Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Good, The Bad And The R-J

Many folks have asked for my take on news that disgraced ex-RJ publisher Sherman Frederick has bought weekly newspapers in the rural Nevada towns of Ely and Eureka from his former employer Stephens Media. You'll have to wait at least another day; I've got some calls out on this and am gathering some intel. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, some other media ruminations:

* There's a truly wonderful piece on today's R-J cover by Sonya Padgett about the clown in "O" who has been setting himself on fire twice a night since 1998. It's just perfectly executed, evocative and fascinating. Read it.

* If Padgett's work represents the best of the features section, John Przybys' truly horrendous and incomplete job on Thursday about Vegas smartphone apps reflects the reason why the new regime needs to shake things up in that section pronto and find someone who knows a thing or two about technology. Consider, for instance, that he claims his search took him to various app stores to "see what we could find." Take a look at what he should have found if he had searched "vegas" in iTunes:

The search results come up in order of popularity. And for both the iPhone and iPad, the No. 1 app is VegasMate, the $1.99 mobile guidebook put out by RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas. Yes, I contributed to it and perhaps you can dismiss this criticism on that basis, but the fact is that it's beyond baffling to do a piece on Vegas apps and not write about the most popular -- because it's the most professional, convenient, independent and user-friendly -- one.

Instead, he deems "particularly cool" an app from MGM Resorts called Vegas Reality and then regurgitates some techno-babble from MGM's own app description. Funny thing is, it doesn't actually work all that well. I am seated at the Crystals right now, but look at what it tells me:

Oops! No wonder every review for the app that's NOT written by an obvious MGM Resorts shill is withering.

I'm willing to bet this writer didn't actually try out the apps he described, but what's more important is that this is an example of a Features Section without any edge or currency. A smart Vegas scribe knows that it's at least as valuable to tell people what not to buy/download as what you should. What would be actually useful would be for the R-J to download the top apps and grade them on an ongoing basis the same way they provide reviews of books, movies, TV shows, stage productions and so on. This drive-by schlock is a disservice to everyone and assumes a level of ineptitude among readers that is a carryover from the halcyon days of Al Gibes. Fix it.

* You know what else the R-J needs to fix? It's own mobile site. You may recall, I blogged on May 19 about the fact that it doesn't work, that when you click on story links on smart phones you end up not at the story you wanted but at a main menu. Within hours of that post going up, the R-J folks turned off that automatic bounce, so here's what you get now if you take this link...

and click on it.

You get the story on the normal site, not the mobile, made-to-fit version. And that's fine if they're still working on it, although it shouldn't require weeks and some super-secret new technology to make it work correctly. Nonetheless, the paper seems oblivious to the worthlessness of its offering as it consumes half-pages with this:

* I don't usually pick on Mike Weatherford because he's almost always spot on and he's just so frigging nice, but here's the opening of today's column about the Strip's history of unusual stage appearances:

Who says the Las Vegas headliner tradition is dead?

I dunno, Mike. Who? Nobody I know. If anything, it's fairly well established that we're enjoying another heyday for headliners, both resident (Celine, Garth, Barry, Donny/Marie, Gladys and so on) and top-shelf passers-throughs. But the rest of the piece is quite fun.

* Over on Twitter, the topic of local coverage of our mayoral race arose this weekend because Jeff Simpson was on Nevada Week In Review and really socked the MSM over the paucity of it. He happened to be seated next to Delen Goldberg, who did not respond on TV but did on Twitter after I noted that she didn't say anything back to Simpson. It seemed she took offense and posted this:

Now, at this point neither Jeff nor I had said anything about whether Goldberg ought to "stand by" her reporting, just that we wished there had been more of it. I even acknowledged that the race got drowned out by the important doings in Carson City, which isn't her fault.

But I did find it hard to fathom how she could "stand by" at least one crucial piece she did, the May 11 one in which she reported as news the results of a Giunchigliani poll claiming this is a 2-point race. That number defied any logic or rationality -- it would have required some major event to alter the election's dynamic where none exists -- but there was Goldberg saying the poll was a credible reason to think the race might be tightening. She said pretty much the same thing in radio appearances, and her only source for whether the race had tightened was . . . some data released by a campaign desperate for traction.

It was particularly egregious that the article she wrote didn't even mention that it was a campaign-funded poll until the seventh paragraph, and she never really made a clear point of that.

As it happens, Goldberg had already addressed this in this Tweet, although she did so in the context of an R-J poll that some say is demographically flawed:

But that, ladies and gents, is precisely what is wrong with political coverage in America today. Not all polls are equal and the outcome of a survey is not the same as a campaign ad, which is a reflection of how a candidate is selling herself or defining her opponent. They're completely different things.

Also, here's a news flash: Campaigns have agendas. That's why their polling should never be newsworthy. Ever. Their aim is to alter or create narratives, to manipulate the media. Campaigns can run 20 polls and then pick the one outlier and give it to the press. There's no way for a journalist to know. And if she really wanted to be fair and not provide extra oomph for the ludicrous Giunchigliani poll, her lead would have been something like, "The campaigns issued vastly different polls today, with Giunchigliani's suggesting the race has tightened in dramatic ways and Goodman claiming it's a blowout." That's not how she did it. Take a look.

To blindly "stand by" this, to be impervious and dismissive of legitimate criticism, is the mark of a journalist unwilling to learn from her errors or to even revisit how things went. Goldberg shows a tremendous amount of promise, but to regard admitting an error as a flaw is nothing less than self-defeating and dispiriting.

What's more, check out this tweet:

Can she seriously look at that initial Giunchigliani poll story and say that she did that? Really?

Meanwhile, it's worth reiterating something truly fascinating for every Vegas political consultant to take note: Goldberg just opened up the doors, everyone! If you're running for office and you want her to report some bogus-but-helpful poll numbers you've got, she's just announced she is obligated to do so because, hey, it's how we do it! Whee!

Oh, one more thing. This tweet is nice...

...but be wary, my friend. Jon Ralston only has your back so long as you're working in some form or fashion on his team. Take it from everybody else who once was a member of his mutual masturbatory society and then left it. The journalism universe is littered with such people, none of whom suffered in the long run for being on his wrong side and probably slept better at night, too. It is -- and I suspect he knows this -- the tragic flaw of a brilliant reporter and entrepreneur, but I guess we all must have one. Mine, according to him, is that I co-hosted a pet show. I'm good with that!


detroit1051 said...

Padgett's piece on the "O" clown was superb. Maybe I'm being foolish in refusing to read the RJ until they end the Righthaven idiocy.

Josh said...

Thanks for posting the RJ story on the "O" Clown, fascinating. Set on fire twice an evening plus 30 kiddie parties each weekend, wow!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the story was horrendous and Delen Goldberg is incompetent. But that's Vegas. Writing for sources and "friends." Amateur & shameful.

Anonymous said...

Even those erratic Mason-Dixon polls were upfront about what Goldberg calls "context and methodology." You've got to give the R-J its due in that respect.

David McKee