Just Say No To Handouts For Publishers, However They Dress Them Up

A big deal was made recently of newspaper industry representatives rejecting the notion of a government bailout for their ailing business model. It almost looks like the industry wants to pull itself up by the bootstraps and solve their own problems, doesn’t it?  Keep looking.  While the industry rep says pretty clearly that government handouts are inappropriate, going over what he does want makes it look like an issue of semantics.

They want a change in the tax code that would allow newspapers to essentially write-off current losses against profits from as far back as five years ago.  And they want changes in the laws that require them to actually fully fund their employee pension plans out of reserve cash.  And, rather vaguely, they made allusions to various schemes (and possible accompanying legislation) by which they were planning to compel people to pay for content that they don’t pay for now.  Plus, throw in some anti-trust exemptions and loosened non-profit status regulations that tax-exmepts advertising and subscription revenue, and while it doesn’t say “bailout” explicitly, it sure as hell looks like one.

Personally, I’m not in favor of any of this.  Allowing them to get tax rebates on profits from five years back is pretty extreme, and sounds to me like a bailout minus the government oversight and strings that they won’t have to pay back.  Allowing them more leeway in adequately funding employee pensions is a recipe for abuse.  Hell, you can start writing the stories we’ll be seeing in four or five years about looted newspaper pension plans today, and have them in the can for future use, just insert the dates and dollar figures.  Any legislation that will generate any kind of significant revenue from readers will have to severely alter how the internet functions, not to mention further eroding fair use, and the First Amendment.   Plus, that kind of legislation and an anti-trust exemption could create a massive monopoly that could conceivably shut out everyone not willing to pay what they want us to for news online.  How exactly does any of that help the democratic process?  That is, after all, their entire argument for why newspapers deserve all of these gifts.  “The democratic political system just can’t function without diverse, free and independent sources of news,” says Princeton University professor Paul Starr to describe why the press deserves preferential treatment to other industries.  I guess he meant the word “free” in there to mean free from taxes and other pesky regulations, not actually free for people to read and discuss.

If we’re going to provide tax breaks here, it needs to be for innovation and forward looking business models of journalism, not just propping up the same tired, ailing retread of an industry, especially if that means the additional funds allows them to be even more of a legal hurdle to finding the way things will work in the future.  And to suggest that the industry’s desire for cash infusions is a genuine interest in saving anyone’s jobs but the ones on the top floor is a lie that virtually anyone who has worked in a publishing company over the past two years sees right through.  Give them every last thing they want, and it won’t save one job amongst the rank and file.     The farther along this whole imploding mess gets, the more convinced I become that we need to kill the previous monarchy before the new leaders can take their place.  Bring out the guillotine and let the old-guard media take that long, slow walk to the podium.  We’ll all be better for it down the line.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Week 3: Making up ground on the stocks…sort of

Well, the football betting made up some ground last week on the stocks.  Or, more specifically, it lost less ground.  Four of the five stocks dropped this week, but they still are in positive figures on the year.  My NFL prognosticating, however, also leaves room for improvement.  I went 7-9 on the week, dropping into negative figures overall, down $200.  The only bright spot is that the NFL betting closed the gap on the stocks by about $160.  Here are the numbers for the stocks:

Company, Starting Price, Current Price, Shares, Current Total

Thompson Creek Metals, $12.55, $12.28, 408, $5,010.24

Infosys Technologies Ltd, $46.78, $48.52, 109, $5,288.68

General Cable Corp, $39.59, $39.56, 129, $5,103.24

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, $70.37, $71.09, 73, $5,189.57

Fortescue Metals Group, $3.70, $3.70, 1,384, $5,120.08

Total:       $25,711.81

Week 2:  -$359.23  (overall: +$111.81)

Now, here are the figures so far for the football side:

Week 2:  7-9 (-$200)   Overall Record: 15-17

Total:  $25,400   (overall:  -$200.00)

Let’s hope I do better in week 3 and can get back into positive numbers.  Here are my picks for Week 3:

Kansas City     +9.5     Philadelphia

Green Bay        -6.5      St. Louis

Minnesota        -7          San Francisco

Atlanta              +4         New England

Houston            -4         Jacksonville

Chicago             -2          Seattle

New Orleans     -6         Buffalo

Oakland              +1        Denver

Cincinnati          +4        Pittsburgh

Arizona               -2.5     Indianapolis

Dallas                   -9          Carolina

Tennessee         +2.5      NY Jets

Miami                  +6          San Diego

Tampa Bay         +6.5      NY Giants

Detroit                 +6.5      Washington

Baltimore           -13.5      Cleveland

Check back next week to see if I can manage to get back into positive figures.

Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Smoking: Don’t Believe The Hype

Let’s chat a little about smoking. I’m not sure if there is an issue that I’ve seen that is more polarizing than whether or not we choose to puff. There also are very few issues where both sides of the debate, from tobacco industry insiders to fervent, health-conscious anti-smoking mavens, are as completely full of it as this one.

My entire rant today was kicked off by running across this lovely little slice of government intrusiveness. This is the first in what promises to be an ongoing stream of regulations from the FDA’s newly acquired powers that is sure to hasten the eventual formation of a black market for tobacco, and the associated crime that will go along with it. But remember we’re doing it for the children when the first body drops over bootleg tobacco. If I follow the logic properly here, then we should soon be seeing bans on flavored alcoholic beverages as well. Kids have to think tangerine flavored vodka is more attractive than the basic stuff. Think about the children. And what about sodas? They’re bad for you, especially kids, and they come in all sorts of flavors that appeal to young people. I think we should only allow soft drink companies to sell plain sugar water with some fizz. That’s sure to be less attractive to kids, and anyone else who happens to be alive.

See where I’m going with this? Selling tobacco, whatever the flavoring, to minors is already illegal, with lots and lots of penalties that go along with it. Why should I, or any adult, not be allowed to purchase a coconut-flavored smoke because some bureaucrat thinks it will encourage kids to break the law and smoke anyway? It’s because it’s not really about the kids, but about trying to get people to quit smoking, which is nice and all, but mind your own damn business. Getting rid of flavored cigarettes isn’t going to cut down on smoking, it’s going to cut down on the enjoyment of smoking. Thanks alot, busy-bodies.

And the hits keep on coming. Here’s the latest on the ban smoking at all costs front. I’m of the opinion that if we’re going to put our troops in harm’s way on a daily basis, the least we can do is shut up and let them enjoy a relaxing smoke break once in a while. But this ban has some of the same all-too-typical justifications: we spend too much on health care for smokers. Considering studies like this one that seem to show exactly the opposite is true, and that thin, supposedly healthy people actually suck up significantly more health care dollars than smokers, or obese people for that matter, you wouldn’t think that argument would still work, but since when has a little thing like the truth stopped the anti-smoke brigade?

There’s even a new accusation in there, one that seems pretty audacious, even for folks who routinely manipulate statistical probabilities to exaggerate a legitimate health risk to service their personal agendas. Apparently, according to the Pentagon (and when have they ever been wrong, I ask you?) there is a strong link between tobacco addiction and mental illness, including but not limited to schizophrenia (!!!!). So smoking makes you crazy. And all this time, I thought that crazy people just liked to smoke. What a load.

Try this one on for size, too. At least in this one, the people are (somewhat) honest. So Tobacco will kill 6 million people this year. And it’ll rob a liquor store in Boise. And steal some towels and an ashtray from a hotel in Illinois. The real dirty secret here is at the beginning. World governments don’t really give a damn about your health, what they care about is the estimated $500 billion (see, more justifications masquerading as real statistics) in health care spending because of tobacco, and a GDP loss of 3.6 %, all because people want to smoke. You get sick and die, we don’t care, but hit us in the wallet on your way out, and now it’s a world health catastrophe.

So what has been the result of all this? Besides obscenely higher taxes on poor people who make up the majority of smokers, it’s the indoor smoking bans that have spread like wildfires across the globe, bans that wouldn’t have been Constitutionally possible without scientific data supporting the hypothesis that second hand smoke, or Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), is a serious health risk for non-smokers. Now that they’ve gotten their bans, we’re all set to see lots of reports like this one. Sure, it’s unverifiable anecdotal evidence from extreme short term data that doesn’t take into consideration other factors for a decrease in heart attacks, but it does make for a good sound bite, and it does make it look like they weren’t totally full of it to begin with.

Now, I may sound like an apologist for big tobacco, but there’s a good reason for that. As many dirty tricks and statistical manipulations as the tobacco industry has engaged in over the years, and they have no doubt done some pretty unseemly stuff, these guys may actually be worse if for no other reason than they cloak their lies in a veil of sainthood. No one’s denying that smoking is bad for you. We all know that. It’s the need to stretch the evidence to support things that aren’t true that bugs me. We have enough problems in the world without having to manufacture some.

Don’t believe me? Well, get yourself a cup of coffee and read all about the history of manipulations in the name of declaring ETS a serious health problem. And get used to the phrase “statistically insignificant” as that is what the actual increased health risks of exposure to ETS amount to. British author Christopher Snowden does a pretty thorough retelling of the long and winding road of B.S. anti-smoking crusaders have used over the past few centuries or so to squeeze minimal actual scientific evidence into the neat little package of faith and preconceptions that led us to today. This link is to a few chapters of his book, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, a history of the anti-smoking movement. Whether or not you are a smoker, the lengths to which some of our esteemed medical practitioners have gone to achieve their personal ends should piss you off. It’s been said that the truth shall set you free. Well, the flip side of that is that lies and manipulations are what take our freedoms away, and the entire ETS line is complete garbage that has and will continue to do just that. Snowden’s even got a blog dedicated to exposing junk science like this. I put it on my blogroll, just in case you’d like to check it out. It’ll be in my regular rotation.

The most telling of all the lies here is perhaps the most bogus “scientific” work ever done by our government, and that’s saying something. Back in 1992, the EPA published a study called “Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking.” I don’t want to spoil it for you when you read all about it in Snowden’s work, but suffice it to say this report was so slanted and artificial that it ended up vilified in a U.S. Court of Law. The judge said, and I quote:

“The EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information…failed to disclose important findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers. EPA’s conduct left substantial holes in the administrative records. While so doing, EPA produced limited evidence, then claimed the weight of the Agency’s research demonstrated [ETS] causes cancer.”

In other words, they were full of it. The truly fascinating part is that even though this study was clearly discredited, it’s still being used today in support of the anti-smoking movement, and in particular the bans on indoor smoking. Here it is referenced on the National Cancer Institute website, here it is as the very first reference in a World Health Organization (WHO) report on ETS, and here it is still available for download from the EPA itself. So much for scientific credibility.

I’ll close here with one more link about smoking, this one pretty telling as well. And don’t miss the line at the bottom from the esteemed doctor who has to throw out the tried and true gateway drug line of B.S. that has almost as long and storied a history of scientific and statistical manipulation in its support as the risks of ETS. It’s nice to know that our medical profession is so slanted against any possible medical uses for marijuana that they aren’t even bothering to follow up on what could be a promising lead to help with the treatment of cancer.

We spend about $150 billion a year on medical treatment and services for obese people. It’s a world health crisis. Up to 85% of overweight individuals regularly indulge in eating cheesecake. It starts with that first slice with graham cracker crust and cherries on top, and the next thing you know, you’re downing whole bags of Cheetos, entire boxes of Twinkies and eating dinner at McDonald’s every couple days. Cheesecake is a gateway food to obesity. We must, for the sake of our health and our children’s health, regulate cheescake, the rich and creamy killer.

See how easy this is?

Cropping Mad!

I was surfing the net earlier today and I ran across this little firestorm of an argument. Now, being a writer, I can fully understand the outrage this photographer feels at having his work manipulated and taken out of context by an editor.  I’ve been there, more times than I can recall.  One particular instance, I wrote a piece on a local coffeehouse presenting musicians, poets, comedians, etc for some community oriented entertainment.  During a portion of my article, which was equating community-based efforts like this one with a broader concept of ecology, I referenced a joke told by one of the performers.  When I read the article as it appeared in print, I was horrified to discover that the editor in question cut out the punchline of the joke, obviously done awarely as the period and quotation marks were left at the end of the cut.  He also cut out the last two sentences of the piece, which tied together the entire theme of ecology and community I had set up throughout.

Now I understood that the edits were likely done for space constraints, but that didn’t change the fact that removing these portions altered the overall impression of the piece, not to mention making me look like a lousy writer, and it did nothing to tone down my outrage.  I swore I would never again give that editor any of my work to butcher.  And I haven’t.  That being said, I was paid for the piece with the understanding that final approval of what ran in the paper was out of my control.  I agreed to their terms and I had to deal with it.  What I didn’t have to do was agree to it in the future.

So I can relate to this photographer’s anger.  But from an editor’s point of view, I can also relate to why Newsweek made the choice they did.  It’s not a very good choice, mind you, but I can see why it would have happened.  They had a point of view they were trying to represent, “Is Dick Cheney a Butcher?”, and most likely, someone ran across this photo of Cheney cutting a very rare steak at a dinner for his daughter and thought, “Cheney a butcher, Cheney cutting raw meat, we have a winner.”  To me, it’s not a good representation of the point they were going for.  A closeup photo of Cheney sitting at a desk scowling probably would have been more effective, but they paid for the use of the image and they get to make the call.  This is more a matter of an editor trying to be too clever rather than pissing all over someone else’s work, as the photographer seems to think.  And if he doesn’t like the way they treated his work, don’t sell to them anymore.

The more disturbing point, to me, is the photographer’s rant against photo cropping.  It seems a lot like the angry tirades I hear from long-time journalists about the amateur online brethren who are helping to make the mainstream media obsolete.  Technology, whether we like it or not, changes everything.  I’m constantly worried that actual paying work for writers may be a thing of the past before much longer, but photographers are actually in a much worse position.

A few years ago, I made a comment in jest to a good friend of mine who happens to be a professional photographer, and a pretty good one, that any idiot with a digital camera and a copy of Photoshop can be a photographer.  He responded in outrage, defending the merits of his chosen field, even though I was, mostly, joking.  Today, however, we are likely no more than a few generations of camera technology away from the entire concept of professional photographers, particularly highly paid ones, being obsolete themselves.  While you can’t replace the trained eye of a truly exceptional photographer, much higher resolution images and a plethora of high-end photo manipulation tools can create a pretty good approximation from just about anyone’s point and shoot work.  This has to be disturbing to photographers, but it’s also reality.

If photographers, like writers, are going to have any place in the future, they have to embrace change, and find ways to use the new tools at their disposal to expand the concept of what it means to be a photographer, not rail against them in favor of the way it used to be.  Photo cropping isn’t just a lazy choice anymore, it’s a tool, when used wisely, to improve the overall presentation of whatever you’re working on.  I don’t pretend to be a professional photographer, even though photography skills have been a big part of the work I’ve done over the past dozen years.  Cropping and other means of photo manipulation are a necessary component in publishing today.  It makes no sense to spout off about your old photography professor who taught you twenty years ago that cropping was a lazy way to work.  Using software to design pages for press is a lazy way to work, too, when compared with the old typesetting and cut-and-paste efforts of the past.  But it’s also opened the door to a vast array of design possibilities that were unthinkable back when you had to cut out the photos you wanted to use and glue them to a board with hot wax.

Technology can’t be stopped.  We will never go back to the way it used to be, and we shouldn’t.  If you don’t like the choices your editor made with your work, you have the option of not working with him or her anymore.  That’s the only place where true control  as creative people really lies, making the decisions about who we trust, and who we don’t, with our work.

Published in: on September 19, 2009 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rational Discourse on Health Care…Seriously

I thought I might take a moment to provide some more reasoned points of view than my own on the upcoming health care crisis (masquerading as an overhaul).  I read a summary of Max Baucus’s recently released plan and, after careful consideration, if something like this passes, we might as well just email our bank account numbers to the insurance industry and live on what they decide we can keep.  Sorry, I was going to be more reasoned.  Here goes…

My first problem is that the insurance industry likes this plan a little too much. In fact, they’ve been completely unabashed in stating that any attempt to cut into their profits will immediately be passed on to all of us in premium increases.  If they like Baucus’ plan, then they must believe that it will be nothing but beneficial for them.  Another interesting tidbit is how Wall Street reacted to this proposal. Investors don’t often start throwing money behind corporations who’s bottom lines are going to be hurt by government regulation.  The fact that almost all health insurance industry stocks spiked after release of this bill seems to indicate that investors expect industry profits will actually increase.  Not a good sign.  Of course, why shouldn’t they like it?  They paid for it.

It seems as though there are little or no price controls here at all.  And just about everyone, including the insurance industry, knows it.  I searched in vain for a medical loss ratio standard in Baucus’ proposal, just curious to see if one was there and what it would be.  It seems like it’s assumed to be in there, but no one has actually quoted one that I could find.  The medical loss ratio, if you don’t know, is a standard figure for what percentage of revenue an insurance company must spend directly on medical care and services or be forced to refund money to its customers.  Several of the other proposals have one listed at 85%.  But that’s neither here nor there.  There are no controls in place to stop the insurance industry from just jacking up everyone’s premiums to cover any potential loss from the higher mandated percentage.  After all, they would be gift wrapped about 30 million new customers to gouge, many of whom are low income whose bills would ultimately get paid on the taxpayer’s dime.

Maryland, by the way, has a rather pitiful 60% medical loss ratio for individual policies, meaning insurance companies selling individual policies here in Maryland can currently feel free to pocket 40% of our insurance premiums.  An effort was made to correct that earlier this year in the State legislature, but was shot down by, you guessed it, insurance industry intervention.

And I’m not alone in my thinking.  Here’s a former insurance company executive who has turned sides and now fights against the industry. According to him, this particular plan is “an absolute joke.”  One of his primary criticisms  is that Baucus’ plan allows so much latitude for the insurers to craft limited plans that we would, in effect, be adding more people to the ranks of the uninsured, even while they’re paying for it.

Baucus wants to mandate a 4-tiered approach to insurance, with Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum benefits packages.  Initially, I thought he must have gotten this idea from a porn site.  But the genuine concern is that low income people, the very ones most affected by any government mandate, would be steered toward high deductible, low coverage Bronze packages, priced high enough to guarantee payment through government subsidies, but offering very little in terms of actual coverage.  Plus, it seems like Baucus himself knows that any mandate would create a large gray area of individuals who’s budgets don’t allow them to pay for insurance premiums but who’s income is too high to get any assistance.  This proposal actually expects to collect $20 million per year in fines.  It sure looks like he’s creating a squeezed class of people to help pay for some of his proposal.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to me is that the mandate to buy coverage is called the “Personal Responsibility in Health Care” provision.  So, because I can’t afford to buy over-priced insurance, despite working two essentially full time jobs, I’m irresponsible?  When I started my magazine two years ago, we purchased insurance through the company.  I didn’t really need it or want it, but my partner had some medical issues and had a young daughter.  We needed two people to qualify for a company rate, so I bought in.  Over the course of the next year or so, I paid over $4,000 in premiums for my coverage alone, something I never once used; an outlay of money that ate up any savings I may have had and helped contribute to the financial mess I ended up with.  This didn’t happen because I got sick, and it wasn’t from medical bills; it was from simply buying insurance.  And even though I didn’t have to, I paid for it anyway because I felt a responsibility to my partner and her daughter.    That’s what personal responsibility is, Mr. Baucus, not your garbage insurance industry giveaway, you arrogant, elitist, son of a…  Whoops, rational discourse, rational discourse, deep breaths.

Apparently, I’m not the only one concerned about strong language, though. I do find it a little appalling that someone would compare opposition to health care reform to opposition to gay rights that led to actual murders, no matter how strong the language.  But after seemingly blowing off any opposition to these plans as staged rhetoric for months now, it doesn’t surprise me that supporters would paint those against as irrational and uncivilized.  But trust me on this, if Nancy Pelosi thinks people are irrationally pissed now, pass a bill like Baucus’ here and see how people react.  People will be rational as long as we are heard, but if you ignore us and do it anyway, that’s when we start to get loud, especially when the laws you pass end up taking money out of our pocket and we get nothing in return for it.  That’s why these town halls have been so rambunctious.

Hopefully, everyone will just calm down, and we can go about the business of laughing the incredibly one-sided, insurance industry-friendly bills like Baucus’ out of the building and find a way that might actually work.  If this is a starting point for negotiations, as I’ve heard Baucus’ plan described, then we are in for some long arguements.

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Week Two: The stocks have the early lead

So, after one week of my comparison between stocks and football betting, the stocks have the early lead.  Four of the five I picked were up this week, and it brings my total to positive $471.04.  Not bad.  Here’s the current info as of 9:30 a.m., September 17:

Company, Starting Price, Current Price, Shares, Current Total

Thompson Creek Metals, $12.55, $13.00, 408, $5,304

Infosys Technologies Ltd, $46.78, $48.66, 109, $5,303.94

General Cable Corp, $39.59, $40.05, 129, $5,166.45

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, $70.37, $71.85, 73, $5,245.05

Fortescue Metals Group, $3.70, $3.65, 1,384, $5,051.60

Total:       $26,071.04   (overall: +$471.04)

Now, my NFL prognositcating wasn’t quite as successful, but I did break even at 8-8 on the week.  And that’s after taking a voluntary loss on the Pittsburgh-Tennessee game because it was early.  Here’s the totals for the NFL so far:

Overall Record: 8-8   Total:  $25,600  (overall:  $0.00)

I need a big week to get back in this competition.  So here are my picks for the NFL’s Week 2:

Oakland              +3            Kansas City

Minnesota         -10           Detroit

New Orleans       E             Philadelphia

Atlanta                 -6           Carolina

Arizona               +3          Jacksonville

Seattle                 +1.5       San Francisco

Cleveland           +3          Denver

San Diego            -3           Baltimore

Chicago               +3          Pittsburgh

Dallas                   -3           NY Giants

Tennessee          -6.5       Houston

Washington       -9.5       St. Louis

Tampa Bay         +5         Buffalo

Miami                   +3         Indianapolis

NY Jets                +3.5     New England

Green Bay           -9          Cincinnati

Hopefully, I’ll do better this week.  And by the way, to support my theory that the NFL, particularly the injury reporting rules, are all about gambling interests and not competition, here’s this from the league today. That is some hefty fines for not placing a guy who actually played in every game down the stretch on an injury report notice.  This is all about getting the point spreads as accurate as possible.  Everyone knew Favre was banged up down the stretch.  And as for competitive advantage, the Jets actually could have gotten a bigger advantage by listing Favre as questionable and making their opponents spend time preparing for Kellen Clemens.  I don’t have a problem with this, mind you, just don’t pretend like it’s not about the gambling.

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Off The Record: Private comments and secret numbers reveal the dark side of the press

Kanye West is a Jackass.  Anyone want to argue the merits of that claim?  Any person who barges on to the stage at an awards ceremony, disrupting the acceptance speech of a gracious winner in order to complain that one of their friends didn’t win is, by very definition, a jackass.  West himself might even admit as much.  But God forbid the President say it.

I know, he’s the President.  He’s supposed to be above such petty things.  But at this point in our history, I’m of the opinion that we need a leader willing to call a jackass a jackass.  Enough of this sanitized, on-the-record, off-the-record garbage.  Personally, I think he should have called Joe Wilson a jackass, too. Right in the middle of his speech, no less.

The media is to blame for this, of course.  The very same people decrying their dwindling influence have made this kind of stuff seem like it’s newsworthy.  Who cares what his opinion of Kanye West is?  Why was it necessary to send this out over Twitter as breaking news like he had just insulted the President of Iran or something that might have actually been important?  And the fact that ABC killed the tweet an hour or so later has become more of a story that the comment itself.

But this is what passes for news in today’s fast-paced, magical world of information.  The press devoted far more coverage to Wilson’s “You Lie!” outburst during Obama’s speech last week than to the actual substance of the speech.  But it was only on health care, not that important.  Only costs us about a trillion dollars a year.  And why would the Democrats in Congress feel it necessary to formally reprimand Wilson after he’s already apologized to the man he actually insulted?  Because more than a few members of the press will show up, report on it, and embarrass Wilson even further.  No news here, just petty bickering from people who should know better.  And the press is an enabler to the whole thing.

Want to know why people aren’t willing to pay for news on the web?  This stuff isn’t news.  It’s like the gossip pages.  It might be interesting to check out for 30 seconds, but who in their right mind would pay for in-depth coverage of the President’s opinion of the Video Music Awards?  Personally,  I’m waiting for the hot scoop on what type of fabric softener Obama prefers before I subscribe to a news site.  I hear he thinks that Snuggle teddy bear is a jackass, too.

Speaking of jackasses, check this out. Who ever would have imagined that publishers would artificially inflate the number of hits and visitors to their websites in order to support higher advertising rates?  Shocking, isn’t it?  It’s practically a time-honored tradition in publishing circles to seriously exaggerate the numbers of people seeing your publications.  I guess that’s at least one part of their business model they’ve managed to successfully transition to the web.

Remarkably, according to the study sited in the above-mentioned link, your average newspaper is reporting unique visitors  per month at rates about 30 percent above the total population of the geographic areas they serve.  I guess making the numbers believable wasn’t a priority.  Anyway, it’s pretty ironic that bogus, over-inflated numbers weren’t a problem so long as they helped to bilk advertisers out of their money, but now that they might pose an issue because the publishers need actual accurate audience numbers to decide how or if to charge for content without losing their own money.  Well, you can be sure if they do manage to get real-world figures, the advertisers (what’s left of them) will never see it.

I’ve always made it a point to downplay raw circulation numbers when talking to advertisers for just this reason, quite often, they’re a lie or at best, an exagerration.  It’s very easy to justify yourself (and your ad rates) using stats, but often misleading.  It’s not the total number of people your publication reaches, but whether or not the people it does reach serves your needs as an advertiser.  But figuring that out is hard work that requires effort.  And tailoring your work to suit an advertiser’s needs is hard work requiring effort.  It’s a helluva lot easier to just quote a number and let them assume that the people they want to reach are included in that.  This kind of “why try harder than you have to” work ethic has definitely contributed to the fall of the industry.  It’s actually kind of refreshing to see at least a little part of it jump back to bite them.

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Send In The Lawyers

Now, back to incessant rambling about publishing.  If you notice, I’ve put an RSS feed to Newspaper Death Watch down the right side.  If you have any interest in media at all, or some behind the scenes looks at how the industry actually works, this place is great.  I feel a little bad about linking to stuff they’ve focused on, but I’m going to do it anyway.

There’s a great post up there today by Judy Sims called “Top 10 Lies Newspaper Execs are Telling Themselves.” It’s a good read, and I’ve heard just about all of them myself at one time or another.   NDW does a masterful job introducing the piece, so I’m not going to repeat that effort, but it’s definitely worth a look.  The reason I’m bringing it up, however, is one of Sims’ earlier posts that speaks to a very serious concern I have; namely that, as the game gets longer and the revenues for large, traditional media companies continue to fall, we will all be faced with legal challenges to the very structure of the internet itself in a last ditch effort to throw lawyers at a problem they can’t handle competitively.

In my personal job experience, I’ve seen first hand how a larger competitor will come up with any old line of bull to force smaller, sometimes much more financially challenged competitors to spend some of their scarce resources on legal fees.  It works two ways; one, it gets you to take time and money away from actual competition, and two, they might actually win in court; although option two is usually less important.  I can guarantee you this, the large former media barons will not go quietly into obsolescence.  They will sue, threaten, lobby and otherwise create massive amounts of legal-sounding concerns that will force everyone involved in the future of media on the internet to put aside the business at hand and deal with them.

The most concerning, to me, is the idea that they can just lobby Congress to pass legislation that undermines copyright law, fair use, and, potentially, even the First Amendment.  Whether it works or not is one thing, but no one can deny that the music industry slipped one past everybody with the DMCA and the idea that $150,000 in damages for one incident of loosely defined “infringement” with no requirement to even show actual damages was a good idea.  They’ve used that obscene provision (bought, paid for and even drafted by industry insiders) to extort money from their own customers in a futile effort to stop downloading.  And if you don’t think the publishing industry won’t try to do the same, you’re kidding yourself.  When it’s annihilation or send in the lawyers, get ready for some court time.

There’s another link to an article there today that I liked as well.  Pat Thornton writes about the need for publishing companies to get “down and dirty.”

Thornton gives a great list of things publishers need to do to survivie the new reality.  My favorite was this gem:

More content creators than managers — Journalism is all about content and products, not about managers, editors and meetings. A certain amount of managers and editors are needed, but most news organizations are very top heavy. You want to be bottom heavy.

Here, here.  I’ve been saying this for years.  My mother, who’s worked for a publishing company nearby for the past 25 years, has echoed this sentiment, albeit in a somewhat racially insensitive way.  “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”  I’ll believe that publishers are serious about change and adapting to the future when we start to see companies laying off managers to keep the actual talent.  Not holding my breath waiting for that, however.

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Clarity on Health Care Reform

Last week, prior to President Obama’s big speech on health care reform, I posted a piece about how I felt the current debate on health care reform is a losing battle that will help no one but private insurers or big government proponents.  Being one of the 46 million Americans currently without insurance, and part of the group celebrated– or more accurately “used”– as the need for such reform, I just felt like my opinion on the issue might be of interest.

Now that it seems that the furor over a Republican congressman calling the President a liar during the speech has overshadowed legitimate concerns about the nature of any such reform, I feel like I should make my opinion perfectly clear.  And to emphasize my point, I will be blunt.  If we mandate everyone to buy private health insurance without some serious regulations and checks on the industry, they will bend us all over and have their way with us using a 15-inch strap-on.  And they won’t even buy us dinner.  Clear enough?

If the Federal government were to mandate that everyone in the country has to eat breakfast at McDonald’s every day or be fined by Uncle Sam, do you really believe that the price of a hotcakes and sausage meal would go down?  It’s extremely naive to think that a private industry will forego possible profit for any other reason than the fear of the law.  Lots of corporate executives for multi-billion dollar industries routinely say, “Have some money back.  We’ve made enough profit,” don’t they?  Happens all the time.  I’m sure such an esteemed industry as insurance will be more than happy to pass up the chance to suck even more massive profits out of us when we no longer have any choice but to buy what they’re selling.  After all, it’s not like they profit by taking advantage of people’s generous natures of contributing our hard-earned money to help pay for the care of sick people or anything.

For the record, I am in favor of health care reform.  If there is an industry out there in need of having it’s collective ass handed to it by Uncle Sam, it’s the health insurance industry.  The pharmaceutical industry, too, but that’s another post.  Trust me, they suck even more than the insurance companies, but nobody’s mandating we have to buy their over-priced, habit-forming crap.  Yet.

My point is not that we don’t need reform.  We do.  Just not this kind of reform.  THE HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY IS THE PROBLEM. (I put that line in bold type and all caps, just in case you didn’t catch my meaning.)  It is not, nor will it ever be, the solution.  There is no hourglass ticking down here.  I’m in favor of finding actual solutions, not mandating coverage so we can claim progress and announce that everyone has insurance, and worry about the details, not to mention the costs, later.  For once, maybe we should actually do something right.

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gambling: America’s Real Favorite Pastime

Anyone who lives in this area knows by now that the NFL just won a hard-fought court battle to prevent the State of Delaware from having a legal sports book.  Sure, we can still bet on pools of games, but no single game wagering, please.  I think this is just slightly hypocritical of a league that built its popularity on gambling to argue against it, but hey, they own it, they can be as two-faced as they want.  Don’t think gambling is what the league is all about?  Well, explain the injury reports.  The league will tell you the rules about reporting injury status are about keeping teams from using injuries to key players to gain a competitive advantage.  Yeah, okay, sure.  I think it’s so the gambler’s will have the most accurate information and keep them placing wagers (and buying season tickets and watching on TV) in large numbers.

I don’t have any problem with gambling, mind you, I think it should be legal across the board.  As such, I’ve decided to use this NFL season to do a little experiment.  If I were to put a C-note down on every one of the 256 regular season games, how would my bank account look at the end of the year?  I’m not actually placing these bets.  I don’t happen to have $25,600 laying around handy.  It’s just a hypothetical experiment.  To contrast the gambling on football games, I’ve also decided to pit the same amount of money in a more-accepted form of gambling in this country, the stock market.  I’ve selected 5 of the top performing stocks from a list I found on MSN Money, and I’m going to divide up the same $25,600 into five pools of $5,120 and hypothetically invest that in each of the stocks.  During the season, I’ll track how my wagering is working out and contrast it with how my investment portfolio is faring.

Here are the five stocks and how much of each I’m “buying”:

Company, Starting Price, Current Price, Shares, Current Total

Thompson Creek Metals, $12.55, $12.55, 408, $5,120

Infosys Technologies Ltd, $46.78, $46.78, 109, $5,120

General Cable Corp, $39.59, $39.59, 129, $5,120

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, $70.37, $70.37, 73, $5,120

Fortescue Metals Group, $3.70, $3.70, 1,384, $5,120

Total:       $25, 600

Now I’ll pick every game this week according to the point spread.  If I win a game, I make $100, if I lose, I lose $100.  By the end of the season, we’ll see if betting on football or putting your money in the stock market has the better upside.  By the way, since I missed the Thursday night game, I’m taking that as a loss.  So far, I’m 0-1 and down $100.

Week One

Philadelphia      -2.5        Carolina

Cincinnati           -4.5        Denver

Minnesota           -4            Cleveland

Houston               -4.5        NY Jets

Jacksonville       +7           Indianapolis

Dallas                     -5.5        Tampa Bay

Arizona                 -6            San Francisco

Washington         +6.5       NY Giants

Chicago                 +4.5       Green Bay

Miami                     +4           Atlanta

Kansas City          +12.5     Baltimore

Seattle                    -7            St. Louis

New Orleans         -13.5      Detroit

San Diego               -9.5        Oakland

Buffalo                     +11        New England

Check back next week and track my new investment portfolio.

Published in: on September 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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