Jim

Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Guess I should change the address of this blog

In Fayetteville, N.C., Smartness, The news biz on November 26, 2008 at 6:47 pm

My friend, Randy Foster, writes the epilogue to SmartNews, the coolest newspaper in North Carolina.

I hear a lot about entrepreneurism, but what it means from my experience is the ability to overcome everyone else’s low expectations. SmartNews struggled for 16 months to get a foothold in the Fayetteville market. We thought a fun, interesting, professional, interactive newspaper with good distribution and low ad rates was just the ticket for Fayetteville.

What an amazing learning experience the last two newspapers — SmartNews and, before that, Bluffton Today — have been. I feel like I oughta have a master’s degree to show for it. Thanks for everything, Randy; it was one helluva ride.

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Here’s my white paper for Barack

In Politics, Smartness, Unfettered stupidity on November 19, 2008 at 1:43 am

I wrote this in response to a friend’s rant about weak-kneed Democrats threatening to bring precious little actual change to Washington. This screed manifesto dissertation document has been, as you may well imagine, vetted by a panel of internationally recognized drunks lay-abouts experts.

Here’s a thought. Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security. We didn’t need it then, we don’t need it now.

Here’s another cost-saver: Combine NSA with CIA or State. Exactly how many spy agencies do we need working at cross-purposes, anyway? No more than three or four, I’d think ….

If all that feels too “soft on terrorism” (though I’d argue less bureaucracy squatting on our spy and police networks would be tougher on terrorists), throw the conservatives a bone and eliminate the Department of Education. What have federal bureaucrats done for our kids, lately? Make them take tests? Guess what — American kids were dumb as sacks full of hammers 20 years ago, they’re dumb as sacks full of hammers today. Not all of em; but the average hasn’t improved. Time to burn down the school and start over.

These things are drops in the bucket compared to a war without end or Social Security without a future or the stay-out-of-jail-free cards we keep giving to the kleptomaniacs of Wall Street, but they’d at least make me feel like someone was doing something.

Change, motherfucker!

So you can’t afford to buy your own home

In Biz, Politics, Unfettered stupidity on November 18, 2008 at 12:55 am

Turns out, it’s not that great of an investment, after all.

Suppose you had put $100,000 into the U.S. property market back in the first quarter of 1987. According to the Case-Shiller national home-price index, you would have nearly tripled your money by the first quarter of 2007, to $299,000. On the other hand, if you had put the same money into the S&P 500, and had continued to re-invest the dividend income in that index, you would have ended up with $772,000 to play with—more than double what you would have made on bricks and mortar.

The linked article’s really about the collapse of the whole system of finance. Every once in a rare while, I say something smart. The other day, I had one of those moments: “Money is entirely too important to leave in the hands of bankers.”

Some more tidbits from the linked article, if you don’t feel like plowing through the whole thing:

• The financial history of the past 800 years is a litany of debt defaults, banking crises, currency crises, and inflationary spikes. Moreover, financial crises seldom happen without inflicting pain on the wider economy.

• In 1980, bank indebtedness was equivalent to 21 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. In 2007 the figure was 116 percent.

• The motto “In God we trust” was added to the dollar bill in 1957. Since then its purchasing power, relative to the consumer price index, has declined by a staggering 87 percent.

• (Upon signing S&L deregulation) President Reagan declared, “All in all, I think we hit the jackpot.” … When the ensuing bubble burst, nearly 300 S&Ls collapsed, while another 747 were closed or reorganized …. The final cost of the crisis was $153 billion (around 3 percent of the 1989 G.D.P.), of which taxpayers had to pay $124 billion.

• One might assume that, after the catastrophic failure of L.T.C.M., quantitative hedge funds would have vanished from the financial scene, and derivatives such as options would be sold a good deal more circumspectly. Yet the very reverse happened. Far from declining, in the past 10 years hedge funds of every type have exploded in number and in the volume of assets they manage ….

• But what about the rest of us, the rank-and-file members of the deluded crowd? Well, we shall now have to question some of our most deeply rooted assumptions—not only about the benefits of paper money but also about the rationale of the property-owning democracy itself.

Thanks to Kristin Lenz of the Washington Post for posting the link on Facebook.

Bluffton Today’s gonna make you pay

In The news biz, Unfettered stupidity on November 7, 2008 at 6:56 pm

I’m very sorry to see my previous employer, Bluffton Today, will soon go from a freebie to a paid-subscription model. Many’s the time we told readers — looked ’em in the eye — that we had no plans to charge them for the paper. We meant it, and the owners, Morris Communications backed us up. 

No longer. 

Coverage on freedailies.com here

Read some of the local reaction here

BT was a helluvan experiment — an all-local daily paper delivered to every home and business in town for free. A “total market coverage product” with actual news. People loved it; they still do. I loved working there. Usually, when you work at a newspaper, you are loath to tell people what you do for a living; so many folks are happy to tell you how much you and your paper suck, right to your face. It gets old fast. In Bluffton, people would tell me instead how much they loved my paper and what a great job we were doing. That never gets old. 

The Web site was (and is) remarkable, too — a free-for-all public forum, basically, with a virtual version of the newspaper tacked on. Early on, we started printing some of the commentary; between that and the “Vox” phone commentary, BT really features a LOT of local (albeit anonymous) voices in the paper. It’s a democratizing influence a lot of newspapers could benefit from. The virtual edition of BT will go behind the subscription wall. 

But the advertising never really caught up with the cost of putting it out, I guess, even with a fair amount of bootstrapping (read: layoffs) over the past year or so. (The tanking economy can’t help. Thanks, Wall Street and White House!)