God damn do I hate Major League Baseball.

April 4th, 2007 → 9:45 pm @

Enough people have complained about the complete stupidity of Major League Baseball’s decision to take it’s Extra Innings package away from the millions of cable subscribers that have, in the past, willingly shelled out more than $150 a year to watch their home team play its games even if they no longer live in the city of their team of choice.

Not surprisingly, the Times‘s Joe Nocera highlights just how stupid MLB truly is in a an article on the whole messy imbroglio. “Let’s face it,” Nocera writes, “the men who run baseball have a history of not making the smart play.” Truer words have never been spoken. After going through all the not-so-exciting details, Nocera sums up the issue nicely:

“So let’s think about what baseball has done here. In the interest of seeing to it that its baseball channel gets a running start on DirecTV, it has infuriated the cable industry, which is now unlikely to ever give it the time of day. It has turned down the opportunity to be guaranteed an astounding 30 million subscribers on Day 1 because it wants to squeeze the cable industry for more. … Plus, it has alienated 200,000 of its most passionate customers — the ones willing to pay $165 a year to see baseball games every night — taking away from them a fruit they had already tasted. Plus, it has forced those same fans to go to the baseball Web site to see those games — which, however good the site is, still entails scrunching over a screen and looking at a picture that doesn’t compare to say, a flat-screen plasma TV. Plus, it has reminded the world yet again how much sports is just another greedy business — exactly what its customers don’t want to be reminded of. Plus, it’s gotten Congress up in arms.* …

“Nice going, fellas. The N.F.L. would never do anything this dumb. Of course, that’s one of the big differences between pro football and pro baseball. The football guys actually know how to run their business with some intelligence.”

Color me spoiled — or color me stubborn — but I’m one of those passionate customers who absolutely refuses to pay for the honor of watching Sox games on my MacBook. (I spend enough damn time sitting at my desk as it is.) So tonight, I grudgingly shelled out $14.95 for the MLB Gameday Audio package (and no, dammit, I won’t put in a link)…and was greeted with the following message:

“Server busy. Please try back again soon.”

This went on for a full half-hour. Then I finally patched in. And then I got knocked off in the third with Beckett pitching out of a Mike Lowell-induced jam. Now I’m back on…but it sounds like I’m listening through snowstorm of feedback.


* Yeah, I’m glad John Kerry made some noise about the whole issue, too. But think about this: cable subscribers around the country are relying on a man who referred to the two best hitters on his own team with the Frankensteinian moniker “Manny Ortez.”

Post Categories: DirecTV & Joe Nocera & Major League Baseball & Manny Ortez

Fiddling while Rome burns

October 31st, 2006 → 5:09 pm @

Yesterday, in a parenthetical at the end of a post about Ben Stein (someone who has admirably figured out how to monetize every ounce of himself), I posed this question: Why is Joe Nocera, one of the New York Times‘s most incisive, provocative, and lucid columnists, buried away in the Saturday paper?

Well, I got the answer (from many, many, many, many people), and it’s an obvious one (and one that, at some point, I actually knew). When Nocera was hired, the Times was in a tizzy about the Wall Street Journal‘s “Weekend Edition,” which was designed to offer soft-focus, lifestyle-y features (and which is delivered to empty offices around the country every Saturday). (I kid! It’s delivered to your home. As long as you go through customer service in order to get that one paper re-routed.)

I understand that rationale: while the Times‘s and the Journal‘s audience has less of an overlap than you might think, it isn’t insignificant, and it’s not like any newspaper can afford to lose readers or advertisers these days. (You may ask yourself, ‘Self, why did it made sense to combat an avowedly soft-news edition of an otherwise hard-core business paper with one of the country’s best business colimnists?’ And you may say to yourself, ‘I have no idea.’)

But now, a little over a year later, the Journal‘s “Weekend Edition” is…not exactly a failure, but certainly not a resounding success, either. (In the last reporting period, the Weekend Journal was among the leaders in circulation losses, falling 6.7 percent, compared to 2 percent for the Journal‘s daily paper and about 3.5 percent for the Times and the Washington Post.)

Putting Nocera in the Saturday paper doesn’t reek of the sort of desperate knee-jerkism that resulted in the Times launching a hurried “Escapes” section on April 5, 2002…which just happened to be four days before the Journal introduced its long-planned (and reasonably successful) “Personal Journal.” It does, however, touch on a persistent (and annoying) oddity of the media business: the extent to which newspapers (and magazines) often make decisions based on how their competitors will react as opposed to what best serves their readers. It happens time and time again: if the Post gets a big scoop, the Times will more than likely play it down (if they cover it at all). If Newsweek comes out with a big package on corporate welfare, you can sure as hell bet Time won’t be doing anything similar any time soon (regardless of whether or not they had something in the works). And to what end? How many of the Washington Post‘s readers also read the Times? And would any of that relatively miniscule number be that bothered by seeing a similar story in another paper? The answer, clearly, is no. But for some inane reason, mis-placed institutional pride — we will not follow someone else’s reporting, dammit! — is put ahead of what would best serve customers/readers. (This is the industry, after all, that says it needs to be protected because it’s acting as a public trust…and an industry that has a whole mess of sky-is-falling doomsayers these days.)

So I’ll amend my question: How many of the Times‘s advertisers or readers are currently trying to decide between the paper’s Saturday edition and the weekend edition of the Journal? And how many people are losing out by missing Nocera’s column each week? Anyone? Anyone?

(Oh, also: no, I don’t really think Ben Stein is the world’s best columnist. But gosh darn is he a big cutey.)

Post Categories: Joe Nocera & Media reporting & New York Times & Oblique references to Talking Heads songs & Wall Street Journal

Introducing the world’s best columnist

October 30th, 2006 → 12:07 pm @

Okay, I’m overstating things a bit; I was stymied in my efforts to come up with a headline that punned off of either “Ferris Bueller” or “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” So without further throatclearing: the New York Times‘s best columnist is not Paul Krugman or Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd. It’s Ben Stein, who’s been quietly penning a column for the Sunday Business section titled “Everybody’s Money.”

I say quietly because Sunday is ugly stepdaughter of the Business department (although recent efforts to improve its quality have resulted in marked improvement). The people who cherish the Sunday Times — you know, the “she reads the Book Review, I do the crossword” people — are the liberal arts, self-styled intellectual types who want to read about books (even if they don’t read books), or want to be up-to-date on the arts world (even if they don’t actually go to museums). Business folk, on the other hand, are not reaching for a door stopper-sized paper on Sundays. They get their news during the actual work-week; that’s why the Wall Street Journal doesn’t even bother publishing on Sundays. (Its recent Saturday edition was created mainly to draw in more women readers.) A recent stilted effort to move the Times media coverage from Monday to Sunday died a quick death when the paper’s media writers staged a mini-revolt.

But I digress. Stein’s column — this week’s was about the total lack of shame in corporate America — isn’t so good because it’s well-written and easy to understand, although it’s both. Its strength lies in the fact that many of Stein’s columns seem to go against what you’d assume Stein’s views to be; a life-long Republican and former speech writer and lawyer in the Nixon administration could reasonably be assumed to be a deranged firebreather (think Pat Buchanan) or at least a reliable conservative (think William Safire). But a surprising number of Stein’s columns decry the greed (and stupidity) or corporate America. What’s more, Stein’s pieces seem more affable than angry. He’s not shouting from the treetops or preaching to the converted, which is the trap most opinion-mongers on both sides of the aisle fall into. He likes money. He likes being well off. But he doesn’t let that, or his political affiliation, blind him to the realities of our current economic environment.

So let me be the first to call for freeing Ben Stein from Sunday’s purgatory. Let’s move the man to the actual Op-Ed page! He’d certainly stand out. And that’d be a good thing.

(As an aside/addendum, Joe Nocera, who was poached from Fortune this past April, may very well be the Times‘s best on-staff columnist. I get why he’s in the paper’s Business section and not on the Op-Ed page…but why, in God’s name, is he relegated to Saturday, the least-read paper of the week? Anyone? Anyone?)

Post Categories: Ben Stein & Joe Nocera & New York Times