Friday, April 30, 2010

Simplistic recovery: just talk it up

It was the kind of exchange on the economy that was dumb on the face of it. And coming in a TV exchange among journalist, I cringed:

"... but let's not forget, the President is our leader and the consumer looks to our leader for some kind of indication that things are getting better. If he were to just take a more positive tone and really stress the optimism there with this GDP report, might that not sort of become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy where people feel better and therefore spend more, and the economy moves forward more quickly?"

Argh! I wanted to lunge at the television after hearing it. (You can listen for yourself, at about 11:17.)

 So all President Barack Obama has to do is talk up the economy and it will take off? Yeah, sure.

The occasion was Obama's response to the report today from the Commerce Department that the U.S. economy grew in the first quarter at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, better than what was seen during the depths of the Great Recession but still just so-so.

"Our economy as a whole is in a much better place than it was one year ago," Obama told reporters in a statement and photo-op outside the White House. But he also acknowledged that while a positive number for the gross domestic product is good, "it doesn't mean much to an American who has lost his or her job and can't find another."

For the unemployed -- now totaling 15 million, with a record 6.5 million out of work for six months or more -- " 'You're hired' is the only economic news they're waiting to hear," Obama said.

I'm in that latter group -- long-term unemployed (nearly 10 months) and doing my best to hear "you're hired" -- so I'm neither willing nor able to boost my consumer spending, whether Obama flogs the GDP numbers or not.

So the anchor-reporter exchange on "The Call," the mid-morning CNBC business show, struck me as ludicrous -- as it also seemed to the reporter on the segment, chief Washington correspondent John Harwood.

"I doubt it personally, Trish," he responded to Trish Regan's comment that the president can influence the economy by being more upbeat. (Regan anchors the hour-long show with Larry Kudlow, who, by the way, suggested after the Obama statement that the president sounded "downbeat.")

Continued Harwood, "I'm not sure a president's words can talk up or talk down the economy. We do see the consumer coming back [the Commerce Department report also highlighted an improvement in so-called personal consumption expenditures] -- that is something that is helping this recovery."

But with unemployment still near 10 percent, he said, Obama will walk a fine line in taking credit for programs that are aiding the recovery without seeming to convey the message "mission accomplished."

Give Obama points for offering some empathy to those of us who are still unemployed; happy talk on the economy provides no comfort.

And send Regan back to school for an economics refresher course.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Transparency key in new journalism

"Revenue promiscuity" is the catch phrase coined by John Thornton, chairman and financial maven at The Texas Tribune, the nonprofit investigative news site focused on government in the Lone Star State.

It's meant to convey the idea that money for a costly effort like investigative reporting should be sought "everywhere and often", and not from just a couple of deep pockets.

But as the nonprofit model becomes one of the new forms of journalism to succeed legacy media, how do you keep the source of the money pure?

It's a question set to be discussed Friday at an ethics conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Note the day's sessions will be streamed and blogged live.)

The college, in collaboration with two others, this week released a report, "Ethics for the New Investigative Newsroom," that will be part of the discussion. The document grew from a January meeting on the topic by academics and practitioners. (UW-Madison has a Center for Journalism Ethics in its school of journalism.)

According to the report, "Nonprofit [investigative] journalism changes the way journalism is done; alters its economic base; and develops new linkages between journalists, funders, and audience. ... Importantly for ethics, the distance between journalist and funder in the nonprofit newsroom is reduced."

And that's a new playing field for journalists accustomed to the Chinese wall that has separated them from the revenue -- traditionally brought in by advertising departments -- that supported their work. "From whom will the centers [newsrooms] accept funding? Which donors might threaten the center's integrity?" the report asks.

It offers a number of "best practices" in the realm of funding and ethics, with transparency the watchword: in raising money, in spending money, in vetting donors, in setting editorial policies, in collaborating with other old- and new-media ventures in reporting projects.

Certainly one way to be up-front with news consumers -- increasingly skeptical in what some call today's "media revolution" -- is to lay out ethics policies and funding sources in great detail.

The Texas Tribune's Thornton, who makes his living as a venture capitalist, offers some of that insight in a letter (and pat on the back ) posted on the nonprofit's website.

While backers of the project had a goal of raising $3.5 million by the end of launch year 2009, $4 million actually was raised. The site has 1,500 individuals, or "members," who donated an average of $98 each, and 68 corporate sponsors who pledged $2,500 each. (A print publication, Texas Weekly, and "large contributions from wealthy families and foundations" also support the site.)

Some businesses might cringe at letting out that kind of information, but not Thornton. Why? Because within three years he wants readers contributing $3 million, or about a third of operating costs.

How's that for being promiscuous?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Skip the aggregators on job listings


It was a simple apology
at an online site devoted to news and information for re- cruiters and HR profes- sionals. But it offered a peek behind the curtain for us job-seekers.

"On behalf [of] recruiters, vendors, consultants and experts, let me say we're sorry," it stated. And for what? "Confusion and chaos; over-complicating the process; the lack of respect and customer focus; an online nightmare."

OK. You sound sincere enough. But can you fix it?

The problem, you see, is that "explosive growth and use of search engines, [and] social and professional networking sites" has attracted third-party aggregators that are poaching job listings in order to lure résumés and secure future business from employers, says the recruiters' site, Talent Buzz.

All of which leaves job-seekers in limbo. "Your résumé may never get to the employer for the job you are applying for, especially if they don’t have a relationship with the site sponsoring or feeding jobs to the aggregator sites," Talent Buzz says.

Ah. That could explain a lot: no acknowledgement of an application, no inquiry from human resources.

The corporate recruiter who runs Talent Buzz describes his clicking through a listing on an aggregator's site, being asked to fill out information here and there (and getting pop-up pitches for online degrees) before being deposited -- "8 clicks into it" -- at the homepage of a new jobs site.

"As a job-seeker and candidate, you shouldn’t have to wonder -- or worry about -- ... half of the chaos and confusion that’s being created," he says.

Talent Buzz advises job-seekers to be wary of postings by the third-party sites (called “job jackers” in the trade) and urges, in bold-face type, going directly to a company's website to apply for a job.

That simple but oh-so-important advice can save a passel of head- and heartache.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is brotherly love in Philly's DNA?

The statue of William Penn
sits atop Philadelphia City Hall.
Philadelphia could be in line for a new journalism initiative, focused on public affairs coverage and funded through a foundation.

Or, maybe not.

Like ProPublica (investigative) and The Texas Tribune (state government and politics), the effort in Philadelphia is coming in response to a perceived decline in the formerly robust reporting offered by mainstream media.

As newspapers saw ad revenue decline and circulation fall, they cut in depth and breadth, eliminating things like investigative teams and statehouse bureaus as they tried to cover the basics with reduced staffs.

In response, foundations and philanthropies have stepped in to help salvage some of the lost coverage. In Philadelphia -- sixth largest city in the country -- that role is being played by the William Penn Foundation, which announced last week it would underwrite formation of what it's calling an independent journalism collaborative.

"[W]e believe in the role that high-quality journalism plays in making our region a better place to live," says a letter from foundation president Feather Houstoun. "We see robust public affairs coverage as critical to having an engaged, informed public and accountable public institutions, and like many of you, we are concerned about our region's ongoing capacity for that type of journalism."

That concern was borne out in the report the foundation commissioned from the J-Lab, an incubator for new-media experiments housed at American University in Washington, D.C. It was written by Jan Schaffer, executive director at the J-Lab and a former business editor and Pulitzer Prize winner at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The report found that by many measures -- staffing, "news hole," air time, story count, key words -- "The available news about Philadelphia public affairs issues has dramatically diminished over the last three years."

And not only are the city's civic leaders concerned about the state of

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The big FAIL in international coverage

Ethan Zuckerman called it his big FAIL, but in reality the failure is mainstream media's, not GlobalVoices, a website that posts news from bloggers in the world's developing countries.

Ethan Zuckerman
Zuckerman, co-founder and board chair of the site, and a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., was a panelist at one session on the second day of the two-day International Symposium on Online Journalism held at the University of Texas at Austin.

The panel, which was webcast this morning, focused on so-called participatory journalism, sometimes known as civic journalism or community journalism -- news reported by interested citizens who blog on their own, on nascent hyperlocal sites, or in conjunction with established media outlets.

GlobalVoices, founded in 2004, describes itself as "a community of 200 bloggers ... who work together to bring you translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media."

And that, said Zuckerman, tongue firmly in cheek, is the fail: In 5½ years, mainstream media hasn't paid attention.

You wouldn't think that would be the case: Here's a site offering its news to anyone under a Creative Commons license (essentially free with attribution) just as many of the developed world's newspapers eliminate costly foreign news bureaus.

Sure, Zuckerman said, traffic spikes for an earthquake in Haiti or Chile, but not after a military coup in Fiji or a rise in "economic vegetarians" in Egypt. Mainstream media tend to stay focused on what they already know, he said.

Indeed, a map of the world colored to show frequency of mainstream media stories by country hasn't changed much in the near-decade he has been graphically charting the coverage, Zuckerman said.

A catastrophic FAIL? Yes, but not for lack of trying.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Can newspapers lure Gen Y with games?

Since its original release, The Matrix
has become a multimedia franchise.
I probably should have watched "The Matrix" the last time it was on TV. Or maybe I need to start reading comic books, particularly the superhero variety. Or perhaps I should become a gamer.

Then, apparently, I'd have a better understanding of transmedia storytelling, a phrase that has surfaced at a couple of recent journalism conferences.

First coined in the 1990s, it refers to the use of different media platforms to convey information, each contributing something to give greater context and depth to understanding the whole.

At the South by Southwest bash in March and at the American Society of News Editors annual meeting last week, the phrase came up in a kind of shorthand as gaming -- or a way to lure a younger generation to your newspaper and website through news games.

What the heck?! The scold in me, the one who embraces a daily diet of eat-your-spinach journalism, wanted nothing to do with adding sugar to make the news more palatable to Gen Y, the college-aged kids who are less likely than other generations to get their news from print.

But that's an uncharitable view.

Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., describes the light bulb that went off

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beware print's Web siren

There you are at the breakfast table, sipping coffee and munching a muffin, when something in the morning paper catches your eye.

Interest piqued, you start to read, only to discover that you're being teased to take up the article online.

I hate that.

Breakfast for me is a quiet time, and I mean that literally: no talking, no TV, no radio. Mornings set the stage for the rest of the day, and I want to ease into it with coffee and print -- newspaper, book, long letter -- not push a button to stir something electronic. There will be time for that hubbub later.

I'm not alone: "I don't want to wake up and look at a screen. I feel like, you know, as a society, we try to put everything on that same goddamn screen. And pretty soon we're going to be eating on the screen, or like [audience laughter] making love through the screen. ... why does everything have to be on a screen?"

That's Dave Eggers, founder of the independent publishing house McSweeney's, talking about San Francisco Panorama, the 328-page broadsheet newspaper he published last fall as a tribute to print. He was interviewed last week at the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors.

Not long ago, newspaper editors seemed to have a pathological need to shout about their online operations, intent on driving traffic there when websites were novel. That often took the form of "On the Web" squibs embedded in stories that told of court documents, transcripts and data that reporters scrambled to collect so readers might have a look themselves.

These days, the touts are still in the papers, but they're more likely to encourage feedback on stories or to advertise staff blogs.

On occasion, though, they revert to the old, teasing me to a story or graphic I can see only online.

Which leaves me oh-so-cranky and let down by print.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In shift to digital, all hands on deck

Take a look at this laundry list of duties included in a small-city daily newspaper's help-wanted ad for a managing editor:

"The successful candidate will be an innovator, someone capable of integrating new media dissemination avenues into traditional processes. There are also significant pagination responsibilities (using InDesign). Other responsibilities will include but not be limited to: headline writing and front page design; Web updates; staff management; content management; line and copy editing" (emphasis added).

Whew! I'm tired already.

And, says the ad, the new M.E. will "have no fear of hard work" (duh!), particularly in a newsroom described as "lean" and "accustomed to multitasking."

Hey, I'm no slouch when it comes to working hard. And I'm all for flattening the newsroom hierarchy. But I thought the M.E., the No. 2 executive behind the paper's editor, was more a big-picture planner than someone who got their hands dirty -- right up to their elbows.

But that, apparently, was then and this is now:
  • Then (from a 1980s college journalism textbook): "Primary responsibility for news-gathering operations is in the hands of the managing editor ... [who] makes decisions about placement of major stories in the newspaper ... does the hiring, prepares the newsroom budget and makes most of the editorial department policy decisions (in consultation with the editor on major decisions)."
  • Now (from the blog of Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton): "Less management, more feet on the street."
The M.E. ad was posted Monday by a Journal Register paper, one of 19 dailies in a company that also has weeklies, niche publications and a commercial printing arm. JRC calls itself a former newspaper publisher working to become a "modern multimedia news company focusing on local journalism," and in January picked John Paton to make that happen.

The company, once described as practicing "cheapskate journalism,"

Friday, April 16, 2010

Make it a to-do: Mobile

I wonder how many newsroom execs, just back from the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors, put  MOBILE in big block letters at the top of their to-do list.

Capitalizing on smartphones as a news and revenue strategy figured into the keynote delivered by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the conference's opening and at a session two days later that featured Yahoo's Matthew Idema, a vice president in charge of local initiatives.

Idema offered a peek at his company's soon-to-launch smartphone app, which should have scared the bejesus out of the newspaper editors: It will offer where-you're-at weather, traffic, news, tweets and blogs, as well as nearby specials offered by businesses.

"(S)ounds like a potential 'newspapers should have created it first' moment," said one observer on Twitter.

Indeed, technology watchers like Gartner and Morgan Stanley have predicted that mobile devices soon will overtake PCs as the preferred tool to connect to the Internet -- they just differ on whether that will happen by 2013 or 2015.

Currently, about a quarter of American adults get some of their news via cellphone, the Pew Research Center reported last month. It described the typical "on-the-go" news consumer as a 34-year-old white male, college-educated and earning a comfortable living ($75,000 or more for about a third of them). In addition to grabbing news from multiple sites, he also uses his phone to send text messages, take pictures, blog and tweet.

With such an eager consumer, newspapers would be foolish not to reach out via mobile devices, right? Here's an even more compelling reason: Mobile is expected to grow rapidly into a lucrative advertising vehicle.

Yesterday, Borrell Associates, a research firm that analyzes local advertising spending, called mobile "the new disruptor" in advertising and marketing, and predicted it will skyrocket to some $57 billion in spending by 2014 -- from $2.7 billion last year.

Mobile coupons, sent via text messages, already are showing promise, according to the company, citing the example of a restaurant in Texas that paid $37 to send out buy-one-get-one-free coupons for burgers and added $1,000 in incremental revenue daily. Borrell called coupons the first "killer app" for mobile.

Newspapers have always made money by delivering eyeballs to advertisers. With a mobile strategy, they'd link on-the-go news consumers with nearby businesses via smartphone.

To miss that opportunity would mean passing up needed revenue -- a point not lost on one observer at Idema's Yahoo presentation:  "Be afraid newspapers. They'll drink what's left of your milkshake," she tweeted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Look to future, not past, for digital 'do-over'

How can you tell old-media reps from the new-media ones?
  • They wear suits instead of T-shirts at industry conferences;
  • Few of them live-tweet at events;
  • They haven't heard of Chatroulette or use Foursquare.
Or so claimed some snarky observers on Twitter during the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors, which concluded today in Washington, D.C.

And, it appears, old-media types also would rather get a "do-over" on the just-concluded decade, when aggregators grabbed content from newspaper websites and made it widely accessible on the Internet.

"Do news execs know where their companies went wrong?" asked a headline at an online-journalism news site, reporting on a poll released at the conference. The survey, conducted in December and January by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, showed that members of ASNE and the Radio Television Digital News Association are worried about their operations' sustainability.

Asked what they could have done differently in the past decade (see chart), many editors in particular said they should have invested in new technology sooner and should have put their papers' online content behind a paywall.

Source: Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism
"These answers could indicate that perhaps many of today’s news industry execs still don’t quite grasp what caused their companies to fall on hard times," said Amy Gahran, who posted the "Do execs know" item on the Knight Digital Media Center site. Her concern: their thinking could hamper old-media's adoption of new-media strategies in the future.

Indeed, "Charging for Digital Content: Fix or Folly?" was a topic for discussion yesterday at the ASNE conference, when two media executives and two media observers debated paywalls and other suggestions (philanthropy, government assistance, pledge drives) for propping up traditional -- but declining -- revenue from print ads.

They split evenly, 2-2, on whether free access to online content should be curtailed. The pro-paywall side had some support from the Pew survey, which found 10 percent of respondents working on charging fees for access, while 32 percent are considering the idea. (Of the others, 11 percent rejected the idea and 35 percent haven't even considered it.)

But Jim Brady, a former editor who is heading up a soon-to-launch online local-news site in the D.C. area, called paywalls "more folly than fix" because they ask people to pay for something they don't want to pay for.

Instead, he and Ken Doctor, a media analyst, said editors and broadcasters should develop strategies to charge for news access via mobile phones -- where more and more Web traffic is expected to shift in the near future and where smartphone users already are accustomed to paying for apps.

They said that's a better do-over than trying to take back content already set free by the aggregators.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Women short-changed as newsrooms shrink

A headline today on an online op-ed, "Still Missing: Women in the Media," spurred me to crunch some of the census numbers released this week by the American Society of News Editors.

By my estimates, women have lost ground in the country's newsrooms over the past decade, accounting this year for 36.6 percent of the overall work force at newspapers and their Web sites, vs. 37.1 percent in 2000. In real numbers, that's 15,180 women working today as supervisors, reporters, photographers, videographers, page designers, online producers and copy editors, vs. 20,876 in 2000.

What's more, that decade-ago total for women is still less than the number of white men alone -- 23,249 -- currently working in newsrooms. (The ASNE numbers are here.) Men today comprise 63 percent of the work force in U.S. newsrooms, with the vast majority of them white.

The census has been conducted annually by ASNE since the late 1970s in an effort to track newsroom diversity. And the numbers released this week showed that minorities lost ground as layoffs and buyouts continued at newspapers battered by the recession. That prompted UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc., the umbrella group for Asian American, Hispanic, black and Native American journalists' associations, to ask ASNE to help "rebuild our newsrooms with diversity as a key strategic value."

I couldn't find any similar call from women's press clubs, which have lobbied on behalf of female journalists for decades. (Note that it was only in 1998 that ASNE voted to include a count of women in the annual minority survey of newsrooms.)

But the "Still Missing" op-ed proffered other grievances: that fewer women are interviewed for news stories; that they aren't as sought after for commentary; that they own very few of the country's radio and TV outlets; that they're underrepresented on the boards of media companies jockeying for dominance.

Yet the author's overarching worry that women are being marginalized could easily have enveloped the newsroom census, too: "Sure, we’ve made great strides -- we’ve got Rachel Maddow and Katie Couric and Oprah. But our work for gender equality in the media is far from over. It’s as important as ever to tie the media reform movement to the advancement of women."

Monday, April 12, 2010

We're not out of the woods yet

Ryan Sholin posted this picture of ASNE "swag" --
a copy of the San Francisco Panorama -- to
Twitpic. Tweets quote Panorama's Dave Eggers
as saying he's looking for money to take
the publication monthly.
Our long national nightmare in the newsroom continues.

Or so says the American Society of News Editors, the trade group for top newspaper and Web site editors.

According to ASNE, the rate of decline in newsroom jobs at daily newspapers slowed last year to 5,200 -- from 5,900 jobs lost in 2008.

But that still put the census of full-time staff -- reporters, editors, photographers, layout and graphic artists -- at its lowest level since the mid-1970s: 41,500.

And among minorities, the 2009 hit was bigger on a percentage basis than for the newsroom work force as a whole: 12.6 percent of jobs lost, vs. 11 percent overall, ASNE said in a report released yesterday.

The association, which keeps tabs on employment at daily newspapers in particular to track minority hiring, called the numbers disappointing. "Without diversity in our newsrooms, we miss reporting on important stories in our communities," ASNE President Marty Kaiser, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said in a prepared statement.

Indeed, the Asian American Journalists Association today called on ASNE "to make diversity a key pillar of the news industry's financial future," as it underscored a drop in Asian Americans in newsrooms. (This table in the ASNE report shows the minority census in newsrooms over the last decade. This table shows the minority breakdown by job category. And this one shows the trends since 1978.)

ASNE is holding its annual conference in Washington, D.C., through Wednesday. Live-blogging, tweeting and reporting on sessions can be found here.

While the 2009 conference was canceled -- only the second time in the group's history (World War II was the backdrop for the hiatus in 1945) -- this year's meeting was promoted as less navel-gazing and more about "what is working now and what isn’t."

One active tweeter, a journalism professor from Arizona, liked what he saw: "... speakers are showing phenomenal number of very specific examples. Good teaching." But one online account of the conference so far likened the editors attending to "patients in the dentists' waiting rooms: anxious."

That's an apt description to be sure, given that newsroom layoffs and buyouts merely slowed in 2009 from the hurried pace of a year earlier and haven't yet reversed.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Time to pay up on internships

Need to be convinced that interns should be paid for their work at media outlets? Consider this:

"I was one of those interns, toiling away 10-12 hour days for six months, surviving off whatever I could garner bartending in the fratastic [sic] D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan on weekends. Did my friends and family think I was crazy to work for free? Of course, but I loved it and relished every opportunity offered to me while I was there."

It was penned by a young woman, a former Atlantic Media Co. intern, in response to the news that the D.C.-based publisher had decided to pay participants in its newly constituted internship program, dubbed Atlantic Media Academy.

The company, parent to The Atlantic and The National Journal magazines, said it was making the change retroactively (the academy is just a semester old) based on a story last weekend in the New York Times raising questions about unpaid internships and U.S. labor rules.

Internships are a fact of life in the media and other professions. Some are paid, but many are not. For the media (or at least at newspapers where I've worked), interns from college journalism programs are free labor.

Well, not exactly free. If you're lucky, you get bright but green kids who will quickly deliver on their promise, covering anything and everything with just moderate oversight. If you're not lucky, they're snarly or lazy and you find yourself spending way too much time babysitting or pleading with campus coordinators to get them out of your newsroom ASAP.

For years, the idea that college students would get academic credit for their internships seemed to offset concerns that what they did constituted unpaid work, running afoul of the government's Fair Labor Standards Act. Instead, if the internships met most of the government's criteria for training programs, the students weren't regarded as employees and didn't need to be paid.

It wasn't exactly black and white, but everyone seemed to understand the needed shade of gray.

These days, though, the picture has become murkier.

As newspapers have tightened their belt, we've seen college journalism programs assume greater roles in hyperlocal news initiatives, which has brought some criticism. And, it appears, some journalism schools may be rethinking the usefulness of unpaid internships, especially when they put at a disadvantage students who need paid work to finance their educations.

Atlantic Media hasn't yet revised its website to indicate its internships now are paid. (Interestingly, the six-month Atlantic Media Academy is "intended for recent college graduates" and includes classes, homework and a final exam. "At least by ambition, the course will be rigorous," the site says.)

But the company may have seen the handwriting on the wall: “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” as one government official told the New York Times.

After all, assuming there wasn't a typo in the statement from the ex-Atlantic intern that she worked 10- to 12-hour days, that's a workweek few would want or in fact would work in the real world, absent compensatory time off or a big chunk of overtime.

UPDATE: On April 13 in the Washington Post, Atlantic Media advertised for editorial interns. The posts were listed as full-time and the pay was described as "negotiable."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm tired of being patted on the head

I always wondered whether journalism could ever become gender-blind and now know the answer: probably not.

Evidence this tweet Sunday morning from one of the profession's heavy hitters, commenting on his disillusionment with Apple's iPad, newly released the day before: "After having slept with her (Ms. iPad), I am having morning-after regrets. Sweet and cute but shallow and vapid."


It sent me straight to the public library for Nan Robertson's The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and The New York Times, which details the class-action lawsuit filed in 1974 by women at the newspaper who alleged inequities in pay, promotion and beats.

I'd read the book before, but wanted to revisit it, spurred by the Neanderthal weekend tweet, Robertson's death last fall, and the "Are We There Yet" reflection in Newsweek last month on the 40th anniversary of a similar gender-discrimination suit brought against the magazine.

The complaint against the Times dragged on for years before it was settled out of court in 1978; the newspaper paid $350,000 in back wages and other costs and agreed to an affirmative-action plan, according to Robertson's book. At Newsweek, the women who worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the suit chose not to pursue it once the magazine agreed to hire more women as reporters.

Both cases (and others also filed at the time against Reader's Digest, Time, Newsday and NBC) threw open newsroom doors for a lot of women. But although we got in, I can remember feeling verbally patted on the head many times -- by male coworkers or city fathers -- and reminded that I bore a great responsibility as a reporter. Bletch!

Even today, we're still getting head pats. "In the world of journalism, women make up only 22 percent of the leadership roles, and they still have fewer bylines -- 1 to every 7 males at the top media outlets -- even though the majority of journalism majors since 1977 have been women," said an ABC News report looking back at the Newsweek case.

The three young women now at the magazine who wrote "Are We There Yet" conclude that  "No one would dare say today that 'women don't write here,' as the Newsweek women were told 40 years ago.

"But," they add, "men wrote all but six of Newsweek's 49 cover stories last year -- and two of those used the headline 'The Thinking Man.' In 1970, 25 percent of Newsweek's editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it's hardly equality."

Neither was the spirit of that frat-boy tweet alluding to morning-after regrets with Ms. iPad.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Got a job? Keep it, so I can get one too

Economic Policy Institute chart shows ratio of workers per available job

Here's an unreasonable request: If you've got a job, stay in it awhile so you're not competing with me for any available openings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released its monthly JOLTS report, which shows some improvement in the number of workers vying for each job that is available. According to the Economic Policy Institute, which tracks JOLTS, the February ratio of unemployed workers to available job was 5.5 to 1, an improvement from the high in November of 6.2 job-seekers per opening.

JOLTS -- formally the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- lags the unemployment report by a month. So while on Friday the government said the U.S. employment picture brightened in March, up 162,000 jobs in nonfarm payroll, that wasn't the case in February. Then, the country still was losing jobs: down 14,000 for the month in a revised count.

Although the JOLTS numbers show that so-called separations -- layoff, firing, quitting and retirement -- are down from a year earlier, hiring has remained flat, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Says EPI: "The good news is that layoffs are down to where they were before the recession (started), and hiring is no longer declining. The bad news is that hiring is nowhere near the levels required to put this country’s 15 million jobless workers back to work."

Indeed, while the government reported the economy was adding jobs in March, it also said the so-called U-6 rate -- the measure of labor underutilization -- was up for the month: more people were taking part-time work who preferred full-time jobs, and the number of workers "marginally attached" (want a job but not actively looking) and "discouraged" (have given up looking) also rose.

Meantime, the government said Friday, the number of long-term unemployed workers -- jobless for six months or more -- rose by 414,000 in March to 6.5 million, or 44.1 percent of those without jobs.

So now you know the genesis of my plea for the employed to avoid job-hopping for the time being.

Sure, some of the jobs posted as available might look enticing, but don't you think those of us "involuntarily separated" from our previous jobs -- laid off -- might want first dibs?

After all, the March unemployment report showed that the industry category that includes newspapers (information/publishing industries except Internet) continues to lose jobs -- down 59,000 from a year ago and 2,100 just from February. (Here's the government's chart on nonfarm payroll by industry sector for March.)

Yes, I understand that a job opening will still exist if a worker at Company A applies for and lands a job advertised at Company B. But here's the thing: While I may be ideal for the Company B job, I might not be as neat a fit for the one at Company A.

Case in point: Several months ago, I applied for a job as a business columnist and blogger at a newspaper in Florida; more recently, I did the same for a job as business editor in Washington, D.C. In each case, I fit the job description to a T. (While I wasn't a local candidate, in neither case was that a job requirement.)

The first job went to a non-journalist (a banker); the second to someone who edited at a politics-focused niche paper. So while I was 110 percent qualified for the advertised jobs, I couldn't claim that for the posts the job-hoppers left -- especially the commercial lender.

The lesson here? It's already a tough job market without the gainfully employed entering the fray as competitors too. So, please, if you've got a job, hands off the newly available ones.