A.A. Bondy
American Hearts

Leaves in the Gutter

For What I Don't Become

The Thick of It
BBC America

Saddest Ghost Lamp

Friday, February 24, 2006

Snap Up That Time Warner Stock as Soon as You Can, Kids

If I read Keith Kelly correctly, Entertainment Weekly claims to have deliberately reduced its circulation by 1.7 percent in the last six or so months (including a whopping 30 percent drop on the newsstand), because it had been exceeding its rate base:
A spokeswoman said the magazine had been delivering a substantial bonus above its rate base guarantee last year.

Rate base is the amount of circulation publishers guarantee to advertisers they will deliver each issue. Publishers would be penalized if they drop below rate base, but wouldn't get increased ad revenue if they exceed the rate base.

"We wanted to bring it back down," she said. "You don't want to pay for those additional copies if you don't need them."

It's not hard to imagine the urgent, late-night phone calls from Time Inc. editorial honcho John Huey to EW editor Rick Tetzeli: "Rick! You're killing us with all these new readers! The magazine's just too hot right now. You've got to scale it down before it gets out of hand and we have to raise the rate base."

"OK, John, OK. But what more can we do, for crying out loud? We've already brought in Stephen King."

"We've talked about this, Rick. Quizzes. Give me quizzes."

Monday, February 20, 2006

How I Know the Oscars Are Going to Suck

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Most Important Question Ever Posed to a Vice President

Sometimes, Two Wrongs Feels SO Right

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Anniversary to You

On this date in 2005, you caught wind of a self-consciously hip and confusingly named late entry into the crowded field of bloggery, and you never let go. What a wild ride it's been. Congratulations. Take the day off, kid. You've earned it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Announcing the Reference Tone Chicago Tribune Public Editor Replacement Clock

Looks like Chicago Tribune public editor Don Wycliff has decided to run out the rest of his career flacking for Notre Dame. He's leaving the Tribune effective March 13.

Which means that Reference Tone now officially launches its Public Editor Replacement Clock. How long will it take the Trib to find a replacement for Wycliff, assuming they intend to? How long will they chew it over, look at the budget, and wonder if having a public editor is really worth it? Day One starts on March 14.

Other Reference Tone Chicago Tribune Replacement Clocks:

Television Critic: Day 214
Perspective Editor: Day 178
Associate Managing Editor for Features: Day 391
Editorial Cartoonist: Day 2,049
Tempo Columnist: Day 1,241
Book Critic: Infinity
Notes to Replacement Clocks: The last bylined story by a "Tribune television critic" was a Steve Johnson piece on July 10, 2005. According to a September 2005 Mike Miner piece, managing editor Jim O'Shea sent an e-mail to staff in "mid-August" announcing Perspective editor Charlie Madigan's appointment to create a 24-hour news desk; the clock began on August 15. Associate managing editor for features Mary Elson moved to Tribune Media Services on January 14, 2005. Cartoonist Jeff McNelly died on June 8, 2000. Columnist Bob Greene resigned on September 15, 2002. The last byline by a "Tribune book critic" was in 1993, but they're obviously not replacing that slot. I am very bad at math and in all likelihood made significant errors.
[Via Romenesko.]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You Don't Mess Around With Jim

Chicago Tribune managing editor James O'Shea

Busy day for Chicago Tribune editors over at Uncle Jimmy's Place. Tribune managing editor Jim O'Shea has written an open letter to Tucker Carlson, blasting him for calling the Tribune "cowardly" and O'Shea a "corporate worm" on last night's show because the Tribune declined to run the Satanic Cartoons. O'Shea makes three interesting charges, upon which I shall expound in turn:

1) "It is no wonder that people don't want to appear on your show. I know I won't appear on your show or MSNBC and I would guess that would apply to my colleagues at the Chicago Tribune."

Guess again, O'Shea. Have you ever met your deputy managing editor for features?

2) "The people who work here are brave, courageous reporters and editors who make tough calls everyday, an experience I know you can't understand since you've never done so."

Carlson doesn't need me to defend him, but his bow-tied visage tends to obscure the fact that he actually has covered wars in Central America, survived a plane crash in Pakistan, been to Iraq, and generally done more dangerous reporting than people give him credit for.

3) "I suspect that the Chicago Tribune will be around a lot longer than you, Tucker, and if I'm wrong, I will buy you your drink of choice, which is probably a sarsaparilla."

When did Yosemite Sam take over the Tribune? Git that lilly-livered varmint, Jim!

Kirk Kicks the Can

Jim Kirk, the Chicago Tribune's associate managing editor for business and former marketing columnist, has written a response to Geoff Dougherty's charge that the Trib spiked a story that would have named Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons as one of the worst CEOs in Chicago when you compare excutive pay to performance. Here it is, in its entirety:
Geoff Dougherty's characterization of the executive pay story as well as the circumstances surrounding his resignation are completely false. The Chicago Tribune has never shied away from covering news about the paper, its sister companies, its corporate parent, or its executives. But the article Mr. Dougherty published Tuesday on his website is not the one he wrote for the Tribune. As he himself admits in a postscript, the story he posted Tuesday is a revised version of his original reporting, because, as he put it, the story needed "editing, updating and factchecking."

As for his resignation, we do not discuss personnel matters, and we won't address that here. But I will note that Mr. Dougherty offered his resignation before meeting with editors here to discuss his complaint. After looking into his complaint, and finding it lacked merit, editors decided to accept his resignation.
Kirk was a fantastic reporter and a muscular writer, which makes this less-than-crystaline managerial memo that carries his name a puzzlement to me. Fine, you can't comment on employment matters. But the fact that the version of Dougherty's story that was posted on his web site is not the same version that he filed is immaterial to his charge: That Tribune editors killed a story that would have been critical of FitzSimons without explanation.

The question the Tribune needs to answer is this: Why didn't the executive compensation piece run? As I noted before, the Tribune has dinged former Tribune Co. CEOs using the same formula. So how come this piece didn't see the light of day? If there were a good reason, I suspect Kirk would have cited it in his response.

[Via Romenesko]

You Never Call, You Never Write

If anybody sent me an e-mail to the address yesterday or this morning, I didn't get it, owing to a hosting service glitch. So please re-send 'em if you got 'em.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hey Dennis, You're Still the Best CEO In My Book

Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons sure is touchy. Former Chicago Tribune reporter Geoff Dougherty lays out the reason he quit the Trib last year to found the Chicago Daily News (now unfortunately known, due to trademark crap, as the Chitown Daily News): The annual ranking he was working on of the worst CEOs in Chicago when you compare company performance to executive pay was spiked for no apparent reason. Oh, and the second-worst CEO he came up with was FitzSimons:
And then, 36 hours before the article was to appear, it was killed. Tribune editors ducked questions about why they hadn’t run the article, and declined to schedule it for publication.

As a member of the Trib's investigative reporting team, I'd often been in the position of demanding answers from public and corporate officials about their conduct. When it became apparent to me, after months of evasive corporate-speak on the FitzSimons article, that the Tribune wasn't willing to subject itself to the same kind of scrutiny, I resigned.

The story that FitzSimons--or, more likely, an irrational and generalized fear of FitzSimon's reaction on the part of Dougherty's editors--killed can be found here on Chitown Daily News.

The funny thing is, five years ago, when John Madigan was the CEO of Tribune Co., the Trib did the same annual ranking. And guess what it found:
In the rankings for 2000, the lowest rated CEO was John Madigan, chief executive of Tribune Co., parent of Chicago Tribune Co. Tribune Co. completed an $8 billion acquisition of Times Mirror Co. last year.

Madigan saw his cash compensation rise 45 percent, to $4.0 million, while the company's total return to shareholders declined 22 percent in 2000.
I happened to be interviewing at the Trib for a media beat job--which I didn't get--right after that story came out in April 2001. I remember asking about what kind of corporate pressures media reporters are under at the Trib, with all its holdings, and the editor I interviewed with brought up Madigan's furious response to that story as an example. Looks like FitzSimons found a more convenient way to deal with the problem--head it off at the pass, so to speak.

I also remember that when the Tribune hired a media beat reporter two years ago in the New York bureau, after ignoring the beat for years despite numerous protests from me and others, the explanation from the business desk was this: They didn't hire a reporter in New York because they wanted more coverage of the media business. They hired a reporter in New York because they wanted the rage coming from the executive suite every time the Trib wrote about media consolidation or circulation scandals at Newsday to be directed to the New York bureau, rather than the Trib newsroom. In other words, it gave Trib editors an out when they were stuck in the elevator with a red-faced FitzSimons: "Talk to New York."

[Via Romenesko]

Last Year's Gossip Today

Page Six picks up some hot gossip about Jack Black today: "WILD child Jack Black grew up in a sex cult where his father and mother were in a nightly menage a trois." Titillating! You can read all about it, Page Six, tells us, in GQ magazine, which apparently profiled Black and drew out those demons from his childhood.

Of course, that would be in the January 2006 issue of GQ, which hit stands just about two months ago. It's amazing the great items you can find digging through a pile of old magazines in the corner of your office.

[Via Defamer]

Monday, February 06, 2006

Quality Over Quantity at the Tribune

Every year, the Chicago Tribune hands out what it calls the Jones-Beck Awards to its favorite employees. It's a big to-do, complete with a wacky White House Correspondents Dinner-style self-mocking short film, and all the sadsacks who've been there for 30 years get a keychain (or something) and a pat on the back. There's a cash component for winners--somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, if I remember correctly (not that I ever won one).

This year's ceremony was on Friday, and staff reporter Emily Nunn, who occasionally writes about food for features, took home the award for best writer of 2005. First I'll state unequivocally for the record that Nunn, who jumped from the New Yorker to the Tribune a few years ago, is extremely talented and I firmly and wholeheartedly concur with the judgment that she is the Tribune's best full-time staff writer.

And now I will present without comment the number of stories that carried Nunn's byline in the Chicago Tribune during the 2005 calendar year: 38. That's one story every 6.8 weekdays. Total words was 37,632. Average story length was just under 1,000 words. Average output was about 144 words per weekday. This post is already longer than that.

For purposes of comparison, Nunn's boss, deputy managing editor for features Jim Warren, who writes a column about magazines for Tempo in addition to running the features department, managed to snag 33 bylines in 2005, for a total 25,733 words.

My friend Monica Eng, who also writes about food for features, had 86 bylines last year. Metro reporter Gary Washburn had 333. I had 25, and my last day was February 28.

In other words, here's hoping the Tribune deploys its best writer a little more aggressively this year.

SHAC Attack


The story I was working on--had finished, actually--when Radar died was an idea that my friend and former Radar editor Hanya brought to me nearly a year ago. It was on SHAC--Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty--a fascinating and scary group of animal rights activists who have given up on polite protest and advocate violence and intimidation to shut down one specific laboratory, Huntingdon Life Sciences, that tests pharmaceuticals and other products on animals. They were indicted two years ago on a variety of federal conspiracy charges, including stalking lab executives. The trial begins today in New Jersey.

One of the reasons it's an interesting case is that the SHAC defendants aren't actually accused of any direct criminal actions. They just post the names and addresses of Huntingdon executives on their web site, encourage people to "let them know" how they feel about what Huntingdon does to puppies, and then publish accounts from anonymous saboteurs about how they paint-stripped some executive's car. Virtually every charge relates to SHAC's web site.

Another reason it's an interesting case is that SHAC's president in the U.S. is Pamelyn Ferdin, a former child actress who voiced Lucy in the Charlie Brown cartoons and insists that Charles Schulz was down with cracking puppy-killer heads.

You can read about it here, on Salon, which bought my story after Radar folded. I promise it's worth the little ad you have to watch. Salon told me it was going to be the "cover" story for Monday, but it seems I got bumped by Betty Friedan. Chicks.

I Guess Paul Westerberg Was Busy

How odd. A new promo I saw running Saturday on CNN features a testimonial from Alejandro Escovedo, of all people: "CNN's approach is presented in a very direct way," he says from what looks like a guitar shop. The spot even features Escovedo's signature on-screen, American Express-style. There are similar endorsements from Todd Usry, director of operations for a microbrewery; Que Gaskins, a marketing executive; Serena Kim, a features editor at Vibe; Tom Dickinson, co-owner of Montgomery Biscuits (!); and Shawn Amos, a folk singer. Seeing as how it's a multicultural group of CNN lovers, with two white men, two black men, and an Asian woman, there are two explanations:

1) Escovedo is the only Latino anyone at CNN could think of aside from Rick Sanchez, or...

2) It's a shameless bid to win favor with Escovedo's Number One Fan.

Replace "New" With "Free," And You Get the Idea

Marty Peretz hates Slate. Readers will recall his wondrous, curmudgeonly, and unprovoked denunciation of Slate columnist Jack Shafer a few weeks ago, and Shafer's delighted response. In this, the latest installment of Peretz's descent into Internet crank-dom, our hero takes a swipe, apropos of nothing, at his former New Republic employee Jacob Weisberg:
[Weisberg] now runs Slate, apparently unpleasantly enough for a few first-rate staffers to have already departed to Yahoo!, with perhaps a few more highly valued staff thinking about it.
The ostensible occasion for Peretz's pique is the shabby treatment of his friend and advice columnist Margo Howard at the hands of Slate, which has prompted her to jump to Yahoo!. Peretz marvels at Howard's shockingly low salary of $33,800 a year, which is rather entry-level. Surely all the hard work she's put into being Ann Landers' daughter is worth more than that.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Girls on the Next Page

The above photograph appears on page 73 of Sunday's New York Times Magazine, in a Style package headlined "Presumed Innocent."

Someone call Peter Landesman.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mr. Richards' Confusion Over What, Exactly, It Means to "Fix a Laptop" Led to Some Awkward Backstage Moments With Members of the Geek Squad

I know I've had a Rolling Stones thing going on lately, but this paragraph, from today's Wall Street Journal story on the growing business of tech support for touring acts, made me giggle without end:
Technology can be particularly baffling for older musicians. During the Rolling Stones' 1997 "Bridges to Babylon" concert, Geek Squad's Mr. Stephens helped 62-year-old Mr. Jagger connect to the Internet after he had had trouble dialing up. "All I did was add a 9 in front of the number and he was like 'wow, man, you're so cool,'" Mr. Stephens recalls, imitating a British accent. As for Keith Richards, also 62, Mr. Stephens says, "I seriously think he'd never operated a computer before."

They Do, However, Account For Everyone I Know By Name Aside From Various Domestics and Diplomats, So You See How It's an Easy Mistake to Make

A correction in today's New York Times:
A front-page article on Jan. 13 about the expectation that the United States population would reach 300 million in October misstated the proportion of Americans who are Anglo-Saxon Protestants. According to current surveys, about 40 percent of the population is white Protestant. Anglo-Saxon Protestants, therefore, do not account for "most Americans."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Rockin' Recon

With all the bad press aimed at the National Security Agency these days, it's only a matter of time before they figure out the key to winning over public opinion if you're a creepy, Orwellian, all-seeing government organ: A music video!

It worked for the National Reconnaissance Office, which is watching you right now. But you don't hear Congress complaining, because they're too busy watching "NRO: 40 Years of Reconnaissance," the NRO's 40th anniversary music video--complete with a custom-written, and quite moving, album-oriented-rock song--over and over again. Sample lyrics:
Time is flying by, but every day we're learning
Images of the world, so new...
And we'll be there when you call
Anytime will be alright
We'll see and hear it all
Giving you everything in sight
It's six years old, but already historically significant, since it is clearly a previously unknown work from the man who brought us this treasure.

Of course, if the NSA tries the emotionally stirring music video route, they'll probably want to write their own new lyrics, since "We'll be there when you call" doesn't really play to their strengths right now.

[Found on the Memory Hole.]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Actually Think Black Whale Is a Cooler Name

Matt Suggs, formerly of Butterglory, and creator of Golden Days Before They End and Amigo Row, two of the best records of the Aughts, has formed a new band: White Wale.

They've got one of those Rupert's Space pages here, and they've posted four songs from a forthcoming record. They sound very good and very different.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Let It Bleed

Don't fuck with Keith.

Via Moistworks.

UPDATE: The link is sadly now broken, but for what it's worth, it was video of a shirtless Keith Richards on stage with the Rolling Stones in 1981, in the middle of "Satisfaction." A crazed fan gets past security and on to the stage. Richards removes his black Telecaster Custom, wields it from the neck like a bat, and viciously swings at the fan, landing three or four blows, while the band keeps playing. The fan runs away. Richards puts the guitar back on, turns up the volume, and continues playing.

Back Off, Cleveland!

From the We Are an Important City, Dammit! files: The online headline for this item by the Chicago Tribune's lovable Terry Armour on Oscar nominee Terrence Howard is "Nominated Chicago Actor 'Can't Believe It.'"

From a July Sun-Times profile of Howard: "He was born in Chicago, but three months later moved with his family to Cleveland."