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

One more reason ProPublica rocks

From their blog, Officials Say The Darndest Things:

“No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.A judge, summarizing the defense offered by Coca-Cola’s lawyers as to why the company’s marketing for vitaminwater isn’t deceptive.

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?

Be afraid: Rep. starts congressional ‘Media Fairness Caucus’

From my blog at EmediaVitals:

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Idiocy) believes the press is biased and doesn’t represent the values of most Americans. Reasonable people could disagree on this but it’s certainly not an unusual or insane point of view. What is insane is Smith’s solution. The Media Fairness Circus, er, Caucus: “will encourage fairness and balance in reporting, while calling attention to biased coverage in a fair and reasonable way. By bringing attention to media bias and promoting an open dialogue between members of the media and elected officials, we plan to remind the media of their profound obligation to provide the American people with the facts, and not tell them what to think.

Read the rest here at EmediaVitals.

penguin-sealIt is worth noting that this level of stupidity isn’t limited to the legislative branch. Today, President Obama signed a bill promoting free press around the world. The bill was named after slain journalist Daniel Pearl. Here’s the kicker: Press access to the signing was restricted.

The ceremony on Monday raised some eyebrows as well because the White House restricted media access as the president signed a free press bill. The event was open only to a pool of reporters and photographers who report back to their colleagues. It also came at a time when Mr. Obama’s administration is seeking to force a New York Times reporter, James Risen, to testify about his sources for a book in which he reported on a secret effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

 

CRY HAVOC, AND LOOSE THE PENGUINS OF IRONY!!!

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…

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.

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.

The least comprehensible start of a news story – ever?

Orders placed with U.S. factories rose less than forecast in July, restrained by a decline in non-durable goods such as oil and food that masked a jump in demand for new equipment that was larger than previously estimated.

This is the journalistic version of TMI. You can’t get it all in the lede and it will only hurt if you try.

I will try to translate what I think was meant: The orders for stuff from US factories didn’t hit the July estimate because of a decline in non-durable goods like food and oil. That’s as much sense as I can get out of this and even that sense is dubious. Is it the production, demand or sales which declined? Whichever one allegedly masked a larger-than-expected increase in demand for new equipment. How do you mask a jump? Is there some stealth technology for statistics that masks an increase? Or maybe some masking agent such as is used by athletes wishing to hide steroid consumption?

If the purpose of the lede is to get me to read the rest of the story this one just got me to reach for the ibuprofen.

Hyenas salivate as journalism biz collapses

The NYTimes is threatening to shut down the Boston Globe unless it gets $20M in cuts from its unions. The Times is bleeding money and The Globe is a major and open wound.

newspaperBoth the NYT and The Globe are just some among the many newspapers either circling the drain or already down it. (The irony of Globe predeceasing the rival Boston Herald would be staggering. The Herald — a former employer — has been on its deathbed for at least 25 years. It has reportedly only survived the current downturn because the price of newsprint has fallen through the cellar.) The Rocky Mountain News is gone, both of the Philly papers are bankrupt as is the Chicago Sun-Times, The LA Times, the Detroit newspapers  … and the list goes depressingly on.

There are now so few papers with reporters in DC that the Washington press corps could hold its meetings in any moderately sized Dunkin’ Donuts (no way can they afford Starbucks). The journalism biz looks to be going the way of the domestically owned automobile companies. While I could easily get all gushy and nostalgic about newspapers, I won’t. I am clearly not an impartial judge on the topic. I had a lot of fun working for them and learned a lot reading them — let’s leave it at that.

The problem with the disappearance of something like newspapers may take a while to be noticed. It is hard to say what the impact of un-reported news will be. The immediate impact will actually be the lack of a threat. The worry that something might get into the press has served as a damper (however slight at times) of the excesses of business and government. Given the fiascoes of the last nine years alone — when we had a nominally well staffed and curious press — it is terrifying to think of what comes next. Much of the press blew the run-up to the George Bush Desert Classic but they all seemed to get it when in fact no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found and suddenly the nation’s population realized it had been hoodwinked.

The press fills an important niche in our information age and the end of it in one form means it will pop-up in another form. Some people want to turn newspapers or whatever they will be called into non-profits and have them run by foundations (I’m never quite sure where these foundations are going to get the $ from). Still others think something like the NPR beg-as-you-go model will do the trick. Still others say that blogs and citizen journalists will fill the gap.

I would have more faith in this last if I had not spend quite so much time watching novice journalists becoming accomplished ones. Just like any other craft, journalism consists of skills that must be learned. While a self-taught electrician may become as good as one apprenticed to someone else I do not want to provide my house for him to do his or her learning on. I do not know if I am a good journalist but I do know I am a damn site better that I was when I started out 24 years ago. I am better because I had people show me how to ask questions, how to listen to answers, how to spot a discrepency, how to verify facts and to face the facts even when it means the death of a really pretty hypothesis. Business and the government have entire departments devoted to nothing but spinning the facts, institutionally those departments are all living for the day when they only have to deal with “citizen journalists.”(See footnote)

Something will eventually take the place of all these newspapers which have trained so many reporters and kept an eye on those boring things most of us have no interest in. (Sewer committee and zoning board meetings — you don’t want to go to them. Hell, I didn’t want to go to them and they were paying me to do so but when those guys screwed up you certainly wanted to know about it.) What scares me is the interim. Ladies and gentlemen, the great barbecue is set to begin and you will definitely be served.

FOOTNOTE: None of which is to knock the phenomenon of the citizen journalist. My good friend Karen Gadbois is one such and she is one of the best there is. Karen lives in New Orleans and writes the truly excellent blog Squandered Heritage. What she does is listen to words of various pols and bureaucrats about what they say is being done to repair New Orleans and then goes to look and see if it is actually being done. Then she writes up any differences between promise and reality. Her work is good enough that she has been the source of information that other reporters have used to win some major awards — including one from the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization and a Peabody Award. (Why her name isn’t on the awards is a little beyond me — but never mind). It is more than a little sobering, though, that Karen has not made any money off her endeavor and is wondering how to keep it going.