Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What's the Inky worth?

Another angle on the potential sale of Knight Ridder Newspapers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports about itself.

A paper's history of boom and bust.

How business reporters watch the negotiations.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Re-release for "All the President's Men"

The movie that sent a generation of young people off to journalism school is coming out again, in a two-disc video that includes a segment on the real deep throat, Mark Felt. I'm referring, of course, to the Robert Redford/Dustin Hoffman portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, exposing the political burglary and White House coverup under the Nixon administration.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Where AMT is concerned, the rich are not so different

While Congress wasn't looking, the law intended to make sure the rich don't totally escape taxation was overtaken by time and economic growth. If you've already started your 1040 for 2005 you may already know that. As for how it happened, it's explained very clearly in The Washington Post.

Another secret dragged out of Germany's closet

Business Week reports and comments on Dresdner Bank's self-financed history of its collaboration with Adolf Hitler. Hitler's Bank Bares Its Dark Past A few lively comments follow the article.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mogul backs union's Knight Ridder papers bid

The Guild's effort to find "worker-friendly" owners for nine of the Knight Ridder newspapers is beginning to look credible. I still can't see how they'll solve the problem of the capital-gains tax hit, though. This AP report is at Morningstar.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Higher profits, lower costs: to what end?

The unwelcome change facing Knight Ridder Newspapers is in part the product of national tax laws that penalize all kinds of otherwise healthy industries. Two academics point to the capital gains tax for helping force companies shorten their horizons so that quarterly and even annual financial results have outsized an impact. Read Lawrence Mitchell and Geneva Overholser in Harvard University's Nieman Reports.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knight Ridder buyer may need 80% approval

If you're following the future of the Knight Ridder newspapers, here's a twist in the question of a possible sale of the company. From the San Jose Mercury News.

China's Communist elders fight censorship

There's resistance in China to the government's hard line against free speech. Audio story from Tuesday on NPR was followed in Wednesday's NYTimes with "Beijing censors taken to task in party circles." Meanwhile, Tim Johnson reports in the Knight Ridder newspapers:
Most Chinese Internet users appear . . . nonchalant about the barriers that prevent online research into topics such as democracy, religious freedom, human rights and other sensitive matters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Budget would cut English-language broadcasts

I haven't decided yet whether or not I'd make the choice being presented to Voice of America. For many years I've held a strong attachment to the idea of sharing the best of American culture via these broadcasts. But given the budget situation, maybe cutting back in Europe to add more in the Middle East is the right move. Your thoughts? Here's the story as told on National Public Radio.

Environmental Ethics in South Florida

This conference on Feb. 17 looks really worthwhile. I won't be able to go but I hope they have a good turnout from throughout the region. 5th Annual Environmental Ethics Conference

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Senators grapple with Net neutrality

I'll be writing more about broadband questions in a day or two. Meanwhile, a quick update from the ZDNet Government Blog | ZDNet.com

A colleague's advice: Buy newspaper stocks

Dave Carlson of the University of Florida, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, checks in with comment and a recommendation, here at the website of Inside Indiana Business .

Newspaper chains discuss teaming up to acquire KR

This report from the Ridder-era home base of Knight Ridder newspapers, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

As essential as the ballot

I've written elsewhere that the forced tender of Knight Ridder newspapers for sale should be of concern among civic-minded Americans everywhere. The news -- at its best subtle, complex and sometimes deep -- is as essential to a self-governing people as the ballot box. Yet many of the scenarios being considered for a new owner of Knight Ridder would require serious cuts in the staffs that have upheld John Knight's tradition of quality journalism in 32 cities.

Today I was shown a letter that Merrett Stierheim, the former Miami-Dade County manager and retired school superintendent, wrote to Bruce Sherman, the investment manager who had the most to do with forcing Knight Ridder to put itself on the auction block. Stierheim knows what a Knight Ridder paper can do because he was in the glare of The Miami Herald's spotlight for more than 20 years. It wasn't always pleasant for him, if I remember correctly. Here's how he lectured Sherman:
I am deeply troubled by the relentless squeezing and cost-cuttiing with insufficient concern for the fundamental responsibilities that go hand in hand with the sacred guarantee of "freedom of the press." Capitalism, without meaningful concern for the public and our democracy -- now corrupted from within with sickening regularity or carried to excess with no value systems other than the pursuit of the almighty dollar -- has within itself the seeds for its own destruction. Mr. Sherman, this is a serious, growing threat to our free and democratic society and to free enterprise in the long run.

The full letter ran Dec. 5, 2005 in the St. Petersburg Times.

Since you're reading a blog, you may be in the habit of getting much of your news off the Internet. I invite you to take notes for a day or two, and see just how much of the news you read there actually comes from newspapers. So far, the people who own and run practically all the news Websites are either newspapers or they are scraping their news off a newspaper site and repackaging it on their own sites. So if newspapers are dumbed down to the point that they might as well go away, where will you get your news? That is, the news that doesn't consist of weather reports and celebrity sightings?

If you're in South Florida and want to know more, there's a program at the University of Miami the morning of Feb. 10 that will ask whether some ownership model other than a public stock company could protect newsrooms from debilitating cost-cutting. I'll try to keep order as three really well-informed panelists deliver their views of reality. You can learn more from the Society of Professional Journalists' site, the second item down.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The energy cure

Under different circumstances it might have been encouraging to hear President Bush declare, as he did in his State of the Union address, that “America is addicted to oil.” It might have been, that is, if he and his Republican cohorts hadn’t done so many things to keep our country hooked on its petroleum habit.

Many of us recall Richard Nixon, at the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, claiming cause for national pride in the U.S. role as the world’s largest consumer of oil.  As Nixon spun the facts, our profligate consumption was a sign of strength, and long might it continue.

When Jimmy Carter got to the White House, he made energy conservation and development of renewable sources a national priority, only to encounter resistance in Congress – notably from the oil-state senators – and ridicule in supposedly friendly quarters.  Even some of Carter’s own party sniffed at the peanut farmer in his cardigan setting back the first family’s thermostat.  (For once, a national Democrat had shown a keen understanding of the power of symbolism, but some who should have backed him up tried to make Carter’s act a symbol of futility, not of leadership.)

Reagan wasted no time in picking apart the Carter incentives for conservation, and the oil-friendly Bush family kept unraveling the wool.  With the SUV craze going full throttle, once the Republicans got control of Congress they even slipped a few lines into a tax bill that encouraged small businesses to buy gas-thirsty trucks.  (The upshot of that was pediatricians and quick-print shops writing off the cost of 10-mile per gallon Hummers as business necessities.)

My local newspaper made it out that Bush gave an important emphasis to the oil issue in his speech Tuesday night. Here’s the entire passage, as reported in the New York Times from the White House’s pre-delivery text:

“Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

“The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources, and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies and clean, safe nuclear energy.

“We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switch grass.  Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.

“Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.  By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”

Just for the record, that passage occupied five inches of the 90 that the text required in my Times.

Others have made the point that we actually buy less than a quarter of our oil from the Middle East.  Closer, larger suppliers are Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. What needs to be added is that oil is a fungible resource – that is, a barrel of crude from East Texas is pretty much the same as one from Kuwait or Iraq.  And in a global market, what we don’t buy in the Middle East, someone else will.  So pumping out of one well instead of another doesn’t really change the price of oil or the overall supply available to the world.  

I am less than enthusiastic about the president’s emphasis on ethanol as a substitute for oil.  It takes oil for tractors and natural gas for fertilizer to grow the corn and cane from which ethanol is being made, so you don’t really obtain a gallon-for-gallon replacement value.

It’s time to redouble the attention to efficiency and conservation that were spearheaded by President Carter. He was, let it be remembered, an engineer as well as a farmer.  These are times for problem-solving, not doctrinaire politics. It’s my view that the market hasn’t a perfect solution for every need. Sometimes, there needs to be a national policy backed up by law to make us do what is good for us all.