Before Facebook and Twitter, the Romenesko Letters page was where journalists discussed the latest media controversies and chatted about the hot topics of the day. The letters were long ago scrubbed from Poynter’s site, but fortunately they’re archived by The Wayback Machine. Here are some of my favorites:
Letters from 2000
His translation of Kurt Andersen’s words
From STEVE OVADIA, Popupdate.com: Any experienced dot-commer will tell you that when management says “We have lots of money in the bank,” as Kurt Andersen told Keith Kelly, the axe is usually about to fall. It’s almost always the line management is giving angry investors who are clamoring for profitability. Look for more spam e-mail as Inside tries to convert their member database into quick cash.
Those oh-so-unforgettable quips
From MICKI MAYNARD: Given that we’re all nostalgic in recent days about the tough profs we had at school, I would like to hear about tough editors and their favorite sayings. Here are some of mine:
1. This is a newsroom, not a lifeboat.
2. We’re reporters, not stenographers.
3. We have our d—ks hanging out on the A wire (this said by my beloved mentor, Paul Varian, after our UPI Detroit bureau was behind AP on a story).
And my personal favorite, which I believe actually comes from I.F. Stone:
4. When a reporter loses his sense of outrage, it’s time to seek a more lucrative line of work.
Curious George – again
From DAVE ITZKOFF, Associate Editor, Maxim: If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m flattered to see that the folks at the New York Observer are such big fans of Maxim. Much as I enjoyed the illustration on their front page this morning, depicting presidential candidate George W. Bush as Curious George, I can’t help but be reminded of a nearly-identical piece we ran in Maxim back in our October issue, entitled “Curious George W.,” in which we retold the classic children’s tale with Dubya in the starring role. I guess great minds do think alike! Hey, has anyone noticed how much George W. Bush looks like Alfred E. Neuman?
Would a heftier Ann Coulter make it as a TV pundit?
From PAGE McKANE: Ann Coulter wonders why she gets booked on TV shows? Mainly because Republicans finally figured out a few years ago that the media historically associated GOP women with “frumpy” so they started rolling out their Stepford spokeswomen. The fact that they had talking heads that didn’t look like your grandma was enough to get someone as obnoxious as Coulter booked. Ann Coulter should get down on her bony knees and thank God for the Clinton scandal, otherwise she’d be another TV bimbo wannabe. So if she REALLY wants to know: The only reason she gets invited on “those shows” is because she’s a skinny blonde in a short skirt. If she gained 10 lbs and lost that dye job, she’d have a shorter shelf-life than day old bread.
Coulter, Ingraham & Co. drive liberal Dems crazy
From BRUCE BARTLETT, Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis: One of your letters suggested that Republican/conservative types were putting forward attractive females like Ann Coulter to change their image. I think it is really the other way around. I think Democrat/liberal types, who dominate the media, are flabbergasted whenever they come across a beautiful, single, conservative woman. To them, it is like seeing a two-headed dog. They just cannot believe any such thing really exists, because to them it is natural and right for women — especially attractive, single ones — to be liberal Democrats. So they are fascinated by such odd creatures and invite them on their programs out of curiosity, and perhaps the thought that they really aren’t what they seem to be. Sooner or later, the liberals think, they will be caught acting like conservatives and show their true liberal colors. It just drives them crazy when Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Kellyann Fitzpatrick and others refuse to play the game and continue espousing principled, conservative views.
It all makes sense now
From ROBERT RIVERS: Page 37 of the current special issue of US Magazine (Michael J. Fox on the cover) has a list of its 10 best movies of 2000. The number one pick is “Almost Famous.” That movie has an actor playing Jann Wenner during his days at The Rolling Stone. Wenner makes a cameo appearance in the movie. Isn’t Jann Wenner the owner of US?
Wenner as boss or not, “Almost Famous” is his best
From ANDREW JOHNSTON, Film Critic, US Weekly: Robert Rivers’ assertion that I chose “Almost Famous” as the top movie of 2000 merely because Jann Wenner owns US Weekly is pure hogwash. I selected it because, quite simply, I found it to be the most enjoyable and emotionally satisfying movie released in 2000. The source of my paycheck has nothing to do with it — if I still worked for Time Out New York, “Almost Famous” would have been at the top of my 10 best list there.
Johnston is hardly alone in praising “Almost Famous”
From DAVID EDELSTEIN, Film Critic, Slate: Maybe Andrew Johnston should have noted the RS connection in his year-end squib, but it’s really unfair to suggest he was doing Jann Wenner’s bidding. Almost Famous was adored by many critics, has appeared a the top of countless top-ten lists, and isn’t even entirely worshipful of RS. (It’s clear that the hero’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lester Bangs, has contempt for the mag.)
I wrote occasional movie pieces for RS back when Perfect came out and there was no pressure whatsoever to list it among the year’s best. (Of course, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to say what I though of it, either. The rumor was that Jan didn’t have much of a sense of humor about his first and last starring performance.)
Enough with the fave bookmarks feature!
From DREW KERR: I think the magazine industry has to place a moratorium on adding any more features entitled “My Bookmarks.” You know, when magazines go to well-known person in their field and ask them for their favorite bookmarks. I can’t believe how this idea has been copped into so many magazines without a thought of originality. I believe it was either “Wired” or “Fast Company” which originated the feature. They ought to be entitled to royalties.
Slate and Microsoft having branding issues to work on
From TED GEST: Microsoft apparently has a long way to go getting consumers to associate it with Slate.com. When the audience on ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was asked on the program aired Dec. 21 which of four Web sites was funded by Microsoft, a stunning 80 percent responded Wired, leading the hapless contestant to make the wrong guess. Host Regis Philbin said the audience had never been more wrong in the program’s history. Slate, the correct answer, only got a few percent (but I didn’t catch the actual figure.)
Hey, that was Jon Stewart’s idea
From MARIE McCARTHY: I haven’t seen this noted anywhere. Yesterday, msnbc.com was using the tagline “Indecision 2000” on some of their website pages that dealt with the ballot counting in Florida. “Indecision 2000” is the tagline that Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” has been using since the primaries for all their presidential election coverage.
A brief history of Indecision
From MARK JEFFRIES: To add to Marie McCarthy’s letter, Comedy Central’s been using the “Indecision ____” label for their take on the election campaigns since before “The Daily Show” started in 1996 — it all began with their first Presidential election after the channel’s formation (that being 1992) and has continued to the present day. The question is — how will they be able to handle no Bill Clinton?
Salon *isn’t* losing $1.8M/month
From SCOTT ROSENBERG, Managing Editor, Salon.com: Steve Gilliard is entitled to his opinions on Salon but if he’s going to present himself as a bearer of facts he’s got a long way to go. He reads our financials from Oct-Dec. 2000 and assumes that they are current. He seems to know that we have taken steps since to reduce our expenses — including staff reductions, pay cuts and budget trims — but doesn’t seem to understand that those steps have brought our losses way down. In short, the notion that we are today losing $1.8 million a month is laughable.
A flack’s doubletalk
From DAVID GAFFEN, Staff Reporter, TheStreet.com: I shouldn’t expect more from a corporate spokesperson, but USA Today drone Steve Anderson’s reasoning for stiffing six interns hired for the summer sets quite a standard by surpassing garden-variety doubletalk and vaulting into the realm of the completely ludicrous. They’re telling six interns (the most eager workers, by the way) that there ain’t no money, justified due to “budget reasons. Tight budget times affect everyone.”
Riiiiigggghhhtt. Shelving six interns, who, for the span of three months, would likely have made a combined grand total of, oh, 40 grand or so, will save you a bundle. Solid work, fellas. Good thing the money was saved, because CEO Douglas McCorkindale needed it, after the board awarded him a bonus of $2 million on top of his $1.06 million base salary in 2000.
If you’re anxious to hear about other fabulous cost-cutting measures this company is undertaking, they report first-quarter earnings Tuesday the 17th. The conference call-in number (listen only, darn) is 800-893-5903. The replay number is 800-642-1687, access code 429525, which continues through the 24th.
Next year: The horrors of Hawaii
From DAVID COHEN: The funniest part of [WSJ publisher] Peter Kann’s vacation story is the slug under his byline, “Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal.” The second funniest part is that he’ll claim the vacation as a business trip and use the article as proof of his assignment.
Letters from 2001
No tears for Cramer
From TOBY MILLS: For a while, I pretty much went along with James J. Cramer’s “Why’s everybody pickin’ on me?” shtick. I mean, if I could spout enough hubris to convince Wall Street that my little Web site was worth something like $1 billion, I would have done it, too. But, if I hear one more word of self-absolving self-pity from Jim Cramer, I think I am going to wretch.
You see, we journalists tend to stick together. By my count, in the last four months, The Street’s fired 80 people — many of them the talented financial reporters and editors who Cramer and others lured down the rat-hole of Internet publishing mere months ago.
So, while we are all touched by your dedication — all that business of quitting your day job and taking your salary in stock — don’t expect the business press to lead the cheer on your Long March to Profitability, and pretend that Thomas Clarke’s press release babble like “effectively monetize our proprietary content” means anything other than TheStreet.com (and, in fairness, most other on-line publications) screwed up and now a lot of journalists are paying the price.
A few lingo tips for NYT
From TOM TOMORROW: Is it just me, or was the New York Times Metro Section particularly odd today? In addition to the “Rain Rage” article, which came complete with graphics demonstrating correct umbrella etiquette for city dwellers (“Rain should not wash away good manners. Below are some tips for better umbrella use”), there was this peculiar bit in the article about Puff Daddy: “Mr. Combs and his entourage, known for their display of wealth – -called ‘bling bling’ in the rap world — made a clear attempt at moderation yesterday.”
I suppose we should be grateful to the Times for their attempt to give us the “411” on the “lingo” of this strange, impenetrable subculture — but why stop there? A couple of ideas immediately spring to mind:
“Mr. Comb’s entourage — known in the rap world as his ‘dawgs’ — made a clear attempt…” Or maybe:
“Many of Mr. Comb’s female admirers — called ‘hoes’ and ‘bitches’ in the rap world — packed the courtroom today…”
He’s laughing at Wolff’s content-is-dead claim
From JAMES CRAMER: Lately I’ve been a real good boy, keeping my nose clean and staying away from scrapes. Then I read that my New York Magazine colleague, Michael Wolff has pronounced our business, TheStreet.com, dead, despite our $70 odd million in cash, hundreds of thousands of readers and a very powerful brand name. And I have to laugh. The man who ran out of money before anybody, the man who wrote a book about his own flop, the man who holds himself out as the expert on dotcoms putting us on the morgue? Very funny. All I can say is that when it doesnt happen, and when we prosper, will Michael write that we succeeded? Or will he just glibly shrug his shoulders and say “hey, I dont know why anyone took me seriously, after all I was a big failure at that game.” Oh, and to others who would bury us prematurely, I say, Michael’s lucky I am in a real good mood. I may not be next time we are trashed indiscriminately.
Michael Wolff to James Cramer: Let’s do lunch
From MICHAEL WOLFF: Dear Jim (Cramer)….The operative word in the question I was asked (“What do you think of the prognosis for content sites like IVillage, Salon, and Thestreet.com?”) is “like.” I would never, if only out of politeness, pronounce your business specifically dead (although I think we can agree it’s not in the best of shape). As for my qualifications, they’re the same as yours: we’ve both blown lots of money on the Internet without finding a way to make a successful business. A now classic experience. But I think it’s great that you’re hanging in there. Nothing would make me happier than for content to make it big again. Lunch sometime soon?
Any influential African-American journos in D.C.?
From ROLAND S. MARTIN, Publisher, Black America Today News Report: I admit to not knowing every journalist on the Washingtonian [Top 50 Journalists] list, but I don’t recall seeing a single African American named in the top 50. Do you think that says something about African Americans not being talented enough to ascend to these positions or the closeted nature of those who do the choosing? I would look at the latter rather than the former. Although so many of us in the media refuse to admit that there are some serious issues about providing African Americans who have the ability to cover politics with the opportunity, there is a serious issue here that should be addressed. But it’s not just a matter of having someone of a different hue. It’s also about perspective.
I sat here sickened throughout the election as I saw white talking head after white talking head discuss the campaign and the debates. Their comments on issues like racial profiling, affirmative action, tax cuts for the poor and welfare were so shallow and basic that I found myself shouting at the television set, “Do you guys even get it!” By the way, most of them were white men as well. I just wonder if the powers-that-be realize how homogenous the political reporting arena has become and how we still have a long way to go, despite it being 2001.
From JON DELFIN, Asst. Editor, Newsday/Creators Syndicate – Crossword:
Keith Olbermann cites a mistake in the NYTimes crossword “innocently repeat[ed] … at intermittent intervals since 1942.” He claims that such as “Former Detroit submarine pitcher Auker” “has become a regular clue over the years” for the answer ELDEN, which should properly be spelled ELDON. I wonder to which years Olbermann is referring. Will Shortz has never used a clue that mentions the fellow in his tenure at the Times, and two data bases, one of 8500 puzzles and the other of more than 14,000, contain no clues at all including “Auker.” I forwarded a copy of Olbermann’s piece to my boss, Stan Newman. His response: “This is bullfeathers.”
From KEVIN SHAY: Did anyone else notice that on the St. Bonaventure newspaper’s Opinions page, they used the anchor name “idiot” to identify the letter from the student who disagreed with the paper’s coverage [“BV’s coverage inappropriate”]? This seems like an intriguing and subtle new way for online publications to comment on the letters they run. Can “letters.html#guywhoiscompletelywrong” or “feedback.html#crazyladywhotalkstohercats” be far behind?
Rather be gone
From JOHN DAMSCHRODER: On December 5th in this forum I called upon CBS News anchorman Dan Rather to retire. While Rather’s recent apology for speaking at an Austin, Texas Democratic Party fundraiser supports my premise that Rather work illustrates his liberal bias, I wish to qualify my call for his exit from journalism.
Rather should leave CBS for a career as a columnist where his personal views would be welcome. The money and power of his current position would be gone but Dan Rather’s good name would be restored and faith in the institution of CBS News would be enhanced. Rather can weather this storm at Viacom because his CEO shares a deep liberal bias with Dan the man, but his legacy in journalism history can only be made right with a voluntary move to the world of bright ideas and strong opinions, as a columnist or commentator.
From STEPHEN S. POWER: I’ve found that the TV listings are the sole arena for humor in the NY Times, as they try to summarize or comment on a movie in less than ten words. My favorite is their opinion of Eastwood’s Bronco Billy: “Clint sings like a moose.”
The Gammons way
From JAMES RODEWALD: As a baseball reporter at Sports Illustrated for several years I had the painful task of fact-checking Peter Gammons’s column. I won’t comment on the NY Press piece, but I will share with you one of my favorite personal Gammons experiences. As I recall, an Arab dignitary (possibly Mubarak) was at an Orioles game. Gammons wrote something like, It was suggested to Orioles general manager Rolland Hemond that in his honor the O’s work out a trade with the Pirates for Sammy Khalifa, the only Arab-American in the Major Leagues…. Or something along those lines. I dug around a bit and found nothing to support this, but I did manage to get Hemond on the phone. When I asked him about this incident he laughed and told me that it was Gammons who made the suggestion! So, I suppose it was factually correct, but the impression — that a clever Orioles executive had come up with this stroke of diplomacy — certainly wasn’t.
It all started with gum
From DAN SHORTRIDGE: The Philly City Paper story about the dustup between Salon.com’s Tapper and Philadelphia mag’s Issenberg (formerly of the now-defunct George) about a comment allegedly made to a USA Today reporter with extra quotes from an Inside.com staffer is a hoot. The entire mess is so patently absurd it nearly defies comment. The media-reporting-on-media idea has been stretched to the limit: I counted six different media outlets mentioned in the City Paper story. If none of them had been involved, I doubt that the fate of Mr. Tapper’s chewing gum would have made Web headlines. Since when is a reporter’s ego the subject of a legitimate news story? If I approached my city editor with that piece, I’d be laughed out of the newsroom. (Though Mr. Tapper’s “fucking pussy” line would likely get posted on the quote wall.) Reporters report the news. We don’t make it up by turning to the gal or guy at the desk next to us.
Salon’s the real deal
From DAVID TALBOT, Editor in Chief, Salon.com: I’ve never heard of “The Deal” and I trust most of the world hasn’t either. But one of the awe-inspiring aspects of the Internet is how even the most obscure and unfounded “news” reports can get instantly disseminated around the world, including on Jim Romenesko’s excellent site. This is the real deal: Salon is not for sale and we’re not going out of business. We have not been shopping Salon. Period. We are focused 100% on making the company profitable this year and we have enough money in the bank to take us to this goal. We will achieve this goal because Salon has succeeded in aggressively cutting its budget, while simultaneously building circulation to an all-time high. Despite the crazed predictions of the collapse of Web advertising, Salon continues to derive significant ad revenues, which we believe will be bolstered by the introduction of the new wave of outsized ads on our site. We are also confident, based on the extremely encouraging reader response to our Salon Premium plan, that many of our readers will subscribe to this special ad-free edition of Salon, opening up a new stream of revenue for the company this year. Journalists know more than anyone else that you can’t believe everything you read in print — don’t believe The Deal. Salon, like most Web companies, is in a tough fight to succeed. But we will.
From TOM MASHBERG, Boston Herald: One could go half-blind and out of one’s mind trying to make sense of newspaper editors’ “internal memos.” They read like the worst Orwellian gibberish reporters can’t make fun of enough when it emanates from a government agency. Here’s an attempt to translate some of what’s been posted:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editors unveil their newsroom reorganization
“Reorganization will produce a more traditional structure that we expect to bring us the urgency and creativity in our daily report that will make us excel.”
Translation: We’re getting our asses kicked by the competition again. Stop farting around on the Internet and do some fucking reporting.
The Philadelphia Inquirer editor’s memo re: changes in zoned editions
“But the change must go beyond that. It must include a new way of thinking about what we do — about the needs and interests of readers and how to serve them. For example, we have to create a system where local news briefs are packaged well every day.”
Translation: Could one of you $65G-a-year desk editors try to make sure that the goddam news briefs run on the same flipping page every day?
The Kansas City Star editor’s memo updating the memo posted below
“We will continue the difficult task of searching for ways to meet our budget obligations while keeping our readers as happy as possible. As always, your suggestions are welcome.”
Translation: Anybody got any bright ideas how to convince these pain-in-the-ass readers that a smaller paper is worth more money every day?
From BRIAN GREGG: Kudos to Fran Quigley and NUVO for the piece on Gannett and the Indianapolis Star. Whatever your thoughts on Gannett (I spent 11 years with the company, but I’ll spare you my opinion), you have to admire the wide range of sources and information presented in the article. This is only possible because Quigley did the homework and NUVO alloted the time and space for more than 7,000 words. I applaud any publication that provides the time and space necessary for a complete story that gives readers as much relevant information as possible. How ironic that such a story was written about Gannett.
“Horseshit” from NYC media
From REX BOWMAN, Reporter, Richmond Times-Dispatch: Brent Cunningham’s CJR piece on New York being the center of the media universe is just so much horseshit and exemplifies the kind of New York provincialism that makes those of us in the rest of the country hoot with derision. That’s right, we hoot. (The off-putting New York-knows-all attitude also explains why most of the country collectively yawned at the Mets-Yankees World Series despite all the second-coming hype from the New York media outlets.)
It’s not even remotely true that the national media usually follow the New York media. What’s true is that New York-based reporters follow each other. Thus, the New York Times runs an article that an Associated Press editor reads in his New York cubicle. The AP editor has an AP staffer dash off a 500-word version of the story, and the following week Time magazine of New York turns the crisp AP prose into a two-page tick-tock piece. New York follows New York follows New York.
Sure, newspapers around the country might pick up the NYT or AP piece or even do their own version. But what goes unnoticed is that, all the while, the New York media are picking up stories from the hinterland newspapers. Remember that NYT story I just mentioned that the AP picked up and then Time magazine followed? Odds are it ran in the Louisville Courier-Journal first. Some baby-faced NYT stringer praying to earn a ticket to the New York mothership saw it on A-1 of the Courier-Journal in between classes at the University of Kentucky, called the editors in New York and asked to do a version for the NYT. Some editor there said, ‘Hell no, we’ll get Francis X. Clines to do it.’ Two days later the Courier-Journal story is in the NYT beneath Clines’s byline.
I cover Appalachia, and though Francis X. Clines writes wonderfully, I can say I don’t give a fuck what the New York media are covering on any given day, and I know that, at least in this instance, I belong to the vast majority.
Letters from 2005
Lousy pay for rookie journalists
From TODD WALLACK, San Francisco Chronicle: Connie Schultz’s complaint that students aren’t interested in low-paying journalism jobs reminds me of the old Yogi Berra joke about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Unfortunately, journalism salaries remain relatively low largely because
supply outstrips demand. There are far more would-be journalists than
How low is the starting pay? According to a recent University of Georgia
study, the median salary for 2004 graduates with a bachelor’s degree in journalism/communications was $27,800. But that figure is lower for those who landed traditional media jobs. Here’s the breakdown:
TV – $23,500
Dailies – $26,000
Consumer magazines: $27,000
Public Relations: $28,500
Remember, that’s the median. Half of graduates earned more, half earned less.
More old Romenesko Letters are coming