Contemplating Google’s Sayings

Today, Gmail reminded me, “Recycling a 3-foot-high stack of newspapers can save one whole tree.”

So, what does recycling an entire city newspaper do? It appears that Hearst may sell or shutter the San Francisco Chronicle. For those of you in the Northern Bay Area, you should hope that doesn’t happen, for it would leave you with the Mercury News, a Singleton paper. Why is that bad? One need only look at the saga of the Daily News, or should that be Valley Green Sheet, down here is SoCal to see why.


Chum to Chew On

Some accumulated news chum from the weekend and today’s lunchtime perusal of the newssites:

  • From the “Didn’t They Try That In Santa Clarita” Department: Shades of the Honda ad that played the William Tell Overture on an isolated road in Santa Clarita when you drive it in the right Honda at the right speed, there are those who are claiming that the subway cars that run beneath Broadway play music from West Side Story. Specifically, just as the No. 2 train pulls out of Times Square station, people seem to hear the first few words from “Somewhere”. Of course, there is no such music playing: it is a side effect of newer trains that run on AC instead of DC. The inverters that convert the DC frequencies excite the steel, he said, which — in the case of the new R142 subway cars — responds. No, it really doesn’t sing “Somewhere”; rather, it creates intervals that the mind fashions into the song. In the case of “Somewhere”, there are two intervals: Between the first note — “there’s” — and the second note — “a” — the interval is known as an ascending minor seventh. From that second note to the third — “place” — there’s a descending half-step interval. “Somewhere” is one of the few songs with those intervals, and thus… the mind hears it. It’s always amazing how our minds work.
  • From the “Memories of Brands Past” Department: Last week, the auto bailout was in the news, and with it was a lot of nostalgia for what the Pontiac Division of GM was. There were memories of Pontiac’s muscle car days, days of the GTO, Grand Prix, and Bonneville. There was discussions of how Pontiac lost its way (funny, but there seems to be no nostalgia for Saturn, the other division on the chopping block). I mention this because there’s another auto brand memory story, but this time it is one of a more FrankenCar (and I don’t mean Al, pal). It seems that Boiceville NY is the home of the second Collectible Car of the Year contest winner, and his car is an interesting mix: a custom car constructed out of a 1998 Mercury Grand Marquis sedan and body panels from 11 different classic cars, in particular a 1957 De Soto. The “Marquis de Soto”, as he calls it, retains the DeSoto look with the positive traits of the newer Mercury: air-conditioning and predictable handling. It even passes the state inspection. Of course, folks like us will appreciate him less for the car, and more for what he is doing with his winnings: Buying the ‘Stargate Atlantis’ action figures and building a small Jumper spacecraft like those on the show.
  • From the “Because I Find You Trustworthy” Department: In an interesting twist on the infamous Nigerian Email Swindles, a Nigerian has been arrested for trying to swindle a bank directly, vs. going after the depositor. To carry out the elaborate scheme to dup Citibank out of $27M, Paul Gabriel Amos, 37, a Nigerian citizen who lived in Singapore, worked with others to create official-looking documents that instructed Citibank to wire the money in two dozen transactions to accounts that Mr. Amos and the others controlled around the world. The fraud was uncovered after several banks where the conspirators held accounts returned money to Citibank, saying they had been unable to process the transactions, and an official of the National Bank of Ethiopia said that it did not recognize the transactions. What’s scarier is that Citibank didn’t catch the problem: in October they received two dozen faxed requests for money to be wired and dutifully transferred $27 million to accounts controlled by the conspirators in Japan, South Korea, Australia, China, Cyprus and the United States.
  • From the “And The Saints Go Marching In” Department: In the spirit of the upcoming Mardi Gras, I must bring you a story about saints. This time, it’s a new one. In an attempt to curry favor from Barak Obama, the Pope is elevating Father Damian of Hawai’i to sainthood for his work ministering to the lepers of Molokai. He will be declared a saint on October 11.
  • From the “The Changing Face of News” Department: You may have noticed that all of the articles so far have come from the New York Times. That’s because many of my local newssources are going down the tubes. The LA Times is a shade of its former self, and as for the Daily News… well, it is soon going to be back to the Valley News and Green Sheet quality, if Singleton keeps things up. San Jose — watch out — the Mercury News is likely next. Anyway, according to LA Observed, the Daily News has formally lowered its sights back to the valley: the Editor has said coverage will be focused almost exclusively on the San Fernando Valley, which would be a return to the coverage model that predated Dean Singleton’s ownership. This is made clear by a note to readers in today’s issue, which tries to put a positive spin on things: “We thank you for your loyal support as we confront this troubled economy. We are committed to producing a relevant local news report that is focused on the San Fernando Valley.” As for other local news, the distinction between KNX and KFWB is blurring, which likely means at some point there will be only one all-news outlet in LA. As for the Times, they just keep losing more and more staff — well, losing isn’t the right word — they know where they are, they just keep kicking them to the curb. On the positive side, they are dumping the retconned “For Better or For Worse”.

Changing of the Time… or is that Newsweek

Since I was back in high school (yes, that long ago), I’ve subscribed to Newsweek. I’ve found it a good summary of the week’s news, with some good insightful analysis pieces. Thus, I read with interest today an article in the NY Times about how Newsweek plans to remake itself. According to the article, Newsweek has been losing money for years. Most readers don’t pay anything near the newsstand price, and news weekly’s are losing their relevance. So they are going to remake the magazine for a more affluent readership. Newsweek executives say that the magainze’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all (I noticed this by the short shrift they gave to the coverage of the USAir landing). They want to rebuild their business around the core of 1.2 million subscribers who are its best-educated, most avid consumers of news, and who have higher incomes than the average reader.

So what are they going to do? Editorially, Newsweek’s plan calls for moving in the direction it was already headed — toward not just analysis and commentary, but an opinionated, prescriptive or offbeat take on events. Starting in May, articles will be reorganized under four broad, new sections — one each for short takes, columnists and commentary, long reporting pieces like the cover articles, and culture — each with less compulsion to touch on the week’s biggest events. A new graphic feature on the last page, “The Bluffer’s Guide,” will tell readers how to sound as if they are knowledgeable on a current topic, whether they are or not. The magazine will replace its thin paper with heavier stock that is more appealing to advertisers and readers. It will also put more emphasis on photography. They plan to charge advertisers more for this, although it is unsure whether they will pay.

As for me? I’m skeptical. I’m not going to cancel my subscription immediately, but this makes it increasingly likely I’ll not renew it. I think I’ll stick with Time, which seems to be staying true editorially. That’s how to succeed.

I’ll also note that staying true to yourself is something the NY Times is trying to do. Instead of doing as many newspapers are doing and abandoning staff and reporters, they are working to make themselves the best news source. Take that, Los Angeles Times! As the NY Times CEO said, “As other newspapers cut back on international and national coverage, or cease operations, we believe there will be opportunities for The Times to fill that void”. They have the ability, as they don’t have the debt that many other papers (such as the Singleton empire out here, or the Tribune empire that controls the LA Times and ChiTrib does). But can the NY Times cover the local stories? Probably not, and the other papers haven’t yet realized that’s where they can exceed: in the local angle, on the local story, with the local color and facts. But the NY Times is trying. After all, they did send someone out to LA to review Minsky’s.


All The Chum That’s Fit To… Oh, Right…

A few tidbits of theatre news, noted over lunch:

  • From the “You Rang” Department: There appears to be good response at the latest workshop of the “Addams Family” musical. What’s interesting is that they are not drawing on either the movies or the TV show, but going back to the original source cartoons. The musical is set in the present day, and the Addams family lives in a spooky castle in the middle of Central Park. The plot is a bit like “Meet the Parents,” with Gomez and Morticia throwing a dinner party for the parents of their daughter Wednesday’s boyfriend. Casting, at least for the workshop, featured Nathan Lane (Gomez), Bebe Neuwirth (Morticia), Kevin Chamberlain (Uncle Fester), Marylouise Burke (Grandmama) and Terence Mann and Jan Maxwell as a “normal” couple. Book is by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, who wrote “Jersey Boys”. Music is by Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party). The show will debut in Chicago in November, with a Broadway opening in April 2010.
  • From the “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Department: There’s a possibility that “Magnum Force” the sequel to Dirty Harry, may be headed to Broadway as a musical. English singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, an admitted Magnum Force obsessive, will compose the score and intends to produce the show with MTV executive Bill Flanagan.
  • From the “Still Waiting For The Cast Album” Department: The musical “Sister Act”, which we enjoyed when we saw it at the Pasadena Playhouse a few years ago, is getting another production: This time in London’s West End. No word on whether this will be recorded, although I hope it is. But then again, I’m still waiting on a recording of “The People Vs. Mona”. We saw this at the Pasadena Playhouse in the 1990s, and there was a concert cast recorded in April 2008 but has no release date.

Moving to the “Decline and Fall of the Newspaper Empires” Department, it looks like the Los Angeles Times is dropping the Metro California section soon…. and the once great LA paper declines some more. [ETA: And they’re cutting 70 newsroom positions, and 300 staff overall.] I’d switch over to the Daily News, but they are even worse (as BANG folks should know).


A Late Lunch of Chum

I had a meeting that went over my normal lunch time, so here is some delayed chum for your enjoyment:

  • From the “Ron Popeil” Department: I had actually noticed this trend, but this article confirms it: There are more infomercials in prime-time these days. Evidently, as a result of advertisers pulling advertising due to financial conditions or poor show performance, there’s more space for the cheap infomercial buyers (who have no control over the time their stuff airs — meaning you can ignore the “for the next ten minutes only” pleas). I’ve noticed this treads — since when did slankets and similar goodies advertise between 8p and 10p on major networks!
  • From the “The Best Night on Television” Department: “Must See TV” — one of the best advertising lines since “It’s not a repeat if you haven’t seen it before”. Well, it seems that the “Must See” night is coming in for a battle — with the departure of Billy Peterson from CSI, the soon departure of ER, the floundering over at Grey’s, and the declining Survivor franchise, competition is coming back to Thursday night. I must admit it is one of the few nights where I’m pretty much there from 8p-10p (Survivor, CSI… and earlier this season, Life on Mars). Monday is the only other of those, with Big Bang Theory and Heroes.
  • From the “Same Old, Same Old” Department: So what are the networks putting on? Things that worked in the past, and nothing experimental. What does this mean. Known formulas. Known writers. Spinoffs. Yawn. Even DirecTV is resurrecting series.
  • From the “Oh, The Horror” Department: Sometimes, the concept is just enough to make you go “Huh?”. Nederlander is evidently exploring a full-length musical based on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The musical will include songs from the 1982 “Thriller” album as well as Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall.”
  • From the “The Ball Is In The Air” Department: Now, I’m not a sports fan. But I am into marketing. LA has been trying for a while to get an NFL team back, after being abandoned by the Rams (to St. Louis) and the Raiders (back to Oakland). Thus, I notice with interest that the San Diego Chargers will be marking to LA and OC. It seems the Chargers need to boost attendance, and there is a dearth of teams in Los Angeles (a major media market), so they put two and two together. Combine that with the fact the Chargers are looking for a better stadium deal, and their current lease agreement allows them to leave San Diego without the threat of lawsuit.

(Aren’t you glad I didn’t talk about the depressing job news today… although the Thriller Musical is depressing enough)


Newspaper News

One of the reasons I like LA Observed (la_observed) is their coverage of the newspaper industry, depressing though it may be. So, I just sent their editor a little piece I noticed that doesn’t portend well for Seattle, nay other cities: The Seattle P-I (the oldest newspaper in Seattle) has been put up for sale. What’s more, if Hearst doesn’t sell it in the next 60 days, it is either closing shop or going web-only. What’s scary is that, with Singleton’s cuts down here in LA, I could see the Daily News, and the rest of the Medianews SoCal papers, going the same way. For those in the Bay Area, remember that the Mercury News is also a Singleton property. At least we have the safety and security of the Los Angeles Time…. oh, never mind.

Where is Lou Grant and that great paper, the LA Tribune. Oh, that’s right. Its fictional. Perhaps the Herald-Examiner? After all, the building is still there.


Rating the Papers

Living in Los Angeles as I do, I’ve been following the fires with interest. During the day, this has primarily been through the local media. Some observations:

In terms of other media, as usual, KNX 1070 and KFWB 980 have been the radio stations of choice. TV is interesting. Variety has a good article noting how stations moved things around. KNXT (oops) KCBS-2 and KCAL-9 switched off coverage, as did FOX-11 and MY-13. When one went to primetime, the other did news. Others shuffled off programming (either news or entertainment, as appropriate) to secondary digital channels. I think this is a new trend, and may end up being a good thing after the digital TV switch. It certainly shows the benefits of media consolidation in markets, something I would have never thought of.