Thursday, July 31, 2008

Newspaper suicide; book "souvenirs"

I got an email from Jenny yesterday. We had been having an email exchange recently about how newspapers are committing suicide in anticipation of their own demises in the transition to an electronic world. Our discussion began when news was released of the cutting of 150 editorial department positions at the Los Angeles Times where she and her husband both work. She wrote me yesterday to tell me that her husband is among the 150.

What do I mean by suicide? Newspapers are largely run by corporations these days that are not satisfied with the small profit margin that newspapers have traditionally offered. So they cut in the only place that really saves money: staff. It's so far centered on incentives for early retirement, but also includes forced retirements and layoffs. Who goes? In most cases it's the names you'd recognize--the longterm book critic or film reviewer, the editorial cartoonist, the guy who writes about television or sports. These, of course, are the names your dwindling readership identifies with. Once you've set those big names adrift, your readers increasingly lose loyalty and feel fine dropping that subscription.

I'm an Austin native and I've worked for the Austin American-Statesman three times, first as a general copy editor for news, features and (now defunct) neighborhood sections, then as an assistant entertainment editor and last as a free-lance film industry columnist. Oh, my actual first job there was as a paperboy way back when. Recently I cut my subscription to weekends only. Why? To save money, and because I, a guy who writes for two newspapers, get more and more of my news online. I also figure to check out the newspaper at work on someone else's dime.

The Statesman is luckier than most major metropolitan newspapers. The Dallas Morning News, where I'm a free-lance film industry columnist, announced a third wave of staff reductions recently. Over at the Poynter Institute, Romenesko's regular column reads like an obituary: staff cuts, cuts cuts. The Lexington Dispatch is going so far as to chop off its own toes by deleting its entire Monday newspaper.

The Statesman's Cox chain has yet to slash into its staff, but just you wait. The signs of decay are already there. Show World, the weekly listing of television shows was dropped. I guess it was assumed only old people kept it near their rabbit-eared televisions as a guide to programming. The rest of us watch the guide channels offered by cable and satellite providers. The classified ads, once considered a reliable indicator of the state of the economy, are another goner. Craig's List stole it all. Another buggy whip for the museums. Like the phone books that keep piling up at my house untouched when the Internet is so much easier.

Why all the melancholy navel-gazing? Part of it is that email from Jenny. Another part comes from reading this article about the future of the printed word, primarily books. One person interviewed in the article suggests books will become souvenirs given out for free when authors talk. That's not too far fetched. Will all our reading soon be multimedia? Maybe so. I know I'm not ready to give up on newspapers just yet. And I'll keep on writing novels with paper and ink in mind, thank you very much. I just hope the publishers are not giving up on themselves too soon.

The Pickle vs. the Corn Popper!

Tiffany had this Corn Popper toy by Fisher Price when she was a little girl. Her parents recently pulled it out of storage for Nicholas. He is clearly born to pop.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nicholas' day at the hospital

Today was the big day. Nicholas' call time was 8 a.m. They wheeled him back to surgery in this little wagon. It was scary to let him go, but he was back an hour later and very cranky as the anesthetic wore off. The doctor installed a sling to allow his eyebrow to pull up his droopy eyelid (ptosis for those of you finding this message by Googling).

His eye is swollen and we have to keep ointment on it because it won't completely shut for a while, but he's mainly been in great spirits all day before crashing for naps. We've been offering him multiple showings of Elmo's World from the Tivo, but he'd prefer to play. What a tough guy...

In the bottom photo in the recovery room, you can see the dinosaur-patterned splints on his arms to keep him from messing with his eyes. We take him back tomorrow morning for a brief exam with the surgeon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Surgery in the morning

Nicholas amd Tiffany read a lot of books today, and he was full of energy as we counted down the hours to his surgery Friday morning. He shows up at 8 a.m. at Scott and White for the procedure to correct his ptosis (droopy eyelid). The procedure is supposed to take less than an hour and involves installing a sling that has his eyebrow raising the droopy lid. It's all designed to avoid any vision loss and stave off lazy eye.

They say it's a common procedure, but that doesn't keep us from getting nervous about it. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Pickle in motion

A few videos of the Pickle. This week he has learned to both kick a ball and slide down off a stool. And his walking is getting closer to a trot.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cowboy Pickle, Part II

Nicholas fell in love with this black cowboy hat on first sight, providing further evidence that he is a country boy (he has a major thing for trucks).

He'll be getting surgery at the end of the month to correct the ptosis that makes one of his eyelids droopy. Updates as this gets closer. I know a lot of people end up here after googling about ptosis, which is essentially a weak muscle that lifts the lid. The procedure is supposed to be very simple, but that doesn't keep us from being anxious about it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I didn't write this

OK, I'm late to notice that Ramiro Burr, a longtime San Antonio Express-News music writer resigned after allegations that he had someone else ghostwrite a lot of his columns. Sounds like a great plan. Isn't that what at least one famous painter did? And then there's V.C. Andrews, in my mind one of the worst ever American writers, who continues to write long after her death.

If anyone wants to purchase the Joe O'Connell brand for your own crappy writing, please inquire within.

The Robert Rodriguez-Rose McGowan soap opera

Usually I try to stay out of the personal lives of film industry folk. It bores me and seems a tad sleazy. But sometimes, such as with the media frenzy over Robert Rodriguez's relationship with Rose McGowan, it becomes business.

In case you don't know the story, Robert Rodriguez's marriage of many years ended during the filming of Grindhouse when the director of Spy Kids ran off with McGowan. Late last year Rodriguez and McGowan were said to be engaged. Now comes word that they are breaking up. Or not.

What makes this interesting is, one, Robert Rodriguez is, next to fellow Austinite Terrence Malick, one of the most secretive filmmakers around. Come near his set and you'll be signing a confidentiality agreement. Note that all of the latest comments seem to funnel through McGowan's press machine. Rodriguez must be seriously cringing about now.

Two, McGowan is said to be on tap to star in three upcoming Rodriguez films: Barbarella, Women in Chains and Red Sonja. If you want to read between the lines, note that Red Sonja is now officially set to film in Michigan this fall with McGowan starring and Rodriguez PRODUCING. His longtime assistant director (dating back to The Faculty)Douglas Aarniokoski is set to helm this one. Michigan, along with having overly lavish filming incentives is very, very far from Austin. Get the picture?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Alert! Alert! Waterloo Video sells off inventory!

No, this doesn't affect the music store. Hustle on down to Waterloo and buy your fill of DVDS before this news goes public. You have been warned.

Austin screenwriter sells soul on eBay

Screenwriter Carrie Crain knows how to promote her work. The Austin scribe recently finished her screenplay Souled about a woman who sells her soul on eBay. Naturally, Crain is now selling her own soul on eBay, and the publicity stunt seems to be working. Yesterday it quickly shot onto CNN's radar.

But, alas, the listing was quickly squashed by the eBay police, even though the starting bid was a mere $1,000. And there is precedent, with similar soul sales taking place on eBay at least twice according to what I found on a Google search. The previous souls weren't as expensive, starting at a bargain basement 99 cents. Crain promised the winner of her item a spiritual certificate of authenticity, something we all could use.

UPDATE: Crain's listing is back in a form perhaps more agreeable to eBay. Check it out here. She already has her first bid.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Pickle on vacation

We went to Weatherford this past weekend where I was on a radio show talking about my novel EVACUATION PLAN and then did a signing at The Bookcase. It was a lot of fun, but while we were off in North Texas, Nicholas got to vacation with his grandparents in Temple. He was clearly miserable the entire time, given this photo evidence. I'm just hoping his new job as a mailman comes with a lot of benefits--including Popsicles.