Tag Archives: New York Times

SuperBowl commercials: Best [Chrysler’s hymn to Detroit] and Worst [Groupon’s tasteless humor]

My personal favorite: American industry, American workers, and the power of a great American city, by Chrysler

Groupon easily wins for the worst ad. Unless you agree that saving $15 at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago is the equal of the cultural annihilation and genocide that’s been underway in Tibet, you might even call it creepy. What will they think of next — equating the Holocaust with one of the Second Avenue Deli’s incomparable hot pastrami sandwiches? All this proves is that having a company valued at $6-billion doesn’t mean you have a dime’s worth of common sense or an ounce of sensitivity.

Twitter exploded last night with instant revilement over Groupon’s commercials. This morning, there were plenty of angry posts by bloggers and newspaper writers. Time asks: “Did they merely push the envelope, or did they cross a line?” The NY Times wondered “whether the start-up has burned through a lot of good will.” Groupon’s hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, said the company “cheapened itself” when it “trivialized the oppression of the people of Tibet.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese — oppressors of Tibet — were also not happy about the spot (but, obviously, for other reasons).

In addition to the Tibet spot, Groupon prepared two other commercials:

In a bid to illustrate that it understands that the problems of Tibet, the Brazilian rainforest, and high seas whaling are indeed serious, Groupon created a web page that invites viewers to contribute money to aid these causes. But even here, Groupon is on slippery ground. Under Cuba Gooding Jr’s video about whaling, there’s a “urgent message” and a “donate” button in which viewers are urged to donate $15 to Greenpeace — and get a $15 Groupon credit in exchange: “Your essentially free donation will go to help end commercial whaling.” Greenpeace is hardly a universally admired advocate. Meanwhile, no kickbacks are offered for contributions to Tibet, the rainforest, or building schools “in some of the world’s poorest villages” (the schools video was not yet up).

The attitude conveyed by last night’s commercials might have been predictable — it’s reflected in this commercial that was prepared by Groupon when it was just getting started, in early 2009 [WARNING: the following video may not be suitable for young children] :

You’ll find all of the SuperBowl commercials through a link at YouTube.


To out of touch NY Times editors, New York City’s soul revolves around underworked streetwalkers

On Monday, Rupert Murdoch made it clear that he thinks the NY Times is detached from its city. Most everyday, Times readers can detect some of that detachment.

In today’s Times, as a follow-up to yesterday’s front page account on the Federal Superfunding of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal area, the Times attempts to reflect — slowly and with too many words and too few facts — on changes around the Gowanus.

I know this area well, having published The Brooklyn Paper there for 30 years. The canal is sandwiched between upscale neighborhoods; what “grit” remains was destined to be overrun soon by development. Just as the nearby neighborhoods were “gentrified” over the last 30 years, the canal zone would fall to the capitalists’ tools.

Only the canal’s toxicity and last year’s real estate collapse put those plans on hold. The Gowanus neighborhood shrank so fast (squeezed by the expansion of its richer neighbors) that, if you excluded two public housing projects, there wasn’t much left of it as a distinct area. Plans for a Whole Foods supermarket one block east of the canal would have sealed the deal on that end; on the west bank, a major developer’s plans for housing was moving forward.

So, with squalor constrained and everyone long ago on notice that the neighborhood was changing, who did Times reporter Kareem Fahim find to give the area its face today? A street hooker who bemoans the fact that her streets just aren’t the same anymore, that her customers have moved away.

Here’s Fahim’s lead:

The rain had stopped; the streets were empty. A block from the Gowanus Canal, a woman called Terri squinted into the headlights of passing cars, searched for clients and found none.

Her head was wrapped in a powder-blue scarf. The white towers of the Wyckoff Houses rose behind her. She had worked these streets in Brooklyn for years, as the neighborhood turned from a rusty industrial hub into a budding art colony, and lately, a draw for developers dreaming of condominiums.

For Terri, little good had come of all that change. “The people moving in here don’t patronize us,” she said, and got back to work, a half hour before midnight.

Do Fahim’s editors think that the crime-ridden, street-hooking Gowanus of yesteryear is preferable to what’s there today, and that instead of cleaning the canal officials should work to create a favorable work environment (financially, if not environmentally and for safety’s sake) for its prostitutes and thugs?

Local readers of the Times already know that the Gowanus has changed; streetwalkers may still work its dark corners, flagging down drive-through tricks, but they are not a part of their ‘hood anymore.

Here’s some unsolicited advice to the Times — and also to those who are organizing the Journal’s New York desk:

Hire editors who know the streets of New York and the people of New York, who are not afraid to work, and who will think and speak [excuse the coming cliche] out of the box.

Someone like the current editor at my old newspaper, Gersh Kuntzman.

Disclosure: Kuntzman did not ask for and was not advised of this endorsement. His newspaper (The Brooklyn Paper) is owned by NewsCorp’s Community Newspaper Group, a sister of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, to whom I sold The Brooklyn Paper last year. I’m extremely proud of the work he’s done there both under my ownership and under that of the Community Newspaper Group, and I would empathize with my colleagues at The Brooklyn Paper — especially my wife who is The Brooklyn Paper’s publisher — over the loss of Kuntzman were he successfully recruited. I realize, however, that with the Times is in its death throes and the with Journal determined to secure a future for the news business, there’s a lot is riding on the coming fight in New York. Both sides should choose their weapons well.

—Ed Weintrob


ADDENDUM: The Brooklyn Paper made hay yesterday — over the fact that its Website beat the Times in breaking the Federal Superfund story, and over the fact that the Times accompanied its [late] story with the photo of the wrong Brooklyn waterway (the Times pictured Newtown Creek instead of the Gowanus Canal). The Brooklyn Paper’s headline: “Hey, NY Times — get our filthy canals right!”

The canal photo that accompanies this post is, in fact, of the Gowanus Canal, and is from The Brooklyn Paper, by Kate Emerson.

Post was slightly updated at 4:06 pm ET, with references to Newsday’s New York fiasco removed. That’s a whole ‘nother story, for another day.

ChatRoulette: Keep your clothes on and lock up the children. This social media site is nasty.

What if you could fire up your webcam and videochat with total strangers all over the world — in complete anonymity. What would you do? What would you say?

ChatRoulette is an internet sensation that is … let’s put it kindly … a bit rough around its edges.

According to a NY Times report, the site is the invention of Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student in Russia who said he started it for “fun” and to bring people from different cultures together. Registered only last November, it drew one-million unique visitors in January, according to comScore as reported by the Associated Press. After the site’s viral explosion and initial press coverage, expect February’s numbers to be significantly higher.

Ternovskiy told the Times:

“It wasn’t so easy to create it for me, but I have been coding since 11 … I didn’t advertise my site or post it anywhere, but somehow, people started to talk to each other about the site. And the word started to spread.”

He said he had seven servers in Frankfurt, Germany, and would likely add more elsewhere.

“Each time the user count grew, I had to rewrite my code completely, because my software and hardware couldn’t handle it all. I never thought that handling the heavy user load would be the most difficult part of my project.”

Lots of participants, in their search for international camaraderie, are baring more than their souls. On YouTube, you’ll find several hundred videos made from Chatroulette exchanges; some are quite graphic.

“One minute you’re chatting via webcam with a mom of two from Montauk, NY — and the next you’re staring at a stark-naked man in Bangkok,” reports Fox News.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos that are arguably acceptable for family viewing.

In the first video, your hostess is clearly holding back.

Caution: The next video will begin with loud audio.

Darwin with Chat Roulette,” which ranked number one in traffic with about 520,000 YouTube views in two months, seems certain to be overtaken very soon by “Eye Vagina” — which does exactly that. “Eye Vagina” is number two in traffic after just one week, with 440,000 views.

There’s a site — ChatRoulette Images — that’s offering a bounty for the best screen grabs. So far, most (but not all) of the images posted here are harmless nonsense.

Pornography has been part of the internet from Day One; it was the Web’s first big money-maker — and it’s still there, as parodied on South Park (link here). What ChatRoulette’s done is open a new channel within a child- and teenage-targeted social media steam.

In a column in today’s Daily Collegian at Penn State, Caitlin Cullerot called Chatroulette “a disturbing experience” that’s “a lot like Russian roulette.”

You “pull the trigger,” so to speak, and breathe a sigh of relief when the bullet doesn’t come. Or if it does come, it arrives so quickly that you don’t have a chance to comprehend what’s happening until it’s already over.

Chatroulette is exactly like this, except with penises.

A TV report from Houston (video embedded) said yesterday that “at the heart of it, the Website was not made to be dangerous, but because of its simple nature, it allows kids to easily turn on their webcam and quickly talk to strangers.

“Those who have used ChatRoulette say a majority of the webcams contain obscene images, including nudity and sexual activity [and] many parental groups say kids should not be on ChatRoulette at all,” MyFoxHouston reported.

School psychologist Ann Suchyna told News4 in Buffalo (video embedded) that “it’s really quite disturbing to watch this … What they once thought might be inappropriate or deviant becomes, well, maybe this is more normal than I thought.”

From the News4 report:

“I think it’s a great tool. It has some great capabilities. But unfortunately, there’s a dark side to it,” said Chief Scott Patronik, of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

Within minutes of logging on, the dark side popped up on the screen. A man, with the camera pointed only at his crotch, was exposing himself.

“There’s no restraint [the News4 producer adds]. These people are showing no restraint. Nothing is stopping them from doing this … This whole thing is really creepy.”

Last night, there was a ChatRoulette party at the Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York magazine reports. (Union Hall, in the pretentiously hip, child-friendly Park Slope neighborhood, caught all sorts of hell a couple of years ago when it banned children after 5 pm.)

It’s not inconceivable that young Ternovskiy’s purported ambition to engender international goodwill may yet be redeemed — he’s reportedly heading to the United States to raise funds for his site, and new backers may add a layer of professional management t0 clean up this mess.

Don’t count on it.

Meanwhile, keep an eye of your children — and on their computers.

—Ed Weintrob

• • •

UPDATE: What should be a pretty obvious side peril of ChatRoulette is the danger of site visitors being photographed, and having their photos distributed to millions across the internet. As seen in some of the links above and below, photographing visitors and broadcasting their silliness is part of the ChatRoulette experience. Curiosity seekers who choose to give ChatRoulette a run might end up with more fun than they bargained for — another reminder that nothing we do on the internet … especially on a social media site … is truly anonymous.

—Ed Weintrob

• • •


How to block Chatroulette on your [Windows] PC (TechNews Daily)

ChatRoulette, by the numbers (Wall Street Journal blog)

A weekend of ChatRoulette (Or: I play ChatRoulette so you don’t have to) (TrueSlant)

ChatRoulette: Beware of Danger. New spin on an old game. (Psychology Today)

The surreal world of ChatRoulette (NY Times)

Is ChatRoulette the future of the internet or its distant past? (New York)

ChatRoulette, a dangerous Website for kids and adults alike (Examiner.com)

For Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal’s New York edition is not just business. It’s personal.

Rupert Murdoch made two things quite clear yesterday: The Wall Street Journal‘s New York edition will launch in April (as long reported but never before publicly confirmed), and its target is the New York Times for reasons as much personal as business.

Murdoch’s made himself the Times’ nemesis, an avenger intent on bringing to it retribution for alleged sins against his sense of journalistic propriety and for slights against the people of its city.

The 78-year-old NewsCorp chief was blunt in comments to the Real Estate Board of New York:

“We believe that in its pursuit of journalism prizes and a national reputation, a certain other New York daily has essentially stopped covering the city the way it once did.

“In so doing, they have mistakenly overlooked the most fascinating city in the world — and left the interests and concerns of people like you far behind them. I promise you this: The Wall Street Journal will not make that mistake.”

Murdoch said the new section “will be full color — and it will be feisty,” declining to elaborate. Published reports have suggested it will be staffed by about 35 journalists and will to some degree be modeled  after Seth Lipsky‘s New York Sun, which ceased publication in September 2008. Some of its key editorial hires are Sun alumni.

Today’s Journal reports that “current plans call for the New York section to be published six days a week and run as the second section of New York-area copies of the newspaper, according to people familiar with the project. The size of the section remains in flux but is expected to be eight to 16 pages a day, these people say. The articles will also run in the online editions.”

Ad Age reported last week that “there are plenty of reasons for the Times to be concerned. They start with Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman. The retailers will each advertise in the Journal’s New York section from the get-go, people close to the situation said.”

The folks Murdoch addressed yesterday — the city’s real estate establishment — are also prime candidates for Journal ads. Many of them like the Journal, have issues with the Times, and have for a while been enamored of the real estate section of the Journal’s sister publication, the NY Post. The Post’s real estate coverage, especially by Rich Calder, is arguably the best in town.

Murdoch said the Journal will be giving the Post “some competition on their home turf,” a productive and potentially lucrative synergy.

In this week’s wide-ranging New York magazine cover story on Murdoch, the chief concedes the obvious — that from a business standpoint NewsCorp’s $5-billion acquisition of the Wall Street Journal two years ago was the worst deal he ever did. “It never made any sense,” New York’s Gabriel Sherman quotes a former senior NewsCorp executive. “He had no justification for why he should buy it — he just wanted it.”

Now, Sherman said, “some see an Ahab-like obsession in Murdoch’s pursuit of the Times.”

During Murdoch’s campaign to buy the Journal, the Times editorialized that it hoped the Journal’s Bancroft family would “find a buyer who is a safer bet to protect the newspaper for its readers.”

Sherman reports:

Murdoch was infuriated by the editorial, which he saw as yet another example, as if more were needed, of the Times’ characteristic self-interest wrapped in a cloak of high-toned moralism.

The previous night, he had run into Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at a party on Barry Diller’s yacht, and Sulzberger had assured him the piece wasn’t “faintly anti-Murdoch,” as Sarah Ellison reports in her upcoming book, “War at the Wall Street Journal.”

Murdoch wrote Sulzberger a personal note the next morning that concluded: “Let the battle begin!”

The next day, Sulzberger was sitting in his office at the Times Building with Richard Beattie, the chairman of law firm Simpson Thacher, who had advised the Dow Jones board during the Journal deal. Sulzberger pulled out Murdoch’s note.

“He was laughing at the time,” Beattie told me. “He thought it was cute.”

Sulzberger never replied to Murdoch’s letter. When I called Sulzberger to ask about the competition with the Journal, he dismissed my question out of hand: “Whatever,” he said.

Sulzberger is not the first media mogul to have underestimated Rupert Murdoch’s steely determination. At this point, he and his shareholders must realize they have little to laugh about.

—Ed Weintrob

Murdoch’s war on Google

A lengthy NY Magazine piece out today on “The Raging Septuagenarian” — Rupert Murdoch — covers all angles, including Fox News and Roger Ailes, the New York Times on its eve of destruction, his children and the future of his empire. Click here to read it all over a long lunch.

Murdoch and wife Wendi have been friends with Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but business is business and war is war.

Gabriel Sherman‘s piece describes Murdoch’s assault on Google in miliary terms.

Last year, Murdoch and his senior executives decided they needed an organized counteroffensive. As a code name, they chose Project Alesia, named after Julius Caesar’s victorious siege of the Gallic forces in 52 B.C. Murdoch conceived the fight against Google as a political campaign. He mapped out distinct phases.

First, Murdoch and [Robert] Thomson would make a series of provocative speeches to drum up press, using News Corp.’s media outlets and other interview opportunities to shape the debate. In February 2009, during an appearance on Charlie Rose, Thomson said, “Google devalues everything it touches.” In April, Thomson said in an interview, “Certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet.”

And in December, Murdoch published an op-ed in the Journal declaring that “there are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production To be impolite, it’s theft.”

The inflammatory rhetoric generated a flurry of press and laid the foundation for the announcement that News Corp. would begin charging for its online content.

Oh my, how the mighty Times has fallen

Not long ago, the NY Times would toss local news leads in the trash; its staff was so stealthy in lifting stories from the city’s community weeklies that they’d rarely deign to give them credit; free drinks, dinners and comaraderie determined the assignment of soft neighborhood features, and … well, that was when the Times was The Times.

Today, the shoe’s on the other foot. Community media (now mostly bloggers) are lifting copy from the Times (although unlike old Times editors who stole from community weeklies with impunity, the bloggers virtually always credit their source); the Times itself is groveling – begging actually — for help. Some applaud the Times for recognizing the landscape’s seismic shift and adjusting its structure accordingly; others find it sad to watch a king brought low, hearkening — get ready for a stretch — to Isaiah 5:15: “The mighty shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be abased.”

Instead of hiring a community reporting team, the Times adopted the subminimum labor practices long common among both hand-to-mouth weeklies and the toniest magazines — it’s looking to interns and wannabe journalists (including graduate students from the City University of New York) to produce its two The Local blogs. These NY Times blogs serve upscale neighborhoods where bloggers are emblematic of the competition that imperils the future of the Times — Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and Maplewood, Milburn and South Orange in New Jersey. (In Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Brownstoner is the standout; in New Jersey there is BaristaNet, poster child for the hyperlocals.) Presumably, if The Local works there, it will be replicated elsewhere.

When news breaks in The Local’s turf, the Times breaks out the invite: come and work for us, for free. On Monday, the Times used its The Local Web page to reach out for help with what might have been a breaking news story. Take a look:



Did anything actually happen at Brooklyn Hospital on Monday? Was there a “truck leak”? As of 6:17 pm — six hours after the Times asked its readers to play reporter for a day — that remained anyone’s guess, since The Local did not post a follow-up. This is typical for pajama bloggers, not an example of world-class hyperlocal coverage we might expect from the newspaper of record.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The blogs (or their unforeseen later incarnations) which are likely to be central to a reformulated Fourth Estate will eagerly drop a quarter before posting rumors, and will follow-up on rumors that make it online through other channels (after all, no gatekeeper can will rumors off the internet — in the brave new world, everyone has a key). The Times actually made a profit last quarter!; it should make a call before (or at least immediately after) posting a breaking rumor.

[UPDATE: At 6:37 pm on Monday, the The Local finally confirmed that something did happen outside Brooklyn Hospital — an unidentified worker in the hospital’s linen department said an unidentified tanker delivering diesel fuel had punctured and leaked; The Local also quoted an unidentified FDNY spokesman as saying that about 25 gallons of diesel fuel leaked and was cleared by a hazmat team from Queens which responded at 11:06 am — more than an hour before The Local’s initial shoutout.]

Meanwhile, what else was The Local’s Fort Greene-Clinton Hill edition posting on Monday?

At 10:58 am, it linked to a couple of water cooler talkers — a story from Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Report and a slideshow from the Times’ own ultra-fluffy Home & Garden section.

At 11:01 am, there was another free-labor pitch to the Craigslist set, combined with a RFQ (request for questions) to guide whichever free journos might wander in.

Yes, you, too, can be a poor, starving journalist:



[UPDATE: On Tuesday at 3:46 pm, The Local reported that the precinct council meeting referenced above had been cancelled, adding: “We’ll repost sooner to the new date, but will bank the great questions you’ve already posed. And don’t hesitate to email bklocal@nytimes.com if you’d like to go and cover it for us in March.”]

Then at 5:58 pm, The Local ran a rambling weather report.

• • •

I’m not saying that the Times is off course in its partnership with CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism (whose students join neighborhood cameos in filing to The Local) and in its outreach to readers.

Jeff Jarvis‘ charges at CUNY are certainly getting more out of this relationship than Columbia University students did when they produced local newspapers like Bronx Beat, now online, or as they are doing now with the online Brooklyn Ink (which seems as much a training ground for how to assemble an aggregation site as anything else), and from peddling copy to community weeklies.

But let’s be candid here: The august NY Times is putting itself on the same professional level as the pajama bloggers.

The Gray Lady should be striving to match and exceed the higher standards and superior practices displayed by BaristaNet and similar Web sites, rather than racing to be an equal with those at the bottom of the blogging spectrum.

—Ed Weintrob