Friday, February 18, 2011

Vegas Media Shuffle: Wynn, Caesars & The R-J

The trouble with not trafficking in rumors is that when you get them right but you don't have official confirmation, you can often miss the boat. For instance, listeners of The Strip heard me mention as far back as early in the summer that Harrah's was going to finish its Caesars name switcheroo, long before anyone else in the press had it. But I didn't commit it to blog or print because I never could get the clear confirmation from sources over there. Then it happened.

Well, it happened again this week. On Tuesday, I learned that Michael Weaver, Caesars Entertainment's vice president for marketing, is leaving. Then I heard he would be following his old boss, Marilyn Winn Spiegel, who in November became Wynn Las Vegas president and promptly persuaded Steve Wynn to shut down the beloved Alex.

But if Weaver were heading to Wynn, where would that leave Jennifer Dunne, vice president for public relations and advertising? On Wednesday, I texted her, and we had this exchange:

Friess: Hey...Are you leaving Wynn?
Dunne: Where did that come from? Good lordy!!!
Friess: Well, Michael Weaver is leaving Harrah's and I'm hearing he's following Marilyn to Wynn. But he and you do similar things, so...
Dunne: I hear he is a great guy! Do you know him?
Friess: Yes. He's a very good egg. Interesting you haven't actually answered either question.
Dunne: You are so funny! I would look forward to working with him if he is coming to Wynn. :-)

Huh. Well, about a half-hour ago, Dunne sent out this email:

Wanted you to hear directly from me... I have resigned from my position
with Wynn Resorts, effective today. I do not have any firm plans but
intend to take some time off and visit family and friends. I will be in
touch once I settle in somewhere. I have really enjoyed working with you
on this exciting Wynn experience and look forward to crossing paths on
the next adventure!

This is really a toughie for me. Weaver and Dunne are two of the most consummate professionals I've dealt with as a Vegas journalist. After my initial surprise at Dunne's announcement, it dawned on me maybe she didn't know this earlier in the week. Of course, there's no official confirmation that Weaver's going to Wynn, but it does seem likely.

(UPDATE: Dunne tells me she left Wynn of her own volition and made the decision, which had been percolating in her mind, after our text exchange. Also, she confirmed Weaver starts at Wynn on Monday in a new VP position created for him.)

Also today we learned that Jacqueline Peterson, a top corporate spokeswoman for Caesars, also is leaving the company. So perhaps Jacqueline is taking Dunne's gig? Time will tell. Wynn's publicist in charge of food and beverage, Katie Conway, also left last month. She followed her husband, a chef who had gotten a big job in L.A. So there are openings.

This all may seem like inside baseball, except that it is interesting that there's this shift of executives from Caesars Entertainment to Wynn and what that could mean for how the company is actually managed on a day-to-day basis locally. Moving from the Pascal/Poster/Breitling/Dunne world to a Winn/Weaver world is a distinctive change. Weaver's biggest contribution to Caesars Entertainment was as the innovator who went aggressively after such niche markets as gays and Hispanics. I'm not sure Wynncore needs much help with the gays.

The big question is, does all of this imply Steve Wynn is emotionally detaching from Wynncore Vegas to the point that he just wants very highly skilled people who will maximize profits? If so, it's fair to ask at what cost to the property and its image this may come.

* * *

While I'm on the media kick for this Friday, I ought to take note that Michael Hiesiger, the longtime business editor of the Review-Journal, was let go yesterday. No immediate replacement has been named, but it's interesting because this is the first big staffing change under the new regime of publisher Bob Brown and new editor Mike Hengel.

It's also surprising because if I had to pick a department in need of an overhaul at the R-J, the business section isn't one that would instantly spring to mind. I'd make a beeline, as loyal readers know, to the online division, which is an inane operation run by clueless people as frequently noted here, and then to a features section desperate for new life and purpose.

The business coverage is fine and often exemplary, as is the local news division. The only way these sections could be made substantially better would be to hire more reporters, but the editors of each do pretty well with the small set of overworked scribes they're allotted.

One theory: Has the new publisher, formerly the advertising director, been getting earfuls from advertisers about how they're covered? That might explain why Hiesiger's the first head to roll. Other department heads are understandably nervous, but I just can't make a whole lot of sense of why Brown and Hengel would take aim at this area first if they're taking a full inventory of their strengths and weaknesses.

Meanwhile, I'm also hearing that Review-Journal subscriptions have surged in the past three months since Sherman Frederick and Thomas Mitchell were ousted from their publisher-editor jobs. I had heard they're up 8,000, and I asked Bob Brown about that in an email before the Hiesiger thing came to onto my radar. Brown wrote back:

Circulation is up, not 8,000. You'll have to wait for the March 11 audit report from ABC.

Honestly, any circulation increase is impressive in these tough times for print media. I am, indeed, looking forward to those new numbers.

This Week's LVW col: Sierra Boggess in London

As I Tweeted, we visited ascendant theater phenom and former Vegas star Sierra Boggess in her dressing room at London's Adelphi Theatre, where she's almost done starring in "Love Never Dies," the Phantom sequel. Miles participated in that interview, and you can hear the full conversation on last week's episode of The Strip. Enjoy. -sf

Las Vegas’ biggest stage export
is conquering London and Broadway


Sierra Boggess sits in a West End dressing room nursing an oversized “I Heart London” mug, wearing an adorable knitted beret and trying her best to be diplomatic.

The tiny actress with the LuPone-sized voice is grateful for her stint in Las Vegas and, quite literally, wouldn’t be where she is today without it.

Boggess played the female lead, Christine Daae, in the original cast of Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular in 2006, auditioning for the role despite her now-former agent’s anti-Vegas prejudice. But, no, she doesn’t see herself back on the Strip anytime soon—which probably means never.

“Vegas is not a place I’d want to live,” she said carefully, her voice dipping in a Londoner accent she claims not to hear. “I’m happy I tried it, but that’s not where I want my career to be.”

Normally, this would get my dander up. What does she mean, it’s not a place to live? Why can’t her career be here?

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

They MUST Do This For Me

Doesn't really look like she's better for the wear, does it?

My favorite section of the R-J, the weekly View section, is back with yet another Leno-worthy pairing of headline and photo. The photo above is actually connected to some other nugget about the common cold, but...come on, now. Someone is having fun.

Remember, these are, after all, the same folks who did this:

Another unfortunate headline/photo pairing from The View sect... on Twitpic

Monday, February 14, 2011

Introducing VegasDelivered.Com

RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas and I are proud to unveil VegasDelivered.Com, a new service in its infancy where we will offer exclusive video and audio content taking you inside Las Vegas in new and unusual ways. For a very long time now, we've given away a lot of this content for free, but it costs money and takes a tremendous amount of time to concoct, and so we've decided it's worth something. We hope you agree.

We're starting up small, with a tour of the new Wynn Las Vegas rooms and the transformation from Daniel Boulud Brasserie to Lakeside Grill, with designer Roger Thomas narrating the changes and revealing some pretty awesome details. There is a survey at VegasDelivered.Com that will help us identify what sort of content you'd like, but rest assured that all of it will come complete with the unflinching, probing journalism you've come to expect from both of us.

For now, the material can be purchased at VegasDelivered.Com. It will eventually also be available through the iTunes store within Hunter's Vegas Mate iPhone app. ("App" is short for "application," which is another name for...oh, see here if you're confused.)

Above is an 80-second trailer for the Roger Thomas tour, below is a 2-minute version that gives a snippet of the material:

None of this implies that our blogs or podcasts will cost money to enjoy. Nothing is changing in that respect. We just want to be able to do more of it, do it better and be compensated for it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seven Other Media Odds & Ends

A few other thoughts and stuff from what I've seen around the press this week...

1. It's a publicity stunt, people: I thought the El Cortez room design contest was cute, too, and we mentioned it on The Strip. But, seriously, folks, it's a very clever pr gambit. Everyone seems to think it's news and that there's some bigger truth to be gleaned from it. It's not and there isn't. Look for every hotel to copycat this because, damn it's good for free advertising.

2. Musta missed that: So the NFL came down from the heavens just before Super Bowl kickoff to force its Fox affiliate here to kill $360,000 in Station Casino ads, and the local media was silent. Not even in Steve Bornfeld's TV column. More proof that if I cover or break something, our MSM ignores it. Shameful, unprofessional and shortsighted.

3. Musta missed that, too: So Steve Wynn goes off and tells the world how delighted he is that the Chinese meddle in and micromanage his business and nobody in the Vegas MSM even reports it. Again, Mr. Wynn, who believes Barack Obama is a Socialist, sings the praises of a dictatorship that can actually, tomorrow, confiscate his enterprise. That's not even worth putting on the record?

4. Ravella's reverie: There's a new owner/operator in Lake Las Vegas, and they opened up this week. Great. But, still, I found this passage from the R-J pretty funny:

[Ravella owner] Dolce reached out to the six restaurants in the adjacent MonteLago Village, developing a system that gives Ravella guests preferred dining reservations and the ability to charge meals to their rooms.

The charge-to-your-room part is smart, but seriously, when has it ever been difficult to get a seat at a restaurant in the ghost town known as MonteLago?

5. And nobody said, "Huh?": The R-J had a piece up on Saturday about the fiscal and ridership woes of the Las Vegas Monorail and this is part of it:

The number of people who boarded the train last year fell 13 percent compared with 2009 to 5.2 million, just more than half of what the monorail carried during its first full year of operations in 2005. Ticket sales also declined 13 percent, to $23.2 million.

Advertising, which brought in $2.3 million as recently as 2007, dropped to $190,000.

Now, I'm no ad genius, but they've still got 5.2 million riders on the system and millions more who see the train snaking along its tracks every day. They can only get $190K in ad revenue from that? Huh? WTF?

6. Steve Sebelius, Nazi? Actually, I'm greatly enjoying Steve's new political column in the Review-Journal. It really feels like, relieved of the pressure to oversee the CityLife staff and production, he's doing better, more interesting and better-written pieces that feel far less predictable than what I found in CityLife. I'm particularly impressed that the R-J is giving him -- a liberal! -- the most prominent position in its Sunday Opinions section, one previously occupied by former publisher and failed Reidslayer Sherman Frederick.

Still this, at the bottom of his column today, made me giggle:

7. Equal Embarrassment Time: OK, the R-J isn't the only ones with some typographical challenges this week. This, from an ad in my own Las Vegas Weekly, is a little embarrassing:

Meanwhile, the R-J Discovers Twitter & Apps

As always, the @reviewjournal is WAY out ahead on this tech t... on Twitpic

OK, this is NOT as bad as it looks. The Review-Journal's Corey Levitan did a feature spotlighting 10 cool Vegas tweeters to follow. That's fair game. They include folks like Jay Fenster of Caesars Entertainment, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, UFC's Dana White and, of course, VegasHappensHere.Com cover gal Holly Madison. All good choices.

So it's a fine thing for the newspaper to do, even if this headline makes them sound like they've just discovered a medium that by now has helped bring down a few governments and launched hundreds of celebrity and political scandals. Not Corey's fault.

You must forgive me, however, for expecting something mundane and obvious because Al Gibes is somehow still the newspaper's "Online Guy" and his column today is truly, truly one for the ages. In it, he welcomes Verizon customers to the iPhone by... well... check this out:

■ Apps. This is short for "application," which is another name for a program that runs on the iPhone. There are more than 300,000 available and more are added daily. Don't be overwhelmed.

Whew. I'll try. He goes on to explain that some are free and some are not and maybe you ought to try out the free versions if there is one before buying the not-free one. He's a trustworthy source, y'see, because he's "someone who's used an iPhone for a few years." He goes on to explain that "everyone who uses an iPhone will develop a Top 10 Apps list," although I haven't got one and I was sure I counted as part of "everyone." Then he gives out his top 10 list and it's a doozy:

1) Twitter

2) Weather Bug

3) ESPN SportsCenter

4) Facebook

5) MLB At Bat (listen to all Major League Baseball games);

6) NoteSpark (a note-sharing service that syncs online)

7) Bank of America (or the app from your bank)

8) Words with Friends (a multiplayer Scrabblelike game)

9) Hipstamatic (camera app that takes vintage-style photos)

10) AP Mobile (news).

One way you know you're not really a very good "Online Guy" is when your top app is Twitter and you barely seem to use it. Al Gibes has put out a grand total of 723 tweets. A quick look at what he tweets shows he's sort of missing the "social" part of social media; he almost never has a conversation with anyone on Twitter. He's supposed to be the tech guru of a major metropolitan newspaper and he's so irrelevant online that his own newspaper didn't even reference him when urging folks in the intro to Levitan's aforementioned Twitter piece to also follow @reviewjournal and @Norm_Clarke!

And do you notice what app is notably missing from the Online Guy's list? Why, how about one from the Las Vegas Review-Journal? No, there isn't one, of course. The Online Guy is too busy crafting this brilliant conclusion:

Smart phones are really small computers that happen to have phones. You newbies will understand that soon.

Ohhhhhhhhhh. Thanks, Al.

It all made me think of this classic 30-second clip, which I found on YouTube which is this nifty site where... well, I'll DM @AlGibes and explain it to him in private if he's unaware:

You may think I'm being mean. I'm not. OK, maybe a little. But I'm trying to wake up the R-J's new management that their incompetent Internet presence, helmed by a very nice but clueless and visionless fellow who has had a decade to figure these newfangled things out and still hasn't set up his website so folks can embed or Tweet its video, is a danger to their entire enterprise.

In all sincerity, if they expect to be relevant, they cannot speak down to their readers like this. If I'm reading a tech column, I know what apps and smart phones are. I suggest the Clark County Library District hire Al to give remedial classes to tech dunces and that the R-J go find themselves someone who can talk to readers in a mature, respectful manner.

Another Pulitzer Nod Coming For Las Vegas Sun?

Two years ago, most of Las Vegas was caught completely off guard when our little Las Vegas Sun snagged a Pulitzer Prize for public service for Ali Berzon's coverage of a rash of construction deaths at CityCenter. We weren't paying attention because the idea of a Vegas paper earning such an accolade was sort of hard to fathom. If anything, I would've expected the Sun's awesome cartoonist Mike Smith to win before anyone else. I also had thought that if Sen. John Ensign had resigned, Jon Ralston might stand a shot at a nod as a columnist.

Well, I'm not going to get caught behind the curve this go-around. For the past couple years, the Sun's crack medical writer Marshall Allen has been digging and digging and digging into all sorts of scandal involving medical errors, hospital reporting practices and the like in the Do No Harm series. Marshall, like Berzon before him, is the main journalist here but as this credits box shows, it takes a lot of people to do such important and complicated work.

Well, just like the Oscars have the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes, there are journalism equivalents and one is the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy's finalists for the 2011 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, announced Friday. So look at that, Allen and co-writer Alex Richards are among the six for that. They're up against the LA Times for its investigation of corruption in Bell, Calif.,; NPR for an expose on the nation's bail bondsman industry; ProPublica and NPR (including Ira Glass) for coverage of the economy, the Washington Post for a look at the expansion of government since 9/11; and the San Jose Mercury-News on the influence of lobbyists in Sacramento.

The nomination all but ensures that the Sun is looking at another Pulitzer contender and, frankly, just looking at the topics in contention I have to believe the odds are very good.

The Goldsmith award will be handed out at Harvard University on March 7. The winner gets $25,000. The Pulitzers are awarded in mid-April. Good luck!