Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A big "oops" in Santa Barbara

When you print an apology that includes the sentence "The Daily Sound would never advocate for the assassination of our president or any other person," you know you're having a bad day.

The free daily in Santa Barbara, California, is apologizing for a column that many readers apparently interpreted as a call to take the life of the president.

Of course there are two sides to any story, and this is no exception. The Daily Sound printed this piece (here is a link) December 10 by Gina Perry, a resident who writes a column every other week for the paper. She slams Obama supporters including those who wanted to put a $200,000 bounty on the head of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, who is speaking out against the president's healthcare plan and proposed carbon emission legislation. The "bounty" was for anyone who could dig up personal dirt on Donohue that would force him to resign.

At the end of the column, Perry writes, "The most dangerous extremist in this country is the one running it. Perhaps a bounty should be put on his head."

Jeramy Gordon, the publisher and founder of the Daily Sound, wrote in a December 16 apology, "Even if the assassination of our president wasn’t Perry’s intended meaning — which she claims — it’s a conclusion that many highly educated people came to."

To Gordon's credit, he didn't fire Perry. His reasoning: "we carry the old-school ideal that fighting opposing opinions with more opinions and more words is the most effective way to right a perceived wrong." And to that end, Gordon has printed numerous letters critical of him and Perry.

Many publishers would have fired her in the hopes that the controversy would go away. At a corporate, chain-owned paper, it's easy to imagine a boss at the home office calling the local publisher and yelling, "What the hell is going on there? Fire that woman!"

On the other hand, Gordon did offer a full apology and explained that the column wasn't edited before being published. "This is truly an unfortunate situation and we’ve learned our lesson that guest opinion pieces need to be more closely monitored," Gordon wrote.

Still, we can imagine that when the calls started rolling in after Perry's column first appeared, Gordon probably felt like somebody in a Southwest Airlines commercial that has the tag line "Want to get away?"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Column about snow causes a storm

A controversy has erupted in Colorado over a free daily's firing of a reporter who criticized Vail Resorts for exaggerating snowfall reports.

The reasons behind the firing of Bob Berwyn are in dispute.

A Denver Post columnist says Berwyn was fired by the Summit Daily News for his Nov. 19 column, which chided Vail Resorts for saying it got so much snow that it had to shut its headquarters down. The company's headquarters are in the Denver suburb of Broomfield — 70 miles from the slopes on Colorado's front range. While it was snowing in Broomfield, it was sunny on the ski slopes.

Berwyn pointed this fact out at the end of the column.

"I sometimes wonder whether the ski industry wouldn't benefit more from being completely transparent about weather and snowfall with its customers," Berwyn wrote.

The Summit Daily News, based in the ski town of Breckenridge (above), gets a lot of its advertising from Vail Resorts, the owner of ski-lifts and real estate offices in that town as well as Vail.

Berwyn told the Denver Post that Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz called to cancel his ads — and two weeks later Berwyn was out of a job.

The publisher of Summit Daily News, Jim Morgan, denies that pressure from Vail Resorts led to Berwyn's firing.

Morgan wrote: "[O]ur decision to terminate his employment [was] based on a series of events, documented in reviews over a significant period of time."

Adding another dimension to the controversy, Katz, the head of Vail resorts, issued a news release complaining Berwyn never attempted to reach the company for its side of the story. Also, Katz asks why would he be hyping the snow in October, when his resorts aren't even open?

Katz says he only put his ads on a "temporary" hold after he suspected Berwyn was repeating what Katz said was a private conversation they had after the column. Katz said he never threatened to permanently pull his ads.


All of this left my head spinning. Maybe it's a case of a big advertiser pushing around a newspaper over critical coverage, or perhaps it is a bad reporter making up a story as to why he got fired. I don't know.

And if Berwyn is going to go after the ski industry for exaggerating snow accumulations, why didn't he do it as a big blockbuster front-page story instead of a sentence or two buried at the end of a long column?

One other thing I don't know, and this has nothing to do with journalism, but why does a ski resort operator have its headquarters 70 miles from the slopes?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Washington Post redesigns Express

The Washington Post has redesigned its free daily, Express, by changing fonts, adding more color and going to a magazine approach on the front page.

Instead, Express now has a cover story each day consisting of a headline and large photo — but no text. Inside Express is devoting a full-page to the cover story, giving a writer an opportunity to go into more depth than usual.

The redesign wasn't a radical change — sometimes designers go nuts and readers don't recognize the new product — but instead appeared to be tweaking of an already successful free daily.

Unlike RedEye, TBT, Metro or amNewYork, Express isn't putting much celebrity news on the cover. Instead, the D.C. free daily has a heavy diet of hard news. Recent cover stories include:
    • Dec. 1: "Obama's War," a preview of his national TV speech on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.

    • Dec. 2: The White House party crashers complaining their lives have been destroyed.

    • Dec. 3: The beginning of stem cell trials.

    • Dec. 4: The implications of the NBC-Comcast merger.

    • Dec. 7: "Emissions: Impossible," a preview of the Copenhagen climate conference.

    • Dec. 8: The uprising in Tehran.

    • Dec. 9: Improving test scores in D.C. schools.

    • Dec. 10: "The War and Peace Prize," the president's Nobel Peace Prize.

    • Dec. 11: "On Notice," the Metro transit system's boss is under the gun.
Notice that the biggest tabloid story during this period — Tiger Woods — wasn't a cover story, though it was teased on the front a couple of times.

"Our goal is to pack more news onto our pages than ever before while at the same time making the paper more attractive and easier to navigate," said a front page note introducing the redesign on Nov. 30.

As for the fonts, Express changed its news headline font from Knockout to Flama, its features headline font from Miller to Farnham, and its body copy (and decks) from Miller to Fenway. Also, they're using Popular in places.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chicago RedEye increases circulation to 250,000

Amid the financial disaster that is the Tribune Company, there is a shining star — RedEye, the company's free daily in Chicago. It attracts readers in the coveted 18-34 age group that its older sibling, the Chicago Tribune, is unable to reach.

On January 4, RedEye plans to boost its circulation from 200,000 to 250,000 a day — a 25% increase — to keep its retail outlets well stocked with the paper throughout the day. It is also boosting distribution to the campuses of about 30 colleges.

RedEye's content is a combination of "to the point" news (short stories), a heavy helping of pop culture and lots of entertainment coverage. If you want in-depth political or business coverage, pick up the Tribune.

"RedEye is a key brand within our content portfolio, reaching Chicagoans that are young and time-pressed. Advertisers realize that RedEye connects them with this audience better than any other player in the market," said Kurt Mueller, general manager of RedEye.