Analysis of media outlets in the 29th District.

Local Media is Where It's At

National bloggers have been posting about the decline in traffic on "liberal" blogs, and the uptick on "conservative" blogs.  This post has a good round-up, including graphs.   I have an explanation that has nothing to do with left-wing fatigue, right-wing ascendency or Barack Obama.  My guess is the national decline indicates that some of the audience for political blogging is going local.

For example, Rochesterturning, which mainly covers local political issues but occasionally discusses national ones, is celebrating its 18-month anniversary.  Unless its readers have suddenly gotten an extra few minutes added to their day, I assume some of its traffic growth comes at the expense of national blogs.  Other left-leaning blogs have sprung up in New York, including Room 8 in New York City, and The Albany Project.  There are currently fewer local conservative blogs, and most of them are newer than their liberal counterparts (one example is Ontario GOP).  I assume that local conservative blogs will continue to spring up, and they'll eventually take some traffic from the national conservative blogs.

Speaking of local media, a new, independently-run town forum has sprung up in Henrietta.  In addition to carrying the new posts of former D&C blogger Peter Boulay, the forum also has a section where the Messenger-Post reporter on the Henrietta beat, Jessica Gaspar, solicits story ideas and asks for feedback.  Jessica's availability and responsiveness is in sharp contrast to the beat reporters for the D&C.  I've sent a couple of emails to D&C reporters and never gotten an answer. 

Why I Canceled My D&C Subscription

This morning I spoke with a pleasant young woman in Gannett's Louisville KY customer service center and ended my subscription to the paper Democrat and Chronicle.  Though I've been hard on the D&C in recent posts, the reasons I canceled were mainly the environment and my wallet. 

In the past couple of years, my family has been getting most of its news from the Internet.  As a result, unread papers were piling up around the house.  I just couldn't justify the waste of paper and petroleum for a newspaper that was rarely read by the members of my household.

By canceling the D&C, I'll save $260/year, which is the EZ Pay rate plus tips to my delivery man.  I pay just a little more than that for a broadband Internet connection, which provides far more value than 30 or so ad-laden pages of newsprint.  Even the Sunday coupons, which sometimes save me a buck or two, are less of a consideration today than in years past.  The stores where I shop all have buyer reward programs, and most of them mail (or e-mail) coupons and discounts.

Getting rid of the D&C turned out to be a no-brainer, and in retrospect, I'm surprised that I waited this long.

Various Items

I survived Christmas, but I'm still digesting the last few days of Congress.  I also need to close out my series on the D&C.  Until then, here are a few items in no particular order:

  • Those of you interested in new media might want to read an interview with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.  Craigslist is a company of about two dozen people with the goal of bringing free classified ads to the world.  Money quote:
Newspapers have much bigger problems. Newspapers are going after 10% to 30% profit margins for their businesses and that hurts them more than anything. A lot of things are happening on the Internet that never happened before because the Internet is a vehicle for everyone. The mass media is no longer only for the powerful, and that's a huge change for the entire newspaper and news industry.
In the old media model, with huge presses or transmitters and large technically-adept staffs, a 20% profit margin was necessary to attract investors willing to finance the overhead in return for a share of the profit.  In the new media model, major capital investments are no longer part of the picture, so media can run on a low- (or no-) profit, sustainability model.  In other words, today's media can be more like a small business than a major corporation.  That's a tremendous shift in the media business model that we're just starting to see nationally in sites like Craigslist or TPM Media.  The shock waves of that shift are just starting to be felt in our local markets, but when they hit, it's going to be an interesting ride.
  • I like watching the HBO series The Wire.  The show takes on different issues in inner-city Baltimore, including the War on Drugs, Education and Unions.  It's written by two veteran reporters for the Baltimore Sun.   This year's theme is journalism, and it will be fascinating to see the parallels between the D&C's role in inner-city Rochester, and the Sun's in Baltimore.
  • This week's Massa press conference was canceled due to the holidays.

Another D&C Success Story

Someone claiming to work for the Democrat and Chronicle sent me an email that was apparently circulated yesterday, touting the success of  RocPets is a site where pet owners can post pictures and vote for cutest pet.  Here are a few quotes:

As you heard at last week’s Publisher meetings, the newest addition to our audience product portfolio,, is another Democrat and Chronicle success story. This engaging Web site continues to grow audience – with more than 500,000 page views to date.  It’s truly amazing!!!
One of the strengths of the Web site is photos – in fact visitors have posted more than 1,100 pet photos so far!  Click on one of the Galleries (Small Dogs, Large Dogs, Cats, Pets and Kids and Other Pets) to view the photos.
The memo is from Jim Fogler, VP for Marketing and Communications, and heavy user of the bang (!).  Now that the journalistic frontier of pictures of kittens has been crossed, I'll bet RocBabies is next.

StoryChat: Actually a Bold Step

The Democrat and Chronicle calls its comment section "StoryChat".  It's a simple message board where message threads are tied to stories.  Depending on the story content, the quality of the chat ranges from pretty good to Internet rant.  The quality of discussion seems inverse to the hotness of the topic, and discussions often go off the rails:   yesterday's stem cell discussion, for example, starts with a rant about the war in Iraq.

Though StoryChat looks like a run-of-the-mill circa-1999 bulletin board system, it is a pioneer in Rochester's mainstream media.  The major radio and TV stations have nothing like it.  So, kudos to the D&C for making the effort.

It's interesting to see newspapers and other media struggle with issues that are old hat for Internet media.  For example,  Howard Owens has a post that discusses anonymity on the Internet, a subject near and dear to me.  One of the features of Gannett Blog is Commentz Korner, where the Editor keeps track of racist, sexist or offensive comments.

What's missing from the D&C story chat, and from other discussions I've seen, is a sense that the online community can be self-regulating.  Internet-only sites that have a large number of anonymous or pseudonymous contributors have developed sophisticated reputation and ranking systems.  Slashdot is one example of a user-run comment ranking system that is pretty effective at separating the better comments from junk.  Wikipedia uses a reputation system to maintain a pretty high quality standard for all volunteers.  In Rochester, RocWiki is also self-policing community site. 

So, I salute the D&C for trying StoryChat, but they need to step back from the editor/consumer model and embrace the new model of user-generated and moderated content.

Gannett Blog

I'm going to post a bit more on the D&C next week, but those of you who have a long-term interest in the Gannett empire would do well to check out Gannett Blog.  "The Editor", who runs the blog, gets lots of inside tips from Gannett employees.

Here's a short sample of the corporate dysfunction he finds:

The Editor wraps it all up in a "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" post, which contains this important insight about what Gannett needed to do with its new corporate plan:

It needed more reporters, editors, photographers and artists to gather the exclusive content -- from city council meetings to high school football games -- that would give Gannett papers and TV stations a competitive edge.
"Exclusive content" is critically important, because few will visit a newspaper's website to read reprints of stories they can get elsewhere.  If Gannett adopted the Editor's strategy in Rochester, we'd have more beat reporters, which means more coverage of debates, town hall meetings and other events of interest to constituents in the 29th.

Of course, none of this is forthcoming.  Gannett has elected to do more of the same, and their stock price reflects the market's judgment on that strategy. 

D&C Roundup

Max over at the D&C blog says I'm a "blogo-detractor".  I'm anblogasmic, so let's shorten it to "detractor".  I don't really understand why he posted a Christmas card from Crazytown, but if he wants to make "Nut of the Month Club" a regular feature, I'd tune in for it.

Reader Paige made an excellent comment that highlights some of the failings of the D&C's web presence.

Finally, I really don't understand this post by Kathleen Wagner on the editorial blog.  She's extremely happy that the school superintendent called her personally and was polite on the phone.  Kate, it's called "sucking up", and government officials have been known to do it from time to time.  He's not going to ask you to the Christmas formal or give you a promise ring.

The Rage Excuse

Max Anderson, an editorial board member and letters-to-the-editor editor at the Democrat and Chronicle, has an interesting post on the D&C's editorial page blog.  Max's main point is one often encountered at the D&C.  He thinks his paper must be doing something right because everybody is mad at it.

Max uses three irrational letters as examples.  Read the post if you want to see the ugly details.  One of the letters is from a conservative, so Max points out that Rochesterturning (a liberal blog) also dislikes the D&C editorial page.  The other two letters are from anti-religious zealots.

Max makes a to-do about the how much pain it caused him to read these letters, but comforts himself by saying that the "rage comes from all sides".  This is both lame and wrong. 

It's lame because Max's job is to read letters from crackpots and kooks, so whining about it in public is pretty wimpy.  Buck up, Max. 

The "rage" excuse is wrong because it paints anyone who complains about the D&C as an irrational, vengeful moron.  It might be comforting to believe that everyone who disagrees with you is crazy, but it isn't true.  I'm sure some of the letters that Max gets are angry, critical and correct.  But when all you see is rage, you're not going to see the truth in some of those letters, and you'll ignore the opportunity to improve that those letters afford.

I can't really blame Max for having this attitude, because it's in the drinking water at the D&C.  In fact, I applaud Max for actually calling out a local blog by name, and linking to it.  The D&C editorial blog usually makes bland references to "what people are saying" rather than pointing to who actually said it.  This is a weasely tactic, because it allows the writer to misrepresent what "people" are saying without letting anyone check what "people" actually said. 

If Max can stop the rage excuse, and continue to link to his critics, he'll have a good chance at achieving the goal of every young D&C staff member:  moving up the Gannett corporate ladder, and getting out of Rochester.

Leader Junket Column

Reader Elmer sends todays' Corning Leader Insider column [pdf] on Randy Kuhl's junket.  The author of the column is a retired Leader reporter who obviously had some fun writing the piece.  At least when you're done reading it, you know where the guy stands, which is a nice counterpoint to today's leaden, wishy-washy D&C editorial.

The Royal We Smugly Pronounces

Today's Democrat and Chronicle editorial on Kuhl's Brazilian junket is an example of everything that's wrong with the D&C's opinion page.  

Editorials exist to set forth a newspaper's position on an issue of the day.  Taking a position implies that you're on one side or the other of an argument.  Here's an example of a decent editorial from today's New York Daily News.   From the headline to the last paragraph, you know what the News wants:  pay raises for state judges.  To get its point across, the News uses a little corny humor in the headline and first paragraph, and it cites facts that support its case.  When it criticizes politicians, its critique is specific and factual.  

The News' editorial is nothing special, but today's D&C effort makes it look positively Shakespearean. The headline, "Brazil trip makes Kuhl an easy target", seems to indicate that the D&C is criticizing the trip.  But the piece is so full of takebacks and qualifications that it's impossible to discern whether the D&C thinks that the trip was a good idea or a bad one.  For example:

Learning how Brazil used ethanol to replace 40 percent of its gasoline supply has merit. Remember, Brazil declared itself independent of Mideast oil in 2005.

Whether Kuhl actually needed to go to Brazil, where sugar cane is used to make ethanol, is quite another story. After all, sugar cane can't be grown in New York state.

So which is it, guys?  Is a trip to Brazil relevant or not?   If you don't have an opinion on the core justification for the trip, why did you write about it in the first place?

Where the News uses facts to support its arguments, the D&C inserts them at random.  For example, it points out that a new ethanol plant is opening in Orleans county, and draws this non-conclusion:

While there is a huge difference between corn and sugar cane, there is something to be said for gaining knowledge about ethanol of all varieties.
There might be something to be said, but the D&C doesn't say it.  Meaningless catchphrases like "there is something to be said" are no substitutes for taking a stand.  Even worse is "this page prefers", which is the smug newspaper equivalent of the royal "We".

The only thing that's clear from the D&C's editorial is that they think there's something distasteful about the whole discussion.  The term "sniping" is used twice, which implies that the story is only on the editorial page because Massa keeps bringing it up.  This ignores the fact that the Washington Post was there first, and it's also a red herring.  Massa's reaction has no bearing on whether Kuhl's trip was worthwhile.  But the D&C is so afraid of appearing to criticize Kuhl that they have to criticize Massa to balance things out. 

As the old-timers used to say, "a good editorial is like a ladies' dress, long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting."   Today's D&C effort wouldn't even make Project Runway.
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