Monthly Archives: August 2010

O’Reilly called Nolan’s protest “outrageous”

Barry Nolan

Barry Nolan

Two years ago, the Phoenix newspapers bestowed one of their annual Muzzle Awards on Comcast for firing Barry Nolan, the Boston-based host of “Backstage,” which appeared locally on CN8.

Nolan’s apparent offense: speaking out against a decision by the National Academy of Arts & Sciences to present a coveted Governors Award to Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Nolan showed up at the Boston Emmy Awards to protest the choice.

“I got fired for saying demonstrably true things in a roomful of news people that people agreed with,” Nolan told me at the time. “Which tells you more, I think, about the times we live in than about the idiosyncrasies of somebody at Comcast.”

Now, at long last, Nolan’s story — and his $1.2 million wrongful-termination suit against Comcast — is getting a full airing. Earlier this week, the Columbia Journalism Review posted on its website a 2,700-word story by veteran Boston journalist Terry Ann Knopf. The chief revelation: a “carefully worded, lawyerly letter” from O’Reilly to Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts in which O’Reilly said he considered Nolan’s one-man crusade to be “outrageous behavior” and “a disturbing situation.” O’Reilly wrote:

We at “The O’Reilly Factor” have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.

(Disclosures: Knopf, a former longtime television critic for the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, interviewed me for her story, and quotes me. Also, I have spoken twice to her media-criticism students at Boston University.)

Now, it’s true that Nolan publicly referred to O’Reilly as “a mental case.” But the fact that O’Reilly would reach out to crush a critic who was in no position to do him any real harm only serves to underscore his reputation for bullying people. It’s even more disturbing that Comcast, which is now trying to acquire NBC, would cave.

Oddly enough, Knopf’s story was originally slated to run in the Boston Globe Magazine. When Knopf interviewed me, she was on assignment for the magazine. In late July, I received a call from a Globe Magazine fact-checker. Both Knopf and Globe Magazine editor Susanne Althoff declined to comment this week when I asked them why the piece was killed.

The story of Barry Nolan and Bill O’Reilly is the story of what happens when someone goes up against two of the most powerful media corporations on the planet. In the Age of the Internet, the moguls may not be what they used to be. But they’re still moguls. And they’ve still got a lot of power.

Photo (cc) by Bev Sykes and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Telegram.com takes the paid-content plunge

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester began charging for online content today. It’s a move widely seen as a test run for the New York Times, which plans to start charging for Web access next year, and whose parent company also owns the T&G (as well as the Boston Globe).

The T&G model, explained in a memo from publisher Bruce Gaultney and editor Leah Lamson, is fairly complex, as the Times model reportedly will be. Here are the basics:

  • Print subscribers will have full access to Telegram.com for no additional charge.
  • Non-subscribers will be able to access up to 10 local stories per month without paying. But they will have to register.
  • Non-subscribers who wish to access more than 10 local stories will have to pay $14.95 per month or $1 for a day pass.
  • Some Web content will remain free, including breaking-news stories.

Will the plan succeed? It depends on your definition of success. It may bolster print circulation, or at least slow its decline. The tiered pricing system is clearly aimed at non-subscribers who make heavy use of the website. Anyone who’s thinking about dropping his print subscription will now have a good reason not to do so.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the T&G’s Monday-through-Friday circulation is about 70,000, and 81,000 buy the Sunday paper. Among other things, charging for Web access will allow management to count paying online readers in those numbers.

On the other hand, I doubt many people are going to fork over $14.95 a month to read Telegram.com without getting the paper. Even if the move bolsters the Telegram’s bottom line, the danger is that the website will wither. (According to Compete.com, the T&G’s website draws about 275,000 unique visitors each month. The T&G claims about 800,000. Measuring online traffic is notoriously difficult.)

I also don’t see how this amounts to a test run for the Times — the papers are too different. The T&G’s readership is almost entirely local, and I can’t imagine its website has ever been a major priority. The Times is a national paper whose website, NYTimes.com, with nearly 20 million unique vistors per month, is the most widely read newspaper.com in the country.

Yet the T&G may be better positioned to get away with this than the Times, which has any number of competitors for national and international news. There is little competition for news in Worcester and the surrounding area — although this does present an opportunity for an existing news organization to beef up its own free website.

Based on a sampling of the more than 300 comments to Gaultney and Lamson’s memo, it doesn’t seem that the T&G’s announcement has been well-received. Yet that’s a self-selecting group. I did like the comment from the reader who buys a copy on his way to work every morning and thus won’t get free Web access. Management needs to think about how to take care of good customers like him.

My prediction is that the move will be of limited benefit, but that it won’t look that way. Very few people will sign up for Web access, and print circulation will continue to decline — but the drop in print would be worse if the T&G hadn’t made this move.

Note: I spoke with WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) this morning about the T&G’s move. I’m not sure whether it made it on to the newscast, and it doesn’t seem to have been posted online yet.

Talk of the neighborhoods


One of the themes I plan to explore in “The Wired City,” my book on the New Haven Independent, is that a non-profit city news site, freed from the constraints of appealing to affluent suburban readers, can cover stories that for-profit newspapers simply can’t. At its best, you get a sense of neighborhood life that you can’t get from a large daily newspaper.

In catching up with the Independent this morning, four examples stood out. The region’s major daily, the New Haven Register, did not have any of these stories. But it’s not a matter of the Independent having beaten the Register — my guess is that only one of the four stories would fit with the Register’s big-picture orientation in the first place.

“The Register obviously has a different mission than the Independent. They’re advertisement-based and have to do what they have to do,” local activist Clifton Graves told me recently.

I’ll begin with a story posted on Friday by Paul Bass, the Independent’s founder and editor, on a dangerous intersection in the Westville neighborhood, a few blocks from his house. This is not the first time the Independent has reported on the intersection, and Bass links to a video shot earlier by Independent contributor Leonard Honeyman. Bass finds that the city botched a recent attempt to make the intersection safer.

Next up are two stories by staff reporter Allan Appel — the second installment of his series on New Haven’s “Gardener of the Week,” and an amusing feature on an event organized by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (video above): those damnable vuvuzelas were handed out to passersby on New Haven Green so they could take a stab at playing the National Anthem.

The one story I think the Register would like to have had is a report by managing editor Melissa Bailey showing that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy’s political action committee donated $1,000 to a controversial African-American minister’s charity just before the minister endorsed Malloy over his primary opponent, Ned Lamont. Malloy crushed Lamont last Tuesday.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the Independent always beats the Register on New Haven stories. You have to visit the Register’s website this morning to learn about the city’s latest murder, and about an off-duty police sergeant who has been accused of leading his fellow officers on a high-speed chase.

But you definitely get a sense in reading both news sites that each has a different purpose.

The company that Charlie Baker keeps

The Hudakmobile

Scot Lehigh has a splendid column in today’s Boston Globe on Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s recent close encounter with William Hudak, a political extremist who has flirted with the birther movement.

Lehigh writes that “there are pretty clear signs that Hudak has wandered well north of the border that separates a hyperbolic political hopeful from a poisonous, insidious kook.” Hudak, a Boxford lawyer, is running for Congress against Democratic incumbent John Tierney this fall.

Anyone who has followed the Hudak saga over the past several months will be familiar with the inept shuffle he gives Lehigh as he tries to deny he ever believed President Obama was not born in the United States. More to the point, though, Lehigh criticizes Baker, a purported moderate, for attending a Hudak fundraiser, writing:

Yes, Baker’s camp disavows Hudak’s views. Yet a candidate is also known by the company he keeps. And it speaks poorly of Baker that he’s willing to countenance Hudak to court his supporters.

As Lehigh acknowledges, the story of Baker’s appearance was broken earlier this month by David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix. Lehigh also credits Media Nation for assembling some of Hudak’s most toxic materials.

You may recall that this all started with Hudak’s claiming the day after U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley that Brown had endorsed his candidacy. After I posted evidence of Hudak’s extremism, the Brown people made it clear that there had never been an endorsement — and even though Brown is generally thought to be more conservative than Baker, the senator has wisely kept his distance from Hudak ever since.

“P” is for Papelbon and panic

No, I didn’t see Jonathan Papelbon blow his sixth save of the season this afternoon. I was working. But I’d say he’s now officially become a problem. Wouldn’t you? If he’d blown, say, two saves up to this point, the Sox would be leading in the wild-card race.

You can’t hold that blown save against the Angels in the 2009 playoffs over his head. Those things happen. But even though his statistics have, for the most part, been very good, I think most of us would agree that he hasn’t looked right since the beginning of the ’09 season — even though he can still be dominating, as he was against the Yankees the other night.

It would be a panic move, and I doubt Terry Francona would ever do it. But I wonder if it might be time to make Daniel Bard the closer, give some key innings to Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden (what is he still doing in Pawtucket?) and use Papelbon in some non-key situations for a while.

The resurrection will be (slightly) delayed

The idea that Apple’s iPad would save newspapers and magazines, always dubious, is so far not even getting a decent tryout. Evangelists for the iPad put forth a vision of users switching from free websites to paid apps.

Since a very good Web browser is built in to the iPad, it was never clear why any more than a handful would pay. And, so far, there are few apps. Among the better-known is the New York Times’ “Editor’s Choice,” a free, experimental app that doesn’t include the full content of the paper. (The Globe is reportedly working on an iPad app, but I have no details.)

PressReader offers some 1,500 papers around the world (neither the Times nor the Boston Globe is available, though the Boston Herald is). But it’s based on a PDF-like representation of the actual pages in the paper, which is no way to read online.

Meanwhile, because Apple has been slow in implementing subscriptions, we have absurdities like Time magazine’s paid app, which costs approximately 650 percent more than a print subscription.

If I had an iPad, here’s what I would want: a simple way to subscribe to the papers I read every day at a much-lower-than-print price. Since I wouldn’t pay $30 a month for an always-on 3G connection, I’d want to download the entire paper via WiFi, and then be able to read it whether I was in a hot spot or not.

It’s not as though what I’m looking for is particularly exotic. In fact, two very good alternatives already exist — yet neither one of them will work with the iPad.

First, the Times and the Globe are both available in low-cost “Reader” editions, built on top of the Adobe Air platform. The Reader, based on flipping pages, is seemingly made for the iPad. But because of Apple’s ongoing battle with Adobe, you can’t run Air on an iPad. (The forthcoming Google tablet, running Air, would be a great way to access Reader content.)

Second, many papers are available on the Amazon Kindle. But though Kindle software runs on a variety of devices, including the iPad, Amazon has restricted newspapers and magazines to its proprietary Kindle devices. If you’re running Kindle software on your laptop or smartphone, you can only use it to download and read books.

So far, it seems, the iPad has been very good for Apple, but not so good for newspaper and magazine publishers. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are no good options even for people who are willing to pay.

Photo (cc) by Steve Garfield and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Seeking help with Google AdSense

Several years ago I tried to set up a Google AdSense account, did something wrong, and have never been able to recover. I just tried again, and the unexplained sins of the past continue to haunt me. If you think you can help, please send an e-mail to da {dot} kennedy {at} neu {dot} edu, and I’ll respond with a detailed explanation.

What Google and Verizon were really up to

Samuel Axton, writing at Mashable, is unstinting in his assessment of last week’s New York Times report that Google and Verizon were secretly negotiating a deal that would undermine net neutrality for their own benefit. The two companies yesterday announced a proposed regulatory framework that would more or less guarantee net neutrality on broadband land lines, but allow wireless providers to operate with fewer regulations. Axton writes:

The proposal we’re seeing is starkly different from what was described in The New York Times article from last week that accused Google and Verizon of conspiring to upend the principles of net neutrality. We didn’t believe it even then, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in the conference call that “almost all” of what the NYT reported was “completely wrong.” In particular, he stressed that this is not a business deal at all between Verizon and Google, but simply a joint policy statement.

You wouldn’t know it from reading today’s Times, which cites “reports that Google and Verizon had come to a private agreement.” I am not aware of any “reports” making quite that bold a claim except for the initial story in the Times, which Google and Verizon almost immediately said was wrong.

Still, there’s plenty not to like about the framework that Google and Verizon have proposed. As Jeff Jarvis points out at Buzz Machine, a wireless, ubiquitous connection is quickly becoming what we mean when think of the Internet. Guaranteeing net neutrality for a land-line network that may soon be obsolete not exactly in keeping with Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” philosophy. Jarvis writes:

Mobile will very soon become a meaningless word when — well, if telcos allow it, that is — we are connected everywhere all the time. Then who cares where you are? Mobile? doesn’t matter. You’re just connected. In your car, in your office, in your bedroom, on the street. You’re connected. To what? To the internet, damnit.

The Save the Internet Coalition puts it this way: “Google-Verizon Pact Worse Than Feared.” The FCC needs to be able to put a stop to this.

Earlier coverage here and here.