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Posts Tagged ‘New Media’



How Kavanagh Makes the R&T Daily Miracle Happen

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Rough & Tumble recorded its first hit at 1:08 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002*. Since then, it’s racked up more than 35 million page views and today is the first internets stop of the morning for your Calbuzzers, along with the other 1,998 people who incessantly gossip with each other about state politics. The single most essential news source for California political junkies, it’s the brain child of 30-year veteran, Emmy-winning, political reporter and online seer Jack Kavanagh. With so many people taking R&T for granted, we thought we’d interrupt Jack’s weird sleep schedule to find out how his work actually gets done.

Calbuzz: What’s the mission of Rough & Tumble?
Jack Kavanagh: The mission is to save readers time with a one stop, free, snapshot of California public policy and politics. It must be balanced so all will feel welcome.

CB:Describe the process of how you put together the daily report.
JK: I cruise about 25 sites in California, Washington and New York and create links to important stories from reliable sources. The internet is a sewer bubbling with viruses and misinformation; you need a guide.

CB: It sounds pretty grueling to put it together seven days a week, with updates throughout – when do you sleep?
JK: The bulk of the site goes together between 10:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. at which time I slip quietly into a sleep-deprivation induced coma. My wonderful wife gently pours hot French Roast coffee into me later in the day and I crawl out of said coma… and update the site.

CB: What’s your traffic like?
JK: Rough & Tumble readers generate about 400,000 page views (for advertisers that means 400,000 impressions) a month. Traffic is event-driven; as news breaks, traffic spikes. The peak was 34,000 page views on the day Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was running for Governor.

CB: You seem to be pretty healthy with ads — do you think it’s possible for web sites to be self-sustaining with an advertising business model?
JK: Rough & Tumble is not about making money on the internet, it’s about giving readers the information they need. This is the information business. Give readers the information they need, and readers will find you. Advertisers will also find you.

Look at the Wall Street Journal. It knows its readers’ needs intimately and works that relationship daily. Readers pay about $150 a year for the privilege. The online Wall Street Journal is a profit center for Rupert Murdoch.

CB:What’s the biggest difference you see between print and online reporting? Do you favor print, or is there just more of it out there?
JK: There is no difference. Lazy reporting in print is lazy reporting online. Brilliant reporting in print is brilliant reporting online.

The reporting — the story telling — in the Voice of San Diego is stunning. And it’s online only. The investigative reporting by California Watch is major-league. It originates on the internet and is picked up by most major print outlets. Politico reporting is first rate. And it’s online only.

Snarky writing online is often entertaining but no different that snarky writing in print.  My sense is that readers like to be entertained, but they want to be informed first.

As newspapers closed their Sacramento bureaus, I noticed that they continued to follow the same stories and issues, they just did it locally.

Enterprise, balance, clarity and good storytelling don’t change whether the platform is print, the internet or the mobile phone.

CB: What did we forget to ask?

JK: What about pay walls?

Look for them to return soon. The Wall Street Journal thrives behind one. The Stockton Record is now behind a paywall. The Bay Area News Group (BANG) has a plan for a pay wall. The New York Times has a plan. Pay walls have been tried before and dropped at the San Jose Mercury and at Capitol Alert.

I have no idea whether pay walls will work this time. Pay walls may open up an opportunity to attract readers and advertisers to new alternative news producers on the internet.

Not every publication has the reputation — the brand — of the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Many subscribers of print publications have dropped their subscriptions, maybe because they did not feel the information they received was worth the cost of the subscription.

Some of those same folks will probably be standing in line to pay $500+ for an Ipad.. and use it to read…Calbuzz!

* At least that’s when Jack started using Webstat to keep track of his online traffic. He actually began his site sometime in 1995, when he was still at KOVR-TV. It was “an effort on my part to expose young, newly-arrived-in-California news producers in the KOVR newsroom to the broad scope of public policy issues in California along with the depth of reporting on those issues,” Jack recalls. “That effort failed.”

Clips: Rachel, Jaimee & Kalika Meet Ed Mendel

Friday, December 4th, 2009

rachel uchitelPersonally, I’d use a lob wedge, Elin: Obsessed with Rachel Uchitel (right), Jaimee Grubbs and Kalika Moquin, the entire staff of the Calbuzz Department of Celebrity Gawking and Guilty Pleasures has been severely reprimanded for spending far too much time hanging out at TMZ, Radar Online and usmagazine.com this week, following every twist, turn and sext message in the Tiger Woods School of Professional Driving saga.

With that in mind, this week’s coveted Little Pulitzer Investigative Punditry award goes to Charles P. Pierce, whose sharp Esquire essay on the situation not only raises some actual intriguing social issues, but also is simply the best thing written about the case.

…when Tiger ran his Escalade over a hydrant and into a tree, and his reputation squarely into a ditch, he then produced a cover story that smacked of implausibility, when it didn’t smack of utter science fiction. Listening to Tiger explain how he’d managed to hit two stationary objects within thirty yards of his driveway — and how his plucky wife pulled him from his non-burning vehicle by smashing the back window with a golf club — was like listening to Peter Lorre telling Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, ‘I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.’

Like virtually every politician in America (Barney Frank comes to mind as a notable exception) Woods has worked tirelessly to construct an idealized image of himself and to control as closely as possible the way he is portrayed in the media. And just like every politician who missteps into scandal, he now is paying a steep price for falling from grace, a cultural narrative that Pierce, who got bashed by Team Tiger when he wrote some unflattering things a decade ago, gets just right:

But the more impenetrable Tiger’s cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he’s got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone’s breakfast for the foreseeable future…And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career.

Old guycalperss win again: Mega-kudos to our old friend Ed Mendel, who carries off this week’s prize for Investigative Blogging for his recent splendid scoop, disclosing how the California Public Employees Retirement System lost $1 billion in a blind faith purchase of goofy investments which turned out to be backed by subprime mortgages and other risky assets.

Mendel and Calbuzz are both so old that we met when he worked for the Sacramento Union, the first newspaper west of the Mississippi fercrineoutloud. A 30-year veteran foot soldier in the war of words, he’s  reinvented himself online as the state’s most dogged reporter regularly covering CalPERS and CalSTRS, which have two of the world’s biggest investment portfolios, along with 80 other public employee pension funds.

His latest excloo, explaining how fund execs fell for exotic financial instruments called “structured investment vehicles,” is a reminder that California’s  enormous public pension systems have long been inadequately covered, when covered at all; despite the billions at stake, the story’s historically proven just too complicated and filled with too many numbers to hold the interest of your average High-Powered News Executive.

Amid the continuing collapse of California’s finances, however, untangling the system’s byzantine structures and multi-layered scams is not only an increasingly important political yarn but also a terrific example of throwback public interest journalism, making Mendel’s site a must read.

leonard_downie_140x140

The future starts here: Media junkies in need of a new doorstop, or with a spare eight or nine hours on their hands, are well advised to check out “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” the 15,766 word opus by Washpost suit Len Downie and journalism egghead Michael Schudson, in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

Despite its arid tone, the piece does a swell job of describing and defining the seismically disrupted news and information landscape of today. The yarn  comprehensively catalogues and analyzes virtually every major business model and experimental form of journalistic enterprise swirling in the Wild West new media world, concluding with a list of recommendations to nurture and sustain what the writers dub “accountability journalism.”

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs. Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know. ‘It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,’ says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. ‘We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.’

The CJR piece suffers from one big flaw: a foreshortened, MSM gatekeeper perspective that looks more to the past than the future for solutions, mistaking the map for the territory. Jan Schaffer, director of American University’s Institute for Interactive Journalism, sums the problem up in one of several critiques of the report smartly offered in the same issue:

If we really want to reconstruct American journalism, we need to look at more than the supply side; we need to explore the demand side, too. We need to start paying attention to the trail of clues in the new-media ecosystem and follow those ‘breadcrumbs.’ What ailing industry would look for a fix that only thinks of ‘us,’ the news suppliers, and not ‘them,’ the news consumers? I don’t hear from any of those consumers in this report.

Still, the Downie-Schudson collaboration offers a first-rate overview pulling together all the crucial strands of what’s happening in the post-newspaper, post-network news report world of journalism. You can find it here.

Why toraboraladenRumsfeld is a bigger weenie than you even thought: After Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan the other night, the insufferable Donald Rumsfeld started whining that the president had unfairly trashed him by describing how the former Defense Secretary in December 2001 shined on urgent requests for more troops to help capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, when the U.S. had him cornered in a rugged area of the eastern White Mountains known as Tora Bora.

Thanks to the Chron’s trusty Carolyn Lochhead, who pointed to a just-released Senate Foreign Relations Committee report about the incident,  however, the full scope of the blunder by Rumsfeld and top commander General Tommy Franks becomes clear.

When Gary Berntsen, the senior CIA paramilitary commander on the scene, went to Major General Dell Dailey, commander of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan to plead for the troops, he was flatly turned down “on orders from Franks at U.S. Central Command Headquarters,” according to the report, “Tora Bora revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today.”

Dailey refused to deploy U.S. troops, explaining that he feared alienating Afghan allies.

“I don’t give a damn about offending our allies,” Bernsten shouted. “I only care about eliminating al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden’s head in a box.”

Dailey said that the military’s position was firm and Bernsten replied, “Screw that.”

Whatever you think of Obama’s just-announced policy on the Af-Pak war, the report is a well-written, extraordinary narrative that goes a long way to explaining why we’re still mired in Afghanistan eight years later.

Diane.von.Ferstenberg.2005

Well they’ve got to be at least half right: Our pal Carla Marinucci made us green with envy once again with her blog post reporting all the A-list names – Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Kate Capshaw and Stephen Spielberg, Peter Morton, Chet and Janice Pipkin, Rob Reiner, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, David Geffen, Wallis Annenberg, Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco, Stephen Bing, Larry Ellison, Diane Von Furstenberg, yada yada yada – who pitched in big bucks to Jerry Brown’s (shhh) campaign for governor at his big Brentwood fundraiser last month.

But we were kinda’ baffled when she reported in the same piece that the funder had raised Crusty only $700K in November, which seemed rather low. Then came Carla’s Chronicle colleagues (we love the smell of alliteration in the morning), Phil Matier and Andy Ross, who reported a few days later that the AG had raised $1.65 million for the month.  Figuring there’s no one left on the copy desk to reconcile such matters at the paper these days, we did our own actual reporting and came up with $1,577,700, giving the nod to M&R on this one.

Mlingleaholo Fail: The Calbuzz Maui bureau is more than a little miffed at our former colleague Greg Lucas, who spoiled our world exclusive about the budget woes of Hawaii’s state government with his own scoop on this crucial, pressing national story over at California’s Capitol.

Just when we were poised to deduct the total cost of our Napili Bay junket  by cobbling together a quick and dirty post buttressed by a couple of stats  ripped off from the Honolulu Advertiser, here comes Lucas, who gets an actual copy of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s budget message, beating us to the punch by writing off his own trip to Kaui a couple weeks earlier.

Mele kalikimaka to you too, bruddah.

Reflections On The S.F. Chronicle

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009


By Jerry Roberts

I started working at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1977, as a temporary, vacation relief general assignment reporter, and left a quarter-century later, after serving five years as the paper’s Managing Editor.

For most of my Chronicle career, the paper was owned and operated by the descendants of Charles and Michael de Young, who founded it as the Daily Dramatic Chronicle in 1865. In 2000, the family sold out to the Hearst Corp., which struggled with the paper’s finances from the day they bought it; two weeks ago, Hearst executives announced they would shut down The Chronicle unless employee unions made massive concessions, starting with the disappearance of at least 150 jobs.

The financial woes afflicting the Chronicle mirror those of once-flush metro dailies across the country; the rapid economic and cultural changes shaped by the internet shattered their business model of aggregating a general interest, geographically discrete, mass audience to sell to local and national advertisers at premium rates.

For a newspaper junkie who spent more than half my life in daily newsrooms before moving to academia in 2007, the decline of the Chronicle and of the industry is heart-breaking to watch. Here are my own two (three, actually) cents on what’s happened and where things may be headed:

1-The future for newspaper journalists lies in fully understanding – and truly accepting, once and for all – that the value of the product is the news, not the paper, then moving full speed ahead on some version of web-to-print publication that merges daily breaking news coverage with a one-to-three day-a-week print product focused on analysis, opinion and explanatory journalism.

2-News organizations, regardless of platform, should concentrate intensely on three fundamental value propositions:

a) Local news, which comprehensively covers, uncovers and demystifies the information that is most directly and immediately relevant to folks in their communities – public safety, schools, government actors and actions, arts and entertainment, for starters – as consumers, taxpayers and citizens (as sites like Noozhawk and independent.com do in Santa Barbara)

b) Collaborative investigative reporting that bulds on and fulfills the traditional watchdog responsibilities of public service journalism, by aligning and strengthening the organization’s own reporting resources with the expertise, passion and reporting power of online communities (as the Sun-Sentinel did in its Pulitizer short list investigative series on FEMA mismanagement of hurricane disaster relief).

c) Intelligent aggregation and synthesis that brings clarity to the vast mass of daily information that pounds each of us all day, every day, by discovering and highlighting the most important and revealing online reporting and commentary (with models that RealClearPolitics, Huffpost and Daily Beast, among others, are in the process of developing hourly).

3-The current, webwise conventional wisdom that newspaper executives and editors were stubbornly blind to the huge implications of the digital revolution for their businesses is just wrong. Every news organization and editor I know, going back 10 years and more – does anyone at the Chron remember the 39 Steps of the Change Project? – were working hard to reinvent and reposition their products for an era of radical transformation.

It is true that most of these efforts inadequately foresaw the full scope and speed of the coming change; however, they fell short in larger part because the executives and editors charged with finding and navigating the New Media pathways to change were under simultaneous, unstinting demands to ensure that the Old Media legacy products continued to serve, maintain and expand existing, aging audiences in the fullest possible way.

Under the insistent demand for short-term results and profits, the Production Imperative of putting out the best damn daily paper possible inevitably trumped the Mandate for Change, so that rethinking and reinvention mostly remained timid tweaking around the margins.

However, the problem was less a failure of imagination of what the future would look like, as the lofty thinkers of the web world smugly argue, than a failure to bite the bullet, by cutting loose and redirecting critical mass amounts of resources, in the form of time and labor of substantial numbers of reporters, editors and business side employees.

This both/and proposition meant that the short-term, daily deadline driven Sisyphean slog up the hill always took precedence over the long-range necessity to provide the luxury of time needed to experiment, discover and, yes, even fail, in properly exploring ideas, platforms, operations and organizational structures required to forge the right strategies and goals to adapt Old Media forms to New Media realities.

These four links offer an up-to-date, if disheartening, overview of the rapidly moving transformation of the news media landscape.

The East Bay Express details how Hearst in San Francisco has made a take it or leave it offer to the Newspaper Guild to accept the loss of 150 of 460 jobs at the Chronicle – and fast – or suffer the loss of 225 instead.

In Seattle, Hearst is moving to turn the print editions of its Post-Intelligencer into an online only product,

Over at his newsosaur blog, my old city editor Alan Mutter provides the best, smartest and most fact-based real time coverage of newspapers in transition, including a recent two-parter about paid online content (featuring a discussion of the situation in Santa Barbara).

Finally, the Times today has a takeout on the feasibility of the non-profit model for print products, using Mother Jones magazine as a case study, another financial alternative now being widely discussed.