Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The front page could have been better today

Lousy front page of the Enquirer today, with not much good news judgment. Does the online predators story really deserve the top of the front page? The story fails to give the name of the bill. It's the KIDS (Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators) Act of 2007, according to Rep. Gillmor's web site. I guess that should be the KIDSP Act. Hundreds of bills are introduced during each session of Congress, and few become law. Why did the Enquirer get excited about this one? And, according to Gillmor's web site, his sponsorship may stem from an investigation by WBNS-TV in Columbus that "found more than 50 registered sex offenders from central Ohio on MySpace." As of Wednesday afternoon, this bill still wasn't in the Thomas database. (And what's so bad about being a sex offender anyway?)

And do poll results deserve the most prominent spot on the front page? Since both of these stories came right off the news, it was clear the Enquirer didn't have any enterprise stories for the day. Better stories might have been this one on Sen. Specter challenging President Bush on Iraq, or anything on the Scooter Libby trial. And the Enquirer underplayed the shenanigans at Omnicare.

The Enquirer misfired by putting the launch of Vista on the front page on Tuesday. Big deal -- Best Buy set up tents. Very very few people buy new versions of operating systems to upgrade an existing computer. They get the new operating system when they buy a new computer. This escaped the jerks who decide what goes on the Enquirer's front page. Did any of them camp out for the new Vista? This Associated Press story said first-day sales of Vista weren't much, and this blog agrees, all of which confirms how the Enquirer's news judgment misfired. So, why was this story on the front page?

Also, the Enquirer seems to use freelancers more often, because they're cheaper than full-time reporters. The Enquirer calls them "contributors," and their contributions are usually fluff. Think about that and read this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Management changes at the Enquirer

News here. Tom Callinan moves over, and managing editor Hollis Towns becomes executive editor. What exactly Callinan is doing now isn't clear, but it wasn't clear what he did when he was editor. He's now in charge of content and audience development. The cranky and hermit-like Callinan couldn't even develop an audience among the people in his own newsroom. Towns isn't well liked in the newsroom, but worse than that, he isn't respected as a journalist. He's also seen as a short-timer, just biding his time till he moves on to his next newspaper. Also note that he wasn't replaced as managing editor.

UPDATE: For a little insight into Towns, read this. My favorite quote is "I knew that sometimes I could be an ass. And insensitive. And unsympathetic. Insufferable. Demanding, among others. But, boy, I didn't know how much." Everyone else knew how much. He wrote that a year ago, and he is still all those things. No progress whatever. Towns thinks reporters are lazy. His famous quote is something about reporters "hiding in the weeds" to avoid work. He insulted everyone in the newsroom with that line, and they've never forgiven him for it.

And if you want to hear what a Gannett suckup sounds like, read this (you'll have to scroll halfway down the page, to Oct. 2, 2003). Callinan wrote it when Gannett was rolling out its ridiculous failed "Real Lives, Real People" program. It failed because it was another way of saying "do more with less", and because Callinan screamed at his editors, who screamed at the staff, who never bought into the program. The biggest lie in the memo is in the last sentence: "I'm interested in your thoughts."

The question in the newsroom seems to be: Is this the end of Callinan? Is this Gannett's way of shoving Callinan aside until he finally wises up and retires? That might be, and many people hope that it is, because they believe that his departure is long overdue. But what Gannett usually does is replace a failed editor with a rising hotshot, and Towns is no hotshot. The only thing we know for sure is that these moves will not make the Enquirer a better newspaper. Most of the newspaper industry is confused about what to do next -- to gain readers, win back advertisers and make more money. Callinan talks like he knows the lay of the land, but he's incapable of plotting a course and getting people to go along with him.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Enquirer bungles Bengals coverage

Mark Curnutte's story Tuesday morning about Joseph's arrest early Monday contained nothing but arrest report details and junk from his notebooks. (Note: I would link to that first story on Joseph's arrest, but it doesn't appear to be on the Enquirer's web site any longer. Check for yourself here. This story seems to have taken its place, but it's not the story that was published Tuesday morning.) He had all day to work on that story, and the only fresh quote in it was a no-comment from the Bengals' Jack Brennan. In today's story Curnutte finally quotes veterans about the situation. Did Curnutte bother to ask any of them what they could do to show some leadership on this? Asking questions in a tough situation is not the same as asking tough questions. Curnutte doesn't push anyone on this topic, which results in a story where everyone is allowed to pass the buck. Curnutte is too busy quoting song lyrics (and then defending quoting song lyrics) to do much reporting.

What makes this all a little more ridiculous is that the Enquirer stuck little postage-stamp-sized promo for, its latest lame-o web site. The promo says "Hey Moms: Do you talk to your kids when athletes get in trouble? Talk about it at our new Web site." The answer is apparently "no". When you get to the web site, there's no sign of any discussion on the Bengals.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Curnutte's "analysis" this morning is the first story this week that wasn't on the front page, and why should it be? He says he canvassed players, but how many? He never says. He quotes exactly one player, Levi Jones, and the story says nothing new.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jobs cut at community papers

According to the Business Courier web site, Gannett is eliminating printing of Cincinnati-area community newspapers here, and will instead print them 175 miles away in Lafayette, Ind. This cuts 31 jobs locally. So much for community newspapers actually being a part of the community. Let's see if this story makes it into the Enquirer on Tuesday.

UPDATE: The Enquirer reported something on Tuesday, but not the job cuts. That story ran at the bottom of page 2 of the Local section, and was the only story in the section that did not carry a byline. Because of the press-release tone of the article, this could mean it was not written by anyone in the newsroom. Credit goes to the Dean at Cincinnati Beacon for posting this first.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sayonara Post, sayonara newspapers?

The Cincinnati Post will be history by the end of the year if all goes according to schedule. There have been tons of rumors over the past decade about what will happen to the Post after Scripps' joint operating agreement with Gannett runs out this year. The only certain thing is that Gannett has said it will not renew the joint operating agreement. Over the years, rumors have said Gannett will keep the Kentucky Post alive, or that the Post will exist only as a web site, or that Cox and the Dayton Daily News would take it over, or that the Post will close early (like next month), or that Scripps would trade for the Enquirer and give Gannett another property.

Today's monkey wrench is this: Scripps might be looking to totally get out of newspapers.
Executives at the Cincinnati-based company stated during an investor conference on Tuesday they are evaluating different options regarding its newspaper assets.

Scripps management said they have been looking at different strategies over the past six months to unlock more value in the stock. "Clearly the most advantageous route in some form or fashion [is to] separate the newspaper business from the rest of the business," said Joseph NeCastro, Scripp’s executive vice president/finance and administration, during the conference.

He acknowledged that the newspaper industry’s woes over the past year have accelerated management's actions to either spin off its newspaper division or possibly sell some papers. "Newspapers are much more troubled," NeCastro said at the conference. "It's hard to call the bottom."
The Scripps family might not go for separating the newspaper business from everything else, but those discussions are under way, the article says.

Though this is interesting news about a big local company, the Post didn't report this story today. The Enquirer has never been totally honest in print about its own business or the newspaper business in general, so we'll see if they report this tomorrow. If not, then we'll see if the Business Courier does anything with this.

UPDATE: At the Enquirer, Cliff Peale blogged this at 3:14 p.m., about 45 minutes after I did. This might indicate he's working on a story for tomorrow's newspaper, or a column for Sunday, or it might not.

UPDATE: Peale's Thursday morning story is here, and it's fairly complete. The Scripp's Rocky Mountain News' story is here.

Which nazis are we talking about?

A commenter to my previous post about the Enquirer's coverage of the iPhone points out an interesting post at the CityBeat blog about the mayor's concern over suspicions nazis will storm Fountain Square on Martin Luther King Day. The mayor yesterday called together the heads of local new organizations to talk about this. Attending was Hollis Towns, the managing editor of the Enquirer. Not allowed to attend were reporters from the Enquirer and the Post.

The commenter asked what I thought of it. The meeting itself doesn't disturb me. The mayor could have accomplished the same thing by telephone, talking to each news organization individually.

What does disturb me is that the Enquirer didn't report the meeting this morning. I saw nothing in the paper, nothing in the Local section of the web site, and as I'm writing this, the newest item on the Enquirer's politics blog is a Rob Portman item dated Monday. If the mayor is concerned about nazis marching on Fountain Square, isn't that news? Was Dan Klepal told not to write it? Did anyone besides CityBeat report it?

Here's the unthinkable part: Maybe all those editors and news directors agreed not to say a word about the nazis for a while. It's hard to imagine real newspeople agreeing to black-out this news, but in this town, there's a lack of real newspeople. We know there aren't any in charge at the Enquirer.

What did Steve Jobs ever do for Cincinnati?

Apple Computer doesn't employ anyone in Cincinnati, outside of handful of geeks at the Apple retail store in Kenwood and the usual service techs. So why did Apple's new iPhone get such big treatment across the top of the front page of the Enquirer this morning? (PS -- I would post a link to a PDF of the Enquirer's front page, but those links haven't worked for a couple of weeks. See what I mean?)

Because the Enquirer editors are stupid, that's why. They don't understand technology. They pretend to, and this is how they pretend, by putting anything Apple does on the front page. If the Enquirer really cared about technology, they's have sent a reporter to the Detroit auto show or the Consumer Electronics Show, both of which are taking place right now. Stories about both shows (the CES is the largest trade show in the nation) were buried deep in the newspaper.

I looked at two months of Enquirer front pages and no other consumer product story or technology story was featured like today's Apple news. The Enquirer couldn't even find room for the great surge in sales of big TVs this Christmas. Does the Enquirer even have a reporter who covers technology?

How big a market does the Enquirer think there is for a $499 cell phone, even if it does play music? According to today's Wall Street Journal, "at $499 and $599, prices for versions of the iPhone with four gigabytes and eight gigabytes of storage capacity, respectively, Apple will be going after a fraction of the market. Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said cellphones priced above $300 account for only about 5% of the global market."

This stupid poll the Enquirer put its web site doesn't even say how much it costs, or what it does (make sure you read the disclaimer at the bottom of the poll, which says the results cannot be assumed to imply anything about what the general public really thinks). It's only available from Cingular; what is Cingular's market share in Cincinnati, and will the iPhone make any difference in that?

The iPhone might be a huge success, but the Enquirer doesn't even try to explain why (read this in Wired for an idea). The Enquirer's presentation is nothing more than gee whiz, Apple made a phone. The Enquirer editors exhibit not a bit of depth or even skepticism about anything Apple does. Here is one skeptic's view of the iPhone, and read this Wired article for a list of Apple flops. Remember the puck mouse? The Newton? The 20th anniversary Mac? All terrible flops. What about the ROKR, Apple's first cellphone collaboration with Motorola. Do you own one? Does anyboy at the Enquirer own one? Flop.

Will the new iPhone have the same battery and durability and scratching problems that the iPods have had? Check out this list of the top 100 technology products of 2006 (from May). How many of these besides the Nano have ever been on the Enquirer front page? Tivo? GPS navigators? Flickr? Has the Enquirer ever done an article about MySpace that didn't present it as a dangerous threat to children? (The answer would be no; the only adult quoted in a Feb. 7, 2006, article about MySpace is a policeman.)

This comes on a day when the Enquirer is full of old news. Paul Hackett chased a bunch of teenagers with an assault rifle on Nov. 19, and it's on the front page today, nearly two months later. This story about Ohio State "champion" t-shirts is a ripoff of this story in Tuesday's Columbus Dispatch. And this story about the Bengal's David Pollack maybe playing next season was broken Tuesday by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, so the Enquirer is beaten on a local story by a newspaper 400 miles away.

The Enquirer gives every indication that it's just flailing around, not knowing or understanding what it's publishing every morning.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Greetings, Mr. Huggins

Isn't it a strange coincidence that the Enquirer published a big story on its front page about the poor grades of UC's basketball players on the very same day Bob Huggins returns to Cincinnati with his new team? Isn't it also strange that Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan is also on UC's board of trustees? The story doesn't seem to be based on any specific announcement from the NCAA or UC, so it could have been published on any day.
Upon dismissing Huggins, UC President Nancy Zimpher said she made “no apologies for setting high standards.”

That said, UC officials are reluctant to blame the current situation on past coaches or players.

“It’s the University of Cincinnati’s mess,” Hathaway said. “It’s not Bob Huggins’ mess. We’re responsible here.”

That's right -- it's not Huggins's fault. So why did the Enquirer publish the story this day? The Enquirer doesn't have the guts, within this story, to say whether it timed the publication of the story to coincide Huggins return. This is just slimy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Enquirer is killing me

The Enquirer's story on Monday about Cincinnati's murder rate ("Record causes city to react") can't even be called journalism. It's an old formula for lazy newspapers: Three interviews makes a story. Reporter Quann Truongg talked to the coroner, a community activist and a police captain, and the result doesn't make any sense. What reaction? What's the cause of the rise in murders? There's no discussion of other violent crimes, or the murder rates of anyplace in the area outside of the city of Cincinnati. There's not even any broader discussion of the city's drug problem, which is the only reason discussed in the story for the rise in murders.

And the inclusion of this line -- "Owens and others say the chance of random people ending up as homicide statistics is slight" -- seems aimed at white suburbanites, to assure them that all these folks are just killing each other and it's plenty safe to come downtown. Don't forget Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan is a board member of 3CDC.

The centerpiece of this story is a very long list, with details of each murder committed during 2006. Listing facts isn't journalism. Any high school teenager can list facts.

If you look at this chart, does something pop out at you? Like, the rise in murders from 2000 to 2001, from 40 to 63? What happened around that time that might have something to do with the rise in murders? The story never mentions the deaths of Roger Owensby or Timothy Thomas, nothing about the riots, nothing about Police Chief Tom Streicher or Officer Stephen Roach. It's just dumb to think these are not events on the same continuum. The Enquirer is obviously tired of talking about that period. Either that, or they're hiring reporters who weren't even born then, who consider the riots ancient history. What the Enquirer did here isn't journalism. It's just filling space.