Monthly Archives: August 2010

Talking Patch on NECN

I’ll be on “This Week in Business” on NECN this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. to talk about some recent trends in media and advertising. Among the topics: Patch.com, the AOL-owned network of hyperlocal sites that has attracted quite a bit of buzz lately. (The latest to weigh in is Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix.)

The other guest (no doubt he thinks of me as the other guest) is Steve Safran, editor of the blog Lost Remote, which covers trends in local news. The hosts are NECN anchor Mike Nikitas and Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

A North Shore reporter’s untimely death

Steve Landwehr

Talk about a bittersweet moment.

On Wednesday, the Salem News reported that longtime staff writer Steve Landwehr had died after a brief, intense battle with cancer. Today, the News informs us that the paper has won a major-investigative reporting award recognizing Landwehr’s work.

Landwehr was best-known for a Monday feature called “Lives,” extended obituaries about ordinary and extraordinary people on the North Shore. Characterized by Landwehr’s deep reporting and sensitive but never mawkish writing, the stories were, News publisher Karen Andreas is quoted as saying, “one of the most well-read columns in our paper.” This July 12 piece, on Salem High School football legend Joseph “Pep” Cornacchio, was among the last stories Landwehr wrote.

The investigative-reporting prize — the Thomas K. Brindley Award for public-service journalism — was for work performed mainly by Landwehr and News reporter Chris Cassidy on the Essex Regional Retirement Board and its former executive director, Timothy Bassett. Landwehr and Cassidy exposed corruption involving violations of the open-meeting law, questionable legal fees and cronyism, leading to Bassett’s resignation.

Landwehr was 61 years old. I didn’t know him, but I valued his work. He will be missed.

More: The Salem News’ editorial on Landwehr.

Rupert Murdoch’s dubious donation

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that Rupert Murdoch’s $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association may backfire on him.

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.