March 27, 2006
Which means finally finish raking. Read some (bound) fiction for a change.
Back next week.
Hit the favorites. Take the blogroll for a spin.
Buy a newspaper. Take two, they're small.
March 25, 2006
Blue Sky On a Gray Day
Feel? I told a little story today. Every morning I walk to the end of the driveway, and pick up a newspaper or three. By the time I make it back inside my sons are already talking about something they read in the paper. They've gone online. And that's ok - hopeful, even. They're reading. They just don't read the actual paper.
We all had different stories - 40 or so of us who met on the top floor of Penn's Annenberg School to blue sky on a gray day and tried to fashion the local news organization of the 21st century. Many of us came from opposite sides of the street - newspaper people and bloggers, reporters and editors, mainstream and indie types, a polymath who never went to college and the dean of an Ivy League school.
We called it the Unconference, and there was no panel, no microphones, no agenda. We worked from a wiki whiteboard, which means a big screen showed the order of the day as we made it up from our seats. There were a few unrules, the best being: no commercials and no tomato throwing. What surprised me is that people stuck to them. I was expecting a raging hall of egos. Instead, we actually worked on this oddly named notion of the next thing in journalism, The Norg.
Will Bunch at the Daily News's Attytood blog named it. You could call it The Philadelphia Experiment. It's an attempt to pool talent and ignore rivalries and save this beast before it sinks into the tar pit. Or before Craigslist sticks its spear in our flank. What emerged from our nine to five session was a still-in-progress model for readers taking control of the enterprise, for tapping the expertise of the many, to deliver the goods with speed and style, and with transparency and accountability, and with a lot of other lofty words that we struggled to flesh out.
I wrote down these elements of a NORG: credible, interactive, on many platforms, widely distributed, devoted to media literacy, with voice and personality, enabling members of the community to inform each other, continuous, ethical, economically viable, with a watchdog function, community-owned, that empowers people to speak for themselves, First Amendment-protected, flexible, adaptive, transparent.
The elephant of the room is the iffy futures of The Inquirer and The Daily News. Knight Ridder has sold us to McClatchy, which doesn't want us. Bids to buy the dirty dozen are due Tuesday.
Jeff Jarvis, who writes Buzzmachine, was live blogging the event. Read his coverage here. He calls his post, "Saving Journalism and Killing the Press." In it he announces "this is the day the war ends. This isn't journalism against bloggers any more. It never was, really. This is journalists and bloggers together in favor of the news."
The group broke into clusters to dig deeper into some of the ideas, such as how does a Norg serve a democracy where not everyone is online, what are the financial models that could make a new collective work, how do we hook young readers who are used to free and edgy, what are the ethical responsibilities of citizen journalism. A summary is to be posted at Norgs.org.
There was a lot of talk about objectivity, and whether journalism fails to get to the story when it strives for balance.
"It's a phony debate," said Duncan "Atrios" Black, whose hard-hitting lefty blog, Eschaton, attracts about 120,000 page views a day. "And it's killing newspapers." Just be open about your biases, he said. People would rather a tough opinion than something so balanced it doesn't go anywhere. Bunch said every writer should post his or her bio.
Susie Madrak, a former newspaper editor who writes Suburban Guerrilla, recommended that papers use wire services to cover the routine and send reporters to mine corruption in the burbs. They should stop those giant megaturds (my word, sorry) conceived to win Pulitzers. "Maybe what you win is readership," she said. Jarvis said that if he ever returned to helm a paper, he'd implement flak-free days, where no news can come from a hand-out.
Toward the end someone asked if any of these fine ideas might work their way into the local newspapers or their online operations. That depends who winds up owning us, of course. A big chain with its own Internet sites would likely fit us into their existing system, the Philly.com guys said.
Inquirer editorial page honcho Chris Satullo told the group that committees have been turning out strategic plans in the hope that a new owner asks 'What do you guys think?" And many of the ideas that emerged from the Norg unconference, he said, "are much more interesting than what we've come up with."
Plans are to move ahead with a blog, a wiki page, more discussion, another non-virtual meeting, even. The stakes? Wendy Warren, a Daily News editor, put it this way:
"This is something that's pretty much life or death to everyone in this room."
(photo of Karl Martino by Albert Yee)
March 24, 2006
Say goodbye to the Washington Post Online's new conservative blogger, Ben Domenech.
Conservatives today joined in the chorus of howls, which began on the left, as bloggers such as Atrios found more and more examples of the young writer's cut and pasting. His blog, which began only Tuesday, had been called Red America.
Jim Brady, WashPo.com's executive editor, wrote:
Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. Washingtonpost.com will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.
Brady said The Post will continue to investigate allegations that Domenech used other people's work without attribution. Brady also reaffirmed his commitment "to representing a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies in our Opinions area."
Domenech, meanwhile, addresses some of the accusations at his space on Red State:
The truth is, no conservative could write for the Post without being subject to the gauntlet of the liberal attack machine. There is no question in my mind that any RedState contributor writing for this blog would have found leftists delving through his high school yearbooks and grade school book reports in an effort to discredit and defame him. And if you too were a sloppy teenage writer, your errors or the errors of others would’ve been exploded.
I have a great many friends who are willing to stand and defend me on this. I appreciate their support. I have enormous respect for Jim Brady and the vision he has at WPNI. But while the folks at washingtonpost.com understand my position and are convinced by my arguments on many of these issues, they also feel that the firestorm here will only serve to damage us all, and that there is no way this blog can continue without being permanently tagged to this firestorm. Therefore, I have resigned this position with washingtonpost.com.
This is a shame. As you all know, I am a conservative, but not a partisan – I believe had this blog been allowed to continue, it would have been a significant addition to the Post's site. The Post showed bravery by including a conservative voice, and I hope they continue to seek that balance.
Jay Rosen, journalism professor at NYU, sees this episode as an opportunity for an open, nationwide search for three bloggers - conservative, liberal and perhaps libertarian.
When I say open I mean open: anyone can apply. But experience as a political blogger counts. You have to be an original linker and be able to think for yourself. Finalists and semi-finalists are named. There’s a week’s try-out period for the final few and a big bake off at the end— all with comments enabled. The competition would generate high interest online, and give the winning bloggers a great introduction.
Put On Your High Heeled Sneakers
Bruce Warren at WXPN and Some Velvet Blog knows the way to Blinq's cold heart. Show us a monkey riding a border collie and point us to some new music to download, in this case songs by The Harlem Shakes. By email, he promises they're "a cool and up and coming band from New York." We've been playing air bass to "A Night" ever since we clicked 'save.'
What's Warren working? Spreading the word about an XPN Welcomes showcase set for Saturday night and co-sponsored with the half-Philly, half NYC blog called Badminton Stamps.
Badminton Stamps has put the Mp3s up on its site to stir a little interest for the show, which also features The Sun and The Picture, all fresh from South By Southwest and, "all surely riding atop hype waves of proportions not seen since microfich first promised to forever replace microfilm." Read for yourself what the site promised about Philadelphia fillies. (God, is that spelled right?) $6 gets you into the World Cafe Live for the three.
Up for downloading: four Sun songs, three Shakes songs and three from the Picture.
Attention must be paid to another night of new music: Monday Philly's RuffNation is bringing Kulcha Don to town for some dancehall, hip-hop, reggaeton grooves. His debut, "It's All About You," debuted this week. His single, "Drive You Crazy" features Beenie Man. You can watch it here. Gotta make the case by 3 p.m. today to get into the release party. Kulcha Don will also be on the bill at the Electric Factory Sunday for Sean Paul's tour.
More free music? Brandi Carlile returns Monday, opening for Jamie Cullum at the Kimmel Center. Her people offer these songs - "Fall Apart Again," "What More Can I Say" and "Throw It All Away" -- from the rootsy singer-songwriter from Washington state, who has this handy electronic press kit on YouTube.
What if we threw in some Billy Bragg, appearing with Jill Sobule at a left-of-the-dial show at the Keswick Theater Saturday? He's got three tracks for download at his site. And Ms. Jill? Oh yeah. She's got some, too.
March 23, 2006
Who Called The Storms?
Tom Thunstrom called his little experiment the 2005-2006 Forecast Challenge, actually, but same difference. He measured two sorts of accuracy - when a storm would start and how much snow would fall. There wasn't that much to work with, he concedes: 19.4 inches of snow hit the Delaware Valley officially, thanks mostly to the Feb. 11th and 12th event - I love that word. Official means measured at Philadelphia International Airport.
Ok, drum roll, please.
In last place, our weather partner, NBC10. Thunstrom used a measure where the most points meant the most misses. NBC10 had 28. It never recovered from missing the timing of the Monday Night Football snowfall.
Action News comes in third place with 17 points - most of them for sensing just how much snow would fall.
Second place? CBS3. They racked up 14 points. They knew when the storms would start.
And the winner, Fox29 with 7 points, a balance of calling the time and the amount.
Philadelphia Weather calls Fox29 the only TV outlet in Philadelphia to correctly forecast accumulations and timing of February's 12-incher.
Thunstrom, as we've written before, is a hobbyist - a nonprofit-organization manager who was bitten by the weather bug at age 10 in Minnesota, when a tornado roared over his house. Differential equations and calculus knocked him out of professional meteorology in college. In July, the upper Montgomery County man launched the blog that allows full expression of his inner weather weenie. He writes:
In analyzing the first year of the Philadelphia Weather Forecast Challenge, I saw a few things that worked really well and a few things that I may adjust. I like the idea of comparing the media outlets against each other. Considering the claims you see on TV saying one channel is better than the other, there was not a grading system that compares the weight of their work. Since snowfall is something that impacts us more directly than say, being off by 3 degrees on a forecasted high, comparing their snowfall forecasts is one measure of seeing just how accurate a forecasting outlet (TV or government) really is. I would tend to argue that many of us do not care if a forecasted high of 75 is 3 degrees too high or low but do care if no snow was forecasted and 6" shows up on one's front door.
Would love to hear from any of the weather professionals at the stations. Is this contest fair? Write in, folks.
Nothing Says 'I Love You' Like Edible Sonograms
Put your baby's sonogram on a cookie. It begins:
A sonogram is a mother's first picture of her gorgeous baby. Why not present it in a Picture Perfect fashion?
The product goes by the indigestable name of Picture This Sonogram Cookies by Good Fortunes, and is a white chocolate graham cracker sprinkled with edible confetti or non-parielles and featuring the little darling's picture printed on edible paper with edible ink.
The good people at Orca Communications Unlimited wrote the pitch for Good Fortunes. Of course, this could just be the tasteful idea of the manufacturer.
Either way, is out there, like the Trafon blog (spell it backwards) which saw the Super Bowl as the latest occasion to pitch low-gas treats and itself, or the baby calling cards that seized the birth of the tiniest Trump as its moment to sink the hook.
Colleague Tanya Barrientos went off on this very subject over Christmas - her culprits being the fart blog (again!) and an upbeat pitch that began:
It's holiday party time. You've sent out invitations, hired a caterer and trimmed the tree, and you're looking forward to celebrating with your guests on Christmas or New Year's. But have you also planned for potential legal issues you may face as the host?
Her column caused P.R. maven and blogger Steven Lubetkin to rail about stunt publicity:
The sad part is that many clients of PR firms think this sort of pitch is a really clever way to get their clients in front of the media. It may sound exciting but generally all it does is the turn the media off to those cleints as credible sources of expertise.
Yes, but it gives us something to write about.
March 22, 2006
The Columbia Journalism Review called Dick Polman one of the nation's top political reporters. Jules Witcover called him "one of the best of the political reporters who have succeeded my own generation."
Now you can call him "perfessor."
And say goodbye, sort of.
After 21 years at The Inquirer, Polman says he is crossing the Schuylkill this fall to become a full-time senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He expects to teach two classes per semester at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and conduct symposia at the Kelly Writers House, where he will also deliver his own talks. This fall he plans to create a class in modern American political writing.
Polman is in negotiations to continue writing for the newspaper, where his most recent title has been national political correspondent. At the Inky, Polman covered four presidential elections, served as London correspondent, the Phillies beat writer and features writer.
Polman launched a blog last month, called Dick Polman's American Debate, at Philly.com. He writes a regular column about national politics in The Inquirer. He talked about continuing to write the blog or the column for the paper.
Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett wrote by email: "We are going to talk very seriously with him. We are very eager to keep his distinctive voice and expertise in the paper. National politics remains important to our paper. We are committed to continuing our aggressive coverage and will look at all options for how we do that."
Polman said that Penn, where he has taught journalism for three years, approached him for a full-time position. The offer became more attractive, he said, after the The Inquirer's fate became less certain. It is one of a dozen papers that McClatchy has said it will sell once it buys the chain from Knight Ridder.
Polman's blog has attracted fast attention on the web. Extreme Mortman wrote about the political columnist's blog-reading habits Monday. Polman described his thinking about the new media this way:
I have become a blog devotee. I don’t believe that they should replace some of the habits that are so two years ago - things like actually talking to real human beings - but they are often great tip sheets for measuring mood and ‘tude in the political world. I work with some friends who scoff at blogs and say “nobody is reading them, nobody is reading you,” but I keep insisting that they are behind the times. Yes there are many thousands of political blogs, and most of them are probably rant-infested, but I suspect we’re in an era not totally unlike the early 20th century with the autombile. There were scads of car companies, but over time most died off as consumers gravitated toward the credible ones. Anyway, I get story ideas from the credible blogs of today; I also get links to stories I would not have known about.
Throwing From The Left
A couple group blogs with South Philly ties are in the hunt for Best New Blog: Booman Tribune, which is hosted Martin Longman, and State of The Day, written by three people including one local named Jeff.
A greater reward awaits for him, however. He says he's about to be portrayed in The West Wing. By email, he says he hasn't seen the episode. Portraying him, he says, is "a dorky anti-social actor."
This is Philadelphia. Vote several times. Whether you're alive or dead.
Stephen Starr gets one in the New York Times - Morimoto's Manhattan transfer reviewed.
It's "a stunning piece of work: a sparkly wonderland for glittery people," writes restaurant reviewer Frank Bruni today. "It's Morimoto's moment."
Unfortunately most of the raves in this one-star review are reserved for the decor. Some over-roasted the critic's lobster - just about all the shellfish felt left too long on the flame. "And limp ribbons of beef in a soy and mirin broth tasted as if they had been adrift in hot water three times longer than they should have been."
Bruni finds the Philly Starr's concept a little too high:
Even more troubling than the unevenness was the way high concept repeatedly supplanted sound judgment, resulting in dishes more amusing to behold than to ingest. The utensils provided for appetizers of toro and hamachi tartare were wood sticks not unlike tongue depressors in their feel and lingering taste. The tartare was accompanied by a beautiful but exasperating spectrum of colorful condiments and herbs (an avocado purée, crème fraîche, micro radish sprouts, wasabi and so on) arranged in contiguous bands so slender that it was nearly impossible to isolate any one from another.
He goes on - it's plenty expensive, "often undisciplined," prone to sillyness, staffed with friendly but error-making servers. Still, Bruni is drawn to the humor, the style, the sex appeal. In Timespeak, one star = merely "good." (The Inquirer's Craig Laban awarded three bells to the original in Philadelphia.) The New York kicker: "if only more of the food lived up to the frisson."
He seemed to like it better on his blog.
We'd applaud the IRS for saving taxpayer money by relying on e-mail, but it looks like those official-looking missives from the revenuers are just official-looking phishes. Brad Gough sent around a MarketWatch column from Tuesday that warns that if the IRS has informed you electronically about an impending audit or refund, delete it.
An IRS spokeswoman told MarketWatch's Andrea Coombes, "We do not communicate with taxpayers via e-mail. We may send you a letter, we may call you, but we do not send out e-mail."
Despite the IRS seal and the return address of email@example.com, these are bad guys who want your Social Security Number, your bank details, your scratch.
Sometimes all you need to read is one great line to want to invite a blog into your life. How about this observation from A Socialite's Life about La Donald:
Why not just name the child Bling Trump? Barron William Trump? Jesus.
But ASL keeps clawing, quoting Trump's comments to People Magazine: "It's a beautiful baby and she's a beautiful mother. I just think she's looking forward to being a great mother. I have no doubt how good she will be."
Our Socialite blogger writes: "We love the fact that Donald has all the confidence in the world about the mothering skills of his wife, and needs to comment on them. He's not going to go and say something like, let's hope she doesn't accidentally kill the child. On a total side note, does anyone still watch The Apprentice? If so, could someone please tell me when Brent went way, Way, WAY WAY over the line?"
When it’s time to make play dates for young Barron Trump, he can simply leave his card! Between the new Apprentice season and Melania’s modeling gigs, busy mommy and daddy Trump don’t have time to dig for a pen and paper in their bag filled with diapers and pacifiers. These custom calling cards are the perfect answer! Melania and Donald will be able to leave Barron’s name and number without having to do all the work!
I myself would have gone with hell-on-wheels publicist Lizzie Grubman, but she's busy enjoying her nuptials. In the meantime, visit the Lizzie Grubman video tribute, courtesy of Gawker.
The Washington Post's ombudswoman suggested late last year that the paper hankered for a right-leaning blogger to compliment Dan Froomkin, but yesterday's debut of its "Red America" blog still triggered all sorts of fire from the left.
Red American blogger Ben Domench, a former National Review Online contributor, drew blood with these opening words:
This is a blog for the majority of Americans.
Since the election of 1992, the extreme political left has fought a losing battle. Their views on the economy, marriage, abortion, guns, the death penalty, health care, welfare, taxes and a dozen other major domestic policy issues have been exposed as unpopular, unmarketable and unquestioned losers at the ballot box.
Some have wondered whether a home-schooled, politically connected 24-year-old conservative actually balances a left-leaning newsroom vet, whom Atrios calls "the liberal blogger they don't actually have." Others have gleefully sifted through Domenech's college-era work. The Post has answered some of American Prospect's questions about his hiring.
Progressive Philly blogger Karl Martino wrote:
Please. Please stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America. You are partisan... what do you call it...hacks.
The link is to the Washington Post's new blog - meant to speak to just one segment of America's population - its largest - in the WaPo's quest to connect with the part of the nation it seeks the most sales, subscriptions, and click thrus from.
If the Washington Post meant to reach out to an underserved audience maybe it should have launched a blog with a focus on 'BlackAmerica' or 'HispanicAmerica', 'JewishAmerica', 'MuslimAmerica', 'WomenAmerica', 'GayAmerica' or 'CatholicAmerica'?
Many commenters wrote in to praise the Post's efforts to reflect strong conservative opinions. This piece summarizes the temperature of an online chat later in the day with political reporter Thomas Edsall.
Meanwhile, Protein Wisdom dug the new blog's name:
sounds vaguely like some Tony Kushner one-acter that imagines a forbidden tryst between Joseph McCarthy and Lillian Hellman
And, not to be outdone, Wonkette decides it must hire a conservative blogger for balance. Sgt.Wonkette's Real America?
Where have you gone Willie Montanez?
March 21, 2006
Good to see that Attytood sports a new sig for the new era - one of blogger Will Bunch holding out his coffee cup. He looks like he should be sitting on the curb outside the Wawa.
We might kid, but we love what he's done with the space. He's trying to save The Daily News and doesn't mind if he saves The Inquirer in the process.
We can thank Bunch for the Unconference that's taking place Saturday at Penn's Annenberg School of Communications, where participants will mull over what sort of media can survive this time of dizzying change and economic uncertainty.
No one's prepared any speeches. There is no panel. Ideas are supposed to bubble up from the crowd, and it's an interesting crowd of newspaper scribes, bloggers, editors, publishers, academics, web wizards and, gasp, readers. The guest list includes Annenberg dean Michael Delli Carpini, Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, local lefty bloggers Atrios, Suburban Guerrilla and Dragonball Yee, Inquirer editorial page editor Chris Satullo, Philly.com honcho Fred Mann, me, people from Philly Burbs.com, Philly IMC -- all sorts of natural allies and adversaries getting together to talk about a host of problems and opportunities.
Either a classic democratic forum or a raging egofest. Either way, interesting.
The conference sprang from a post Bunch made on his blog in October, as Knight Ridder was preparing to cut 25 journalism jobs at the Daily News and 100 at the Inquirer:
We are, and can continue to be, the front-line warriors of information -- serving up the most valuable commodity in a media-driven era. But that means we must be the message, not the medium, and so we must adjust to give consumers news in the high-tech ways that they are asking for, not the old-tech way that we are comfortable with.
If we don’t change, we will die – and it will be our fault.
He called the news organization of the 21st Century "The Norg," a resilient, responsive machine that would train its sound, motion and light on the issues that matter most.
And the idea might have gone to its quiet death in Google archives were it not for Karl Martino, who runs the news collaborative called Philly Future in his spare time. Martino, a tireless idealist, has been emailing a growing list of new media players ever since, hoping people would want to do something more than fire off smart replies.
That something is to happen from 9 to 5 Saturday in Room 500 of the Annenberg School, at 36th and Walnut Sts. About 40 people say they plan to attend.
A lot of Bunch's energy was focused on saving the Daily News, which some media analysts had marked as the biggest target for cost cutting. Since then, much has changed. Under pressure from institutional stockholders, Knight Ridder has agreed to sell its 32 newspapers to McClatchy, but the new owner decided to divest itself of a dozen properties, including The Daily News and the Inquirer. Everything's in play; everything's at stake.
If you are interested in the Unconference, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Participation required.