Monthly Archives: August 2010

Stick to the cinema, Roger

“All thanks to Chicago Tribune for blowing the cover on the federal undercover investigation before Blago was able to collect,” he tweeted.

First, that Tribune report came on Dec. 5, 2008 – after every other alleged act had been consummated.

Second, again, there was a lone holdout unlikely to be moved if the check to Blago had “U.S. Senate seat” written in the memo.

Third, the prosecution never indicated it arrested Blagojevich when it did because of the Tribune’s revelation; in fact, the story probably arose from federal sources.

Fourth, again, the act didn’t have to be completed to be criminal.

Finally, as if the Sun-Times wouldn’t have published that story with war headlines on its cover.

It’s just cheap and petty, but for as much praise as Ebert has gotten over his blog and non-movie writing, well, he needs a fact-checker and an editor because this isn’t the first time – and I’m still a big fan of his movie writing – that he’s gotten it terribly wrong. Stick to the cinema, Roger.

Time spent on top news websites falls

The average time spent on US news websites fell in January this year, compared to January 2009, Editor and Publisher reports.

The figures from a year ago are difficult to compare with those from this year because of the presidential inauguration in January 2009. Of course, it is important that audience measurement remains consistent, as there will always be large news stories that make comparisons more complicated.

The study from Nielsen Online defines ‘time spent’ as the average time spent per person over the course of one month. The top news and current events sites managed between seven and 24 minutes of user attention.

The only company to see an increase in time spent was Tribune Newspapers, which had a modest rise from nine minutes and three seconds last year to 10 minutes and 26 seconds this year.

At other organisations the time readers spent on the site fell by half or even more. Fox News Digital Network saw a fall from just over 45 minutes to just under 21 minutes. The New York Times‘ website also noted a drop from almost 29 minutes to a little over 14 minutes.

The average time that readers spend on news websites varies widely
depending on major news events and other factors, and Nielsen expanded
its audience measurement system in June last year, which could also
affect the figures, Editor and Publisher pointed out. All the figures
for average time spent per person for top news websites, January 2009
and 2010, are available here.

This follows the news that the title of the most popular current events website was taken out by CNN Digital Network
with 40.6 million users in the month of January. Some websites
increased their number of unique users compared to the year before,
despite the traffic from the inauguration. It will be interesting to
see if, and how, the websites change their strategies to keep readers’
attention for longer.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.


Anatomy of a political scandal

There is no mosque being built on the site of Ground Zero. It’s a simple fact, but one that news consumers can be forgiven for missing.

In covering the growing controversy over the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, the national media, led by the big cable networks, have by default shaped the increasingly heated debate by repeatedly referring to the project as the “Ground Zero mosque.” An MSNBC spokesman said that describing the project is a “show-by-show decision,” while a CNN spokesperson said the network guides anchors in written copy to refer to the project as “an Islamic center that includes a mosque that is near Ground Zero, or is two blocks from Ground Zero.” Of course, political pundits may stray from the network’s phrasing and inaccurately describe the location of the planned building at the center of the furor.

Thanks goes to Joseph Finn for pointing me to this article since I don’t normally read anything on Yahoo.

Find Joseph here:

As always, please read the entire article that this excerpt comes from.

What do our customers think?


This interview is part of a series of conversations with news consumers. All of the interviews are compiled here. Want to be interviewed? Sign up here. Have a question to suggest that I should be asking the interviewees? Tweet me. Have comments or questions for me or anyone I’ve talked to? Myself and my interview subjects welcome your comments on this or any other interview in the series.

First of all, allow me to apologize for the missing interviews the last two weeks. Posterous has been going down quite a bit lately. They’re working on it, but… ok., how long should I go on with the charade that anyone is actually reading these interviews? It’s not as if the last two weeks people have been beating down my door shouting WHY IS THERE NO NEW INTERVIEW???!!!

Whew. Felt good to get that out of my system. Shall we move on to the interviewee? Yes, I think we should.

This week’s news consumer would like to stay anonymous so let’s just call her Wanda. Why Wanda? Why not?

Wanda is a 40 year old single Chicagoan. She has no children, makes around 45k per year and works as an attorney. Since I know who she is and you don’t, I can attest that her intellect and curiosity about the world is on par with my past interviewees. Thus, once again, she is someone media companies should seek to please.

Aaaaaand, here we go with the questions. Any linking is mine and if you haven’t noticed already, when I have something to add I put it in brackets like these and italicize it like so—> [blah blah blah]

How have your news consumption habits changed over the years or have they stayed about the same?

I’ve really stopped reading print newspapers except for the Sunday paper, and that’s really just for the coupons. With the 24/7 news cycle and having access to the internet almost all of the time, I don’t need newspapers. I also hate that the ink and paper have gotten cheaper and cheaper. Why put up with inky smudges all over everything (especially my face) when I don’t have to do that? [No one ever brought this up previously, but I have to agree. I used to spend a lot of time with print newspapers and I had to wash my hands thoroughly after I was through. Wanda is obviously less slovenly than me since I never considered whether the ink would get on my clothes, but that’s a valid concern indeed especially for a professional woman that needs to look her best in the morning.]

Where do you usually get your news from on a daily basis? Specify print, online or otherwise for each source you list.

I get my news from CBS-2 Chicago, both online and on TV; NBC-5 Chicago, also online and on TV; Chicago Tribune, online; and various sources on Twitter including the Breaking News Tweet that you hate [Ahhh, Wanda knows my news preferences very well :-) I’ve probably gone on several tirades about this, but the most well-known is here]. I also get news from my mother. She sends me snarky emails about how Obama’s a horrible commie monster who’s ruining our country and I do some online research to refute her venom. I can’t think of all of the sources I use to refute her emails, but there are several. I try to stay away from blogs like Huffington Post when doing that b/c she just writes them off completely without reading them.

What are the things you are most interested in reading about? Are those needs being met by what’s available to you?

I’m interested in reading about the economy and how people are surviving in these times. I’m also interested in reading about how the US economy is affecting and being affected by the economies of other countries. I’ve got my blinders on lately. Sometimes it’s hard to get good coverage on the economy when Lindsay Lohan takes over a news day. [Publishers/reporters, are you frothing at the mouth? Are you thinking, we’ve got TONS of amazing news content, exactly what Wanda is looking for, what is she talking about with this Lindsay Lohan garbage? If yes, you might want to ask yourselves why Wanda isn’t seeing your amazing content. Perception is reality. If she doesn’t know it’s there, it might as well not be.]

What is your number one complaint about the news media? This can be general or really specific.

I have two complaints from which I can’t choose a number one: 

Celebrities and reality TV personalities are taking over the news. I understand that there’s a 24/7 news cycle with a lot of time to fill, but hey, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq go 24/7. The economy sucking wind also goes 24/7. How about covering those? Afraid that serious stories won’t attract news consumers? Great, thanks for pandering to the lowest common denominator.

News coverage is becoming too alarmist. Much of what happens in the economy is based on how people feel about the future. If you constantly run stories on how incredibly bad everything is and how the world is going to hell, people will react. I don’t believe the media should soft-peddle stories, but don’t over-do it just to get viewers/readers either. Present stories simply and truthfully, please [I’ve lost track now of how many people are asking for this type of adjustment in how stories are covered. I’m not in a position to make these news consumers’ wishes come true. If you are, please act accordingly].

Do you currently pay for any news content online? If yes, describe what type of content it is. If no, would you be willing to pay any amount for news content online?

I do not currently pay for online news content.  Every now and then, I consider subscribing to the Wall Street Journal online, but that’s $100 a year and that’s about $50 too much for me [Take note: Wanda is willing to pay, but her threshold is set at a certain price point. If you’re considering charging for your content, you need to consider carefully what your audience can afford to pay. There’s also no reason it has to be a one-size-fits-all model. Maybe if the WSJ had a $50 option with less content, Wanda would sign up. So might others who feel the same way. Now, WSJ might not need this group’s $50 (even if the group is large). But other news orgs might].

Other than the Chicago Tribune or the Sun-Times News Group’s publications, what other print producers of news can you name in the Chicagoland area? What online ones can you name? (this can include blogs, news aggregators, etc). No cheating! Just try to name these from memory.

There’s the Daily Herald and the Pioneer Press. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head [So bloggers and the like, you’re not making an impact with Wanda and I happen to know she does read blogs. Maybe she just doesn’t think of you as news providers. That might or might not be valid].

UPDATE: Wanda clarified her position on paying for the Wall Street Journal by saying “I would not pay $50 for less content from the WSJ. I would pay $50 for what they’re selling for $100. I’ll click past some advertising to get the less expensive content.”

Interesting, no? The willingness to put up with ads is much greater than the willingness to shell out cash. 

Political journalists: are you really serving the public?

Jay Rosen talks specifically about campaign coverage and brings up the very reasons that the public feels removed from the political conversation in Washington and beyond. THIS is what has given rise to Andrew Breitbart and the like. So journalists, some of you have been complicit in all this. Time to change the way it’s done.

Hooters: sexist and anti-feminist?


This Salon piece reminded me of one Halloween back in high school.

As per tradition, many people came to school that day dressed in costume. A big group of cheerleaders and their hot non-cheerleader friends came dressed as full-fledged Hooters girls. They looked a lot like this photo, only with backpacks instead of sporting equipment. Some of them had even altered the “uniform” to make it more revealing.

When asked why they chose to come dressed as the employees of a company that objectifies women, they said that they were doing it as an ironic statement in order to actually MAKE FUN of Hooters girls. They were absolutely NOT doing it in order to come to school scantily clad and have guys ogle them in the hallways. Clearly. Of course.

The lesson here is clear: if you’re too dumb to know what irony is, maybe dressing up like a Hooters girl is a good way to prepare for your future which will likely involve you actually working at a Hooters.

Note: BUT… of course we all know that we don’t live in a world which rewards smarts. Those girls are probably running their own companies now or doing corporate law while I scribble here.


Why Email Starts Fights

Anna Tarkov is a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

This is how the world works


Remember when you were little and you didn’t understand how anything worked? Mommy, why is the grass green? Daddy, why does a pig oink?

Then you got a little older and you started to grasp the basics, but the big stuff still eluded you. Mommy, why are you and Daddy yelling at each other? Why is that lady kissing that other lady?

Then came adolescence and the years following that where, hopefully thanks to your education, you suddenly felt like you knew it all. Mommy, want to know why atoms behave the way they do? Daddy, can I tell you about the French Revolution?

Then one day perhaps you finished college and got out into the workforce. Now you really felt like you had the world all figured out. Not only did you know why Mommy and Daddy were yelling at each other, but you could launch into a lengthy treatise on male/female relationships and possibly tell Mommy and Daddy what they should have done differently to avoid those fights or maybe why they never should have gotten married in the first place (but then that would mean you would never have been born – existential crisis! i.e. you now know what “existential” means).

The rest of your years is a large swath we’ll call “adulthood” and during this time you are expected to work, vote, stay informed on major issues, invest, plan for retirement, etc., etc. You also have the option of getting married and having children of your own who will now ask you those annoying questions. Somewhere along the way to all that you’re supposed to figure out the greater of the world’s complexities. What does it mean to be a good person? How does business work and, by extension, how is money made and lost? What are my political beliefs and why do I believe them? Of course there’s the granddaddy of them all… What is the meaning of life?

Some thing of course you probably never spend time thinking about. For instance, how does something make it into the newspaper, on TV, radio, etc? Let’s start here. The key point is this:

Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.

Now, I didn’t learn this by reading this article(which I encourage you to read in its entirety when you have a moment). I learned it by interning at a PR firm. Every morning my fellow interns and I spent considerable time scouring both print and online media for any mention of our clients, the issues important to them, the business they were in or the causes they championed and much, much more. We would put together any and all coverage into nice, photocopied packets and distribute them to our account teams.

We also saw the actual day-to-day business of what PR people do and we participated in it. The firm I interned for was actually very involved in a lot of public affairs type work for corporations, political campaigns, associations, PACs, lobbyists, etc. So we were not pitching stories to reporters about the new Whatchit or Whoozit made by Firm A, but instead massaging issues. Building consensus. Staging town hall meetings. Writing letters to the editor on behalf of our clients. Giving the impression that Firm A cared about what the people in Firm A’s neighborhood thought. Giving the impression that Candidate B was the one you should vote for. That kind of stuff.

It was memories of those days that came back to me when I read this piece about Midwest Generation, a company that runs coal-burning power plants in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. Midwest Generation was (and still is according to this) a client of the firm where I interned. In fact, on the morning of August 6, when this story was first posted online, an intern probably printed it out and included it in that morning’s packet. The gist of the story:


Together, the plants emit an estimated five million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The agency says particulate matter from coal-burning plants poses a serious public health risk for local residents.

On July 21, [Mayor] Daley spoke at the official opening of the nation’s largest urban solar-energy plant in West Pullman, a plant owned and operated by the Exelon Corporation. His pledge that day to use every means to combat heat-trapping gases drew applause from clean-air groups.

But the same groups question why the 2008 Chicago Climate Action Plan — which committed the city to sharply reducing its carbon output through sustainable development, renewable energy and energy efficiency — does not deal with carbon-dioxide emissions from the two coal plants. Public health authorities and clean-air groups say they are among the dirtiest for their size in the nation.

“It’s just strange the two largest sources of global-warming pollution in the city aren’t really addressed,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “They’re the elephants in the room.”


I instantly recalled a situation that arose while I was interning at the PR firm that represents Midwest Generation. I was going about my morning news scouring and had found some sort of posting online that made reference to those evil coal polluters and how that week’s Critical Mass bike ride would go past the company’s downtown offices. I included it in the clip packet as per usual and thought nothing more of it.

Later in the morning though, I got a call from a Senior Account Executive on my team. Sounding somewhat frantic, she said that they would need me to go to the starting point of the bike ride and try to find out exactly what the riders planned to do. Not being familiar with Critical Mass at the time, I suddenly adopted the same concerned attitude. From the website where the listing appeared, it was obvious they were some sort of radical hippie leftists so who knew what they were capable of? 

And so, I was sent to spy on the riders and try to determine exactly what route they would take and what, if anything, was planned beyond just riding by. I was to report back anything I learned to that Sr. Account Exec. She would then report anything of note to her contact at Midwest Generation.

The starting point was Daley Plaza (near this for the non-Chicagoans) and it didn’t occur to me on the cab ride over that I would be a tad out of place due to 1) not having a bike and 2) being dressed in PR intern-wear which is a shade trendier than standard corporate office wear. Luckily it was Friday and thus I was in jeans, a casual top and even a jaunty corduroy cap. But I’m sure I was in some kind of nice shoes and even though you couldn’t see my hair too much under the cap, it was obviously washed and not dread-locked. Approaching the few riders that had gathered so far, I was nervous.

After much cajoling and feigned concern for their cause, I was shown a route map. It did seem to go past the plants in the Pilsen area, but not the offices. It occurred to me that these people probably didn’t even know where the offices were. The PR firm certainly knew where to send their invoices, but these folks weren’t so clued in. See, if you Google “Midwest Generation” you won’t even find a company website. Apparently coal-burning power plants aren’t exactly keen on advertising themselves. 

In the end, nothing happened. The offices of the evil polluters/clients were left in peace and the plants kept right on chugging. This was in the summer of 2007. Yet today, 3 years later, the headline proclaims that the pressure on Midwest Generation is just now starting to build. The reporter dangles it out there that perhaps good old-fashioned political payoffs are to blame:

Critics attribute the lack of political support [for a city ordinance to cut emissions] in part to substantial political donations that Midwest Generation and its parent company, Edison Mission Group, have made over the past decade. They include nearly $50,000 to the 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization of Alderman Danny Solis of Pilsen and more than $10,000 to the campaign fund of Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward) of Little Village. The company has also donated to the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee.

What the article doesn’t mention, but what you now know, is that Midwest Generation isn’t just paying politicians. They’re also paying PR people whose jobs are to protect the company’s image. 

Is Midwest Generation alone in doing this? Do only evil, sinister companies hire PR people? No. Every company save for the most impoverished start-ups hires PR people. 

It might also interest you to know that most of the people who worked at the PR firm I interned at were rabid liberals. No political work from Republican candidates or office-holders was on the books. At first I thought it was a matter of principle. But then I learned that most many PR people have no principles.

One of our other clients was BP.

So… now you know how the world works and you didn’t even have to ask Mommy to explain it.


Jazzed up the LinkedIn profile. What do you think?

I love to write and to actively engage and inform an audience. I strongly believe in local news and local information for a local readership.

I believe in giving people information that is useful.

I believe that good reporting should provoke a feeling, provoke a discussion, provoke further reading and research or best of all, provoke action.

I believe there is a way to report that is both instructive and entertaining for the reader, listener or viewer. Solid journalism doesn’t have to be limp and lifeless.

I believe in media institutions and individual reporters interacting with their audiences, whether it’s using social networks or other means.

I believe in being a part of many circles and spheres of influence. I have been living, working and volunteering in the Chicago area for over 20 years and I have the contact list to back it up. If something is happening somewhere, I can usually explain why it matters, put it in context and have the sources to turn to if I need more information.

Finally, I believe that I would be an asset to any newsroom or any media organization. My persistence, work ethic and tenacity would be a benefit to anyone seeking to put out a great news product.

Anna Tarkov’s Specialties:

Local reporting, community journalism, political analysis (especially local issues), writing for the web, managing freelancers, content strategy, social media and general community building of an audience or readership

Is there anything I should add (or subtract) to help me grab the attention of potential employers? Fire away.