Nov 10

Jimmy, forget about being the next Woodward or Bernstein. Mommy and daddy are buying you a slide rule for the holidays

November 10 - newspaper-in-trash-can I knew the newspaper business was tanking, but I had no idea how horrific the current landscape was until checking the stats in a recent O'Dwyer's news piece (See "Newspaper Circ Drops Some More," Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, November 4, 2009, Vol. 42 No. 43).

Did you know there are 44 million newspapers sold each day? That sounds impressive until one learns it's the lowest level since the 1940s!

Subscriptions at papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and Boston Globe are dropping faster than the post-season hopes of Giants' fans after Sunday's last-minute collapse (the papers reported circulation losses of 25.8, 22.2 and 18.5 percent, respectively).

The Wall Street Journal now has the largest daily circulation at 2 million (it actually increased 0.6 percent). USA Today's circulation plummeted more than 17 percent as it fell to the number two slot. (Note: the same issue of O'Dwyer's carried reports about the Journal's closing its Boston bureau and Forbes laying off 40 more staffers).

I wonder how undergraduate and graduate journalism programs are spinning these dismal results to current and prospective students. I'm proud to say I was a journalism major at Northeastern University and learned many skills that have since stood me in good stead. But, I wouldn't advise any young person to pursue a career in a dying profession.

Pundits disagree about the future of journalism, newspapers and magazines. I'm sure some form of neo-journalism will emerge in another decade or so. But, for the immediate future, I'd counsel any serious writer to run away from Columbia, Missouri, and the other great J-schools. The cost-benefit ratio no longer exists. There are few, if any, new jobs being created, and those that are pay less and provide no security whatsoever.

Instead of reading 'All the President's Men,' it might be wiser for Woodward and Berstein wanna-be's to, instead, crack open a biography of Einstein, Galbraith or Keynes.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the keyboard is no longer the meal ticket it once was. Look for calculators and slide rulers to replace reporter's notebooks and press badges as parents' stocking stuffers of choice this holiday season.

Jun 17

Where’s Mr. Blackwell when you need him?

Forbes is great at compiling lists. They publish the 400 richest, the 100 best investments, the 300Top_10
Spartans. Oh wait. The latter wasn’t a Forbes list.

Regardless, Forbes has just published its list of the 75 most reputable companies in the U.S. There are lots of names you’d expect (Johnson & Johnson, GE and FedEx, for example) as well as a few surprises (Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley). I found the latter two names particularly interesting in light of the sub-prime disaster.

But, enough about the good guys. I’d like to see a list of America’s least reputable organizations (a Forbes 500 version of Mr. Blackwell’s 10 worst dressed Hollywood stars, if you will).  Who would you put on the least reputable list?

Here’s my top 10 (bottom 10?):

1.) Jet Blue – From a reputation standpoint, this airline is a midair collision. And, what’s with JetBlue and bathrooms? First, they won’t allow passengers to use restrooms during a nine-hour delay on Valentine’s Day. Then, more recently, they forced a passenger to fly in a lavatory for an entire flight? (Note to self: use the restrooms before boarding).

2.) The entire airline industry minus Southwest.

3.) ExxonMobil, Shell and their ilk. How much longer before top oil and gas industry executives start fearing for their lives because of astronomically high gas prices?

4.) New York City crane suppliers.

5.) A New York City political infrastructure that allows crane safety standards to go by the boards.

6.) Ford (talk about being asleep at the wheel as the gas/environmental crisis loomed large on the horizon. They’ve finally begun shutting down assembly plans that make the gas guzzlers).

7.) Chrysler and the rest of the beleaguered American auto industry (imagine losing an 80 percent market share and still being in freefall?)

8.) The New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, inc. (Mr. Wilpon: now, that you’ve finally fired Willie Randolph, it’s time to turn your sights on Omar Minaya. He’s the chief architect of this mess. Dump him ASAP and hire a GM who can build a blended team of veterans and up-and-comers.)

9.) The National Basketball Association. The game is a farce. Showboating "what’s in it for me?" players sharing the court with crooked referees makes for an NBA that’s on a fast break to oblivion (or, if not, at least becoming a legitimate rival to professional wrestling).

10.) The fast food industry. I still think they’re part of the problem, not the solution.

Thanks to Rob Longert for the idea.

Oct 09

It’s all about the writing

I was asked by a University of Vermont professor what qualities we value most in new employees. “That’sMichaels600_2
easy,” I said. “Good writing.” My fellow panelists at the UVM career day seminar this past Friday, shook their heads in agreement.

For whatever reason(s), good writing is as rare in PR as a NY Jets Super Bowl ring is in the NFL. And, for
whatever reason(s), writing (like the Jets) is getting worse with each passing year.

Which is why I read Gretchen Morgenson’s homage to the late Forbes Editor James Michaels, with such interest.

Michaels, according to Morgenson, was a real bear when it came to writing. He not only routinely rejected poor writing and editing by his reporters, he did so with a flourish. To wit:

– “This is a paid advertisement. Did you forget to say he walks on water?”
– “This is so full of holes, it’s like Swiss cheese.”

And, my favorite….

– “If I can’t stay awake editing this, how can a reader stay awake reading it?”

I never met Jim Michaels, but it seems he made quite an impression on the men and women who did. It also seems that Michaels and his breed of editor/writer who demanded clear, concise and compelling writing are an endangered species. Sad to say, the copy I see being written by most young people today would probably make the late Mr. Michaels turn over in his grave.