Friday, April 18, 2008
"Everyone's in agreement: Steve Friess is an idiot."
Wow. The publisher of a major newspaper can't do better than name-calling after his fictitious points have been defeated in this space. And this is what I get for *agreeing* with his conclusions about Web traffic even though I arrived at mine at first by taking a look at the figures for the web domain that APPEARS ON HIS NEWSPAPER'S OWN FLAG.
Oh! And while we're on the subject of sloppy errors, Sherm lied to his audience in an April 6 column in which he (don't ask, not worth explaining but, according to his acolytes, I'm the self-congratulatory idiot) refers to himself as "the king":
"The king wishes to thank all readers of the Review-Journal for their much-appreciated loyalty. Because of readers such as you, the Las Vegas Review-Journal will be one of the few metropolitan newspapers in the country to post a nice gain in paid circulation this year."
Except they didn't have a nice gain. He's writing for a Sunday audience that shrank 2 percent. He told me so when I asked, knowing the numbers would be public soon anyway. They lost about 4,000 readers last year. They're down to about 200,000 Sunday readers.
That's an interesting number because in 1998 or 1999 (can't remember which) when I was an R-J staffer, we had a party to celebrate the newspaper's cracking the 200,000 mark for Sunday circulation. Uh, didn't like a million people move here in the same time period? And aren't you now at 1998 or 1999 levels? And I'm the idiot? The King thanks you!
Perhaps the "nice gain" to which he referred was in the newspaper's daily circulation? That's up 1.2 percent in 2007, meaning they picked up just 2,068 new readers. This is something to boast? Don't any of the tens of thousands who move here monthly, especially the large retiree populations who live for their newspapers, at least want the coupons or Beetle Bailey?
The best part is, even with that small gain, the paper is still down 7.2 percent from its 2006 figures, having shed 13,447 readers since then! And, by the by, the 2006 figures were inflated because that was the first reporting period after the Las Vegas Sun started being delivered inside the R-J in the fall of 2005.
"Everyone's in agreement: Steve Friess is an idiot."
How dignified. At least I don't brag about things I ought to be embarrassed by.
Anyone out there who knows a lot about Blogger, please contact me. I have http://www.vegashappenshere.com bouncing over to the current blog site, but there are other changes I need to make for this transition to be seamless and I'm not real clear how. Send me an e-mail, please, at TheStripPodcast [at] aol.com.
Here we go, folks. This should be fun.
With Danny Gans all ready to say buh-bye to MGM Mirage and head to Wynn/Encore, folks throughout the company are becoming more and more candid about what a fright show working with him and his manager, Chip Lightman, has been. Steve Wynn told me yesterday that he felt he'd gotten lucky to land Danny because MGM Mirage reopened negotiations on Gans' contract to extend it, a notion that elicited very loud laughter from many I spoke with over there.
The best tidbit I picked up yesterday from a key hotel source had to do with the unbelievably tacky manner in which Gans and Lightman barely waited for Roy Horn to emerge from surgery in October 2003 before they started bugging MGM Mirage brass to give Gans the larger Mirage marquee. It was shocking, even coming from Gans and Lightman, that it was only days after Roy was bitten by a tiger on-stage and the duo were aggressively seeking to enforce an unusual part of the Gans contract that indicated he would receive the larger marquee if the Siegfried & Roy act ever closed. Of course, nobody expected it to close in the manner in which it did.
I asked if that incident soured some in the company on Gans, whose career has hit a bizarre glass ceiling in Vegas. (Seriously, how is it that he's never had a sitcom? An HBO special? A guest role on "The Simpsons"? This lack of broader success has strained the Gans-Lightman link in the past.) The answer: "It really just confirmed for a lot of people what they already felt about Danny and Chip."
Apparently, there were some pretty intense negotiations that had to go on later to get Danny not to remain on the big marquee when the Cirque show "Love" came along.
All I can say is, thank GOD they weren't wrapping buildings in show ads back when Danny first negotiated that contract. It's one thing to stay in the room in Toni Braxton's crotch, but...
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Anyhow, Wynn insisted that when we spoke a month ago, he believed the deal with Gans was a no-go, he didn't know it had hit the rumor mill and he didn't want to give it new life. There are reasons for that that he did not want me to disclose and that's fine, but I did think it's important for his credibility as well as my own to post this vague follow-up. Based on our conversation and some of the off-record information, I'm confident he did not intentionally mislead me.
He was actually very funny about it, in a swell mood, clearly delighted to have snagged Danny Gans. At one point, he went on a funny loop and called me a professional snitch. Then, later, he revisited it to say, "And you're a very good professional snitch."
As usual, he threw me a bone or two. Arf. I'll report some of it at some point later, but right now I've got to do some work for which someone will pay me.
Friess: So, Danny Gans. Are you actually talking to him?
Wynn: No, no. What gave you that idea?
Friess: It's been in the papers that you've been trying to get Danny to come over to the Wynn.
Wynn: No, no, no. I would love to have Danny come over but he does four performances a week and it would be great to have him, but, you know, I can't have a theater with four performances a week.
Yet today, Mike Weatherford broke the news that Danny's coming to the Wynn, err, Encore, next year to replace him next year.
Odd, no? I feel punk'd. Congrats to Mike, though.
So I did that bit about the Review-Journal from my conversation with my former boss Sherman Frederick, the publisher, the other day. And after that, I received an email from Frederick that raised precisely two specific concerns:
1. I had misheard him when he said that folks at the paper thought the newspaper's site is "sick." Turns out, he had said "thick." Honest mistake, I apologized and changed the post immediately. It's nice that on the Web we can make these fixes so easily. I'm still waiting for the paper to fix the misspelling of my name in a column by the late Rod Smith from all the way back in 2005, and I wrote to every editor I knew over there at the time.
2. Frederick took issue with how I examined the R-J site's web traffic because I went to Alexa.Com and compared their traffic at ReviewJournal.com to LasVegasSun.Com to investigate his assertion that (a) his site gets more hits and (b) the Sun's site, despite its expensive redesign, has lost viewership. The figures I found completely backed him up and I said so.
But Frederick complained today on his own blog anyway, insisting I had looked at the wrong set of stats for the R-J's site and that I should have been looking at the combined total of www.lvrj.com and www.ReviewJournal.com. He said there's no duplicated traffic between them. I didn't address this matter yet on this blog -- Sherm moaned I'd let it go a whole 12 hours! -- because (a) breaking news and other deadlines have had me a little busy and (b) it didn't seem urgent since the point Frederick was making was made even with the approach I took. It wasn't like anyone was out there with the impression that the R-J site was less popular than the Sun's from what I'd written.
That said, I also wanted to hear an explanation from Frederick's online guy Al Gibes as to how it can be that there's no unduplicated hits when going to ReviewJournal.Com delivers you to LVRJ.Com. Granted, I suppose I should've used lvrj.com as the comparison site since that's the one with the larger hit count, but I used reviewjournal.com because that's the site they put in their advertising and the domain they use for their email addresses. It was not an unreasonable -- and certainly not a "sloppy" -- choice.
Anyway, Gibes wrote me this morning. Here's his answer, and I'd appreciate it if smarter online minds than mine offered a thought or two on whether it sounds right:
A quick note about the unduplicated traffic at lvrj.com and reviewjournal.com... We're in the final stages of moving the hosting of our site from our own servers to those of a vendor host, so some of the content resides on the lvrj.com domain, while some resides on reviewjournal.com. You'll see the redirect -- which is not counted as a page view -- to the lvrj (vendor) site in most circumstances. This will eventually go away, once we complete the migration of all the content from our own servers. Actually, the address bar will again reflect reviewjournal.com when that happens. If you pay attention to the address bar now, you'll see all the daily and breaking content, along with many other parts of the site, are being served by lvrj.com.
We also have parts of our site hosted with other vendors. These areas include the classified vertical categories of Homes, Jobs and Autos. While these pages look and feel like lvrj.com pages, they are actually hosted by a third-party. We roll all the traffic up into a monthly page view total, which has shown steady growth in the past 12 months. March 2008 was a record month, with more than 26.2 million page views on the reviewjournal.com site (all pages branded this way, regardless of host).
We subscribe to several independent, third-party analytic reporting services for advertising and competitive reasons. These include Media Audit, Scarborough and Hitwise. We are able to roll-up our content into a single view for statistical purposes. These sources all show the reviewjournal site as the leading local Web site by a wide margin, and the gap continues to grow.
Regardless of any of this, Frederick's point is taken. Except that the reason why combining the totals matters so much is because then the R-J's traffic is -- and this is a point of pride in the legendary Frederick v Greenspun blood feud -- larger even than Greenspun-owned Vegas.Com. Frederick specifically referenced that feat in an email to me. Here below is the 6-month comparison from Alexa of all four:
The odd thing is, Frederick blasted me as "sloppy" and referenced "a slew of errors." But in his e-mail to me, he wrote: "I take issue with the characterization of other things in your blog, but they go less to accuracy and more to your opinion and bias and as such you are welcome to them."
That's gracious, but more importantly, he himself has said that whatever other disputes he had with the posting, they weren't about inaccuracies so much as perspective. Yet because I was busy AND awaiting more information, they grew into a "slew."
And one more thing. Go read my original post. (And, Sherm, if you're gonna pick on someone else's posting, it's customary to link to what you're talking about so your readers can weigh your comments with all the information before them.)
Frederick goes on a rant near the end of his post suggesting that I asserted in the original post that the "only reason the R-J is bigger is because we were here first and we just, well, lucked into it. That's a sloppy analysis bordering on intellectual dishonesty."
I didn't say that. The paper is larger for a number of reasons, most of which occurred a long, long time ago. By the time I got here in 1996, the Sun was already a hapless and shrinking afternoon newspaper in a world that wasn't kind to afternoon newspapers. There must have been a lot of shrewd journalistic and business decisions that led to that circumstance, I have no doubt.
But I worked at the R-J for three years. I've many friends there. I've worked for and with many other newspapers and magazines in my career. And there does appear to be a distinct lack of grander ambition at the R-J versus almost any other publication I've ever known. Sometimes some really brilliant work is done and I've praised much of it in this blog and elsewhere.
Yet the prevailing sense is that it is the largest, it doesn't need to do much at this stage to remain so and so it often does not. The ricin story is an interesting example. After it first broke, the paper largely used wire-service stories for several days. One could say that that's because they judged that their resources could be better focused on the Hep-C drama, and surely that was the more significant public-health issue. But the paper ought to be large and nimble enough to tackle more than one major national story at a time. Right?
Indeed, staffing is indicative of the priorities. I can't know for sure, but my impression is that the number of staff writers on the city desk is about the same as it was when I was there a decade ago. Meanwhile, the city has grown like a weed. The reason why the paper's staff hasn't kept up with it is because it doesn't have to; it's expensive to add people and what's the point when the paper is already providing such robust profits and has such mild competition?
This is a fair and interesting debate to have. But it's an aside. The point here is that the only "sloppy" error I made in my post was mishearing a word.
Still, I must give Frederick some credit. He's starting to catch on with this Internet thing! His post was full of hyperbole! Welcome, sir!
You know a recession is pretty bad when it’s felt even in Las Vegas. Terry Lanni, the CEO of MGM Mirage, spoke to Steve about these challenging economic times, about which of the young moguls of Vegas he admires and about the seemingly epic struggle to name the Cesar Pelli-designed hotel at CityCenter. Cesar's Palace, anyone? Plus, strong listener reaction to the letter about Vegas going to hell.
In Banter: MGM layoffs, Harrah's dumps the R-J, Christina Binkley ducks the trivia showdown, mobile billboards under the microscope, Steve goes to Scores and the potential for a Criss Angel nightmare for Cirque grows.
The R-J on the MGM Mirage employment cuts is here
Steve’s NYT piece and blog post on the Harrah’s-RJ issue is here
RateVegas.Com’s challenge to me and Christina Binkley is here
Read about the Las Vegas Monorail’s good news is here
Read about the Harrah’s name change is here
The Sun’s piece on the mobile-billboard issue is here
Steve’s Newsweek piece on salt-water pools is here
See Kool-Aid on Family Guy on YouTube here
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
An astute reader alerted me to this notice on Oprah's site that she's filming a show with Cher and Tina Turner in Vegas on 4/26 -- presumably at the Colosseum? -- and is taking requests for studio tickets. It's interesting that she's doing Cher and TINA and not Cher and Bette, isn't it? I mean, what connection does Tina Turner presently have to Las Vegas? Hmmm... For that matter, when was the last time Oprah shot in Vegas? Anyone know?
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I just had a piece on Harrah's decision to 86 the R-J from its properties posted on the New York Times' The Lede blog for which I had a lengthy, wide-ranging and very interesting conversation with Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick.
As always, not everything of interest fit in the piece or was appropriate to include. But in the process, the publisher of "Nevada's largest newspaper," as he himself said immediately when he called me back, opened up wide about some significant changes about to come.
1. The Beast Gets Hungrier. The most important change is that by June, reporters will be expected to file material for the Web roughly every THREE hours. Being a former R-J scribe who didn't much like my workload tampered with (so I went freelance partly to be paid for every additional piece of work), I asked Frederick whether the reporters would be receiving any pay boost in the process. I think he laughed.
Uh, no. "I don’t think there's any need for that. Unless people have to work longer, I don’t see that as a primary issue." Sorry, everyone! Your output was just tripled! At least you're not getting outsourcing as the folks in this clip were. Yet.
(Aside: I remember being very bitter around 1998 when I was covering the county government beat and we were suddenly told we had to contribute, for free, to a new afternoon e-mail blast from then-R-J pundit Jon Ralston. Several of us were so ticked off that we tried to undermine the project by forwarding the emails every day to people who we knew would otherwise subscribe. Evidently since then, I've come to embrace this newfangled technology. Also, I grew up. Forgive me, Jon.)
Frederick explained the thinking behind the changes so: "Right now, our reporters have one deadline per day. That’s how we’ve done it now, that’s the way we’ve done it for 50 years. We’re going to do a three-hour deadline, posting stories continuously throughout the day." Maybe that's how they've been doing it for 50 years, but most major papers scrapped that model about 5 years ago.
2. About The Godawful R-J Site: Frederick mentioned there's a lot of criticism of the look and functionality of his site, that even some inside the paper think ReviewJournal.Com is "thick." I informed him I have been one of those critics, that it looks like the work of technologists, not journalists or artists.
I asked if a redesign is in the offing and he said no major overhaul is currently in the works although they've already started adding more breaking news bulletins and they have a prominent box advertising some new blogs, including one by Frederick. That's progress in and of itself; an R-J reporter two years ago told me that the top newsroom editors "don't believe in blogs."
3. And About That Delovely Sun Site: The new website for the Sun, the R-J's crosstown rival and JOA partner, looks beautiful. But, Frederick asserted, it's also a bit of a failure. Traffic spiked for a few days after they rolled out the sensational new redesign, but then it fell to back to pre-launch levels. He's right. According to this graph from Alexa.Com, the Sun's traffic is even lower than a year ago. Or click on this graph to below to enlarge a comparison of R-J and Sun web hits.
"They spent a lot of money to do that, but the statistics are crystal clear," he said. "They instituted the redesign and their eyeballs went down. I know the journalist community swoons over that. It’s pretty. It’s got bells. It’s got whistles. And it's got less viewership than they did before." (I'm emailing folks at the Sun for response to this. As we know, they don't respond all that much, though.) Frederick noted that, doing nothing, the R-J remains the biggest news website in Nevada.
This reflects a problem many always had with the paper, that it's too complacent and feeds too easily off of the fat of this boomtown. The paper's a cash cow -- Frederick even said they've seen no classified ad decline caused by the rise of Craigslist -- so who cares if they have only one overworked reporter to cover the nation's fifth largest school district when most newspapers of this size and smaller have teams of education writers? Who cares if there are Pulitzers left unwon in this town? Who cares if the features section in the Entertainment Capital of the World is largely populated by wire copy? To quote a certain reviled public official much admired by the R-J editorial page staff, "So?"
4. A special edition for the Strip? For many years now the traditional R-J has been ensconced in a special tourist wrap-around with travel advice, show information and Norm! to entice Strip-area buyers uninterested in the doings of the North Las Vegas City Council. It hasn't really worked all that well. Aside from the meager 600 copies of the paper sold at 24 Harrah's locations until the company booted them, the paper generally sells about 7,000 copies at newsstands around what's referred to as "the resort corridor." On any given day, more than 150,000 people can be staying in the same area, a city unto itself. Frederick has been pondering how to address that, given that there's an unfilled niche for tourists looking for daily content about the Strip that currently they can only get from such weekly publications as Las Vegas Magazine.
"We’ve had extensive discussions that maybe we should create a tab to target visitors," he said. "It’s still something that sits on the drawing board." There's also some consideration being given to resort-corridor distribution. There aren't any newspaper boxes on the Strip, partly because of the county's efforts to reduce the sidewalk clutter created by porn leafleteers, but Frederick says the day may come when he's got newspaper hawkers on the sidewalks selling the paper. I don't know about that, but the fact is, he's right: This city should totally have something like the New York Post, something cheeky and irreverent and easy to handle and sexy and thoroughly insulting to the intelligence. Potential Page Three girls are everywhere!
There was more from the Frederick discussion, but I'll blog it later or tomorrow. That's enough for now. I have to prep for tonight's live version of "The Strip" podcast. Join us in the chat at lvrocks.com at 6 pm PT!
Who with, you ask? Oh. Terry Lanni, the MGM Mirage CEO. Sadly, this conversation occurred before the announcement of the company's layoffs yesterday, but he nonetheless had some comments about the recession, about the young moguls of Vegas and about why naming that CityCenter hotel is such a painus in the anus.
Oh! And get a head start on our next two-week trivia question. Take a very, very good look at this map below. Now e-mail us at TheStripPodcast [at] aol.com and list all the mistakes you can find on it. Define mistakes however you wish. Whoever finds the most wins. We'll draw if there's a tie. (Click on the map to make it bigger.)
See y'all later. Otherwise, download the podcast, k?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Is that kosher? I wondered. So I did this Tax Day piece for Wired today on just that topic.
Can condoms be a write-off? Anneke Rudegeair, aka Soccergirl Incorporated, the self-described "podcasting librarian with big tits" thinks so. And who's to argue with that? Kinda gives new life to the phrase "The Taxman Cometh," no?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
So, the question now is, will Ms. Binkley join us? And, to paraphrase her own book's pivotal moment about the MGM-Mirage buyout, will it be FRIENDLY or UN-FRIENDLY? I mean, after all, she has likened me to Matt Drudge. Tis the cost of trying to insist on the highest levels of accuracy and fairness from, egad, a Wall Street Journal reporter.
It happens from both browsers. Even after I reboot my computer. Any thoughts?
* Howard Stutz reports (second item) that Harrah's -- or whatever it's called these days -- has stopped "making the Review-Journal available" to its hotel guests. Stutz surmises it's because of the paper's coverage of the safety-code violations at more than one property. The Harrah's spokesman says it's a "cost-cutting measure." That's odd. What's it cost a company to offer the local newspaper for sale? The real shocker, though, was that the paper only sold 600 copies a day in the eight resorts that has tens of thousands of rooms occupied by twenties of thousands of people. What's THAT tell ya?
* Geoff Schumacher's column today looks at the very Kevin Bacon-ness of Henderson recently banning 18-and-under dance clubs. I hadn't noticed this April 2 news story in the paper, but it's a good one and probably deserves some national attention.
* Hubble Smith of the R-J and In Business Las Vegas had a solid round-up of all the foreign countries buying up Vegas.
* Norm gets threatened by Criss Angel. Don't ask. Just read.
* Liz Benston from the Las Vegas Sun did a really nice job examining the process and the personalities behind a Vegas couple who got rejected by the Gaming Control Board for an unrestricted gaming license. They can't get one of these, despite having a squeaky clean background, but Pansy Ho can? Hmm. (OK, this was Saturday's paper. I just got to it today.)
* Sometimes we're too close to the flame to realize how good a story is. How many times on "The Strip" podcast and elsewhere have we engaged in the parlor game of what other musical act could pull off a Celine-like Vegas run? And then USA Today's weekend edition goes and does exactly that story. Some of the answers from experts may surprise. (Fair warning, USAT's site seems to be down at the moment.)