A Bad Joke

So I’ve been away the past couple weeks, and I’ve still got quite a bit of work ahead of me. Some major changes going on and my time to ramble on here has been somewhat limited of late. But today, I felt like I had to comment on something that has played a bit of a role in my approach to things recently and a few major life decisions coming up.

Anyone who reads this regularly will remember that about a month ago, I revealed a little insider information on who the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce was going to award its Company of The Year honor to on June 18. At the time, the selection of Chesapeake Publishing, owner of the Cecil Whig, seemed like a perplexing decision, given as the selection was made almost immediately on the cusp of Chesapeake’s choice to shutter the long-standing Elkton printing plant, eliminating dozens of Cecil jobs in the process. That, on top of consistent cutbacks and layoffs over the previous 18 months or so, just had me shaking my head in wonderment how the Chamber could possibly justify this kind of move.

Well, after a little digging around and research, I discovered that the Cecil County Office of Economic Development also supported the choice (maybe we should rename it the Office of Economic Retraction?), and that the Chamber itself circled the wagons after the initial poor public reaction to the news, and developed a justification involving something about successful internet integration. Yeah, okay. I even spoke to a couple members of the Chamber’s Board who informed me that Chesapeake was not only the winner of the award but they were the only company even nominated by a small committee consisting of a Chesapeake employee and a couple others. One of the Chamber members I spoke to, who requested to remain anonymous, even went so far as to say they were finished with the organization after this matter.

Well, on Friday night, Chesapeake was, in fact, given the Company of the Year award. There’s a little mention of it in today’s paper. The most interesting line was that the company was “accepting the award on behalf of the 250 people who work together to publish the Cecil Whig.” Of course, only about 30-40 of that 250 number are actually still employed in Cecil County, with the rest of the 100-150 jobs that used to exist in Elkton either being outright eliminated or shipped to the corporate office in Easton. There’s even a quote from Publisher David Fike about how change isn’t easy but necessary. Interestingly, there are two obvious typos in the quote; a double period and a set of quotation marks in the wrong place. I guess the changing landscape of the newspaper industry precludes the involvement of actual copy editors.

But again, don’t get me wrong. Chesapeake has every right to do whatever they have to to survive and deal with the economic issues going on today. As I’ve said before, the problem here is the local groups rewarding them for it. There is no doubt that the restructuring at the Whig is bad for Cecil County economically. We’ve lost work, we’ve lost jobs, we’ve lost a manufacturing facility. How can organizations dedicated to improving economic circumstances in the County possibly reward a company that has engaged in this type of stuff, however justified for them it may be? It’s a slap in the face to every Cecil company who is successfully dealing with the current economic issues without eliminating jobs and outsourcing work. It’s, to put it simply, a disgrace.

I’m not typically so blunt with my opinions, but this situation is pretty telling. It’s more important to these organizations to suck up to the local newspaper than it is to actually recognize real economic progress within the County. And, honestly, speaking as someone who has been intimately involved with start up publications, and even being a publisher myself for a while, there is no way I would have accepted an award like this in similar circumstances even if given. And I certainly wouldn’t have lobbied for it. Thanks but no thanks. I would have had a little respect for the community I was trying to serve by allowing someone who really deserves the recognition to receive it, not just so I can hang another plaque on the wall, have a soundbite in the paper, and call myself an “award-winning” company. An honor like this that isn’t really deserved has no meaning. And I suppose that’s my real problem with this. We are in one of the worst economic periods in my lifetime, or any of our lifetimes. It’s tough out there. And where do we turn when the groups that are supposedly working to improve things take actions like this that really undermines their credibility?

So, begrudging congratulations go to Chesapeake Publishing. Cecil County, you deserve much better.

And I Thought I Was Paranoid…

The other day, I wrote about the Federal Trade Commission’s report on the “reinvention of journalism.” Well, since the draft report was released, there has been a sizable response from the pundits to the effect of “this is the Obama administration’s socialist grab for control of the press and limiting the concept of free speech.” I have to say that, even as willing as I usually am to see a vast conspiracy with a sinister goal, these doomsayers have surprised me. I, too, read the complete report, and in no way did I see it as a grasp for government control of the media. It’s a plain and simple business deal. What the FTC has done here is provide a menu of regulatory changes for big media to consider that will benefit them, the cost of those changes in the form of new taxes, and political cover with the veneer of preserving journalism.

Here’s the deal: big media gets the changes to copyright and fair use they need to gut the blogs, aggregators and search engines, and the anti-trust exemptions to impose paywalls across the board and reimpose their monopolies. In exchange, the Feds get a cut of the proceeds: 2% of the advertising take, 5% of the device sales, and 5% of the ISP fees. To top it off, they both get to mask their back door deal with policies that “promote” journalism such as journalist Americorps, a national fund to support journalism, tax breaks for hiring journalists, etc.

This isn’t some great attempt to turn the media into a propaganda engine and restrict free expression, it’s the government selling regulatory changes that provide massive competitive advantages to legacy players for a percentage of the new revenue they’ll make. The Feds aren’t going to lock down the press because in this deal, it’s in their best interest if the press is as popular, widespread, and profitable as possible. Of course, it won’t matter if it’s new media or old who eventually wins out, they’ll still have their slice of the device, ad and internet service pie. And possibly a nice chunk of change from the broadcast spectrum, as well.

It’s a cynical attempt by the Feds to use the current disruption in the publishing industry to coerce struggling media companies to take a deal that gives them hope of long term survival and a return to the profit margins of yesterday by allowing themselves to be used as a justification for a series of new taxes that will generate tens of billions for the treasury.

It’s a suckers bet because, even with the new regulations, there’s no guarantee that legacy media would properly press the advantages they would give them. Remember, we’re talking about an industry that has mishandled every advantage it’s had since the advent of the internet. They could easily screw this up, too. If they have any sense, they’ll make the Feds use someone else as the foil for grabbing another giant hunk of cash from us all. My only fear is that many of them might be desperate enough to take the chance.

Lakers vs Celtics One More Time

So the Conference Finals turned out to be more competitive than they at first appeared.  Boston, after thrashing Orlando in the first three games, let off the gas a bit allowing the Magic to win a couple before closing out the series by stomping Orlando in game six.  The Lakers carried the momentum from the two big wins in game one and two against Phoenix to hold off a furious Suns rally to win that series in six as well.  I said before the series that if Phoenix didn’t win one of the first two games in L.A., then they had no shot.  They didn’t, and despite playing much better, nobody’s taking four out of five from L.A.

Now it’s on to the finals, a much talked about rematch of two years ago when the Celtics beat the then-upcoming Lakers around like a rag doll.  This time, however, the Lakers appear to be the better team and they have the home court.  Will it matter?  It certainly could.  Just like the Phoenix series, Boston absolutely must at least split the first two games in L.A.  Unfortunately for them, L.A. is 8-0 at home in these playoffs winning by an average of about 10 points per game.  Of course, that is a little misleading because of a 24 point win over OKC and a 21 point win over Phoenix.  In reality, they won some other home games by scores of 3, 5  and 2.  While they’ve been consistently good at home, they haven’t been totally dominant.  And they certainly haven’t played a team with the drive and will of Boston.  The Celtics are 5-3 on the road so far in these playoffs, with two wins a piece in Cleveland and Orlando.  Can the Celtics win in L.A.?  Yes, they can.

Like all great basketball, this series will come down to physicality.  Can Ron Artest bully Paul Pierce or vice versa?  Can KG, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace push around the Bynum-Gasol-Odom frontcourt?  Can anybody stop Rajon Rondo or Kobe Bryant?  The one thing I think that may be the deciding factor is that Boston will not be intimidated by the Lakers.  OKC played them tough but they were too young to know any better.  Utah was bruised and bullied from the get-go.  Phoenix never really seemed to believe they could actually win the series, especially after the game one thrashing.  L.A. will have to beat Boston because they are not going to give up.

The center matchup is going to be a key in this series, namely whether Bynum’s knee will hold up or can Perkins stay away from his next technical which will result in a one-game suspension. If Bynum can’t go at any point or is ineffective, then Gasol will move into the center spot where he is simply physically overmatched, as was evidenced by the 2008 Finals.  If Perkins does miss a game in what will prove to be a testy series and Bynum is healthy, then it will be exceptionally difficult to keep L.A.’s bigs from dominating.  Boston is the first team L.A.’s played that can actually match up with the Lakers size, which is their greatest advantage.  That and the guy named Bryant.  If Kobe goes off like he did in game six against Phoenix, then nobody’s beating L.A.  But if he plays like he did against the only other team that really challenged him, OKC, then Boston will likely win.

After the first round, it was pretty obvious that the Lakers were going to win both those series.  Boston, on the other hand, was prohibitive underdogs both against Cleveland and Orlando yet they handily whipped them each.  One more time, Boston is considered a big underdog.  Can they make it three straight upsets?  Yes, they can.

This series is about more than just the favored defending champs hanging another banner, this is about the legacy of this version of the Lakers.  Despite dominating the Western Conference, they were whipped by Boston in 2008.  Last year, they cruised to a title, but against a lesser team in Orlando while Boston’s injuries gutted any real chance at a repeat.  Now Boston is largely healthy and playing well.  If L.A. loses this series despite being the big favorite and holding home court advantage, it really calls into question last year’s title, as well.  If the Celtics had been healthy last season, would L.A. have taken that one?  It’s an interesting question that we’ll never get an answer to, but another Boston win this year will definitely take some of the luster off that 2009 title.

For the record, I’m picking the Celtics to win this series in 6.  I think they win not one, but two games in L.A.  And congratulations will go to Rajon Rondo as the series MVP, averaging very nearly a triple double.

By the way, I’m 11-3 in picking series winners, losing only Dallas and Denver in the first round and San Antonio in the quarterfinals.  Not too shabby.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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