Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day! And Facebook Sightings.

I'm off to my favorite sister's house (inside family joke, I have three sisters, and call each my favorite) in a couple of hours to consume mass quantities of my favorite comestibles. I hope you all can do the same. If not, enjoy the solitude of a peaceful Thanksgiving.

I've been seeing a couple of Swampers on Facebook since I joined at the kind invitation of Luke Yelasdi Thompson. There's Luke, of course, and Mike LaRoche.

Being half a century old, I had originally shied away from the social networks for fear of being the geezer in the group. But after joining, I found a lot of my friends were already there, having fun and updating people with their activities. Some friends from far away were there. Social networks are an amazing distance-destroyer, allowing you to create a cozy community no matter where you are.

Some people take the friends function too far, adding hundreds of people to their network. How can you keep track of so many, let alone consider them your friends? Techblogger Robert Scoble carried this to the extreme when he added so many friends he reached Facebook's 5,000 friends limit. (Since increased). And he complained about it!

I've got a little more than two dozen friends on Facebook now. And while that number will grow significantly, I'm not going to pretend that I can be friends with thousands of people.

But Swampers who read this are cordially invited to be my Facebook friend.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and weekend!

Click Here To Comment!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Still Here

It's been more than a week since my last post, so yes, I'm still around, and no, I haven't forgotten the Swamp community.

As I cautioned a few weeks ago, I can't post with the frequency I used to, because of the demands of my job. I'm regularly blogging there now at and you can see from the frantic activity there where most of my blogging is directed.

With the help of David and Julie Scott, and I hope LYT and others, we can keep things lively here.

As for the job, we just went through significant layoffs at my newspaper. While I'm still employed, about 25 of my colleagues on the news staff were laid off. As a business reporter, even while I mourn the lost talent, I understand the reasons -- profits plunged at our parent company by 72 percent in the most recent quarter over a year ago. With ad revenues continuing to skid, the trend was going to take us into the red very soon. Since we're not a government entity or a financial institution too big to fail, running at a deficit is not an option.

I am trying to keep in mind the one good thing about bad financial news: It concentrates the mind, and encourages people and institutions to try new things and question old assumptions and ways of doing business that may be wrong. So I personally am trying new ways to connect to our readers, and to get new readers.

Regardless of what happens to any individual news organization, there will always be a need for good journalism. The world is just too complex, and too much is going on, for people to take it all in without someone to help pick out what is significant and explain why. There is value in that; the trouble is finding out the appropriate way of making it work financially, or as they say in the tech industry, "monetizing" it. (I hate the word, but it is concise and describes what has to be done).

And above all, I just plain enjoy what I'm doing. I almost always look forward to another day at my job. I'm learning interesting things and telling them to people who want to learn about them. Just now, I've returned from an extraordinary event, listening to four veteran CEOs tell their war stories about their failures, and what they learned from it.

The title of the event: "Failure IS An Option". It was a humorous and compassionate rebuke to the just-can't-lose stories of people who defied impossible odds to succeed. It was moderated by Neil Senturia, an entrepreneur who has known dismal, stomach-churning, sleep-destroying failure as well as success. And out of his despair turned into success, he emerged as devastatingly funny in dissecting everything that can go wrong -- the things rotting away in companies that most people prefer to keep hidden.

In real life, failure happens frequently, and often, it's beyond our capacity to stop. If your company decides a certain job is expendable, it may not matter how well you've done that job. And when you hear top CEOs say things such as "much of life is random," and "do not ever underestimate the power of good fortune," it takes some of the sting away from failure. Even the most successful people don't have all the answers.

One things these CEOs have in common is that they learned from their failures, and applied their lessons to their next ventures. They painfully learned the need to keep a distinction between one's business and personal identities -- a business failure is not the same as personal failure. As journalists look for jobs and news outfits look for economic models that work on the Web, these are good words to keep in mind.

Click Here To Comment!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Washington Post Gets Really Tough With Obama

Of course I'm joking! The Post has published a faithfully-in-the-tank fable about how Obama's team acted to "keep its distance" from lobbyists.

"Obama backtracks on no-lobbyists pledge" would have been closer to the truth. For Obama campaigned for president vowing not to let lobbyists work in the White House. But after pointed questions on how he could do such a thing, Obama changed his absolute no-lobbyists vow to one of not letting lobbyists "dominate" in the White House.

And in the above-linked WaPo story, Obama further went back on his promise to the public: Lobbyists can work in his administration, they just can't be officially hired to work on issues they lobbied for. The reality is lobbyists and their connections cross every which way.

Obama's transition chief, John P. Podesta, is a prime example of the interlocking nature of lobbying. From the WaPo story:

"I've heard the other complaint, which is we're leaving all these experts on the side. . . . We're leaving all the people who know everything out in the cold," Podesta said. "And so be it." He said a similar ban was likely to be in effect for the actual administration, including an extension of the lobbyist ban to two years.

But Podesta himself has been a lobbyist, according to a biography by the New York Times: "He was a partner with his brother, Tony, in a prominent Washington lobbying shop."

That's all the space the NYT deems fit on the subject, not even deigning to name the lobbying shop. It's the eponymous "The Podesta Group". On its site, the group says it represents "corporations and trade associations as well as local governments and nonprofits."

The firm doesn't shy away from the lobbyist label. It even touted a Politico article dubbing it a "powerhouse lobbying firm".

To recap: First Obama says lobbyists won't work in his White House. Then he changes his pledge and says they won't "dominate." Then Obama hires as his transition chief a veteran of a powerhouse lobbying firm, and allows lobbyists to openly work in the White House, as long as they're not officially working in areas they've lobbied about.

It's a nice fig leaf -- it hides something that everyone knows is really there.

And topping it off, a gullible (or worse) WaPo reporter uncritically swallows the story and gushes about Obama keeping his distance from those lobbyists. And of course, nowhere does the WaPo article mention Podesta's own lobbying background.

I hope, probably naively, to see the Post do better in giving Obama critical coverage. But this is an abysmal start.

Click Here To Comment!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cowardly and Useless

Sarah Palin was absolutely right in calling the attacks on her from unnamed sources in the McCain camp "cowardly." Safe from the anonymity supplied by reporters, the McCain operatives scrambled to protect themselves by throwing mud at their bosses' former running mate.

This is the unlovely truth behind political campaigns -- those behind the scenes are often more concerned with serving their own interest instead of that of the candidates they allegedly work for.

The only ones who benefit from this sleazy charade besides the operatives are the reporters and news organizations that enable them. The public is poorly served by being dished up accusations from sources whose identities are unknown. That's one part of the media that could go extinct and America would benefit.

Click Here To Comment!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

There is No Joy in Maverickville

UPDATE: At least we didn't have to wait long to find out. After Ohio was called for Obama by the networks, including Fox News, it was all over.

Fox News, in a mastery of understatement.

Congratulations, President-Elect Barack Obama. May you be worthy of the trust the American people have placed in you.

UPDATE REDUX: Slate sees things the way I do, calling the election for Obama based on his win in Ohio. This is just common sense. But worried they'll be condemned for the grievous sin of calling the election when people are still voting -- even though the outcome is now certain -- news outfits play this game of pretending not to know what they know, because the unwashed masses can't be trusted with the truth lest they not do their civic duty.

Bloomberg, for example, headlined its story, "Obama's Win in Ohio Throws Major Roadblock in Front of McCain". (The headline has since changed, but that's what it originally said).

This is treating the public like children who have to be coddled. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus. Yes, American Public, McCain still really has a chance of winning the presidency, so just you go vote and don't worry your pretty little head about what we media types are telling each other. (A reporter in Ohio told me hours ago the Buckeye State had gone for Obama).

Hurrah for Slate for not holding to this ridiculous charade. Shame on the rest of the MSM, including Fox News, for pussyfooting around this elephant in the living room.

Or I should say, this donkey.

UPDATE UPDATE REDUX: A wry look at the McCain victory party turned concession speech by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sigh. I did my voterly duty early this morning, contrary to most of the Californians at the polls, who voted for Obama*. (Polls have not closed in the Golden State, but I feel safe calling California for Obama.)

The indications look ugly from my perspective. The funereal mood of poor John Derbyshire echoes that of many who voted mavericky. But I wasn't really a fan of the 2008 McCain anyway.

And I can only hope the combination of Obama and a Democratic Congress won't be as catastrophic as I think it will be.

Obama supporters, go ahead and rejoice. (Unless, of course, a miracle occurs.)

I'll update later.

*Once again, I emphasize any opinions expressed here are purely my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.

Click Here To Comment!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

You Must Believe In Him

Such are the perils of not believing in The Messiah.

Click Here To Comment!

Two More Reasons To Vote For McCain - UPDATED


And . . . Affleck as Olbermann

Click Here To Comment!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Barack Petty Obama

Petty, certainly, and even spiteful, are the words that describe Obama's decision to remove from his campaign plane three newspapers who endorsed McCain -- the NY Post, the Washington Times and the Dallas Morning News.

This has been discussed at length by other bloggers, so I'll just make a point that, as a reporter, I consider important that none of the others made: newspaper endorsements are not what they are represented and understood to be. They are much less important.

The common mystique is that a newspaper endorsement or editorial represents the considered voice of a journalistic organization. Those endorsements ring with self-important, august or sometimes Stentorian rhetoric in reflection of that delusion. They aid this deception by not including any bylines, as if the newspaper, as some collective entity, congregated in mind-meld to produce those pearls of wisdom. If you buy into this mistaken view, it might be understandable, if still petty and spiteful, for Obama to rid his campaign plane of reporters whose newspapers have endorsed his opponent.

The truth is newspaper editorials, like everything else in the paper, are ultimately controlled by the newspaper's publisher or owner. If you think of the presidential endorsements as just the opinion of one person, who happens to control a newspaper, you'll usually be right.

In any decent paper, news articles, written by reporters, are free of blatant influence by the owner. But newspaper editorials are another matter. If the publisher or owner doesn't really care about the subject, the top editors can usually get their way and delude themselves into thinking they're great opinion leaders. But the big bosses always reserves the right to step in and impose their views on any subject of great importance to them. And presidential endorsements are considered important. (Yes, I know that the Sam Zell-controlled LA Times and Chicago Tribune endorsed Obama, and Zell gave $40K to support McCain. But Zell is really known for being anyone-but-Hillary. With her out of the presidential race, Zell can afford to humor the editors, while the reporters get sacked.)

That's why I think unsigned newspaper editorials are phony and should be killed. Hugh Hewitt said it well in his masterful piece on what the LA Times and newspapers need to do to survive, Refusing to Bleed Out: "Drop the anonymous pulse-killers of the unsigned editorials. Give them bylines or let them go."

And they are pulse-killers most of the time, valuable space wasted by editors pontificating and bloviating on stuff they often know little about, or so wildly biased as not to even understand there could be another side. Los Angeles Times editorials are masters of the genre. Mere reporters, who have bylines on their work and are as such accountable, can't get away with that stuff. But the reporters get blamed by those who disagree with the editorials, because they are who the public sees, not some self-absorbed clique mentally masturbating.and congratulating themselves on their importance.

We hear a lot about biased reporters, and with good reason. But the public should really be outraged about editors who express their bias regularly, and hide behind the shield of anonymity. -- bravely letting the reporters get blamed. They should blame the editors and publishers, who usually spend their days isolated from the public in endless oxygen-draining meetings about how to better reach the public.

The deceptive conceit of unsigned editorials can produce hilarious results.Years ago, I heard of an editorial page editor who greatly disagreed with the publisher-imposed views on many subjects. To get his revenge, said editor would intentionally write the editorial in such an extreme or pompous fashion as to undercut the publisher's argument. The publisher would give it a look, interpret the ridiculous editorial literally, and be pleased.

This story underscores that newspaper editorials are not the voice of the newspaper, they are the voice of the publisher, who doesn't even write the editorial. Or, to be fair, on a subject the publisher doesn't care about, it's the babbling of hypoxic editors. If this was generally realized, the public wouldn't be outraged by these editorials, they'd just shake their heads at the shabby pretense.

If Obama has any savvy or class, he'll cancel his ill-considered verdict and let the NY Post, Washington Times and Dallas Morning News back onto his plane. Punishing the reporters for the sins of the editors is not only unfair, it's stupid.

Click Here To Comment!