Thursday, December 29, 2005

Shutting Down and Moving On

This will be the final posting for Medialogue and I am sorry to bring things to a close after only six months as your local media blogger.

However, things are hopping over at KVEC and I'm taking on some new responsibilities, effective January 2. Clear Channel is putting my afternoon talk show on the Internet -- check out -- and podcasting will start up shortly thereafter.

But the boss is also asking me to maintain a daily blog around my show and oversee a new opinion page where listeners will post their opinions on the issues of the day. It is all rather exciting and gratifying, but I don't see the need to maintain two blogs. So I'm just going to consolidate everything over to the new KVEC blog. I will continue to post items of interest to the local media community and well as my daily rants on the issues of the day.

I want to publicly thank Head Blogger Greg McClure for his vision and continued support of all of us bloggers. Central Coast News Mission fills a major void in covering the issues of the day and I hope people will continue to post and read and debate the issues of the day, Central Coast style.

Happy New Year! Good night -- and good luck!

Dave Congalton

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Matt Sterling leaves The Tribune

Word around town is that Matt Sterling, the editor of the Trib's weekly Ticket magazine is saying adios and heading East to take a different newspaper gig. Sterling brought much-needed stability to Ticket during his tenure and was able to add some substance to the previously uneven editorial content.

The Trib has a hiring freeze in place through the end of December, so no replacement has been named yet.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What Happened to Mychele Dee?

Earlier this month, I posted a short note about Mychele Dee and the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. Reliable sources tipped me off that Mychele was stepping down abruptly to care for her ailing mother in Phoenix because the Clark Center had denied her request for a leave of absence.

I have had contact directly with Mychele and with Sandy Lubin, the incoming board president. Sandy has been adamant in his denials of the story, even claiming that the board offered Mychele a leave of absence. Mychele is choosing to remain silent for the moment.

So I pulled the original story from the blog, but not because of any problems with my allegations. In fact, I believe an even larger story about Clark Center politics looms under the surface and several in the local media are beginning to circle with interest.

I have no axe to grind with the Clark. It is a wonderful facility and the people of South County are lucky to have something like this in their backyard. But Mychele Dee was also highly respected among the local media and, to be honest, there's something about what happened to her that doesn't quite pass the smell test.

We'll know more after the holidays. Watch this space.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Remembering Jeff and Ann Fairbanks

It will be ten years this Friday, Nov. 25th.

On Nov. 25, 1995, a tragic car accident on Highway 46 claimed the lives of Jeff and Ann Fairbanks, their daughter Sienna, and two other people. It was also, I submit, the beginning of the end of local media on the Central Coast.

Jeff Fairbanks was the editor of the Telegram-Tribune, having joined the paper as a reporter in the late '70s and working his way up the ranks to the top spot. His wife Ann, a graduate of both Stanford and Columbia Universities, was quite simply the best reporter to ever work on the Central Coast in either print or broadcast. The couple stayed on the Central Coast to raise their three daughters and rejected offers at larger papers. Ann covered health issues for the paper and wrote amazing feature articles about the California Valley and a Cal Poly provost battling depression.

They were coming home from Fresno that Saturday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend, their oldest daughter having run in a high school cross country meet. About 22 miles east of Paso Robles, an RV drifted across the road and smashed head on into the Fairbanks' Volvo. The couple and one daughter were killed instantly. A second daughter was miraculously pulled from the car before it completely burst into flames.

To me, this tragedy marked a seismic shift in the local media community. Prior to 1995, we had folks like Jeff and Ann, along with Dorie Bentley, Carol Roberts, Dan Clarkson, Bill Benica, Fred Peterson --- broadcast and print professionals who decided to make a career on the Central Coast. Being a part of the community they covered. No more. Now both KSBY and the Tribune are a revolving door for reporters anxious to move on to bigger markets. Management no longer promotes from within so now we have editors and news directors who hail from Kentucky and Colorado. It's all Knight-Ridder and Clear Channel, with talk now of a national chain taking over New Times this spring.

The transformation of Central Coast media took ten years. It started on a crisp November afternoon out on Highway 46 with the deaths of two of the best and the brightest.

I hope you'll take a moment sometime this week and keep a good thought for Jeff and Ann. We will not see their likes again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Trouble Ahead for Knight Ridder?

From Editor & Publisher. Keep in mind that the Tribune is a KR paper.

Knight Ridder Reporter Warns of Hostile Takeover--with Political Twist
As reports swirl that KR could or should be sold, under new pressure from what he calls a "pro-GOP" big investor, a longtime Philly Daily News scribe charges that this would be "bad news" for the chain--and all of American media.

By Will Bunch

PHILADELPHIA (November 02, 2005) -- As you probably know if you're a newspaper junkie, and may not know if you're a normal human being, a Florida-based investment group -- with zero fanfare -- this summer bought up 19% of the stock of Knight Ridder, Inc., the owners of the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, not to mention the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury News, and a bunch of other big names in the dead-tree world.

And now, apparently unaware that newspaper readership has been dropping steadily for a half-decade and that advertisers are starting to follow readers to this new-fangled Internet thingee, the investors -- named Private Capital Management -- are shocked, shocked to learn that they aren't getting the greatest return on their investment.

And so their solution, having been around for all of four months: They want to sell the company.

This is probably very bad news, for a couple of reasons. And even if you're one of the many people who thinks that newspapers are dinosaurs and believe it doesn't matter whether they live or die, you should pay attention to this.

No. 1: Are you concerned about pro-GOP Big Business taking over America's media business? Then you should be concerned about this deal.

My initial research shows that top executives of Private Capital Management donated $112,000 in late 2003 and early 2004 to help President Bush and Dick Cheney get re-elected. On Nov. 6 and 7, 2003, in what would appear to be a coordinated effort, six PCM executives each gave the maximum of $2,000 to Bush-Cheney '04.

Then on the same day, April 8, 2004, the head of PCM, Bruce Sherman, and company executive Gregg Powers gave $50,000 each, or $100,000 total, to the Republican National Committee. Company executives gave no money to Democrats during the 2003-04 cycle, according to the Political Money Line database.

Say what you will about Knight Ridder's business practices, but when it comes to journalism, they do a remarkably good job of getting out of the way. Thus, the liberal editorial voice of the Daily News and the Inquirer, and the amazing work by Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, which was one of the few media voices casting doubt in 2002 and 2003 on whether Iraq had WMD and posed a threat to America.

Now, big-time Republican donors want a piece of the action? Interesting.

No. 2: According to one Wall Street expert, the potential outcomes of the Knight Ridder turmoil may be good financially for some of the players, but not so good for the practice of journalism.

According to a report sent this morning to clients by analyst Stuart M. Rossmiller and his colleagues, Knight Ridder faces a 40% probability "that a strategic buyer [most likely Gannett] steps forward with a cash offer" of "up to $80/share" to buy Knight Ridder. And a 15% probability Knight Ridder will be purchased by private investors, increasing debt that would probably force the buyers to sell some newspapers.

Gannett, as newspaper junkies know, is notorious for stressing the bottom line over investigative reporting. And a sale to either Gannett or the Tribune Co. would create a journalistic monolith that would seek "synergy" by slashing reporters (well, the jobs -- hopefully not the actual reporters) from Washington to Baghdad.

The other two outcomes both involving increasing debt -- simply put, that means that money that could go for aggressive reporting will be wasted on paying bankers instead.

We only see one good solution here, and it's a long-shot -- but I'm going to throw it out there. It's clearly possible that some Knight-Ridder papers could be sold off individually. Wouldn't it be great if the stock in a new Philadelphia Daily News Corp. were owned by the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts?

Something like this had been done in Florida, where the St. Petersburg Times is owned by the non-profit Poynter Institute. And it sounds like a win-win situation to us:

If our owner demanded profits be twice as high as they are, it would inevitably cut into our ability to hire enough people and buy enough newsprint to really tell you what is going on in our communities. We run a nicely profitable business so we can be an excellent newspaper; all too many companies print newspapers so they can make a lot of money.

The price of our paper is low. We keep it that way so all citizens can be informed, not just the well-to-do. We believe our democracy depends on informed citizens.

We give away money to local charities. We support political debates. We support dozens of scholarships annually. We believe it is our duty and privilege as citizens to do so.

These new developments aren't just a business deal -- they're important for a free media, and important for democracy.

Wake up, everybody.

Hyatt Checks into The Tribune

Abraham Hyatt, the highly regarded investigative reporter for New Times, has resigned and is moving down Higuera Street to work at The Tribune. Hyatt will cover Los Osos for the Trib.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to fly around the future of the alternative weekly. Scenario One has Moss family members holding on to the paper as a tribute to their late brother and continuing publication. Scenario Two has the family selling out to a syndicate like New Times (no relation), which owns LA Weekly and the Village Voice. Observers suggest the telltale sign for New Times will come early in 2006 when inheritance taxes will be due.

Scott Taylor has left the morning news anchor position at KVEC to shift to afternoons on Clear Channel's Cat County 96.1 (formerly KSLY). No word of a replacement yet, but perhaps Clear Channel can snag KSBY morning news anchor Shari Small, whose days on the hill are apparently numbered.

Finally, congratulations to writer Cathe Olsen of Arroyo Grande who was recently appointed the new director of the Cuesta College Writers' Conference. WCXXII is scheduled for Sept. 15-16, 2006. Earlene Fowler will keynote.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

I just want to add a quick post here in praise of the new George Clooney movie, "Good Night, and Good Luck." Charlotte and I caught it last weekend while down in Santa Barbara and any and all media junkies will want to see GNGL when it eventually opens in San Luis Obispo.

Directed by Clooney and shot completely in black-and-white, GNGL captures the on-going war of words between Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954. There is an eerie ring to Murrow's speeches and the audience repeatedly applauded him throughout the movie. Forget Michael Moore. GNGL is a scathing indictment of the sewer the national media has become and there are definite parallels between McCarthy and the Bush White House.

David Straithairn gives an amazing performance as Murrow, but equally impressive is the decision to just let McCarthy speak for himself on newsreel footage. George Clooney plays Fred Friendly, who was Murrow's producer and cohort. When I was a college professor, I always made my students read "Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control" by Friendly and I still consider it one of the finest books ever written about journalism.

Good night, and good luck!

The Death of Newspapers?

Interesting perspective from Media Daily News

IT'S OFFICIAL: 2005 WILL BE the newspaper industry's worst year since the last ad industry recession. And things aren't looking much better for next year either, according to a top Wall Street firm's report on newspaper publishing. "Sadly, 2005 is shaping up as the industry's worst year from a revenue growth perspective since the recession impacted 2001-2002 period," says the report from Goldman Sachs, adding a warning that meaningful growth in 2006 is "very unlikely."
In particular, national advertising has under-performed, remaining essentially flat this year, as has the retail category, the report said--while classified, both print and online, has shown positive gains so far this year, up 4-5 percent.

The weak ad environment for newspapers has caused Goldman to scale back its 2006 growth forecast to 3.5 percent from 4.0 percent. The note said national ad growth would once again be weakest at 1.0 percent, followed by retail, 2.5 percent, and classifieds at 3.6 percent. The bright spot continues to be online newspaper revenues, which are projected to grow an impressive 25 percent in 2006. Despite this, online will still represent 5.0 percent of total newspaper revenues.

The only really good news for publishers is that the investment firm believes the cost of newsprint, which has risen recently, is likely to fall slightly in 2006, as demand falls more quickly than production capacity. The report said newsprint prices would peak and then slowly recede in the second half of the year.

Even so, this good news is scant relief for an industry besieged by flat ad revenues, falling stocks, and fleeing subscribers. Last week, Rishad Tobaccowala, chief innovation officer for Publicis Groupe, told a newspaper--the Chicago Tribune--"newspapers are at a tipping point," in which online media will start to take more readership and more ad dollars. He added that newspapers are in the worst situation of all news media for growth as "the least visually engaging and least youth oriented" medium.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Media Comings and Goings

There have been some interesting staff changes recently at the Tribune.

Two reporters — David Baez and Lindsay Christians — were shitcanned last month for different reasons. Baez lasted about a month, easily a record at a newspaper that historically turns over reporters rapidly.

On the flip side, the Trib hired former KCBX stalwart Diane Urbani for a features writing position. There was a time in the late '80s and early '90s when Diane was literally the voice of KCBX. She eventually left town to pursue a graduate degree in journalism, but now is back and applying her degree. Looks like the Trib will also snatch at least one reporter away from another local paper. Details to follow.

Meanwhile, Scott Taylor will shortly be off the morning news on KVEC to focus on his new afternoon show on Cat Country 96.1. Clear Channel is looking to replace Taylor in the morning. Announcement forthcoming.

Tongues are also wagging over the hot rumor that the big "O," as in Oprah, is expected in San Luis Obispo later in October for a return visit. Nah, she's not hungry again. If Oprah comes, it will be to present an award at a local medical society function.

Also, check out Al Franken, in person, doing a booksigning at Borders on November 2nd at 7 p.m. Supposedly Big Al is also going to do a live broadcast of his Air America show from Cal Poly earlier that day.

Paul Krugman Blasts National Media

October 14, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Questions of Character

George W. Bush, I once wrote, "values loyalty above expertise" and may have "a preference for advisers whose personal fortunes are almost entirely bound up with his own." And he likes to surround himself with "obsequious courtiers."

Lots of people are saying things like that these days. But those quotes are from a column published on Nov. 19, 2000.

I don't believe that I'm any better than the average person at judging other people's character. I got it right because I said those things in the context of a discussion of Mr. Bush's choice of economic advisers, a subject in which I do have some expertise.

But many people in the news media do claim, at least implicitly, to be experts at discerning character--and their judgments play a large, sometimes decisive role in our political life. The 2000 election would have ended in a chad-proof victory for Al Gore if many reporters hadn't taken a dislike to Mr. Gore, while portraying Mr. Bush as an honest, likable guy. The 2004 election was largely decided by the image of Mr. Bush as a strong, effective leader.

So it's important to ask why those judgments are often so wrong.

Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.

Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media.

Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. The fact is that most people--myself included--are pretty bad at using personal impressions to judge character. Psychologists find, for example, that most people do little better than chance in distinguishing liars from truth-tellers.

More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies. (Yes, I'm speaking in part from experience.)

Only now, with Mr. Bush in desperate trouble, has the structure of rewards shifted.

So what's the answer? Journalists who are better at judging character? Unfortunately, that's not a practical plan. After all, who judges their judgment?

What we really need is political journalism based less on perceptions of personalities and more on actual facts.

Schadenfreude aside, we should not be happy that stories about Mr. Bush's boldness have given way to stories analyzing his facial tics. Think, instead, about how different the world would be today if, during the 2000 campaign, reporting had focused on the candidates' fiscal policies instead of their wardrobes.