Sunday, June 26, 2011

Media Muddle: KNPR, Bornfeld, Electric Daisy Cartoons

It's Sunday and I've got tons of writing to do, which means that I'll set it aside as usual to muse. Loads and loads of stuff:

* We expect our media critics to be forthright. But on Thursday, when Steve Bornfeld of the Review-Journal announced the end of his Mediaology column, which analyzed the local TV news universe, he did so with this bizarre and ridiculous statement:

[T]he issues [this column] addresses are finite. Believing they're infinite would result in increasingly strident, repetitive columns. Readers and TV pros deserve better.

Uh, what? He's run out of news? Can you imagine if Norm Clarke said, "You know, every original celebrity scandal that's ever happened has happened, so I don't want to bore you all anymore. Bye!" Or if Jon Ralston said, "These elections are so frigging repetitive. Someone wins, someone loses, people get mean, people lie. How boring. I'm done!" Or maybe Howard Stutz might perk up one day and say, "The earnings go up, the earnings go down, they keep having these poker tournaments, so what, we've got the gaming thing fully covered. Let's move on, shall we?"

The TV news business is a perpetual news machine of its own. The personalities, decisions and circumstances -- especially in a rapidly changing era of media -- present endless stories, reasons to opine, worthwhile topics to delve into and important matters to continue to explain to readers/viewers about how and why the news as it is. Every time a major story breaks, someone independent ought to assess how it was managed by the medium that still provides the most information to the most numbers of people. There is so much wrong with local TV news it makes my head explode, and Bornfeld barely scratched the surface. Yet after just three years, Bornfeld can't come up with anything more to say? What?

Nope, not buying it. Something else is happening here. Maybe he's personally just tired of doing it, which is fine but don't pretend like the entire pursuit is no longer worthy or valuable. Maybe the newspaper decided the space could be better used for more advice columns and puzzles, which we'll find out soon enough. Maybe, having fired staffer Corey Levitan, the Features Section decided they needed Bornfeld to pick up slack elsewhere, and the one thing that needed to go before he snapped was this. But to say, "Hey, we did it all! Nothing left to see!" is inane and disingenuous. Any journalist with that little creativity should leave the business altogether, and I don't believe Bornfeld is that guy. Yet since he's writing a column about the MEDIA BUSINESS in which he has certainly advocated transparency, this dud of a swan song is especially pathetic.

[Disclosure: I generally do not comment on the local TV news biz because my partner is an executive at KSNV, Channel 3, so it's awkward and compromising. While some suggest I have a bias in my print-media commentary toward Greenspun Media because I write a column for GMG's Las Vegas Weekly, I suspect the likes of Ralston, Joe Schoenmann, Robin Leach, Delen Goldberg, David McGrath Schwartz, John Katsilometes and others would agree I haven't laid off on GMG when the spirit moves me.]

* Speaking of the TV, I was on it on Friday with KSNV's Jim Snyder discussing the hullabaloo surrounding the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Here's my part:

So far, so good with EDC, by the by. No serious injuries or hospitalizations to speak of.

* Tangentially, I was fascinated to find this cartoon about the EDC on the R-J's editorial page:

(It's four frames, so I've excerpted it for the purposes of illustration as I didn't want to be sued for providing the whole thing.)

It's worth noting because at first I thought this meant that Las Vegas jitters over EDC had scored so high on the national radar that a political cartoonist had opted to make fun of it. And not just any, but Ted Rall, a nationally syndicated cartoonist who is presently the president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. He's also an award-winning columnist.

So I looked around online to find the cartoon and see where else it had run. I couldn't find it. So I went back to look more closely and I found this... between panels. Which means the R-J had commissioned Rall to draw this specifically for the newspaper. I had reported a few months ago that the R-J had fired its longtime political cartoonist, Jim Day, and bemoaned the expected lack of cartoons commenting on local issues since then. So I'm fascinated by the notion that the R-J is evidently paying syndicated cartoonists -- and very prominent ones -- from outside the city to do Vegas-related work.

* In today's column, Greenspun Publisher Brian Greenspun says out loud what I've been saying for years regarding why the Las Vegas Sun faced its massive layoffs and suffered such internal strife. You'll recall that I criticized a Las Vegas CityLife cover story by Amy Kingsley that basically suggested the paper's woes were brought on by internal conflicts between the print and online sides and suggested that it was the company's money-bleeding -- perhaps because of a failed online strategy -- that led to workforce reductions.

I argued -- and then-publisher Geoff Schumacher slapped back harsh at me -- that Kingsley's piece missed the point, failed to take into account the entire situation and was ultimately a failure. To respond to Schumacher, who felt the story was just dandy as it was, I wrote:

Kingsley's piece makes many assumptions about why Greenspun Media Group hit its rocky shoal, all of them focusing on journalism. Schumacher does the same. What Kingsley overlooked and Schumacher forgets is that the Sun has never been a profitable publication, not when Hank Greenspun started it and probably not for the vast majority of its life including recent years. And definitely not when they won their Pulitzer.

The Las Vegas Sun and most of the GMG publications have been propped up for all this time by the Greenspun family fortune. It is only because THAT has faltered that suddenly economic realities have hit them. Sure, was an abject failure and yes, there are disgruntled people, but the Greenspuns are heavily invested in THREE businesses that have fallen apart right when Curley & Co were trying to make their big splash: Real estate (American Pacific), gaming (Station Casinos) and media (Tribune Co as well as GMG publications).

In today's column, Greenspun praises George Maloof for sticking with The Palms and not declaring bankruptcy or using the other easier ways to reorganize and paper over his business problems. Along the way, he tossed in this nugget:

By way of full disclosure, my family has not escaped the bludgeoning that has been leveled without discrimination across the country. Actually, the heartache has been disproportionately felt in those areas that relied on real estate and gaming. Throw in the media collapse, and it appears that my family hit the triple jackpot.

Ta-da! THAT is why his family reduced their workforce, shut down CineVegas, rejiggered all sorts of things. Not because the guy running the online department had singlehandedly run the enterprise into the ground, as Kingsley shouted from her cover story. But because, as I said before, the losses on every front were so grave they decided they couldn't bleed THAT MUCH from their media holdings. That was the story then, and CityLife missed it.

* Two random pieces from the Sunday paper that intrigued me:
  • Sonya Padgett's feature on all the folks who sell water and art on the pedestrian bridges on the Strip. People make $1,000 a day reselling bottles of water in the summer? Holy cow.
  • Paul Harasim's piece on the fact that not a single Nevada pharmacy has participated in a two-year-old program that asks them to donate unused cancer medication to a pill bank for those who can't afford them.

* Big congrats to KNPR and its crew for the 2,000th episode Friday of the indispensable local talk program State of Nevada. Host Dave Becker had me, R-J columnist John L. Smith and frequent host Ian Mylchreest on to assess Vegas as it stands and peer into the crystal ball about what happens next. I was honored to have been asked, and you can hear that episode here.

As I left the studio, I told KNPR General Manager Flo Rogers they should re-air the very first episode of the show or put it in the podcast feed, and she told me it is available in their online archives. I believe she may be mistaken, as I went to look so I could provide the link and the earliest episode available is from Oct. 31, 2003. It's clearly not the first***, as the commentary from Robert Fielden references previous requests for feedback from listeners. It's also available only for playing on Real Player. Here's hoping that for history and curiosity's sake, they go ahead and post their first episode and make it downloadable.

***UPDATE: Flo Rogers says the 10/31/03 episode is, in fact, the first hour of State of Nevada. I haven't listened to all of it to see if that is ever acknowledged on the air, but I will do so soon.


Flo Rogers said...

Steve - thanks for joining us on the 2000th program. Yes, the 10/31/03 edition is program #1, that was the first day of two stations KNPR and KCNV when we moved the frequency of KNPR from 89.5 to 88.9 and launched 89.7. Bob Fielden had been on air as a commentator prior to that so he's likely refering to time when during those commentaries he solicited feedback. What an idea . . . get ready to roll out two all new stations, get a new transmitter fired up AND launch the most ambitious thing we'd one thus far. All on the same day!



So noted. Congrats.

Jeff in OKC said...

I love to listed to State of Nevada on Sunday afternoon while doing yard work. Excellent content. I do wish Dave Becker would stop doing the skeptical "hmm" when he doesn't agree with his interview subject. It's a distraction.

JeffW said...

Steve: 99% of the time I don't read the comments after an article. For some reason I started reading the comments after Sonya Padgett;s article you linked. Are these representative of the local sentiment, or just the views of a loud minority. Is the civic pride sinking fast?