Thursday, March 27, 2008

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Society of American Business Editors and Writers announced winners on Thursday. Nothing for the Enquirer. The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Indianapolis Star were cited for general excellence.

The Enquirer should do better next year, when it will enter its blanket Ikea coverage.

And as we get into award season, I must repeat what I've said before: Prizes matter because you can't be good if you're not trying to be great. If you're great, you'll win prizes. If you're trying to be great, you'll get lucky and bag a few. If you're not winning any, it's a pretty good sign you're not trying to. And, state contests don't matter much. People who say readers don't care about prizes are probably right. But prizes are evidence of effort, and no prizes is a symptom of many things, none of them good.

The biggest metro area in Ohio is sort of in Kentucky and Indiana

Lacking the ability to come up with real news, the Enquirer often falls back on parochialism and Cincinnati boosterism. Ikea comes to Cincinnati, it's a big deal. George Clooney comes to Maysville, it's huge on the front page.

I don't like today's Xavier story on the front page. It's a roundup of old facts packaged with a photo that's 60% out of focus, all of it published in support of tonight's game. But I'll forgive them for that, given the interest in the game. It would have been good, though, to have balanced that with real news on the front page.

The other story on the top of the front page is "Metro area now biggest in Ohio." The latest Census estimates say Cincinnati is now bigger than Cleveland. That's true, but not the "in Ohio" part.

The lead of Tony Lang's story acknowledges the problem:
The 15-county Cincinnati metropolitan area, which includes seven counties in Northern Kentucky and three in Southeast Indiana, now ranks as Ohio's largest metropolitan area. Census estimates released today show the area has overtaken metro Cleveland in total population the last two years.
That's right, out of 15 counties in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, 10 are not in Ohio. Those 10 counties contain about a half-million people, about a quarter of the region's population. The population of the five counties in Ohio is about 1.6 million, which is significantly less than the 2.1 million people in metro Cleveland, all of which is in Ohio.

In the end, the Enquirer doesn't bother to say why this is significant, and thus why the story is given such a prominent position on the front page. Only two people are quoted in the story. The chamber of commerce says it might lead to more federal dollars, but there's really no basis for that. He even manages to get the word "Ikea" into the story.

Get a report, interview two people, make front-page news. This is lazy, and it shows how little else is going on at the Enquirer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The annual awards from the Investigative Reporters and Editors group indicate no one was impressed by anything Enquirer. The Toledo Blade and Columbus Dispatch received honorable mentions.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer won a national award for coverage of trauma. That's an unusual award, but it shows the Plain Dealer's commitment to in-depth reporting.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Accountability begins at home

On the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, the Enquirer editorial writers got indignant. They want answers from the Bush administration:
It's time to provide (Americans) an accurate, unvarnished view of the situation on the ground -- what quantifiable progress has been made economically and politically in Iraq, and how much more "progress" is needed before our role can be substantially reduced.

Americans also deserve to know the state of our military, how the commitment to Iraq affects its overall mission, and how long it can sustain such stresses.

The Bush adminstration hasn't provided those answers since 9/11. And the Enquirer editorial board believes the administration will do that now, because the Enquirer demands it? Right. You can read Wednesday's editorial top to bottom and still not know whether the editorial board believes the war continues to be worth fighting.

Let's go back to 2003, and see what the Enquirer had to say back then. Here's the editorial from March 20, 2003, after the initial invasion.
By the time you read this the deadline President Bush imposed on Saddam Hussein will have passed and the United States may be at war -- a war we believe to be a horrible necessity.

We believe the Iraqi regime poses a grave threat to the security of the region and to the United States. For 12 years he has refused to disarm, refused to cooperate fully with United Nations inspectors and refused to disavow the use of terrorist organizations. At the same time he has continued to develop chemical and biological weapons, weapons he was supposed to have abandoned after the Persian Gulf War.

Saddam is a tyrant of historic proportion. His is a heritage of barbaric cruelty to his neighbors and his own countrymen. Torture and rape have become tools of his government. After the Gulf War the U.N. tried to contain him with repeated resolutions. He has resisted those efforts by violating the no-fly zones and using oil revenues to supply his military rather than feed his people. The fact is that he cannot be permanently contained. He must be disarmed.
It is better to do it now than to wait until he has used his weapons directly, or supplied them to terrorist groups willing to use them in their own causes.

We wish it had not come to this point. It would have been better to have the members of the United Nations lined up at our side in this effort. It would have been better still for Saddam to have heeded the world's call for his disarmament. But now our nation is committed and we wish only for a swift and decisive conclusion to the conflict.

As Bush said Monday in his ultimatum to Saddam, we are at war with a regime, not with the Iraqi people. Our troops may roll over Saddam's forces with relative ease, but a real victory in Iraq will be the establishment of a government that can hold the diverse factions of the country together and serve as an example to other nations in the region. The sooner the conflict ends, the sooner that healing process can begin.
The Enquirer didn't bother to ask how long the war would last. They bought the administration's propaganda hook, line and sinker. And at the time, the Enquirer could only look at the positives. Here's the editorial from the next day, March 21, 2003:
We've been hearing about all the possible negative consequences that might come from a war with Iraq. It is time to look at the positives that are possible, even likely, to come out of this conflict.

After Afghanistan and now Iraq, the United States is showing Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and others that the United States is no paper tiger afraid to bite back.

The forcible disarming of Iraq signals that the United States will no longer wait, like an old-time boxer, for an opponent to take his best shot, but we will strike before an enemy can deal us a lethal blow.

War with Iraq can reduce by one the list of proven aggressor states with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It can make terror states or terrorist-haven states slower to open their doors to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.

It can warn North Korea or others that we will not drift into a position of weakness where we can be neutralized by nuclear blackmail.

If U.S. advanced weaponry proves so superior, it could deter rogue states from venturing aggression or seeking nuclear weapons.

If the United States restrains this war with precision targeting, spares civilians and finds Iraq's undisclosed WMDs, it will go a long ways toward refuting protests.

It can free the United States and Britain from the costs of enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq for 12 years and from open-ended costs of containing Iraq's WMDs.

A liberated Iraq could help build the critical mass of self-governing states in the Mideast.
War crimes trials afterward can serve notice that officers or scientists who develop banned WMDs for hostile purposes will be punished to the maximum degree. They can also set the record straight about Iraq's weapons programs.

If the United States can hand post-war control over to a legitimate Iraqi government, it can punch gaping holes in radical Islamist arguments that we are bent on Mideast empire.
It could set up the United States to act as a credible broker to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The collapse of the U.N. Security Council into irrelevancy by failing to enforce its own resolutions against Iraq should define more clearly the limits of U.N. power.

It could bring Security Council reforms such as out-front disclosure of the lucrative contracts that French, Russian and Chinese companies have to develop Iraqi oil fields.

This war can energize the United States to get serious about homeland security, immigration screening and border control.

A swift end to the war could produce a swift end to economic recession now that consumers and investors are no longer left guessing when war will occur.

Secretary of State Colin Powell this week counted 45 nations that support forcibly disarming Iraq, but a swift allied victory will send scores more scurrying to the U.S. side. And instead of disrupting intelligence sharing on terrorists, a swift, successful war and enlightened reconstruction of Iraq could persuade even more nations to help root out sworn enemies of America.
It seemed ridiculous then, and blithering nonsense today. Every paragraph is more outrageous than the one before. Do they stand by that now?

It's easy to see that before David Wells & Co. wrote Wednesday's editorial they didn't bother to review what they'd written five years earlier. Editorial & Publisher found a good number of papers questioned the war from the start. The Enquirer wasn't one of them. The editorial board didn't have the intellectual wherewithal to question the war in 2003, and they don't today have the gumption to take a stand, to say after five years whether we're safer, or whether it's money and lives well spent. It didn't have the honesty to go back to its list of "positives" and see how many have been achieved. And now they want answers, from an administration that has never and won't now give them.

It's bad enough that you can look at the front page of the Enquirer day after day and not even realize the nation is at war, but then to have the editorial board drop this drivel on us is beyond shameful. There's plenty of information out there, and the Enqurier editorial board could have done the research and come to its own conclusion. Is it really that hard to come up with a list of consequences of five years of war? Could they exhibit some honesty, go back and review what they've written and say whether they stand by those editorials today? Frankly, they're too lazy and/or stupid and/or cowardly to do that kind of work. How can they accept paychecks for producing this crap?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hint: It begins with "G"

I was intrigued by two recent items on Gannettblog: this one about Gannett's revenues through the first two months of the year, and then this one about Gannett's Friday conference call with Wall Street. It's not a pretty picture. Classified advertising is down, real estate advertising is down, employment ads are down, and auto ads are down.
Pro forma classified revenues declined 13.6 percent in the second period. Real estate revenues were down 20.7 percent, employment revenues were 16.1 percent lower, and automotive revenues declined 13.3 percent. U.S. Community Publishing pro forma classified revenues were 18.0 percent lower in February reflecting declines of 26.6 percent in real estate revenues, 23.3 percent in employment revenues and 10.9 percent in automotive revenues.
Those are big numbers, and it's really even worse than it looks. Look past the percentages to the dollars. In the first two months of the year, total ad revenue is down $69 million compared to 2007, and total revenue is down $88 million. The declines are accelerating, as the fall from 2007 to 2008 is more than twice as large as that from 2006 to 2007. Across Gannett, daily newspaper circulation is down more than 290,000 from 2007 to 2008, and circulation on Sundays is down nearly 350,000.

Compare 2008 to 2005 and the hole gets deeper. For the two-month period, ad revenue is $112 million less today, and total revenue is $125 million less today. Total daily newspaper circulation is down about 750,000, and Sunday circulation is down by 1 million.

With all that in mind, see this item at TechCrunch, with the title: "What Media Company Gained the Most Market Share in 2007? (Hint: It Starts With a G)." That would be Google. Henry Blodgett looked at the numbers for 17 media companies and found Google's revenues from ad sales rose by $2.6 billion. That's more than twice as big a gain as the next most-improved, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Total ad revenue by those 17 companies rose by 9%, to $58 billion.

Change just one word in TechCrunch's title: What media company lost the most market share in 2007? (Hint: It also starts with a G.) Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The answer is Gannett. While Google gained $2.6 billion in revenue, Gannett's ad revenues fell by $338 million. So, the pie is getting bigger, and Gannett is getting smaller.

Gannett might try to say that it's making strides online. According to Neilsen NetRatings, Gannett's web sites, which would include USA Today and the Enquirer's sites, got 25.8 million unique visitors in February, and increase of more than 3 million from a year ago.

But Google had 104 million unique visitors in February, according to Nielsen. Gannett isn't close. This January report from Comscore shows how wide the gap is. Look at Table 3: Gannett had roughly 23 million unique visitors in January, ranking No. 33 and in the company of groups like CBS, Expedia, Bank of America and In January, Yahoo had 138 million unique visitors, Google 134 million. The New York Times had 48 million.

This is bad, very bad, and there's no way to spin it otherwise. Gannett is losing revenue faster than its gains on the web can compensate for, and -- as the economy skids into recession -- the decline is accelerating. The budget cutting at the Enquirer has been vicious over the last year. It will only get worse. The Enquirer has cut the fat, it has cut into muscle and now it will be asked to start chopping off limbs. When you have fewer people in the newsroom to produce an editorial product, there's less in the product worth reading, so reversing the skid in circulation and producing meaningful gains in web traffic will be nearly impossible.

Gannett apparently believes the key to saving the print product is hard news and watchdog journalism, but Gannett's history is all about the journalism of hope and News 2000 and "Real Life, Real News" (scroll down to October 2, 2oo3). That's all very soft. Twenty-five years of these programs means Gannett doesn't have the DNA or the leadership to do hard news well enough to save itself. Hollis Towns a hard news editor? Tom Callinan? Get serious. Under their leadership the amount of enterprise reporting in the Enquirer as fallen to almost zero, so it looks like the future of the Enquirer is more "hard news" stories about the weather and high school sports and appeals to readers to submit photos of their pets. This is not a recipe for improvement, let alone survival.

Gannett needs to forget the past, and ask what it needs to do to build readership of the newspaper and viewship on the web, and then implement those plans without regard to the next quarter's profit. On the current path, with Gannett thinking about each quarter's profit, it will soon run out of quarters. Maybe CEO Craig Dubow needs to give up his bonus for a year or two, or three, but if Gannett doesn't figure this out soon -- and by "soon," I mean now -- it's dead.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Where's the news?

The Enquirer pretends to "get" news in the Internet age by emphasizing its blogs, but the front page still looks ignorant. The top of the front page tells us about the weather, as if we all woke up this morning to discover it had snowed this weekend. Property damage and personal injury were minimal, so why is this front page, above-the-fold news?

Next is Botox and other so-called "fillers." Placement of this story in the center of the front page is shameless pandering to 40-plus women, who the Enquirer is hoping will continue to buy this dying rag and keep it afloat.

But the main story on the page is an Associated Press story about the enormous cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The story is based on a new book by Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes, a former federal budget official now teaching at Harvard, and it's good to see this in the Enquirer.

But it's not news. The book came out March 3, and there have been stories about it in the worldwide media for a month. It's not news to most of the world, but it's news to the cavedwellers who run the Enquirer, and so it is misplaced as the lead story in today's paper. Today's front page is a pitiful display of news judgment.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Head of circulation leaving

Gary DiSanto put his Clermont County home up for sale in last summer, but it doesn't appear it's been sold. The Clermont County Auditor web site still lists DiSanto as the owner.

I am pleased to announce Gary DiSanto, VP/Circulation, will be leaving us to be the Senior Vice President/Circulation for the New Jersey Group Newspapers. In his new roll, Gary will direct the statewide circulation operations for the New Jersey Group. His last day here will be Friday, April 4.

Gary has put an excellent team and structure in place for us to build on from here. Gary ’s work on the JOA was remarkable and we could not have done it without him. We are saddened to lose Gary but excited for him and this great opportunity.

We wish him well and thank him for all he has done to make our Circulation what it is today!

Margaret misspells "role" in the second sentence, and she says nothing about a replacement.

I couldn't help myself

More awards the Enquirer didn't win: First, the National Headliner Awards. Note how many awards are won by smaller papers. A columnist from the Cleveland Plain Dealer won, and the Columbus Dispatch won an award for public service.

Second, the National Journalism Awards from the Scripps Howard Foundation. Big papers such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune won the big awards, but smaller newspapers like the Hartford Courant and the Virginian-Pilot were finalists.

Also, word is leaking out about Pulitzer winners. No mention of the Enquirer there either. Didn't the Marcus Fiesel coverage knock the judges off their chairs?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Being shown how it's done

The Columbus Dispatch's Ohio Primary 2008 blog is just kicking the Enquirer's Politics Extra's ass on this big Tuesday. The Dispatch has been on top of things all day, reporting on the impact of the heavy rains and alleged irregularities. The Enquirer posted nothing between 8:30 a.m. and about 2:45 p.m. In that time the Dispatch had 22 posts.

At 3:46 p.m., the Enquirer said, "Jon Craig reports: Voters in Adams and Perry counties have been given permission to vote provisionally at their county boards of elections because of severe flooding at polling locations." The Dispatch had that at 2:12 p.m.