Monday, March 29, 2010

Focusing on content

What do readers want out of online news?

Yes, people want multimedia. They want games, maps, 30 Rock on Hulu, bootlegged first-run movies from Pirate Bay, and whacked-out amateur videos on YouTube and a dozen other sites. But there’s no evidence that they want, for instance, a thoughtful interactive map/video/database mashup on Afghanistan or global warming on which they can comment. There’s no evidence that users love these things so much that they flock to them, stay around, and convert to a news site’s brand because of cool multimedia.

So here’s my position: There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.

There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.

John Yemma is Editor of the Christian Science Monitor. Since focusing on their Web presence, Yemma says the Web site has grown steadily. How did they do it? By looking at the internet as a tool to enhance their core business, not replace it. In this article at, Yemma espouses a simple strategy - focus on original content, quality journalism, and the technology to make that content easily available for readers.

What do you think? Is content enough to drive traffic, or do we need more?

P-T reporter honored for service by LBPHS

Long Beach Press-Telegram reporter Tracy Manzer has been named the Distinguished Service Award recipient for 2010 by the Long Beach Police Historical Society.

In presenting the award to Manzer during a ceremony Thursday, Long Beach Police Department Cmdr. Gary Morrison cited her many years of fair and accurate reporting as a significant contribution to the historical record of the LBPD. Morrison, the executive director of the LBPHS, also cited Manzer's efforts to save volumes of historical LBPD photos when the Press-Telegram photo morgue was abandoned several years ago.

The annual Distinguished Service Award, a replica of a vintage LBPD badge, is one of the most prestigious awards presented by the LBPHS.

Manzer, a 15-year veteran of the Press-Telegram, has won numerous journalism awards during her nearly 10 year tenure as the fire, crime and courts beat reporter for the paper.

Obama makes NLRB recess appointments, gives board quorum

President Obama announced Friday he would appoint 15 high-ranking administration appointees now awaiting Senate confirmation through recess appointments, including two positions on the National Labor Relations Board.

The president said he plans to use his constitutional authority to seat Craig Becker, a former union lawyer, and Mark Pearce, also a former union lawyer, to the labor board while Congress is on Spring recess.

The NLRB has been operating with two of five board members since January 2008, which has raised legal questions as to whether the board could issue rulings without a quorum of three sitting members. Last year, the two-member board--one Democrat and one Republican--was instructed to hold off on any rulings until the quorum issue was decided. The Supreme Court heard arguments this week on the issue.

Sitting NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman, who has served on the board for 12 years, welcomed the new members saying, “I look forward to beginning work with them, and especially to addressing cases that have been pending for a long time.”

One of these cases is the Press-Telegram settlement with the Guild over layoffs and illegal transfers to the Daily Breeze. The settlement, which has been approved by both the Guild and the Press-Telegram, as well as the regional NLRB office, remains on the desk of the NLRB in Washington, D.C., awaiting a sign off from the board.

The Obama administration said it was forced to make the recess appointments because GOP obstructionism has created a backlog of 77 high-level Obama appointees awaiting Senate approval.

"Regrettably, Senate Republicans have dedicated themselves to a failed strategy to cripple President Obama's economic initiatives by stalling key administration nominees at every turn," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

By comparison, at this point in the George W. Bush administration, there remained only five high-level appointments left to be appointed. Democratic leaders in the Congress also pointed out that by this period in his first term, Bush had made 15 recess appointments and ultimately made 171 during his two terms in office.

Becker's appointment has draw severe criticism from many Congressional Republicans, who have said they believe that his pro-union background and disposition will lead to NLRB rulings that make it easier for employees to unionize. A previous Senate confirmation vote on Becker fell shy of the required votes when two Democratic Senators joined with Senate Republicans to deny Obama the needed 60 votes for confirmation.

Democrats and labor organizations cheered the president's decision to use his recess appointment authority.

"When jobs are scarce, workers are often forced to endure unfair working conditions," Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director for American Rights at Work told CNN. "America's workers need a fully functioning NLRB to mediate their claims for better wages, benefits and other rights now more than ever - and after two long years they have one."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Investing in local news

Veteran AP newsman Dan Robrish isn't scared of the economy, or its effect on the newspaper industry. In fact, he thinks this could be an opportunity for journalists. Some of them at least.

“It’s often said that newspapers are dying, but that’s a gross oversimplification,” stresses Robrish. “The papers with the big problems are the metropolitan dailies. You can get that information from so many sources. But here, if you want to read a professionally written news story about what the Board of Township Supervisors did on Thursday, you really don’t have much choice but to pick up the Elizabethtown Advocate, because I was the only journalist at that meeting. I am the only game in town.”

In this article at the Philly Post, Victor Fiorillo tells how the former employee became a newspaper owner. It's a fascinating story if for no other reason than it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom and a business climate obsessed with cutting expenses, instead of seizing opportunities.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Long Beach alt-paper, The District Weekly, to shutter doors

It appears another marker is set to be placed at journalism's Boot Hill.

The District Weekly's editor-in-chief Ellen Griley confirmed to Wednesday morning that the Long Beach-based alt-weekly, barring any last minute financial reprieves, will be folding. The confirmation follows more than a week of rampant speculation about the fate of the publication.

No firm date was immediately given as to when the operation would cease, or whether The District Weekly website, which remained up and running Wednesday afternoon, would continue separately.

Art Director Heather Swaim told Wednesday that the publication truly represented the tight Long Beach community. "[The District Weekly] is just a really talented group of people who I've loved working with, and if the paper closes I will miss them dearly," she told

The District Weekly began nearly three years ago, staffed to a large degree with veteran journalists from the OC Weekly and headed by well-known OC Weekly editor Will Swaim.

The publication, which featured such OC Weekly and Press-Telegram luminaries as Dave Wilenga and Theo Douglas, built a reputation for itself with an often hard-hitting look at City Hall dealings, an irreverent view of Long Beach culture and an encyclopedic coverage of the area's restaurant and entertainment scenes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Few willing to pay for online

According to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, charging for online news means "significant consumer resistance."

That's the consensus of the project's annual journalism survey, which was released Sunday.

In this article Associated Press reporter David Bauder cites several depressing statistics - like the fact that only 19 percent of "online news consumers" are willing to pay for the content. Or that 82 percent will abandon their preferred web sites if that means getting their news for free.

What's not answered is where "news consumers" will go if newspaper outlets like the Associated Press go bankrupt and there is no content left.

Honolulu Star Bulletin for sale

After losing more than $100 million in the last nine years, the owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is calling it quits and looking for a buyer. Sort of.

Categorized as an "asset sale," the request for bids is part of a legal agreement for Oahu Publications, which owns the Star-Bulletin. Oahu Publications is in the process of purchasing crosstown rival The Honolulu Advertiser, and this sale is among the conditions put forth by the Department of Justice.

If the paper is not sold, the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser will merge into a single newspaper, called the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bankruptcy update

A federal judge has approved a bankruptcy reorganization plan presented by Denver-based Affiliated Media, Inc., clearing the way for the newspaper owner to emerge from chapter 11 protection within the next two weeks.

The Hon. Kevin J. Carey of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware confirmed the plan at a hearing Thursday. The plan reduces the firm's debt by about 81 percent, from approximately $930 million to approximately $165 million.

Affiliated Media is the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher by circulation and owner of 54 daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Daily News and the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Formerly known as MediaNews Group, the firm changed it's name last year to Affiliated Media, Inc., according to lawyers from Affiliated.

The reorganization, which will retain the MediaNews Group leadership at the helm of Affiliated, was approved prior to the filing by more than 90 percent of the firm's debtors.

Dean Singleton told the Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that the lenders, mainly a group of banks led by Bank of America, would play no role in managing Affiliated or its properties.

Under the approved reorganization plan, Affiliated's debtors will own about 88 percent firm, with the former-MediaNews Group leadership retaining the rest. Stipulations in the plan allow the MediaNews Group leadership, including Singleton, to eventually own up to 20 percent of the firm.

The newly created seven-member Board of Directors for Affiliated includes Singleton, Utah billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., Jody Lodovic, president of MediaNews, and Howell Begle Jr., the firm's general counsel. Under the bankruptcy plan these four Class A seats were selected by the former MediaNews leadership.

Class B directors named to the board by the lenders include Joseph Euteneurer, chief financial officer of Qwest Communications International, and Michael Sileck, former chief operating officer of World Wrestling Entertainment. And additional seat on the board remains to be named by the lenders.

Singleton will get a base salary of $634,000 in addition to a $360,000 salary at Denver Post Corp., court papers show. He will receive 6 percent of the reorganized company’s stock, out of about 11 percent reserved for management, and warrants to buy 8 percent more. He is eligible for a performance bonus of as much as $500,000 a year.

Lodovic’s base salary will be about $1 million plus 3 percent of the reorganized company’s stock. He will be eligible for a yearly bonus of up to $500,000, according to court documents. He already has received $500,000 for achieving goals in the restructuring process and stands to receive $250,000 more as part of a deal to win confirmation by March 31 and execute the turnaround plan by April 14.

Top executives not including Singleton or Lodovic stand to receive bonuses totaling $1.6 million and will receive up to 2 percent of the reserved Affiliated stock.

According to lawyers for the Guild, the reorganization should have no impact on the National Labor Relations Board settlement over the illegal transfer of employees from the Press Telegram to the Daily Breeze.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

End in sight?

According to the Associated Press, the stalemate over President Obama's "controversial" appointees to the National Labor Relations Board might be over soon.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told AFL-CIO officials at their annual meeting Wednesday there will soon be positive news on the long-stalled nomination of union lawyer Craig Becker.

Solis then told reporters the unions will be "very pleased" with how the issue is resolved.

As our members can attest, the obstructionist delays put forth by opponents of nominee Craig Becker have sacrificed American families in the name of political gamesmanship. The sooner it ends, the better.