Day 1

President Barack Obama's inaugural address keeps getting better every time I listen to it.

In fact, I have to say, I wasn't all that impressed sitting and watching it live on television – but then, I, like millions of others, was very much wrapped up in the moment, and the words were just the words of a politician.

But I'll admit, there were definitely some winning moments. One thing Obama had to do was to declare America safe – something he had barely done during the campaign. In fact, I'm of the opinion that he's learned something since the election, sitting in on daily security briefings. Suddenly, safety is an issue, not something abstract. He knows, as very few others know, what intelligence is being gathered about potential threats against the U.S.

Flashy speech or no, Obama's first 100 days start now.

A hundred days is a benchmark. At that point, he's had some time to settle into the job, to learn what it takes to get things done, and most importantly, to accomplish some things.

Mitch tells me the first 100 days need to include a stimulus package, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and the ending of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.

I'll agree with all of those, and I think the Guantanamo closing will come as soon as we figure out what to do with some of the prisoners we're interested in holding but not extradicting (because they'll be tortured in their home countries) or prosecuting (because military or intelligence secrets would be aired in open court).

The other thing I expect soon – Thursday, perhaps, since it's the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling – is an end to the Global Gag Rule. The rule says no federal funding can be used for foreign family planning programs that either directly fund or even discuss abortions as a possibility.

Ronald Reagan instituted it in 1984, Bill Clinton repealed it in 1993, and George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 – on the Roe anniversary.

But there's another thing I'm very concerned about, as are many other people: openness.

A new White House blog is one thing, but Jay Rosen puts it frankly:

We can now hold you guys to

- better communication
- more transparency
- greater participation.


At the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when I first came to appreciate Obama, the then-Senate candidate said that blogging was an important way to convey information. Some people even had him slated for President – in 2016 (presumably after Hillary Clinton had her shot).

But after 100 years of press inclusion, the Bush administration shut the door on the press, and in doing so, on the American people, who access government through the press.

As Rosen says, it's not just the one-way communication of a blog that goes out from the White House to the people that's important, it's government transparency, and a give-and-take between the citizenry and the government.

Rosen gives an historic overview and a bit of advice on his blog, as well.

So, we've had another peaceful transfer of power, and we have been peaceful during that transition. We have turned a page. We have elected a president on a platform of hope, change and positivity, someone with a simple motto: yes we can.

So let's, please, move forward.

But let's also not get complacent. We've given Barack Obama the privilege to lead us. Let's hold him accountable for doing so.

Eye Candy: Take a few minutes to install Silverlight so you can check out the inauguration photosynth. Holy fun, Batman.

More on newspapers and the Web in 2009. Plus: adult personals?

Wish I had seen Adam Reilly's post on dailies in The Phoenix (via Romenesko/Poynter before I wrote my screed this morning.

Reilly touches on some of the same stuff I do: the Christian Science Monitor and the Detroit papers as signs of the times. The future of papers being good reporting on the Web. Collaboration.

He also gets into deep cuts and niche coverage.

One thing he doesn't touch on didn't occur to be until I remembered what The Phoenix is: a free paper that is frequently fat. As in, a huge newshole.

You know how it supports that big newshole? Advertising. Specifically, adult personals: there's a large section each issue.

A lot of newspapers aren't going to be willing to accept this kind of advertising – my employer and its sister sites used to take personal ads (not the adult sort), but it went more family-friendly – but it could be a good bailout for some establishments.

Press bailouts, ‘this new Web thing,’ and newspapers in 2009

Why are we still mourning the non-loss of the newspaper when it could be really easy to fix?

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

Look, I understand newspapers are having a hard time, but do newspaper publishers and lawmakers expect readers to think a newspaper will report objectively on a government that funds it?

Pentagon Papers? You want to run those? Well, we'll be taking back that $5 billion check. Good luck!

Even some college newspapers operate independently of – including paying rent to – the institutions they serve.

But newspapers are facing a stark reality right now: Readers are buying fewer papers, advertisers are fleeing, and the costs of newsprint, payroll, overhead (rent, utilities, etc.) and distribution are mainly on the rise. One major national newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, will go to a weekend edition only, with daily focus going entirely online come April.

Detroit's two major dailies, the Free Press and Detroit News, will go down to thin (32-page) editions three days a week, with full editions three days and one Sunday edition between them.

These may not be happy times, and while it may be the end of the newspaper as we know it, that's not a bad thing; it's just a change. It's not even the first one newspapers have undergone – I wasn't around when radio and TV were born, and I was in high school when CNN showed up, so I don't know what the panic looked like, but this new Web thing is no longer new, so stop whining and start listening.

Your newspaper's Web site is not your trained circus monkey. Learn how to make it work not only for, but also with you. Most newspaper-affiliated Web sites – including the one I work for – use stuff from the newspaper as their primary content. But they also have other affiliates, bloggers and staff on-hand to help them compete. While you as a newspaper might be the only daily print game in town, and you see local TV and radio news as your primary competition, the Web site is competing with other news sites around the country for eyeballs.

Here are some things you can do, with tips from Gina Chen, Martin Langeveld, Jeff Chandler, Chris O'Brien, and me.

Journalists vs. bloggers is a myth. Get over yourself. You've been on your beat 25 years. You have a shiny laminated press credential with a 2x3 photo of you on it. Big deal. That gives you historical background and access. It doesn't make you any smarter than anyone else. If a die-hard college basketball fan happens to be younger than you, it means her institutional memory doesn't go back as far as yours does, but her knowledge of the current team runs just as deeply as yours does.

While you're running around getting quotes from coaches and players she can't get, she's reading their Facebook and MySpace pages, chatting online with other fans, and reading 20 different sources about the team, some connected, some not. Yes, she's reading your stuff, but she watched the game, so she's skipping your game story and going after the anecdotes and analysis you had to put in your blog, since you could only get 22 inches into the paper.

Sorry, but as a fan who pays a lot of attention – and who maybe happens to be a lawyer or an accountant – her analysis of the team is probably as valid as yours.

A blog is just a publishing platform – and it's a good one. Plus: it's bottomless. Let's say your a columnist for a newspaper. You write four columns a week, each around 25 inches. If you're a good columnist, you could probably take November and December off and have the paper run 100 inches a week of stuff you had to cut. But you can't do that, because the stuff is no longer relevant, and given the state of the industry, you're worried that if you don't show up for a couple of months, you won't still have a desk in January.

Enter the blog.

You have a pretty much "bottomless," interactive publishing tool. While the newspaper is essentially one-way communication – sure, you print your e-mail address and phone number, but of your paper's 300,000 subscribers, what do you get, 50 calls a week, maybe 100 if it's a touchy subject? – people can read your column online and comment on it immediately. You can then add your replies in another comment, and then you have...oh my, a discussion!

And you're not limited to the 25 inches you get in the paper. While newsprint, ink and distribution costs are increasing, server space is cheap as heck. Write all 100 inches you put together. Post all 50 photos you took, not just the one they had room for in the paper. Got an audio recording you did for the column? Post it. People love that stuff. Video? Great. Can't put that in the newspaper, might as well not waste it as source material only you get to see.

Don't shun conversations. If you're writing for a newspaper, it's probably for two or more of the following four reasons: (1) you know a lot about something, (2) you're a good researcher, (3) sources trust you, (4) you can string a couple of paragraphs together. In fact, it's probably reason (4) and at least one of the other three.

This means there are a lot of people reading your stuff who could be doing your job if either they wrote better, or they wanted to take a pay cut and do something else.

That's not derision. That's just to say that while what you're doing is important, there are other people who know just as much as, or perhaps more than, you do, and you could enrich your writing, your career and your life by listening to them.

One of the things I loved about being a reporter was that if I had to write a story about a bakery, I had to rely on a couple of other people (and maybe a little bit on the Internet, an encyclopedia, and a dictionary) to tell me everything I needed to know. I don't have first-hand experience running my own business, I don't make bread, I don't have hungry customers to make recommendations to.

I might learn a lot about a bakery through writing a feature piece on it, but it shouldn't end there. If I post it in an interactive environment, other people with more intimate knowledge of different aspects of the story – being a business owner, being a baker, being a customer – can chime in, and not only will I learn something, my piece becomes more interesting because of it, and I may even glean some new story ideas.

Seriously, we're still talking about whether we should link externally, even if it's to a competitor's Web site? Chances are, you're probably not the go-to expert on your beat. You write about local bike paths? Know all about ISTEA and TEA-21? Know all about where funding is coming from for the local intermodal transportation projects? Great. You want to know why some unemployed 42-year-old shlub living in his parents' basement in suburban Nebraska is getting more page views on his Blogspot blog than you're getting on your newspaper-sanctioned (and, let's face it, employer-required) blog?

It's because that shlub looked around the Web and linked to almost the exact same piece you wrote in 30 communities across the country, where it's also happening. It's that person who looked for other people who think they're experts but only fit that description locally, and found a national pattern – or even better, found a solution in St. Louis for a problem in Portland.

At the same time that you might need to realize you're not the only person who knows a lot about your beat, have some confidence that your voice is important. If it means linking from your piece to some seemingly far-off Web competitor like the Washington Post or Talking Points Memo, do it – your readers will see you as a valuable resource leading them to interesting stuff, and they'll come back to you for it.

If you got your story idea from a local competitor, so be it. Build on their story, then credit them via a link with finding it first. Local readers are also paying attention to other local media. They saw it there first, and you're not fooling them. But crediting the competitor could lead to collaboration, either at the reporter level or at the institutional level, and collaboration leads to great things. One of the tips Gina Chen had was for newspapers to create the "next big thing." If collaboration can lead to that, why would you skip the beginnings?

Listen to your readers. They know something. Don't tell your readers what they should think is important. Work with them to find out what they think is important.

In their book News Around The World (which I helped edit and which I can't believe is retailing for a hundred five dollars), Pam Shoemaker and Akiba Cohen found that across 10 countries, when asked separately, editors, journalists and readers rank the importance of stories pretty much the same.

There are, of course, some culture differences, particularly among editors if there's some state control of media, but handed a list of assignments or headlines, pretty much everyone recognizes important stories when they see them.

So when you rank a story highly – putting it on top of a Web page or on A-1 – and your readers slam your news judgment, work with them on it. Don't pretend you know better. Also, if they stop reading, you don't have a paycheck, so sometimes you have to give them what they ask for.

Revise your publish schedule – and definitely don't sit on stories until they come out in the paper. This might be the single most important thing newspapers can do with the Web. The first newspaper Web sites were entirely "shovel-ware" – reporters would write stories for the paper, and after they made sure the paper went to print, they would just copy and paste their stories onto the Web.

That would doom your Web site now – and if you're still doing it, stop.

Unless either it happened two seconds before you were going to press or you've been the only news organization working on the story for three months, by the time they get their paper, most people already know about a story. When you run a banner headline about Israel and Hamas going to war in Gaza, you need to recognize that people probably have already heard about it. If they didn't see it on the Web at work, they saw it on the evening news, or heard it on the radio on their commute home.

Don't think the morning newspaper is the first people are hearing of it; you don't need to give them the bit they've already read or heard. Give them the local angle. And don't wait until tomorrow if you have it today: if you put it on the Web at 4:00, people will read it, and they'll say, "thanks, newspaper, for being first with that." Tomorrow, it's, "gee, thanks, newspaper, but I knew that already."

You can take what you put online, refine it, cut it to fit the newshole, and run that in the paper for people who have a morning routine of sitting with the newspaper over coffee, or who read it on the bus.

And then there are feature pieces of general interest that maybe someone else is working on. If an athlete sat out injured last season and the new season is approaching, you're probably working on a piece on that athlete, but so are all the local TV stations and any bloggers who happen to cover your beat (even if you don't put much faith in them).

So, you've written your piece, and it's slated for the newspaper in three days. Well, why are you sitting on it for the Web? If a TV station runs it first, or a blogger runs it first, and the staff at your affiliated Web site picks it up, they'll link to that TV station or credible blogger, and you'll be mad because you got scooped.

Well, you would have been first, but you decided to sit on it, because of a production schedule. Boo-hoo. People who get the paper are going to read the story when it comes out, but if you can get the story (in some form) online now, you can be credited with being first, rather than with being three days behind everyone else, even though you had the story.

This post came out sounding a bit on the negative side, but it all leads to me wanting to see newspapers succeed, even if they're not doing it in paper form. A lot of TV stations aren't being watched on TV anymore, and people are listening to many radio stations over the Internet, since they have high-speed Internet connections but not radios at their desks or in their home offices.

The great thing about newspapers is deep resources – very few TV or radio stations, or Internet-only news sites have large staffs covering a region. And it takes very little extra work to put good work from those staffers on the Web in an attractive and useful manner, and more quickly than their competitors – both local and national – can get the news together.

Here's to a great 2009!

Israel vs. Hamas, round infinity

Daryl Cagle - See more cartoons

I have a long history of bothering friends and relatives by occasionally declaring my support for land-for-peace efforts, and for more often than not, failing to blindly support Israel in offensive maneuvers against its neighbors.

So it may come as a shock to some people that I'm supporting Israel in its current offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

I've been mostly following the action in the Jerusalem Post and Al Jazeera, so I'm getting a fair balance of unbalanced news.

The cool thing I found today, was that the Israeli Consulate General in New York, David Saranga, gave a live Q&A; on Twitter (you don't need an account to read it).

He and his staff will be releasing a FAQ tomorrow, as they got flooded with questions and ran out of time.

There was a protest today in Syracuse, with those turning out largely against the Israeli action against Hamas.

But one commenter takes a good approach:

Allow me to introduce you all to a concept: gray. It's the thousand shades that come between black and white. It's where 99% of human actions and decisions fall.

Most of you are taking a very complex situation and boiling it down to two absurdly simple sides, then choosing one or the other. Have any of you ever tried any of these ridiculous ideas in your own life?

It's a shade of gray that makes me support Israel's offensive here.

Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip – a territory it had occupied since it overcame an attack in 1967 – in 2005. They pulled out enough that the U.N. said they were out of there. That has to be good enough for pretty much everyone.

Hamas was put in control of the territory by a plurality of voters (about 40%).

Hamas does things like build schools, staff hospitals, and train suicide bombers. The U.S., Israel, and others list it as a terrorist organization.

Israel and Hamas agreed on a six-month cease-fire earlier this year, and as the clock wound down on it, Hamas started launching rockets out of Gaza and into Israel, killing several Israeli civilians.

Israel responded by launching an all-out attack, killing hundreds of Hamas operatives and dozens of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza.

But I have to blame Hamas for those civilian deaths.

When Hamas shoots its rockets, it just shoots them into cities, killing whatever happens to get in the way. Most frequently, that would be civilians, who live in cities, while military bases tend to be out of the way.

Meanwhile, Hamas builds its bases among apartment buildings in densely-populated areas, making the civilians who live nearby the next best thing to human shields – a violation of the Geneva Conventions (like they're concerned about that).

If you're not familiar with the concept of a human shield, it's simple. You grab a gun, and you grab a civilian, and you figure the other guy won't shoot at you because they don't want to kill the civilian. If they do, you have a good piece of propaganda to use.

I always feel bad in war. I always feel bad when people die. But I feel worse when a country sits by and takes it, like Israel was forced to do during the first Gulf War. As I remember it, Iraq at that point said that if the U.S. invaded (which it did), it would bomb Israel (which it did), and the U.S. told Israel, "don't worry, we'll take care of this, just if you see a scud missile coming, run."

I have to think that if Israel keeps it up, the people of Gaza will realize it's Hamas' fault, and they will oust their leaders.

Saranga, the Israeli consulate, said that the Israeli government is pro-cease-fire, and that it thinks the only way to go is with a two-state solution.

I think a two-state solution is a great idea, but I don't see it working out: the Palestinian Authority will want Jerusalem (which has holy sites for both Jews and Muslims), and that's just a non-starter. I don't even see Israel giving open passage to Jerusalem.

Is there a solution? I'm not confident there is. Jerusalem has changed hands 24 times in the last (roughly) 2,200 years. The violence hasn't ended, and there's no reason to think it will stop now.

But we can certainly do our best to try to figure out how not to shoot at each other.

[ transition ]

I'm borrowing brackets (but not underscores) from James. I feel it gives a sense of whispering to a headline (I don't know why James has opted for the convention).

We're about to flip our calendars. In fact, in most of our cases, we'll be recycling calendars in exchange for new ones, shifting the weight from the top to the bottom.

This is the time for lists, for memories, for resolutions.

I will, in no uncertain terms, not miss 2008. It began with a major snowstorm, a storm which has not abated for 363 days and counting.

Close family members, close friends have passed this year. Close family members of close friends have done the same.

It was a bad year to be a celebrity; lots of them passed as well, people with names like Heath Ledger, Preacher Roe and Eartha Kitt, among the dozens or hundreds.

We've watched the financial industry crash, watched people and charities ruined in a scam, watched the auto industries in the U.S., U.K., Mexico and Japan reduced to begging.

The people who started the year as well-liked, squeaky-clean governors of New York and Illinois tumbled in scandal, so far resulting in one resignation.

As the year rolls to a close, Palestinians and Israelis are killing each other again.

This isn't to say there's no hope for 2009: in fact, I think it's what we have most of.

It's also not to say good things didn't happen in 2008. Some most assuredly did. I think the world would not have survived had they not.

My 2009 will begin a few weeks late. I am half-in, half-out of boxes at the moment. I am, as one friend put it, "right-sizing" – downsizing to surroundings that I fit into, rather than having spare rooms I don't use.

My plan is to leave some goals open for 2009, but among those I hope to be able to quantify, once I'm in my new space, I hope to:

• Take more photos for the greater good, not necessarily for sale. I'm hoping to put at least three new photos on flickr each week.

• Publish something in Corpse. It's a publication I both enjoy and respect, and I'd be honored to be on their contributors list.

• Make this space here a lot prettier, more professional, and more useful. That includes better (more frequent, more informative) posting, and more creative use of space.

That's the beginning. There will be more.

I also have great hopes for Central New York in 2009, but that's another post for another day.

My hope for you, dear reader: a happy and a healthy 2009.

The cost of anonymity on the Web

"That's what the Internet's for, slandering others anonymously!"
      — Jason Lee as Banky Edwards in
Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back

Last night I said, "The abuse of anonymity makes me sad," and also that I would find some time this week to write about it.

So here goes.

I used to be purely against anonymity on the Web. Then my friend Sassy Pants started blogging anonymously (save for a few of us who know her identity), and I started to understand somewhat.

And then Sassy Pants led me to the fictionalized recreational sex blog Girl With a One-Track Mind, written by "Abby Lee." It's a really well-written, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable blog, and eventually "Abby" (a pseudonym, hence the quotes) was handed a book deal. So, she wrote a book.

Just days after the book hit the stands, she was outed in horrid fashion by a British paper as a mainstream film worker named Zoe Margolis.

I was horrified by The Guardian's treatment of her: They sent flowers to "Abby Lee" via her book agent, then had a photographer follow the delivery to her door.

She had to call her mom and warn her.

Can you even imagine the conversation? "Hi, Mom. Just a warning. When you get the paper tomorrow, you're going to find out that I have a lot of sex and that I write rather luridly about it. That's all. Love ya. Say hi to Dad."

Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. That terrorist attack – a bomb on a timer in a suitcase aboard an international flight – killed all 259 people on board the plane, plus 11 people on the ground.

It also was a wake-up call to the international community regarding airline security.

When I first visited Syracuse University on Nov. 1, 2002, I learned that 35 of the people on that plane were exchange students from the university on their way home for the holidays.

Sean Kirst spoke to some of the survivors, and here is where my ire is drawn: read the comments on the story. You'll see they end with the phrase, "Comments are now closed for this entry."

The phrase follows a note from Mark Libbon at The Post-Standard:

A number of inappropriate comments have been removed, as suggested by the previous comment.

I happen to have the privilege of working for, and so this morning, I took occasion to read some of the comments that were removed from the site.

Sadly, I have to say, they deserved removal. They were everything from hateful to useless to irresponsible. And that's the problem with offering people anonymity: there's no accountability for what they say.

Let's be honest. We all have stuff we'd love to say, but let's face it, some things we keep to ourselves, because they have consequences we're not willing to incur. These consequences might be anything from being branded an idiot or a racist, to being fired for representing your company in an unprofessional manner.

But let's face it: unless you're the late Mark Felt – the best-known anonymous source ever – you probably need a really good reason for anonymity on the Web. And you shouldn't abuse it by saying anything you'd be embarrassed to say if you put your name behind it.

The proposed state budget

Governor David Paterson appears to be attempting to make New York a really miserable place to live, in an effort to shore up a $15 billion budget gap.

OK, that's a lot of money, I get it. But among Paterson's proposed measures are 88 new taxes and fees, along with service cuts.

There are some definitely reasonable measures. Upping sin taxes (beer, wine, cigarettes, cigars) and removing the 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax cap, no worries. Upping the auto insurance surcharge from $5 to $10? OK, fine.

But then there's things like...

• Taxes on non-diet sodas, and other "non-nutritious" beverages like juices that aren't really juice (officially, less than 70% juice). You can't really call this an "obesity tax," as some news outlets have dubbed it, because, well, where's ice cream? Cheeseburgers? Bacon? And if you tax non-diet sodas, you get people drinking diet sodas. So, what, they get cancer instead of fat? That will do great things for the health care budget, eh?

• Taxes on services like gym memberships and hair cuts. This might be fine at upscale places, but people will leave gyms if their memberships go up $6 a month (adding weight to the health care problem), and you start pricing people out of some services – if you're generally only willing to pay $15 for a haircut, when taxes send it to $17, you're going to go every other month instead of every month, and your barber will close, meaning a decrease in the business tax base for cities.

• New license plates, which will cost you $25. Why don't you just up the registration fee? Why do I have to stand in line at the registry to exchange my tags, then notify my insurance company, the bank that holds my car loan, and my landlord?

• Raising fees for camping and parks in general and cutting services. Pay more for less? OK, sure!

• Increase fees for fishing licenses by $10 – but only if you're fishing for salmon or trout. Hmmm...if I don't know my fish, will can I catch one by accident?

• New fees for cable TV, satellite TV and satellite radio. I would be in favor of this if these weren't monopoly industries. If there were price competition, it would be easy to swallow an extra $5 or $10 a month (well, maybe $10), but since you pretty much pay $15, $50 or $99 for cable from the local company (at least in this area), you're held hostage for whatever the company wants to charge you to pay those fees.

• Taxes on bus and cab fares. First off, we should be rewarding people for taking public or mass transit, not finding new ways to make money from them. Second, you wind up diminishing public transit services. Centro, the local bus company here, isn't likely to raise their fare to $1.08 per trip, they'll make their rate $0.93 so the sales tax makes the trip $1. And losing even seven cents per passenger means they're going to have some trouble, especially when gas prices go up.

• Taxes on less expensive clothing and shoes. Many states charge a luxury tax for some items (I remember growing up that it was a $70 item you had to pay taxes on in Massachusetts), and in New York, $110 is the demarcation point. You don't pay taxes on on a $109.99 dress, nor on a $3.99 t-shirt. Maybe you lower that threshold to $50 or something, but eliminate it all the way and you have retailers who make their livings on selling $3.99 t-shirts closing up because people are now buying two shirts at a time instead of three, taking away fully a third of their income.

• Taxes on entertainment, like movie tickets, tickets to sporting events, and movie, music and book downloads. I'm sure the anti-piracy firms will love the last bit. When you jack up prices, you encourage stealing of intellectual property.

The budget proposal also includes cuts to SUNY hospitals, increases in tuition at SUNY schools, a removal of a tax incentive to renters in New York City, an eight-fold increase in the cost of taking a civil service exam, and large increases in professional fees for certifications for physicians, lawyers, social workers and others.

And for just a brief second, let's talk about one of upstate's big problems: Brain Drain. Do you see that list of stuff up there? A lot of it hurts younger folks, and that means that once they finish high school or college, they're gone, to some place they can afford to live.

I don't think this budget is going to pass in this form, but if it does, I think we're going to start seeing more problems at ground level – more housing foreclosures, more businesses closing up shop, more people leaving the state.

At some point you have to realize, it's not just a hole in the state budget, it's a hole in people's pockets, and holes in people's pockets means holes in New York – as a whole.