Thursday, January 17, 2019

On Gannett, The Commercial Appeal, and Digital First

Dead Pools & Death Stars

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 1:59 PM

"I am most afraid of our important, consequential work getting upended because our business model is further disrupted."

- Commercial Appeal managing editor Mark Russell in an interview published by Poynter.org, 1-13-2019.

"In April, The Post published the editorial headlined 'As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved,' calling on Alden Global Capital to sell the newspaper after it cut 30 more positions in the newsroom, leaving it at a fraction of its size just a few years ago. Then in May, three top figures at the Denver Post, including its former owner, resigned amid budget and staff cuts."

- From an AP report about Alden-backed Digital First Media's move to acquire The Commercial Appeal's parent company, Gannett Co. Published 1-14-2019.

If MNG/Digital First Media successfully acquires The Commercial Appeal's parent company, Gannett Co., it's time to start a dead pool. Only, instead of celebrity deaths, we'll bet on daily newspapers. Also, I'm calling first dibs: The Commercial Appeal, 2021 — RIP. 

After news broke that Digital First media was making moves to acquire Gannett, many local media watchers wondered if there was any juice left to squeeze from Memphis' already greatly diminished daily newspaper. It's a fair question, but only a tiny piece of the bigger picture. Whether or not the CA can withstand another round of screw-tightening, the market's certainly interested in finding out. Gannett stock rose 21 percent following the announcement and, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, this makes it harder for Gannett to, "justify turning its back on the offer," or go forward with plans to expand its own digital footprint by purchasing Gizmodo Media (Previously Gawker Media).

Frankly, if not for Digital First's reputation as "The Death Star of newspaper chains," the company's reasons for making an offer and encouraging Gannett to pursue other offers, might sound downright noble.
From the WSJ:

In the letter, Digital First accused [Gannett's] management of poor stewardship and of damaging the company’s financial position by making several “aspirational digital deals” that haven't paid off. It demanded that Gannett put all digital acquisitions on hold and hire bankers to review strategic alternatives. 

That sounds like the Gannett we all know. But to extend the Star Wars metaphor, this isn't Han Solo swooping in with his blaster to save the day. To borrow from Will Bunch at Philly.com:

"The dirty little secret is that DFM learned — at least for now — that it can sell longtime readers an inferior (or, to use the technical term, crappier) newspaper and only 10 percent of reach each year will cancel. Do the math, though, and it’s clear that much of America outside the biggest cities will become news deserts by the early 2020s, after Smith and his fellow hedge-funders have sucked out every last drop."

Is Bunch being alarmist? He's certainly not the only media watcher to sense a disturbance in the force. I caught a similar chill and the market's positive response to the Digital First news instantly called to mind a line in James T. Hamilton's 2003 book All The News That's Fit to Sell. When applied to the information business, economics really earns its reputation as "the dismal science."

Hamilton's book is aging well. It delves into how markets shape media bias with attention paid to how little the value of well-informed communities has to do with the value of commodified media product. It more or less describes and defines the kinds of changes we've all observed in local media markets. It's what happens when the public's interest shapes public interest and profit drives all.

via GIPHY

What happened to Alderaan can happen here.

The Digital First news took me back to that happy moment in 2018 when The Daily Memphian, a new startup, siphoned away much of the CA's top talent, effectively cloning the ailing Gannett property in a locally owned but digital-only environment. Most media consumers cheered, but I went full Cassandra on social media and any excitement generated by the prospect of a new information startup was dampened by the sense that we'd now crossed some kind of risk threshold. Every media  startup's a dicey proposition; now the Gannett-damaged CA had been cut in half — its talent gutted by a digital twin with good intentions. The idea of having no daily non-broadcast news source in Memphis within the next decade had to be seriously entertained.

In spite of recent and well-justified optimism, I once again submit my modest observation: The sky is falling. Maybe not for everybody and maybe not right now. But someday and soon and as reported elsewhere, there are no good guys in this deal.  But if Digital First takes Gannett there won't be a Commercial Appeal in 2022.

Write it down. 

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Local 24 Quietly Deletes Controversial Tweet

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 10:00 AM

WATN, Local 24, had an interesting way of framing news about Cyntoia Brown's commuted life sentence.

Brown, the teenage sex trafficking victim who killed a john when she was 16, was granted executive clemency Monday, January 7th.

Here's WATN's original tweet on the story:

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Local 24 quietly deleted the tweet Tuesday, after it started receiving negative attention. The account has made no official mention of the deletion, nor has anybody accounted for the unfortunate framing of a tragic and complicated story.

Commissioner Tami Sawyer cuts to the heart of things:


Over the past week, MLK50 founder Wendi Thomas has been taking local broadcast stations to task for the huge role they play in linking African-Americans and criminality. She's been particularly vocal about the number of black faces linked to crime that show up in local social media feeds whether the news is local or not.


If you want to know just how disproportionately crime is reported in the Memphis market, the Memphis Flyer does an occasional survey.

This isn't a condition unique to Memphis and since, at a national scale, local TV news stations reach more viewers than all the top cable stations combined, it's fair to say that regional broadcasters across America play a huge role in shaping urban narratives related to race and crime. Local 24's tweet is just the latest example, and an especially egregious one. 

By deleting the tweet, someone has acknowledged its inappropriateness or, at least, the potential for controversy. But deletions like this require some accompanying public statement. For example, when WMC distanced itself from a deleted tweet reading: "Nashville is still trash,"  a subsequent tweet explained the deleted post didn't represent the station's "values or views."

Whether there's an accounting or not, here's something to think about. Negligent and incendiary headlines and the over-association of black and brown faces with violent crime isn't new, and neither is criticism pointing it out. The people responsible for organizing and distributing the news in 2019 know exactly what they are doing. They do it anyway. 

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Memphis is Funny, 2018: The Year in Parody

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2019 at 2:20 PM

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It's been a great year for Fly on the Wall's fake news team Davis Christopher and Peripheral Gibson. Together our parodists covered everything from Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn's hair being identified as a brain-eating alien parasite, to riverfront development. Here are the top 5 Fly on the Wall parodies of 2018, in no particular order.

1.Tom Lee Park Redesign 'Totally Unrelated To Atlantis' New Riverfront Chief Says
POSTED BY PERIPHERAL GIBSON

At a press conference in their Front Street headquarters on Tuesday, Carol Coletta, head of the Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP), previously called the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), told reporters that her organization’s plans to dramatically alter the landscape of Tom Lee Park have nothing to do with her predecessor’s ambitious project to raise the lost, subaquatic city-state of Atlantis from the depths of the Mississippi River.

“Our plan will activate the park space for all Memphians, and make it more attractive to Memphis In May festival goers,” said Coletta. “It’s totally unrelated to the RDC’s plans to raise Atlantis.”

Coletta joined the RDC in March, replacing Benny Lendermon, who had announced the public-private partnership's multimillion dollar plan to spend millions of dollars on targeted nuclear explosives that would trigger powerful earthquakes bringing the long hidden city/state of Atlantis back to the Above World, presumably to rule over a golden age of peace and prosperity for Memphis and the Mid-South region. *CLICK TO CONTINUE READING*

2. Men at War
Old Friends Won't Let Women Bring Them Down
POSTED BY DAVIS CHRISTOPHER


Gunner Armstrong shakes his head, and digs into his backpack to retrieve a freshly purchased bottle of pepper spray. “I don’t know how effective this stuff is,” he mumbles, pulling on his reading glasses and skimming the directions. “I had a friend in college who would get a couple of beers in him and squirt it in his mouth like it was breath freshener.”

Like many manly men today, Armstrong lives in abject terror. “You never can be too careful with women being what they are,” he says, expressing an increasingly common, and deeply masculine sentiment. At least twice a week Armstrong says he finds himself walking a block or more past his house, keys clenched firmly in his fist like claws, because he’s convinced a woman is following him home, possibly to accuse him of harassment. “At some point I’ll find a nice bright street light and stop there to pretend like I'm taking a phone call or something. I'll just let them walk on past, you know?” Armstrong says. “It’s probably all in my imagination. But like dad always said: better safe than hungover and accused of some bullshit you totally don’t remember doing.” CLICK TO CONTINUE READING.
3. Great Works of Literature as Written by the Shelby Co. Election Commission
With Help from The Memphis City Council
POSTED BY DAVIS CHRISTOPHER


Emboldened by national attention resulting from the careful and creative wording of current ballot amendments, the Shelby County Election Commission has committed considerable time and evident talent to improving the greatest works of world literature. While Fly on the Wall has yet to see a completed text, 5 first line samples were leaked this morning, revealing the epic scope of the Commission's City Council-aided writing project.

Moby- Dick
Herman Melville with the Shelby Co. Election Commission


“Shall Ishmael serve as a common spoken or chirographic signifier not expressly for greeting, but sometimes for gaining the narrator’s attention?” CLICK TO CONTINUE READING

4. Consultants Plan Monument To Consultants On Memphis Riverfront
POSTED BY PERIPHERAL GIBSON


Claiming they have “bridged the gap between perception and reality,” a group of consultants has proposed Consultants’ Park, which will be dedicated to the many consultants hired to determine what Memphis should do with its riverfront.

“Since 1924, the city of Memphis has been trying to figure out what to do with this unique space, which overlooks one of the largest, brownest bodies of water in the world, and also Arkansas,” says the Preamble to the Executive Summary of the 2,667-page report issued by the Memphis Riverfront Consultants’ Coalition (MRCC). “Like the hundreds of consultants who came before us, we puzzled about how to polish Mud Island into a Mud Diamond. Then, three days into our recent ayahuasca trance charette, it suddenly hit us. What is more dependable and integral to the Memphis Riverfront experience than the Big Muddy? For the last century, the answer has been, consultants. That’s why we are executing Consultants’ Park, a reminder to all Memphis and the world that consultants matter, and that they must be paid.” CLICK TO CONTINUE READING

5. Citizens Organize to Protect Neighborhood Bar With Wall, Moat
POSTED BY DAVIS CHRISTOPHER

Community organizer Bing Hampton knows his audience. "Big Development's not gonna get their grubby paws on Alex's Tavern," he shouts into his trusty bullhorn. There's no reason to believe developers of any size are looking to acquire the Jackson Avenue institution, but that did not allay the concerns of roughly two-dozen Midtowners who waved signs with all-cap messages like "THE DIVE MUST SURVIVE," and answered back, "Hell no." CLICK TO CONTINUE READING

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Commercial Appeal Shares Holiday Story of Messiah-Like Christmas Stocking

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 11:20 AM

When the holidays get hectic and stressful it's good for the soul to pause and remember the true reason for the season: Selling shit. Anxious for this yearly opportunity to serve a special convergence of reader interest and advertiser need, many news organizations, including the one that publishes this blog, create special gift guides. That's why it's so nice that The Commercial Appeal went a completely different way and told the story of a magical Christmas stocking that suffers for your favorite cook.
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Wait, never mind. It's just another gift guide. That "suffers" bit was just a typo. Our bad. Fly on the Wall has been hoping for miracles lately, and we thought this might be one.

Dammit.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MLK50 Tapped to Join ProPublica's Local Reporting Network

Posted By on Wed, Dec 12, 2018 at 10:15 AM

Wendi Thomas
  • Wendi Thomas
A rare bit of good news for Memphis-area media consumers, especially those with a taste for investigative work.

ProPublica
, the Pulitzer-winning digital newsroom focused on investigative journalism in the public interest, has selected Wendi Thomas and her MLK50 Justice Through Journalism project, to participate in year two of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Thomas describes the announcement as a, “vote of confidence in the importance of this work.”

ProPublica’s Local News Network supports regional and local investigative journalism and MLK50 is one of 14 selected organizations.

From the ProPublica announcement:

"Through the program, participating reporters collaborate with ProPublica senior editors Charles Ornstein and Marilyn W. Thompson as they embark on investigative journalism within their communities. Two of the projects, based in Illinois, also will work with the staff of ProPublica Illinois. ProPublica reimburses one year’s salary and benefits for each of the participating reporters and also supports projects with its expertise in data, research and engagement elements of the work… Topics will include racial segregation, correctional facilities, emergency response, environmental regulation, profiteering and higher education." 

MLK50 is taking part in the general, local reporting category.

“While the past year has seen yet more cutbacks at local news organizations, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network has been a bright spot nationally,”  Ornstein said, in a written statement. “We couldn’t be happier with the accountability journalism produced by our inaugural class and are excited to pursue another year of investigative projects with moral force.”

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom and nearly 11 years old. It has been honored with four Pulitzer Prizes, three Peabody Awards, two Emmy Awards, and five George Polk Awards.

For more details about the partnership you can read MLK50's announcement here

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Comedian Benny Elbows Recovering After Shooting

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2018 at 1:58 PM

The very tall Mr. B. Elbows steps over a fence. From a Memphis Flyer cover story about Memphis Comedy.
  • The very tall Mr. B. Elbows steps over a fence. From a Memphis Flyer cover story about Memphis Comedy.
"Instead of dick picks, send supportive messages without any expectation that it will lead to sex," Memphis comedian Ben Fredrick aka Benny Elbows says in a Facebook post. It sounds like somebody is on the road to recovery.

Fredrick was shot during a carjacking attempt and the bullet lodged in his liver. "Currently, I’m in no pain and on no pain medication. Thank you to everyone who has reached out or visited," he wrote in a separate post.

Fredrick performs with The Bluff City Liars and was recently instrumental in bringing Kids in the Hall co-founder Kevin McDonald to Memphis for workshops and a show.

A Gofundme page has been set up to help defray medical expenses.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Hugh Freeze Talks About His Junk

"The Son of God, Jesus Christ, He Is The Only One I've Ever Met Who Can Handle My Junk"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 4:56 PM

Hugh Freeze
  • Hugh Freeze
"The son of God, Jesus Christ, He is the only one I've ever met who can handle my junk": Hugh Freeze, former coach for Briarcrest and Ole Miss who's been tapped to head Liberty University's football program.

Story here.

Make your own punchlines. Or retching noises.  

Stop, Look, Listen: Friedberg Germany Gives the King a Go

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 2:04 PM

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Sure, turning your two Mississippi River bridges into a nightly light-show is awesome; all the cool cities are doing that sort of thing, and it's something Elvis would have wanted, I'm almost certain. But Friedberg, Germany, where Sergeant Presley was stationed from October 1958 to March 1960, has taken advantage of a more subtle lighting opportunity that out-Memphises Memphis.

Check it out.

Elvis Presley Platz (Elvis Presley Square) in Friedberg, has been equipped with Elvis-themed pedestrian traffic lights. Green dancing Elvis means go; red singing Elvis means stop.

Wouldn't it be nice to see some of these downtown with Rufus Thomas in caution yellow showing us how to "Push & Pull?"

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Will The Commercial Appeal Face More Newsroom Layoffs?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2018 at 1:49 PM

Gannett: Newspapers lack resources to spellcheck their own names. Will likely cut more of these resources.
  • Gannett: Newspapers lack resources to spellcheck their own names. Will likely cut more of these resources.
Will The Commercial Appeal face more newsroom layoffs? Probably. Can the diminished daily newspaper withstand more cuts? It's hard to say. But before getting into any of that, I'd like to share a few of the things Maribel Wadsworth, president of USA Today Network, allegedly told Gannett employees during a company-wide conference call according to a report by The Nashville Scene. I'd then like to provide an easy to understand translation for folks who don't work in the print media and therefore won't be hip to the industry's famously colorful jargon.

• “As we continue this transition ... it's important to understand … that it will require us to think about our overall cost structure in alignment with profitability."

Translated: layoffs are coming.

• “Going forward, we will be a smaller company."

Translated: Layoffs are coming.

• “It’s gonna feel rocky at times. It just is. We just have to be very clear-eyed about that.”

Translated: Layoffs are coming.

Tennessean staffers were also told:

• “There is no plan for a mass layoff before Christmas.”

Translation: HAPPY NEW YEAR, SUCKERS!

None of this is surprising. Gannett's Q3 numbers weren't good. Digital growth isn't making up for losses in print and the company is looking to cut operating costs. In previous years, when the CA was a Scripps property, layoffs inevitably followed any efforts to recruit early retirees. It seems as though the trend will continue under Gannett. In November, a company-wide buyout offer targeted employees over 55 with more than 15-years experience. The deadline to take Gannett's offer of 30-35-weeks pay, and a possible bonus of up to $5,520 is December 10th. 

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Citizens Organize to Protect Neighborhood Bar With Wall, Moat

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2018 at 1:58 PM

Community organizer Bing Hampton knows his audience. "Big Development's not gonna get their grubby paws on Alex's Tavern," he shouts into his trusty bullhorn. There's no reason to believe developers of any size are looking to acquire the Jackson Avenue institution, but that did not allay the concerns of roughly two-dozen Midtowners who waved signs with all-cap messages like "THE DIVE MUST SURVIVE," and answered back, "Hell no."
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"We've started a GimmeGimme fund to build a wall around this treasured drinking establishment," says Hampton, whose career in activism began when he organized protests to prevent a new Taco Bell from being built over the old Taco Bell that was built over the even older Taliesyn Ballroom where British Punk band the Sex Pistols played on their disastrous 1978 American tour. Hampton says he's still sore about losing that fight but counts his campaign to prevent the Union Avenue Kroger from being built in Germantown as a total win.

"I've shown the power of getting out in front of a problems that don't yet exist," Hampton told the crowd, recalling how he was shocked at first by news that his favorite Midtown bar,  Zinnie's, was closing as the result of neighborhood gentrification. Then he was disgusted when he heard it probably had nothing to do with gentrification. Then he was dismayed when he learned that sometimes stories are complicated with many shifting perspectives and no discernible hero or villain.

"The big takeaway for me was, we've got to save Alex's," Hampton announced to even greater applause. "And Murphy's too," he added. "But not right now because you've got to start somewhere and Alex's seems doable. Besides, the Murphy's guy heckled my band once, so whatever, dude."

Hampton told Fly on the Wall he'd already raised $80 toward erecting "a substantial
Bing Hampton
  • Bing Hampton
   fence," but won't be able to move forward with his multi-phase plan until he hears back from tavern owner, Rocky Kasaftes, whom he's yet to contact.

"We want to do a crocodile moat too, or maybe a snake pit," Hampton said, in his address. "Snakes. Snakes. Snakes," the crowd chanted.

"It would be nice to see a developer eaten by either crocodiles or snakes," says former Midtown resident and dive bar enthusiast Chelsea Lamar. "I miss all these shithole places I used go to before I moved," she adds. Lamar, who swears "shithole" is a term of endearment, now lives in Cordova. "Even if I can't patronize any of these bars anymore, it comforts me just knowing that they're there," she says.
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Yes, this is a parody. Didn't you see the black and yellow tab up top?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Consultants Plan Monument To Consultants On Memphis Riverfront

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 11:49 AM

Sign greeting visitors to Consultants Park.
  • Sign greeting visitors to Consultants Park.
Claiming they have “bridged the gap between perception and reality,” a group of consultants has proposed Consultants’ Park, which will be dedicated to the many consultants hired to determine what Memphis should do with its riverfront.

“Since 1924, the city of Memphis has been trying to figure out what to do with this unique space, which overlooks one of the largest, brownest bodies of water in the world, and also Arkansas,” says the Preamble to the Executive Summary of the 2,667-page report issued by the Memphis Riverfront Consultants’ Coalition (MRCC). “Like the hundreds of consultants who came before us, we puzzled about how to polish Mud Island into a Mud Diamond. Then, three days into our recent ayahuasca trance charette, it suddenly hit us. What is more dependable and integral to the Memphis Riverfront experience than the Big Muddy? For the last century, the answer has been, consultants. That’s why we are executing Consultants’ Park, a reminder to all Memphis and the world that consultants matter, and that they must be paid.”
“That’s ‘Consultants’, plural,” says the first of the document’s 1,300 footnotes. “Because consultants love company.”

According to the design documents, Consultants’ Park will stretch the entire 2,348 mile length of the eastern bank of the Mississippi. It will include a specially designed “Consultants’ Safe Space Play Area”, where businesses can bring their consultants to frolic in the fresh, humid river air and socialize with other consultants. There will also be a Consultant’s Corner, where citizens can interact with and ask questions of a real live consultant, and then pay them directly in cash for their advice. “We see this as a way to get people off the streets and into cushy consulting gigs,” says the MRCC.

The centerpiece of the park will be a 1,923-foot tall statue of a consultant riding triumphant on a rearing steed. “It’s 1,923 feet tall, because 1923 was the year our consultant forefathers first discovered the Mississippi riverfront,” says the MRCC.
As for the rest of the 2,000+ mile park, the MRCC says “We’ll get food trucks or something.” 
Signage directing visitors to Consultants Park
  • Signage directing visitors to Consultants Park

The project is estimated to cost $1.2 billion. The MRCC points out that only $1 billion of the budget is allotted to consultant’s fees. “It’s a bargain for the taxpayers!”
As of press time, no city officials were available for comment.
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Yes, this is a PARODY. Didn't you see the black and yellow tab at the top.

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Roll Local with Memphis Made Comic, Stoned Ninja

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 11:43 AM

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Gabriel DeRanzo and Greg Cravens seem like unlikely partners. Cravens is a veteran illustrator, cartoonist, and comic strip creator. DeRanzo has a sterling reputation as a bartender, but when he and Cravens met at 901 Comics in a networking session for artists interested in contributing to Bad Dog comics first Memphis-made anthology of graphic fiction, he had no idea what he was doing. What did the inexperienced DeRanzo possess that nobody else had? A completed script. According to Cravens, who's been around the block a time or two, that made all the difference.

“Other people may have had ideas,” Cravens says, explaining why he gravitated toward DeRanzo. “But he had a completed 5-page script.” According to all involved, it wasn’t a very good 5-page script, but it was a spark — a beginning. There were plots to be hammered out and characters to develop. There was also an ethos to explore: The weed should be freed — and it would be too if not for those meddling, “Pharmaceutical companies, the alcohol industry, and organized crime," and money spent on “politicians to keep it illegal.”

Enter the Stoned Ninja. 

The meet-up where DeRanzo and Cravens first teamed up is part of the origin story for 901’s house brand, Bad Dog Comics, which published its second anthology earlier this month. Bad Dog will soon publish the second installment of DeRanzo and Cravens’ Stoned Ninja, which is currently receiving its finishing touches. Meanwhile, the creators continue to produce t-shirts and other fun, useful merchandise that, if things go according to plan, may ultimately position Stoned Ninja for wider distribution than most indie comics ever see. What has Stoned Ninja got that other indie comics don't? Its own brand of ninja-approved, 100 percent hemp rolling papers, that's what. 
Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2
  • Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2

“When I was a kid, comics were in every grocery store and quickie mart in the country, and they aren’t anymore,” Cravens says explaining the potential for head shops to expand comic distribution. “The market has narrowed down to where you have to go hard target search for a comic shop to go get comics,” he says. “What we’ve got is something we can sell in another store to another targeted audience. So, that’s the pitch when we approach larger publishers. There are potentially 25,000 more shops you can put your comic into, if you’ll just pay attention.”

“Given the content of the comic I figured there was no reason to go less than 100% pure hemp,” DeRanzo says of Stoned Ninja rolling papers. “So it’s as good a quality paper as anything out there and we’re offering fun packaging. On the inside flap there’s a comic and we’re going to change that flap every time we put in a new order. So Stoned Ninja will be like Bazooka Joe Bubble gum.”
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Stoned Ninja was originally inspired by the classic Kung Fu comedy Drunken Master, and developed as a means to explore pot culture beyond the usual burnout stereotypes.

“So I asked myself, if there can be a Drunken Master, why can’t there be a Stoned Ninja?” DeRanzo says.


Don’t anticipate kung fu Cheech and Chong, or Jackie Chan-inspired antics, even. Stoned Ninja is packed with fun stuff. Pizza boxes (featuring DeRanzo’s face) make cameos. The hero, Japanese American college student Kazunori Takagi, appears and disappears in clouds of dank smelling smoke. But, for being the story of a young man granted ninja superpowers by toking on a special strain of marijuana, the narrative content is fairly straight-faced.

For 10-years DeRanzo daydreamed about Stoned Ninja while he tended bar. “I had this insane amount of story content for movie ideas,” he says says. Comics weren’t in the plan so when Shannon Merritt from 901 said he wanted to start making comics DeRanzu said, “That’s great, I will buy your comics!”

“No,” Merritt answered. “I want you to help me make these comics.”

One problem: DeRanzo couldn’t draw. Okay, two problems: He had no experience writing either. But the characters were there. And after a decade of thinking about it, the stories were there too. So DeRanzo leaned on Cravens’ experience in graphic storytelling, and Cravens trusted DeRanzo’s vision. Inker Josh Lindsey has since joined the team.

“I drew the knives all wrong,” Cravens says, admitting a learning curve of his own. DeRanzo gave his illustrator some sharp examples as a gift. “I nearly cut my toe off twice,” Cravens says of his sample cutlery experience. But now his knives are proper.
Samples from Stoned Ninja
  • Samples from Stoned Ninja


"Right now we're trying to build the first six issue story arc at a pace that lets us be normal people. Once it's done we plan to release it on a monthly schedule. Ideally going mass distribution," DeRanzo says.

For the completely appropriate price of $4.20, comics are available locally at 901 Comics, Whatever stores, The Wild Hare smoke shop, Tobacco Zone, and Memphis Made Brewery. Stoned Ninja starter packs, which include a comic book, a t-shirt, and a pack of Stoned Ninja rolling papers are available online at stonedninjacomics.com.
DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey
  • DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Kevin the Kid

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 10:42 AM

Kevin McDonald
  • Kevin McDonald
If Monty Python are the Beatles of TV sketch comedy, The Kids in the Hall are Duran Duran. I borrowed that line from Kids co-founder Kevin McDonald, who’s been known to use it in his standup routine. It’s a great gag because it’s a terrible metaphor. If we’re being honest, The Kids are more like The Zit Remedy of comedy. Or maybe the Triumph of comedy. The point is, they were Canadian. Like Loverboy. They were also smart, savage, and over-the-top.

If the first season of SNL is the Citizen Kane of sketch comedy, Kids in the Hall is American Psycho (but Canadian); full of dark fantasy, cutting satire, satirical cutting. Etc.


Critics were mean to Brain Candy, but the Kids only feature film looks pretty good in hindsight. What’s not to appreciate about an evil Pharma company’s mad, mad, (mad, mad, mad) rush to commodify health, market an untested happy pill, and warehouse a nation? It’s a dark, borderline cynical fable of success and corruption that, for being implausibly white, pairs beautifully with Boots Riley’s surreal romp, Sorry to Bother You. Both are comic book-style journeys to the dark heart of the Winning class — A tour through the gilded rooms where the real party (inside the party) never stops and things are always weirder, dumber, and way more evil than you’d ever expect. But mostly dumber.

Local comedy fans have good reason to be excited. McDonald is on his way to town to lead a pair of workshops and perform an intimate program of comedy three ways: Standup, sketch, and an improv jam with Memphis’ own Bluff City Liars. Here’s what McDonald told The Flyer about being a Kid, teaching comedy to people who are terrible at comedy, and whether or not super dreamy TV host Darcy Pennell ever got to roll with The Hell Riders. (Spoiler alert: SHE DID!!!)



Memphis Flyer: Okay, I’ve been waiting 25-years at least to ask this question.

Kevin McDonald: Okay.

MF: Darcy Pennell. Did she ever finally get to roll with The Hell Riders?

KM: Sure. It’s my imagination, sure she did. She did a story. It was supposed to be a story for one weekend but she fell in love with Ace, the second in command which was frustrating because his name was Ace, so you’d think he’d be in command. But he was second in command. And she fell in love with him and they stayed together a year and then he broke her heart and she went back to the TV business. There, I made that up.

MF: Fantastic. Good for Darcy.

KM: Darcy Pennell was based on a local Toronto host of a TV talk show named Dini Petty.

MF: I didn’t know the character was inspired by one person. I’d assumed it was an amalgamation.

KM: Well, the name was. She sort of acted kind of forceful and strong. I can never do impressions, so I took this one aspect of her show that I really found interesting and I put it in Darcy Pennell.

MF: Nice. Can you tell me a little about the thing you’re doing in Memphis with Bluff City Liars? They said you’d reached out and found them. Is this a thing you do regularly? Find regional improv groups and then do workshops and a show with area comics?

KM: Yeah. I’ve been going around North America and doing that for the past four or five years. I spend weekends and I go to theaters with improv troupes and I teach them the Kids in the Hall method during the day. When I’m not doing cartoons or shooting stuff or doing my big podcast Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show — I’ve got one coming out with Weird Al Yankovic and Tim and Eric.

MF: Oh, cool. I just saw he’s on tour and coming to The Orpheum in Memphis. Weird Al. Not Tim or Eric.

KM: He won’t be there this weekend will he?

MF: No, I don’t think. I think that’s a 2019 date. I just saw the announcement.

KM: It would be amazing if he was. He’s the nicest guy in the world. He sorta looks like he’d be the nicest guy in the world, and he is the nicest guy in the world. Anyway, I spend my weekends teaching and performing like I will Sunday night.


MF: It’s a cool thing. Gives comics and writers access to your process. To a Kids in the Hall experience. And also we get a chance to see you perform. What’s the origin story for this project.

KM: Well, I moved to Winnipeg. And I thought I wouldn’t get as much TV and film work as I’d been getting. I still get a lot, but I have to fly to places. So I had to think of something else. So, I have these boring theories about sketch comedy that I’ve been bring people for years with at cocktail parties. And I was performing at Toronto Comedy Fest with Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall, and they asked if I could teach. And I said I could throw something together. And I kinda liked it. And then I developed this thing. I guess it’s been six years, actually.

MF: I remember one time hearing you talk about the writing process with Kids in the Hall. About how you really thought the writing was the strong suit. Is that a focus of the workshops?

KM: Yeah. I think writing was sort of our strength. I think we’re all really good performers, so that gets into the writing. I teach the students writing through improv. So writing and performing are the same thing. But it all starts with the idea. And I think we were all very good with the idea. Then we learned how to go from an idea to a whole sketch through improv. Then when we got the TV show we had to actually write them down. Then we became like writer-writers. And we had to be performer-performers.


MF: I don’t want to say dark, that’s kind of an attitude, but there was a tone. I was watching some old sketches today and thought they were funnier than I did the first go-round. And prescient.


KM: Funny you say that. There are some things about the show that if I watch today by accident I’ll be like, “Oh, why was I complaining about that scene? That’s a really good scene?”

MF: Funny that way. And the film Brain Candy, looking back from 2018 it’s like you were looking into a crystal ball. I know you were just responding to the advent of Prozac and drug marketing…

KM: Yeah, exactly, it was. It was Prozac, but that was like the beginning of all of it, wasn’t it?

MF: There’s that line after your character has been invited to the secret VIP party inside the VIP party and wakes up with two women in bed. They’re called over to sign legal waiver saying the night never happened.

KM: It’s nice of you to say that. I don’t know if it’s a fluke or…

MF: It’s anachronistic, I know...

KM: But I’m very proud of the movie. It’s not just a good comedy movie, it’s sort of a good movie movie. It is sketchy, but we wanted to do a movie that was a whole movie but had great parts because we were a sketch troupe. And by whole I mean W-H-O-L-E not H-O-L-E.

MF: Yeah, that would be awkward.

KM: Bad plan.

MF: When you go out and work with troupes are the ideas they bring in already kind of Kids in the Hally?

KM: I don’t think so. Maybe I’m to close to it. Sometimes it’s an idea that reminds me of an old idea of ours and they don’t know it. But a lot of times it’s more Saturday Night Live or Key and Peele. And a lot of times it’s just bad because a lot of them are just starting out on sketches and I know my first hundred were probably horrible.

MF: That’s the learning curve. But what do you do with that, just rip the Band Aid: “You’re horrible, let’s work on that.”

KM: At first I didn’t know what to do, but now I know how to work with lots of things. What we do is, on the first day I break everybody up into groups and we improvise. Then that afternoon we work on turning those improvs into sketches. But then they get homework. The have to bring in a comedy premise on Sunday. I pick my five favorites and we work on that all day. Sometimes there’s a lot of good ones.

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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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