Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Blog Post on the Death of Newspapers

You might be wondering what this has to do with books and book reviews. Fair enough, it has to do with books because what happens to the printed word in newspapers has a domino effect on the printed word in books. Don't get me started on Kindle and e-readers and how that is quashing the print book industry. Just don't go there.

10:25 AM Mar. 27, 2009
Late Editor Blames Three Key People for Newspapers' Demise

Editor's note: The following essay was written by the late John Walter, who served as executive editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was a founding editor of USA Today. A few months after Walter died due to complications from surgery last September, his wife, Jan Pogue, found this essay on his computer. With her permission, Poynter has reprinted an edited version of it here.

By John Walter

I read today that big-city newspapers are dead. Well, actually, I didn't read it. I heard it from my friend George, who read it in a blog referencing a St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times article about the topic.

The fact that newspapers are dying discourages me; I will miss the sound of the blue bag hitting the porch, even though it hasn't hit the porch anytime recently. The carrier stopped porch delivery long ago, and for a while the blue bag had been hitting the stones at the end of the driveway.

Of course, the blue bag hasn't been hitting the stones at the end of the driveway for a couple of weeks now; I canceled my subscription. This was because I discovered that I foolishly had been paying full price for a home-delivered subscription and didn't know that if you started a new subscription, you actually got 50 percent off for 12 weeks. So, we canceled our subscription and then started it up again, and had 12 good weeks at 50 percent off.

Then I called to cancel my subscription at the end of the 12 weeks, and they said they really didn't want to lose me as a customer, so I could have another 12 weeks at 75 percent off, and I realized what a fool I had been to take the paper for 50 percent off.

So I signed up for 12 weeks at 75 percent off, and when those 12 weeks ended, I called up to cancel, and they said, sorry, they weren't offering the 75 percent off subscription anymore, but I could have the Wednesday through Sunday papers for the same price that I had been paying for the full week at 75 percent off, so I took that for another 12 weeks.

Then, just the other week, when they said I now had to pay full price again for whatever subscription I wanted -- Sundays only, or five weekdays, or Thursday and Monday, whatever -- I said the hell with it. So there hasn't been any blue bag in the driveway now for several weeks, except, of course, on Easter, when the paper gives free copies to apparently anybody with a driveway.

When we were growing up, it never occurred to anybody that newspapers weren't meant to go on forever, and it never occurred to anybody to think of them, like cars and stereos and Wonder White Bread, as consumer products that could outlive their usefulness and become, well, old and dead. But now that seems to be what has happened.

So newspapers are going to go out of business. Journalism will survive, no doubt, but we'll just have to figure out the economics of it as we go along. Some of it will be painful, and some of the business people who are buying the big newspaper companies these days will undoubtedly help figure out the way.

But big metro newspapers themselves? They are out of here. I want to say that there are three people in the world responsible for their demise, and -- because I have always loved newspapers, even when they weren't on my porch or in my driveway -- I want to say I'm mad at them about it. And, therefore, I want to record for posterity who they are, and why we should be mad at them.

First, there is A.J. Liebling. He is responsible because on Feb. 18, 1949, he wrote a famous column in The New Yorker called "Toward a One-Paper Town." In this column he called attention to the fact that the number of newspapers in New York was dwindling, and that competition among newspapers was becoming a thing of the past.

At the time he wrote it, there were at least 10 cities in America with three or more newspapers each, and many more cities beyond that with two newspapers -- one in the morning and one in the evening.

These newspapers more or less competed with one another (although some of them were owned by the same company), and it was a healthy thing. A reporter for The Middletown Blat-Times would be at a city council meeting, as well as a reporter for The Middletown News-Press. If the reporter from the News-Press fell asleep at the meeting and missed the debate about the relocation of the city landfill, then he at least stood the chance of being embarrassed by the fact that the next day the Blat-Times seemed to have been at the meeting he had missed.

But once the Blat-Times went out of business (actually, it merged with the News-Press and became The Middletown Blat-Times-News-Press), there was no other reporter at the meeting to embarrass the fellow about the fact that he fell asleep, and this was bad for newspapers.

Liebling was responsible for this merger mania because it was possible to extrapolate from his column that in many of the American cities where competition still existed, it really wasn't a close race at all; the dominant newspapers were the ones getting the ads and readers, and it was inevitable that the second and third newspapers in those towns were going to die.

The existence of these monopolies was a first step in making newspapers as dull as dog poop because when they became monopoly papers there was no chance of offending anyone, and they became bland. Plus, they had too many comic strips because the surviving papers absorbed all the comics from the competition, and now they had three pages of comics and all of them were printed too small.

So Liebling is the first one who killed newspapers.

Second, there was a layout editor at The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.

This was in the late 1960s, when newspapers were still fairly individualistic and didn't all look like they came out of the same meat grinder.

There was, for example, the Chicago Tribune, whose front-page format had not changed in 50 years, and always, every morning, consisted of one large headline in two-inch-high type, and then eight columns of skinny, one-column headlines, wedged around a color cartoon of striking imbecility.

And there was the San Francisco Chronicle, which had large headline type, too, and a sports section printed on green paper and a classified section printed on bright yellow paper. It also had lots of quirky short stories from around the world, printed in boxes with squiggly lines around them.

When you saw the squiggly lines, you knew you were in for a treat, a hilarious story about the one-eyed sloth from Madagascar that had been bitten by a local resident and died in spite of a blood transfusion. And so on. In those days, individuality ruled, in both look and content of the papers.

Well, in the middle of this individuality came the layout editor, who one day decided that though newspapers had been printing stories in vertical columns for 200 years, there was no particular reason to do so, and he took out his line gauge and talked to the people in the composing room -- who thought he was crazy -- and laid out his newspaper full of horizontal rectangles. Stories stretched over four columns, or even five, with lots of white space thrown in. [Editor's note: Though others were involved, Ed Arnold was a key figure in this change, which he discussed in a Society of News Design interview (PDF) in 2000.]

And suddenly people were saying the Courier-Journal was one of the best-looking papers in America. "Just like a magazine!" everybody said. And, just like that, newspapers started to abandon the ugly, hodgepodge look of their vertical columns and went into the magazine business.

They lost, thereby, a sense of urgency, and the thing that made them look like, well, newspapers. And it got worse; eventually layout editors were replaced by something called design directors, and design directors took to running pictures of large vegetables, first in black and white and later in color, and newspapering went all soft and squishy as hell.

So that is why that layout editor is the second person responsible for the death of newspapers.

Then there is Al Neuharth, who was general manager of the Rochester, N.Y., newspapers when I worked there in the late 1960s. Soon after that he was head of the Gannett chain of newspapers, which had recently gone public.

Neuharth was a super-slick salesman of the first rank (I say that with absolute affection and admiration; I myself had two or three long and happy careers at Gannett), and pioneered the idea that a public newspaper company could show increased earnings every quarter and result in Wall Street loving you.

He achieved a remarkable string of quarters with increased earnings; I think the string ran up to 22 or more. He did it by buying new newspapers until Gannett owned dozens and dozens of them. He applied tough financial constraints on their budgets and got them to contribute to this ever-increasing bottom line.

It was brilliant, it made perfect sense, and -- particularly if you were going to retire in time -- it carried no threat of ever having to face the day when maybe there wasn't going to be any more growth, a day when Wall Street wasn't going to love you.

Soon everyone wanted to imitate Neuharth, and almost every newspaper company in America went public. The public companies gobbled up more and more papers and created more and more monopolies and stretched their earnings to 20 or 30 percent and ... we know the end of this story. So Neuharth is the third person responsible for killing newspapers.

This morning I heard that Sam Zell, the new owner of the once-mighty Tribune Company, says he doesn't know much about the newspaper business yet, but will know the business inside and out by the time he's done.

Memo to Zell: To know the business, start by reading up on the three guys above. Newspapers are dying. Journalism will go on, but the thing in the blue bag is over. These guys did it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Sad State of Affairs with the Media

How to Become a 'Death of Newspapers' Blogger (HuffPo)
Paul Dailing:
Times are tough, my freelance work is drying up. That's why I've decided to become a "Death of Newspapers" blogger. I'll join the ranks of Jeff Jarvis, Paul Gillin, Jay Rosen, and Clay Shirky in competing to see who can use the most jargon to describe something everyone knows is happening.

Apparently, it's very simple. The more you self-reference, pick feuds and talk about the failure of TimesSelect, the better you're doing. If you make it sound like you're the one who figured out newspapers are dying, you win.

I mean, the point's not to fix anything. It's to describe the problem more dramatically than the next guy. If Steve Outing says newspapers have a "death spiral" and Clay Shirky predicts "a bloodbath," the point goes to Shirky.

Basically, imagine a group of people watching a building burn down and bickering amongst themselves about whether it's a conflagration or an inferno. It's like that, but with consulting fees.

Talk about how everything online is wonderful, everything paper is crap and then use the online to pimp your upcoming (paper) book. Bonus points for talking about how much you love the New York Times at least twice per blog post. It'll help your credibility. You love the Times, but ...

The ratio of book pimpage to analysis should be one reference to your book per post, one reference per sentence if you're Jeff Jarvis.

And link like a mad monkey who's sexually aroused by blue, underlined text.

Basically, it should go like this:

"Now, when I was a working journalist 25 to 30 years ago, before I got a completely unrelated job in either management or academia, an editor and I had a completely irrelevant conversation that I'm only telling you as an excuse to mention I once was a reporter.

"'This computer thing,' my editor said to me one time in 1983, 'I don't get it.' And I think about that conversation a lot. It's a perfect example of how newspapers have botched everything connected to everything new ever. Granted it was one conversation with a 72-year-old man back in the era of Flock of Seagulls, but that didn't stop me from making it the title of my upcoming book, 'This Computer Thing, I Don't Get It,' coming out in October from Obsequious Press.

"In TCTIDGI, I talk about how people will still create professional-level journalism will still exist in an environment where there's no incentive to create professional-level journalism. It'll all be done online, for free and will be better ... somehow. The best and brightest journalists will pull out all the stops for no pay, I swear.

"Really, reporters don't even LIKE having health insurance.

"I love the New York Times, but the 'Old Gray Lady' will fail and fail miserably. It will go bankrupt by 2, possibly 2:30 p.m. today at the latest.

"About two hours after the bankruptcy, a legion of bloggers from Slate and Boing Boing will drive the Times staff onto the streets, slaughter them before the eyes of kith and kin and revel in the lamentations of the women. The presses themselves will be shuttered, but spoken of in hushed terms as earthly vessels of the 'Old Gods,' relics of a more fearful time. The building will be dynamited and the cornerstone systematically raped by the founders of the TED conference.

"Quit whining. It's called progress.

"'Quit Whining, It's Called Progress,' incidentally, is the working title of a planned follow-up to TCTIDGI, which itself is coming out in October from Obsequious Press.

"Now, I might be a 57-year-old man who still is a little 'wowed' by Frogger, but I will still willingly call everyone who thinks differently than me a 'relic' or 'outmoded.' I will even do this to younger people who grew up with computers and don't see them with the aura of awe I perceive. I'll play off any hypocrisy as scampishness. ;)

"Another reason newspapers are dying is they don't try new things! Now here's a list of all the new things they tried that didn't work."

So that's my "Death of Newspapers" blog. I'm looking forward to seeing it pop up on many, many J-School alumni listservs. Facebook me!

* Newspapers

Monday, March 23, 2009

Losing It by Valerie Bertinelli

I know what you are thinking...another celebrity tell-all autobiography, how droll.
Believe it or not, I am not usually a fan of celebrity ghost-written books, because I don't want to feed into the American fascination with the sleazy underbelly of famous Hollywood denizens. And don't get me started on the horrors of tabloid journalism, which isn't really journalism at all.
The subtitle of this book says it all "And gaining my life back one pound at a time."
This is a sincere story of the stresses and happenstance in Bertinelli's life that lead her to become an emotional eater who gained 50 pounds when things went awry in her life.
I can so relate to that, it's not funny.
I've been an emotional eater for most of my life as well, and when stress attacks, I turn to cookies and cake, pie and soy ice cream for solace.
Bertinelli starts the book with her journey as a teenager to stardom on the TV sitcom "One Day at A Time" which I dutifully watched with my family every week. The behind-the-scenes stories on the show's set, though few, are wonderful fun, and there are plenty of Van Halen stories to make up for any lack in the TV sitcom world. I found myself wondering how Bertinelli managed to stay married to cheatin' Eddie Van Halen for so many years, especially in light of his drug and alcohol abuse. But she doesn't just tell of his abuses, she fully discloses her own, including one affair she had after discovering her husband had many infidelities.
The Van Halen's son, Wolfgang (called Wolfie) eventually finds his way on to the stage with his dad, and Bertinelli finds her way with a new man and Jenny Craig's diet program, but she also finds something more important. She discovers that dealing with why you eat is as important as dealing with what you eat.
I highly recommend this book for any emotional eaters who have felt that there is no way out of the cycle. Bertinelli proves it can be done, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel in this surprisingly well written book.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Book Blog site

There's a new blog site just for bibliophiles that I've joined.
Check it out!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair

I could gush about Linnea Sinclair's glorious Science Fiction/Romance hybrids for pages, but I will spare you that particular ramble and try to focus on gushing about her latest work, Hope's Folly, launched just two weeks ago.
In this, her either 8th or 9th book, depending on how you count it, Sinclair heads into familiar territory with a character from Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark, Admiral Philip Guthrie, Chasidah Bergren's ex-husband and hero of the fleet.
Philip "Scruffy Guthrie" has had a rather rough go of it in the past year, since his ex-wife took up with a hot telepath, Gabriel Ross Sullivan, and Philip was forced to abandon his former life, becoming a leader in the rebel alliance against the Imperial fleet, run by an evil politician named Tage, as well as have his leg and hip nearly blown off during the events of Shades of Dark. Seeing Chaz in love with Sully gave Guthrie a new perspective on his inability to have a healthy committed relationship, and as he's 45, Guthrie's gotten it into his head that he is incapable of love or too old for it, depending on his mood of the moment.
Fortunately, Linnea Sinclair, like the military, never leaves a man (or his story) behind, and she's grabbed Guthrie by his bootstraps, thrown him onto a barely viable fruit hauler spaceship with a ragtag bunch of former fleeties and rebels and matched him up with his former boss's daughter, Rya Bennton, who seeks to avenge her beloved fathers death.
I need to quote the back of the book here, because it summarizes the romantic plot so well:

"Rya Bennton has been in love with Philip Guthrie since she was a girl (of 10). But can her childhood fantasies survive and encounter with the hardened man, and newly minted rebel leader, once she learns the truth about her father's death? Or will her passion for revenge put not only their hearts but their lives at risk? It's an impossible mission: A man who feels he can't love. A woman who believes she's unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both."

There are some incredible moments in this book, and several touching details that are just delightful for readers who've indulged themselves in Linnea's other Dock 5 works.
Captain Folly the cat makes his debut,and saves the day twice, coming out of his scrapes smelling like, well, oranges instead of roses, but you get the point. The sexual tension between Rya and Philip is so intense, you really can imagine paint peeling off the walls when they look at one another. Readers have to wait until they're about two-thirds of the way through the book for any sort of consummation of their love/lust/soul mating, but when it happens, it is incendiary, guaranteed to make readers blush, sweat and seek their own mates posthaste. The fact that Rya is not a petite blonde who weighs as much as your average 13 year old, but instead is described as having '30 pounds to lose' and being voluptuous in the bust and bum area made the book that much more realistic and believable to me, as a woman of generous proportions myself. Realizing that a majority of American women are at least a size 14 should make more authors include characters who have some meat on their bones, yet are still lovable, fascinating and viable main characters.
Though I personally do not enjoy most military fiction, Linnea makes the military stuff bearable by showing the reader why the information on rules, regs, rank and soforth is necessary in this world. There's plenty of action to keep the military and gun talk from bogging down the plot, and though I could have wished for more face time with Rya and Philip, I realize that there's a fine line to walk when you're writing an SFRomance--too much of the romance aspect,and the SF fans run away, and too much Science Fiction and the romance fans yeowl like scalded cats and pitch the proverbial hissy fit. My only real complaint about the book is that I wanted more, and an old theater saying is to always leave the crowd wanting more. Fortunately, Linnea Sinclair has one more Dock 5 book coming out next year, and I am certain it will be as hotly anticipated as this novel.
I highly recommend Hope's Folly for anyone who enjoys SF with a military bent and some seriously hot romance seasoned throughout. It's a heady brew, and it's all prime Linnea Sinclair. Enjoy.

Backup by Jim Butcher

Though this book qualifies as more of a novella than a novel (I don't think it was even 100 pages long) it was still a kick in the pants for all the Dresden File fans who've been wondering about the background of Thomas, Harry's succubus-vampire brother.
This bit of a book has it all, in terms of quality reading material. There's a hilarious explanation of magic, (Harry loves it and practices it precisely, Thomas just uses it and doesn't care for the niceties or details) a look behind the scenes at Thomas's daily life as a high-end salon owner and adventures taken on as duties owed to his vampire family, there's a fun scene with Bob, the cynical and leering thousand year old skull, and there's a bit of romance and a satisfying ending with alls well that ends well, and Harry's assumption that he saved the day, when in reality, Thomas saved him from devastation and procured the item he owed his family at the same time.
As usual, Butcher's writing is muscular and his plot forthright. He gets down to business and doesn't futz around with pretty descriptions or convoluted plots. He gets it done,and done with style. Harry usually gets beat up several times in any given Dresden Files novel, but since this is Thomas' turn to shine, we are spared the painful reveue of sword wounds, head cracking and lacerations. Thomas' wounds are all on the inside, as he struggles, as do most modern vampires, with their need to feed vs the cruelty of using humans as cattle/food source.
I recommend this book for any Dresden File fans who want a glimpse into Harry's world from the inside out.