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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

 

Same Old Story ...


— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
Sorry to say it, but we all knew this was coming.

As reported a few minutes ago over at LA Observed, the Los Angeles Times appears to be in layoff mode again.

Same story on the other coast, at The New York Times.

Have to wonder how these publications can hope to retain subscribers while letting go the talented folks who produce the content.

Wishing the staffs of both newsrooms all the best ...

(Twitter Me)

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

 

LA Times Headquarters Off the Market


— Photo by TJ Sullivan —
First of all, since the Los Angeles Times headquarters was never really ON the market it's hard to justify saying it's now off.

Secondly, I'm no expert on bankruptcy law, but, having reported at length on a few sizable BK filings, I have to ask how in the world Tribune Co. could have hoped to legally liquidate any significant assets at this point in its bankruptcy proceedings.

Nonetheless, Chicago Business is reporting that the Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co. has shelved its plans to sell the LA Times headquarters downtown and the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago "because of cratering real estate prices and the company's late-year bankruptcy protection filing."

Here's a snippet from the story at Chicago Business:
Even in a good market, it would have been difficult to value the properties. Tribune Tower was completed in 1925 and contains about 526,000 square feet of usable office space. The five-building Times Mirror complex totals about 750,000 square feet and was built between the 1930s and the 1970s.

(via Romenesko and LA Observed)

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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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

- JOUR MO2

- The Heights

- Newspaper Death Watch

- Craig Smith

- Bangkok Bugle

- Huffington Post


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

 

Did Costco Scanners Save Me?

I had a nice talk with Los Angeles Times Daily Dish reporter/blogger Mary MacVean today about the robo call I received a couple weeks ago from Costco about the peanut butter recall and some energy bars I purchased.

From the LA Times Daily Dish:
One Costco customer who got an automated call was T.J. Sullivan, a writer and blogger (who has been published in The Times). He said he bought some energy bars about five months ago for his car earthquake kit and didn't think about them when he heard about the recalls.

So he was grateful for Costco's calls. But he also said he has worried about all the information that's collected. What if, he said, Costco is someday owned by a healthcare provider who bases its premiums or coverage on the amount of alcohol or cheese or dairy he buys?

"I am concerned about how it could be misused one day, but in this instance it's a good thing," he said.


— TJ Sullivan in LA

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Monday, February 02, 2009

 

Budget-Cuts Humor Falls Short

Maybe this isn't a good time for cryptic tagline jokes like the one that appeared at the end of a Super Bowl story in Monday's Los Angeles Times:
(Editor's note: This review has been ended because of cutbacks. We wish the writer success in his future endeavors.)

Apparently, as explained at LA Observed, it references a gag in a Bud-Light commercial that aired during the game, and is mentioned at the end of the story.

Some readers, however, might have assumed otherwise after the massive staff cuts that the newspaper has endured, including the recent elimination of the local-news section.

— TJ Sullivan in LA

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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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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 

LA Times Increases Price, Few Notice


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

- Temporary ban on signs a hard sell ...

- LA Times ups price, few notice ...

- Sportsmen's Lodge gone, or not, maybe ...








— TJ Sullivan in LA

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