Monthly Archives: August 2009

New Vols football writer starts today

Austin Ward took over our UT football beat today. He comes to us from the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyo., where he covered University of Wyoming football and was named 2008 Wyoming sportswriter of the year.
Austin has Knoxville ties. He attended the University of Tennessee and worked on the Daily Beacon. He also was a freelancer for the News Sentinel before landing his full-time job in Cowboy country.
He’ll be teaming with Dave Hooker, who covers Vols recruiting. I don’t know what it means, but they’re both red heads.
Austin replaces Drew Edwards, who was hired this summer by the UT Athletics Department to work on its Web site, a transition that seems to be a trend nationally.

SEC issues final media policy

After negotiating with several journalism organizations, the SEC has come out with a final media credentials policy. The policy seems to accomplish most of what the media groups considered important.
But the policy is thick with legalese. Here’s a sampling:
“In addition, provided that Bearer complies with the other provisions and restrictions in this Credential (including but not limited to the provisions and restrictions set forth in the preceding section entitled “Bearer Generated Images”) and that Bearer imposes upon and subjects the buyer or licensee to all such provisions and restrictions (as if the buyer or licensee had taken the photograph), Bearer may sell or relicense Bearer Generated Photographs.”
I actually found one sentence that was 304 words long.
So when we sign off on the policy we also are submitting a letter outlining our understanding of it.
As best as we can tell, the policy permits us to:
* Use the photographs we take to create photo galleries, slideshows and multimedia presentations on our Web sites.
* Re-use the photographs we take in special sections and books.
* Sell the photographs we take to anyone who agrees to abide by the SEC guidelines.
* Record audio and video of “non game action” and distribute it without restriction.
* Archive our own work without restriction.
* Actively blog and use other social media as long as that use does not constitute play-by-play reporting.
If all of that is OK under the policy, then we have no further problem with it.

I was suckered on Sudoku

You get what you pay for. That may or may not be the lesson to be learned by our recent Sudoku snafu.
Recently, a version of the puzzle was added to a bundle of features we get at a fixed cost from one of the national syndicates. Since we were buying Sudoku as a standalone purchase from another syndicate, I thought I had an opportunity to save a little money, which I could reinvest elsewhere in the content of the paper.
I cancelled the standalone purchase and replaced it with the Sudoku in the bundled package. With the savings, I bought a special Sunday version of the puzzle and added it to our Funnies & Games section.
I soon found out I’d blundered. Sudoku fans immediately informed me that the new puzzle was a clearly inferior product. One reader wondered why I hadn’t tested it before foisting it upon the loyal fans.
Well, lesson learned. Last week we returned the old version of the puzzle — and the new Sunday one stays, too.

Publisher Hartmann promoted to corporate role

Next week I’ll be getting a new boss.
The E.W. Scripps Co. announced a reorganization today that promotes publisher Bruce Hartmann to a national role in which he will direct all revenue activities for the corporation’s newspaper division.
My new boss won’t the new KNS publisher, though. The reorganization calls for an operating committee of six corporate vice presidents, each responsible for an important newspaper function. I, like all the Scripps editors, will report to Rusty Coats, who will direct all content, marketing and interactive operations. I’ll have a “dotted line” relationship with the new publisher, though I don’t know who that will be yet.
Both Hartmann and Coats will be based in Knoxville, which will make the city something of a hub of Scripps operations. Advertising sales and news content are the top priorities of the reorganized division, and the men directing both those operations will be right here.

Mallard Fillmore gets readers stirred up

Mallard Fillmore has feathers ruffled again. I’ve gotten a flurry of letters for and against the editorial cartoon’s recent panel that featured a caricature of Barack Obama holding a photo of an old lady and declaring: “Despite a few setbacks, I’m still determined to get rid of your old clunkers … with my health-care plan.”
Wrote Frank J. Hackl:
“The August 19 Mallard Fillmore is the most mean spirited cartoon I have ever seen. I would like to believe that your readers are smart enough to know that it is an absolute lie without a shred of redeeming value. However, in case you have some reader uninformed and stupid enough to believe it, you are encouraging the kind of behavior that leads to hate crimes. I believe in free speech, but this is beyond the pale. You should dump this cartoon, so that your newspaper is not a vehicle for spreading lies and hatred.”
Responded Ray Scott:
“If you cancel Mallard Fillmore based upon the objection of Mr. Hackl of 8/22, I will cancel my subscription. No, the MF of 8/19 was not” beyond the pale,” but a legitimate concern of all of us seniors. No, the sky is not falling. No, earth is not warming (It’s been cooling for a decade). And no, there is NO heath care crisis other than Obama’s attempt to nationalize health care.”
An editorial cartoon that gets people talking, and hopefully thinking, can’t be all bad.

Anti-Obama ad raises furor

I’ve gotten several calls and e-mails about a full-page ad we ran Thursday from the U.S. Citizens Association with the headline: “Barack Obama and The Democrats Did Not Inherit The Bad Economy, They Created It and Made It Worse.” The ad, designed to look like a news page, touched on a number of current issues, generally asserting that Obama and the Democrats want to impose a socialist form of government on the United States.
Several of the callers threatened cancellation. Said one e-mail writer: “I am thoroughly appalled to see the News Sentinel accept money from and print a full-page article that is a blatant lie. Will the News Sentinel accept money from and print lies from any organization? I guess bias does truly exist in the media, or at least the willing negation of truth for simple, meaningless monetary contributions. Such a shame, lack of integrity, dignity, and patriotism.”
Typically I have no involvement in the newspaper’s advertising. But once in a great while, the ad department seeks my opinion on an ad that it fears may contain offensive content. This ad they did run by me, and I suggested only that the label “Advertisement” at the top of the page be enlarged. It was.
Do I believe the ad contains distortions of the truth? Absolutely. But I do not believe it is my role to squelch political speech, even if I strongly disagree with its form.or content.
The truth will out. If I didn’t think that, I’d have to get into another business.

SEC is NFL wannabe

Here’s my column for this Sunday’s paper:
The SEC wants to be the NFL.
In recent years, the National Football League has slapped restrictions on press credentials to control what the media can do with the content it gathers. Rules limit how video, photos, archives and more can be used.
The NFL is a for-profit entertainment conglomerate intent on controlling every facet of its lucrative product in the evolving world of multimedia.
Big bucks are at stake.
Big bucks are at stake in the SEC, too. According to the league’s most-recent report to the IRS, annual revenue was $161,562,742.
And that’s nothing now that the league has struck $3 billion-plus deals with ESPN and CBS.
Last week the conference unveiled its new NFL-like credentials policy. Journalists who want to cover events would have to agree to a ban on video or audio on newspaper Web sites, restrictions on blogging or Twittering during events and an arrangement that turns over to the SEC much of the copyright on photos.
The policy was “cut and pasted” from the major professional leagues, said David Tomlin, lawyer for The Associated Press.
“The SEC and some other big college conferences want to become publishing and broadcasting businesses now,” he said. “It is constructed so the leagues can run their own publicity machines, make money and control their message, control their brand. What that means for the fans is less opportunity to see independent, objective exposure. The leagues will cover themselves.”
That hit home a few weeks ago when the University of Tennessee Athletics Department hired away our UT football beat reporter, Drew Edwards.
In today’s tumultuous free-enterprise media world, the News Sentinel couldn’t match the salary and security Edwards could get from the university. He’s now writing features for the UT Web site.
We’ll hire a new Vols reporter, but the experience Edwards racked up is lost to our readers.
Of course, the SEC isn’t the NFL. Its members aren’t privately owned entertainment companies. They are institutions of higher learning, mostly owned by the citizens of the southeastern states.
That gives the SEC some nice benefits. Through the decades, the taxpayers have built fabulous athletic facilities. A die-hard customer base is a guarantee. No brands inspire more loyalty than “Gators,” “Bama,” “Big Orange” and the like.
Unlike the NFL, too, the SEC’s talent toils for minimum wage, or whatever $25,000 worth of room, board and schooling works out to hourly.
Not all the talent works for minimum wage, though. No football coach in the SEC makes less than $1 million a year, and the top ones pocket three to four times that amount. Basketball coaches are in that range, too.
Administrators don’t do too badly either.
Commissioner Mike Slive’s pay in 2008 was $551,250 plus $99,438 in deferred compensation. That was a step down from the previous year, when he pocketed $525,000 in regular pay and $1,225,658 in deferred compensation.
Not bad for running a nonprofit.
Now, with the new TV contracts in hand, Slive and the gang can make some real dough, especially if they can squeeze the pesky independent media out of the picture.

News organizations formally protest SEC media policy

Three national journalism organizations — the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Managing Editors and the Associated Press Sports Editors — filed a letter of protest today with the SEC over its new media policy, which places many restrictions on news organizations using press credentials to cover sporting events.
“The letter objects to the restrictive nature of the credentials,” according to a press release, “and it asks for negotiations so that ASNE members and others have the opportunity to fully inform readers and viewers about their favorite SEC teams.”
Word is that the media will go to federal court to seek an injunction stopping the SEC from enforcing the new policy unless a deal is struck before football season opens.

SEC still tweaking new media policy

We just got word that the SEC now is working on a third draft of its new media policy. The second draft, though an improvement over the first, still sharply limited media coverage of SEC events, especially online.
We sent a letter to Mike Hamilton, UT athletics director, citing these concerns:
* The policy forbids the posting of video or audio of SEC events on Web sites or the delivering of that content to mobile devices. Like other media companies, the News Sentinel is today a multimedia news provider. Video and audio have become an integral part of our content. Typically the audio and video is of news other than game action, such as post-game interviews, press conferences or even halftime presentations. Barring such content would be very damaging to our multimedia products and would, presumably, reduce fan interest in SEC information.
* The policy restricts distribution of photographs to “accredited media agencies for legitimate news coverage and in publications sold and distributed” by us. But in the past we have also sold a large number of “personal use” photographs to individuals seeking mementos. These are almost always crowd shots in which the individual appears. Losing the ability to exercise our copyright in this way would harm our customer relations without benefiting the SEC or its member institutions in any way.
Phil Kaplan, our deputy sports editor who an officer of the Associated Press Sports Editors, said APSE, the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Managing Editors are preparing a joint letter to the SEC.
“Here’s what I can gather from the revised SEC policy,” said Kaplan. “It still appears to prevent us doing any audio or video. It still appears to bar the resale of game photos. It still appears to prevent us from giving photos/video/audio to another media organization even for news use. Also, it appears to say only photos that run in print can run online. no extras in slide shows”
David McCraw, attorney for The New York Times Co., said in a written statement “that the league changed some terms that would have unduly restricted independent news coverage, but is still trying to dictate editorial judgments that should be left to news organizations.”
Kaplan now is getting correspondence about new Big 10 and Pac-10 media policies, including this e-mail from David Bailey, managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
“I now have partial credentials documents for the Big 10 and PAC 10. Both claim school ownership of all images, restrict or forbid secondary use without school consent and have various other toxic language. The Big 10, like the SEC, even provides for prosecution for criminal trespass anyone who violates the conditions — likely an unenforceable provision, at least for public institutions. Big 10 also appears to claim ownership of text accounts of games.”

Was GoVolsXtra ahead of its time?

It was about two years ago that the News Sentinel abandoned its experiment with charging for Web content. That’s when we removed the pay wall for GoVolsXtra, our site dedicated to University of Tennessee sports.
GoVolsXtra, for GVX as we call it, was actually successful as a paid site. We had some 4,000 subscribers, which produced a decent revenue stream. However, we believed we could get substantially more traffic, and presumably more advertising dollars, by going to a free site. The traffic came. In the current environment, the ad dollars have been tougher.
Now many newspapers around the country are taking another look at paid online content. One company, organized by Steven Brill, the creator of CourtTV, has signed up more than 500 newspapers, magazines and online sites for a venture to charge for select digital content.
As of today, the News Sentinel has no plans to return to a pay model online.