Saturday, 12 July 2008

Reliance on wires; how news is reported

Here are two articles from todays IHT/

Both of them are Reuters stories, both from the escalating Afghanistan/Pakistan war.

In the first article, the notion that Predators may, or have, killed civilians, is completely unremarked upon.

The report effortlessly states: They have struck several times in northwest Pakistan this year, killing dozens of suspected militants.

Suspected militants, judged from a speck in the sky, is as close as this reporter can come to finding anyone who thought that even one of the 'dozens' of suspected militants was in fact not a militant.

The second article reports very neutrally on the dispute over the recent killing of 47 Afghan civilians by a U.S airstrike.

To me there seems to be a complete editorial disconnect between running these two stories on the same day, without referencing the other, and reports that can find no civilians killed by Predators.

Where are the NYT and IHT journalists and editors, where are their finger prints on these endless wire stories just cut and pasted into the IHT or dumped on the web, without comment or secondary sourcing or editing?

Frankly, if the NYT seriously wants to be the world's daily newspaper (and it's not clear to me it does, if we mean by world all citizens of the world, not just Americans) then they have to understand that for the entire Middle East, most of Asia and Africa, and sizeable chunks of Western Europe, this type of reporting simply doesn't cut it. It may play well in the U.S.A but it's not enough for an export product.

Deadly U.S. "buzzers" fray nerves in Pakistan
WANA, Pakistan: Pilotless U.S. drones armed with missiles have stepped up patrols over Pashtun villages on the Afghan-Pakistan border, hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda militants and fraying nerves below. Pashtun villagers living on the frontier call them "buzzers", and the aircraft have increasingly taken to the skies, causing sleepless nights and occasionally raining down death.
"We're sick of these drones, they're driving us crazy," said Sher Shah, a government official in the town of Wana in the South Waziristan region, a hot bed of militancy in northwest Pakistan.
"They fly so low at night we can't sleep!"
The Predators, capable of carrying two anti-tank Hellfire missiles, can remain aloft for up 24 hours -- providing the Central Intelligence Agency with a wealth of intelligence beamed live from its hi-tech cameras.
They have struck several times in northwest Pakistan this year, killing dozens of suspected militants. Sometimes villagers can spot the drones -- a tiny speck in the sky -- and even fire at them with rifles. At other times the drones are too high to see, but you know they're there from the distinctive and incessant buzz given off by their rear-mounted propeller engines. The buzzing often gets louder at night as the drones patrol at lower altitudes in the darkness, villagers say.
Residents of Bajaur, another militant-plagued region on the Afghan border, to the northeast of Waziristan, said drones flew overhead all night on Thursday.
"The sky is not safe, the earth is not safe, where should we go?" asked Jabbar Shah, a resident of Inayat Kalay village, about 10 km (6 miles) from the border.
"We don't know when will they strike and who will they hit. It's very worrying," he said.
Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt became a sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing from Afghanistan after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding on the mountainous border. Taliban militants fighting Western forces in Afghanistan also take sanctuary there and the Pentagon last month said insurgent havens in Pakistan were the biggest threat to Afghan security.U.S. ally Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stop attacks into Afghanistan and to rid the region of al Qaeda and many hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling the militants. But despite that, analysts say the Predator activity -- which Pakistan does not officially allow -- is a sign of growing U.S. frustration with Pakistan's inability to tackle the militants. Some U.S. politicians, including presidential candidate Barack Obama, have even suggested that the United States should attack al Qaeda inside Pakistan without Pakistani approval. Pakistan, which has been trying to negotiate peace with the militants, has ruled out allowing foreign troops on its soil.
Pakistan's the News newspaper reported on Friday a build-up of U.S forces on the border in eastern Afghanistan.
But Mehmood Shah, a retired senior security official, said it would be illogical for the United States to open a new front by attacking across the border with troops. For the time being, at least, it looks as if the United States will rely on its drones, and people on the border will continue living in fear. Malik Khardin, a tribal elder in Wana, said he had stopped letting too many cars park outside his house or allowing guests to stay because that might be spotted by the drones."We fear we might be hit on suspicion of being al Qaeda," he said.

U.S. air strike kills 47 Afghan civilians

"I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday's incident told Reuters on Friday. "There aren't any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometres near to where the air strike took place. Forty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children," he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.

Reuters seeks U.S. army video of staff killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD: The U.S. military said on Friday it was still processing a request by Reuters for video footage from U.S. helicopters and other materials relating to the killing of two Iraqi staff in Baghdad a year ago.
Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in a U.S. helicopter air strike in eastern Baghdad on July 12, 2007.
Reuters wants all the materials to be able to study what happened. Access to the video, taken from helicopters involved in the attack, could also help improve Reuters' safety policies in Iraq, the world's most dangerous country for journalists.
Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh had gone to eastern Baghdad after hearing of a military raid on a building around dawn that day, and were with a group of men at the time. It is believed two or three of these men may have been carrying weapons, although witnesses said none were assuming a hostile posture.
The U.S. military said the helicopter attack, in which nine other people were killed, occurred after security forces came under fire.

Video from two U.S. Apache helicopters and photographs taken of the scene were shown to Reuters editors in Baghdad on July 25, 2007 in an off-the-record briefing.
U.S. military officers who presented the materials said Reuters had to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get copies. This request was made the same day.
Reuters News Chief Counsel Thomas Kim wrote to the U.S. Central Command on Thursday, saying the media organisation had not received any formal response in nearly a year.
In an email on Friday, the Central Command said the request was still being processed, adding it could not give a timeframe for when this would be completed.

No humour in this story. Reuters aren't going to let it go and nor should they. I hope the NYT/IHT will continue to give bigger play to this story.

The US military still processing a request from Reuters a year later? No wonder the Iraq war will probably go on many years longer than WWII.

Must find new ways to scale corporate ladder

Architect supports changes to Times tower

"I'm frankly quite worried about this new fashion of going up on buildings," Piano said in the interview. "This is what I call an inappropriate use of the building."

"Inappropriate use" of a building?
What's this bloke on? "This is what I call..."

Piano said of the tower: "It was built to be responsive to design after 9/11. The big challenge was to make a building that is not like a fortress, but that is transparent, and open to the city." He added, "This problem of climbers is honestly something we didn't think about."

"This problem of climbers is honestly something we didn't think about."
No comment.

How's David Malone doing, the PR seeking climber/author of the New York Times building?

His Amazon ranking has actually gone down. Sales Rank: #1,612,306 in Books

Clearly I don't believe this, this is evidently a government-led conspiracy and designed to stop inappropriate building use by climbers.

Now by contrast, at the same time, there was a great story in the IHT of some Czech kids (one called Oxygen, another called Cedar) involved in what Piano would clearly call "inappropriate use of rocks", DRINKING BEER (from 10.00 a.m in the morning before jumping) and NOT WEARING HELMETS.

This story got the full video package on the home page (still up this morning) and front page play in the IHT.

"It's pretty hairball and about all the exposure" Cedar "can handle", which it would be, jumping 15 feet accross a 100 foot drop, from one rock tower to another in the Czech Republic. I'm frankly quite worried.

Malone = villain demanding complete re-design of NYT HQ.
Cedar = drunken lunatic hero, and role model for other American climbers to come and give it a go.

Leave the building alone, save the rock towers!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Bloomberg will revamp its financial news operations

Bloomberg, the financial news and data company founded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, has announced a revamping intended to play up its growing assets in television, radio and Internet content.
The company, best known for its Bloomberg computer terminals, said Wednesday that the changes were meant to serve customers better by consolidating disparate divisions. The company will now be divided into three main units: news, data and financial products.
The news unit will include the company's existing news-gathering operation, which produces business articles for the Bloomberg terminals and other outlets, as well as a revamped multimedia department, which will run the company's 11 television channels, radio network and Web site.
The data division will comprise the company's databases and law information. The financial products division will house the core terminal business, trading systems and analytics.
The changes come six months after Daniel Doctoroff, a deputy mayor under Bloomberg, left that position to become president of the company. As mayor, Bloomberg is not involved in the company's day-to-day affairs, but he still talks regularly to the company's executives.

In meetings with employees Wednesday, Doctoroff and Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg, said the changes would create integrated structures for the company's products and services, and ensure that the staff in each area was more specialized for customers.
About 85 percent of Bloomberg's revenue comes from its terminals, which are considered indispensable on trading floors. But the company's other revenue streams are growing more quickly.
"We expect that growth rate to continue to be at a premium to our terminal business going forward," Grauer said in an interview.
Naturally, then, Bloomberg wants to make better use of its other assets, which include its electronic network, trading systems and news division.
"We're integrating all of our financial products businesses," Grauer said. "They'll have sales, product development, and customer support services all working in vertical teams."
By setting up groups based on the kinds of customers they serve, he said, the company is to be more client-friendly and innovative.
Matthew Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News, will continue to oversee the journalists who write for the terminals, for newspapers and for a magazine, Bloomberg Markets. Executives will soon start an external search for a leader of the Bloomberg multimedia division.
Norman Pearlstine, the former top editor of Time Inc., became Bloomberg's chief content officer in May. He will not be affected by the shuffle.
Grauer emphasized that while other media companies were forecasting layoffs, Bloomberg was continuing to grow. The company announced a bonus system tied to personal and departmental goals. Terminal revenues are pegged at about $6 billion this year, for example, and if the company reaches $10 billion in sales in four years, every current employee will receive a bonus equivalent to 70 percent of their salary.
Tim Arango contributed reporting.

Photoshopped Iranian Missiles

We're now on the second day of Iranian missile tests, the first day heavily reported on the front page of the IHT - with a photo - and on the home page of , both with a dramatic image of four missiles soaring into the sky.

I've 'loved' this story, because here we have had MSM going with photos supplied by the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards, showing four missiles, and it turns out one of them was Photoshopped in!

In fairness, I found this out thanks to the NYT who had been suckered themselves with their running of this photo on and in the IHT, but strangely they tucked away this mistake in a fascinating part of their web site - worth keeping an eye on - called ("The Lede - Notes on the News")

Maybe I've missed it, but this quite important story, going to the heart of MSM credibility is relegated to a blog, and there's now no reference to it in Alan Cowell's article about the initial launches, now with a corrected image showing just three missiles. The web is great for covering up mistakes.

Here's The Lede Blog's article on this, worthy of a full read to see how readily MSM will publish and print 'n'importe quoi'.

July 10, 2008, 9:16 am
In an Iranian Image, a Missile Too Many
Mike Nizza and Patrick Witty

[Original Image]
In the four-missile version of the image released Wednesday by Sepah News, the media arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, two major sections (encircled in red) appear to closely replicate other sections (encircled in orange). (Illustration by The New York Times; photo via Agence France-Presse)

Latest update at 3 p.m. Eastern Agence France-Presse has retracted the image as “apparently digitally altered.” More developments at the bottom of the post.

As news spread across the world of Iran’s provocative missile tests, so did an image of four missiles heading skyward in unison. Unfortunately, it appeared to contain one too many missiles, a point that had not emerged before the photo was used on the front pages of The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers as well as on BBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and many other major news Web sites. [IW: The Lede doesn't seem to think the NYT's global edition worthy of a mention.]
Agence France-Presse said that it obtained the image from the Web site of Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, on Wednesday. But there was no sign of it there later in the day. Today, The Associated Press distributed what appeared to be a nearly identical photo from the same source, but without the fourth missile.
As the above illustration shows, the second missile from the right appears to be the sum of two other missiles in the image. The contours of the billowing smoke match perfectly near the ground, as well in the immediate wake of the missile. Only a small black dot in the reddish area of exhaust seems to differ from the missile to its left, though there are also some slight variations in the color of the smoke and the sky.
Does Iran’s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been
leveled before. So far, though, it can’t be said with any certainty whether there is any official Iranian involvement in this instance. Sepah apparently published the three-missile version of the image today without further explanation.
For its part, Agence France-Presse retracted its four-missile version this morning, saying that the image was “apparently digitally altered” by Iranian state media. The fourth missile “has apparently been added in digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test,” the agency said. Later, it published an article
quoting several experts backing that argument.
Along with major doubts about the image, American intelligence officials had larger questions on exactly how many missiles were fired. One defense official said that “at least 7, and possibly up to 10″ had taken flight in all, though the intelligence data was still being sorted out. Only one of them was said to be a Shahab 3.
Throughout the day, several news sites have taken steps to disown the photograph that they ran on Wednesday, including and
In a sentiment no doubt echoed by news organizations everywhere, an MSNBC editor acknowledged that the four-missile picture was initially welcomed with open arms. “As the media editor working the home page yesterday, I was frustrated with the quality of a fuzzy video image we published of the Iranian missile launch,” said Rich Shulman, the network’s associate multimedia editor. “So I was thrilled when the top image crossed the news wires.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.

The Lede also published some amusing 'Comments of the Moment' including this one:

“I know that these missiles are part of a threat to wipe Israel off the map, but now they've proved that they have the Photoshop capabilities to do it.”
— sean gallagher

My take out from the above is that this is is the view of the NYT:

'We'll treat our mistake lightly, we'll make it clear we weren't the only ones suckered, including some other REALLY big names (i.e competitors), and it's kind of funny so it's actually no big deal.

That the image was Photoshopped to reveal a possible failed launch of a fourth missile (and you may note one taking off at a somewhat different trajectory to the others) isn't big news and is to be played down.'

I'm not sure that's how the NYT builds credibility in its brand.

(I remember an IHT editor, one of its most charming, Mike Getler, who wouldn't even let me allow film companies to use the IHT in major Hollywood films, if it involved some sort of fake - actually Photoshopped - headline to fit the story.

He explained to me that this was an important point to him - the reputation of the IHT should be one of total credibility and was not to be toyed with, even if it meant the loss of great brand exposure. So the film companies would always go to our big competitor, the FT.

Now, I don't believe those rules still apply at the NYT or the IHT.

What I also find remarkable is this comment:

"Does Iran’s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been leveled before."

Really? That was news to me.

In which case, might we not expect more of IHT and NYT photo editors when receiving images from Iranian state entities? An on-the-ball NYT would have broken this story, and what a great one it would have been. But as someone said, I guess 4 missiles creates more fear than 3.

I'd put this whole saga into the funny but actually not very funny category, and I'd like to have seen more about it in the subsequent editions.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Climbing the corporate ladder

Oddly, on a day I have written about NYT foreign correspondents using relatively short-term postings as rungs on the corporate ladder, this story from New York City.

As it turns out the man who climbed the NYT HQ today was not a foreign correspondent, but an author, David Malone, who had a book published in November 2005 called 'Bin Laden's Plan'.

It was apparently a publicity stunt.

To see if it works I'll be keeping an eye on his Amazon ranking which currently stands at: Sales Rank: #1,579,173

Obviously no one wants to give fuel to this guy's fire, so I obviously will:

Here's a product description of 'Bin Laden's Plan' from

Since the 9/11 attack, Al Qaeda has chosen to not attack the vulnerable American homeland in order to cement the transfer of war guilt to the United States. This strategic decision was a product of the marriage between Osama bin Laden's terrorist group and an American neo-conservative group, The Project for the New American Century, both of whose leaders had been attempting, covertly and separately, to provoke a unilateral American invasion of Iraq since the end of the Cold War as a first step to world domination. In pursuit of this shared objective, Bin Laden christened the marriage with an October surprise that facilitated the closely contested millennial election of the hawkish American group's foremost representatives, the Bush Administration. After nine months of Bush's presidency, Al Qaeda and an immaculately impregnated American administration gave birth to the march to war against Iraq when Bin Laden intentionally unleashed the Bush Administration's crusade in the Middle East on 9/11. The American occupation of Iraq would prove to be the greatest boon to Bin Laden's most vital war objective, the global recruitment coup of transferring guilt for the war to the United States. Al Qaeda supported President Bush's reelection in 2004 with another October surprise so that his administration would complete the global vilification of America that is intended to be the foundation of Bin Laden's messianic bid for world domination by nuclear terrorism.

Now AP, from whom the below article on was taken, spells AQ as 'al-Qaida'.

David Malone spells it as Al Qaeda.

The NYT spells it as: Al Qaeda.

Reuters spells it as Al Qaeda.

So who's on the job banging up these 'al-Qaida' AP stories on

How does Robert Fisk spell it?

Here's the thing, on the subject of journalists' credibility: if I had to choose between the spelling of AP, Reuters, the NYT, the IHT or Robert Fisk, I'd go with the one used by Fisk. I don't need to check how Fisk spells it, that's not the point. The point is that on this important subject I have more faith in the reporting of Robert Fisk than I do that of David Malone or the NYT.

That can't be a good thing for the NYT can it?

Man arrested after climbing part of The New York Times' 52-story headquarters
NEW YORK: A man climbed part-way up The New York Times' 52-story headquarters, becoming the third person to scale the skyscraper in less than five weeks. Within hours, crews were working to remove dozens of ladder-like white ceramic rods from the building's lower facade to deter further stunts.
The climber, identified by police as David Malone, made it to the 11th floor of the Manhattan building before descending to a lower level where he spent hours making cell phone calls and talking to police. He was arrested about 5:30 a.m. (0930 GMT) Wednesday, police said.
At one point, the climber unfurled a banner on the "T" of the Times' sign that referred to Osama bin Laden, police said. Malone is the author of a book, "Bin Laden's Plan," that argues that Sept. 11 was part of a plot by al-Qaida to provoke the U.S. into invading Iraq, according to a book summary at
Malone, 29, said news reports about the earlier climbs had inspired him to get publicity for his crusade against al-Qaida, and said those reports also provided him with a roadmap on how to do it, according to police.
On June 5, Renaldo Clarke and French daredevil Alain Robert separately climbed the Times building, which the newspaper company moved into last year. It is covered with slats that the men used to climb the tower like a ladder.

Modifications were made to the building and security was added after the other stunts. Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the company was investigating how Wednesday's climber was able to overcome the additional obstacles, but she refused to discuss whether other measures were being put into place.
Dozens of police and firefighters responded about 1:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) Wednesday after the new climber was spotted, police said. Streets were closed off and an inflatable cushion was placed in front of the main entrance.
One of the calls the climber made was to a night editor at the Daily News, telling the editor he was trying to bring al-Qaida to the public's attention because Americans do not think the terrorist group is enough of a threat to national security, authorities said.
Police brought the Daily News editor to the scene, and hostage negotiators worked to get the climber down to the fifth floor so he could speak to the editor in person, said Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
Malone was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center for evaluation and arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. He was awaiting arraignment.
On June 5, both Robert and Clarke made it to the top and were charged with reckless endangerment, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.
The criminal case against Robert evaporated when grand jurors refused to indict him after hearing about his climbing experience and safeguards. He still faced a disorderly conduct citation, a far less serious charge.
After the grand jury refused to indict Robert, prosecutors said they were weighing how to proceed against Clarke.

An almost overlooked oasis.

I recently posted about the bizarre decision to post an equally bizarre letter from a potential IHT contributor who hadn't heard back from the op-ed editors.

Here are some further thoughts on this from an IHT reader in the Netherlands, a Dutchman:

"I read the 'little screed' several times, and each time I had to smile from ear to ear. Bad news is hard to avoid, good news is sometimes hard to find. Perhaps the editors wanted us to find it in the last place we would expect it. This was a time-out, an almost overlooked oasis."

Some further thoughts on Fisk and the perils of embedded journalism

Thanks to OPL for this email, further to my posting on Fisk:

"Fisk is a powerful messenger of non-embedded journalism--all too rare in this corporate media dominated world. Shouldn't respectable news organizations only allow journalists to report from a region after having lived there long enough to really understand it?"

Here's audio of Fisk's lecture on journalism I recently attended in Rome (MP3). PART I: II:

I couldn't agree more about news organizations only allowing journalists to report from a region after having lived there long enough to really understand it. And, might I add, speak the language extremely well.

Fisk speaks of embedded journalists with disdain, those too who constantly rely on unnamed sources, and 'security experts' who speak from the comfort of a TV studio in London, not having spent more than a week here or there in countries they act as talking heads about. Their sources are then, inevitably, the 'pouvoir'. Witness J. Miller and WMD.

There's a powerful passage in Fisk's book when he is attacked by an angry crowd, civilians repeatedly bombed by American airplanes whilst fleeing the 'liberation' of Afghanistan en route to the Pakistani border. He fights with all his life to hang onto his bag - why? Because it contains his contacts book, the product of years of living in the region.

Fisk however is unusual. He is, as far as I know, unmarried and without a family (although no doubt without a shortage of female admirers), and this is something he has presumably had to trade off to persue his story. Equally, he constantly refers to journalists he has worked with who have done their shift in the Middle East, before returning to London or New York to work as TV presenters, editors, foreign editors, in short, people working the coroporate ladder, their goal being (although he doesn't say this) to 'make it' in their field. Fisk however is interested in his story, and has remained in the Middle East for over 25 years. He has no ambition, as far as I know, to be the editor of The Independent.

When injured in the above mentioned incident, the then President of Lebanon was the second person to call him, offering to send his private jet and get him to the American hospital in Beirut within hours. He politely declined, despite the trauma he had undergone and his injuries - 'reporters don't take favours from prime ministers' he writes. Later he was to be in Beirut and hear the explosion that killed the President, and ran there quickly enough to witness 'security personnel' apparently removing evidence from the crime scene, which was an extremely large crater caused by the bomb that killed the President and many of his entourage.

Christianne Annapour didn't make it time, but she was there in time for his funeral. Parachute journalism of zero value.

It would be interesting to know what is the average length of 'service' in a foreign bureau of a typical overseas NYT or IHT correspondent. Certainly IHT people like Dempsey and Smale, Vinocur of course, have served years in various countries, their connections deep, their knowledge profound.

I can't speak to this subject with regard to the ambitious NYT journalists, keen to do their time, earn their resume points and get back to NY. Tom Sheppard for example, the new IHT business editor worked in Paris in the early 90s for less than three years and is now back. I'm not 100% sure, but I'm pretty certain he couldn't conduct an interview in French, however good a business editor he is.

As to German and Italian - just to name two other G8 countries in Europe on his beat, again, I don't know, but I doubt it.

This is an interesting point, because it means that many IHT editors in Paris, coming from the NYT are only able to follow and report the news, select the stories from English language sources, namely AP and Reuters. That's a pretty narrow window. (Most of the content on is in fact AP or Reuters copy.)

I think the solution has to be the ability of the IHT to hire its own people, and not to rely on the NYT and the wire services. But that's money, and counter to the goal of working within a seamless global NYT 24 hour news operation.

People like Fisk should be working for the IHT, it's that simple. Big name hires, journalists with no ambition to one day be the editor of the NYT. Expensive. But imagine the power of the paper.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Seeing the world through non-American eyes

I have recently finished a book I should have read long ago. Fisk is controversial, not much loved by the American Jewish lobby, but a respected and long standing Middle East correspondent of first The Times (of London) and then The Independent.
He has lots to say about how western media has covered the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the wider Middle East story.
He also has lots to say (mostly bad, some good) about how the NYT has covered the Middle East.
Whether one agrees with him or not (and I largely do) this book should be given to every NYT employee joining the IHT, because it gets inside the difference of perspective that one has when one is looking at international news from Manhattan, Paris or Beirut. The same stories look remarkably different.
Give me some time and I'll post more on this book, and in particular what it has to say about the NYT, but in the meantime, if you happen to be one of those NYT editors in Manhattan, or coming to Paris, read this book.

How to get published on the Op-Ed pages

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this decision to publish this letter yesterday.

A despondent writer
Dear opinion page editors:
I'm waiting to hear from you regarding my unsolicited submission on my experiences as an expatriate American living in Thailand.

In my wilder moments, I have imagined my little screed being circulated among your top editors, possibly even to the publisher, conceivably even to Pope Benedict XVI, President Bush and Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general.

I have fantasized about their reactions: universal cries of joy, wonder and amazement at my scintillating insights enshrined in crystalline prose. I have entertained the pleasant delusion that you were waiting till you could nominate me for the Pulitzer Prize before finally informing me that you planned to publish it on your front page, and syndicate it to a dozen other publications, thereby making me world-famous and fantastically rich.

But in my sober moments, a little voice tells me that it is not to be, and that your lack of response is due merely to an oversight.

So go ahead. Crush my ego, destroy my soul. Tell me you're not going to publish it. I am waiting.

S. Tsow, Bangkok

It appeared last Tuesday, and I was thinking if this publication would make Mr or Ms. Tsow feel better. Clearly it was well enough written in the view of the IHT editors to publish it, but I wonder if they also sent him/her a reply about his/her op-ed piece. I am sure they did.

Having dealt with these pages, and been published on them, my sense is that they are deluged with submissions, and only efficiently get back to those that appeal to them. I could be wrong. Is this letter a way of telling all people who submit what to expect?

One thing I do know is that there used to be a persistent complaint about the quality of English used by non-mother tongue speakers (who am I to speak of this on this bang it out and publish without proofing blog?), and that due to the lack of editorial resources, and the problem of timeliness, there simply isn't time to contact writers with good ideas and credentials and work with them to knock their pieces into shape.

So my advice would be to do what authors have to do these days to get published: deliver a manuscript that is near-perfect and ready to go, or don't bother. It seems editors, be they books or newspapers (more understandable) don't have the time these days to edit what people have taken the time to write.

All that said, in my experience I received a very nice phone call from a very affable IHT guy, who walked me through my piece, made one minor clarification in the editing, and it was published. But it did take them a while to get back to me.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Pertinent thoughts from Vinocurs interview

A star anchorman in France is saying farewell

When I talked to Poivre d'Arvor last week he was not exactly high on the future of television news.
"We are tipping from one era to another," he said. "In the future everybody will resemble each other."
"I was the boss," not a news reader, but the editor. "It was continual stimulation. We went to the scene. In the Golden Age of great audiences you'd run into Dan Rather or Peter Jennings in Baghdad or Jerusalem.
"It will never be same. All the 24-hour newscasts now, they're uniform. Aseptic. The old guard had culture, wide shoulders and moral strength. It won't be anything like that anymore.
"It's the same manner of thinking, of appearing. It's the look. These days, appearing, seeming are more important than the fundamentals."

We are tipping from one era to another.
The question is how will newspapers tip from Newspaper 1.0 to 2.0. I don't believe the web is the solution.

Lesson for about community

I'm a big believer in one of the IHT's main problems being, because of its dispersed readership and no metropolitan or national base, its lack of community.

As migrates to those involved could do well to bear in mind this quote from one of the founders of Facebook, who is now heading up Obama's online activity:

"You can have the best technology in the world," he (Hughes) said, "but if you don't have a community who wants to use it and who are excited about it, then it has no purpose."

For the full article, you can find it here:

Obama draws on social network of support

MSM and Book Reviews

I have my own issues with IHT book reviews (as previous posts may have indicated - word is Ms. Knorr was not amused).

This article about MSM ignoring a book critical of Bush therefore caught my eye, and the quote that the NYT was considering giving it a review.

Book on "murder prosecution" of Bush is mostly ignored
NEW YORK: As a prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi was perfect in murder cases: 21 trials, 21 convictions, including the Charles Manson case in 1971.
As an author, Bugliosi has written three No.1 bestsellers and won three Edgar Allen Poe awards, the top honor for crime writers.
But what happens when a big-name author, who more than 30 years ago co-wrote the best seller "Helter Skelter," publishes a book that the mainstream press has shied away from?
Bugliosi's latest, a polemic with the provocative title, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder," has risen to best-seller status with nary a peep from the usual outlets that help sell books: cable television and book reviews in major daily newspapers.
Internet advertising has been abundant, but ABC Radio refused to accept an advertisement for the book during the Don Imus show, said Roger Cooper, the publisher of Vanguard Press, which put out the book.

The book was published in late May by Vanguard Press, a division of Perseus Books Group - which recently published a memoir by a former White House spokesman, Scott McClellan - and has sold about 130,000 copies. Last week it was No. 12 on The New York Times best-seller list. The book is under consideration for review, said Robert Harris, the deputy editor of The New York Times Book Review.

Chinese walls between advertising and editorial

Have no fear, the walls are still high at the IHT.

Despite the fact that virtually all IHT advertising is currently coming from corporate 'green advertising' or luxury goods/fashion at the moment, Monday's special report on The Business of Green led with an article by the IHT's Eric Pfanner, headlined:

'Green' marketing loses buzz and credibility - here's a taste.

PARIS: At an annual gathering of the advertising industry a year ago in Cannes, the environment was the topic du jour. "Be seen, be green," one agency urged on the invitation to its party at a hillside villa. Al Gore, invited by another agency, flew in to deliver a message linked to "An Inconvenient Truth," his film about climate change: that the ad industry could play an influential role in encouraging business and consumers to change their ways and slow the process of global warming.
The sun was still beating down on the Côte d'Azur last month as advertising executives from all over the world returned for this year's festival. But Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, was nowhere to be found, and the party buzz was about the U.S. presidential elections, the Euro 2008 soccer tournament or even the business of advertising itself. "Green" marketing, while booming, had lost some of its buzz.
The advertising industry is quicker than most to pick up on changing consumer tastes and moods, and experts say many people are growing skeptical about the proliferation of ads with an environmental message.
Over the past year, as if in answer to Gore's plea, marketers around the world have jumped onto the green bandwagon.
But the sheer volume of environmental advertising and the flimsiness of the claims in some of the campaigns show signs of generating an unintended effect. Instead of serving as a call to action or casting brands in a positive light, these ads are generating an increasingly skeptical response.

Given how the special report was packed with those green advertisers, and how this particular piece was given a skybox on the front page to flag up the report, I think we can safely say IHT editors aren't rolling over to have their tummies tickled by 'green advertisers'.

Washington Post names Marcus Brauchli as top editor

Signaling a generational change at one of the nation's most influential newspapers, the new publisher of The Washington Post on Monday selected an outsider as the paper's top editor.
Marcus Brauchli, a former top editor of The Wall Street Journal, will become the executive editor of The Post on Sept. 8, at a time of great upheaval in the industry. At age 47, he is young enough to remain in place in for many years, working alongside the publisher, Katharine Weymouth, who is 42 and has been in her job for five months.
He will succeed Leonard Downie Jr., 66, who has led The Post's newsroom for 17 years, guiding it to numerous accolades, including six Pulitzer Prizes this year, the most in its history.
But Brauchli (pronounced BROW-klee) and Weymouth take the helm at a time when The Post, like the newspaper industry as a whole, is buffeted by budget cuts, a shrinking newsroom, falling advertising revenue and declining circulation.
"I don't think it's a case of her wanting to shake the place up as much as her having to," said Benjamin Bradlee, a former executive editor who is a vice president of the Washington Post Company. "She feels the urgency to change and adapt, and thank heaven."

Monday, 7 July 2008

Better to be more or less right, than exactly wrong

"Better to be more or less right, than exactly wrong" was a favourite saying of ex-IHT publisher Peter Goldmark Jnr. As he got the boot when the NYT took over the IHT, I guess he was exactly wrong.

But I think I would apply that analysis to the following interesting piece in the IHT last week, which is worth quoting in full, coming off the back of a couple of recent posts on Think! about newsroom cuts:

Save the press

On the lobby wall of the newspaper where I got my first reporting job are the Thomas Jefferson words that U.S. journalists like to trot out as America's Independence Day nears:
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Of course, Jefferson also said the only reliable truths in newspapers were the advertisements, and that he was happiest when not reading the papers.
But as to his iconic quote, it's no secret that we're trending toward the former. And anyone who cheers the collapse of the newspaper industry should consider why Jefferson put aside his distaste for the vitriol and nonsense of the press for the larger principle of healthy democracies needing informed citizens.
Last week, almost 1,000 jobs were eliminated in the American newspaper industry, perhaps the bloodiest week yet of a year where many papers are fighting for their lives.

You read about the great names in American journalism - the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the San Jose Mercury News - as if reading the obituary page. Rich U.S. cities like San Francisco can no longer support a profitable daily paper.
Columnists, reporters, editors, cartoonists and photographers who brought to life the daily narrative of a city or region have been swept aside. What started as layoffs and buyouts is edging toward closures and bankruptcies.
And here's the great paradox: All of this bad news is coming at a time when the audience and reach of many newspapers has never been greater. The Internet may kill the daily newspaper as we know it, but it's allowed some papers to increase their readership by tenfold.
Those who revel in the life-threatening trauma that newspapers are going through, saying they brought it upon themselves by being too liberal, too sensationalistic, too banal - choose your insult - miss the point. People are not deserting these complex and contradictory summaries of our collective existence. Not by any stretch.
Measured purely by number of readers in all formats, many newspapers have never been more successful.
Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 66 million unique visitors in the first quarter of 2008 - a record, and a 12 percent increase over a year ago, according to a Nielsen Online analysis. Forty percent of all Internet users visit a newspaper site. A visitor, it should be noted, is different from a reader, but it's the measurement of choice.
The Web is the future. And yet, because online advertising accounts for only about 10 percent of total ad revenue, newspapers are hemorrhaging money. In its present form, and even in best-case projections, the Web format will never generate enough money to keep viable reporting staffs afloat at some of the nation's biggest papers.
That's the business model crisis, an old story by now, the millstones of capitalism crushing an outdated format. Something new will emerge, a print and Web model.
In the meantime, print reporters strap on the old Webcam, charge up their podcast recorder, grab their notebook and dutifully try to cover a story that now needs to be presented in three formats, or more.
What's the alternative? It's possible that some civic-minded nonprofits will end up owning one or two of the nation's great papers, and operating them as trusts, hands off.
But that's a limited solution, fraught with problems of control and flexibility, and it won't keep reporters at city hall in Sioux Falls or the statehouse in Santa Fe.
Another response is goodbye, and so what. Look at the auto industry numbers from this week, with General Motors slouching toward bankruptcy.
Besides, there's plenty of gossip, political spin and original insight on sites like the Drudge Report or The Huffington Post - even though they are built on the backs of the wire services and other factories of honest fact-gathering. One day soon these Web info-slingers will find that you can't produce journalism without journalists, and a search engine is no replacement for a curious reporter.
And just how much do most contributors at the The Huffington Post make? Nothing! "Not our financial model," as the cofounder, Ken Lerer famously said. From low pay to no pay - the New Journalism at a place that calls itself an Internet newspaper.
Yes, the Brentwood bold-face types who grace HuffPo's home page can afford to work for free, but it's un-American, to say the least.
Long ago, I was a member of the steelworkers union, and also a longshoreman. If any of those guys on the docks heard that I was now part of a profession that asked people to labor for nothing, they'd laugh in their lunch buckets - then probably shut The Huffington Post down. Doesn't the "progressive" agenda, much touted on their pages, include a living wage?

We could be left with a snark brigade, sniping at the remaining dailies in their pajamas, never rubbing shoulders with a cop, a defense attorney or a distressed family in a Red Cross shelter after a flood.
My lament this year as we Americans celebrate Independence Day is to ask readers to see newspapers as not just another casualty in the churn of business. Sure, reporters say stupid things and write idiotic stories. Everyone stumbles. But on its best days, a newspaper is a marvel of style and wit, of small-type discoveries and large-type overstatements, a diary of our deeds.
We may still prove Jefferson's preference wrong: Perhaps a nation can function without newspapers. But it would be a confederacy of dunces.

Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter.

All noble stuff, but I want to pick out the key passage here in case you missed it:

The Web is the future. And yet, because online advertising accounts for only about 10 percent of total ad revenue, newspapers are hemorrhaging money. In its present form, and even in best-case projections, the Web format will never generate enough money to keep viable reporting staffs afloat at some of the nation's biggest papers.That's the business model crisis, an old story by now, the millstones of capitalism crushing an outdated format. Something new will emerge, a print and Web model.

The problem is that of course newspaper reach is growing (it's called the internet, stupid, and it's free - as I have written before) but the cost to advertisers per thousand readers/visitors/call it what you will (CPM) is gold bars to peanuts when compared with the CPM for those luxury adverts in the IHT and what can charge.

And peanuts don't pay for newsrooms.

So the question is, how do you increase the CPM on the web?
Answer: you can't, in fact it's trending down.

So what do newspapers need to do?
Answer: increase the CPMs on a medium that is trending down.

Problematic, non?

The elephant in the room that no one seems willing to address, is that indeed a new business model is required for newspaper companies, but that is going to require providing, and SELLING, a print product that people, younger people WANT.

They don't, evidently, want what I call Newspaper 1.0.

So someone needs to come up with Newspaper 2.0.

And that's doable.

Question is: will it be the NYT/IHT who show the way? I think they can.

Keep the faith.

And nor was this (encouraging)

Philadelphia papers may combine some newsroom jobs

PHILADELPHIA: A team of managers at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News has been appointed to oversee consolidation of some functions at the two papers in a bid to cut costs, a union official said Wednesday.
Leading the team is the Inquirer's co-managing editor, Sandra Long, who met with the union on Tuesday to talk about the changes, said Henry Holcomb, president of The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia that represents newsroom and other staff at both papers.
The broadsheet Inquirer and the tabloid-size Daily News compete for news stories but share the same owners, presses and Web site. Holcomb said the union wants to make sure it can help owner Philadelphia Media Holdings save money without hurting the quality, personality and independence of the two dailies.
"The reader wants two editorial voices," Holcomb said.
The proposal to merge functions from the two newsrooms shows the severity of the newspaper industry downturn is making negotiable what was once sacrosanct.

Not very encouraging

Los Angeles Times to eliminate 150 newsroom jobs

The Los Angeles Times announced that it would eliminate 150 newsroom jobs - more than one-sixth of the staff - and publish 15 percent fewer pages, in the deepest of a series of cuts at Tribune Co. newspapers as the company tries to stay afloat.
In all, the Los Angeles Times Media Group, which includes the paper and some smaller businesses, is cutting 250 jobs, which includes nonnewsroom jobs that have already been eliminated, David Hiller, the publisher, said Wednesday. Russ Stanton, the editor, said that the cuts would be carried out over the next two months.
The reduction goes far beyond what executives were predicting just a few months ago; in February, Hiller said he expected to decrease the news staff by 40 to 50 positions. When Samuel Zell took control of Tribune in December, he said he did not plan newsroom cuts.
But Tribune's newspaper ad revenue was down 15 percent in the first quarter, and the company warned last month that significant cuts were coming.
In an era of shrinking newsrooms, The Los Angeles Times has been especially hard hit. It had about 1,300 people 10 years ago; after the new cuts, it will have around 720. Previous rounds of cuts involved voluntary buyouts, but this time executives say they expect layoffs.

Fancy Stuff from the IHT

I don't actually own a mobile phone, but if you do, and even better an iPhone, then you might like this:

To quote an IHT web person, here's the deal:

"OK, it's not a native app (overkill), but we just launched an AJAX-y iPhone-optimized version of

Point your iPhone or iPod Touch to:

Bugs and issues in the developer notes: "