Category Archives: Media

Who is to Blame for the Death of Newspapers?

newspaper recycling- RSIZEThe latest initiative to recast the fate of one the world’s iconic newspaper companies sounds like a bad April Fools joke. Tribune Publishing has decided to re-brand itself as “tronc,” tossing aside one of the world’s great brands to be known as “The Company with the Name That Sounds Like a Crappy 70s Movie.”

Only in the newspaper industry would “tronc” be considered a good idea. In the newspaper business finding new ways to piss off people is what passes for innovation.

As the Tribune flails, it’s time for the newspaper industry to face reality. No more dancing around the obvious. The demise of the newspaper companies was no accident. And it was not the sad, inevitable result of that darn Internet.

Newspaper companies didn’t have to die. They were killed off by an unprecedented run of incompetence and dumbass decisions. We’re talking mismanagement of historic proportions. A generation of newspaper owners and executives wasted billions of dollars in equity and destroyed the good names of media companies around the country.

The industry is in denial, clinging to the myth of a plucky band of Dockers-lovin’ managers fighting to a save “Journalism” from the irresistible tide. That’s ridiculous. Industry managers arrogantly ignored the brick hurtling toward their faces. And even after the brick slammed home, they still refused to change their ways.

Someday economic students will study the demise of the newspaper industry for examples of how not to run a business in tumultuous times. Faced with unprecedented competition, newspaper execs raised prices and dramatically cut the quality of their product. They allowed Craigslist, a site that looks like it was created in a community college computer class, to destroy their classified advertising business. And the list goes on.

Perhaps most egregious, in an age of revolution, newspapers were the Land that Ideas Forgot. The Internet didn’t kill media; it spawned the most exciting period for media in 50 years. A wave of new media companies exploded with billion dollar valuations, from Buzzfeed and Business Insider to Huffington Post and Vice. The one common denominator: newspapers participated in none of it.

It didn’t have to roll out that way. Newspapers were primed to capitalize on the modern era. “Content is king,” everybody said, and newspapers entered the fray with mountains of content, great cash flow, deep-rooted credibility and established relationships with advertisers. On top of all that, they had millions of people already paying money for their product, a huge first-mover advantage. And they blew it.

Instead of developing new products, newspaper companies squandered their capital buying other newspapers. Even when it was clear the concept of hand-delivering newsprint to homes was a dying model, they boasted about their “local monopoly,” now that all those other papers were dead. And they continued to scoff at the new media companies developing new audiences.

CNBC host Jim Cramer recently recalled what he found 20 years ago when he went around to newspaper companies to pitch, his now-popular business site. “The newspaper guys told me if it became a big thing they’d be all over it,” Cramer said on his show, “Mad Money.” “Needless to say, by the time they figured it out, it was too late. All they ended up doing was creating suicidal versions of themselves on line.”

As the digital era took hold, the biggest newspaper companies, with vast resources and entrenched readership, floundered like beached whales. When the old guard gave up, surviving independent companies were snatched up by vultures, often bizarre individuals who stripped the value from companoes and left them for dead. (Current Tribune chairman Michael Ferro, a tech entrepreneur, follows real estate icon Sam Zell, who led the company into bankruptcy.)

Ex-employees have a right to be pissed. So do shareholders… and readers.

Even today, newspaper leaders appear to be playing a different game than the rest of the media world. While organizations battle for eyeballs and clicks, the daily newspaper looks pretty much the same as the newspaper of 20 years ago, except much smaller and much more boring. On the digital side, newspaper sites — our savior! — are still essentially electronic versions of the paper, usually with no clear business model. Something you will never hear in Silicon Valley: “Hey, I sure wish I was doing what that newspaper company is doing.”

“Every newspaper chain talks about getting digital faster,” industry analyst Ken Doctor recently told a reporter. “The plain truth is that despite almost two decades of effort, most aren’t close to where they need to be.”

You would think newspaper executives would be crazed wolverines these days, fighting for every scrap of revenue. Faced with the shocking declines, they would be trying anything, tapping new audiences, defending their existence with a frenzy of must-read, must-watch media while flipping the bird on an hourly basis to the Buzzfeeds and Ozys of the world.

Instead newspapers plod along, run by executives too scared to drop the Jumble, in fear of upsetting their aging readers. Those rascally kids don’t want anything to do with a newspaper, so why even try? Niche products? Heck, not really worth the time.

Newspapers are just hunky dory, industry executives say. Circulation revenue is stabilizing! Digital revenue growing! Newspapers will live on, they proclaim. And that may be true, to a degree. Most likely newspaper companies will survive just long enough for this current crop of executives to ride their sensible four-door sedans into the sunset to their tastefully decorated Palm Springs ranch homes.

Their legacy will be a scorched Earth of squandered resources, billions in financial losses and the demise of some of the most valued brands ever created. Under their leadership, the old newspapers lost half their revenue and the bulk of their relevance. And you can’t simply blame that on the darn Internet.

Kevin Brass writes regularly for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. He is the author of “The Cult of Truland,” a novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.

Panel Explores Impact of Celebrity Journalism

In the battle for eyeballs and clicks, the growth of celebrity media is forcing traditional media to re-evaluate their business plans and news strategies. From coverage of big stories to the battle for TV ratings, the new breed of media is changing the news competition, San Diego media experts agreed during a recent panel discussion, “Journalism in the Post-Kardashian Era.”

Co-sponsored by the San Diego Press Club and Pt. Loma Nazarene University’s journalism program, the panel discussion focused on the day-to-day implications of the popularity of the vast number of popular new media outlets—TMZ, Buzzfeed, Radar, Inside Edition, OK TV, et al–competing for the attention of the news audience.

Celebrity Media_Panel

“Celebrity journalism is not new; it’s the volume and intensity of organizations chasing the audience,” said panel moderator Kevin Brass, the former media critic for the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times and author of “The Cult of Truland,” a novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.

The panel included Tiffani Lupenski, news director of KGTV (Channel 10); Lt. Scott Wahl, public information officer of the San Diego Police Department; Tom Mallory, online editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune; Gene Cubbison, a reporter with KNSD-TV (NBC7); and Irene McCormack, a crisis communications specialist who was thrust into the national media spotlight when she was the first to come forward with sexual harassment charges against former Mayor Bob Filner.

Ms. McCormack’s story generated a lengthy discussion, as she shared her stories of what it was like to be chased and investigated by the tabloids. She hired Gloria Allred, who acted like a shield. Ms. McCormack’s advice to anybody in that situation–don’t talk to the media; get someone to speak for you.

The fast flow of information—and incorrect information—may lead to more restrictions on the availability of information, Lt. Wahl warned. Social media may ultimately spark efforts to tighten controls on records, which would be unfortunate, he said.

Competition forces news executives to make tough decisions, Ms. Lupenski noted. Asked when a celebrity story is news and when it is not, she emphasized there is no set answer. She often holds newsroom discussions to debate stories. But audiences are interested in celebrity news, especially in Southern California, and that must be taken into account, she says.

Celebrity Media_Group

With the competition intensifying online, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s web product is much different than the print edition, Mr. Mallory said. His competition is Buzzfeed, Facebook and every other online entity hoping to attract readers. But the sensational celebrity stories don’t work as well for the local site as original feature stories produced by the newspaper’s staff, he said.

Mr. Cubbison from NBC7 offered a list of the many big national stories he’d covered over the years, from the McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro to O.J. The tabloids and celebrity news organizations are often pursuing the same stories, but they take a different approach than traditional news organizations, he said. In cases like Ms. McCormack’s story, the difference is often “basic humanity,” he said.

Austin Chronicle Picks ‘Truland’ for Summer Reads

Cult-of-Truland-1024The Austin Chronicle has included “The Cult of Truland” in its Summer Reading selections, praising the novel for its “satirical edge.”

“The Cult of Truland” is set in the world of celebrity journalism and follows the exploits of Jake Truland, “a hero for the post-Kardashian Age.”

“At first, The Cult of Truland, set in southern California, reads like a frothy beach book, albeit with an undertow that grows stronger as it goes on,” Chronicle editor and reporter Michael King writes. But the book soon veers into more serious topics, exploring the behind-the-scenes practices of the celebrity press.

AustinChron“A dark thread runs through the otherwise lighthearted narrative,” King wrote.

“The Cult of Truland” is the first novel from Kevin Brass, who covered media for the Chronicle from 2004 to 2010. His columns and analysis of media issues have also appeared in Ozy, the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Magazine.

“Brass has traveled the world and soaked up a wide range of pop culture, and it sparkles over the edges of his first novel,” King wrote.

Read the full review here.

Buy the book here.

What is the Best Social Media Platform for Authors?

FacebookEvery author dives into social media to promote their books, convinced that a few choice tweets and a wry blog post will lead to big sales. It’s one of those obligatory things every writer must do; there is no choice.

However, too many writers make a simple mistake – they try to star on every platform. If they don’t cover every base they are falling short, they tell themselves. So they become whirlwinds of social media, posting and tweeting and trying to reach everybody, everywhere. That’s wrong.

In reality, it’s impossible to succeed on every platform. Most authors are not very good at most of them. All the time spent on a lousy Instagram account is time that could be better spent connecting on some other platform, where the author might real traction.

Once that cold reality is accepted, the question narrows – which social media platform deserves time and focus? On one level, this is a personal choice, which has much to do with an author’s talents and interests. Some find Twitter fun and manage to engage the vast tweeting universe, while others are keen photographers with the ability to amass a huge Instagram following.

You have to go with what works for you. But which platform is most effective?

For many, the answer is obvious and often overlooked – Facebook. That’s right, good ol’ Facebook, the aging grandpa of social media. Many scoff. Facebook is very 2012, they say.

But Facebook still offers the best opportunities to create a community, a world of family and friends – with friends defined loosely – who will be ready and eager to support your work. A good Facebook account doesn’t need gaudy numbers. In social media it’s all about engagement and active Facebook users are more likely to read your posts and share them than on any other platform.

Many authors will disagree. There are a lot of Twitter lovers out there. And Twitter does give you access to the vast universe of Tweedom.

But how many people do you know who actually read Twitter? The Twittersphere is a blizzard of information, data and Kardashian posts. An occasional tweet might catch the eye or generate a few retweets. But it’s a tough way to sell a book.

These days the game is all about building a following and finding people who will share your interests – and your book’s interests. Facebook is where you can build that core group, the people to count on.

The first step in any rollout plan is to make sure your core network of supporters is buying the book, writing reviews and promoting the book. If they don’t, you’re in trouble. Facebook is the place to generate that grass roots effort, the venue to make sure that everyone of your friends and acquaintances has bought the book.

Facebook has its limits, but it provides the foundation and base for the marketing campaign. It’s the place to start.

Author Makes Confession About ‘The Good Wife’

GoodWifeAt first, “The Good Wife” was the show I watched when I was sick. The travails of Alicia Florrick were strangely soothing, as I lay in bed with my snot rags and antihistamines.

Somewhere along the line I got hooked; I don’t how or why. As a heterosexual male over the age of 40, I am, shall we say, not the target audience for a show based on a woman wronged by her prostitute-boinking husband.

But I couldn’t stop. I watched five seasons in less than 12 months, which means my psyche absorbed more than 120 episodes and untold number of scenes of Alicia holding a glass of wine and staring out a window.

It is a difficult obsession to explain. It is, after all, a network show and, to put it bluntly, I don’t do network.

Let’s call a snob a snob — I’m too good for “The Good Wife.” Network TV is for other people. My tastes are steeped in the classics, “The Larry Sanders Show,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” – the bulwarks of excellent television. I was into “Damages” before “Damages” was cool. I can spend long hours discussing the inside jokes in “Californication,” but I couldn’t name the lead character in “Scandal.”

“The Good Wife” goes way beyond a guilty pleasure. “Sons of Anarchy” is a guilty pleasure. Good Wife-love is more like admitting that you just can’t stop watching “The Bachelor.”

But I’ve come clean and admitted my obsession. I’m not even embarrassed by my fanboy status. I explain my obsession in this article for

Kevin Brass writes for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and many others. He is the author of “The Cult of Truland,” a satirical novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.


Did Durst Filmmakers Do the Right Thing?

DurstIn HBO’s riveting documentary “The Jinx,” the filmmakers are seen wrestling with how to handle damning evidence they’ve uncovered about millionaire Robert Durst in the course of their research. Do they turn it over to the police? Or do they keep quiet and risk the chance a suspected murderer may escape justice?

For most journalists, it’s an easy choice. A reporter always wants to avoid any appearance of working hand-in-hand with cops. It’s not the role of a journalist to act as an investigatory arm of law enforcement. It’s essential for journalists to preserve their independence and not try to second-guess the impact of their work, until it is made public.

Of course, there are gray areas. And the Durst filmmakers were stomping all over the gray areas, as they wrestled with their film. They were dealing with someone they believed was a murderer. He was also a rich murderer who had already shown a willingness to don disguises and run from the law. And they also knew that their actions could inadvertently impact the investigation, making it even harder to convict a guilty man.

In a round of interviews after the final episode aired — and Durst had been arrested, –filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling said detectives had reviewed key parts of the series “months” before it aired. Jarecki is shown in the series stashing the so-called “cadaver” letter, a key piece of evidence, in a safe deposit box. But the filmmakers were clearly afraid their silence could have repercussions and chose to let detectives see at least parts of the series before it aired.

Jarecki told the New York Times:

“We need to be careful about how much we describe about the details of the case, so what we’ll say about that is we provided the relevant evidence to law enforcement some months ago, and it’s been in their court. And obviously they’ve got their own timetable for how to address it.”

Once the series started to air, the filmmakers confronted a new set of fears, Jarecki said. They weren’t sure how Durst, a man they believed was capable of murder, was going to react to the series.

From the interview with The Times:

“We were obviously glad that they made the arrest. We were concerned that Bob was floating around, and we knew that Bob had been upset about Episode 5. We had anticipated he would be upset about Episode 5. The truth is, we had reached out to law enforcement to try and get color about when they planned to arrest him. Because as civilians, one always assumes that law enforcement is going to move more quickly than they naturally do. We understand why they have to be cautious. We understand they have obligations that filmmakers don’t have. But we were nervous. We had security.”

Now that the case is back in the legal system, Jarecki and his crew are entering murky waters. They are filmmakers, not journalists. They created a compelling study of Durst, but it is a TV series, a piece of entertainment, including ominous music and nightmarish re-creations. The filmmakers are artists telling a story, using their evidence for dramatic impact.

Durst’s so called confession at the end of “The Jinx” made for a spine-tingling conclusion to the series, but it was hardly a smoking gun, in a legal sense. The filmmakers had already documented his strange self-dialogue, which could easily be written off as the babbling of a doddering old man. After all, Durst admitted to cutting up a man with a saw and dumping the remains in the Gulf of Mexico and still managed a not guilty verdict.

The handwriting on the so-called “cadaver” note is more compelling evidence. But a jury under the influence of Durst’s well-paid legal team may find that slim evidence, if the prosecutors still can’t physically place Durst at the scene of the crime. The filmmaker’s handling of this key piece of evidence could become a central point of contention. O.J.’s lawyers made the chain of evidence into an elaborate conspiracy.

Durst attorneys will certainly use the series against the prosecution. Can Durst get a fair trial? Anybody who has seen or heard of the documentary will almost certainly have a pre-conceived opinion about his guilt. With it’s haunting music, skeptical tone and ah-ha dramatic moments, the series screams “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”

If the case goes to trial, Jarecki and Smerling are going to face intense scrutiny from defense attorneys. In court the filmmakers will certainly seek to receive protection from identifying their sources, editing choices and investigation techniques, just like other journalists.

But this is dicey territory. Some courts have not recognized independent filmmakers and bloggers as journalists, even though they are often producing cutting edge investigators, revealing stories untouched by traditional media.

The filmmakers are facing a barrage of legal questions. Will they turn over raw footage? What about their notes? Will they testify for the prosecution?

Jarecki and Smerling might regret their early interviews, when they fanned the flames, calling Durst’s audio “chilling.” Soon after the final episode aired, they clammed up, noting in a statement, “we are likely to be called as witnesses in any case law enforcement may decide to bring against Robert Durst.” Whether they like it or not, the storytellers are now a big part of the story.

Kevin Brass has covered media for the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Magazine and the Austin Chronicle. He is the author of “The Cult of Truland,” a satirical novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.

More from Kevin Brass:

The Real Reason Brian Williams is Toast

The ‘Colbert Bump’ Impact on Mocking


Celebrity Journalism Takes Center Stage on National Radio Show

“The Cult of Truland” author Kevin Brass was a guest recently on the nationally syndicated “The Big Biz Show” to talk about Brian Williams, TV news and the state of celebrity journalism.

BigBizShowMr. Brass joined veteran entertainment journalist Fred Saxon and co-hosts “Sully” Sullivan, Russ T. Nailz in a far-ranging discussion, including the recent controversy about Bill O’Reilly’s resume claims.

“The Cult of Truland,” Mr. Brass’ first book, is a satirical novel set in the world of celebrity journalism. The humorous, fast-pace style has drawn comparisons to Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, with many readers focusing on the media issues raised by the story.

Mr. Brass has covered media for the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Magazine and the Austin Chronicle, earning awards and critical acclaim for his analysis and commentaries. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a variety of other publications.

Check out videos of the show:

Part Two:

Praise for “The Cult of Truland”

“A trifecta — funny as hell, cautionary and filled with jaw-dropping thunderclaps . . . If you dig Robert Crais and Elmore Leonard, you’ll enjoy Brass’s wild dive into the drowning pool of Big Time fame.”
– Bill Minutaglio, former People Magazine bureau chief, author of “Dallas 1963” and “City on Fire”

“An amazing voice… [the] style reminds me of Elmore Leonard.”
-Houston Writers Guild

“Smart, insightful, contemporary and witty commentary on the modern media condition, come to life with a compelling character along with a fun cast of characters. A delightful read.”
-Paul Taublieb, Emmy-award-winning producer

“The main character is a trendy, smart writer who gravitates towards TV cameras and celebrity-tracking websites like a gambler to a poker game.”
-Del Mar Times

The Real Reason Brian Williams is Toast

Brian Wlliams nightly newsNBC anchor Brian Williams may have survived lying about his war record in Iraq, if it was simply an offhand remark to David Letterman. News anchors are habitual blow-hards who often inflate their stories to help create their own self-myth. Telling a little white lie on a talk show is almost expected, part of the job of promoting the nightly news.

If it was nothing more than a talk show gaffe, Williams could have shrugged off the revelation that he really wasn’t flying in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Iraq War. He might have tossed it aside as simply a late night slip, one of those things that comes out at the wrong moment. A quick apology, a few mea culpas, some hearty laughs about bad memory, and Williams would be back on the air.

But as soon as he incorporated his little white lie into a news story, he was toast. Reporting the incident on air as actual news separated Williams’ hubris from the realm of stupid party boasts. He crossed the most sacred of journalism lines and now he must face the consequences.

There is no way Williams “misremembered” the helicopter story. You don’t forget that you were actually in the helicopter that was not hit by a rocket, instead of the one that was actually hit. We’re not talking about an event from ancient days; it was 11 years ago. Some newsmen can remember what they had for breakfast 11 years ago. There is no quick explanation for why Williams thought he was in the helicopter forced down in the desert, unless he is delusional in a very dark manner. If Williams was willing to fudge the truth on the Iraq story, then it is completely reasonable to question what else he fudged over the years.

Yet, before we burn him at the stake of the righteous, let’s keep in mind he was a news anchor and news anchors are typically creations of illusion and truth stretching. They are presented as serious news personnel, toughened reporters who can be trusted with your news. But most anchors are nothing more than news readers, capable of looking good on camera and enunciating with flair. They provide a hint of a frown at the right time; maybe the rise of an eyebrow. Their journalism is relegated to punching up their scripts and standing where the producer tells them to stand.

The networks spend millions creating images for these anchors, which may have little connection to reality. Anchors don’t need to be reputable reporters, but they do need to be able to act like one.  “The remarkable thing is not that [Williams’] war exaggerations have been found out, but that he’s managed so confidently to pull off the network anchor role for so long,” Michael Wolff wrote in the Hollywood Reporter.

“He is America’s most prominent newsman but never has reported the news. He is the managing editor of a news organization, once among the largest in the country, that has been stripped down to the barest bones. He has assumed the mantle of network anchorman, as though it is a job that still commands the greatest stature and gravitas, but which, everyone understands, is mere relic now. He gamely continues the conceit that the network news broadcast is one of the primary sources of news for most Americans — at best a nostalgic, if not comical, notion.”

Williams’ main role was as “an in-house, all-purpose corporate face and moderator,” for the corporate owner of the network, Wolff notes.

As a corporate spokesman, Williams could have overcome the fallout from his lie about his war experiences. Anchors are all built on little white lies. But there is no way NBC can present him as its icon of credibility and trust after he so clearly lied in a news story. No amount of makeup or snappy commercial spots will clean up that image.

Kevin Brass writes for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and many others. He is the author of “The Cult of Truland,” a satirical novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.