Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday: Rolling in the Deep

Never don't not neglect to read Friday Happy Hour:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is ready to unveil his fifth city budget with no tax increases, making him 5-for-5 during his tenure. If he were in Philadelphia, they would nominate him as Mayor for Life. In Pittsburgh, his detractors will undoubtedly shrug this off and complain that Ravenstahl was late appearing at a parade or something, or that his tie had a coffee stain on it at his last press conference. (The Triadvocate)

If history serves as any reference, this public affairs / lobbying / strategic communications / web-blegging firm out of Harrisburg and Philadelphia will get around to determining Ravenstahl should be shot out of a cannon and into a bigger cannon in about three years time -- just as he's being outfitted for a crown. And by then the Washington Post will be left wondering, "What's their ish?"

Triad also points us in a direction we should have been looking anyway:

And while [the state Senate] thinks transportation funding is a must, all sides are standing outside the Vatican right now, waiting for the white smoke to rise from the Governor’s Office. Nobody seems to want to move until Governor Corbett weighs in. (ibid)

There seems to be a swell of griping out there about how come things like this and others aren't moving much in Harrisburg.

In response possibly already to this gurgling public relations problem, today Corbett was all, BAM, privatization task force, and PIFF, Marcellus Shale bill. However, those still anxious over public transportation funding might have to wait to see how the Marcellus tithe shakes out. Or maybe that's what he wants us to think -- better not hold up Corbett's drilling bill for any diddly-twink reasons, if we want transportation funding in time! So this is what chess actually looks like.

Speaking of the Marcellus, Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) has some interesting news:

"Marcellus shale is something I've been very involved in. It's an opportunity that comes with responsibility," he said. "Two of my counties have a zero percent unemployment. This has been very positive." (Ithaca Journal, Jeff Murray)

Only slightly less laughably detached from any semblance of reality, we learn from Null Space, is word that Marcellus Shale interests are taking credit (let alone exclusive credit) for the Downtown construction boom. Someone out there has got to be hosting a Marcellus Truth-O-Meter, right?

And finally, Tuesday Oct. 4th is Double Your Charitable Contributions Day at the Pittsburgh Foundation? As in, any donation to anything from A+ Schools to Zachary's Mission will be matched by the Pittsburgh Foundation for 24 hours? That's Church provides some suggestions out of several hundred, including Comet fave CHS. So early next week, get your Jewish New Year off to a sweet start, and may you be inscribed for a year of health, happiness and peace. L'shanah tovah!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Morning Call Erects Paywall; We Have Analysis

Just weeks after we finally linked to and started reading the incomparable Capitol Ideas blog daily, this happens:

If you're even a casual student of the media, then you know that we've been going through something of an upheaval these last few years. It's also no secret that newspapers have been looking for ways to make money off the Web.

So, starting Oct. 10, The Morning Call will start offering digital subscriptions to its readers. Purchasing a digital subscription will allow you to view an unlimited amount of our website’s articles, blogs, photos and videos.

If you choose not to subscribe, you'll have free access to 10 pages each month. And if you blow through that limit, you'll be asked to become a digital subscriber. (Capitol Ideas, John L. Micek)

Micek goes on to write that the subscription will cost 35 cents a day, and links to the parent newspaper's announcement, which repeats the line about 35 cents a day.

On such notes these new relationships always begin. Or fail to.


Assuming the "35 cent" rate is available monthly -- and you know what they say about assumptions -- a subscription would cost $10.50 per month. Which is how one would pay.

So don't condenscend us, man, just say it costs ten bucks a month. You're a newspaper. Have you ever reported that a proposed tax cut or increase will save or cost people just pennies a day? Or do we all pay our taxes on April 15th at 10:30 PM, and that's how we are accustomed to weighing impacts on us? Even PWSA didn't try to tell us that their opt-out water line insurance program would cost 17 cents a day, and they're horrendous in every way.

If our phone bill went up $10 next month, we'd have to consider switching carriers or downgrading service. That's just life -- no way around that. And we'd more seriously consider such change if our carrier came at us all Tricky McMarkety about the rate hike.


But this is all transference, of course.

The real difficulty is this: although a subscription to the Morning Call might actually be worth it -- and mostly because of Capitol Ideas, literally the only place to reliably learn about campaigns in Harrisburg to save HEMAP or to keep abortion services practically available -- we don't actually look forward to reading the Morning Call, we look forward to reading "the news".

Which means ALL THE THINGS.

If we pay $10 to the Morning Call, that means we know we will ultimately have to pay $10 to the Post-Gazette, $10 to the Tribune-Review, $10 to the Philadelphia Inquirer, $10 to the New York Times and $10 to the Atlantic Monthly so we can continue reading Andrew Sullivan. Taken together, that comes to many hundreds of cents per day!

Which is unsustainable. Which is why this model isn't the future.

At best, the Morning Call will time their situation in the market well -- that is, acquire a set cache of subscribers, enjoy a boost, and get to keep some talent in the newsroom contented for a season or two. But shortly new Internet readers will fail to catch on and develop their own addictions, as we did a couple weeks ago. Meanwhile, subscribers garnered during the roll-out will slowly drop out as they encounter months and moods where money seems a little tight and maybe their debit and credit cards turn sour for a spell, or read MC editorials which enrage them and cause snits, or simply no longer enjoy being able to discuss MC content with as many friends and colleagues.


We still believe the answer lies in more innovative advertising and marketing. We know everything has not been tried, or um -- resorted to.

Perhaps if individual features of the paper or individual authors were sponsored exclusively, each according to their own style and swagger. One could even ask reporters for help in securing their own sponsors.

Perhaps if reporters and editors were made to cleverly include product placement within news articles. Don't make that face. It can be done with a wink and a smirk; today's readers will recognize it and understand. It's been happening on the radio for decades. These are not "modest proposals", these are real.

Finally and most crucially, perhaps if more opinion, analysis, cross-source synthesis and sensationalism (you know: all that awful, valueless derivative blog stuff) were made to be included seamlessly and in one piece with existent excellent reporting as a part of regular daily news content, that might make newspapers more engaging, useful and entertaining to many, many more consumers -- thereby improving advertising and marketing prospects all around.

That last idea might have a side-benefit of encouraging a wider, better-informed populace on average, including much better-informed young people. What's more desirable: a better-informed populace and increased sales, or fewer 60-year old high priests of Journalistism throwing up in their mouths a little? We know what we'd choose.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"What the Property is Worth"

UPDATED below.

Strangely developing resuscitation of a story:

Merrill Stabile, general partner in 501 Martindale Associates and president of Alco Parking, is offering the city Stadium Authority $13 million for two parcels on North Shore Drive now used for parking, in part to develop a "signature office tower."

The land is reserved for Continental Real Estate Cos. to develop under an option agreement reached with the Pirates and the Steelers nearly a decade ago. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Yesterday's quick version has Mr. Stabile promising not to seek public subsidy for his project.

Mr. Kass of Continental sounds indignant. Ms. Conturo of the Stadium Authority sounds queasy.

BACKGROUND: [Hmm... let's stick with] P-G Mark Belko, 9/05/08

UPDATE: On the flip side:

It appears from the offer letter that Stabile might not be committed to building an office tower, Zober said.

"If, after 10 years, these projects have not materialized, the authority will have the right to repurchase the parcels under a pre-determined formula taking into account the purchase price and the elapsed time from the purchase date," Stabile's offer states.

"That paragraph creates that uncertainty," Zober said. (Trib, introducing Alex Nixon)

Notwithstanding the fog, Trib editorialists are dancing in the street.

The offer was "delivered" to the Authority on Monday, but somehow we all found out about it on Tuesday. Stabile seems to be end-running his proposal around city leaders through the press, as though he's Rob Pfaffman or something. The parking baron should by now be much better equipped at doing business in these parts than having to rely on hail marys.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday: Bank Errs in Our Favor

Collect $10 million.

"This is once and done," Mr. McAneny cautioned.

"The law requires that the money be put into the pension," he added. He acknowledged, though, that some municipalities may decide that the increased state aid allows them to put less of their local tax money into the pension fund next year. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Then it couldn't have come at a better time, if say, one wants to avoid doing anything rash such as raising meter rates and expanding enforcement. We'd be worried about what Rich Lord was doing poking around Jim McAneny's office in the first place, but still.

Meanwhile, the Mayor's proposed 2012 budget finally calls for borrowing some cheddar. Some disinterested analysis:

Spending on roads and other infrastructure (parks, garbage cans, playgrounds) are the coin of the realm in municipal government. One might note that the budget announcement on the two years of capital spending comes the same week as Luke Ravenstahl's moves toward reelection . . . in two years. (P-G Early Returns, Tim McNulty)

What interests us most about this, if it passes and is transacted, is there will be no more talk about reaching the Debt Cliff in 2017, or indeed about ending our Credit Card Mentality. There may be no way around it, though. That guy in the McNulty piece wasn't pointing at a broken swing set or the lack of a cotton candy machine.

Is anyone else bored with this? WE ARE SO BORED. That's it: there will be far less stuffy financial and budgetary analysis in this space; few care, and for excellent reasons because apparently almost none of it is real. Take for example the indispensable Null Space's perpetual incredulity. Is anyone else reaching the conclusion that politicians intuitively understand something fundamental about the real world that economists and even attorneys do not? That somehow it's turtles all the way down? There's always a bigger fish? No damn cat and no damn cradle?

The city is nearly a quarter poverty-stricken ... public education and public transit are bad and getting worse while our prospective leaders compete over who can best trusted to starve government ... and our public charities are engaging in profit-seeking terrorism. How much did we leave out? There have got to be stories there which are likely a bit more satisfying.