Friday, January 29, 2010

CityLife Drills Into Greenspun Media

So here's the problem with having both alternative weeklies owned by one of the two major media conglomerates in Las Vegas: They can't do serious, in-depth coverage of media issues without messy conflicts of interest of their own.

Amy Kingsley of Las Vegas CityLife tries this week with a lengthy piece on Greenspun Media Group, its supposedly unrewarded risks in the New Media space for the Las Vegas Sun and conflict on Corporate Circle between imported, high-priced Web guru Rob Curley and the traditional news staff. It is a good read and adds some intriguing detail to the decisions that led to the decimation of the staff that I chronicled and catalogued in December.

Kingsley is a terrific reporter -- I've personally complimented CityLife Editor Steve Sebelius for that hire in the past -- and she puts in a noble effort. But she fails because she didn't give the whole picture and she probably couldn't because, well, the whole picture could include some unflattering things about the company that pays her wages, Stephens Media. I mean, look at what's advertised directly above her story on the Web:


You can read the piece here and I do recommend it. One thing that accurately comes across is the blinding arrogance of Rob Curley, the Web wunderkind who took credit for revolutionizing the Internet operations of Newsweek, the Washington Post and a paper in Lawrence, Kansas. I was a cheerleader for him when he arrived but after an initial, pretty redesign, such little things like an effective search engine on LasVegasWeekly.Com and other issues made me wonder if he cared about the little things that make a site user-friendly.

Kingsley convincingly makes the case that his past successes may have been short-lived and the result of circumstances of timing and opportunity, not vision. Plus, Curley comes across as churlish with a quote like: "The only thing I love more than journalism is capitalism." From the looks of the expensive embarrassment that was, he's failed in Vegas on both fronts.

[Aside: Curley re-tweeted today the Poynter Institute's pick-up of Kingsley's piece, which is strange given how badly he comes off in it.]

All that said, to really get where GMG is these days, you need to put it in the context of its total media ecosystem. That's an ecosystem that includes one of the most dysfunctional news websites in the nation, ReviewJournal.Com, and a main newspaper, the R-J, that has somehow lost circulation during the era of one of the biggest population growth spurts in U.S. history. If we're ready to call Curley a failure in Vegas, then first we need to know the web traffic of both papers' websites, which Kingsley does not provide. Somehow I bet if it looked good for the R-J, she would've had no trouble getting it and comparing it to the Sun.

She also has a passage in there about the Sun's failed web video efforts but doesn't bother to mention that the R-J hired ex-weatherman Nate Tannenbaum to do a laughable and technologically ridiculous daily newscast. I don't know how many plays it's getting on the LVRJ.Com site, but today's episode has been on YouTube for 21 hours and has enjoyed 4 hits. FOUR. Two of which were me looking for a good moment to shoot this screencap:

If you click on it, you'll see that the episode from two days ago has a whopping 27 plays. And here's the entire history of RJTV on YouTube:

You know what has had more hits than a month's worth of RJTV episodes? This:

One more thing. The illustrations that went with Kingsley's story were very weird. This, for instance, was for Curley:

Beyond the fact that he looks like a prison inmate, what's with the scribble in the lower right part? It looks like he's got duck's wings or something. I'm seriously wondering if artist Brian Taylor thought he was drawing Chris Cooper instead. See?

Anywho, the point is that news organizations cover one another at their credibility's own peril. Without attempting to put GMG's issues in context against the R-J's, they've left out a huge chunk of the story. Which, happily, is why we have blogs.

[DISCLAIMERS: I was a staff writer for the R-J from 1996-99 and have freelanced for the R-J, CityLife and the Weekly, where I have had a column for about two years. Also, I wrote this week's cover story for the Weekly, which means Kingsley and I were head-to-head as cover writers this go-round.]


Geoff Schumacher said...


Thanks for recognizing the reporting skills of CityLife's Amy Kingsley. She's doing a great job for us.

You make a fair point that alt-weeklies owned by the dailies in the same city are placed in a difficult position when they write about the local news media. But I don't think your critique of the CityLife story holds water. Amy wrote a story about Greenspun Media Group, which recently earned national acclaim when it won a Pulitzer Prize, brought in a nationally recognized web authority, then promptly fell apart, laying off workers, losing other key players and closing various publications. It was not a story about the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which did not win a Pulitzer, did not hire a nationally recognized web authority and did not fall apart. I'm not clear on why you think this story should have been something other than what it was.

I'm sure a fine story could be written about the Review-Journal, and perhaps it will be by CityLife or some other news organization. But the news peg for this particular story was crystal clear and needn't have been something other than what it was.

Geoff Schumacher

mike_ch said...

Most free weeklies or dailies that I've taken interest in are owned by the publishers of the city's large papers. Chicago's RedEye is "a sib of the Trib", Toronto NOW is published by Torstar, the SF Examiner is owned by a miniature News Corp like entity, probably the biggest exceptions I can think of are the ones owned by the Village Voice.

CityLife has bitten into the RJ in the past and I consider it to be fairly independent, though not as much as public media.

Your argument seems to consist of "the RJ is pretty stupid too but they ignore their mistakes," but dumb ideas by Stephens Media was not the focus of the story, nor does that make it any less dumb.

I don't think the Sun's or RJ's failings should be taken in a bubble of Las Vegas alone. This city is unique among cities in that almost everyone here has come from another region and have barometer for which to compare newspapers and TV to.

To me, Greensun's downturn is kind of sad, and's directionless meanderings between being a huge Strip advertisement and local light affairs was completely bewildering, but it reminded me more of the fall of KRON-TV in San Francisco (complete with the failed all-news cable channel experiment.)

Anyone with a casual interest in media could see that they were making the wrong moves, and any dumb ideas the RJ has had didn't really factor into it.

The idea that the RJ's dumb moves somehow excuses the Sun's dumb moves is sort of like that disappointed voter now taking solace that "the other guy was worse."

Anonymous said...

Regarding the artwork: The lines on the faces attempting to depict shadows make me think this is a poor attempt to imitate the style of Wally Wood, who's most popular work was early DareDevil and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from the mid 1960's.
This story just keeps reminding me how much I loved the Sun website back then (I still do now, it's just not as good). I thought it tried to be special, and did a pretty damn good job of it. I don't care who did what, I just think it's sad. Heart breaking, really. Thanks for putting this where we could read it.
Jeff in OKC

Randy said...

I don't like to brag, but I met Curley early in my tenure as editor of Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

It took only about 5 minutes of listening to him to realize he was a jerk.

The corporate knuckleheads I worked for were so infatuated with the whizbang sizzle without the steak that he was able to ingratiate himself with them.


Randy Sanders
Lubbock, TX