Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Enquirer bombs

It's been hard commenting on the Enquirer lately because the paper has been so boring. The only reason I can imagine as to why the bomb story ended up on the front page today is that the story was hit hard on the web site during the day Wednesday. But if there's any news in the story -- something you didn't already know when you went to bed last night -- then please tell me. Read this section and tell me how it qualifies as news:
Regardless, the presence of the bomb alongside a major interstate left a deep impact on businesses, residents and motorists.

"I shouldn't have stopped for a pop," said Albertha Reese, who tried twice to get onto I-71 in the Hyde Park and Norwood area. She spent the morning at work at Woodward High School and was in the dark about the bomb.

"Oh, my goodness," she said when told why the interstate was blocked.

Reese said she was driving down Madison Road when she decided to make a quick stop at a convenience store before trying to get to her Pleasant Ridge home. Instead, she found herself being directed off Edwards Road and down a small private street so she could turn around and try to get back to Madison because the entrance ramp to I-71 was closed.

Oh my goodness. If this is news, then please, shoot me now. What deep impact did this cause that didn't go away when the roads were reopened? A traffic jam is not "deep impact." The Enquirer invented "deep impact" to justify putting this piece of crap on the front page. The story sheds no light on the bomb itself. Was it terrorists? Or just some kid who got tired of building potato guns? The above anecdote was used in the story as padding, to make it look like there was something there to read, and to cover up the fact that the Enquirer didn't have anything new to say about the bomb.

The Ford story was more important but squeezed at the bottom of the page, and given just 12 paragraphs of space, which means the national impact of this was left out. Crate & Barrel? This would have been big news 10 years ago. Today isn't just another Enquirer suck-up to a potential advertiser.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The giant sucking sound gets louder

The Enquirer has largely removed attitude from the newspaper. There is no local columnist in Metro, they've gotten rid of a local movie critic and a local pop music critic, the editorials don't say anything, and there's precious little analysis in the paper overall (and we won't count Peter Bronson, who's stark raving irrelevant). So when the Enquirer does break out of this to try to say something, it's absolutely fellatial. Today we get a gooey front-page hummer for Nordstrom. The Enquirer gets more lightweight every day, and less compelling to read.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A giant sucking sound

The Enquirer is obsessed with brand names. Steve Jobs could take a crap in a white box and the Enquirer would put it on the front page, because it believes anything Apple does is news. The Enquirer got down on its knees and grabbed with both hands when Ikea said it was coming to Cincinnati last August. And now there's Nordstrom, which says it's opening a department store at Kenwood Towne Center, and the Enquirer gave it a big ride.

Compare this to other cities getting new Nordstrom stores. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch only mentioned the store on its front page, choosing instead to make the story the top story of its Business page. And the News-Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, had no mention at all on its front page about the store coming to nearby Newark (it could be, though, that this crappy Gannett paper didn't even know Monday the store was coming; on Tuesday afternoon, the Nordstrom story was the lead story on the web site).

The Nordstrom store in Kenwood won't be a big job creator, since it's not likely to employ many more than the Parisian store it's replacing. The Enquirer gave the story big play for two reasons. First, the Enquirer continues to suck up to the northeastern suburbs, trying to sell more papers up there; about the only front-page news the rest of Hamilton County gets is murders and St. X football. Second, it's getting a head start on sucking up to Nordstrom, which it hopes will be a big newspaper advertiser. Suck harder!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Good news, but not too good

The Enquirer reported this morning that its daily circulation was up 4.6 percent to 197,962 for the six months ended Sept. 30, an increase second among the nation's top 50 newspapers only to the New York Post. This comes more than two weeks after circulation was reported nationally, and the news wasn't good. (If you want the latest analysis of Enquirer/Post circulation, from February, see this page.)

That means Merry Christmas at the Enquirer, right? Not really. The Enquirer's publisher told employees a couple of weeks ago that she's canceling the annual Christmas gift program, to save money. The Enquirer doesn't believe in company sponsored summer picnics or Christmas parties, and most employees don't get bonuses. The annual Christmas gift was one of the few nice things the Enquirer did for its employees, and now it's gone, probably forever.

Circulation may be rising, but it's not making things all better. The Enquirer didn't even have enough people to cover the Delta news Tuesday. They had to use an Associated Press story on Comair, whose headquarters isn't 20 miles from downtown.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Layoffs in Gannettland

The Enquirer's Gannett sister The Arizona Republic, thought to be one of healthier newspapers in the company, is reported to have laid off 31 people, including 7 from the newsroom. Are layoffs far behind at the Enqiurer?

UPDATE: The Phoenix New Times had this to say about the layoffs.

Crowdsourcing rawks!

On election day, the Enquirer unveiled crowdsourcing, in which they try to get unpaid readers to do the work of reporters. The Enquirer urged readers to contact the paper if they had any problems voting. Reports were compiled and posted here, with a handy Google map showing the polling places where problems were reported. As one Enquirer reporter is quoted as saying in the blog, "crowdsourcing rocks!"

This is not a bad thing, but crowdsourcing seems most powerful when you use it as material for something greater. For instance, did the reported voting problems show a pattern of discrimination or fraud, for instance? We don't know, because the Enquirer never took this material any farther. They used it for one story the morning after the election, and they've done nothing with it since. Today the Enquirer ran a story on how Victoria Wulsin is counting on the provisional ballots to defeat Jean Schmidt (duh!), but the story was written from Washington and has very little local information.

There's certainly more work to be done here. The Columbus Dispatch, which is covering the Pryce-Kilroy recount, is actually covering the recount. They had this story Wednesday morning, about a compromise reached on allowing provisional ballots to be counted -- a story that is important statewide, is important here in Cincinnati, and is one the Enquirer failed to report. Is the Enquirer's Columbus reporter asleep?

Then there's this. It appears someone in Columbus is tracking provisional ballots, and built a handy map in Google Earth showing which precincts handed out the most provisionals.

So, there's lots of work that could be done on this important topic. The Enquirer's just not doing it. The only thing the Enquirer got out of its grand crowdsourcing exercise was a lot of unconfirmed reports from untrained observers, nearly all of which went undigested. The Enquirer is dumping raw data on readers and calling it the future of journalism. Lord help us.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Say what? Oh, nothing ...

The Enquirer's editorial board keeps coming up with ways to say not much. In the old days, when editorial pages mattered, editorial boards took stands on issues. Even if you disagreed with the editorial, at least you could have a conversation about it. The Enquirer's wimpy attitude is to let the people decide, to be the facilitator of an endless, conclusionless conversation, all of which means the board takes a stand on almost nothing. (Or, the case of Rumsfeld's resignation, they take a strong stand only after the issue has been settled.)

Today's two "editorials" on the failure of ballot issues on gambling and funding a new jail are typical. In this on the jail, the Enquirer manages to write 18 paragraphs about the sales tax funding proposal without ever using the word "regressive" (which might explain why the rich suburbs supported in but the low-income ones didn't). The Enquirer also somehow comes out of the defeat of the gambling issue with the question, how then do we fund higher education? There is a shocking lack of analysis in both of these pieces, and neither really offers any solution to either problem.

I don't understand what the people on the editorial board think their job is. Either they're afraid to take a stand, lack the intellectual wherewithal to take a stand, or they're being told not to take a stand. No matter what the reason, Enquirer editorials are boring and irrelevant. Shut down the editorial board and put the newsprint to better use.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cincinnati East

Here is an explanation by a former reporter for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle -- like the Enquirer, a Gannett newspaper -- about why he left the paper. Sound familiar?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And we're also glad Hitler is dead

The Enquirer editorial board is happy that Donald Rumsfeld has chosen to resign. I looked, and couldn't find any word anywhere that the editorial board ever demanded that Rumsfeld resign. (If you can find it, email me at

Seems to me it's the epitome of intellectual cowardice to jump onto a ship that's already set sail. The board never had the guts to take a stand against Rumsfeld, and the closest they've ever come to taking a stand on the war was this, back on Oct. 20, where they said the high death toll among our soldier in October "raises questions." How can these wussies even look at themselves in the mirror?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Rolling Stone on Schmidt

When was the last time you read something this good in the Enquirer? Makes you proud the Enquirer actually endorsed Schmidt over Wulsin. Politics aside, why is it whenever the outside press reports from Cincinnati, the stories are better reported, better written and more compelling to read that what we get from the Enquirer?

The future of newspapers, on the cheap

At 9:52 a.m. today, these were the headlines on the Enquirer's web site:
  • Woman hurt in purse-snatching
  • Survey: People counting on Social Security
  • Accident slows I-75 commute
  • Shipping deadline to military Nov. 13
  • Ruling today on visitation
  • Part of Rialto Rd. will be closed
  • New complaint chief named
In order, that's crime news, a rewritten press release, traffic, another press release, something pulled from the Enquirer's daybook, traffic, and another press release.

This is what passes for news in the new world of Enquirer journalism. If you haven't already seen it, read this letter from the CEO of Gannett (which owns the Enquirer) (the letter is long and goes on for about four pages), this viewpoint from some guy on some web site, this article from Wired, and this blog (the Nov. 7 entry) by the article's author.

All these people seem very excited about this, but they forget that this is Gannett we're talking about. The gist is that Gannett newspapers have been instructed to put together 24-hour newsrooms, called Information Centers. The buzzword is "crowdsourcing," which Wired says "involves taking functions traditionally performed by employees and using the internet to outsource them to an undefined, generally large group of people." The Enquirer is already trying this with its Get Published/Get Local pages, through which readers submit news items. This has produced such earthshattering reader-submitted scoops as "Our Lady of Lourdes School Receives Recycling Award!" and "Appearance Plus Cleaners Wins Assistance League Corporate Star Award".

This might all work, at some newspaper that is concerned about quality journalism. That wouldn't be the Enquirer. This is what we've already seen from the Enquirer: They've eliminated columnists and critics because they need more reporters to cover local news, and they've eliminated positions in the newsroom are employees have left the paper. This hasn't produced better political coverage or more watchdog journalism. It's produced more blurbs about rummage sales and indoor cornhole tournaments and more high school sports on the front page. And notice that in everything Gannett says about this effort, there's no price tag. That's because there isn't one -- newspapers will be expected to do this with existing resources. Here's what the CEO's Q&A says about this:
Q. Will there be additional hiring done to fill the Information Center jobs?
A. The Information Center transforms, repurposes and refocuses the resources that exist now. Newspapers are training for new skills in multimedia, assessing needs for library science and archiving expertise and updating job descriptions. Many sites are assessing, updating and training to ensure everyone has the right tools and expertise to transform into Information Center employees.
If anyone thinks this is about journalism -- well, I have this beautiful bridge I'd like to show you. This isn't about protecting our communities, or keeping our politicians honest. This is about generating traffic on web sites. When traffic is higher, you can attract more advertisers and charge more for advertising. The Enquirer's push will be to update the web site as often as possible, so you keep coming back to the site throughout the day looking for news, to boost traffic for advertisers. Another thing you won't read in all the Gannett boostering for this is that reporters will be evaluated based on how often they update the web site. How many Pulitzer prizes do you think that will produce? I think the web site will look like it already does, only moreso -- crime news, traffic news, press releases. You might as well watch Channel 19.

How do you staff a 24-hour newsroom? How do you get enough people producing content all day long? The Enquirer isn't going to be hiring any more people to do this, so they'll pull from within. Greg Korte of the Enquirer is quoted in the Wired article saying this: "The newspaper of the future is going to need more programmers than copy editors, and we're going to have to figure out how to make that transition."

There's a clue right there -- fewer copy editors. My guess is the Enquirer will pull from the quality-control layer -- the copydesk, people who right now aren't actually producing content for the web site or newspaper. That means the traditional checks within the newspaper will deteriorate, and you'll notice it both in the newspaper and on the web site. And Gannett already hates reporters because they cost too much. Wait till they see how expensive and ornery good programmers are. Lastly, Gannett has a very short attention span and little of the spiritual stamina that it will take to make this work. If this effort doesn't produce enough money fast enough, Gannett will cut its losses, cut staff and cut the resources it devotes to this.

"Crowdsourcing" may be the latest cool-sounding buzzword that makes Gannett think it's on the cutting edge. Improving the news product, whether its on the web or on paper or some guy shouting headlines on Fountain Square, means being concerned about quality above profits, and that's nowhere in Gannett's genetic makeup.