Monthly Archives: August 2009

The sad case of the Hartford Courant: how the nation’s oldest paper became just another blog

It looks like online sites aren’t the only ones getting in trouble for news aggregation anymore. And what better paper to illustrate the decline of journalistic integrity than the Hartford Courant?

Earlier this month, the Courant fired their consumer columnist George Gombossy when he lambasted one of the paper’s key advertisers in an article, a decision that shed some light on the questionable editorial decisions carried out by the nation’s oldest paper.

But even more alarming is this: On August 22, James Smith, a former member of the Courant and currently executive editor of The Herald of New Britain and The Bristol Press, accused the Courant of plagiarizing stories from other local papers. In his scathing column highlighting the tactics of his former paper, he wrote:

Sometimes, and this is most troubling, our coverage will appear virtually word for word, but in a shorter version with no credit. That’s called plagiarism, a fireable offense in any newsroom, as egregious as pandering to advertisers.
The once mighty Courant has been reduced to copying from its smaller competition.

The blatant allegation is one usually reserved for blogs and sites like the Daily Beast, but in this case, the Courant sseems equally guilty of breaching journalistic ethics.

Don’t worry, though. The Courant did respond, even if they weren’t so quick to dismiss the heated charge.

After The Journal Inquirer, another Connecticut paper, issued an investigative report validating Smith’s claim, Jeffrey Levine, the Courant’s director of content wrote on August 29th, an entire week after Smith’s column appeared:

We discovered a mistake in our editing process when we take articles from our website to our print newspaper. We found that we inappropriately dropped the attribution or proper credit and in some cases credited ourselves with a byline to a Courant reporter.

Former Courant reporters were unimpressed. Said Paul Stern, who writes a blog for ex-staff members:

Our reading of the statement didn’t leave us with the impression the Courant plans to stop aggregating other papers’ stories.

But maybe the Courant isn’t that out of line. Many bigger papers such as the Seattle Times and the Miami Herald are teaming up with bloggers and small local papers to encompass more local news on their own pages without having to fund their own local reporters.

Of course, these papers know that attribution is a key part of an “overall aggregation strategy,” but Gawker needed some legitimate competition anyway.


What does it mean when a bank controls the media?

Freedom Communications, the California media conglomerate and owner of the Orange County Register, is expected to declare bankruptcy this week, following a slew of similar filings by industry giants including the Tribune Company, Philadelphia Newspapers and Journal Register Company.

The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that the Irvine-based company, which owns 30 daily papers and eight TV stations, has reported their earnings have declined 75 percent in the past five years, forcing them to seek agreements with lenders to restructure their debts.

Freedom’s declaration isn’t necessarily surprising — the newspaper industry is in undeniable decline. But here’s something that is being underreported: with all these media conglomerates filing for Chapter 11 status, JPMorgan Chase is emerging as the top lender bailing out many of these companies.

Already, they own equity stakes in many print media businesses including Readers Digest — which filed for bankruptcy on August 24, Source Interlink Media and American Media, the company behind many magazine publications including Star and the National Enquirer. They also hold a majority stake in Journal Register, which owns the New Haven Register and many local east coast papers. As if this isn’t enough, the bank helped finance the 2007 sale of the Tribune Co. to Sam Zell a year before the company filed for bankruptcy.

All these holdings have resulted in combined revenues of more than $5 billion for one of the four biggest American banks.

It’s only slightly ironic that banks are becoming the biggest lenders for the declining print industry when they are struggling to stay out of bankruptcy themselves. But if JPMorgan Chase is now the country’s largest controller of the media, one can only wonder if we’ll ever hear when they go under, too.

Embracing today’s stigma, a newspaper buries the lead and prints old news

Internet’s immediacy has relegated newspapers to secondary vehicles for yesterday’s news. But the Nashville Retrospect is actually embracing this new moniker.

RetrospectThe new monthly paper, which published its first issue in July, reprints old articles from defunct papers such as The Nashville Banner and The Colored Tennessean. And though there are some original articles about Nashville history, the concept behind the print editions allows the paper to avoid the intense pressure to scoop rival papers.

And response, said publisher Allen Forkum, has been positive:

We’re getting a lot of calls and emails and letters of people relating their memories of Nashville. That’s why I say it’s about history and nostalgia, because I look at nostalgia as history people can remember, and if we can get some of that in every issue, then we’ll have something that people enjoy reading.

The paper hopes to get all of its support from advertisers, an expectation that borders on fantasy in today’s print market when most newspapers that print new news are struggling to attract businesses to their pages. But maybe a paper that actually prides itself on being out-of date will succeed.

Or maybe not. Though the retro “news”paper claims to be free, its anachronistically modern Web site (“Find us on Facebook” button included) requests a $24 annual subscription fee.

But the paper is used to printing old news anyway, so someone probably just forgot to post an update.

UPDATE: Forkum told LedeObserver the $24 subscription is for mail delivery to home doorsteps. Paper boys were ultimately deemed too old-fashioned.

Twelve years later, bringing a newspaper campaign back

Last week, LedeObserver found a newspaper commercial with Meryl Streep, who championed the merits of reading with her timeless charm. And apparently, there are similar vintage advertisements.

In 1997, the Newspaper Association of America launched its first national ad campaign to promote reading and literacy at a time when Game Boy Color and PlayStations were sucking in the country’s next generation of potential news consumers. Before the launch, John Sturm, president and chief executive of the Association, spoke about the campaign with the New York Times, describing an impassioned plan to reintroduce young people to newspapers using celebrities and public figures. At the time, he said this:

Our aim is to promote reading, education and literacy and thereby showcase newspapers as a vital, vigorous and valued medium… The campaign’s strategy is to create advertising that adds excitement and momentum to newspapers.

There’s no question that the newspaper industry is in dire straights. So maybe it’s time for a revival of these newspaper ads. And maybe we just happened to find some. Here’s to LL Cool J (available for the first time, here, at LedeObserver) and Christy Turlington.

If models and rappers can’t bring back the paper, newspapers should throw in the towel. Or consider wrapping themselves in gold. Or maybe bacon.

New laptop sleeve mimics newspapers, print editions across Europe suffer identity crisis

In a testament to a newspaper’s decreasing appeal, a company called mitemite unnecessary objects lab is offering to protect a laptop with a newspaper. Well, not an actual newspaper, but a sleeve meant to look like one.

The Spanish company is selling the sleeves for 60€ — or about $86 — in a plethora of front-page designs including three Spanish papers, the International Herald-Tribune and a German paper. But here’s a crafty catch: all the titles are misspelled. Apparently, mitemite couldn’t bear to pay the papers to use their actual titles.

Of course, if anyone tried to pick up the newspaper lying innocuously on a café table, they might notice it feels suspiciously like a MacBook Pro. But the company is operating under the assumption that newspapers are so unappealing that this would never happen anyway.

And even with a computer tucked inside, certainly no educated techno-thief would ever want to be caught carrying the “Herold Tribune.” That is, like, so much more uncool than carrying an actual newspaper.

Thought bubbles win again: Westchester Journal News cuts entire business staff, keeps cartoonist

Westchester’s Journal News has completed their reorganization, and the verdict is in: cartoons beat business.

The Gannett-owned paper announced today they had decided to lay off their entire business staff in an effort to make good on their August 12 pledge to cut 50 editorial staff members. But the paper determined the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Matt Davies, can stay.

The choice sheds light on an interesting trend begun last week by the Chicago Tribune. Despite decreasing revenue, the Windy City paper decided to hire editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis, a move the Tribune’s senior vice president and editor Gerould Kern said would “give a new dimension to our role as watchdog over the community’s interests.”

And spurred by the popularity of internet images and slideshows, Ted Rall said this:

Competing with the Internet requires newspapers to showcase their editorial pages and to use edgier, more graphic content.

But the Journal’s decision also reveals the local paper’s discouraging stance on business reporting. Who will report on local business news? And what about the entire newspaper industry?

The good news is these staff members will be able to reapply for different jobs as part of the Journal’s restructuring plan. Maybe there’s a new opening for a crossword puzzle editor.

Cuba’s Communist newspaper on a roll

If you think newspapers are dead, think again. Cuba is having a toilet paper shortage that Havana officials say won’t let up until the end of the year, but no one is as worried as they should be.

Apparently, the country’s Communist newspaper, Granma, is filling the role (roll?) nicely, with six to eight full-ply pages for effective toweling.

Try that with a Macbook. Ouch.