Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Oscars

If it's really going to be "business as usual," then let's get away from the Chapter 11 stuff and move on to something really important: the Oscars.

I Tivo-ed my way through the show last night. It's amazing how much easier it is to handle when you have that "fast forward" feature cranking.

I've been watching the Oscars for more years than I care to admit. Each time I wonder why I stayed up so late for such a minimal payback. But the flu sacked me by 9p.m. Sunday, meaning this year's Monday post-Oscar wake up alarm was unusually acceptable.

Give the producers credit for trying new things to quicken the pace of the show. I didn't care for most of them, but they took some chances, so good for them.

I could have done without the Hugh Jackman production numbers. And the non-marquee awards mainly interest insiders. (Which is why the Golden Globes program is so much more entertaining than the Oscars: It's mostly star power.)

Jerry Lewis looked all of his 80-plus years and was unpredictably solemn in accepting the humanitarian award.

Steve Martin and Tina Fey were quite funny. So was the Seth Rogan-James Franco film spoof. And Philippe Petit scored points for balancing an Oscar on his chin.

The best innovation was the inclusion of past major award winners to introduce the nominees for the four major acting categories. Their comments seemed a bit over the top, but that's OK. Hollywood is at its best when it brings the big names back on stage.

I have no real quarrel with the winners. I thought Sean Penn and Kate Winslet were particularly good selections. I'm heading to Los Angeles tomorrow. I'll let you know if I bump into them at Nate and Al's.

As is the case every year, I'm saying I won't bother watching next year's Oscars. But deep down I know I will.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Looking ahead

Much of the reaction to our parent company's financial plight has been understanding, encouraging and heartwarming: Thumbs up here. "Go get 'em" there. That sort of stuff.

Some of the reaction has been meanspirited and inaccurate. That's OK; newspapers and the journalists who provide the content sometimes make enemies along the way. To those folks, when it comes to us, it's payback time.

But as I noted yesterday, in our place, it's business as usual.

I spoke to the staff this morning. I'll fill in other employees tonight.

I sense relief and enthusiam. The parent company has turned the corner. We're all looking forward to better days.

Now if only somebody could get the stock market pointed in the right direction ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Turning the page

It's never a good time to spend a day and a half in bed with the flu, but it's worse when your parent company has just filed Chapter 11.

I'm not at liberty to make many public comments about the filing. All inquiries are being directed to the home office.

But understand this: The Freeman will continue to publish a quality newspaper to serve our readers and advertisers. That should come as good news to all but the handful of dolts who aren't able to picture the shortcomings of community life without their local newspaper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

And so it goes

Next round of bad news in the regional newspaper business comes to you today from Catskill and Hudson, where the dailies serving those communities are cutting back to a five-day week.

The Catskill Daily Mail and the Hudson Register-Star, both owned by the Johnson Newspaper Corp. of Watertown, will publish Tuesday through Saturday, meaning their markets won't have a home town paper on Sunday and Monday.

This move follows other recent negative developments: the closing of the bi-weekly Independent in Columbia County, seven weeklies in Dutchess County and one in Putnam County, all owned by the Freeman's parent company, as well as the demise of the Ulster County Press weekly and the closing of one and the merging of two weeklies in the Ulster Publishing group.

You know the reasons by now: bad economy, decreased readership, less advertising revenue. It's a recipe for disaster, and it's spreading from one corner of the nation to the other. In the state of Washington, for example, newspaper publishers are asking for a break on taxes to stay in business.

I can't speak for the entire industry, but I dare say newspapers don't want a bailout from government. That would create a cozy relationship worth avoiding. We do want people to recognize the value of what it is we do.

The more people who buy a newspaper - and the more who advertise in it - the longer that newspaper will last. And as noted here and elsewhere, the loss of a local newspaper will impact you in ways about which you haven't given much thought.People in Catskill and Hudson are going to find that out the first Sunday or Monday they go to the newsstand or home delivery tube and discover their paper isn't there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking a breather

All this ruminating about the state of newspapers has left precious little time for less critical matters.

Such as:

*Did you believe most of what Alex Rodriguez said at his Tuesday press conference? Me neither. What is with this guy? If you're caught using an illegal substance and decide to admit it and enter into damage control, why create even more problems for yourself by evading questions and offerng improbable answers? Not only didn't Rodriguez control the damage, he spread it. That's not just sad, it's insulting.

*The Academy Awards are Sunday. Of the Best Picture nominees I've seen (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader and Benjamin Button), I thought The Reader was most compelling. From what I've heard, Milk and Frost/Nixon are equally strong. I didn't think much of Benjamin Button. Slumdog Millionaire, which is the favorite, was nothing more than OK in my book.

*I've probably said this before, but just in case I haven't: If sports talk host Mike Francesa isn't going to let his callers speak, he shouldn't bother taking any calls.

*I no expert, but in the wake of that chimpanzee attack in Connecticut, isn't it worth wondering why anyone would think this kind of animal can be domesticated? From what I've heard, it's only a matter of time before a wild animal goes, well, wild.

The potential impact

More on what it might be like in a society without newspapers in this thoughtful piece by Gary Kamiya on salon.com.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Business sense

The economy continues to struggle, to say the least.

The newspaper industry continues to struggle, to say the least.

Did somebody say, Catch 22?

Talking with our advertising sales representatives this morning, I kept hearing about local business decision makers trimming their advertising budgets, often before anything else.

Big mistake, in my view, and not just because advertising revenue is a newspaper's lifeblood.

If you're in business, you want to attract customers. If you want to attract customers, most businesses must advertise. If you don't advertise and you don't attract customers, you make less money. Rocket science this isn't.

Advertising makes good business sense. Advertising rates generally are as good as they've ever been (or will ever be). You must keep your business - its name, goods, services and prices - in front of the public on a regular basis, otherwise you run the risk of being an afterthought (or no thought at all).

Don't advertise with a newspaper (or radio station or anyplace else) because you like the people who work there. This isn't charity, it's business. Advertise because it works.

You have to spend money to make money. Heard that before? It's true.

Mr. and Mrs. Businessman, make good decisions for your business. It's easy to earn money in good times. It's much more difficult in times like those we're currently experiencing.

Those who make smart decisions will emerge healthy. Those who don't make smart decisions may not emerge at all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

From a different time

You may have read stories in the big city weekend sports pages about the death of Joey Goldstein.

Joey was an old fashioned, honest to goodness, Damon Runyon-era press agent.

Just about all the pieces I read about him had a variation of the following: If you were in and around New York sports for the last half-century, you knew Joey Goldstein. I was and I did.

I was on the sports side at the Freeman from 1970 to 1983. Goldstein first helped put Roosevelt Raceway, the Long Island harness racing track on the map, then opened his own business and promoted countless other events and personalities. I got to know him when he was around Monticello Raceway and, as best I can recall, when he was pushing some sort of basketball event.

I can't do him justice in this space. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News captured him best here.

If you're into a long-gone romanticized time in newspapers and sports, raise a glass for Joey Goldstein.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spring training blues

Feeling uneasy about embracing big league baseball, particularly in New York, in the wake of Alex Rodriguez, Joe Torre, the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field? Many of us share your pain.

Here's the way New York Times city side columnist Clyde Haberman captured the mood.

In the same boat

I'm not in the habit of directing readers to a competitive newspaper company, but I must commend your attention to a column in this week's Kingston Times by its editor, Diane Pineiro-Zucker (a former Freeman reporter, by the way).

Diane's message, in the wake of the recent closing of our weekly newspapers in Columbia, Dutchess and Putnam counties, resonates for her weekly, the others in her Ulster Publishing Group, and newspapers everywhere, including the Freeman.

Read it
and digest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Taconic Press

We're closing the Taconic Press weekly group of Dutchess and Putnam counties this week. (The final editions just rolled off our presses in Kingston.) As was the case last week when we ceased operations at The Independent in Columbia County, it doesn't feel good.

I'm not at liberty to share financial data and other considerations with you, but it's safe to say that the eight Taconic Press weeklies, like The Independent, fell victim to a troubling financial environment for newspapers and newspaper companies, large and small, public and private, as well as the near-catastrophic (the president's word) status of the economy.

Until passing the baton to Tom Cincotta earlier in 2008, for about three years I published the Millbrook-based Taconic Press papers and magazines, having been asked to take over after a couple of short-lived stints by other publishers. Much of my time, however, was spent in Kingston, running the larger daily newspaper operation. But people like Ann Gibbons, Jeff Ohlbaum, Larry Priest, Kate Goldsmith and Melissa Swart, among others, tirelessly led the way, producing generally first-rate products at Taconic Press. I relied on them from 40 miles away, and they did themselves proud.

So, in the end, while I feel badly for communities that have lost their local weeklies (and feedback from news of the closing has been touching, the sadness of their demise clear), my thoughts, thanks and best wishes are mostly reserved for the aforementioned Taconic Press managers and their staffs.

They can leave Taconic Press with their heads held high.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The president's first press conference was an eye-opener, a boffo performance.

That doesn't mean there's no room for disagreement with his stances on the economy, Iran or any of the substantive issues he encountered in last night's hour-long primetime event.

It's that he handled each question confidently and in-depth. He offered long, thoughtful, nuanced answers. He displayed an understanding of complicated matters and proved he can discuss them at length without gaffes.

It's been a while since we witnessed such a presidential conference. About eight years, in fact.


The Bob Arum quote is the one echoing in my cranium as I contemplate the Alex Rodriguez steroids admission.

Arum is a legendary boxing promoter. Boxing is a game of interesting characters, to say the least. It's also a game where participants sometimes have only a passing interest in the truth. Asked about a contradiction in one of his claims, Arum famously said, "Yesterday I was lying, today I am telling the truth."

Hello, A-Rod.

In admitting he took steroids (admitted it only after it was reported by Sports Illustrated), Rodriguez was caught in a lie he told in a "60 Minutes" interview with Katie Couric in which he flat out denied taking banned substances.

So now he says he was lying, but he wants us to believe that he's lying no more.

Thus we're supposed to believe he had no idea what illegal substance he was taking. He wants us to believe that he was told he may or may not have failed a drug test and let it go at that. He blames the messenger, respected SI reporter Selena Roberts by falsely claiming illegal investigative tactics.

Too much pressure after signing a contract in Texas, thus he used steroids to live up to his paycheck. Nothing after he arrived in New York, where there's bit more pressure?

"Yesterday I was lying, today I'm telling the truth."

Yeah, sure.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A nasty week

A nasty week comes to a end.

Helped close the doors of a sister newspaper company in Columbia County. Horrible feeling. Employees - all good people - put on the street. Community loses an important lifeline. Nothing good about it.

Meanwhile, the nation's economy continues to tank and politicians of both parties fail to hear the clarion call for change that produced an Obama presidency. Obama is right: He won. The old ways didn't work. It's his turn at the plate. Let him (and us) sink or swim on his terms.

Americans are scared. They have a right to be. The handful of loyal employees whose newspaper folded in a tiny part of Upstate New York represent a sliver of what's occurring around this country. The unemployment statistics are staggering. And Washington moves at a painfully slow pace.

A nasty week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Capitol offense

If you're not following Bill Hammond's Albany column in the New York Daily News (or on this blog when I link it), you're missing something.

Check out his latest take on the kind of thing that makes many of us disgusted about the way it is in and around the Capitol.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Picture imperfect

I told you last week that I haven't watch a Super Bowl game since I bolted from the sports department in 1983.

OK, I have grabbed peeks at parts of some of the games, like last night's, when I tuned in too soon to see Springstein and caught the 100-yard interception return for a TD at the end of the half.

Anyway, it sounds like this game was a keeper, so I'm sorry I missed it, particularly because I won a hundred bucks in the office pool (which, as publisher, I feel obliged to turn into a pizza party in a few days).

But here's where I'm going (and I may have written about this subject before):

If you go to a sports event, when you're sitting in the stadium, what are you watching? The field, of course, not the crowd or the sky.

Same with a concert or play. You're in the audience. Do you look around at the others who are enjoying the show, or do you watch the stage? Obvious answer, no?

So why do TV directors insist on crowd shots, or scene-setters, or whatever else one of their cameras pick up, instead of the main event?

When Springsteen and Co. perform, you're watching The Boss, or The Big Man, or Steven or Max. That is, you're watching them unless they're performing at halftime of the Super Bowl, in which case you're not seeing much of the performance, because the MTV-like camera switches barely give you time to realize what you just saw.

When Howard Cosell was doing Monday Night Football, people were said to have lowered the volume on TV and listened to Jack Buck and Hank Stram on the radio.

In the case of Springstein at the Super Bowl, your best bet was to turn off the picture and simply listen to the music.