Posts tagged “newspaper”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Literature Magazine Offers Fiction in New Media – The founders of Electric Literature, a new quarterly literary magazine, seek nothing less than to revitalize the short story in the age of the short attention span. To do so, they allow readers to enjoy the magazine any way they like: on paper, Kindle, e-book, iPhone and, starting next month, as an audiobook. YouTube videos feature collaborations among their writers and visual artists and musicians. Starting next month, Rick Moody will tweet a story over three days.
  • French Government Offers Free Newspapers to Young Readers – Under “My Free Newspaper,” 18- to 24-year-olds will be offered a free, yearlong subscription to a newspaper of their choice.

    “Winning back young readers is essential for the financial survival of the press, and for its civic dimension,” the culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, said.

Good and bad ideas in the daily paper

Adam Richardson recently wrote a strong critique of the San Francisco Chronicle – both their unattractive redesign and their poor content.

Although Monday’s Chron featured anti-elitist sneering about Nate Silver’s semi-failed Oscar predictions, I was impressed with a new feature, where startups get feedback about their ideas from venture capitalists.

They’ve done a good job at tying this coverage to a unique aspect of the San Francisco Bay Area:

Silicon Valley, long known as a hotbed for innovation, has one of the highest concentrations of startups and investors in the world. At any one time, 20,000 entrepreneurs in the valley are thinking about starting companies, and as many as 8,000 are circulating business plans and looking for funding

One example: Mojamix: Breakfast enthusiasts personalize their own cereal or granola online and have it shipped to their door in just a few days.

David Pakman, partner, Venrock: I’m skeptical that consumers at scale actually know enough about what ingredients go together to make a breakfast cereal or granola they will like and will taste good. If I pick dried cranberries over raisins, will I like it less or more? Kinda have to taste it to know.

Mass customization of food products is indeed an interesting trend, but I wonder if it is better to focus on areas where the customer does not have to taste it to know if they will like it.

Margins in food products are low and are thus only interesting at scale, so Mojamix would need to demonstrate that the lifetime value of a customer is large enough to afford the customer acquisition costs that would be required to attract lots of customers.

As I’ve written before, I appreciate the ability of some VCs to look at an idea and consider many facets and contexts.

Sure, this sort of material is available elsewhere, especially online, but seeing this piece in the mainstream media was refreshing.

Chocolate and real estate

Just the other day, more news that dark chocolate can help lower pressure (seems like old news, but okay). Here’s how the SF Chron presented the story:
Front page. Two columns. One of those columns is simply a (confusing) image of swirling chocolate, providing absolutely no information whatsoever. What the hell is the front page about, here? Advertisements, eye-candy imagery, very non-news stories.

Contrast the NYT treatment of the story:
Tucked away on page 11. No hype or imagery. The front page of the New York Times is still for news, apparently.

Although these are both products in the same category (newspaper), they are really not the same kind of thing at all. Their purpose, intent, motivation, audience differ vastly. I need to stop thinking of them as a set of like items, because that lulls me (as the user) into a misleading state of expectation.

Getting it done. This is news?


The SF Chron devotes a fair amount of the front section and most of their Sunday Style section to stories and photo spreads about a new mall opening in San Francisco. Granted, it’s not the front page or anything, and we don’t expect hard news, but does it have to be such blatant content of commercial interest? It’s one thing when the local community papers write about small businesses, some quid pro quo for advertising dollars before, during, or after, but a big-city newspaper? Yuck.

Meanwhile, I only knew get ‘er done as the catch-phrase of Larry the Cable Guy, but I am noticing it now in stories about construction, like the above photo from the building of this new mall, or the re-opening of our local Devil’s Slide road. I guess it’s another example of cultural reverse engineering; presumably the working-class salt-of-the-earth lingo of construction works was where Larry picked up that particular phrase.

Son of Boston-Globe-quote

Stones ticket prices take a plunge

“I feel like they’ve kind of been mailing it in for a while,” says Steve Portigal, who in ’92 started the first Stones Internet discussion group, “I used to fend off comments about the band being too old, but I’m embarrassed to say I’ve changed my mind about that.”

It’s not word-for-word what I said, but I guess it’s close enough. And a little different than the previous Boston Globe quotes (here, here).

newspaper ad synchronicity/This Week In God

Click to enlarge
Two items across the gutter (in the business section of the SF Chron, of all places) that use similar exercising imagery. One is literally for exercise gear; the other is a metaphor.

The left-hand ad is for a Soloflex gizmo that vibrates. And you stand it on and lose weight.


Sounds like something from The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices! Soloflex, supposedly a brand we’re familiar with (the first TV infomercials on film, the earliest users of infomercials for exercise equipment), offering ridiculous quackery!

The perhaps ironic/perhaps not references to God are also strange.

You Spin Me Right Round

I’ve received my second issue of Spin magazine since a recent relaunch. It’s gone from being a youth-oriented slightly alternative music magazine that featured (one of my writing heroes) Chuck Klosterman (in an ever-declining role) to a youth-oriented slightly alternative People magazine.

I wasn’t exactly in love with the old Spin, given my rural lifestyle (i.e., Portigal Consulting world headquarters is just blocks away from an alpaca ranch), but I admit I found it strangely comforting to read about Coachella and Death Cab for Cutie even though there’s little chance I will go to the first or listen to the second. I want to say “I’m too old” but it’s really not a matter of age, I have always liked reading about this stuff, but I never felt part of it. Reading Spin a couple of years ago was an attempt to shake off the depressing feeling that Classic Rock Radio (and Rock Marketing) has been giving me for many years.

But I can’t stand this new magazine, it’s replaced attitude with vapiditude. Spin will certainly lose me as a reader. I’m not sure that’s a problem for them. I’m probably not a customer for their advertisers and therefore not a valued reader.

It does raise some interesting questions about how to “re-launch” or otherwise evolve a brand. I know this is not the first time Spin did this (at one point they were vaguely hard-hitting, big format, run by Bob Guccione, Jr., the Penthouse scion). But there’s no transpanecy in this process. Where is Klosterman? Why all the pictures of hotties? Parties? Hot parties? I’m asked to consider it as the same Spin, even though it’s not, and it doesn’t feel like it.

In this case, the entire experience has changed, it’s not a new ad campaign or new bumper graphics, old stuff is gone, new stuff is here, the editorial voice has been revamped.

Contrast with newspapers that change features all the time (newly designed stock tables, new font, new page format, you name it) and typically will explain the heck out of it, what was done, how it was done, and why it’s better. They know that when you have a comfortable relationship with a paper, you’ll be shattered if changes slightly without you knowing a little bit in advance.

A recent study we did around some commercial software that was used aggressively every day all day found that the management of inevitable changes is crucial, the software is “their” software, just like Spin is “my” magazine. The consumer/producer split has an emotional component that producers don’t always get. As one of the software users told us (paraphrase) “I don’t come to your office and change how your system works!”

That’s sort of how I feel. Spin didn’t ask me if I was going to be okay with this, and I’m not. I hate this magazine and I want my old one back. And Spin is probably all right with that reaction, but it’s easy to identify other cases where it’s not so cool to piss people off so much that they leave.

No pat solutions here, although maybe others have examples of good or bad to contribute here.

Don’t Blame the Web When Newspapers Die

I love it when I’m mulling something over and an article appears that sums it up, at least partly. Don’t Blame the Web When Newspapers Die is one such example

The disappearance of the paperboy. I was a paper-boy as a kid. It was good money, and my knocking on doors seeking subscriptions or asking to be paid put a human face on the paper. Circulation grew with the population, but now newspapers must offer free subscriptions to sucker the rubes to renew. These offers come from Mumbai by phone, usually when you’re at dinner. The bean counters love it. Some middle-aged man now delivers the paper out of an old Chevy.

We are reading a lot about people getting their news from the web instead of print, or the failures of news companies (MSM – or “main stream media”) to allow sharing and get with the co-creation program, blah blah blah.

But really, these newspaper companies are messed for other reasons (such as are outlined in the article). They can’t provide their basic service very well – to get a printed piece of a paper to your door every day, and to stop getting you those printed pages when you ask them to.

Every single time I travel I have to put two papers on hold (the SF Chron and the NYT). I’ve started putting them on hold a day early, even though I’d like a paper that day, I have to ensure they actually do stop the paper when they are supposed to.

Last week we went away and I did my usual. One paper still arrived, so I called and spoke to a human who verified my hold was in the system and indicated that they would escalate a notice to some district person to get it stopped. The next day a paper arrived – and I was already in Toronto – so I called long distance (the 800 number doesn’t work outside the US, of course) and restated the situation again and told them I did not want to come home to a pile of papers. “Absolutely, we’ll let the supervisor know and get that sorted out.” The phone call, mind you, cost $8.00 from the hotel. Cheaper than my international roaming charges on Verizon? I dunno.

And we came home to find, indeed, a pile of papers. They didn’t follow the first notice, they didn’t follow the first escalation, or the second escalation, nor did they respond to the pile of papers sitting in the driveway (hey, maybe that would be a clue that they should not be delivering them).

The day after we got back, the other paper didn’t arrive. I had to call in to get that delivery problem sorted out. I’m so fed up with these papers – you can’t get anyone at the main office to take you seriously, all they can do is pass a message onto a mysterious supervisor who presumably deals with the middle-aged man in the old car who drives down my street early in the morning.

One day a few months ago neither paper arrived (and unrelated to any vacation hold, even), so I called both offices. And I actually got a followup call from the carrier, telling me to call them if I had a problem (in other words, don’t let our boss know). And – for the two papers – it was the same carrier!

Meanwhile, I’m feeling totally unresolved about last week’s unwanted deliveries. I’m not calling in and speaking to another drone again; I sent an email asking for a supervisor to call me about an unresolved problem, and I’m thinking about canceling the paper if they don’t take me seriously. The fact is, I need them more than they need me. They aren’t interested in me as a customer – the delivery mechanism is so far removed from the news gathering organization, that there’s no one who is going to respond in any fashion, let alone take any actual steps to keep this from happening. It’s just a lousy single customer for them, but it’s more than inconvenience for me, it’s about home security – there’s nothing worse than a bunch of papers to advertise that the house is prime for breaking and entering and stealing and leaving. If I can’t travel without worrying that a disinterested low-paid employee is going to put my safety and security at risk, then it’s maybe not worth it.

I still like the paper, and I like reading it cover to cover more than I could ever do online. But they don’t deserve my meager business.

I’m not sure if this consistently poor level of customer service is what’s going to further destroy the newspaper business, or if we’ll just tolerate it like we do with banks, HMOs, utilities, phone companies, Best Buy, and so on.

Ask the sexpert

From the Mumbai Mirror, January 26, 2006

Note: I found this funny, silly, and also kind of charming. The use of English in India is just different in curious ways. The whole manner of dialogue and of question-and-answer is just very different. Direct, naive, brusque. This seemed to capture it pretty well.

Ask the sexpert | Dr. Mahinder Watsa

Q. I am an 18-year-old girl and my boyfriend is 23. My period has always been irregular; I used to take Gynedol to get regular periods. The problem is that I have not gotten my period for the last two months. We do have sex but he did not ejaculate inside me. We indulge in foreplay and his penis has touched my vagina. What are the chances that I could be pregnant?
A. If during foreplay the vagina is touched by the penis there is a rare chance of pregnancy. If you are taking Gynedol regularly, then there is no chance of pregnancy as it acts as a contraceptive.

Q. I am 24 years old. I have been feeling pain in my right testicle for the last two or three years. Recently the pain has become unbearable. Also my right testicle is growing thicker than my left. I used to work out in a gym for a about a year-and-a-half ago. Could this problem stem from the exercise? Will I need surgery, and if I do, how long will it take to recover. I am a little shy and afraid to go see a doctor.
A. Please don’t fool around. I is important you see a surgeon and get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Delay can be very harmful.

Q. I am a 20-year-old boy. I recently had sex with my girlfriend for the first time. Although she tells me it is her first she did not bleed when we had sex. Is this a problem because we are going to be married soon.
A. No, if you trust your partner.

Q. I am 24 years old and work as an air hostess. I have heard that women who frequently fly, experience complications during child birth because they face the problem of an inverted uterus. I would like to know why this problem arises. Will I have trouble conceiving? I am going to be married soon and am a little paranoid.
A. A check up with the a gynaecologist will help you to know if everything is ok. Flying does not effect the position of the uterus.

Q. I am a 33-year-old male. I am going to be married soon but have a few problems with sexuality. First of all I don’t know if my penis is large enough to satisfy a woman. Also I have very little stamina, and my hemoglobin count is very low and I am anemic. How can I solve all these problems?
A. You do not require a large penis to have good sex. Your anemia needs correction. Take an iron tonic and check with a doctor about why it is low.

Q. I am an 18-year-old girl. My boyfriend and I has unprotected sex recently, but he did not ejaculate in me. Since that day we are both feeling an uneasy itching our genital area. Also, a white substance is excreted. Is this some kind of infection or did we do something wrong while having sex.
A. Pregnancy has been known to occur accidentally. Use a condom. For the itch, ask the chemist for a skin cream.

Missing yellow beacon

From the Chron letters section:
Missing yellow beacon
Editor — A few weeks ago, I went to my driveway and couldn’t find my Chronicle. There was an extra ‘throwaway’ paper that I recycled, then left for work depressed. This went on for a few days and my dark mood deepened. On the fourth day, I inspected this new junk paper and was shocked to see my beloved Chronicle wrapped in a clear plastic bag. My yellow beacon was gone! I was shocked and dismayed.
On Tuesday it turned to disgust. My supply of yellow bags, recycled to dog doodoo duty, expired. While walking my dog, Godiva, I had to use the new clear bag and the result was shocking. I felt dirty carrying her droppings as they stared back at me through the bag. Please tell me our morning sunshine will be returning soon!
San Bruno


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