Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Check this stuff out...

I'll be busy today prepping for tomorrow's forum between the mayoral candidates, so I've got just enough time to crank out this little bit of blog wonderfulness:

* A few months ago, those of us from Syosset High School rejoiced that one of our own, Natalie Portman, had won the Oscar. My Long Island alma mater has a long record of impressive alums, including Tony winner Idina Menzel and Michael Isikoff, the ex-Newsweek investigative ace who broke the Monica Lewinsky story. Now we have yet another: Ben Ehrenreich, who we knew as Benji once upon a time and who helped me survive Mr. Titterton's 11th grade pre-calc class, nailed the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing last night. Ehrenreich, the son of well-known author Barbara Ehrenreich, bested a front-runner from The New Yorker with his brilliant autopsy of what Los Angeles -- and probably every American city, more or less -- does with our corpses in "The End" for Los Angeles Magazine. Read all of it. You'll never approach a funeral the same way again. Well, except your own.

* Meanwhile, on the home front here, the Review-Journal ran a piece today on Vice President Joe Biden schmoozing with now-Sen. Dean Heller at his swearing-in yesterday and, uh, oh my GOD. Writer Steve Tetrault seemed to be stretching to write it as admiringly as possible in order to leave the reader to draw the only reasonable conclusion: Biden is a freak. Seriously. Inviting the Hellers by to check out the Veep Mansion, Biden quipped:

I always voted for public housing, but I never knew it was going to be this good.

What a charming invite. It's kind of amazing Biden hasn't made any trips to Vegas, where I'm sure the Real World Suite and probably a Bellagio buffet line pass are available for the asking.

* If you've always wondered what the big whoop is about The Strip Podcast but never had the time or inclination to download an episode and get sucked in, Josh from VegasMavens.Com did a lengthy profile about me that includes many references to really great highlights and dramas that have erupted over the years on the show.

* In lieu of a proper episode of The Strip this week, we'll be posting two specials. One will be the Scott Conant interview and the other will be my Barry Manilow from a few months ago. Then we'll be back next week, I promise.

* I can't say how moved I am by all the coverage of my Knight-Wallace Fellowship. Hunter at RateVegas and Chuck Monster at VegasTripping wrote about my impending departure, Tim & Michele on Five Hundy #298 even played a phone call about it and Norm Clarke put it in that old thing known as a newspaper. Plus, of course, its been like my birthday on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks so much, folks. We've still got a few more months, though, so don't tune me out yet.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The GLBT Mayoral Forum I Moderate on Wed

As crushed as many readers and podcast listeners may be to learn this, Chuck Monster of VegasTripping.Com cannot actually run for mayor of Las Vegas. That's a shame, too, given his fully formed, almost doable plan to save Vegas, which takes about five minutes to hear on this excerpt from our show.

That said, it's not as though the actual candidates aren't fun or interesting. In the left corner is Chris Giunchigliani, county commissioner and undefeated politico who scraped into the finale by a mere 15 votes. In the slightly-more-rightish corner is Carolyn Goodman, the frontrunner who readily admits she intends to not only capitalize on her husband's wild popularity but also is focused largely on seeing his plans through.

On Wednesday, the two candidates are scheduled to appear for a forum before the Lambda Business and Professional Association, Vegas' gay chamber of commerce. The event is at Las Palmas restaurant in Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara, costs $15 for lunch and is open to all. It's also historic: It's the first time in Las Vegas history the candidates for mayor are appearing together before a GLBT audience.

Oh, and I'm the moderator/interviewer/host/medium/whatever. We tried to get the candidates to appear for a one-on-one debate but, as Delen Goldberg wrote in yesterday's Las Vegas Sun, one party didn't want to do it that way. Still, we decided it was worthwhile to have them both in whichever format we could, and I'll be there to make sure the candidates' feet are held to the fire.

While the audience will be largely GLBT people, I can assure you the line of questioning will not solely encompass that area by any stretch of the imagination. Last fall, when I moderated a proxy debate for Lambda between State Sen. Steven Horsford (standing in for Harry Reid) and UNLV College Republicans dude Mark Ciavoli (for Sharron Angle), the discussion was at least 75% about the economic issues of the day.

If you have questions for one or both of the mayoral candidates, please email them to me at Steve(at)SteveFriess.Com or leave it on a voicemail at 702-997-3300.

I'm going to see if we can stream the thing live via UStream. I really depends on the lighting; when I streamed the Celine Dion stuff last month it was actually difficult to see her because of the poor quality of the built-in camera on my Mac and iPhone. I'll test that out on Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why Sherm Frederick Is No Longer The Publisher of The R-J

I just made that groovy chart. Click on it to enlarge and look closer if you wish. It shows, in raw numbers, why former R-J publisher Sherman Frederick has been reduced to innocuous columnist and discredited political analyst.

The latest newspaper circulation data, produced by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, came out this past week, reporting the R-J's average circulation for the six-month period ending March 31.

The story here is in the Big Dipper segment of the graph:

See that ski-slope decline and sudden bounce-back? That represents what happened in the circulation snapshots taken in September 2009, March 2010, September 2010 and March 2011. The blue line is Sunday circulation and the red is average Monday-Friday circulation.

For some reason -- and, of course, I'll speculate in a moment -- the R-J shed a whopping 18 percent of its Sunday circulation between September 2009 and September 2010, the last full year of Sherm Frederick's reign. Of that, the paper lost a shocking 15 percent of its circulation in just six months!

The paper's Sunday number fell so low -- to 166,797 as of Sept 30, 2010 -- that I had to double and triple check it because I couldn't believe it. That's less than the weekday circulation from just six months earlier. It's a number that dropped the R-J's Sunday circulation to levels not seen since the early 1990s when, of course, this county had about half its current population.

Holy crap! Now, perhaps Sherman Frederick will blame his paper's bad skid on the freefalling economy, but the economy actually began its tailspin in 2008. Just look at what happened to the R-J's circulation between September 2007 and Sept 2009:

Now what was it that happened during that span? Why, oh, why would the circulation suddenly surge from its March 2009 to its September 2009 reporting periods? What was it? Gosh...I can't remember...

OH! That's right! Great, expensive journalism, which Sherman Frederick viewed throughout his tenure as unnecessary, led to a sudden spike in subscriptions and interest. The only way to read the Pulitzer-winning Las Vegas Sun in print is to buy it folded inside the Review-Journal. In the depths of the recession, the Sun handed the R-J a lovely bump that actually buffered it from the worst of the storm. It's hard to fathom any other explanation.

So what the hell happened to the R-J to see its circulation disastrously collapse between March and September last year? It's very, very hard to say. That really should have been a period of increased circulation and interest given that the state was engrossed in its most important and fascinating U.S. Senate battle, the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle clash. What, oh what, might have turned off readers?

Is that too simplistic an explanation? Sure. But there was some anecdotal evidence that Democrats at least were canceling subscriptions and were being encouraged to do so, to boot. I even took one to task because she also was supposed to be critiquing the paper for a liberal blog.

It may not be a coincidence that this dramatic decline took place over a summer when Sherm Frederick was going through a series of very significant health crises. But, really, he's not out there personally selling the papers to people, so what could have so, so wrong?

My recent interview with the R-J's editor, Michael Hengel, might shed some light. I had heard that there was a circulation gain coming in the latest reporting period, and Hengel confirmed that without giving specific numbers. He explained it thus:

We’ve been aggressively selling [the newspaper] and I think there wasn’t as much or as strong of an effort to sell it. You’ve got to market yourself, you’ve got to ask people to buy it.

In other words, for whatever reason, Frederick, uh, stopped marketing the newspaper. Could he have been distracted by his health? Sure. Could he have been so consumed in his political obsession that that also led him to neglect the fundamentals of his business? Sure.

Any which way, numbers are cold and unbiased. Sherm Frederick was canned in mid-November. Between Oct. 1 and March 31, Sunday circulation rebounded 14 percent and weekday circulation shot up 10.5 percent. That's gigantic, but there's no way to drill in and see if Sherm started some new initiative that bore this fruit. From what it sounds like, Hengel is saying the sales efforts began when he and new publisher Bob Brown took charge.

Frederick recently attacked me out of pretty much nowhere for having been prepared to cover the Las Vegas Sun's possible second Pulitzer in three years. (They were finalists which, had they not won in 2009, would have been the farthest any Vegas publication had ever gone.) After I non-responded, he took another stab at bolstering his devastating legacy with this malarkey:

First, I did not leave the Review-Journal in "grave jeopardy".

When I left the R-J after open heart surgery and prostate cancer surgery, the newspaper had financially survived the greatest recession (or was it a depression?) in our lifetimes. I don't take full credit for that. I had a stellar team with me. We were in as solid as a financial position as any newspaper in the country. Probably better.

Now, the fundamentals of the company may be sound, although you don't usually unceremoniously dump your top guys after decades when things are on the upswing. Either way, though, when you preside over tanking circulation of this magnitude, it's a big disingenuous to suggest you walked away with the ship sailing smoothly.

Sherm had played fast and loose with circulation figures before, as I pointed out a few years back. This, you see, is when and why he actually began despising me. He had told his Sunday readers at the time that the R-J had enjoyed a circulation increase when, in fact, the Sunday circulation for that period had fallen. It was his daily circulation that had posted a modest rise.

But let's look at the big picture again to see just how badly Frederick's tenure failed. I compiled this with the ABC data available going back to Sept. 2001, so we get a full decade to review:

The newspaper's Sunday circulation peaked, it seems, at 229,000 in March 2003. (At that time, the Sun was a full-service newspaper that was delivered in tandem with the R-J on the weekends but on weekdays was delivered in the afternoon.) After that, despite a massive economic, tourist and population boom, Sherm's R-J stagnated or steadily trickled down. There were two moments of upswing, when the Sun ceased to be a separate weekday daily in 2006, pushing a whole load of subscribers over to the R-J column, and then when the Sun got its Pulitzer. On each occasion, Sherman Frederick's R-J failed to hold on to these externally-gotten gains.

In his recent diatribe against me, Frederick suggested that my media criticism is predictable: R-J bad, Sun good. Of course, that's blatantly untrue. I believe the R-J had several tremendous reporters and writers who deserve a bigger audience, more resources and stability that comes from leadership that embraces change and new media.

So the good news is, they're on their way. The bad news, for Sad Shermy, is that the numbers don't lie and his tenure was a bust.