Don’t stop the presses just yet

Alan Mutter has written an excellent post about why most newspapers cannot afford to shut down their presses and go all-digital.

Mutter proceeds from two premises: that it would be “suicidal for any reasonably profitable publisher to stop its presses in perpetuity” and that a paper going all-digital will have to lay off about half its editorial staff to stay profitable.

Newspapers, he points out, earn about 90 percent of their profits from print ads, and a paper moving to an all-digital format can expect to earn only about 10 percent of the money it did when it produced both a hard copy and an online edition.

He takes a closer look at the famous article by Jeff Jarvis from a few weeks ago, the one in which Jarvis revealed that the Los Angeles Times makes enough from Web advertising to pay the salaries of its 660 newsroom staff members.

Mutter points out that salaries aren’t all the costs that go into building even an all-digital newspaper. You have to pay for health insurance, taxes, IT concerns and myriad other costs, not to mention all the debt that the paper has already incurred.

In other words, the LA Times needs its print division to help pay the bills. Shutting off its presses would mean cutting the newsroom staff by about half or more.

But Mutter is not going around throwing wooden shoes into the all-digital camp’s machinery:

[T]his is not to say that publishing won’t, or shouldn’t, migrate to all-digital media in the future. Before that happens, however, the economics of the business would have to change far more radically than they have to date.

Gmail woes

I am so pissed off right now. I decided to take on a little experiment, eschewing Outlook in favor of routing all of my e-mail through Gmail. Combined with auto forwarding, POP3 checking and the “send mail as” feature, this should have been a no-brainer. I should have been able to use Gmail as my mail hub without difficulty.

Should is the operative word here. The endeavor met with great difficulty.

As it turns out – and I’m certainly not the first to discover this – whenever you send via Gmail’s smtp server, it adds your Gmail address in the “sender” field of the e-mail header. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem since the “from” field of the header would display the e-mail address you think you’re replying from.

For example, if I allow Gmail to send mail from my hypercrit.net address, the messages will come through with me@gmail.com in the “sender” field and me@hypercrit.net in the “from” field. Most e-mail programs display only the “from” field by default, keeping the “sender” field hidden, for the most part.

But as it turns out, Outlook has another way of doing things. Outlook displays any message I send via Gmail’s smtp server as “From me@gmail.com on behalf of me@hypercrit.net.” Apart from looking unprofessional, some people are now responding to my Gmail address rather than my hypercrit address.

(Oh, and of course most of the people I e-mail on a given day are using Outlook. Heck, most of the business world uses Outlook, so they’re all seeing my unprofessional address.)

This feature is well-documented and has been complained about for years. It’s in place to prevent spam from being marked with Gmail headers and therefore earning the trust of your e-mail program. But this feature also – almost with no warning – gives your private Gmail address to people. Not cool.

The only warning I could find from Google is on the help page related to the “send mail from” feature, where the note about “on behalf of” is relegated to the last paragraph.

I know that Gmail will not get rid of this feature; the service says it’s obeying some arcane industry standard e-mail regulation (one that no other major service adheres to – them’s principles for you), and I’m sure it really does reduce the amount of spam sent via Gmail and forged headers.

Tell you what I’d like to see: A bit of text that warns you of this possibility when you elect to add a “send mail from” address to Gmail in the first place. It would save a lot of people a lot of headaches.

Meanwhile, I must continue to use Outlook to manage my mail, which sucks. Really sucks. Or I could generate a Gmail account for each of the addresses I want to send from and then add them all to a desktop client. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a professional-looking Gmail username these days?) (Oh, and since one of my e-mail accounts is on an Exchange server, it makes using any e-mail program other than Outlook mighty difficult.)

Considering that my whole point here was to avoid having to use a desktop client in the first place, I’d call this little experiment a total and utter failure. I am chained to Outlook it seems, at least until my business makes the switch to Gmail later this year.

I’m counting the days, but inwardly, I know I’ll still wind up checking everything through a desktop client anyhow. Sigh.

On 25 random things

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

1. …

It’s not easy to pick 25 random things about yourself to share on Facebook.

A new chain letter of sorts is making its way around Facebook: the 25 random things letter. Recipients are asked to jot down 25 random facts or anecdotes about themselves and pass the note on to 25 other friends. Some of the entries are serious, some are smart and some reveal facts about people that you might never have otherwise found out.

One of my Facebook friends admitted in her profile that she recently had a brain tumor removed. Another recounted her habit of picking at a scar on her lip. A guy I have friended likes eating sardines right from the can. Another friend admits that she can drive a tractor and vaccinate a cow, though most of her students think her a city girl.

Some of these letters are the kind of randomness that comes from sitting down at your computer trying to generate randomness. You can tell these ones by the way the facts run into each other, as if thought up as a stream of consciousness. Others letters are itemized studies in brevity and wit. You can tell these by their longer entries, each with their own point and vaguely hidden message.

As I sit deciding whether to write a list of my own 25 random facts, I also wonder whether this sort of sharing is healthy. On one side, there is the everyday “be safe on the Interwebs” argument, the one that reminds us that sharing too much information online can have awkward, unhealthy, immoral or even dangerous consequences.

A second point to consider is whether I want to jump onto another Internet meme. I stopped responding to e-mail chain letters last century, and I don’t do things like join Facebook fan groups or play little games online. I don’t read “I Can Haz Cheezburger,” and I consider most of the things people laugh about online to be old news. I’m a dastardly Web elitist in that way, so joining a popular meme like this at a time when it’s actually popular makes me squirm a little.

But I have to think that the another side of this is the psychological side — it might be good for us to take a good, hard look at 25 points about ourselves. Sharing those things, things we might not be comfortable admitting, could be a catharsis. It could actually make us feel better about ourselves.

Frankly, I don’t think anything, even slightly embarrassing things or even too-personal things, you post to a 25-things list is going to have that much of an effect on your friends. It might help them understand you better, and no one’s going to laugh at you behind your back because, inwardly, they all want to write a list of their own and are just waiting for the invitation to do so.

The perfect epilogue to this little post would be for me to have an answer to the quandary that inspired the post. I don’t. At least, not a complete answer. I’m almost certain to write a list of 25 things, but I’m sure that when the time comes, my mouse pointer will hesitate over the “post” button as I wrestle with these same issues over and over again in my mind. To share or not to share…

Inspired* new blog design

Okay, so my blog design mirrors another, probably better-coded site, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? And if that other blog has a problem with my appropriation of certain elements of its design, some from there should contact me, and I’ll go back to the ho-hum white and gray old version of this site. Until then, I’m going to enjoy working with and tweaking this new design.

Call this “Hypercrit 6.0.” (Wow, I can’t believe I’ve redesigned this site six times — that I’ve counted.)

Montana newspapers announce layoffs

Some news from my own backyard this morning. The Missoulian and Montana Standard, in Missoula and Butte respectively, announced layoffs this week.

The Missoulian laid off four employees and said that two other employees will lose their jobs in February. The Standard laid off two full-time and four part-time employees this week. Both papers are owned by Lee Enterprises.

In addition, the Missoulian, Montana Standard, Helena Independent Record, Billings Gazette and Casper, Wyo., Star Tribune will merge their customer service call centers at a single location in Billings to save costs. 

Bad, bad copy

I was browsing some media coverage of a story that I wrote about for our university’s magazine when I came across this article. It is posted to the Web site of the ABC affiliate near Kennewick, Wash., KVEW-42.

I don’t know if reporter Matt Haugen wrote this himself as Web text or whether it’s some sort of transcript of his video coverage (not linked to the online text), but when a professional newsman will publish anything this poorly written, I start to wonder why we worry about the unprofessionalism of bloggers and citizen journalists. I know he’s not a print journalist and writing isn’t his primary trade, but come on! The last paragraph is made up a fragment for crying out loud.

I quote the story in its entirety. The original is here.

WALLULA — Drilling has began on a carbon dioxide experiment at the Boise paper mill near Wallula.

The drilling is part of a Battelle proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing it under ground.

What makes the Wallula area a good location is all the basalt rock in the region.

In lab tests, basalt has shown to hold CO2 molecules.

"This project represents one of the technologies in our tool kit in terms of capturing CO2 and permanently and safely storing it in deep geologic formations" said Pete McGrail.

Once drilling is completed, Battelle and Boise will analyze data.

The goal is to test dump CO2 into the ground to determine if the rock will hold the molecules.

That work could happen by summer 2009.

If permits are issued by the department of ecology.