During our three-week-plus blogging absence, one of the events we failed to note was the demise of one of the unsung pop-culture greats, Samuel W. Petrucci. A logo and packaging designer, he worked on everything from the Charleston Chew candy wrapper to a Lassie lunch box. But he’s best known for the logo and box art on the original G.I. Joe dolls, often using himself as a model for Joe’s face. His daughter Lisa Petrucci is a prominent local “pop surrealist” painter and co-owner of Something Weird Video.
imagined audio-book listeners on a train, 1894
Back in the early days of telephones and phonograph records (1894 to be precise), essayist Octave Uzanne claimed “The End of Books” would soon be at hand. Uzanne predicted people would much rather listen to storytellers (with what are now called audio books) than read:
Our eyes are made to see and reflect the beauties of nature, and not to wear themselves out in the reading of texts; they have been too long abused, and I like to fancy that some one will soon discover the need there is that they should be relieved by laying a greater burden upon our ears. This will be to establish an equitable compensation in our general physical economy.
Elsewhere in randomosity:
Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos apparently summoned his inner Charles Foster Kane and decided, “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”
For a mere quarter billion (less than some of his fellow one-percenters spend on bigass yachts), Bezos has instantly become a news media powerhouse (of the “old media” persuasion).
Basically that’s all we know at this point.
Some people are suggesting that Bezos might use the WaPo as a bully pulpit for his own national legislative agenda (which may or may not include fewer minimum-wage hikes, sales-tax breaks on online/interstate commerce, and restrictions on book publishers and other suppliers from setting enforced retail prices on products).
Other people are suggesting a Bezos-subsidized WaPo could revive bigtime journalism by relieving it from the need to earn a Wall St.-acceptable profit level.
Still others wonder how someone based in this Washington can effectively lead an institution based in that Washington. Don’t just dismiss these as the typical remarks of Northeast provincialists.
As we’ve mentioned, the WaPo‘s business model has traditionally been that of a local paper whose locality happened to be the nation’s capital. Unlike the NY Times, it had little direct presence beyond the Northeast during the pre-online years, aside from its wire service and its syndicated columnists.
Under Bezos, the WaPo could become a national business; not just a DC/Maryland/Virginia business with national influence. Its website, and future related online products, could become not just greater attractors of “clicks” but greater forums for the big issues of the day.
But where would that leave the local DC news? (Remember, the WaPo originally “broke” the story of the Watergate break-in as a local crime story.)
The less-glamorous, formerly more-profitable half of the WaPo institution needs its own reassurances from the Bezos camp.
PS: The Washington Post Co. will remain under the Graham family, under a new name to be announced later. That company will still include the formerly Microsoft-owned Slate.com, as well as TV stations and the Kaplan educational-publishing outfit.
erika j. schultz via twitter
…fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that students graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.
the reason stick at blogspot
the new yorker
Known for decades as a cranky reactionary political commentator, you might find it hard to believe he’d started as a Seattle Times art and theater reviewer.
There, and later as managing editor at the P-I, he regularly advocated for the “fine arts” as a civilizing force, a means toward furthering the region’s progress from frontier outpost to respectable conservative community.
When the Seattle World’s Fair ended, Guzzo famously editorialized that the fair grounds (to become Seattle Center) should be devoted entirely toward arts/cultural pursuits. He specifically did not want any amusement-park rides there. He lived to see them finally removed.
One of Guzzo’s closest allies in this education-and-uplifting ideology was Dixy Lee Ray, who ran the Pacific Science Center. He later worked for Ray at the Atomic Energy Commission and during her one term as Washington Governor.
After Ray was primaried out of a re-election bid in 1980, Guzzo became a regular commentator on KIRO-TV. That’s where, in 1986, he delivered a blistering attack against greasy-haired, anti-social punk rockers. (The motivation was the infamous Teen Dance Ordinance, which Guzzo supported.)
In response, a local hardcore combo called the Dehumanizers released a blistering attack on him, in the form of a 45 entitled “Kill Lou Guzzo” (which began with a sample of Guzzo’s original commentary). Guzzo sued the band and its record-label owner David Portnow. Portnow responded by pressing more copies.
After retiring from KIRO at the end of the 1980s, Guzzo started a “voice of reason” website and self-published several books.
1950 front page via portland.daveknows.com
Imagine a Portlandia sketch about people desperately seeking newspapers.
For dog training and bird cage lining. For papier-maché school crafts projects. For kinetic art pieces and retro fashion ensembles. For Wm. Burroughs-style “cut up” wordplay. For packing objets d’art and eBay shipments.
But there aren’t any newspapers to be had.
Not in the vending boxes. Not in the stores. Not in the attics.
Not even in the landfills—they’ve been picked clean of ‘em.
The citizens are outraged. They form support groups. They exchange tips on where the rare newsprint can still be had.
Of course, they do all of this online.
That’s the scenario I imagined when I heard of the Newhouse/Advance Media chain’s latest cost-cutting spree.
You remember how Advance’s newspapers in Ann Arbor MI, Birmingham AL, and (most famously) New Orleans cut back their print issues to two or three days a week.
The New Orleans operation backtracked. This week it launched a tabloid called T-P Street on the regular Times-Picayune‘s off days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday). The Street papers will be sold in stores and vending boxes, but won’t be home-delivered.
That’s the tactic Advance is taking in Portland.
First, they registered a new corporate name, “Oregonian Media Group,” replacing “Oregonian Publishing Co.”
Then they immediately posted an announcement that claimed the new entity would “expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington.”
Of course, that “expansion” is really a contraction dressed up in corporate buzz-speak.
The print Oregonian is going newsstand-only three days a week this October, with home delivery offered four days a week. (Home-delivery subscribers will get full digital access to all editions.)
And at least 45 newsroom employees are losing their jobs. That’s about 22 percent of the paper’s current editorial workforce, which in turn is a little over half of its 1990s newsroom strength. Some 50 workers are being canned in other departments.
That reduction might not be the final total; at least a few new hires will replace high-senority people taking severance packages.
If you ask whether the Seattle Times could join the trend of papers only home-delivering part of the time, the answer is “maybe but it’s complicated.”
The Times took over the Everett Herald‘s home-delivery operation. If the now Sound Publishing-owned Herald wants to keep delivering every day, the Times is contractually obligated to do that delivering.
And if the Times has drivers and paperboys/girls in Snohomish and north King counties working every morning, it might as well have them in the rest of King County.
lynn emmert via fantagraphics.com
I swear I’m gonna have thoughts about the end of the Egyptian Theater and other things soon. But there’s only one story for me for today.
Kim Thompson, co-owner and co-publisher of Fantagraphics Books and The Comics Journal, died Wednesday morning, less than four months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
The Danish-born Thompson grew up loving both European and American comics, from crude superhero fare to slick French graphic albums. He came to the U.S. at age 21 and immediately became friends with Gary Groth, who’d started The Comics Journal with Mike Catron as a teenager. When Catron moved on to DC Comics, Thompson became Groth’s partner at the Journal. By the early 1980s, they’d branched out from reviewing comics into publishing their own.
By 1989 they moved their already substantial operation from the L.A. suburbs to Seattle.
I came to know, and work for, them soon after that.
In the office, Thompson played the “good cop” role. Where Groth was a demanding taskmaster and a hard-nosed boss (at least back then), Thompson was more easygoing and soft-spoken. He still had the same painstaking care as Groth for putting out the best comics and books possible, and for getting the most production value out of an in-house design shop run (at that time) on bobby pins and baling wire (and top talent, such as the late graphics ace Dale Yarger).
Thompson could also hold his own in making deals with comics creators, distributors, and retailers, and with the mainstream media. He famously told the Village Voice, “[L]et’s face it. If you’re a shop that has any claim to carrying alternative comics and you’re not carrying [Daniel Clowes's] Eightball or [Chris Ware's] Acme Novelty Library, that’s stupid.”
Eventually, Thompson got to make his books’ physical aspects as slick and professional as the content of the art within them, expanding from magazines and trade paperbacks into hardcovers and slipcase box sets.
Groth and Thompson’s books won awards in and out of the comics/graphic-novel niche. With recognition came clout, the kind of clout that got them the reprint rights to Peanuts, Donald Duck, and many other classics.
Their original publications, from Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World to Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, continually redefined the range of stories and moods the medium could convey. Comics were more than (as the tired cliché went) “not just for kids anymore.” They were a true art form; and, thanks partly to Fantagraphics and its stable of creators, the “mainstream” audience began to recognize this.
As the book trade roiled at the “disrupting” influence of e-books and chain bookstores’ rise and fall, Fantagraphics continued to grow. Its beautiful hardcover packaging helped readers to see its titles as art works in themselves, things people wanted to own as physical, tangible objects.
Thompson’s legacy, besides the many great cartoonists whose work he helped assemble, promote, and nurture, could be this packaging.
In it, he showed the rest of the (print) book industry how to stay in demand.
joshua trujillo, seattlepi.com
ap via nbc news
While I’ve been busy doing whatever (looking for a new home, etc.), I missed a few big birthdays here in online-land.
Tim Berners-Lee opened the first public World Wide Web site on 4/30/93 at the CERN particle-physics lab in Switzerland. For the occasion, that site has been put back up at its original URL.
Berners-Lee was, and still is, an idealist. In the original CERN site’s documents, he described the WWW as something that could open up information to the masses.
Instead of “walled garden” online networks such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and the original AOL, the Web would be open to all comers and contributors. Anybody could put anything on, or receive anything from, it.
This ultimate “disruptive technology,” creator of LOLcat memes and destroyer of newspapers, record labels, and middle-class livelihoods, got its start with the most noble of intentions.
(Just like many a mad-scientist-movie experiment.)
By pure coincidence, the first issue of Wired magazine was out that same month.
From the start, it was intended to be a lot more important than a mere buying guide to PC gear. It was to chronicle tech as the biggest economic, societal, and even ideological movement of our time.
It posited loudmouth, alpha-male San Franciscan Libertarians as the Voice of the Future. It sneered at governments, residents of “Tired” locales (France, Manhattan, Seattle), and people who dared to think about the well-being of others as backward-thinking parasites.
In the world according to the early Wired, CEOs were the new rock stars, even the new royalty. No social or environmental issue could be discussed in its pages, unless there was a potential solution that would also enrich (or at least never inconvenience) big business.
In the end, the bosses and bosses’ lackeys Wired worshipped got most of their way.
And as cyber-critic Jason Lanier notes, the 99 Percent are still trying to pick up the pieces.
That same week 10 years later, Apple launched the first version of the iTunes Store.
The iTunes application had been around since 2001, when Apple bought and revamped a third-party program called SoundJam MP.
Steve Jobs had identified music (and eventually general media) playback as a technology in which Apple had to lead, for the sake of the company’s survival. Otherwise, Windows-only applications and file formats (remember WinAmp?) would shut out Mac users, threatening Apple’s presence in home environments. By making iTunes, and making a Windows version of it, Jobs and co. stayed in the home-computer game.
Two years later, Windows Media-only file protection schemes were threatening to put a lock on “legal” (commercial) music downloads. Again, the Mac and its users would be shut out. Apple’s response not only had to be Windows-compatible, it had to dominate the market on both platforms.
The iTunes Store did that, and more.
Its stand-alone hardware adjuct, the iPod, quickly dominated the new market of portable digital music machines.
And along the way, iTunes allegedly “killed the old music industry.”
(Of course, many of us felt the old music industry had deserved to die, but that’s not the point here.)
But now, the notion of music downloads seems as archaic as the notion of buying music on little compact discs.
The big hype these days is for streaming music subscriptions, a field which Apple has yet to enter.
Yet through all these industry changes, one thing remains constant.
Most recording artists themselves still get the fiscal shaft.
wu ming, via daily kos