Category Archives: media

Another Brick in the Paywall

Watch for changes to the Times Union’s digital offerings.

I noticed on my phone and tablet they’ve been fiddling with settings that impose a monthly story limit. By “fiddling,” I mean turning it on and off. Also, the paid content timesunionPLUS story designation has vanished.

It could mean that they’re getting ready to pull the plug on free content — like so many newspapers have done — and that the timesunionPLUS scheme was a bust.

The blogs? Those will probably stay free. Hey, you get what you pay for.

Maybe they’ll take up my idea of offering unlimited access for $.25 per week, which I’d gladly pay for the online edition.

“Rob,” you say, “why should they give away their news content. That makes no sense, these days.”

No, I suppose it doesn’t. And who would do that, anyway? Oh, I don’t know — local TV stations, maybe? They’ve never charged you for news and they still don’t.

Anyhow, wait and see.

The Debate Debate

All politics is local, and local news is always looking for a way to make local races interesting. Sometimes it’s a struggle. In much of the Capital Region, political power is so tilted toward one party that results are a fait accompli — and in many other races, the candidates are often indistinguishable.

That was the case when the Democrat candidates for Albany mayor debated on August 17 — and it was a real snoozefest. The winner of the September primary will be mayor — and you may as well pick the name from a hat, because they’re all the same.

But this isn’t about the debate, it’s about the exessive exposure it got in the media: the amount airtime it got far exceeds the audience.

You could watch the debate live in primetime on WNYT or listen on WAMC, plus there was streaming. WAMC ram the whole thing again the next afternoon.

What’s a small audience?

In 2013, about 12,000 people voted in the Albany mayoral primary. That represents about 1.3% of the people in the market. That adds up to a ton of people who are not involved or interested.

I used to work with a news director who said that people in Pittsfield won’t watch a story about Schenectady. I said that people will always watch a compelling, well-told story — no matter where it occurs.

But a boring story? Kiss them goodbye.

At the Movies

Spectrum TheatreI went to the Spectrum Theatre recently, and it turns out they no longer accept these pre-paid passes.

The theatre changed hands in 2015. The new owners bought the Spectrum’s funky hippy-dippy indie vibe, the art exhibits, the homey slideshow ads, the cake and cookies and popcorn with real butter, but there’s one thing they didn’t buy: a long-term commitment to honor these cards.

At the box office, I explained that it’s not cool to turn down the passes. The box office clerk explained back to me, “I can’t help you. Call customer service if you have a complaint.”

And he handed me this fortune cookie-sized piece of paper.

Landmark Theatres

Landmark wants to hear from you. Or not.

The woman I talked to at Landmark was impatient with my call. I suggested that when they bought the theatre, they also bought the Spectrum’s loyal long-time customers — and their passes. “Too bad,” she said. I was obviously not the first person to bother her on this topic.

No biggy. I can afford to buy movie tickets and I’ll still go to the Spectrum.

But one more thing: the passes you and I bought may not be any good, but it turns out that the former owners — Keith Pickard, Sugi Pickard, Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes — got a nice bonus as part of the purchase deal. Keith Pickard told the Times Union:

“We have passes forever. That was negotiated. That was part of the negotiating deal — that we have movie passes for as long as Landmark is leasing the property. Don’t forget,” he added, “we’re film lovers.”

Well. that’s terrific. Too bad your long-time customers — the film lovers who patronized you business for decades — don’t get to use the passes they purchased “forever”.

Keith Pickard also said:

“We’re very happy to be a part of this, and we think Landmark will serve the community well. … The legacy is very important to all of us, and I can’t stress this enough. We feel we have a good partner for this. It’s stewardship.”

You’ve got your legacy, Mr. Pickard. And your lifetime pass.

Stranger Than Fiction

The Albany Smudge has been on my mind lately. One of the things I loved about the site’s satirical stories were the ridiculous quotes from clueless people with an overblown opinion of themselves.

In case you’re missing The Albany Smudge, don’t worry: sometimes real life is just as funny. Here’s Shenendehowa school board member Robert Pressly in a TU story about why superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gets paid so much:

“Our desire is to have a district where people can proudly state they’re from a certain school,” Pressly said. “We think we’re definitely on track with that in terms of what people say about us and perceive about us.”

Well, Mr. Pressly — I have a pretty good idea what people say and perceive about you, but it’s not what you think it is.

Ah, and the story had a pretty great headline, too:

Shenendehowa superintendent gets another raise

My italics.

O-Bits

What’s better than sitting on the back deck early in the morning with a cup of coffee and the obituary page? I’ll tell you what: having a cigarette while you do that — but I digress.

The obits are certainly one of those things that are better on paper. Something about the ephemeral nature of newsprint that matches our own brief shelf life. That’s pretty deep, if I don’t say so myself.

But today, obits live forever online — as long as you don’t mind them served up with a few ads.

I did a completely random check to see what ads appear on the obit page and here’s what I came up with.

OK, Natalie Merchant at Tanglewood. Personally, listening to Natalie Merchant would make me feel better if someone died. Some might say her music could make you feel worse, but if it takes your mind off your grief, that’s a win-win in my book.

And PODS? Well, moving is often a byproduct of someone’s death — or at least getting rid of their stuff, so I judge both of these ads to be contextually appropriate and useful in your time of grief.

What do obits cost? Here’s a rate card I got from the Times Union, and believe me, if you’re going to have an elaborate obituary, it will cost some money. A few basics:

The first 10 lines are free the first DAY that the obituary runs, the customer pays for those lines every time after that.

After the first 10 lines each additional line is $4.75 per line with an additional $16 service charge.

A line constitutes roughly 22-25 characters including spaces and punctuation.

So, they throw in the first ten lines, which is maybe 250 characters, or, less than two Tweets. Want a picture? That’s $47.50. Cash up front unless you’re a funeral home — and yes, they have procedures to prevent fake notices from being placed.

I advise you to write your own obituary. This will take a lot of pressure off your loved ones, and hopefully, they’ll publish whatever you leave behind, regardless of cost. Seriously, do you think your family is going to edit your obituary? I mean, I might do that — but remember, my edits are always to make your work better.

Smudged Out

“Chalk up this one up as a winner. A bright spot on an increasingly bleak and depressing internet.”

In 2015, that was my blub-worthy assessment of The Albany Smudge, the Capital Region’s own Onion-esque satire website. Yesterday the humor page posted some bad news: they’ve had enough.

Publisher “Burt Wilkersonn” explained why the site is ceasing publication in a story dated June 18:

“We decided to stop before we completely sucked. I mean, how many times can you make fun of doctors’ wives and their naturally gifted children in Bethlehem, or the underprivileged folks of South Colonie?”

Albany Smudge possessed a keen understanding of the area and knew the exact location of its soft spots. They mercilessly jabbed at cultural touch-points — especially our stereotypes of local towns and their inhabitants.

It’s sad to see it go, but easy to understand. It must have taken a lot of time to write the well-crafted stories they published. Their output was prodigious, putting out new editions every week since November 2014.

I can’t say if Albany Smudge every caught on in the way it deserved. There’s so much content for people to sift through today — much more than when I used to publish Albany Eye, more than a decade ago.

The most impressive thing about Albany Smudge may be this: even when it took sharp aim, it was never mean. These days, that’s saying a lot.

The Sound (Off) and the Fury

It’s the end of an era: The Troy Record and the Saratogian have killed their most popular feature, Sound Off. Here’s how Sound Off worked: readers called an answering machine and left anonymous comments, which the newspaper then published. They did it for years — as long as I can remember — since my earliest recollection of the Record.

As you can imagine, it was a cesspool of vitriol and rumor — and fun as hell to read. But now it’s all over.

Record and Saratogian managing editor Charlie Kraebel explained:

We want our readers to be able to express themselves and share their thoughts, but with civility. We don’t want The Saratogian and The Record to be complicit in a coarsening of public discourse that anonymity seems to encourage.

Bravo, Mr. Kraebel! It’s inspiring that after this decades-long experiment in free speech, responsibility wins out in the end.

Hilariously, Talk 1300’s Paul Vandenburgh — who makes a living putting anonymous people on the radio to say whatever they like — condemned Sound Off and applauded its demise. I guess he prefers the sort of free speech where you can turn off someone’s volume.

I’ve always been curious about how closely an editor looked at these Sound Off items. Some were pretty crazy — but not any worse than the comments that show up every day in Times Union blog posts.

The only people who should be applauding the death of Sound Off, are the poor schnooks who were forced to transcribe the calls. That must have been an awful job, most likely a task for interns or a staffer who pissed off the boss.

What Closes On Saturday Night

Satire is tricky. You have to be broad enough for people to realize it’s a joke, but not so broad that it descends into buffoonery. Good satire requires no explanation as it delivers a sharp kick to the shin.

Having said that, there is no bigger fail than when you begin your satirical piece with a disclaimer that reads, “This is a work of satire.” Would  you get up before telling a joke and say, “This is a joke”? If so, you just lost.

Case in point:

This is a work of satire.

Oh, well. I guess I’d be worried to if I worked for people with no sense of humor.

A Thousand Words from the Editor

It’s nearly a month since the donnybrook over Chuck Miller’s April Fools’ blog post.

A quick re-cap.

Chuck’s piece claimed that Kellyanne Conway would speak at the UAlbany commencememt, and though it was up only a short time, it created a huge stir. In fact, within hours after it was posted, a group of UAlbany professors began mobilizing resistance to the Conway booking — something which brings new meaning to the word “gullible.”

In short order the Times Union deleted the post and blocked Chuck’s account. Chuck resigned and several bloggers protested, threatening to quit over the matter and demanding an apology from Rex Smith, the paper’s vice president and editor.

Rex Smith did respond, but one could hardly call it an apology. Aaron Bush, who quit the TU over the April Fools  incident,  published Smith’s response on his new blog:

A few key takeaways from Mr. Smith’s letter:

  • Smith believes that Chuck’s post was not just untrue, but a “irresponsible” and “unfair,” a “caper” that “threatened the credibilty of the Times Union brand.”
  • The Times Union blogs do not generate significant traffic or revenue.
  • The paper does not have the resources to properly manage the blog section.
  • Changes are coming to the blog page, including a “culling” that will eliminate inactive blogs — and perhaps also those that do not “focus on issues of greatest interest to the Capital Region.”
  • He regards the criticism he received over this issue as a personal attack.

I don’t like how the Times Union handled the whole situation, but it’s easy to understand why they did what they did. It will be interesting to see what happens next. If anything, I think we all can agree that there are some blogs over there that are ripe for “culling.”

But if the Times Union blogs are so insignificant, as Mr. Smith says in his letter, isn’t it strange that he made such a big deal over Chuck’s prank? It’s true that newspapers are weathering a storm of change, but rest easy. They still have the spunk to pick a fight that they can easily win.