Monday, August 31, 2009

SF Chronicle - a plan to help the newspaper

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I happened to run upon an article in today's edition of "Editor and Publisher" which reported that the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper ( is the Chronicle website) was planning more layoffs after Labor Day. It may not happen, let's pray not, but staff reductions could come as soon as next week.

Apparently, even after the last round of job cuts about two months ago or so, the newspaper is still losing $1 million a week or about $4 million a month, or a whopping $48 million-a-year loss.

That's really, really sad news as a paper is nothing without the personalities who made it, but I think there's something that can be done to at least save some jobs and stem the tide of revenue losses.

There are as of this writing 2,780,000 pages that make up My idea is simple: add a donate button to each one of them.

The button would be at the top left of each page. A person could donate as little as $1 and as much as $1,000, but let's say the average donation was $2. draws about 9 million monthly unique visitors according to this press release issued earlier this year. That comes down to about 290,000 unique visitors a day.

Let's say that just 30,000 people or about 10 percent of the daily visitor count posted a donation of $2 each. (in the video I mistakenly said 180,000 visitors and 10 percent.  That's wrong.) Over the course of a month that could be as much as $1.86 million per month in revenue. That's almost cuts the $4 million deficit in half and helps maintain newspaper staff.

That's really it; the idea's that simple.

Donation is better than news pay

I'm not a fan of the idea of charging for news, as Hearst Corporation is considering of late. It invites a process where one website can feed its content with news from the paysite, and then offer other sites and blog with the chance to link to their site rather than the paysite. Plus, with all of the journalists losing jobs, there are more people out there who know how to get a story and compete with the paysite.

The free news sites will always outnumber and outperform the paysites, regardless of how many big brands do that strategy.


Let people donate if they wish. But backing the effort with an aggressive marketing campaign and a well-designed donation button system will generate new revenue and help save the jobs of a lot of great people at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Academy to use "preference voting" for Oscar best picture

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I just got an email from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that a new "preference voting" system will be used to select the Best Pictute for the 2010 Oscars. That news plus the fact that now there will be not five but 10 pictures in contention for the award means the category is essentially being returned to a hybrid of its design of a period between 1936 and 1943.

The difference is then, preference voting was used for the final ballot of the selection for Best Picture. In 2010 it applies to the voting process as a whole.

Academy President Tom Sherak said “Instead of just marking an 'X' to indicate which one picture they believe to be the best, members will indicate their second, third and further preferences as well. PricewaterhouseCoopers will then be able to establish the Best Picture recipient with the strongest support of a majority of our electorate.”

That creates the prospect of a really controversial outcome on 2010. Let's say we have one movie that gets first choice of all picts of 50 percent of all votes. But then let's say we have another movie that gets second choice for all votes cast, 100 percent. That means the second choice movie would win, even if it didn't get a single first place vote. The academy didn't indicate to what degree the weight between first and second choice would be, so stay tuned.

Chevron Ecuador Judge Nunez bribery scandal - implications

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In a blockbuster development, Ecuador Judge Juan Nunez, the key legal figure in the Chevron Ecuador environmental damage case, is captured in a video shown here explaining that he plans to rule against the oil giant and for an award of $27 billion "more or less". The judge explains that the verdict will happen and that Chevron will be blocked from filing an appeal of his ruling. In that segment of the video, the Judge explains he's only there to talk about the verdict, not about "the other stuff" which refers to a $3 million payoff request. Later in the video its implied that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will benefit from the bribe amount.

On video today I talked to Chevron Media Relations representative Sean Comey about the video and Chevron's investigation.

In the video Judge Nunez, Aulo Gelio ServioTulio Avila ("Avila"), and Pablo Almeida and are talking with two gentleman, Wayne Hansen and Diego Borja who are environmental remediation contractors and in the Judge's chamber in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.  Hansen and Borja have pen-installed camcorders in their shirt pockets.  Diego Borja has worked for Chevron before, Hansen has not, according to Chevron.

Judge Nunez (on the left)

The idea of the meeting was for the Judge and his political associates to be paid by the environmental company for business that would come to them as a result of the Judge's planned verdict.  Here's what the Judge said from the video and the Amazonpost website:

Núñez:             “Any other questions for me as a judge?”
Hansen:           “Oh no, I, I know clearly how it is, you say, Chevron is the guilty party?”
Núñez:             “Yes Sir.”
Hansen:           “And the, the, the act (decision) is October or November of this year?”
Núñez:             “Yes Sir.”
Hansen:           “And it’s….?”
Núñez:             “No later than January.”
Hansen:           “January 2010. And the money is twenty-seven (billion dollars)?”
Núñez:             “It might be less, and it might be more.”

The Judge says "I have nothing to do with that other part" which is not explained in full but Garcia below fills in "the blanks" later, explaining that the Judge will be paid part of $3 million from the consulants.

 Patricio Garcia

The second part of the video has an operative Patricio Garcia (photo from the Amazonpost website) who's reportedly a member of Ecuador's ruling party talking about how the $3 million would be delivered and transfered. This is what was said by Garcia:

Borja: “OK. Of the three million … one million is for the judge?”

Garcia: “Yes.”

Borja: “One million for the presidency…?”

Garcia: “Yes.”

Borja: “And one million for the plaintiffs?”

Garcia: “Yes, that’s right.”

Borja: “But, Loco, for the plaintiffs, who gets the money? Fajardo?”

Garcia: “No. The thing is, we’re going to handle it here.”

Borja: “You mean Alianza PAIS would receive the payment here?”

Garcia: “Right.”

Here's the 30 minute version of the video (the full two hour version is here):

But there's more to this video than what's reported in the press thus far. The focus here is on President Rafael Correa, who's office is named by Patricio Garcia as a beneficiary of the planned bribe money as is "his sister" as stated in the video above. As of this writing Correa has not issued a statement, but his reputation has already come under attack.

The second part of the video was filmed at Alianza PAIS (which means "Proud and Sovereign Fatherland" according to the Wikepedia listing)  Offices June 22, 2009.   PAIS is a political movement led by President Correa.   Who Patricio Garcia is beyond his appearance in this video and his role in PAIS is still basically unknown as of this writing. 

Garcia says that the President's sister  Pierina will be helpful (presumably in making sure that the businessmen get their piece of the planned $27 billion pie) and will meet with "The Gringo" (that's Hansen).  I checked and "Prierina" is indeed  described here as "Pierina Correa, the president's sister and an Alianza País leader in Guayas province".  That confirms my assertion that Garcia is tied to the President and his family as he states in the video.


Chevron wants Nunez taken off the case

The implication here is that as Chevron Media Relations representative Sean Corney said in my video above, Chevron wants Nunez taken off the environmental damage case.  But given that Chevron has informed the U.S. Department of Justice, the revalation could have deeper implications.  

It could cost the country its Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) status, which was just renewed in June of this year.  Whatever the case, this news sends a clear message that doing business in Ecuador is not the "clean" experience it should be. Until now, blogs have reported the problems of corruption in Ecuador and with respect to President Correa's involvement in the Chevron case, but now we have visible evidence to back those claims.

The news also forever destroys the claim made by Ecuador lawsuit legal advisor Steve Donziger and others who say that the lawsuit against Chevron has nothing to do with the Ecuadorian Government and is brought by citizens of the Amazon. But Correa has appeared with Donziger in public and has been interviewed about the case.


One can see that the bribe money's not going anywhere near those groups of people Donziger claims to represent; the political party PAIS would get it and "handle it" as Garcia said in the video.  The question is, did Donziger or his associates in Ecuador and America know about this bribe plan?  Was he to be one of the plaitiffs that would get the bribe money? In the Amazon Defense Coalition statement today, he does not address the possibility that he may be involved, instead he said "As the facts come out it's going to backfire heavily on Chevron."

Amazon Defense Coalition defends Judge Nunez

Karen Hinton of the Amazon Defense Coalition told Reuters that the video shows Judge Nunez resisting the bribery matter. (This is Hinton's full statement.)  In point of fact, the video shows the judge saying that he's speaking in the role of Judge and "does not know about that other matter" which is a way of saying he does know but does not want it to be officially said that he does know.  It's called "plausible deniability ." 

Stay tuned.


Full video transcripts:

Meeting 1 Transcript (228 KB)
Meeting 2 Transcript (195 KB)
Meeting 3 Transcript (218 KB)
Meeting 4 Transcript (217 KB)

I'm a Video Blogger, not a journalist

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There are some people who are very confused about the role of bloggers versus journalists. Some think that bloggers like me are supposed to follow some ethic of journalism. That's wrong and its confining. Plus, it's just plain boring!

I'm a blogger, a video blogger, not a journalist. Moreover, I don't want to be a journalist. I have the greatest respect for journalists, but that's not where I live. I blog. Freely and often, I blog. I use videos more than others and that makes me a vlogger. I'm not subordinate to a journalist; I'm media. I have a point of view and I share it. I'm not a journalist.

I have over 2,000 posted videos and 10,000 blog posts. I'm a video-blogger.

Blogging ethics

Ironically, it was Jay Rosen, a noted professor of journalism at New York University, who correctly explained "blogger ethics". He wrote:

If “ethics” are the codification in rules of the practices that lead to trust on the platform where the users actually are—which is how I think of them—then journalists have their ethics and bloggers have theirs.

* Good bloggers observe the ethic of the link.

* They correct themselves early, easily and often.

* They don’t claim neutrality but they do practice transparency.

* They aren’t remote, they habitually converse.

* They give you their site, but also other sites as a proper frame of reference. (As with the blogroll.)

* When they grab on to something they don’t let go; they “track” it.

And Rebecca Blood has a definition of weblog ethics that would curl the hair of a journalist, if they had any. But in her case she hugs and embrases the idea of the free-form blogger. Still she has another set of rules:

1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.
2. If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.
3. Publicly correct any misinformation.
4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.
5. Disclose any conflict of interest.
6. Note questionable and biased sources.

If I write about a friend, like Oakland City Attorney John Russo, you know it, because I wrote or said so as I did here:

If I was given something, I say so. If I purchased lunch for someone you know it. It's up to you to either watch or go elsewhere. But on that, I've found I get the best interviews when someone talks with a full stomach.

My rule is that I insist on making quick blog update and corrections and I do so where necessary. I track an issue. And I'm biased. I use video because its authentic as I did in this one about the Harry's bouncer and the patron:

In short, I give you the World through my eyes. I give a person a platform on video, but still its through my camcorder. I talk to people I don't agree with and you know it; I talk with people I do agree with and you know it. That's my style. I insist on smart conversation but punish personal attacks. I love a good debate. I hate cyberstalkers. I'm a video-blogger not a journalist. And I'm proud of it.

Tom Hayes: Have Town Halls jumped the shark?

The town hall format is attracting a lot of attention, but people obviously come based on partisan goals, emotions run high, and political reporters determine how the story is played in the media.

The Washington Post, for instance, recently ran with
"The DNC kickoff rally in Phoenix attracted about 1,200 reform supporters, but a raucous meeting on the other side of town hosted by Obama's former presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attracted hundreds more -- most of whom were loudly opposed to Democratic reform proposals."
This at best inconsistent with the reports from the Associated Press, which indicated McCain faced a hostile town hall crowd in favor of health care reform. Quoting, again,
"After McCain opened it up to questioning, one man angrily pointed at him and asked the senator why he deserves a better health care plan than him."
A more academic setting where the focus is on facts rather than carefully scripted appearances intended to mimic open forums quite probably does more to forward any discussion. Given how adept partisans and pundits of both sides are at dismissing any assertions advanced by their opponents, the chance to have a voice from outside politics, an experienced respected scientific researcher, discussing facts is overdue.

Recognizing that, Dr. Morrison Hodges, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine (and formerly the Director of Cardiology at Hennepin County Medical Center) will describe the forces that shaped the U.S. health care system in a lecture on September 17, 2009. He intends to cover how we arrived at a "market based health care system funded by employers" and how well is it's working in comparison to other countries. Dr. Hodges will explain the history of U.S. health care and how it compares in quality and cost to other functioning systems. Dr. Hodges believes has can outline how the United States can cover everyone with quality health care "without breaking the bank."

The town hall format has done much to illuminate how central the problems with our health care insurance system are in our communities. With one in six citizens uncovered, we've all come to realize that we end up paying for their medical problems anyway, be it through increased premiums, or more subtly when they're forced to file for bankruptcy protection (over half of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are triggered by medical costs.) We've come to resent that money collected to pay health care premiums is spent at a rate of over a million dollars per day just to support lobbyists seeking to continue "business as usual" in D.C., and resent paperwork that drives up costs and bureaucrats that countermand medical decisions without improving outcomes.

It's time to peel back the rhetoric, to get past the sound-bites and the spin-mongering "pundits" -- to stop pretending this is about death panels or a way to cover illegal immigrants, and find a way to preserve our American way of life by insuring that every citizen can afford decent medical care as needed. I applaud Dr. Hodges and those who have made it possible for him to share his knowledge in an academic setting, even if it doesn't make for such dramatic TV coverage.

For more information about the Hodges lecture, see: