Saturday, 4 October 2008

Times' Web Guy Mike Nizza Moves to The Atlantic (NYO)

About The Lede
In the news business, the opening sentences of a story are referred to as its "lede" -- spelled that way, journalism lore has it, to avoid confusion with the lead typesetting that once dominated newspaper printing presses. Every sentence in a news story, though, has the potential to spiral off in new directions, and that's where The Lede's mission begins.

Times' Web Guy Mike Nizza Moves to The Atlantic
by John Koblin October 2, 2008

Mike Nizza, blogger behind The New York Times' The Lede, is moving over to The Atlantic to do Web projects. Nizza had been a Web producer at The Times since 2000, and was a key player into the growth of He left the producing ranks in 2007 to became a blogger for the paper's news digest blog after founding blogger Tom Zeller left for National Geographic.
Here's the memo from digital news editor, Jim Roberts:

In a couple of weeks he'll be taking a job with Atlantic Media, which publishes the Atlantic magazine and the National Journal. Mike will be a senior editor and will create and launch new Web sites and online features for the company.
As many of you know, Mike was instrumental in the development of He started here in 2000 and quickly rose through the ranks of producer and senior producer before becoming an editor in 2006. I first met Mike when he was running the home page early that year and saw immediately what my predecessors had seen
in him: a well-tuned understanding of the news; an unparalleled depth of knowledge of the Web and the many resources it offered; and a quick agility with technology. Mike was instrumental in the site redesign in 2005 and 2006, and his ability to creatively manipulate the coding on the page gave us great flexibility to produce bold designs for the big breaking news stories of the day.
But Mike knew he could contribute more to the report, and when the job of running The Lede blog opened up in the spring of 2007, he was quick to raise his hand. The rest is history.
On Day One, the awful massacre at Virginia Tech occurred, and Mike turned the blog into a gripping, running account of the developing story … for three straight days. Yes, we had used the blog format to provide live coverage of baseball games and for a few hours of a congressional hearing, but Mike's Virginia Tech report blazed a completely new trail and thoroughly complemented the conventional news stories. With his minute-by-minute updates, he presented material from news conferences, eye-witness accounts, blogs and other materials that he sifted from the Web.
The collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis gave Mike another chance to provide users with a deeper and fast-paced approach to a breaking news story, and when Hurricane Ike plowed through the Texas a couple of weeks ago, Mike was at it again, providing an unending stream of posts that culled reports from our own correspondents, from local news sites and a seemingly unending stream of Twitter updates.
But Mike also found ways to fulfill the original promise of The Lede, exploring stories that spiraled off in new directions. He wrote about modern-day pirates, Tasers and outer space. He could be equally comfortable writing about global famine or Rachael Ray.
Mike also kept us in touch with pop culture. Amy Winehouse made frequent appearances in the blog. And it wasn't a surprise to find Keith Richards or Snoop Dogg. Gawker even took approving note of Mike when he made it clear that he was a HUGE (his word) fan of the Wu-Tang Clan. That prompted one Gawker reader to comment:
Wouldn't it be great if they started to credit him as "Fo Shizza Mike Nizza"?
We will miss him.

Jim Roberts


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Friday, 3 October 2008

Here's a man who might dig Newspaper 2.0

Kevin Ryan

If you want to cut to the (unpleasant) chase, scroll to bottom and read his answer to last question.

Forbes: Online News
Up Ryan's Alley
James Erik Abels 10.02.08, 6:30 PM ET

Kevin Ryan was CEO of DoubleClick when a private equity firm bought it for $1.1 billion in 2005 (Microsoft bought it for $3.1 billion two years later). What'd he do with his winnings? Among other things, he joined a new wave of publishers building Web news businesses.
So far, so good. Last month, Quantcast reports Ryan's one-year-old Silicon Alley Insider had roughly 630,000 unique visitors. A big part of the attraction: Editor-in-Chief Henry Blodgett, one of the highest-flying analysts of the 1990s before he crashed amid an ethics scandal that left him banned for life from the securities industry.

Today, Blodgett runs three sites--with more on the way--under the banner of Ryan's Alley Corp., a New York-based incubator for six digital businesses, which Ryan says have combined annual revenues of $50 million. checked in with him for his take on the market ahead and the opportunity for digital media. How do you expect advertising to hold up in the short term?
Ryan: It's going to be terrible. I'm only hearing bad things. I just had lunch with one of the top luxury-goods providers; he runs the U.S. for them. He said, starting September: catastrophe.
How does that affect your building digital news business?
We're so small that--although that is a factor--when you're tiny and you have a tiny market share, what's important is: Are you doubling in size?
How well has that strategy worked to date?
Revenues have doubled for us since June. Small numbers, but … if you have 10 people [as does Silicon Alley Media], roughly you're spending a million dollars a year.
Does that equal profitability?
Not yet--however, if we weren't launching other publications then we'd be awfully close right now. When we start a new one, you have two new people on it, you have no traffic, you're eating all those costs.
How long are you willing to eat those costs?
In the first year, we focused almost 100% on just establishing our brand name, getting people to read it, getting people to care about that. In the second year, we start now to focus on monetization and aspects like that. It's pointless to work on monetization when you have very little traffic.
If a goal is just a couple million dollars, that's still paltry next to what print brings in--even as the entire traditional media sector declines.
Online is more scalable, it's not easy to make money. The challenge in online publishing is [that] the market's not enormous right now. It's not. Your goal has to be that you're going to build a business that requires very little capital, but could be a good business that's worth $50 million.
Then where does digital media live within the news industry? Does it become a supplement to leaner but more financially valuable print publications?
I'm saying print goes away, I'm saying the industry shrinks [and earns less money]. I don't think it [ever] matches print revenues. It has lower costs--I do think there's a net transformation here.
So in the future, there's just less money in news and other forms of publishing?
The revenues are smaller. You don't have capital costs, you just have people writing and collecting [aggregating content on a single Web site]. Think of the music business. They were extorting monopoly profits because they had monopoly distribution.
Then the Internet doesn't shift existing media businesses online, it guts them?
Here we have open distribution.
That puts a lot of pressure on a start-up's small staff to generate a content volume that sells enough advertising to earn the small returns you're talking about.
I think that is a real challenge for people. You just have to manage it as best you can. It's not easy. I don't think we have an innovative great solution for that other than to be thinking about it and trying to manage it as best we can because you do want productivity.
Traditional media companies have tended toward being overstaffed but do a better job with this issue.
If the economy cools off, don't you think that gives the industry some time to begin incorporating more digital media into a business that scales?
Big media is irrelevant, really, in what happens, because they're not the driver of anything. They buy some companies and they adopt what's out there a little bit late. Look at the top 50 Web sites online: Tell me if big media created any of them.


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People paying for content? I thought that wasn't supposed to exist.

Here's one to watch.

OCTOBER 3, 2008
Sirius Unveils Raft of Options for Programs

Looking to boost its revenue and number of subscriptions, Sirius XM Satellite Radio Inc. Thursday announced a range of new programming options that lets subscribers buy programming from both of the recently merged rival services.
The moves are the New York company's first steps toward boosting and integrating the services of the former Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio Holdings since their merger was completed earlier this year. A new programming package known as "Best of Both" lets subscribers receive a range of stations from each for $16.99 a month, $4 more than the $12.95 a month most XM ...

I would like to give you more info from but, well, I'd have to pay for the content and apparently people do.......


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IHT Behind the news curve winner of the day

Tell me something I don't know, tell me something new, tell me something in a timely manner.

There's no time to lose for Pakistan's new spy chief


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Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

Question of the day: What have handbags got to do with newspapers?

I know. Do you?
Handbag heaven
By Leah Greengarten

Thursday, October 2, 2008
ANTIBES, France: As dawn breaks a golden brown over the French Riveria, Caroline Calabria, owner of the Vintage Art Gallery, is often one of the first arrivals at a local market.
She combs the jumbled stalls for vintage handbags because, she says, "People in this area are renowned travelers, so I can find bags from Argentina to Africa and anything in between."
Calabria's shop, just a year old, is sandwiched between a hairdresser and a little French restaurant on the cobbled pedestrian street of Rue Thuret. But during the summer high season, it displays 600 or more bags - this season mostly clutches, but it all depends on what she finds.
Calabria says she always has loved handbags. At first, "I brought vintage handbags for myself and then after years of collecting and lots of bags, I had this idea to open my own store." She moved from Paris to Antibes five years ago - "to increase the collection, so I could be closer to the markets."
There is a small collection of vintage clothing at the store entrance. Miranda Richardson, a Londoner, bought a parrot-colored 1960s frock this summer and says she "loves it so much and wore it all the time on holidays in Ibiza."
But the rest of the three-room shop is just handbags. There is every color of the rainbow and all the dark hues of the ocean, as well as the smell of old leather.
"Crocodile bags have been really popular this summer," says Calabria - they range from €150 to €500, or $210 to $705.
As for designers, it has been "Chanel and Louis Vuitton," she said. "I sold a '70s vintage sports bag by Louis Vuitton this morning for €1,200."
Richardson's mother, Madeline Richardson of Grasse, France, bought a handbag at the shop earlier this year. "I really love my crocodile clutch bag," she said. "It's elegant and classic and it was good value for money, too."
With no Web site, no telephone number and just a brown paper bag with the word "vintage" hanging on the front of the store, Calabria says that kind of word-of-mouth has been her most powerful marketing tool.

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Obstacles to Newspaper 2.O - privacy

Leaving no tracks
Thursday, October 2, 2008

How is using a "private browsing" mode in a Web browser any different from just clearing out the temporary Internet files in a computer?
Certain Web browsers, like Apple's Safari and Microsoft's planned Internet Explorer 8, include a "private browsing" feature that is intended to let you surf the Internet without leaving any evidence of your travels on the computer. Although it has already been nicknamed "porn mode" by some, using the private browsing feature can help protect your personal information when, say, checking mail at a public computer.
Typically, when this feature is turned on, visited Web pages are not added to the browser's history file, text from autofilled forms is not retained and keywords are wiped from the menu in the browser's search box. Cookies and passwords are erased as well.
With Safari, you have to manually turn on the Private Browsing mode under the Safari or Edit menu and click through a warning box each time you start it. (A quick tip for Mac OS X 10.5 users: Hold down the Option key when selecting Private Browsing to bypass the warning box.)
Private browsing takes care of dumping these Internet files for you - or it doesn't save the information to begin with. Manually dumping the browser's cache, cookies and other data clears out much of the same material, but you have to remember to do it. You can also configure your browser to do it for you when you close the program.
These settings can usually be configured in the browser's options or preferences area. For example, Firefox has a Clear Private Data item under its Tools menu. You select the items you wish to whack in the program's Privacy settings.
One thing to remember if you're really paranoid: In theory, if the Web page bits and other data are downloaded to the computer in the first place, it could be possible for someone to snag the information using a file recovery program - even if the temporary Internet files have been deleted.


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It's this sort of minor irritation that is, well, irritating.


It's this sort of thing that is bugging the crap out of me. Indexed twice, two headlines, same story.

Thomson Reuters "challenged" but reaffirms outlook
Thomson Reuters reaffirms outlook despite crisis


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Thomson Reuters "challenged" but reaffirms outlook

I'm interested in Thomson Reuters so this is for me, but I'm also interested in how the IHT allows Reuters to cover Thomson Reuters. They must have some outstanding Chinese Walls and quite an ethics book.

Thomson Reuters "challenged" but reaffirms outlook
Thursday, October 2, 2008
By Georgina Prodhan
News and information publisher Thomson Reuters reaffirmed its 2008 outlook on Thursday, although it said the financial crisis hitting many customer banks would hurt the company in the short term.
Chief Executive Tom Glocer said that while the credit crunch gripping world financial markets would affect the company in the short to medium term, it represented a long-term opportunity as banks would need the company's products as they consolidated.
Thomson Reuters, whose markets division is exposed to financial services and brings in 59 percent of group sales, said it expected 2008 revenue growth of 6 to 8 percent, almost all organic, and an underlying profit margin of 19 to 21 percent.
The company reiterated its target to generate free cash flow of 11 to 12 percent of sales and its plan for capital expenditure of 8 to 9 percent of revenue.
"You've got to say this is a negative short to middle term," Glocer said of the financial crisis at a London investor day, but added that banking consolidation would present a chance.
"There's a lot of compensating work that needs to be done now to stitch together all these trading operations," he said, adding that the company's legal and health professional product businesses would help the company weather the storm.
Thomson Reuters shares fell 1.7 percent in London by 4:08 British time, underperforming a 3.2 percent rise in the DJ European media index. They rose 0.6 percent to $27.26 in New York.
The stock trades at similar multiples as fellow professional publishers Reed Elsevier and Pearson and is more expensive than Wolters Kluwer, despite its greater exposure to financial services customers.
"We continue to view Thomson Reuters as a world-class group, though we recognise that sentiment will remain challenging given current uncertainty in financial markets," Numis analysts wrote in a note, reiterating their "add" recommendation.
The company said it had completed its refinancing needs for Thomson's acquisition of Reuters earlier this year through long-term debt offerings in June, and said it had a $2.5 billion (1.4 billion pound) credit facility on which it had not drawn.
Thomson Reuters said it targeted a ratio of 2 for net debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, down from a trailing ratio of 2.4 as of June.
Devin Wenig, CEO of the markets division, said the company's foreign exchange business had its best month ever in September but admitted he could not predict how long it would take until conditions for the division as a whole would improve.
"We certainly are not viewing this through rose-coloured glasses. We've never seen a market like this," he said. "There are parts of our business that are really challenged right now."
But Glocer said Thomson Reuters was diversified enough, even in the markets division, to have a chance to grow in hard times, and Chief Financial Officer Bob Daleo said sales at the division would not necessarily decline next year.
Jim Smith, CEO of the professional division which brings in 41 percent of group sales, said most clients were now on contracts of at least two years and added that a heavy bias towards North America left scope for geographical expansion.
"We are not immune to economic cycles but we have traditionally been far less cyclical," he said of the division, which sells products to help lawyers, accountants, scientists and healthcare professionals run their businesses.
"We don't see anything that changes that underlying dynamic," he added.
Glocer said: "We're not in a raging bull market." But he added: "You can't look at the London sell-side dealing room and extrapolate. I do believe (2009) will be better than the market is fearing."


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The IHT's online version is slower than its print edition in bringing news to my attention: surely not?

Surely, in frequent cases, yes.

Sorry to bang on about this, but I look at first thing every morning. I did not see this yesterday morning.

Life in Zimbabwe: Wait for useless money
By Celia W. Dugger
Published: October 2, 2008

However, I saw it in my print version yesterday when it arrived in the post at 13.00hrs.

I did see it in the daily article index for today (Friday) but did not yesterday.

Nor do I see it in the daily article index for yesterday, today

In other words, if I relied on exclusively, I would 24 hours minimum behind seeing information that the IHT has already published in print!! Is that the point of online newspapers?

If the IHT can't be timely with its own information online then its hard to believe in their capacities to be timely with other people's (like the wires).

A small but important irritation; a reflection of bigger problems?


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If only someone could make some money from the Internet?

It has become conventional group-think to believe that no one can make money from the incredible number of eyeballs going to the Internet, and that CPMS on Internet advertising will never catch up with newsprint CPMS, hence the general newspaper company malaise. (You know that group think thing? Like credit derivatives is a sure fire way to make money?)
I agree with the latter part of that Internet belief, but not the first. It's just that no one has figured out how to make money from the FUCKING INCREDIBLE AMOUNTS OF READERSHIP, something never seen in the history of mankind.

Or maybe they have, and we just don't know about it yet.
All these media gurus and commentators like Fishbowl are going to look pretty dumb when someone with smarts cracks it and makes quite incredible sums of money.

Here's some classic group think.

It's not surprising that traffic to newspaper Web sites keeps rising. Frankly, if it doesn't, the industry is in even more trouble than previously thought. Revenue from Web ads will never make up for the money that's no longer going towards the print versions, but as long as traffic keeps growing, the model isn't completely broken.

So the
news from Andy Plesser at Beet.Tv stating that the Washington Post's online arm,, has seen record growth in video streams and page views is a good sign.
The site had 1.3 million video streams in September, 162 percent over last year, and it delivered 323 million page views over the same time period, an increase of 42 percent. Now if only someone could make some money.


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Was Tuesday 16h September the Biggest Traffic Day in Internet News Media History?

The text below comes from Fishbowl, the thinking comes from

Thursday, Sep 18
The financial crisis earlier this week had at least one positive outcome: It was incredible for Web traffic to news sites. In fact, it's reasonable to assume that it was the biggest day in the history of current events-focused Internet destinations.
Andy Plesser at Beet.TV points out (on video!), both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had their biggest traffic days ever.
As the most visible papers in the city where the financial crisis was occurring, NYT and WSJ were perfectly positioned to see huge pageview numbers, but given that Web traffic to current events sites is
continually growing, it stands to reason that Tuesday marked record highs for most news sites across the board.
Among the top 10 most trafficked pages — MSNBC Digital Network, Yahoo! News, CNN Digital Network, AOL News,, Tribune Newspapers, Gannett Newspapers and Newspaper Division, Fox News Digital Network, ABCNEWS Digital Network, Google News — you could make an argument that MSNBC had higher traffic during the Olympics. There's no reason, however, to think that the other nine didn't set records on Tuesday.
(One can safely assume that
Slate business spin-off The Big Money had its best day ever, but seeing as it just launched that's not really saying much.)


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Four Columns, Four Writers, and a 'Written By': The NYT Attempts to Put the Credit Crisis in Context (Fishbowl)

A good observation from Fishbowl. Especially concerning the news cycle, a concept familiar to any regular reader of this blog and a problem for newspapers

Some of you may have noticed the rather thick byline on today's New York Times four column-wide, front-page story about the last 36 hours of the credit crisis. Multiple bylines are not unusual on reported pieces, however, generally when other reporters contribute to a story they are mentioned at the end. What caught our eye this time was the phrasing of the byline: "This article was reported by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Diana B. Henriques, Edmund L. Andrews and Joe Nocera. It was written by Mr. Nocera." [emphasis ours]
quick search through the Times database reveals that the phrasing is unusual at best: it's only been used a handful of times and almost always for a "news analysis" piece. What also caught our eye was the timing of this story. Normally, these sort of round-up, analysis pieces are reserved for the Sunday Times (notwithstanding the long and glorious era of R.W. Apple) but one supposes with the super accelerated news cycle of the past three weeks, every second counts.


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Thursday, 2 October 2008

How do newspapers, sorry, bloggers make money? (Slate)

Click-throughs. Simple.

Blogging for Dollars
How do bloggers make money?
By Michael Agger
Posted Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008, at 6:28 PM ET
Last week, the blog search engine Technorati released its 2008 State of the Blogosphere report with the slightly menacing promise to "deliver even deeper insights into the blogging mind." Bloggers create 900,000 blog posts a day worldwide, and some of them are actually making money. Blogs with 100,000 or more unique visitors a month earn an average of $75,000 annually—though that figure is skewed by the small percentage of blogs that make more than $200,000 a year. The estimates from a 2007 Business Week article are older but juicier: The LOLcat empire rakes in $5,600 per month; Overheard in New York gets $8,100 per month; and Perez Hilton, gossip king, scoops up $111,000 per month.
With this kind of cash sloshing around, one wonders: What does it take to live the dream—to write what I know, and then watch the money flow?
From the perspective of someone who doesn't blog, blogging seems attractive. Bloggers such as
Jason Kottke ($5,300/month) and the Fug girls ($6,240/month) pursue what naturally interests them without many constraints on length or style. While those two are genuine stars of the blogging world, there are plenty of smaller, personal blogs that bring in decent change with the Amazon Associates program (you receive a referral fee if someone buys a book, CD, etc. via a link from your blog) and search ads from Google. (The big G analyzes your site and places relevant ads; you get paid if people click on them.) Google-ad profiteering is an entire universe in and of itself—one blogger by the name of Shoemoney became famous (well, Digg-famous) when he posted a picture of himself with a check from Google for $132,994.97 for one month of clicks.

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When did people stop wanting to be broadly informed by a general interest newspaper?

That was the question put to me in a discussion about the death of public intellectuals and middle class aspirations to being broadly informed.

I blamed it on a Thatcherite/Reaganite ideological tipping point when people became more interested in the products of money (leading to junk bonds and this week's crash etc) than the broader societal trends and news that led or might lead to money making opportunities, and the decline of a moral imperative plus a social peer group dinner party pressure to be broadly informed.

Let's say late 1970s, I said.

(I might fine tune this point and date in the future but it'll do for now.)

Now we have not a doctor from Iowa, nor even a senior exec of a large American company, but someone who has a ONE IN SEVEN OR EIGHT CHANCE OF BECOMING THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, unable to cite a single newspaper she's read regularly.

Big picture: be afraid, be very afraid.
Big picture for newspaper industry given this woman is in her 40s and even claims to have a degree in journalism: be afraid, be very afraid.

Palin Can't Name a Newspaper She's Read Regularly (AP)
Published: October 01, 2008 1:27 PM ET
NEW YORK Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin repeatedly failed to cite a newspaper or magazine when asked what she had read regularly before John McCain picked her as his running mate, saying only that she had read "most of them."Palin also said that she doesn't believe that the media's coverage of her has been sexist.

"It would be sexist if the media were to hold back and not ask me about my experience, my vision, my principles, my values," said Palin, Alaska's governor.
In an interview aired Tuesday on "The CBS Evening News," anchor Katie Couric asked Palin what publications she had read to stay informed and to understand the world.
"I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media," Palin replied.
Asked for examples, she said, "Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years."
Asked again for an example, Palin told Couric: "I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, 'Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?' Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America."
In remarks aired Wednesday on CBS' "The Early Show," Palin told Couric that she thinks media coverage of her has been guided not by sexism but by the fact that she isn't "part of the Washington herd." While she sees some double-standards in media coverage, Palin said she believes it's more attributable to the "media elite, the Washington elite" not knowing who she is than her gender.
Palin has only agreed to a handful of interviews by major news media since joining the GOP ticket nearly five weeks ago and has not held a news conference.
Asked Tuesday by radio host Hugh Hewitt if she agreed that interviews with ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS' Couric were designed to embarrass her, Palin replied: "Well, I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago."
She continued: "But I'm not going to pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrelful. I'm going to take those shots and those pop quizzes and just say that's OK, those are good testing grounds. And they can continue on in that mode. That's good. That makes somebody work even harder. It makes somebody be even clearer and more articulate in their positions. So really I don't fight it. I invite it."
Palin has been spending the last few days at McCain's ranch in Sedona, Ariz., preparing for her debate Thursday night with Democratic rival Joe Biden, Barack Obama's running mate.
Although Palin told Couric on Monday that she didn't have a "debate coach," the campaign said she is getting advice from McCain's top campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, and campaign advisers Tucker Eskew, Nicolle Wallace and Mark Wallace.
"I have quite a few people who are giving us information about the record of Obama and Biden, and at the end of the day, though, it is — it's so clear, again, what those choices are. Either new ideas, new energy and reform of Washington, D.C., or more of the same," Palin said.


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Newspaper and NYT Company Debt and the need to invest

Problem: you're P&O, one of the oldest shipping companies in the world, respected, trusted, established. Unfortunately you own a very large fleet of sail ships and this new thing called steam power has come along. Clearly it's the wave of the future (excuse pun) - no more loitering in the doldrums waiting for trade winds, what you need is to transition your fleet out of sail and into steam.

To do this you'll need to be savvy enough to know how to phase out your sail fleet and start buying steam ships. You're also going to need to go the capital markets (unless you sit on a LOT of cash) to borrow capital to buy all these fancy new ships. In order to do this you'll need a very good debt rating.

P&O had all of these things - the savvy to know what and when to do something, a good sense of timing, transition skills but most importantly a terrific reputation in the City of London where they were able to raise all the necessary capital. Today P&O are still with us, and are one of the largest shipping companies in the world.

It's a metaphor I like to use for the problems newspapers face, as they work out how to transition out of Newspaper 1.0 and being Newspaper 1.0 companies, and into Newspaper 2.0 and being Newspaper 2.0 companies (which probably means, long term, being an Internet company).

However, current credit markets are the worst in decades, and more to the point, newspaper debt is pretty much junk rated.

It's time to raise capital, because you don't buy a fleet of shiny new steam ships on junk rated debt. As these newspapers are finding out.
So what you have is a climate that demands investment and/or acquisition to save your multi-generational family business but your debt on the edge of junk status. In fact some commentators already describe NYT Co debt as de facto junk.
Just for the record the Times' debt has Baa3 rating and hopes that recent consolidation of production facilities and plans for staff reductions will bring enough cost savings to reduce its $1.1 billion debt load.
Now in a crappy market for Newspaper 1.o, and just a crappy market generally, selling ads and subs and kiosk copies is a hard slog and they were basically hoping to do this before the end of 2009 (my guess and that of others). To reduce the debt by selling a sailing ship, well, that's a hard sell in the age of steam. I'd say they'd be lucky to get half of what they paid the WP for their 50% stake in the IHT, if that, and even that, or the Boston Globe or all their little newspapers is hardly going to put much of a dent in $1.1 billion of debt.
The Times have said in a statement that it can handle its credit facilities to "easily" service its debt. But I am reminded of a NYT article, was it today or yesterday, about the last words of companies going under being positive spin from their CFOs and CEOs to the media.
Not suggesting the NYT is going under, just making the point that I, and therefore presumably the credit markets, don't give quite as much, well, credit, to this type of bullish talk these days.
Things are moving fast for Newspaper 1.0 and the tipping point approaches. Time for the Times to move to Newspaper 2.0.

Newspaper in Minneapolis Halts Its Debt Payments (NYT)

Published: October 1, 2008
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis said on Wednesday that it had stopped making payments on its debts, the latest evidence of the trouble the newspaper industry is having with debt loads it took on in 2006 and 2007.

The Star Tribune skipped a $9 million quarterly payment to its senior creditors that was due on Tuesday, said Chris Harte, the publisher and chairman. The paper has been in default since June, when it began missing payments on its smaller junior debt.
With advice from the
Blackstone Group, The Star Tribune has been trying to negotiate new terms with its lenders, a consortium of banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and others.
The paper has cut its staff and reduced other operating costs, while trying to obtain wage and work rule concessions from its unions.
The default means that lenders could force a bankruptcy, but they have been reluctant to take that step with battered newspaper companies as long as there appeared to be a chance of agreeing on new repayment terms.
“In this market, trying to liquidate newspaper assets might not produce the same recovery,” said Mike Simonton, a media analyst and senior director at
Fitch Ratings.
Mr. Harte said, “Any of the stakeholders that have the capability of forcing us into bankruptcy, it would not benefit them at all, and I believe they see it that way.”
Avista Capital Partners, a private equity group, bought The Star Tribune last year for $530 million, and the paper still has $432 million in debt from that deal.
Executives say the paper generates an operating profit, but will not say how much.
The Star Tribune is one of several newspaper companies that, despite multiple rounds of job cuts, are struggling to meet payments or covenants on debt.
Nearly every major newspaper company has been through multiple credit downgrades, and several are below investment grade.
The companies took on most of that debt in just the last few years to finance a wave of newspaper takeovers at prices that, even at the time, analysts said were unreasonably high — and that came just before advertising revenue began to plummet.
The McClatchy Company bought the Knight Ridder chain in 2006 and then sold some former Knight Ridder papers, including The Star Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
McClatchy still has ample cash flow to pay its debts, but was in danger of not having enough to comply with its bond covenants, a condition that would have meant a technical default.
On Friday, McClatchy said it had negotiated new terms with its lenders that would prevent a default, but would carry higher interest rates. Days earlier, the company announced that it would cut its dividend in half.
In June, Philadelphia Media Holdings, owner of the papers in that city, fell out of compliance with its bond covenants, though it continued to make payments.
In July, the Journal Register Company, owner of The New Haven Register and a group of smaller papers, entered into a forbearance agreement with lenders, allowing it to skip some payments.
Several analysts have warned that two of the largest newspaper companies, the
Tribune Company, which tripled its debt in going private last year, and the MediaNews Group, which bought a string of papers in recent years, are at high risk of default.

OCTOBER 2, 2008
Financial Downturn Further Weakens Newspaper Publishers (WSJ)

The financial turmoil is adding headaches for troubled newspaper publishers.
The Star Tribune said Wednesday it skipped a debt payment as the Minneapolis newspaper tries to restructure $430 million in borrowings. Publisher Chris Harte indicated the company is testing all options with its lenders.
Gannett Co., the country's largest newspaper publisher, meanwhile said Wednesday it had tapped its credit line as short-term financing markets stall. And alternative weekly publisher Creative Loafing Inc. filed for Chapter 11 this week.
The credit crunch has further weakened newspaper publishers, which already are reeling from a prolonged drop in advertising revenue. Several major chains.....

Newspapers (

For Newspapers, The Storm Gets More Perfect

James Erik Abels and Tom Van Riper 10.02.08, 6:00 AM ET

More bad news for the newspaper industry this week: The cash-starved New York Sun went under Monday and Wednesday the Minneapolis Star Tribune said it was skipping a $9 million quarterly debt payment, prompting worries of a potential bankruptcy. But that's not the worst of it.
Standard & Poor's Wednesday put newspaper giant Gannett (nyse:
GCI - news - people ) on credit watch, concerned revenue declines could accelerate at the newspaper giant. The company downplayed the move in a statement with CEO Craig Dubow saying its "underlying fundamentals remain strong."
With the nation's financial system in the grips of a
credit crunch, Gannett and the rest of the already-weak newspaper industry are in a tough spot. With sinking credit ratings and tight debt markets will make it tougher for them to invest and survive.
With lower leverage--and "substantial" free
cash flow--than many newspaper companies, Gannett may have less trouble than others, Moody's John Puchalla says. For better or worse, it's stayed clear of big, expensive acquisitions as well. He's more concerned with competitors like The McClatchy Company (nyse: MNI - news - people ) and The New York Times Co. (nyse: NYT - news - people )
One reason: McClatchy has not diversified well to withstand an advertising downturn, a problem it is facing in important markets such as Florida and California. Last Friday, the company announced it restructured some $1.175 billion in debt payments to lenders. It holds a B2 rating from Moody's, which is below
investment grade.
At a Baa3 rating, the Times' debt rating isn't junk--yet. The company is hoping that recent consolidation of production facilities and plans for staff reductions will bring enough cost savings to reduce its $1.1 billion debt load. The tough market for selling newspapers may make that impossible. "If they don't get there by 2009, their rating will probably go down," says Puchalla.
The Times said in a statement that it can handle its credit facilities to "easily" service its debt.
According to a spokesman, the Star Tribune has hired Blackstone to handle debt-restructuring conversations with lenders, and the skipped payment on their $432 million in total debt was not the immediate result of the credit crises--falling revenue is the issue--though it is affecting renegotiations.
"Certainly the tightening of the credit market makes it tougher for everyone to evaluate," he said. The Star Tribune previously stopped making debt payments to a group of investors who helped finance its $530 million acquisition last year by New York private equity firm Avista (nyse:
AVA - news - people ) Capital Partners.
"When the economy is wavering, you can expect the ad-revenue environment could actually deteriorate even further," says Lauren Rich Fine, a former Merrill Lynch (nyse:
MER - news - people ) newspaper-industry analyst and now a mass communications professor at Kent State University. "I do think a lot of companies will break their covenants, but I would expect their banks to work with them."
The problem may be particularly acute for players who have concentrated on acquisitions in the last few years. For instance, Journal Register Co. (nyse:
JRC - news - people ), whose stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange this year, bought nothing but trouble when it paid $415 million in 2004 for 21st Century Newspapers, a chain of Michigan papers that have been battered by a troubled U.S. automotive industry.
The company now has $642 million in debt and a market cap of a just $275,000 (not a misprint). It's rated junk by Moody's. Journal Register did not return a call for comment.
That leaves the industry keeping close watch on Sam Zell's Tribune Co. (nyse:
TRB - news - people ), now famous for a $8.2 billion buyout deal last year that boosted the company's debt to more than $12 billion, about six times its market cap. But despite those numbers, Fine argues Zell's creditors will keep betting on him even if the advertising market tightens further because of his willingness to sell off assets. The company did not return a call for comment.
One bright spot: Washington Post Co. (nyse:
WPO - news - people ) is rated highly by Moody's (A1). Its half-billion dollars in debt represents only 10% of its $5 billion market cap. The company has been bulwarked against a troubled advertising market by its Kaplan test-prep business. The newspaper industry has been fighting to recreate its business model over at least the last decade, diversifying away from being solely supported by print advertising sales. They'll find that job tougher than ever now.


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

Another example of good off the news reporting from the wires

When the front page of can't be filled by NYT/IHT correspondents, and has to rely on the wires, even for ahead of the news curve, off the news, stories, you know you have a problem.

Don't you?

And you need to re-tool how you allocate foreign correspondents?

Example from today (and again, I could quote examples for nearly any day of the year) this front page story, from the NYT?

No, from Reuters.......once more.

(It used to be, I think, that any Reuters story was cleary sourced as such in the online url link but not on this one. Is anyone trying to hide something here?)

Lack of medical workers causes new health crisis in developing countries
By Kavita Chandran and Tan Ee Lyn

And today also, ANOTHER front page story, also from Reuters, indexed on not as a Reuters story, not even a medical story, but a business story?

HIV infection up eightfold among gays in southern China


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

Another timeliness problem:

On the subject of timeliness (see previous post) is consistently running behind the print edition. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Example (and I could provide many):

This story was published in the four star European edition of the IHT on Wednesday.

It did not appear on (or at least the daily article index on Wednesday morning) until Thursday.

Even after war, many Georgians revere Stalin



International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

The Wires versus the NYT: who wins in the news cycle war?

I've been saying for some time that NYT correspondents are often hopelessly at a loss when trying to compete with the wires for 'on the news' reporting. How can 1 foreign correspondent in 28 countries compete with, for example, 2,200 Reuters staff?

The problem isn't just on the news reporting i.e what happened yesterday, but broader brush stroke off the news reporting.

The IHT ran this story on Wednesday, from AP:

Conservatives in Britain tone down celebratory mood

On Thursday, the NYT's Sara Lyall gets round to, a day later, running pretty much exactly the same story.

U.K. crisis weighs on Cameron's buoyancy

Lyall's story, as a result, well-written though it may be, is a day late - at least. Better to have read this article say five days ago, at least on Monday. It's familiar to me - I read it yesterday thanks to AP, perfectly adequate - and for any U.K reader of newspapers you can find this sort of commentary and reporting from last week.

Newspapers used to print new information on paper. This is old information printed on paper. Hardly an advancement in the history of the timeliness of Newspaper 1.o. In fact, it's a step backwards.


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Brauchli: Newspapers Warned Readers of Economic Crisis (E&P)

We can all find examples of news reporting, and opinion, but opinion always covering itself and never taking a doomsday posotion (that I can recall in the IHT). Gretchen M. and Paul Krugman always struck me as being way too cautious about this issue. Anyway, I leave it to you to judge.

Sending signals is not the same as making explicit and urgent warnings.

Brauchli: Newspapers Warned Readers of Economic Crisis By Joe Strupp Published: October 01, 2008 3:27 PM ET
NEW YORK Don’t tell Marcus Brauchli that U.S. newspapers haven't been properly warning about the current financial crisis for years.

Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post and former managing editor and longtime veteran of The Wall Street Journal, says coverage of the coming tide of economic woes, stemming largely from the mortgage and credit crisis, dates back more than a decade.

"There was a lot of coverage over many years about the underlying problems in the financial system and the economy," said Brauchli, who joined the Post just weeks ago after more than two decades at the Journal -- including a year in the top editor's post. "If you go back and look at the big American newspapers, you will see it, going back to 1996 when Alan Greenspan coined the phrase 'irrational exuberance.'"

Brauchli's comments come as several major financial institutions have either been taken over or filed for bankruptcy -- along with Monday's 777-point Dow Jones drop. Some observers have pointed to news outlets and asked if they properly covered the coming problems, while others wondered how much was predictable.

"There were good stories throughout, good stories about the risks," Brauchli added. "The truth is, there was always skeptical coverage by the major newspapers. The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, all have written about these issues. The scale of derivatives, the rapid growth of unregulated, over-the-counter securities, the risk in financial institutions."

A search of stories dating back several years found prime examples in several major papers of forewarning. Among them:

• An Oct. 8, 2003 Journal story by Patrick Barta and John D. McKinnon that discussed tougher regulations sought for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: "The two companies have been under intense scrutiny since June, when Freddie Mac fired three of its top executives amid an accounting scandal, causing critics to call for stricter oversight. Regulation of the companies is now split between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, a little-known entity within HUD that monitors the companies' safety and soundness."

• An April 9, 2003 piece by columnist Robert J. Samuelson in the Post on the mortgage situation that stated: "The danger is less a total collapse than a gradual descent. The two props of the boom -- falling interest rates and rising prices -- both seem wobbly. In 2000, rates on 30-year fixed mortgages averaged 8.1 percent; recently they've been well below 6 percent. Any further decline might perversely signify a much weaker economy."

• A Dec. 19, 2004 piece in the Times by Gretchen Morgenson about Fannie Mae that warned: "The Securities and Exchange Commission's smackdown of Fannie Mae should upset not only the company and its arrogant executives. It should also embarrass the Wall Street analysts who reassured investors last September that the S.E.C. would probably take a friendlier view of the company's accounting than did its other regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight."

But Brauchli also points out that not everyone will take the warnings of news outlets, even when they are continually given: "I think there was abundant coverage. But at times of popular enthusiasm for financial markets and the wealth that they promise, people have a hard time being skeptical, including regulators and legislators. Journalists in this country sent a lot of signals."


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

The top 10 stories the US news media missed in the past year (SFBG)

Project Censored
The top 10 stories the US news media missed in the past year
Wednesday October 1, 2008

The daily dispatches and nightly newscasts of the mainstream media regularly cover terrorism, but rarely discuss how the fear of attacks is used to manipulate the public and set policy. That's the common thread of many unreported stories last year, according to an analysis by Project Censored.
Since 1976, Sonoma State University has released an annual survey of the top 25 stories the mainstream media failed to report or reported poorly. Culled from worldwide alternative news sources, vetted by students and faculty, and ranked by judges, the stories were not necessarily overtly censored. But their controversial subjects, challenges to the status quo, or general under-the-radar subject matter might have kept them from the front pages. Project Censored recounts them, accompanied by media analysis, in a book of the same name published annually by Seven Stories Press.
"This year, war and civil liberties stood out," Peter Phillips, project director since 1996, said of the top stories. "They're closely related and part of the War on Terror that has been the dominant theme of Project Censored for seven years, since 9/11."
Whether it's preventing what one piece of legislation calls "homegrown terrorism" by federally funding the study of radicalism, using vague concerns about security to quietly expand NAFTA, or refusing to count the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war, the threat of terrorism is being used to silence people and expand power.
"The war on terror is a sort of mind terror," said Nancy Snow, one of the project's 24 judges and an associate professor of public diplomacy at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Snow — who has taught classes on war, media, and propaganda — elaborated: "You can't declare war on terror. It's a tactic used by groups to gain publicity and it will remain with us. But it's unlikely that [the number of terrorist acts] will spike. It spikes in the minds of people."
She pointed out that the number of terrorist attacks has dropped worldwide since 2003. Some use the absence of fresh attacks as evidence that the so-called war on terror is working. But a RAND Corporation study for the Department of Defense released in August said the war on terror hasn't effectively undermined Al Qaeda. It suggested the phrase be replaced with the less loaded term "counterterrorism."
Both Phillips and Snow agree that comprehensive, contextual reporting is missing from most of the coverage. "That's one of my criticisms of the media," Snow said. "They spotlight issues and don't look at the entire landscape."
This year the landscape of Project Censored itself is expanding. After talking with educators who bemoan the ongoing decline of news quality and want to help, Phillips launched the Truth Emergency Project, in which Sonoma State partners with 23 other universities. All will host classes for students to search out untold stories, vet them for accuracy, and submit them for consideration to Project Censored.
"There's a renaissance of independent media," Phillips said. He thinks bloggers and citizen journalists are filling crucial roles left vacant by staff cutbacks throughout the mainstream media. And, he said, it's time for universities, educators, and media experts to step in and help. "It's not just reforming the media, but supporting them in as many ways as they need, like validating stories by fact-checking."
The Truth Emergency Project will also host a news service that aggregates the top 12 independent media sources and posts them on one page. "So you can get an RSS feed from all the major independent news sources we trust," he said. Discerning newshounds can find reporting from the BBC, Democracy Now!, and Inter Press Service (IPS) in one spot. "The whole criteria," he said, "is no corporate media."
Carl Jensen, who started Project Censored in 1976, said the expansion is a new and necessary phase. "It answers the question I was always challenged with: how do you know this is the truth? Having 24 campuses reviewing all the stories and raising questions really provides a good answer. These stories will be vetted more than Sarah Palin."
Phillips said he hopes to expand to 100 schools within the year, and would like the project to bring more attention to the dire need for public support for high quality news reporting. "I think it's going to require government subsidies and nonprofit organizations doing community media projects," he said. "It's more than just reforming at the FCC level. It's building independent media from the ground up."
Phillips likens it to the boom in microbrewed beer and the spread of independently-owned pubs: "If we can have a renaissance in beer-making, following established purity standards, then we can do it with our media, too." But for now, we have Project Censored, whose top 10 underreported stories for 2008 are:
Nobody knows exactly how many lives the Iraq War has claimed. But even more astounding is that so few journalists have mentioned the issue or cited the top estimate: 1.2 million.
During August and September 2007, Opinion Research Business, a British polling group, surveyed 2,414 adults in 15 of 18 Iraqi provinces and found that more than 20 percent had experienced at least one war-related death since March 2003. Using common statistical study methods, it determined that as many as 1.2 million people had been killed since the war began.
The US military, claiming it keeps no count, still employs civilian death data as a marker of progress. For example, in a Sept. 10, 2007, report to Congress, Gen. David Petraeus said, "Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December."
But whose number was he using? Estimates range wildly and are based on a variety of sources, including hospital, morgue, and media reports, as well as in-person surveys.
In October 2006, the British medical journal Lancet published a Johns Hopkins University study vetted by four independent sources that counted 655,000 dead, based on interviews with 1,849 households. It updated a similar study from 2004 that counted 100,000 dead. The Associated Press called it "controversial."
The AP began its own count in 2005 and by 2006 said that at least 37,547 Iraqis had lost their lives due to war-related violence, but called it a minimum estimate at best and didn't include insurgent deaths.
Iraq Body Count, a group of US and UK citizens who aggregate numbers from media reports on civilian deaths, puts the figure between 87,000 and 95,000. In January 2008, the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government did door-to-door surveys of nearly 10,000 households and put the number of dead at 151,000.
The 1.2 million figure is out there, too, which is higher than the Rwandan genocide death toll and closing in on the 1.7 million who perished in Cambodia's killing fields. It raises questions about the real number of deaths from US aerial bombings and house raids, and challenges the common assumption that this is a war in which Iraqis are killing Iraqis.
Justifying the higher number, Michael Schwartz, writing on the blog, pointed to a fact reported by the Brookings Institute that US troops have, over the past four years, conducted about 100 house raids a day — a number that has recently increased with assistance from Iraqi soldiers.
Brutality during these house searches has been documented by returning soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and independent journalists (See #9 below). Schwartz suggests the aggressive "element of surprise" tactics employed by soldiers is likely resulting in several thousands of deaths a day that either go unreported or are categorized as insurgent casualties.
The spin is having its intended effect: a February 2007 AP poll showed Americans gave a median estimate of 9,890 Iraqi deaths as a result of the war, a number far below that cited in any credible study.
Sources: "Is the United States killing 10,000 Iraqis every month? Or is it more?" Michael Schwartz, After Downing, July 6, 2007; "Iraq death toll rivals Rwanda Genocide, Cambodian killing fields," Joshua Holland, AlterNet, Sept. 17, 2007; "Iraq conflict has killed a million: survey," Luke Baker, Reuters, Jan. 30, 2008; "Iraq: Not our country to return to," Maki al-Nazzal and Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service, March 3, 2008.
Coupling the perennial issue of security with Wall Street's measures of prosperity, the leaders of the three North American nations convened the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The White House–led initiative — launched at a March 23, 2005, meeting of President Bush, Mexico's then-president Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin — joins beefed-up commerce with coordinated military operations to promote what it calls "borderless unity."
Critics call it "NAFTA on steroids." However, unlike NAFTA, the SPP was formed in secret, without public input.
"The SPP is not a law, or a treaty, or even a signed agreement," Laura Carlsen wrote in a report for the Center for International Policy. "All these would require public debate and participation of Congress, both of which the SPP has scrupulously avoided."
Instead the SPP has a special workgroup: the North American Competitiveness Council. It's a coalition of private companies that are, according to the SPP Web site, "adding high-level business input [that] will assist governments in enhancing North America's competitive position and engage the private sector as partners in finding solutions."
The NACC includes the Chevron Corporation, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Merck & Co. Inc., New York Life Insurance Co., Procter & Gamble Co., and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
"Where are the environmental council, the labor council, and the citizen's council in this process?" Carlsen asked.
A look at NAFTA's unpopularity among citizens in all three nations is evidence of why its expansion would need to be disguised. "It's a scheme to create a borderless North American Union under US control without barriers to trade and capital flows for corporate giants, mainly US ones," wrote Steven Lendman in Global Research. "It's also to insure America gets free and unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources, mainly oil, and in the case of Canada, water as well."
Sources: "Deep Integration," Laura Carlsen, Center for International Policy, May 30, 2007; "The Militarization and Annexation of North America," Stephen Lendman, Global Research, July 19, 2007; "The North American Union," Constance Fogal, Global Research, Aug. 2, 2007.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have effectively deputized 23,000 members of the business community, asking them to tip off the feds in exchange for preferential treatment in the event of a crisis. "The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does — and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials," Matthew Rothschild wrote in the March 2008 issue of The Progressive.
InfraGard was created in 1996 in Cleveland as part of an FBI probe into cyberthreats. Yet after 9/11, membership jumped from 1,700 to more than 23,000, and now includes 350 of the nation's Fortune 500 companies. Members typically have a stake in one of several crucial infrastructure industries, including agriculture, banking, defense, energy, food, telecommunications, law enforcement, and transportation. The group's 86 chapters coordinate with 56 FBI field offices nationwide.
While FBI Director Robert Mueller has said he considers this segment of the private sector "the first line of defense," the American Civil Liberties Union issued a grave warning about the potential for abuse. "There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program, turning private-sector corporations — some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers — into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI," it cautioned in an August 2004 report.
"The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment," Jay Stanley, public education director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program, told Rothschild.
And they are privileged: a DHS spokesperson told Rothschild that InfraGard members receive special training and readiness exercises. They're also privy to protected information that is usually shielded from disclosure under the trade secrets provision of the Freedom of Information Act.
The information they have may be of critical importance to the general public, but first it goes to the privileged membership — sometimes before it's released to elected officials. As Rothschild related in his story, on Nov. 1, 2001, the FBI sent an alert to InfraGard members about a potential threat to bridges in California. Barry Davis, who worked for Morgan Stanley, received the information and relayed it to his brother Gray, then governor of California, who released it to the public.
Steve Maviglio, Davis's press secretary at the time, told Rothschild, "The governor got a lot of grief for releasing the information. In his defense, he said, 'I was on the phone with my brother, who is an investment banker. And if he knows, why shouldn't the public know?'<0x2009>"
Source: "The FBI deputizes business," Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, Feb. 7, 2008.
The School of the Americas earned an unsavory reputation in Latin America after many graduates of the Fort Benning, Ga., facility turned into counterinsurgency death squad leaders. So the International Law Enforcement Academy recently installed by the Unites States in El Salvador — which looks, acts, and smells like the SOA — is also drawing scorn.
The school, which opened in June 2005 before the Salvadoran National Assembly approved it, has a satellite operation in Peru and is funded with $3.6 million from the US Treasury and staffed with instructors from the DEA, ICE, and FBI. It's tasked with training 1,500 police officers, judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement agents in counterterrorism techniques per year. It's stated purpose is to make Latin America "safe for foreign investment" by "providing regional security and economic stability and combating crime."
ILEAs aren't new, but past schools located in Hungary, Thailand, Botswana, and Roswell, N.M., haven't been terribly controversial. Yet Salvadoran human rights organizers take issue with the fact that, in true SOA fashion, the ILEA releases neither information about its curriculum nor a list of students and graduates. Additionally, the way the school slipped into existence without public oversight has raised ire.
As Wes Enzinna noted in a North American Congress on Latin America report, when the US decided it wanted a training ground in Latin America, El Salvador was not the first choice. In 2002 US officials selected Costa Rica as host — a country that doesn't even have an army. The local government signed on and the plan made headlines. But when citizens learned about it, they revolted and demanded the government change the agreement. The US bailed for a more discreet second attempt in El Salvador.
"Members of the US Congress were not briefed about the academy, nor was the main opposition party in El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí-National Liberation Front (FMLN)," Enzinna wrote. "But once the news media reported that the two countries had signed an official agreement in September, activists in El Salvador demanded to see the text of the document." Though they tried to garner enough opposition to kill the agreement, the National Assembly narrowly ratified it.
Now, after more than three years in operation, critics point out that Salvadoran police, who account for 25 percent of the graduates, have become more violent. A May 2007 report by Tutela Legal implicated Salvadoran National Police (PNC) officers in eight death squad–style assassinations in 2006.
El Salvador's ILEA recently received another $2 million in US funding through the congressionally approved Mérida Initiative — but still refuses to adopt a more transparent curriculum and administration, despite partnering with a well-known human rights leader. Enzinna's FOIA requests for course materials were rejected by the government, so no one knows exactly what the school is teaching, or to whom.
Sources: "Exporting US 'Criminal Justice' to Latin America," "Community in Solidarity with the people of El Salvador," Upside Down World, June 14, 2007; "Another SOA?" Wes Enzinna, NACLA Report on the Americas, March/April 2008; "ILEA funding approved by Salvadoran right wing legislators," CISPES, March 15, 2007; "Is George Bush restarting Latin America's 'dirty wars?'<0x2009>" Benjamin Dangl, AlterNet, Aug. 31, 2007.
Protesting war could get you into big trouble, according to a critical read of two executive orders recently signed by President Bush. The first, issued July 17, 2007, and titled, "Blocking property of certain persons who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq," allows the feds to seize assets from anyone who "directly or indirectly" poses a risk to the US war in Iraq. And, citing the modern technological ease of transferring funds and assets, the order states that no prior notice is necessary before the raid.
On Aug. 1, Bush signed another order, similar but directed toward anyone undermining the "sovereignty of Lebanon or its democratic processes and institutions." In this case, the Secretary of the Treasury can seize the assets of anyone perceived as posing a risk of violence, as well as the assets of their spouses and dependents, and bans them from receiving any humanitarian aid.
Critics say the orders bypass the right to due process and the vague language makes manipulation and abuse possible. Protesting the war could be perceived as undermining or threatening US efforts in Iraq. "This is so sweeping, it's staggering," said Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration official in the Justice Department who editorialized against it in the Washington Times. "It expands beyond terrorism, beyond seeking to use violence or the threat of violence to cower or intimidate a population."
Sources: "Bush executive order: Criminalizing the antiwar movement," Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, July 2007; "Bush's executive order even worse than the one on Iraq," Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, Aug. 2007.
On Oct. 23, 2007, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed — by a vote of 404-6 — the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act," designed to root out the causes of radicalization in Americans.
With an estimated four-year cost of $22 million, the act establishes a 10-member National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, as well as a university-based Center of Excellence "to examine the social, criminal, political, psychological, and economic roots of domestic terrorism," according to a press release from the bill's author, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Los Angeles).
During debate on the bill, Harman said, "Free speech, espousing even very radical beliefs, is protected by our Constitution. But violent behavior is not."
Jessica Lee, writing in the Indypendent, a newspaper put out by the New York Independent Media Center, pointed out that in a later press release Harman stated: "the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent."
Which could be when they're speaking, writing, and organizing in ways that are protected by the First Amendment. This redefines civil disobedience as terrorism, say civil rights experts, and the wording is too vague. For example, the definition of "violent radicalization" is "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change."
"What is an extremist belief system? Who defines this? These are broad definitions that encompass so much.... It is criminalizing thought and ideology," said Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center in Portland, Ore.
Though the ACLU recommended some changes that were adopted, it continued to criticize the bill. Harman, in a response letter, said free speech is still free and stood by the need to curb ideologically-based violence.
The story didn't make it onto the CNN ticker, but enough independent sources reported on it that the equivalent Senate Bill 1959 has since stalled. After introducing the bill, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), later joined forces with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a report criticizing the Internet as a tool for violent Islamic extremism.
Despite an outcry from civil liberties groups, days after the report was released Lieberman demanded that YouTube remove a number of Islamist propaganda videos. YouTube canned some that broke their rules regarding violence and hate speech, but resisted censoring others. The ensuing battle caught the attention of the New York Times, and on May 25 it editorialized against Lieberman and S 1959.
Sources: "Bringing the war on terrorism home," Jessica Lee, Indypendent, Nov. 16, 2007; "Examining the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act," Lindsay Beyerstein, In These Times, Nov. 2007; "The Violent Radicalization Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007," Matt Renner, Truthout, Nov. 20, 2007
Every year, about 121,000 people legally enter the United States to work with H-2 visas, a program legislators are touting as part of future immigration reform. But Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) called this guest worker program "the closest thing I've ever seen to slavery."
The Southern Poverty Law Center likened it to "modern day indentured servitude." They interviewed thousands of guest workers and reviewed legal cases for a report released in March 2007, in which authors Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds wrote, "Unlike US citizens, guest workers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market — the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who 'import' them. If guest workers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting, or other retaliation."
When visas expire, workers must leave the country, hardly making this the path to permanent citizenship legislators are looking for. The H-2 program mimics the controversial bracero program, established through a joint agreement between Mexico and the United States in 1942 that brought 4.5 million workers over the border during the 22 years it was in effect.
Many legal protections were written into the program, but in most cases they existed only on paper in a language unreadable to employees. In 1964 the program was shuttered amid scores of human rights abuses and complaints that it undermined petitions for higher wages from US workers. Soon after, United Farm Workers organized, which César Chávez said would have been impossible if the bracero program still existed.
Years later, it essentially still does. The H-2A program, which accounted for 32,000 agricultural workers in 2005, has many of the same protections — and many of the same abuses. Even worse is the H-2B program, used by 89,000 non-agricultural workers annually. Created by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, none of the safeguards of the H-2A visa are legally required for H-2B workers.
Still, Mexicans are literally lining up for H-2B status, the stark details of which were reported by Felicia Mello in The Nation. Furthermore, thousands of illegal immigrants are employed throughout the country, providing cheap, unprotected labor and further undermining the scant provisions of the laws. Labor contractors who connect immigrants with employers are stuffing their pockets with cash, while the workers return home with very little money.
The Southern Poverty Law Center outlined a list of comprehensive changes needed in the program, concluding, "For too long, our country has benefited from the labor provided by guest workers but has failed to provide a fair system that respects their human rights and upholds the most basic values of our democracy. The time has come for Congress to overhaul our shamefully abusive guest worker system."
Sources: "Close to Slavery," Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds, Southern Poverty Law Center, March 2007; "Coming to America," Felicia Mello, The Nation, June 25, 2007; "Trafficking racket," Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India, March 10, 2008.
The Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice has been issuing classified legal opinions about surveillance for years. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had access to the DOJ opinions on presidential power and had three declassified to show how the judicial branch has, in a bizarre and chilling way, assisted President Bush in circumventing its own power.
According to the three memos:
"There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it";
"The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II," and
"The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations."
Or, as Whitehouse rephrased in a Dec. 7, 2007, Senate speech: "I don't have to follow my own rules, and I don't have to tell you when I'm breaking them. I get to determine what my own powers are. The Department of Justice doesn't tell me what the law is. I tell the Department of Justice what the law is."
The issue arose within the context of the Protect America Act, which expands government surveillance powers and gives telecom companies legal immunity for helping. Whitehouse called it "a second-rate piece of legislation passed in a stampede in August at the behest of the Bush administration."
He pointed out that the act does not prohibit spying on Americans overseas — with the exception of an executive order that permits surveillance only of Americans whom the Attorney General determines to be "agents of a foreign power."
"In other words, the only thing standing between Americans traveling overseas and government wiretap is an executive order," Whitehouse said in an April 12 speech. "An order this president, under the first legal theory I cited, claims he has no legal obligation to obey."
Whitehouse, a former US Attorney, legal counsel to Rhode Island's governor, and Rhode Island Attorney General who took office in 2006, went on to point out that Marbury vs. Madison, written by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1803, established that it is "emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is."
Sources: "In FISA Speech, Whitehouse sharply criticizes Bush Administration's assertion of executive power," Sheldon Whitehouse, Dec. 7, 2007; "Down the Rabbit Hole," Marcy Wheeler, The Guardian (UK), Dec. 26, 2007.
Hearing soldiers recount their war experiences is the closest many people come to understanding the real horror, pain, and confusion of combat. One would think that might make compelling copy or powerful footage for a news outlet. But in March, when more than 300 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan convened for four days of public testimony on the war, they were largely ignored by the media.
Winter Soldier was designed to give soldiers a public forum to air some of the atrocities they witnessed. Originally convened by Vietnam Vets Against the War in January 1971, more than 100 Vietnam veterans and 16 civilians described their war experiences, including rapes, torture, brutalities, and killing of non-combatants. The testimony was entered into the Congressional Record, filmed, and shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
Iraq Veterans Against the War hosted the 2008 reprise of the 1971 hearings. Aaron Glantz, writing in One World, recalled testimony from former Marine Cpl. Jason Washburn, who said, "his commanders encouraged lawless behavior. 'We were encouraged to bring 'drop weapons,' or shovels. In case we accidentally shot a civilian, we could drop the weapon on the body and pretend they were an insurgent.'<0x2009>"
An investigation by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian in The Nation that included interviews with 50 Iraq war veterans also revealed an overwhelming lack of training and resources, and a general disregard for the traditional rules of war.
Though most major news outlets sent staff to cover New York's Fashion Week, few made it to Silver Spring, Md. for the Winter Soldier hearings. Fortunately, KPFA and Pacifica Radio broadcast the testimonies live and, in an update to the story, said they were "deluged with phone calls, e-mails, and blog posts from service members, veterans, and military families thanking us for breaking a cultural norm of silence about the reality of war." Testimonies can still be heard at
Sources: "Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan eyewitness accounts of the occupation," Iraq Veterans Against the War, March 13-16, 2008; "War comes home," Aaron Glantz, Aimee Allison, and Esther Manilla, Pacifica Radio, March 14-16, 2008; "US Soldiers testify about war crimes," Aaron Glantz, One World, March 19, 2008; "The Other War," Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, The Nation, July 30, 2007.
Psychologists have been assisting the CIA and US military with interrogation and torture of Guantánamo detainees — which the American Psychological Association has said is fine, despite objections from many of its 148,000 members.
A 10-member APA task force convened on the divisive issue in July 2005 and found that assistance from psychologists was making the interrogations safe and the group deferred to US standards on torture over international human-rights organizations' definitions.
The task force was criticized by APA members for deliberating in secret, and later it was revealed that six of the 10 participants had ties to the armed services. Not only that, but as Katherine Eban reported in Vanity Fair, "Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the CIA."
In particular, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, neither of whom are APA members, honed a classified military training program known as SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] that teaches soldiers how to tough out torture if captured by enemies. "Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on SERE trainees for use on detainees in the global war on terror," Eban wrote.
And, as Mark Benjamin noted in a Salon article, employing SERE training — which is designed to replicate torture tactics that don't abide by Geneva Convention standards — refutes past administration assertions that current CIA torture techniques are safe and legal. "Soldiers undergoing SERE training are subject to forced nudity, stress positions, lengthy isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, exhaustion from exercise, and the use of water to create a sensation of suffocation," Benjamin wrote.
Eban's story outlined how SERE tactics were spun as "science" despite a lack of data and the critique that building rapport works better than blows to the head. Specifically, he said, it's been misreported that CIA torture techniques got Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah to talk, when it was actually FBI rapport-building. In spite of this, SERE techniques became standards in interrogation manuals that eventually made their way to US officers guarding Abu Ghraib.
Ongoing uproar within the APA resulted in a petition to make an official policy limiting psychologists' involvement in interrogations. On Sept. 17, a majority of 15,000 voting members approved a resolution stating that psychologists may not work in settings where "persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights."
Sources: "The CIA's torture teachers," Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 21, 2007; "Rorschach and awe," Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair, July 17, 2007.
11. El Salvador's Water Privatization and the Global War on Terror
12. Bush Profiteers Collect Billions from No Child Left Behind
13. Tracking Billions of Dollars Lost in Iraq
14. Mainstreaming Nuclear Waste
15. Worldwide Slavery
16. Annual Survey on Trade Union Rights
17. UN's Empty Declaration of Indigenous Rights
18. Cruelty and Death in Juvenile Detention Centers
19. Indigenous Herders and Small Farmers Fight Livestock Extinction
20. Marijuana Arrests Set New Record
21. NATO Considers "First Strike" Nuclear Option
22. CARE Rejects US Food Aid
23. FDA Complicit in Pushing Pharmaceutical Drugs
24. Japan Questions 9/11 and the Global War on Terror
25. Bush's Real Problem with Eliot Spitzer
Read them all at


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