Rich still pushing that boulder up the hill, according to the Times

November 27th, 2006 → 11:05 am @

Nope, it wasn’t a one-week phenomenon: after last week’s pair of articles about the plight of the rich as compared to the superrich, the Times is at it again: today’s front page features a story by Louis Uchitelle titled “Very Rich are Leaving the Merely Rich Behind.” Cue the violins:

“The opportunity to become abundantly rich is a recent phenomenon not only in medicine, but in a growing number of other professions and occupations. In each case, the great majority still earn fairly uniform six-figure incomes, usually less than $400,000 a year, government data show. But starting in the 1990s, a significant number began to earn much more, creating a two-tier income stratum within such occupations.

The divide has emerged as people like Dr. Glassman, who is 45, latched onto opportunities within their fields that offered significantly higher incomes. Some lawyers and bankers, for example, collect much larger fees than others in their fields for their work on business deals and cases.”

At least the Times has now acknowledged this is a story they’ll be focused on for some time to come: today’s article has the obligatory box (“Gilded Paychecks: New Paths to a Windfall”) signifying an ongoing series. Any guesses as to what might be next?

Post Categories: New York Times

This year’s multi-part Times series: the difficulties of only being able to afford a single Ferrari

November 21st, 2006 → 10:11 am @

It’s been a six years since the New York Times‘s Pultizer-winning, multi- multi-part series “How Race Is Lived in America” and a little over a year since the equally multi-part) “Class Matters.” What’s next on the didactic horizen? Apparently the plight of those who only break the top one percent of American wage earners.

“This year’s special contribution to the canon may be the argument that the moment has arrived for a battle that looks to most of the population like a battle among peers, which in a sense it is: the rich versus the rich, the meritocrats versus the meritocrats, the ambitious versus the ambitious. But it also pits two highly distinct groups, the merely rich and the superrich.”

A New Class War: The Haves vs. The Haves More
By Eric Konisberg
The New York Times
November 19, 2006

“Envy may be a sin in some books, but it is a powerful driving force in Silicon Valley, where technical achievements are admired but financial payoffs are the ultimate form of recognition. And now that the YouTube purchase has amplified talk of a second dot-com boom, many high-tech entrepreneurs — successful and not so successful — are examining their lives as measured against upstarts who have made it bigger.”

In Web World, Rich Now Envy Superrich
By Katie Hafner
The New York Times
November 21, 2006

Coming tomorrow: “In today’s NBA, the guards with $10 million contracts envy the centers with $40 million deals.”

Post Categories: New York Times

Soriano offers justification for keeping Manny and that $51.1 posting fee for Matsuzaka

November 20th, 2006 → 11:59 am @

In other news, the Soriano signing may mean, as Gammons says, that the Cubs are turning themselves into instant contenders; it also highlights just what a good deal Manny Ramirez is for the remaining two years (and $36 mil or so) of his contract. In order to land Soriano, the Cubs shelled out $136 million over eight years. For those of you keeping track at home, that means Soriano will be earning $17 million a year through 2014, when he’ll be 38 years old. Seriously, think about that: Congressmen will need to run four times before Soriano needs to think about his next job. There’ll be two presidential elections. Even Senators will need to make their case to the public. But not Alfonso…who has never been as consistent an offensive force as Manny (and is arguably as much of an adventure in the field).

The Soriano deal shows the extent to which the market has gone crazy; it’s the biggest deal since the $141 million contract extension Todd Helton landed before the 2001 season, and pretty much marks an official return to the 2000-2001 insanity. (If history holds, only a couple of this year’s mega-signings will pan out; Manny and Mike Mussina are the only guys from the 2000 class who can be said to have paid off.)

This year’s funny money contracts also point to why the Sox’s mega-offer for the negotiating rights to Matsuzaka arguably makes sense. As the always eloquent David Leonhardt points out in yesterday’s Times, “Matsuzaka is unlike any other free agent on the market this year — or almost any other year. He is 26, an age when a typical pitcher is in his prime and yet usually too young to be a free agent. Players who come up through the minor leagues generally don’t have the chance to test the market and choose their own team until after they have spent six seasons in Major League Baseball, according to free agency rules. By then, they are typically in their late 20s, or even their early 30s, and their performance is already starting to slide. This, more than anything else, explains why so many free-agent signings turn out to be busts.” (Why is it that it takes a business writer to explain the economics of baseball? Why couldn’t, say, the Times‘s baseball columnist have attempted to understand (and explain) this?) This is also the framework through which it makes sense to look at a bunch of the Sox’s recent moves: the Arroyo for Wily Mo (D.O.B. 1/23/82) deal; the Crisp (D.O.B. 11/1/79) acquisition; even the Beckett (D.O.B. 5/15/80) deal.

It’s not even Thanksgiving (you remember Thanksgiving, right?) and the Hot Stove has already boiled over. (I’m sorry. Really: I’ll avoid the stupid stove puns for the rest of the offseason.) It’s going to be an interesting couple of months.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Alfonso Soriano & Daisuke Matsuzaka & David Leonhardt & New York Times & Red Sox front office

All you’ll ever need to know about Murray Chass: he thinks Kevin Millar is a good first baseman*

November 17th, 2006 → 3:45 pm @

“There are other free-agent candidates for the job, including Shea Hillenbrand, Phil Nevin and Kevin Millar, who was instrumental in Boston’s success in 2004. None of the three is strictly a first baseman, but they all played the position well last season.

While Giambi made 7 errors in 477 chances for a .985 fielding percentage, Nevin made no errors in 303 chances (1.000), Hillenbrand 3 errors in 609 chances (.995) and Millar 4 errors in 830 chances (.995).”

Slashing Payroll May Be No Bargain
By Murray Chass
The New York Times
November 17, 2006

At this point, you need to at least entertain the notion that Chass is conducting some sort of grand, sadistic experiment in which he writes increasingly preposterous things in an effort to figure out when someone will finally be forced to make him stop.

* Alright, alright: the collective wisdom of the commenters has won out. No more on Murray.** Zoowah: I’m done. And PatsFanDK: No run ins; I’ve never even met the guy.

** But I reserve the right for very tempered comments if he writes something that really can’t be ignored.

Post Categories: Murray Chass & New York Times & Sports Reporters

Race! Sex! And, um, succession battles at The New York Times!

November 8th, 2006 → 11:04 am @

Proving that media companies know how to manipulate the news just as well as politicians or over-the-hill pop tarts, the news broke yesterday — a day in which all of the country was focused on a total re-alignment of political power in the country — that the Tribune Company has finally forced out Dean Baquet as the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Baquet fought valiantly against Tribune Co.-mandated staff cuts, but a year and a couple of months after John Carroll, Baquet’s former boss and mentor, quit in protest, Baquet is out as well.

There’ll be lots of hand wringing and debate over what this means for the state of journalism in America. But I want to focus on what’s really important: what this means for The New York Times.

Back in 2003, after Howell Raines was forced out as the Times‘s editor in the wake of a staff revolt against his autocratic ways, Baquet, who’d been the national editor in New York before heading out to L.A., was heavily recruited by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger. Baquet was all but offered the managing editor position by Sulzberger, with an implicit promise that he’d be in prime position to become the Times‘s first African-American editor in the not-distant future, but Baquet, out of loyalty to his troops in L.A. and a belief in what he and Carroll were trying to accomplish, decided to stay put. (So determined was Baquet that he used his decision to stay as an argument as to why his reporters should resist the urge to jump ship and head to New York.)

It’s hard to imagine Baquet hasn’t had some restless nights reliving this decision. Still, Baquet may be just as well positioned to take over the Times when Bill Keller steps down as he would have been had he taken Sulzberger up on his offer three years ago. Before Baquet became a free agent, there was really only one viable candidate to replace Keller: current managing editor Jill Abramson. After all, a century of white, male editors would have made it difficult for Sulzberger — and avowed and vocal proponent of increased gender and racial diversity in the newsroom — not to promote Abramson. Baquet offers what is likely the most politically acceptable alternative: it’ll be hard to criticize the Times for passing over a woman if the paper ends up promoting an African-American.

I doubt this angle will get much play; for all its coverage of and obsession over race and gender, the media isn’t that great at discussing difficult issues in its own house (just as it’s often a bit clumsy when it comes to increasing diversity in its reporting ranks — see Blair, Jayson). But a couple of years down the line, when Keller (who seems as if he’s always enjoyed reporting and writing more than managing) approaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 (Keller is 57; Abramson is 55 and Baquet is 50, which means in theory both Abramson and Baquet could both get the Times top post), this will likely be one of the major issues and intrigues facing the paper.

Post Categories: Dean Baquet & Los Angeles Times & Media reporting & New York Times & Race gender and diversity

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