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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’



We’re Just Sayin’: Who Does CTA Think They’re Kidding?

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Just wonderin’ how stupid the California Teachers Association thinks we are, given their new “Yes on Propositions 1A and 1B” TV ad and the matching mailer that arrived on Wednesday.

Here’s the essence of their argument:

“Prop 1A will control state spending and create long-term reserve funds to protect against more cuts to our schools, our children’s health care programs and funding for police and fire.

“Prop 1B will begin paying back some of the devastating cuts to our public schools and community colleges — when the economy improves.”

Yo! CTA! What about the $16 billion in tax increases that 1A extends in order to keep the budget afloat? Not important enough to mention? Are we too dense to possibly understand why this might actually be a good idea? Or are you just too weasley to actually try to make the policy case for taxes ?

“Repay and Protect Our Schools” is a swell slogan — but it lies by omission. And when voters figure it out, which they will, given that thousands of people are screaming about the tax hikes at rallies around the state, fuggedaboutit.

Just askin’ how the New York Times could report with such certainty that there were precisely 773 anti-tax “tea parties” scheduled across the nation Wednesday. Really? Not 772? Or 774?

On a day when TV pictures of “Obama = Socialism” signs and old fat guys wearing white revolutionary wigs dominated political news, the ideological battle to control the narrative boiled down to this:

1-The wave of tea party protests is an authentic manifestation of true grassroots outrage that will spread like a prairie fire in protest against reckless, wasteful Democratic government spending sprees; or

2-Tea parties are a phony, Republican put-up job fueled by Limbaugh, Fox and the repulsive Michelle Malkin cynically manipulating decent working class folks to rail against their economic self-interest.

Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, who wins this week’s spin war will matter much less than who is crowing on the morning of May 20, when the result of the special election are in.

If Prop. 1A goes down, and if it goes down big, the media are sure to interpret the vote as the opening shot of a new, California tax revolt, and comparisons to Prop. 13 will rule the airwaves (whether this is true or not). Prop. 1A foes are already stoking that story line, as in this talking point Ventura County supe Peter Foy delivered to us this week: “On May 19, we can say no. And then we’ll have the opportunity to take the tea party energy and drive it across the nation.”

As a political matter, the defeat of 1A — not to mention 1C — will also mean Gov. Arnold and legislative Democrats, tails tucked firmly between manly thighs, will be forced to return to negotiations with a cackling pack of minority Republicans, fiercely emboldened by the election result, confirmed in their belief that voters adore their anti-statist ideology.

At that point, California will be facing a deficit of $12-15 billion, with tax increases no longer on the table. With the state teetering on the brink of bankruptcy –- whatever that might mean –- the political options will be cuts, cuts, or more cuts.

Just sayin’ that the right-wing radio loudmouths demagoguing this week’s anti-tax protests should have checked the Urban Dictionary definition of “teabagging” and at least considered calling it something else. Dick Armey, indeed.

Friday Fishwrap: Gay Marriage Wars and More

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Gay Blades Come Out Again: The cultural war over gay marriage has suddenly re-emerged nationally, setting the stage for volatile political developments in California when the Prop. 8 decision comes down between now and June.

Last Friday’s decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that found unconstitutional a state ban on same-sex marriage was followed within days by enactment of a pro-gay marriage law in Vermont and passage of another in the District of Columbia. All this could push the issue directly before Congress, as similar measures move ahead in New York and other states.

The flurry of activity triggered an all-hands-alert among religious foes of gay marriage, led by an outfit called the National Organization for Marriage, which rushed to air in California and other key states a dubious TV spot that uses paid actors to mouth lines of supposedly real people whose purported lives are about to be allegedly disrupted by “The Gathering Storm.” (And for a good spoof of the ad, try this.)

Foes of Prop. 8 meanwhile are sniffing defeat in court and planning mass demonstrations if the California Supremes uphold the initiative ban on gay marriage passed last November. The court has until June 3 to issue its ruling.

All of which complicates the lives of the candidates for governor. After months of mouthing platitudes about the green economy, as all-recession-all-the-time stories blanketed the news cycle, wannabes now face the unpleasant prospect of getting whipsawed between two highly motivated enemy camps: ardent progressive and gay activists demanding civil rights for all versus impassioned conservative evangelicals and other churched groups, fiercely intent on protecting their most sacred values from doom.

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom may be buffeted the most. In a Democratic primary in which liberal voters have an outsize influence, the marriage issue may help Newsom, whose biggest claim to fame to date is ordering S.F. bureaucrats to issue marriage licenses to gays. It also reinforces his strength with younger voters who are bemused by all the fuss their elders make about who sleeps with whom.

But just when Newsom is trying to introduce himself in Southern California as a model of innovative and effective leadership, he once again will be associated with a polarized issue that promptly reinforces his political roots in a city known for its ultra-liberal values. Much worse for him, though, is the now-famous “whether you like it or not” clip, which shows him as an arrogant young man, blithely dismissive of the 50% of Californians who disagree with him. Net effect: Negative.

Jerry Brown, who used his powers as attorney general to oppose the voter-approved Prop. 8 before the Supreme Court, thereby blunts any major gains Newsom might otherwise reap from the issue in the primary. Beyond that, anybody who’s strongly against gay marriage isn’t bloody likely to be for Jerry Brown in any case. Net: Wash.

Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, two moderate Republicans trying to masquerade as true-believer conservatives to court right-wing GOP primary voters, will both come under new scrutiny and pressure to bow to the Christian right on this and other social issues.* The whole exercise will underscore for California Republican Assembly types that they don’t yet have a real horse in the race. Net: Negative.

As General-Governor-Mayor-Chairman-Secretary Brown told us when we asked him about the issue: “Politicians don’t like 50% issues – they’re looking for 80% issues” . . .

Big Foot Watch: You know your home state governor’s race is gonna be fun when the New York Times lets one of its best, brightest and sharpest writers journey west to gather string for a piece on the future of politics in California. That’s wussup with our old pal Mark Leibovich, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, who’s coming to the Golden State soon. In case you aren’t familiar with Mark, he’s the guy who so deftly filleted Hardballer Chris Matthews, ex of the S.F. Examiner, in the NYT magazine that Chris himself dined out on the piece . . .

Hacks to Flacks: The list of California political journos fleeing newspapers to jump to the other side is growing. Latest is Mary Anne Ostrom, who hangs it up after 21 years at the Merc News to work as an adviser to Whitman for “policy, communications and online outreach.” She tells calbuzz that it’s “not just the dire state of newspapers. I crave a change (and) I’ve always been curious about the inner workings of a campaign.” Ostrom joins ex-S.F.Chronicle WashBuroMan Zach Coile, who jumped ship to mouthpiece for US Sen. Barbara Boxer . . .

We’re just sayin: First challenge for our old colleague Mary Anne: Do something about the insipid “Ask Meg” clips on the campaign’s slick web site, which include fluff like eMeg saying that the secret to fixing education is to “set ourselves a goal of being No. 1 again.” Or maybe do something about Meg’s vapid Tweets (“In Silicon Valley working today!”). Like make her stop, already.

* Although, as we have noted before and Bill Bradley notes in his comment, Whitman strongly opposed Prop. 8 during the campaign

We’re Just Sayin’: In Newspaper Death Spiral, Save the Reporting

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

By Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts

Here’s some free financial advice for panicked newspaper owners: If you want to save some real money, stop publishing the news altogether.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction that many papers are headed. With papers across the nation contracting, collapsing and folding, and reporters and editors seeking safer ground – the bad news in the industry is going to get worse before it gets even worse.

Simply put, American newspapers are in a death spiral.

A handful of national papers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today will hang on, and so probably will some in the category of small-bore, small-impact community papers. But the once-powerful, once profitable big metro papers – the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News come to mind – which combined both the resources and the motivation to serve as public interest watchdogs on school boards, city halls, cop shops, courts, their state legislators and members of congress, all are in big-time decline.

Metros, scandalously slow off the mark in adapting to new technologies, reacted to economic decline by slashing the amount and quality of local news coverage that was the central value proposition in selling the paper to readers. Faced with plummeting circulation, owners and publishers ensured the downward trend would gain momentum, by cutting back on the very product readers were looking for: journalism .

The result: readers found their local newspaper was not something they had to have in their daily lives. So circulation declined even further, leading newspapers to cut back more, leading to further decline in readership and further cutbacks. That’s the death spiral.

BROKEN BUSINESS MODEL: THE DECLINE OF CLASSIFIEDS

The internet upended the traditional model for newspapers – aggregating a mass audience and selling it to advertisers – by fragmenting the very notion of a mass audience. Instead of one-stop shopping for news, weather, sports and comics in the daily paper, consumers now had an almost infinite number of new sources of specialized and in-depth information about specific subjects of interest to them – along with the power to engage in a conversation with those producing that information.

Dumping most of their resources into hanging on by their fingernails to their old franchises, publishers and owners failed to invest adequately – in bodies or in dollars – in exploring in a big enough way how they could use the new technology to build on their greatest strengths: the expertise and intelligence of their reporting staffs.

Suddenly then, the revenue to cover their vast overhead nut started disappearing. Nowhere was this more dramatic, or more damaging, than in the rapid loss of classified advertising.

Yes, once upon a time, BCL (Before Craig’s List), newspapers sold classified advertising. It was like printing money. Every line was a source of revenue. And significantly, classified advertisers really didn’t care how big the home delivery circulation of the paper was because people looking for a job, home, car or repairman bought the paper because they needed the classifieds.

Today, people looking for any of these things – especially jobs – don’t bother with the newspaper. They go online, usually to a site that has no connection to their local newspaper.

When newspapers could no longer rake in cash from classifieds, they became more heavily dependent on display advertising. And display advertisers – from big national chains like Target to local restaurants and shops – do care about the size of circulation. They might pay $10,000 to place an ad in a large circulation newspaper but only $2,000 to place that ad in a paper with smaller circulation. It’s all about paying for eyeballs.

In order to survive, newspapers needed to focus more sharply on their primary business – local news. People interested in what was happening in Uzbekistan didn’t need the L.A. Times to tell them about it – they could go online and find all and more of the information they sought. What people couldn’t find was what was going on in South Central or West Hollywood. That’s not on the Internet, except when it’s aggregated by sites that pick up the work paid for by local newspapers.

But when classifieds dried up, newspaper managers responded by cutting the one thing crucial to saving their business – those who produced the local news that readers could find nowhere else. Less compelling content (and the rise of the Internet and other channels of information) led to declining circulation, which made newspapers less attractive to other advertisers. Stockholders and owners long used to annual profit margins of 20% saw their dividends shrinking so they demanded further cost savings. And the death spiral deepened.

For some papers — like the San Jose Mercury News, for example — where the business model depended on classified advertising for more than half its revenue — the evaporation of classifieds was a devastating blow to the bottom line. But instead of making itself indispensable to readers by increasing resources for local news, the publisher cut the newsroom budget even further. (See “death spiral” above)
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WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

There are only two ways to stop the spiral. And at this point, it’s not clear either will work.

– Newspapers can invest more resources, not less, in local reporting, leaving every national, international news and sports story to the national papers and wire services. They have to concentrate all of their force and fire power on their own communities, making themselves indispensable to local residents. People need to feel that they have to take the local paper to know what’s going on in their hometown. It’s the only way to maintain and grow circulation.
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– Or, a business like Google or Yahoo, which is expert at online advertising – including personalization at the individual user level – can begin to pay reporters in communities to produce content. We’re talking about covering city councils and school boards, writing about local development and utilities, local sports and arts, etc. This might kill local newspapers, but it might save local reporting.

Why can’t local papers themselves do this? Maybe they can – and the Hearst Corp. is trying in Seattle, where they’ve shuttered the venerable Post-Intelligencer but kept a small staff of local reporters on hand to try to do its job online. Freed from the costs of paper, ink, presses, mail rooms, bundlers, delivery trucks, pressmen, racks and real estate, maybe they can find an online business model that works. But it’s clear that news operations that have to carry all those legacy costs can’t make enough on the Internet to sustain themselves.

Why should we care? Because city councils, school boards, water and sewage boards, police departments and more will have no one looking over their shoulder, rummaging through their waste bins, blowing the whistle on bad behavior or commending admirable work. Because democracy works only when there is an informed citizenry. Because corruption loves a vacuum. Because when you turn on the light switch, the cockroaches run for cover. Because we cannot afford to leave politics and policy in the hands of politicians and policy-makers.