Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering November 22, 1963

A little over a year before JFK was assassinated in Dallas was the first time I every really prayed.

I was 15, a freshman in an Episcopal prep school in Hawaii. We assembled in chapel and were told that Soviet ships carrying missiles were sailing to Cuba and that we stood at the brink of nuclear war.

Maybe my prayer helped the crisis to pass. A year later we assembled in chapel on Friday, November 22, 1963, and were told that President Kennedy had been killed in Texas. There is a four-hour time difference in Hawaii so we had the entire day after being dismissed from school early to ponder what had happen.

All the championship high school football games scheduled for that Saturday and accompanying festivities were cancelled, and I recall some fellow students complaining. Sitting in chapel hearing the news and recalling the bickering and complaints are two things I definitely remember of that day. I don’t remember praying. The images of the Zapruda film, the black and white photo of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office in the plane and the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald grimacing after being shot by Jack Ruby, and the photos of John-John’s funeral salute—are images of those dark days I built later into my memory.

I remember seeing JFK and Jackie Kennedy in Hawaii earlier in the backseat of a Lincoln Continental convertible in a motorcade being driven Ewa bound on South Beretania Street in front of where we lived. He was either running for president or had just been elected president.

I didn’t know much about President Kennedy in 1963 except that I knew I didn’t like him or Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev for taking me to the brink of nuclear war. And I didn’t like how he was escalating the Vietnam War and sending young men like me to a war far away.

There was a lot I didn’t understand about what happened on that day in 1963 and a lot I didn’t understand about what had happened before and after the assassination.  I’ve learned more as I’ve gone along and hopefully will continue to understand more.

In 1964, I put a Johnson bumper sticker on my ’53 Chevy because I didn’t trust having Barry Goldwater’s finger on the nuclear button.

In 1968, I volunteered for Eugene McCarthy because he was against the war and we celebrated after he won the Oregon primary. Right after that and in the summer of 1968, I was sad, scared and angry after 
Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed and Chicago exploded.

I haven't been sad like that since those years. I’ve been scared sometimes; a lot of the time I’ve been angry. And I never prayed again.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 18, 2013

Read A Newspaper Recently?

About a year ago the Bellingham Herald put their online content behind a paywall and was followed by the other McClatchy papers The News Tribune of Tacoma and The Olympian.

Right after the last election, The Herald of Everett took their online content behind a paywall, leaving the Peninsula Daily News— also owned by Sound Publishing— as the last daily paper in the Puget Sound basin without a paywall.

After asking Bellingham Herald executive editor Julie Shirley whether the strategy putting up an online paywall worked to increase paid subscriptions, I got kind of an answer from publisher Dave Zeeck at The News Tribune who said that McClatchy Corp. didn’t release information on a paper-by-paper basis but from the McClatchy’s company third quarter report:

“...year-over-year circulation revenue went up 6.5% or about $5.3 million. I would assume most of that increase is paywall revenue, but that's a matter of interpretation, rather than fact. For the same quarter our daily circulation dropped 5.6%, and our Sunday circulation went up 1.1%.”

That’s for all of the 30 company papers. So did it help the three Puget Sound McClatchy papers?

The circulation figures from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) show the daily circulation of The News Tribune went from 74,826 (9/30/12) to 73,557 (3/31/13) and the daily circulation of The Olympian went from 21,876 to 21,621 in the same period. There were no audited daily circulation figures for the Bellingham Herald, which stood at 16,154 at the end of September 2012.

Going to paywall didn’t result in much change in daily circulation where figures were available but seems to have brought increases in Sunday subscriptions. McClatchy Corp. lists Sunday subscriptions for The News Tribune at 98,155 in 2012 and for The Olympian at 27,201. The 3/31/13 AAM report lists Sunday circulation for The News Tribune at 102,080 and for The Olympian at 30,143. Again, there were no Sunday circulation figures for the Bellingham Herald in the latest AAM report.

So, as far as I can tell, daily circulation didn’t get worse for The News Tribune and The Olympian and Sunday circulation got better. Is that good enough to make daily print news with paywalls a good business proposition for these papers in Puget Sound?

Zeeck, speaking again to the overall 30-company McClatchy picture, thinks newspapers have a future:

“If we're taking more money in by charging for digital subscriptions, both for our print customers and our digital only customers, then I think that's good news for print publications. In my opinion, going down 5.3 percent in daily subscriptions when you are charging people more to pay for the digital portion of their news consumption, that's a very good sign. So is going up 1.1 percent in Sunday circulation. I think print has a very long future.  I think it was more in doubt when people could get their news for free on the internet, and drop their print subscription.  Now, however you take the news, you have to pay for it. I think that bolsters print subscriptions in the long run.”

Maybe so. For the sake of daily print newspapers in the Puget Sound basin, I hope so. For McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, online revenue from circulation and advertising increased over the previous year’s third quarter; overall net earnings, however, declined in large part due to continued losses in print advertising. The business of newspapers is not to provide the news; it’s business is to provide the space for advertisers to communicate with readers.

The more eyes on your product, the better your chances are to sell advertising and increase revenue. What brings and keeps eyes on your product? Content, news, items of interest to readers.

An important question is whether the print and online content of the Bellingham Herald, The News Tribune and The Olympian has the kind of content in quantity and quality subscribers are willing to pay for. Will more people subscribe so more advertising can be sold— and more revenue generated? Is this the business model that will keep daily print newspapers serving the Puget Sound basin?

I hope so but am feel pessimistic when I read the recent report from the Pew Research Journalism Project: News Use across Social Media Platforms. About half of Twitter and Facebook users say they get their news from those sites, and 65% of users of social media platforms say they get their news from only one social media site. And roughly only a fourth of users of each social media platform say they also get their news from newspapers, about the same as all adults.

And on the revenue side, I learned last week that Google is on course to do $60 billion in revenue this year, almost all of that from advertising. According to, Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget , Google alone is now bigger than either newspapers and magazines. (See graph, above, in Google Is Now Bigger Than Both The Magazine And Newspaper Industries )

Maybe Google’s success and the success of Facebook aren’t necessarily taking away ad revenue from magazines and newspapers but what makes these platforms appealing is their ability to deliver large audiences that can be segmented, targeted and sold to. Daily newspapers are neither search engines nor social media platforms. But, in this day and age— and into the future— what are they?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now, What About Puget Sound?

Vital signs status(2013 SOS, Page 70)
It’s pretty obvious that the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency charged with coordinating the recovery of Puget Sound, doesn’t want to be held accountable for what it’s supposed to be doing— namely, having a healthy Sound that’s fishable, swimmable and diggable by the year 2020.

The authors of the 2013 State of the Sound report issued last week wrote: “Puget Sound remains in crisis...It is increasingly likely that we will not reach our legislatively established targets by 2020.” (As reported in “New Report: Puget Sound Still In ‘Critical Condition’ But Don’t Unplug Life Support Yet”)

The 2013 report issued last week reads like the 2012 report: things got better in a few areas, things got worse or didn’t get better in other areas, and, due to a lack of data for some things, the Partnership couldn’t tell what’s going on for the better or the worse.

Maybe the best that can be said is that the goal of 2020 was unrealistic and that the things that are getting worse or not getting better (orca population, chinook salmon recovery, eelgrass beds, marine water quality, nearshore habitat) are too hard to do.

The Partnership’s Leadership Council chair Martha Kongsgaard chose to put it this way: “Indicators like acres of restored habitat and reopening shellfish beds respond more quickly to management strategies if they are given the proper resources. In contrast, herring or orca populations are examples of more complicated indicators for which meaningful improvements might not be seen for decades.” (Puget Sound Partnership E-Newsletter, November 5 )

I don’t think the health of the Sound has decades left. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t get any sense of urgency that the health of Puget Sound is a priority any more. If there is no deadline tied to a goal, what’s a goal worth, really?

I received a couple of comments when I posted the news story last week about this year’s State of the Sound report:

One reader wrote: “"Ecology has already issued regulations (NPDES) that will cause the remaining Puget Sound basin to be developed in (effectively) the same way that the first half was developed. PSP has acquiesced. No amount of protest by the 14 scientists or People for Puget Sound (now deceased) has been able to shift Ecology or PSP. I think that we have already unplugged life support."

Another reader made four points in response:

One: The Puget Sound Partnership and its key, major members should stop doing so much “Good Tidings” publicity and be much more realistic in their bloviating.  What little “Public Relations” they use is way, way off the mark of what the situation is and what needs to happen.  They create no sense of urgency.

“Two:  Probably the 21 Targets are not quite the right way to measure the condition of Puget Sound.  I think the three strategic initiatives of Shellfish, Stormwater and Habitat might, instead, each have a couple of targets that are directly influenced by the various planned actions.  Then we could better assess the benefits of various actions – which we can’t do now.

“Three: The PUBLIC needs some simple, consistent, factual, realistic messages about conditions, causes, and actions needed.  So far those that have been presented are honorable, Pollyanna spits in the proverbial bucket.  I suspect this will need to come from non-profits because the messages will mostly not be very politically palatable.

“Four:  The esteemed, nice, credible, caring Leaders should LEAD.  Pretty much all they do is sit in meetings and mainly nod with the presentations and now and then suggest a change/ask a question.  But they set no goals, they don’t demand changes, they are not out in front championing the effort, they don’t stand for hard things like “Quit approving building permits in flood-ways”, they don’t coach the team members and they are not responsible for anything remotely related to actually improving the Sound.  They just make sure documents get released according to schedule.”

There’s urgency in the campaign to save the Sound right before us— if we choose to see it. For example, the state Fish and Wildlife Department is revising the Hydraulic Code, the permit system that is meant to ensure that no in-water construction (like piers, bulkheads, discharge pipes, marinas, oil and coal and gravel terminals) results in net loss of critical nearshore habitats or destroys or disturbs spawning and rearing fish habitat. There’s urgency to fix the current administration of the permit system and to improve the rules to truly protect nearshore habitat in Puget Sound-- if we choose to see it.

But maybe specifically saving Puget Sound nearshore habitat is too hard politically when private interests are involved; maybe saving Puget Sound in general is too hard. The new urgency today is climate change and ocean acidification, but if you think saving Puget Sound is hard, think about meeting some meaningful targets under real deadlines to reverse climate change and ocean acidification.

How far do you want to take the medical metaphor in applying it to Puget Sound? When the patient is in “critical condition” and in “crisis,” you don’t prescribe vitamins and teach wellness exercises. You do all that’s necessary to maintain vital signs and stability; you triage. For the Sound, that means moratoriums on development, prohibitions to prevent more harm, harvest closures, creating protected areas and reserves-- politically unpalatable and unpopular stuff to gain time to bring the patient back into a state of balance.

You can change the metaphor but not the reality.

What do you think?

--Mike Sato