HHW Gold Medal Winner in 2014 Independent Publishers Book Awards

Hell and High Water has won the Gold Medal in the Current Events I category HHW 2014 Ippy Award(Political/Economic/Legal/Media) of the 2014 Independent Publishers’ Book Awards, better known at the IPPYs.

Launched in 1996, the IPPYs’ goal is “to bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers.”

The awards ceremony is May 28 in New York.

Buy it via leading New Orleans indie bookstore Octavia Books, on Amazon, or directly from me.

Reporter fired by Mobile alt bi-weekly and quickly hired by AL.com ain’t dere no mo’

Former Lagniappe and Alabama Media Group reporter Katie Nichols

(UPDATED 3/13/14 with underlined information below.)

In chronicling what may be the Gulf South’s version of Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, Rob Holbert, co-publisher and managing editor of Mobile’s alternative weekly Lagniappe, details in this March 5 commentary why the publication fired reporter Katie Nichols, including apparently fabricated diplomas from the University of South Alabama and the University of Alabama, and fabricated sources in some of her Lagniappe reports. Lagniappe‘s investigation also uncovered that Nichols had lied to at least two other publications where she had worked about her academic credentials and had been caught in an instance of flagrant plagiarism at one of those outlets.

Two weeks after getting the boot at Lagniappe Jan. 31, Nichols’ work began Lagniappe-Mobile_Logoappearing on the Mobile section of AL.com, the online home of Advance Publications’ three Alabama newspapers, where she was listed as a general assignment reporter. (Like their Advance sister paper in New Orleans, The Times-Picayune, Advance’s three formerly Alabama dailies went thrice-weekly Oct. 1, 2012, after decimating their staffs.)

However, Nichols’ profile on AL.com now lists her as a “former” reporter, and the last of her 29 reports on the site was posted at 8:03 PM March 4, the day before Lagniappe posted Holbert’s report about her serious transgressions during at least some of her two-year tenure with that publication. (UPDATE, 3/13/14, 8:56 AM CDT: Alabama communications consultant Wade Kwon noted that in a March 7 post on his popular media blog, Jim Romenesko reported that AL.com Content Vice President commented that, “Katie Nichols was employed by Alabama Media Group for three weeks. She is no longer with the company.”)

Lagniappe Co-Publisher and Managing Editor Rob Holbert

Lagniappe Co-Publisher and Managing Editor Rob Holbert

Holbert is somewhat of a folk hero in Hell and High Water, which detailed his consistent and colorful criticisms of the Press-Register, AL.com, and Ricky Mathews, the former P-R publisher and AL.com president. (Mathews is now publisher of The Times-Picayune and president of NOLA Media Group).

It would be logical to wonder how someone guilty of such egregious journalistic sins could land a job at a community’s oldest news organization two weeks after being fired by a fierce competitor. However, the antipathy between the two news outlets makes it understandable why they probably didn’t share references before, or information after, employing Nichols.

CJR.org looks at The Cleveland Plain Dealer since “digital first”

The Columbia Journalism Review keeps the heat on Advance Publications, with another hard-hitting look at another Advance newspapers to undergo “digital first.” From the opening of the story:

“As a major reorganization of the Guild-represented Cleveland Plain Dealer takes shape, veteran reporters are adjusting to ‘backpack journalism,’ the division of staff into two companies, a looming move to a new office, and demands to post stories more quickly. At the same time, they are memorializing their old newsroom in striking images that are circulating on social media and in email chains. The accompanying photo was sent to CJR by a former Plain Dealer employee with the subject line, “This used to be a newsroom.”

The devastating photo, however, no longer accompanies the article. According to reader comments to the story, P-D Photo Editor Jon Fobes said it’s his shot and that he demanded that CJR remove it from the story, which the magazine did. You can, however, still see it on this page of the Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America website. That is until the photo is deleted once Fobes also complains to the union. After all, Advance probably hates unions even more than it hates CJR these days. And Fobes needs to hang on to his job.

Read the entire CJR report here.

Union-organized protest at Advance Publications’ Jersey Journal

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2014: Bill O’Meara, president, New York Newspaper Guild, local 31003, which represents the eight-person Jersey Journal newsroom and nearly 3,000 additional newspaper employees including those at The New York Times, confirms that this rally took place as described. “We’re not blind to the issues facing the publishing industry, the newspaper industry,” O’Meara said from his Manhattan office. “We understand the pressures they’re under, but these people aren’t being reasonable. Not any kind of raise in five years is just crazy. It’s time to do right by them.”

Capital New York‘s media reporter Joe Pompeo has reported that employees of the 146-year-old Advance Publications-owned Jersey Journal across the Hudson River

An inflated, cigar-smoking pig – clearly directed at Advance Publications’ billionaire Newhouse family – outside of the Advance-owned Jersey Journal in advance of a scheduled union protest this afternoon.

from Manhattan, were scheduled to demonstrate outside its just-opened new offices in Secaucus, N.J., at 12:30 PM EST today, to protest a five-year raise freeze they say they have endured.

Capital also reported that a PR firm representing the union released a statement saying that Advance/Jersey Journal “executives are refusing to bargain over reasonable wage increases” even as “the newsstand price of the paper has increased 100% and the paper’s headquarters was sold for $2.8 million.”

As of 4 PM CST, two reports published on the companion website of Advance’s 10 New Jersey newspapers, NJ.com, announcing the opening of the new offices did not mention the planned protest. The reports also did not disclose what the company paid for the new facility. (You can read those stories here and here.) The new offices replaced the newspaper’s historic headquarters in neighboring Jersey City that gave the burg’s “Journal Square” neighborhood its name.

The Newspaper Guild represents just eight of the Journal’s roughly 100 staffers, Capital  reported. About two-dozen of those employees work in the newsroom. The guild’s contract has been in dispute for a year, according to the alt-weekly. Capital quoted a unnamed reporter saying that starting newsroom salaries are less than $50,000 annually, not much in hyper-expensive metro New York.

Jim Romenesko, who beat Capital with the story of the protest by about an hour, reported on his popular blog that the guild has asked for a four-year contract with 3 percent annual raises, but the Journal’s publisher has rejected all proposals including cost increases.

Advance exec Richard Diamond, to whom Journal Publisher Kenneth Whitfield directed Pompeo’s call, did not respond for comment, although he was apparently in the newspaper’s new building at the time. Whitfield apparently did not respond to Romenesko.

Capital has reported that employees of the company’s New Jersey newspapers, led by Advance’s flagship Newark Star-Ledger, are on edge, fearing the company plans to roll out “digital first” in the Garden State, as it has at 16 of its newspapers from Portland, Ore., to Mobile, Ala. Research I did for my book indicated that Advance has eliminated more than 1,600 jobs since launching digital first in Michigan in 2009.

Newspapers that have sustained deep staff reductions include eight dailies in Michigan, led by the Grand Rapids Herald- Review; The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; three newspapers in Alabama (The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press Register); the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News; The Post-Herald of Syracuse, N.Y.; the Cleveland Plain-Dealer; and The Oregonian of Portland.)

The protest comes less than two weeks after eight laid-off employees at The Times-Picayune filed suit against the newspaper and Advance, alleging their layoffs in October 2012 violated federal age discrimination laws and the company’s once-revered job security Pledge. Read more about The Pledge and the lawsuits by clicking here and here.

Is year-end assessment by NOLA Media Group prez a preemptive strike ahead of USA Today report?

ToOurReaders_RickyMathewsHEADLINE2013Dec22

1/6/2014, 2:50 PM CST: Information about the disappearing NOLA.com blog post about the click bait AntHillArt.com’s affect on NOLA.com’s traffic below in red and underline..

12/24/13 5:59 PM CST: Additional information via a sharp-eyed insider below in red and underline.

12/23/13, 12:37 CST: Clarification to the original post added below in red and underlined type.

As USA Today media reporter Roger J. Yu concluded a reporting trip to New Orleans for an upcoming article about the extraordinary newspaper war now raging there, NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews Sunday published a year-end recap to readers.

The timing of Mathews’ missive, vis–à–vis Yu’s visit, is suggestive of the preemptive strike

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NMG Vice President of Content and Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss penned almost exactly one year ago. Amoss’ commentary came a day before a long-anticipated “60 Minutes” segment aired about the poorly executed transformation of the then-175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper into a “digital first” enterprise.)

Despite NMG’s fierce focus for the past year-and-a-half on NOLA.com, Mathews’ commentary was not available on the website, but only via the printed newspaper and the e-edition. (A PDF of it, downloaded from the e-edition, can be accessed by clicking this link: ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22.) (CLARIFICATION, 12/23/13: Although it didn’t appear on NOLA.com, Mathews’ letter can be found at NOLA Media Group’s corporate site at http://www.nolamediagroup.com/about/, and on page A14 of the newspaper’s Dec. 22 print edition.)

Clocking in at 844 words, about half the length of a banner, front-page commentary directed at readers shortly after he assumed the top spot in the summer of 2012, Mathew opened his latest dispatch with a glowing account of what was at stake when digital first began, and what has been accomplished:

A little more than a year ago, we stepped boldly into the rapidly changing digital world. Our future as a viable news entity was at stake. We launched a new approach to delivering news and connecting our readers with our advertisers.

As we approach the end of the first year of operation in our new world, we are well on our way toward assuring our long-term ability to provide vital news and world-class advertising solutions to the communities we proudly serve.

Mathews full-page letter detailed major editorial projects undertaken by NMG in the past year, including wall-to-wall coverage of the 2013 Super Bowl (held at the Louisiana Superdome) and all of the fun and frivolity surrounding it; breaking news coverage of a horrific Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans; and an investigative series with TV partner WVUE for which an online, reader-accessible database of campaign contributions was created.

He went on to say that home delivery of the newspaper “has grown for four (soon to be five) consecutive months, and we are reaching more than 500,000 readers in print each week.” (For the six months ending Sept. 30, the most recent report the newspaper filed with industry auditing group Alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune reported an average print circulation of 130,881 on Sundays, 115,499 on Wednesdays, and 115,877 on Fridays, the three days of the week it now publishes. That totals to 362,257 for the average week during that period.)

Mathews reported that NOLA.com’s website audience grew to more than 4.5 million unique users a month, with more than 2 million accessing the site or its apps through smart phones and tablets. (NMG had 2.6 million unique users during the month of September – again the most recent numbers available – according to the latest AAM report the company filed. ADDITIONAL INFO: Nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast, reported the NOLA had the following unique users Nov. 23-Dec. 22. Although Mathews did not specify a time frame for his figure, the latest Quantcast number of 5.9 million is significantly higher than Mathews’ stat:

TOTAL Web

5,853,704

Mobile

2,887,086

Online

2,966,618

Source: Quantcast

ADDITIONAL INFO #2, 12/24/13: A sharp-eyed reader alerted me that NOLA.com’s past unique visitor figures cited above via Quantcast were anomalously inflated by an aggregated video  courtesy of a site called AntHillArt.com. NOLA.com acknowledged the click-bait generated 1.3 million page views in 30 hours, “which at least Ricky Mathews was honest enough not to claim” in the stats he cited in his reader letter, my tipster noted. According to Quantcast, NOLA.com attracted 3.7 million unique visitors and 22 million page views during the month of November, the most-recent full calendar month for which statistics are available.

Additional INFO #3, 1/6/14: Sometime after my 12/24/13 update (above) went live, the link on the NOLA.com blog post acknowledging the AnHillArt.com click bait was disabled. (It apparently was on a publicly available section of the site that intended primarily for internal audiences.) You can read a screen grab of the original post by clicking here.

Mathews also reported that NMG’s newly beefed-up offerings in Baton Rouge – including a substantially larger staff there, the ability for NOLA.com readers to specifically choose to view news from that community, and a weekly entertainment tab named BR – has resulted in a 40% larger audience in the state capital in the past year.

NMG’s online offerings have been the target of criticism and derision, but Mathews reports they’ve improved considerably:

We have made dramatic improvements to the digital experience for our readers across all platforms, with new photo galleries and improved video players; responsive design that allows easy reading whether on tablet, desktop or phone; and state-of-the-art commenting systems that allow for real-time conversations among our writers and readers.

Mathews also boasts of employing more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors through NOLA Media Group and Advance Central Services Louisiana, the two companies corporate owner Advance Publications formed when “digital first” was implemented. (NOLA Media Group is the online newsgathering arm, while ACS oversees everything related to the printing and distribution of the newspaper, along with HR. the print edition and its support services, including printing and delivery.) The newspaper’s total full-time employee (e.g., those receiving full-time wages and benefits) headcount dropped 30% after “digital first,” and a number of undisclosed independent contractor newspaper carriers also lost their routes. The newsroom has made some hires since the transformation, but the organization now employs more freelancers and stringers on a contractual basis since the changes, so it’s unclear exactly what portion of that 1,000 are full-time employees. Based on figures I compiled for my book and those disclosed by NOLA Media Group, full-time employees with benefits probably now total between 550 and 600.

ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22_IMAGE

Imagery that accompanied Ricky Mathews’ Dec. 22, 2013 letter “To Our Readers”

Seven former T-P employees laid off in “digital first” sue newspaper, parent company

age_discrimination_cartoonSeven former T-P employees who were among the more than 200 who lost their jobs in 2012 because of the radical “digital first” restructuring Advance Publications undertook at the newspaper and more than a dozen others it owns across the country, filed suit this week against the companies. The suits allege age discrimination and illegal employment practices. They were filed in Orleans Parish District Court.NOLADefender_Logo

You may read my story about the suit, published by NOLA Defender, at this link.

Capital New York includes Hell and High Water on its “Holiday Media Reads” List

Capital New York’s media columnist Joe Pompeo puts Hell and High Water in VERY good capital-logo- and exclusive – company by including it in its “Holiday Media Reads.”

“Inside the ‘grassroots’ campaign to keep a vaunted daily newspaper afloat,” the article reads. “A deep dive on a good old-fashioned newspaper war by a former reporter going back to her roots.”

The selective five-book list includes tomes on Rupert Murdoch (by NPR’s media reporter David Folkenflik), Fox News’ Roger Ailes, New York sports radio media institution WFAN and Scandal: A Manual, a montage about infamous gossip columnists. You can see the entire list here.