Saturday, March 12, 2011

On-line news network: more news than you need

This afternoon I joined about 20 Portland “newsbloggers” at a meeting convened by The Oregonian at its downtown offices on SW Broadway.

A rag-tag crew, we assembled around the long news conference table where top editors routinely decide how the news of the day will be played on newsprint.

The big metro, which is fading as a print publication, is trying to find an on-line journalism model that will ensure its survival into the rest of the 21st Century.

The newsblogger meeting was the newspaper’s effort to pull together a one-year “pilot project” called “The Oregonian News Network.”

I was at the meeting to see whether my on-line publication, The Hillsdale News, might fit into the plan.

The Oregonian is using a grant from the J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University in D.C. to pay for seven $2,500 grants to local newsbloggers.

In exchange, the chosen few will participate in a hyperlocal newsgathering effort.

Tellingly, the money does not come from The Oregonian or on-line advertising revenues. The bankrolling comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has paid for similar experiments in a few other cities, including Seattle.

I quickly concluded The Hillsdale News is not a candidate for the program, which calls for posting as many as five “hyper-local” news stories a week. I publish three to five stories every two or three weeks.

The Oregonian's working assumption is that small communities like ours really want to know about breaking, “hyperlocal” news, 24-7.

Do folks in Hillsdale really care about every fender bender, shoplifting or brush fire here?

Call me crazy, but I don’t think so.

And if they do, that’s someone else's problem. I’ve got other stories to write that won’t be hauled off by a wrecker, investigated by the police or drenched by the fire bureau.

By not applying for a grant, I’ll be missing out on technical advice, which I could use in the warp-speed change of the internet world.

But feeding the insatiable maw of the internet is too high a price to pay.

Thoreau’s comment about the newly invented telegraph applies equally to the web:

"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

I’ll venture that The Oregonian’s effort will burn out after a year. No representative of the paper had a clue as to how the “News Network” could be made self-sufficient after the Knight money runs out.

“We’re working on that,” said one lamely.

The other problem is that The Oregonian still doesn’t have control over its news web site, OregonLive. The on-line operation isn’t even in The Oregonian’s building. No one seemed quite sure where it is. OregonLive is some kind of organizational Frankenstein that only a corporate insider at Advance Publications back in New York could love — and apparently locate.

The Oregonian’s management has simply thrown up its hands in defeat and unveiled frustration at trying to wrest on-line control from “corporate.”

The meeting wasn’t a complete loss for me. It crystalized what The Hillsdale News is: an on-line news and news analysis magazine for in a hyperlocal market of 7,000 neighbors in Southwest Portland.

Until today, I’d never seen The News as a magazine with relatively leisurely deadlines. I variously and mistakenly referred to it as an on-line newspaper or newsletter.

The Oregonian’s presentation forced me to see my publication for what it isn’t and what it is.

I consider that two-hours well spent.

As for the “newsbloggers” in the room, I suspect some will take the J-Lab money and chase fire engines and patrol cars for the next year.

I wish them well.

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George W. Obama and Abu Quantico

In an earlier post, I commented that how the Obama Administration responds to the harsh and inhumane military incarceration of Pfc. Bradley Manning would speak volumes about this nation's leadership, the state of the presidency and the government.

The New York Times today reported on the President's direct response to a reporter's inquiry about Manning, who is accused (not convicted) of leaking thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks.

Bottomline: The "Commander-in-Chief" takes his orders from the military. Barack Obama is doing nothing to end Manning's abusive retreatment.

Read the story ... and weep.

After you wipe away the tears, write to protest HERE.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Test case for the Truth

Will State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley go defensive and apologetic ("I misspoke etc.") after telling the truth about the treatment of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking government documents and has been abused and mistreated in a Marine brig in Quantico?

The unfolding of this story will say volumes about our government and the Obama Administration.

I posted about the case earlier comparing it to Abu Ghraib. The humiliating punishment of the still untried Manning seems to be getting worse.

To object to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Manning's treatment, go HERE.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting by on $100,000

Prepare yourselves. I’m about to propose something un-American, anti-free market, and anti-individualistic.

You have now been warned and, I hope, immunized. You will not react to the following by saying “Why that’s utterly un-American! etc.”

Ready? Here we go....

In America, starting now, no person will be compensated more than $100,000 a year.

That’s enough, already.

With that lid comes universal health care, no income taxes (with one exception—see below), an adequate pension, the best schools in the world and guaranteed food and decent housing for all. There will be so little crime, the nation will be down to two or three prisons.

We might even see such a shift in values that we will disband our military, saving trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

Starting today, your financial compensation and your perceived or proclaimed “worth” are separate concepts. You aren’t paid what you have been told you were “worth.” Your worth yesterday was what some kept “compensation” firm or over-paid board of directors told you that you were “worth.”

Today, your pay can not exceed $100,000. If, like many well-to-do, you get your kicks by being told that you are “worth” millions more than the next executive or hedge fund manager, you can still be told that. You just won’t be paid it.

To assuage your ego, I suggest a badging system like medals pinned on generals’ uniforms.

“My company has put my ‘worth’ at $50 million,” you can brag, pointing to your $50 million badge. Of course, you’ll look like a fool, but that’s your choice.

But, just to be clear, that so-called displayed “worth” is $49,900,000 more than your are actually paid, and everyone knows it.

In fact you are paid exactly what someone who is really “worth” $100,000 is paid.

Isn’t that unfair?

Not really, because the current “compensation” game is rigged and the executive market is grossly and dangerously inflated.

I contend that if you feel it is really important that you be paid 300 times what a line worker in your company is paid, or 3000 times what some off-shore worker is being paid by your company, you aren’t even “worth” $100,000. In fact, you might be worthless. A liability. The door is over there.

Some might even suggest that you morally bankrupt. I’ve even hear it said that you are insane. Delusional. Sociopathic.

So what happens to the difference between your alleged “worth” and your real compensation? That $49,900,000.

See those benefits above? The excess pays for them — for you and literally thousands of others. That’s right, thousands. Do the math.

“But I can’t get by on $100,000 a year,” you complain.

“Try it. You’ll like it.”

Say what?

Yes, you’ll live simply (and discover how much you don’t need), stop destroying the environment through overconsumption, be contributing to a more prosperous, equitable society, be helping thousands less fortunate than you (most will be making considerably less than $100,000 annually) and you and your corporation will no longer have a reason to rig the political system and make a sham of democracy.

You will also recognize just how important public services, equality and fairness are to you, your fellow executives and everyone else.

You owe that $50 million “worth” of yours to the nation’s infrastructure (now crumbling), its schools (now in crisis) and thousands of public workers (now having their rights taken from them) who keep the nation humming along so your company can afford your bloated “worth.”

Well, won’t this all contribute to a massive brain drain to other countries? Not if you keep your American citizenship. You may be paid abroad, but a “foreign earnings”
 tax kicks in. It claims everything over $100,000. Sorry.

If you can’t live with that, leave.

Won’t there be unintended consequences? Like empty mansions, plummeting Mercedes sales, and uneaten caviar. Absolutely.

It’s all part of living simply and fairly. It will mean getting rid of status symbols and discovering that life’s real gifts are available to all, even you.

Trust me, with time, you’ll get your values straight. You will even come to appreciate your own true value — as a human being.

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