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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Weekend Reading

This morning, I walked to Blue Star Cafe, sat down with a mocha and my most recent New Yorker, and read Jeffrey Goldberg's story about how Wal-Mart is trying to woo liberals. It is freaking fantastic. Do yourself a favor, and take a few minutes to read it.

I think I liked it so much because Goldberg so deftly parses the company's spin, which, let me tell you, is not an easy thing to do when you're writing about some little governmental agency here in Vermont, much less a multinational behemoth like Wal-Mart.

Goldberg writes:

There is great mistrust of the press at Wal-Mart headquarters. The chief spokeswoman for the company, a former A. T. & T. executive named Mona Williams, keeps on a shelf a framed cover of a 2003 issue of   Business Week featuring a story titled “Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?” The story asked tough questions about Wal-Mart’s influence on the American economy. “I keep that there to remind me never to trust reporters,” she said, without smiling.

Can you believe they don't trust reporters at Wal-Mart?

Goldberg writes extensively about the company's relationship with Washington-based PR firm Edelman, which is charged with helping the company reverse its negative public image. Edelman's 20 execs work in an area at the Wal-Mart home office called "Action Alley."

Sarah Clark was friendlier, but similarly suspicious. It was Clark who, without enthusiasm, brought me to Action Alley for a brief glimpse inside. Before opening the door, she instructed me not to write down anything I saw—the third time that this particular directive had been issued. In some ways, the home office is not unlike the headquarters of the National Security Agency—both contain a large number of windowless rooms and both are staffed by people who are preoccupied by the movement of strangers in their midst. The N.S.A.’s headquarters, though, seemed to me more aesthetically appealing; the Wal-Mart home office resembles a poorly funded elementary school.

Believe it or not, one of the people working in this "threadbare room" is former Howard Dean aide Fred Baldassaro.

One section of the story, which I think I'm going to print out and put on the wall above my desk, describes Goldberg's conversation with David Tovar, a Wal-Mart PR guy who used to work for Philip Morris. It's particularly interesting in light of the recent debate in Vermont over journalists who go to work for the government, or for private corporations.

Tovar offered a more self-interested explanation for his service in the public-relations industry: “Why did I go work for Philip Morris? Because I wanted to get out of my parents’ house. Why do people take jobs? It’s like in ‘Thank You for Smoking’ ”— Christopher Buckley’s satire of the Washington public-relations industry. “What do they all say in that book? ‘I’ve got to pay the mortgage.’ You know, everybody’s got to pay the mortgage.”

I read this and thought, I hope I never have to work in the PR industry to pay my mortgage.

Surprisingly, Goldberg actually made me feel somewhat more sympathetic to Wal-Mart, which I think means that it was a good story.

PS — I also liked this short story from last week's New Yorker: Playdate, by Kate Walbert.

March 31, 2007 at 11:05 AM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 30, 2007

NOW feedback

Now In January, Seven Days started publishing a weekly email newsletter, called NOW, which stands for Notes On the Weekend. I say Seven Days publishes it, but it's really me who puts it all together and sends it out to everyone (with invaluable design and technical help from 7D Creative Director Don Eggert).

In yesterday's newsletter, I included a request for feedback from subscribers, alongside my doofy picture. If people fill out our NOW feedback form by Tuesday at noon, they get included in a drawing for a $35 gift certificate to Three Tomatoes in Burlington.

So far, the response to my plea has been fantastic, and I have to admit, I'm a little surprised.

I was really skeptical about doing this newsletter when I first heard the idea. I get several email newsletters, and honestly, I rarely read them. But this one seems more fun to me — of course I can't tell if that's because it really is, or because I'm the one responsible for it. So it's encouraging to see so many emails from people saying they find NOW useful and interesting.

It's so weird to send out an email to thousands of people every week and never hear back from them. It's heartening to hear that I'm not just spewing fluff into the yawning, measureless void of the internet.

Anyhow, thanks. And if you're not getting NOW, you can sign up on the Seven Days homepage. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section of this post, but if you want to get entered into the Three Tomatoes drawing, you have to subscribe and fill out the feedback form.

March 30, 2007 at 09:46 AM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Weekly Post

Haik This week's post 'o the week is from former Burlington City Councilor Haik Bedrosian at BurlingtonPol. Haik and his wife just had baby #2.

He writes:

I have to be honest with you people. The blogger in me has been smashed in the face by a tidal wave called "baby"...

I feel ten years older since baby "Yanna" arrived ten days ago. To make matters worse for BurlingtonPol, it's like another eleven months until there's another local election to make fun of.

Monday I'll head back to work. I haven't shaved all week and there's a shocking amount of gray in my beard. I can feel myself softening. I no longer feel the sharp resentment I used to for the city's institutions- Fletcher Allen, UVM- Even the Co-op. I'm too tired to fight. I always lose and nobody cares anyway.

There's more here.

And check out this photo collage of Tim Ashe armwrestling Kurt Wright for the presidency of the Burlington City Council.

Thanks to Caleb D. for reminding me to post this. I've been forgetting lately. I've really been such a bad blogger ever since I got this online editor job. It's weird. My responsibilities have shifted, my work schedule has completely changed, and I'm having a hard time fitting the blog into it. Thanks for sticking with me.

March 29, 2007 at 07:57 AM in The Weekly Post | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Vermont Blog Roundup

Rings I'm trying a new title for this feature. Gone is the "Tuesday Deadline Linkdump." I think "Vermont Blog Roundup" more accurately describes what it is, though I'm entertaining other suggestions. Feel free to offer them.

This week on Vermont blogs:

• More comments from State Senator Bill Doyle's Town Meeting Survey. Seems like 80% of the comments are a variation on this one:

“The cost of living in Vermont is making it so native Vermonters can’t live here, only the affluent.” – Duxbury

Well gosh, I ain't from here, but I ain't affluent either.

• Read about the Ski Vermont Jukebox on False 45th.

• And you thought JetBlue was bad — Stowe resident Tom Evslin flew easyJet from Ljubljana to London and lived to tell the tale.

• Interested in helping remove the ridiculous amount of graffiti in Burlington? Check out the Graffiti Removal Team Blog. Their next meeting is Thursday.

Mr. Benchly shares a story that's all too common these days:   


As is their legal right, my company recently told a coworker of mine that he will be laid off in two weeks after his medical leave runs out because he was unable to beat his cancer in the federally-allotted 12 weeks of time. Once the lay-off is official, his health insurance will disappear and if he wants to continue fighting for his life, he'll need to foot the $350 monthly health insurance bill as well as continue to pay for what his health insurance won't cover.

He never names the company; not surprising, I guess.

• Looking for a few good blogs? Rarin' librarian Jessamyn West shares this list — five non-library blogs I read all the time.

• Looks like the Winooski River is not going to flood Montpelier after all. So what are they going to do with all those sandbags? Rob Kidd at Evolving Peace has some ideas.

• Last but not least, Seven Days music editor Casey Rea got married this weekend. Congrats, Casey and Brooke!


March 27, 2007 at 01:12 PM in VT Blogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Wrenching change and chaos"

Yikes — today's NY Times has a sobering article about the state of the newspaper biz. The NYT reports that February ad newspaper ad revenue is way down:

At USA Today, the nation’s biggest newspaper, ad revenue was down 14 percent this February, compared with February last year. Gannett, which owns USA Today and is the nation’s biggest newspaper company, reported that its overall ad revenue declined 3.8 percent in February from February 2006.

I'm not sure if these figures include weeklies or small community papers — the writer mentions some papers in "smaller markets" but even those are way, way bigger than any market here in Vermont. So I'm not sure how true this is for Vermont, but I'm sure we're all headed in this direction.

Media analyst Barry Parr ends the story with this choice quote:

“There is absolutely no question that the next 10 years are going to be really bad for the newspaper business,” he said. “This is a time of wrenching change and chaos. All of our assumptions about newspapers are going to be changed. The format, the business model, the organization of newspapers have outlived their usefulness.”

I agree with "wrenching change and chaos," but I don't think this is a bad time to be in the newspaper business. I love a challenge.

March 26, 2007 at 12:37 PM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday linkdump

I didn't call this a "deadline" linkdump, because I don't have any deadlines for tomorrow's Seven Days — nope, I didn't write a thing this week. Too busy mucking about online. But you don't need a deadline to have a linkdump, that's what I always say.

This week on Vermont blogs:

Google • Vermont curling afficianado Dan York is also an uber-techie in his other life. This week he's in Cairo for a conference. In a post yesterday to his blog Disruptive Conversations, he writes about how weird it is to see Google's homepage in Arabic at his Cairo hotel (the screenshot at right is from his blog).

• Yankunian is back at the Vermizzle, writing about the potential flooding in Montpelier.

• Lots of Iraq war anniversary posts yesterday. Katharine at Cut to the Chase reprints Dick Cheney's comments from February 7, 2003: "This war could last six days, maybe six weeks, but I certainly doubt it can last six months."  

Outrageouschaos explains what kind of college friend New York City would be, and defines the mysterious BritBritBrit contest.

• E to the M at Say What? calls good old Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame a hypocrite, a homophobe and a bigot — and she's not the only one. I'm glad a Vermonter blogged about Keillor's recent controversial column, so I could point it out here. Dan Savage, editor of the Stranger, posted a similar critique of Keillor's column on the Stranger's blog, Slog, coincidentally also called Fuck Garrison Keillor. Savage posted and dissected Keillor's apology yesterday.

• More comments from State Senator Bill Doyle's Town Meeting Survey. Sample comments:

“I believe that in order to be able to afford to live here, a single person must have two jobs, because unless you are a professional or have a college degree, jobs in this area pay terribly.” – Barre

“I have two jobs and still find it very hard to pay bills.” – Barre City


March 20, 2007 at 08:29 AM in VT Blogs | Permalink | Comments (15)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Online media notebook

Img_0644 Hey, I moved into my new office space! Here's a picture of my new desk in the red room.

Anyhow, I was talking with someone who reads my blog the other day, and he lamented the fact that I haven't been posting as many online media-related items (Richard, this post is for you).

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about trends in journalism online. At some point over the past few months, I stumbled upon Howard Owens' blog, and have since become a regular reader.

Owens is the Director of Digital Publishing at Gatehouse Media. On his blog, he opines about the changing media landscape. I've particularly enjoyed his posts about newspapers doing video. Basically he argues that newspapers shouldn't try to produce the best, most polished video — he thinks we shouldn't worry so much about production values, because they don't matter as much online as they do on TV, at least right now. He wrote a post earlier this week called DIY video and punk rock.

It's a controversial argument — the comments section of that particular post don't reflect the arguments Owens has been having with professional TV videographers.

I'm not sure I agree that production quality is unimportant, but I definitely prefer attitude and style over videos that are polished but dull. Hence my enthusiasm for our new vlog, Stuck in Vermont.

I see that the Burlington Free Press has about a godzillion videos  on their site. I've seen a few. They're pretty professional. If I was in one, or knew someone in one, I'd probably check it out and pass along the link, but... is anyone else watching them? How much of an audience do you need to justify spending money shooting, editing and producing online video?

I noticed that the video of the spelling bee carries a 30 second ad for Saturn. What do people think about putting ads on videos?

March 16, 2007 at 03:29 PM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tuesday Deadline Linkdump

Lots and lots for you today, to make up for my lax blogging these past couple weeks. Believe it or not, our office is STILL under construction. I move tomorrow! I'd show pictures, but my camera's busted. Drat.

• Gay gun nut Jeff Soyer of Alphecca is upset that Republican Rep. Kevin Mullin from Rutland has introduced a bill to ban trans-fats. Jeff doesn't like the government telling him what to do.

Vermont's Republicans, he says, are acting "like a bunch of limp-wristed leftists who need to control-freak everyone's lives." Um, isn't "limp-wristed leftists" supposed to be, like, an anti-gay slur?

"This state needs a serious shot of testosterone in the Capital, with men who still act like men," writes the GGN, adding, "Ironic, isn't it? It takes someone like me to point that out."

Don't know about ironic, but it's something alright.

• Jeff at Midnight Modern Conversation made this short film of clouds drifting across the top of Mount Abe. I really enjoy his photography, and am glad to see him branching out into video.

Steve Mermelstein is not a fan of Burlington's new no-idling ordinance.

• Bill Simmon is blogging his many adventures at South By Southwest in Austin, TX on Candleblog. I spotlighted one of his posts this week for my "weekly post" column on the letters to the editor page. It wasn't the one where he was blogging drunk, though.

• Librarian blogger Jessamyn West is in Australia this week. "Today we already got to see a wild emu, a kangaroo carcass on the beach, a weird lizard and a whole lot of beach/ocean/shells/surf," she writes.

• Another Vermont blogger meetup — I had no idea this one was going on. We gotta coordinate better.

Caleb Daniloff offers a prelude commentary to tonight's "Death with Dignity" Switchboard on VPR.

• It's almost spring. Time again to count the piglets at Sugar Mountain Farm.

• Senator Bill Doyle has posted responses to his Town Meeting Day Survey on his blog. Not surprisingly, people are pissed off about property taxes and school funding. Interesting that two of the three comments on wind turbines are for them, while one is for wind turbines only on specific sites. So in other words, also in favor of wind turbines.

March 13, 2007 at 11:48 AM in VT Blogs | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Vermont YouTube of the Day

Just found this video of Putney voting to impeach Bush and Cheney on Town Meeting Day.

March 9, 2007 at 12:49 PM in Vermont YouTube | Permalink | Comments (1)

One last town meeting update

From Mayor Bibs Fisk of Beaver Pond, that quaint little Vermont town full of drag queens.

March 9, 2007 at 08:54 AM in VT Blogs | Permalink | Comments (0)