Thursday, May 31, 2007

Enough Is Enough: We Need To Impeach
That Arrogant, Reckless Fool Right Now

I don't know what it was about
this story that just put me over the top with disgust for this ignorant, reckless, clown of a president we've been saddled with for the last seven years. No, I take that back--it was this passage:
Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated 'I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny.'

Never in our history have we had a president who so blatantly thumbed his nose--his whole body, really--at our entire democratic system, our way of doing things, and the sacred understanding between leaders and led. Nixon in all his tortured scheming never came close to this level of blatant disregard for the electorate's wishes. I say run him out of town, kick his sorry ass back to Texas, and let him clear brush for the rest of his days. Send Cheney along to keep him company.

A Pearl of Wisdom from Roxanne

'The more arguments you win, the fewer friends you will have.'
--Anonymous. I gleaned this great quote from my friend Roxanne Kaufman's monthly newsletter. You can learn more about her coaching practice, ProLaureate, at her website, which was developed by yet another friend and colleague, Christine Smith. For an archive of Rox's newsletters, which she calls Executive Brief, click here. To see her on the cover of the January COSE magazine, go here. And to read that cover story, click here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Low Can Book Publishing Industry Go?
We Think We've Found It--For Now, at Least

So you thought that the sacking of lowbrow book publishing "high" priestess Judith Regan by Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins signaled a turn toward good taste by the American book publishing industry? Think again. Word comes from the latest issue of Publisher's Lunch, an authoritative industry e-newsletter, that the lowest of lowbrow ideas has just landed a book deal: "Jay Louis's HOT CHICKS WITH DOUCHEBAGS: Deconstructing the Unholy Wrongness of Hottie/Douchey Coupling and How to Recover from the Douchebag Plague, based on the website, to Jeremie Ruby-Strauss at Simon Spotlight Entertainment." As the cretin behind this website (and a budding author, no less!) charmingly puts it: "This site is all about poking fun at scuzzbuckets and the women who love them." Well, that's about the only part of his self-description we can quote here. As for his cynical publishers, here's hoping they lose buckets of money on this one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Holiday Clean-Up

To mark the Memorial Day holiday, NPR last night broadcast a splendid oral history program on World War I veterans, who of course are fast disappearing, given that the war took place about 90 years ago. One statistic brought the story home with particular force: At the beginning of 2007, 24 American veterans of World War I were still alive. Today, less than six months later, that number is 14. You can learn more about the program here.

Somehow I Seemed to Have Missed the original coverage of the Tyco corruption case, which sent former CEO Dennis Kozlowski to jail. At the infamous birthday party he threw his wife, the party which the public company Tyco famously paid one million dollars to throw, guests were treated to the spectacle of an ice sculpture of Michaelangelo's David, with vodka spouting from its penis. Oh my. Thanks to conservative columnist Mark Steyn, writing recently in the National Review, I now know this essential bit of corporate trivia.

GQ Tentatively Returns to Small Bits of Real Journalism. Despite its silly name (the full name is Gentlemen's Quarterly, despite its being a monthly) and decades-long reputation for being aimed solely at clotheshorses (JFK was even once moved to note aloud that he had always assumed it was a magazine for gay men), GQ was once a journalistic and even literary powerhouse. Under the late, longtime editor Art Cooper, it was stuffed with wonderful writing by a thicket of wonderful writers. Like its Conde Nast cousin, Vanity Fair, the silly crap (fashion ads and other ads dressed up as articles) paid for a not-insignificant amount of serious reporting and writing. But a few years ago, the Newhouse family that owns the magazine decided it was tired of having its lunch handed to it on the advertising side by the downmarket Details magazine, and it too decided to go downmarket. Out went the real articles, and in went a bunch of shallow, superficial pages pretending to be journalism (publishers of downmarket mags like to call it "service journalism"), but which in fact were really more buying guides for gadgets, clothing and anything else the advertising might be hawking. The new editor, who looks about 23 years old, was photographed in his monthly message upfront, looking studiously disheveled, with wild hair, open collar and impish grin. This month, I note he's combed his hair, and even sports a tie. And good Lord, there are actually TWO real articles worth reading (two more than would have been the case in recent years). One is this splendid profile of Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who famously refused to shake Bush's hand. It's written by the talented former New Republic staff writer Ryan Lizza. The other piece worth reading is on a puffier subject, the actor George Clooney, but it too is well-written, and takes a serious look at the movie star's retro tastes. Does this mean the old GQ is back? Hardly. But if they begin publishing just one more good article a month, I just might be forced to subscribe again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Greatest Tragedy

'The great tragedy in life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love.'
--W. Somerset Maughan

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Success of Modernity is Bittersweet

'Here we are, living at the pinnacle of human possibility, awash in material abundance. As a society, we have achieved what our ancestors could, at most, only dream about, but it has come at a great price. We get what we say we want, only to discover that what we want doesn't satisfy us to the degree that we expect. We are surrounded by modern, time-saving devices, but we never seem to have enough time. We are free to be the authors of our own lives, but we don't know exactly what kind of lives we want to 'write.' The success of modernity turns out to be bittersweet, and everywhere we look it appears that a significant contributing factor is the overabundance of choice.'
--From The Paradox of Choice; Why More is Less--How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ted Gup's Latest Book is a Depressing Survey
Of How Secrecy Has Become the Norm in U.S.

' the nation faces an unprecedented confluence of circumstances that together conspire to create what...may be called a 'perfect storm' of secrecy, one that may neither abate nor subside, but that threatens to engulf democratic institutions and irrevocably alter the landscape of America. The complex interaction of these influences is giving rise to a climate of secrecy that is not confined to the government or industry but is pervasive, insidious and of indeterminate duration. These factors could produce a shift that, if allowed to go unchallenged, could permanently transform the way Americans live and the way they think.'
--from Nation of Secrets, a new book by former Washington Post and Time Magazine investigative journalist Ted Gup, a one-time protege of Bob Woodward. In order to report and write it, he took a two-year leave from Case Western Reserve University, where he holds a chair in journalism.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More Wonderful Writers Take the Leap
As Steady March To Digital Continues

I'm blessed to know more than my share of writers. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, they live in every possible corner of the country (though the majority, naturally, are in my region) and they write in every imaginable genre, for every imaginable outlet. Knowing them all and listening to and learning from their struggles and their successes is easily among the greatest joys of my life.

Two more of those old writerly comrades have recently launched their own blogs, which I hope you'll occasionally sample. Richard Andrews is a guy I've known for many years. I first met him when I came across a fascinating little paper called The Real Deal, which he founded and for which he served as lone writer, publisher and ad salesman. It covered Cleveland's minority community (and much more), serving as something of a livelier, smarter alternative to the Call & Post. I was so taken with the paper that I promptly called him to chat. We subsequently became fast friends, the kind of friends who have a mind meld during their first conversation, and keep talking for the rest of their lives. While The Real Deal no longer exists as a print newspaper, now it lives on (with the same name) in blog format. Happily, Richard now shares office space with me, just eight feet down the hall, which allows me to walk down and chew the fat or seek his input on something I'm writing. It's brightened my days considerably.

Then, just today, I got an email from my friend Mike Quinn, who spent several years at John Carroll, where he wrote lively articles for the university website and other venues. While still the resident digital guru for JCU, he was nice enough to arrange for the taping and web streaming of a talk I gave on campus about blogging some time ago. He told me that he had occasion to listen to that talk again recently, and promptly decided to begin a blog of his own, about writing for the ear, a subject close to my heart. I know he'll be leveraging his decades of experience as a script writer to share pearls of wisdom with his new online audience.

Finally, we come to Kristen Hampshire, as lovely a writer as she is a person. KH, recognized not long ago by the Press Club of Cleveland as the best freelance writer in Ohio, has long had an interesting blog. But she recently bumped up her online presence considerably with this all-purpose website, which includes her blog, an article archive, information on her books, commercial copywriting practice and more. I hope you'll take a look around there as well. Kris, a new member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, attended her first ASJA conference last month in New York. I was set to go as well (looking forward to hanging out some with her), but had to drop out at the last minute due to a freak stay in the hospital. So now I'm really looking forward to hearing her report on how things went in her inaugural conference.

Anyway, please join me in celebrating these fine folks and marvelous writers in their new pursuits. May they all be the beginning of even larger future successes.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Our Favorite Quote of the Week

'One of the joys of being a business writer is that the world produces documents for us. Documents never give you lip and don’t complain if you hunt them up outside of normal business hours. And I’ve never known a document to call my boss and complain it was misquoted.'
--Former Newsweek business writer & editor Allan Sloan, a six-time winner of the Gerald Loeb award (the Pulitzers of business writing), who recently jumped to Fortune magazine. You can sample some of his Newsweek columns here.

And Our Favorite Book Title of the Week: Fat, Forty & Fired--One Man's Frank, Funny & Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life. Now, that's inspired writing. If the book is half as well written as the title, it's probably worth the price. You can learn more about the British author and his book here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Blogs Ruined One Woman's Date Life
By Removing Some of the Mystery of It All

'There used to be few moments in the sexual universe better than those early, butterfly days of love . . . or lust . . . or like. Whether it was the did-I-imagine-it look over beers, the gaze held across a party, or suddenly saucy email banter, the pleasure leaping from belly down the legs was all about the lurching joy of early-stage discovery. The first acknowledgements of chemistry made way for the slow reveal, the hopefully languorous unfurling of personal intimacies: who are you, where are you from, what do you read, who do you do and how do you like to do it, where do you live, who do you love? These are the questions that determined how many ways I would be pulled toward a man or repelled by him as he began his transformation from stranger to fling, dud, or lead character in my romantic narrative. Alas, no more. Gone are my days of lazily unwrapping new prospects like birthday presents, asking intrusive questions as seductively as possible over brunches and lengthy drinks. Nope. These days, you can't swing a cat in this town without hitting a boy with a blog.'
--from a lively essay in by's gender beat reporter Rebecca Traister. You can read an article about her here. And here's a piece she wrote about feminism and blogging for an online publication produced by the Barnard (College) Center for Research on Women.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Zen & the Art of Remarkable Blogging

I like this little riff about the Zen qualities of blogging, from a blog by and for web copywriters. I especially admire this passage: "Zen encourages meditation, and great blogging requires contemplative thought. If you’re truly going to get into lateral thinking mode, you’ve got to step away from the keyboard and think. Stop surfing, twittering, and reading RSS feeds and go for a walk." Just replace the word "blogging" with "writing," and it applies to every possible kind of writing. This is all just another way of saying what historian David McCullough once observed to Diane Rehm: "People always ask how much of your time is spent researching and how much of your time is spent on writing? But nobody ever asks me how much time I spend thinking. And writing is thinking."

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Times Giveth & Taketh Away

In the last week or so, I noticed two striking pieces in the New York Times about stories close to home. On May 12th, while the Cavs were still battling the New Jersey Nets (before later winning that series), sportswriter Selena Roberts wrote one of the weirdest pieces ever on the Cavs' Lebron James. It was pegged to two things: the series against the hometown Nets, but also to the fact (a non-story, really) that James had been named to the All-NBA second team this year. Which means he was considered only among the ten best players in the league, rather than among the five best. Big deal.

But her piece, the full text of which unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) is no longer online for free, was cringe-inducing. She talked about how rather than being an elegant player, as most of the rest of the basketball world considers him, he's actually rather inelegant. She wrote that he dribbles at the top of the key as if he's pounding coconuts rather than a basketball (!). That was only the weirdest of several weird comments she made. The whole thing, I'm afraid to say, left me with the latest outbreak of an unfortunate prejudice: the recurring suspicion that women are just not always cut out to be sportswriters. I know, ladies, it's a crude, even ugly, bias, for which I should be chastised (or worse). But there it is. Anyway, dear Selena, please try to learn something about hoops, or whatever else you choose to write about, before sitting down to write. As for her paper, I wish to god that one could read the national edition of a national paper's sports pages without getting homered. Even in the edition read by people all around the country, sports are covered from a shamelessly New York-centric view.

A few days later, in the news section, the paper had a nice piece on new Ohio Attorney General Mark Dann, all but crowning him as Elliot Spitzer's successor (now that he's gone from New York AG to the governor's mansion) as the most aggressive state AG in the land. The two spoke during the campaign, Dann told the paper, and Spitzer even sent him a small check. "I almost framed it, and didn't cash it," Dann said.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Studs Terkel At 95,
Still Speaking Out

I've written before that Cleveland unfortunately lacks a real counterpart to the late newspaper columnist Mike Royko. But it's just as regrettable that we have no answer to Studs Terkel, the voice of working-class populism (we might have a reasonable facsimile, however, if Roldo Bartimole would just stop resisting writing a book).

Studs just turned 95, god bless him, and he's still speaking out about our national amnesia, still complaining that the word "liberal" has become like the word "Communist" in the Cold War. He still proudly proclaims his complete ignorance of the Internet (though in a pleasing irony, he has one of the best writerly websites to be found anywhere, something I wrote about here a couple years ago). And what is it he would like on his tombstone, he was asked. "Curiosity could not kill this cat."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Midwest as the Leading Cradle of Writers

'A few years ago, sitting on a panel at the Midwestern Modern Language Association conference in Cleveland, I asserted that there have been more great American writers from the Midwest than from the rest of the country put together. At a literary gathering in New York, you could call New York the literary capital of America and people will stroke their chins and nod, irked only that you felt the need to say something so self-evident. Brag up Southern writers here in the south--at a literary gathering, a barbeque joint, a gas station, anywhere, and you can expect bourbon glasses raised in assent, and at least one hoot of "hell, yeah!" But I started riffing on the preeminence of the midwestern writer in the Midwest, in front of people who taught English at a university somewhere in the Midwest (everyone but me, and I used to), and the audience actually gasped. What about the South, you moron? What about New England? Ever hear of New York? Nice places, I said. But from Missourian Mark Twain on (as Chicagoan Ernest Hemingway said, "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn"), the Midwest has been the largest supplier of high-test American literature.'
--From former John Carroll University English prof Mark Winegardner's afterword in the new book Good Roots--Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio, published by Ohio University Press. "Wino," who grew up in tiny Bryan, Ohio, home of Dum Dum suckers and the Etch-a-Sketch, now teaches at Florida State University. A couple of years ago, he was selected from among thousands of writers to write a sequel to The Godfather. Sometime soon I'll post a Q&A I did with him some years ago, published in the Cleveland Edition.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Said It, Brother

'I've paid the price for loneliness, but at least I'm out of debt.'
--Bob Dylan

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Today Is Hungarian Goulash Day

In other words, I have a bunch of disconnected items that I think merit your attention. So strap on your helmets, and away we go...

A Hint of Things to Come for Print Columnists? You probably know humorist Dave Barry as one of America's most popular, most successful newspaper columnists (nominally housed at the Miami Herald, he's also been nationally syndicated for years). He's also somehow managed to dash off several equally popular books while becoming something of a multimedia franchise. But what I didn't know until quite recently is that he's discontinued his print column, and now only writes his shorter, intermittent stuff on
his blog. That's an experiment that others may well be watching closely.

Hats Off to the Boston Globe...For an imaginative bit of packaging on
this compelling web presentation about the spending for the Iraq war. It nicely dramatizes all the potential alternate uses of the nearly half-trillion dollars we will have spent on that sinkhole by September. It's an ancient journalistic mandate to find imaginative methods for bringing otherwise inert numbers to life, but the Globe did a way-above-average job here.

An Obama Profile That Deserves Your Attention. The New Yorker might have suffered a rare drought at the recent annual National Magazine awards, winning precisely none, but don't let that fool you. It continues to be easily the best magazine in America (I welcome comments, disputatious and otherwise, on this point). For my part, I get a reminder in nearly every issue. But some pieces rise even above that lofty perch. They include
this brilliant profile of Barack Obama a couple of weeks ago. It's mostly admiring of its subject, but I admired the careful, precise language in which he was rendered, after the writer, Larissa MacFarquhar, spent enough time carefully observing him. Despite being currently among the most sought-out humans on the planet, she found him "tranquil and relaxed, as though on a power-conserve setting." The heart of the story, for me at least, was this passage:
No, Obama’s detachment, his calm, in such small venues, is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him. It is also doctorly in the sense that Obama thinks about the body politic as a whole thing. If you are presenting a problem as something that they have perpetrated on us, then whipping up outrage is natural enough; but if you take unity seriously, as Obama does, then outrage does not make sense, any more than it would make sense for a doctor to express outrage that a patient’s kidney is causing pain in his back. There is also, of course, a racial aspect to this. “If you’re a black male, you don’t have to try hard to impress people with your aggression,” Haywood says. “There was a period when black politicians started to be successful, and it was understood that if you wanted to be mainstream you’d better have gray hair. Doug Wilder was an example. David Dinkins. Mayor Bradley in L.A. To be popular with the broader white electorate, you’d better look safe, you’d better not look angry. Now, I don’t think Barack made a conscious decision to come across this way, but it is a happy accident. Some people may have seen his speech at the Democratic Convention, or heard that he rocked the house, and they may be disappointed, but the mainstream is not ready for a fire-breathing black man.” (It seems likely that, consciously or not, Obama has learned from these examples, and knows that the election of a President Obama wouldn’t mean a revolution in race relations, any more than women prime ministers were a sign of flourishing feminism in South Asia. Bigotry has always made exceptions.)

Finally, We Come to William F. Buckley. In his autumn years, he's being treated as an elder statesman, perhaps the reigning elder statesman, of the Republican conservative movement. That's because his pioneering National Review magazine is considered one of the chief building blocks of the Goldwater candidacy of '64 and later the Reagan Revolution itself. All of this background is also why I took special notice of his recent scathing attack on the party, in a column in the magazine which he founded a half century ago. While he's sounded pessimistic about his party and the conservative movement in recent years, this column is perhaps a new high water mark for him (he's certainly not alone in this view: his fellow conservative, columnist Bob Novak, recently wrote that Bush is more isolated from his party than any he's seen in 50 years reporting in Washington, including Nixon during Watergate!) In a skillfully rendered passage that proves he's still got a sharp pen, Buckley even likens the hopelessness of the current Iraq war "surge" tactic to the inevitable collapse of Prohibition. He ominously concludes: "There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemna."

Monday, May 14, 2007

After Even a Decade,
Royko Name Lives On;
He Saw Real Murdoch
As Clearly as a Bell

Late April marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the popular Chicago-based columnist Mike Royko. Editor & Publisher's always-incisive Mark Fitzgerald nicely marked the occasion
here. A couple of years ago, I wrote this tribute to Royko, recalling my all-too-brief telephonic brush with him. The piece also describes why I think Cleveland's closest Royko counterpart, columnist Dick Feagler, falls short of his stature--though to be fair, just about everyone does.

But Royko's in my thoughts for yet another reason this week. Ever since media mogul Rupert Murdoch made an offer to purchase the Wall Street Journal, I've been waiting for someone to mention a key Royko anecdote that related directly to this potential deal. Since I haven't yet seen it, let me do so. Many years ago, Murdoch purchased the Chicago Sun-Times, which is where Royko happened to work at the time. Without waiting around to find out more about what the new owner planned to do with the paper, or what promises he might make about retaining its independence or its quality, Royko simply quit in January 1984 and decamped to its cross-town rival, the Tribune. As his fellow Chicago writerly icon Studs Turkel later
recalled, he simply wrote: ‘I resign. No self-respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper.’

So I ask you: why is this simple reality, so clear to Royko decades ago, even before Murdoch went on to ravage other media properties with his unique blend of political treachery and sleazy lowbrow taste, so difficult for members of the serious media to see now? Just a question...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Of the Crowd

'The multitude is always read to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose himself on it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.'
--French sociologist Gustave Le Bon, in The Crowd (1897)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Our Favorite Understatement of the Week

'Keeping women away from men is just an unrealistic proposition.'
--a caller to a recent WCPN program, in which the topic was the Ohio legislature's attempts to crack down on strip clubs.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Putin Has Clamped Down,
But One Harvard Expert
Argues His Vise Grip is
Absent in Certain Areas

'Although the authoritarian drift (of the Putin regime) is beyond denial, it has had its limits. United Russia is a coalition of opportunists and hangers-on, not a purposive or disciplined force. The Putin team sets priority targets: television, political parties and elections, and uppity businessmen. Outside that zone, the vise has been tightened less or, on many points, not at all. For instance, there has been no attempt to encumber interpersonal communication or access to information networks. Cellphone penetration has surged to 60 percent countrywide and to 80 or 90 percent in the big cities, and 25 million Russians are estimated to have surfed the Internet unimpeded in 2006, in contrast to China, where the government screens websites. Nor has there been serious infringement on intellectual and cultural life, which by all indicators has been rebounding from a low point during the economic hard times after 1991. In the vast majority of court cases that are nonpolitical, the judiciary functions better than in the 1990s, and jury trials have been made compulsory for the most severe crimes. Economically, private capital still predominates, despite state inroads in the energy field. As for the business class, it has made far more money during Putin’s reign than it did during Yeltsin’s. Forbes magazine registered not a single Russian billionaire in 1999 or 2000, in the aftermath of the 1998 crash. In 2006 it listed 33, the third highest total in the world (behind the United States and Germany), and their net worth had soared from $91 billion to $172 billion during the preceding year.'
--Timothy J. Colton, a professor of government and Russian studies, writing in the current Harvard Magazine. He's now at work on a book to be entitled Yeltsin: A Political Life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dr. Phil, the Ultimate Public Intellectual

'France has public intellectuals--we have Dr. Phil...Can't we admit we have something to learn from them?'
--Comedian Bill Maher, riffing recently on his HBO program

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Welcome back to PBS, Mr. Moyers

'In public broadcasting, we need to get back to the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage that brought us into existence in the first place, and this country does too.'
--the ageless, irrepressible Bill Moyers, as quoted in the new book, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back, by Amy and David Goodman.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Dark Side of Blogging

Though I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, one of my favorite lesser-known websites about marketing and online subjects is
MarketingProfs. Written almost entirely by marketing practitioners of various sorts, it's generally full of pithy, dead-on observations about new media, and how media outlets as well as their customers and prospects respond to those media. I like it because it's full of common-sense thinking, and generally avoids hype.

Last week, for instance, it published a fascinating little piece about what it called "the dark side of blogging," quoting various bloggers about some of its pitfalls. "Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, says you know you are addicted when 'you can't watch a movie, see a play, read an article or share a sweet moment with your child without thinking of whether it's blog-worthy.'" It also explores how many bloggers discover after a few months that they've chosen a blog subject that can't sustain them anymore. In the end, one blogger concludes, "a journal without an audience isn't as much fun anymore."

Meanwhile, a pretty good magazine that covers the magazine industry, Folio, recently published a cover piece about how trade magazines are attempting to make the switch from print-only pubs to publications with strong web components. The key to those efforts, it notes, is "building a strong e-media culture." But it also made the crucial point that "success in e-media starts with the notion that search is the essential mechanism of the web. The best web businesses are designed from the ground up to be found in search." Meaning, these pubs can't depend simply on being destination web publications, but rather their content must be good enough for search engines and other third parties to refer web browsers there. That's a pretty tall cultural adjustment for most trade magazine publishers (Cleveland historically has been a leading center for this industry, with two of the industry's largest companies, Penton and Advanstar, based here, but both--each owned by investment funds--have gone through significant upheavals in recent years. And Penton's CEO is no longer even based in Cleveland). But those hoping to survive will have to figure it out, and soon.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

'He was almost dead when his mother scooped him out of the baptismal font in a small village in the Urals. The local priest, plied with liquor all morning by happy parents, had dunked the baby in the water and forgotten him. The boy survived and was christened Boris a fighter.'
--from The Economist's recent obituary on Boris Yeltsin.

You can check out earlier leads of the month here, here, here, here, here, here, here & here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Belated Thanks All Around

I've been remiss in thanking a handful of folks for recent kind mentions of this blog or of its author in various media outlets. Through the wonders of Google and Technorati alerts and other mysterious technical tools our vast staff has assembled to help us keep up with things, we've noticed a pleasing spike in mentions recently. Sometimes I'm slow to acknowledge these mentions, but I'm nevertheless always thankful for them.

Back in February, Crain's managing editor Scott Suttell, one of the truly nicest guys in the business, had
this tidbit on his widely read Editor's Choice blog. A few weeks ago, ace web developer Marc Majers had a nice write-up in the Cool Cleveland e-letter about our Web Association panel event. It's online, but since it's relatively brief and buried deeply in this issue, let me reprint it here in full:
Last Monday, the WA gathered a group of tech-savvy pioneers to discuss the growing impact of social media. Moderated by Jim Kukral of BlogKits, the panelists consisted of George Nemeth of Brewed Fresh Daily, Dan Hanson of Great Lakes Geek and John Ettorre of Working with Words. The panel passionately argued for the business case of this growing medium. In a nutshell, local companies should care about web 2.0 marketing channels like blogs, video and podcasting because they can generate business. Web 2.0 as explained by Dan Hanson is "push-button publishing for people." The Time Magazine person of the year 2006 was "You" because now anyone can post content on the web. John Ettorre stressed that content is "The heart and soul of the Internet" so make sure what you post is valuable. Web users are scouring the Internet for two reasons: a solution to their problem or to have some fun. You need to put your best foot forward with whatever you create to build a community around your work. "Make sure you don't have typos—they are worse than fascism", Mr. Ettorre exclaimed. The increasing bandwidth of the nternet in tandem with this "push-button technology" is causing a flurry of new content being posted in the form of blogs, podcasts and video. Blogger George Nemeth said one overt benefit of blogging is learning something from someone else. Blogs also have direct organic search engine optimization benefits because of the sheer content. Instead of you finding a client, they will find you. The content you are posting on your blog is making you an expert in your field and this will ultimately lead to a sale. Everyone likes getting their content through a different medium; that's why you should offer your customers choice. Some people want to read it, watch it or listen to it. Jim Kukral stressed that video is the next big medium because it is the most effective way to get your point across to busy, attention-deficit web user. He suggested making short 30-60 second "how to videos" to connect to the YouTube generation. As a matter of fact, Google will be adding video results in standard searches this summer. You know when Google does something, it sticks. Social media is setting the table for marketing to make a sale. Marketing is designed to get someone's attention. Blogs, podcasts and videos are just another medium to get a consumer's attention and they work best when you use them together. We are now our own travel agents, insurance agents and journalists, but the quality of the content is key. As Jim Kukral said, "People can lick off or wash off your stickiness." Web 2.0 tools can deliver your message faster and more efficiently and all you can do is get the customer's attention with quality content.

An interesting guy named Gary, whom I've never met, happened to be at that event, and shared this brief nugget of insight later on his fine blog. I'm hoping we get to meet some time.
More recently, and as an outgrowth of a subject that came up during this panel, my friend Dan Hanson, tech editor of Inside Business magazine, quoted me about the "long tail" phenomenon in the current (May) issue, none of which is online. Finally, I happened to come across a truly humbling reference to Working With Words on the blog of a local graphic designer I've never met. I also hope to meet this fellow some day, and thank him for those kind words.

Now go enjoy the weekend, people. You hereby have my permission to begin it early.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Protest Being Mounted Today at 5
Against Razing of Breuer Building

From the What's Up in Northeast Ohio listserv:

"A coalition of good government and fiscal responsibility advocates, environmentalists and historical preservationists will assemble at 5:00 PM on Thursday, May 3, 2007 outside the Ameritrust Tower, located at East 9th Street between Euclid and Prospect Avenues, in Cleveland, to protest the Cuyahoga County Commissioners' plan to raze the building...The coalition is picketing in order to call attention to the fact that Commissioners Tim Hagan and Jimmy Dimora ignored input from their fellow commissioner Peter Lawson Jones and architectural experts who objected to the proposed project from the standpointof its cost and the loss to Cleveland's skyline of one of its historically significant buildings. The coalition is opposed to the demolition of the tower, whether the site is used to create a new county administration center or not."

A month ago, I posted this hopeful tidbit about the controversy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

'Old Europe' Pursuing Rumsfeld for War Crimes

In recent years, it's become something of a trend for well-informed Americans to supplement their information about the world, including events taking place in their own country, by reading and watching foreign-based media. The Economist magazine and the BBC, for instance, provide smart, nuanced coverage of events, and often do a better job of covering the U.S. than domestic media. And the web, of course, provides easy access to these non-traditional outlets.

For some time, I've been meaning to point you to yet another quality foreign publication, Germany's Der Spiegel. It does a wonderful job of covering the world, often from a different perspective than the rest of the world's media. Yesterday, it published a startling piece that I saw nowhere else: the fact that German officials are pursuing former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumself and other U.S. officials, hoping to prosecute them for war crimes connected to the Iraq war. There's a delicious irony here: A couple of years ago, Rumsfeld stupidly tried to drive a wedge between our historic European allies by writing off those countries who refused to back our Iraq policy by arrogantly calling them "Old Europe." But old Europe, with its long experience of the savagery of war in the 20th century, also has a better-developed tradition of protecting human rights than other parts of the world.

While American law and diplomatic tradition will make this a difficult case to carry out for the Germans, Rumsfeld may well be faced with having to think carefully about his travel plans, possibly for the rest of his life. Henry Kissinger, who has also been hounded by European officials intent on prosecuting him for war crimes in connection with his actions during the Vietnam era, once had to quickly leave France, after being informed the police were searching for him in connection with a legal case stemming from his actions in Chile. Rummy deserves nothing less than to be forced to look over his shoulder.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Google Shareholders to Pressure Company
To Resist Foreign Governments' Censorship

A Wired Magazine blog reports that five public pension funds which hold Google stock will formally ask the company next month to begin resisting censorship edicts of authoritarian governments such as China. Bravo for them. The item caught my eye in part because I hadn't seen it reported anywhere else yet, and also because last year I wrote about how Google was disgracefully knuckling under to a crude form of Chinese government censorship (the company agreed to block access for Chinese web-surfers to a list of seemingly banal query words). That entry drew some especially smart and interesting comments at the time. In the past, I've also pointed to a great article in Mother Jones about how Google, despite it's noble talk of doing no evil, tends to take the path of expediency when faced with difficult management decisions. So remember, Googleites, it's not what you say that counts, but what you do. Meanwhile, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who seems intent on turning the clock back to the bad old days of his country's history, is making noises about adding Internet censorship to his long list of moves toward media repression.