Greg T. Spielberg

Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

Lee Carpenter’s Tim Tebow story needs a warning label

In Uncategorized, writing on August 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

This picture is from a fun post  by Tom Scott. He affixes warning labels to different journalism stories that reflect the reason for their short-comings. For instance, “Warning: To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.” This mask my favorite because the practice or writing “some would say” or “some claim” should never get into print anywhere, any time. It’s like being at the bar with a group of friends and calling out one of them: “Hey, why are you being so awkward?” Even if they’re not being awkward at all, it gets a false ball rolling.

Leaning on “some would say” or “some would claim” or “according to some” automatically means we’re dealing with a pale-faced sandwich of a story that should be tossed out. It’s not necessarily a journalist hiding his/her own views as it is creating a false reason for the story.  Earlier today, before I saw the Scott page, I tweeted this:

Yahoo is forever king of misleading, false, gossipy headlines. “Injury reinforces concerns about Broncos’ Tebow.”

The story by Lee Carpenter is exactly the type of story that should come with a warning, except it should just say, “This story contains the phrase ‘some people claim.'” Carpenter suggests that Tim Tebow, the rookie quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is considered unfit for the NFL. He says that Tebow’s pre-season plunge into the endzone, where he injured a Bengals defender and himself, reinforces an existing concern about Tebow’s style of play. There certainly has been criticism of Tebow’s game in the past — that he runs too much, that he doesn’t have a good a good-enough arm. Those are fair. But Carpenter doesn’t actually reference a critique at any point in his story. Instead, he writes, “those who say his style of throwing the ball is too cumbersome to translate to the professional game and find his headfirst plunges into the chests of tacklers as a great way to get hurt rather than a heroic display of manhood.”

“Those who say” needs a link. Otherwise Carpenter isn’t building an argument off anything. Barreling into the end zone is common. NFL quarterbacks do that. John Elway barreled into the end zone during Super Bowl XXXII. Donovan McNabb did the same thing last year and broke his ribs. Both are legit, long-career QBs. McNabb-frequent All-Pro. Elway-Hall of Famer and former Bronco. Steve Young scrambled, too, and won a Super Bowl. He had a weird delivery, played second-string, went to BYU.

“And so,” Carpenter writes, “a month into his NFL career, before a real game has been played, the worst fears about Tebow have been realized.” Whose fears? What fear. Mike Kils, sportswriter for the Denver Post, does a great job laying out the injuries that have resulted from Tebow’s running back style and includes quotes from past Florida teammates and specific examples. No warning needed.


Notes from prison .1.

In life on August 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm
My good friend is in prison down South. He recently started a 26-40-month sentence. Through CorrLinks and ATG we can communicate through email. There’s a 30,000 character limit, which is surreal since Tweets are measured by .0046 that. I’m going to start posting his emails.


What up I thought I would fill you in a little more then last time.  How are things with you? You still have a job? Doing something new?  How is streetwater?  Well, fill me in on you let me know who the real world is treating you.  Of course as you know now I am in my final location after 14+ weeks.  During my 14 weeks I have seen the worst of the worse, the middle, and now camp.  I must say seeing all of that other shit makes you really appriate the camp.

The camp is like a small colege campus with everything you can think of; education department, Rec room (ping pong, billards, card, etc), library, weight pile and fitness center, wood and leather shop, sports fields, etc.  Having not bar and fences is nice to I can walk around with no hand cuff or shakles, I must say it save the skin around the  I live in a dorm setting so some times you feel like you are at summer camp when you were a little kid, minus the egos of course.  Everthing has time limits, like computers I can read for 30 min at a time but then have to wait 30 min to get back on, its to give everyone a chance.  Trust me if they did not have these rules there would be alot of problems, I mean on my journey I say more fights start over the TV room, meaning my seat or what channel the tv is on.

Things are good I just got a job off base at another Air Force base called Eglin.  I am told its the largest base in the world 750,00+ achers.  I work at the recycel center and make the buck a whole 20 cents an hour, ballin.  I guess something is better then nothing, however it pass the time.  Finally settling into a routine a little bit of spanish class and public speacking along with church.  I have been getting my workout on again as well as playing soccer in a league twice a week.  Sorry but the timer is saying I have 1 min left but I just wanted to say hello and thinking of you and hope all is well.  Look forward hearing back from you.



The Economist’s wacky offer

In Distribution on August 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Cartoon from DavidsonMath & Amanda Davidson. Originally by Big Bill Watterson.

The Economist’s ad on Facebook is the strangest magazine-subscription pushes I’ve seen in a long time:

Best Introductory Offer
Best Available Offer. Pay just $12 for the first 12 weekly issues (85% savings) and then $29 for every 3 months thereafter.

1) No one uses “thereafter.”
2) Is it the best introductory offer or the best available offer? Or is it the best available introductory offer?
3) Why is there a “weekly” qualifier in there? Is the Economist trying to suggest that double issues or special issues aren’t included. Or are they assuming people don’t know it’s a weekly.
4) The math. The math is just so strange. $12 for the first 12 issues is a good deal, and they’re stressing that the offer is $1 an issue. Then, they move to three-month intervals, which is what 12 weeks is,  but they don’t want us to see $12=12 issues and then $29=12 issues.

So what’s the deal, then, actually? 12 +29(3) = 99. After all that clever number play, the deal is an expensive $100 or the deal-sounding $99. Clever

Copying Ben McGrath

In Uncategorized, writing on August 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Hunter Thompson famously copied The Great Gatsby to learn the architecture of Fitzgerald’s sentences. His cadence. The length of each sentence. His punctuation and commas, and the speed with which Fitzgerald unfolded information. It was probably like osmosis. Picking up patterns that repeated themselves as they have to throughout an entire book.

This is such a good idea, and I don’t hear about much. I used to play piano and violin in elementary and middle school, and sheet music was essential to picking up the tune. Even for Suzuki, the memorization method, we started off with sheet music.

I’m copying a Ben McGrath Talk of the Town piece from the New Yorker right now. I have trouble synthesizing information and breaking it down from disjointed pieces of information into a clean flow. Talk of the Towns move quickly (as stories in the best publications typically do), but they still have the textured images and details that make visualizing the scene very easy. I want to be able to do that.

I just got through the first paragraph of his short piece about leadership training at the Columbia School of Arts. I’m only through one paragraph, and it’s scary. It feels like plagiarism and seems like a waste of time. The plagiarism tenseness is like breathing underwater with scuba gear for the first time. My entire body — from my chest to my fingers — wants to pull away from the action, and my breathing got shallow. I think this will be good, though.

Here this week: Optimistic women means optimistic me. The future of debit accounts. How banks go from fired to hired in one day.

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Women run the consumer economy. If they’re happy; I am too. Here’s why.

In the future, all debit accounts will be run through our driver’s licenses. It’s about time.

I’ve always been curious how a bank can fail on a Friday and reopen on a Saturday. A look at Renasant Bank’s takeover of Crescent’s 11 branches in Northern Georgia explains how.

Gay couples save more/pregnant women get screwed. B of A pushes insurance. Debit cards ramp up rewards

In stories, Uncategorized on July 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I’m on the bank and plastics beat at Bundle now, and am starting to build a feewatch twitter account. This week, I wrote three stories for Bundle, finished up a story about the MBA job market for C-Change, a feature story about the Stirling engine and a ront-of-book piece for Ode. Those won’t be published for a bit, but here are the Bundle stories.

Debit cards looking for all your cash

I sign up for Hartford Insurance hospital coverage recommended by Bank of America.

Pregnant doctor and her dual-degree husband are briefly stopped from getting a loan + gay couples save more

What a day for the New York Times. Why tapping college professors is a journalism company’s top priority

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Manhattan solstice by Soy Boy. Courtesy of Streetwater. SW

At dinner tonight, we were talking about journalism models and what I keep coming back to is Time as an example for a poor model. Time can be filled with fantastic writers each week, and business would boom. Simple as that. Bloomberg’s first issue of Businessweek included a story by Michael Lewis. Why doesn’t Time get Michael Lewis? Or Malcolm Gladwell? Time Inc. can pay the best writers — one each week — to headline issues.

They can also get college professors who are masters of topics and can turn out a 1,000-word story in a week. Adding flavor might be the a problem, but that wouldn’t be too much trouble for an editor that’s being handed a beautifully synthesized package of facts. College professors work largely off recognition, too, and as Art Markman a cognitive scientist at UT-Austin told me, his issue is getting the word out there to large numbers of people.

The New York Times had three fantastic stories today, two of which were written by college professors. Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, writes about the meritocratic, inclusive nature of WASPs. Camille Paglia argues that flibanserin, female Viagra, won’t spice up an American woman’s sex life that’s been killed by sanitized working environments, androgynous genders and the lack of mystique between sexes. She’s wrong, but sparked great conversation today for me today. Paglia is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philly.

(The third story about the arrest of deep-cover Russian spies living as American citizens isn’t written by professors, but is a must-read and only the beginning of 500 stories from various outlets.  It’s written by a Scott Shane and Charlie Savage with reporting by Benjamin Weiser, Nate Schweber, Kenneth Change, Andy Newman, Colin Moynihan, Mark Mazzetti, Yeganeh June Torbati and Abby Goodnough.)

Utilizing college professors to write articles is, to me, the No. 1 priority for journalism companies.

1) They have deep knowledge about specific topics and can write coherently on a narrow angle. Feldman frames a religious-cultural issue through the selection of Supreme Court justices, a timely lede corresponding with Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings. He has an upcoming book about FDR’s many justices and uses an anecdote from Roosevelt in 1939. Very rich. Feldman then ties Supreme Court justices with Princeton, a longtime WASP bastion. He’s the first person (to me) who points out that if Kagan were confirmed, it would make three straight Supreme Court selections from the Ivy League School. (Alito Class of ’72, Sotomayor Class of ’76, Kagan Class of ’81.) Feldman provides contextual color for the pre-Alito days by quoting Hemingway. He writes:

“When Hemingway described Robert Cohn in the opening of ‘The Sun Also Rises’ as a Jew who has been ‘the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton,’ he was using the shorthand for a character at once isolated, insecure and pugnacious.”

Feldman’s whole story is rich, thoughtful and tight. He makes a compelling case for the Protestant inclusiveness, which is entirely different than the idea of WASPs as homogenous and elitist. He’s simply more powerful than 99 percent of journalists, and writers like this should be unrolled daily by major journalism companies.

Same goes for Paglia who is granular as hell and doesn’t blanket-statement anything. She has time to think and loves doing it. Contributing to a lady’s libido death is (in order of appearance): bourgeois proprietary, censorship, repression, Victorian prudery, the priggish 1950s, careerist technocracy, elite schools’ ideological view of gender as a social construct, the discreet white-collar realm, sanitized office space, office space androgyny, family life, men’s clothing, over-familiarity, simplified Hollywood plot lines, filmmakers, cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines, an appreciation for efficient bodies, rock’s superego. “Lust,” she sums up, “is too fiery to be left to a pharmacist.”

2) Professors are cheap. A professor is already paid, so a journalism company really doesn’t have to offer anything more than exposure. Michael Lewis and Gladwell are still journalists and have to be paid like great ones.

That’s a strong proposition: powerful writers a journalism company can pay at beginner rates in exchange for providing massive exposure to a professor’s thoughts. This, to me, is a central tenet of strong journalism companies in the future.

Sharing natural resources

In writing on June 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm

A journalist is nothing without good information resources. Starting today, I'm sharing all the link I've ever used in published work. Photo courtesy of Suzy Lafferty, who's next door at

In writing about MBA bloggers (to be published later this month), I got a chance to speak with a lot of B-School students. Central to the story is writers’ desire to document their experience and provide useful information to readers. This made me think a lot about my own blog and how I can provide useful information. The MBAers approach the information question from two perspectives: Students sharing info on the B-School experience and future business leaders developing thoughts on their professional space. I’m coming from the perspective of a journalist. Here’s what I’m doing:

Today, I created a resource section in the primary menu bar. This section will be a collection of all the links I’ve ever used in my published stories. This section includes colleagues’ work that inspired my own, vital statistics that form the framework for the story and color that has helped me add flavor. Links are curated by topic and include the author or source.

Soon, I will add “conversations,” a section that highlights the people I’ve spoken with who helped me build my story and permanently expand my thinking. It’s very rare that I’m not greatly influenced by contemporaries I talk to in person or on the phone. I want to credit them and, more importantly share the knowledge transmission.

I’m not sure what the third section will be yet. Either a collection or useful government, trade and statistical databases, my growing contact list or a bibliography of scholarly essays.


The inspiration for this addition comes from two instances. At Mizzou, I wrote my thesis on the value of building community — from a reader perspective, journalist perspective, branding, advertising, infrastructure and bottom-line perspective. Although classic media-economic thinkers gave me the necessary groundwork to move onto next-generation models like community, no one was actually writing about community. I had to pull theory from e-commerce scholars, community scholars, branding scholars and other sources. Reading the work was fun, synthesizing it was challenging, finding relevant work was brutally time consuming. I recommended Mizzou create a database of past masters’ students sources so that, in the future, J-Schoolers could more efficiently build on the work of others. That’s what I hope to do here — especially in the community and experience space, which are the two most important topics for our industry.

The second time I wish I had access to a great database of information was at BusinessWeek. My editor, an Associated Press veteran, would assign me a story like this: “Find out how the recession is affecting prices for consumer goods.” Go. Go where? I spent full days in front of the computer trying to track down the right experts, right associations, right databases. Again: Brutally time consuming. I hope my resource section helps journalists move more quickly with more valuable resources.

“And do you believe in ROI? Can click through keep your eCPMs high?”

In Journalism Economics on May 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm
The only problem with an Internet handle is tracking down the person behind one. LMcDuff08, an “experienced Wall Street banker” created this video and sung to the tune of Don McLean’s American Pie. It’s ingenious. Lady McDuff is the name of his dog, which reminds me of a valuable Businessweek community member I remember from last year. Holly Garfield (who, like LMcDuff08, seems to be in his late 40s), combined the name of his cat — Garfield — with the name of his dog — Holly.

Thanks to Raghu Thricovil, a Ross
MBA aspirant who has this video on his blog.

In the battle from grouponomic supremacy, go upmarket

In Grouponomics on May 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I purchased a $55 dental clean through Groupon, and, in awe, I wrote about the “temporary brute strength” that grouponomics provides. I didn’t realize that Groupon takes 50% of a business’ revenue as part of the deal. That fact floored me, and I thank Bundle Managing Editor Janet Paskin for the details. She did some great reporting on the emotional pull of grouponomics in her story “Inside the Cult of Groupon.” Steven Carpenter broke down Groupon on Tech Crunch earlier this month, too. I have two takeaways from my experience and their articles and two next steps:

1) From the customer end, there’s not much brand differentiation. I am equally happy about Groupon’s $55 dental clean and kgb’s $4 movie tickets. Both provide me with 65% savings off the typical retail price. As Carpenter writes, “buyers don’t care where they buy so long as the deals are good.”

2) The giddiness of participating in a timed, tipping-point-based sale will wear off for customers. For me, it never existed. As Carpenter shows, the average savings provided by Groupon deals in the five US cities he looks at climbed from $43.79 to $78.37 between Q4 ’09 and Q1 ’10. My guess is that this 79 percent growth in savings is the catch, rather than the emotional attachment. (Not a mind-bending conclusion, I know, but it makes design and branding elements seem fairly irrelevant.)

Next steps
1) Upmarket competitors. Carpenter found that “Boston residents love laser hair removal,” “St. Louis residents love their plants and garden supplies,” “San Diegans are into Pole Dancing,” “Denver loves them some Cold Stone Creamery,” “Atlanta is into NASCAR,” and Chicagoans enjoy the “Tall Ships.” With the exception of the Tall Ships — sailing on old-school ships, essentially — we’re looking at deals on low-market experience and products. My $55 dental clean stuck out because it’s a high-quality product, and I purchased it right away (I go next week). While Groupon, Living Social, kgb and the rest slug it out to provide Denver with ice cream deals, who’s going to jump in on more meaningful products and services?

2) International shipments. Right now, grouponomics is city-based. What if it become nationally based? For instance: A startup company in Greece creates a brand-new electric bicycle that’s not drawing VC money, no family money, no government money, nothing. Grouponomics 2.0 offers the electric bicycle to the entire United States and puts the tipping point at 3 million people or 15 million or 20 million. Grouponomics 2.0 acts as a public VC firm that helps offer the brute strength of economies of scale to a startup. I feel that this is inevitably next after up-market grouponomics 1.0

To read the short synopsis of Paskin + Carpenter, go next door to my story on Bundle.
For a good-looking story about Groupon by U. Chicago Ph.D. student Evan Miller, go down the road to his blog. I haven’t read it yet, but look forward to.