Media

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gannett Digital Sees Revenue Increase. That's the Good News

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 3:35 PM

G. CRESCOLI, UNSPLASH
  • G. Crescoli, Unsplash
Gannett Co. shared its Q3 earnings Thursday and the report contains some good news for The Commercial Appeal's parent company. Digital revenue is up by $3.3 million over last year. Unfortunately, digital gains couldn't keep pace with the $5.5 million in revenue lost from declining circulation. Publishing revenue is down $43.9 million with advertising and marketing taking a $26.5 million hit.

MarketWatch had a more detailed look at the numbers.

Revenue was $711.7 million, missing the FactSet consensus of $724 million and down from $744.3 million a year ago. Publishing revenue fell to $616.4 million, down from $660.3 million in the year-earlier quarter. Advertising and marketing revenue fell to $403.4 million, down from $429.9 a year ago. Print advertising revenue fell 16.7% to $204 million from $244.8 million a year ago, but digital advertising and marketing revenue rose 3.2% to $105.8 million from $102.5 million a year ago. Revenue from circulation fell to $258.9 million, also down from $264.4 million a year ago. 
The disappointing economic news arrives shortly after Gannett's latest letdown to loyal print subscribers. Deadlines weren't extended to allow even allow for even rudimentary coverage of the midterm elections. The news shouldn't have been surprising given the way out-of-state editing impedes timely sports coverage. It's also what you'd expect from a company now self-identifying as "an online news organization that continues to publish a daily, morning newspaper."

Industry analyst Ken Doctor's response to the election news practically anticipates Gannett's Q3 report. Writing for NiemanLabs, Doctor wrote, "that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month."

"Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."


There's some evidence Gannett may be looking to cut employee costs again. A recent memo offered early retirement to employees 55 or older who'd been with Gannett for at least 15-years. 

"The Commercial Appeal is offering an Early Retirement Opportunity Program ("EROP") to eligible Guild-represented employees in the newsroom," the memo said. "Time is of the essence. We, therefore, ask that that you sign and return this document to me within 48 hours. The severance deal is based on 30-35 weeks' pay with a transition bonus of up to $5,520 determined by years of service."

But how about that digital? Up 3.2 percent! 

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Friday, November 2, 2018

No Next Day Election Results For Gannett Newspapers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 10:54 AM

If there was ever a news item worthy of the "Dammit Gannett" tab, it's this. Via The Nashville Scene:
"Editors at the [Gannett] chain’s papers around the country were informed two weeks ago that deadlines for the print edition could not be extended in order to cover elections. As a result, Wednesday’s editions of The Tennessean, Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel will not have final results for some of the most closely contested statewide races in years."
JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

“We do not believe print is a vehicle for breaking news," Tennessean vice president   and editor Michael Anastasi was quoted as saying.

Anastasi's not wrong, of course. Broadcast and online media do have advantages when it comes to live and breaking news. How that absolves daily print editions from obligations to print subscribers and expectations of  mere currency remains a mystery.

Folks who pay for paper say it with me now: Dammit!

UPDATE: NiemanLab weighs in:

"Conceptually, the push to separate print — “not a vehicle for breaking news,” that Gannett memo notes — from digital makes a certain sense, of course. And not adding any extra pages of newsprint for election results does save money. (“As you plan for print, please remember that we have tight controls on newsprint costs,” says the memo. “Any pages added need to be ‘made up’ by the end of the year preferably in November.”)

At the same time, it is those incredibly loyal print readers — the ones who have stood by newspaper companies through cut after cut in staff and in the product — who will now see that loyalty tested, again. Gannett, like a number of other newspaper companies, has more than a third of its print subscribers ages 70 or above in many markets. Most read in print; digital is a second and lesser option. (E-edition readers, who essentially get the print paper in digital form, will also be impacted by this decision.) Those subscribers, at Gannett and elsewhere, have seen their subscription rates hiked again and again, raised to the very limits of econometric modeling."
Ken Doctor's column notes that, in an effort to push more readers online Gannett is dropping its paywalls for 48 hours, enabling anyone with internet access to read Gannett's election coverage. It's a good read that takes a hard look at recent economic and subscriber history.

"What those numbers tell us is that that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month. Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."
Read it all here.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween: A Tribute to Sivad and Fantastic Features

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2018 at 12:02 PM

sivad-1.jpg

Every now and then Fly on the Wall likes to publish something "From the Morgue," which, in newspaper jargon, means an article we published some time in the past that's been filed away. But in this case the expression's especially fitting. It's late October — time to remember Memphis' original horror host Sivad. All links have been updated, so readers should be able to sample some of the movies that made Fantastic Features so fantastic. 

The horror first took control of Memphis television sets at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 29, 1962. It began with a grainy clip of black-and-white film showing an ornate horse-drawn hearse moving silently through a misty stretch of Overton Park. Weird music screeched and swelled, helping to set the scene. A fanged man in a top hat and cape dismounted. His skin was creased, corpse-like. He looked over his shoulder once, then dragged a crude, wooden coffin from the back of the hearse. His white-gloved hand opened the lid, releasing a plume of thick fog and revealing the bloody logo of Fantastic Features. 

"Ah. Goooood eeeevening. I am Sivad, your monster of ceremonies," the caped figure drawled, in an accent that existed nowhere else on planet Earth. Think: redneck Romanian.

"Please try and pay attention," he continued, "as we present for your enjoyment and edification, a lively one from our monumental morgue of monstrous motion pictures."


In that moment, a Mid-South television legend was born. For the next decade, Sivad, the ghoulish character created by Watson Davis, made bad puns, told painfully bad jokes, and introduced Memphians to films like Gorgo...


The Brain That Wouldn't Die
...


and Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.

via GIPHY


Watson Davis' wisecracking monster wasn't unique. He was one of many comically inclined horror hosts who became popular regional TV personalities from the '50s through the '70s. According to John Hudgens, who directed American Scary, a documentary about the horror-host phenomenon, it all began with "Vampira," a pale-skinned gorgon immortalized by Ed Wood in his infamously incompetent film Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Although a Chicago-area host calling himself "The Swami" may have been the first costumed character regularly introducing scary movies on television, the big bang of horror hosting happened in 1954, when the wasp-wasted actress Maila Nurmi introduced her campy, Morticia Adams-inspired character on The Vampira Show, which aired in Los Angeles.


In 1957, Screen Gems released a package of 52 classic horror films from Universal studios. The "Shock Theater" package, as it was called, created an opportunity for every market to have its own horror host. "Part of that package encouraged stations to use some kind of ghoulish host," Hudgens explains. "Local television was pretty much live or had some kind of host on everything back then."

Overnight, horror hosts such as New York's "Zacherly" and Cleveland's "Ghoulardi" developed huge cult followings. "TV was different in those days," Hudgens says. "There weren't a lot of channels to choose from, and the hosts could reach a lot more people quickly. Ghoulardi was so popular that the Cleveland police actually maintained that the crime rate went down when his show was on the air, and they asked him to do more shows."
Dr. Lucifer
  • Dr. Lucifer

Tennessee's first horror host was "Dr. Lucifer," a dapper, eyepatch-wearing man of mystery who hit the Nashville airwaves in 1957. Since Fantastic Features didn't air until the fall of 1962, Sivad was something of a latecomer to the creep-show party. But unlike most other horror hosts, Davis didn't have a background in broadcasting. He'd been a movie promoter, working for Memphis-based Malco theaters. His Sivad character existed before he appeared on television. At live events, he combined elements of the classic spook show with an over-the-top style of event-oriented marketing called ballyhoo. So Davis' vampire, while still nameless, was already well known to local audiences before Fantastic Features premiered.

"You've got to understand, things were very different back then," Elton Holland told the Memphis Flyer in a 2010 interview. "Downtown Memphis was a hub for shopping, and going out to the movies was an event. And back then, Malco was in competition with the other downtown theaters, so when you came to see a movie, we made it special.”


To make things special Holland, Davis, and Malco vice president Dick Lightman became masters of promotion and special events. Davis and Holland were neighbors who lived in Arkansas and car-pooled into Memphis every day. During those drives, Davis would float ideas for how to promote the films coming to town.

The studios only provided movie theaters with limited marketing materials. Theater businesses had in-house art departments that created everything else. What the art department couldn't make, Davis built himself in the theater's basement. When 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea came to town, he built a giant squid so large it had to be cut in half to get it up the stairs. He constructed a huge King Kong puppet that towered over the lower seats. For the film Dinosaurus, he built a Tyrannosaurus rex that was 20 feet tall and 45 feet long. It sat in the lobby, roaring and moving its tail.

"All movies were sold through exploitation," Holland explained. "And horror movies were the best ones to exploit. ... I remember when Watson first told me he wanted to be a monster. He was thinking vaudeville. He wanted to put on a show."

Davis' plan to create a scary show wasn't original. The "spook show" was a sideshow con dating back to when 19th-century snake-oil vendors traveled the country hawking their wares. Slick-talking performers would hop from town to town promising entertainment-deprived audiences the chance to see a giant, man-eating monster, so terrible it had to be experienced to be believed. Once the tickets were sold, it was loudly announced that the monster had broken free and was on a bloody rampage. The idea was to cause panic and create a confusing cover for the performers to make off with the loot.
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In the early 20th century, the spook show evolved, and traveling magicians exploited the public's growing fascination with spiritualism by conjuring ghosts and spirits. By mid-century, they developed into semi-comical "monster shows" that were almost always held in theaters. Today's "hell houses" and haunted mansions are recent permutations of the spook show.

When England's Hammer Films started producing horror movies that were, as Holland says, "a cut above," he, Davis, and Lightman took the old spook-show concept and adapted it sell movie tickets. They went to Memphis State's drama department and to the Little Theatre [now Theatre Memphis] looking for actors so they could put a monster on a flatbed truck in front of the Malco.

Davis dressed as Dracula, Holland was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and another Malco exec played Frankenstein. The company also included a wolfman and a mad doctor.

Davis sometimes joined Lightman on inspection tours of other Malco properties. On one of those tours, the men saw an antique horse-drawn hearse for sale on the side of the road. They bought the hearse that appears in the Fantastic Features title sequence for $500. It also appeared in various monster skits and was regularly parked in front of Malco theaters to promote horror movies.

"One time we had this actor made up like a wild man," Holland said, recalling a skit that was just a little too effective. "While Watson did his spiel about the horror that was going to happen, the chained wild man broke loose and pretended like he was attacking this girl. He was going to jerk her blouse and dress off, and she had on a swimsuit underneath." One 6'-3", 300-pound, ex-military Malco employee wasn't in on the joke and thought the actor had actually gone wild. He took the chain away, wrapped it around the wild man's neck, and choked him until the two were pulled apart. The proliferation of television eventually killed ballyhoo promotions and all the wild antics used to promote movies. At about that time, the studios started "going wide" with film distribution, opening the same film in many theaters at one time instead of just one theater in every region. This practice made location-specific promotions obsolete. By then, the Shock Theater package had made regional stars out of horror hosts all across the country. WHBQ approached Davis and offered him the job of "monster of ceremonies" on its Fantastic Features show. The show found an audience instantly and became so popular that a second weekly show was eventually added. Memphis viewers apparently couldn't get enough of films like Teenage Caveman...


And Mutiny in Outer Space...

 
Joe Bob Briggs, cable TV's schlock theater aficionado who hosted TNT's Monster Vision fro m 1996 to 2000, says that "corny" humor was the key to any horror host's success or failure. "Comedy and horror have only rarely been successfully mixed in film — although we have great examples like Return of the Living Dead, Briggs says. "But comedy surrounding horror on television was a winning formula from day one. In fact, it's essential. If you try to do straight hosting on horror films, the audiences will hate you."

In 1958, Dick Clark invited New York horror host Zacherly to appear on American Bandstand. "This wasn't the year for the comedians, this was the year for the spooks and the goblins and the ghosts," Clark said, introducing "Dinner With Drac," the first hit novelty song about monsters. Four years later, Bobby "Boris" Puckett took "Monster Mash" to the top of the charts. In the summer of 1963, Memphis' favorite horror host hopped on the pop-song monster bandwagon by recording the "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll/Dicky Drackeller" single.


Novelty songs such as "What Made Wyatt Earp" became a staple on Fantastic Features, and Sivad began to book shows with the King Lears, a popular Memphis garage band that influenced contemporary musicians like Greg Cartwright, who played in the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers before forming the Reigning Sound. Although "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll" never charted, Goldsmith's department store hosted a promotional record-signing event, and 2,000 fans showed up to buy a copy.

In 1972, Fantastic Features was canceled. And though Davis was frequently asked to bring the character back, he never did. Horror movies were changing, becoming bloodier and more sexually explicit in a way that made them a poor fit for Sivad's family-friendly fright-fest. In 1978, Commercial Appeal reporter Joseph Shapiro unsuccessfully tried to interview Davis. He received a letter containing what he called a cryptic message: "Sivad is gone forever" is all it said.

Davis, who borrowed his name-reversing trick from Dracula, Bram Stoker's blood-sucking fiend who introduced himself as Count Alucard, died of cancer in March 2005. He was 92 years old.
sivad.jpg

* A version of this article appeared in the Memphis Flyer in 2010 —- but without all the nifty links and embeds. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

WMC Has Something to Say About Uranus

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2018 at 5:55 PM

Gaze upon Uranus!
  • Gaze upon Uranus!
I think we have to assume the folks at WMC TV, Channel 5, knew exactly what they were doing when they titled this Breakdown segment, "Why Uranus is Visible Without Binoculars."
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Q&A with Eric Barnes, President and Executive Editor of The Daily Memphian

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 5:49 PM

Eric Barnes - CHRIS DAVIS
  • Chris Davis
  • Eric Barnes
The Daily Memphian, a new, ambitiously scaled and digital-only print news source, launched online this week. When the venture was announced earlier this year, the company's president and executive editor Eric Barnes said such a venture became necessary when Memphis' traditional "newspaper of record," the Gannett-owned Commercial Appeal, lost considerable editorial autonomy. Many of the new startup's first hires were marquee reporters and columnists siphoned away from the CA — refugees from the increasingly non-local local newspaper.

Barnes recently spoke with The Flyer in a brief but far-ranging conversation about sustainability, availability, representative news rooms, and the potential risks and rewards of going big and all digital.

Memphis Flyer: Obviously, you're not starting from nothing. You're building off The Daily News' legacy with so much banner talent direct from The Commercial Appeal. But with this launch, The Daily Memphian goes from zero to light speed in some ways. There's lots of digital news out there, but a startup daily of this scale is barely charted territory. Do you feel the eyes of the industry on you or are you too busy to worry about all that?


Eric Barnes: I’m not worried about industry pressure, and there are people watching us. It’s been interesting. When we started talking to people nationally about other startup digital dailies, we talked to everybody from this really cool little website in Philadelphia to the Graham family that used to own The Washington Post and still owns a bunch of TV stations. It became clear that what we were after was quite a bit bigger and more ambitious than what other people were doing — and they were still incredibly encouraging about doing it.

Most people that have started something like this — for profit or nonprofit — have started very small and grown. We made the calculated decision that we would go big and launch with a really big staff, making a lot of noise by hiring talented, popular writers. And we would come out with a big editorial mission rather than a small mission we’d then expand upon. I think by and large nobody’s done that. At least none I’ve found. Though I’m sure someone from Des Moines or somewhere will call me tomorrow and I don’t mean any disrespect.

Subscription is hard. The tech is hard. The customer service is crazy hard. And on top of the mechanics, you also need unique content people are willing to pay for in addition to what they already pay just for digital access. And all of that's in the context of a redundant media environment where the same information may be available in other spaces, often for free. How are you navigating all of this?

A few things. We wanted to come out with a good subscription signup process. So we went with a company called Piano. They handle everybody from Condé Nast’s online magazines on down. We wanted it to be simple, so there’s only one offer. We’ll have other offers down the road. But we wanted to be $7 a month, first month free. Don’t have to think about it or choose. I think a lot of online publications fail because they make it so hard to sign up. There are lots of options. You’ve got to tie it to your print subscription. You’ve got to enter a special code. It’s all intentional and understandable, but we wanted to keep it simple.

I’m probably going to overuse the word sustainability, so I’ll apologize for that in advance. You guys had, I think, $7 million at startup, which is pretty great. But this is a business where community-spirited billionaires with nothing but the best of intentions have struggled with the cost of building and keeping modern newsrooms. Is there enough revenue and readership in Memphis to support two full capacity dailies?

Obviously, we think so, but it’s not proven yet. We think our projections are modest and doable. We’re talking about, by year 5, having over 20,000 paid subscribers at a relatively low price point. We may go up from $7, but we’re not going to go up dramatically.
I’m not going to give you the paid subscription numbers that we have now, but I will say we’ve exceeded our expectations at launch quite dramatically. So, early signs are good but there’s no doubt it’s unproven. This is uncharted territory. I think we do know, to be a daily news source of high quality, and have the number of journalists you need to do that, I don’t think it can be free. There’s a place for free papers, I’m not saying it’s an impossible model. But to have a newsroom of over 20-people, covering the city on a daily basis, there’s not enough ad dollars out there. So many advertising dollars go to Google and Facebook, and there’s not enough left for the rest of us. We are going to have advertising, and we do have advertising. And we’ve exceeded our numbers on that too. But there’s definitely risk involved.

Do you hope to eventually be fully reader supported? You throw out the number 20,000 paid subscribers in 5 years. With $7 a month subscriptions, is that the number or is there a target number of subscribers for reader-supported sustainability?

Our goal is definitely to be sustainable so we don’t have to live grant to grant and constantly be raising money. For us to fulfill a mission of high quality journalism, people are going to have to participate in that. You see it at the national level. At the big metro papers like Boston.com, Philly.com, Seattle — papers that are below the New York Times but bigger than Memphis. They’re all going harder and harder on their pay wall. And they’re seeing success. It all comes back to, whether you’re for profit or not, you want to run your publication like a business. You want to pay your own way and don’t want to be forever dependent on fundraising.

Non-profit has been a big buzz in media for a while and I get a lot of it. But what I often find myself telling people is it's not some kind of magic status that makes all the sustainability problems go away. All the same essential challenges exist. You’ve got to attract and retain an audience while also covering payroll. And you've got to provide content people want badly enough to pay for it. So maybe we can address myths and realities of non-profit, and how maybe it changes what you do as a publisher.

It doesn’t change a lot. There aren’t a lot of limitations that come with that status. We can’t do endorsements, but I don’t know that we would have done endorsements anyway. More and more local papers are moving away from endorsements. There are at least 200 non-profit news sources online around the country. Some have chosen a niche or advocacy, but there’s a full range of stuff. I tell people all the time, one of the most successful businesses in Memphis has to be Methodist hospitals, and they’re a non-profit. But a very sustainable non-profit. Revenue producing. High-quality employer and a big contributor to the community. I’m with you 100%, non-profit doesn’t solve the problem. And non-profit doesn’t make it easier.

You say you can’t endorse. But does this change in any way how you cover government or politics otherwise? Also, you’re a non-profit, but you sell ads? How does that work?

It does not affect the way we’re covering government or politics. There is a difference between advertising and sponsorship and if we bring stuff in that’s deemed to be advertising in the eyes of the IRS, it probably means we end up paying taxes on it. And that’s fine.

Watching our non-profit cultural institutions grow over the years I’ve noted how they are shaped by and service their audience and donor community — which they should, and even have to to survive. But it’s not the same as reflecting and serving the community at large. That’s a tough line to walk and I wonder how will TDM be publicly and proactively transparent?

One thing is, we’re trying to be as accessible as possible to civic groups, clubs, churches, or anybody who wants to get one of us to come speak. And I don’t mean that in a token way. It’s very interesting to meet people and hear what they like and what they are interested in and want. The board is transparent. All the board members are listed on the website. Beyond that, there are some things we won’t be transparent about. Somebody said everything we do editorially should be transparent and public. But I’m not going to do that. There are a lot of stories we’re working on and we want to be first to publish. So there’s a certain amount of privacy. In the end, what matters is what we do on the site and that we’re judged by the work we do on the site.

Can the public view your financials? See big donors. Is any of that required on your 990 tax form?

Everything required to be on 990s will be on 990s. The money’s been donated anonymously and that’s kosher. The money went through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and so that’s not required to be disclosed.

A lot of pre-launch criticism has focused on representation in the newsroom. I don't want to be too redundant, but I tend to agree that when you take a birds eye view — or almost any view — there does appear to be a crisis of representation in Memphis print media. Do you think it’s a crisis? And, given an opportunity to build a newsroom from the ground up in a majority African-American city did you have any kind of strategy for building a more representative newsroom?

We were very intentional in trying to build as diverse a newsroom as we could. Both male and female and with people of color. We got close with female participation. We’re somewhere in the 45-percent range. We fell short on what we would have liked for people of color. We’re going to be 20-25-percent African American. That’s pretty standard. I’m not making excuses, but that’s just kind of the world we live in. The number of people of color in journalism is very, very small. The CA was in that range. Otis Sanford has talked at length about it. This has been a problem as long as he’s been in journalism. Even when newspapers were making huge profits, they were not able or did not find ways to crack that code and find ways to make newsroom more representative.

When we were hiring we had criteria. We wanted people with a print journalism background. We wanted people who had daily or near daily experience because the grind of that is not to be taken lightly. And we wanted people who are in Memphis and had covered Memphis for a long time. That meant we weren’t going to go out of market. And we weren’t going to hire kids out of college. So our pool of people was very small. That also meant, when a handful of African Americans turned us down for various reasons, our pool got really, really small. I’m proud of the people we’ve hired.

I get it. We see the world through our own eyes. I try see the world as broadly as I can but I’m still a 50-year-old white guy from Tacoma, Washington. That’s why it’s important for all companies, maybe newsrooms in particular, to be diverse. Because we see things through our own lens. The other part of this, I’ve said, and will keep saying, is that we should be judged by the work we do. If day after day after day the front page is a bunch of 60-year-old white guys who work and live on the Poplar corridor, then I’ve failed miserably. If the stories we write about don’t look like Memphis in all its complexity and diversity then we’ve failed.

We'll come back to this more in depth later. I also want to talk about the digital divide a little. And also briefly, because I want to revisit this in depth at a later date in regard to another project I'm working on. But the post-pulp environment creates information monopolies. There's this idea that "everybody has a phone," but in reality there are so many obstacles to digital access. Is there a strategy for serving the whole community or are we approaching a kind of trickle-down theory of information?

We are going to be as aggressive and smart and creative as we can be in getting access to The Daily Memphian regardless of whether or not they can afford it. We don’t want to leave people out. Simple things. I believe we’re already free in the Shelby Co. libraries. We’ll get to the suburban libraries soon. We’re free to all teachers. We’ll possibly be free in schools and other public spaces where we can take down the paywall and make access available. Then we’re going to talk to more and more people. And I’m open to ideas about how we balance financial sustainability with access.

And can I say one more thing on the diversity front?

Sure.

We will be starting an internship program that's for everybody — black, white, male, female. But we will have a particular emphasis for people of color getting into journalism. That's another small but important way we can start getting more African-Americans, and more people of color into journalism.

The Daily Memphian is available now at  dailymemphian.com

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Friday, August 10, 2018

"Memphis Most" Promotion Showcases Parking Lot Under Interstate

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 2:16 PM

img_9777.jpg
You know what? I'm not going to complain. It could have been worse. It could have been.  Given the Gannett-owned Commercial Appeal's batting average on stuff like this lately, we should all be thankful that the background photograph for this self-promoting ad was taken in Memphis. You can even see a little skyline in the upper left.
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But mostly, it's just a shot of Bass Pro's southern parking lot.
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Under the interstate.
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This isn't a recent issue. The ad's from July. But, like they say, if you haven't read it, it's still a parking lot under the interstate.

That's so Memphis. To somebody. 

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sinclair/Tribune Mega-Merger Collapses. What Does it Mean for WREG?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 11:37 AM

Race to the Bottom
  • Race to the Bottom
The controversial, law-bending $3.9 billion merger of Tribune Media and Sinclair TV collapsed Wednesday, August 8th, when Tribune Media's board voted to terminate the deal.

The merger, which seemed likely, given the FCC's initial willingness to misapply the outdated "UHF discount" rule, became considerably less certain last month when the FCC criticized Sinclair, casting doubt on Sinclair's proposed divestitures, which might amount to divestiture in name only. Or, per the actual concern, "sham transactions."

Historically, Sinclair's content has been right-wing. Recently, it has become overtly Trumpian, with mandates for local stations to air editorial segments by Boris Epshteyn, the Russian-born Republican political strategist and investment banker who is now the "chief political analyst" for Sinclair. Epshteyn was also a senior advisor in Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.


The president has been more than happy to return the favor. 


What made Trump's endorsement especially troublesome — even for him — is the fact that Sinclair's stations operate unbranded. So, in terms of affiliation, the Sinclair stations the president endorses often are actually affiliates of the NBC, ABC, CBS networks he criticizes.

And some Sinclair stations are FOX affiliates. Welcome to the media ownership funhouse.

While much attention is focused on the big, national networks such as CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc., Sinclair has been creating a vast web of local, network-affiliated stations. Local TV news has more reach than all four major cable news stations combined.

In addition to ending the merger, Tribune is suing Sinclair.

The stake in this deal for Memphians was news station WREG Channel 3. It now appears that for the foreseeable future, Memphis' Channel 3 will remain a Tribune Media property.

Bye, Boris. 
Boris Epshteyn — Not coming to WREG.
  • Boris Epshteyn — Not coming to WREG.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Shirtless Man Celebrates 20 Years of NGAF

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 2:50 PM

Stay shirtless, my friends.
  • Stay shirtless, my friends.
What are you looking at? Never mind, I know. You're looking at me. And, with a lusciously lumpy dad-bod like this one, why wouldn't you be? Besides, that was the whole point of this Shirtless Man fiasco, wasn't it? To be seen? To make my pale flab stand out, establishing the lean, muscular soul beneath it all — the fearless manufacturer of creative nonfiction? Truth be told, I was scared to death. Twenty years later, photographic evidence of my skinful romp across the pages of the 1998 Memphis Flyer's "summer issue" still fills this considerable gut with butterflies.

Angry vampire butterflies zooming on meth.

What were we thinking? There was no real precedent for stunts like this. There was no Sacha Baron Cohen out on the road, erasing the boundaries between reality and satire. The Daily Show wouldn't launch for another year. But there I was, finally discovering an application for my weird Theatre & Media Arts degree, standing in the offices of The Commercial Appeal, applying for a writing job, as shirtless as the day I was born.

"Why?," you might ask. I certainly have, many times. After all these years the best answer I've come up with is also a question: "Why do people jump out of airplanes?"
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In 1998, I toiled most days in a windowless room in the Flyer's old offices on Tennessee St., cold-calling potential classified advertising customers. I'd only just begun to do a little freelance writing on the side and was certain that nobody would be interested in this cockamamie idea I'd cooked up with my friend and and fellow wannabe writer
Jim Hanas. I can still remember the confused look on Flyer editor Dennis Freeland's face as he repeated the original pitch back to me.

"So you just take your shirt off and go out and do things?" he asked, blinking doubtfully. Like his eyes might be undressing me against their will. "What kinds of things?"

"Oh, you know," I answered, making things up on the fly because I honestly hadn't thought that far ahead yet. "Test drive cars, apply for a loan, try to get a job, buy a shirt, go to a topless club." Next thing I knew, I was on assignment and negotiating with a security guard at the Peabody Rooftop Party.

"You need to put a shirt on, sir," [the guard] says, sidling up to me.

"But I thought this was a party."

"It is a party, sir, but you need to put a shirt on."

"What kind of party is that?"

"It's a private party open to the public for a $5 cover charge."

"And I have to wear a shirt?"

"We prefer it."

"So I don't have to wear a shirt if I don't want to?"

"You need to put a shirt on, sir."

"But look at this sunburn I have here. Terribly painful. OWWWWWWWW! Jesus that hurts to touch it."

"I know how painful that can be, but you need to wear a shirt."

"Do I have to button it?"

"No."

"Can I just wear a vest?"

"You can just wear a vest."

"Do I have to button that?"

"No."
It was really just one shirtless fat guy. Mother was so proud.
  • It was really just one shirtless fat guy. Mother was so proud.
The original shirtless package spawned two sequels. Because I don't know how to relax I turned my honeymoon into a working getaway, and wrote about the big boy's swinging European vacation for the Flyer. The whole original adventure was recreated in a multi-page spread for a popular women's magazine for men. Rose McGowan was Maxim's cover girl for March 1999, but I was the hot topless attraction inside.

A paraphrased but very close to accurate note from my Maxim editor: "Can you give us the same story but take out the philosophy?"
Real v Fake
  • Real v Fake
I couldn't. Which is to say I didn't really know what that meant. So wrote the thing and instructed them to cut anything deemed too philosophical, which they did. They also manufactured a fictional origin story — In the Maxim version I'd become shirtless because gas splashed on my shirt while filling up my car. Hated that part because this was always supposed to be a true story. Right down to the scotch and chocolate milk. But the check cashed.

I might describe "Shirtless Man" as my "Freebird," but, as it happens, I've also written exactly one song that people ask me to play over and over again.

I'm a two-hit wonder!

But Shirtless Man's sordid tale of insecurity and sideboob, wrapped up in tragically fake machismo, has taken on a life of his own. A few years back he was reborn on social media when Memphis artist/photographer Jonathan Postal took a photo originally snapped in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and photoshopped it Zelig-like into historical scenes, alongside Abraham Lincoln, Bob Dylan, and Martin Luther King. Twenty years after the eye-assaulting fact — after filling a wall with awards for investigative reporting, disaster coverage, consumer affairs reporting, beat reporting, feature writing, criticism, and blogging — it's a little weird that somebody always hollers out "Shirtless Man!" whenever I appear in any official capacity. Not that I'd prefer things any other way.
Traumatizing entire families since 1998. - DAN BALL
  • Dan Ball
  • Traumatizing entire families since 1998.
I hadn't realized it was my shirtless anniversary until primo photographer Dan Ball posted a previously unpublished photo from the original adventure to his Facebook page. It's a great shot, considering the subject matter. And much to my surprise, seeing in a public space didn't induce the usual wincing shudder. In fact, I wanted to share it right away.

Maybe, after 20 years, I'm actually a little bit proud of that guy. 
Also pictured, Workingman's Sideboob. - DAN BALL
  • Dan Ball
  • Also pictured, Workingman's Sideboob.




 

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Commercial Appeal Sees Blurry Future for Ivan Rabb: Dammit!

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 10:51 AM

The Gannett owned Commercial Appeal has asked readers an important question: "Where will Ivan Rabb fit in?"
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Judging by the portrait of Dillon Brooks, Rabb will be the blurry power forward in the top-right background. Dammit. 
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Body Double: Trump's Other Memphis Connection

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 5:11 PM

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Of course, we all remember the time Donald Trump cost 2,500 Memphians their jobs. Don't we? You know, that time when the POTUS of today totally went after Holiday Inn like it was NATO? No? Well, it happened, and here's a link. That inglorious moment isn't Trump's only Memphis connection either. It's certainly not the weirdest. That distinction may belong to this little gem right here. It's not new information, but it's new to us and exactly the kind of thing we here at Fly on the Wall like to pass along.

There's no giving this devil his due here. The Donald in Chief says "fake news," when he means, "news I don't like." But way out there on the fringes of this textbook B.S. there is — as there always is with presidents and other public figures — plenty of grotesque caricature, propaganda, and general misrepresentation; all magnified in a politically polarized, social media environment.The modern myth-busters at Snopes.com have compiled a list of photo-manipulations that have been widely shared on the W.W. web. Some of them impossibly flattering, some not so flattering. In the latter category, among the most recognizable is an image that's been used to make the golf and fast food-loving POTUS appear even more bloated and slovenly than he is in real life. Turns out, in this instance, Trump's nearly crimson face has been pasted onto the body of Memphis' infamous bad-boy pro golfer, John Daly. And yeah, in the original Big John's teeing off while puffing on a cigarette. Like you do. If you're John Fucking Daly.
John Fucking Daly
  • John Fucking Daly
This isn't the first time internet artists have recognized Daly's viral potential. It all began when somebody unearthed this photo, which is basically a Renaissance painting.
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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Commercial Appeal Mistakes Memphis Band Lucero for Mexican Entertainer — DAMMIT

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 12:39 PM

Whoa! It's totally like we're seeing double.
  • Whoa! It's totally like we're seeing double.
Everybody makes mistakes, even your pesky Fly on the Wall. But the particular mistake I'm highlighting here makes me think it's time to abandon any faint shreds of almost certainly false hope we may have harbored that whatever's wrong at the Gannett-owned Commercial Appeal will work itself out.

When the bot and/or out-of-towner editing Memphis' daily paper can't distinguish between Lucero the Mexican entertainer and Lucero the enormously popular Memphis band, there's a problem. When said bot and/or out-of-towner turns to a general image search instead of scanning the local paper's own archives, it's really bad.

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The error was made announcing the lineup for the Mempho Music Festival

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Commercial Appeal Names Harding Academy Volleyball "Volleyball of the Year"

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 8:25 PM

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In the photograph to the right you can see an unnamed woman* holding onto a very special volleyball named Lauren Deaton. For those who don't already know her, Lauren is a Harding Academy volleyball. Go Lions! She was very recently named "Volleyball of the Year"  by The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' once proud, now Gannett-owned daily newspaper.

Lauren's father Wilson, the sports equipment whose life was famously celebrated in the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, had nothing to say about his daughter's achievement. He just sat there in silence, his crimson smudge of a face an infuriating enigma.  It was almost like he was saying, "Why wouldn't she be Volleyball of the Year?" So I got defensive and said, "What's your point?" But he just kept his silence while somehow also asking, clear as day, "Are you saying my daughter Lauren's not good enough to be Volleyball of the 
Wilson Deaton
  • Wilson Deaton
Year?" And I said "no" and we went on like that for some time before Wilson finally thanked me and bounced down the sidewalk. I watched him roll to his Mini Cooper where Lauren had been patiently waiting, also not saying a thing.

As the pair drove off I couldn't help but think I'd get better interviews if the CA would give awards to people instead of stupid balls. Maybe that's racist of me. I just don't know anymore.
———————————————————————————————
*Congratulations to the actual Lauren. Awesome job! We're sorry the CA makes it sound like you're gear. 

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The CA Takes a P — Dammit Gannett!

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Look, Gannett, it's not that I've got so much going on in my life that I don't have time for your nonsense. It's just that there's so much more interesting nonsense to think about. Like, "Can anybody else see that face in the leaves outside my writing window or have I finally gone starkers?"
I've started calling him Leaf Garrett
  • I've started calling him Leaf Garrett
But I can't think about that now. Now I have to think about this. 
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Is it a "P" that's missing or an apostrophe? Maybe the reader worries for "parents in decline." Maybe she worries for "aren'ts" in decline. That doesn't make any sense unless kids today are moving away from contractions. I suppose I could scan the syndicated advice column to discover the truth of the matter but if I'm honest with myself I probably wasn't gonna read this filler content anyway. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Dammit Gannett and other Media Follies — Long Weekend Roundup!!!

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2018 at 3:52 PM

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I planned to write a whole column goofing on WMC’s time machine. See, the well-intentioned tweet above notes that the City of Memphis was created 199 years ago (in 1819) and goes on to note that WMC has been “in love ever since” even though the 70-year-old media company was founded in 1948. Maybe you can be in love with Memphis retroactively, and find some kind of familial agape love to get you through the years of slave trading and civil strife. But who has time to dwell on that while Memphis still still has a dying daily newspaper to kick around? Especially when that newspaper has a time machine of its own. And instead of going back in time and not completely screwing itself up, the Gannett-owned sadness chose instead to bring back Houston High’s 2015 soccer team to win the state championship.
"Stop, you're BREAKING THE TIMELINE!!!"
  • "Stop, you're BREAKING THE TIMELINE!!!"


This weird and probably misplaced act of heroism seems to have adversely affected the timeline, devolving Gannett’s copyediting staff to the point they can’t spell the name of their own damn newspaper. 
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And, perhaps most alarmingly of all, the CA has begun to insert random photos of Burt Reynolds into its content. And not the good ones, either.
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Friday, April 27, 2018

Dammit Gannett: Fabulous Prizes Edition

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 9:27 AM

Picking on the Commercial Appeal used to be its own reward, back in the day when they were the big corporate Goliath and we were the little dude with a slingshot. As the paper has continued to decline, it's become a weekly, though not entirely joyless, chore. Still, it's good to feel appreciated. So thanks, Jim Palmer, for this cartoon inspired by Fly on the Wall's regular "Dammit Gannett" feature.
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Jim's a first generation Memphis Flyer vet who contributed illustrations for columns by Lydel Sims. He's the creator of Memphis' own Li'l E and your Pesky Fly's very favorite cartoon about the journalist's life. 
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