Restaurant critics dwindling

Just last week, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans laid off 200 employees. Brett Anderson, a James Beard Award winning critic was one of them. Eater has a pretty detailed round up of the remaining professional restaurant reviewers in some of the US’s more important food cities.

It all comes down to money: reviewing is an expensive operation. Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema once estimated he spends about $70,000 a year dining out on the paper’s dime. A full-time restaurant critic is also a position that’s considered more expendable than, say, political reporting, and a mighty attractive job for budget-slicing newspaper executives to cut.

Back in September, The Atlantic had a similar story a couple days after Sam Sifton left his position at the NY Times, and Pat Bruno was let go by the Chicago Sun-Times. This piece has more on the history of restaurant reviewers, which is worth at least a skim.

Fewer and fewer cities still have an Anton Ego-like personality dominating the food scene. As we noted here last month, Portland, Oregon lost its Ego analogue last year and has been surviving with a young, former crime writer on the restaurant beat (the food scene there flourishes). More and more, as newspapers shed their longstanding reviewers, those reviewers go on to write independently about food generally, and their jobs get folded into the paper’s general food-writing staff, such as when the SF Weekly replaced longform critic Meredith Brody with critic/blogger Jonathan Kauffman. The days of the all-powerful critic have already been declared over, but there will always be a need for smart people to write about food in a way that makes you want to eat it or not.

Restaurant critics dwindling

Attleboro Sun Chronicle to Charge for Newspaper Comments

Comments on online newspaper articles are, at the same time, some of the most humorous and infuriating reading that can be done. Not Raw-era Eddie Murphy humorous, but ‘Wait, you really think that?’ humorous. The Attleboro Sun Chronicle is going to start charging to post comments, and the comments will be posted with the user’s real name. The Sun Chronicle stopped posting comments in April because they became too hard to moderate. This, folks, is how you turn a problem into an opportunity. I like.

Via Marco and Waxy.

Attleboro Sun Chronicle to Charge for Newspaper Comments

Boston Globe Article on Anonymous Posters

The Boston Globe has a story about anonymous online posters posters, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Except for the below section where the writer describes an internet experience completely different than any I’ve ever known.

I’ve always loved finding the hidden gems in online comments – the surprising slice of data that makes me question one of my political assumptions, the pithy one-liner that makes me laugh out loud. But those gems seem increasingly rare amid all the yelling and hollow rage and predictable talking points.

Comments on news sites are about 1.5 steps above comments on Youtube. To prove my point, commenter BarackSnoozesOilOozes (whose avatar is a picture of Barack Obama with Joker makeup in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster) chimes in with:

Another one sided article by the Glob.

They Glob fails to mention that the mods often favor posts by anti-American Democrats who support Obama because that’s how the paper leans.

It took 5 freaking comments, 2 of which are, “First” and “Second” for the comments thread to devolve into name-calling and paranoia. This is my favorite article of the week.

Boston Globe Article on Anonymous Posters

A Month’s Worth of Links About Newspapers

I Read The News Today Exhibition, The British Library [120709]
Photo by Flickr user danielweir.esq

It’s important to note when discussing the problems at newspapers that spending on advertising is down almost EVERYWHERE, not just in newspapers. Industries that are dependent on ad dollars, of which Big Newspaper is just one, are all hurting. Yes, circulation is down, but there aren’t less people reading the news necessarily, there are just less people subscribing to newspapers. If newspapers were able to charge higher fees for online advertising, they’d be in much better shape, obviously.

On that note, I noticed I had about a zillion tabs open related to the newspaper industry and I thought I’d collect them all here.

Via Daring Fireball, The Awl, demanding context from how bi-annual newspaper circulation numbers are typically reported, put together a chart showing newspaper circulation over the last 2 decades. It’s pretty if you like looking at line graphs with dramatically plummeting line graphs. The LA Times’ fall is breathtaking in its suddenness, and circulation is down 10% across the board.

In supporting Steve Coll’s idea that newspapers should be nonprofits and in attempting to determine the value of local newspapers, Clay Shirky decides to do a “news biopsy” on his hometown newspaper, the Columbia Daily Tribune. From his biopsy, he finds that only 1/6 of the newspaper is “created news” or content created by the newspaper’s 6 reporters and those 6 reporters work for a newspaper with 59 employees.

The city desk editors and the copy chief make the work…more valuable than it would otherwise be. But you can pick any multiplier you like for necessary editorial and support staff and that number, times six reporters, won’t be a big number. In particular, it won’t be 59, or anywhere near it.

His conclusion? “There are dozen or so reporters and editors in Columbia, Missouri, whose daily and public work is critical to the orderly functioning of that town, and those people are trapped inside a burning business model.”

Also commenting on the “the power and necessity of local reporting” Esquire.com uses the recent Samoan earthquake/tsunami as an example of the big guys besting the little guys.

Newsosaur looked into pay walls and found that paywalls might never come because publishers are realizing they can’t afford to lose the traffic a paywall would cost. Which is good news, because some columnists are quitting over paywalls. At the end of the Newsosaur’s piece, there is bleating from Stephen Brill that, “You are misinformed about folks being less inclined” to add paywalls. Stephen Brill, by the way, founded Journalism Online, a company dedicated to helping publishers charge consumers for content, so, you know, he might be biased. (Journalism Online has a funny section of their site called Why Readers Will Pay For Online News, which features several different newspapers talking about why people SHOULD pay for news, but not why they WILL. That’s a distinction worth making.)

Finally, via Kottke, Daniel Gross has a piece in Slate that says despite the falling circulations numbers, it’s not as bad as you think. Several publishers were able to raise subscription revenue by raising subscription costs enough to make up for canceled subscriptions. “This is the new emerging model—cutting costs, raising prices.”

I debated whether to include this last one because I kind of hate Megan McArdle’s writing. I figured since I had already read her post and linked it, I’d leave it there for you to decide if you want to read it or not. Here’s Megan McArdle doing what she does best, spewing confusing nonsense. She doesn’t add anything to the conversation, but wants you to know she’s very concerned about the future of journalism.

A Month’s Worth of Links About Newspapers

David Simon’s Senate Testimony on the Newspaper Business

Last week, David Simon was invited to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee and had some good stuff to say, along with some ridiculous. (Ridiculous stuff, thoroughly explored in this Gawker post.)

Simon’s testimony touches on what he sees as the reasons for the downfall of newspapers. He’s mostly right on why newspaper’s aren’t good anymore, but the lack of quality reporting (which Simon says is due to cuts by management) isn’t what keeps me from buying the paper. I doubt that’s why you don’t buy it, either. Simon has a little Buzz Bissinger in him, dismissing the idea and quality of news-gathering bloggers, but not hating on them in the same Buzzy way. I’ve heard Simon use snippets of this before in other places, but still worth skimming all the way.

Good:

What I say will likely conflict with what representatives of the newspaper industry will claim for themselves. And I can imagine little agreement with those who speak for new media. From the captains of the newspaper industry, you will hear a certain martyrology – a claim that they were heroically serving democracy to their utmost only to be undone by a cataclysmic shift in technology and the arrival of all things web-based. From those speaking on behalf of new media, weblogs and that which goes twitter, you will be treated to assurances that American journalism has a perfectly fine future online, and that a great democratization in newsgathering is taking place.

Better:

But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry’s part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he’s as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger.

Best:

Similarly, there can be no serious consideration of public funding for newspapers. High-end journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously. Moreover, it is the right of every American to despise his local newspaper – for being too liberal or too conservative, for covering X and not covering Y, for spelling your name wrong when you do something notable and spelling it correctly when you are seen as dishonorable. And it is the birthright of every healthy newspaper to hold itself indifferent to such constant disdain and be nonetheless read by all. Because in the end, despite all flaws, there is no better model for a comprehensive and independent review of society than a modern newspaper. As love-hate relationships go, this is a pretty intricate one. An exchange of public money would pull both sides from their comfort zone and prove unacceptable to all.

Be sure to read the whole thing so you can giggle aloud when Simon suggest (teehee!) collusion! (Thanks, Matt)

David Simon’s Senate Testimony on the Newspaper Business

When Was the Last Time You Bought a Newspaper?

Adam has some good ideas to save newspapers (specifically the Boston Globe) in this post in which he says he hasn’t bought a newspaper in 5 years, which made me wonder the last time I bought a newspaper. I can’t remember. It seems impossible that I never have, but I also can’t ever remember a reason why I would have. FWIW, I slung a Globe delivery bag over my shoulder for three years (except on Sundays when Pops helped).

When Was the Last Time You Bought a Newspaper?

Google to Buy The New York Times?

From this Mark Bowden article about Arthur Sulzberger Jr this quotation:

Among the other prospective buyers whose names have surfaced in the press are Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York; Google; and even, perish the thought, the press baron Rupert Murdoch, whose Wall Street Journal has emerged as journalistic competition for the Times in a way it never was before.

I keep harping on this, but I really don’t see how newspaper’s survive without coming up with a new model. One such model could be finding a corporate patron, like, uh… Google.tra

Google to Buy The New York Times?

Al Gore at the Wang Center Boston

The second event of the 2009 Speaker Series: Live & Uncensored featuring former Vice President Al Gore in conversation with Boston Globe reporter Susan Milligan at the Wang Center was uneventful throughout most of the evening until Miligan became stuck on several questions regarding the (self) importance and likely downfall of newspapers in their current form. While this diversion didn’t diminish the entire evening, it struck me as odd and uncalled for. (I wasn’t able to Twitter this event, so quotations will be even more paraphrased than usual as I was taking notes with a Sharpie, on the back of an envelope, in the dark, in my terrible handwriting.)

Al Gore was introduced by Boston Phoenix Founder and Publisher Stephen Mindich, who called him ‘The truly elected President in the 2000 election’ and asked the audience to imagine what might have been had Gore been allowed to serve. Gore who went to college in Boston began his remarks by praising the Wang Center and saying, “They just don’t build them like this anymore.” From this, he launched into a quasi stand-up routine telling multiple jokes about his time after the White House. This wasn’t the boring Al Gore described by the media in the 2000 election.

He was funny, knowledgeable, and informative and spoke for about 25 minutes, giving example after example of how the climate crisis plus the economic crisis have lead directly to the security crisis. And how all 3 can be mitigated by beginning to address energy issues. Gore restated his goal of 100% renewable energy in the US in 10 years and said, “I need your help…This is your challenge…Political will is a renewable resource.” I cynically wondered if Gore’s humor and deliberate speaking style wasn’t a reaction to years of being stung by the media as boring, wooden, and a serial exaggerator and then I chastised my cynical self for being a jerk.

It should have been clear from the first question which direction the night was headed, but I say that with the benefit of hindsight because at that point, Miligan hadn’t begun to lose the crowd. The question was some version of “Have you been able to change more because you didn’t become President.” Gore amicably spoke for a few minutes, essentially answering, “Uh, no, President would have been better.”

Regarding nuclear power, Gore says he remains skeptical, but not reflexively opposed and said his concern stems from the fact that rogue weapons programs typically grow out of legitimate nuclear power programs. On whether going green is a luxury, Gore’s first sentence was about the need for jobs channeling Van Jones, but stopping short of saying we can’t afford NOT to go green.

It was at this point, in my mind, that Miligan began getting squirrely, asking a question about bailing out the auto industry with so much unbridled disdain that Gore began his answer, “If I had known this was a touchy subject.” This setting off a sputtering denial of bitterness in which Miligan used the word bitter a bitter 12 dozen times. The entire time, neither Gore nor Miligan noted the irony of castigating the autos while ignoring the bank bailouts (both of whom, it could be argued, have suffered from an enormous lack of personal responsibility).

Gore answered a question on whether lack of personal responsibility is more to blame than deregulation by connecting Democracy and capitalism since their birth in the same year of 1776. Gore said, “I like the market, but we have a right to make laws.”

When asking Gore’s opinion on Obama, Miligan quipped “Careful, he might fire you like he did Rick Wagoner.” (I think this was supposed to be a dig at Obama overreaching, but it was confused by Miligan’s earlier attacks about the auto industry, making Miligan seem willing to attack everybody). Gore said, “Well, he can’t fire me” and “I think he’s doing a great job.”

Miligan then asked Gore, a former journalist himself, his opinion on the crisis facing newspapers around the country. Gore’s answer appeared to be that Americans are watching too much TV with time they used to spend reading the newspaper. And then there was a follow up. And then another. And then an attack on ‘the blogs’ and their veracity, and their lack of posting corrections, which is about the time my eyes filled with a white light and my ears a rushing noise. And I can’t obviously connect the theme of the talk to this, but about 10 minutes before the evenings abrupt end and 10 minutes after Miligan’s self-important rant, people started leaving in 2s and 3s until entire rows were pocked with empty seats.

One question from one reporter to a man who could have been President (but also a former reporter) strikes me as relevant and Gore’s head is stuffed full of interesting examples of successes on the internet, but Miligan broke the first rule of interviewing (and giving toasts, incidentally) in that she made the interview about her. Instead of Bostonians filing out of the Wang enthusiastic about making a difference on climate change, they ambled out listlessly wondering who they had paid to see. It was similar to Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher when hecklers attempted to interrupt the evening in a ‘look-at-me’ bid for attention, except tonight it was Susan Miligan attempting to curry pity and Al Gore was too polite to tell her off. This is the second bad moderator in a row for the speaker series, and I hope Charlie Rose is better for Karl Rove vs James Carville.

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Al Gore at the Wang Center Boston

The New York Times Kills Itself and Bacon Meme at Same Time

A couple weeks ago, The New York Times wisely introduced Article Skimmer as an additional way for readers to interact with the news. It’s fast, intuitive, and easy to use. I put this in the solidly innovative column that I’ve seen a bunch of from the Times over the last year or so.

But then let me introduce Skimmer’s Bacon topic. I’ve been trying to think of a way to kill the bacon meme since January or so, but the New York Times just did it for me. I’m tired of the internet that allows lazy marketers to layer whatever they want with bacon and score cheap internet traffic. That’s not an internet I want to live in, and I don’t think that’s the internet you want either.

I can’t help but think the bacon topic is aimed at this cheap internet traffic and by catering to it, the New York Times has debased itself. Who do they think they are, really? They could have maintained their stodgy standoffishness, but by rolling around the mud with the pigs…well, let’s just say that ‘arbiter of cool’ The New York Times is not. To say nothing of the fact that if you’re a meme, and people send around links about you, and then everyone on the internet is talking about you, and then The Paper of Record talks about you, you’re not a meme anymore. You’ve baconed the Times or some other cute play on jumping the shark. It should be noted for the record that, for the sake of my argument, I’ve ignored the likely scenario that the Topics on Skimmer are automatically created based on what the readers are searching for and reading. If that’s not how Topics get created, well that’s just sad. (Thanks, Aaron!)

Click image to enlarge.
ny-times-skimmer-bacon

The New York Times Kills Itself and Bacon Meme at Same Time