Monday, August 15, 2011

Wake schools spokesman: $126K a year

My goodness: The chief communications officer for the Wake County public school system, who resigned Friday, made $126,000 a year.

That's about 3 years salary for me in my last full-time newspaper job. It's three starting teacher jobs, with enough left over for a teacher's assistant.

It's $40,000 more than a high school principal with 34 years experience makes. It's double what teacher with a masters degree, national board certification and 20 years experience makes.

Buffet in the NY Times

If you haven't seen it yet, you should read Warren Buffet's piece this morning in The New York Times. He calls for spending cuts, but also an increased tax rate on income above $1 million a year, including income from dividends and capital gains.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Georgia redistricting: Senate map aids Macon-Bibb consolidation effort

The Georgia General Assembly released proposed new House and Senate district maps Friday, which you can download here.

The AJC picked up on a clear stacked deck in Fulton County, where the new map would give Republicans a good shot at breaking off the northern end to recreate Milton County, something that's been discussed for years.

Something of the opposite strategy is at play in Macon and Bibb County, where city-county consolidation has been blocked in the Senate because there were only two Bibb senators in the body. Such local legislation generally needs a majority vote from local legislators to pass.

With only two senators of opposing parties, that's difficult to come by. The proposed new map would solve that by drawing a third district into a northern sliver of Bibb, as seen in this closeup:

Based on the demographics of the 18th, 25th and 26th Senate districts, you're likely to see** two Republicans and one Democrat (from the 26th - Robert Brown's old seat) in Bibb's local Senate delegation. That doesn't guarantee a successful vote to put city-county consolidation before local voters in a referendum, because local Republicans have their own issues with consolidation.

But it helps, particularly as state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, continues to push the issue from his north Bibb County House seat. More broadly, the new map would do away with a fundamental difficulty in the way the districts have been drawn: That one man could block local legislation in the Senate.

**Update: After talking to Bill Knowles, a Republican activist/writer/operative in Bibb County, "likely" may have been too strong a word when it comes to the 26th remaining a Democratic district. Bill says a couple of highly Republican precincts shifted to the 26th. Enough to move the district? Hard to say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An honest newspaper job posting

In the year I spent as a freelance reporter looking for full-time work, I learned to translate the optimism of newspaper job postings into the likely truth on the ground at the paper. Then I threw in some hyperbole for fun.

To readers who aren't journalists: This post might not be for you. To my fellow reporters: I feel your pain. To newspaper companies: I kid because you're driving me insane.


Are you looking for a journalism job you're massively over qualified for? One that will force your kids to eat government cheese? If so, we've got the gig for you, because we have no intention of paying what this job's worth. Our corporate executives need that cash for themselves on the off chance shareholders realize we don't have a plan for "The Internet."

We're an award winning daily in (INSERT CITY), though if you visit us you might not see any actual awards dated later than 2007. We can't really afford to frame them anymore, or to send someone to the ceremony and pick them up. But we're a great place to work, particularly if you like covering 2-3 beats at once, staring at empty desks, multi-week furloughs announced at the last possible second and various other soul-crushing moral killers that pop up every two-to-three weeks.

We need a bulldog reporter - someone who's familiar with open records law, investigative techniques and computer assisted reporting. Someone who doesn't just go to meetings and wait for press releases, but really develops sources, breaks stories and balances daily coverage with longer-term reporting.

Now you might think, "that sounds like what any good reporter should be able to do." Far from it, my friend. Roughly translated to the hire we'll actually make it means, "we want someone who thinks he/she is too good for this job and who'll end up just sitting on his or her ass all day, selling their worthless crap on eBay and talking about how they've never been given time to do that five-part series on sack-lunch theft at City Hall."

Or a minority. Then we'll have diversity in our newsroom for the 3 months it takes a larger paper to hire that reporter away, leading us to freeze the job and spread the work among the four reporters we have left.

We'd like someone with 4-6 years experience. Any more and we'd have to pay too much. At least two years of that experience should be at The Wall Street Journal or, in a pinch, The New York Times.

Please send a cover letter, resume, references and 5 clips to (INSERT EMAIL ADDRESS). Better yet, use our automated system, which will ask you to input the exact same information two or three times, repeatedly reject your clip packet as too large or improperly formatted, then time out and force you to start over.

We can't be bothered to let you know we've received your application, and please don't call to check. We're also not going to give you anyone's name, so you may feel like an jackass writing this letter to no one, or combing around on our poorly designed web site in a vain attempt to match an email address with an actual human being.

You shouldn't worry about that too much, though. Chances are good corporate will force us to eliminate this job by the time you apply.

When applying, mention you saw this opening listed at

Aug. 24 update: Nothing here should reflect on my new employers at the Winston-Salem Journal. There are still people in this wonderful, frustrating, dying industry who do things the right way.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beer in a bag: No such law

I turned the North Carolina portion of this post into a piece for the Winston-Salem Journal. The Georgia section remains below.

In Georgia, where I lived 10 years before moving to North Carolina, the state Department of Revenue oversees alcohol sales through its Alcohol and Tobacco Division.

"There is no State law or regulation requiring merchants to put alcohol in any kind of bag," Carter Leverette, the division's assistant chief of operations, said in an e-mail. "Cities and counties may have local ordinances that require that alcohol be bagged."

There are 159 counties and more than 500 municipalities in Georgia, and I only checked with Bibb County, where I used to live. No such law, according to Bibb County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Sgt. Sean DeFoe.

Maybe it's a small thing. Probably just a silly custom, born of the notion that it's OK to drink, as long as you hide it. But think of all those wasted plastic and paper bags, used simply because someone thinks they have to.

Friday, August 5, 2011

FCC Commissioner Copps: Newspapers need saving

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps spoke to the National Newspaper Association last month and hinted several times that government action may be needed to fix our broken model of journalism.

That would be a shame.

But his speech is worth reading for anyone concerned about the future of journalism. I've excerpted from it below and interspersed that with my own comments, most of which come from a paper I wrote in 2009.
You as journalists have the lead role here. But you should also realize there are millions of Americans in communities from coast-to-coast who know that something is not quite right, who understand the consequences of fewer voices and less news, and who are looking for solutions. I have met them everywhere I go. I have seen citizen action at work, even in this day when so few special interests wield so much outrageous power.

So I know Americans can still be agents of change in their own country. My point is there is support out there to tackle this problem. It needs to be harnessed; it needs to be engaged. ...
If you read a newspaper regularly, please buy a subscription. If the paper you prefer won't deliver to you and doesn't charge for online access, please click on its ads and frequent its advertisers. Please throw some money at The New York Times. They are leading the push to charge for content, and the better that works, the better off the industry will be.

Also, Id like to see a partnership between newspaper / media companies to jointly fund a new marketing campaign and remind people that they need newspapers. Gannett has started something like this for its own brand, but I'm thinking of a broader effort akin to the "Got Milk" campaign the dairy industry put together a few years back.

Beyond that, I have long advocated for the news industry to aggregate itself. I do not understand why we'd waste years complaining about aggregators without trying to compete with them. Why can't newspapers come together and establish the world's premier news database?

The New York Times and other partners have moved this way half-heartedly with, but they charge for the product, divorced it from advertising and don't appear to market it in any serious national way.

Meanwhile Google, which already makes more on online advertising than all U.S. newspapers combined, according this piece in the New York Review of Books, is beginning to offer a journalist-vetted version of Google news.

That was our edge when it came to aggregation, and we let it sit on a shelf.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

'Super Congress' recalls failed Georgia tax reforms

The poorly, I fear, dubbed "Super Congress" that will recommend spending cuts and tax reform as part of Washington's debt ceiling deal reminds me of a proposal that went down in slow-burning flames earlier this year in Georgia.

In 2010, outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue and the state legislature shelved a number of tax overhaul proposals and established a committee to study the issue. That committee would make recommendations to a House-Senate leadership committee, which would send a bill directly to the House and Senate floors for up-or-down votes, no amendments.

But legislators, not to mention lobbyists, have a funny way of wanting to be involved in the tax code. They ended up amending the bill repeatedly, then declined to vote on it.

Who could have foreseen this as soon as the straight-to-the-floor strategy was divulged? Much of the capitol press corps, as I recall. So it doesn't take a genius to guess that Congress' strategy might not work.

The debt ceiling bill the U.S. House passed Monday, and the Senate is likely to approve today (full text, via New York Times) includes a litany of repeated admonitions to make it clear that this 12-member committee is supposed to meet and make its recommendations to the full Congress by November.

That recommendation will go through committee, but committees can't change it. Then it's to the floor for an up-or-down vote.

Now, at least this all happens within the current election cycle. Georgia's leaders figured they could wait until a new governor was elected and after the full House and Senate had stood for election, and all the new guys would just be cool with what the old guys had planned.

But elected representatives have a funny way of tinkering with things. So when you change the process, the folks who used to be involved have a way of inserting themselves right back in.

Newt Gingrich's Twitter followers

I don't plan to fully sniff this one out, but let me say, "this one ain't hard to sniff out."

From Jim Galloway Monday:
This afternoon, is suggesting that many of Gingrich’s Twitter followers may be manufactured. The post includes this explanation from a former – and, keep in mind, anonymous – Gingrich campaign worker. ...
Read on, but it's easy enough to scroll through some of @NewtGingrich's 1.3 million Twitter followers.

Images: Obvioustown.

For comparison, Gingrich had 142,720 Facebook "friends" late Monday night. I counted 100 Twitter "followers" still using the default egg avatar in his first 300 or so on Twitter.

Click on some of them. Scroll through the list. Skip a few thousand, then see whether accounts seem like real people.

You'll find a lot of "people" with 0-3 followers themselves. Some only follow a few folks.

Now, there are certainly folks who just use Twitter just for headlines - they have no interest in commenting themselves. It's entirely possible this type of person LOVES NEWT GINGRICH. Or they could be made up.

Either way, "Gingrigh 2012."

Update: The Gingrich campaign has denied any shenanigans. As Galloway quotes them (4th item):
At no time has the campaign or Gingrich Communications employed an outside group to inflate the number of followers of @newtgingrich. Any accusation of the kind is a lie, a smear and unsubstantiated.
You have to wonder, how does a campaign confirm that, beyond taking the word of the consultant charged with increasing it's Twitter base?