Sunday, March 30, 2008

Excerpts of pieces up for National Magazine Awards

A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere.
W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973), Collected Poems

Thoughts from the pages of New York
Excerpts of pieces up for National Magazine Awards

By Diego Vasquez

New York magazine last year took home five National Magazine Awards from seven nominations, winning for design, general excellence among titles with circulations between 250,000 and 500,000, interactive feature, magazine section and profile writing. The title this year was nominated for nine awards, second behind only The New Yorker's 12 nominations and a record for New York. Besides once again being nominated for general excellence, which it has won the past two years, New York is up for design, photography, photo portfolio, feature writing, leisure interests, columns and commentary, reviews and criticism and personal service online. Today begins Media Life's yearly series on the year's NMA nominees with excerpts of passages from a few of the New York pieces that earned nominations.

Feature Writing
One of New York's nods this year was for feature writing for Vanessa Grigoriadis' story titled "Everybody Sucks," about the popular media-themed web site Gawker. The story was originally published on Oct. 15, 2007. Here's an excerpt:

Nearly five years ago, in December 2002, Gawker made its debut under the leadership of Nick Denton, the complicated owner of the blog network Gawker Media, and Elizabeth Spiers, a 25-year-old banker turned blogger who was fragile in person but displayed a streak of dark cunning on the page. They didn't exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today. Under Spiers's aegis, Gawker was a fun inside look at the media fishbowl by a woman who was, indeed, "snarky" but also seemed to genuinely enjoy both journalism and journalists-Spiers was a gawker at them-and took delight in putting out a sort of industry fanzine or yearbook, for which she was rewarded with fawning newspaper articles casting her as the new Dorothy Parker. Ironically enough, Spiers craved a job at a magazine. She soon left for a position here, at New York Magazine; two subsequent Gawker editors, Jesse Oxfeld and Jessica Coen, have followed in the past year.

To be enticed, as these writers were, by the credentials extended by an old-media publication is a source of hilarity at the Gawker offices, where, beneath a veneer of self-deprecation, the core belief is that bloggers are cutting-edge journalists-the new "anti-media." No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments.

Leisure Interests
Another of New York's nominations for writing was in the Leisure Interests category, for "Cartography," which is described as a complete road map to New York street food. Here's an excerpt from a piece titled "The Kebab Man of 42nd and Eighth":

Today, Elnagar, an Egyptian-American who emigrated to New York eleven years ago, is at the garage by 10:10, exchanging salaam aleikums with other vendors. The garage, the gutted ground floor of a brownstone that's home to a half-dozen carts, is run by a fellow Egyptian named Abdullah. Abdullah charges $200 a month per cart, and Hakim owns two (he operates one; a partner mans the other). The garage is more than a place to keep carts safe. In back, there's a makeshift wholesale shop where cart men can stock up on their wares before heading out to the streets. A freezer chest is filled with hot dogs, and shelves are piled high with Admiration mustard and Trappey's Louisiana hot sauce. There's also a giant shower booth where carts get hosed down. Abdullah's cousin, Mohammed, lounges at the shop's entrance with a prehistoric calculator and handwritten ledger in which he records the vendors' tabs.

Elnagar operates a stretch version of the basic hot-dog cart, with the dogs de-emphasized in favor of the kebabs. It's eight-and-a-half feet long, close to the maximum allowable size, and includes a hot-water tank for hot dogs, a cooler for ice and soda, a dry shelf for pretzels, and a twelve-by-twelve-inch charcoal grill. It takes two Sabrett umbrellas (WE'RE ON A ROLL!) to cover it. Its front and sides advertise, in peeling letters, SHISH KEBAB-HOT SAUSAGE-BOILED HOT DOG-GRILLED HOT DOG-PRETZEL-KNISH-COLD SODA-WATER-SNAPPLE. Mounted over the grill and facing inward, where only Elnagar can see it, is a price list: "Hot Dog $2," "Hot Sasg $2," and so on. Elnagar wrote it, but he doesn't abide by it. Sometimes he charges $1.25 for a hot dog, sometimes $1.50. "Some people are regulars," he explains.

Elnagar stocks the hot-dog tank with a dozen or so Sabrett franks, enough to get started. The rest he stores in the cooler. Then he glops mustard from a gallon jar into a squeeze bottle, refills his salt and pepper shakers, and drains vinegar from a sauerkraut bag into the hot-dog water. Does that improve the flavor? Prolong shelf life? Elnagar shrugs. He's never thought about it. "Everyone does that," he says.

Columns and Commentary
New York was also nominated in the Columns and Commentary category for Kurt Andersen's column "The Imperial City." Here's an excerpt from his Jan. 1, 2007, entry titled "American Roulette":

A month ago, I was ragging on CNN for presenting Lou Dobbs's hour of pissed-off populism as if it were a traditional nightly news show, and I still think it has a serious truth-in-packaging problem. But (like Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind, with his epiphany about the poor in "Hard Times") I now get Dobbs's and his followers' anger and disgust about the ongoing breaches of the social contract, an American economic system that seems more and more rigged in favor of the extremely fortunate.

I know capitalism is all about creative destruction, that the pain of globalization must be endured and flexible labor markets are good; inequality is endemic; life is uncertain and unfair, sure, yeah, of course. We're all Reaganites now-or at least no longer socialists by instinct. But during the past two decades we've not only let economic uncertainty and unfairness grow to grotesque extremes, we've also inured ourselves to the spectacle. As America has become a lot more like Pottersville than Bedford Falls, those of us closer to the top of the heap have shrugged and moved on.

The asymmetry between the Goldman boss's compensation and that of his average employee-85 times as big-is virtually Ben-and-Jerry's-like these days: An average CEO now gets paid several hundred times the salary of his average worker, a gap that's an order of magnitude larger than it was in the seventies. In Japan, the ratio is just 11-to-1, and in Britain 22-to-1.

This is not the America in which we grew up.

Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for Media Life.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Google outlines proposal for 'Wi-Fi on steroids'

BoSacks Speaks Out: If Google has its way the internet and WiFi connections will have a monumental leap in productivity. This jump in delivery speeds should be considered an asset to publishers too. The possibilities are endless with speeds of gigabits per second.
It becomes clearer each day that the technology we have come to know is progressing faster than prognosticators can prognosticate.

We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.

R. D. Laing
Google outlines proposal for 'Wi-Fi on steroids'

Google on Monday said it has a plan to have American consumers from Manhattan to rural North Dakota surfing the Web on handheld gadgets at gigabits-per-second speeds by the 2009 holiday season.

The company, joined by other heavyweights like Microsoft and Dell, has long been lobbying for the Federal Communications Commission to free up unused broadcast TV channels known as "white spaces" for unlicensed use by personal devices. That portion of the TV band is highly prized because it can propagate long distances and through obstacles.

It also possesses the bandwidth to support vastly faster data rates than today's standard Internet service offerings--"Wi-Fi on steroids" or "Wi-Fi 2.0," as Richard Whitt, Google's telecommunications counsel, put it in a Monday morning conference call.

In a renewed effort to get the FCC on board with the idea, Google filed a six-page letter late on Friday that attempts to erase lingering concerns from TV broadcasters and microphone manufacturers about harmful interference caused by the entry of new devices.

"We're doing this because we want everybody to be satisfied with this process," Whitt said. "We think it's the right time to put these ideas in the record and see where they go."

Google isn't interested in becoming a wireless service provider or building a network of its own, Whitt said. It does, however, envision the white spaces as a "unique opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless access for all Americans" and a prime spot for use of mobile handsets running its open-source Android platform. Google hopes to start rolling out Android devices, which are being developed in conjunction with a 34-company consortium, as soon as summer or fall of this year, Whitt said.

Even if the FCC signs off, the offerings wouldn't be immediate. The spectrum won't be ready for use until at least February 2009, when over-the-air broadcasters are required to vacate that band as part of the congressionally mandated shift to all-digital television.

The FCC also isn't expected to issue any rules for use of the spectrum for another several months, Whitt said. Agency engineers are still testing early-stage devices submitted by Microsoft and Phillips for interference issues.

Avoiding interference
In hopes of nudging that process in its favor, Google's new filing describes a multipronged approach aimed at avoiding interference. Building upon suggestions made in a filing by Motorola last fall, it said any new unlicensed TV white-spaces devices would be blocked from transmitting signals unless they had received a sort of "permission to transmit" message. Wireless microphones could also be outfitted with "inexpensive" beacons that would send out a signal to white-spaces devices that says " don't come here," by Whitt's description.

In addition, Google proposes setting up a "safe harbor," between channels 37 and 39, where unlicensed white-space devices would not be allowed to operate, but wireless microphones and other licensed devices would. It also urges the FCC not to discount the promise of "spectrum-sensing" technologies, which, for example, are supported by 802.11a-based Wi-Fi to protect military radars from interference.

Google also offered to provide no-cost "technical support" to third parties hoping to use the white spaces, should they be opened up.

Even if the regulators ultimately approve use of the white spaces, "no product will come to market unless the FCC can verify that the device does not interfere with TV or wireless microphone signals," Whitt said.

Representatives from the National Association of Broadcasters and wireless microphone manufacturers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Google's renewed white-spaces push comes just days after the FCC ended an auction of the remaining portion of the 700MHz broadcast TV spectrum that's being vacated for the digital switch next year. The company had been active in the event, lobbying beforehand for "open-access" conditions allowing consumers to attach whatever devices or run whatever applications they please.

The search giant had committed to bidding $4.6 billion for the "open-access" spectrum block, but last week, the FCC announced that it was Verizon Wireless, not Google, that had won those licenses.

Whitt said he couldn't say the proposal had nothing to do with the auction results, but because of FCC rules, he isn't able to comment further on Google's involvement in the auction until the end of next week.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Publishers Need to Have Consumers Pay

Publishers Need to Have Consumers Pay
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer

The news business is more troubled than it was a year ago, but at least the problems it faces are different from what many observers had predicted, according to the annual State of the News Media report released today by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Mainstream media as a whole, the report found, isn't losing its audience. It just doesn't know how to get its new online customers - or anyone else who is reading what they're producing through online aggregators - to pay. The top 10 online news sites in 2007 were either big-media operations - such as the New York Times or ABC News - or online aggregators such as Yahoo News or Google News, whose content is largely produced by traditional media outlets.

So while there may be more readers out there for big media, there is less advertising, leading many print operations to cut staff as a way to reduce costs - the latest being 157 Media News employees in the Bay Area being let go over the past few weeks.

"The fact is that the audience still sees a lot of value in reporting about public life," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the initiative. "What (media companies) need to do is figure out how to make money doing that.

"It would be a lot harder if the audience didn't like the product, but they do. It's much easier to fix problems on the business side," he said.

Many of those early solutions are coming from the editorial side of the newsroom, he said. Faced with the prospect of their own extinction, some journalists are doing something that their predecessors never had to: coming up with an innovative idea - and figuring out how the company can make money doing it.

"People used to think that the people on the business side would save journalism, but it's turning out to be the other way around in a lot of cases," Rosenstiel said. While mainstream print reporters are learning how to shoot video and photos, many publishers told him that they wished their advertising departments were as adept at creating online video ads.

Rosenstiel said most analysts figure it will take the media 10 years now to right its business model. And how deep into that decade of despair is the media: "Oh, it's still early," he said.

The report, which analyzes many sectors of the media - from newspapers, magazines, TV and radio news to ethnic media and online providers - said "increasingly, it appears the biggest problem facing traditional media has less to do with where people get information than how to pay for it - the emerging reality that advertising isn't migrating online with the consumer."

So while newspaper circulation dropped 2.5 percent nationally, according to the report, online viewership of newspaper Web sites increased 3.7 percent. But the online ad revenue for most newspaper Web sites is usually only about 7 percent of the news outlets total income.

Still, the news for newspaper companies stinks, as many key indicators are dropping. In addition to the circulation drop, advertising revenue dipped 7 percent and stock prices of newspaper companies have plunged 42 percent since 2005.

It has long been thought that the rise of the Internet would continue to "democratize" media, splintering the mass media audience across the vast array of information sources on the Internet. But, the report found, even with millions of new sources of information, "more people now consume what old-media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before."

While the number of citizen journalism Web sites may be booming, "their economic model isn't any better than mainstream media's," Rosenstiel said. Plus, many are adopting the gatekeeper role of the mainstream outlets they long disdained.

"It was thought that people could just post any story they wanted to on a citizen media site," he said. "But a lot of them are only allowing comments to be posted."

Even though ratings for local and network evening shows dropped, the TV news business largely enjoyed good financial news because, Rosenstiel said, their advertising sources have remained strong. While the audience for the three nightly network news broadcasts dropped 5 percent in 2007, the prime-time audience at the three cable news outlets grew 9 percent. Revenue is up 21 percent at Fox News, 7 percent at CNN and 10 percent at MSNBC.

Ethnic media also experienced growth, with ad revenue for Hispanic papers up 13 percent from 2005 to 2006.

And the report tossed this bone to print wretches everywhere: "Despite all this, those who remain in the newsroom, particularly in print, evince a stubborn optimism - a sense of mission to prove what they consider a calling still has resonance, and in time will find financial footing."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weathering a Stormy Paper Market Forecast

Weathering a Stormy Paper Market Forecast
By Alex Brown
What's behind the market's drastic changes, what to expect next, and how you can deal with higher prices and tight supply.

There's no sugarcoating it:
The paper market is bleak for buyers. The problems lie in both price and availability, and the forecast for 2008 has almost no bright spots. So, several questions have emerged: How did we get here? What can you do to cope with this new reality? What trends may affect paper purchasing this year and beyond?

First, it's easy to be puzzled by how the paper market changed so abruptly and intensely. Paper buyers have seen the dark clouds massing over the mills for years, but little has come of it. Why is it actually raining now?

In the last five years, we've seen several mill closures. Tembec and UPM closed mills, and other mills shut down individual machines. The net effect was a drop of at least 20 percent of North American coated-paper capacity. As the first of these closures occurred, paper availability might have tightened a bit, but there always seemed to be another ready source of supply.

Now the industry has finally carried its capacity reduction to a point that supply is constrained both here and in Europe. It moved in what looked like baby steps, but, in the end, a real distance was crossed. Depending on the specific stock, demand is now very close to or in excess of supply.

Let us consider the paper industry's perspective for a moment. If you've watched the market through several cycles, you've probably noticed that the mills seem to have forgotten a little section of "Economics 101"-namely, commodities prices can rise when demand exceeds supply. So why, you might have wondered, didn't mills limit capacity sooner?

We'll leave out some of the variables, but there are two key reasons why shutting down machines hasn't been a shortcut to profitability. First, the enormous capital costs of papermaking mean mills become profitable only when capacity utilization is extremely high. Roughly speaking, a mill might start turning a profit when it's producing about 95 percent or more of all the paper it could possibly make. Notice the limited upside, as well as the long, brutal road to profitability. The gap between losing money and making money is very, very narrow.

The second reason mills tend not to adjust capacity tightly to demand is that there are two levels of competition for the U.S.-paper dollar. Domestic mills battle each other, and then they balance foreign paper sources with all the extra complications of currency exchange.

For the last several decades, whenever demand edged sharply above U.S. capacity, European and Canadian mills were a handy safety valve. Asian and South American sources have also entered the mix. For much of this time, the dollar's currency strength has made exporters keen to court the large market in this country.

However, we've all but lost this safety valve against supply/demand tension now that the exchange rate with both the euro and the Canadian dollar is so poor. A Finnish mill would very much prefer to sell paper to Germans, in euros, than to Americans.

Then again, what exactly is a "Finnish mill" these days? The paper industry is consolidating into international entities. But that doesn't provide any relief under our current conditions. In fact, the consolidation is not merely a compression of sources, but a new style of ownership.

Five paper companies-NewPage (which has acquired Stora Enso North America), Verso, Catalyst, Pine Bluff and West Linn-are now owned by private-equity concerns. Add up the volume these mills represent, and you'll find that private equity controls 62 percent of the coated groundwood market in North America, and 57 percent of the coated freesheet.

These companies play by new management rules. They want return on investment, they want it promptly, and, presumably, they want to sell the underlying assets as soon as they're sufficiently buffed up to make the sale worthwhile.

To some degree, even paper buyers could benefit from the new management style. Perhaps an industry that's struggled for so long to scratch toward decent margins can and should be shaken up. But it's fair to say that the new trends in management, which may spill over to other, publicly traded mills, are not designed to ease the buyer's sufferings. If a price increase can be supported, a price increase will be made.

So that's how we got here: reduced supply, the falling dollar and private-equity ownership. These conditions justified price increases, and mills have shown the fortitude to demand them.

Are the mills happy yet? Not really. Despite the 2007 round of price hikes, increases in the direct costs of papermaking have munched up much of the revenue. Fuel oil, which affects both papermaking and shipping, is the main villain, but raw materials' prices have also been increasing. In short, if the market can support further price increases, they're on the way. Look for bumps in April and, perhaps, July.

What's the Buyer To Do?
The paper buyer is left without many tactics. In broad terms, the only force that can mitigate the current paper price increases is a drop in demand still greater than the so-so to negative growth we've been seeing in the magazine and catalog markets. So, this is good news/bad news time: If your pages and counts drop still more, maybe the mills will ease off, but then your pages and counts will have dropped. If you're growing or holding your own, it may be difficult to get paper, but you'll be growing. If a lot of us are growing, prices are going to keep rising.

Let's break out the emergency flotation devices, then. To fight the impact of price increases, you can reduce basis weight, trim size, paper grade or, of course, pages and copies.

Cutting basis weight will work just fine, provided your new weight is available. Because we're struggling with both price increases and supply shortages, check the practicality of your new spec before announcing to the publisher that changing from 38 pound to 35 pound saves 8 percent. Be sure that the mill makes the weight you want, as plenty of them have basis-weight preferences.

A trim-size cut means the art staff and ad-traffic team must update templates and revise the specs in media kits. There's some work and cost to be considered right there, and it's only worth spending if you have your printer's cooperation. Switching to short cutoff presses, for example, only works if there is capacity. Publications that use a wide, 9-inch luxury format can make the change by ordering a new roll width, but if that distinctive trim size is key to audience and advertiser appeal, consider this carefully.

Changing paper grade can save a great deal, as long as it doesn't require throwing the baby out with the bath water by harming your publication's stature. If you're already on a #5 grade, the next train leaving the station is supercalendared stock. This paper performs quite differently, and you'll need your printer's commitment to make it work. Brace yourself for an increase in ink costs, as the more porous surface absorbs more. Finally, any grade change may cause you supply problems when adjusting your allocation.

Despite the caveats, all three of these adjustments can be smart techniques for controlling costs today. Make sure they suit your product and your audience, and get your printer and paper supplier to help carry them to fruition.

The other key concern is guarding your ongoing paper supply. It's safe to say that mills have taken on a go-ahead-make-my-day demeanor-if you fight too hard for better prices and terms, the mill doesn't mind an excuse to cut your allocation. Tread cautiously.

As business practices become increasingly hard-nosed, it's almost quaint to imagine that business relationships still matter. Private-equity owners are ready to be just as cutthroat as you are, so good, old relationships don't count for as much as they used to. But with the magnitude of supply cuts now and in the immediate future, a good connection with a mill or broker is one of the few shelters in this storm. You might even want to pick up the tab for lunch.

Looking Ahead
The dollar is almost certainly going to continue its swoon, so don't look for much help from Europe. Asia, however, appears to be another matter. The currency problem is just as nasty against the yuan, but China and Indonesia have shown a strong interest in cracking our mighty market.
Will shipping Chinese paper across an ocean and half a continent fix things? Not so fast. The price of pulp is higher in Asia, where fiber sources include imported pulp. Asian mills began introducing their wares at startlingly low prices, but have steadily edged upward and no longer look like a bargain. The currency exchange problem and the threat of a future tariff all suggest that Asian papers will not radically alter our paper landscape.

Our ace in the hole, it's sad to say, is a continued drop in demand that forces mills to choose between cutting still more capacity and selling at prices more favorable to buyers. Needless to say, a drop in demand comes along with lots of other depressing baggage, including the sight of publishers falling by the wayside. But those who remain strong may be able to reap benefits. In other words, the publishing market may experience its own shakeout, courtesy of rising paper prices-and let's not forget the hike in distribution costs that completes the one-two punch.

The major question is not how much mills may raise prices, but how gradually. If private-equity thinking leads the way, we may see a steep curve upward, sharp enough to kick some buyers out of the market, or constrain growth. The resulting drop in demand could kick right back at the mills. If mills take it slowly, they might end up with both profits and customers.

Prepare for more increases this year, inventory your specifications to see if you can change what you buy, and pay attention to your supplier relationships to keep the paper flowing. These are challenging times, but smart paper buyers will survive them.

Alex Brown is a consultant to magazine publishers specializing in manufacturing and magazine management. She founded her consulting company, Printmark, in 1984, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Study: Cell Phone Passes Land Line As Hardest To Give Up

Study: Cell Phone Passes Land Line As Hardest To Give Up
by Mark Walsh

NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF AMERICANS HAVE used mobile devices for things other than talking, according to a new study on mobile data usage by the Pew Internet Project.

The Pew report found that 58% of U.S. adults have used cell phones or PDAs for text-messaging, taking a picture, looking for directions or surfing the Web. A full 62% have either used a mobile data service or logged onto the Internet via a laptop away from home or work or via a handheld device.

Text-messaging and taking a photo were easily the most popular non-voice activities, with 58% of mobile users doing both at least once. Playing a game (27%), sending e-mail (19%) and accessing the Web for news, weather and other information (19%), rounded out the top five.

But on a typical day, only 31% used mobile devices for text messaging, and 15% to take a picture.

The study released today marks the first time the Pew organization has examined mobile data access. It also showed for the first time that the cell phone would be the hardest communications technology for people to give up. More than half (51%) said it would be very hard to give up their cell phone, compared to only 38% in 2002.
"Even in 2006, the landline phone was still the most difficult device for people to do without," said John Horrigan, associate director of research for the Pew Internet Project. Underscoring the premium placed on mobility, the cellphone now also trumps the Internet, TV, e-mail and the BlackBerry or a wireless e-mail device.

Not surprisingly, the Pew study found that young people and Hispanics are among the most active mobile data users. On a typical day, more than half of English-speaking Hispanics do something on their cellphones other than talking. The emergence of Hispanics and African-Americans as early mobile adopters stands in contrast to the early days of the desktop Internet, noted Horrigan.

"When the Internet was first entering mass culture, users were mostly white men," he said. "But for this new type of access to data and information we're seeing a different adoption pattern than during the desktop dial up days."

Horrigan attributes the change to cell phones being relatively inexpensive and easy to use compared to PCs a decade ago.

Similarly, 60% of people under 30 use their cell phones to text-message on an average day. About the same percentage in that age group also send or receive e-mail daily. "Text-messaging by and large seems to complement e-mail use rather than substitute for it," Horrigan said. "If someone's an active texter, they're also likely to be an active e-mailer."

Ethnic minorities and young users also lead the way in connecting to the Internet on a laptop or device while away from home or work. Accessing the Web on the go was done by 65% of Hispanics, 54% of African-Americans and 70% of users under 30.

Even the 19% overall that access the Web via mobile device was higher than Horrigan expected, however. "I was a little bit surprised at how high those levels were for people generally since (wireless) networks for the most part still aren't that fast for accessing the Internet."

The Pew December 2007 study was based on a survey of 2,054 Americans 18 and over, including 500 respondents contacted on their cell phones.

In a separate study, comScore released findings on Tuesday showing that the number of computers who access the Internet through high-speed mobile connections had more than tripled to 2.1 million in 2007. While only 1% of the U.S. Internet population goes online via mobile broadband, the technology is poised for major growth in the next few years, according to Serge Matta, senior vice president of comScore. Mark Walsh can be reached at