Friday, February 29, 2008

Death by blogging

I will start this with my favorite post from a blog at It's from the CinSpin fashion blog, about a store at Rookwood Commons called Dr. Mojoe:
Now what has the doctor prescribed? He's giving you the chance for a speedy recovery from your fashion fever and style sickness with huge savings up to 75 percent off men and women's fall/winter merchandise (that's denim by Diesel, True Religion, Chip & Pepper and so much more). Feel better yet?
Kill me. Kill me please.

This is the problem with too many of the blogs on those sites. They take someone who likes to wear clothes, and make him a fashion blogger. They take a bunch of people who like to eat food, and make them food bloggers. They take someone with a NetFlix subscription, and they make him a pop culture blogger. And the bloggers try to be hip and funny, but they rarely are. They're just amateurs, and too many of the Enquirer blogs are written by amateurs.

Here are the top 30 blogs under the Enqurier umbrella for the week ending Feb. 23. They are ranked by number of visits. I also add a comment or two, and check out the number of comments posted.
  1. Reds Insider, 64,422 visits. Grade: A. I have said before that I regard John Fay as a must-read. He writes well, and breaks news on this blog. Last June, however, the blog by C. Trent Rosecrans of the Post was drawing traffic equal to, and sometimes better than, Fay's. And it looks like anyone who had Rosecrans's blog bookmarked is being redirected to Fay. Comment traffic is heavy.
  2. Politics Extra, 26,996 visits. Grade: B. Traffic should be higher, because this can be a very busy blog. There were eight posts on Feb. 27 alone, by seven different people. But this also can represent what's bad about newspaper blogs: They can be sloppy and unfocused.
  3. Bengals, 22,461 visits. Grade: C. Mark Curnutte isn't as good as he thinks he is. Comment traffic is weak compared to Fay's Reds blog. This might seem an unfair comparison since football is out of season, but the NFL has really become a 12-month sport, so the comment traffic should be better. Curnutte has learned to stick to football and leave politics out of this.
  4. UC Sports, 18,469 visits. Grade: A. I think Bill Koch is underappreciated. His work in the paper is good, and this blog is good. Comment traffic is heavy.
  5. NCAA Hoops Blog, 14,654 visits. Grade: B. Dustin Dow covers Xavier and writes this catch-all blog about NCAA basketball. Why does the Enquirer have an NCAA blog when they don't have NFL or MLB blogs? Comment traffic is heavy.
  6. Television, 13,818 visits. Grade: B. John Kiesewetter belongs to a group that is heading toward extinction: the local TV writer. It's a pleasure to read John, though he sometimes talks too much about Cincinnati TV 30 years ago. The comment boards are especially worth reading, because they appear to be written by people in the local TV community.
  7. Paul Daugherty, 11,999 visits. Grade: C. I can't grade his blog well because I don't like Daugherty. I don't read him in the paper and I don't listen to him on the radio. He can be good, but he's often not, and it's because he's lazy (or spread too thin, because of the radio work). Moderate comment traffic.
  8. High School Sports, 11,146 visits. Grade: B. I'm not into high school sports, but the breadth of the blog is good. Comment traffic is weak.
  9. N.Ky. Politics, 6,516 visits. Grade: B+. Good traffic, and Patrick Crowley owns Northern Kentucky. Here's a headscratcher: Though the number of visits is about a quarter of that of the Politics Extra blog, Crowley's page views are better -- about half the Extra blog's, which is out of proportion. Why does the one-man show do so well?
  10. BorgBlog, 3,614 visits. Grade: A. I'll bet Jim Borgman didn't pick the name of his blog.
  11. The Foodie Report, 3,098 visits. Grade: D. I get a headache reading this blog. It's a mess. Surely they've heard, "too many cooks spoil the broth." Blogs work best when there's a unified voice, and especially when written by a single person who knows what he/she is talking about. This blog claims six contributors. Aside from critic Polly Campbell, they're all amateurs, and it shows in the low quality of the posts. Traffic should be higher considering the subject is eating, something people do three or more times a day. Comment traffic is moderate to light.
  12. Art, 2,428 visits. Grade: B. There's lots of pictures, and lots of news about activities at local galleries. I heard an interview on the radio with a woman who writes a blog about migranes for the New York Times. That's right, migranes. That's an example of the kind of narrowcasting that news sites can do, appealing to a specific audience with a strong focus on a subject, and that's what the Art blog is. Comment traffic, however, is weak.
  13. Life of Brian (Pop Culture), 1,597 visits. Grade: F. Awful, a complete waste of time. "One man's on-going rant" should be a personal blog and not part of the Enquirer's web site. This guy isn't even a reporter. And pop culture should be a lot more than (mostly) movies.
  14. Classical Music, 1,379 visits. Grade: C. I love Janelle Gelfand, and the content is good, but this blog gets very little traffic and no comments.
  15. P&G, 1,346 visits. I'll give Keith Reed a break because he's so new. Traffic is low and there are no comments. But it's surprising to me that this is the only Business blog. Just goes to show how far the Business section has fallen in recent years.
  16. Roller Derby Diva, 1,177 visits. Grade: B. I don't know why the Enquirer has a roller derby blog. The good thing is this isn't taken seriously. I think it's knee-slapping hilarious that this got more traffic than the Forum blog. That's probably because Lauren Bishop is way hotter than David Wells.
  17. Today at the Forum, 1,165 visits. Grade: F. What a fucking joke. It ranks behind the awful Life of Brian, Classical Music, the P&G blog by the new guy, and the Roller Derby Diva.
  18. Pig Blogs: Emily & Lindsey 762 visits. I won't grade this one. This is one of three CinWeekly blogs about the Flying Pig Marathon, written here by two best friends preparing for their first marathon. Since I don't like to run .... About 30 comments posted, and from the looks of them, runners are tuning in. It appears this is the top-ranked CinWeekly blog.
  19. Popography, 738 visits. Grade: D. Looks like this used to be the CinWeekly staff blog. Two of the last five posts are "Throwback video of the day." A waste of time. Only one comment posted.
  20. "cincinnatiblogs_spring ", 520 visits. As far as I can tell, this is the old designation for the Post's Reds blog by C. Trent Rosecrans, and it now redirects you to Fay's blog. C. Trent's new blog is here.
  21. Soundcheck, 491 visits. Grade: D. This is little more than pictures, links to videos, dates and times of shows. No comments posted. Sad. There's a wide open space for a good pop/rock music blog in Cincinnati, but this isn't it.
  22. Pig Blogs: Ben, 485 visits. I won't grade this one either, but his blog entries are very very long. About three dozen comments.
  23. "cin_blog ", 481 visits. I couldn't figure out what this is, but it gets more traffic than "Cincytainment." It might be the main blogs page.
  24. Footnotes, 445 visits. Grade: ??. This was Greg Korte's blog, but there hasn't been a new post since September. It's not listed in the menu of blogs. And still, it ranks 24th.
  25. Pig Blogs: Dean, 426 visits. I will grade this one: B. Dean appears to be a serious runner, and his expertise enhances the blog. He loses points for the too-long Daytona 500 entry. About two dozen comments posted.
  26. Cincytainment, 419 visits. Grade: D. Another weak blog with a bad title by a rank amateur.
  27. CincyMoms blog, 323 visits. No new entries since September.
  28. The Last Word, 285 visits. Grade: C. Where CinWeekly readers submit guest "editorials." But they are not editorials, more like reflections on life. If you want to write, get your own blog.
  29. Campbell County Connects, 256 visits. No new posts since Feb. 7.
  30. "cincinnatiblogs_staffblog", 241 visits. It appears this traffic is redirected to the Popography blog.
Note that there's a big drop in traffic from Fay at No. 1 to Politics at No. 2, then another big drop between No. 9 (N.Ky. Blog) and No. 10 (Borgman). And there are other blogs that don't show up in the top 30, like Tangeants & Tollbooths, CinStages Buzz and CinSpin; they rank lower than blogs that are inactive or for all intents and purposes extinct, which is pretty sad. There's a lot of effort being put into a lot of blogs that aren't paying off. The Enquirer also clearly favors some blogs over others for promotion; they should work on their promotion efforts, but the Enquirer has always been weak in that department. And the CinWeekly blogs, for the most part, suck. No surprise there.

Clearly, blogs won't save news at the Enquirer. The numbers are too low. Sports dominates the top 10. It's surprising how low the numbers are for the arts and entertainment blogs, and CinWeekly isn't helping.

A big problem is that the Enquirer is fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Will John Fay ever link to a story by Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News? Not likely, but Lance McAllister will, and so will Redleg Nation and Red Reporter. The point is that if you want to be THE Reds blog, you have to connect to all things about the Reds. Without that, you're just boxing yourself in, limiting your appeal and your growth. If I only read one Reds blog each day, it won't be Fay's, because I know that Redleg Nation will link to anything important.

If the Enquirer is serious about blogs, it needs to get rid of the amateurs, support the good blogs that get traffic, and boost the good ones that don't get such good traffic. And it's critical it find some formula for boosting the news and features blogs. The Politics Extra blog has about 10 people contributing at different times, including two editors. The traffic needs to be better to justify that level of effort.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The situation in Cincinnati New Jersey

Newsroom employees at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., are so upset with working conditions that they wrote a letter to the publisher, copied the letter to their corporate fathers, and sent to a blogger. Both the Courier-Post and the Enquirer are owned by Gannett, so the situations will have similarities.

A sample:
The staff has shrunk significantly since November – at least eight newsroom employees have left – leaving fewer people to handle a workload that continues to increase with the addition of new publications. This comes on top of dealing with the daily newspaper, zoned Communities pages, special sections and online coverage beyond what goes in the newspaper. The executive editor and the managing editor seem oblivious to the impact of this workload on the remaining employees.

The result is a staff that is overworked to the point where it often is physically impossible to complete the required work within the scheduled work week. As a consequence, many non-exempt employees work beyond their allotted hours without being paid overtime. The issue often is addressed by telling the employee to take time off as compensation, but that seldom occurs because the workload does not make it practical.
There's more, some of it disgusting. Thanks to GannettBlog for this. Read everything GannettBlog has written on the situation in Cherry Hill; it's quite revealing.

The point is that the chiefs at Gannett headquarters give directives to the local newspapers about targets for revenue and costs and profits, and they don't care about how those targets are achieved. The targets are short term, but the effects of reaching them are long term.

Read Cliff Radel's near-blow job today about Joe Trauth, a lawyer who specializes in representing big corporations in real estate and zoning fights. He's represented home builders, shopping center developers, Wal-Mart and Rumpke. Radel did manage to quote one attorney who's faced Trauth in some of these cases, but this story is a largely uncritical, unskeptical look at a corporate hired gun. No attempt is made to look at the outcomes of the cases Trauth has won. Have they been good for the community? Trauth is never asked if he feels like a corporate bully, overwhelming lesser-funded groups of homeowners who oppose many of these projects. That would be disrespectful. Radel didn't say what Trauth's hourly rate is, or how Trauth has spent the money he's made representing big companies. (Radel does write that Trauth represents small clients, but names only one and doesn't talk to any. I'll guess that Trauth has many more large clients than small ones.)

Radel is capable of this kind of reporting, but was he given the time and the direction to pursue something other than what was published? Doubtful. The Enquirer doesn't have the resources or the will to hold someone like Trauth accountable, because that type of journalism takes time and costs money, and Radel probably has other work that needs to be done. Overall, I'm not sure why this story was assigned, why it was published, or why it was on the front page. But this is the kind of uncritical journalism produced by stingy, dying newspapers.

If they say 'white stuff', I'm cancelling my subscription

Sticking your head out your front door doesn't make you a weatherman. And possessing a camera doesn't make you a photographer.

That's my lead-in to the two lamest news photographs I've ever seen, on this story on the Enquirer's web site. Weather isn't news unless there's deaths and plenty of property damage. Slow traffic isn't news. The Enquirer, however, was desperate to make news out of this morning's snowfall, so Jennifer Baker (a reporter, not a photographer) took a couple of snaps of snowflakes. Since I spent 45 minutes driving through the snow today, did I really need those photographs to help my understanding of the situation?

I also realize that the story says a bus accident injured two. If that's the case, then the story is "bus accident injures two," not "more snow on the way."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More awards the Enquirer didn't ... Jesus Christ, who gives a rat's ass?

I haven't been blogging much lately, and there are several reasons for this. First, my rich and fulfilling private life leaves me little time anymore for this blog. Isn't the new season of American Idol the best ever?

Second, the Enquirer has become very, very dull. The staff cuts and the budget cuts have taken their toll. It's not just that there aren't enough people and resources to do good journalism. There just isn't any spirit in the Enquirer anymore.

There are only two writers I consider must-reads. One is John Fay, who does a great job covering the Reds. The other is Greg Korte, the only staff member at the Enquirer who resembles a full-time investigative reporter. The work of Dan Horn, Howard Wilkinson and John Erardi still catches my eye, and I still look for Janelle Gelfand and Polly Campbell in Life.

The front page is at be workmanlike, but what do they have to work with? The best local stories most days don't deserve front-page play, but are put there because there's nothing better. The Enquirer does almost no enterprise, aside from Korte's work. The "Hidden Communities" article? Oh, please. I'll give the Enquirer kudos for sending a reporter to Mexico. But the only people local Mexicans are "hidden" from are the Enquirer editors, who need to leave the newsroom more often. Are they seriously trying to tell us that nobody knew there were Mexicans in Cincinnati until four were found murdered in a hotel room? The resulting story was leaden with cliches (the headline: "They came in search of a better life") and edited to death. But my big pet peave is that you could read the Enquirer front page for a month and not know this country is at war. Iraq has been on the front page just once since January 1.

The Business section these days seems to be all about which restaurants are opening and closing. This is a section that has suffered the most from the cuts. It's lost staff and space and its position in the newspaper. There's not as much business news on the front page as there used to be.

The Life section is just eye candy, little pictures and graphics and one-paragraph items that add up to nothing. The features section is a destination section for any good newspaper, something every reader must look at for things that are quirky and fun and entertaining and enlightening. This section in the Enquirer doesn't seem to have a clear purpose.

And the Editorial page? It is truly awful and embarrassing and they should just shut it down. I can't think of the last time an Enquirer editorial made a difference. I've noticed how the Enquirer won't editorialize on an issue until it's settled -- the economic stimulus package, for instance. The Editorial page seems to exist for one purpose: to drive readers to the web site, to have a "community conversation" that never reaches any conclusions. When the Editorial page is so terrible, why would you think the web site would be worth visiting? This is an abomination.

My third reason for blogging so little is that I hardly care anymore. The turning point for me was the Slaby coverage, when it became clear the Enquirer was on a campaign to milk the deaths of children for web traffic. When I wrote about that, I wondered whether I should cancel my subscription. I didn't, but I might as well have. I realized only recently how dramatically that coverage soured me on the Enquirer. I read the Enquirer maybe three times a week now. I look at it on the web occasionally, but I'm not reading it often enough anymore to have an opinion.

I started this blog because I was angry -- angry that a big city newspaper could be so terrible and apparently not care. 2007 was a historic year for newspapers, a year when a number of trends -- all of them bad -- converged, and the people running newspapers had important decisions to make. Gannett and the Enquirer have made a lot of bad decisions. The result is a newspaper as bland and flavorless as the paper it's printed on. The Enquirer is almost totally reactive today. A church burns, a soccer mom is run over by her car, and it becomes the lead story. There's very little digging, very little that we don't see on Channel 9 the night before. Why bother?

It used to be that the Enquirer was reliably the voice of the city's establishment. That wasn't good, but you knew what it was, and it gave you something to argue about. Today, I can't believe the city establishment wants anything to do with the Enquirer. The Enquirer isn't pro-business, pro-Republican, pro-anything. It's a nonentity. When was the last time you read something in the Enquirer that was impactful, that made a difference, that people talked about the next day and that didn't read like a nomination for a Darwin Award? I read it now and then to keep tabs on the people I know who work there, not to get the pulse of the city. Whatever feelings I had for the Enqurier, good or bad, are almost totally gone.

So I'll blog when I have something to say. Some input would help. Some of the discussions here have been very good, better than what I have to say, and that's what made this blog rewarding to me. If you have something, email it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

More awards the Enquirer won't win

The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy released a list of finalists for the 2008 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, to be awarded March 18. The Washington Post received two nominations, the New York Times one, but two newspapers smaller than the Enquirer also received nominations: the Palm Beach Post and the Salt Lake Tribune. No Gannett newspapers are on the list of finalists.