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Learning about Health Summit the Old Way

What looked to me a lot like political advertising for the two major parties, went off yesterday under the guise of a 'health-care summit.'

Admittedly, I did not watch the whole thing or even close to a quarter of it -- maybe 15 minutes here ... 15 minutes there ...

There is no doubt loads of opinion (beside my two-second take, above), and reports about what went down at the summit if you take a look at this web site's home page, or the scores of other news sites that are a click away. And, of course, the chatterers on cable news outlets on TV are no doubt going on and on about it right now.

Except for the snippets I caught yesterday, I admit to not reading, watching or hearing about any more of it, and not because I have no interest, I do, but because of an exercise I am going to go through right now.

Since I believe I am with the majority of Americans who saw little, if any, of this summit yesterday, I am going to do what people used to do, and check out what the newspapers are saying about it this Friday morning. I will let them inform me, and help shape my opinion of what happened.

I also admit to being curious about how they covered the summit.

I am going to take a completely random sampling of 10 of the bigger newspapers of record around the nation, and take a look at what the headlines and lead-ins of their top stories on the subject say.

(Note: I am going to each newspaper's web site, so there might be some variance to what appeared in their print editions.)

(Update: In a couple of cases I needed to attach a supportive second paragraph for clarification because the leads were wishy-washy.)

Here goes:

The L.A. Times headline: Healthcare summit reveals chasm between two parties

Lead: Facing unbending Republican opposition to a healthcare overhaul, President Obama confronted a stark reality Thursday as his televised summit ended: If he and his Democratic allies in Congress want to reshape the nation's healthcare system, they will have to do it by themselves.

The Washington Post: At health-care summit, Obama tells Republicans he's eager to move ahead

President Obama declared Thursday that the time for debate over health-care reform has come to an end, closing an unusual seven-hour summit with congressional leaders by sending a clear message that Democrats will move forward to pass major legislation with or without Republican support.

USA Today: Health summit shows divergent views

Congressional leaders remain pessimistic that a marathon health care policy session with President Obama on Thursday will lead to compromise, which could prompt Democrats to forge ahead alone.

The Miami Herald: As healthcare hits the stage, no closing the divide

(Note: The Herald chose to lead its coverage with an analysis piece from the McClatchy News Service)
Facing unbending Republican opposition to a sweeping healthcare overhaul, President Barack Obama confronted a stark reality Thursday as his extraordinary televised summit ended: If he and his Democratic allies in Congress want to reshape the system, they'll have to do it by themselves.

The New York Times: President urges focus on common ground

If there was any question about how deeply divided Republicans and Democrats are about how to reshape the American health care system, consider that they spent the first few hours of President Obama's much-anticipated health care forum on Thursday arguing over whether they were in fact deeply divided.

Houston Chronicle: Health care summit fails to bridge rifts

With Republicans apparently unmoved by a daylong face-off on live TV, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress now face the test of whether they can overhaul the nation's health care system by themselves.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Obama, GOP agree on some health areas

(Note: The AJC, took an AP story to lead its coverage)
Democrats and Republicans found plenty areas of agreement at President Barack Obama's health care summit, starting with a shared belief that the system needs fixing. When they delved into the details, though, consensus evaporated in many cases.

The Wall Street Journal: More talk, no deal at health summit

After hundreds of hours of congressional debate, a summer of rowdy town hall meetings and a Massachusetts election that upended all political calculations, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders spent Thursday talking still more about reforming the U.S. health care system. The nationally televised session stretched over more than seven hours and, to no one's surprise, yielded no new agreement, although lawmakers strove to maintain an atmosphere of decorum and cooperation--even as they aired their warring views.

The San Francisco Chronicle: Bottom line on health care summit: Dems push ahead

(Note: The Chronicle also opted for an AP story to lead its coverage)
President Barack Obama strongly signaled that Democrats will move forward on a health care overhaul with or without Republicans, preparing his party for a fight whose political outcome will rest with voters in November. Delivering his closing argument at a 7-1/2-hour televised policy marathon Thursday, Obama told Republicans he welcomes their ideas -- even ones Democrats don't like -- but they must fit into his framework for a broad health care remake that would cover tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

The Salt Lake Tribune: Summit ends in a standoff

(Note: The Tribune lead its coverage with yet another AP story)
Giving no ground, President Barack Obama and Republican leaders fought forcefully for their competing visions of historic health care reform Thursday in an exhausting, often-testy live-on-TV debate. Far from any accord, Obama signaled the Democrats were prepared to push ahead for an all-or-nothing congressional vote.

So there you have it. What did I learn?

  • That I am surprised by how little play the summit got on almost all of these web sites. In many cases I had to dig to find anything.

  • That many large newspapers did not employ their own staff to cover the summit, instead relying on various wire services, but mostly The Associated Press. I believe my first two observations go hand and hand. With dwindling resources, newspapers need to be far more selective with what they cover. Obviously, a summit in Washington drenched with "Inside-the-Beltway" wire reporters more than sufficed for use by these newspapers. I agree with this decision, but hope that in subsequent reports the papers do what is necessary to "localize" this important story for their readers.

  • That newspapers by and large don't see this as an issue they should put before their readers in large type. They must feel that their readers would rather be informed about other things first, and/or they know full well there is loads of information available elsewhere for people interested in the health-care debate. Again, I believe the papers should localize this content for their readers, though.

  • That the summit was an exercise in futility and political posturing. These reports, when taken as a whole, indicate that the two sides came to little consensus on this issue.

  • That Democrats, and the president seem intent on pushing ahead with reform whether they end up getting Republican consent and buy-in or not.
  • That as an editing geek, I came away struck by the different styles employed by these newspapers for the word(s) health care. The Associated Press has it as two words, which is good enough for me.

OK, end of exercise.

Even though I feel that I am armed and satisfied with enough information about what went down to get on with my day and move onto other things, I think I'll surf the web for a little while -- just to make sure I didn't miss anything...


(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

O'Reilly Makes Another Meal of Hume

I continue to be astonished by the gusto in which cable news-talkers eat their own -- and just how willing some people are to become that meal.

Another Brit Hume video is making its way around all the likely stops on the Internet.

Once again, Hume, currently Fox News' senior political analyst, is seen recommending Christianity as Tiger Woods' best route toward fixing the mess that has become his personal, professional, and family life.

I won't speculate why Hume seems so intent on jeopardizing what up until the past month or so, has been an otherwise solid career in broadcast journalism. For what it's worth, I always thought Hume was a pretty authoritative guy, who had a solid command of the news business and whatever subject it was he was tackling. I blew neither hot nor cold for Brit, which is a compliment for somebody employed in what should be a straight-down-the-middle business.

Whether Bill O'Reilly has some understanding of why Hume has decided to take to these recent, public religious musings is unclear.

This much I will speculate on: He is absolutely delighted that Hume will wander down this curious road. O'Reilly knows he needs only to set Hume up, point him in the right direction, and watch him go ...

It's great TV, don't you know? Every time the cagey O'Reilly can get Hume to proselytize, not analyze, it's a sure-fire way to get attention. O'Reilly knows full well that Hume the newsman is damaging his career and reputation when he veers away from news analysis and toward his religious leanings.

This is why car chases, but better yet, wrecks, are great TV -- real ratings-grabbers, they are.

When Hume first brought up the subject of Tiger Woods and religion on a Fox News Sunday show in early-January, O'Reilly booked him for an appearance on his Factor program the very next day.

This was prudent, given the attention Hume's Sunday remarks were receiving. And, in my opinion, O'Reilly seemed to be offering Hume a platform to either retract or at least soften those comments.

When he didn't, the savvy O'Reilly knew instantly that he had a real attention-getter on his hands. Again, he knew Hume, the respected journalist, would be best not saying these things. He also knew that the next time he had the chance, he'd lure his big fish right back into those murky, controversial waters.

That came Friday, after Woods' apology to most of the free world.

So on Monday, O'Reilly had Hume on his show, set the hook, and after a little finessing got the fish to bite -- again.

I suppose that many Christians are heartened by Hume's willingness to trumpet their faith, and agree with him that Tiger is better off a Christian than a Buddhist.

But they should know that Hume is killing himself among the journalism community, and with many millions of viewers, I'm sure -- almost all of whom know that one's faith belongs at home and at the church, not openly touted in the newsroom or in front of some TV camera.

Yes, Hume is an analyst these days, and free to say just about whatever he wants, but what he is saying lately shades in dark colors everything he did in his past professional life as an alleged straight-down-the-middle journalist, and everything he will say in the future.

Frankly, it's hard and frustrating to watch him do this. But watch I am, and to Bill O'Reilly's great delight, I'm sure.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

A Tip for the Herald: Explain What Happened

The Miami Herald very quietly announced it has extinguished a very brief experiment asking its web readers for voluntary contributions.

This announcement was so quiet, and the experiment so brief, one can only surmise that it didn't go very well. That the newspaper is making us surmise at all about the successes and failures of what has become known as the "tip-jar program" is disappointing, but more on that in 30 seconds or so.

When the company announced last December that it was going to provide a link for payment in the form of a donation at the end of each of its online stories I have to admit I thought it a bit goofy

But after thinking about it for another minute or two, I mostly loved it.

If nothing else, I thought it was exactly the kind of outside-the-box approach you seldom see the stuck-in-the-mud newspaper business attempt.

Newspapers have always thought they were above the fray that is the rest of the mass media. They prided themselves in taking a more thoughtful approach to the news, and how they presented it. The print business would leave all that yelling, screaming and fist-pumping for TV and radio's talking heads.

That reasoned, but haughty attitude, should have come to an abrupt halt when it was clear this sensation called the Internet was a bona fide hit. Most newspapers, of course, were slow to embrace this new way of disseminating the news and many of them might never recover from it.

By implementing this tip-jar approach to accrue revenue, The Miami Herald was sending the signal that it realized bold -- even goofy -- approaches were needed to gather revenue in this new world of communication.

Apparently this bold, goofy approach was a dud, and I can go back to being disheartened that newspapers are still better at talking down, or not at all, to their readers than any other media out there.

Instead of explaining to its readership what went wrong, and maybe even right, about the experiment, they just shut it down cold.

It's done and over, and the reasons for this are for us to know, and you to take a hike.

Nice, eh?

If we can assume that at least some people ponied up some cash in this program, don't you think they at least deserve some kind of an explanation?

One noted media-talker, Alan D. Mutter, reports he got an e-mail from the Herald on Monday, essentially saying that the company thought the request for reader donations conflicted with its campaign to raise relief dollars for Haiti earthquake victims.

If so, that's noble, but why is it buried in an email to one guy? And is that really the reasoning in its entirety?!

And what about the rest of the industry?

The Herald could have done a great service for their brothers and sisters in arms by enlightening them about what they gleaned from this experiment.

Lucky newspapers aren't in the communications business ...

But rather than go out on a low note, and bury the Florida newspaper for its awkward life-sustaining attempt, ponder this: What if this goofy experiment had been a success? What if by trying this tip-jar approach, The Herald discovered the key that would unlock all that treasure just waiting to be dumped on enterprising online news-providers?

What if, indeed.

So here's to the next round of bold and goofy approaches -- but with an explainer chaser, please!

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

MSNBC's Hockey Ratings Soar Over Ankle-High Bar

Have you noticed that NBC executives aren't out there standing on all the highest rooftops, holding up TV antennas, and trumpeting the fact that the hockey game between the U.S. and Canada on Sunday night gave its cable news channel, MSNBC, its second-biggest ratings night ever?

Why, after these glowing numbers came out Monday, you'd think you wouldn't be able to shut the generally insufferable PR-types up.

I mean before this news, we had been hearing how wonderfully things were going for the Peacock Network during these Games. And this after they sandbagged us beforehand, saying they expected to take advertising losses soaring into the hundreds of millions while bringing the Games to your home.

Then again, I suppose after the recent drubbing the network took for its mishandling of the late-night fiasco with talkers Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno, it was probably shrewd to lower any and all expectations where the Olympics and ratings were concerned.

But now that these big-time numbers have come out for MSNBC, where are the network's shouters? Maybe they are just being humble, and taking a more dignified approach to this welcome success.

Or maybe somebody should check the basement, not any rooftops, because it's crystal clear to me that these people don't know what the hell they are doing.

They certainly had absolutely no idea what they had in the U.S.-Canada hockey gem Sunday night.

You say I'm being too tough here?

Look, if NBC had the slightest clue the hockey game would be such a ratings hit, why in the heck did it broadcast it on a channel that goes out to over 20 million FEWER viewers than its home network? And why put it on a cable channel that is not available in high definition to many millions more who do have MSNBC?

Don't laugh about this last one, I have heard from a few angry folks who went the high-def route just for hockey's sake. They, and thousands of other online chatterers, are fuming at NBC.

Finally, why in the name of common sense, for just one night, didn't NBC relegate the taped (another sore subject here) coverage of the skiing, and bobsledding, and the live coverage of the ice dancing to MSNBC?

Instead of reacting to the discernible buzz the U.S.-Canada hockey game was generating, NBC simply held fast to a tired, old formula that at best has gotten mixed viewing results over past Olympic Games. Results, by the way, that were at least partly responsible for their weird admission that they expected to lose those hundreds of millions on these Games.

And you think the government sets its bar for success at the ankles ...?

By not having the wisdom, but mostly the news sense, to capitalize on this big event, and in so doing icing out many potential viewers, NBC will never know what kind of ratings the hockey game would have drawn on its flagship channel.

Could be that given their sorry ratings run over the past couple of years, NBC thought it best to play it safe, rather than be sorry.

Again, lower those expectations whenever possible ...

Before dashing away from this rant, check out this neat little story I just came across on MSNBC's very own web site. It was written before the Games started, and updated a few days into the competition.

The headline blares, "NBC faces uphill battle to get Olympic viewers."

The subhead to the story is a real beauty, though: "Games have tough programming competition, few captivating story lines."

Few captivating story lines, eh?

Looks to me like the network is intent on following the losing script it wrote for itself before the Games began -- no matter what kind of news breaks in the meantime.

So now do you think I am being too tough on 'em?

Didn't think so, and congratulations, you are most likely more qualified to run the place than whoever it is that's in charge over there.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

Bothersome Sourcing in CJR Plagiarizing Story

I'm going to start the week by tapping away on the echoing plagiarism drum.

This time, however, I will do so with a gentle rap or two with my pica pole at an otherwise timely story I came across in the Columbia Journalism Review over the weekend titled, "To Catch a Plagiarist."

The article's author, Craig Silverman, ponders why, with an ever-increasing number of plagiarism detection services on the market, more newspapers and other publications allegedly aren't using them to catch plagiarizers.

This story comes on the heels of recent high-profile plagiarism incidents at The New York Times and The Daily Beast.

While I found this piece thought-provoking, I was bothered by how closely Silverman, a self-proclaimed expert on the subject of plagiarism and the editor of the web site RegretTheError.com, came to swerving into the advertorial lane for one of these detection companies, iThenticate.

Throughout the story, Silverman gives loads of space to Robert Creutz, the general manager of iThenticate, to talk up and about his product, and talk down publications that aren't buying it.

Problem is, we get virtually nothing from publications who allegedly aren't using any of these services, and iThenticate in particular. We also don't hear from any of the other detection services on the market.

At one point Creutz alleges, "I've pitched the service what seems like over 100 times over to the New York Times and the last time was after Maureen Dowd (a columnist for the paper) copied [part of] that column. They basically told me, 'Maureen is going to be fine - this will blow over'."
Silverman then types this is in the next paragraph: Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe, however, wasn't fine. He resigned earlier this week after an internal review, which was set off by a complaint from The Wall Street Journal, found he had plagiarized from a variety of sources.

That's a pretty strong double-barreled shot at The Times.

I would have felt a lot better about this if after allowing Creutz to take aim at The Times and then adding his own rejoinder, if Silverman had gone to the newspaper for comment.

He didn't.

We do hear from one newspaper, the Hartford Courant, that used the iThenticate service and then dropped it because, to quote Carolyn Lumsden, the paper's commentary editor, "iThenticate wanted us to sign a complicated multipage legal contract. Maybe that's what they do with universities (their primary client). But we weren't interested in such entanglements."

And that's it.

From there the story goes into who else is using the service and how important Creutz thinks it is that they are.

In the end, there might not be a single good reason why more major publications don't seem to be buying these detection services, but to hear from only one of them in a story otherwise loaded with Creutz's cheer-leading for his product seems pretty heavy-handed to me.

While I applaud the work Silverman has done in keeping the bright light on plagiarism, I am surprised that the CJR didn't want more balance and sourcing in his story.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

Will Journalism Pay for this Pulitzer Decision?

It turns out The National Enquirer will be up for consideration for a Pulitzer Prize in two categories thanks to its reporting on John Edwards' extramarital mess before, during, and after the 2008 presidential campaign.

Emily Miller, a self-acknowledged cheerleader for the tabloid publication's Pulitzer candidacy, first reported this story for the Huffington Post late Thursday afternoon.

As a longtime member of what is called the "mainstream media" and now a watcher of said media, I admittedly don't know what to think about this decision.

For the past few hours, I have been playing a game of "On the one hand, I guess it makes sense ... On the other hand, it's nuts" that has left what remains of my brain tied up in a very little knot.

My quandary is basically this:

For as long as I have been a journalist and for the many decades before, it has been an accepted rule that the media should never pay sources for the information they provide.

It is called "checkbook journalism." The worry is, that information which is paid for could be seen as tainted by the audience that is consuming it. This is seen as an impure practice. After all, you can pay some people to say anything.

But what if the information that is paid for is 100 percent accurate?

The Enquirer does pay sources for information, did in the Edwards' case, and makes no bones about that.

They are not playing by the "mainstream media's" accepted rules for dealing with sources, and never have.

Whether they paid sources or not in the Edwards' case, The Enquirer knocked a story of tremendous importance out of the park.

Shouldn't these results be the only thing that really matters in the end?

And doubly so, in this case, because while The Enquirer was all over this story, the "mainstream media" was busy playing deaf, dumb and blind.

There's my dilemma in a large nutshell.

So What to do?

I have decided to proceed with what at least I am sure about in this matter, in the hope of coming to some sort of verdict in the end.

I am completely sure, for instance, that whatever the definition of the mainstream media is, it collectively fell down on the job in its (mis)handling of the Edwards' story.

It is astonishing that no well-resourced major news entity gave this at least a cursory glance given the consequential reports that The National Enquirer was pasting all over its front pages.

Edwards was a serious presidential candidate, and with all the attention and resources that major media sources poured into covering the campaign, it boggles the mind that not one turned loose just one enterprising reporter to chase the story and see if there was anything to it.

They just ignored it to their peril, plain and simple.

I am also sure this qualifies as a huge story. It was one of the most important stories of the year in my mind.

No matter what you or I think about The Enquirer, thank goodness they were on this one. Can you imagine what would have happened if Edwards had become president, and these reports surfaced one after another afterward? Holy cow.

I am also sure there is some deep irony here that somebody who is not a credentialed member of the "mainstream media" was first out with this Pulitzer story.

Granted, this kind of thing is interesting to mostly media geeks and insiders. That somebody outside the "mainstream media" was the first to get it, though, does speak to who is accruing and reporting the news these days -- and how they are getting it.

Under Miller's byline on The Huffington Post is the tag 'public affairs and media consultant.'

Miller is happy to tell you that she openly championed The Enquirer's Pulitzer cause.

It took her all of three paragraphs in her story to type this:

My grassroots campaign for The National Enquirer to get the Pulitzer Prize has gone from one column in early January to widespread mainstream media support and public demands for fairness. The Pulitzer Board's decision to give The Enquirer its rightful place in the competition for the award shows the old guard journalists recognize and respect the importance of the investigation by the paper's reporters, photographers and editors.

While I admit to being a bit turned off by Miller's look-at-me style of reporting, her advocacy journalism on behalf of The Enquirer was dogged, and helped get results.

At last...

Finally, I am sure journalism as I used to know it is in deeper trouble each day -- especially the investigative type. Newspapers, especially, are dropping out of business faster than car dealerships.

A vast majority of the newspapers that are somehow surviving are cutting newsroom budgets to the bone.

There simply isn't the money to pay staffers to go after all these meaty, important stories -- much less the money to pay sources for information.

That is not an excuse for the mainstreamers to dine on in the Edwards' case, but is the latest warning that people won't know what they are missing in investigative journalism until it's gone, and that is a tragedy.

In the end, I am against The Enquirer's admission to the Pulitzer sweepstakes this time around. They were playing by a different set of rules than their competitors when they chased the Edwards story.

Whether those rules need changing in this day and age is wide open for debate.

Or maybe, given the Pulitzer committee's decision in this case, the rules have already changed.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

The New Media: How Tweet It Is ...

I am a relatively new contributor to Real Clear Politics, and admit that for the first time I just hit the Twitter tab on the home page. I have never hit any Twitter tab on any page, anywhere.

I am visibly shaken.

I am now wondering if ...

... I am still sleeping, because whatever it is that's happening on that page just can't be real. Can't be ...

... I am unfortunately very much awake, and have been forcibly coaxed to take my skepticism of a world gone mad up by about 11 notches.

... I can stop wondering once and for all why people don't read newspapers anymore.

... Attention Deficit Disorder is actually an under-diagnosed condition that threatens to wipe out an entire generation.

... Alleged journalists should mess around with this, but if they feel they must ... at least it is original content, and better than practicing all this plagiarizing that seems to be infiltrating our ranks these days.

Really, at this very moment, I just think it is all completely bizarre.

Yes, I suppose that makes me at least pretty old and very stodgy.

Yes, I realize that the White House announced recently that it will start tweeting its message to out-tweet the nay-tweeters.

I fear this is somehow viewed as progress in breaking through the partisan logjam.

And speaking of the White House ...

My gosh, I just went back in that place and Karl Rove is tweeting!

This really flusters me, because I was ready to make the case that so much of the undecipherable gibberish on that page seems to be coming from youngsters who enjoy gibbering, er, tweeting, about things that the rest of us pretty-old folks can't possibly understand.

Rove is plenty old, though. There's no getting around it.

And here's what he is tweeting:

KarlRove: @JcupM Thanks for following me, too. I hope you enjoy the Tweets.

Holy cow.

This is scary because I really think this is actually Karl Rove. When I clicked his link it took me to some Twitter page, where among other things, the person who might really be Karl Rove, is promoting what might be his book.

And something called, JcupM tweets: Cant believe @KarlRove is actually following me!!! That is so freaking awesome =)

Frankly, I would be terrified if Karl Rove was following me. Used to be he had a fair amount of influence with the guy who was the boss of the whole military. In other words, the old dude's connected with some heavy-hitters.

I would prefer people like that not know my business. Any of it.

Before going too much further hammering this wacky propagandizing, I should admit that I am on Facebook, and occasionally (yesterday) put up a link to something I have written. I do this because I want forced proof that somebody -- anybody -- is reading my stuff.

But it's different, because on Facebook I am among 'friends.' There's a big difference there. Er, right?

OK, OK, I am justifying this because I feel kind of wormy about doing it. I feel that by imposing on them, my friends might turn on me.

Anyway, I have 65 friends on Facebook, which in another time would have made me a darn popular fella. These days that paltry number pretty much makes me a loner.

My daughters have hundreds and hundreds of friends. As their dad I am proud of them for having so many friends, though as a dad I am pretty much always proud of them.

Thing is, folks that I otherwise thought were complete losers (you know who you are) also have hundreds and hundreds of friends. Dang ... who's the real loser here, eh?

But let's not dwell on that, and swerve back to Twitter and its odd place in journalism these days ...

When I was coming through the newspaper ranks you were taught to avoid at all costs making the story about you, or the publication you worked for.

I was told nobody cared about you or the publication.

I agreed with this mostly because I was ordered to. When I became a manager I ordered my staffers to agree with this, too.

Sometimes becoming part of the story was unavoidable, but an effort was always made not to.

The rules have obviously changed in 2010.

In scrawling through the tweets in that awful place, I noticed that people who very well might be Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Arianna Huffington and Jake Tapper were all tweeting.
I am sure there are scores of others like them who are also tweeting.

I also noticed that publications, websites, and networks that very well could really be FOX, Politico, Time, The Daily Kos, and N.Y. Times were peppering the place with tweets to tease other tweeters to their businesses.

I guess most of this tweeting was designed to get eyes on them or their products. More eyes means more readers and viewers, and potentially more advertisers.

So now I am wondering if despite how childish all of it reads, and how egocentric it obviously is ... if it somehow works?

@U: I m also wundrng if I shud resort 2 dis dog =).

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

Update: Times' Plagiarist Resigns

Former New York Times reporter Zachery Kouwe might not know plagiarism when he is committing it, but he sure knows how to find the fire exit before the flames swallow him.

Kouwe resigned from his position at the newspaper Tuesday after his editors were convinced he had lifted copy from multiple sources without any attribution, and then called it his own.

Kouwe is now the second reporter in two weeks from a high-profile news-provider found to be a plagiarizer.
Last week The Daily Beast suspended investigative reporter Gerald Posner for stealing copy from other sources.

The New York Observer's John Koblin talked with both Kouwe and Times' executives in this thorough piece that recounts the events leading up to the 31-year-old business reporter's resignation.

This was no one-off, oops, I-made-a-mistake thing.
Like Posner, Kouwe was found to be a serial offender of journalism's high crime. And like Posner, Kouwe just doesn't know how he could do such a thing-- given he obviously knows better and all.

Here's how Kouwe explained the crime in Koblin's piece:

"I was as surprised as anyone that this was occurring. "I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff. As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, 'Man what an idiot. What I was thinking?'"

Either he was thinking he would get away with it, or up until he was caught, had no idea that stealing other people's copy was wrong.
He goes on later in the story to say that maybe he was pushing himself too hard and just got careless.

Sorry for typing that last bit, folks, I know it smells like a garbage bin.

As I mentioned yesterday, I really fear that we are in the middle of an outbreak of plagiarism that could potentially leave an ugly stain on all alleged original content. There is simply too much information being processed too fast on the Internet these days. Checks and balances are obviously sorely lacking.

Every time a Posner or a Kouwe pulls this kind of ugly stunt it eats away at the credibility of what other honest, hard-working journalists and writers are providing their readers.

I did take heart toward the end of Koblin's story when he typed this:

In the coming days, inevitably, The Times will look inward to ask whether the pace of publishing in the blogs can be sustained given the level of editorial oversight they obviously need.

Good.
But until this plague is wiped out for good, sadly, you really won't be able to believe everything you read -- even in venerable publications like The New York Times.

Times Reporter: The Latest with the Wrong Stuff

In the wake of the second high-profile case of plagiarizing in two weeks, there has to be loads of nervous news executives out there right about now.

If not, there darn well should be.

Plagiarizing, probably the highest crime in journalism, seems to be on a bit of a spree these days. Lest there is a full-blown outbreak, it better be brought under control, but quick.

A week after The Daily Beast suspended its ace investigative reporter, Gerald Posner, for lifting copy from The Miami Herald without attribution (Posner admitted to this), it looks like The New York Times business reporter, Zachery Kouwe, did the same with "language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment."

That last bit is part of an editor's note presumably written by The Times' top editor, Bill Keller. It lead Sunday's corrections column of the newspaper.

In the note, The Times is answering an allegation from Robert Thomson, The Journal's editor-in-chief. Thomson and The Journal believe that Kouwe plagiarized copy from its reporter, Amir Efrati, on a story about Bernie Madoff that went on its wires Feb. 5.

The New York Observer's John Koblin does a nice job of breaking the whole thing down here.

Essentially, Thomson cites six examples of similarities between Kouwe's copy and Efrati's copy. Frankly, the evidence looks indisputable. And while Keller and The Times also seem to think as much, I found it interesting that they never used the word 'plagiarism' in their editor's note.

Maybe it was just an innocent omission, but let's just call it like it is: Plagiarizing.

It's wrong, it's a very serious breach of professional conduct, and as I typed here last week, is a fire-able offense.

Mostly, it needs to be brought under control NOW.

When I filed my posts in this spot on Posner last week, a colleague of mine supposed that 'probably over 90 percent' of journalists don't plagiarize.

Which means in his opinion probably upwards of 10 percent might. This is beyond chilling if even close to true. I have to believe his estimate is high. I mean I have to ...

I do think he properly hypothesizes that the advent of the web has made "a lot of reporters sloppier and less vigilant" -- that the ability to "copy and paste makes it so easy to lift stuff."

And there's a lot of "stuff" out there.

For instance, after reading Koblin's piece on this latest case of plagiarizing, I did a Google search typing the words "Zachery Kouwe plagiarism" to see what else was being reported.

I had intended to make the point that there was a lot of (too much?) "stuff" available on the Internet these days. I was going to count all the entries and report the number to you.

I was forced to quit at 100, or before my eyes started to bleed all over my keyboard. There was seemingly an endless supply of "Zachery Kouwe plagiarism" stories sprawled all over the Internet.
Much of the "stuff" was redundant, yes, but it was just crazy how much there was to read about this singular event.

Which gave me another thought: If a reporter is found to have committed journalism's highest crime, it will be impossible to cover up. It's the stain that will never wash out of the perpetrator's resume.

Maybe that's just the "right stuff" to clean up this filthy mess?

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

Virginian-Pilot Editor Makes Super Mistake Worse

So, you think you had a bad day at the office, eh?

Hard to believe anybody is feeling more poorly than the sports staff at The Virginian-Pilot.

Here's who should be feeling more rotten and ashamed than anybody, though: the newspaper's editor.

But more on him in a moment ...

It seems the sports staff at the newspaper got the score of Sunday's Super Bowl wrong for Monday's print editions of the newspaper.

Actually, they got the score right, but had the wrong team winning on the front page of the sports section: Colts 31, Saints 17. (The Saints, in fact, won the game.)

Ouch!

Apparently, on Page 9, they repeated the mistake. Double-ouch!

As a former sports editor at a daily paper in Maine, I can tell you that today -- even two days later -- I would still be sick to my stomach if we had made such an error. The whole staff would be.

It's the equivalent of dropping the game-winning pass in the Super Bowl. You will never live it down for the rest of your career.

Ink doesn't evaporate.

A mistake like that is unbelievably embarrassing, and with one single, stupid stroke can wipe away so much of the credibility you have worked tirelessly to grow over the years.

I can also tell you, believe it or not, that I understand how such a mistake can be made.

The paper is put together by humans, and hold on tight to your seats: Humans aren't perfect, and make mistakes ...

Which is pretty much what Pilot editor Denis Finley says here in his explanation to the readers dated Feb. 9, 2010.

Pretty much, until he swerves way off course toward the end of his correction ...

In the third-to-last paragraph of what I thought was an otherwise well-reasoned explanation for his sports department's super-gaff, Finley borrowed both the advertising director's and marketing director's hats, and was kind enough to let readers know that if they wanted a front page with the correct score on it, they could order one here -- and for as much as $109.95 framed.

Good grief.

Yes, dear readers, we blew it, and I just want to make sure you are aware that we are now prepared to profit from it!

Now that you have managed to make a bad situation worse, Mr. Finley, I suggest you get back on track with this straight-ahead approach:

Walk into the publisher's office today and strongly suggest that as a goodwill measure to your readers, all of them -- subscribers and single-copy loyalists -- will find a copy of the corrected front page inside Thursday's newspaper at no extra charge.

It's the very least you could do for the readers, and a sports staff you have an odd way of defending.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)

Update: Shame on Posner and His Boss; Kudos to Slate

Literally minutes after I posted my take on Gerald Posner's admission of plagiarizing, and what I saw as his boss's apparent soft-peddling of Posner's admitted offense, I came across this story written by Slate's Jack Shafer:

Apparently, Shafer has discovered many more alleged cases of pilfering copy from other sources by Posner. Lots more ...

It looks like Shafer has gotten the attention of The Daily Beast's Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal, who sent along this e-mail to Shafer yesterday:

"We obviously take what's happened very seriously. We will be suspending Gerald Posner while we review his articles, to return if we are satisfied that he has taken the necessary steps to avoid this in the future."

For his part, Posner had this to say in a statement to Slate:

Today I found out that I am suspended from my Chief Investigative Reporter position at The Daily Beast. I now realize that a method of compiling information that I have used successfully since 1984 on book research, obviously does not work in a failsafe manner at the warp speed of the net. Some of the incidents raised by Jack Shafer are not plagiarism, but are instances in which I received the same exact prepared quotation or statement from a police officer or press agent as other reporters. But others are mistakes that I deeply regret.

Rest assured, no one has been tougher on me than I have over this issue. I ask all of you to accept my apology for these instances, a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of words I've written over decades. I accept, however, the full responsibility.

The problem here, of course, is deciding where the truth begins and ends with this guy.

Shame on Posner for his disregard for others' work and his shoddy attention to his readers.

Shame on Felsenthal for making the cardinal sin of accepting Posner's explanation the first time around without satisfying himself like a good journalist should by checking it all out.

Beast Owes Readers Better Plagiarism Explanation

Getting to this one a bit late. Tardy or not, though, it is worth at least 50 lashes with a pica pole ...

A Slate story last Friday reports Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner admitted to plagiarizing.

At the time, Posner, who is listed as the Beast's chief investigative reporter, said he lifted five sentences from this Miami Herald story and used them in a piece he was typing for the Beast -- though he is not sure how it happened.

When we went to Posner's story today to get the lowdown, confirmation, and any updates, this note was posted atop the story:

Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, five sentences were inadvertently copied from a Miami Herald report without attribution. The Daily Beast has removed the sentences and regrets the error. Two additional such sentences have also been removed.

So it looks like the admitted wrongdoing has widened in scope since last Friday.

There is no higher crime in journalism than plagiarism. It is stealing, pure and simple. In many places, it is a fire-able offense, though the Beast is sticking with its man, according to the Slate story.

Only Posner knows for sure if this was accidental (as he claims) or premeditated. While I find his admission heartening, his explanation is a bit implausible.

The way I see it, there are only two likely scenarios by which this could have happened:

One: If he cut and pasted the plagiarized elements from the Miami Herald and then manipulated them slightly for his own piece, he had to know he was using prose that wasn't his own.

Two: If he read the piece from the Miami Herald and then later typed his own similar version without realizing it, that kind of stretches the bounds of believability, doesn't it?

In this bit from the Slate story it quotes Posner as explaining the above, second possibility this way:

He said he had no memory of having seen the Herald story, describing himself as "absolutely sure" he did not see it before sending his own story to Beast editors. But that memory must be wrong, he said, because the similarities between the two pieces are too great, and the Herald's story was posted before he e-mailed his to his editors at 2:03 a.m. on Feb. 2.

"I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied." He regards the subtle differences between his copy and the Herald's as evidence of him "doing the rewrite" of what he thought was his copy.

First he is "absolutely sure" he did not see the Herald story, and then he "must have" seen the story.

Again, only Posner knows for sure whether what he did was intentional, but from what we know about this incident, I'm not sure it's prudent to just close the book on the whole thing, either.

Besides the 50 lashes, let's hope the Beast is looking through some of Posner's other copy to see if the guy is a serial plagiarizer, or just the lazy perpetrator of some one-off crime.

This quote in the Slate story from Daily Beast Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal is worrisome in this regard, though:

"I'm convinced this was an unintentional aberration in an extraordinary career breaking news and doing top quality journalism with high ethical standards," Felsenthal said.

Maybe, and I'm all for Felsenthal standing behind his guy, but he owes it to his readers to inform them of how it is he came to be 'convinced.'

If he hasn't already, he should do what he'd tell any good reporter to do: check it out.

FOX Is Right, MSNBC Left, and You're Shocked

The horses bolted the stable a long time ago, and it is now just plain fact that political partisanship is the well-oiled cog that makes two of the largest cable news networks spin these days.

I find it impossible to come to any other conclusion than Fox News is playing to viewers that lean to the right side of the political spectrum, and that MSNBC is catering to viewers on the left.

And now, I suppose, you are waiting for me to break it to you that the world is round.

But, please, bear with me on my naive stroll -- if only for a minute.

As I watch the media and those that watch the media, I am taken aback by how many people will spend valuable time bashing and exposing these networks for acting like the political advocates they are only too happy to be.

What a massive waste of time, and unless things change with the way each of these networks operate, I will refuse to play that silly game here.

Fox News is no more "fair and balanced" than MSNBC is.

Fox loads it programming lineup with heavy-hitting right-leaners, and MSNBC loads its lineup with punch-hitting left-leaners.

For the record, Fox's sluggers are clobbering MSNBC in the almighty ratings, which seems to be the only thing that really matters on TV.

I trust neither network to deliver me anything that is straight down the middle, even on the occasion they just might.

Do you?

But that's not why I watch these networks. I watch them to be entertained, and appropriately mortified.
I watch them because I believe it is my duty as a media-watcher.

Most of you tune in, because they are selling what you like to buy.

Am I right?

When I want to make sure that each of them are clobbered properly and deservedly, I watch Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. Yeah, yeah, I know, Stewart seems to be a liberal sympathizer, so he should be taken with a grain of salt.

At least he makes no bones about that, and when it comes to smashing the media on all sides he packs a wonderful wallop, in my opinion.

That a comedy channel has the TV media best figured is both sad and hilarious, but more on that some other time.

Palin The Contributor
I watched Fox News yesterday to see Sarah Palin's appearance on Chris Wallace's Fox News Sunday show.

I tuned into because I wanted to see how Wallace would handle Palin, and how Palin would handle herself in her recent capacity as a Fox 'contributor.'

I admittedly watched this spot with no illusions that Palin would contribute anything but right-wing propaganda.

When it was over I wasn't disappointed. Better put: I wasn't surprised.

At many points of the segment I found myself feeling kind of sorry for Wallace, who at times didn't seem sure how he should be treating this new contributor.

At one point Wallace excitedly informed Palin that she was a "Fox News analyst" and wanted her to "put her analyst hat on" to critique the GOP front-runners in the looming 2012 presidential campaign.

At that, Palin sat up in her chair and said, "I am not a very good analyst," adding awkwardly, "Fire me then, Roger [Fox News President Roger Ailes]. Sorry, I already failed."

Hardly.

Palin wasn't hired by the savvy Ailes for any other reason than she plays beautifully to Fox's ardent right-wing audience. What she says resonates with them. She wasn't hired to analyze anything, and even she seems to know that -- even if for some reason, Wallace doesn't.

Better yet, as a proven lightning rod, Ailes also knows that many people ardently opposed to Palin will undoubtedly tune in out of pure curiosity.

And even better yet, if Palin, a person of interest if there ever was one, makes news on the broadcast, eureka! because other networks and news agencies would be forced to report this crediting Fox ... lest they be accused as being anything but fair and balanced.

Anything could happen with Palin on the air, and Ailes knows it. No matter your view of Palin, Ailes is one brilliant dude.

Can We All Just Be Honest?
I truly wonder what would happen if Fox just came out and trumpeted itself as "The Most Trusted Authority and Advocate of the Republican Party."

And what if MSNBC did so on the other side?

I doubt either network would lose a single viewer. They might even add some.

Best of all they would finally allow (I hope) so many in the media, and the media-watchers themselves, to stop wasting their time bashing Fox and MSNBC for being anything but what they strive to be (even if they won't come clean and admit it).

And have you seen how these two networks bash each other?

But then, what would they have to write about?! What would they endlessly talk about and debate?!

Who would they slam?! Who would they cheer?!

And what in the world would poor Jon Stewart do?!

Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite

All politics might be local, but sometimes, sadly, media coverage of politics isn't.

The inaugural National Tea Party Convention got under way in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, and world media of all stripes and political colors poured into the city to cover the three-day event.

That is mostly good news, because only a month ago, the event organizers were cherry-picking who would cover their event and, not surprisingly, most of those cherries were Republican Red.

After rethinking that one-way strategy, the Party bosses announced Thursday that they had, in fact, credentialed 111 members of the working press -- some from as far away as Japan.

"We desire transparency at this convention and have worked with media that are friendly to the Tea Party movement as well as those that have not been seen to be supportive of our efforts," convention spokesman Mark A. Skoda said.

Bravo for that, except in this case, transparency seems to work only if you are viewing the convention with a telescope.

For some reason, Skoda's gang did not issue credentials to the city's hometown paper, The Tennessean, as well as other Nashville media entities.

To its credit, the Tennessean took the high road regarding this snub and diligently covered the event for its readers as best it could from the periphery.

I counted three stories and a blog on the newspaper's website this morning that had to do with the convention.

Its lead story mentioned the snub this way:

All 111 of the press passes distributed for the event went to out-of-town news organizations, everyone from The New York Times to journalists reporting for outlets in Brazil, France and Japan.

"We're trying to spread a global message here. We can't credential everyone," said convention spokesman Mark Skoda, who left Nashville-area newspapers, radio and TV stations off the access list.

Not that this presents much hardship for coverage. The halls of Opryland are crowded with convention-goers ready to share quotes and snacks with hungry reporters.

It's true, any enterprising reporter can work around these silly and restrictive conditions to provide their readers some color and news from the event, but that they have to do so from outside the actual convention hall itself is completely insulting and short-sighted in my view.

If I worked at the Tennessean, or one of the other snubbed media outlets, I admittedly would be madder than a hornet.

As a courtesy, if nothing else, the Nashville media should have been the first to get credentialed for the convention. Their job, 365 days a year, is to cover their community for the local citizenry.

The locals depend, and in some instances pay, for this coverage so that they know what is happening around them -- good, bad or otherwise.

I won't get into a debate about how well these media outlets are doing their jobs because I don't live in their coverage area, but I am confident that every effort is made each day to make sure the coverage they do provide is as accurate and authoritative as possible.

I will go out on a limb to say their local coverage is certainly more comprehensive and authoritative than some report coming from Brazil, or Japan, or New York ...

After coming so close to getting it correct, the Tea Party's high-brow approach to media coverage is a slap in the face to the very people that hosted their party.

For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It

Look, politicians have been using the press for their own devices since George Washington's administration, so to start getting too bent out of shape about it now, would be like throwing buckets of water at a five-alarm neighborhood fire.

Today, anyway, that's not going to stop me from opening up the spigot, and pouring cold water all over the hot air coming from no-names in Washington regarding the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

Most of the water, however, will be reserved for the working press that is carelessly repeating this shoddily sourced drivel, and presenting it as news.

Hopefully, I won't come off all wet ...

In the month or so that has followed the incident, politicians on both sides of the aisle have attacked and defended the way suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been handled, or mishandled, and interrogated.

It has turned into a classic case of political football.

Essentially, and in its most stripped-down form, the Republicans seem to be saying the Obama Administration has mishandled the way the suspect was treated and thus interrogated, and the Democrats have shot back that the Republicans are full of it.

Unsubstantiated claims and attacks, followed by an unsubstantiated defense - and the media willingly goes along with it, citing unnamed sources, senior, or otherwise that are being shoved down their throats by these political partisans.

We the readers and viewers are then to take it on faith that these unnamed ghosts are in a position to know what they are talking about.

Do Unnamed Sources Have a Place?

All this is not to completely discourage the use of unnamed sources as a reporting tool. Sometimes they are necessary. Too many times they are not.

Journalists simply don't work hard enough for attribution anymore. Why? Laziness, for one.

Two? I think it's mostly because the genie left the bottle a long time ago. To not go out with unnamed sources is to risk being scooped, and heaven forbid that should happen.

Much better to take the chance of being used and being WRONG, than to be late with copy.

Even more baffling is that it seems like the same unnamed sources are just passed around from one media outlet to the other. We can only take it on faith that these sources are individually verified by each media agency before being cited in their reporting.

I wish I were more confident that this was happening.

So what and where has all this reporting gotten us regarding the handling and interrogation of the alleged bomber?

Some random examples follow.

(We are not picking on any news agencies in particular, because they all seem to be blindly marching to the same unnamed drummers.)

CNN's offering Wednesday jumps right out in the first paragraph of its story about the bomber's alleged cooperation by saying:

Senior Obama administration officials revealed late Tuesday they've secretly gained the cooperation of family members of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to help get the Christmas Day airline bomb suspect talking.

Senior Obama administration officials, eh?

It takes 12 paragraphs before a named source, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), is even mentioned in this story.

And that would be it for all the named sources in the story.

The Associated Press, whose story has been picked up and used seemingly everywhere, including Fox News, leads its Tuesday story this way:

WASHINGTON - The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day has been cooperating with investigators since last week, discussing his contacts in Yemen and providing intelligence in multiple terrorism investigations, officials said Tuesday.

There are those officials again ...

Worse, it took AP all of two graphs to type this:

"Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's cooperation could prove to be a national security victory and a political vindication for President Barack Obama, who has been under fire from lawmakers who contend the administration botched the case by giving Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent, rather than interrogating him as a military prisoner."

Yes it "could" but that would depend on whether this unnamed official knows what the heck he or she is talking about. That's for AP to know, and you to take on faith.

Then there's this beauty from the BBC, which apparently is depending on its brethren in the States to have all the facts straight. Here is the BBC's first five graphs:


The Nigerian man suspected of trying to blow up a US plane on Christmas Day is now co-operating and providing "useful" information, US officials say.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had stopped talking to investigators but started again "last week", officials told US media.

Mr Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to blow up a flight to Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

He has denied a charge of attempting to murder 290 people.

The BBC's Steve Kingstone in Washington says that with Mr Abdulmutallab apparently talking again, officials say it is conceivable a plea bargain might be now reached.

The word 'officials' is used three times. Heck, it is even conceivable a plea bargain will be reached thanks to this 'useful' information!

Finally, The Washington Post frames its story with the political implications this case might have. By and large it's a well-sourced bit of inside baseball, but when it comes to the part of what really might be happening in the suspect's interrogation it repeats this:

Senior administration officials said Abdulmutallab is cooperating again.

And this:

A senior White House official said the administration is "confident that he is going to continue to cooperate," adding that the information "will be leveraged to the fullest extent."
Wait! There IS Somebody on the Record!

By now some of you might be saying, "Wait! FBI Director Robert Mueller testified on the record and on Capitol Hill of all places, that the suspect was giving up valuable information and intelligence to the agency!

"He is both in a position to know and on the record!"

To which I say: What in the world would you expect Mueller to say?!

That, in fact, the suspect is eating their lunch and providing absolutely nothing?! They completely botched the handling of the suspect?!

Mueller could well be telling the truth. But would you bet your life on it?

That the media is relying on all these unnamed sources to back up Mueller and the White House's claims is the stain that just won't go away on so much of the inside-the-Beltway reporting from Washington.

The politicians have the press right where they want them.

Is it any wonder that the public trusts the press less and less every day?

What if one reporting agency, and preferably a big one, said, "Uh-uh. I need a name before I can report and verify a single thing about your claims."

What if, indeed ...

Classified Ad Revenue Takes a 10-Year Dive

Fair warning to the print people out there:

More bad news has just fallen from the sky and landed in this space -- among other places ...

In his "The Biz Blog" Poynter's Rick Edmonds is the latest to amplify chilly tidings on the newspaper advertising (cold) front.

Edmonds notes that classified advertising at newspapers has dropped a whopping 70 percent over the past 10 years. In 2000, newspapers collectively counted on classified ads to make them $19.6 billion annually. In 2009, that figure had plummeted to $6 billion.

This really is a startling decline. (see chart below)

There was a time when classified advertising was actually the bread-and-butter of a newspaper's operating budget. In 2000, it is estimated that classifieds accounted for approximately 40 percent of overall profits.

Classifieds were also a hit with readers, and helped to drive single-copy sales. Many folks used to take the paper for just the classified section alone. Those days are probably just about over, and along with them the added circulation revenue.

While "toting up the figures" for his coming State of the News Media report, Edmonds found that most of the decline ($7.9 billion worth) came from recruitment advertising, another victim of the myriad free sites aimed at jobs on the Internet.

A small thing that Edmonds didn't mention -- at least not yet -- is that over the past decade many, many newspapers adopted a model in which personal or smaller classified ads were free to readers both in print and in their online editions -- things like garage sales, and furniture and pets sales.

Newspapers' hands were forced to go the free route, of course, because of the number of free classified sites online. Certainly this would account for at least some of the lost revenue, however small.

Interestingly, these smaller ads fall into the 'other' category in the chart, which has actually held pretty steady over the past decade.

I'll suppose that some of this 'good news' has to do with the fact that many newspapers have adopted a pay approach toward obituaries. It used to be that most newspapers ran obituaries gratis. This looks like a rare case of found money for newspapers.

In finishing up, I'll toss a bouquet of hope to newspaper-lovers out there.

You'll see that both real estate and auto classified advertising saw a huge $2.1 billion dip collectively between 2008 and 2009 alone.

This would almost certainly have to do with this deep recession we find ourselves in. It is hardly news that house and car sales have plummeted over the past year or so.

If, and when, the economy starts coming back, it's fair to assume that at least some of that advertising revenue will ride in with it.

Sorry, print-lovers, that's as good as I got where any good news is concerned.

2000 (billions) 2008 (billions) 2009 (billions, estimated)
Auto $5 $2.3 $1.3
Real Estate $3.2 $2.5 $1.4
Recruitment $8.7 $2.2 $0.8
Other $2.7 $3 $2.5
Total $19.6 billion $10 billion $6 billion
Source: Newspaper Association of America (2009 includes Q1-Q3 data and an estimate for Q4)

MSNBC's Baghdad Bob

MSNBC President Phil Griffin tries to explain away Keith Olbermann's plummeting ratings thusly:

He [Griffin] attributes Olbermann's January ratings slip to a news cycle in which international news, rather than domestic politics, was the No. 1 story. "On big, breaking international news, CNN tends to do better than us. They did a great job in Haiti, and I tip my hat to them," he says. "We're the place for politics, and there are times when politics does great, and there are times when it doesn't."

Domestic politics wasn't a big story in January? What about the, er, special election in Massachusetts and the State of the Union? Griffin tips his hat to CNN for covering Haiti but doesn't mention (of course) that FOX had its biggest January ratings ever thanks in large part to its political coverage.

I don't blame Griffin. Like Baghdad Bob - the former Iraqi Information Minister whose public statements were at comical odds with reality - Griffin is simply trying to put the best possible spin on the fact that he and his network are losing the media war - badly.

UPDATE: Andrew Malcolm: Countdown begins for end of Keith Olbermann's 'Countdown'?

That FOX Is Most Trusted Is All Right

If we needed more evidence that in 2010 television news-consumers shop for fare that favors their individual political palates, we needn't look any further than an eye-opening poll conducted Jan. 18-19, by Public Policy Polling.

In its questionnaire, the professional polling company based in Raleigh, N.C., simply asked Americans whether they trusted the five major networks' news operations.

When the results of the poll were released last week, Fox News was the clear winner in a race that, it can be argued, ended up fielding five losers.

It turns out 49 percent of the respondents said they trusted Fox News. Thirty-seven percent said they didn't, and another 15 percent said they weren't sure.

ABC News brought up the rear, with only 31 percent saying they trusted that operation. CNN (39 percent); NBC (35) and CBS (32) ran two, three, and four respectively.

Those are staggeringly low numbers for professional news operations whose primary goal should be to present themselves as accurate and credible at all times.

Maybe the most telling finding of the poll was that 74 percent of those respondents who identified themselves as Republicans said they trusted the right-leaning Fox to deliver their news, while 30 percent of Democrats thought they could count on Fox to deliver the straight scoop.

NBC, on the other hand, did best among Democrats, with 62 percent of the left-leaners saying they trusted that network. This is most likely the residue of MSNBC, which has a pronounced lean to the left side of the political spectrum in much of its programming lineup.

While all this is hardly surprising (I call it, extremely unfortunate), it does once again emphasize that people are shopping for news presenters that most closely match their own ideological thinking.

But what if a network were to go where so many others fear to tread these days? What if it attempted to play things straight down the middle?

Well, cover your eyes if you are one of those who choose to look at things from the middle, because the view isn't pretty.

Consider that CNN did the best among moderate respondents, which helped it to its second-place rating in the overall trust category. This is good news for CNN, right?

Wrong.

CNN has seen its ratings take a terrible dive in the past couple of years. Recent data shows it has been neck-and-neck while bringing up the rear in the cable news ratings race with MSNBC. Both networks are lagging far behind mighty Fox.

It looks like trying to play it down the middle these days will only get you squashed by heavyweight partisans on the left and right.

And just to rub it in, Fox went out with ads on Monday touting itself the "Most Trusted Name In News."

Some might remember that CNN used to make that exact promotional claim. Ouch!

It's good to be king.

Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area

In "The Battle for Bay Area Readers," The New York Times has allegedly fired the latest significant shot.

The Times announced Friday that it has added 1,100 subscribers in the region since launching its San Francisco Bay Edition in September.

"Single-copy sales are up too," senior Times executive Jim Schachter said Thursday. "We're delighted at the reception we're getting from Bay Area readers for the pages that Felicity Barringer is editing, and for our Bay Area blog," he said.

The modest edition is actually an additional two pages each of Bay Area news running in the Friday and Sunday editions of the paper. Before the section hit the streets, The Times had 40,080 daily subscribers in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland market and 57,514 on Sundays.

Also looking to cash in on a region that houses notoriously favorable readership demographics, The Wall Street Journal launched its own Bay Area edition in November. Its edition also includes extra pages filled with area news and runs each Thursday.

The Journal has not released updated circulation figures as of yet from the region since it started printing the section, but stay tuned.

The Journal's weekday circulation in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland media market is a robust 92,000.

Both papers have also expanded their coverage of the Bay Area on their websites, here and here.

The San Francisco market boasts a median household income of more than $154,000, which makes it the most affluent potential newspaper audience in California.

Now The Bad News

The biggest casualty of this old-fashioned newspaper war between the two daily giants would seem to be the region's hometown daily paper, The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle has been steadily losing readers, and last year saw its circulation drop a staggering 25.8 percent -- to 251,782 -- over a six-month period ending in September 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The area's second-biggest paper, The San Jose Mercury News, saw its weekday circulation drop 10 percent last year to 200,258, while its Sunday circulation dropped 5.6 percent to 225,987.

There was a tiny bit of good news in the region if you looked hard for it, though.

The Oakland Tribune actually saw a 5.6 percent jump on Sundays to 91,691, and a minuscule jump in the daily of 294 to 92,794.

Even if some old Chronicle and Mercury News readers are finding their way to The Times and Journal, the news for the print industry overall in the region is still bleak -- mirroring newspapers' struggles elsewhere in the nation.

Assuming the The Wall Street Journal announces readership gains somewhere in line with The Times thanks to its localized coverage, it would still seem to leave tens of thousands of Bay Area daily newspaper readers of only two years ago unaccounted for.

If at least some of these readers don't come back to newspapers, this would just be the latest case of starving daily newspapers trying to feed off of an ever-shrinking pie of readers.

It's only a matter of time before they all starve to death.