22 December 2008

New Attraction: Media Watch

Dear Readers:

Well, I just can't help myself. I have started "Media Watch" - a new blog for RealClearPolitics.

This won't come as much of a surprise. I'm still very engaged in and passionate about the media business, particularly the fate of the newspapers. This new blog will be refreshed daily with the latest news and opinions about the world of media.

I won't be mirroring every post here at the Zoo, so please be sure to check the blog at RealClearPolitics. But here's the first post:


The newspaper business is in its death throes, apparently. But that hardly means journalism is dead.

The media industry is evolving at a breakneck pace in the opening stanza of the 21st century - and instead of just reporting the news, the media frequently find themselves in the news. Since we here at Real Clear Politics follow the news, it's become imperative for us to also keep up with the people who bring us the news.

A veteran newspaperman-cum-digital media maven, I relished this challenge. I got my first job as a paperboy at the age of 15 and worked up the newspaper food chain from there. In my 20 years as a journalist, I put in time both as an editor and a writer, covering diverse events ranging from the Super Bowl to Hong Kong's change of ownership.

Viewing the newspaper business as a sinking ship, I jumped into the high seas and surfed for the web. Three years ago I began a new life as the BCS Guru and six months ago I found my kindred spirits at Real Clear Politics and helped start our new international politics and news site Real Clear World.

Everyday, you'll find a little bit of something here covering the media - from the journalism realm to the business end. Your interest is most welcome, as are comments and tips. You may contact me at sam@realclearworld.com.

- Samuel Chi, December 2008

21 December 2008

Most Important Elections of 2008

(From RealClearWorld)

The most significant world election in 2008 took place in the United States, where Barack Obama was elected the 44th president and his Democratic Party extended its hold on the U.S. Congress. The transfer of power in the White House likely will results in a number of U.S. foreign policy shifts on crucial issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, climate change and energy.

That's not to say that it was the only world election that mattered this year. Dozens of nations held elections in 2008. Some were indisputably free and some were downright rigged. Some were historic and some were ho-hum. Some elections brought in regime change and some led to chaos.

Russia elected a new president in Dmitry Mevedev, but that was merely a constitutional end-around that allowed Vladimir Putin to stay firmly in power. Canada re-elected Stephen Harper as prime minister but denied him the majority that he sought and as a result, the country was plunged into an unprecedented political crisis. New Zealand voted Helen Clark out of office, handing the leadership reins to John Key's center-right National Party.

Nations all over the world, from Ghana to Maldives, held elections to either pick a new leader or vote on a critical referendum. Citizens in territories such as Greenland and Puerto Rico also exercised their rights. Even in countries where election processes were not necessarily fair and transparent, surprising results emerged, as they did in Venezuela.

While every election has its own importance, a few stood out for their global and regional implications. The RCW editors have picked out five 2008 elections outside of the U.S. that have done the most to reshape our world.

No. 5 Zimbabwe

19 December 2008

Now It's Just the 'News' Business

(From RealClearPolitics)

At least somebody in Detroit is thinking outside of the box.

An industry seemingly headed for inevitable collapse at last thought of something innovative that just might bring about survival, and maybe even future prosperity.

We're talking about the newspaper business, of course.

While the Big Three kept their palms up in Washington, waiting for a handout, Detroit's two newspapers, the Free Press and News, announced on Tuesday a dramatic change to the way they operate. By next spring, the Detroit newspapers will become a mostly online entity.

In short, they're taking the paper out of newspaper.

And why not?

Newspapers across America are on their deathbeds. Readership is sagging. Newsrooms are shrinking. Layoffs are a quarterly occurrence. The Star-Ledger barely averted going out of business altogether. The Tribune Company, owner of both the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, just filed for bankruptcy. Even the venerable Grey Lady put her building on the block to raise funds.

And there are no bailouts coming.

Against this backdrop, the Detroit papers thought of trying something else. Instead of slash and burn and send their talented journalists home to collect unemployment, they decided to get out of the trucking business.

The newspaper business, first and foremost, should be about news gathering and disseminating information. But over time, it has been held hostage by things and people that have nothing to do with its primary functions. And it's the cost of funding for the paper, newsprint, trucks, truck drivers, circulation managers and the buildings that house them that has newspapers over a barrel. Not the cost of paying for the journalists and gathering news.

Full disclosure, I'm a newspaper guy but I also have been around newspapers in many different capacities. My first job was as a paperboy for the Ann Arbor News. My second as a tier for the L.A. Times, one of the teenagers who bundle together the humongous Sunday papers for delivery. I also drove a truck and worked as a telemarketer for the Times.

All that was before I got into the newsroom and became one of the people who actually put out the paper.

Six months after I began working for the San Francisco Examiner as an editor, the two San Francisco papers went on strike. It wasn't because we were unhappy with our contract, I'd understand if you didn't shed a tear for our packages that included five weeks of vacation, fabulous medical coverage, annual non-merit based raises and 37 ½-hour work weeks (it's like working in France without the baguettes!).

We were out on the street because the truck drivers and their union Teamsters - wanted to be paid near six-figure salaries. And our guild had to aid and abet the extortion, to our own detriment.

That was 1994.

In my nearly two decades inside the newsroom it had become obvious that the tail was wagging the dog violently but the dog kept barking for the wrong reasons. Instead of dumping all the peripheral stuff that was sinking a dysfunctional business model, the knee-jerk reaction had always been to get rid of the people that gave newspapers their stature, their voice, their raison d etre.

Until Tuesday.

The Detroit papers won't be the first one to go mostly paperless, the Christian Science Monitor did so less than two months ago - but they're the first major U.S. metro dailies to do so. By reducing daily printings of the papers and cutting deliveries to three days a week, the papers hope to avert a massive newsroom bloodletting.

"We don't think it's sustainable anymore to put two newspapers out," said Dave Hunke, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, "drive in excess of 300,000 miles a night delivering newspapers every day of the week and keep our pricing where it is. ... If we did that, we would be slashing content and never take a step forward toward advancing our digital initiatives."

A friend who attended that Tuesday meeting in the Free Press newsroom said the reaction from the announcement was mostly positive. Sure, it meant everybody in the room kept their jobs for the time being. But generally, they applauded management for actually drawing up a reasonable plan.

"It might be risky," he said, while requesting anonymity. "But at least they're looking to the future instead of just doing what everyone else is doing, which is cutting staff. Maybe this will work, maybe not. If it does it may be a breakthrough for the newspaper business."

Or, from now on, just the "news" business.

17 December 2008

The Guru Leaves the Zoo

Dear Readers:

It's come time to say goodbye.

Over the past two years, the Berlinzoo has co-hosted the BCS Guru. But over time, with the growth of the Guru site, it has become redundant and unnecessary to repeat the Guru postings here. So beginning December 1, the Guru postings will no longer appear here.

Instead, the Zoo will be devoted to mostly political commentary and now also the media, as the newspaper industry faces its impending doom. Please also visit RealClearWorld for my latest work.

In the meantime, if you're missing the Guru, feel free to visit BCS Guru.

Thank you for your support, as always.

08 December 2008

Most Influential Wartime Speeches

(From RealClearWorld)

Sunday came and went almost unnoticed by most Americans. But it was 67 years ago, on Dec. 7, 1941 - also a Sunday - that the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor was attacked by a massive Japanese air strike that plunged the U.S. into the Second World War. It remains the most audacious aerial assault by a seaborne force in history. And the scars and vengeance from that fateful day did much to alter modern world history.

American reaction to the attack was fierce because it was considered a "sneak attack," for the Japanese had failed to deliver a declaration of war on the United States prior to the sinking of the battleships in Pearl Harbor. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt similarly reacted with strong rhetoric, imploring Americans to end decades of isolationism in order to defend their nation and freedom.

FDR used ferocious language - "day of infamy," "treachery," and "dastardly" among the expressions - to drive his point home to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. His speech was also broadcast on radio for all Americans to hear. By then, FDR's stellar oratorical skills were well known by the average U.S. citizen, for he had become a regular presence with his famous weekly fireside chats.

Oratorical flourishes were often needed to galvanize a nation in times of despair or war. Throughout the turbulent 20th century, major speeches were often given by heads of states engaged in conflicts. With the advent of radio, and later television, some of these speeches were immortalized and filed away for history's posterity.

Into the 21st Century, with grave new threats and challenges, major wartime speeches certainly will return to our radios, television sets and now computers and smart phones. This one took place on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001:

And here are our choices for RCW's Most Influential Wartime Speeches of the 20th Century:

No. 5 Ronald Reagan 1987

01 December 2008

Worst Terror Attacks Since 9/11

(From RealClearWorld)

Last week's tragic and deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, serve, sadly, as just the most recent reminder of the impact global terrorism has had on every continent and nation around the world. While the face of terror often carries a different banner and agenda, the symbolic, emotional and fatal impact it can have on a civilian population is undeniable.

Over seven years removed from the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the incident in Mumbai increasingly resembles a bookend of sorts in the chronology of global terrorism. Much like the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, New York City represented not only a logistically ideal, civilian-dense target right on America's coastline, but a symbolic strike against American capitalism and finance. Much like New York City, Mumbai stands as a symbol of diversity and freedom in a country often plagued by sectarian divisions and strife. Crown jewels in two of the world's largest and most prosperous democracies.

There have been far too many terrorist attacks since 9/11, and to limit such a list to only five was no easy task. Many lives have been lost; relics, buildings and temples of worship left in rubble. Our goal at RealClearWorld was to avoid a list exclusively based on casualties, and instead accounted for other important factors in these attacks: Symbolism, strategic significance and domestic political impact were also considered alongside the carnage and bloodshed produced by these attacks.

With that criteria in mind, here are our five selections:

No. 5 Mumbai, 2006