story idea. Always, always, always open to story/blog-post ideas, especially those of interest to writers, or anything with a Southern California hook.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


NPR Cuts 64 Staffers, Leaves 21 Posts Open As Endowment Investments Tank

Art by TJ Sullivan
Today was yet another bad day for journalism, especially in the Los Angeles studios of National Public Radio, which announced it was laying off 64 staffers companywide, and doing away with 21 open jobs that had yet to be filled.

Rumors about the possibility of a layoff had been circulating for about a week at NPR West in Culver City. Today much of what was feared came true as NPR West learned it was hit worst of all with more than half of the firings -- 34 postions, says LAist -- coming out of its ranks, including the cancellation of the programs Day to Day and News & Notes .

Dennis L. Haarsager, interim president and CEO of NPR, explained it this way in a memo [via LA Observed]:
The manageable $2 million budget deficit we projected in July for Fiscal Year 2009 has now risen to $23 million.

It is clear that this serious financial situation can’t be responsibly resolved through short-term or temporary cuts. Rather, we must take measures that provide long-term savings, and that preserve our effectiveness and our ability to generate vital income in the years ahead.
Why did it come to this? It's a combination of problems, including a $4 million drop in expected grants and contributions, as well as a decline in corporate sponsorships, according to The New York Times.

The NY Times story says: "... corporate sponsorships in particular have dropped precipitously, to a projected $33 million for the year instead of the $47 million budgeted, NPR executives said."

The Washington Post explains another source of public radio's pain — bad stock investments by the $230 endowment bequeathed to NPR by the late Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc.

From WaPo:
... NPR will receive no income from the Kroc gift this year because of declines in its investment value. Kroc's gift had spun off about $10 million in revenue for NPR last year, but legal restrictions required and NPR's investment advisors recommended suspending that revenue source as the gift's value declined. NPR said it will make up the lost revenue by dipping into its reserves this year.
— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Tuesday, December 09, 2008


LAT Freezes Pending Freelancer Payments!

The news just keeps getting worse. Freelancers have now joined those owed severance payments by the LA Times in the long wait to be paid. It could take six months to a year, and even then there's no guarantee anyone will be fully compensated.

From LA Observed:
If the Los Angeles Times owes you money, you might have to wait a long time. Publisher Eddy Hartenstein told the staff yesterday that the Chapter 11 filing freezes pending payments to freelancers, but said the paper will ask the Delaware judge to allow the commitments to be met. This year's hundreds of laid-off former employees have not heard those assurances and are fairly frantic to find out how long their severance payments will be interrupted. Hartenstein apparently said the Chapter 11 status could last six months to a year. By the way, he told the staff "town hall" meeting that the Times and the rest of Tribune's units remain profitable — this is about Sam Zell's debt load and inability to renegotiate his loans or sell properties like the Cubs.

RELATED: One freelancer got proactive when the magazine 02138 folded up while still owing him money.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Did Tribune Co. Offer Up Editor's Head?

In yet another lesson on how to make a bad newspaper ...

Among the many reports this morning on the arrest of Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Gawker spotted this wretchedly juicy bit of unethical non-journalisticness, which was allegedly perpetrated by Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co.

Buried within the 76-page FBI affidavit dealing with the governor's alleged bribery efforts lay the details of a diabolical exchange between Tribune Co. and the Gov's office.

According to the text of the affidavit, it appears that a Tribune financial advisor signaled the willingness of Tribune's owner — we assume that's our own Sam Zell — to use reorganizations and budget cuts to eliminate a wrong-thinking deputy editorial page editor, whose opinion of the Illinois governor was less than favorable. Less than two weeks later, guess who was suddenly willing to talk about funneling a few tax dollars to the debt-ridden Tribune's Wrigley Field?

From the affidavit via Gawker:
In a November 11 intercepted call, [Blagojevich's chief of staff John] Harris allegedly told Blagojevich that Tribune Financial Advisor talked to Tribune Owner and Tribune Owner "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue." Harris told Blagojevich that according to Tribune Financial Advisor, there would be "certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he's going after that section." Blagojevich allegedly responded. "Oh. That's fantastic." After further discussion, Blagojevich said, "Wow. Okay, keep our fingers crossed. You're the man. Good job, John."

In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune's deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, "as somebody who was the most biased and unfair." After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field.
The editor in question was not let go in the round of layoffs that followed, according to the affidavit.

Nonetheless, the details might help explain why some LA Times staffers cringe when Zell refers to them as "partners" in e-mail.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

* Cross posted at LA Observed.
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Monday, December 08, 2008


LAT Stops Severance Payments!*

Ho-ho-holy shit!

Apologies to the faint of heart, for whom a word like "shit" might offend, but ... seriously HOLY SHIT! You want to get offended? Check this out ...

Remember the casualties of the last Los Angeles Times layoff?

Unfortunately it appears some of those folks are still within gut-punching distance of Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell.

Today's bankruptcy filing has apparently put at risk all severance payments that have yet to be paid in full. What that likely means is that anyone who received more than two months severance after the October layoff might be out the remainder, at least temporarily, as of today ... just in time for Christmas.

From Tribune's internal Q&A via LA Observed:
All ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the Court. Please contact call the Tribune Benefits Service Center at 800-872-2222 for details on your specific situation.
* UPDATE: LA Observed has a memo from LA Times HR that says severance payments are going forward. The HR memo also blames reports to the contrary on "public speculation," despite the fact the information came from one of their own in-house Q&A memos. The check is in the mail!

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Oh Zell!

The Los Angeles Times parent company Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection today.

The Chicago-based company, owned by real estate magnate Sam Zell, is looking to restructure payments on $12 billion in debt.

A snippet from the LA Times story:
Tribune Co. directors approved the action to seek Chapter 11 protection in a meeting today, saying they want to restructure payments to banks and other creditors, following real estate magnate Sam Zell's purchase of the company last year.

The Chicago-based company had roughly $300 million cash on hand, more than enough to make a $70-million payment due today. But executives reportedly were unable to persuade lenders to undertake a broader restructuring of the debt.

Among other obligations, a $512-million principal payment related to Zell's leveraged buyout is due in June.

Zell calls it a "perfect storm" in a news release:
"Factors beyond our control have created a perfect storm -- a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy coupled with a credit crisis that makes it extremely difficult to support our debt."
A memo from the big boss reportedly went out to staff this morning lamenting that they had to learn of the BK possibility on the news last night (those pesky reporters!), and reminded everyone that nothing about this should affect their work. Nothing to see here. Go about your business. Don't you worry one bit.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Sunday, December 07, 2008


LA Times Parent Trying to Avoid Bankruptcy

A story posted Sunday to the New York Times Web site says bankruptcy advisers have been hired by Tribune Co., the Sam-Zell-owned company that's done a great job of eliminating nearly every reason to read the Los Angeles Times. Of course, news of this effort to avoid BK didn't come from Tribune ... The NY Times attributed it to "people briefed on the matter."
Tribune has hired bankruptcy advisers as the ailing newspaper company seeks to stave off a potential bankruptcy filing, people briefed on the matter said.

The newspaper, which was taken private last year by billionaire investor Samuel Zell, has hired the investment bank Lazard and the law firm Sidley Austin, these people said. Tribune has been hobbled by debt related to that sale last year, which has been compounded by the growing drought of advertising for newspapers.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Friday, December 05, 2008


Off the Rails on a Crazy Train!

We've all either worked for someone like this, or known someone who has — a boss whose career soundtrack is an endless loop of the song Crazy Train. Now, thanks to a hot mic at MSNBC, just such a member of management was caught on tape, blue language and all. The footage posted at Live Leak is must-see Internet viewing, if only to confirm you and/or your friend aren't the only ones who have to suffer someone like this.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Thursday, December 04, 2008


Rocky Mountain Low

Send some good thoughts Denver's way today. Our friends at the Rocky Mountain News just found out they're for sale.
Like newspapers through the nation, the Rocky has suffered from a weak advertising market and as readers increasingly turn to the Internet to get their news. Scripps last month told Wall Street that it had eliminated 400 jobs across its newspaper division and suspended its dividend in the face of advertising weakness.

The company expects the Rocky to lose roughly $15 million this year.

* UPDATE: The Official Announcement.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Black Wednesday: No Bailout in Bookland

They're calling it Black Wednesday ...

The Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog posts a few of the details and some links for more info about the economic impact the recession has had on the book publishing industry.

Boy, would I hate to be some sorry scribbler shopping his novel around NYC right about now ...

From the LAT:
The New York publishing world, which has had its own shivers of layoffs, got seriously rattled by major announcements today by Random House, Simon & Schuster and Thomas Nelson. Publishers Weekly editor Sarah Nelson is not the only one calling it Black Wednesday. Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher, laid off 54 people. Senior staff are leaving Random House in a "long anticipated restructuring," but the company isn't calling the departures layoffs. What happened at Simon & Schuster were layoffs -- 35 people were let go. Understanding that this is bad news, Nelson, in a blog post, still keeps her chin up: "I don't really worry, in the long run, about publishing itself."

Full post is at Jacket Copy.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Monday, December 01, 2008


The Volt Bolts

Photo by TJ Sullivan

KNBC journalist Patrick Healy reports at NBC Los Angeles that the LA Auto Show bid a hasty (and early) goodbye to GM's Volt, the electric vehicle that my Detroit auto-industry-employed friends and family say is sure to save the company:
Had it been purloined in the middle of the night by a rival carmaker? Or worse yet, by a foreign agent? Nope. Turns out GM itself moved the Volt in response to a higher calling.

"They need it back in Washington," was the explanation offered on the show floor by a Chevrolet "Product Specialist." Under further questioning by show visitor Bob Hackl, the product specialist explained that GM top brass plan to make use of the Volt in a presentation to Congress.

GM says car buyers will be able to buy the Volt in the 2010 model year, which begs the question ... why does General Motors appear to have only ONE built-and-running prototype Volt in the world right now?

Kinda, sorta related: A Sea of Unwanted Imports in LA.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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