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Posts Tagged ‘USA Today’



Friday Fishwrap: Jerry’s Secret Eyebrow Makeover

Friday, March 5th, 2010

When Calbuzz speaks: Back in August, our Division of Superficial Issues and Cosmetology made a strongly worded and brilliantly insightful argument that Jerry Brown needed to do something about his Sam Ervin-style eyebrows before voters started mistaking him for the 2000 Year Old Man.

Then, when we caught Crusty the General’s webcentric announcement of candidacy Tuesday, along with his later appearance on Larry King Live –  Voila! –- it was clear he had joined the ranks of candidates who understand the overweening importance of heeding the sage political advice of Calbuzz.

Trimmed, thinned and apparently lightly colored, Brown’s former albino porcupine look had been altered in a way that took 20 years off his face.  While Crusty was at pains to tell us he’d been “eating my veggies,” and later demonstrated his physical fitness for a parade of visitors to his Oakland headquarters , we think the single smartest cosmetic fix he could have made before jumping into the race was following the process  outlined in this You Tube video.

That’s change we can believe in.

Enough to make a hog puke: Nice scooplet by Flash Fleischman beating Team Whitman to the punch on “The Steve Shuffle,” their latest web hit on Poizner, a minor gem, Despite our admiration for the design, production and messaging prowess that went into making it, however, eMeg’s cheap shot at The Commish on Prop 13 is revolting.

Let’s recap: In 2000, Poizner joined a horde of good government pols – led by former Gov. Pete Wilson, who now happens to be Whitman’s campaign chairman – and virtually every CEO and big name in tech in backing Prop. 39, which lowered the vote threshold, from two-thirds to 55 percent, for approval of school bonds. The 53 percent majority of Californians who passed the thing also appeared to agree it was a damned fine idea.

And where was Whitman on the matter? Courageously staking out the position against that she now purports to defend? No, while her Silicon Valley colleagues were taking a stand on behalf of school kids and parents, eMeg was just too damn busy and oh-so-important to even vote on it -  no, more, to even register to be eligible to vote on it, that’s where.

It’s one thing to whack a foe when you have an honest disagreement with them on an issue; it’s quite another to totally cheap shot a rival for making a principled stand, when you were completely clueless and couldn’t be bothered, to get engaged on the policy issue at hand.

UPDATE: No sooner had we posted this when Poizner, acting like a chickenlivered weenie, backed away from his support of the measure to which he’d given $200,000. Sheesh.

And another thing: While eMeg’s eagerness to fork out zillions  to every media consultant, buyer and TV station in the universe automatically makes her formidable in the campaign for governor, it also puts her at risk for being ju-jitsued on the issue of how she spends her money.

The rationale for Whitman’s candidacy is that she’s not a politician, and what supposedly makes her shiny and special is that she brings a new perspective to bad old politics-as-usual. But  since she launched her first ad, eMeg has acted exactly like every candidate in history. By the time she’s burned through her $150 million or whatever she plans to spend, and voters’ eyeballs are seared by her endless sun storm of TV spots, it’s easy to imagine that she’ll be perceived as  just another political hack.

Our national Anthem: While the story of Blue Cross/Anthem’s notorious 39 percent rate increases on Californians who buy their own health insurance has reached critical mass as a national scandal, the one guy in the state you’d figure would have plenty to say about it has been oddly reticent.

Insurance Commissioner Poizner, who – as his title may suggest – actually has some jurisdiction over insurance, has been all but AWOL in the furor over the greed head rate increases. Sure the Commish quietly initiated a small-bore investigation of Anthem’s delays in paying claims, process violations that preceded the current high-end controversy, and earlier wrote a lame-o op-ed for USA Today on health reform in which one of his big beefs was that taxes on insurance companies might be increased. Poor them.

Unlike campaign subjects like the debate over debates, on which Team Poizner has expended endless words, health insurance is actually something people care about in the real world, and it’s an abiding mystery why he isn’t out there pounding on this issue day after day after day.

Must reads of the week: Patrick McGreevy and Jack Dolan of the By God L.A. Times produced a helluva fine piece of American journalism in probing the history of newly anointed Speaker John Perez doing the bidding of rich folks and special interests, a timely investigation that offers a different perspective on Mr. Speaker’s favored up-by-his-bootstraps narrative . . . Amid the ongoing Oprah-driven canonization of Roger Ebert, Will Leitch at Dead Spin offered a wonderfully moving piece on why the guy actually deserves it . . . The Chronicle’s recent over-the-top reprise of  Crusty’s Moonbeam Factor strike us as the Bright Idea of some Yuppie-era editor who never got over missing out on the 60’s, but Editorial Page High Sheriff John Diaz meanwhile did a nice bit of work with his long view take on Brown getting into the race, which hands down wins the Kicker of the Week award: It appears that voters will have a choice in November between a Democrat they know all too well and a Republican they hardly know at all. . . . Ever wonder who’s putting up the dough to try to take out AB 32, California’s pioneering greenhouse gas emissions law? Check out this post by RL Miller at Daily Kos.

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.