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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Weekend Reading

Posted By on Sat, Mar 31, 2007 at 11:05 AM

This morning, I walked to Blue Star Cafe, sat down with a mocha and my most recent New Yorker, and read Jeffrey Goldberg's story about how Wal-Mart is trying to woo liberals. It is freaking fantastic. Do yourself a favor, and take a few minutes to read it.

I think I liked it so much because Goldberg so deftly parses the company's spin, which, let me tell you, is not an easy thing to do when you're writing about some little governmental agency here in Vermont, much less a multinational behemoth like Wal-Mart.

Goldberg writes:

There is great mistrust of the press at Wal-Mart headquarters. Thechief spokeswoman for the company, a former A. T. & T. executivenamed Mona Williams, keeps on a shelf a framed cover of a 2003 issue of  Business Week featuring a story titled “Is Wal-Mart TooPowerful?” The story asked tough questions about Wal-Mart’s influenceon the American economy. “I keep that there to remind me never to trustreporters,” she said, without smiling.

Can you believe they don't trust reporters at Wal-Mart?

Goldberg writes extensively about the company's relationship with Washington-based PR firm Edelman, which is charged with helping the company reverse its negative public image. Edelman's 20 execs work in an area at the Wal-Mart home office called "Action Alley."

Sarah Clark was friendlier, but similarly suspicious. It was Clarkwho, without enthusiasm, brought me to Action Alley for a brief glimpseinside.Before opening the door, she instructed me not to write downanything I saw—the third time that this particular directive had beenissued. In some ways, the home office is not unlike the headquarters ofthe National Security Agency—both contain a large number of windowlessrooms and both are staffed by people who are preoccupied by themovement of strangers in their midst. The N.S.A.’s headquarters,though, seemed to me more aesthetically appealing; the Wal-Mart homeoffice resembles a poorly funded elementary school.

Believe it or not, one of the people working in this "threadbare room" is former Howard Dean aide Fred Baldassaro.

One section of the story, which I think I'm going to print out and put on the wall above my desk, describes Goldberg's conversation with David Tovar, a Wal-Mart PR guy who used to work for Philip Morris. It's particularly interesting in light of the recent debate in Vermont over journalists who go to work for the government, or for private corporations.

Tovar offered a more self-interested explanation for his service in thepublic-relations industry: “Why did I go work for Philip Morris?Because I wanted to get out of my parents’ house. Why do people takejobs? It’s like in ‘Thank You for Smoking’ ”— Christopher Buckley’ssatire of the Washington public-relations industry. “What do they allsay in that book? ‘I’ve got to pay the mortgage.’ You know, everybody’sgot to pay the mortgage.”

I read this and thought, I hope I never have to work in the PR industry to pay my mortgage.

Surprisingly, Goldberg actually made me feel somewhat more sympathetic to Wal-Mart, which I think means that it was a good story.

PS — I also liked this short story from last week's New Yorker: Playdate, by Kate Walbert.

Friday, March 30, 2007

NOW feedback

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2007 at 9:46 AM

In January, Seven Days started publishing a weekly email newsletter, called NOW, which stands for Notes On the Weekend. I say Seven Days publishes it, but it's really me who puts it all together and sends it out to everyone (with invaluable design and technical help from 7D Creative Director Don Eggert).

In yesterday's newsletter, I included a request for feedback from subscribers, alongside my doofy picture. If people fill out our NOW feedback form by Tuesday at noon, they get included in a drawing for a $35 gift certificate to Three Tomatoes in Burlington.

So far, the response to my plea has been fantastic, and I have to admit, I'm a little surprised.

I was really skeptical about doing this newsletter when I first heard the idea. I get several email newsletters, and honestly, I rarely read them. But this one seems more fun to me — of course I can't tell if that's because it really is, or because I'm the one responsible for it. So it's encouraging to see so many emails from people saying they find NOW useful and interesting.

It's so weird to send out an email to thousands of people every week and never hear back from them. It's heartening to hear that I'm not just spewing fluff into the yawning, measureless void of the internet.

Anyhow, thanks. And if you're not getting NOW, you can sign up on the Seven Days homepage. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section of this post, but if you want to get entered into the Three Tomatoes drawing, you have to subscribe and fill out the feedback form.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Wrenching change and chaos"

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2007 at 12:37 PM

Yikes — today's NY Times has a sobering article about the state of the newspaper biz. The NYT reports that February ad newspaper ad revenue is way down:

At USA Today, the nation’s biggest newspaper, ad revenue was down 14 percent this February, compared with February last year. Gannett,which owns USA Today and is the nation’s biggest newspaper company,reported that its overall ad revenue declined 3.8 percent in Februaryfrom February 2006.

I'm not sure if these figures include weeklies or small community papers — the writer mentions some papers in "smaller markets" but even those are way, way bigger than any market here in Vermont. So I'm not sure how true this is for Vermont, but I'm sure we're all headed in this direction.

Media analyst Barry Parr ends the story with this choice quote:

“There is absolutely no question that the next 10 years are going to bereally bad for the newspaper business,” he said. “This is a time ofwrenching change and chaos. All of our assumptions about newspapers aregoing to be changed. The format, the business model, the organizationof newspapers have outlived their usefulness.”

I agree with "wrenching change and chaos," but I don't think this is a bad time to be in the newspaper business. I love a challenge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday linkdump

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2007 at 8:29 AM

I didn't call this a "deadline" linkdump, because I don't have any deadlines for tomorrow's Seven Days — nope, I didn't write a thing this week. Too busy mucking about online. But you don't need a deadline to have a linkdump, that's what I always say.

This week on Vermont blogs:

• Vermont curling afficianado Dan York is also an uber-techie in his other life. This week he's in Cairo for a conference. In a post yesterday to his blog Disruptive Conversations, he writes about how weird it is to see Google's homepage in Arabic at his Cairo hotel (the screenshot at right is from his blog).

• Yankunian is back at the Vermizzle, writing about the potential flooding in Montpelier.

• Lots of Iraq war anniversary posts yesterday. Katharine at Cut to the Chase reprints Dick Cheney's comments from February 7, 2003: "This war could last six days, maybe six weeks, but I certainly doubt it can last six months."  

Outrageouschaos explains what kind of college friend New York City would be, and defines the mysterious BritBritBrit contest.

• E to the M at Say What? calls good old Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame a hypocrite, a homophobe and a bigot — and she's not the only one. I'm glad a Vermonter blogged about Keillor's recent controversial column, so I could point it out here. Dan Savage, editor of the Stranger, posted a similar critique of Keillor's column on the Stranger's blog, Slog, coincidentally also called Fuck Garrison Keillor. Savage posted and dissected Keillor's apology yesterday.

• More comments from State Senator Bill Doyle's Town Meeting Survey. Sample comments:

“I believe that in order to be ableto afford to live here, a single person must have two jobs, becauseunless you are a professional or have a college degree, jobs in thisarea pay terribly.” – Barre

“I have two jobs and still find it very hard to pay bills.” – Barre City

 

Friday, March 16, 2007

Online media notebook

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2007 at 3:29 PM

Hey, I moved into my new office space! Here's a picture of my new desk in the red room.

Anyhow, I was talking with someone who reads my blog the other day, and he lamented the fact that I haven't been posting as many online media-related items (Richard, this post is for you).

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about trends in journalism online. At some point over the past few months, I stumbled upon Howard Owens' blog, and have since become a regular reader.

Owens is the Director of Digital Publishing at Gatehouse Media. On his blog, he opines about the changing media landscape. I've particularly enjoyed his posts about newspapers doing video. Basically he argues that newspapers shouldn't try to produce the best, most polished video — he thinks we shouldn't worry so much about production values, because they don't matter as much online as they do on TV, at least right now. He wrote a post earlier this week called DIY video and punk rock.

It's a controversial argument — the comments section of that particular post don't reflect the arguments Owens has been having with professional TV videographers.

I'm not sure I agree that production quality is unimportant, but I definitely prefer attitude and style over videos that are polished but dull. Hence my enthusiasm for our new vlog, Stuck in Vermont.

I see that the Burlington Free Press has about a godzillion videos  on their site. I've seen a few. They're pretty professional. If I was in one, or knew someone in one, I'd probably check it out and pass along the link, but... is anyone else watching them? How much of an audience do you need to justify spending money shooting, editing and producing online video?

I noticed that the video of the spelling bee carries a 30 second ad for Saturn. What do people think about putting ads on videos?

Friday, March 9, 2007

One last town meeting update

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2007 at 8:54 AM

From Mayor Bibs Fisk of Beaver Pond, that quaint little Vermont town full of drag queens.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Book Blogging

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2007 at 6:45 PM

I feel like such a dork. I'm sitting here at my kitchen table, feeding my son dinner, and I've got my laptop open.

Why am I sitting here with my laptop on my kitchen table at 6:30 p.m., a couple hours after I left the office? Because my friend, Jonesville resident Alison Bechdel, is at the National Book Critics Circle Awards dinner in NYC right now. Her book Fun Home was a finalist for a 2006 NBCC award, and they're announcing the winners tonight. Right now, in fact.

The NBCC apparently knows that there are people like me who want to know the results as they happen, so they've started a blog, Critical Mass, where they're promising to post winners as they announce them.

"Stay tuned, and keep hitting that refresh button," they write. So I am.

Good luck, Alison!

UPDATE: Drat, she didn't win. But how cool to be a finalist!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Town Meeting Day Linkdump

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2007 at 10:01 AM

I thought I'd put this up, though I plan to update it throughout the day.

Here's where to find Vermonters talking about Town Meeting Day online:

Exit Voices: A community blog sponsored by CCTV Center for Media and Democracy, VCAM and Bill Simmon's Candleblog. Post your voting or town meeting experience in the open thread, and read guest posts from Vermont bloggers.

Bill Doyle's blog: The state senator does a survey each year on Town Meeting Day. He's already got some of the responses up. Make sure you fill it out! I was the 50th voter in Winooski this morning, and when I put my survey in the box, there was only one other one there.

UPDATE: This just in — the Rutland Herald/Times Argus has a new political blog, the Vermont View.

UPDATE II: Just got an email from James Leas, one of the organizers behind the impeachment resolutions. Says James:

Impeachment resolution results: Passed in 8 towns so far
Newfane Passed
Middlebury Passed 
Bristol Passed
Richmond** Passed (about 94-46 in paper ballot)
Westminster Passed
Rochester Passed
Vershire Passed
Guilford Passed

** not on the warning; brought up under "other business"

Soldiers Home Now Resolution
results: Passed in 3 towns so far
Plymouth Passed
Newfane Passed
Guilford Passed

Charity Tensel weighs in with an update from Burlington's Ward 5.

From Dan Barlow at the RH/TA's Vermont View:

We can now confirm that 22 towns so far today have voted to impeach the president and vice president.

Springfield, Hartland, Dummerston, Calais, Grafton, Jericho,Woodbury, Roxbury, Planfield, Peru, Jamaica and Newbury are the newtowns added to the apparently growing list of Vermont communities thatwish Bush's term would end 22 months early.

UPDATE III: Here's an Orange town meeting wrap up, courtesy of Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm.

UPDATE IV: And Rick Scully chimes in from Tunbridge...

 

Monday, March 5, 2007

Exit Voices is live

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2007 at 7:35 PM

Exit Voices, VCAM's election blog, is up and running. Check it out and speak your mind!

Pre-Town Meeting post

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2007 at 9:32 AM

Want more media coverage of local politics? If you live in Burlington, you're in luck. There are several local bloggers writing about various issues and races:

Charity Tensel at She's Right
Haik Bedrosian at BurlingtonPol
Jay Vos at Blazing Indescretions

And there's always the traditional and alternative media types:
Peter Freyne at Freyne Land
Terri Hallenback and friends at the Burlington Free Press vt.buzz blog

I know there are probably more out there. If I've forgotten anyone, please let me know.

I'm going to try to do a Town Meeting coverage linkdump tomorrow, just like last year. If you or someone you know is blogging town meeting day, send me the link. (Photo from Greg Sampson of Pages Within, from last year's town meeting in Bethel).

UPDATE: Keep track of the latest on the impeach Bush ballot initiatives — Vermont Impeach Movement. And Burlington's 9/11 ballot initiative, at Vermonters for a Real 9/11 Investigation.

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