John Kerry

At last, Minnesota’s long statewide nightmare is over.

Norm Coleman finally conceded his former U.S. Senate seat to Al Franken, who, as it turned out, won the seat by a mere 312 votes in the November 2008 election, 239 days ago. An entire NBA season was played between the election and its conclusion. (Actually, the NBA season started a week before the election, but you get my point — Minnesotans surely are relieved to hear they finally will have dual representation in the U.S. Senate again after an eight-month election recount battle.)

Coleman decided to throw in the towel  following the Minnesota Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of Franken. This likely isn’t the last we’ve heard of Coleman, though; many political analysts expect him to run for the Minnesota governorship again. (He previously lost that race to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, giving Coleman the distinction of losing political races to a former pro wrestler and a former comedian.)

The biggest significance of Franken’s victory is the Democrats now have a 60-seat supermajority capable of preventing Republican filibusters in the Senate — sort of. The Democrats actually have only 59 U.S. senators (Joe Lieberman is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and two of them (Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy) are in poor health. Some other Democratic senators (members of the Moderate Dems Working Group come to mind) certainly are not rubber-stamp votes for all Democratic bills. Nonetheless, the Republicans still have only 40 senators, so the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t pass the kinds of legislation they promised voters.

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle


It upsets me sometimes when I hear or read about newspaper decision-makers complaining that new media (blogs, social networks, etc.) are their industry’s undoing. Yes, the Internet played a significant role in diminishing returns for newspapers and magazines. But the time for complaining about that is long past. Publications need to adapt or die, and that means embracing new media as part of the package being presented to readers. Yet many publications, especially smaller ones, are slow to accept this. Some even reject the idea altogether, believing there is little or no profit in adding new media to the mix.

Part of their problem is they don’t understand new media. For those who aren’t tuned in to the latest technologies and how they can be applied to journalism, new media can be intimidating. That is why many publications didn’t start embracing new media until recently. They just ignored the elephant in the room until profits dropped enough to force them to face their fears. But they still don’t know what to do about it.

At my last newspaper, I pushed and pushed for permission to write a blog about the community I covered. My editor hemmed and hawed about it every time I mentioned the idea, and it never happened. (Though, to be fair, he eventually authorized a general “reporter’s notebook” blog for all staff members to utilize. Unfortunately, I was the only reporter who regularly posted on it, and sadly, not a single entry has been added to the blog since the early November day when a wave of layoffs claimed my job.)

Lesson learned. Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns, even if it means doing it yourself. In my case, the editor didn’t understand or place adequate value on adding beat-centered blogs to the equation, so I should have developed one on my own (while keeping the boss in the loop, of course). There are plenty of Web sites that host blogs for free, and there is no reason not to use that to your advantage.

New media isn’t just blogs, of course. Facebook, Twitter and a host of other social networks can be used to further mine reporters’ beats, and yes, they are probably even more intimidating than blogs to the uninitiated. Fortunately for journalists who need help tackling new media, there is a great Web site called Save the Media, written by a 20-year veteran of newspapers who does an excellent job explaining how to use various new media and what their value is to reporters. I highly recommend it.

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The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books took place last weekend, and the L.A. Times did an excellent job covering the event on its Jacket Copy blog, which regularly features book news and information. I don’t know if the Chicago Tribune covers the annual Printers Row Book Fair in a similar manner — I was at the event both days last year, so I wasn’t reading about it on my computer at home — but it should. The L.A. Times provided extensive coverage of the Festival of Books, giving readers bits of what numerous speakers said during the event. It is a great example of using new media to enhance the reader’s experience.

The most interesting nugget I came across was this passage in a blog post about Farenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury:

Ray Bradbury is an old-timer at the Festival of Books. He’s been a featured speaker for nearly every one of the festival’s 13 years. But this may be his last, he warned, in an ultimatum at a panel on Saturday.

“They used to burn books; now they’ve burned the Book section at the L.A. Times,” Bradbury opined in reference to the book-burning heresy of his famous dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. He demanded The Times “resurrect the Book section,” which, like most of the paper, has seen staff and page count cuts over the past year.

“If they don’t, I’m not going to come here again.”

And Bradbury, who calls himself the world’s greatest lover of books and who “does what he loves, and not what makes money,” may just be idealistic enough to do it.

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The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold hearings this week about the financial problems facing the newspaper industry. The hearings, set to begin Thursday, were called by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, whose state’s largest newspaper, The Boston Globe, is in danger of being shut down. I hope the hearings take a real look at the situation rather than turn into a press-bashing session for senators.

I also hope C-SPAN airs coverage of these hearings because I am interested in watching them, for obvious reasons. If I get to watch them in their entirety, I may use Twitter to provide real-time updates. In any case, you can expect to find coverage of the hearings here on The Bread Line.