Sunday, January 11, 2009

Of Lobotomies, Heart Attacks, and Fellatio

The Sunday papers were full of long pieces about how awful the economy is and who it's hurting now, which I find depressing and redundant so I passed them by. There were three bits of interest to discuss, though:

1. Poor Employees of Tom Mitchell. There was a sadly amusing and maddeningly clueless column by blog-hating R-J Editor Tom Mitchell explaining why the newspaper business is in such dire straits. True to form, he wanted to "offer some insight into the century-old business model for the modern daily newspaper" without seeing how ridiculous and paradoxical that phrase is. He does, in fact, still cling to a 100-year-old business model for a "modern" newspaper without ever acknowledging anywhere that that very century-old business model is going out the window in the new era. He describes his company's troubles as though it is merely being buffeted by the standard-issue problems of a slow economy, never once noticing that other important societal shifts are taking place that will never be undone even when the economy improves. He also continues to deliberately play fast and loose with data, referring to a tiny recent daily-newspaper circulation uptick while never admitting the paper's circulation is about the same as it was a decade ago and that his regime failed to capitalize at all on Las Vegas' record-setting population growth.

It depresses me because Mitchell and publisher Sherm Frederick will go on insisting as they run their newspaper into the ground that they are being harmed by forced beyond their control and take comfort in the fact that other major papers are struggling, too. Yet they have a singularly hideous and anti-user website that blares as breaking news such things as first-quarter football scores, they have bloggers who don't blog, they have video programming that can't be downloaded to any portable media device and their idea for cutting edge is to have a middle-aged weatherman read the news on a smartphone. They play victim of circumstance when, in fact, they are actively incompetent at using the Internet in a meaningful way that could put them in a position to capitalize once a viable Web-based business model develops. And besides the fact that I love newspapers and good journalism and want it to persist and thrive, I mostly worry that several fine journalists will end up jobless thanks to their bosses' myopia.

2. Viva Las Vegas for heart attacks: Parade Magazine ran an excerpt from a book by ex-Good Morning America executive producer Ben Sherwood in which he claims that the best place to have a heart attack is in a casino because everyone's watching and all the security personnel are trained at defribillating and CPR and stuff like that. That makes some sense, but Sherwood doesn't explain here the source of his contention that "the heart attack survival rate in Las Vegas is 53 percent." Does he mean at Strip casinos? Or citywide? He points to Seattle (16 percent) and Chicago (2 percent) as comparisons, but there isn't really any explanation as to why away from the casino floor Vegas heart attack victims would be any better off. It sure as hell ain't because our health care system's so terrific.

3. Not Howie Do It. Howard Stutz, the usually excellent gaming reporter for the R-J, had an off-day today. He did a lengthy piece on the departure of MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni that was full of nothing but praise for Lanni's tenure. Besides the question as to why this is worth a look now, nearly two months after Lanni left, there is nothing anywhere in the piece that examines Lanni's role in overleveredging this company into the challenges it currently faces. In fact, the troubled condition of the company at the time of Lanni's resignation is never mentioned and instead the focus is on the non-story about Lanni's phony MBA. That's odd; Lanni himself acknowledged that it seemed like a good time to go because the problems needed fresh eyes and new ideas. What's more, while everyone in the piece -- Gary Loveman, Bill Weidner, Jim Murren, Bill Boyd, Bill Bible, Dennis Neilander, Frank Fahrenkopf -- sang Lanni's praises, a tiny bit of balance could have easily been achieved by noting that Steve Wynn has been very critical lately of Lanni and others for making deals they shouldn't have. Wynn said as much to several news outlets in the rush surrounding the opening of Encore. And Wynn's not the only one who could have provided an alternative assessment of Lanni's tenure; someone on Wall Street easily could at least have been called upon to explain why the MGM stock had tanked so dramatically in Lanni's final year. Sure, most of Lanni's career was bountiful, but most of Alan Greenspan's career was bountiful, too, and we're all now taking a second look at that as well.


Anonymous said...

Fellatio? Could you, uh, explai--oh never mind. Bad mental image.
Jeff in OKC

robertw4771 said...

lannis phony mba should shed some insight on things. I guess we can all claim degrees from the ivy league schools and nobody will check. MGM right now has an all in bet on the city center. If that project bombs, they are in a world of trouble.

Rob in south Fla

Jinx said...

I definitely can agree that some opposing viewpoint is needed, but let's not forget two things, Wynn himself has been a victim of overextending and in reference to the stock price, Casino companies trade in herds, so an opposing Wall Street opinion isn't necessarily a commentary on Lanni, but rather then the industry as a whole and while we all like to think that many of these operators are visionaries and such, in fact many cases they are just pushing the agenda of shareholders to increase revenue and profitability.

Jinx said...

Just to comment on the sorry state of newspapers today as well, love your insight into and implore you to keep up on the criticism, as a child of two competing newspaper employees, before one closed it's doors many years ago in Cleveland and left the town a single newspaper philosophy, I've always been amazed at how the newspapers have done business.

The newspapers of yesterday have done a poor job of grooming future editorial staff and have fallen victim to sensaltionalism to try and generate revenue. It's a shame, I've been thinking quite a bit about this, over the last week with both my parents now retired (my father just this week) in addition, a columist for the one paper and a Cleveland staple for 50 years retired as well, and I got to thinking about how worse off as a town we were not having his voice on social issues, regardless of whether we agreed with him.

The newspaper industry as a whole hasn't developed these type of writers in my opinion not to mention there websites plain old suck, navigating them is a fate worse then death and from what I've seen of things like, I've found the same company style in at least one other city, and it's an awful format and seems to continue to get worse not better.

As you pointed out as well, current information forget it or running commentary of blogs or other pieces that make a web format more enticing are non-existent. While I think many bloggers and new media types take advantage of the system and don't understand the journalistic integrity that is sometimes needed (drudge and vegaseye I'm talking about you, oh by the way, have you noticed the vegaseye is no more :)) there are some very good sites, such as this one that get it. Unfortunately in a time when our newspapers could be embracing and breaking out in ways the traditional format always kept them locked into, instead it seems they've show that they truly don't understand the format or have any interest in innovating. Their demise will not be missed by me until they can change some.

Sorry for the long drawn out comment, that I'm sure has grammatical and incoherent thought (the victim of think-type style) and even though I don't always agree with you, I do enjoy your commentary and insight and you have my respect as a responsible journalist.

Tom M. said...

Its wierd to see my name bashed around like this. Yes I am Tom Mitchell, but not that Tom Mitchell. I am amazed at how poorly the newspaper industry has done in adapting to new technologies. But there must be some redeeming qualities to somebody with the same name as me, right??