Joe Peyronnin: The Washington Post

Financial pressures are slowly squeezing the life out of news organizations, whether world-wide or local. Regretfully hundreds of quality journalists are losing their jobs and actual news coverage is being reduced. Now even ethical boundaries are being challenged.

Print, web, television and radio organizations are all feeling revenue pressure. The "Great Recession" has had a devastating impact on bottom lines across the board as advertising budgets have been sharply reduced. Already news consumers had been increasingly divided among an ever-growing number of news content providers. Mass media outlets have massively increased to include Yahoo and Google news, news aggregation sites and bloggers.

Traditional media has taken a real thumping. While the venerable news program 60 Minutes finishes among the top ten rated television programs each week, its total audience is about half what it was a quarter century ago. Meanwhile revenue from each commercial spot on the program has also decreased because there is so much ad inventory for advertisers to chose from on the many news platforms. 60 Minutes has just wrapped up what may have been its best season ever editorially, yet it is struggling to stay out of the red.

The Gannett Company, owner of newspapers and television outlets, announced this week that about 1,400 positions would be cut from its community publishing division. The Arizona Republic in Phoenix is cutting 100 positions, The Des Moines Register is laying off 36 and more than 120 positions will be cut at its newspapers in New Jersey. The New York Times has cut staff, and it is having difficulty off-loading the Boston Globe. The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune are fighting for their lives. Sure, all of these companies have focused more on expanding their web presence, but Internet revenues are still very small.

So it is no wonder that those guiding major news organizations would search for alternative sources of income. And it has always been a regular practice for some news organizations to have editorial meetings with newsmakers. For instance, the former Washington Post publisher, Katharine Graham, frequently hosted and personally paid for "salon" dinners at her home for key Washington figures.

So the idea of "Washington Post" salon dinners, held at the publisher's home with the executive editor and key reporters in attendance, seemed like a logical extension of past practice. Except these dinners would be sponsored. In fact, solicitations went out seeking $25,000 from up to two sponsors per event. And the sessions would be "off the record," meaning that information from the dinners could not be used in the newspaper. Kaiser Permanente, a leading health care organization, had verbally agreed to sponsor an off-the-record dinner scheduled for July 21 and co-hosted by the Post's health care reporter.

Most major news organizations have standards and policies to guide their daily practices. One major policy is "conflict of interest." If a reporter or news organization receives money or other valuables from another person, company or organization, it may influence, or appear to influence, their coverage. Credibility and trust are the inviolable bonds that link a news organization with its readers.

The Washington Post's policy reads, "This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible." Clearly these dinners were a violation of the newspaper's own standards, as well as common sense. Even if there had been 10 dinners over the course of a year they would have netted well less than $500,000 in total. Publisher Katharine Weymouth, Graham's granddaughter, and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli are very smart and accomplished journalists. The Washington Post has done a remarkable job covering President Barack Obama's transition, the financial crisis, Capitol Hill and recent world news.

"This episode has left a scar that will be visible for years," wrote Andrew Alexander, the Post's ombudsman, this past Sunday, "and it has badly shaken the newsroom." I believe the Washington Post is still an outstanding newspaper. And while this incident is most unfortunate, it serves notice to journalists everywhere that they must always remain vigilant.


Gender Gap Becomes Gulf Monday Night


MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) — Monday morning's TV was dominated by senators sitting down with Sonia Sotomayor, who looks to continue to break down barriers if she is confirmed and becomes only the third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Monday night's TV, however — dominated by ESPN's MLB Home Run Derby and ABC's "The Bachelorette" commitment — built barriers back up, as the gender divide that's dissipating in America's courtrooms was alive and well in America's living rooms.


Office 2010: The Movie Brings the Sexy Back to Microsoft

I posit that there is no software application in the entirety of computerdom less sexy than Microsoft Office. While, yes, Office does fill a number of vital roles for the modern employer, it’s a suite of programs that reeks of the most soulless aspects of corporate America. Microsoft Office is itchy nylons and uncomfortable shoes and oyster-grey cubicles and the knowledge that no matter how things change on the surface, the system will remain as clunky and ill-designed as ever. Microsoft Office is the Sanka of the workplace — it gets the job done, but no one likes the taste.

Commercial director Dennis Liu, therefore, had a heck of a challenge when approached by Microsoft to hype the upcoming release of Office 2010. But Liu rose admirably to it with the film trailer spoof Office 2010: The Movie. “My idea was to treat [Office] like the most exciting thing ever,” he said via phone. “And what’s more exciting than an action movie?”

Framed as a cop revenge drama with hints of corporate espionage and car chases, Office 2010: The Movie, which involved three months of development and seven days of shooting, manages to fit fight scenes, stunts, and multiple locations into two minutes and 15 seconds, with room for plenty of in-jokes for the loyal Word user (my favorite being the protagonist’s determination to avenge the deletion of his partner Clippy). And in Liu’s words, “As funny as it is, people don’t realize we fit in [mentions of] nine products” — the Office brand being tightly fused with the slightly goofy tongue-in-cheek comedy at work.

The director behind several viral videos, including a cleverly post-modern Miller High Life Superbowl ad, Liu first collaborated with Microsoft for the fun short Pretending to Work: Microsoft Office for Mac, which didn’t spread widely but gained a lot of positive buzz. For Office 2010, he worked closely and collaboratively with the Microsoft team, who “definitely have a good eye for how they want the brand to be perceived.” Given that Microsoft isn’t shy about pulling ads they don’t like, no matter how successful, it was probably a wise choice. Liu had declined to comment on the budget he was given but did remark that “We put every penny on screen.” If that’s the case, then he probably got good value for his dollar — the production values make Office 2010 look like a million bucks.

According to Liu, there was zero media buy made to support the video, which got major viral traction after tech blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo picked it up — supporting TubeMogul’s findings about how blogs drive video discovery. It’s now reached over 660,000 views (an early teaser picked up close to 150,000).

One of the ad’s unusual touches is that Liu gets screen credit for the piece — an on-screen credit announces that Office 2010 is “a Dennis Liu film.” “I wanted to defend this work, and put my name on it, so that people might understand that Microsoft isn’t just a faceless corporation,” he said. “There are people are behind this advertising.” Such an approach unquestionably jazzed up the ads. Whether the actual product is as exciting remains to be seen.



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A Decade of Evaporating Ad Pages for BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune


NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — BusinessWeek survived the Great Depression, so you might think this current downturn wouldn't give it too much trouble. Heck, business news may have never been more important. But in the past decade the media landscape has changed drastically, and the top three business titles have watched ad pages evaporate.


Digital Shop Sets Up Social-Media Fund for Marketers


NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — For marketers wanting to do something new, unusual or interesting in social media, there's a new grant they can apply for — from a digital agency. Dallas-based IMC2 has put $500,000 into what it calls the Social Media Innovation Fund out of which it will match, up to $50,000, what a marketer spends on a social-media project that, in the agency's words, "creates brand impact and showcases our thought leadership and offerings."


PBS Leads News & Documentary Emmy Nominations

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) announced the nominees for the 30th annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards Tuesday.

PBS led the way with 41 nominations, followed by CBS with 23 and ABC with 13. A full breakdown of nominations by media entity is available here.

Awards will be given in 33 categories including Best Documentary, Breaking News and Investigative Reporting.

Katie Couric’s and Charlie Gibson’s noted interviews with Sarah Palin each received a nomination.

Barbara Walters will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition for her work on ABC’s “20/20” and “The View” and NBC’s “The Today Show”.

Additionally, CNN Productions, CNN’s documentary division, will be given the President’s Award, in recognition for its work in that field.


Hi5 Adds Another Revenue Stream—Downloadable Games From RealNetworks

Struggling social network Hi5 has launched a downloadable games portal in conjunction with RealNetworks, adding over 1,500 new titles to the games section it built out earlier this year. These aren’t just casual games; the roster includes best-sellers like GTA: IV and Gears of War, the majority of which will be for purchase only. 

This fits right in line with Hi5’s recent push to bulk up its virtual goods platform through a deal with Mochi Media—as the social network is trying to generate a greater proportion of its revenue from members, as opposed to advertisers. Two months ago it brought in Bill Gossman—formerly executive in residence at its biggest investor, Mohr Davidow Ventures—to help lead the shift in business models as CEO. Release.