Please ignore the Man behind the curtain. Or not.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

As I wander around the state, there are folks who think the Oregonian is too liberal - and there are folks who think the Oregonian is too conservative. But the one thing that all readers of the Big O agree upon is that OregonLive is horrible. Abysmal. As one friend said, "so bad they've gotta be doing it on purpose."

Two weeks ago, Jack Bog had lunch with "Mr. Velveeta" - the editor-in-chief of OregonLive.com, Kevin Cosgrove - and drank deeply from the Kool-Aid...

My conclusion? OregonLive's current state reflects major, major corporate politics. The Advance (formerly Newhouse) publishing empire is feeling its way into the digital age very slowly, being careful to come up with a platform from which all the players in its multi-faceted operation can work together smoothly. It's a daunting task.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Only the site hasn't changed in a meaningful, non-cosmetic way in years. That's decades in internet time, people. And to be fair to Cosgrove, it's not his fault -- he's just driving the crappy car that his corporate parents gave him the keys to.

Jeff JarvisResearching something else today, though, I found the man behind the curtain. It's Jeff Jarvis, president and creative director of Advance.net. And check this out: He's got a blog!

So, the guy behind the OregonLive website (and quite a few others) has a blog. His blog even has archives -- no 14-day disappearing act for Jeff! He talks the talk on his "personal site" - but apparently can't walk the walk.

If you're interested in contacting him directly - and suggesting that the good folks at OregonLive could use some better technology with which to make their readers happy - reach Jeff Jarvis at jeff (at) buzzmachine (dotcom).

Comments

  • (Show?)

    In the interest of being productive, I suppose I should offer my wish-list of ways to improve OregonLive.com...

    • Lose the 14-day kill zone. Listen, beancounters, you'll get MORE traffic that way. More people will link and the links will live forever. That's ad revenue... think about it. Lots of folks I know don't even bother linking to OregonLive because the link will die in 14 days. And that hurts your Google rank (the key to even MORE revenue).

    • Photos. You don't really intend to suggest that your photojournalists suck so bad that their work should be in hiding, do you?

    • Post all the articles. Yes, even the Metro section stuff. If I want the front page wire-service stuff, I'll go to the source anyway.

    • Use 21st century HTML. The internet has improved the lives of millions of blind people; how about showing a little courtesy and making your HTML accessible to them? Oh, and Google's a blind person too -- do the right thing, and your Google Rank will skyrocket.

    • Put a comments/discussion forum on every single article. More traffic, more revenue... (see, the internet can make money, too!)

    • For the love of god, call the sections the same thing as you call them in print. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to find the "Commentary" link... Oh yeah, on the internet, it's "Opinion".

    • Pull the news closer to the front. Put actual content on the home page, and actual content on the section home pages. Seriously, is the little weather box the most important content you've got under "News+Biz"?

    • Improve the jobs and classifieds search. It's damn near unusable.

    • Add text-only contextual advertising, rather than all those meaningless animated banner ads. Contextual ads are actually of interest to readers - and thus generate higher click-thrus and more revenue. Google AdSense can get you up and running in under 10 minutes.

    OK, that's just off the top of my head in under 10 minutes. I'm sure there's many more ideas if you actually dig into the site.

  • (Show?)

    Jarvis has been a major blogger for years. He's No. 39 in the Truth Laid Bear rankings. I'm surprised that a tech-savvy guy like yourself (who spends lots of time these days criticizing others) has never read his blog.

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    Yeah, yeah, yeah.... sorry, hadn't run across it before. What's most interesting is that a guy as tech-savvy as he is runs a net operation that's so bad.

    I'm hardly the first guy to discover that the OregonLive site is awful.

    Then again, maybe I'm just cranky because I'm spending the holidays bundled up in a cast and hobbling around on crutches.

  • (Show?)

    You're all going to be walking right into a quagmire if you start in on Jarvis and Advance.

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    Lose the 14-day kill zone. Listen, beancounters, you'll get MORE traffic that way. More people will link and the links will live forever. That's ad revenue... think about it. Lots of folks I know don't even bother linking to OregonLive because the link will die in 14 days. And that hurts your Google rank (the key to even MORE revenue).

    At the very least, go with the Times model, which has them at their original link location with an astract and an option to buy the whole article. I actually hate the Times solution, but it's infinitely better than the O's.

    (Tip to bloggers: CNN and BBC never takes their content off, and they cover many stories. Linking to them keeps blogs fresher.)

  • (Show?)

    Also, the O's site seems to be some kind of template that other newspapers use--I see it fairly regularly. ANyone know the story there?

  • (Show?)

    Advance no doubt wishes the internet hadn't happened. What do you expect from an outfit that heretofore has been totally invested in newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations? And that has a quasi-monopoly in many cities?

    In the old days, the rule of thumb was that the subscriptions paid for the editorial staff, and advertising paid for everything else. The free aspect of the internet wreaks havoc on that paradigm. Newhouse isn't about to sacrifice subscription revenue for some relatively puny internet advertising dollars.

    Another issue is uniformity and centralization. All the formatting for all six of the Advance sites is determined in a single place back east. The local offices are basically just content generators. No matter how different the various newspapers have looked, Advance has decided that on the web, they're all going to look alike. That's too bad.

    As for the lack of photos, that's likely just a response to the widespread piracy of news photos. If Advance can't sell them, they're not going to let us steal them.

    I'm not sure I'd call it a "quagmire," but the relationship of Advance to the internet could be an interesting 500-page book.

    Finally, Kari, I'll stop taking the bait you're throwing out for me. It ain't fair to hit a cripple... 8c)

  • (Show?)

    Also, the O's site seems to be some kind of template that other newspapers use--I see it fairly regularly. ANyone know the story there?

    The ones you are seeing are other Advance websites which repurpose the content of Advance newspapers.

    And having tried to weigh in on the Advance problems many times in the past, I stand by my reference to it being a quagmire.

    For what it's worth, a fair number of the people who actually have to use the Advance setup on the backend hate it as well, including over at The Oregonian.

    Frankly, you're tilting at windmills. If we want to reform a newspaper and its website, we should probably start by trying to get the Portland Tribune to take advantage of its current woes and try something dramatic and experimental.

  • (Show?)

    And the disappearing links thing appears to be entirely inconsistent. There are Oregonian articles I've linked to on OregonLive months and months ago that still come up if you click the link I used. I'm not sure what causes the disparity where some archived articles work and some don't.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)
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    Jack, I agree with Kari (who is a GUY?) on this one. I've been complaining about Advance franchise newspaper websites for a l-o-o-n-g time. When I come across a newspaper site that is one, I automatically try an alternative source. They are worse than About.com. My major gripe is that it is damn near impossible to really search an Advance site. The other problems have already been well described. Advance may be successful, but that doesn't mean the sites are any good. If Jarvis is partly responsible for OregonLive, shame on him, too.

    b!X, I am woefully ignorant of the Trib's current woes. Do explain. (Truth be told, I never expected that paper to last more than six months. By the rules of the newspaper marketplace, it should not have. Sustaining a second paper in a one paper town is almost impossible. Is Mr. Deep Pockets about to throw in the towel?)

  • Chris Bouneff (unverified)
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    For those in Mult. Co., and with a library card, surf on over to the library Website, click on Electronic Resources, and then databases from home. A number of newspapers are indexed there, including NY Times and Wall St. Journal, and our own Oregonian. Great free resource for those who, like me, do a lot a research that otherwise would cost a penny or two to buy from some site's archive.

  • (Show?)

    Earlier this year the Tribune suffered rather stiff layoffs.

    It doesn't sound like a throw-in-the-towel sort of thing, because if I recall correctly one of my readers not too long ago participated in some sort of focus group for the paper. So they appear to be having some sort of internal conversation about themselves.

    Which would make it a good time to pitch them ideas.

  • Sid Anderson (unverified)
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    I can't stand OregonLive. It's the worst site I've ever tried to navigate. Whenever I e-mail concerns about articles to Michael Arrietta-Walden from the OregonLive site, I never hear back from him. But when I do it from my own e-mail box, he responds. I can only assume that he's not getting the e-mails from OregonLive.

    They can start by using opensource software.

  • (Show?)

    As for the topic at hand - I don't think there are many other ways to say that OregonLive is hands-down the worst translation from a print newspaper to an online news source that I've ever seen. Any improvement would be a huge improvement, IMHO. It's all laziness. Revamping would take time, effort, and money, it's true, but what they don't realize is that once the skeleton is in place, it wouldn't be any harder to maintain and they'd make the money back in traffic and advertising as Kari was saying. And if they did make improvements (any improvements) people might actually use it as a resource rather than a last resort.

  • (Show?)

    It's all laziness. Revamping would take time, effort, and money, it's true...

    That's not really it. Technically, the corporate components of Advance which own the newspapers and own the websites are separate entities within the Advance empire. There is in essence a kind of corproate wall between the two sides that would take a high-up corporate decision to punch through in a way that would result in any useful changes.

    At least that's my impression of the problem.

  • (Show?)

    Without being on the inside, it's difficult to know what the cause is... suffice to say, whether it is a lack of "getting it," glacial corporate decision-making, or the lack of fiscal will... the O's identity on the web sucks (technical term). They should be embarassed to put it out there...

  • (Show?)

    They should be embarassed to put it out there...

    I agree... I was thinking some more about this and I realized that, at least personally, I lose respect for perhaps an otherwise descent company (say a bricks-and-mortar store) that has a bad web presence. I often do my "window shopping" and price comparisons online and then go to the actual store for my instant gratification. So if a store has a poorly maintained or difficult-to-navigate site, I probably won't shop at the physical store - at least not as my first choice. In my opnion, having no website would be better than having a bad one.

    In fact, I go to OregonLive so incredibly rarely because it's easier to find things in the newspaper - at least there everything is always in the same spot and I get the coupons, ads, and puzzles.

    When a company has a web presence, there has to be a reason for it - people either have to be able to get something they wouldn't otherwise get from another source. Generally that's monetary savings/incentive, additional information/features, or convenience. OregonLive has none of that so the time/effort/money they DO spend is a serious waste of resources. Generally speaking, people who won't spend the .35 on a paper aren't that news-hungry anyway and are going to get their news from a television website or a national news source, so they don't even get that traffic.

    If the powers that be worry about losing revenue from printed papers, people aren't going to cancel their subscriptions just because the website is worth something. And let's say for the sake of argument that they do lose revenue from printed papers, they'll make that up with higher web traffic. There's really no excuse in this day and age to have a website that I could put together myself using "HTML for Dummies" and a copy of The Oregonian. OK, so it might be a little slow (even with a good scanner) but I could probably make it prettier and easier to navigate! ;-)

  • (Show?)

    My turn to be crabby. Everyone from Apple to the Portland Development Commission have placed prominent notices on how to contribute to tsunami relief.

    You have to dig to find such information on OregonLive.

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    If it matters to Oregonians, you can't find it on Oregonlive.

    I can't count the number of complaints I've filed with Cosgrove and Rowe and public editors. The b.s. I love from Cosgrove is the claim that Oregonlive is not the Oregonian. What looks like a duck, sounds like the duck, is a sibling to a duck.....

    Apparently one their problems is that reporters must enter some code and if they don't the story doesn't make it on line. Who knows why stuff that was published, such as op-eds, sometimes don't make it. And wouldn't it be nice to get the charts and graphs that have numbers not fully mentioned in the articles.

    For those outside Multnomah County, other libraries have NewsBank searches of Oregonian articles, too. And if after the 14 days they are free.

    I have yet to find someone who likes the Oregonlive pages.

    If a reporter wants to look up an old story, they apparently have their own internal way of doing it. I've suggested that Rowe and Caldwell and others be denied the internal way and have to live with Oregonlive for a while and then, maybe then, they'd realize how bad it is.

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    There's no reason to punish the people inside The Oregonian, because as I said, many of the front-line people there hate the OregonLive crap as much as we do.

  • (Show?)

    b!X... I'm with you. It's kind of like hating on the original artist when his or her song gets made into elevator music... It's the remake that sucks, not necessarily the original. ;)

  • (Show?)

    Yeah, but at the same time, as they say in Silicon Valley, "ya gotta eat your own dog food". If they won't use the site to do their research, why would they expect that we would?

    Big hat tip to Chris Bouneff for sharing (above) the free, online method of getting archived Oregonian articles.

    And yes, Mac Diva, I'm a guy. See a photo of my big, fat head right here on BlueOregon.

  • (Show?)

    compare LO to the register-guard: fully 24 hours late, as if the web version would decimate sales of the paper paper. among the problems the LO does not seem to have is access to columnists; i can find articles by duin, sarasohn, et al without any problem.

    but local news? forget it. sports scores? hah.

    if i want online news, i read the LATimes & NYTimes. they seem to accept the web is a good thing and let's use it.

  • Betsy (unverified)
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    I'm going to wade in here and play devil's advocate, just because a) it'll be a fine way to spend a New Year's Eve, and b) I have answers to some of your questions, and you're not going to like them.

    Here's the thing. Newspapers aren't going to open up their archives and put them all up online for free. Especially if it's going to cannibalize an existing revenue stream (yeah, phrases like that roll right off the tongue when you start doing web content development for a living, unfortunately) that actually brings them a fair bit of money. And for most mainstream newspapers, they do just fine sending their content off to either Lexis-Nexis, Dow Jones (Factiva), or both. Their licensing arrangements with both of those entities (and others they sell their rights to) are dependent on not having the stuff up for free and available by the unwashed masses (or the subset that are internet-savvy, of course) after a time period (14 days, or whatever's been negotiated.)

    The stuff you can find months later? It's stuff Factiva and/or Nexis could care less about. Or it's a technical glitch. But until we - yes, that means you and me - start paying for online content, no print publication is going to turn down a revenue source that already pays for itself plus some. And that means that they (the people at The O from the business end, at least) could care less about the people wanting to use OLive for research - they'd rather you go to Nexis or Factiva, where they might see some cash instead.

    Offering up content free on the web? Especially if it means people have to change the way they work in order to make it happen? (Slugging stories a certain way, for example) And there's no real incentive to do so by said people at the print pub? Ain't going to happen. Especially if you're a sister company without any muscle who's basically licensing the content from The O. You take what you get and figure out how to make it work with a small staff - and you pick and choose based on what you think people will care most about.

    And how do I know this stuff, anyway? I was OLive's first editor-in-chief way back when, that's how. What do I think of the site now? Uh...I'll take the fifth on that one...

  • (Show?)

    I don't think the free content expiration is the most significant issue with OregonLive, personally. Would I prefer they stay open? Sure. Plus, some of the stuff does seem to stay accessible, since I keep running into old OregonLive links I've used on Communique that still get to the article in question.

    At any rate, in many respects, I think the archives matter may be the least of the issues that the paper and the website need to address to become truly useful. I'm much more concerned with the lack of following the template of the paper in terms of sections and locations of stories than I am with anything else.

    I also think their weblogs need to have comments and trackbacks turned on, and be more prominently featured. And be mentioned in the print paper, for that matter.

    I'd be curious, if Kevin or anyone else from OregonLive might be checking in here, to know if they have any survey or statistical data on how many users visit OregonLive specifically for newspaper content and how many visit for other reasons.

  • Indy (unverified)
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    This is how I have cleaned up oregonlive with firefox and adblock: http://indeego.com/OL.jpg

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    Either that's no different or the fact that I think it's no different proves what a mess OregonLive is.

  • indy (unverified)
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    No interstitials. No ads. I agree with the original post, the layout and design is amongst the worst of any news media I've seen period.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)
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    Betsy, you sound like you were in newspapers when I was. I was just recalling what a mess morgues used to be. Having waded through manila folders looking for material (Yes, twenty-somethings, people used to store things that way. They would cut the article out and put it in a labeled folder.) I can kind of channel the thinking of the brass at the Oregonian, which is older than I am. Compared to what was available for years, OregonLive probably looks fine to them, particularly if they did not become Web savvy. I also recall being the Web resource person -- the one called on to search Nexis-Lexis because so many folks refused to learn how -- years ago.

    Does this excuse pathetic arse OregonLive? No. But, I think it helps put it in perspective.

  • (Show?)

    Compared to what was available for years, OregonLive probably looks fine to them, particularly if they did not become Web savvy.

    Well then they should know better than anyone what a mess it is - if those of us who are web savvy can't easily find what we're looking for, someone without any surfing skills is going to be totally lost. When I worked in knowledge management many moons ago the one thing we had to understand when developing content and, most importantly, delivering content was that we had to aim as low as possible... assume nothing except that your user knows nothing and you'll always be OK (except when the user has no common sense, and then, well, it's not really your problem. lol). That's why hierarchies like Yahoo! (Which incidentally stands for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle" - a bit of trivia for everyone today. lol) work so well, you don't have to think - or know anything - to use them. Nobody should get frustrated while looking for something on a news site, but I get frustrated with OL everytime I use it - which we've already established is rarely.

    I've often accessed newspapers from other major metro areas when looking for pieces of info pertaining to that locale. Think for a moment about when something occurs in Oregon that is newsworthy on a national scale which might prompt someone to look for more information. They're most likely going to head straight to the state's largest newspaper. It doesn't make the O or Oregon as a whole look very good when the state's largest paper has a website like that. I'm just sayin'.

  • Betsy (unverified)
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    But here's the thing. OregonLive was never meant to be a online recreation of The O. So expecting the sections, for example, to match up - or to have the entire paper, pictures and all faithfully recreated - well, that's just never going to be what OL is about. Even though that's what many (readers, O staffers, etc.) might prefer.

    As far as what you don't see - pictures, articles by freelancers, etc. - The O may only have limited rights, or may have contracts with those freelancers that preclude online usage.

    (If a freelancer is smart, for example, they'll have not signed a contract giving 'all rights' away, or will have gotten additional compensation for additional usage - both for online and for database services like Nexis. Depends both on the stature of the pub and how much the freelancer wants to write for said pub, though...)

  • (Show?)

    But here's the thing. OregonLive was never meant to be a online recreation of The O. So expecting the sections, for example, to match up - or to have the entire paper, pictures and all faithfully recreated - well, that's just never going to be what OL is about.

    If OL never figures out, or doesn't care, that the content from the paper when posted online needs to match the category schemes of the paper itself, then we really ought to stop wasting our time with them altogether. Because whatever the site is supposed to be, that really ought to be a no-brainer.

  • (Show?)

    But here's the thing. OregonLive was never meant to be a online recreation of The O.

    From Oregonian.com:

    Get today's news, classifieds (careers, autos, real estate, etc.), sports, and complete local coverage from the The Oregonian, exclusively on our affiliated Web site, OregonLive.com!

    It may not be meant to be an online recreation, but there's no way that people wouldn't expect it to be. (And anyone who knows anything about content development and delivery knows it's not about what we MEAN it's about what they SEE).It's where they direct you when you go to Oregonian.com. It says "complete local coverage from The Oregonian".... If I didn't know better, I'd think that was The Oregonian's website.... hmmm....

    Let's see, I click on the little Everything Oregon icon and it takes me to the following subdirectory of OregonLive.com: http://www.oregonlive.com/oregonian/

    Huh. And then on that page? Yeah, it says The Oregonian just like it does on the front page of the print paper. Same font and everything.

    I'd go further but this is where I start getting frustrated. My point is that whether it was meant to be or not... it is.

    It comes down to this: if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, people are going to expect it to be able to swim.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)
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    <h1/>

    B!x, nice pointer for the pointable to heed toward Jay Rosen's PressThink. And from there to Columbia Journalism Review's perspicacious panorama of blogs in media minds (or vice versa). Editor & Publisher dabbles at the scene, and I like OpEd News.
    I thought Rolling Stone set an interesting example with it's deeper profiles in pre-election personalities and issues; they suddenly started appearing at the end of many links (to links to links to...), very self-contained and self-standing content; 'political reporting' being not especially characteristic of the Rolling Stone brand, (since the 1972 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which made more of Hunter Thompson and gonzo styling as effects to note than was made of the intended target: Nixon's CREEP and GOP corruption); and I didn't see what part of Rolling Stone's web work was in the paper version, if any, but I expect it all was.

    Apart from talking about blogs beating beat writers, at Media Matters (not perforce a 'blog' although often good quality 'backroom' discussion points are scored, akin somewhat to the BuzzFlash Mailbag), and others, there are some blogs made for walking all over 'untouchable caste' media and cracking them. Quick example: Media Matters expose of Tucker Carlson's "kerik appointment" at NPR has turned off so many former NPR pledge-slaves that it might deflate both his 'career' and NPR's -- more or less single-handedly by Media Matters with impeccable traditional fact-checked reporting. Example two, less clearly so far, the 'blog by the microphone' that has a role in Air America Radio's playlist, could be a harbinger of an eventual Blog That Ate Broadcasting.

    Going on: Last year the Pew organization did a hallmark 'media survey' that didn't get a lot of press but the whole of it is on the web, full of nuggets mentioned nowhere -- my favorite tidbit being the finding that the 'fastest growing' demographic getting webliterate, (webliterated?), are minorities. Some evidence cited in it suggested that 'the great equalizer' feature of the internet matters a lot to those who've never had that in media.

    And in the personals: B!x, the PressThink Seth-troll going off on the false analogy of a blog comment changing the world being like one lottery ticket winning the sweepstakes of life, missed your point about the duration of a blog's contents compared with the duration of the day's paper's news -- in his analogy it should be like spending a dollar for a lottery ticket and then having those numbers win for you if they ever come up in any drawing after that: one entry fee, always present to win. And I'm sorry not to link up all the sites referred to in this comment. I think they are less difficult to find than it is for me to dredge them up and plop them in at the speed of stream of consciousness, but if I'm wrong and it is all esoterically Greek to the reader then perhaps the use of even going to them isn't worth it whether easy or hard.

    Spritely, B!x. Good show.

    <h1/>
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    FYI, over on Jeff Jarvis' site, he has a pointer to the latest Pew Internet data on blog use. Many stats are markedly up since the beginning of the year.

  • Marc Brazeau (unverified)
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    There are many valuable suggestions here for how to improve OL, but the only thing I really care about at this point is RSS feeds for Portland + Metro news and the creation of a section on State politics [followed by content and an RSS feed.] If I had that then I wouldn't need to navigate OL.

    It drives me nuts that the statewide paper doesn't cover Salem politics or Portland for that matter. RSS would solve the bulk of the OL problems for me but wouldn't address the appalling fact that they don't have anyone with a City Hall or State House beat. [They should hire b!X to cover a City Hall beat] I learn more about what's going on from two issues of the Tribune than a week of Oregonians [which I've stopped reading except for the Fry's ads]

    The Salem Statesman Journal doesn't have RSS feeds either. Nor does WWeek, the Portland Tribune or the Merc. OPB does, as does Zephyr Magazine, though they haven't had new content in a month.

    My my.yahoo.com local news page consists of OPB headlines, Portland Communique, BlueOregon and Zephyr. If I could add Statehouse news from the Statesman Journal and the local columns from WWeek and the Merc, I'd be pretty happy.

    By the way, I highly recomend setting up a my.yahoo.com and using it as a homepage. If you want to check mine out to get a sense of what you can do with it drop me a line and I'll send you login info.

    On another technical note you can generate permanent links to NYTimes articles here.

    It works for new articles that you want to blog or old articles that you have the original link to [you can generate the original link with google if you use the right search terms - you can also use google cache to get around many subscription/registration/archive fee sites for older or protected content.]

    I got in touch with b!X two years ago to organize bloggers to approach OL to be more blogger friendly and he pretty much talked me out of it, though he was game. I dropped it because my issues with the O's content make OL's surfability mostly moot.

  • Marc Brazeau (unverified)
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    sorry, my email: marc brazeau

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    FWIW, The Oregonian does have people on the City Hall beat, although one of them (Hank Stern) has now gone on to other reporting realms). They also have a newly-arrived reporter who has been assigned to that beat, with whom I'm going to be meeting later this week.

  • (Show?)

    Want a glimpse at the discussion at another newspaper? See Lex Alexander's memo for the News & Record, which he was asked by the paper to write.

    The O/OL nexus will never come anywhere close to the conversation being had at the N&R.

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