Monthly Archives: March 2009

What would baseball fans do without newspapers?

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When The Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased their print editions, something happened that wasn't evident to either the save-the-newspaper or the dude-the-Web's-great crowd: fans of the Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners both lost local places to study box scores.

When I moved to Syracuse, I not only arrived in a town which places much more emphasis on college than professional sports, I discovered I was in a place where people by and large aren't baseball fans.

People here definitely have allegiances – I've met lots of Yankees and Red Sox fans, and a smattering of Mets fans – but by and large, these are team people, not baseball people.

There are some of us die-hards, who live for the smell of grass, the season's first hot dog, who keep score at games, and who study statistics.

Baseball fans? We're numbers people. There's something old-fashioned about that, for sure.

And while the Web is certainly a great place for box scores and statistics (it's bottomless, it's got great archiving ability, great sharing ability), there's something that seems right about having that stuff in a newspaper, isn't there?

Seattle and Denver still have print newspapers, but across the country, that could continue to change.

And ESPN.com's Jim Caple is worried about it.

Could bloggers and Web writers cover teams, get access to players, managers, coaching staffs, etc.? Cover both the news and analysis? Absolutely, admits Caple. But, he asks, could bloggers afford the travel and lodging expenses required to go on the road to cover a team?

Not likely, he says.

News flash: Newspapers can't afford to do it either. That's why they're cutting down on news hole and in some cases, stopping printing altogether.

Some former Colorado Rockies beat writers for The Rocky Mountain News have started InsideTheRockies.com, which is part of a project done by former RMN reporters called In Denver Times (which is in beta now and launches May 4).

There isn't up-front advertising evident, and it looks like In Denver Times is going to try out a subscription model. Is it sustainable? I guess we'll find out (and good luck; I'm always rooting for new Web sites, especially if they're doing original reporting).

Caple's right in one aspect: most people can't afford to travel with a team and cover them without the backing of Big Media.

But to successfully cover a team, I don't think that's necessary.

Follow me here. You do a league-wide network with localized editions for each team. You need two bloggers for each ballpark: one covers the home team every game, and the other covers the visiting team – senior partner and junior partner, if you will.

The person who covers the home team is going to be the primary expert on that team. The person who covers the away team is going to act essentially as a stringer for that team's hometown edition. Newspapers already do this for minor league baseball and hockey – they pay somebody on the other end to cover a game and get into the locker room for post-game quotes.

If a team is truly giving a hometown beat writer access, they'll accept a phone call if clarification or more information is requested.

The funding model for this is the same it is for any other online-only publication: you sell advertising, and maybe you can do some exclusive content (extended video interviews with players, perhaps?) for subscribers.

Why couldn't that work?

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31/03/2009

I Joined Twitter – Now What?

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I put this together for work; but you're all welcome to it. If your work environment is more strictly professional, e-mail me and I'll send you the file so you can edit some of the, umm, looser language out.

I Joined Twitter - Now What?http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/ssplayer2.swf?doc=joined-twitter-090330132541-phpapp01&stripped_title=i-joined-twitter-now-what
View more presentations from JoshShear.
30/03/2009

Newspapers in Q1 2009: Full-circle

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My first post on newspapers in 2009 went like this:

I was horrified to find out yesterday that at least one Connecticut lawmaker is considering a government bailout of a newspaper.

I'm still horrified by this prospect for the same reason: How can a newspaper impartially (read: critically) report on the government that funds it?

Well, it's been another week of devolution in the newspaper industry (if you consider dealing with the effects of refusing to evolve to be devolution).

The Christian Science Monitor has printed its final mass-market daily edition. Cox announced it will shut down its Washington bureau on Wednesday.

And that piece I wrote a few days ago about the newspaper crisis hitting home? AnnArbor.com is now live, which makes the impending closing of the print edition of the Ann Arbor News feel that much closer.

Andrea pointed me to a piece by Dylan Stableford on whether newspapers might go non-profit in an effort to save themselves.

Stableford's question stems from legislation introduced by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin that would allow certain newspapers to become 501(c)(3) organizations.

Why do we need legislation for that? The non-profit Poynter Institution owns the St. Petersburg Times, and you can write off a donation to Poynter, so is it really necessary?

There's a gray area here, in that a non-profit newspaper may be able to sell advertising under current tax law.

But there's some major problems here. If you actually read the legislation (PDF), you'll find that it says an eligible newspaper is one that publishes regularly and includes local, national and international news.

I'm OK with "regularly" – most papers come out with some frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). But the legislation appears to specifically exclude some types of publications. Niche publication? Nope. National (with no specifically local news)? Application rejected. Local weekly? Out.

Let's also not forget that to qualify for a 501(c)(3), an organization has to be non-partisan. So, no more candidate endorsements (which, by the way, is fine with me), but also no being critical of any government institution or politician, lest you be accused of being impartial. You'd better included representatives from the IRS on your editorial board, in your story budget meetings, and maybe you just turn over your assignment editor positions.

Maybe print folks think I'm not taking the newspaper crisis seriously enough. Maybe it's because readership here is strong (via Sean Kirst).

Or maybe it's because I just don't think that the Web is destroying journalism, but rather that Web sites help newspapers.

David Eaves points out that the fact newspapers are in trouble means that democracy and the exchange of ideas are healthy. In fact, after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online-only, some of the folks who didn't make the cut from the printed version to the Web site are working on starting competing sites. When the Rocky Mountain News shut down, it didn't mean Colorado Rockies fans are going to be left without coverage, it means that former beat writers have new opportunities.

So where are we? Moving forward, in some direction or other. As Yogi Berra once said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Some related stuff

» Gina Chen: Old journalism might be fading out, but let's make sure some standards stick around

» Jay Rosen: Here's some stuff you should read regarding where newspapers are heading

» Idea Lab: How much local news is in your newspaper?

» Also, was I self-referential enough to fulfill Paul Dailing's requirements for becoming a death of newspapers blogger? (Hat tip to Alana Taylor.)

30/03/2009

Balancing the public knowledge with the actual knowledge

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I hope you read my post yesterday on the newspaper crisis hitting close to home.

Assuming you did, you probably realized that I was writing about the privately-held company I work for.

And you probably realized that I know at least a little more than I shared.

If you've ever worked for somebody else – either as a full-time employee or an independent contractor – you've probably signed something that said you won't give away company secrets.

OK...but how do you know what's a company secret?

Basically, if you can't verify it independently of internal communications within your company (including face-to-face meetings or phone calls), it's a company secret.

And if you have a blog, or a Twitter account, or a Facebook account, or a MySpace page or a... you'd better be damned sure what's a company secret and what's not, because you're Google-able. And expendable. Just sayin'.

That's why I made sure to link to a publicly available source for any news about the company. And while I do have some other information, I'm not sharing it. That's part of a balance you need to know – and as more graduates enter the workforce for the first time in a we-share-everything-because-we-think-it's-only-for-our-friends environment, it's something worth thinking about, both as a potential employee and as a potential employer.

Jill talks about this a lot at panels and in classes – about making yourself available, but not laying it all out there.

It really is a fine line you have to walk, but it's really important that you walk it, erring on the safe side.

26/03/2009

Newspaper crisis hits home

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I can't imagine that you've missed the news about the state of the newspaper industry. If you have, go spend three days reading about it, and talk to me when you've left the corner you've been rocking in.

Colorado's oldest paper, The Rocky Mountain News – which was actually launched in the Kansas Territory, before Colorado existed – has dedicated its Web site to the paper's shuttering weeks ago.


Photo of empty Post-Intelligencer box
by Brian M. Westbrook. Used with permission.

Washington's oldest paper, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, stopped print publication last week but is thriving online, to the point where you would have to actually know there was once a print edition.

The Christian Science Monitor will go to primarily online in April (they'll print a weekend edition, and have some other print offerings for subscribers, but nothing you can buy on the stands on a daily basis).

Gannett, which owns USA Today and a hundred-plus other newspapers across the country, has announced new furloughs as we move to the second quarter of 2009.

With all this going on, CNN wants to know what newspaper readers are going to do.

It's all felt very close, considering I once was a newspaper editor and reporter, before moving on to spend two years in grad school bitching about the decline of local news in newspapers (that was the unofficial name of my program).

And now I work for a Web site that's affiliated with a newspaper (they're owned by the same parent, but operated independently).

Operating independently, we don't take a direct hit when something happens in the newspaper industry. We're more like the person on the corner when the SUV slams into the hatchback, hoping we're standing just far enough back to avoid flying steel.

I'll be honest, it's been tough watching newspapers go down, but to some extent, the ivory tower in me is saying, "I told you so." But this week...well, this week, one of the newspapers in our chain announced it will go online only this summer. Another is planning to publish three days a week come June.

The newspaper chain my company is associated with announced a company-wide series of 10-day furloughs, apparently including my site's affiliate, The Post-Standard.

Some anonymous commenters are flat-out saying that production problems with this morning's paper may have been sabotage in the wake of the furlough news.

For the record, I very much doubt that.

Some people are still trying to save newspapers as printed products, but I've moved onto the fence. While I still enjoy kicking back with a Sunday paper and a cup (or three) of coffee, but let's face it, Clay Shirky gets a few things right.

Printing presses are expensive to buy, build, and run. Newsprint costs fluctuate, but overall, rise steadily. The price of distribution rises and falls with gas prices, which, as a whole, are going up, even if there are peaks and valleys.

I'm more interested in saving journalism than necessarily the printed product. I will always prefer reading longer pieces on paper, but with shrinking newsholes, we're getting shorter pieces overall anyway.

I have some ideas for making sure journalism survives – and that journalists thrive – but it seems like printed newspapers have spent a lot of time avoiding change.

And now, that avoidance is hitting really close to home. I'm hoping my colleagues hang in there, because I enjoy working with them, they're good people, and many of them are among the best in the country at what they do. Good luck, folks. I hope there's light at the end of this tunnel.

25/03/2009

Saturday with Dobbs: Social media edition

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Mike Dobbs is the first person I can count as a professional mentor.

When Wayne convinced me to join him at The Westerner (which could really use its own Web site), Dobbs was the faculty adviser for the student paper.

After my first op/ed appeared (which, clearly, had not been through his screening), Dobbs walked into the office and told me it would be OK if I used the word "butt" instead of "ass" next time.

I'm still a foul-mouthed little chucklehead, as the saying goes, but that's neither here nor there.

After my first semester on the paper (a spring term), Dobbs was dismissed from the college for using too many semicolons in a press release (that's my story and I'm sticking to it), and by October I was interning for Dobbs at Reminder Publications, where he would later become managing editor and I an editor.

Eventually I moved up to Syracuse, and discovered that he comes up here once a year for Cinefest, which I must have known, because I worked between six and 12 feet away from him for three years.

Since Cinefest happens in Liverpool, he had gotten in the habit of going to Ichiban, until I brought him to Dinosaur for the first time. And now the second, third, and, Saturday, fourth times.

Dobbs handed me his new book (that's two years in a row, by the way, there's been a new book to hand me), and we hit the Dino, talking about the state of the media in the Pioneer Valley and here in Central New York.

Because the Saturday schedule wasn't a ton to his liking, we had a bunch of time, so we went over to Edward Thomas and discussed social media opportunities.

We talked Twitter and Facebook, and came up with some ideas to maybe make Pioneer Valley Central easier to run.

There were a lot of what-ifs discussed, but let's just say I've learned that if I were ever in a position where it were necessary, I could survive on doing some social media consulting. That's a great feeling, especially coming from someone like Dobbs.

24/03/2009

The $1,600 Haircut

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Kim Hurlbut was my first roommate in Syracuse when I moved here in August of 2003. I lived with her through some rough times for both of us, and, let's be honest, when I moved out in February 2005, we weren't on the best of terms.

But as time went by, we've grown back into casual friendship – we don't see each other much, but we get along fine when we do (we actually see each other on purpose, too, which is a good thing).

Kim became a hero of sorts on Sunday when she took the radical step of shaving of her hair in the name of charity.

We won't do the psychological thing here, primarily because she and I didn't talk about it. For some women, this is a really big deal. For others, eh, it'll grow back.

But Kim did manage to raise $1,600 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which funnels money to find a cure for cancer in children.

Kim's hair was long enough that she also collected a donation to Locks of Love, which takes donations of 10 or more inches of hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.

Syracuse establishment Kitty Hoynes hosts the St. Baldrick's event every year. They have two rooms with four-to-five chairs, and a bunch of hair professionals stand on their feet all day and shave head after head.

This was my first year attending, and it's a fantastic atmosphere. Yes, the bar makes lots of money on beer and booze, but rather than serve food, they have a hot dog stand out back. It's clearly not a once-in-a-while publicity stunt. The restaurant had a team raise a bunch of money (and at least one of the workers wound up having a hair-based practical joke played on him), and was generally supportive of everyone who walked into the place, paying customer or not.

This is a great event. I'll definitely be back, and maybe next year I'll remember to not shave my head and beard within a week of it so that I can participate!

23/03/2009

How to drive when bicyclists are on the road

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Ride a bike and learn to kick cabs in your steel-toed boots and always cherish the scabs when you fall hard and it's dirty dark and you're forever scarred by a stark reality, a compassion-free urban community. The majority is the majority no matter where you are (no matter where you live most) (no matter where you go) and a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak. It's no new news story for the Toronto Star (or the National Post) (and it's not like that's not something that you don't already know). It's just another business day in another business week - Who cares about the fall of the freak?

-Ember Swift, "Freak" (Permanent Marker, 1999)

Clearly, it's not enough that I write this post about twice a year, so I'm doing it again.

Cyclists are traffic.

Cyclists. Are. Traffic.

CYCLISTS ARE TRAFFIC.

CYCLISTS ARE TRAFFIC.

Any questions? No, really, any questions?

When a cyclist signals that s/he is moving over to the left instead of merging on the highway, it's the same as if someone driving a car is using a blinker: if they are in front of you, you just have to wait.

If you are waiting at a traffic light to turn left and a cyclist is in the oncoming lane going straight, you yield to the cyclist, just like you would a car.

When a cyclist is on the right side of a left turn lane waiting at a traffic light, it is much more likely that the cyclist is waiting to take a left-hand turn than that s/he is sitting in the middle of the road simply to anger you.

One more thing: Cyclists are forced to ride over on the right-hand side of the road, where sewer grates and potholes live and people throw glass bottles. Give them more than a foot of space between your side-view mirror and their elbows. You'll thank yourself when you don't have cyclist splattered on your windshield after they try to avoid these obstacles.

20/03/2009

OK, so who’s that new musical addiction?

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So in that post yesterday, I alluded to a new musical addiction. Andrea was waiting for me to mention them, and she's been patient, but I don't how long that'll last since I don't actually know her, and I feel like making anyone wait more than four days is particularly cruel anyway.

And yes, I am for hire if anyone out there needs a run-on sentence or two for a blog post or news story.

I want you to meet The Real Tuesday Weld, whose Web site is so fancy it took me a while to figure out how to use it.

OK, so you may have already been on the TRTW bandwagon, if not from their songs' regular appearances in "The Gilmore Girls," then certainly from "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist."

Neither of which I was previously familiar, despite my being a virtual Six Degrees fanatic.

I picked up a copy of "Live at The End of the World," which is a live show at a club called The End of the World, as opposed to some mystical fantasy title.

But TRTW, along with performer The Clerkenwell Kid, got me interested in that theatrical way that the Asylum Street Spankers, Genesis P-Orridge and Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams got me interested.

Like the Spankers, TRTW features a large lineup, which accounts for its ambient sound and immense creativity.

If you read yesterday's post, you know I went into Soundgarden looking to judge some albums by their covers, and, while I was mildly worried that this could be another Berklee cookie cutter band based on the dark brick-and-wood-grain cover, the only disappointing thing about the disc is that it's short – like under a half hour short.

But The Real Tuesday Weld and I are going to have nights together, I'm sure.

19/03/2009

Music-ed. Plus: what’s the new musical addiction?

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My re-entry into music as a passion hit a new level in mid-February as the piano that had been tantalizingly out of my grasp for five-plus years finally reached me and got tuned. I've played either it or one of the guitars almost every day since, and I'm listening to so much more music than I have since leaving Massachusetts in August of 2003.

And now, new music. Or new to me, anyway. Phish's reunion shows at the Ball earlier this month are available free from LivePhish.com, and so I downloaded them and have steadily been making my way through them.

Then, Seth came through town.

And then on Sunday, I wandered into Soundgarden with some rules for myself.

I would pick out four CDs from the used bins at 2/$10. They would come in cardboard cases. I would never have heard of the bands. I would judge them solely by their covers.

On further inspection, I really should have heard of some of these artists. Two of them are on major labels. A third is on what you might call a major minor label. The fourth is on a smaller label that I am very familiar with and that has given me much music that I love.

I managed to grab four winners, with one disc that will go into heavy rotation, and I'll probably get more. Here's a look at the four:

Hem, rabbit songs One of the first voices I ever fell head over heals in love with was that of Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies – who, by the way, have brought some guests back to Trinity to re-record the songs from The Trinity Sessions. Sigh. Hem frontwoman Sally Ellyson has that same rich, get-lost-in-it-for-days voice.

This was going to be the tossup for me, as the cover is fairly non-descript, the songs have titles like "sailor" and "waltz" and "betting on trains" and others that don't really speak to any genre in particular.

But it's plain old gorgeous. It recalls not only the Junkies but some old local (to Western Mass.) rising stars who fizzled out – the Scud Mountain Boys.

AbsentStar, (sea trials) Far from amazing but still a good, solid pop record, AbsentStar's 2008 offering won't necessarily remind you of anybody, but it will definitely provide a good backdrop to assembling that bookshelf or whatever you've got going on that you need a little drive for.

The Wildbirds, Golden Daze First off, I'm not linking to a Web site here, because the only operable site I could find is on MyS***e. Also, I find it very amusing just how worried Universal Records was about piracy of this disc – even in 2007, when pirates were gonna do whatever they were gonna do. The FBI no-duplication warning on the back of the package is as large as the song titles, and in a clearer, bolder font face. It's also the most obvious text on the disc itself.

This disc has pop elements for everyone. The ballads are like some of the old Rolling Stones ballads (like "Wild Horses"-type stuff), and the more driven songs are reminiscent of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the "American Girl" days. Frontman Nicholas Stuart sounds a lot like E from Eels, and they use his voice the same way.

I almost want to upload a song or two, just for ha-has, but I'd highly recommend this one.

The new musical addiction Ha ha, fooled you. You're going to have to wait until tomorrow to find out what I was talking about when I said on Sunday:

my head's spinning a bit over a new-to-me band i found today.

18/03/2009