Friday, December 10, 2010

Costly Mistakes  | American Journalism Review

Costly Mistakes | American Journalism Review

In this AJR piece, John Morton's got some very good points. You can look at about any daily paper in the nation and it is a shadow of its 2003 self. Still a lot of quality work being done, but trimming of staffs was necessary considering the drop in revenues. We all, big and small papers alike, were giving it away for free.

Still, as a left-leaner, I wish all these corporations that own so many papers would be more realistic about a lower profit margin and stop trying to live up to the 30 percent they were making back in the 1970s and early 1980s. The bean counters have definitely affected the quality of newspapers.

You can almost trace the acceptance of newspaper site pay walls along generational lines. One young consultant I know sings "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" every time a site drops their pay wall. But others, mostly a little longer in the tooth, know that it costs money to produce, so why would you throw it out for free?

We put up a pay wall for our weekly newspaper and heard some griping, but we also more than doubled our electronic subscription count over a year.

I also watched a discussion with Hollywood "super agent" Ari Emmanuel and while it didn't deal with newspaper, it did deal with digital content. He says people in Silicon Valley are naive if they think movies and other created content should be free. He said it's simply theft to take it, even if it is easy to take.

The best thing I heard at the last newspaper convention I attended was that this transformation to digital is a 50-year process and we are still in the toddler years. It's best that newspapers: Stay on top of what is happening; try some things and stop others that aren't working; and, most importantly, realize that no matter what you do, it's going to change again, probably sooner than you would like.

Personally, I don't believe there is anything wrong with charging for the service you provide. No one, from publishers to producers to prostitutes, is going to stay in business long if they give it all away for free.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Author interview - E. Ethelbert Miller

I feel I have no business interviewing poets because the craft is lost on me. I am anxious that everything they say will be deep and I'll be unable to process or decipher what he or she means, thanks to my country bumpkin, community journalism background.

But E. Ethelbert Miller, whom I had a chance to interview last week, was very down to earth. Though still active in social justice issues for African-Americans, he doesn't have traditional Southern African-American roots. His roots are in Barbados and he was raised in the South Bronx before moving to Washington, D.C. for his college studies.

He is a very influential man in American Letters and I liked that he said he feels he should speak up "for people who are not in the room," whether that be an overlooked African-American artist or someone from Utah who is ignored by the New York publishing establishment.

I can't wait to hear his talk here at UHV. Though many give poets the back of their hand, this man's work and advocacy are important, especially in today's ideologue-dominated world.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Aaaaand the other side of the advertising coin....

From the "What were they thinking" category....

Funny/disturbing advertisements.

WaPo iPad commercial

Some will no doubt gripe that the Washington Post "sold out," but this is a charming commercial and one I can relate to, dealing with old lions and new twitterers in the newsroom. Features Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee. Also makes me want an iPad, but that's still far down the priority list.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Picking fonts - best practices

An inexact, subjective art form, to be sure, but here is a good article for picking fonts for your publication. Some page designers, including many at decent-sized newspapers (ahem, Telegram), give little thought to keeping their look modern, much less arranging the fonts in a way that is appealing.

It's not just picking one or two out of the font menu -- it involves contrast, weight and mood, just to mention a few traits. This article in Smashing Magazine does a great job of explaining what to look for.

Even if you're at a small newspaper, you can give your readers a modern-looking product. Check out this article for help with the fonts, an important part of the recipe for page design.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Author interview - Charles Spurlin - Plus a new press begins

This news release is more about the start of a press here at UHV than it is the author's book, though "Port of Victoria" is certainly an interesting and important part of the history of this place.

I like that the university has begun its own press -- University Press of Victoria. There is an amazing amount of creativity and progressive action toward publishing here, all of it good for the university and the town itself. More plans are in the works for books and literary journals. And today I heard discussion of possible writers' workshops.

A great place to be for readers and scribes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Author interview - McArthur/Smith

This couple teaches at UH-Victoria and just came out with an interesting book dealing with women's rights in the Lone Star State. I interviewed Judith McArthur and Harold Smith who took a new take on the subject, getting down into little known players of the movement, far beyond Ma Ferguson and Ann Richards. Published by UT Press, it will be a good classroom book but it also looks like a good read for anyone interested in women's issues.

Author interview - Diana Lopez

Here's another interview with an American Book Review speaker, Diana Lopez, who is now on the faculty at UH-Victoria. She's also a family friend and boarded with us while she and husband Gene were in transition from San Antonio to Victoria. I say "boarded" because much of her time at our home was spent playing board games with our young sons. Diana is a talented writer and a solid addition to the diverse English staff at UHV. This Corpus Christi native is also about the nicest person you could ever hope to meet.

Author interview - Kim Herzinger

Kim Herzinger is about the coolest guy you could meet. He recently joined the staff here at University of Houston-Victoria and it was a pleasure to talk with him (though a bit intimidating, to be sure).

Kim owns Left Bank Books in Manhattan a store for rare first-editions, not a business you can establish just anywhere, so he obviously knows writing and knows publishing. He's also THE expert on Don Barthelme, the influential Houston writer, and has edited a couple of books of his work.

You can tell from his photo that Kim is a laid-back guy. Those of us in the words business look at him and think, "Man, what a cool existence."

Author interview - Amelia Gray

Here is an interview I did a few weeks ago with Amelia Gray, a young writer who is leading the "flash fiction" genre. While I am no expert on flash fiction, and it's a little hard to follow her train of thought at times, I enjoyed her talk at the ABR Reading Series. She was funny and related well to the students and she obviously works hard as she writes advertising copy during the day. That alone was good info for the students to have if they're planning to make a living writing. Pick up her book if you want some short, fun reads.

Author interview - Ann Weisgarber

Here's a link to an interview I did and wrote with Ann Weisgarber. She didn't take the normal university and Iowa Workshop route to writing, and it's nice to see her getting attention from a diverse group of fans. I'm only two chapters into her book, but it is shaping up to be a solid story.

She is extremely gracious for the awards and accolades she has received and I look forward to seeing her talk here in Victoria next week.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Favorite shots of my boys

I think the boys were about around 5 and 3 here. They were slightly excited to be at the Austin Trail of Lights. Added a little time exposure for effect.

October 2009 at the Rockdale Fair. Love their expressions. Following a long line of Cooke boy hellions.

Welcome, Spartans, one and all

Roughly a decade behind the times, I've finally created a blog. In my defense, however, my newspaper columns at my former gig were posted online.

This will be a place I share stories, photos, and things of general interest like writing, reading, and bangin' the drums (which a part of me wishes I was still doing regularly). 

Hope you enjoy. Drop me a line and let's stay in touch.

You can also friend me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter at