Archive (2008)

Kuhl is More Definitely Running

13 WHAM reports that four Republican sources tell them that Randy Kuhl is running.  

Of the list of potential Kuhl replacements in Sean Carroll's report, I buy George Winner and Tom Santulli.  Those of you planning Randy's replacement, which now seems like a moot point, might want to broaden your horizons to include State Senator Cathy Young, who can be seen on video here.

(via Rochesterturning)

Blogversation 3 and The D&C's New Site

Ontario GOP and Exile at Rochesterturning have posted their responses in our continuing blogversation, and Evan Dawson has begun the third part with a lengthy post here.    There's a lot to digest from Evan, and I'll get to that in a later post, but first I want to mention that the D&C has redesigned their site.  Those of you who are interested in my take on it, and how it relates to Joe Klein of all people, can read on after the break.  Anyone tired of watching me mount the D&C hobbyhorse can go read GOP's, Exile and Evan's posts instead.
Site design is a matter of taste and I think the D&C's is a bit of an improvement on their old design to my eye.  It's way, way too much information on a page, and it falls all over itself pimping other Gannett properties, but that's consistent with most newspaper sites. 

What's more significant is that they've junked their old "storychat" comment system, and replaced it with a new system powered by Pluck.  In addition to allowing comments, Pluck gives the D&C some social networking capabilities. Users can maintain profiles, host their own blogs, and call other users "friends".   Pluck looks like a great piece of technology, but it doesn't address the real issue with the D&C's comments section:  they're full of trolls and morons.

Here's an example from today's edition.  As one of the commenters asks, "I am curious how this went from a discussion about an article reporting an alleged crime to name calling and insults and insinuations."   Meet the new D&C forums, same as the old ones.

An Internet forum is governed by laws similar to thermodynamics:  absent any other energy, it moves towards maximum entropy.  The energy that's missing from the D&C's forums is intelligent moderation and participation by D&C editorial staff. If the D&C staff took the time to engage commenters, perhaps accepting corrections or amplifying a point, I think the tone and content of their forums would improve markedly.  Right now, nobody's listening at the D&C forums.  So the participants who like to shout are shouting louder, and thoughtful people who pose intelligent questions go away after nobody answers.

The D&C might think this policy is just OK and what a "real newspaper" ought to do, but I want to point to a "serious journalist" who tried the "I don't have to deal with this" tactic and didn't fare so well.  Time's Joe Klein was absolutely savaged last year by Glenn Greenwald.  Unwilling to concede that he made a basic mistake in reporting, Klein was pushed into saying that he didn't "have time" to figure out who was telling the truth about a relatively simple factual matter.

Klein took a lot of heat from the journalism community for that, and I think the lesson hit home (a little).  Now, instead of ignoring commenters and behaving defensively, he's adopted a little common courtesy.  Here are two examples from this week.  First, in a post on IAEA, he updates twice based on comments, taking a correction gracefully and answering a question.  He says something dumb in public and immediately apologizes, without being prompted. Incidentally, on the same Time blog, Ana Marie Cox takes a "terrific" question from a commenter and asks it at a Clinton press call.   Time is by no means a leader on the Internet, but even they are learning how a conversation between reporters and commenters on their blogs can build community.

In contrast, the D&C blogs remain a walled garden.  They still don't have RSS feeds, and the comments are managed using Blogger, not Pluck, so all of the commenters on blogs are part of a completely different online community. This leads to the following absurdity:  I can create a blog with a D&C address that accepts Pluck comments and has a RSS feed, but the D&C editors can't. 

Massa Press Conference

New Rochesterturning writer Grievous Angel attended this morning's Massa press conference and has a full write-up in this post.  

Blogversation 2

Evan Dawson (here and here), and Ontario GOP have posted entries on our discussion concerning journalism and blogs.  (Update:  Exile from Rochesterturning posted here.) Evan asks a follow-up: 

Where do you guys see the traditional media (and more specifically, the traditional local media) evolving?  And perhaps more importantly, where is the traditional media currently failing in its coverage, style, or presentation?
The old model for local media is that print and television provide the passive reader/viewer with a pre-selected set of news.  The new model is an active reader/watcher on the Internet selecting from numerous sources of information.  Though the current local media outlets will remain relevant, we're already seeing the rise of a number of alternatives:

  • Rochester has an active Wiki (community-authored site) that serves as a guide to Rochester.  The restaurant section is very actively edited with lots of comments about new and well-established places.  There's an event calendar that gets some use, and if it were better software, it would get more.  The next generation of sites like RocWiki could replace the current what-to-do, where-to-go guides produced by local free and pay newspapers. 
  • At the neighborhood level, is an example of a community site where neighborhood residents can exchange news, talk about businesses, contribute to an event calendar, and post for-rent and for-sale notices.  I see these community sites replacing the special sections of papers devoted to neighborhoods.
  • As more government information is available on-line, sites will be built to process and present that information.  One example that Rochester sorely needs is a site like ChicagoCrime, which takes electronic police reports and plots them on a Google map.  ChicagoCrime is a much better version of the traditional police blotter that appears in newspapers.
  • Organizations like local PTAs will begin to take over some of the coverage of newspaper staples like school board and city council meetings. 
  • Blogs aren't just for politics - specialists in all areas will increasingly post to the Internet.  Local examples include Jayceland for events, our local Martha Stewart, ljcfyi, food bloggers like RaChaChow and the bikers at RocBike.  All of these niche blogs supplement or supplant local feature coverage in papers and on TV.
Sites like these, and new sites which I can't even imagine, will lessen the impact of traditional newspapers and TV.  But TV and print will remain.  The sites mentioned above are mainly a labor of love, and a lot of the original reporting generated by TV and print is the kind of work that goes beyond what hobbyists can accomplish today.

The problem that I see in the Rochester market at the moment is the brittleness of corporate media.  Gannett, for example, is having a hard time dealing with the fact that their 20%+ profit margins are being eroded.  Their response has been to invest heavily in Internet properties and shrink their traditional newsgathering staff.  This seems like a shortsighted response to me, because their Internet sites are just empty shells without the quality journalism generated by their news staff, but I don't have to answer to Gannett shareholders.  I assume other corporate media will cut staff as soon as margins are threatened.

So, Evan, a question for you.  Video on the Internet, and the rise of Tivo, are probably going to cause advertisers to think twice about WHAM and other local media.  Is this happening yet?  Do you think your job is in danger if it does?

Massa Interview

A submitter who wishes to remain anonymous sent in an interview with Eric Massa [pdf]. It covers Massa's biography, and his positions on major issues like the war in Iraq, health care and education. It's a well-written and interesting read.

Blogversation 1

Evan Dawson of 13 WHAM has asked a few area bloggers to join in a "blogversation".  Evan blogs at the 13WHAM blog.  Other participants are Exile at Rochesterturning, and Ontario GOP.  To get the ball rolling, Evan has asked the question:  "Do you consider yourselves journalists?"

There are three things that I do here, only one of which is "journalism" in the old-school sense of the term.

The first, and probably most prevalent, is aggregation, which is a fancy word for linking to things on the Internet and elsewhere that are relevant to the 29th district.  This includes news stories, You Tube videos, and items sent by readers.  In this respect, I'm lucky to have a core group of smart, connected readers who send me news stories and other items that I might otherwise overlook.  As an aggregator, I don't edit much.  If the item is about Randy Kuhl, Eric Massa or the 29th district, and it's factual, it will probably make the blog.   I use the category capabilities of my blog software to label these posts as things like "News", "Video", "Votes" or "Money".

The second is analysis, which is trying to interpret what's been said in the local media and on the Internet.  These posts are generally labeled "analysis" or "speculation", and they contain my opinions.  Sometimes I aggregate and comment at the same time, but generally I try to keep these separate.  I would like my blog to be a useful resource for anyone interested in the 29th district, even if they don't share my politics, so I try to treat the news and my reaction to it as separate items.

Third, I do some original reporting.  As someone who has a day job, I'm limited in what I can cover.  For example, when Eric Massa invited me to his weekly press conferences, I started covering them.  This is a lot of work, and I find now that I can only attend a couple per month.  Last year, I also began keeping track of earmarks and "significant votes" in the 29th, creating a new site, congressdb, to track voting.  When Congress chose to combine most of its appropriations for the year into one omnibus budget bill, it kind of made a mockery of the careful earmark and vote tracking that I had been doing.  After I get over my frustration about that, I plan to re-vamp this portion of the site and continue that work in the next month or so. 

I think bloggers will ultimately be the go-to source for reporting that analyzes and interprets data freely available on the Internet.  This is due to a number of factors:  bloggers are often more technically savvy that the average reporter, mining Internet data can occur during off-hours, and a blogger can become a specialist in certain categories of data, while most reporters don't have the luxury of concentrating their attention on one narrow topic.    That's why I'm so interested in government transparency.  The more information that the government has to report on the Internet, the more that bloggers like me can comb through it to find news. 

So, I'm not a journalist in the traditional sense of the word, or even in the Josh Marshall sense of the word, but I do some journalism. 

Center of Excrescence

As I noted here earlier, when I tried to cancel my subscription to the Democrat and Chronicle, it took them over a month to get the job done.  I assume part of the reason was the D&C's decision to move its customer service to a "Center of Excellence" in Louisville, Kentucky. 

The D&C isn't the only Gannett paper having problems with this genius cost-cutting move.  As Gannettblog reports, the Utica paper was struggling with outsourced classified sales and customer services.  When Gatehouse Media purchased the paper, one of its first acts was to move customer service back to Utica.  Here's what the publisher said about that:

It was costing us more to out-source these operations, and others, than to run them ourselves. Plus, we knew in our hearts that our customer service would improve, our classified ad sales would grow, and a whole host of other parts of our operation would be better run if they were here. And now they are.
One of my suppliers at work has a good expression:  "Stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime."  Gannett's customer service outsourcing seems like a good example of this phenomenon.

Morning News

The Democrat and Chronicle has a round-up of the activity in all of the Rochester-area districts, and the 29th is mentioned briefly.

Randy Kuhl has announced his student art competition, which gets him a surprising amount of press in the Southern Tier.

The Obama Model for Congressional Campaigns

The Obama campaign is raising huge amounts of cash from small donors.  Could this style of fundraising catch on in congressional districts? 

I did a little back-of-the envelope calculation, and for now, I think the answer is no.  The Obama campaign recently announced that they have over one million donors.  And Obama says that the average donation received by his campaign is $109.  If you scale that to the 29th district (here are the details),  Eric Massa could raise roughly $300K if could somehow replicate Obama's success on a smaller scale. 

That number is one-tenth of what Massa says he needs to be competitive in the 29th.  So even if my calculations are off, I doubt if they're off by an order of magnitude.  We've got a way to go before all campaign financing comes from a large number of small donors.

Kuhl and Massa Video

Exile at Rochesterturning points to a Massa YouTube ad.  He also has some on-point comment about it.

Reader Vincent sent in a fascinating link to C-SPAN, which has correlated Congressional Record statements with C-SPAN video. This means, for example, that the text and video of everything Randy Kuhl has said on the House floor is available for instant retrieval. 

It's Hard Out There for a Republican

Commenters and emailers who are wondering if Randy Kuhl is going to resign consistently point to his poor fundraising as evidence that he's not trying hard to get re-elected.  I disagree.  I think Kuhl's fundraising problems are structural, not personal.

Last cycle, the majority of Kuhl's financial support came from PACs whose interests dovetailed with Kuhl's committee assignments.  At the time he gathered those donations, Kuhl was a member of the Republican majority that had run Congress with an iron fist for over a decade.  Kuhl's clout, such as it was, came from his ability to get the attention of the Republican leadership of those committees, and to be a vote in the committee majority.  In 2006, sending money to Kuhl seemed like a good investment for PACs interested in advancing their legislative agenda.

Today, it's almost inconceivable that Republicans will be in control of the House after the election.  It's far more likely that President Obama will use Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to ram through his agenda, no matter what a backbench Republican like Kuhl has to say.  If you're an organization with a legislative agenda, a donation to Randy Kuhl or any other Republican is simply a bad investment, no matter what you think of Kuhl or how many times he calls you to ask for money.

Republican fundraising is lackluster across the board.  Last month, John McCain was out-raised 7-to-1 by Clinton and Obama.  At the end of January, the Republican Congressional and Senatorial committees had $50 million less cash on hand than their Democratic counterparts.  Blaming Kuhl for this state of affairs is blaming the victim.