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February 07, 2003
I Think I hear a Fat lady Singing...

Radio? Sucks. MTV? Please. The only way to discover new music these days is unauthorized file-sharing. Here's some new bands you probably haven't heard of - the Top 10 most downloaded songs on the Net. It's great to see marginalized musicians benefiting from alternative marketing tools!

The new music industry paradigm: if you spend lots of money on radio and MTV, your band might become popular enough to give away its songs for free. How come the labels fail to see the promise of this system?

Posted by Greg Beato at 03:52 PM
Savage O'Reilly

It's been a heck of a week for Bill O'Reilly.

First he lied about never intiating a boycott, after calling's boycott of Rush Limbaugh's sponsors "unAmerican."

Then he told Jeremy Glick, son of a 9/11 victim, to "shut up!"

Now he's calling illegal immigrants from Mexico "wetbacks."

O'Reilly has always been an opportunistic blowhard, but generally not so transparently hateful. Is the success of Michael Savage making him escalate his rhetoric?

And is it time for an O'Reilly boycott? Who are his advertisers anyway? (My cable company doesn't carry FoxNews, so to get my daily fill of the "The O'Reilly Factor," I rely solely on transcripts of the show and the occasional video clips that appear on the website.)

Oh, and a suggestion to Eric Alterman. If O'Reilly ever reschedules your cancelled appearance on his show, please consider asking him the following questions:

1) Why are you boycotting the truth about your role in boycotting Pepsi?

2) How does telling your guests to "shut up" and cutting off their mics promote the kind of free speech that you wish to protect for people like Rush Limbaugh and yourself?

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:21 PM
February 06, 2003
O'Reilly Boycotts Truth...

"First of all -- Ms. Rousseau. First of all, I never do anything tacitly. I do things directly. I simply said I wasn't going to drink Pepsi while [Ludacris] was on their payroll. No boycott was ever mentioned by me."

-- Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor, 02/03/03

"I'm calling for all responsible Americans to fight back and punish Pepsi...I'm calling for all Americans to say, Hey, Pepsi, I'm not drinking your stuff. You want to hang around with Ludacris, you do that, I' m not hanging around with you."

-- Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor, 08/27/02

"Because of pressure by Factor viewers, Pepsi-Cola late today capitulated. Ludacris has been fired."

-- Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor, 08/28/02

Reader Walterthump has sent O'Reilly email pointing out his lie to him - will O'Reilly have the integrity to air it?

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:11 PM
February 04, 2003
Man Celebrates Five-Year Web Anniversary

Five years ago today, Jim Romenesko officially launched

For the record, he actually started a website a little earlier than that, but without a proprietary URL. According to Internic, February 4th, 1998, was the day came into being. The site grew out of Romenesko's long-term interest in self-publishing. As a kid growing up in Walworth, Wisconsin, he started publishing his own newspaper. In 1981, while working for the Milwaukee Journal, he self-published a book called Death Log: A Police Reporter's Collection of Coroners' Reports on Some of the Most Unusual Deaths Ever. In 1989, he started publishing a newsletter called Obscure Publications that featured news and gossip about the zine world. Over the next decade, he produced 45 issues of it; in the early '90s, he published a few electronic versions of it as well.

In other words, the man's a true DIY publishing pioneer, in print and online. And he's incredibly dedicated too. When he spun off from, and then turned into the first professional blogger when the Poynter Institute started paying to publish the rechristened, he kept doing too. To commemorate his five years of searching for offbeat news stories, I figured a short interview was in order:

SOUNDBITTEN: Do you ever miss a day updating the Obscure Store?

ROMENESKO: I never missed a weekday until Christmas week 2001. Poynter strongly encouraged me to take that week off from MediaNews, which I did. I decided to take the week off from Obscure, too, because I was moving into a new condo that week and wanted to concentrate on settling in before hitting the Web sites again.

SOUNDBITTEN: How do you describe the editorial scope of Obscure Store?

ROMENESKO: I like the type of stories that I'd dug up when I was a police reporter right out of college. I would go to the police building press room at 6 a.m., get a 10-page sheet of crimes/incidents from the previous 24 hours, comb the brief summaries for story possibilities, then call the appropriate people for interviews. I recall one story about a man falling from a tree to his death while allegedly window-peeping ("a pair of binoculars was found by the married man's body"), which would have made a perfect Obscure Store story. But I don't want to limit myself to quirky stories. I post other things that I just happen to find interesting and figure some others will, too. One thing I've always done is stick with stories written by local reporters. I very rarely post wire service stories, articles, etc. I figure that once they hit AP and other services, they're no longer obscure.

SOUNDBITTEN: What kind of traffic does the site get these days?

ROMENESKO: I don't check traffic very often. In fact, I checked it for a few days last week for the first time since last summer. It had been stuck in the 20,000s (daily pageviews) for some time, so I was surprised to see last week that it was in the upper 30,000s. Traffic isn't that big of a deal since I don't have advertisers. I just want to post stories that I believe are worth sharing.

SOUNDBITTEN: Are there any publications or even specific reporters who've emerged as regular sources of Obscure Store-style stories?

ROMENESKO: Some readers claim Pennsylvania (stories from, the Inquirer, Post-Gazette, etc.) has the weirdest stories, while others insist Florida is tops in bizarre-o tales. I think Wisconsin (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press-Gazette, etc.) is right up there, too.

SOUNDBITTEN: Are there unusual stories that surprise you with how frequently they appear?

ROMENESKO: I guess the frequency of teachers being arrested for sex abuse/inappropriate relationships surprised me when I started doing daily checks of papers across the country. I find several cases each day. The cars-plow-into-buildings stories have made me a bit paranoid. I was at a coffee house the other day, sitting at a table by the window. I thought, "I could see a car turning the corner too fast and landing in here." I didn't move, but I never sat at that table again.

SOUNDBITTEN: You used to do a lot of hands-on reporting and wrote a bunch of classic features. Do you still ever do any of that?

ROMENESKO: I used to spend 6-8 weeks on features, interviewing dozens of people for some stories. I enjoyed doing that -- and I met some very *interesting* people in the process -- but I like doing what I do now. I also like going to bed at night without a huge story/deadline hanging over my head. I was a procrastinator; what I do now doesn't really allow that.

More Romenesko interviews/articles from the past few years:

At Salon
AT CNB-Scene
At New York magazine

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:04 AM
February 03, 2003

Last week it was Janeane Garofalo talking more honestly and insightfully than the pundits. This week, it's Jerry Springer: "On these Sunday morning talk shows all these wonderful educated people sit around and they smugly make jokes and talk about how wonderful life is for them. And middle America -- people wonder why no one watches those shows. Why great mass of Americans don't. It doesn't relate to them."

Along with Springer, armchair exterminator Ann Coulter was there to offer her take on how to proceed in the Middle East: "Look, this is all a swamp. We are draining the swamp. This is one mosquito in the swamp. And you guys want to go around mosquito by mosquito, saying there's not evidence here. Have you proved that this mosquito has bitten yet? Well we are draining the swamp. And the worst guy in the swamp is Saddam Hussein. We know he has poison gases. We know he has chemical weapons."

(Link via Rittenhouse Review.)

Posted by Greg Beato at 03:58 PM
February 02, 2003
Same Old Song

I sound like a broken record, I know, but as long as Janis Ian's uptempo ditty to Internet myoptimism remains in heavy rotation, I'll keep singing the blues...

This time, Ian does her song and dance for the LA Times :

The record companies say [that curtailing unauthorized downloading] will mean more money for musicians, but they have it backward. The downloaded music they're shutting off actually creates sales by exposing artists to new fans. If this ruling stands, many smaller musicians will be hurt financially, and many will be pushed out of the music business altogether...Six months ago, I began offering free downloads of my songs on my Web site. Thousands of people have downloaded my music since then -- and they're not trying to steal. They're just looking for music they can no longer find on the tight playlists of their local radio stations. That's how many artists gain new listeners these days -- through the Internet. After I first posted downloadable music, my merchandise sales went up 300%. They're still double what they were before the MP3s went online. I'm not going to make a fortune selling these extra recordings, but it does add up to a few thousand dollars a year...The Internet means exposure, and these days, unless you're in the Top 40, you're not getting on the radio."

And, again, what Ian fails to acknowledge is that her Internet experience is the one-in-a-million exception. If she hadn't written a pro-downloading article that became a pass-along, have-you-seen-this Internet phenomenom in the tradition of Mehran and the dancing hamsters, her experience would have been much different. Because it wasn't just her music that made her merchandise sales go up 300% - all the publicity, traffic, and good will that her article generated played a very important role in her success too.

And about that 300% - what are the real numbers behind it? Does it represent an increase from 100 units a month to 300 units a month? 1000 to 3000? 10 to 30?

If it's any of these numbers, the real lesson of her story is actually kind of gloomy: even if you're the lucky one in a million who becomes an Internet cause celebre and you benefit from huge word-of-mouse traffic, you're still only going to sell 3000 units a month maximum. Better not quit that day job just yet.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Are there other more impressive success stories than Janis Ian? I see that Aimee Mann's latest album, still available in its entirety in streaming format on her site, sold well in its first week, but did those sales continue?

Also, I note that Ian continues to make no mention of the fact that the majors are actually more music than ever available online. It's just that they, like Aimee Mann, believe that offering such music in a streaming format is a solution that works for artists as well as fans - it gives the latter a chance to sample new albums in their entirety without completely eliminating the need to buy the actual CD. At Netscape, you can listen to nine new albums in their entirety right now, from artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Mariah Carey, Ry Cooder, Lou Reed, and Zwan. At, you can listen to, well, Janis Ian. Thanks, but I'll choose the former.

Which is not to say it wouldn't be nice if Ian's version of the Internet were true. And it's certainly nice that the Internet allows artists to distribute their work to potential fans. Indeed, where would The Girls Guitar Club be without the Internet? A Los Angeles-based duo who make "Krispy Kreme donuts for your ears," they use the Web to distribute MP3s and their classic 13-minute video.

Given that their songs are both catchy and funny, and that both members of the group are established actor/comedian-types, you'd think that their website might help them get a record deal, or some gigs, or a little publicity, or something. So far, however, it doesn't seem like any of that has happened. So, actually, without the Internet, The Girls Guitar Club would probably be exactly where they are now.

In other words, the web doesn't really work as dependably as Janis Ian suggests it does. The kind of results she experienced are exceedingly rare, and yet in interview after interview, and op-ed after op-ed, she acts as if her experience were the norm.

From a financial perspective, the Internet may still turn out to be a good thing for middlemen. For artists, however, that's very unlikely. After all, they benefit more from scarcity than middlemen do: when music becomes so abundant it's worthless, the middlemen can start selling convenience and quantity. The artists, alas, are stuck selling music.

Posted by Greg Beato at 07:25 PM