Showing posts with label digital. Show all posts
Showing posts with label digital. Show all posts

Friday, January 08, 2016

You can't take a selfie with a Super 8

First it was vinyl.

Then audiophiles rediscovered reel-to-reel tape decks. (I never forgot them.)

Some folks have fallen back in love with typewriters, (I have two . . . still.)

And now Kodak is bringing back Super 8 movies. (Heh . . . I have two Polaroid instant cameras, some 35 millimeter cameras, a couple of Kodak Brownies and my late mother's 1930s box camera. Did you know no one makes flash cubes anymore -- or consumer-grade flash bulbs, for that matter. Ebay is my friend here.)

It would seem that we're discovering that our brave new digitized world is lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. That we're missing something. That maybe, just maybe, our digital, instantaneous, effortlessly expressed, omnipresent selves, thrust upon the world with nary a thought . . . maybe that's not our best selves.

MAYBE we're thinking that our music ought to be touched and not just summoned. Savored and not just hop-scotched through on a smartphone.

Maybe we think our words should be put onto paper with some effort -- and editing marks and Wite-Out -- instead of emoted onto Facebook with abandon and oftentimes without thought. (Dear World: Please stop oversharing. It really is none of my business.)

And maybe if videos, those things we used to call "movies," were a little harder to make, cost us the price of a film cartridge and took us a week to see, we'd be more hesitant to record ourselves at our worst and more likely to spend that time and effort on ourselves at our best.

Maybe, just maybe, we're coming to some sort of subconscious realization that nobody likes an egomaniac, and our instant-on world of digital proliferation is turning us all into narcissistic whack jobs. I admit, typing this with trembling fingers on a computer keyboard, that as I point a finger at the world, three more are pointing back at myself.

Let's call them Blog, Twitter and Podcast. You'll note that I've hyperlinked everything, because we're not only narcissists, but whores as well.

ON THE other hand, maybe I'm just bloody overthinking it all.

Perhaps folks find records a lot more fun than CDs or downloads. I know I do. And at my age, I certainly can read the liner notes a lot better on a great, big LP cover.

It could be that typewriters are just more aesthetically pleasing than your flippin' laptop, which has just frozen the f*** up yet again and I HATE WINDOWS I HATE WINDOWS I HATE WINDOWS!!! I must say that I never had to reboot a typewriter, nor reinstall anything more complicated than a ribbon.

And it could be that Super 8 just gives us all the warm fuzzies. (Though the missus does give YouTube props for Puppy Christmas, which is pretty damned adorable.)

And, thinking about reel-to-reel tape, it is a hell of a lot of fun, as evidenced by the video above from the electronic home of 3 Chords & the Truth. (WHORE ALERT: There will be a new episode of the Big Show this week.)

SO ENJOY, thanks to our digital world, the video of my 1969 reel-to-reel deck playing back the local AM oldies station, which I recorded on 50-year-old tape -- a tribute to the Wonderful World of Analog and times gone by . . . when expressing yourself took a little time, a little effort and a lot more thought.

Does anybody else think that Facebook  should force you to wad up a post and throw it in the garbage can, rewrite it, throw it in the garbage can, rewrite it, throw it in the garbage can and then rewrite it a lot less stupidly before the "Post" button will work?

Maybe that's just me.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Write for your life

This is what it sounds like when a city fights for its life.

Community leaders and luminaries in New Orleans know what the "optics" will be for their home when the Newhouse family ends daily publication of
The Times-Picayune and proceeds apace in killing the entire enterprise dead. They know that a city that "can't support" a daily paper plays into all the talk about the Crescent City's impending demise.

They know a self-fulfilling clusterf*** when they're presented with it. They know that the area's -- and Louisiana's -- famously crooked pols are slobbering at the diminution of the
Picayune like a dog slobbers at the prospect of a meaty bone.

When you're staring
that in the face, you write something like this to 22 members of the Newhouse family:
It is painful to report that right now it is nearly impossible to find a kind word in these parts about your family or your plan to take away our daily newspaper. Our community leaders believe that your decision is undermining the important work we continue to face in rebuilding New Orleans. Whether you intended to or not, you have already created the impression that our recovery is so tepid that we cannot support an important civic institution like a daily newspaper.

In the end, we fear our community has already made its judgment on the three-day publication plan and the damage already realized cannot be undone. But the relationship between your family and our community does not have to end sourly. If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does.

If you have ever valued the friendship you have shared with our city and your loyal readers, we ask that you sell the Times-Picayune. Our city wants a daily printed paper, needs a daily printed paper and deserves a daily printed paper.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Archdiocese of New Orleans

Steve Roberts

Scott Cowen
President Tulane University

Ralph O. Brennan

Gayle Benson

Mary Matalin

Cokie B. Roberts

Norman C. Francis
President Xavier University

Archie Manning

Tom Benson

James Carville

Wynton Marsalis

Kevin Wildes S.J.
Loyola University New Orleans

Wendell Pierce
PREACH IT, people. Preach it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The sound of bullshit

I'm sure you're familiar with Potter Stewart's concurring opinion on a 1964 pornography case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sure, you remember. Stewart wrote, in Jacobelis v. Ohio, about an explicit French film that had been deemed obscene in Ohio and its exhibitor fined $2,500:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
Similarly, I think we all know bullshit when we see it. Particularly, we know it when we smell it. But do you know bullshit when you hear it?

Like Justice Stewart, I might never intelligibly define bullshit -- the figurative kind that assaults truth, as opposed to the literal bovine kind -- in all the fullness of its being. But I know it when I hear it, and I just hope the Gambit writer wore his cowboy boots when he covered an appearance by NOLA Media Group head Ricky Mathews and editor James O'Byrne at a New Orleans tech gathering last week:

Word of the digital plan had leaked out before the paper had planned to announce it (ironically, in digital form -- a blog item by The New York Times’ David Carr), and O’Byrne and Mathews were still batting cleanup, trying to get hold of what Mathews called “the master narrative.” Despite the civic shock, Mathews said, the NOLA Media Group had known all along that cutting back The Times-Picayune would be a tough sell in a traditional (if not hidebound) city that loves its institutions -- even if it doesn’t always support them.

“We could have had this play out exactly the way we wanted to, which is announce a new company and talk to your employees simultaneously, and we’d still be in the same spot -- with a really visceral reaction from the community,” Mathews said. “The way to change that is to be talking. I’ve been talking till I don’t have a voice any more, explaining to people what we’re doing.”

(None of that talking has been done in The Times-Picayune newsroom, where 48 percent of the employees were given severance papers last week; 200 people from around the company are being let go. Mathews and O’Byrne have yet to address the staff in person, though Mathews said he had met recently with Mayor Mitch Landrieu for “about three hours, and he [Landrieu] got it immediately.”)

[UPDATE, June 21, 1:15 pm: A source in the mayor's office said the office "wouldn't characterize the meeting in those terms, either in the amount of time spent or in the mayor's takeaway (from the meeting)."]

“This is an entrepreneurial effort on our part,” O’Byrne told the New Orleans tech group, which was enjoying light hors d’oeuvres and complimentary craft cocktails by mixologist Alan Walter. “Because of the leaks that happened in The New York Times, we lost control of the narrative, and for two weeks we really had to focus all our efforts on what we had to do as a company [which] was to tell all our employees where they stood.

“I know that the layoff at The Times-Picayune seems significant,” O’Byrne added, “but it’s important to realize that we’re advertising for about 50 people in the new digital company. So you end up in a space where you’re going from about 165 down to 140. But you’re eliminating four days a week of print, and a lot of that labor existed to get that seven-day-a-week product.”
HAD ENOUGH? No? Well, you little masochist, you!
“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment,” Mathews told the group. “It’s our goal to create a world-class digital work environment for the journalists who are going to work for us, because we can attract the best and brightest from around the country. They’re going to want to come to New Orleans when the real story starts to get told. … We’re going to be a cutting-edge new media company with a print component that is still extraordinarily powerful. That’s our goal. So that narrative’s not been fully told yet; it will get told. You don’t tell it by being defensive, you do it by doing it.”

Mathews also addressed the issue of broadband access, which is not as widespread in New Orleans as other cities and has raised concerns over who will be able to get the new digitally focused paper. “New Orleans is quite a wired community, but there are certain parts of the community that are not wired,” he said. “So we’re going to invest money working with the Knight Foundation to begin to make a dent in it.”

“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment”? Really? When somebody says something like that, it can't NOT be bullshit. That's such a red-light indicator of the presence of bullshit that mere language loses it power in its presence.

See, I told you. My mouth is still agape and, obviously, so is my keyboard.

These people are just making this stuff up. It's the inverse of what people tell bums panhandling downtown -- no, I don't happen to have any cash on me right now. Dang.

Instead, Mathews and O'Byrne are out there trying to convince Crescent City techies that they're loaded when, in reality, they got nothin'. My God, it's like a couple of frat boys desperate to get laid. They'll say any damn thing, so long as it sounds good and halfway plausible. They'll make stuff up.

Unfortunately, the mass firing of Times-Picayune staffers, they didn't make up.

Perhaps they'll sleep a little better in the long months ahead knowing it wasn't the economy . . . or the death of newspapers . . . or random fate that did them in and will leave their city with
"three Sunday newspapers a week" . . . and a crappy website. No, it's because -- Pulitzer prizes notwithstanding -- they're just not among "the best and the brightest from around the country."

The sort of folk worthy of
"a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment."

Swoosh, y'all.

DISCLOSURE: I went to college with James O'Byrne at LSU, where we worked together on The Daily Reveille in 1981. I'll just say that I don't envy him, and that life do throw some mean-ass curveballs at people as time goes by.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ricky Mathews shot Tupac, too

I'm usually not one to post NSFW gangsta rap
videos, but this was too delish to pass up

New Orleans' alternative weekly, Gambit, has been indispensable reading -- especially the past three weeks.

Here's a gem from its
Blog of New Orleans today, sticking it to the shameless corporate hacks -- Advance Publications hatchet man (and incoming Nola Media Group publisher) Ricky Mathews, for instance -- presently nosediving the city's venerable daily newspaper straight into the Gulf of Mexico:
At this hour, is fronting a major journalism award it has received for its recent 8-part series "Louisiana INCarcerated," which spotlighted conditions and financial incentives in the state's Byzantine, for-profit prison system:
A team of Times-Picayune reporters was awarded the June "Sidney" award, a monthly journalism prize given out by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, for the newspaper's recent eight-part special report on Louisiana's highest-in-the-world incarceration rate.

The series, "Louisiana Incarcerated," was reported by Cindy Chang, Jan Moller, Jonathan Tilove and John Simerman. It spotlighted how rigid sentencing laws and a strict pardon and parole system conspire to keep the jails full.
Not mentioned in the story: the contributions of photographer Scott Threlkeld, graphics artist Ryan Smith, copy editor Katherine Hart, designer George Berke and managing editors Dan Shea and Peter Kovacs, all of whom were fired from the paper yesterday by the newly formed NOLA Media Group.

Tilove was also fired. Special sections reporter Chang, whose byline appeared over most of the stories, has been offered a job in the general reporting pool.
HEY, if you're shameless enough to do what ownership is doing to The Times-Picayune and its staff, you certainly are shameless enough to exploit, for promotional purposes, the people you just fired or demoted.

Ukfay ouyay, ouyay uckingfay ucksfay.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hell, no, we ain't all right!

Long before anyone busted the first rhyme, put on the first piece of bling or intentionally tried to walk down the street with his pants moving south and his drawers creeping north, my old man invented rap on the back patio of our house in blue-collar Baton Rouge.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

All it took for the old man to go old school (before it was even the new wave), was a wayward hammer head on his thumb and not the nail. Or a balky lawnmower engine. Or a balky dog.

Oftentimes, it was a balky teenager of my intimate acquaintance.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! Gotdamn sonofabitch, c********* bastard!

Though he little realized it, the old man was a human beatbox in coveralls -- as blue as 2 Live Crew, with a purple thumbnail to boot. If only he'd had his own personal DJ to punctuate his raptastic freestyles with some mad scratching and killer mixes.

Eh . . . he would have told him to "cut that goddamn shit off" right in the middle of a performance.

BUT THIS ISN'T about my old man, though I am my father's son -- which pretty much scares the holy living hell out of my wife. No, this is about the carnage at New Orleans' newspaper, The Times-Picayune.

It wasn't the work of a madman, but it was close. It was the work of a bunch of executives at corporate who left not bodies strewn across the newsroom floor, but instead careers.

By the end of the day Tuesday, 201 employees of the
Picayune had been told that come Sept. 30, they would be shit out of luck -- not to mention shit out of a job. Of the 201 people getting the old heave-ho, which I think we're supposed to call "right-sizing" now, 84 came from the newsroom.

Firing 84 out of 173 newsroom employees, if we do the math, comes to 49 percent of the people actually responsible for covering the news that south Louisianians need to read. That's how Advance Publications makes sure that "essential journalism" endures in this star-crossed American city in direst need of it.

That's how cheap men in expensive suits "continue our 175-year commitment to covering the communities we serve."

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

Thus goes the first act of a newspaper company transitioning to the "digital future" -- firing half the people who "cover the communities we serve." Trading a seven-day print schedule for a three-day one. Shifting the lions' share of the "news coverage" to the paper's really, really bad website. Letting the vast majority of the newsroom layoffs fall upon the news and business sections.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

MEANTIME, one might be curious about where this "bold move" into newspapers' digital future will take place.

Nothing notable, just your average midsize city more murderous than "pre-surge" Baghdad that also happens to be Latin American corrupt, Latin American uneducated and absolutely Latin American poor. With a small ruling coterie of Latin American-rich types who got that way either through business or genetics.

Also, the digital strategy is aimed at a city where lots and lots of people have no broadband service -- New Orleans has just a 40- to 60-percent subscription rate for Internet service fast enough to fully access a multimedia website. For the poorest areas of town -- which are mostly all-black -- the subscription rates hover somewhere between zero and 40 percent.

It seems to me that it's one thing to argue that most poor folks don't subscribe to the paper, but quite another to, for profit's sake, raise the bar higher and higher to even aspire to be an informed citizen. Like this Harvard professor, one wonders exactly when did we cross the line between having a market economy and becoming a market society -- one where everything has a price.

Even those things that oughtn't.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

By the way, the Picayune isn't exactly losing money. It's still plenty profitable -- just not profitable enough for the Newhouse family, owners of Advance Publications.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

OH . . .
and then there's this sad reminder amid the economic and emotional carnage inflicted Tuesday on employees of The Times-Picayune: This is the "new economy," bucko. Loyalty is a one-way street that always runs in management's direction. Channel 8 in New Orleans illustrates this principle vividly for us:
"It's almost like a funeral inside, like a wake," said commercial artist Patricia Gonzalez after she got word she was being let go. She said she has worked at the TP for four decades.

Even though employees knew it was coming, Tuesday's developments still hit some like a brick.

"Next to my father's death, this is second in my life. I feel like I lost my family, somewhat ashamed that I lost my job, or will be losing my job," continued Gonzalez.

Staff writer Danny Monteverde also received bad news about his job.

"It's rough today, and it's sad to see all my co-workers and friends, really, and family go through stuff like this, but I had a good six years, I really did. I wish I had a lot more," he said.

Workers who have been axed are getting severance packages, but some were too distraught to pay attention to the details right away.

"I really haven't checked into the package, but I can't talk," Gonzalez said while choking up.


Amoss said laid-off workers can apply for jobs that will be posted.

"When we launch the new company we will have a significant number of journalists, especially newsgathering, reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists," he said.

"I'm never going to give up. I will be reapplying for whatever is available, even if it's to cut the grass outside; that's how dedicated I am to the company," Gonzalez stated.
GOTDAMN sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! Gotdamn sonofabitch, c********* bastards!

Freestyle THAT, Advance.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Men in suits do what Katrina couldn't

You'll likely never notice the moment you were saved from the abyss -- or were cast into it.

For a couple of cities and their daily newspapers, that moment came in 1962. And a half century later, the
Omaha World-Herald is still standing, still locally owned and the flagship of a chain of dailies and weeklies across Nebraska and -- now -- across the country.

The other newspaper,
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, has not been so fortunate. In 1962, what had been locally owned since its founding in 1837 (cover price, one picayune) became part of Newhouse Newspapers, a division of S.I. Newhouse's Advance Publications. And now the New York-based corporation has decided New Orleans doesn't need a daily newspaper anymore. Or the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, either.

Instead, the
Picayune, for one, will publish only three times a week -- Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Speculation is that at least 50 people in the newsroom will lose their jobs. That's what it means when spin like this comes down from on high:
Amoss acknowledged that for those who rely upon the newspaper as an integral part of their lives, the transition to three days a week would be difficult. But as emphasis in coverage moved online, he vowed that the essential journalism of The Times-Picayune would endure.

"We will continue our 175-year commitment to covering the communities we serve," Amoss said. "We will deliver our journalism in print, through and on our mobile platforms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we invite our readers to become a part of the conversation."

Mathews said details of the new digitally focused company are still being worked out, but the transition will be difficult. While many employees will have the opportunity to grow with the new organization, Mathews said, the need to
reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will result in a reduction in the size of the workforce.
"ESSENTIAL journalism" does not endure when you fire dozens of the people who produce it. And you cannot "reallocate resources" that you have just discarded like yesterday's newspaper.

"Yesterday's newspaper." That pretty much describes
The Times-Picayune now.

Instead, what New Orleans will get come autumn is less news on a crappy website. What the city will receive three times a week in print is less news reported by fewer local journalists.

Corporate may or may not try to put a little lipstick on that particular pig, but if Advance follows the path it trailblazed in Ann Arbor, Mich., it will end up just cutting the pretense and butchering the pig. Like Ann Arbor, that would leave New Orleans as a no-newspaper town.

With a crappy website.

I WAS born in south Louisiana, grew up there, too -- in Baton Rouge. I grew up reading the State-Times and later worked there for a while.

But when I was in junior high and high school, most days I would hop on my bicycle (or into my old man's '67 Mercury) in the evening, go down to Villa Oaks grocery store and pick up an afternoon
State-Times . . . and a New Orleans States-Item . . . and the old gray lady of the bayou morning, The Times-Picayune. From them, I learned about the world.

And from them, I learned what little I know about writing. It was an ink-stained apprenticeship of a fashion.

I had been married for the better part of a decade and had lived in Omaha for three years already when the
State-Times died 21 years ago, and it broke my heart. I had always considered it the better (and livelier) of Baton Rouge's newspapers -- for whatever that is worth -- and I know the city is diminished by the loss of its voice, and by the loss of the internecine journalistic free-for-all with its sister publication, the Morning Advocate . . . now just The Advocate.

As I contemplate a struggling, rebuilding New Orleans without the Picayune -- having only a crappy website and whatever the hell the "print edition" is going to be -- I find myself thinking there but for the grace of Peter Kiewit goes Omaha. That's Peter Kiewit's picture above.

In October 1962, as America endured the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, newspaper titan S.I. Newhouse offered $40.1 million for the World Publishing Co., then-owner of the Omaha World-Herald. The board of directors liked the money, and the deal was almost done.

Kiewit, president of Peter Kiewit Sons', Inc., the family construction business, didn't like anything about what he had read in the
Wall Street Journal. The World-Herald deal, as opposed to the Cuba thing.
During an Oct. 12, 1962, layover at the Denver airport, Kiewit learned from a story in the Wall Street Journal that his hometown newspaper was about to be sold to New York publisher Samuel I. Newhouse.

World-Herald directors were willing to sell the paper to prevent the stock, largely held by heirs of founder Gilbert Hitchcock, from being diffused.

Four days later, Kiewit called a friend, banker W. Dale Clark, who also was chairman of the newspaper board, and asked to see the newspaper's balance sheet. Clark told Kiewit that the board had a buyer and was satisfied with the offer.

The newspaper's directors weren't interested in other offers, Clark told Kiewit, who later said he realized Clark felt a moral obligation to Newhouse.

But Kiewit persevered. Unknown to him at the time, Kiewit had a strong ally in his wish to keep The World-Herald in local hands. Martha Hitchcock, widow of founder Gilbert Hitchcock, felt strongly that ownership should remain in Omaha.

Kiewit spent nine days gathering the financial information he wanted. He was impressed with what he found.

Kiewit called Clark again on Oct. 26, saying he had the necessary information.

"Fine," Kiewit later quoted Clark as saying. "You had better come down and see me.''

Two days later, Kiewit and company colleague Homer Scott met World-Herald directors in an all-day Sunday meeting.

Monday night, Kiewit worked out an offer of $40.4 million. Newhouse's bid was $40.1 million.

Tuesday morning, Kiewit was the owner.
HAD KIEWIT hated the idea of his hometown paper being run from a New York office any less, the name of the World-Herald's anniversary website -- 125 Years and Counting -- might sound rather mordantly ironic about now.

Kiewit, who died in 1979, understood what few in business or the public understand today: Newspapers are not just another business. Newspapers are in the business of earning more dollars and cents than they spend, yes . . . but they also are in the business of community. And the business of democracy. And the business of education. And the business of accountability.

When a newspaper -- whether it appears in printed form every day or not -- is diminished, as Advance Publications proposes to diminish the Times-Picayune and its other Southern papers, it's never just the newspaper's light that grows dimmer. There will be vitally important stories in New Orleans that won't get told now.

There will be vital information that New Orleanians won't get, and good decisions won't be made because of that. Corruption will become even easier in the Crescent City, because there will be dozens fewer journalists keeping vigil over the public's funny business.

And a city that loves its traditions will be at a loss over the radical wreckovation of a big one in town.

I guess New Orleans just hasn't suffered enough, what with all the crime, killing, poverty, ignorance, corruption . . . and Katrina.

FINALLY, let's not even get into the foolhardiness of Advance putting all the Picayune's eggs -- this in the age of foundering Facebook IPOs and a soft online-advertising market -- in a highly uncertain digital basket.

Obviously, there are good ways to make money in the digital universe. There are ways for newspapers to profit online. I just don't trust the Picayune's corporate masters to look for them . . . or to look much beyond the shaky Internet-advertising model.

What could go wrong?

In New Orleans? Pretty much everything. And today, as a newspaper's employees and its city stare into the abyss, it's becoming clear who gets to pay S.I. Newhouse's bill from May 1962 that just came due.

Here in Omaha, I think it would be appropriate if the employees of the Omaha World-Herald -- and the citizens of the city it calls home -- spring for a giant spray of flowers for Peter Kiewit's grave, God bless him.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Flaming Lips or Microsoft Paint? You decide.

If you couldn't see the title of the YouTube video, this would be harder than you'd think.

That says something right there.

Yep, what we have here is MSPaint.exe, as opened in an audio-editing program. The Flaming Lips could have saved so much time and effort . . . and come up with pretty much the same thing as their latest release.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

01011001 01101111 01110101 00100111 01110010 01100101 00100000 01100110 01101001 01110010 01100101 01100100 00100001

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, people are scared, government doesn't govern anymore and Tea Party Airlines is flying non-stop -- and one-way -- into your local IRS office.

We live in perilous times. The national mood is dark. There is a crisis of confidence. Tensions are rising. A cloud hangs over the land. Uncertainty has cast a shadow over fill-in-the-blank, and clichés are running rampant.

If you are a major national news operation, there is only one thing to do. Fire a s***load of people so the stockholders can enjoy a modest short-term windfall from the middling benefits to the bottom line of your corporate overlord.

THIS TIME, it's ABC News' turn to throw journalists out of work and add to national ignorance.

The New York Times blog Media Decoder has the details about a newsroom bloodletting that, for a change, isn't one of its own:
In what it called a “fundamental transformation,” ABC News said Tuesday that it was seeking to substantially reduce its staff, possibly by up to 25 percent.

Employees said they were told that the news division is seeking 300 to 400 buyouts, and would resort to layoffs if necessary. ABC News currently employs roughly 1,400 people.

The cuts at ABC, a unit of The Walt Disney Company, are among the steepest ever conducted by a network news division, and are likely to be seen as a further erosion of the company’s news-gathering arm.

ABC News employees said Tuesday that the reaction to the cutbacks was muted, mostly because the announcement had been expected for weeks. “Everyone sees the reality of the industry, and everyone wants to stay competitive,” said one employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the network to speak to other media outlets.

In a memorandum to staffers, the ABC News president David Westin said the “transformation” would result in a leaner, smaller news division. “The time has come to re-think how we do what we are doing,” Mr. Westin wrote.
IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, meantime, there's this:

For the last month, the newsroom has been rife with rumors about the cutbacks, which are poised to be the most dramatic reshaping of ABC News since Roone Arledge revolutionized the division by recruiting a team of high-wattage anchors and launching new franchises during his 20-year tenure as news president. Anxious staffers are not only fearful about losing their jobs, but are apprehensive about how the restructuring will impact their ability to chase big stories and swarm major news events if they remain.

ABC executives are internally casting the belt-tightening not as a retrenchment but as a repositioning. By streamlining news-gathering operations now, officials hope to stave off repeated cuts in the coming years. They argue that a smaller news division does not mean a less competitive one. With technological advancements such as hand-held digital cameras, the news division can now dispatch one person to cover a story that once required a correspondent, producer and two-person crew.

News organizations large and small have been forced to let go of staff and reduce expenses in the last few years to cope with a drop in advertising revenue caused by the global economic slowdown. Earlier this month, CBS News cut at least 90 positions, shuttering its Moscow bureau and significantly shrinking its staff in Washington, London and Los Angeles.
NOTE WELL, regarding the touting of "technological advancements such as hand-held digital cameras," that media outlets do not often pursue a grand plan of using technology to dramatically expand or improve basic news coverage. At least not out of the unfettered public-spiritedness of their selfless hearts.

Instead, it's more like this: They use technology a) to get a competitive edge on the competition, b) to cut costs or c) to look cool in front of all the other kids at the trade conventions.

If newspaper journalists paid their publishers to come to work every day and Linotypes were cheaper than computers, reporters would still be yelling "Toots, get me rewrite!" into candlestick telephones while hot lead flew in backshops unchanged since
H.L. Mencken was Jon Stewart.

And ink-stained wretches reeking of Seagram's VO and surrounded by paste pots, pica poles and soft-lead pencils still would be closing out the final edition of The Daily Blab at 2 a.m. -- not the 12 midnight made possible by our glorious technology.

REWRITE! Hold the line!

Isn't technology supposed to let us do the same with less, like the miracle it's going to work at ABC News?

Yeah, right. Ask The Daily Blab, where positions started disappearing long ago because technology allowed publishers to get three jobs' worth of work out of each digitally assisted employee. Instead of giving the public a greatly enhanced, more timely newspaper, what computerization allowed publishers to do instead was give readers the same old thing produced by lots fewer people.

It also allowed publishers to give themselves a 20- or 30-percent profit margin.

Which, I suspect, is where the 2 a.m. deadline went in an age when, theoretically, papers should have been able to push them back instead of moving them way up. It's about the cash, Nash.

It's about deciding cost efficiency dictated that you close out the morning paper at midnight with a staff of 100 instead of making deadline at 2 with a staff of 120.

TO BE SURE, paradigms and business models are shifting underneath nervous traditional-media types as I write this. To be surer, greed and corporate overreach has given scribblers and newsreaders less room to maneuver as the future bears down on them.

And to be surer still, the biggest problem is that corporations like Disney, or CBS Corporation (or pick a newspaper or radio group) have been focused on short-term profits rather than long-term survival -- and, now, squeezing the last drops of profitability out of suddenly iffy (Surprise!!!) concerns.

So save the bushwa about the wonderful journalistic efficiency of digital camcorders and one-man-band TV reporters. I might believe it if bunches of reporters, editors, cameramen and soundmen weren't getting the ol- heave-ho to make room for the Glorious Age of Technology.

Instead of, like, you know, putting two or three times as many "digital journalists" out on the streets to keep the bastards honest.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

In the attic. Hole in pants. No 12, no 32.

I waaaaaaaant myyyyyyyyyy, I want my DTV.

That's why I was crouched in the attic last week, fiddling with various sizes, shapes and configurations of antennas -- big and small, indoor and outdoor -- trying to pull in all the digital TV I have coming to me.

Trouble is, it wasn't coming to me.

All I wanted was to be able to pick up Iowa Public Television from the tower 20 miles away. Nebraska public TV out of Lincoln and Omaha would be nice, too. So up in the attic I went, trying to squeeze the last bit of digital superiority out of the ether and into the family-room TV in the basement.

OH, YEAH. We have cable. But we don't have digital cable, don't want to pay for digital cable, but do want to get the better picture quality and extra channels DTV offers. And I have to tell you, hooking up my government-subsidized converter box up to our ancient Sony is something akin to Botox for televisions.

Everything looks like a DVD. The sound is markedly better. Mr. Morita, I don't think we're in 1985 anymore.

And that's before you figure in the craptastic video quality of the downstairs cable connection.

So . . . where was I? Right. In the attic, messing with antennae.

Channels 3, 6 and 7 -- or at least the "virtual channels" for wherever the digital versions of 3, 6 and 7 are hiding on the UHF band -- weren't much of a problem. Channels 15 and 42 could be had with a little dinking around. Channel 26's antenna is a mile and change from the house.

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

She's gone downstairs to check.

(Half an hour later. . . .)

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

(Another 15 minutes later. . . .)

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

She's gone downstairs to check. This is stupid. Hand me up the cordless phone and you get on the cell phone.

Cell phone battery's dead. Crap.

OK, I'LL CALL the dead cell phone, and when the recorded message is over, the missus can just pick up the extension and we'll talk that way.

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

No Channel 12. No 32.

(Half an hour later. . . .)

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

Son of a bitch.

Back down the attic catwalk, ducking wires and trying not to fall through the ceiling. Sit on a rafter to work on antenna. Rip a hole in the butt of my sweats on a piece of metal. Commandeer some extra coax, move antenna next to the attic access.

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

No Channel 12. No 32.

M************ digital television piece of s***.

"What about now?" I ask, wondering how much fiberglass I'm breathing in. It ain't bad, once your lungs get used to it.

Had 12 for a second. It went all blotchy, though. No 32.

Digital this, you bunch of a******s.

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

No 12. No 32. I lost 42.

"GAAAAAH! ARRRRRRGH!" (Dropping telephone.) Complete leg cramp in my calf. Trying to writhe without falling through the ceiling.

I hear a tiny voice coming out of the phone a couple of feet away.

"What's wrong? Hello? Are you alive? ARE YOU ALIVE?"

How the hell am I going to get out of this attic? Fortunately, the cramp passes.

But I stab my finger on a nail in the semidarkness.

"Honey? Is 12 coming in now? What about 32 in Iowa?"

I HAVE ACHIEVED 12. Haven't lost 42.

Still can't get 32. Calling it good. Iowa can wait. There's always the little TV upstairs, next to a window. It gets everything -- except when it's too windy. Or when a bird roosts on the wrong branch.

I'm thinking the digital TV signal isn't exactly robust. There's a good reason I'm thinking that -- as it turns out, the DTV signal isn't exactly robust.
It says it right here in this Associated Press story:
Harry Vanderpool, a beekeeper, lives on a hill nearly 1,000 feet above the Willamette River, outside Salem, Ore. It should be a good spot for TV reception, and it used to be.

But now that analog signals are disappearing, leaving only digital ones, he may be losing all his channels.

"When you listen to the advertisements, it's 'Oh, all you have to do is get this little digital converter box and hook it up,'" Vanderpool said. "Well, we get nothing. Zero signal strength."

While generally better than analog, digital reception with antennas can be tricky. Although millions of people will receive more channels when switching to digital, many others are finding that stations they used to get in analog form won't come in on their converter boxes or digital TV sets.

In Ionia, Mich., retiree Bruce Jones is down to watching the two or three channels, rather than the dozen he used to get.

"They tell me I need an outdoor antenna, which I just can't afford," he said. To spare the $10 for the converter box, he had "cut out a day of groceries."

It's not just rural and small-town viewers like Vanderpool and Jones who are having problems with the phase-out of analog TV, which has been on the air for nearly 70 years. It's being done to give more room on the airwaves to wireless broadband, TV for cell phones and emergency communications.

In Hollywood, broadcast engineer Dana Puopolo gets the local stations fine with an indoor antenna in his bedroom, where he gets a view of the broadcast towers on Mt. Wilson, a dozen miles away. But even an amplified indoor antenna isn't enough to supply a watchable image to his widescreen TV, which is in the living room on the other side of the apartment.

"You can get it so the picture's perfect, and then when you sit down, 30 seconds later it pixelates into oblivion," Puopolo said, describing how the picture breaks up into big chunks of color. "The dirty little secret about digital is that it doesn't have nearly the coverage of analog."
NOW they tell me. @%#$%&*!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How to make the switch to digital TV

No matter how many public-service announcements TV stations run, no matter how many crawls during the evening news, no matter how many informational segments on said newscasts, no matter how often everyone in television broadcasting stands on a soapbox to cry "Buy a converter box or get cable, for the end of TV as you know it is nigh!" . . . no matter how much (or how loudly) TV people do all of the above, there's no overcoming the cold, hard facts of life.

People are stupid. Or self-absorbed. Or stupid and self-absorbed.

YOU CAN'T BEAT that triumvirate of dumbth. And, thus far, for every local TV station turning off its analog signal to go all-digital, there has been a small army of viewers blindsided by the Big Switch and wondering where Jerry Springer and their stories went.

TV stations just can't win against genetic -- or willful -- ignorance. Or can they?

In Alexandria, La., KALB television shut down its Channel 5 analog signal at 11:55 p.m. Monday. The station, according to the above report on Channel 9 out of Baton Rouge, got few complaints.

How did it manage such a thing?

It was easy. Station management apparently "forced" viewers to get with the program. For a while, KALB had been shutting off the analog signal during the weather.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An electronic boat anchor

Starting today, we begin in earnest the short march to the end of TV as we've known it since Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin figured out the all-electronic television method.

At noon today in Omaha, for the first time in almost 60 years, we'll see nothing on Channel 6 but nothing. It's all gone digital . . . and to new digital channels.

So, in honor of the beginning of the end of an analog era, let's take a look back. And don't touch that dial!