Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No wonder old media is dying

And media pooh-bahs wonder why people are increasingly unwilling to pay money for work which fails to meet their most basic expectations for the profession.

I recently sent an email to a senior figure at a local news media outlet complaining about a shoddy piece of reporting. In it, the journalist reported claims that were obviously untrue... to the point where if the reporter had paid attention to another part of his own story, he ought to have figured this out.

The response began, "While the reporting [sic] is not responsible for inaccurate conclusions from someone he has quoted, I would agree that the reporter did a poor job..."

So a professional reporter is not responsible for checking the veracity of claims made by someone he interviews. 

Wait, WHAT?!

Call me old school but isn't verification the fundamental difference between journalism and transcription?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy America

Last Sunday, I took a day trip to Vermont's largest city. While there, I attended a bit of the Occupy Burlington general assembly. There were probably 100 people gathered in front of City Hall. It was an interesting gathering and process. Facilitators observed a loose agenda. Speakers used a "human microphone" in which their words were essentially repeated by the crowd to ensure everyone heard. There were a diversity of topics raised but they all revolved around the themes of abuses of power and the diminishing influence of citizens in American democracy.

The event was complete with a heckler (singular), who was largely ignored. He was a bit amusing though, berating protesters for not being as 'patriotic' as he. However, I noticed he didn't dare address his nastiness toward the elderly gentleman standing next to me wearing a Veterans for Peace hat.

While I've always supported its ideals, I was initially skeptical that the Occupy movement would actually influence anything. But clearly, it has the political elite nervous.

In New York state's capital, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put heavy pressure on Mayor Jerry Jennings to crack down on the Occupy Albany gathering.

As Gotham Gazette reported:Cuomo is concerned that protests could linger and add momentum to the push to renew the millionaires tax.

Jennings was rumored to be under consideration for a position in the Cuomo administration and at even one point rumored to be a choice for lieutenant governor. Jennings, according to the Times Union directed the police to make arrests but they didn’t.

The piece also quoted Albany County District Attorney David Soares as not wanting to waste scare resources on peaceful protesters.

Cuomo is now described by the protesters as "Governor One Percent," which has really been accurate since his election anyways.

Similarly, Long Island Congressman Peter King expressed his fear that the Occupy movement might change things. King told a radio shock job that he remembers a 1960s left-wing movement that took to the streets and caused policy changes... [and that] He hopes that the Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't re-creating the spirit and influence of that historical protest movement.

Inadvertently, the control freak governor and the neo-McCarthyite Congressman have conferred great legitimacy on the Occupy movement. If these erstwhile shills for The One Percent elite are this nervous, then clearly the movement is on to something.

Note: This site has information on Occupy events near you. There are events throughout not only the country but the world... in 2144 cities on all six inhabited continents.

From Occupy Burlington - 23 Oct. '11 - (c) MOFYC

Video from Occupy Burlington general assembly - 23 Oct. '11 - (c) MOFYC

They may be loathe to admit it, but deep down, liberal Democrats know this guy has always been right.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Like any other drug, hydrofracking has serious side effects

As if poisoned drinking water isn't enough, the controversial natural gas extraction process known as hydrofracking has another serious side effect. Although backers pass it off as an economic panacea, WAMC is reporting that fracking lowers property values and, in the event you want to move away to a place with clean drinking water. it can make it almost impossible to sell your house.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New hires, a significant departure and a welcome return at The Post-Star

13th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)
The human resources department at the Post-Star is busy. News today that Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney is leaving the newspaper to take a job with the New York State Bar Association is only the latest in a list of recent personnel changes.
Post-Star Managing Editor Ken Tingley announced in a blog post last week that the newspaper recently filled three editorial positions that have been vacant since last summer. The three new writers are Mary Albl and Michael Bonner in sports and Jamie Munks in news, covering Washington County.
As well, in the past week, two other names have been added to’s contact page. They are Danielle Johnson, who will write obituaries, and former Post-Star Assistant Features Editor Rhonda Triller.
Triller returns to the paper's staff after a four-year stint at the Albany Times-Union. In 2007 Triller accepted a copy editing post at the Albany paper. In May 2009 she started a blog focused on her newborn triplets. She signed off from the blog (and the Times-Union) this past Monday. Triller’s new role at the Post-Star will be as copy editor.
[The hiring of quality control is long overdue at the Post-StarIn a recent post on his blog, The Front Page, Editor Ken Tingley thoroughly trashed the English language in defense of an editorial which some readers saw as critical of South Glens Falls High School. Unless his ten paragraph post was a deliberate attempt to lend the offended educators some consolation in the knowledge of their comparative literacy, uploading the scolding copy without first vetting it with a proofreader was ill-advised. Welcome back, Rhonda!]
For those keeping score, the recent hires brings to 60 Post-Star employees listed on the paper’s web site. This is four more than last month's low of 56, but one fewer than the names listed on August 2nd. The organization must hire eight more staffers to return to its June 2nd staffing level.
A comparison of the executive and editorial positions listed at to its nearest-sized sister publication in the Lee Enterprises barn shows a sizable staffing gap: The Lacrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune contact page lists 24 employees in these positions while the Post-Star has over forty percent more at 34.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hydofracking worse for environment than coal?

Hydraulic fracturing (know as 'fracking') is the controversial natural gas extraction process that's being proposed for much of central and southern New York. It's been controversial because the fracking represents a serious threat to safe drinking water

However, The Cornell Daily Sun reports on other major side effects of the extraction process. A university study concluded that hydrofracking may harm the environment even more than the mining of coal and will exacerbate the effects of climate change. This is significant because natural gas has long been touted as the cleanest fossil fuel.

“We looked at the greenhouse gas in comparison to conventional natural gas,” [Cornell Prof. Robert] Howarth said. “Our research showed that carbon dioxide is only part of the problem, and natural gas, which is mostly methane, is far more potent. Even small leakages have a large footprint, leading to our conclusion that natural gas actually has a bigger impact on global warming.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Further Reduction at Lee Newspapers

12th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)
In a move yet to be officially announced, Post-Star owner Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport Iowa merged two of its central Illinois newspapers on September 26th. 
The move combined the Journal Gazette of Mattoon and the Times Courier of Charleston into a single publication now called (unsurprisingly) the Journal Gazette & Times Courier.
The neighboring communities of Mattoon and Charleston,12 miles apart, are located in southern Illinois, about 130 miles northeast of St. Louis, Mo. The combined average daily circulation of the papers is roughly 13,000. Since 2006 the Charleston Times Courier has lost over one quarter of its average daily circulation, placing it ninth on the list of Lee Enterprises’ worst performing newspapers.
The move by Lee to merge an underperforming publication with a nearby neighbor may foretell the fortunes of other newspapers in the Lee portfolio. The Lompoc (CA) Record with a daily circulation of 3,874, and the Beatrice (NE) Daily Sun with a circulation of 5,321 have lost even more readers than the Times Courier over the past half decade.  Both may well be merged with larger nearby publications: In the case of Lompoc, the Santa Maria (CA) Times is forty miles away, and the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star is only 43 miles from Beatrice. By comparison, the Auburn (NY) Citizen—whose size and recent circulation losses are in the same ballpark—is over 150 miles from its nearest merger candidate, the Post-Star. This summer Lee placed the staffs of the Helena (MT) Independent Record and the (Butte)Montana Standard (a distance of 68 miles) under a single editor, though the offices of each paper were not combined.
Lee Enterprises, Inc., which is experiencing financial difficulty, has not yet officially acknowledged the merger of the two Illinois papers. However, a press release dated October 10, announcing the appointment of a new publisher at the Carlisle (PA) Sentinel, did mention that Lee wholly owns 48 daily newspapers. Last month the number stood at 49. Lee has yet to report how many staffers were laid off in the most recent consolidation.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The 20 year war in Afghanistan and the failure of regime change

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the start of the American invasion of Afghanistan. A decade into what's already this country's longest war, former US commander of NATO forces in the country (retired) Gen. Stanley McChrystal says that the mission in Afghanistan is only half done

The Guardian article added: McChrystal said the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq less than two years after entering Afghanistan made the Afghan effort more difficult. "I think they were made more difficult, clearly," he said, because the Iraq invasion "changed the Muslim world's view of America's effort..."

He pointed out that, as is so often the case in the United States' clumsy foreign policy decisions, everyone involved "had a very superficial understanding of the situation and [Afghan] history" and culture and that US forces did not make an attempt to learn the country's languages -- not a task one would normally expect of soldiers but critical to any successful nation building.

The morass in Afghanistan is so deep that the country's president Hamid Karzai, took a (very brief) break from blaming Pakistan, to admit his own government's miserable failure in the security realm.

Speaking of the topic, this essay in The Boston Review points out that, despite supposedly altruistic reasons and despite widespread bipartisan support most of the time, US-imposed regime change simply doesn't work... at least not for the people of the 'helped' country in question.

Americans tend to personalize their conflicts. Almost every target of U.S. intervention in the post-Cold War world has been labeled another Hitler... Since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the United States has become the world’s foremost practitioner of regime change... 

Friday, October 07, 2011

More on the Occupy Wall St. movement

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

A follow-up to my post on the Occupy Wall St. movement...

The excellent and highly recommended Yes! magazine has a good piece on Where the 99 Percent Get Their Power. The biggest single factor: it embodies real democracy.

Economic injustice in America is so obvious that even the very establishment Foreign Affairs journal explored Why the Rich Are Getting Richer... subtitle: American Politics and the Second Gilded Age.

It notes that: [Economists Jacob] Hacker and [Paul] Pierson refreshingly break free from the conceit that skyrocketing inequality is a natural consequence of market forces and argue instead that it is the result of public policies that have concentrated and amplified the effects of the economic transformation and directed its gains exclusively toward the wealthy. 

It's amusing to hear clever politicians like Pres. Obama and NY Gov. Cuomo express a certain degree of sympathy for the Movement, considering they represent the One Percent. I just hope that corporate Democrat organizations like MoveOn and Democracy for America don't co-opt (neuter) this populist movement.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Occupy Wall St.

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

 I am remiss for not having yet mentioned the growing Occupy Wall St. movement that is holding marches on in New York City and many other cities around the country protesting greed, excess and corporate domination of American government and society.

 A few good websites about and covering the movement...

 -Occupy Wall St. website

 -Occupy Wall St. Facebook page

 -Democracy Now

 Readers are free to leave other suggesting in the comments field and I will add them.

Commenter John Warren adds: The Village Voice.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Moneyball: Lee Enterprises and the Post-Star by the numbers

Eleventh in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)

With the end of September comes the end of another semi-annual survey of the number of newspaper readers conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The results of the latest audit will not be released until the first week in November.

While the ABC’s last audit showed the Glens Falls Post-Star in the middle of a haggard pack of regional newspapers when ranked by percentage of lost circulation, it might be useful to assess the recent performance of The Post-Star in context of the 53 daily newspapers owned by its parent company, Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport, Iowa. After all, for as much as the Post-Star wants readers to see it as a paragon of small-town local journalism, it is ultimately just another property in a corporate portfolio—a corporation under the shadow of overwhelming debt, impending stock exchange delisting and possible bankruptcy.

Lee Enterprises operates 53 newspapers and their satellite publications in 23 states, with heavy concentration in the country’s northern midwest region. As of a year ago, the audited daily circulation of Lee’s properties ranged from 207,145 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) to 3,821 (Baraboo [Wisconsin] News Republic). With its circulation of 26,798, the Post-Star reached the 14th largest audience in the Lee stable. A year ago the paper accounted for 1.94% of Lee’s entire weekday paid circulation.

Over the five-year span bracketed by the 2006 and 2010 annual reports, while every Lee paper but one posted losses in circulation (combined, Lee papers lost 256,338 paying readers or 15.66%), the Post-Star lost readers (6,473—or 19.46%) at a pace well above the average. In percentage of circulation losses, the Post-Star ranked fifteenth worst of the 56 Lee papers that were extant in 2006.

Perhaps of greater concern to Lee management, the Post-Star appears to be shedding its print audience at an increasing rate compared to the rest of the field. Between 2008 and 2010 the Post Star ranked tenth worst in Lee circulation losses; between 2009 and 2010—a year after winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing—the Post-Star moved to fourth place among Lee’s biggest losers.

While no two newspapers are alike, and the regional forces influencing circulation figures vary from year to year, finding yourself routinely on the list of under-performers (and sinking) in a corporate portfolio is not good. Particularly when the corporation is under tremendous pressure from creditors to increase its liquidity.

All the grim statistics might yet point up an opportunity—both for the Post-Star and its sister newspaper the (even worse-performing) Auburn [NY] Citizen. Should the time come when Lee is forced to divest its geographical or financial outliers, perhaps a local (or at least regional) interest will step forward to buy the undervalued properties. Should that happen the Post-Star will be able to stake a valid claim (for the first time in four decades) of being a genuinely local newspaper.