Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dad's on high-speed

Now I know the apocalypse is near. My father has now converted from dial-up to high speed.

Welcome to the Internet fast lane, Dad. Also, Happy Father's Day tomorrow.

Worth missing the train to work?

This was pretty cool.

A quiet Saturday rant

Last week I had one of the most frustrating phone conversatons I have ever had. While trying to resolve an issue over phone listings I ended up talking to someone in India.

Without wanting to offend them, I was finally forced to ask if there was anyone close by who actually understood or spoke English. This was an AT & T call center and when the supervisor came on the line, I bluntly asked him, where is this call center?

He was quiet, so I asked, is this in India? He admitted it was. Now, he was a very nice man, but he was completely unequipped to deal with my issue and simply kept saying yes, when I knew full well he didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Why a company with AMERICAN in its very name is exporting its call service department to a foreign land is ridiculous.

All that brought to mind this video, sent to me by my unemployed sister and brother-in-law in West Virginia. I had not heard it before, but it has had 11 million hits, so far.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gordon Young, Flint Expatriates, has a great article on Flint, including former editor's home

Gordon Young, who has a great blog that I have linked to for a long time - Flint Expatriates - has been visiting Flint and has run a wonderful article from him about Flint.

As a native California, one with some roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can give a big "Amen" to his conclusions.

There is also an interesting mention of the former, and still unsold, home of the former FJ Editor who is now the content czar at

Hat tip to Inside Out for calling my attention to this article.

It's line up time at the Optometrist, dentist and doctor

Stopped by to make get my routine eye appointment, only to learn there is not such thing as a walk-in eye exam there until after July 1.

My eye doctor's office said with the end of vision benefits for car company employees, certain retirees and others by the end of June they are booked to the gills with appointments and walk-ins and not being taken. My doctor is scheduling extra weekend and evening hours to clear her backlog.

We're in the same boat here, with my wife's retirement some of our better benefits run out on June 30.

I'm on a waiting list for a day next week, but it doesn't look good. They said dentists and doctors are experiencing the same rush as people try to get in a last minute appointment under the wire.
So, if you are one of those folks, better get on the phone right away.

A story worth telling, a follow up worth really telling

This is the kind of story I loved to find and cover. It starts out as kind of a formula story, in which you are telling your readers about an important issue, in this case the release of jail inmates early, in some cases way early, because of jail overcrowding.

You do your due diligence, find an inmate willing to talk and then the story gets way, way better.
Now, I'm sure the guy getting thrown back in jail is angry that he ever cooperated with the reporter/reporters in the first place, but who is really to blame here?

A reporter asks you a question about how you feel about being released early from jail.

In response you:

1.) Express your gratitude to the sheriff for giving you a new lease on life.

2.) Keep your mouth shut.

3.) Criticize the sheriff who released you.

I submit that no one in their right mind would ever pick answer No. 3. Yet, here in Flint, we have such a person.

Johnny, tell our contestant what he has won.

A quick trip back to jail. Sure the sheriff could have been magnimous and looked the other way, but the liklihood of that was slim and none, and slim left town. meets, discuss moderation guidelines advises "diligent moderation" for new site. The most important topic (judging by its position in the content czar's story about it) was how to moderate comments on the new site.

I hope they didn't pay a lot for the donuts and coffee to come up with that suggestion. I think any blogger who has been doing this for more than one month and who gets a fair number of comments will learn that comment moderation is necessary if you want to keep things fairly civil.

Even I could have told them that and saved them the price of the donuts.

Here's a summary from the czar's post:

"Our Web advisory panel met for the first time this morning in a community room at the Ann Arbor Public Library to see how our site is developing so far, to ask questions and give us input. We listed the names of our advisory group in an earlier post.

They urged us to take a strong hand in moderating conversation on right from launch. One warned us that the failure to do so could allow our site to degenerate into a "wretched hive of scum and villainy.''

To avoid that, we should have norms for conversation on the site, clearly enforce those norms, and be transparent about what we're doing.

That's interesting, because I talked about our plan to moderate "aggressively'' in an earlier post, and that intention was immediately challenged by blogger Mark Maynard. In the spirit of viewer discretion, I should mention that if you follow the link to Maynard's blog, the comment thread includes an impressive array of vulgarities. Even Maynard was moved to joke that "On second thought, maybe aggressive moderation is a good thing.''

Despite having already been taken to task on this subject, I still believe our technology advisers are right on this one, and that we'd better be prepared to moderate conversation consistently from the start. We've begun work on guidelines for moderation, and will share them here prior to launch."

As frequent readers here know, there are loose guidelines for posting here. The rules are mine and are meant to keep comments in hand. If, on the other hand, starts using those rules to clear out comments that are critical of them or talk about competitors, then that would be a mistake.

Also in that post it appears that learned its lesson with the New York designed "Acorn" logo and hired an Ann Arbor marketing firm to help them.

I hope "The" appreciates all the traffic I send their way. If you put into your browser you will go to

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Linking to competitors, newest sign of newspaper surrender

One of the huge changes in journalism may be the white flag that newspapers are now waving to the broadcast competitors.

Recently there have been stories on the MLive site that simply link to a broadcast outlet's coverage of a breaking story. In the "old days" this would have been unthinkable. Editors and reporters would have scrambled at any time, day or night, to pull together their own sources and do their own coverage.

It appears that once the newspaper reporters have done their own reporting, sometimes a half a day later, the story with the link is updated and the link to the broadcast account removed. That is apparent because when I try to link to the broadcast link story, it simply comes up with the new account done by the newspaper staff. It would be a little more honest to leave up the original post and then add your own coverage when it becomes available.

This just seems to be another concession by the newspapers that they are not able to cover the breaking news like they once did and have surrendered that to broadcast outlets.

Inside Out: More Advance Newspaper cuts in Ohio

Tech savvy Inside Out has a good post today about the evolving situation in Ohio and Advance Newspapers weekly chain in the Cleveland area. There are enough good links to stories and Advance newspaper sites to keep a newspaper junkie busy for an hour.

The long and short is that more cuts have arrived. When you read the links make sure when you are done reading the Advance party line, scroll down and read what the subscribers are saying.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

J-schools in flux, student papers cut publication days

Over on Inside Out (I know this is becoming a habit) another wonderful post this morning with great links. This site is beginning to look like what wants to be - a link list.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another golf slip up on the Flint Journal

This time the commenters are not happy with the Flint Journal coverage of the FJGA tournament. If I remember my history right, the Flint Journal may have had a hand in starting this organization.

Check out the comments.

OK, I'll put this up

I've resisted for awhile putting up this very funny You Tube about newspapers. At the end it refers to "boobs," so if that would offend you, please do not play the video. There is no nudity, but there are quick glimpses of bikini tops. But because someone put a comment on one of the posts that links to this anyway, I'll put it up. You've been warned.

"Deuce" an obscure Ann Arbor nickname

I've been following the discussions over on about the nickname for the City that will figure prominently in the new news website scheduled to launch in late July.

I've lived in Michigan for 32 years and until offered up deuce, I had never heard A-squared (that's the one I've heard since I've been here) referred to as "the deuce." A couple commenters are doing their best to dissuade the site from using it, but apparently to no avail.

During my police department days in the 1970s, officers frequently called drunk drivers "deuces," and urban dictionary's first, and most of the top 10 definitions have an equally unflattering definition for deuce.

In friendly conversation "deuce" is more commonly the term used for a bathroom function, as in do you have to go "Number 1 or number 2."

Of the 96 definitions of "deuce" not one refers to Ann Arbor on and nearly 90 percent of the meanings of deuce are pretty offensive. If you put in "The deuce" you get one reference - May 9, 2006 - that Ann Arbor is called "The Deuce." Another term that shows up in some places as Ann Arbor is "Ace deuce."

By the way,, is the place to look for modern words. Kind of like a resource for those of us who wear out hats on backwards.

More info on new Ann Arbor print weekly

Offline a loyal FFE reader sent me a link to the new start-up free newspaper seeking to fill the hole left by the departure of the Ann Arbor News.

The person that sent this to me, a woman by the way, made mention of the interesting clothes choice made by the editor for this important public relations moment. In the interest of not getting in trouble with my wife or other female readers, I'm offering no further comment.

It is interesting that JRC, the Journal Register Company, who has rolled through the journalism landscape like Sherman to the sea in the Civil War, is up for trying yet another newspaper experiment.

At the end of the post, the editor mentions the bankruptcy, but says JRC is on the verge of emerging from it. That's kind of news.

A lost opportunity to talk to grandma

Earlier today I was driving down a side street and saw a great sight. An elderly woman was out walking with a young teenage girl and it appeared that it was a grandmother and her granddaughter out for a stroll.

Then I noticed that the two were not talking and that the young girl had ear buds and was holding an MP3 or other digital music device. I wanted to stop and tell the young girl to turn off the device and engage her grandmother, of course I didn't.

It was at that point that I felt bad for both of them. Some of my great childhood memories are those times that I sat at the feet of my grandparents and listened to their stories of the "old days." Those lessons gave me a perspective, even though I didn't get it at the time, that would come back to serve me later.

In recent months, my wife and I have spent a lot of time with her aging parents. They have shared stories I had never heard before and that my wife had not heard for a long time. It is a fascinating look into a time gone by, never to return.

Turning the TV off, or pulling the ear buds and talking to those a generation or two ahead of us might be the best entertainment of all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ireland Post mirrors current journalism trends

Not quite sure where this survey was done (Ireland - America or both) but it appears that the salary losses are across the board here and elsewhere. Thanks to Fading to Black for this.

Inside Out: Your source for Booth News today

No time to blog today, but a quick glance over at Inside Out, shows a couple of good newspaper reads there.

1.) A post on newspaper cartoons. (I haven't followed all the links yet, but they look tasty). Also a link to a column by the Muskegon Chronicle editor about his decision to first cancel a cartoon, then reinstate it. I should note that the Chronicle editor is a former editor from the Flint Journal. During his tenure at the Journal, he also seemed to have a continuing fascination with newspaper cartoons, with several columns about the subject here. The Chronicle editor is a very nice person, but did little during his time at the FJ to encourage or demand tough investigative journalism here (kind of a Booth trait). As an editor he's just a little too fluffy for my tastes, but again, a very nice person.

2.) Another link to a Muskegon Chronicle column about some encouraging economic signs for that paper. The numbers seem a little confusing (readership up, but circulation down), but it would certainly be good news for the newspaper folks there if the recession is easing.

Best assignments? A poll

A few months ago, I shared a listing of my favorite assignments. But it occurred to me on the way home from Buffalo - four hours in a car alone gives one a lot of time to think - that I haven't done enough interactive stuff on this blog.

Because a lot of folks who stop by are reporters, editors and others in the field, I thought it might be fun to just solicit the best assignments or stories that each reporter has covered in their career.

I'll try and keep this up toward the top for awhile so people can weigh in with their very favorite assignments. It could be an interview, an out-of-town trip, a special feature that you covered, etc.

If you are concerned about the assignment giving away your identity, change enough of the facts that the story so it is still essentially true, but won't give away your identity. (If the trip was to Tuscson, change it to Seattle, that kind of thing).

After 18-months of doing the Free From Editors blog, the one most disturbing thing that I see is the fear that many reporters and former reporters have of expressing their opinions in a way that might bring retribution from a former employer if their identity was known.

I spent many years questioning and taking a hard look at authority and not even for a moment have I ever worried about what would happen to me. But I understand the concerns of folks who are still in the job market and don't want to jeopardize a prospect.

It says volumes about the management and ownership of news organizations that their own employees cower in fear over doing precisely the kind of introspective questioning that newspapers are supposed to encourage.

So let's try this. If you can't figure out the anonymous posting feel free to send me your assignment at my e-mail address: jlsmediaservices (at) gmail (dot) com. (Of course, turn the "at" and "dot" into the symbol when you send the message. I just don't need any more spam.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

No mention of Flushing connection in Michigan Open story Sunday

Finally got around to looking at my Sunday Flint Journal. I went to the sports section to see if J.R. "Jeff" Roth ever got his proper mention for his second place finish in the Michigan Open.

The brief coverage of the Michigan Open talked about winner Ryan Brehm, of Mt. Pleasant, of course, and mentioned the two golfers who tied for second. Mentioned first was Matthew Thompson, of Battle Creek and then two-time defending Michigan Open Champion Jeff Roth.

What apparently wasn't worth mentioning even now was the Roth is from Flushing, a key area in the Flint Journal's coverage. That makes it a clean sweep for the Journal's coverage of the Open, not one story pointed out the local angle of Roth's Flushing connection.

Incredible. If there was any doubt that the copy desk is tilted to the north end of the three newspapers' areas, there was no better illustration than this. "More than just the Score and we mean it!" That's a laugh.

Great sayings, by a great editor

Some time again I wrote about one of my favorite editors, the late Larry Laurain. I was remembering Larry the other day and two funny things he once told me about my job.

Larry was a former police reporter, so there weren't many secrets I could keep from him.

Larry assigned me to fly to Tucson, Arizona to cover the arrest of a suspect in a case that originated in Pontiac, Michigan. The story I wrote for the Oakland Press ended up attracting the interest of a producer for the then popular show "Unsolved Mysteries."

It had to do with a man who had befriended a local woman, who prompty disappeared. To make things even just a little more suspicious, it was the fourth woman he had been acquainted with in his life who vanished off the face of the earth. (You would think the authorities would have gotten curious after the disappearance of the second woman, or maybe even the first).

The day after the show aired, the suspect who was watching the program, was caught after his Tucson landlord recognized him and called police.

When I returned from Tucson three days later, I was filling out my expense forms and Larry looked over, winked at me and said: "Any good reporter who files an out-of-town expense report and doesn't end up with enough extra money to buy a new sport coat has done something wrong."

Don't worry, I didn't pad my expense sheet, but it was a funny saying.

A couple weeks before Christmas, I was complaining to Larry that I didn't have time in my personal life for anything because of all the time (mostly unpaid) that I was putting in at work.

"If you aren't able to do your Christmas shopping on company time, I'm very disappointed in you."

That's why I loved Larry Laurain.