Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Needed: A Newspaper War

What does it say about a newspaper that runs a misleading story about firing its own editor? 1. That it can't be trusted. 2. Its competition will have the story first. Ever since the Palo Alto Daily News came on the scene the rival Palo Alto Weekly has seen fit to play mischief with the daily paper. Sure it's fun. But wouldn't we want to have a blog war between insiders.

Concern over the loss of one of the two primary newspapers in the Bay Area centered around the loss of other voices. Catch that; not other opinions, or other points of view, but other voices. Decoded it means more people writing copy. The fact of the matter is reading either the Mercury News or the SF Chronicle will give you the same narrow range of thought. Name an issue on which either disagrees. Plus, neither paper had much of a readership outside their respective hometowns.

When San Francisco was a two paper town--I don't go any farther back than two--a healthy level of sniping took place between the Examiner and the Chronicle, which seemed to have no greater impact than liven up a dull news product. Now we have Brad Kava and whole sections devoted to wine that induce the same level of torpor.

Dueling news organizations where there is no decernable difference are of no concern to the average consumer. Whether there is any difference between ABC, NBC or CBS I'll leave to the reader since I'm not in the habit of watching any of them. However, competition between CNN and Fox News does lead to arguably more news because it comes from different perspectives. No such fighting over ideas exists in the Bay Area except as it relates to fighting to get disinterested people to read the product.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tin Cup Time

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, there seems to be little interest among the wealthy in Silicon Valley in 'investing' in the San Jose Mercury News. Among those who are concerned is former business/technology writer Dan Gillmor who abandoned the paper in order to come up with an alternative to the paper. On the heals of his own lack of success, Gillmor laments the fact that the Merc is being abandoned by those who were successful. Huh?

It's little wonder that Silicon Valley billionaires wouldn't be interested. Investments are generally seen as a way to increase wealth, not lose it. Sure the Merc makes money, but it doesn't take financial genius to see where things are going. Some of these geniuses have been on the receiving end of Mercury News articles that have alerted them to the problem. One top executive complained to me that based on his personal knowledge the paper was a highly unreliable source of information. If those in position to know so distrust the paper, why would they continue to believe others would be fooled. When your business model is selling unreliable information you might want to seek investment capital from the National Enquirer.

Newspaper writers want job security and they sell this by telling readers how valuable a local news product is. For that reason potential 'investors' from other media conglomerates, such as MediaNews or Gannett that focus on cost cutting, are seen as undesirable. Meanwhile inexperienced investor Yucaipa is desirable on the basis that they are employee friendly. This is delusional, but it may be useful in finding money to continue. Silicon Valley's billionaires fund a wide array of foundations. Foundations give money away without the need for a return. It might be time to get out the tin cup at the Mercury News.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Crowd Control

The noise coming from Washington has Mexicans in this country riled up. And from the looks of news accounts the press has sided with the Mexicans. In Los Angeles over the weekend crowds estimated at 500,000 were reported. Indeed the crowds were large and who knows maybe there were more than 500,000.

On the other hand crowd size estimates have been the subject of controversy. Those who seek a large number to support their side are offended when they hear a number less than what they believe. Reporters ususally seek estimates from police departments who claim no special abilities in this area. Savvy police chiefs can read the political winds and are capable of coming up with acceptable numbers since little is gained by lowballing the figure.

In February of 2003 several large anti-war demonstrations took place. One of the largest was in San Francisco. News accounts estimated the size at 200,000 making the demonstrators quite satisfied. Later in the week the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that they had hired someone to take aerial photos and make a real effort to validate the crowd size. The resulting story said that at the peak of the protest the crowd was more like 65,000. Needless to say this made the paper's target audience seeing red--if it's indeed possible to be more red.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Judgement Day

San Francisco is a city proud of its hospitality and tolerance. So when a teenaged Christian group of about 25,000 gathers at AT&T ballpark this weekend city officials know just how to make them feel welcome; The board of supervisors issued a proclamation condemning the group for being anti-gay and anti-choice. State Assemblyman Mark Leno called them loud, obnoxious and disgusting--tolerance being a one-way boulevard in the city.

On Friday the group gathered on the steps of city hall to denounce advertisers who promote violence and sexuality and to call for a cultural clean-up. One counter demonstrator shown by the Chronicle shouting down the teens was identified by the Chronicle as Rev. Judy Tergis of The Church of Natural Grace. As the website for the church notes, Rev. Tergis is a minister who has been teaching others to develop their psychic awareness." That being the case, you would expect her to already know that the church also says, "Our teachers are non-judgmental, non-confrontational, friendly, warm, and accessible." Why...just like the city itself.

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle has editorialized against the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

New Spy Probe

A story in the San Francisco Chronicle reveals a SHOCKING story about a friendship between San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the founders of Google. Although the paper says no crimes were committed in this SHOCKING behavior, they allowed themselves the privledge of publishing private email communication. This from the paper that endlessly scolded President Bush for trying to stop terrorists by listening in on foreign communications without first obtaining the permission of editors at the New York Times.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stupid is as stupid does.

No one was more surprised with being accepted into Yale University than Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi. According to him, he had a better chance going to prison at Guantanimo. Hashemi, fomerly an aide to the Taliban foreign minister has a point; How is it possible for a highly selective university to want an unreconstructed thug. Despite a growing lack of support for the war in Iraq support remains high for the removal of the Taliban in Afgahnistan. That the Yale admissions policy has a more nuanced view is troubling.

Former director of admissions at Yale Richard Shaw explained that Hashemi is “a person to be reckoned with and who could educate us about the world.'' Really? It's now the job of the university to be educated by the Taliban? Recently Richard Young was appointed Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid at Stanford. Perhaps those in the Stanford community would be interested in knowing what sort of education he intents to import.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Weak Friends

When the McClatchy Company was announced as the winner of the sweepstakes to buy Knight Ridder, they said they would in-turn sell some of the weaker papers, such as the San Jose Mercury News, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Akron Beacon Journal--where Mr. Knight himself was the founder.

Prior to the sale stories began circulating that the newspaper guild--the employees labor organization--was interested in purchasing Knight Ridder. These reports were largely discounted because the guild lacked necessary resources. With the announcement of the intention to break off portions of the chain comes a new and more credible effort by the newspaper guild to buy some of the papers.

According to Editor and Publisher such a deal would be financed by the Yucaipa Corporation. This may well be the right move for the employees, but the performance of Yucaipa is even worse than Knight Ridder. Yucaipa seems to be set up to invest in shaky liberal/left enterprises.

So if functionaries from the Democrat party team up with labor unions to publish newspapers, what can we expect the product to amount to? (answer: no change)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cherry Pits

Following the invasion of Iraq and subsequent failure to turn the country into Sweden in short order, critics made much of how the case was made to go to war in the first place. A term surfaced to descibe how the Bush Administration convinced congress to vote the way they did. They called it cherrypicking--meaning that some evidence that would support not going to war was surpressed or even ignored. News organizations obsessed over the term and its implications, and as a result adopted the practice for themselves. The evidence is overwhelming and is seen in the following story lines:
  • Iraq body counts
  • Army enlistment rates
  • Iraq election woes
  • civil war breaking out
  • military desertions
Each of the lines of thought carry with it an assumption that things have failed and the situation is about to get worse. When evidence is presented that show these not to be true or none of the events come to pass, rather than admit their own failings, they trot the results of the latest cherry pickings--polls revealing attitudes of people least likely to know, the people who've been mislead by this reporting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The credibility issue is growing old

A New York Times story deals with attempts by Wal-Mart to influence public opinion by feeding bloggers information and ideas that would help the company's image. The Times warns "...the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers." Inspite of this, no one in the article claims that Wal-Mart attempted to hideout as an anonymous source.

Contrast the Times article with the scolding the paper's public editor gave over its problem with anonymous sources.
"We need to get our policies hard-wired into the brains of our reporters and editors that we are obliged to tell readers how we know what we know," Bill Keller told me the other day. "There are cases when we can't, for excellent reasons - but they have to be exceptional, and they have to be explained to the reader." He also said, when I asked why the last policy iteration didn't take, "We're still a little new at this." Fair enough - but the credibility issue is growing old.
I suspect that Wal-Mart grew weary of waiting for the New York Times to report fairly and decided to fly over their heads. The Times expends its energy trying to discredit blogs rather than reform it's practices.

Soldiers Desert Anti-War Lawyers

A USA Today article discusses desertion within the US military and states that 8000 soldiers and sailors have left their post since 9/11. USA Today says, as a result the military has decided to crackdown on desertions. According to a anti-war legal aid group that represents deserters, "...the war in Iraq is driving more soldiers to question their service and that the Pentagon is cracking down on deserters to discourage anti-war sentiment."

One problem, the article makes clear that the rate and number of desertions has declined since 9/11. Further, most deserters return on their own. And as for Iraq...there is only one known desertion in Iraq.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Nice job AP. First you report the scandalous news that President Bush knew in advance of the impending disaster from 'breached' levees in New Orleans. The President earlier said that no one anticipated their breach. After the story takes hold in newsrooms across the country you issue a corrrection that undercuts the entire premise.
WASHINGTON — An Associated Press story Thursday on this page incorrectly reported that federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees in New Orleans, citing confidential video footage of an Aug. 28 briefing among U.S. officials. The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaching. The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Brownie Points

This is precious. The San Jose Mercury News, in the above the fold headline, now says that former FEMA dirctor Michael Brown didn't deserve to be held up for ridicule. That he issued a warning to President Bush and Michael Chertoff about the impending disaster of hurricane Katrina.

And just who is doing the ridiculing, why the Mercury News. From their editorial of September 11 2005:
"So, it turns out that Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, or ''Brownie,'' as President Bush called him, was not doing ''a heck of a job,'' as the president claimed Sept. 2. Not that the White House would admit anything was amiss. It simply stripped Brown from his role managing relief efforts in the Gulf Coast on Friday and shipped him back to Washington."
The new evaluation comes by way of a Knight Ridder survey of 'disaster experts'. According to the story the experts said that upon viewing the video tape released this week, "...most believe that Brown should not be the scapegoat for the administration." That's a curious construction. First the Mercury News says Brown was the "butt of late-nite TV jokes and a punching bag on Capitol Hill", next they'd have you believe it was the Bush administration sending comics out with anti-Brown material. Brown wasn't a scapegoat of the administration. He was scapegoated by the press. He was a liability to the administration because news organizations created that impression. Knight Ridder is telling readers that they lied about Brown, and as if to demonstrate how it all works, they lie about the lie.

Let's get this straight. Much of the American media got the Katrina story horribly wrong. Based on that Michael Brown's reputation suffered. They now admit to falsely reporting on the former head of FEMA. The more recent effort on behalf of Brown is simply to throw more mud at Bush--it's now a full time obsession.

As long as Knight Ridder had the disaster panel assembled they might have asked for an assessment of the sorry prospects for their publishing empire.

Ever notice how really good yards have fences?

In response to the suggestion that a fence be erected alone our southern border, the San Francisco Chronicle puts an environmental reporter on the beat. The resulting article comes down hard on the environmental destruction sure to result from such a project. Writer Eileen Zimmerman lovingly takes readers to a pristine wilderness, home to countless species and fragile native vegitation.

I'm all for hiring the disabled, but for this story you need a reporter who hasn't lost her vision. Those familiar with the landscape surrounding prime southern border crossing can attest that the Chronicle account is lunacy. The first thing most people would note is the litter of cans, water bottles and clothes. The environmentally correct thing to do is build the fence.

One Woman Food Fight

The local press must not be accepting congresswoman Anna Eshoo's (D-CA) press releases. One of the recent missives (March 2, 2006) spoke of her opposition to the proposed National Uniformity of Food Act. According to my reading of the act, the Food and Drug Administration would like to have local food laws conform to the standards set forth in the federal laws. Eshoo thinks this is a bad idea because it somehow prevents state and local officials from carrying out their vital national security activities.

It's hard to know what to make of the local congresswoman. In 2004 Eshoo was urging just the opposite. Back then, federal standards were the right way to go. Again the issue was safety. Now I suppose its possible to be of two minds on these issues. But, could it also signal two special interest groups have her ear? Hey, you think it's cheap running for office unopposed?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Duck Blinds and Blind Justice

A post on Daily Kos defends the honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the following:
"Ruth Bader Ginsburg has consistently defended the Constitution. She has put herself up on a daily basis as a protector of what's right in America. Imagine if you will going to work every day and facing Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts. They snicker at your ideas. They sleep through your presentations. They belittle you through surrogates in the press. They laugh at you in duck blinds."
I'm not sure how Clarence Thomas and John Roberts got into the duck hunting story, nor have I heard about anyone sleeping through Ginsberg's presentations, but along comes the story that Justice Ginsberg herself was asleep on the bench during arguments for the Texas gerimandering case. From the AP:
"The subject matter was extremely technical, and near the end of the argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dozed in her chair. Justices David Souter and Samuel Alito, who flank the 72 year-old, looked at her but did not give her a nudge."
No doubt dreaming of sitting in a duck blind with Scalia.

Uh, what were the choices again?

From the corrrections page at the San Jose Mercury News:
"An article inside the main news section Tuesday about a proposed deal to place management of six U.S. ports in the hands of a company run by the government of the United Arab Emirates misstated the party affiliation of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is a Democrat."
Other than that I'm sure the reporting was accurate.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Order in the Court

Anna Nicole Smith's lawyers argued on her behalf in front of the supreme court--or at least that's what news accounts said. Smith uses that name but is legally known as Vickie Lynn Marshall. So why is it that reports on a case in front of the supreme court need to serve as her press agent? Officially the case is known as Marshall v. Marshall.