Monday, June 04, 2018

Late-stage capitalist newspaper ethics, part 1

If you're going to advertise for a job, then actually fill the job.

Take the Lake Powell Chronicle of Page, Arizona. A decent sized weekly. Six months ago, its editor-publisher left. Position was advertised on Journalism Jobs.

Senior editorial staffer was the sports writer, who said in a column that he barely knew pagination.

Well, six months later, he's the editor, but not the publisher. The paper has no publisher listed, and instead hired some sort of paginator-designer person.

You leave yourself open to scrutiny in other ways. If the budget is that tight, shouldn't you have seen that before advertising for a replacement editor-publisher? If you did, you look deceitful. If you didn't see that before, you look borderline incompetent.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Newspaper bingo, community papers division

A few weeks ago, after Chris Tomlinson and some other staffers at the Houston Chronic joked about it, I did a "newspaper bingo – Texas MSM division" blog post. (I included a bit of radio and TV too.)

Now, in less joking fashion, it's time for what the header says. Here's your bingo card, with explainer below.



(I originally built it with the same color scheme as the Texas MSM bingo. But, when I opened the PDF in Photoshop to j-peg it, I decided to do an inverse as well. I like it enough I'm using the inverse.)

This bingo is inspired by personal reality.

When did it become a "thing" for newspapers to run ads more than the customer desired, then bill them for the extra runs? (Until and unless a customer notices, that is.)

And, in my opinion, to state those magic words, I don't think it's being done by accident. I of course cannot read minds. So it has to remain my opinion, which remains protected by the good old First Amendment.

Look, through laziness or whatever, I can see a classified ad simply staying on a classified page an extra week at a small-town non-daily paper. But, with ad billing software programs, the customer should only be billed for the number of runs purchased. That is of course true assuming the insertion order clearly says "one run," or "1x," or similar.

I know of this happening at one pair of papers. Personal contact with customers. Both classified AND display ads. On the one case, it ran 6x instead of 1x. Been told it might have happened before. Suspect it's happened nearby. Heard that it's not just an issue with one newspaper company.

I can't say anything more, for various reasons.

But, where I know it's happening? I wouldn't do business with that paper, let alone with a sister paper, if you put a gun to my head.

==

If you're a newspaper customer, and this happens, and you suspect that, in your opinion, or ear to the street, it is part of a pattern? Rather than just fighting to get your money back, consider legal alternatives. Even if you do get your money back and you have the time, the money, and a lawyer willing to do discovery.

Or, better yet? Rather than threatening suit, file a criminal complaint for credit/debit card abuse. Under section (b)(1)(A) there, I believe an offense has been committed in such cases, and mental intent does not have to be legally proven. And, here in Texas, per that link, it's a state jail felony. (That said, intent will be in the center of jurors' mind if that goes to a jury trial, and probably in a judge's mind, too. With that said, good luck getting a county or district attorney to file a case.)

Tip 2? Sure, it's fine for a newspaper, like your grocer, to want to be paid in advance. If you're going to pay by credit card, just pay for that ad. You do not have to leave a card number on file.

==

If you're a newspaper publisher, or owner of a group, and don't like the possibility of being tarred with a broad brush?

You have two options.

The first is to call out your newspaper peers. Not by name, of course, even for places where you've heard of this practice being done. But, yes, call them out. Not in an op-ed in your paper, of course. That does nothing. Try the TPA Messenger or whatever state newspaper association trade letter exists in your state, or Publisher's Auxiliary or whatever.

The second is to adopt a public policy at your paper, if you're a publisher, or your group, if you're an owner, if this practice spreads at all. Something like:

"We will give you double your money back for any overbilling for advertising runs you did not authorize."

Then, internally, make repeat violations, even if you can't prove intent, a fireable offense.

And, speaking of the TPA Messenger, one could argue for TPA to be more proactive.

At this time, I suspect it's a tiny minority. But, a minority of 1 is one too many.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

MSM Bingo, Texas version

We've got a runoff for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination between the the incompetent (so far) Loopy Lupe Valdez and the insufferable "I personally" Andrew White.


Meanwhile, last week, the Austin Stateless was sold to Gatehouse's parent for pennies on its one-time dollar. This just a year after the Dallas Snooze outsourced its pagination/copy editing to Gatehouse.

What do these two things, and others, have in common? This graphic of mine below.


This is primarily about newspapers, from my expertise. But, one magazine that you should know is included. So is the pack of TV and radio stations, more and more of whom are owned by folks like Sinclair.

Of course, the clear square does mean something. It is certainly understandable by me. But, the ownership class at the media knows that well and continues to exploit it. The bottom, lightest-shaded square in the gray column also means something in the big picture of media things in the Pointy Abandoned Object State™.

The bottom left square also means something, in a reverse-snark way. And, in a real way, non-daily papers, with smaller five- and six-day community dailies at least somewhat on the same side of the fence, face their own worries.

A lot of the other squares, though? Newspapers, not just with ownership, but with upper-level editorial staff, are digging their own graves.

Take the Dallas Snooze, with a clickbait child-level header on a story that wasn't much more than a nothing burger and certainly not "investigative journalism," about city sewage infrastructure, which the Observer first gave a moderate level skewering by Stephen Young, then the full Monty by Jim Schutze.

The actual story? And the Curious Texas project behind it?

This belongs on Quora, not a theoretically serious and theoretically major daily paper. (And, thus, the death of a thousand cuts from the online world goes both ways.)

If the Snooze wants to keep this Curious Texas project, accept questions like this and do stories on them, at a minimum, it would go with non-clickbait headers AND writing. And, they should be no more than, oh, 300 words?

As for Ms. Jennifer Emily?

You're on MuckRack, too? Hope you've raked actual muck.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Publisher flexibility — except when it's not?

OK ...

I've moved from the Eastern Front to the MCM Elegante hotel chain.

Combo editor-publisher position.

"We don't intervene a lot with individual publishers" I heard pre-hiring.

"We go straight by the rate card" on ad rates I heard post-hiring.

Just leaving that out there.

That said, I can ... blame others for that, on the issue of ad sales rates.

On the issue of quotes, whether direct quotes or nearly so?

Just leaving that out there. I'm not blaming myself for what I misheard, and my interpretation of the first quote based on previous experience in a similar editor-publisher role.

(That said, to be fair, the person who made the two quotes may have been influenced by a phone call concerning the information behind the second quote.)

As for legal advertising being "cleaned up"? Well ....

I'm still trying to figure that out.

Maybe I'll ask Clevinger some day.

I wrote all the strike-through before giving two weeks notice after noticing even more stuff, then getting fired when two weeks notice wasn't good enough.

I suspect if the money were right, someone in Hearne named Dennis Phillips would sell his own grandmother to Clevinger, too.

Clevinger runs the Lawflog blog. From what I know, it has a fair degree of accuracy on Hearne and Robertson County issues. That said, as Clevenger is both a lawyer and a former journo, he knows just how far to push something on the side of opinion or speculation while getting close to calling it fact, or on stuff that is fact but controversial, he knows just how much legal footing he has.

And, the further away from Robertson County you get, the less trustworthy he is. He's a gun nut, from what I can tell on Twitter, enough of one to do the "David Hogg Hitler salute" meme. He's also a Seth Rich conspiracy theorist and a MAGA-head, one who touts right-wing and even far-right-wing blogs.

All of this adds up to make him less than 100 percent trustworthy even on Hearne issues and even given the reality of what I know about Hearne. There, even, he's ... he's Joey Dauben with a brain and a law degree. Or, a more acerbic, low-rent, wingnut Glenn Greenwald.

Clevinger reminds me a bit of Dauben in other ways. Dauben would cybersquat on misspelled versions of website URLs. Clevenger creates websites like "Booger County Mafia" and "Dirty Rotten Judges" then lets them expire after a year or so.

On the third hand, per TPM, as well as the link below, he does take on Republicans as well as Democrats.

On the fourth hand, I'm not sure how much in the way of civil rights case work he does, and how broadly he defines that term.

And, while part of it may be contempt for being held in judicial contempt, he — he of liking to expose financial irregularities – owes $150K in judicial fines. If he refuses to pay, the DC court, on that fine, should convert his now-completed suspension into a disbarment.

He also has too narrow of a focus about some things in Hearne.

But, that's for him to figure out, not me.

And, as for that sale? Clevenger would reject Phillips' offer. And, would then write about it. And after that, both sides would engage in innuendo.

Besides that, Hearne's got other issues which even Marlin doesn't. Still the place where Walmart first (I think) CLOSED a store ... big enough for a NYT piece.

Meanwhile, I have my own reasons to distrust both Dennis and Teresa. In my opinion, adjectives like sneaky, snitchy, suck-uppy and even pretentious might apply. Yes, even that last one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Texas newspaper ethics slouching toward Gomorrah


When did Ken Starr become a contributing op-ed columnist for the Waco Tribune? And why? This is the man who turd-polished Art Briles' reign of sexual assault by Baylor footballers, even after he was canned as president,then resigned as a professor.


==

When did it become a "thing" for newspapers to run ads more than the customer desired, then bill them for the extra runs? (Until and unless a customer notices, that is.)

And, in my opinion, to state those magic words, I don't think it's being done by accident. I of course cannot read minds. So it has to remain my opinion.

Look, through laziness or whatever, I can see a classified ad simply staying on a classified page an extra week at a small-town non-daily paper. But, with ad billing software programs, the customer should only be billed for the number of runs purchased.

I know of this happening at one pair of papers. Personal contact with customers. Both classified AND display ads. On the one case, it ran 6x instead of 1x. Been told it might have happened before. Suspect it's happened nearby. Heard that it's not just an issue with one newspaper company.

I can't say anything more, for various reasons.

But, where I know it's happening? I wouldn't do business with that paper, let alone with a sister paper, if you put a gun to my head.

==

If you're a newspaper publisher, or owner of a group, and don't like the possibility of being tarred with a broad brush?

You have two options.

The first is to call out your newspaper peers. Not by name, of course, even for places where you've heard of this practice being done. But, yes, call them out. Not in an op-ed in your paper, of course. That does nothing. Try the TPA Messenger or something.

The second is to adopt a public policy at your paper, if you're a publisher, or your group, if you're an owner. Something like:

"We will give you double your money back for any overbilling for advertising runs you did not authorize."

Then, internally, make repeat violations, even if you can't prove intent, a fireable offense.

And, speaking of the TPA Messenger, one could argue for TPA to be more proactive.

==

If you're a newspaper customer, and this happens, and you suspect that, in your opinion, or ear to the street, it is part of a pattern? Rather than just fighting to get your money back, consider legal alternatives. Even if you do get your money back and you have the time, the money, and a lawyer willing to do discovery.

Or, better yet? Rather than threatening suit, file a criminal complaint for credit/debit card abuse. Under section (b)(1)(A) there, I believe an offense has been committed in such cases, and mental intent does not have to be legally proven. And, here in Texas, per that link, it's a state jail felony. (That said, intent will be in the center of jurors' mind if that goes to a jury trial, and probably in a judge's mind, too. With that said, good luck getting a county or district attorney to file a case.)

Tip 2? Sure, it's fine for a newspaper, like your grocer, to want to be paid in advance. If you're going to pay by credit card, just pay for that ad. You do not have to leave a card number on file.

==

If any big dailies see this, will they try to dig into it?

Probably not. They're losing the manpower, and besides, this is enough inside baseball that one newspaper or company wouldn't want to shit on another.

==

Meanwhile, ethics applies to use of the English language, too. A 20-something kid who can't write in complete sentences half the time is allegedly being trained to use InDesign enough to be given the label of "publisher" or something.


Monday, March 12, 2018

The local captain at the 'eastern front'

The eastern front's local editorial captain has multiple problems.

One is being a control freak. (I'm somewhat of one at times, so I know what I mean.)

Two is being a poor manager of other editorial staff, and derived from one, I'm going to say a poor manager of people in general. (Not the only person that way within the eastern front's outposts.)

Three is back to being a control freak. NOBODY proofreads the pages she builds because she doesn't let them. Stories may be edited OK, but headers and cuts written on pages regularly have errors. And, I'm at the point I don't care.

That's because, per Point 2, the company doesn't care. The bottom line is very much the bottom line at this place.

==

And, plain stupidity. I've NEVER, at a daily paper before, heard of a writer being asked to choose which photos shot by a staff photographer should be used. That's either the photographer or the ME.

And, what good does it do when she then goes off the board and chooses a picture of her own from the set anyway? And screws up the cutline to boot?

Oh, and creating the word "Handicapable" as a PC word in a headline for a handicapped event? Oh my fucking god. I about threw up over that one. This is also from a person who says you can't use "pot" in a story line. Bullshit. If you're going to invent a word, I'm going to use a vernacular word.

And, other crap?

Misspelling the name of Gov Greg Abbott as "Abbot." Misspelling "wrangle" as "rangle." Both in headers.

That said, I am learning new lessons in detachment from this.

==

Well, actually, I've moved on now.

She's a nice enough person. But ... most matters aren't up for discussion. Just "her decision."

Monday, March 05, 2018

Meanwhile, over at the Star-Telegram

From my years and years of living in or near the Dallas side of the Metroplex, I've seen the continued decline of the Dallas Morning News, and blogged about it repeatedly, in part because of the paper's pretentiousness, usually doubled down upon by the Belo corporation's own pretentiousness.

That said, over on the other side of the Metroplex, over in Cowtown, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram isn't totally hunky and dory either.

The StartleGram may not have the same individual, or corporate, pretentiousness as the Snooze. But, it's got problems.

I saw these problems when, for the first time in years, I looked through several issues at a fair-sized library when I got the chance.

Paid ad numbers by adhole percentage, in column inches, are no better than the Snooze's. And, that's with downsizing to a 46-inch web AND downsizing page counts — in some cases dramatically.

How dramatically? Or how drastically?

They run a 16-page paper on Mondays. That sounds like something for the Waco Tribune, or a few years ago, still for the Wichita Falls Times-Record-News. Yikes. (The Snooze, for comparison, runs 32 pages.)

AND, with that, and the smaller web, and, as I normally do, counting obits as paid ad inches, they STILL barely hit 25 percent on Mondays.

In addition, they've basically gutted the op-ed staff over there. NO local columns or editorials on that Monday paper. The dean of commentary of the StartleGram, Bud Kennedy, runs on a "Lifestyles" page and section the days he runs. (Bud may have been there in the past, to be honest.)

I used to think that, if a joint operating agreement was going to happen between the two papers, based on increased collaboration in the past decade, the StartleGram had the upper hand based on Snooze bleeding.

Now I'm not so sure.