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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Thanks, But No Thanks, Sen. Cardin*

US Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, has proposed a way for Washington D.C. to assist in the recovery of the American newspaper industry.

His idea is to exempt newspapers from that most American of burdens — tax payments on everything from revenue to charitable contributions (should anyone happen to be so civic-minded as to donate money to save a newspaper). To take advantage of this offer, however, a newspaper would have to operate as a non-profit.

Although newspapers could continue most of their primary functions (like keeping a watchful eye on U.S. Senators like Cardin), they wouldn't be allowed to make political endorsements. That's a no-no in the tax code.

Of course, even if they were allowed to editorialize as non-profits, they'd best abstain, at the very least, from editorializing on issues involving taxation (considering the obvious hypocrisy).

The following quote from Cardin's statement appears at AdAge.com:
"We are losing our newspaper industry," Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, D.-Md., said in a statement. "The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."

Sure, there are already a couple non-profit newspapers in operation without the aid of such a law. Besides that, Cardin is not the first elected official to express concern for the threat posed to democracy by dying newspapers, and with good reason.

Much as politicians love to complain about "the media," they know full well that without ethically bound, professional newspaper journalists, the ability of elected officials to communicate with constituents would be limited to two-minute TV reports, radio talk show blather, and an Internet so full of pundits and patent lunatics that it's damned hard to find serious news bloggers (or whatever the term is this week for unaccredited, unaffiliated, smart, reporter-like writers who publish online).

Surely all of Washington is wondering where officeholders will turn in the future when their complicated piece of legislation is being misconstrued and misunderstood in 30-second sound bites. Or, perhaps more importantly: Who do you sic on a crooked opponent if not a newspaper reporter willing to invest weeks digging through records and receipts?

Seriously. The CBS program 60 Minutes only has 60 minutes a week (less than that if you discount the air consumed by Andy Rooney). And lest some think Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh are capable of carrying such water, think again. Both come with far too much of their own baggage to carry anything for anyone else.

As much as Americans love to hate their local newspaper, deep down most people (especially the ones seated near the center of the aisle) have always believed that they could trust the paper more than any other source.

Which is precisely the problem with ideas like this.

As I've said before, government assistance of any kind won't wash with the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics, particularly the sections of the code that call upon journalists to:
* Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived ...

* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility ...

* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity

I have no reason to doubt that Sen. Cardin's intentions are anything but honorable, but that doesn't matter. Should he succeed in saving newspapers this way in the short term, he will most certainly kill them in the long run.

Should this legislation pass, all subsequent non-profit newspaper coverage of Cardin and his Congressional colleagues would be tainted by a public perception of reciprocation.

No bad news would be bad enough, and good news would always be considered a quid pro quo.

It matters little that no such thing is being requested, nor offered. Perception in this situation is reality (and I haven't even addressed the First Amendment issues).

It's easy to guess where all this is going.

So, thanks, Sen. Cardin, but no thanks. The newspaper industry can only be hurt by government assistance.

* Post updated/corrected 10:30 pm PDT

More at Fitz & Jen.

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Monday, March 16, 2009


Pelosi Says Frisco Paper Must Survive

San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, is troubled about the potential loss of the San Francisco Chronicle, so much so that she's reportedly urged the US Department of Justice to consider being more flexible with regard to merging or consolidating business operations.

In addition, she said the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy will soon hold a hearing on the newspaper crisis and the potential for antitrust laws to complicate possible solutions.

Here's the gist from the Chronicle's Web site, SFGate:
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, released by Pelosi's office late Monday, the San Francisco Democrat asked the department to weigh the public benefit of saving The Chronicle and other papers from closure against the agency's antitrust mission to guard against anti-competitive behavior.

"We must ensure that our policies enable our news organizations to survive and to engage in the news gathering and analysis that the American people expect," Pelosi wrote.

The speaker said the issue of newspapers' survival and antitrust law will be the subject of a hearing soon before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, chaired by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

Pelosi's spokesman, Brendan Daly, said the speaker was moved by the recent announcement by the Hearst Corp., the parent company of The Chronicle, that it would be forced to sell or close the paper if it could not achieve major cost-savings quickly. Hearst has said the paper lost $50 million last year and that this year's losses will likely be worse.

Read the rest of the story at SFGate.

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Saturday, March 14, 2009


Government Aid ... for Newspapers?

Graphic by TJ Sullivan
MediaFile at Reuters lists several different attempts at providing government aid for newspapers, which sounds a little like the Woodsman taking a loan from the Big Bad Wolf.

Watch out, Red.

Here's a snippet from Robert MacMillan's post:
The last time I mentioned the word “bailout” in connection with newspapers, I caught my fair share of flak from the conservative blogosphere for even entertaining the notion. I also caught a few rounds from Connecticut lawmakers who thought that I was suggesting their attempt to help secure tax breaks for struggling newspapers amounted to a bailout.

Having said that, it looks like Washington state is getting into the aid game as Hearst Corp weighs killing its Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.

Read the rest at Reuters.

*Cross posted at Know Newspapers.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


'NPR is Cancelling All Newspaper Subscriptions'

If this is an early April Fool's joke, it's not very funny.

Romenesko at Poynter.org posted a copy of a memo Thursday from National Public Radio.

The subject line — "saving money."

The gist:
"As of April 1 NPR is cancelling all newspaper subscriptions."
Not that newspapers mind serving as tip sheets for radio and TV, among others, but, as observed by LA Observed, now these guys are going to be taking it for free.

Read the full memo at Poynter.org.

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Paper Cuts Put Boxers On the Ropes

The decline of boxing is a side effect of the newspaper crisis.

So says Kevin Iole, a columnist for Yahoo! Sports, and I'm inclined to agree.

As Iole explains, the fight game is in decline despite the existence of several thriving boxing Web sites.

The reason — Never underestimate the power of a good sports section.

Newspaper sports sections aren't simply popular because they cover sports. They're popular because they employ skilled professional writers who know how to speak to all readers, not just sports fanatics. Of course, not every sports section is good at this, but most of them are, and the ones that do it well not only look to feed the fans, but to educate new ones.

Much as the dictum "no cheering in the press box" has become a cliche, it's as true as it ever was. Sports writers can't be cheerleaders and reporters at the same time. Without a doubt, for every reader attracted by boosterism, hundreds more are put off by it.

The same is true for movie reviews, music reviews, theatre reviews, etc ...

Readers love to hear about a genuine winner, and good newspapers love to tell those kinds of tales. Stories like that generate excitement. They entertain. They can even bring communities together. It's just one more example of the crucial role newspapers play in American life.

It's also another good reason to spread the word about why we should all care about the crisis facing newspapers.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's a snippet from Kevin Iole's column:
“It’s hard to have a star when the sport is almost completely neglected by newspapers,” said Michael Katz, late of the New York Times and New York Daily News and one of the finest boxing writers ever. “Most newspaper sports editors don’t have a clue about boxing and don’t even consider it when they’re planning their coverage.”

The sport has a thriving following on the Internet, where there is more information available than ever before. There is a website in which you can access the fight-by-fight record of nearly every boxer ever. There are websites that breathlessly deliver even the most mundane boxing news.

There are tremendous amounts of video of boxing available on the web and there are forums where fans can chat about it all day and all night.

The problem is, most of the fans who go to those sites are already hardcore fans.

“The websites are basically preaching to the converted,” said Katz, who is semi-retired and living in Las Vegas.

There aren’t, though, newspaper reporters who are spending the time to learn the fighters and who make the boxers larger-than-life figures to the readers of the paper. It was common many years ago for beat writers to stay in a fighter’s camp the entire time he was in training, just as baseball’s beat writers now make the annual trek to either Florida or Arizona to chronicle spring training.

Read the rest at Yahoo! Sports.

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Big Cuts for Calfornia 'Bee' Papers

The Miami Herald, which is owned by the McClatchy Co., announced Wednesday that it plans to cut 19 percent of its staff -- that's 175 positions -- as well as require weeklong, unpaid furloughs and salary reductions for those who remain.

Salary reductions are planned to be as high as 10 percent for employees earning more than $50,000 a year.

The Herald's publisher, David Landsberg, is reported to have said the following in an e-mail to employees:
''About 175 employees will lose their jobs as a result, and we will eliminate another 30 vacant positions, for a total reduction of 205. Reductions will occur in all areas of our operation and at every level in the organization ...''

[Snip ...]

"While there will be tightening of news pages on various days, we have worked hard to maintain our newspapers at the quality level our readers have come to expect.''

Meanwhile McClatchy Watch has been keeping tally of the layoff announcements at several other McClatchy papers, including The Fresno Bee, which reported Wednesday that it will lay off 63 staffers, reduce salaries, eliminate management bonuses, and make other unstated changes to reduce newsprint costs.

Other McClatchy cuts in California include those taking place at The Sacramento Bee, where 128 jobs will be eliminated -- about 11 percent.

The Modesto Bee expects to cut 11 newsroom employees, and wages will be cut by 2 percent to 10 percent for most of the remaining staff.

Another McClatchy paper, The Kansas City Star, reported that it expects to cut about 150 positions, or 15 percent of its workforce.

The Telegraph, a McClatchy paper in Macon, Georgia, plans to cut 18 staffers and reduce pay.

Many other McClatchy papers also are making cuts. See the list at McClatchy Watch.

Also see the post at Romenesko.

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Monday, March 09, 2009


LA Times Not on 'Endangered' List

Jennifer Saba, of Fitz & Jen, wants to know "What's with Time's obsession with the newspaper industry?"

For the second month in a row [that's last month's cover story pictured at right], TIME magazine has dedicated space to the crisis facing the newspaper industry, this time with a list of "The 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America." Making the list means these publications are, in TIME's estimation, the most likely to close or go paperless (digital-only) in 2009.

Most surprising -- the Los Angeles Times isn't on it.

Here's the list in the order in which the names appear in TIME:
1. The Philadelphia Daily News

2. The Minneapolis Star Tribune

3. The Miami Herald

4. The Detroit News

5. The Boston Globe

6. The San Francisco Chronicle

7. The Chicago Sun Times

8. NY Daily News

9. The Fort Worth Star Telegram

10. The Cleveland Plain Dealer

More about the list, including the reasoning behind each newspaper selected, is online at TIME magazine.

(Twitter This)

* Cross posted at Know Newspapers.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Even a US Congressman Doesn't Get It!*

Photo from polis.house.gov
How can you expect the average reader to understand where news comes from when even a US Congressman appears clueless about the importance of newspapers?

Check this out ...

Speaking at a neighborhood event near Denver this past weekend, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis seemed to dance on the grave of the Rocky Mountain News and the demise of newspapers in general as he extolled the virtues of citizen journalism and "new media," despite having recently sought the endorsement of another member of the old media, The Denver Post.

Polis, a newly elected Democrat from Boulder who's known for being tech-savvy, put it this way (listen online):
"So, the Rocky Mountain News published it's last edition yesterday. And, I have to say, that when we say, 'Who killed the Rocky Mountain News,' we're all part of it. We truly are, for better or worse, and I argue it's mostly for the better ...

"Newspapers are dying ...

"Media is dead, and long live the new media, which is all of you. And really, this is a new age of citizen journalism."

I'd love to quote from the Congressman's personal Web site, but his Terms of Use ban anyone from quoting his content without written permission. If only newspapers could enforce such terms, maybe people would actually have to go to the newspaper Web sites to get that newspaper's news and ... Now that's an idea!

(via Romenesko)

* UPDATE: Polis laments.

** Audio of the speech is available online from Pulse Productions and The Colorado Progressive Voice.

-- TJ Sullivan

*** Cross posted at www.KnowNewspapersPetition.com

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Friday, February 27, 2009


The Rocky's 'Final Edition'

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

The decision to put the Rocky Mountain News up for sale was made two months ago.

That day, Laura Frank, an investigative reporter at the Rocky, observed the following:
"That was a difficult and shocking announcement. And do you know what the reaction of so many people in the newsroom was? To whip out a notebook and a pen and start taking notes. Now a few of us were writing about it, but not all of us. But that's what we do. It's in our DNA."
As has been said before on this site, we understand and admire that journalists have this sense of service, and these ethical boundaries that keep them from helping themselves. At every turn newspaper people are focused on serving the readers.

We also understand and admire why journalists are averse to signing petitions.

So we ask that you do the next best thing.

Do the thing you're best at.

Pass on what you know.

Teach your family and friends and neighbors why newspapers matter.

Explain to them that this is not about the medium of paper, but rather that it concerns the preservation of the news-gathering organizations we call newspapers.

Educate everyone around you about the crucial role newspapers play in democracy.

Help people see that newspapers are the tip sheets for every other form of media.

Show them that nobody else does what you do, and why our society will be lost without it.

Please help us spread the word.

And please, pass on our URL.

And, by the way, Laura Frank, you're now one of my heroes.

* Thank you to Matthew Roberts and everyone who put together this very well-done video tribute to the Rocky. As noted, it's hosted at Vimeo.

** Cross posted at Know Newspapers

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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- 30 -

Download pages from today's final edition at this link

— TJ Sullivan

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Thursday, February 26, 2009


Another Major Newspaper Closes

Graphic by TJ Sullivan
Sorry to say that our friends at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver will no longer have a newspaper after Friday's edition is put to bed.

The Rocky is closing.

From the Rocky Mountain News:
The Rocky Mountain News, less than two months away from its 150th anniversary, will be closed after a search for a buyer proved unsuccessful, the E.W. Scripps Co. announced today.

"Today the Rocky Mountain News, long the leading voice in Denver, becomes a victim of changing times in our industry and huge economic challenges," Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of Scripps, said in a prepared statement. "The Rocky is one of America’s very best examples of what local news organizations need to be in the future. Unfortunately, the partnership’s business model is locked in the past."

The Rocky has been in a joint operating agreement with The Denver Post since 2001. The arrangement approved by the U.S. Justice Department allowed the papers to share all business services, from advertising to printing, in order to preserve two editorial voices in the community.

However on December 4 Scripps announced it was putting up for sale the Rocky and its 50 percent interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency, the company that handles business matters for the papers, because it couldn’t continue to sustain its financial losses in Denver. Scripps said the Rocky lost $16 million in 2008.

I wish all my friends at the Rocky well and will keep them in my thoughts.

Among those I know who will lose their jobs tomorrow are several former Ventura County Star staffers: M.E. Sprengelmeyer, David Montero, Matt McLain and Chris Schneider.

Unfortunately, this is yet another sad reminder of why we need to educate people about what we're losing, and to join together in search of a solution before any more papers close. Please consider signing the petition at Know Newspapers

— TJ Sullivan in LA

*Cross posted at www.KnowNewspapersPetition.com.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009


Are Newspaper Journalists to Blame?

Dear Newspaper Journalist,

You're misunderstood, not just in terms of how vital your newspapers are as news-gathering organizations, but for what you do, or, rather, what you don't do, or maybe just what people think you don't do on purpose.

Seriously, people don't get you.

Never mind what you know. Of course, you consider media conspiracy theories ridiculous, if only because your ranks are teeming with so many Type A personalities that even the mere whiff of a newsroom plot would result in a stampede for the exits with everyone vying to be the first to blow the whistle and win the Pulitzer.

Out there in the World Wide Web, however, it sounds like you're in cahoots to dupe the universe.

And that's not all. A lot of people also appear to believe you've got some mad desire to continue killing trees by maintaining paper as your primary news-delivery method, as though you're secretly addicted to those nauseating chemical solvent smells that so often waft from the press into the newsroom, as though you enjoy the added deadline stress of having some desk editor admonish you with statements like: "Those are union drivers waitin' out there, mister." As if ... as if ...

Paper? Good riddance.

No doubt, the Internet is both your industry's present and future, and you dominate the Web as much as you dominate the airwaves. Regardless of the medium, the overwhelming majority of mainstream news is first reported by newspapers, then followed by everybody else. Newspaper journalists mine the gold, and now you're getting the shaft.

The latest grim predictions are all but foregone conclusions. The former editor of The Des Moines Register Geneva Overholser, who is now the director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, recently stated her best bet during an appearance on the KCET program SoCal Connected:
"We're going to have major American cities with no daily newspaper within the next year. I'm willing to bet quite a bit of money on that. We have newspapers for sale around the country in cities from Miami, to Denver, to Seattle, to San Diego, and no one wants to buy them."

You and Overholser surely see the colossal domino effect to come, not just for newspapers, but for all the other news organizations that harvest newspaper content, as well as for the democracy over which all you journalists keep watch.

Still, there are countless other bright people blissfully waving you goodbye.

"Shut up."

That's what Wonkette said a couple weeks ago in response to the petition launched to highlight your plight.

If it's sympathy and understanding you seek, you probably won't find it at blogs like Wonkette:
"What you’re so pathetically grieving is your fading culture, a masturbatory profession of over-educated overpaid typists who had a stranglehold on American journalism for 30 years or so ..."

The reader comments on that one were even less flattering.

Yet, as unreasonable as all that may seem to you, it's not the reason so few signatures have appeared on the petition that calls for a week-long blackout of all free-access newspaper Web sites.

The effort to emphasize your importance to society and democracy has gone viral.

The YouTube video explaining the petition's intent has logged more than 2,400 views. In addition, more than 45 different Web and print publications have either reported or opined on the petition's merits.

Some comments have even been favorable, though perhaps the most telling observation came from a journalist who blogs as scoopgirl. She says she expects to soon be counted among the casualties of budget cutbacks:
"Sadly, the people who run this industry (from the WSJ to the NYT to my own bosses) appear to be thinking in the short term for a new business model. The layoffs will help the bottom line, for now.

But with fewer reporters, there will be less news. We will lose those necessary eyes, for both our advertising purposes and our information purposes. It's a vicious cycle.

So, at the end of the day, I just don't know that I believe that a day without online news is the answer. Or maybe it is, for calling attention to a service many people take for granted.

Yet another point of view comes from Just Journalism, a blog that observes the "online petition has only attracted 163 signatures."

The current total is displayed in the box at right.

So, why so few signatures?

It's certainly possible that the idea proposed by the petition is more ridiculous than, say, asking people to work for free.

Or the reason could be you -- newspaper journalists.

From the onset, the petition effort was sure to be a difficult sell simply because journalists are so averse to putting their mark on anything resembling a petition.

Admirable as that standard may be, it's nonetheless a stumbling block for those seeking to draw attention to your cause.

If you're waiting on the suits and CEOs to save you ... well ... the layoff rolls are filled with the names of former newspaper journalists who were waiting on the same thing.

You must get actively involved in this, but, rather than ask you to go against your own code, how about this: What if all you had to do was what you do best?

What if all you had to do was to take the time to communicate this complex issue to those closest to you, to explain why newspapers matter to your wives and husbands, your mothers and fathers, your brothers and sisters, your best friends and neighbors?

That's it. Just explain and encourage them to pass on that wisdom to their friends and family. And, of course, it couldn't hurt to point all these people in the direction of the official petition Web site at KnowNewspapers.blogspot.com.

No ethical standards stand in the way of any of that. And, no doubt, you've probably been doing plenty of that for years already.

Do more of it.

Of course, the alternative is to let everyone else sort it out, including those who don't want anything more to do with your sort. Unlike you, however, they don't seem to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

— TJ Sullivan

Cross posted at LA Observed.

* KnowNewspapers.blogspot.com is the official site of the Web blackout petition.

"No News" logo by Will Sweat.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


'Major Cities ... No Daily Newspaper'

*** Read about the Web blackout petition at this link ***

An interesting report about the online newspaper Voice of San Diego aired last week on the KCET program SoCal Connected.

Reported by Judy Muller, the segment included an interview with Geneva Overholser, former editor of The Des Moines Register and now director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism.

Newspaper journalists in particular ought to be interested in Overholser's prediction for the year to come:
"We're going to have major American cities with no daily newspaper within the next year. I'm willing to bet quite a bit of money on that. We have newspapers for sale around the country in cities from Miami, to Denver, to Seattle, to San Diego, and no one wants to buy them."

Related: The Web blackout petition.

* Cross-posted at LA Observed.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Theater Without Critics ... Absurd

— photo courtesy James Sims —
James Sims, a Columbia University journalism grad student and a native Los Angeleno, laments the loss of theater critics at some of LA's largest newspapers in a piece at BroadwayWorld headlined "Death of a Theatre Critic."

Sims, who attended one of my journalism courses a couple years ago as an undergrad at CSUN, brings an interesting perspective to the issue, having grown up on the backlots and production sets of Hollywood, as well as having worked as a theater critic in LA for an online publication before heading east to further his education at Columbia.

Here's a snippet from his piece at BroadwayWorld:
The three stalwarts of Los Angeles theatre, Sheldon Epps of the Pasadena Playhouse, Gilbert Cates of the Geffen Playhouse and Michael Ritchie of Center Theatre Group, recently took to the airwaves and discussed the loss of critics at local papers. While many fine points were made, it was Cates' suggestion of resorting to peer-review amongst his lot that was troubling. Lending a critical voice to those that stand to financially profit from a commercial success begins to look like a slippery slope. Would Jack Warner writing reviews of MGM's films have served the public? I can picture it now. "'The Wizard of Oz' is a competent piece of celluloid, but you would be better served saving your money in these hard times, as we have a real hit coming your way next week."

A critic must stand alone, unaffected by any controlling interests or pressures to valiantly inform their reader. "It is only by remaining collected, and refusing to lend himself to the point of view of the practical man, that the critic can do the practical man any service," wrote Matthew Arnold.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Press for the Petition

*** Read about the Web blackout petition at this link ***

The Web blackout petition is scheduled to be discussed Wednesday afternoon on Crosstalk with host Jim Rondeau at KCLU 88.3 FM. The show airs from 1-2 p.m. and the segment about the petition is likely to occur during the last quarter hour.

[Listen online]

Also scheduled to appear on Crosstalk Wednesday is Judy Muller, a correspondent for the KCET program SoCal Connected. Muller is expected to discuss her upcoming report, set to air Thursday evening, about the online newspaper Voice of San Diego.

Regarding the petition ...

Several publications have requested interviews. One published its story Wednesday at Journalism.co.uk, an edited Q&A conducted via e-mail by London-based reporter Laura Oliver.

Many other blog posts about the petition have also been published, though the variations are extreme. Online publications that appeal to the American journalism industry have represented the effort accurately. But some sites that write for a more general audience have misrepresented the petition's purpose as an effort to save newsprint, which is not the case. The goal of the petition is to raise awareness about the crisis facing the news-gathering organizations we call "newspapers." It's got nothing to do with saving the medium of paper. Clearly the future of newspapers is the Internet.

Such misunderstandings only serve to underscore the need to make online readers aware that newspapers account for the bulk of online news content, which is the goal of conducting a week-long blackout of all non-pay-access Web sites run by newspapers and The Associated Press.

Because most people access newspaper content online, where it's often stripped of its brand and repackaged by countless unassociated providers, the public perceives the news it consumes as being free, when, in fact, more often than not, a newspaper reporter either wrote the stories, or reported the original versions that some other entity rewrote. The news, like the water that comes out the taps in people's homes, does not inspire those who consume it to determine from where it comes, unless it is tainted, or fails to flow. I'd prefer not to wait until more newspapers fail and the news stops flowing.

More about the petition is at this link, including a list of links to the many other posts that have been published in response.

Related: Save your newspaper via 'The Daily Show'

Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper

— TJ Sullivan in LA

*Cross posted at LA Observed.

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Monday, February 09, 2009


Save Your Newspaper via 'The Daily Show'

*** Read about the Web blackout petition at this link ***

Walter Isaacson, author of this week's TIME magazine cover story about saving newspapers, appeared as a guest Monday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Isaacson makes a similar case to the one made in the petition to persuade newspapers (and the AP) to pull the plug on their non-pay-access Web sites for one week this summer. It's not about saving "newsprint." It's about saving newspapers as news-gathering organizations.

Jon Stewart's intro:
I couldn't think of a more worthy cause. I love the newspaper. There's nothing better ... but how do we do it?

A potential solution:
Jon Stewart: What about giving it more of a cable TV or a radio model ... because the aggregators are the ones. The Huffington Post ... the Drudge Report ... Those ones that link to the reporters, that don't do reporting of their own, but link.

Walter Isaacson: Right. The aggregators are getting the bulk of the ad dollars right now.

Jon Stewart: Right. Why not do licensing deals, like they're 'a radio station' and you're 'the artist.' Do it like 'hits' are 'spins,' and make those deals. Like it's a cable model. Or it's a radio model.

And that may explain why Web entrepreneurs like Ken Layne at Wonkette appear to be so upset that we're talking about this.

("The Daily Show" via The E&P Pub)

Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper

— TJ Sullivan in LA

*Cross posted at LA Observed.

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Friday, February 06, 2009


What if Newspapers Didn't Exist for a Week?

The Petition ...

Thomas Jefferson did not wish to become a wolf.

Odd as that may sound today considering all the good he did his country, Jefferson worried about the possibility, so much so that, while on a trip to Europe in 1787, one of his letters home became a kind of dissertation about the people he'd seen transformed into "wolves and sheep" along the way.

Cloaked in the garb of government, Jefferson wrote, the leaders of Europe had managed to divide their nations into two distinct classes -- "wolves and sheep" -- with the ruling class preying upon everyone else.

It was, Jefferson figured, the result of the public's inattention, an inevitability wherever government was permitted to exist absent a free press.
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Those words appeared in Jefferson's letter to Edward Carrington, a Virginia statesman who was serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In it, Jefferson went on to say that, without newspapers, he feared the American public would stop paying attention to their government. Once that happened it was only a matter of time before Jefferson, the Congress, and the whole of the American government turned into a pack of wolves preying upon sheep.

Wolves and sheep. You don't have to be a Jeffersonian scholar to comprehend what it means.

Yet, here we find ourselves more than 222 years later in the midst of a newspaper crisis that TIME magazine says has reached "meltdown proportions," meaning our transformation into wolves and sheep may soon be a foregone conclusion, and still the majority of the American public appears oblivious.

Many newspapers have closed. Buyouts and layoffs have decimated once great institutions of American journalism. And despite all that, some of the craziest last-ditch efforts you ever could have imagined are being implemented in the effort to stave off death.

- The Los Angeles Times has killed its local news section.

- The Gannett newspaper chain has put its newspaper employees on mandatory five-day furloughs.

- The Detroit New and The Detroit Free Press have ceased daily home delivery.

These aren't sane measures. Indeed, had anyone suggested such things two years ago they'd have been branded a lunatic. But as we approach panic mode, even remotely plausible ideas seem worth a shot.

TIME magazine's cover story this week, a very thought-provoking piece written by Walter Isaacson (a former TIME managing editor, and president and CEO of the Aspen Institute), suggests the solution may be to charge readers for access:
"Under a micropayment system, a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day's full edition or $2 for a month's worth of Web access. Some surfers would balk, but I suspect most would merrily click through if it were cheap and easy enough."

Simple enough, except that, as Isaacson points out, it's not new. Writers have been charging readers for news since paper put cave walls out of business, but, despite that, prior attempts to make readers pay in the wired world of the World Wide Web haven't gone over very well.

Which brings us right back to where we've been for years while, in the meantime, another newspaper (Denver's Rocky Mountain News) rages against the dying of the light.

No more.

It's time to do something drastic.

It's time to do more than join another Facebook pledge group, or promote a campaign like National Buy A Newspaper Day, or to purchase some overpriced t-shirts emblazoned with the message "Save a journalist, buy a newspaper."

It's time to admit that, regardless of how many readers may be clicking through newspaper content for free on the Internet, newspapers don't matter to those readers because Jefferson's concerns aren't on their radar. They've got enough to worry about. They've got jobs of their own. They've got this much time to read blog X, Y and Z, and click their way over to the paper and back, or not, or whatever, but there's no compelling reason for them to stop and think about what would happen if the newspapers providing all that news ceased to exist.

To the average reader wolves and sheep are little more than characters in a fairy tale.

It's not that Americans don't care. It's simply a matter of human nature. Until the discomfort reaches the readers -- at which point it will be too late -- there's no motivation for them to get involved in finding a solution.

Clearly newspapers can't solve this alone. They've had years. They're lost. And, at this stage, asking for directions isn't enough to put them back on track.

Now is the time for newspapers to do something proactive; time for them to demonstrate what life would be like without them.

It's time for every daily newspaper in the United States, in cooperation with the Associated Press, to shut down their free Web sites for one week.

Yes. Shut it down. Blank screen. Nothing.

Of course, news would still be reported daily in every newspaper's printed product. No editor, or reporter or publication would dare shirk their watchdog responsibilities. This isn't about stopping the presses.

But the Web? People can do without news on the Web for a week. They won't like it. They'll complain about it. But, that's exactly what has to happen before they can be expected to care.

Pulling the plug gets their attention.

So, here's the proposal: At the stroke of midnight on Independence Day, Saturday July 4, all daily newspapers ought to switch off their Web sites until Friday, July 10.

Call it "A Week Without a Virtual Newspaper." Call it crazy. Call it costly. Call it whatever you want, but it's no more drastic a measure than asking people to work for free. [The petition is available online at this link.]

A move like this puts the crisis where it ought to be, front and center at the top of every newscast. It makes it impossible for anyone to deny where the majority of news content comes from, and why it matters. For without virtual newspapers, what would Drudge report? What would Huffington post? What would Google News and Yahoo News and all those cut-and-paste blogs that get so much of their material from newspapers have to offer if newspapers went away?

Not that there's anything wrong with public affairs blogs, aggregate news sites, or any other online entity that makes use of newspaper reports. The point of pulling the plug for one week isn't to harm them, but to emphasize the origin of all that news content, and why everyone should care about protecting that source.

Pulling the plug is perhaps the only way to make people outside of journalism sit up and take notice that this isn't about jobs in journalism, but American Democracy.

It's about wolves and sheep. Wolves and sheep.

-- TJ Sullivan

*Cross posted at LA Observed

** Update: Similar thoughts from Jay Smith, former CEO of Cox Newspapers.

***Related Event: SPJ/LA Panel Discussion, 6:30 pm Wednesday Feb. 18 — Imagine a City Without a Newspaper

51 Posts About the Petition:

- Romenesko at Poynter.org

- Fitz & Jen

- Editor & Publisher

- Columbia Journalism Review - The Kicker

- Media Musings - Claudia Meléndez Salinas

- News Me Baby

- Jay Rosen

- David Hauslaib's Jossip

- Parent Talk Today

- Wonkette

- Jon Slattery, A Freelance Journalist ... London

- JoshShear.com

- Matters of Varying Insignificance

- The American Scene

- Karen Pierce Gonzalez

- Journalista, The Comics Journal Weblog

- Blogstipated by Audrey

- Crook's Shadow

- Journalism.co.uk

- Journalism.co.uk -- Q&A

- Elizabeth Nolan Brown

- Prof. Kobre's Guide to Videojournalism

- Randi Rhodes Message Board

- Typos & Tribulations by Mikel LeFort

- Andrew Sullivan/The Daily Dish

- Scooping the News

- The Same Rowdy Crowd

- Editors Weblog

- Someday, all jobs will be Odd Jobs

- Random Mumblings

- Vin Crosbie

- Virtualjournalist

- Brian Blum @ Aim Group

- Society of Professional Journalists: SPJ News

- Darren He

- Just Journalism

- Ink-Drained Kvetch

- Agence France-Presse (AFP)

- Les Jones: A Bouquet of Weeds

- milne media

- scoopgirl

- Angelswin.com

- The Exception

- What's New in News

- Pasadena News Weekly


- The Heights

- Newspaper Death Watch

- Craig Smith

- Bangkok Bugle

- Huffington Post

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Monday, February 02, 2009


Beverly Hills Values Down Nearly $1 Mil

— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
Homeowners on the Westside have started to lose some of the tremendous values they've built up during the past 10 years, according to a story in Monday's Los Angeles Times.

Anecdotally, I've noticed many Westside properties sitting on the market since the start of fall, most of them condos, and some despite price reductions of more than 20 percent from when they first listed.

The report in the Times says the latest data indicates values dropped 26 to 30 percent in the last few months of 2008.

From the story:
The median price of a single-family home in Beverly Hills was $2.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2008, down from $3 million in the second quarter, according to data prepared for The Times by research firm MDA DataQuick. Pacific Palisades closed the year with a median price of $2.2 million, down from a high of $2.6 million during the second quarter, and Santa Monica's median was $1.6 million, down from $2.1 million last winter.

Even among the merely well-off in Culver City, prices have come down, to $647,500, 17% below the peak. In ZIP Code 90035, just south of Beverly Hills, the median sale price had been more than $1 million for most of 2007 but fell in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $800,000.

Some of the quotes from the real estate industry in the story would be funny if the subject matter wasn't so sad. Many Los Angeles real estate agents long considered much of the Westside immune to economic downturns and would dismiss anyone who suggested otherwise as simply ill-informed. Now, however, they're connecting the dots, or dominoes, as one tier of the market affects the one after that, and the one after that, and ...

It's bad news all around.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Saturday, January 31, 2009


A Hole in Westwood Village

— Photo by TJ Sullivan —

Lots of bad news this week, including the announcement that Home Depot is shuttering its Expo Design Centers, like the one pictured above in Westwood Village. Losing this tenant in the village will surely leave a big vacant hole in the middle of what was expected to be a revitalized block of shops, with a new Trader Joe's market already open for business, and a Rite Aid and several eateries set to start business soon.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Monday, January 26, 2009


LA Area Official Given $18,000 Pay Raise!

Here are today's links to my posts at NBC:

- At least one city's still giving pay raises ...

- Signs of Indie 103.1 start to show online...

- Print writers bolster new movie biz site ...

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Thursday, January 22, 2009


Peacocks Run Amok in Affluent LA Suburb

Here are today's links to my posts at NBC:

- Peacocks run amok in La Cañada Flintridge ...

- Strawberries up, cream down ...

- Does Two-Buck Chuck have to end ...

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Billy the Elephant is Billboard Bound

Here are today's links to my posts at NBC:

- Newsstands selling out inaugural issues ...

- Billy the elephant is billboard bound ...

- New city north of LA still in the works ...

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Friday, January 16, 2009


When Will 103.1 FM Be Resurrected Online?

Here are today's links to my posts at NBC:

- Indie 103.1 is dead air, but what's online ...

- LA foodies can eat prix-fixe at a discount ...

- Raising cain over cops without helmets...

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


Indie 103.1 Pulls Plug ... Forever!

I knew they were having trouble, that the future of some programs was in doubt, but I never imagined we were at risk of losing the whole station.

Indie 103.1 has announced on its Web site that, effective immediately, it has gone off the air. In addition, a looped recorded message was put on the air, advising listeners to tune in online from now on.

Blame Britney, they say, because stations struggling to survive in the LA market are being forced to play too much of her music, and Puffy, and "alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge." (Whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.)

What a tragic loss for the radio waves, the worst of it being the loss of Jonesy's Jukebox, a show that became the most exciting thing I've found on radio since WRIF in Detroit provided me and thousands of other Motown listeners relief from the horror that was disco (and how could I forget the launch of my college radio station, WRFL, in what was previously music-deprived Lexington, KY).

It's unclear whether Jonesy's Jukebox will be joining the online format, or when that format will start. All the online feed has been playing today is music.

The text from the 103.1 site says about the same as the on-air loop:
This is an important message for the Indie 103.1 Radio Audience -

Indie 103.1 will cease broadcasting over this frequency effective immediately. Because of changes in the radio industry and the way radio audiences are measured, stations in this market are being forced to play too much Britney, Puffy and alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge. Due to these challenges, Indie 103.1 was recently faced with only one option --- to play the corporate radio game.

We have decided not to play that game any longer. Rather than changing the sound, spirit, and soul of what has made Indie 103.1 great Indie 103.1 will bid farewell to the terrestrial airwaves and take an alternative course.

This could only be done on the Internet, a place where rules do not apply and where new music thrives; be it grunge, punk, or alternative -- simply put, only the best music.

For those of you with a computer at home or at work, log on to www.indie1031.com and listen to the new Indie 103.1 - which is really the old Indie 103.1, not the version of Indie 103.1 we are removing from the broadcast airwaves.

We thank our listeners and advertisers for their support of the greatest radio station ever conceived, and look forward to continuing to deliver the famed Indie 103.1 music and spirit over the Internet to passionate music listeners around the world.

Indie 103.1, and especially you Jonesy, will be greatly missed on the airwaves of LA.

UPDATE: More from Chris Morris, who hosted Watusi Radio on 103.1 ...

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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