CNN proves BBC America is a great news source

The 6:30 AM news update on CNN started with Japan followed by the latest on Charlie Sheen. Click here for BBC World News America.

CNN fail

Image courtesy of the Great Gregory Marlowe

BBC

The joys of the writing business or, would you pay your plumber $3.50 per job?

Two ads found on Craigslist:

Professional Writers for Book Proposals (Harvard Square)

Prominent Anthropologist and Family Therapist seeks professional writers and journalists in the Boston area for Book Proposals.
Confidential Titles are:
1. Woman Unite! Does America need a Lysistrata like Ancient Greece to stop our Economic and Military Insane Wars?
2. God’s Last Call! Stop Patriarchal Original Sin Insanity; Return to Matriarchal Original Innocence so Earth does not become Planet Necropolis!
3. The Lost Art of Sacred Love- Making! Common in Primative Cultures of Polynesia , Hawaii and Eastern Goddess- based Religions!
4. More Oxytocin Please! Catch and Embrace the Spirit of Honeyfire and Enjoy the Blissful Miracles of an Oxytocin High!
Applicants must share a deep " Reverence for all Life ", and deep passion for the Well-Being of our childrens future!
This represents a great opportunity for the right candidates! Please send a letter of interest and a resume!

If they’re confidential then why are they on Craigslist? The right candidate being anyone dumb enough to respond.

and No. 2:

Writers Needed for News & Current Events

We are seeking talented and qualified writers to join our news team. Writers that are approved for the program will be assigned topics for their articles. This position gives you the opportunity to work from your home or anywhere else you have an Internet connection. Writers will be paid $3.50 per article and we anticipate most writers will earn roughly $10-12 per hour.
Writers that enter the program will go through a brief training process to outline our process and requirements for approving articles. All articles will be at least 250 words long and must be void of any errors.
This is a part-time position with many time slots available and the opportunity to progress into a full-time position with the company.

If the $3.50 per wasn’t bad enough, this is what pushes it over the edge: “We anticipate most writers will earn roughly …” And I anticipate The Cubs will win the World Series.

 

Today’s non-news: Millionaires optimistic while the rest of us worry about paying the mortgage

First from the Wall Street Journal:

Millionaire Optimism Hits 3-Year High

Now, the Washington Post:

Most Americans worry about ability to pay mortgage or rent, poll finds

Well now. I feel much better informed.

palm slap

Facebook worth more than $XX billion, say people with a vested interest in Facebook

Quiz time: Facebook  is worth how many billions of dollars?

  1. 3.7
  2. 9.5
  3. 23
  4. 33

facebook_dollar Different people have given all of the above answers and a lot of other places have published them as fact, even though these numbers are are self-serving and cannot be verified. The first two are by Facebook itself, in February and November of last year. The third is from Forbes and the last one is from the Financial Times – and all of them are totally, completely untrustworthy. Why? Well, let’s look at how Forbes’ Steve Bertoni put it: “Recent private equity investments in Facebook valued the firm at around $23 billion–more than triple its 2009 value of $7 billion.” Now why would anyone who had invested in a company possibly say that company is worth far more than previously reported? Hmmmmm. 

Facebook is a private company, so no one outside of a select few really know how much money – if any – Facebook is making. But even it’s self-reported numbers don’t sustain valuations that give it a market cap of between $23B and $33B. By way of comparison, eBay’s market cap is $32B. As Mashable so ably puts it

Facebook is still a private company that hasn’t completely figured out the profit equation. While it should surpass $1 billion in revenue this year, its infrastructure costs are also high. eBay, while not as sexy, brought in $2.215 billion in revenue during just the second quarter of this year.

What is appalling is that how many business publications are willing collaborators in this absurd deception. I am glad to see that the Wall Street Journal seems to have learned its lesson about this (see Twitter valued at $1 Billion say people with a vested interest in Twitter). H.L. Mencken had a simple rule of thumb for reporting a story like this: “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.”

Lolrus snafu as AP rejects I Can Has Cheeseburger offer

funny-pictures-cats-are-stuck-in-treesEarlier this week it was reported that the AP had turned down a purchase offer by Pet Holdings Inc., best known for the amazingly successful LOLCat’s site I Can Has Cheeseburger. Of all the efforts to Rescue The Future of Journalism™, this was by far the least expected and easily my favorite. As the LA Times put it:

The Associated Press finally axed the project on concerns over "journalistic integrity," Pet Holdings Chief Ben Huh said in an interview Monday. For the prestigious wire service to even consider associating itself with a business that makes a living from fan-made cat pictures may have seemed unthinkable a decade ago.

But if AP had started to consider it (or something like it) a decade ago they would have been a lot smarter about than anyone else in the news business. Today Pet Holdings makes money like newspapers used to. That’s because in addition to I Can Has Cheeseburger, they own a bunch of other equally serious sites, like the LOLDogs site I Has A Hotdog, and the LOLNews site Pundit Kitchen. (In the interests of full disclosure I must admit to regularly reading Cheeseburger and Hotdog.) Pet Holdings is able to make money the way it does because 99.9% of its content is generated by its readers, so all the company has to do is generate revenue from its amazing traffic numbers. I’ve been meaning to write about their marketing deal with the Seattle Mariners for far too long. They regularly sponsor lolcats nights at the ballpark which, I suspect, greatly increases attendance for the last-place Mariners.

Pet Holdings, like the newspapers of the past, has a virtual monopoly on its very loyal readership. The fact that that readership is idiots like me apparently hasn’t hurt them. While I totally respect the AP and their reasons for passing on this deal, this is the kind of totally unexpected move that will finally Rescue The Future Of Journalism™.

The Penguins of Irony’s favorite moment in the effort to save journalism from its future

Here are two of the 10 projects that came out of the “Journalism That Matters” conference at the University of Washington in January.

  • Abundant Journalism: Led by Fancher, this group eventually wants to link journalism projects and initiatives with potential donors.
  • Microfinance: The initiative would provide business and micro-finance training for journalists who want to launch new media ventures.

Whether all 10 initiatives that came out of the JTM Pacific Northwest conference can score the necessary funding to survive remains uncertain. While some have obtained initial grants, others remain unfunded. [Former Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike] Fancher acknowledged that each will face heavy competition for financing.”

penguin-seal

Rhode Island outraged by use of Massachusetts to illustrate size of oil spill

Rhode Island, perhaps because it is the smallest state in the union, is the preferred media reference when describing the size of something. This works well for both the factual and the fantastical.

031105_RhodeIsland The following are just from news stories in the past week:

The ice sheets that peel off of Antarctica all seem mathematically related to the Ocean State. The most recent: An Ice Shelf the Size of Rhode Island Breaks Up in Just 24 Hours

For those of you keeping track at home, Rhode Island is either 1000 square miles in size (just measuring the land part) or 1,500 sq. mi. if you include Narragansett Bay as well. Now comes the horrific news that MASSACHUSETTS!!! of all places is being used as a measure.

They say the dead zone is roughly the size of Massachusetts, or at least 7,722 square miles. The largest ever measured was just over 8,000 square miles in 2001.

Rhode Island has always had a chip on its shoulder about Massachusetts. My home state was literally founded by Bay State castoffs (cast off because they were in favor of things like religious tolerance, I might add). So this trend has to be stopped in its tracks. NOW. So Mr. Reporter, lets try again. It is nearly EIGHT TIMES THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND!!! Now, isn’t that more impressive?

Abortion foes breathe life into Pro-Choice ad

Abortion is illegal in Poland. To no one’s surprise this doesn’t mean abortions aren’t performed there, it’s just moved them to the back alleys – unless, of course, you’re rich. Or maybe not. A pro-abortion group has been up hanging posters which claim it’s cheaper (and less dangerous) to leave the country than to get one in country. And they did it using the MasterCard “Priceless” trope.

AdPlane ticket to England – 300 zloty. 

Accommodation – 240 zloty.

Abortion in a public clinic – 0 zloty.

Relief after a procedure carried out in decent conditions – priceless.

There’s a line at the bottom which reads: "For everything, you pay less than an underground abortion in Poland." (FYI: $1 = 2.81 zloty)

Some of the Brits have their knickers in a twist and claim this promotes “abortion tourism.” (Headlines like “NOW POLES GET FREE ABORTIONS ON NHS,” make me suspect the press has manufactured at least some of the alleged outrage.)

Several stories from UK news organizations include the following claim (or something much like it): “Thousands of Polish women travel to Britain for an abortion each year, taking advantage of the reciprocal agreement for the provision of free medical care under EU laws.” However the closest any of the reports come to citing the basis for this claim is by identifying it as coming from “A Polish source.

A church publication called The Trumpet says, “A report by the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning stated that 10,000 Polish women had abortions in Britain in 2007—costing the National Health Service (nhs) between ₤5 and ₤10 million.” Oddly, the most recent report in English on the group’s website is dated 2002. Also it is hard for me to understand why a Polish group in favor of liberalization of the abortion laws would have calculated the cost of all this to the NHS. But what do I know?

Even if somehow these statistics were true, it means 2007 was a banner year. The UK’s Office of National Statistics said only 30 Polish women took this course of action in 2008.

The only truly priceless thing here is the free publicity all this has given to SROM, the group behind the ad. Hard to see how else a bunch of street posters in Lodz would be making international headlines.

Saving business magazines, Part 1

From my blog at Emedia Vitals

Is there any reason for a weekly or monthly business magazine to still exist? Just as importantly, is there a business model that would support it?

Yes.

Every business publishing organization I have worked for should have been called Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do Inc. These tech and marketing magazines did a great job at telling their readers about the latest and/or best solutions. They just never seemed to read what they had published.

Innovate! Innovate! That was an easy story to sell to an editor because it’s what the readers wanted. Innovation was great – as long as the publishers themselves didn’t have to do it. So their magazines are dead or dying, and they didn’t have to be.

In what may be the most ironic interview of the year, Warren Buffet told the soon-to-be-deceased Editor & Publisher: "It is so easy when you’ve got a wonderful business. Complacency is pretty easy and it is why they weren’t looking over their shoulder at what was happening." (more here)

Government-sponsored journalism and other bad ideas

Is there anything more baffling or contradictory than the idea of government-subsidized journalism?

This was just one of the ideas to crop up at the FTC’s nearly oxymoronic “government-sponsored journalism conference.” Journalism – unlike any other industry – has no reason for being once it is suckling on the Federal teat. If, as John Marshall said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” how much greater is the power to de-fund? Further, the press, which the general public already views as being in someone’s pocket (even if they are unsure whose), would lose whatever vestiges of credibility it still has.

From yet another of my blogs at EmediaVitals. Click for more…

Another damn blog by this guy? Can’t he just SHUT UP?

One more blog not to read if you are trying to avoid me. (Of course if you’re really trying to avoid me shouldn’t you have unfriended me by now?) In theory this blog is about aspects of "print media executives transitioning their business to emedia." In fact it is once again me making up random facts and somehow getting away with it.

Recreating the newspaper experience? I think I’ll pass

by Constantine von… | Tue, 2009-12-01 16:47

The Boston Globe has launched the GlobeReader, an Adobe Air software package that promises to let the weberati recreate the "newspaper experience" online. They launched it with a two-page spread in the A section of last Sunday’s edition. Apparently they think this is only of interest to their dead tree readers, as there is no mention of it WHATSOEVER on the home page of Boston.com. …

OK, what idiot uses an alleged word like “weberati”?

Lies, Damned Lies and Black Friday sales figures

firesale-savingsStories about the success of Black Friday/Cyber Monday  are as inevitable as taxes and death but nowhere near as reliable. It goes like this: "Great Black Friday sales numbers mean a big shopping season. Insert somebody’s numbers to support this and then a quote or two from an analyst." Publish, forget, and hope no one notices that they are ALWAYS — even in good economic times — WRONG. In the past these stories have been an embarrassment. Now they are colluding with retailers to overcome the facts in the hopes that somehow shear massive denial will rescue us.

This isn’t whistling past the graveyard, it’s renting a whole symphony orchestra.

Although the actual sales figures would later show a whopping 0.5% increase in sales, here’s the AP’s early report on what should be called Bogus Saturday:

The nation’s shoppers took advantage of deals on toys and TVs with some renewed vigor in stores and online on Black Friday after a year of concentrating their spending on basic necessities. Though the first numbers won’t be available until Saturday, early reports indicated bigger crowds than last year, with people buying more and even throwing in some items for themselves.

“Though the first numbers won’t be available until Saturday”? That’s shorthand for “we’re making this up.”

Stores were encouraged that shoppers appeared to be a little freer with their spending. Best Buy, Sears Holdings Corp. and Mall of America, as well as mall operators Taubman Centers and Simon Property Group, offered signs people were buying more than last year.

“Offered signs”? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

An average of about 1,000 people were in line for midnight openings at Toys R Us stores, CEO Gerald Storch said. After setting aside 100 Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters for each location, Toys R Us came back with several shipments of the hot toy for several of its stores Friday.

And Mr. Storch is certainly an unbiased observer with no vested interest in the outcome of this story. Fortunately Mr. Storch’s “facts” were backed up by none other than Macy’s CEO Terry J. Lundgren. Lundgren said more than 5,000 people were at Macy’s Herald Square store in New York early Friday, slightly more than last year. (WHERE DO THESE NUMBERS COME FROM? Is there someone whose job it is to count the number of people in line? )

Having passed off the above as news, the AP then goes to a person-on-the-street for further uninformed opinion.

Dondrae May, a manager at a Best Buy in Framingham, Mass., said shoppers started lining up at 4 p.m. Thursday — 13 hours before opening. He said shoppers were filling their baskets with more items than a year ago, when they were shellshocked after the financial meltdown.

Everyone repeat after me: The plural of anecdote is NOT data. The plural of anecdote is NOT data. The plural of anecdote is NOT data. The plural of anecdote is NOT data. The plural of anecdote is NOT data….

At least Bloomberg had the decency to make it clear the adjective for the sales figure was alleged, not proven.

Retailers reported “strong” shopper traffic on Black Friday as discounts on televisions, toys and computers drew budget-conscious crowds across the U.S., the National Retail Federation said.

Although Bloomberg also cites a retail CEO (Best Buy) as saying sales are better, they don’t pass off his opinion as anything but that. (BTW, Storch & Dunn’s questionable numbers are also quoted in the Bloomberg story and in the Wall Street Journal. Some PR agency is earning its commission!)

That said, Bloomberg does pass along this piece of genius seemingly without pausing to ask where these statistics come from:

“There’s a little more traffic than last year across the board, maybe 10 percent,” Bill Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers Inc., a U.S. real estate investment trust with 24 malls, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Thank G-d for the Wall Street Journal which had the common decency to run a story poking holes in all these predictions.

Black Friday’s predictive powers are limited. Although the day after Thanksgiving was the No. 1 shopping day in terms of sales last year, when economic turmoil made it a retail free-for-all, it typically is eclipsed by the last Saturday before Christmas. Similarly, "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, hasn’t been the top day for online sales since the term was created five years ago.

The end of the end of the Great Recession

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. – Mencken

Remember all that robust economic activity we heard so much about last month? The stuff about the economy expanding at 3.5% for the third quarter of this year and “officially” marking an end to the Great Recession? Ooops.

It was only 2.8% according to revised Commerce Department numbers. (And every reporter who is even semi-competent knew this reduction was coming. This number will be revised at least once more.)

That 0.7% difference is big. It means the basis of all this activity was mostly a result of the Federal gov’t running up its credit card and not by the creation of goods and services as a result of non-government created demand. Most of the spending was the result of government subsidies of the housing and auto industries via the Cash For Clunkers program and the $8,000 tax “credit” for 1st time homebuyers. It had been hoped that these would spur ancillary spending and thereby help the economy. This was not the case. People spent only on the things they could get a deal on.

And even that spending was problematic as the FHA seems intent on recreating the subprime insanity that got us into this mess.

Robert Toll, CEO of Toll Brothers, said today at a New York home builders conference that FHA lending could create another huge crisis in the mortgage industry, referring to it as “yesterday’s subprime.” He also went as far as calling it a “definite train wreck,” noting that a “flag will go up in the next couple of months” for bail out money.

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Toll’s money comes from the FHA so he  has a vested interest in NOT saying this.

Nor were individuals the only ones to reign rein in their spending:. Via AP: “Companies cut back spending on commercial construction — a weak spot in the economy — at 15.1% annualized pace. That was deeper than the 9% annualized cut back first estimated.” On the plus side: Corporate profits climbed by the most in five years.

Oh, wait, you mean you aren’t a corporation?

OOOOOPS, again.

Maybe that’s not good news.

The AP story tries so hard to offer both sides of the story that it contradicts itself in places:

For the current quarter, some economists think economic growth will slow to around a 2.5 percent pace, though others say it could reach 3 percent if holiday sales turn out better than expected. [I would like some drug testing done on those “others”.]

Most say they think the economy will weaken again next year, with growth at a pace of around 1 percent as the impact of the $787 billion stimulus package fades and consumers keep tightening their belts under the strain of high unemployment and hard-to-get credit.*

So for some reason consumers are going to shell out in this quarter but then stop. I may have missed it but I don’t think there has been a subsidy for Christmas presents. Unlike some other economists, I think most people know January follows December and behavior that won’t make sense then doesn’t make sense now.

By the way, the professional wishful thinking classes will be out in force for Black Friday so make sure not to believe a single damn thing they say. Reporting false bright numbers about the coming weekend is an annual and longstanding tradition. See: Journalists still too lazy to report truth about Black Friday

Journalists deeply irritated at working over the long weekend writes stories that begin: “Great Black Friday sales numbers mean a big shopping season. Insert somebody’s numbers to support this and then a quote or two from an analyst.” Publish, forget, and hope no one notices that they are ALWAYS — even in good economic times — WRONG.

I don’t know which irritates me more, that we are being lied to so badly or that we are so eager to go along with it.

PS: The FDIC Deposit Insurance fund is now in “Negative Territory” (ie, broke) as the number of bank failures continues to increase.

*The article has a great example of how journalists say what they believe to be true without getting caught at it: “What’s not clear is whether the recovery can continue after government supports are gone. If consumers clam up, the economy could tip back into recession.”

They report, you decide – because they can’t make up their mind

MSNBC: Ethics Committee clears Sen. Burris (D-Ill.) of wrongdoing over appointment

Washington Post:  Senate ethics committee admonishes Burris

OK, all those of you who find the idea of a Senate ethics committee hysterical signal by saying “aye.” The motion passes by a vote of 270,000,000 to 100.