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Are Cable and Satellite TV Going the Way of Newspapers?

I've beat on and defended newspapers enough in this corner of the Real Clear universe over the past week -- even though I am painfully aware that some of you would be only too happy if the lashings continued.

But let's end the week by taking a quick look at the lickings cable TV and satellite companies are taking from the burgeoning traffic online.

CNN.com is out with an eye-opening story today that reports one out of eight cable, pay-TV and satellite subscribers are expected to either eliminate or cut back their services this year.

The story gleaned its information from a just-released study by the Yankee Group.

The offering cites the increasing costs of cable and satellite subscriptions, and the availability of cheap streaming video of movies and television programming on the world wide web as the major reasons for people's exodus from what had become conventional viewing platforms for most of us over the past few decades.

Of course when you throw in the dodgy economy, it makes perfect sense that people are looking at all manner of ways to find grocery money.

Even though I am a self-acknowledged technological dinosaur, and ardent defender of many things old, I am having no problem whatsoever swallowing the findings in the Yankee Group's report.

I was but a teenager back in the early '70s when cable TV first started making its way into people's neighborhoods. We were among the first to get it on our block, and it opened up a whole new world to a youngster who thought it magic to have 15-or-so viewing options.

And to see the great New York Knicks teams of old play live at Madison Square Garden by just pushing a button on the boxy remote?! Wow, might as well have been a dream come true.

My parents were dubious cable would make it in the long run, but I had no doubt. After all, who didn't want more after that wonderful first kiss?

It took no time for cable to become a hit, and, boy, did we got more ...

These days, if your cable or satellite subscriber doesn't offer a menu with at least 15 options to receive the hundreds of available channels out there, they might as well be rubbing two sticks together to get a fire going for dinner.

But now many years later there's somebody new on the block, and if you think this stampede toward programming on the web is just some fad, consider the quote at the end of CNN's story from Vince Vittore, the author of the Yankee Group study.

"Just like with telephone land lines, it's going to become hard to sell pay TV to anyone under 30," Vittore said.

Now where have we heard something similar to that before when applied to another media platform?

Have a good weekend.

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

Update: SPJ Comes Down on Gannett

In a release published Tuesday on its website, the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee said that it "is dismayed that some New Jersey newspapers let a sports team cover itself."

We harrumphed about this shoddy behavior last Wednesday when we followed up on a New York Times story that reported the Gannett papers in New Jersey were using a New Jersey Devils employee to help cover the hockey team for the newspapers.

If that move wasn't disreputable enough, the executive editor of the Asbury Park Press, Hollis Towns, defended the decision of his newspaper chain with this little pearl of insult and stupidity:

"As long as it served our readers and we told them where that content was coming from, the readers were fine with it," Towns said. "I think journalists get hung up on certain lines of what's ethical more than the readers."

To which we typed:

"Yeah, and cops get hung up over laws more than most citizens, and firefighters get hung up over fire safety more than most people, and doctors get hung up over preventive care more than most patients ..."
"I'm really not sure who should be more offended by Towns' fire-able offense -- the journalists at his papers who damn well better be steeped in ethics, or the readers who are allegedly just fine with this cozy arrangement."

The SPJ was a bit more measured, but no less stern in their rebuke of this line-crosser:

"The public expects journalists to be ethical -- including fair and impartial -- and holds us accountable when we fail," Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said. "We hear constantly from people upset about eroding standards by news organizations."
"Economically squeezed journalists might seek more efficient ways to cover news, but ceding journalistic duties to newsmakers and giving space to what could be seen as glorified press releases is a poor choice. It cheapens journalism."

The Devils' season has since ended. Let's hope this nonsense at the Gannett papers has too.

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

NYT vs. WSJ -- Champagne and Caviar, Anyone?

Today I begin a long break from my impression of a salmon swimming upstream, and expounding on the virtues of newspapers. I swear it would be easier to convince people that politicians really, truly do have their constituents' best interests in mind ...

So let's return to some good ol' blissful denial, and climb into the dark clouds that float above the crumbling newspaper kingdom. Let's visit a high-end war raging between two of the industry's biggest cats -- but only briefly because this battle really means nothing in the grand scheme of things, even if so many sophisticates are fawning over it, and lapping it up like it was a contentious polo match.

Two of the giants in the publishing industry are slugging it out headline for headline, and vying for spectacle-d eyes in the greater New York City area. Welcome to the "Battle of the Big Apple" my good ladies and gentlemen!

In one corner stands the old, liberally-minded, Byzantine Gray Lady -- The New York Times. In the other, a free-swinging challenger from more of a conservative background -- The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal came out with its long-awaited "Greater New York" print edition Monday, and predictably this entertaining news is making quite a splash in all the likely places. Caviar, anyone?

If you are one of those lemmings -- and not a crazy salmon -- working toward unemployment in the rest of the always-say-die newspaper industry, this 'battle' probably looks a lot like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett arm wrestling with their pinkies extended over control of some island, while seated at a festooned table at the local yacht club.

Big, rich egos are involved here, folks. Oh, I guess I concede that if you can get past the procedural pomp and circumstance, some positive results might yet come from it. A few readers might even be served.

The Journal's top general, Rupert Murdoch, is throwing enormous amounts of money and resources into this venture, believing, and maybe correctly so, that the Times has not fulfilled its duty as the paper of record in the city.

As an old reader of the Times, and long-time resident of the area, I'd say it never covered the greater New York City area as it should have, so this broadsheet assault from the Journal is at least three decades overdue.

The Journal's flanking maneuver has forced the Times to get its head out of the clouds and its reporters on the streets of the city in which they work.

That reads hard, yes, but if you are one of the young and aspiring who work at the Times, the last place you want to be is pounding the grimy sidewalks of New York when you've heard how nice Paris is in the spring.

Predictably, the Journal is bringing some pop and sizzle to the fray. Its design is crisper and more inviting than the Times, which has always been the hardest paper to get into in the world thanks to its uninviting print presentation.

But more inquiring minds than this one are actually keeping score of the proceedings, so if you are interested go here for The Daily Beast's Harold Evans' take. The Village Voice has also got a scorekeeper ringside. And if this kind of battle royal really turns you on, there are any number of scribes working this over on the world wide web.

Before I go, and in order to keep this column relevant to the peasants that inhabit the low-rent districts of the newspaper kingdom, I'd be remiss if I didn't report the important news of the day -- the just-released circulation numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

That sobering report might be topped with a headline that would read like this:
"Circulation declines by 8.7 percent."

Subhead:
"But newspapers' head-first dive eases some over latest six-month period."

With that kind of good news going out on the wires, it's no wonder so many have instead fixated on this delightful high-end "Battle of the Big Apple."

I suppose in this war of the have-a-lots, I am kind of pulling for the Journal, if only because this type of fray has been long overdue. And it's kind of nice to see the high-brows spill a little ink on themselves every now and then.

Cheers!

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

Readers Aren't So Sure Newspapers Can Survive

I want to thank one and all who contacted me the past few days for at least being decent and honest in relaying their assessment that I am bonkers for my continued support of newspapers, and my strong advice Friday that they avoid the Internet and embrace print as much as possible to survive.

I can take the criticism, and even expected it. Weren't some of the greatest thinkers of all time pilloried for their unpopular musings? OK, right, I'll stop right there.

Thing is, after yet more thought on the subject through a long weekend, I am more convinced than ever that I have most of this right. Me?! Stubborn?!

Newspapers simply have to engage new generations of print readers to survive. Full speed ahead toward the Internet really is a quick way to the grave.

And a quick qualifier: Any newspaper could shed about 80 percent of its staff, move online for good as a shadow of itself, maybe even make a profit and call that survival. But that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about a robust print product that engages younger readers and still fulfills its mission as the community watchdog. I am talking about newspapers using the Internet to inform and update, but more importantly, to drive people to their print product.

I am not saying for sure that newspapers can accomplish what some have told me is impossible. I am saying, however, that if they don't, they are through. There simply isn't close to enough revenue being brought in online for newspapers to remain at all viable.

Picking up pennies from some yet unknown metered, pay approach for their news on the Internet will never replace the big money newspapers reap from display advertising on their printed pages. Newspapers do not have a niche on the Internet, they do in print. They must embrace the niche.

Further, older generations of readers are finding their way onto what's left of the obituary pages and are not being replaced.

Embracing print is not an option for survival, then, it is the only option.

I also want to congratulate the many community newspapers across the fruited plain that did not need my ranting to embrace this message, and in fact are fulfilling their proper function as pillars of their respective communities. In the future, I hope to bring you their stories of fortitude and common sense.

Not surprisingly, many (maybe even, most) people I heard from over the past few days were at least 35 years of age. I know this because I know many of them.

While a few of them were nice enough to concede I might have a point and am not completely off my rocker, the vast majority did not fancy newspapers' chances in the future.

I know for a fact that some of these people are employed by a newspaper, or worked in the industry before abandoning it head first. This is disheartening, sure, but it makes newspapers' one and only option for survival no less a fact.

*Some argued that newspapers had become irrelevant, and the Internet was their only hope for some sort of sustainability.
*Some thought that because of newsroom layoffs, newspapers had started to become a comedy of errors and not worth the money.
*Some thought that delivery of the papers themselves had become shoddy and undependable (landing in bushes, in other people's yards, or never landing anywhere at all).
*Some thought I missed the funeral, and live in ridiculous denial.

Almost all said they were satisfied with the news that they read at work on the Internet. OK, the 'at work' part I made up, but let's face it, right?

So once again (before I close this subject for the time being, and yer welcome) newspapers MUST:

... engage the younger generation. Go to their schools, their ball games and any and all youth activities. Show them what a newspaper can do. Hire them whenever they can. This is called planting the seed for future growth.
... explain to readers that like the fire department, police department, city hall, ice cream vendor, etc., etc., etc., a newspaper is a vital part of any thriving community.
... explain to them that if nobody is covering city hall and questioning power, they are, in fact, rendering themselves powerless.
... explain to one and all the tremendous value of a newspaper. For instance: Did you know that by regularly using just the grocery-store coupons in your newspaper each week, you are actually making money by subscribing to the paper? (Go ahead, think that one through for a minute.)
... get off their addiction to stuffing their pages with old, irrelevant world and national news unless it can be localized for their readers. Make sure that all Page 1 news and the majority of news throughout the paper is about and for their readers.
... market the fact that they are the readers' advocate in the community.
... not wait another second to hit the pavement, and engage potential readers.

We'll check back in on this subject from time to time to see what newspapers are quitters, and what newspapers are winners.

Finally, and I apologize, this arrived from a pro-newspaper guy in Taiwan with a lot of time on his hands, but a sense of humor I can appreciate. Do not shoot the messenger, please.

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

Read All About It! How Newspapers Can Survive!

Even though I am no longer affiliated with a newspaper these days, I still regularly punish myself by pondering what, if anything, can be done to save a dying industry I gave my professional life to.

This is depressing work, and the pay stinks (I'm used to that part), but if newspapers are willing to knock off the panic, and take a couple of deep breaths, maybe I have finally come up with a way to be of some help here.

So listen up, newspapers. After all, what do you have to lose ...?

To begin with, newspapers, I have decided that all this high-minded talk by your leaders about charging readers for online content is a magnificent waste of time and resources. It's just a way of avoiding your inevitable demise for a year or so.

The argument that newspapers are done if they don't mine gold online is a false premise, and a sucker's bet.

But now that you have backed yourself up against some pay wall, you must understand that to survive you will have to get younger people to start reading your print product again.

It's both that simple and that difficult. But it's your last and only choice.

Aw, quit wincing. It's true, and more than that, deep down inside you know it.

For crying out loud, The New York Times has decided it needs a year to think about how to make a pay scheme work online. In other words, they have myriad ideas, but not a single clue about how to approach it.

Besides that, most of you community papers with a circulation under, or around, 100,000, don't have a year to sit around and hope for the Gray Lady to produce some kind of miracle monetized digital formula.

Look, I realize that to many of you in the industry the return to print might sound counter-intuitive given the younger set's fixation with the Internet, but who are newspapers trying to capture with their pay schemes online, anyway?

Is it people who are already paying, or have paid in the past, for their print product? Or is it people who don't give a hoot about it, and never have?

You are already getting a revenue stream from much of that first group, and you will never (make that never) get a penny from the people who could have cared less about you in the first place -- especially if they are used to trolling around a place where virtually everything is free.

Younger people don't need you, because they don't know you, newspapers. Unless they start seeing the value of a printed newspaper but quick, you are done.

Use the Internet as a Tool

And before going much further with this tutorial, I want to make sure I am not misunderstood here. I am not saying that newspapers should abandon the Internet, only that they adjust their mission and resources on that platform, and start doing what they train their journalists to do all the time: start looking at this whole thing from a completely different angle.

Newspapers should use the Internet to inform, yes, but should also take that opportunity to push people back to their print products. And I'm not talking about some little breakout box on your home page that sheepishly alerts people to a print product you are overtly believing less and less in.

I am saying be bold. Tell them why they have to take your newspaper. But more on that later.

Right now, newspapers are making approximately 90 percent of their money from the revenue streams derived from circulation and advertising. There is nothing online that comes close to the money that newspapers make from display advertising on their print pages.

Pew Research Center's epic "State of the News Media 2010" report found that fully 79 percent of online users rarely, or never, click online ads. I know I bat 'em away like mosquitoes. People are moving fast on the Internet, and they can't be bothered by these annoying advertising roadblocks.

The majority of product-peddlers are paying a cheap song to advertise their stuff on any of the endless sites on the Internet. Why do you think that is?

So can we agree that the real money is in print? Good. Moving on ...

You Can Go Home Again

Most newspapers have the singular niche of producing the only printed news product in their circulation area. Most likely they also use those presses to gain revenue by printing all those shoppers guides and other informational rags that flood the community.

There's no crowded Information Highway to negotiate on your home turf, either -- only the comfortable circulation routes you've worked bloody hard to nurture and maintain over the years. You have been beating these paths long before the Internet, and this new group of potential readers you are ignoring came along.

Why in the world, then, would you cut and run from your bread and butter, and what's been good to you, toward a place where only the dirt and smut of the porn industry has figured out a way to cash in ...?

You are better than that, newspapers. You need to pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off, introduce yourselves to people that have never read you before, and re-introduce yourselves to people that have gotten out of the newspaper-reading habit.

But, really, you need to quit whining, and running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Yes, this will be hard work, but if you do not do this and start growing your circulation again, you are dead. There is not a single business model anywhere that disputes this.

Man, I hope this is sinking in.

You need to be in the schools and the hospitals. You need to be in the diners and at the ballparks. You need to be in the Rotary Clubs and the YMCAs.

You need to become the integral part of the community that you used to be. And I'm not just talking about the newspapers themselves, I am talking about YOU -- the people that produce them.

Newspapers need to remind people, or in some cases inform them for the first time, that there is no better value for their money than a newspaper that is delivered to their doorstep seven days a week in the early-morning hours, while they are sleeping.

All Politics are Local, So is News

OK, I'll add a caveat to the above: The real value is if that newspaper delivered to their doorstep is relevant to that reader's life.

Therefore, it needs to be stuffed with local news and happenings. And I mean real local. It needs to be about the reader, for the reader. Make advocacy journalism your bailiwick.

Remind your readers, and would-be readers, that you work for them.

Remind them that your job is to attend and report on all those meetings around their communities that shape their lives while they are busy working their jobs, raising their families, or attending their schools.

Remind them that you are there to tell their stories, whether it's on some ball field, in the class room, or on the job.

The Internet and cable television are at it 24 hours a day to render almost all world and national news useless in most newspapers -- and every one that comes in under 100,000 in circulation.

It amazes me how many local newspapers I see to this day that still fly old world and national news across their banner, and think they are accomplishing anything but making themselves look stupid and irrelevant.

When you do this, you going out in 80-point type saying, "Look at us! We are old and out of touch!"
You are scaring readers away, so knock it off.

Further, despite the wild success of the Internet, I do not believe that there is any less fascination with reading about one's self in a printed product.

Print is everlasting and is still unique. It is tangible. It can be passed along, and saved -- framed even. And, yeah, it can even line a bird cage, wrap fish, or be used to scoop up dog poop. Show me a computer that can do all that!

If people can count on a printed product being delivered on their doorstep each morning that is full of news that they can truly use, is about them, and maybe most important, is completely exclusive, do you really think they wouldn't pay a couple of bucks a week for the privilege?!

It's Not About the Money

Do you really think for a minute people aren't taking the paper for a two or three bucks a week these days because they can't afford it?

But the economy's bad, you say?

Well, that should play to newspapers' advantage, too, because they are offering the best value for the dollar right now.

Think of it, two bucks a week to have a paper delivered to your doorstep every day ...

My gosh, there are people standing in line and paying more for a single cup of coffee each morning.

People simply aren't taking the paper these days because they don't see any value in it, or where it fits in their daily lives.

My gosh, there is a whole generation of potential readers -- the ones you must reach -- who missed the importance of newspapers.

Engage them. Hire them for a few bucks in after-school programs. Teach them the value of newspapers, and then send them out into your communities to spread the gospel, and strut their stuff to others of their generation. Be cool, be smart, be informed, read your newspaper!

These kids don't hate you, they just don't know you, newspapers.

Again, and I can't say this enough, if you are about 25 years of age or younger, there is a good chance you have not grown up reading a newspaper.

You are not competing with the Internet here, newspaper folks, only giving people a meaningful reading opportunity.

Finally ...

There is a chance I am wrong here, and this approach will fail, newspapers.

Maybe your greatest days are behind you. But PLEASE don't tell me you are going to go down without a fight. PLEASE don't tell me that your future is on the Internet.

Your grave is on the Internet.

Try flipped things around. Recalculate and go out with a healthy mindset that the sky is the limit. Start going after a new potential print audience that numbers in the tens of millions. Pick off 10 here, and a hundred there. Have a blast!

You can do it, newspapers -- because you have to do it.

Now go get 'em!

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

Gannett Makes a Deal With the Devils

A media co-conspirator sent along this nugget this morning. Thanks to him -- and it -- I will forgo my second cup of coffee. My blood's already at a proper boil.

So the Gannett newspapers in New Jersey have decided it prudent to use an employee of the New Jersey Devils to cover the National Hockey League team for their newspapers.

Go ahead, read that again ...

Holy cow. Wait, let me say that again with some real meaning this time: HOLY COW!

The reason for this dirty decision shouldn't be important, but I'll give it to you anyway.

Basically, the Devils, concerned they weren't getting the coverage they wanted in the Garden State, and more specifically in central Jersey, made the staff-challenged Gannett papers in that area an offer they should have refused.

Out of the kindness of their devilish little hearts, the team made the guy who 'covers' the team for its website, Eric Marin, available for the same purpose to the Gannett papers.

Why those little Devils ...

Instead of politely laughing, and saying thanks, but no thanks, Gannett just left it at, thanks.

And here was its reasoning, according to the New York Times story:

"As long as it served our readers and we told them where that content was coming from, the readers were fine with it," said Hollis Towns, executive editor of The Asbury Park Press, the largest of the state's six Gannett papers. "I think journalists get hung up on certain lines of what's ethical more than the readers."

Bluntly, Mr. Towns, with so many good print journalists on the street looking for jobs, it's a wonder you are keeping yours.

Journalists get hung up on certain lines of what's ethical more than the readers?!

Yeah, and cops get hung up over laws more than most citizens, and firefighters get hung up over fire safety more than most people, and doctors get hung up over preventive care more than most patients ...

I'm really not sure who should be more offended by Towns' fire-able offense -- the journalists at his papers who damn well better be steeped in ethics, or the readers who are allegedly just fine with this cozy arrangement.

This decision crosses so many lines, its a wonder Towns doesn't trip over them on the way to his office each day.

According to the story, Towns assures his readers that if the Devils are involved in some kind of controversy, the paper won't run an article about it that is produced from the team's very own flak.

Just one question, Mr. Towns: How is it you'll know about any controversy surrounding the Devils, given the guy 'covering' the team is being paid by the team?

Since it's safe to say you haven't really thought your way through this one, I'll tell you that almost certainly this information will come from one of your competitors, who are keeping their reporters on their own payroll. And won't that get even more embarrassing -- if possible?

Gannett needs to call this, and any arrangements like it, off immediately.

If this is what print journalism is becoming in some places then, please, somebody just stop the presses, already.

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

BBC Doesn't Blow Smoke in Volcano Coverage

Day 6: The Volcano Crisis

OK, I admittedly have a selfish interest in this getting-bigger-by-the-minute volcano story, but still wanted to extend kudos to the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

As the Icelandic volcano continues to show us mortals who's really boss, getting good, up-to-date information about what (if anything) is being done to facilitate the movement of stranded air travelers all over the globe has been unnecessarily painful.

(Disclaimer: I am supposed to fly from Germany to the United Kingdom on Wednesday, so I am taking a higher-than-normal amount of interest as this bizarre drama plays out.)

Through the weekend I went to all the likely places in search of up-to-date information about this developing situation, and have been pretty disappointed. (And good luck trying to get a human being on the phone at any of these airlines.)

I was also appalled by what little the leadership in the European Union had to say over the weekend about how they intended to tackle this crisis. But with their days of rest over, hopefully they are ready to hit the ground running and engage their constituencies in this bubbling fray.

Alas, this morning when I checked in on the BBC website site I came upon this page "Volcanic cloud as it happens: 19 April."

The BBC'ers are updating virtually everything and anything about the volcano and the news spewing forth from it in real time. For instance, as I type away here, all this just moved on the site:

1001 Michael Pruchnie, a businessman stuck in Baku, Azerbaijan, says:

My decision is to stay here and wait for the situation to clear. There were some 30 foreign people stuck - 10 Brits and Indians, Norwegians and Italians.

Discussions must have sounded to the outsider as a meeting of WWII prisoner of war escaped officers trying to decide the best way to get home. No despair, just realistic assessment and free and open comments and suggestions.

0949 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says Royal Navy ships will be used to transport stranded UK citizens back home.

HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean are currently moving towards an unspecified Channel port. HMS Albion is on its way to Spain.

0941 French railway company SNCF says it will offer reduced fares and 80,000 extra seats between Paris and London this week to help stranded passengers, the AFP news agency reports.

0939 The whole of Czech airspace will reopen at 1200 (1000 GMT) on Monday after being closed for three days, the authorities say.

0937Alice Pegrum, a British university student stranded in China since Saturday, writes:

We are staying at university accommodation and are not being given any information. With little money and support, we are all struggling to afford our unexpected longer stay.

I was due back at university today. Some are jeopardising their degrees by missing dissertation deadlines and important exams. We have been emailing our lecturers to inform them of our situation.

0934 The Press Association reports that thousands of UK airline workers could soon be laid off as a result of the crisis.

One of the options being considered is making staff take their holidays now, industry sources told the UK news agency.

My gosh, after being ignored by airlines, cursing politicians, and dealing with what I think to be fairly spotty reporting on this story, I suddenly feel as if I have an advocate working on my behalf to get to the bottom of what is becoming bigger news literally every second.

And isn't that exactly what we should expect from the working press?

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

Enquiring Minds Ask About the Tabloid's Snub

I'm going to fire off a follow-up to Tuesday's item in this place on the Pulitzer Prize, and more specifically, the fact that the black sheep The National Enquirer didn't collect one for its continued breaking coverage of John Edwards' extramarital romp in 2009.

Right up front I'll say that my contention is that no matter where a story like this comes from, it is no less a story. If the Enquirer, in fact, did not pay sources for the stories in its 2009 reporting as it claims, then it deserved careful consideration for the award.

I don't like the idea of paying sources for information, by the way, but I am still reasoning through that one, too. Is an accurate (emphasis on accurate) story no less a story because sources were paid to help report it?

Again, I think paying sources might be a slippery slope, but I am not as high-minded about that as I used to be. But I digress ...

It needs to be pointed out that the meatiest, and in fact, most important revelations of the ongoing Edwards story, were reported in the tabloid in 2007 and 2008. The Pulitzers were awarded this year for work done in 2009. So the Enquirer submitted two pieces done during that time.

The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey gets into this Wednesday in his very good piece on the Pulitzers and the Enquirer.

Rainey has been in touch with some of the award's jurors, one of of whom told him that, "the Enquirer's stories about Edwards did not even make the top 10."

Rainey then types:

"The tabloid had first revealed Edwards' relationship with his campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, in the fall of 2007 and continued to push the story forward through 2008. The Pulitzers announced this week were for work in 2009."

In Rainey's opinion, and I concur, the more notorious stories surrounding the Edwards' flap were printed in 2007 and 2008. As Rainey says:

"The Enquirer had broken news during the contest period, but not blockbuster stuff: It revealed a federal grand jury had convened to consider whether the one-time North Carolina senator committed campaign finance violations. It also reported details of Hunter's support demands, which the paper said amounted to nearly $18,000 a month."

Finally, Rainey suggests (and he's not the first person in the industry I've heard this from) that there should be another category included in the Pulitzers for situations like the Enquirer's.

His suggestion is that it be called the "Muffin Choker" award.

"... the "Muffin Choker, Rainey typed, "could become a regular award, presented in the spirit of the editor who demanded reporters produce stories that would so stun readers they would choke on their breakfast (a phrase coined by former Boston Globe investigative editor Walter Robinson)."

One person who, not surprisingly, is having some trouble taking the tabloid's snub in a softer stride is Emily Miller.

Miller started a one-person crusade earlier last year to get the tabloid the recognition she believes it deserves. In fact The National Enquirer's Executive Editor Barry Levine credits Miller for even getting the tabloid on the Pulitzer's radar screen.

Says Levine in Rainey's column about Miller's involvement: "I had mostly thought we were the rebels who would never be taken seriously."

In a column in the Washington Times Wednesday, Miller didn't pull punches and types in her lead:

"When the 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday, the outlet most deserving of the prestigious journalism award was glaringly absent from the list: The National Enquirer."

Again, I am not sure that what the tabloid reported in 2009 was as strong as what it turned around in 2007 and 2008, but will argue strenuously that when stitched together as a whole it would be hard to find a more important story in the past two or three years.

Miller is right when she says that the Enquirer's "dogged pursuit of the Edwards scandal closely scrutinized the conduct of a man who could easily have become president, vice president or attorney general."

I can't argue with that.

What if Edwards had become president and all of this came out after the fact? Or more likely, what if Edwards had been tabbed to be Barack Obama's running mate?

With the economy in the toilet, health-care reform looming, and two wars being fought, all the country would have needed was this type of blockbuster story to come out.

And a blockbuster it was, which is why I hope the Enquirer's stories were taken very seriously by the Pulitzer committee, and other stories like it will get the recognition they deserve in the future.

The same can be said for the mainstream media that ignored the story to its peril.

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

No Pulitzer for National Enquirer

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday and print powerhouses The Washington Post (four) and The New York Times (three) cleaned up.

The awards (listed below), brought to you by Columbia University, are among print journalism's most prestigious, and recognize the work of journalists in 14 different categories. Pulitzers are also awarded to writers of letters, drama and music.

Some of the more notable news from the announcement surrounds a non-winner this year -- The National Enquirer. The tabloid turned around an influential series of stories in its reporting of John Edwards' extra-marital romp during and after the 2008 presidential campaign.

Turns out while the Enquirer's submissions for consideration were accepted by the Pulitzer board in two categories, they did not make it as finalists for either "Investigative Reporting" or "National News Reporting."

It's the first time the tabloid has been considered for a Pulitzer.

My conjecture would be that the tabloid's propensity to pay sources for news (it says it didn't in the Edwards stories), and its reputation to produce what some might consider tawdry work turned off too many of the Pulitzer's board of selectors.

The Edwards story was no less a blockbuster just because the Enquirer broke it, though, and the "mainstream media" gets no less a black eye for ignoring it for so long.

Something tells me we haven't seen the last of this dilemma given the ever-changing landscape of the news industry.

Here are the winners of this year's Pulitzer Awards. Congratulations to one and all:

Journalism:

Public Service - Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier

Breaking News Reporting - The Seattle Times Staff

Investigative Reporting - Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News and Sheri Fink of ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine

Explanatory Reporting - Michael Moss and members of The New York Times Staff

Local Reporting - Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

National Reporting - Matt Richtel and members of The New York Times Staff

International Reporting - Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post

Feature Writing - Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post

Commentary - Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post

Criticism - Sarah Kaufman of The Washington Post

Editorial Writing - Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News

Editorial Cartooning - Mark Fiore, self syndicated, appearing on SFGate.com

Breaking News Photography - Mary Chind of The Des Moines Register

Feature Photography - Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post

Letters, Drama and Music:

Fiction - Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)

Drama - Next to Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey

History - Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press)

Biography - The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf)

Poetry - Versed by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)

General Nonfiction - The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday)

Music - Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (Lawdon Press)

Special Citations:

Hank Williams

(List courtesy of Pulitzer.org)

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

Is the Demise of Newspapers a Legitimate Story?

The good news: Newspapers long ago claimed the high ground in the media industry, and saw to it that it was inhabited by dogged, inquisitive journalists whose job it was to be the eyes and ears of their communities.

Done right, readers needed only pick up the paper each day to know what was going on around them. They could be confident the paper had their interests in mind when covering and uncovering the myriad things going on around them -- whether it be in the seats of government, on the turf of the ballparks, or in the classrooms of their schools.

The bad news: It can get mighty lonely at the top of that virtuous mountain when news-consumers have so much low-hanging news and information to feed on. And even if so much of it is junk they are devouring, it is no less filling.

With a nod to the great Joni Mitchell then, I am re-hashing a verse today that goes straight to the ears of newspaper publishers and the people who are turning away from their products: "Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got till it's gone ..."

In this case what's going (fast) is the dogged, shoe-leather investigative reporting and community coverage that readers used to get when they picked up a newspaper. It's going because one by one, newspapers are losing money by the bucketfuls as readers turn away from print and toward the free-for-all of the Internet.

As newspapers lose money, they lose editorial staff. As they lose editorial staff, huge chunks of their communities go uncovered. Important stories are missed. Power is left unchecked ...

Could be people will be just fine and dandy if newspapers go to their graves. I am of the opinion they won't be, even if I have no revolutionary ideas of how to stem the death march.

So I was heartened today when I read this provocative offering by another Mitchell, Bill, from PoynterOnline.

Mitchell interviewed Gene Roberts, who before retiring, spent 18 years atop the The Philadelphia Inquirer's masthead as the paper's executive editor.

Roberts is an old-school print guy if there ever was one and is now arguing that the fall of newspapers is, "... not just a problem for journalism, (but) a problem for democracy."

That line was included in an address he recently gave to an assemblage of journalists during the George Polk Awards in Journalism ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

"What a democratic society does not know, it cannot act upon," Roberts continued. "It is past time for America to become alarmed about its shrinking news coverage, but it is showing few signs of concern. In an era in which layoffs have become commonplace, newsroom cutbacks are taken as just one more twist in a bad economic downturn."

These comments are significant, but are they too little, too late?

I ask, and Mitchell did too, because newspapers have always been reticent to make themselves part of the story (any story) -- maybe too reticent at times. This was a noble approach, but could be serving no useful purpose these days if the demise of newspapers is a legitimate news story in its own right.

Mitchell asked Roberts about his softening of the long-held position that newspapers should avoid being part of the story at all costs and here's what he typed:

He (Roberts) said the obvious problem with news organizations covering themselves and their competitors -- and the reason he published little of it as an editor -- is the organizations' own self-interest in the story. But he said the stakes to democracy have become so high these days that he'd figure out a way to get the cutback story told.
He said he recognizes that detailed reporting about reduced coverage could make readers and viewers less likely to buy a paper or watch the news, thus exacerbating the problem. But he also attributed muted coverage of the issue to "the embarrassment" of editors and news executives about the cuts they're making.

He then quoted Roberts for the record:

"Somebody has to look out for the public's interest. I understand why they don't give chapter and verse on what they're cutting back in their own back yard, but somebody out there ought to be doing it."

That's pretty heavy-duty stuff for the high-minded newspaper industry, but desperate times call for desperate measures, lest newspapers go the way of all that paradise Joni Mitchell was singing about.

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

More Free Advice for CNN It Would Pay to Listen to

It's Friday, and hopefully the end of your work week. Around here it's the day we generally update a couple of bits we previously imparted to you from across the crowded media galaxy.

Tribune Co. Finally Gets News it Can Use

Recently, we opined that as long as there were lawyers about, even journalists could be made to occasionally look good.

At the time, we cynically went there because lawyers hired to help the fiscally challenged Tribune Co. through its endless bankruptcy proceedings were doing so at a steady rate of nearly $1,000 an hour.

Over the course of 15 months, the law firms 'helping' the Tribune Co. through its darkest hours had pocketed $138 million, or approximately one-quarter of the company's cash flow during that period.

Well, that just looked a lot like rubbing buckets of sand in a gaping wound to us.

According to this story from Reuters on Thursday, the pain might finally be nearing an end for the long-suffering media company, which owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times in its fleet of 10 daily newspapers.

From the story, and the Tribune Co.:

"Under the plan, the company would emerge from bankruptcy, significantly deleveraged, with its business units intact and with adequate liquidity for operating and capital needs," the company said.

This looks hopeful, especially for the company's thousands of employees, though according to the story, the Tribune Co. won't be free and clear until "later this year" -- still plenty of time for more priceless advice from the lawyers, I'm sure.

This Advice is Cheap, CNN's Troubles Aren't

Getting to this one a bit late, and with all apologies ...

On Wednesday we offered home-spun advice to CNN on how it might crawl out of the cable-news ratings basement it finds itself in these days, and become relevant again.

Essentially, we suggested a three-pronged attack in taking on the mighty Fox and slow-charging MSNBC cable-news networks:

... what if CNN softened its approach just a bit, and reclaimed control of the message -- namely, that whole fair-and-balanced thing?
What if CNN had a bit of fun and made light of the shameless political posturing of its two more ratings-rich cable-news neighbors? Maybe even corrected them for the record, borrowing from the often dead-on shtick of Jon Stewart?
What if the station opened its dwindling bank accounts wide, and went after a couple of the truly fair-and-balanced news anchors at MSNBC and Fox, who must wonder when the walls from the right and left will collapse upon careers they likely hoped at some point would be virtuous and honorable?

OK, that was our advice. And by now, it's probably all-too clear that everybody has some.

Maybe the best work I came across (late) on this noble quest to fix CNN was typed up by Michael Calderone, formerly of Politico and now Yahoo.

Calderone's March 31 offering is still plenty timely today.

He "asked a dozen or so prominent media watchers, former industry executives and CNN personalities for their recommendations."

CNN Should Stay Fair and Balanced or It Will Fall

The fall of CNN has been precipitous, and sad to watch.

When it launched three decades ago, it was positively revolutionary. CNN's 24-hour, real-time news coverage took us to places where something important was happening around the globe -- to places and events that for decades, were but 45-second bits and bites on the evening news.

Its meteoric rise was as grand as its fall has been melancholic.

CNN came along when cable television was the powerful king of communications, and it is now crashing as the dexterous daredevil Internet establishes itself as the go-to place for, well, everything.

I have come to believe that CNN's fall is but a time-compressed version of what has happened to the once-venerable newspaper business.

Newspapers had a good ride. So, too, has CNN.

As a former print guy, who now rides out the many swells on the relative safety of the Internet, I admittedly am not the person to be offering CNN advice -- though I do know a good fall when I see one.

I still maintain, however, that CNN's troubles parallel in many ways the decline of the newspaper business.

Like most newspapers, when CNN came out of the chute it was virtuous and high-minded, and maybe more important, was just about the only game in town.

It is possible CNN held too tightly to its roots. The station's serious, straight-down-the-middle reporting on the big issues of the day were noble, but are now being eviscerated by the streaming noise and opinion pouring forth from seemingly everywhere.

CNN is like the old guy at the cocktail party who is smarter than everybody else in the room, but can't get a word in edgewise because he is drowned out and ignored by all the drunken hot-shots who are only interested in doling out their watered-down blather.

Newspapers, too, underestimated the changing news landscape and are now frantically trying to re-invent themselves. Of course, newspapers' problems are even more desperate given their need to produce and deliver a print report each day to keep some sort of financial stability -- even if that report is too often stuffed with old news from far-off places.

Like newspapers, CNN generally delivers its news with the same serious tone it has in the past. These days you have to do better than that, though -- and do it really, really fast, and with plenty of sass and attitude.

I am not advocating for a single minute that the station adopt the fast and loose ways of Fox and MSNBC, and load itself up with a bunch of partisan roof-screamers.

No doubt, given its supersonic ratings, Fox, especially, is doing something right [sorry], but providing an atmosphere where "fair and balanced" news can be cultivated is certainly not one of them.

Ditto, MSNBC, though their necks must be sore from looking up at the capacious Fox media palace they so desperately want their one-story ranch house to emulate.

CNN would be making a disastrous mistake if its recent hiring of Erick Erickson is a tip-off toward some rocky future course it is charting. That hiring just looks really desperate and raunchy. Besides, there's only room for so much hot air on these cable-news stations -- er, isn't there?

So what if CNN softened its approach just a bit, and reclaimed control of the message -- namely, that whole fair-and-balanced thing?

What if CNN had a bit of fun and made light of the shameless political posturing of its two more ratings-rich cable-news neighbors? Maybe even corrected them for the record, borrowing from the often dead-on shtick of Jon Stewart?

What if the station opened its dwindling bank accounts wide, and went after a couple of the truly fair-and-balanced news anchors at MSNBC and Fox, who must wonder when the walls from the right and left will collapse upon careers they likely hoped at some point would be virtuous and honorable?

What if, CNN?

Do those three things, and then go out with a loud-and-proud marketing campaign that politely hollers that if you really want the straight dope, and if you really want to be the most informed person at the cocktail party, tune into CNN. Then again, if you aren't brave enough, and can't handle both sides of the story, our competition has filled the well with all the shallow water you could possibly drink.

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

Ombudsman Exposes Woman-on-Woman Crime at NPR

In a media world gone messy, National Public Radio provides a steady stream of thoughtful, provocative programs that eschew the soundbite in favor of meaty discussion and insight.

I generally feel like I have learned something after spending time with the station, so I am here to mostly praise NPR not bury it.

As a media-watcher I find myself listening to the station a bit more critically these days. It's no secret that opponents of the station have long held that there is a pronounced liberal lean to its programming, and is therefore one-sided.

I used to think the same thing -- though I thought it to be more of a slight tilt -- until I started listening to the station regularly.

I hear no such thing.

I am satisfied that when dealing with politically sensitive issues, NPR makes an effort to balance the playing field. Their hosts and editors seem to smartly avoid the yahoos on the political fringes, and I say hooray for that.

I will take a quick exit from the point I am meandering to, for this vent, though:

My biggest problem with the station is that it has somehow managed to talk beneath the average sports fan's level. I understand that many people who listen to the station aren't big sports enthusiasts like myself, but that is still no excuse for the station's often shallow approach to the subject by some of its high-brow 'experts.'

These folks talk to us as if we were children that needed our hands held as we cross the street. I cringe when NPR talks sports.

So, NPR, give us sports fans a little more in the way of the SportingNews, and a lot less Weekly Reader. Or maybe it's best if you avoid the subject altogether. I, for one, wouldn't hold it against you.

That bit of business out of the way, I want to get back to something else I didn't hear on the station, in addition to political posturing: the lack of women experts on its various shows throughout the day.

In a report on its website dated on April 2, the station's ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, submits an in-depth presentation that concludes NPR leans heavily on men to appear as commentators on its array of shows throughout the week.

Again, I never even noticed this in the thousands of hours I have spent with the station, but the numbers Shepard produced are eye-opening. This from the report:

"With the aid of NPR librarian Hannah Sommers, we compiled a list of regular commentators, who are not NPR employees but are paid to appear on air. There are 12 outside commentators who appeared at least 20 times in the last 15 months. The only woman is former NPR staffer, Cokie Roberts (51 times), who is on ME (Morning Edition) most Mondays talking politics."

And according to Shepard things "are equally disturbing" when addressing the gender of news sources in their reporters' stories:

"We also looked at the number of people from outside NPR who were interviewed by NPR news shows, or whose voices appeared in reporters' stories. For this analysis, we examined 104 shows, using a 'constructed week'* sampling technique from April 13, 2009 to Jan. 9, 2010. NPR listeners heard 2,502 male sources and 877 female sources on the shows we sampled. In other words, only 26 percent of the 3,379 voices were female, while 74 percent were male."

Shepard then produces a number of charts that illustrates this male domination in great detail. It's indisputable, but there is another interesting thing Shepard points out early in her thorough report:

"Three out of the five hosts of its (NPR's) biggest shows -- Morning Edition and All Things Considered -- are women. The CEO and the head of the news department are women, as are many other top executives throughout the company."

I have long advocated that diversity -- both on staff and in news-sourcing -- is a key ingredient of producing accurate, well-rounded journalism. I have also thought it was a lot easier said than done, and was never satisfied with my performance in this regard back when I was in charge of such things.

So today I feel a little better, but mostly surprised, that the women in charge at NPR don't seem to be doing much better than I did.

As Shepard types: "The news is not encouraging, though NPR is trying to do something about it.

I'll be listening.

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

WSJ, Tiger Prepare for First Shots in Battles

We'll wrap up the week with a couple of updates on bits we imparted to you from across the crowded media galaxy ...

WSJ Takes Battle for NYT Readers Home

The Wall Street Journal has pointed yet another cannon at The New York Times in its looming battle for New York City readers.

On Wednesday we told you that Rupert Murdoch's newspaper had infiltrated the 450 Starbucks coffee shops in the greater New York area, long a high-end readership territory held solely by the Times.

Thanks to this report from Reuters we learned today that the WSJ plans to cut subscription prices in the area by as much as 80 percent to attract new readers, and better yet, Times readers.

According to the story, the Journal has mailed some Times subscribers an offer that would have them pay a scant $10 a month for home delivery. Most Times subscribers currently pay $40 a month to have the paper delivered to their doorsteps each morning.

For its part, the Times is taking the latest maneuvering by the Journal in stride.

"We don't shrink from it. We are motivated by it," Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said.

The first shots are alleged to be fired on April 26 when the Journal goes out with its New York City edition. Stand by.

ESPN Following Tiger to the Tee

And speaking of shots ...

Getting to this one a little late, but two weeks ago we wondered how the Masters and ESPN would handle Tiger Woods' long-awaited return to professional golf, following some turbulent times in his personal life.

Because the Masters allows less air time than any of golf's four professional major tournaments -- far less, actually -- there was every chance that Tiger's march to the first tee in next Thursday's opening round might not be shown live.

Worry over such things might sound trivial, but there is reason to believe that Tiger's return will be a TV-ratings blockbuster. Like or not, it is big-time news.

Well, according to this story in The New York Times on Wednesday, Masters officials plan to allow ESPN, which is covering the first two rounds of the tournament before giving way to CBS over the weekend, to break away from whatever it is covering at the time to join the Masters live for Woods' first shot.

And that's it. After he hits the shot, live coverage will hit the road. For the uninitiated, the Masters is not a bastion of flexibility. Tradition is its calling card.

How much we see of Woods' first round is in the laps of the gods that rule things at the private Augusta National Golf Club. The later Tiger's tee time Thursday, the more we will see, as live coverage of the event begins on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET.

If Tiger gets a later tee time, say in the 2 p.m. range, viewers will see more than half of his first round. If he goes off early, however, only the first shot will be shown live.

Masters pairings will be made public on Tuesday. It will be very interesting to see when tournament officials send Tiger's group off. Again, the later he goes off the more you'll see live. Too early, and you'll see nothing at all.

Yes, it has come to this -- even Tiger's tee time is a story.

Have a good weekend.

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

Why Won't FOX Just Get Out of Palin's Way?

I am still trying to figure out why the usually brilliant Fox News unnecessarily reached too far, took a tumble, and skinned its right knee.

I'm talking about all this hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin's show on the conservative cable news network - "Real American Stories" - that premiers tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

For the past few days, the network has been teasing the show relentlessly by trumpeting that it will feature guests to include rapper/actor LL Cool J, and country singer Toby Keith.

I guess both Cool J and Keith have "real-life tales of overcoming adversity" to tell, which is how Fox is touting the show.

Except it turns out that neither agreed to be on the show. It also turns out Fox never intended to have them on the show in the first place.

Did I hear you say, huh?

OK, even though Fox should be doing all the explaining here, I'll give it a whirl:

What the cable network apparently meant by 'guests' was that it would actually be running two-year-old interviews of these gentlemen, that according to The Washington Post, were stored in a vault at the station as part of some web project called "Real American Stories."

So I guess Palin was going to look into the camera and wink: "Now we will go to the videotape of these interviews that were conducted when Fox was just waiting for some red-hot rocket like me to be launched from the forbidding frontier of Alaska, to blow up the political landscape, and then land as the host of this show!"

Well, Cool J, who unfortunately has joined the millions who prefer to 'tweet' instead of speak, snapped up his cell phone when he heard he was scheduled to be on the show and tweeted this bold rejoinder:

Fox lifted an old interview I gave in 2008 to someone else & are misrepresenting to the public in order to promote Sarah Palin's Show. WOW

Keith is old school and lets his representative speak for him. They had this to say to the entertainment website, Hitfix:

"We were never contacted by Fox. I have no idea what interview it's taken from. They're promoting this like it's a brand new interview. He never sat down with Sarah Palin."

For its part, Fox had this to say:

"Real American Stories features uplifting tales about overcoming adversity and we believe Mr. Smith's [LL Cool J] interview fit that criteria. However, as it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career."

Does that read snarky to you? Anyway ...

As of this moment Keith's taped segment is still on, but if Fox is lucky, people like me will continue following this mess to its even messier conclusion. If you are brave enough to Google this cliffhanger, you will most likely come across enough action-packed stories to keep you busy at your cubicle until lunch.

Here's the part I simply do not understand about this whole thing: Why is Fox even bothering with this covert marketing campaign for the show?!

I mean, if you are smart enough to recruit Palin to do some show, why would you screw it up by having any guests on the thing in the first place -- taped or otherwise?

If there's a hotter act anywhere, let me know about it.

Palin is a one-woman lightning storm. Throw her name out in a public place and a third of the people will dive for cover, another third will make a grab for their handy American flags, while the final third just shake their heads pathetically.

All the marketers at Fox had to say was this:

"Sarah Palin will be hosting a show on our network for one hour Thursday night. We have no idea what will come out of her mouth."

Admit it, you'd watch.

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