Goodbye, Print

The Christian Science Monitor announced yesterday that it will abandon its daily print edition to offer daily coverage only online (Christian Science Monitor to exit daily print business). It is the first national newspaper to do so. This news comes a few days after the Boston Globe’s latest restyling, which simplified the layout and offloaded the fluff–entertainment, lifestyles, amusements, etc., all of which I read assiduously–to a daily magazine dubbed “g.”  (“g?” I would understand “e” because the restyled Globe features four sections.  Is it “g” as in “Gee, I wish more people bought the Globe?”, or “g” as in “the boston globe is now lower case and tomorrow will be even smaller?”)

Disappearing newspapers sadden me.  My parents met while working at The Hartford Courant (“Older than the Nation, New as the News”).  My father worked at the Courant for almost 50 years, save for his time in the Army Air Force in WWII.  I learned to read from newspapers. My first job was delivering the Courant.  I’ve subscribed to the Globe for my entire adult life and read it daily.  Newspapers are in my DNA.  Newspapers are symbols of community–there are Globe readers and there are Herald readers.  Few people read both.  Reading the Globe sports page–the best daily sports coverage in the U.S.–is an act of bonding, a celebration, a requiem.  Newspapers represent competing voices in local and national conversations.  Newspapers are pleasantly tactile, even if the ink stains one’s fingers.  Newspapers start the fire in the hearth and house-train puppies.

Newspaper websites can be outstanding.  I only read the Wall Street Journal online and the New York Times online every day but Sunday.  Each uses the medium to take news delivery beyond the dimensions of print on paper,  but try house-training a puppy with the your laptop and the NY Times website.

I understand the financial pressures that are driving newspapers into the electronic-only embrace, but we’re losing something in the process.

Global disappointment

The Boston Globe had declined in many ways from what it was in the 1970s and 80s.  Pressure from the Internet is a primary cause and newspapers need to establish strong web presences to remain in the game.  The Boston Globe’s website has always been disappointing.  It does not update often, loads much more slowly than, say, The New York Times or Wall Street Journal sites, features clunky navigation, and lacks expected customer service features.  I’m suspending the weekend Times and Globe through Labor Day.  I suspended my Times delivery by selecting the stop date, start date, weekends only on the website.  A few clicks and it was done.  I couldn’t suspend the Globe as simply.  The website allowed a vacation suspension menu, but suspending every Saturday and Sunday delivery requires entering each set of weekend dates in ten separate transactions.  Silly.  I had to call customer service, wade through the inevitable options menu, and ignore repeated requests for information so my call would be transferred to a human being.  Then I had to repeat my request four times because the rep had difficulty understanding what I meant by “every weekend through Labor Day.”  I’m less than 50% confident that this request will be processed correctly.  Frustrating, because it shouldn’t be this hard.

Cops Drop Cartoon Caper Charges

Prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the two Boston men arrested in connection with last winter’s guerrilla marketing stunt gone awry. (See Cartoon Consequences, Bomb Scare Settlement, and Collateral Damage for prior AFC posts.) As part of a plea agreement the two have performed community service and yesterday apologized in open court. Since I ripped Berdovsky and Stevens for their idiotic behavior at the press conference after their arraignment (Dumb Clients) I’ll note that their apologies, which are printed in today’s Boston Globe on page B4 but do not appear with the story on the Globe’s website (why is the Boston Globe’s website so crappy?), are excellent. If anyone wants a model public apology these, especially Berdovsky’s, are well-done. The Globe story ends with a satisfying grace note about the terrible critical and commercial reception for the movie the stunt promoted: “[a] critic for the Orlando Sentinel wrote this about the film: ‘To think we laughed at Boston. Then. They knew a bomb when they saw one.'”

Cartoon Consequences

The guerrilla marketing campaign for a Turner Broadcasting System cartoon show that prompted a Boston bomb scare this week has generated a lot of talk. So far the legal focus has centered on the two men hired by Interference, Inc., the advertising agency behind the campaign, to place the devices around the city. They’ve been charged with placing a hoax device (a felony) and disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor), both of which will be difficult for the state to prove according to an article in today’s Boston Globe. The same Globe article reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is close to settling legal issues with TBS and Interference who, presumably, will pay their pounds of flesh and make formal mea culpas. Settling the matter quickly means there won’t be a full airing of possible legal claims in court which, while great blog fodder, would be in neither Turner’s nor the state’s interests.

A February 1 Globe article–the title of which captures its essence: Marketing gambit exposes a wide generation gap–stated “[t]he episode exposed a wide generational gulf between government officials who reacted as if the ads might be bombs and 20-somethings raised on hip ads for Snapple, Apple, and Google who instantly recognized the images for what they were: a viral marketing campaign.” Reactions to the campaign showed whether one belonged to the target demographic. A number of students said that the TBS campaign was wildly successful and therefore justifiable. They argued that TBS will likely earn far more in publicity than it paid to obtain, thanks precisely to the cluelessness of public safety officials. It was a great campaign, exceeding its aspirations. From more than a few students I heard “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I did not and do not agree. Does the response justify the campaign? In every endeavor one always needs to ask: what could go wrong? How can my actions be misinterpreted? Failing to exercise due care to prevent the reasonably foreseeable injurious consequences of one’s acts is negligence. Whether one incurs legal damages, acting without regard to consequences is socially irresponsible. A positive cost-benefit analysis does not make it right.

Young people are so inured by the 12 billion ad messages they’ve received that marketers must whack them upside the head to get their attention. Some day, when Coke and Pepsi encode sales pitches on DNA molecules to insert in utero, today’s young folk can pine for that simple time of marketing devices taped to support girders on the Boston University Bridge.

Dumb Clients

In all four of yesterday’s classes we discussed Wednesday’s Boston bomb-scare, which was in fact a “guerrilla” marketing campaign for a Turner Broadcasting System show. I’ll write more about this later, after I make some progress in grading the 105 papers I’m reading this weekend, but I’ll address one thing now. In class I referred to Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the two men arrested for placing the devices around Boston, as unwitting dupes, “two shlubs”* (not “schmucks”), scapegoats for decisions made by those who hired them. I now take that statement back. Whatever sympathy Berdovksy and Stevens might have garnered evaporated during yesterday’s post-arraignment press conference in which The Brothers Dim announced they would only answer questions about human hair. An article in today’s Boston Globe quotes Berdovsky: “What I’m wondering right now is whether or not the Beatles’ hair style . . . did it actually go into the ’70s or was it all stuck in the ’60s?” Berdovksy rebuffed inquiries about the previous day’s events, saying “That’s not a hair question . . . that’s not a hair question . . .” It was a performance (see YouTube clip) calculated to appeal to the stoner vote in a fringe campaign for 8th-grade class president, and spectacularly, stupendously, monumentally ill-conceived under the circumstances.y

shlub, zhlub: “3. An oaf, a yokel, a bumpkin” Leo Rosten, Joys of Yiddish, Pocket Books, 1968

Vanishing Trials

Take note, prospective trial lawyers: the route to the courtroom travels an increasingly-narrow path. The number of civil trials has declined steadily over the past 40 years to the point that only 1.8% of all civil cases filed in federal court result in trials. The number of civil trials in state courts shows a similar decline. I would not have guessed the number to be so small. Today’s Boston Globe reports “[b]ecause of the high cost of going to trial, fear of unpredictable jury verdicts, and other factors, many cases instead are being resolved through settlements, mediation, and arbitration, which litigants often prefer to the emotional ordeal of going to court.” Rational reasons all, but (as The Globe reports) fewer trials means fewer experienced trial lawyers, a problem compounded by staffing practices in large corporate firms. If you hire Bob Popeo to represent you in a civil matter then, if your case is one of the 1.8% that goes to trial, you want Bob Popeo as lead counsel in the courtroom, not not one of Popeo’s talented younger partners and certainly not a litigation-department associate, no matter his or her academic pedigree. When the Popeos of the litigation bar retire, however, the ranks of lawyers with trial experience will grow successively thinner with each generation. As high as the stakes and arduous as the preparation for a summary judgment motion might be, it is not the same experience as a multi-day trial.

The article points out some of the steps firms are taking to enable younger lawyers to gain trial experience, such as handling pro bono cases through the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project. Shortly after its inception in 1977 I worked as a paralegal at the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project. VLP is worthy for its pro bono client services and for the hands-on opportunities it provides to attorneys. Taking a case through the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project may increase a lawyer’s chance of trying a case but trials are no more numerous in those cases than they are in civil limitation in general.

Civil trials are terrible vehicles to resolve disputes, contentious, ridiculously expensive, and emotionally draining, and I don’t bemoan their paucity. The scarcity of trials underscores a disconnection I experience in just about every conversation with wannabe law students, who think of litigation when they think of the law: most lawyers are not litigators. For every lawyer in the litigation department of a large corporate firm there are often 5-10 lawyers in other practice areas. They are real estate lawyers, corporate lawyers, trusts and estates lawyers, tax lawyers, municipal finance lawyers, environmental lawyers, they almost never set foot inside a courtroom (testifying as a witness for a deal gone wrong doesn’t count), and they practice outside the gaze of Court TV, law-based TV shows and movies. We will never see a television drama called Bond Counsel or Fiduciary (well, maybe on cable), which means most pre-law students will experience the law through the distorted and diminishing prism of trials.

Sacha Pfeiffer, Few chances for lawyers to develop trial skills, The Boston Globe 29-Nov-06, p.1

The Joke’s On Us

Let’s pretend that John Kerry correctly delivered his joke on the first try. The result would have been a tired retelling of a stale, witless punch line. We get it. President Bush was never a valedictorian. A friend remarked “what’s the upside with that joke? What was he thinking?” It was wrong-headed in so many ways, not the least of which is that George Bush of the Gentleman’s C did not get us in Iraq on his own:

[I]f there’s one thing W.’s reign proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is this: Experience, like affectations, can be dangerous. They will fill up history books with all the myopic misjudgments made by a war council with a couple of centuries of experience, blunders that undermined America’s security and integrity, wrecked Iraq, loosed Osama, and made the world more dangerous.(1)

And then there is this: George Bush graduated from Yale two years after John Kerry with a cumulative grade of 77. John Kerry completed his undergraduate career at Yale with a cumulative grade of 76.(2) Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. You have something in common.
In any event, their respective grades are not the point. There is serious disenchantment with the war, the president, the Congress. Democrats should be engaging in fresh thinking. Why is the most recent Democratic presidential candidate mis-delivering trite jokes like Jay Leno’s untalented third cousin?

  1. Maureen Dowd, Haunted by the Past, The New York Times, 01-Nov-06
  2. Michael Kranish, Yale grades portray Kerry as lackluster student, The Boston Globe, 07-Jun-05