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Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Toasting Veuve-Clicquot, The Champagne Nurtured By An 18th-Century Businesswoman

In business, History, women on December 31, 2009 at 12:11 pm
veuve clicquot

Image by jenny downing (r&r) via Flickr

It’s not easy running a diversified family business, certainly as a young widow. Try it in 1805. The widow Clicquot is one inspiring grande dame, and tonight I’ll toast 2010 with her product.

From Wikipedia:

In 1772, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron established the original enterprise which in time became the house of Veuve Clicquot. His son, François Clicquot, married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1798. Clicquot died in 1805, leaving his widow (veuve in French) in control of a company variously involved in banking, wool trading, and Champagne production. Under Madame Clicquot’s guidance the firm focused entirely on the latter, to great success. [3]

During the Napoleonic Wars, Madame Clicquot made strides in establishing her wine in royal courts throughout Europe, notably that of Imperial Russia. By the time she died in 1866 Veuve Clicquot had become both a substantial Champagne house and a respected brand. Easily recognised by its distinctive bright yellow labels, the wine is roughly pronounced “vuuhv klee-koh”. It holds a royal warrant of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Since 1987 the Veuve Clicquot company has been part of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group of luxury brands, and today owns a controlling interest in New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Vineyards.

Madame Clicquot is credited with a great breakthrough in champagne handling that made mass production of the wine possible. In the early 19th century, with the assistance of her cellar master, Antoine de Müller, Clicquot invented the riddling rack that made the crucial process of dégorgement both more efficient and economic.[4] Clicquot’s advance involved systematically collecting the spent yeast and sediments left from the wine’s first (or primary) fermentation in the bottle’s neck by using a specialized rack.

Composed much like a wooden desk with circular holes, the rack allowed a bottle of wine to be stuck sur point or upside down. Every day a cellar assistant would gently shake and twist (remuage) the bottle to encourage wine solids to settle to the bottom. When this was completed. the cork was carefully removed, the sediments ejected, and a small replacement dose of sweetened wine added to encourage the secondary fermentation that gives Champagne its distinctive bubbles.[5]

I drink V-C because I like it, (nope, no free bottles induced this blog!), and because I love to honor the memory of a tough, shrewd, pioneering businesswoman.

A votre sante!

Reporter Michelle Lang Killed By IED In Afghanistan, First Canadian Journalist To Die There In Seven Years

In Media, women on December 31, 2009 at 8:21 am
michelle-lang-calgary

Image by Oldmaison via Flickr

Newly engaged, on her first assignment to Afghanistan, 34-year-old Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang was killed yesterday when an IED exploded, also killing four Canadian soldiers.

Lang was the Herald’s full-time health reporter and captured a National Newspaper Award earlier this year for her coverage of the health beat.

Shortly before Christmas, Lang blogged about the atmosphere at the base.

“I am currently at Kandahar Airfield, the sprawling military base near Kandahar City perhaps best known for its dusty conditions and a very busy Tim Hortons. At the moment, Afghanistan’s winter rains have turned that famous dust into a giant mud pit,” she wrote.

“Life here, though, has been made considerably brighter by Christmas decorations. Many soldiers have decorated their sleep tents with Christmas lights. One bike near the media work tent has a wreath attached to its handlebars.”

Lang was on a six-week assignment in Afghanistan, her first trip to the country, and was filing daily news stories and blog posts for the Herald and other Canwest papers across the country.

She was the fourth Herald reporter to cover the Afghan war in the last three years.

Ten Things I Learned In The Past Decade

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm
New years eve 2010

Image by adamjackson1984 via Flickr

I hope your 2010, and the decade to come, is filled with good things.

Here are a few of the life lessons that hit me upside the head these past few years, some more gently than others:

1) Young ‘uns rule. If you’re older than 35, 45, let alone 50, it’s a good time to get to know, and understand the thinking and relationships and behaviors of, people unrelated to you who are smart, talented, ambitious — and under 30. Maybe not if you’re a civil servant or tenured professor, but in the media, I think so. Even as a manager, it’s your job now to figure out how differently they think and deal effectively with it, whether the use of technology or some radically different ideas of what work is.

My two best professional opportunities arose this past year thanks to meeting two young women, both of them barely out of graduate school, who were working with high-level people they introduced me to. Had I been dismissive or skeptical of their interest, which many older, experienced workers can be, or could have been pre-recession, I’d have missed out.

One of them is fellow Canadian-jock-in-NY, T/S’s Katie Drummond, who heard me speak to her grad school class at NYU, snagged me, and is now one of my under-30 bosses. Reporting to people so much younger than is a little funky at times, but work — now more than ever — is less about titles and degrees and what you’ve done for the past 20 or 30 years, but about collegiality, mutual respect, enthusiasm, shared values.

Some of us older folk also share the “new” values of Gen Y, such as a way to make a living that also allows us the time and energy to enjoy our life. And there’s no way past the ugly truth that age discrimination is thriving. If you’re out of work, sneak in under the skirts of someone fresh(er)-faced.

2) Techno-sabbaths will keep you and your relationships healthy. I’m not an Orthodox Jew, but I admire their strict Sabbath. In an era of cool, sexy, portable toys that buzz, beep, blink, ring, whine and suck us into their orbits 24/7, turn ‘em all off! One full day every single week. Very, very few of us need to be available 24/7, to anyone. It’s ego, addiction, boredom. Your kids, partner, co-workers and others — like wait-staff and retail associates trying to serve lots of other people at the same time — will like you more.

Read the fantastic book on this issue, “Distracted” by Maggie Jackson. Then go stare into the sky or at nature, night or day, uninterrupted, for 20 minutes. We are not meant to spend all our days reacting and responding to machinery, no matter how alluring its form.

3) Take gentle, consistent, grateful care of your body. In January 2000, mine started teaching me a lesson I had no interest in learning — it has limits. Excuse me? I’m not invulnerable?

That’s when I had a right knee arthroscopy to remove torn cartilage (the result of playing three squash games a week). December 2001, I had left knee arthroscopy for the same problem. May 2008 offered right shoulder surgery. By December 2009, the left shoulder needed months of physical therapy to avoid another surgery. November 2009, stress fracture of my left foot.

I’m now on a first-name basis with a whole pile of physical therapists, whose praises I sang in a piece for The New York Times. Not exactly what I had in mind.

In the past decade, I’ve also watched more than a dozen people I cared for die, one at 17 of cancer, another at 49, of cancer, one murdered the day after he retired. Life and health are to be treasured.

If you’re young — under 30, say — you’re certain you’ve got your whole life, probably 80+ years’ worth, to eat junk, sleep 4 hours a night, ride a bike without a helmet, binge-drink, have weird/complicated relationships with food, smoke, take all kinds of drugs or share prescription medications with friends. All you need is one bad accident, surgery or months-long injury to get it and get smart(er.)

Women, especially, are socialized to care for everyone but themselves and to focus endless, tedious, narcissistic attention on the size and shape of their bodies. Focus instead on your blood sugar/pressure, heart health, cancer risks, mental health, wearing a facial moisturizer with SPF every single day.

We live, in the U.S. in one of the most brutal and bare-knuckled of capitalist countries: no paid sick leave, little or no paid vacation, 1/3 of the workforce now working freelance or temp or contract — i.e. no paid sick days or vacation, people terrified to disappoint their boss(es) and get fired. Don’t let this larger world shorten your life, as it can and will.

I worked myself, in March 2007, into three days on an IV in a hospital bed with pneumonia. Don’t ever be(come) that person. Save several months’ expenses so when you are ill you can take enough time off, in most cases, to fully recover.

Respect your body for its strengths and be gentle with its weak(er) bits.

4) Mentor and volunteer, wisely. Everyone needs help, at 17, 28, 39, 54. Whenever. Don’t be a doormat and beware of users, but make it a point to help others trying to achieve a goal you admire and share. It’s fun and it builds good karma.

I answered an email about six years ago from a younger writer in D.C. asking advice. Unlike most people who shamelessly ask to “pick my brain”, he immediately offered several extremely valuable, hard-t0-get editor contacts. Which was kind, classy and made me reply right away. He wasn’t, as so many hungry wannabe’s, out to grab and run.

We have since — still never having met face to face — become good friends and colleagues, acting as valuable sounding boards for one another. The book he was then trying to sell became a best-seller. Cool!

I also serve on the board of the 1,400 member American Society of Journalists and Authors and am a trustee for the Writers’ Emergency Assistance Fund, which gives grants of $5,000 quickly to qualified writers in need.

Find a cause, or several, that matter deeply to you and make a commitment to giving back.

5) Publishing a book will not, despite people’s fantasies to the contrary, change your life. Everyone thinks it will. They want it to. You want it to. Your agent or publisher, maybe less so. They’re been around that block many times before. Don’t assume you’ll get on “Oprah” or even get reviewed anywhere.

If you’re lucky, and/or persistent, and the book has some lasting value, you will find a community of its fans. That’s a lovely thing. Nurture them.

If it does change your life in any significant way, say a huge thank you to whatever deity — or non-deity — you pray to. You are extremely fortunate. Now, go help someone else achieve this; see Lesson Number Four.

6) You can find a decent guy/woman on the Internet. In March 2000, a man in Brooklyn saw my profile on aol.com and wrote me a letter.  Like me, he was a workaholic, ambitious career news journalist, someone who lives to eat, drink, listen to music, take photos, travel. We would never ever have met otherwise, even though we both worked for the Times, he staff, me freelance.

I was, officially, writing a story about on-line dating — then declasse, secret, scary — for the now-defunct women’s magazine, Mademoiselle. We’ve been together ever since.

7) Taking risks is essential to growth. The most terrifying choice — of man/woman, job/career, pet(s), kid(s), re-training, new city, town or country, the fellowship or grant you’re sure you’ll never win, leaving the man or woman or boss who abuses you, the athletic challenge that looks impossible — go for it! Be selective and smart about it, but if nothing you’re working on or with ever makes you a little nervous or anxious, in a good way, you’re stagnant.

8) Your dream job/man/woman/home may prove to be a nightmare. You’ll survive.

9) Being broke, (short of losing your home and health), is annoying as hell but it won’t kill you. I am not talking about severe, chronic poverty, but the nasty fiscal dive so many of us have taken in the past two years — and in the recessions of 2003 and 1990. I’ve watched my income plummet by three-quarters on a few occasions. Not fun!

I live near New York City, where simply driving my Mom to the airport in the summer of 2008 snapped my last nerve after paying an insane $13 in tolls and parking for 15 minutes. Not including gas. Enough already!

Live as far below your means as you can tolerate, adding luxury and pleasures when and where they are affordable; read The Millionaire Next Door, published in 1998, for advice and inspiration on avoiding dangerous peer or family pressure to “keep up”.  Health insurance, safe housing and healthy food are necessities. Cable TV, cellphones, a gym membership, new clothes (short of underwear or socks) are not.

Being broke, even for a few weeks or months, offers a powerful, unavoidable opportunity to sort out your priorities and values, let alone prompt a come-to-Jesus conversation with your partner/spouse/family of origin/kids.

Don’t attach your entire ego to your job title, profession or career. If you have to leave them behind, what (else) will provide you with your sense of self-worth and value?

10) A balanced life includes nurturing your mind, body, soul, heart, friends, family and community. It’s not a zero-sum game. Think of yourself not as a two-sided scale, but a multi-faceted gemstone like a diamond, one that needs to gleam.

I weary to nausea of “balance” conversations. It’s life. It’s your life. It’s your only life. If you need someone to do more of, (even some of), their share of the cleaning, grocery shopping, housework, picking up their dirty laundry — delegate. Insist. Insist again.

Little kids, let alone teens, need to learn that Mom (or, less frequently, Dad) doesn’t mean “slave” in some foreign tongue. If you do always feel like a weary slave to your domestic environment, job or location, consider quitting, moving, downscaling and buying/owning fewer things that need care, feeding, dusting, polishing. Your only life is getting shorter by the minute.

Even if you don’t have kids, you likely have a kajillion other commitments, certainly in a lousy economy with little relief in sight. The word “no” is useful, short, easily said. You can still be a generous and giving person and carve out time for yourself. Do you really need everyone to rely on you being indispensable all the time — or could you, even a few nights a week, instead flop into bed at 9:00 pm. and enjoy a full eight hours’ sleep?

If you don’t take deliberate and consistent care of your own needs, whether for privacy, silence, worship, dawdling, doodling, canoodling, doing nothing, you’ll burn out and become a monster. No one likes a martyr.

Make a list, today, of 10 affordable, accessible activities (no, not Paris) that make you really, really happy. How often do you do them?

Have a Happy New Year  — and great decade!

Louisianians Happiest, New Yorkers Most Miserable, National Study Finds

In behavior, US on December 30, 2009 at 12:50 pm
Skyline - New York City, New York at night

Image by Trodel via Flickr

A study of state residents’ happiness by professor Stephen Wu, assistant professor of economics at Hamilton College, finds New Yorkers the least happy of all — unfortunately, it didn’t break out the difference between upstate and downstate, so we don’t know if people in Park Slope or Staten Island are actually ecstatic while those in Rochester or Newburgh or Albany are mad as hell.

Wu’s study found that people in poor states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which, despite chronic poverty, were a lot cheerier than in New York, which came out at the bottom of their list. His research ties into a new book by former Harvard president Derek Bok’s “The Politics of Happiness”; both were interviewed today at great length (43 minutes), on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show.

As someone living 25 miles north of Manhattan in a county with insane property taxes, (mine are mitigated because I own an apartment), I get it. My county lacks many of the things that make me really happy, some deeply personal, others less so, from no decent florists, few cafes or other cool, hip “third spaces”, not enough sidewalks, lousy public transportation to the predictable — it’s boring! I stay for an affordable quality of life and quick, easy access to Manhattan. I enjoy a great view of the Hudson River and would be hard pressed to give it up.

Any New Yorker paying crazy-high taxes to the clowns in Albany, who recently shot down gay marriage, also gets it.

Like my partner, I moved here primarily for work; my family and long-time friends are far away. I certainly do enjoy the amenities and culture of Manhattan, but I won’t describe my experience here as one of relentless joy. It’s too hard, too expensive and you need to hire and pay lawyers for some of the simplest transactions. With long and expensive commutes and tolls of $5-9 each way to cross almost every bridge or tunnel, even going to hang out with a friend face to face who lives some distance away from you can feel like a costly hassle.

I do like the weather, which some New Yorkers find appalling — try Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto winters! I find New York plenty sunny and the cold is nothing as long as the sun is shining; in Toronto, the “lake effect” ensures months of cloudy, gray days, no matter how sunny the day begins. Much as I hate New Yorkers’ elbows-out pushiness, I do enjoy the variety of work and cultural opportunities.

Bok says that it’s social relationships that make people happiest — friends, family, trust, enjoying your neighbors. Wu agrees, that connection is the bigger factor than just knowing lots of people.

Callers to the show, and Bok, suggested that the chronically ambitious — what Bok called “excessive expectations”  — are de facto grumpy. New York City, certainly, attracts those who have extremely high expectations of themselves and others, making it easy to be disappointed about every five minutes if that’s your style.

Time to lower the bar?

Japan's 'History Girls', Fed Up With Today's Guys, Turn To Men Of The Distant Past

In behavior, men, women on December 30, 2009 at 9:26 am
Samurai walking follwed by a servant, Galerie ...

A samurai.Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a craze for you — men of the 16th century. Sooooo macho!

Japanese women are turning into “history girls” idolizing men who they’re sure were strong, brave, manly. They’re buying books and comics, watching films, swooning over guys who were very definitely not herbivores, the slow-moving contemporary Japanese men so named because they are not interested in flesh, i.e. sex, and sex with women.

I can see the appeal. I’ve always thought the Voyageurs were pretty cool.

The Voyageurs arose during a time when most of the Midwest was under French control, and the territorial government in Montréal acted as a shipping hub and regulated the number of furs that passed through. To retain its value, beaver had to stay rare in Europe. Unfortunately, hundreds of coureurs du bois, or woodsmen fur smugglers, threatened to glut the market and drive down the price of beaver. So, to control trapping, Montréal issued permits to trading companies, allowing them to officially sponsor teams of traveling fur traders called Voyageurs.

Voyageur teams made their living paddling giant Montréal canoes across the Great Lakes and only slightly smaller North canoes up and down the Mississippi, Illinois and other rivers, trading axes, knives, beads, and other goods for beaver pelts. When loaded, these massive canoes could fit eight Voyageurs and up to 8,000 pounds of cargo! The Voyageurs not only had to navigate the rivers with this large load, but also carry both canoe and goods over the long overland portages between rivers. Compare the physically taxing Voyageur struggle over portages with today’s mechanical barges, locks, and dams. Learn about these technological advances and their historical context with a visit to Illinois Waterway Visitor’s Center along the Illinois River Road.

If you were going to date a guy from history, who would you pick?

Why You Should Read This, And Everything, More Slowly

In Media on December 30, 2009 at 8:26 am
A visitor takes a book off a shelf at the The ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

How much do you read every day? How quickly?

One writer makes an interesting, and I think, cogent argument for reading less, slowly. He links it to the slow food movement, the notion being that less is more, a life that is consumed with thoughtful, selective pleasure rather than enormous gulping bites and swallows, is one worth living.

I agree.

The only blogs are a a few I read here. I read three papers every day and about 20+ magazines a month. But if I am not also reading a book, or several, (let alone looking at art, listening to music, watching a performance), my brain is going dead. I see a large and crucial difference between being informed (news) and entertained/instructed/forced into reflection.

It does me, and many others, little good to just know a lot of stuff. When was the last time, regardless of medium, you read something that left you sitting there in awe at its power and beauty? What was it you read?

Here’s the interesting argument in Forbes, by writer Trevor Butterworth:

If the moral of this story is that media commentary is like navigating in fog, the crisis of journalism is, at this point, sufficiently real to be seen as part of a wider conceptual crisis brought about by new-media technology: a crisis that is located, primarily, in the cognitive effects of acceleration and its cultural backwash. In short, a relentless, endless free diet of fast media is bad for your brain. Generation Google ( GOOG news people )–those who have never known a world without the Internet–it turns out, not only cannot use Google effectively, they don’t even know enough about how to search for information to know they can’t use Google effectively. The idea that the kids are whizzes at multimedia tasking is a platitude confected by middle-aged techno gurus to peddle their expertise as explainers of generational difference. In fact, relentless multitasking erodes executive function. And while the brain may not be overloaded by 34 gigabytes of brute information a day, it appears that too many of these mental quanta are the equivalent of empty calories. PlayStation and texting need to be balanced out by reading novels, handwriting (for old-fashioned digital dexterity) and playing with other live people if you want your child to develop to be an effective, skill-acquiring, empathetic adult….

The idea of consuming less, but better, media–of a “slow word” or “slow media” movement–is a strategy journalism should adopt. It will be painful, as it involves thinking about media as something sustainable, local and (hardest of all for hard-bitten hacks) pleasurable. But as the historian Michael Schudson has argued, it’s simply unrealistic to expect the public to read newspapers as a daily personal moral commitment to democracy. Instead, look to what Dave Eggers has brilliantly shown with the San Francisco Panorama, namely that the physical quality of a newspaper and the aesthetic pleasure of reading can make people so excited about journalism that they’ll buy it–not just conceptually, but in terms of parting with cash.

Eggers could well be the Alice Waters (queen of American slow foodies) of the news media, McSweeny’s its Chez Panisse. But even more explicit in advocating principles of slow media is Monocle, a luxuriously bound and produced monthly by Tyler Brule, a journalist turned creative guru and, crossing Jane Jacobs with John Ruskin, an apostle of a 21st-century, globally aware aestheticism in everything from a cup of espresso to urban planning and airline uniforms.

Ottawa Rocked By Rookie Cop's Killing, Its First In 26 Years: Former RCMP Officer Charged

In Crime on December 29, 2009 at 4:58 pm
Mounties (female)

Image by Mrs Logic via Flickr

This is one weird story — a former RCMP officer charged with killing an Ottawa police officer.

The policeman, only three years on the force, was Eric Czapnik, a Polish immigrant, and the alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson, who is said to have stabbed him outside a hospital at 4:30 a.m., is a former officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, formerly working in Regina, Saskatchewan. The young officer was ambushed and stabbed, with no apparent motive, while sitting in his police vehicle.

Ottawa, a normally calm and placid city, Canada’s capital, where people skate to work along the Rideau Canal, is stunned by its first cop-killing since 1983.

Reports The Globe and Mail:

The slaying sent shock waves through the 1,800-plus uniformed and civilian members of the Ottawa Police Service, which had not lost an officer in the line of duty in more than a quarter-century.

Constable Czapnik was a Poland-born immigrant and father who had been with the force for just three years.

He was stabbed in the neck, a police source said.

The two officers had apparently never met before and no motive in the slaying was immediately apparent.

Mr. Gregson was a Saskatchewan-based RCMP officer who pleaded guilty to uttering a death threat and pulling a knife on a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006, court records show.

He received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty in a Regina court.

Mr. Gencher described his client as “associated with the RCMP.”

He was expected to appear at Ottawa’s downtown Elgin Street courthouse later Tuesday or possibly Wednesday.

“The officer was at the hospital on an unrelated call when the incident occurred,” said Constable Alain Boucher.

Absinthe From The Catskills, Thanks To A Self-Taught Woman Distiller

In business, women on December 29, 2009 at 11:03 am
ALAMEDA, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Bottles of St. Geo...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I loved this profile of Cheryl Lins, 56, the first distiller of absinthe in New York. Inspired by a New Yorker article about the spirit, she decided to make it herself.

She happily admits to being obsessed, and her passion has won her devoted clients.

Customers like Astor Wines & Spirits and the bar Louis 649 seem to find her lack of self-promotion sometimes amusing and mostly refreshing. Justin Chearno, manager of the wine store Uva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said: “When she walked into the store, I saw she had that thing natural winemakers have — an authentic, obsessive thing. When she said she was selling absinthe, not wine, I was, like, ‘You’re kidding!’ Then I tasted. Her flavors and tastes were just as alive.”

Five years ago, Ms. Lins was living in a yurt in New Mexico. To escape the heat, she came to this small town in Delaware County, chosen for no apparent reason other than instinct. A computer programmer and watercolorist, she tended the fish counter at the health food store in nearby Delhi. Then one March morning in 2006, The New Yorker arrived in the mail. Inside was an article on absinthe.

Though nearly a teetotaler at the time, Ms. Lins became so possessed by the history of the green fairy that she ordered bottles (perfectly legal) from Europe. After several $100 deliveries, frugality took over. She ordered a copper-pot still from Portugal that arrived with “decorative garden ornament” written on the shipping label. Pierre Duplais’s bible of 19th-century distillation techniques became her best friend. She headed to her basement to concoct. Soon, the police were on constant patrol. “They probably thought I was running a meth lab,” she said.

“My first effort was vile,” she recalled. “I burned the herbs.” Eventually her varieties grew in sophistication, absinthe was legalized and friends encouraged her to be a professional distiller. Working as a fishmonger wasn’t a labor of love; distilling became one. “Tactile and sensory, it’s like painting,” she said.

Checkbook Journalism, David Goldman And The Brazilian 'Rescue' — Should Sources Be Paid?

In business, Media on December 29, 2009 at 9:19 am
Society of Professional Journalists

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a wrist-slap from the Society of Professional Journalists:

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee is appalled NBC News breached widely accepted ethical journalism guidelines by providing the plane that carried David Goldman and his son Sean back to the United States from Brazil after a high-profile custody battle.

NBC conducted an exclusive interview with David Goldman during the flight it financed and another exclusive interview once the Goldmans returned to the United States.

Journalists know this practice as “checkbook journalism.”

The SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to act independently by avoiding bidding for news and by avoiding conflicts of interest.

By making itself part of a breaking news story on which it was reporting — apparently to cash in on the exclusivity assured by its expensive gesture — NBC jeopardized its journalistic independence and credibility in its initial and subsequent reports. In effect, the network branded the story as its own, creating a corporate and promotional interest in the way the story unfolds. NBC’s ability to report the story fairly has been compromised by its financial involvement.

“The public could rightly assume that NBC News bought exclusive interviews and images, as well as the family’s loyalty, with an extravagant gift,” Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said.

The news media’s duty is to report news, not help create it. The race to be first should not involve buying — directly or indirectly — interviews, an unseemly practice that raises questions of neutrality, integrity and credibility.

“Mixing financial and promotional motives with an impartial search for truth stains honest, ethical reporting,” Schotz said. “Checkbook journalism has no place in the news business.”

Selling your story to the highest bidder is standard practice in Britain. Journalists  — who, if they are not handsomely rewarded personally, help their parent organizations reap viewers/readers and ad revenue by snagging and riding the hottest stories — routinely refuse to pay sources. That’s just how it’s done in the U.S. and in Canada, even if the person being interviewed is destitute.

It does create an unwinnable “arms race” when a large media organization with very deep pockets can, literally, spirit away the key figure in a breaking international story. But, as we all know, life’s not fair and the media business remains ever more competitive.

What do you think?

Nightclub, Condos And A Bowling Alley Planned For Ex-NYT Building, While Readers' Digest Campus Seeks Tenants

In business, Media on December 29, 2009 at 8:34 am
The New York Times

Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

It’s hard for any journalist who’s ever worked there, or visited its offices, to imagine The New York Times’ former building,  at 229 West 43d Street, becoming just one more Manhattan midtown property under development  by a foreign investor. Long-time employees remember the daily tremors as the presses started rolling, and the truck bays are still there, ready to deliver papers now printed elsewhere. The lobby, entered by a small revolving door, was surprisingly small, even cramped, with a house phone you used — as in the new building — to call whomever you were there to see.

The new building, which is gorgeous if comparatively soul-less, even with its turmeric and cayenne-colored walls and its spectacular cafeteria, just feels like one more tower.

Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who paid $525 million for the premises in 2007, plans to turn the old 15-story building into condos, shops, seven restaurants and a high-end hotel, the paper reports:

“The strongest thing going for the property is its location and the continued vibrancy of Times Square as a tourist center and a magnet for visitors,” said Richard A. Marin, chief executive of Africa-Israel USA, Mr. Leviev’s American real estate company. The new plan, he said, “will allow us to create the most value and make the greatest contribution to the Times Square neighborhood.”

It is anyone’s guess whether this plan will work any better than the last one, given the soft condo market, competing bowling alleys in the Times Square area and falling hotel rates. But there is no better place for a radical reinvention than Times Square, where peep shows, T-shirt shops and prostitutes have given way to Bubba Gump, the Hard Rock Cafe, theaters, French cosmetics shops, bankers and millions of tourists.

“Times Square has a special kind of alchemy that’ll make your head spin,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group. “Sleazy becomes sexy, a bank becomes a theater, decaying landmarks become multiplexes or luxury condos, and a gritty newsroom and printing plant become a boutique hotel. The only thing you know is that you don’t know what’s next.”

Mr. Leviev, a diamond magnate who travels with a coterie of bodyguards, had been having trouble paying the $711 million in loans he had piled onto the former Times building, which the newspaper occupied for nearly a century before selling it to move to a new tower on Eighth Avenue in 2007. Mr. Leviev was so intrigued with New York real estate, brokers said, that he did not even tour the building before he bought it.

Reader’s Digest, whose palatial 700,000 square foot building in Pleasantville, a suburban town about 30 miles north of New York City, will be leaving its iconic building next summer, after 71 years there. In the current, lousy economy, the owner of the 116-acre property, SG Chappaqua, is having a tough time finding tenants thanks to restrictive zoning laws demanding each one take huge spaces, one at least 200,000 square feet.

It, too, was a place of history and presence, the walls hung with Impressionist paintings, a hushed 1950s elegance evident the minute you stepped in the door.

The county office market has been hit hard once again by an economic downturn. The volume of commercial transactions in Westchester is down, to about 900,000 square feet at the end of the third quarter of this year, from 1.6 million square feet for the same period a year ago, according to numbers tallied by CB Richard Ellis.

The vacancy rate countywide increased to 17 percent in the third quarter, from 16 percent at the end of the period a year ago.

Separately, when SG Chappaqua acquired the property, it also proposed building about 220 luxury condominiums and town houses and 56 middle-income housing units on the Reader’s Digest campus. That application is wending its way through the approval process and a decision is expected sometime in the next year.

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