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No Coffee Break in WSJ's Battle With NYT

The Wall Street Journal's newspaper war against The New York Times just went full-blown caffeinated.

According to a story in AdvertisingAge, Starbucks has struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch's print behemoth to allow the paper to be sold in 450 of its stores in the greater New York area, which includes portions of New Jersey and Connecticut.

This little shot of espresso comes only days after the WSJ announced it would be hiring beat reporters to cover the New York professional sports teams, and just weeks before the paper starts cranking out a New York edition.

We could not find any reaction from what has to be a shell-shocked Times' camp on this latest bit of maneuvering from General Murdoch's troops -- a salvo clearly aimed at capturing yet more of the Times' readership.

Ah, I love the smell of coffee in the morning ...

Further, the addition of the WSJ, means that if you frequent any of the coffee giant's stores in the region, you will now have your choice of three papers to ignore.

Only two weeks ago, Starbucks announced USA Today would be available in its 6,500 shops across the nation, thus ending 10 years of exclusivity for the Times in the place.

So it's come to this ...

While thousands of newspapers across the nation are fighting tooth and nail to keep their heads above water, the country's three largest newspapers have decided to dig in with everything they got, stick their pinkies out, and politely play a game of circulation chess in high-end coffee shops everywhere.

I swear, I just don't recognize the business anymore ...

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

Tribune Co. Pays $138M for Fiscal Guidance

During a long career as an underpaid, grouchy, skeptical newspaper journalist, I always took heart that there were lawyers around to make me and my comrades look good.

Mind you, that took some real doing because newspaper people were never the most popular people on the block.

Print folks had hard-earned reputations for being feisty and pushy, driving eyesores for cars, and wearing godawful ties stained with mustard, a yellow badge from the free food inhaled at garden-variety press gatherings.

The guys were even worse ...

But between bites, we relentlessly questioned everyone we bumped into at these confabs because we were armed with a pen, a notebook and the public's right to know.

The toughest questions were always reserved for the politicians, who were supposed to be representing, and carrying on, the public business of the very people that read our newspapers.

Not surprisingly, often these politicians were schooled in law, which meant most of us never got a straight answer to our questions. We did know BS when we heard it, though, so we always fired off tough follow-up questions, because you can never be served enough BS, or free food.

Print people also had no idea how to manage money because we never had much of it. But that was OK, because as long as they spelled our names correctly on our paltry checks, we were satisfied the business side of our operation had things in good order, and we'd be able to go on eating free food and writing plenty of stories with BS quotes.

That was until we discovered they didn't, and why one-by-one, newspapers started tumbling into the Sea of Red Ink.

It was also about this time that bankruptcy lawyers, who can smell red ink like sharks smell blood, came rolling in to help these newspapers through their desperate times of need.

Finally, that is also why I have been typing this as if these were days gone by, because as far as newspapers are concerned, they pretty much are.

Today, while plowing through Jim Romenesko's media postings on PoynterOnline, I was teased into reading a story with this headline: "Lawyers have billed Tribune Co. $138M since it filed for bankruptcy 15 months ago."

Essentially, the way I read this story by The Chicago Tribune's Michael Oneal, because of more complicated government regulation on bankruptcy filings written into law and vetted by, er, lawyers ... it has gotten extremely expensive to be a poor, failing media empire these days.

The Tribune Co., which owns a mess of newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy in December 2008. The Tribune Co. presumably filed for bankruptcy because it was losing money by the bucketful and was on the brink of going completely under.

So the Tribune Co. brought in a bunch of lawyers to help them emerge responsibly from this time of need -- and out went another $138 million "or about one-quarter of the company's cash flow last year," according to the story.

While the Tribune Co. continues to emerge and the money continues to go out, newspaper employees by the hundreds have been shown the door, and these papers have continued to shrink into nothing resembling their former robust selves.

James Conlan, a lawyer for one of the firms helping the Tribune Co. come through its hour of darkness, explained in the story that because bankruptcy has evolved into such tricky stuff, "it would be difficult to argue that Chapter 11 isn't the best way to preserve value."

I'd say. Conlan and his firm are billing the Tribune Co. at the red-hot rate of $950 an hour to help them "preserve their value."

Now I have already made it at least vaguely clear that I am a stranger to the ways of major corporations and accumulating personal wealth, but I am pretty sure something just doesn't add up here.

And I'm not letting the newspapers off the hook here either. I have grudgingly come to understand that they have pretty much made the beds they are now dying in.

That greedy lawyers are now feasting on their carcasses, and getting paid tens of millions of dollars to do so, is damn hard for me to abide, though.

I can only hope their ties are stained with blood.

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

ESPN: The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight

The following is a true story. None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

One fine day very recently, a young guy named Dave McMenamin, who used to help NBA player Gilbert Arenas with his blog, and now is employed with ESPN.com, wrote a character-reference letter to a judge on behalf of the player whose blog he used to help write.

Arenas, whose blog the young guy helped write, is about to be sentenced in a D.C. court for bringing guns into his locker room, and threatening another player after a card game went terribly bad aboard an airplane.

Authorities say that while on the airplane Arenas threatened to shoot Washington Wizards teammate, Javaris Crittenton, in the face and then blow up his car. You'd think shooting the guy in the face would be more than enough, wouldn't you?

Sorry. Moving right along ...

Two days after making the threat to shoot the guy in the face and blow up his car, and I suppose to prove that he was a real man of his word, Arenas hauled four guns into the locker room and placed them next to Crittenton's locker with a sign that said, "Pick 1."

Well, at that point Crittenton did what any self-respecting basketball player would do, he grabbed his own gun and waved it in front of Arenas.

Now Arenas had a decision: Should he grab one of the four guns he brought with him, shoot Crittenton in the face, and then blow up his car, or should he break out a deck of cards?

Well, these guys were obviously way too smart to get into a gun fight ... and so far nobody has been shot, or any cars blown up.

Sentencing for Arenas is Friday.

Pretty riveting stuff, eh? There were less guns in the movie, "Die Hard."

But because this a media spot, we'll grudgingly return to the other far-less-sexy journalistic crime that was committed here.

ESPN, long known as a bastion of sports journalism, swung into gear Wednesday and issued a brief statement saying that the young guy it now employs, and who wrote a letter to the judge on behalf of the NBA-player-turned-felon, whose blog he used to help write, "understands his mistake."

I guess ESPN wants everybody to believe that because of all the other responsible, hard-hitting journalists McMenamin regularly comes across at the network.

Here's the full statement from ESPN:

"David wrote the letter on his own without any discussion or involvement with ESPN. While he has never been involved with ESPN's coverage of the Arenas case, this is clearly a serious matter, and he understands his mistake."

This is the part of this true story where I just want to cover my eyes.

Look, I don't think McMenamin's intent was to act underhandedly here. I do believe, however, that the young guy had no idea that what he was doing was a very serious breach of journalism ethics.

How could he?

McMenamin is a part of a network that made the decision long ago to recruit mostly carnival-barkers who regularly cheer-lead for the participants in all these games that they televise and show clips from, so that they can then have access to them.

The wiseguys who host SportsCenter have about the same journalistic chops as the pretty folks that work at the E! Network. They even share the word "Entertainment" in their names.

Apologies to those at ESPN who are occasionally able to elbow their way in front of the camera and perpetrate real journalism.

Unfortunately for them, though, it has always been about Entertainment at the place, which would be fine if they didn't give the illusion that they worry themselves too much over journalistic standards when hiring talent.

I'm going to go way out on a limb and guess that McMenamin was hired by the network because in addition to helping write Arenas' blog at some point, he typed away at other places on the Internet for a little while about the league he so loves.

In other words, the guy had what ESPN seems to crave first and foremost when recruiting talent, access. Hired!

So the guy with all the access decides it's a good idea to write a letter on behalf of the convicted felon he used to have so much access to, and ESPN is confident he understands his mistake.

We can only hope so, though I don't have as much hope for the network that employs him.

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

All Eyes and Ears Were on Health Care

Turn away quickly, put your earmuffs on, or pick up a drumstick and join in as I bang away at the media's coverage of the health care debate just one more time ...

The Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence In Journalism is out with its numbers on what stories carried the news agenda the week of March 15-21, and by a whopping margin health care reform led the way.

I see this as good news, because it is one of the biggest issues of our time, and deserved the ample attention it got from the media.

Here's how Pew reported it:

Last minute deal-making, vote counting and suspense over a package of measures approved Sunday by the House of Representatives consumed 37% of the newshole during the week of March 15-21, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That topped the previous high of 32%, which occurred twice before: during the week of August 10-16, when tempers were flaring at town hall meetings, and from September 7-13, when President Obama addressed the issue in speech before a joint session of Congress that was marred by heckling.

You can find the story and revealing charts here.

If you are unfamiliar with how Pew puts these wonderful numbers together, you can find the methodology for assembling their data here.

On Tuesday, I theorized that despite this wall-to-wall coverage, most Americans could not give you specific details on 50% of what was ultimately passed (myself included).

I got some interesting reader feedback on this one, and most of you seemed to indicate you were comfortable with the information you had before rendering a decision on the subject.

I also typed, essentially, that it wasn't so much the devils in the details of the reform, but the devils on either side of the political spectrum that framed the debate on this hot-button issue.

Again, from the feedback I got directly, and from sorting through myriad online media sites, politics, not specific policy issues, seemed to drive people to their opinion on health care reform. Most seemed to agree there was enough information out there on specific legislative issues if you wanted it.

It's safe to reckon that if you are a Republican you are against this health care reform legislation. If you are a Democrat, you are for it. I think this kind of polarization on such an important issue is pretty sad, but before I veer too far out of my media lane, I'll leave it at that.

Check out what Pew reported under the subhead "Talk Shows Drive Health Care Coverage:"

The politics of the health care plan - which Republicans predicted would cost Democrats seats in the mid-term elections and diminish support for the president - drove the narrative last week. By a ratio of nearly three-to-one, stories involving the politics and strategy of the reform effort exceeded stories about what was actually in the bills.

For the week, indeed, 80% of the airtime on the 10 radio and cable television talk shows studied was devoted to the health care story last week.

Yowza. This was a made-for-TV-and-radio debate, no doubt about it, but 80 percent is pretty stunning.

There was no getting away from health care talk no matter how hard you might have tried. And certainly, especially on these popular media outlets, politics, not the policy, was being served to their audience in heaping helpings.

So I'll wrap up this healthy discussion by asking you one final question:

Was it the chicken (it became a political, not a policy, debate because the media drove it that way), or was it the egg (it became a political, not a policy, debate because the audience demanded it)?

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

Health Care Coverage: Tastes Great, Less Filling

I associate with what I like to think of as a fairly informed crowd. Most of these folks are up to date, and take great interest in the important issues of the day. Some of them even nudge up against brilliance when discussing current affairs.

Still, I doubt I'll offend any of my smart and sort-of-smart family and friends when I venture that there isn't a one of 'em that could give you anything resembling specifics on about half of what ended up in the health-care reform legislation that passed the House over the weekend.

I couldn't.

I'll bet you every single one of them, however, could come within a vote or two of telling you what the final tally was.

I can.

The Democrats passed the bill, 219-212, and something referred to as a companion bill that essentially tweaks the original piece of legislation was passed on the heels of the original, 220-211.

I suggest you not be impressed by that.

If I am correct in my assumption that after 14 months or so of endless debate on this landmark legislation that most people couldn't begin to tell you what is actually in the bill, is it worth looking around for blame?

If not, thanks for hanging in this long. Have a good day.

If so, the media is always a good place to start, right? Except I'll have none of that this time.

There has been entire forests of newsprint spent on this subject in newspapers alone -- especially the larger papers of record such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. And many of these stories house almost nothing but eye-bleeding specifics.

If you are brave enough, Google their coverage. Then call me next year when you are done going through it to tell me what you found.

The major television networks also cumulatively devoted many hours to the subject. My gosh, the cable-news channels seemed to cover nothing but health care over the past few weeks. And except for the liberal and conservative screamers on these channels, there was some real meat in the coverage.

Certainly radio, led by NPR, offered wonderful reporting and discussion on the subject.

So if you are still with me, why is it so few of us can converse intelligently about the specifics in a bill that could have such a major impact on our lives?

Because it got to the point (as it always seems to these days), where it was a helluva lot more entertaining to watch our elected officials scream at each other, that's why.

Because somewhere along the line the discussion was co-opted by the yahoos on each party's fringe.

Because everything is either red or blue these days.

Because we like it this way, even if we won't admit it.

The partisan battle over health-care reform became the most important part of the story, not what was in the bill itself.

In some cases politicians took things to extreme levels. In the final two days the bickering on both sides made your average food fight look like a garden party.

Obama and Pelosi are socialists -- communists even! Boehner and McConnell hate poor people, and want them to die of a head cold!

So we were treated to this modern-day display of the Hatfields and McCoys for weeks on end. We watched it, we read about it, we listened to it ... and we talked about it.

But, hey, in-between, and if you cared at all, there were plenty of specifics ...

Then again, who bothers with the spinach when there's so much fast food to swallow?!

Oh, no ... maybe the media is to blame for all this ...

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

ESPN, Golf Channel Play Sorry Game

Just as I thought it was safe to grab some ice (and gin) to tend to the whiplash I sustained going back and forth all weekend between the NCAA basketball tournament and the March Madness that lead to the historic vote on health care, along came everybody's favorite news-maker, Tiger Woods, to make no news at all.

Ever since Woods' notorious private life became one of the biggest casualties of the Thanksgiving-night wreck at the end of his posh Orlando driveway, everything and anything resembling the world's media have been after the golfer for explanations and answers.

As the press futilely tried to make contact with Woods, it simultaneously began linking him to all manner of un-idol-like behavior, including multiple counts of adultery, drug use -- even physical abuse ...

It became a media firestorm of the highest degree, and only intensified as Tiger remained hidden and silent.

After a while Woods came around to the fact that the storm was not going to subside, so he hinted on his Web site that things hadn't gone well that Thanksgiving night.

But the thunder predictably persisted, so he came out of hiding and scheduled a speech last month at the PGA Tour headquarters to let everybody know how sorry he was for cheating on his wife.

He spared the cameras any and all details of his 'other' life, including the body count, and made good and sure not to allow a single question from the handful of media he allowed in attendance.

Some of the press were satisfied with Tiger's speech, though I think it's fair to say most definitely were not. In their eyes there was still a lot to answer for, not the least of which was why he lost control of his SUV that fateful night.

It's well worth considering that had somebody ended up in the path of that careening vehicle, Tiger's multiple counts of adultery would have been the least of his concerns right now.

So yesterday, pretty much out of the blue, we learned that Woods' camp had granted interviews with the Golf Channel and ESPN. And because there are always conditions when dealing with Woods, the interviews were to be strictly five minutes in length.

We also discovered that Woods was really only interested in reiterating what a creep he had been to his wife, his mother, and his fans.

After watching the interviews, which ran concurrently at 7:30 p.m. EST, I certainly don't feel any differently than I did 24 hours ago. In my opinion the guy needs to be a big boy and step up and address what happened that fateful Thanksgiving night. He no longer needs to convince me that he acted like a lowlife. I believe him.

So as I set out to type something that essentially said just that, I learned that CBS was also granted the opportunity to air Tiger's five-minute public-service announcement -- and turned it down.

CBS spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said this: "Depending on the specifics, we are interested in an extended interview without any restrictions on CBS."

Bravo. Let me say that again with meaning, Bravo!

Now it could be (likely even) that CBS, which will be televising the final two rounds of next month's Masters and Tiger's return to golf, is doing some backroom haggling with Woods' handlers for something more exclusive or newsy from the golfer than these continued apologies.

Or, shockingly, it could be they aren't interested in being played like a bunch of fawning clowns.

That ESPN took the interview should surprise nobody, because news has never been a part of their name. They simply help market the athletes they in turn cover. It's a win-win game unless, of course, you are silly enough to crave objectivity.

ESPN sent Tom Rinaldi to do the interview and from what I've read the guy was allowed by Woods' camp to ask any question he pleased. He asked most of the likely ones, as did the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman in her five-minute session with the golfer.

When asked about the circumstances surrounding his Thanksgiving crash, Woods reiterated they would remain private. Tiger answered what he wanted and deflected the rest. With only five minutes to play with, Tilghman and Rinaldi could only push so hard.

But, hey, thanks for playing along, you two, and just in case you have forgotten, Tiger's really, really, sorry.

Thankfully, CBS has nothing to be sorry for -- yet.

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

Rounding Up All The Likely Suspects

We'll finish up the week by updating some old news and musings that have appeared in the past on the Media Watch blotter...

To Catch a Thief

According to this story I am plucking from the The Huffington Post, writer Gerald Posner's plagiarism crime spree has bled into his latest book.

Posner, who packed up his copier last month and scurried from the The Daily Beast amid plagiarism allegations and convictions, now is admitting to lifting copy that appears under his name in the book, "Miami Babylon."

According to the story, Posner recently told the Associated Press that he is blaming his latest bout of stealing on a 'flawed research methodology.'

He is then quoted as saying:

"If you use something from another book, a statement from another book, it needs to be in quotations, or if you take something and put it in your own syntax and grammar, you still need to cite it."

Is it me or does Posner seem intent on just digging a deeper grave for himself? Basically, the guy is continuing to indicate that he allegedly knows the rules against stealing other people's copy and then calling it your own, but does it anyway.

According to the story, Posner also said, 'that he would revise the material in question and would check the rest of the book for possible problems.'

So the bank robber told the cops that he would give the stolen money back that they knew about, and check to see if there wasn't some more hot loot he might have stashed away somewhere.

Thanks, pal, we'll wait for your report. Have a good day.

Who says crime doesn't pay?

Tiger Woods' Return on Tape?

On Wednesday, Media Watch feigned surprise over Tiger Woods' announcement that he would be making his return to competitive golf at next month's Masters tournament.

It's hard to believe that Tiger didn't script his return for this venue because of the sanitized, locked-down atmosphere at the very private Augusta National Golf Club. Tiger and his entourage will be much better able to control the media and, er, 'patrons,' at this pristine Georgian outpost than anyplace else.

And there is another twist to this calculated decision. I found this story on the upstart National Sports Journalism Center site today.

Blogger Ed Sherman rightfully types that because of the limited TV coverage of the Masters, there is a very good possibility that Tiger's first shot -- in fact much of his first round -- will be on tape, not live.

Masters officials traditionally allow for far less live coverage of their tournament than any of the other three major tournaments. As a golf fan that has always killed me, but it's hard to fault them for the decision because the tournament always draws the highest golf ratings of the year by far.

With all the hoopla surrounding Tiger, some in-the-knows have speculated that the ratings for this year's Masters could surpass what networks gleaned for their coverage of President Obama's inauguration.

ESPN covers the first two rounds of the event before tossing it to CBS over the weekend, but its coverage of Thursday's opening round doesn't start until 4 p.m. EDT.

If Woods is given an early tee time Thursday, his first shot -- in fact, much of his first round -- will not air live.

Given these one-of-a-kind circumstances, it will be interesting to see if the normally inflexible Masters officials make an exception this year and grant ESPN a longer broadcasting window, or, at the very least, send Tiger off in one of the last groups of the day, so that viewers can see this bizarre bit of history in the making -- and not on tape.

Finally ...

We were a little hard on newspapers Tuesday for what we saw as just the latest short-sighted decision by too many leaders in the suffering industry. We slapped 'em for dumping parts, or all of their popular comics sections to save money.

In that rant we also dinged 'em a bit for blasting 24-hour-old world and national 'news' stories across their front page as if every single person in their circulation area hasn't seen or heard about it already thanks to the invention of TV and radio -- not to mention the Internet.

So today I came across this story at the home of Editor & Publisher.

It seems our neighbors across the northern border are still big fans of daily newspapers. According to findings in something called the 2009 NADbank readership study, nearly three-quarters of Canadian adults with access to a daily newspaper read that paper at least once a week. The study says only 4% read that same paper exclusively online.

I found no other study using the same variables to measure daily readership stateside, but can tip you to this gloomy report on newspaper readership in the States compiled by the Pew Project For Excellence In Journalism's, The State of News Media 2010 report.

So what is the most popular content among these ardent readers of print in Canada?
This from a release touting the report:

Local news is the most popular content read in daily newspapers - 73% of readers usually read these pages.

For the life of me, I'll never know why more dailies in the States don't adopt a more localized approach to news.

To those already doing that, I apologize.

To those that don't, I'll speculate that inflated egos among these papers' editorial leadership have something to do with it. And if that's not to blame, I suppose stupidity will have to do ...

Have a good weekend.

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

Obama Interview Was Easy to Baier

As I went on my caffeine-fueled buzz around all the likely news and media stops on the Information Highway this morning, it was pretty clear that most of the billboards were teasing me to pull off the road for a sampling of President Obama's lengthy sit-down with Fox News' Bret Baier Wednesday night.

Much of the exit/entrance signs for these amusement parks wanted to entice me in by trumpeting how rudely Baier treated the president; or about how Baier constantly interrupted the president ...

Heck, even Baier himself on some Fox teaser for the interview talked about how he uncharacteristically did a lot of interrupting.

I know these TV models are taught to make everything about them, but I really wish Baier hadn't said that, because his interview was actually quite good.

But now I'm interrupting myself, so more on that in a minute.

As you go on your own Internet ride at work this morning, you'll see there are three-minute bursts of the interview here, and two minutes there ...

The thing was treated on most of these websites as if it were a boxing match. Who got the better of it? Who was sharper? Who blinked? Who stumbled?

Of course, how you scored the thing might depend on whether you have a dog in the fight.

If you are anti-Obama, Baier was wonderful. If you are pro-Obama, Baier was a rude little creep. If you are actually one of the few people left on earth who isn't completely flipped-out partisan, you got a rare treat. My gosh, you might have even learned something!

Don't get me wrong, I understand the subtext and high drama behind this historic sit-down.
Obama has mostly avoided Fox during his presidency, because he and his entourage pretty much figured that appearing on the network was like spitting into some hard, right-to-left wind.

Say what you want about Fox, and I've said plenty here that trends negative the past couple of months, but the president's decision to avoid the network was an incredibly short-sighted one.

I can understand why anybody with a brain in their head would duck the partisan tomfoolery of the Glenn Becks, Sean Hannitys, and The Likes that lurk about the place for the sake of the hard-right loonies, but mostly themselves.

But if you are a president with the gift of gab, and can make darn good and sure that you get an audience with one of the few at the station who might actually resemble something fair-and-balanced, why not take it -- and regularly?

Finally, there's the indisputable fact that Fox is positively drubbing what passes for its competition at CNN and MSNBC, so the president is almost assured a packed house when he clips on his microphone.

So I did my best to ignore the flashing neon teasers at all these websites, and went to Fox's palatial home on the Information Highway, poured another cup of coffee, and watched the interview in its entirety.

What I saw was a president trying his best to make a case for a crucial, landmark piece of legislation. It was clear he came into the interview loaded for Baier (I have no willpower to resist cheap wordplay), and fired away with one talking point after another. I thought he was overly scripted, but on top of his subject, and very interested in taking command.

I saw a reporter who, by and large, kept his composure and then very appropriately did his best to steer the president away from ramblings that were best suited for a campaign trail.

Frankly, I didn't think Baier was rude at all. He was doing his best to at least stay even with the most powerful person on earth.

Did he talk over the president at times? Yes, but if he hadn't, the network would have had a right to bill the Democratic Party for the president's 20-minute advertisement for health-care reform.

When it was over, Baier even politely apologized for interrupting so often, saying, " I tried to get the most for our buck here."

I'd say he got it, and it's high time he and his network did.

But more than that, no apologies were necessary.

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

Tiger's Diabolical Masters (Media) Plan

I am not sure how many former White House press secretaries, or people who are generally in a position to know but can't speak for Tiger Woods, vetted this release Tuesday, but I tend to believe at least 25 percent of it came from Tiger himself.

The big news in the highly sanitized, five-paragraph announcement is that Woods will be returning to competitive golf at next month's Masters tournament.

This caught nobody off guard because several people in a position to know, but in no position to use their names when leaking information to the Associated Press, have indicated this is what Tiger would do.

I don't know why I am at all surprised that Woods would go into the first-person mode with a release that Ari Fleischer's group mostly typed, entirely edited, and completely reeks of cow manure.

I'd just suggest that if Tiger is really intent on wandering the path of self-destruction and deceit so many big-time athletes and politicians past and present (Bill Clinton comes to mind in this case) have taken, he'd be wise to do so with both boots pulled up high to his hips.

Fact is, any truth in the release can actually be found between the lines: There is not a major sporting venue on earth that exercises more control over the press than the Masters. This is not a return to the public for Tiger. It's anything but.

Any media ultimately allowed through the high-end gates of Augusta National better behave themselves like they were Fox News covering a Tea Party convention.

There will be no dissent.

I'd bet a dozen Titleists that anybody daring to ask a relevant or challenging question about Tiger's frisky, and notorious double-life will be run from the pristine, private Georgia countryside, and pronto.

I have it on no good authority whatsoever, that prior to releasing his washed-down release, Team Tiger had a brief conversation that resembles this with Masters officials at Augusta.

Tiger Woods: Hey, dogs.

Masters Officials: Hello, sir.

TW: I am calling to make your day.

MO: We have been awaiting this call ever since your little drive on Thanksgiving night.

TW: You think that's funny, junior?

MO: No, of course not. Sorry, sir.

TW: You know ... Arnie's bummed I'm not making my return at his tourney ...

MO: Yes, sir. But we understand. Too many of those heathens from the press might actually get unfettered access to you in Orlando -- ask you questions that have absolutely no relevance to what you and Ari want people to believe your life might just be.

TW: Huh? Er, right. Anyway ... I want a list of who has applied for Masters press credentials first thing tomorrow, or I swear I'll call this whole thing off. Ari's already prepared a nifty little out for me where I call a highly controlled press conference and sniff and moan about having to return to some sex clinic again or something. My mother has already agreed to attend.

MO: Yes, sir, we understand. We will be sending you a very, very short list of reputable media that have applied.

TW: They will understand in no uncertain terms that I will not be talking about anything but golf. If they dare ask a question about that other stuff, they get run. Oh, it would also be nice if you guys could provide me a cell phone that Elin doesn't know about.

MO: Check, and check.

TW: I also want a conference call with CBS ASAP, to lay out the ground rules for them, too.

MO: Yes, sir, of course you do.

TW: We'll also have something for (Jim) Nance to read on the air each day that kind of glosses over things and makes me look appropriately victimized.

MO: Perfect. We'll make sure they get it.

TW: And, nobody, and I mean nobody, is to follow me on the course except for (David) Feherty.

MO: Yes, sir.

TW: Ari will have the script for him in the next day or two. I want plenty of fawning and crap from David about how nobody can understand what I've been through. How hard it is for me to even be playing golf, etc. David slings that bull better than anybody. Weird thing is, I actually think he means it. Sad sucker.

MO: Oh, yes, sir. We'll make sure that you are surrounded by nothing but suckers for the entire week.

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

Newspapers Are a Bigger Joke Than Comics

Things are getting so bad in the newspaper business, you can't even turn to the comics for a laugh anymore.

That's because, according to this offering on the ABC News website, with increasing numbers newspapers are slashing comic strips to save money. According to the story, The Washington Times has actually eliminated its Sunday comics section altogether.

Many of the papers that are holding onto their comics are featuring them less prominently by shoehorning them onto one page, thus freeing up space for other news that has been squeezed by an ever-shrinking newshole.

Many, many others are shuttling them off their print pages in hopes of finding favor online.

No doubt these are terrifying times in the newspaper business. Too often, though, I have seen the enemy, and it is the newspapers themselves.

Last week I typed about a well-intentioned, but short-sighted editor who believed running day-old news on his paper's web site was prudent, because it rewarded his Sunday print readers with exclusive copy. Brilliant. Nothing like putting old copy up on your web site to enhance your brand.

Then there was the L.A. Times cheapening its news brand with a bait-and-switch ad for the movie "Alice in Wonderland" on its front page. That one was almost fitting, don't you think?

And at any given moment, many papers are blasting 24-hour-old world and national 'news' stories across their front page as if every single person in their circulation area hasn't seen or heard about it already thanks to the invention of TV and radio -- not to mention the Internet.

Many readers are grudgingly leaving newspapers because either they don't find the paper relevant to their lives, or because it is their turn to appear on the obituary pages.

Yep, at some point you start to believe that newspapers pretty much get what they deserve ...

If newspapers are going to be sustainable they absolutely must find a way to draw the attention of younger readers. You'd think this wouldn't be treated as if it were rocket science.

So let me repeat this again for all the deaf and dumb editors and publishers out there: Kids aren't reading your newspaper anymore, you knuckleheads, because you give them no reason to. If the kids don't get in the habit of reading your product you will certainly die.

At every paper in which I ever worked, readership survey after readership survey found that the comics were among the top-read features in the paper. Often they were No. 1.

This is because comics had some appeal for both the younger and older generations. They were also the one place (besides sports) where readers could turn for some good news -- maybe a laugh, even.

It was also instructive to look around a room full of serious journalists, when results like this were made available via some awful PowerPoint presentation.

These folks were mortified to find that the 36-column-inch, thumb-suckers they were running or writing regularly about some garden-variety Mideast conflict or something, were far less popular with the readers than a page full of bits and brights.

You can see that humongous egos aren't reserved for TV types ...

So here's an exercise, editors, next time you are ready to put your paper to bed for the day: go through it, and ask yourself what it is you are offering your younger readers.

And try not to laugh when I suggest adding, not subtracting, a page of comics might be just the thing to start drawing younger folks into your product.

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

Another Pew Report: Meet the Depressed

I feel both guilty and bound by an odd sense of responsibility to tip you to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism "The State of The News Media" report for 2010, which is online today.

If the title alone hasn't scared you away yet, you should know that this beast weighs in at close to 180,000 words. I figure that by the time I am done reading it, three or so mid-size newspapers someplace in Southeast will have crashed.

And, yes, that is an admission that I have not gotten through the whole thing, though I have read more than 1 percent of it. I'm not sure how much more I can take.

In fact, when I get done typing this I plan to go back to bed and call in sick to one of my previous bosses, just so I can remember what it felt like to be gainfully employed as a journalist, and making a few bucks while questioning power.

Look, basically, if for some reason you still call yourself a journalist, my question is, why?

The news is every bit as bad as you thought it was. OK, it's worse, actually.

If you work at a newspaper, especially, your days are numbered. The folks who wrote this report suggest you picture sand pouring through an hourglass to give you some idea of how dire the situation is.

Basically, count on the sand to continue obeying gravity, and your time as a print journalist slipping away, unless, or until, some kind of revenue-generating miracle happens.

Hey, be hopeful, could be some 13-year-old kid in Russia will come up with an Internet virus that systematically melts the inside of every computer on the planet.

Actually, this is how the report put it:

For newspapers, which still provide the largest share of reportorial journalism in the United States, the metaphor that comes to mind is sand in an hourglass. The shrinking money left in print, which still provides 90% of the industry's funds, is the amount of time left to invent new revenue models online. The industry must find a new model before that money runs out.

The losses are already enormous. To quantify the impact, with colleague Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, we estimate that the newspaper industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or roughly 30%. That leaves an estimated $4.4 billion remaining. Even if the economy improves we predict more cuts in 2010.

Cheery stuff to be sure. And while we're on a negative roll, here's another cream-filled outtake from the report:

Local television ad revenue fell 22% in 2009, triple the decline the year before. Radio also was off 22%. Magazine ad revenue dropped 17%, network TV 8% (and news alone probably more). Online ad revenue over all fell about 5%, and revenue to news sites most likely also fared much worse.

Only cable news among the commercial news sectors did not suffer declining revenue last year.

How about that, eh? The alphabetical sludge that comprise FOX, CNN and MSNBC are actually making money. That might say more about the state of the media than anything an 11,000-page report can say.

This is exceedingly good for wiseguys like me, however, who can dine on an endless supply of crap disguised as news pouring forth from these channels.

Now if only I could figure out a way to make a few bucks while doing it ...

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

Laughs, Kisses and Wonderment

We'll close up a week that pretty much began and ended with the oddball Eric Massa, by firing randomly in a few different directions across the media spectrum...

A Kiss is Just a Kiss?

Hardly, especially if you are the Washington Post's ombudsman.

Andrew Alexander has been busy this week dealing with readers about a front-page piece of art in the March 4 edition of the paper that showed two men locking lips. The photo was snapped outside a courthouse, and on the day D.C. started taking license applications for same-sex marriages.

It's a provocative photo, no doubt, and Alexander and the paper initially got a lot of negative feedback from readers -- many of whom threatened to cancel their subscriptions.

Yesterday, however, Alexander saw the need to post another offering titled, "Two men kissing Part 2: The counterattack."

As the title indicates, many readers, allegedly to the tune of 10-to-1, fired back at the naysayers and saluted the Post for its decision to place the photo on the front page. Could be, the paper has even gained subscribers thanks to the picture and its placement.

Alexander typed that "nearly 20 people who e-mailed or offered online comments said they wanted to fill the void left by those who canceled."

Whether you read the paper or not, I think it is fair to say the Post could be classified as a 'serious' member of what is known these days as the "mainstream media."

I am sure there was a lot of discussion about whether to run the photo because the editors knew it would generate controversy, and undoubtedly offend a segment of their readership.

I know that these are some of the toughest calls a newspaper of record has to make.

Do you knowingly offend some, by running an item (in this case a photo) that will get the attention of many?

All this naval-gazing might seem silly to some, because the news landscape has changed so dramatically in the past few years. Darn near anything goes at so many information-providers.

But the Post does have a reputation built over many decades, as well as a diverse audience to look after.
In this case, the art illustrated better than any story possibly could what was happening at an important news event in the city that day, so I'd say they made the right call.

I also understand why some people are upset, and why it has generated so much controversy.

Yes, that would be me trying to have it both ways.

Lights, Camera, Action(?)

This clip was sent along by a colleague and made me laugh out loud. Sorry, lol.

Of course this would also admittedly be a case of an old newspaper guy dining on the silliness of what passes for so much TV news these days.

Enjoy! ...or not:

The life of a TV guy.

The Wonders of the Internet

This comes courtesy of the Newseum and via my dad, who used to be an ardent reader of newspapers, but is now finding his news online. Yes, the online-news revolution is very close to claiming victory.

Anyway, this attachment needs little explaining, but blows me away. How do these kids do these things these days?!

Brilliant:

The world of newspaper front pages.

Finally...

I've heard from quite a few of you regarding yesterday's offering regarding Rep. Patrick Kennedy's (D-R.I.) oddly timed, red-faced rant against what he called the 'despicable' press.

Some of you agree that Kennedy was way over the top, but at least as many are wondering if the congressman didn't have a point.

For now, I'll say I don't think there is any question that he definitely did. I do have a big problem, however, with the way the message was delivered, where it was delivered, and by whom it was delivered.

Given Kennedy's checkered past, I wonder if he is the one to be calling anything or anyone out as being 'despicable' while using the House floor as his pulpit.

But I'll come back to all this in the near future.

Have a good weekend.

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

Kennedy Beats the Despicable Press

If it makes you feel any better, Mr. Kennedy, a lot of folks that inhabit what passes for the press corps these days are having a rough time of it, too -- not feeling so darn despicable and all, I mean.

Most of us don't even know who, or what, we are anymore, Pat. I can call you Pat, right? After all , this is a small, despicable, setting -- you know the kind of place.

Between you and me, from here it just seems like the press is becoming an ever-expanding group of attention-seekers armed with the latest $99 bit of pocket technological just waiting to catch folks in positions of authority like you making morons out of yourselves.

Oops, sorry, that just kind of slipped out. My emotions got the best of me.

Kind of like they did for you yesterday when your dignified Kennedy jowls got off on that little rant on the House floor about how misguided and despicable the press was and all.

Lucky there were only two alleged press people watching your act, or this might have become a really big deal. And are you sure they were from the bona fide press? How did you know? They're tough to identify these days ...

Look, I only know about the whole thing because I like to think of myself as a genuine card-carrying member of the press. No worries, though, I believe myself to be every bit as despicable as the rest of those bums you so bravely called out yesterday.

Anyway, I was able to get my hands on your little Jeffersonian performance by employing some expert reporter instincts. And just so you know that I really am a dead-on, serious, despicable press guy, I actually watched the entire 4-minute, 4-second version of your show.

I found it on this little, fly-by-night operation called YouTube.

They are most definitely not a part of the despicable press corps. I doubt anybody even watches 'em.

I mention that, because I came across several sawed-off, 43-second takes on your speech. These were not being provided by real journalists, despicable or otherwise, because they obviously never learned about context.

This means you were right, virtually nobody from the press was watching you yesterday.

But back to your performance ...

I thought the point you were making about Afghanistan was interesting, and it's a damn shame so many in your own party completely disagree with you. That has to be rough, and I'm sure the despicable press has everything to do with that, too.

After all, you grew up, and heard about, the good, old days when the much more identifiable and less-despicable press made sure the Kennedy Democratic Brand, Ltd., was heard loud and clear on so many dignified issues, and were oh-so-good about clamming up about those oh-so-bad, undignified ones. Those were the days, eh, Patty Boy?

So there you were as the Congressman from R.I., being all dignified, and whatnot, about Afghanistan when you brought up your former Democratic colleague from N.Y., Eric Massa, out of the blue.
Now, again, because I am one of the few members of the actual despicable press that have taken an interest in this whole secret episode, I have to tell you, I found your anger, well ... a bit misplaced -- bizarre even.

It sort of seemed like you were a little jealous about all the attention this wing nut, Massa, was receiving.
It's pretty much over for him, buddy. Apparently, he was on the Glenn Beck show the other night, and was so whacked out, that other despicable press people were actually feeling sorry for the pre-adolescent Fox drama queen.

So it's time to move on to the next fixation of the despicable press, Pat.

Got any ideas?

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

The Real 'Secret' to Fox's Success

When are we going to quit being surprised and mesmerized that Fox News is wiping the floor with the rest of what passes for cable-news competition? Every week television ratings are published and written about on myriad web sites, and every week, I guess, we are supposed to act as if we are watching some sort of transformational miracle.

We aren't.

And because I am in no mood for suspense today, I'll tell you right off the top that the reason for Fox's dominance has little to do with the quality of its programming, or the way these networks occasionally cover the news, and darn near everything to do with the demographic it so adroitly serves.

There is no disputing when looking at these ratings that Fox is destroying its two (three if you count Headline News) major competitors, MSNBC and CNN. While, it is astonishing to me how far CNN has fallen over the years, I'll still argue that there is virtually nothing it, nor MSNBC, can do to truly compete with Fox News in the ratings game.

In fact, I'll make you a reasonable wager that a year from now, there will be virtually no difference in these numbers.

Fox News has overtly, even expertly, tapped into this new dimension of presenting news and programming in a partisan fashion. Simply, Fox caters to viewers who lean to the right side of the political spectrum. If you disagree with that premise, then quit reading now, because you won't agree with most of the rest of what's coming.

If you are still with me, but want to argue that other news organizations for many, many years covertly presented a more liberal slant to their news, I will listen. I believe there is some truth to that contention, and think that because Fox is seen as virtually the only conservative voice on television it owns a prized niche, and that pays off nicely in the ratings.

But it is still only a distant, secondary reason for Fox's success.

If it is agreed that Fox makes a meal of conservative views, then we'll take a look at the demographics of the 2008 presidential election in which Barack Obama trounced John McCain.

Rounding up, Obama got 53 percent of the overall vote and McCain 46 percent.

For a variety of reasons it was not a good year to be a Republican presidential candidate.

Exit polling from that election shows that Obama, not surprisingly, did well across the board. The only major age demographic he didn't win was among white voters who are 60 and older. White voters went for McCain big, 55-43 percent, while the 60-and-olders went for McCain, 51-47.

Consider, too, that while the turnout was pretty strong -- most of the major voter demographics showed an increase in turnout over the 2004 election -- only one group, non-Hispanic white voters, posted a decrease. So despite the fact McCain did fairly well among this group, less of them showed up at the polls to lend him support.

So what does all this mean? Simple. If you are retired, you are likely to be a white Republican, and you definitely have a lot of time on your hands to watch the tube.

So when you are at home and switch the TV on, chances are you are not watching MSNBC or CNN, you are tuning into Fox News, and in droves.

And let's face it, TV programming is not geared to the older generation, so it's not like these viewers have that many choices.

Most TV shows are targeted to the younger audience, which their advertisers prefer, and whom they apparently see as complete idiots, judging by the fare they offer. Or maybe that's just the view of one of the older folks they could care less about. My opinion stands, though.

Are we surprised to see that Nickelodeon is the most-watched cable channel during the day? Of course not. Moms, dads and babysitters with small ones at home are going to put on cartoons and the like, to help keep the kiddies entertained. In fact, the Cartoon Network is the seventh-rated cable channel during the day.

Fox is the fourth-rated cable choice during the day, while CNN was ranked 27th and MSNBC 32nd.

Those numbers basically carry over to the coveted primetime hours, where CNN (31) and MSNBC (25) flip-flop positions, but are still roundly thumped by Fox News, which is the No. 2 cable choice overall in the evening (the USA Network is No. 1).

By the way, Nickelodeon is not even in the top 30 at night, because the kids have gone to bed. See? Figuring this stuff out really isn't that difficult.

To some this might read as a slam on Fox. It's not meant to be. At least not this go 'round.

This time I am taking issue with the people who report and repeat these ratings as if they came tumbling down Mt. Sinai or something.

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

First in Print, Last to Catch On

As I was wading through Jim Romenesko's always-solid menu of offerings today, I came across this mouthful from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Executive Editor Tom Callinan.

Callinan borrows from the 1970s movie, "Network" and types that, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."

What Callinan is mad as hell about is other media (mainstream and online) allegedly poaching stories from the newspaper's Web site, and either not properly attributing where they got this information, or worse, just flat stealing copy.

Callinan typed this:

"We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen.

In an attempt to track down such content parasites, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.Com now employ technology that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content. In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations."

So the gloves are off, and that's good, because it is a noble battle worth fighting for. As usual, though, the newspaper folks are putting their dukes up with a blindfold on.

And a quick disclaimer: I breezed through the Fort Myers News-Press a couple of decades ago as a sports reporter when Callinan was just starting as the top editor there. He seemed to be a good enough guy, but that was only my long-distance observation from several cubicles down the food chain.

I think it's also worth pointing out for perspective sake, that the paper was in the middle of some financial crisis at the time -- mostly because of an alleged shortfall in advertising revenue.

This did not make the Fort Myers' paper special.

I worked at five newspapers during my career and all of them were in a perpetual state of crisis. There was always some well-fed pencil-pusher from high up on the business side shouting fire, and pulling all five alarms. I am convinced this was done in large part to keep under-paid and -valued journalists terrified for their jobs, and just oh-so-happy to be employed in the business they bled for.

This was also long before the Internet came along, and before these profit-fat newspapers discovered what a genuine crisis really looked like.

It's official: You are now in one helluva crisis, folks.

The point of all that was to illustrate that newspapers managed to screw things up when they were a virtual monopoly. So, you can see why they are either dying or on life-support now.

I read Callinan's long, well-thought-out (if flawed) piece to the end, but have to admit he lost me very early when he typed these three lines:

"On Sundays, we will designate stories from each section of the paper that will be available only in print that day. Those "First in Print" stories will not be available online until Monday morning.

This will reinforce the value of our content and, we hope, remind readers of the joy of relaxing with their Sunday paper."

Holy cow! You have got to be kidding me. I take heart that I have come across an old newspaper dinosaur in more denial than myself about the impact the Internet is having on all manner of communication.

By the way, the reason for this is because he is older than I am.

So you will now hold news for a huge segment of your readership, Tom? Seriously? By the time it goes up on the Internet Monday it will not be 'news' anymore. And you are good with that?

I do hope by the time this old 'news' shows up on your site, you will at least advance it in some way to make it as relevant as possible.

And nothing like building brand and audience by making your original stuff available to fewer readers. That will be good for staff morale too, I'd imagine. But as detailed above, rotten staff morale is a given at newspapers, anyway ...

And what's with the Wilford Brimley imitation and this 'reminding readers of the joy of relaxing with their Sunday paper?!'

My gosh, the people you are reminding, are already subscribing to your paper. They need no reminders, though I guarantee you many of them are wondering why they are still taking the paper despite the fact you are drastically cutting newshole, laying off editorial personnel, and offering them less and less news for their money all the time.

And as you lose these readers, do you want to know where they are going? Either on your obituary pages, or your Web site, where you have decided to put an old version of your original news.

Essentially, by playing this stupid game of 'news embargo' you are going to continue to lose your print and online audience.

Look, you just can't have it both ways anymore. You can't hack away at your print product and then begrudge people for dumping it and going online for free.

I fully admit this is a gigantic dilemma, but it isn't going to go away, and absolutely must be solved. And I also should say you deserve some credit for at least flailing away at this problem. There are still newspapers doing nothing.

Newspapers are overdue to handle a crisis correctly. To negotiate this one, they need to completely turn the way they have traditionally done business upside down. The sooner everything starts on the Internet and ends with the print product, the better.

This will be the only way to get a newspapers' brand in the hearts and minds of younger generations. If they can then be convinced that finding the re-jiggered print product is of benefit to them, there will at least be some future for newspapers.

Keep waxing nostalgic about joyous, relaxing days of yore, though, and your days are numbered.

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

L.A. Times Pulls Fast One With Disney Ad

The Los Angeles Times raised about as much of a ruckus as a newspaper can these days, thanks to something that ran prominently on its front page Friday.

No, we're not talking about one of those stories of the garden-variety politician caught in a compromising situation with a college-age staffer. Or the eye-bleeder about some civic center seven years in the making that is now woefully over budget ...

No, all this fuss is over an ad that ran on its front page. OK, a big, damn ad.

The Times bounded outside the box of what many believe to be acceptable journalistic standards for what's left of the newspaper business, when it plastered an ad on its front page for the Walt Disney Company's "Alice in Wonderland" movie.

The ad featured a picture of Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter character in the movie superimposed on what was, in fact, a mock front page. The 'real' front page was inserted behind the fake. Essentially, the ad is what is known in the newspaper business as a 'wrap.'

The problem -- if you have a problem at all with this kind of practice -- is that the L.A. Times very overtly traded on its news brand to help sell a Disney product, and for the whopping ballpark sum of $700,000.

At a glance, it looks like the editors at the Times had chosen the movie as their top news story of the day. The recognizable Los Angeles Times flag is flying atop the Mad Hatter's head, and to the left and right are 'serious stories' with headlines aimed at health care and the war in Afghanistan.

At a time when the newspaper is suffering severe fiscal hardships, it's hard to fault them for going after this kind of revenue in all manner of ways, but fault them we will.

There would be no ruckus at all if the Times had simply run the ad on its inside pages.

There would also be little sympathy for the complainers (me) if the wrap had been clearly identified as an advertising tool.

It wasn't.

By using its normally serious, ad-free front page to give the appearance that the movie was the most important news of the day does dance around, and, in my opinion, cross the evaporating line between news and advertising.

The Times simply traded on its reputable news brand to help sell a movie for Disney. That Disney saw the brand to be worth so much money is impressive, but it makes the Times' decision no less grievous.

It certainly calls into question what kind of influence Disney (a big player in the Hollywood community) might have over other news decisions (future and former) made at the Times.

Even if there is no influence at all, it is still fair to contemplate such things thanks to the ad.

Can the leadership at the Times be counted on to be fair and even-handed with their coverage of Disney, now that they have already shown they will surrender their once-credible front page to them for a price?

What if the Detroit Free Press went out with a Disney-like ad with one of the big-three automakers?

What if The Salt Lake Tribune went out with an add like this for the Mormon Church?

What if The Washington Post ran an ad like this one for the Republican or Democratic Party?

It's a slippery slope, and at least would call into question whether there is undue influence by these deep-pocketed behemoths on these newspapers.

In the end there is something bizarrely fitting about the Times taking an ad for "Alice in Wonderland" to employ this controversial revenue-gainer.

These are strange and scary times in the shrinking world of newspapers. It's fair to say that in order for the business to survive, it's going to need to pull more than just the occasional revenue rabbit out of some mad hat.

It's best they do so, however, by making sure they keep their hands where everybody can see 'em.

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


Roger and Me -- and Sarah ...

I'm not sure what I am most surprised about, Roger Ailes indicating that the Obama administration might have a point about something, the rumors that Sarah Palin might be working toward her own reality TV show, or the level to which I can take naivety and stupidity when it comes to the flesh-eating beast that is politics.

OK, the first surprise borders on downright shocking, the middle one makes so much sense I can't believe it hasn't happened yet, and the latter confirms me as one helluva an odd fit on a Web site that not only has built its reputation on politics, but has the word in its name!

Starting with Ailes ...

The president and chief architect of Fox News, has expertly built his empire brick by brick with a pronounced lean to the right. There's nothing 'fair and balanced' about Fox, and a brilliant guy like Ailes certainly knows that better than anybody.

He also knows you can pretty much say whatever you want on TV, and then get a bunch of leggy, platinum-blond hotties to repeat it every three minutes or so. Say it enough, and say it with sass, baby, and you would be surprised by how many droolers actually start believing it.

I swear, I'll never know why I wasted my career in the newspaper business ...

So when Ailes is on a show with the Hoover Institution's Peter Robinson (I had no idea such as show existed, either) and indicates that there are 'legitimate complaints (the Obama administration) could have' over its rough treatment by his network, it makes the hair on your arm kind of stand up for a second or two.

Ailes never got into detail, or gave examples of what these legitimate complaints might be. And because I think maybe Robinson was trying to pat down the hair on his arms, he never fired off a decent follow-up question. Never mind, though, Ailes semi-admission was pretty stunning.

I have always thought by ignoring Fox, Obama and his Gang were making a pretty big mistake. I still do, but imagine the reaction over at the White House to Ailes' rocket!

Thankfully, Ailes got back on a more predictable course later in the interview, and everybody's hair took a break, but more on that in a second.

Seizing on various reports from a galaxy of entertainment reporters, The Huffington Post, had a story that it updated Thursday with the headline, "Sarah Palin Reality Show? Palin Shopping Alaska TV Drama."

Apparently, Mark Burnett, who now produces about half of what you watch on network TV, but most notably, "Survivor," is alleged to be working with Palin on this project.

One TV flak described the show as " 'Planet Earth' meets Alaska meets her family," whatever that means.

But who cares?

This whole thing makes more sense than anything I have heard in a solid week.

Say what you want about Palin (but, please, try to keep it brief), she is a natural for what passes for TV entertainment in this day and age.

She treats the camera with wide-eyed adoration and wonderment, she previously reserved only for her bedroom mirror. They love each other, and it sooo works.

It could also be hoped that a successful TV gig would keep her away from anything resembling political power. This would allow me and a good chunk of the rest of the world, to breathe a bit easier.

Relax, good people, we haven't completely lost our minds yet, we are still only on our way!

Finally, back to Roger and Me ...

Ailes finished up his news-making interview with Robinson by later explaining better than anybody I've heard why the Republicans are really against all this wild-eyed health-care reform the current administration is doing such a rotten job of peddling.

"As long as you can get 300 million people getting a check from the government," Ailes said. "They're going to vote a certain way."

So, it's all about the voters! Doh! Seriously, I completely missed that one.

This is why Sarah and I are best to stay clear of politics. It's far too sinister.

I wonder if Burnett is interested in a show about an aging newspaper guy, who wakes up each day wondering what happened to this new world that seems to have passed him by ...

Wrighting Newspapers' and CJR's Wrongs

One of my favorite comedians of all time is Steven Wright.

With his slow, deadpan delivery, Wright provides a unique view of our world that is idiotically brilliant.

Wright: "If you can't hear me, it's because I am in parentheses."

More Wright: "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it."

I'll give you this link to some of Wright's stuff knowing full well, that you won't be back afterward. If nothing else, you can't say I don't give you credit for good taste. Enjoy.

For those of you who have returned, thanks, and I had a great time spending Christmas with you. Give my best to Uncle Bob, please.

And since you are in the spirit, family, let me try out my own Wright-ism where it might be applied to the troubled state of journalism, and newspapers in particular. I know, I know, there goes the party, but bear with me. You didn't have to come back here you know.

Here goes:

"I love reading about the newspaper business...online."

As I pour through at least 15 percent of the stuff out there each day about the demise of newspapers, so you don't have to, I am generally struck by one common denominator of so many of these stories: How often these things are written by people who made their living in the newspaper business, and were at the helm of these newspapers as their circulation went in the toilet.

Now these folks are explaining all this to an online audience they ignored.

Hey, I admit it, I was one of these folks, so I certainly know ignorance when I see it.

I do think newspapers can mostly be salvaged, but will have to start drastically altering what they are doing. One easy fix: Stop putting old national and world news on your front pages, like it is some big, breaking story. It's not. It's dreadfully old by the time your readers have been forced to see it for the 15th time.

But more revolutionary ideas like that one some other time.

Again, a note: Old news doesn't sell

What got my attention today was something I came across on the Columbia Journalism Review's web site. There, on the home page, in fairly small, innocent type is the headline, "A report on the reconstruction of American journalism."

My curiosity properly piqued, I clicked on the link.

That's when all the trouble started ...

First, I noticed that this behemoth of a report was 17 pages long. That would make it at least 14 pages too long for the average media 'expert' and newspaper reader, and at least 15 pages too long for the average Internet surfer bored enough to be interested in this mundane stuff.

I noted that as I read into the third page, and made a note to respectfully note to the CJR that when it put this stuff up, to make a note of making this kind of thing more reader-friendly by chopping it into pieces, and highlighting key clauses for its readers with bullets or something.

The CJR could also make a note of prominently teasing to the full report off its home page to anybody who might have a day or so to read the whole thing.

OK, duly noted ...

By the time I got to the fourth page, something struck me as odd -- as if I'd seen some of this before...
But, never mind, I kept reading. Some time later, I was sure I'd seen some of this before, because I had laughed cynically at some of its findings at one point in my life.

So I went back to the first page of the report and noticed this little one-liner atop the story: For reactions to this report, click here.

So I did. And there at the top of that page were reactions from Nov. 16, 2009.

What the ...?!

So I clicked back to the report, and higher up on the page, in three-point type was this: Reconstruction: Oct. 19, 2009, 01:00 p.m.

So a geeky, veteran newspaper guy like myself had been hoodwinked into reading some exhaustive report I had already read. Well, OK, I never read the thing in its entirety the first time around, either. It was too damn long.

If a tree falls in the forest ...

Anyway, I had spent some of my valuable time this morning reading a reconstruction of an article titled reconstruction ...

Perfect. Lucky, I really don't have anything else to do ...

I'll certainly own some of my wasted time, though.

I should have paid more attention to the date, but made the mistake of figuring that if the CJR was going to be putting archival stuff on the home page of its web site, it would make good and sure to clearly alert readers that it was old news.

Maybe it didn't, because it knows old news doesn't sell -- even if its free?

Now I'm not sure what to say. I've had my time wasted by a respectable site mostly aimed at bettering print journalism ...

Maybe now you can see why Steven Wright popped into my head as this whole sorry episode went down today.

So I'll say this: Newspaper executives would do well to stop lamenting what happened, and get hot figuring out how to get this generation-plus of people to start reading their printed product. If they don't, all this head-scratching and rehashing of meandering 17-page reports just looks like a lot of wasted motion and no action to me.

Here's one more favorite from Wright that I think applies here:

"I was once walking in the forest alone. A tree fell right in front of me -- and I didn't hear it."

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

Ford Turns Around, Drives Home to MSNBC

After getting the Bronx cheer from the well-oiled Democratic Machine in New York, Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate after all.

The New York Times was nice enough to give the former congressman from Tennessee plenty of space to type to the many hundreds of people still reading newspapers that what the venerable machine spit out (him) was wrong -- really, really wrong.

Ford assures everybody in his op-ed he will soldier on, "but ... not as a candidate for senator from New York."

And most likely not until he spots another weak Democratic candidate in another high-profile state somewhere across the fruited plain.

Frankly, given what happened in Massachusetts with Ted Kennedy's old seat recently, he probably has about 49 other choices in which to aim his moving van.

Until then, though, what's a carpet-bagging, charismatic, ex-congressman and professional power-seeker to do?

Ah, but you already knew the answer to that one, didn't you?

Why, you go to the stylish, partisan cable-news channel near you, and preferably one that best matches your political stripes and needs, of course!

So Ford, the Democrat, is heading back to MSNBC, one of the loudest mouthpieces for his party.

At the Peacock Network's cable channel, Ford will return to the "political analyst" role he vacated while dipping many toes in the piping-hot political waters in New York.

That according to Michael Calderone of Politico, who also reports that some NBC flak is satisfied "everything's back to normal" with Ford.

I'll say it is.

Look, this isn't a jab at MSNBC, or even a garden-variety egomaniac like Ford, it's another round-house punch at what partisan politics and alleged "news" outlets have become in 2010: one in the same.

Ford to MSNBC is no different from Sarah Palin to Fox News - or for that matter, any of the other would-be political kings and queens that have gone galloping into that conservative news channel's ample stable of "political analysts" just waiting for the chance to run the campaign trail again ...

I will point out that given the almighty ratings in the business, Palin, and her political brothers in arms at Fox, are making their pitch to an ever-swelling audience of admirers.

But Ford returns home to MSNBC where he can cool his heels, talk to his base, try out some political shtick, and ready himself for his next assault on some governing throne somewhere.

Ford, who many political pundits believe to be made of presidential timber, might have been done a massive favor by that stubborn New York political machine.

Until Obama pulled it off this year, senators had not done well in presidential races over the decades. So maybe getting run from New York wasn't the worst thing, eh?

Much better he takes his chances as one of the many "political analysts" taking up space at these cable-news channels just waiting for another crack at some stupid machine.

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

Can Somebody Explain Rick Sanchez to Me?

Something called Rick Sanchez has started appearing on my television screen with some regularity lately.

It seems like this started about a month or so ago, and somebody over at CNN needs to put a stop to it -- now. It isn't funny.

OK, well, actually some of it is, but that's a problem for a serious-minded news operation, isn't it?

I'm not sure what happened to Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room which used to be on in that time slot, and don't care enough to find out.

I would occasionally tune into Blitzer's show, because its 4 p.m. starting time coincided with Wall Street's closing bell, so, if nothing else, I was always guaranteed some accurate, breaking news for my trouble. I am also a fan of straight-talker Jack Cafferty, who does not get near enough time on the show.

On a scale of 1-to-10, grading the myriad cable-news programs out there, Blitzer's show was a solid four. That would be at least three notches ahead of whatever it is this Sanchez guy is doing on the air.

Look, I totally get the fact that with 24 hours to fill each day these cable-news channels are going to more than occasionally come off like some amateur hour at a cow-milkers convention.

Lord knows, Jon Stewart has laid the foundation to his comedic empire by airing clips of what goes on at these places for his Daily Show.

I am fairly sure that there is only one job better than being one of Stewart's writers and that's the front-page headline writer for the New York Post.

Fact is, there is only one sound reason why these 24-hour, cable-news stations should be allowed to exist at all, and that's the big, breaking news story. In theory, they should have the ability to bring us these important events as they develop. For the most part, I thought they did a reasonable job early on with their coverage of the Haiti earthquake.

So when I was clicking through the news channels on Saturday afternoon to get an update on the earthquake in Chile, there was Sanchez effortlessly, but unwittingly turning this very serious news story into a complete joke.

I actually stumbled into some evidence of what I was watching Saturday as I went trolling for a compelling topic for today's column. When I saw these clips, I felt it my duty to warn you about this guy. What you are seeing there is just the tip of the iceberg.

Apparently, I am not the only one scratching my head as to how and why Sanchez was ever let near a place that dabbles in news.

Since I first saw him on the screen, I have tried to understand why he is in front of the camera peddling news, and not behind it keeping his big mouth shut.

All I can come up with is this: He is a relatively handsome fellow. He speaks Spanish. He is too stupid to operate a camera.

He is not smart, and he is not witty.

He's the neighbor who shows up at your barbecue uninvited, and never stops talking from the minute he gets there. After his second Coors Light he's got his arm around your best-friend's wife, and by his third beer is watering your geranium bushes while talking to the bird feeder.

I admittedly think that what passes for serious news and analysis on all three of the major cable news channels -- FOX, MSNBC and CNN -- is often an abomination. I have also come to accept it as reality, and admit there are actually far worse things on the tube these days.

So why is CNN messing around with this guy at all?

Oh ... no ...

Please don't tell me that the reason they are keeping him is because the minute he goes, FOX and MSNBC will be fighting to snatch him up ...

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

What Kind of News Consumer are You?

What you do with, and how you are accessing, today's Media Watch offering, says a lot about you as a consumer of news and information in 2010.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism is at it again, and has released a comprehensive study dated March 1, 2010, and headlined, "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer."

Subhead: "How Internet and Cell Phone Users Have Turned News Into a Social Experience."
You will find the study here.

This report is based on findings accrued between Dec.28, 2009, and January 19, 2010, and after speaking over the telephone with 2,259 adults age 18 or older who went though the survey satisfactorily and in its entirety.

This study not only gets into where you get your news, what kind of news you are after, and how you get that news, but what you might do with that news once you get it.

If you are one of the legions of changing news-consumers out there, you are personalizing and filtering what you are after, and then are inclined to pass portions of that news on to friends and enemies on any number of the social-networking sites on the Internet such as Facebook and Twitter.

According to the study, that makes you one of the 37% of Internet users who play a participatory role in what we are saying about news and where it goes.

In another words, news travels mighty quickly these days, and can end up in all manner of places.

But since I am already making myself dizzy, and would only do you a disservice if I continued to try to break this intensive study down, I am going to play the part of 'participatory news consumer' and encourage you to pour yourself another large cup of whatever it is you fancy, and spend all the time you like with this informative beast.

But before you go, a personal observation: As I read through the study, I was most surprised that as an old newspaperman, I wasn't quite the Luddite I fancied myself to be. I guess I have become quite an eager gatherer of news on multiple platforms, and in so many different places.

And an admission: The only paper I looked at today was online.

What about you?

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