Saturday, April 30, 2011
I thought he would live forever. It was such a shock when I heard that Ben Masel lost his courageous battle against cancer today. He will really be missed, and Madison will be a poorer place without him. Without him around to fight for our civil liberties, the rest of us are really going to have to step up.
His last months were a lesson in grace and courage and good humor to all of us. He was a fixture at the Capitol during the protests, even as he fought his illness, and he never stopped battling for the public's right to freely assemble in Our House.
If you ask me, one damn good memorial to Ben and his spirit would be to take down those metal detectors at the Capitol and freely open it to the people again. I think he'd enjoy that.
Note: I originally posted this photo in 2006, when I took it at the Farmer's Market after signing his nomination papers to run against Sen. Herb Kohl. He later asked for permission to use the photo in a campaign flyer, and I was happy to make it available. See related stories and links in this old blog post.
The good hogs were out in force Saturday, and they thundered into Madison with a message for Scott Walker and his friends, as the Thunda on the Rotunda: Motorcycles Supporting Wisconsin Workers rally brought hundreds of motorcycles to the Capitol Square. The sounds and sights of a few hundred bikes from all over Wisconsin provided a great start for a rally that included as speakers Senators John Erpenbach and Mark Miller of the Fab 14, Representatives Cory Mason and Peter Barca, and Sheila Cochran of the AFL-CIO, among others.
Not all the bikes were big hogs. There were some little scooters there, too. But they made up in spirit what they lacked in engine size.
Note: Longer video (3 min.) gives better sense of the overall magnitude of the event. Also has more democracy beeping.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
This is the obnoxious NYT "Sign Up Today" Box of Death that appears on readers' screens and locks them out after they reach the 20 articles per month limit, unless they pay to subscribe in print or online. Today, frustratingly, it appeared on our screens, despite the fact that we're subscribers. We were locked out for the better part of a day, until finally my second call to customer service got our service restored late in the day. It was frustrating for us, but it's even more frustrating for people who find subscriptions just too expensive and are giving up on the Times.
Yes, even though we mostly read the New York Times online, T and I still cling anachronistically to the print edition. Used to be seven days a week, now it's just Sundays in order to give some trees a break, but it's still nice to have a paper delivered to (the general vicinity of) your door and to curl up with a print newspaper now and then. Scanning and skimming a newspaper page is different from navigating a screen, and leafing through the NY Times Book Review and the Times Magazine are habits of long standing, providing a warm nostalgic link to Sundays long gone by. Plus, we get unlimited free access to the online edition. At the same time, we feel we're paying our fair share to help keep a great journalistic institution going.
Or so I thought, until today, when our online access suddenly stopped working, even though our account has been linked ever since they put up their paywall. Now I just feel ripped off and jerked around. We pay what to us is a lot of money for the luxury of the print paper, and being locked out feels as if our phone service went down for the better part of a day. The NYT is angering a lot of nonsubscribers with their poorly designed and overly pricey paywall. If they also start angering subscribers with unreliable service, what's left?
The Times acts as if nonsubscribers who read the paper on the Web are freeloaders who cost them money. They're not -- the Times gets a lot of ad revenue for its internet page views. Many would even be willing to pay a reasonable online subscription fee. But the NYT's online pricing is ridiculous -- $35/month for computer access, less for tablets, and even less for smart phones ($15/month). Not everyone has a smart phone, and not everyone wants to read the newspaper on a tiny screen. The Times is charging more than four times as much for unlimited access as the online Wall Street Journal -- and more than it charged for the whole print paper just a few short years ago. What gives? Talk about predatory pricing. It's as if they've been covering Wall Street too long (and even Wall Street's paper of record knows better than to let that influence its online subscription prices to such a degree.)
So far, the Times claims to be happy with the results of their little experiment (their second paywall, after the first ended up a total failure several years ago). Sure, they might be able to milk some short-term revenues out of this for awhile. But where do they expect to get the readers of the future? Young people in college, or recent graduates who can't find jobs or those who did find jobs and are struggling to pay off their student loans and who can't afford $420/year who start skipping the NYT now aren't suddenly going to come back later. They'll just start to rely on other news sources.
Back when I was in college, there was no internet and the Madison papers were OK for their size, but if you wanted to really know what was going on in current events, art, literature and science, you pretty much had to read the Times. I rarely bought it at the time. Sometimes I read it for free in the library. More often I read the leftover copies laying around the student union. Where did the Times get the idea that people who read the paper for free are bad for business? That's one way papers used to develop a market. I'm someone who once read the paper for free, eventually started picking up the Sunday paper on the newsstand, and started subscribing later, when I could. But apparently they don't care about the future anymore, or they wouldn't engage in this blatant price gouging.
I used to love the Times. Now, the love is fading fast. As a blogger, I'm already reluctant to link to a Times story now, because I know many readers won't be able to access it. That already makes the paper less relevant to my life. One more glitch like today's, and I'm gone. And even under the best of circumstances, and even though old habits die hard, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to keep patronizing a company seems both greedy and short-sighted.
If I can't trust their business practices to be fair, how can I trust their journalism to be fair?