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Monthly Archives: November 2011

I was catching up on some Onion Radio News reports recently and wondered if we’d ever hear a bloopers compilation. Anchor “Doyle Redland” (left) has had to have cracked up while reading stories like “McDonald’s Stock Tumbles As Consumers Turn To Food.”

I asked Redland (aka veteran alt-weekly cartoonist P.S. Mueller) and here’s what he emailed:

“I’m sad to say the Onion Radio News bloopers series will never exist because we recorded all of my voiceovers digitally, thereby eliminating the “cutting room floor” altogether. Also, I was more or less downsized out of the Onion nearly two years ago, though every few weeks I do pull Doyle from a musty old trunk and force him to read a few commercials, most recently for Audible.com. Between 1999 and 2009 I did co-write, co-produce and serve as the voice of Mr. Redland, completing somewhere around 2,500 segments.”

How did you keep a straight face while reading the reports?
It is true that some of the scripts were damn hard to get through without losing it completely. One of the hardest for me was one we did about Jerry Lewis undergoing “emergency gefloigel surgery.” [Warning: Audio kicks in immediately with most of these links.] It was all that compressed schtick that got to me. I would send you the script for it, but all that stuff, including Doyle, remains the intellectual property of The Onion, Inc. and they would surely have me stalked and maimed.

Your favorites?
Some of my favorite Onion Radio News segments from over the years, and there were many, include: Jews To Celebrate Rosh Hashasha Or Something; Civil War Enthusiasts Burn Atlanta To Ground; Microsoft Sold To Crows; Denny’s Introduces ‘Just A Humongous Bucket Of Eggs And Meat’; and “Kim Jong Il Unfolds Into Giant Robot.”

How did the Onion Radio News reports come together?
During our first year Scott Dikkers pulled together text from stories in the Onion’s archive every month and sent me half of them. Separately, we took the pieces and converted them into radio scripts before meeting for all-day marathon editing sessions where we put together anywhere from thirty to fifty final drafts. Then we went into the recording studio, where we tormented Doyle into reading as many twenty to thirty scripts in a single day. Generally, we managed to push those scripts all the way through post-production in a week or so. I think we did over 400 segments that first year in order to fulfill a contract the Onion had signed with Westwood One. Read More

The NCAA has asked US Patent and Trademark Office to stop the Boston Globe from trademarking “Munch Madness,” which is the paper’s annual “tournament of restaurants.” The college basketball folks fear that people might confuse the Globe’s promotion with their “March Madness” tournament.

I asked Globe editor Marty Baron for his reaction. He emailed:

We have a hard time imagining any confusion. It’s not as if folks are going to confuse foul and fowl, free throw and free-range, or MVP and EVOO.

A year or so ago I walked into Brothers K coffee shop in Evanston and saw this keep-an-eye-on-your-belongings sign at the front counter. I told the barista that I was impressed they hired a professional to design a notice like this — one that most businesses just write out with a magic marker.

He does our website, too, the barista said.

I thought of that artist when I decided to start my own site. I wanted him to design JimRomenesko.com. The people at Brothers K gave me his name: Jonathan Liss.

Many readers have complimented this site’s design, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about Jonathan: He lives in Evanston with his wife and young son, and his background is in fine art. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1995, then worked in a few Chicago art galleries and tried being a painter.

That life never felt right so I turned to art direction and design.
I’ve been working for myself for three years.

My clientele are half creative professionals like authors, journalists, composers, musicians, bands, furniture designers and visual artists; the other half are small to medium sized businesses in industries like health and wellness, accounting, food service, retail and philanthropic consulting, among others.

I met with Jonathan in early August and gave him very few instructions.

Jonathan Liss

I told him I had checked out his online portfolio and trusted his design sense.

For this piece, I asked Jonathan to assess me as a client, and to share his thinking about the site’s design.

Jim was very focused and that made our collaboration really smooth. His only directives were that the site should be minimal, be easy to read and should feature his name prominently. [Romenesko interrupts: I knew there might be two ROMENESKO sites in 2012, mine and Poynter's, and I wanted to make sure mine stood out.] Making JIMROMENESKO.COM feel like a tabloid was pretty logical and my interpretation of that was to try for something bold, and understated, but that still would have enough visual interest and character to lend the the design some warmth. The post title font is Oswald, the rest is Helvetica.

About that watch-your-stuff sign that made me notice Jonathan’s work:

The owners asked me to make a sign that would be a tactful plea to their customers to guard their belongings. This was a delicate task because we didn’t want to freak people out. So we hoped by being sincere and warm people would read the sign and come away feeling that the shop was trying to protect them, which it was.

McCormick Hall at Marquette University

I lived in that dorm on the left — we called it “The Beer Can” — during my freshman year at Marquette University. I was in room 1101. Sports journalist and “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” panelist Charlie Pierce lived in 1128 and Bobby Rivers — former VH1 veejay and Food Network show host — was a few doors down from him. It was quite the floor. I recall Pierce being the very loud sports commentator in the TV room, and Rivers hosting a big Academy Awards bash in the floor lounge. [UPDATE: Pierce and Rivers have emailed me their McCormick Hall memories. They're at the end of this piece.]

I frequently drive by McCormick Hall when I return to Milwaukee. The last time I was there I briefly considered parking the car and seeing what room 1101 looks like these days. I wondered if other Boomers have had that same desire to return to their dorm rooms and get of a photo of themselves at their old desk or on the bed.

Maybe there’s a trend story there.

Or maybe it’s a Bogus Trend Story. (New York Times columnist and Marquette alum Gail Collins wrote in 1998 that “an old newsroom joke is that three examples make a trend.”)

Could I find three Facebook friends who’ve returned to their dorm rooms?

I asked, and the stories rolled in. This might be a legit trend story. (Want it? It’s all yours!)

Here are just a few of the responses I got:

BETH REYNOLDS, Base Camp Photo owner and 1988 University of North Carolina grad:

I have returned to my dorm room with friends who lived on my hall, saw where I inscribed my name on the inside closet door – left unchanged. The beer I left was gone. … When we had our own mini-reunion in 1999 we all ran to see the dorm, our floor – that we had painted and left our mark on. We sat on the floor in the hallway just as we did in the 80s and laughed our asses off at the really stupid things we did, remembered old boyfriends, and how we figured how to cook anything in a hot pot!

DANIEL RUBIN, Philadelphia Inquirer Metro columnist.

I graduated from Northwestern in 78, and lived one year in a dump of a frat house – the fraternity was later kicked off campus for abuse of a whale at a formal in Chicago. I went back to Evanston about 10 years ago and was curious to see this pit I had lived in. When I introduced myself inside the door, one of the members was amused that I had the same name as one of his frat brothers. I knew this guy’s byline from Google News – also Daniel Rubin – so I decided to pay him a visit. It was about 11 a.m. I pounded on his door, apparently waking him up with the salutation: “I’m Daniel Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I’m here to tell you to stop using ny name.” After a couple seconds of silence, I laughed and told him I had lived there, and was just checking out the place. I trust he’s gotten over it.

David Hanners, St. Paul Pioneer Press.

I thought about doing it last time I was on campus at Indiana State but started worrying somebody would think I was a perv and call the cops.

Sharon Silke Carty, Huffington Post senior editor.

I did [return to the dorm], a few years after I left. A family friend moved into the dorm, so I brought her out to dinner a couple of times and stopped in to look around. What a dump. I can’t believe I loved that place so much.

Mark Thompson-Kolar.

I’ve done the whole 9 yards … I returned to my twice alma mater 20 years after getting a journalism master’s to get a master’s in human computer interaction — in the process, I’ve visited and revisited ALL my old stomping grounds multiple times and analyzed the heck out of what’s different, what hasn’t changed, how being a student is different at middle age vs. undergraduation and young-person grad school.

Paul Sparrow, Newseum.·

I went to Stony Brook University in the mid ’70s and lived in the Eugene O’Neil dorm. Back then it was a lousy school and a construction site. I was there for a conference on News Literacy a couple of months ago and visited my old dorm room. It was on the ground floor, so when I couldn’t get into the building without an ID card I looked in the window. (It was the middle of the day so I was hoping I wouldn’t get picked up by the campus police.) It was very strange. The room was really clean and neat, several laptops on desks, BEDS MADE!, didn’t look like any dorm room I had ever seen. But Stony Brook is a completely different place then when I went there.

I called Marquette’s Office of Residence Life on Tuesday and asked if many alums requested permission to get into their old dorm rooms. I was told that wasn’t allowed because it would “inconvenience” current residents. I could take a “general tour” of the campus, though, she said.

I’ll keep that in mind.

———–

I asked Pierce about his McCormick years. He emailed:

Best memories? 1) Learning about jazz from the late Maurice Lucas, 2) The day they posted the list of damage on every floor, and 11th was listed as having none and, within five minutes of the posting of the list, somebodu came up in the elevator and threw a coffee cup through the big glass wall of the lounge, 3) how they would shut down two of the three elevators on Say. nite and then the one working one would always fail and nobody could fix it until Monday. On Saturday night, as you came up the stairs, by the seventh floor, the stairwell looked like Shiloh after the battle, bodies scattered everywhere and 4) being quarantined there for a week during my sophomore year by the county health department because I caught my girlfriend’s roommate’s chicken pox.

Bobby Rivers sent me this:

I’ve never gone back to McCormick in all these many years since I graduated. One major thing I do recall about that time was how life in that really opened to eyes to race within our age group. I’d gone to MU from having grown up in South Central L.A. Our family lived in the curfew area during the Watts Riots. So attending a predominantly white college after years of attending parochial schools in L.A. with predominantly black and Mexican students was a major cultural change. I think I fascinated Charlie Pierce a bit because he hadn’t really lived with/interacted daily at length with black guys — and certainly none who, by that time, had already been on a syndicated Hollywood TV show. (I was a game show winner in high school.) Charlie found me different. He didn’t follow me around as puppy doggedly as he did Maurice Lucas and other basketball players, but he was fascinated with me so much that he called his mother in Boston, told her he had a cool black friend and put me on the phone with her. He was the first person ever to say to me something along the lines of “…at times, I don’t even think of you as black.” Charlie Pierce. What a character.

Have you returned to your dorm room? Tell us about it in comments.

I went to the New York Times website last night after seeing assistant managing editor Jim Roberts’ tweet about his paper’s Starbucks “bathroom wars” story. I knew the piece was coming, having played a little role in it.

I was pleased to see Starbucks Gossip — a site I’ve run since 2004 — linked in Anne Barnard’s story. Less than an hour later, though, I returned to the article to check comments and noticed the Starbucks Gossip link had vanished. Odd, I thought, since the New York Post is still linked, as is Gawker.

Then it hit me: Maybe the Times removed the Starbucks Gossip link because editors thought it revealed a little too much about how the sausage is made. My guess is the paper didn’t want readers to see that Barnard used my site to gather information from baristas. (By the way, this isn’t the first time a reporter has used the site for reporting about Starbucks.)

Barnard wanted to use information posted by an anonymous commenter, but told me she needed to know the identity of “Former NY Barista” because of Times sourcing rules. I had the commenter’s email address and, with her permission, passed it along to Barnard.

It’s not a big deal that Starbucks Gossip wasn’t linked in the final version — I’m guessing a few hundred Times readers would have visited the site — but I’m curious to know if my theory is right. Or am I way off base? (And I hope Anne Barnard isn’t in trouble with her editors for using Starbucks Gossip to gather information.) UPDATE: Barnard tells me she’s not in the doghouse with her bosses and the Starbucks Gossip link is back. She was told that it disappeared because of “a glitch.” Thanks to everyone involved here.

I asked David Carr, whose Oct. 2010 New York Times story exposed Randy Michaels’ shenanigans, to comment on Tribune’s $675,000 payout to its former CEO. Carr wrote in an email:

I’m sure there are some expedient reasons that the TribCo chose to pay Mr. Michaels $675,000 and cover his legal fees, but it sends a clear, bad message to the women and men at the company who continue to do their jobs well in spite of the overhang of bankruptcy process that has gone on far too long.

Dan Neil, who was lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the trustee for Tribune’s employee stock ownership plan, tells me:

I suppose I’m beyond being horrified by anything having to do with Zell and his corporate crony creeps. Michaels is a guy who gets up early in order to have extra time to say and do stupid things. He is a shameless pig and was a singularly pathetic executive, the master of disaster. Please point to the exceptional performance for which he is being rewarded with a “bonus.”

Jason Alpert, the 20-year-old editor UC Davis’s California Aggie, tells me that 30 or more news organizations have contacted the paper for permission to use its protest photos. “We let them use them as long as they cite California Aggie and the photographer,” he says. “We don’t ask for money.” But many media giants — including Forbes, Fox News, and ABC’s “Good Morning America” — have used images without crediting the college paper. “It’s frustrating,” says Alpert. “It’s poor journalism.” He adds that the smaller, local news outlets have been crediting the paper for its photos. Aggie staffers, who normally work three or four hours a day on the paper, have been staying on the job for up to seven hours a day to cover the campus protests, says Alpert.

I saw this sign for the first time last summer while driving through Skokie, Ill. The Wi-Fi Building, you can tell, has been around long before the introduction of Wi-Fi. What’s the story here? I wondered.

A few phone calls and Google searches revealed the structure is named for owners Yitzy Weiss (“Wi”) and Rabbi Tzvi Feiner (“Fi”), and the whole building is kosher and Orthodox.

“We bought it in 2005,” Feiner told me over the phone. “[Wi-Fi] wasn’t a common word at the time.”

(The complex was formerly known as the US Robotics Building, and, according to news stories, was the original manufacturing site for the Palm Pilot, and one of the first modems.)

Chicago Jewish News reported a few years ago:

The building is home to some 25 companies-all owned by Orthodox Jews. While professionals are conducting business in one room, in another, a lecture on a Jewish subject, a synagogue service or a class might be going on. There’s even a deli-kosher, of course.

I recently toured the building, and had lunch at Srulie’s Essen Delicatessen on the first floor. I was tempted to try the Jewcy Burger (“Your mouth will be watering”), but went for the Shnitzel Pastrami, which was topped with “our special Russian dressing.” It was worth the $10.99.

The Washington Post Guild claims the paper “has pushed out – or is trying to push out - at least thirteen people through layoffs, coerced buyouts or outright dismissal on dubious charges.
What’s more troubling is that more than half of those employees are African-Americans or Latinos.”

The script goes like this: an employee is summoned to a meeting where she hears that “the bar has been raised.” She is told her work does not meet this supposed new standard. She is handed an envelope with a buyout offer and given a deadline to surrender her job or face disciplinary action because of her allegedly poor performance. She is reminded that disciplinary action progresses from warnings to suspensions and termination.

I invited executive editor Marcus Brauchli to respond. He sent my email to Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti and she wrote back: “Our commitment to diversity extends from hiring to promotion and retention. We do not discuss personnel issues.”