NYC fundraiser for teen writers

March 22, 2014

For all the New Yorkers and/or book lovers out there, a quick heads-up about an upcoming event for a really good cause. My wife is helping to plan this, so she asked me to help get the word out…

The Hurston/Wright Foundation will host a fundraiser reception for its teen writing program March 28, from 7-9 p.m., at the LeRoy Neiman Art Center. Address is 2785 Frederick Douglass Blvd, between 147th and 148th Streets.

Tickets can be purchased here for a suggested donation of $25; you can also make donations at the door. Link for ticket purchases below.

Award-winning writer Marita Golden, author of Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons: Raising Black Children in a Turbulent World, and Don’t Play in the Sun One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex, along with several other books, will host the event and read from her work. Other Harlem-based writers will also share their work.

Since 1990, the Hurston/Wright Foundation has nurtured the careers of emerging African-American writers and celebrated established literary stars. It’s named for two African-American authors who were giants of 20th-century American lit — Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright.

There will be refreshments and networking prior to the reading on the 28th. There will also be literary-themed giveaways and a chance to win a subscription to Mosaic literary magazine.

Hoping to see you there! Of course, please feel free to spread the word to others who might be interested.


How to add a “Stop NSA” banner to your WordPress site

February 27, 2014

I just noticed today that the admin panel for this blog (hosted on wordpress.com) includes an option to add a “Stop NSA Surveillance” banner. I immediately enabled the option to show the banner, and I’d urge you to do so as well if you’re a WordPress user. Takes less than a minute, I promise.

A couple screenshots below from my installation, in case they’re of help. In most browsers, you can click on these pics to enlarge. First shot shows what my dashboard looked like, including the “protest NSA surveillance” option in the lefthand column. Second shot shows how my site looked once I added the banner.

WordPress apparently added this option as part of a protest scheduled for Feb. 11, so I’ll admit I’m a little belated on this one. That said, the banner display option still works, as does the site for the protest, including features to contact your elected representatives and so forth.

As long as all this information is still available regarding such a worthy cause, I’m glad to point it out to other Internet users. If you enjoy using the Internet, and if you value things like free speech and privacy, please do what you can to help preserve them.

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If the military can’t properly charge and convict KSM, what are its courts good for at all?

January 24, 2014

My ex-WSJ colleague Asra Nomani, a close friend of Danny Pearl, just wrote a lengthy piece in Washingtonian magazine about her quest to understand, and get justice for, his murder.

I recall when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to killing Danny, but I didn’t realize until I read this that the U.S. government still — still!– hasn’t officially added this murder to their long list of charges against KSM. What an outrage. What the hell is the point of having a “war on terror” that’s ostentatiously intrusive at home and violent abroad if you don’t charge actual terrorists you have in custody with actual crimes against American civilians that they’ve actually confessed to?

I’d add, a dozen-plus years now post-9/11, it’s also ridiculous that the military legal system in Guantanamo Bay doesn’t have a conviction and sentencing of KSM, not just charges, for his involvement in 9/11 itself. That’s also a form of justice delayed for a very large class of people who deserve better. Again, considering that he openly brags he did it, how hard can this be? Get it done already.

Food for thought for the next time someone tries to tell you we should all sacrifice freedom and/or privacy in return for safety.


Doctor: NYT is winning its battle against WSJ

January 11, 2014

Over on the Nieman Journalism Lab’s blog, Ken Doctor just did a comprehensive update/analysis of “America’s national newspaper war” between the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

He makes a good case it’s tilting toward NYT these days, which saddens me to hear as a WSJ alum. It’s particularly irksome that the NYT now has more digital subscribers to its paywall than the WSJ, which pioneered newspaper paywalls on the Web back in the late ’90s.

As Doctor notes, the company has some big decisions ahead on that front, particularly whether the paywall should remain freemium or metered, more like the NYT’s or FT’s. (I guess eliminating it altogether, as people once fantasized in-house, is off the table at this point.)

Just for the record, in case anyone cares, I vote metered. At this point in the broader Web’s evolution, it seems like that approach strikes the best balance among the several things WSJ.com really needs to grow — revenue, unique visitors to the site, and in-bound links from third parties.


A media-related question for the New Year

January 3, 2014

If the public airwaves’ spectrum here in the U.S. is limited, and if TV viewership is sagging while mobile usage is soaring, with no foreseeable end in sight, perhaps we should reallocate more of our airwaves toward mobile rather than TV?

Just a thought, for what it’s worth. Really, it’s been a pet peeve of mine for awhile, something that’s become more evident to me while working on Roscoe.TV the last couple of years. I figure the start of a New Year, when people are naturally looking ahead and thinking big thoughts, is as good a time as any to just throw it out there.


A Mandela gem

December 6, 2013

Looking through the many stories about the life of Nelson Mandela today, I stumbled across this video of his ’94 inaugural address in full. Two things really surprised me:

1) I’d never actually watched the whole thing. Had seen clips on American TV, of course. But not the entirety. Chalk it up as a consequence of YouTube, TiVo, and the like not existing in ’94, I guess.

2) It’s less than 10 mins long. Think about that. Longer than the famously brief Gettysburg Address, but it still must easily qualify as one of history’s great examples of the power of linguistic economy.

So, among all the lessons Madiba left us, I guess we can include these: Be a person of action. Skip the blather, get something done, and let that speak loudest of all for you.


OK. OK. All is forgiven, Guy

November 26, 2013

I’ll admit, I unfollowed Guy Kawasaki on Twitter awhile back because he was a little too prolific for my tastes, sometimes to the point of inanity.

Then I stumbled across the YouTube video below of him speaking to UC-Berkeley students about major mistakes he sees entrepreneurs make. A few of these I’ve made myself, I must admit.

This thing is just so spot-on — and pretty entertaining to boot. Reminded me that, yeah, this guy is indeed pretty smart, has a lot of good experience from the early days of Apple and so on. I even re-followed on Twitter after this.


Quartz’s Seward says a mouthful about tech IPOs

November 5, 2013

With Twitter’s initial public offering coming up soon, Quartz’s Zach Seward* has taken a step back to consider some of the memes surrounding tech IPOs in general.

Needless to say, he’s skeptical. Among the several stop-you-in-your-tracks gems in this piece is a quote from Eric Ries, who’s working on a new stock exchange that better incents founders for long-term growth.

“We start companies to do more than help the balance sheets of big conglomerates nobody likes,” [Ries] said, referring to financial institutions that profit from IPOs and public companies. “Why is the whole system organized around that purpose, when our rhetoric is all about disruption and making the world a better place?”

Further on, Seward himself offers this blunt assessment of Facebook as a product post-IPO:

Since going public in May 2012, Facebook has seemed only to focus on becoming more profitable. Users would be hard-pressed to say the service has gotten any better, though the stock price has certainly improved.

Ouch.

At any rate, if you’re involved in the tech startup ecosystem in any way — as an entrepreneur, a VC, an angel, whatever — I’d definitely recommend reading the full piece. It’s the sort of thing that you at least need to hear to counterbalance other views you hear everyday and/or reconsider your own in a different light.

*DISCLOSURE: Zach is an ex-colleague of mine from the Wall Street Journal and an all-around good guy. With an appropriate sense of irony given the topic here, I recommend you follow him on Twitter.


In effect, the newspaper industry is now cooking its books by mutual agreement

October 31, 2013

For several years now, the regular updates from the body that tracks North American newspaper circulation have tended to be pretty depressing and predictable, with readership gradually marching downward. But the latest report, out today, is a bit different. The main tone this time isn’t so much depressing as it is downright fishy.

On the media site Poynter.org, the main headline about the latest numbers from the auditing body, known as the Alliance for Audited Media, says it all:

“USA Today’s circulation up 67 percent? Newspaper industry makes comparisons increasingly difficult”

In the accompanying story, Andrew Beaujon details how publishers have effectively lobbied the auditors to make all sorts of changes to their standards — most in the name of generating combined digital/print audience totals — that all but rule out apples-to-apples comparisons to previous performance. So these new tallies of audience basically have no context.

Writing on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, ex-newspaper exec Alan Mutter lumps the auditing changes in with some others recently made by the publishers’ own Newspaper Association of America in their tracking of ad revenue.

Mutter writes:

Unable to arrest years of declining ad sales and sliding print circulation, two key trade groups representing the newspaper industry have done the next best thing:

They effectively have stopped reporting on the metrics that make it possible to measure – and, therefore, understand and manage – the industry’s ongoing challenges.

If any other industry did this — if, say the auto industry made arbitrary accounting changes to render car sales activity inscrutable, or if a big supermarket chain revamped its grocery sales this way — the stories business reporters would write would be scathing, for good reason.

Of course, accounting tricks do indeed go on in other industries. But it must be said, every time we see this sort of gimmickry, even if it stays within the letter of the law, it always ends up hurting paying customers.

In newspapers’ case, the biggest effect is on advertisers, who pay out good money for placements based on the audience data. Ultimately, the gimmicks will also probably be bad for readers as well since, as Mutter points out, the gimmicks do nothing to solve the long-term problems that affect newsrooms’ public-service functions. You solve problems by first acknowledging them clearly, not obfuscating them as much as legally possible.

Using the increasing complexity of the digital world as an excuse for all this is also hogwash, by the way. For big-picture metrics, there are already standbys that work just fine — paid weekday and Sunday circ for a print edition, paid subscribers to a paywall, monthly unique visitors or pageviews for a free website, downloads from an app store for a native mobile app, and so on. It would also work just fine to publish these metrics side-by-side for any given individual organization, recognizing that its several publishing channels each work differently, and then let the advertisers judge for themselves.

The real problem isn’t that these methods are inadequate. It’s just that the publishers don’t like what those measures are telling them right now, so they’re choosing to pave over them instead.


A gem from the Washington Post archives

October 30, 2013

This morning I connected with a Washington Post alumni group via both Facebook and an independent site they maintain. My first job in journalism was at the Post back in the ’90s, so this is a nice little trip down memory lane for me.

Looking through the alumni site a bit, I also found a historic doc that might be of interest to anyone who cares about journalism, ex-Postie or not: Katharine Graham’s memo to staff after winning the Pentagon Papers case in 1971.


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