30 May 2009

James Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, William McKinley and...

Above is a list that does not need to expand. Those are the names of American Presidents who were assassinated while in office.
A classified advertisement in the Times Observer in quaint, quiet, and lovely Warren, Pennsylvania has now been withdrawn after law enforcement officials noted that it seemed to be calling for the assassination of President Barack Obama.
The ad linked the names of the four Presidents killed in office, and seemed to suggest the wish that President Obama meet the same end. The Times Observer has now taken the classified down, apologized (http://timesobserver.com/page/content.detail/id/517161.html?nav=5006) and turned over the identity of the person placing the ad to local and federal authorities.
Hey, I'm not so keen on a lot of things Mr. Obama does. And I think that the Secret Service will have their hands full protecting this particular President because of his historic significance as the first African American President of the United States. But even running an advertisement alluding to a hope for his demise is something to take seriously.
Threatening a sitting President is against the law, under United States Code, Title 18, Part One, Chapter 41, Section 871, which states:
Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
I'd bet that "conveyance in the mail" includes newspapers. The classified ad in the Times Observer ran only for a short time before it was noticed. In an era when newspapers seem to be losing ground, it's repugnant that someone used one of the branches of the media to make their stand.

29 May 2009

Is This A Reporter?

This may be a little "inside ball game" for those of you who aren't in the media. For those of us watching the demise of our once-noble profession, today offered up an example of everything that we warned and watched against. So this blog briefly examines this example of what happens now that anyone with a laptop and some brassiness in approaching a media outlet can now hang a "press" tag on the brim of a cap and head out for a news event. The results are something that was only a matter of time and actually, it could have been worse.
A "reporter" was removed from near Air Force One today in Los Angeles, after she seemed a little too forceful in her efforts to give President Barack Obama a letter she had written.

According to various reports, the woman, Brenda Lee, said she had a letter for the President and asked a Secret Service officer to give it to Mr. Obama. He refused, referring her to a White House staffer. She refused to give the letter to the staffer so apparently, after refusing to leave quietly, she was carried out by her hands and feet.
Ms. Lee claims to be a reporter for a Macon, Georgia newspaper. She claimed that she has White House Press credentials. She is a resident of Anaheim, California. Lee also says she's a "Roman Catholic Priestess."
I wonder if Ms. Lee may be a case of a "citizen journalist" thinking she has gotten into the sky-box and can now call the game to benefit the home team. She may be a little confused by the dizzying height that she perceives herself to have attained.
White House Press credentials, as those of us who have had them now and in the past can attest, are different things than just "access for an event." White House Press credentialing requires filling out forms, being photographed and fingerprinted, and then giving the Secret Service months to look into who you are and the life that you've lived. It's not granted easily to anyone who doesn't require it. Usually, such credentials aren't extended to people who live in California, based on the fact that they don't need such access because they don't frequent the White House Press Briefing Room.
Access for an event is likely what Ms. Lee was granted by the Secret Service.
Reporting for a Macon, Georgia newspaper such as the Georgia Informer is very possible. Ms. Lee is published and some of her writings appear on the monthly newspaper's website. She is probably a "stringer," who has sold some of her writings to the small media outlet which, like all media outlets, is struggling to keep itself in the game and afloat.
That's one of the ugly realities of modern journalism.
As for the letter that she had written, Brenda Lee says she wrote a letter opposing gay marriage. She says she's a Roman Catholic Priestess. She said her black dress was in fact a cassock, the garment of a Catholic priest. I am not Catholic, so I don't ever claim to be an authority on that religion. (Nor do I claim to be an authority on my own religion. I've got my learners' permit there and that's enough for me.) But since the Catholic religion doesn't ordain women as priests, I am skeptical of the idea that she represents that faith.
But let me also point out this: an actual journalist wouldn't have tried to hand something to President Obama. A professional journalist would realize that anything he or she had to say could be said where we would say everything else: in the media outlet. Anything I have to say to Barack Obama is said on the air or in writing.
We're in an era where we have to look closer than ever to see who the legitimate journalists are. Just as a polaroid digital camera and access to Adobe Photoshop doesn't make someone a photographer, picking up a notebook, taking a few notes and writing a couple hundred words doesn't make you a writer... much less a reporter.
We now have newspapers being published in places like Pasadena, but written half-way around the world by "reporters" in Jakarta. People are listening to talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill Maher and confusing these pundits with reporters.
Sometimes this new era has produced great results. We've seen cell phone video of news events that would otherwise never have been seen. People are witnessing things and coming forward more ready to describe what they've seen than ever before.
But it also results in pictures of women being carried out of press areas by their hands and feet. And it's likely to produce more and more of these bad outcomes for awhile, until all of this shakes out. It's guaranteed to make those of us who are professional reporters cringe a bit.
I saw a quote from Morley Safer of CBS "60 Minutes" last week. He said that he "would trust citizen journalism about as much as (he) would trust citizen surgery." That's about right.

28 May 2009

That Was Then, This Is Now

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," said Sonia Sotomayor, the current nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court.
I would have hoped for a nominee wise enough not to say such things. But let’s parse the statement just a little, shall we? What Sotomayor was saying effectively was that she, as a Latina woman, was more capable of understanding and making rulings because of her minority bloodlines and standing. Imagine a white male making the same statement and you instantly understand why this is offensive.
Sonia Sotomayor made this statement as part of the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. It was reprinted in the Spring 2002 issue of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, a symposium issue entitled "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation."
Okay, those are ready recipients, glad to hear good tidings about their particular minority. But since previous white male nominees haven’t published articles suggesting their superiority in the “White Person’s Law Review,” perhaps this wasn’t the wisest of choices.
In the last election, we voted in the first minority President of the United States. And we then hotly argued that he was not elected because of his race. We were all about change, as a culture, we said.
So maybe if it isn’t about race, we should stop talking about race. I’m not suggesting this was the right statement to make. But perhaps to a group of law school students, it was a reasonable statement for the time. Perhaps it was in keeping with the culture just eight short years ago. Could we have come so far fast enough that our statements, acceptable (and even "encouraging" to a minority audience in need of encouragement during their college years) just eight years ago, are questionable now?
If it’s not about race anymore, we need to stop making it about race.

27 May 2009

Reporting Live on... Twitter?

I have a policy. You're allowed to complain about something almost exactly once with me. You're allowed to complain a fair bit. Occasionally, you're allowed more than one gripe session, but you need to bring more material. You need to have fresh complaints.

However, if you keep going back for more of the same without working toward a solution, then you probably need to find a new crying post.

I'm not trying to be cold. I don't want to seem unsympathetic. But yeah, I think you either stop putting up with it, you get to work on fixing it, or you stop complaining to me about it.

So if a business model stops working, shouldn't you stop working with that business model? If you keep trying, are you persistent? Or are you a bit slow on the uptake? Maybe you are doing as Benjamin Franklin (or was it Albert Einstein? Perhaps a Chinese proverb?) warned against by "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

"Who Moved My Cheese" by Dr. Spencer Johnson was published about ten years ago. It's about some mice and some cheese and basically, it lays out the need to grow and change both individually and organizationally. I read it in the subway one afternoon in Manhattan, going home from work. It wasn't exactly new information, but it was a well-done little book.

Someone moved our cheese in journalism. It's gone. We've got to figure out where to find new cheese or consider going vegan. Remembering the good old days is okay, but crying over those days doesn't work for me. By my calculations, we've been crying for over ten years now. Our business model seemed like it was evolving, but now it seems to have switched species. And no, it doesn't work.

And neither does tweeting. Ha! Well, not endlessly anyway. So...

Thank you for twittering about: news conferences, seismic measurements, correct spellings of names, stories coming up, locations of very large fires, travel plans, updates on news conferences, parade times, business hours, show times, parking arrangements, flight arrival times, road closures, and um, occasionally blog postings.
Thank you again for NOT twittering about: wearing your fanny pack on your front, traffic complaints on your vacation to Southern California, reading Larry King's wife's twitters on your trip to Southern California, ANYTHING to do with American Idol, and kids or husbands who wear contact lenses/socks/underwear more than three consecutive days.

26 May 2009

WWEPD? (What Would Emily Post Do?)

I sat at lunch with my beloved college roommate, toying with my burrito, idly wondering whether the salsa needed more salt or if I should have it all boxed up. My friend was talking about her children. She described what is going on with her 4th grader. As she continued to talk about why her daughter needs flute and piano lessons, I heard a funny noise, reached over, and pulled out my cell phone. I tapped in one sentence to a friend three states away.
That's right. I texted during lunch.

We have so much technology now. Over half a billion texts were sent daily in 2005. Americans now do more texting than actual calling on our phones. (By mid 2008, we sent and received 357 text messages per month, compared with making and receiving 204 phone calls a month, according to a Nielsen Mobile survey.) So do we no longer need manners? Or is it just personal contact with other people that we no longer need?
Remember when cell phones first became popular and there was discussion about whether it was rude to leave them on in restaurants (Yes.), whether it was rude to accept calls during meals (Yes again.), and whether it was smart to talk three times louder than normal to get your message across the miles. (No. Definitely not.)
So am I now the epitome of rudeness? Or was I politely answering the need of one friend without interrupting the stream of sharing with another?
I texted during a conversation with a friend. I texted in a restaurant during lunch with a friend. I have to set some rules for myself.

22 May 2009

Californians (Are) Dreamin!

California, the beautiful, lush, green state with an economy ranked fifth largest in the world. Is that what we used to say?

Now we will say, California, the desperately broke state with 11% unemployment among its citizenry and a $24 Billion (yes, with a B) deficit.
Oh, those crazy Californians! They didn't approve ballot measures that their post-partisan Republican governor tried to convince them were neccessary to cut the budget, increase revenues and decrease the shortfall. And now they're really stuck.

Former actor, now-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has always seemed to me to be an interesting choice for where to place your trust, and yet... he's their guy. He warned the Golden State's 37 million (give or take a few hundred thousand) residents that if measures on this past week's election ballot weren't approved, he would consider selling historic San Quentin prison, which sits on valuable prime ocean-front real estate; as well as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. All to balance the budget and make up for a huge drop in revenues resulting from the real estate market bust and other recession-time uglies.

Californians said no to all but one of the ballot measures. "No" to solving budget problems through increasing taxes. To be fair, they already pay some of the highest taxes in the country. Given the fact that a large percentage of their dollars go to provide services for people who aren't always tax-paying citizens, it would seem that there is a line being drawn.

The collective Californian psyche reacted in a Howard Beale-like ballot-bellow, effectively screaming, "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE."

Or more properly, provide payment for it any longer. But when Governor Schwarzenegger gets done balancing the budget through real estate sales and program cuts, it may seem like Californians are learning some very painful, very expensive lessons.

I wonder how long it will take before they go public with their bailout request?

21 May 2009

All the Large Economy Size Garbage Bags, Laundry Detergent and Chocolate Chips You Could Ever...

Costco has ruined my thriftiness. Seriously. Please check my logic on this item.
When I moved to LA, I got a membership at Costco. It's a state and a state of mind where the two go hand in hand. You drive to the DMV for a license and then over to Costco in the same trip. I lived less than a mile from the Van Nuys location and since they sold the cheapest gas in a 4 mile radius, it just made sense.
Then I started doing a little catering. I spent enough time and money at Costco to warrant getting the executive membership. The black card. $100. It gets you in the door an hour earlier than the rest of the riff-raff and... you get money back. Which, if you're doing some catering, adds up fast.
The catering ended over four years ago. But the card stayed. And I still bought large sized packages of items. I also bought a freezer to keep those items in. Sometimes I bought electronics. I had never been a big buyer of DVD's, but seeing as how they were less than $20 each, it seemed like a good deal.
In short, I think I spend more because of Costco than I might have been likely to, if I didn't have the card. I think lots of people overbuy on printers, lightbulbs, batteries and televisions. We started to think of some of those items as disposable instead of repairable. Things last just until the end of the warranty and then what do we do? We turn around and buy a new one... without ever pausing to consider repairing what we have because, of course, we want the latest updated technology. What are we... 15 years old?
Sure, I get a good price on gas. And insurance. Also asparagus. But I can't remember the last time I used all the batteries in the Costco pack before the darned things died. And I'm not sure if I really needed all those pairs of socks or flannel jammie pants. I live in Southern California, for crying out loud. I certainly couldn't sleep in them. Ugh. Like velcro in the sheets.
Yes, I mean it. Costco ruined my frugality. There you have it. I lost my soul at Costco... although I did find an employee ID name tag in the parking lot at that lovely Van Nuys location. The name on the tag? Jesus.

20 May 2009

New Credit for Old Debt Problems

New outfit purchased at discount store: under $100.
Chinese take out and a movie at home: $25 for two.
Figuring out that credit cards aren't free money? Priceless. And we're about to learn that lesson the hard way in this country.
Congress has passed credit card reforms set to take effect about 9 months. (House vote: 361-64. Senate vote: 90-5.) The net effect may be to give birth to a whole new generation of American consumers. Getting there certainly may be as painful as giving birth for some among us.
The average American household with at least one credit card was carrying over $10,000 in debt according to cardweb.com. Considering that number was figured before the current recession with high unemployment rates, the debt load could reasonably be expected to have increased. And then the banks decided they'd like more people to pay off their debts so they increased interest rates and lowered credit ceilings to bring in some cash. Result: consumers are in an ugly spot.
These new reforms will limit the ability of banks and credit card companies to hike interest rates and of course, make money. It will also protect over-borrowing consumers. Banks will set tighter limits on how much can be borrowed and how long they give borrowers to repay the money. And my personal favorite, the new laws require college students to either prove they can repay the money or get parents to agree to be responsible for repaying the money.
"This cements a victory for every American consumer who has ever suffered at the hands of the credit card industry," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Banking Committee.
Is it too much to hope that they will stop constantly sending me offers of pre-approved credit cards? I'm quite sure the annual savings would feed several families in a Third World Nation for a year. And since I haven't opened a new credit card in more than five years, I am willing to suggest they should save their money and a few trees.
The credit card companies aren't terribly happy. No one likes being told how to run their business, particularly when the "telling" involves federal regulations tightening like purse strings.
In retaliation, they are going to make things less happy for everyone. *Poof! No fee cards are gone! *Flash! There went the frequent-flyer points. *Blast! They want me to repay it faster?
When I think of all the fun I had, using my credit cards to buy everything from groceries to expensive cameras and luxury travel (Cambodia? Luxury?), I've got to say I'm a little disappointed. (Last summer, I tried to buy a car with my Discover card, but I was purchasing it from a private seller. It turned out to be a little unfair to that seller, so we went back to cash.) But the banks say they've got to make money, too.
Here's the thing: they have ALWAYS made money selling credit to debt-laden Americans. ALWAYS. Why? Because they already charge merchants a percentage-based fee for every transaction. It's built into prices and constitutes the single reason that I got a price-break on my trip to the dentist for major work last Monday: because I paid cash.
I pay off my credit cards every month. It was a fun little game, racking up points to get cash back from Discover and Nordstrom and Costco. But if they aren't going to give me points, I can go back to paying cash.
So if the credit cards stop offering free points and other "gimmes" which gets me (and presumably a lot of other consumers) to stop using the cards so much, which makes them lose more money because of a precipitous drop transaction fees, leading to even tighter benefits, which leads to less use... where does all this lead? To what may be our new bottom line:

Less really is just less, isn't it?

Disclaimer: I pay my credit cards off every month in full and am utterly unsympathetic to anyone who doesn't do the same, except in emergency situations.

19 May 2009

Pop Culture/Pot Culture

I nominate craiglist.com as the new barometer of our culture. Looking through its pages, you can find garage sales, make new friends and hire sexual favors. But this isn't about that old story. I want to look to craigslist for its ability to highlight cultural trends.
As an example, I was looking through the Los Angeles craigslist.com site under employment ads. I clicked on "TV / Film / Video." This section is usually primed for actors and those seeking immediate fame, so every once in a while, there's an interesting advertisement there. This caught my eye today:

Cannabis Dispensary hiring COOL PEOPLE
Yeppers. You, too, can get a job selling pot in Los Angeles. Well, specifically Van Nuys. But there are now some areas of Los Angeles where the "cannabis dispensaries" are popping up like magic mushrooms on a decaying in. The advertiser said the ad was posted in three craigslist categories: Food & Beverage because this group is all about being warm and friendly with no attitude; Customer Service because those folks like working with people; and TV/Film because well, these are good looking people who are frequently out of work. We are to believe then, that these are also the defining characteristics of "cool."
As far as the craigslist.com posting, it's truth in advertising, I guess. Since pot for medicinal use is legal here in La-La Land and there are apparently so many terribly sick people in need of its medicinal properties, they must hire a lot of staffers. Here's what you need to qualify:
In order to work at the Dispensary, you have to be a resident of California, with valid Identification and we cannot have any out-of-state ID cards. A DMV printout will do with another photo ID, just as long as we know you're awaiting your California ID in the mail. Also, a new rule that we have to enforce is that all applicants be OVER 21 YEARS OLD (please do not respond if you are not 21, we just can't, sorry). Training will be provided.
This might be fun, huh? Oh, and if you decide to apply, please keep in mind the employer is expecting a HUGE amount of responses, so be cool and feel free to send fun photos or tell jokes in your application letter. It is afterall, an advertisement on craigslist.com.

16 May 2009

A Penny for Your Thoughts...

"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"Every time it rains, it rains pennies from Heaven."
And even more outdated,
"Here's a quarter for you and your brother to buy some penny candy."
Penny candy is a term that died about 30 years ago. At that time, penny candy could make the day of a child. It was individually packaged and came in near endless variety of which any kid could list their favorite. But as will happen, the cost of sugar rose. The price of these smallest bits of candy sold separately went to several cents or a nickel. The term simply went out of use. This recession won't bring it back, but it is causing Americans to think about how they spend money. Those pennies that have been so casually left on the counter are now being put in the pocket, collected, and valued.
And now in honor of the 100th anniversary of the smallest and most long-running American coin's current featured face (100 years of Lincoln, but the penny itself actually dates further back.) the U.S. Mint is issuing 1-cent coins with four different designs on the back, each coming out through the year 2009.
By the way, the coin isn't legally named "penny." It's actually a 1-cent coin. And collectors are rabid about having as many of these commemorative pennies as possible, tidily rolled up in their U.S. Mint wrappers. The U.S. Mint decided not to be driven to distraction by numismatists, as coin collectors are known (or numistmatics... haha!) and allowed each to purchase only six rolls each.
I've been watching and hoping this recession restores a little common sense to how some in our country think about and value money. I'd also like to see it restore some value to reality instead of our culture focusing solely on what can be purchased on a Friday night in a darkened theater for $13.
Lately, I look at the advertisements on television and note that some home improvement (and other types of stores), which must be suffering greatly due to the downturn in home building, sales, and renovations, are now offering "everything at greatly reduced prices." I am sure they think that's a wonderful thing to advertise to consumers, but to me it logically says that in the past their prices were greatly inflated. I mean, they've still got to be making a profit somewhere, right? I wonder that no one has pointed that out to the great marketing minds at Lowe's Stores.
Remember last year during the gas crunch when food processors and grocery manufacturers were trying to avoid being accused of inflating their prices so instead they just cut the size of the packaging and hoped consumers didn't notice? This year, they'd do anything just to hang on to the sales they have at the prices they try to command. The word "deflation" is coming into view.
Wouldn't it be nice if with some of our deflated dollars and our now re-valued 1-cent coins, we could somehow buy back a little of our lost American way of thinking? If we could restore the simpler times of our parents and return to valuing time spent together? A few dollars could buy a backyard barbecue with friends in a way that the same amount doesn't really cover more than one or two beers in a darkened smokey bar filled with too much noise.
Our parents knew how to make their own fun. Their good times were at home: theirs or those of friends with their loved ones around them. And those times were purchased with pennies to spare.

14 May 2009

David Geffen, Patron Saint of Journalism?

That headline is a stunner, huh? Thanks! I thought you'd like it.
But think of it. If David Geffen, the sort of Peter Pan (yes, with green tights) of Hollywood for the last ten years, has his way, he'll be the new owner of one of the most venerated names in journalism.
Geffen made an offer for the Los Angeles Times a couple of years back. It wasn't accepted. Newspapers weren't in the same position then as they are now, which if you need a mental picture is rather like a burly hiker who wandered out close to the cliff's edge, then found the ground underneath him is giving way. The hiker started to fall, grabbed at the crumbling cliff beneath him and for the past two years, he's lost inch after inch. There are no footholds, and yes, he's a LOT thinner than he used to be.
Being a professional journalist isn't what it used to be. In fact, it's downright tough at the moment. There isn't a bright future for television journalists, and the sky over our print brethrens' heads is absolutely midnight black.
Back to our story. Now Mr. Geffen is eyeing the New York Times. And he's looking at her with a very benevolent eye. Sources quoted at Newsweek.com:
"The New York Times is a very special institution," said one of the persons. "It's essential to be preserved. And David believes the correct model to preserve it is nonprofit."
Why not? 66 year old Geffen made his money in music and entertainment. He's estimated to be worth about $4.5Billion. He can afford to lose a few dollars. But then there's the stand of Warren Buffett who recently said, that newspapers "have the possibility of going to unending losses." And further, "We would not buy them at any price."
It is said that Mr. Geffen views the Great Grey Lady, as she is often called, as a national treasure and something that cannot be allowed to fade away into nothingness amidst ongoing financial losses.
I hate being grateful publicly, so maybe, if his purchase does go through, I can just allow a quiet sigh of relief on her behalf.

13 May 2009

Farewell Farrah. No, really, FAREWELL.

Would it really diminish anyone to quietly die and in peaceful privacy? Perhaps surrounded by friends and loved ones? But truly, no cameras.
Celebrities, some of whom live their entire lives and seem to exist solely to get into the spotlight, are, in fact, mere mortals. Which means that like the rest of us, they come to the end of their life on earth.
And yet they want more. Living in Southern California was never anything so much as it was an education in the desperate neediness of the celebrity culture. But whose fault is this heralding of the end of things that border on creepy?
So on Friday, NBC will air a documentary called "Farrah's Story." Does Farrah Fawcett, suffering through a two year battle with terminal anal cancer, need her dying breath chronicled? It makes me wonder... who is making money off this last greedy grasp at celebrity?
Remember years ago, people who suffered such awful fates went in silence. They suffered through their chemotherapy, exhausted all their options in chemical, surgical, radiation and alternative therapies before simply going home to die. Quietly. It was sad that we shamed them into hiding in some cases. But shall we now be shamed by our own morbid, prying eyes? The pendulum swings too far.
It's wonderful that we now have seen and understood their suffering because of the bravery of some of these souls in going on camera or at the very least, writing about their final struggles.
But when did we lose touch with what was called in an earlier time, a Sense of Decorum? Does our lack of it mean we need to see someone desperately reaching for their final minutes of fame? Do people, particularly because of their past lifelong celebrity status, deserve to have the prying eyes of a camera along? And when will we realize that we are far beyond the limits of good taste in searching out these things?
This is the same fixated culture that allowed celebrities who think that their political feelings and ideas are more valued than anyone else's. It is this the same society that allowed some famous folks to threaten moving to Canada if anyone other than their candidate was elected? (To be honest, those same folks had wives who famously demanded Evian water in which to wash their hair. Think about it.) The more amusing point was the complete lack of voices calling for them to stay. Ha!
I'm truly sorry to see the sad, near end-of-life struggles of anyone going through the worst life has to offer. But I'm even sorrier to see a culture that is so fascinated as to allow for the sick voyeuristic interest in following Farrah Fawcett's "story" to its completely known and unhappy ending.
Let her go. Remember her as she would want to be remembered anyway. And don't let the future be determined by watching, which will surely drive a ratings boon that is rolling right over someone's future grave.

05 May 2009

Standing Up for Journalism

Where did the respect go? Did it return suddenly with a change of administration?
There is much being made of the White House Press Corps' standing and sitting during the entrance of the President.
Some have noted that they didn't do it for President George W. Bush. Not routinely.
But they did stand up on one occasion. As a sign of respect, they stood for his arrival at his final chat with them in the briefing room. And as has been pointed out by others, members of the national press do and did stand up whenever he (or any other sitting U.S. President) entered the East Room of the White House for a news conference.
If it seems we're getting a little trifling and "ticky" with the respect parceled out, well, that's who we are. And that's what some folks are interested in quantifying. These, of course, are the same people who count stories on various public figures, and then time them. Using a stopwatch.
Is it just that we're more comfortable in "our room" in the White House and that there, we offer less respect? Do we feel less inclined (Or perhaps pushed. I know few reporters who offer visible signs of respect on anything but a "this is policy" or ordered basis.) to do so on what might be considered "our turf?"
Well, no. The fact is that reporters generally don't stand for the President of the United States' arrival in the Press Briefing room out of consideration for photographers who are positioned in the back of the room. We spend our lives trying to do our jobs and be considerate of their needs as well. This is not exception. We try to stay out of the picture.
Except that an exception is being made. Members of the White House Press Corps apparently jumped to their feet in the WH Press Briefing room for the entrance of President Barack Obama during his most recent appearance. In these days of journalisto starpower, were reporters suddenly jumping up and into the frame? I'm still thinking this one over.
I'm not sure I like it. Something's lost. Something that approaches objectivity and the appearance of being nonpartisan. Something I hope we soon find again. And for heavens' sake... SIT DOWN.

04 May 2009

Thanks Mr. Buffett... NOT!

Ever feel like someone is jumping up and down on your grave? Warren Buffett says the one industry he would not invest in is newspapers. He seems to think they're a sinking ship.
35,000 people showed up in Nebraska for Berkshire Hathaway's Stockholder Meeting, or as the locals refer to it "Buffett's Big Deal." The locals aren't invited. Most of them don't own so much as one share of Berkshire Hathaway stock, which can run sky-high per share, regardless of whether you are buying "A" or "B."

And what does the Oracle of Omaha tell them? He tells them he wouldn't buy newspaper stocks at any price, based on the outlook for media stocks.

It feels a little like he's jumping up and down on my grave. Yes, it does. Except that to be perfectly accurate, what Warren Buffett said was that he wouldn't buy MORE newspaper stock. He already owns a sizable stake in the Washington Post (saved only, he says, by its position in cable television. I wonder if he's noticed the shift from television to internet? And BH owns the Buffalo News outright. He says they are "working on the business model with the unions" in that company. Good luck.

The NYTimes today notified the federal government that since they have failed to get neccessary concessions from unions at the Boston Globe, they will stop the presses at that venerated old voice in 60 days.

Some say it's a negotiating tactic. Perhaps they've never heard of the Rocky Mountain News, which closed its doors in February after nearly 150 years.

Maybe those same unions aren't acquainted with anyone who worked at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which went all digital only a few weeks ago.

It's a sad time for newspapers, isn't it? But maybe it's also sad for Berkshire Hathaway's stockholders, if their "oracle" couldn't see this one coming from a mile off.