Thursday, February 28, 2008

Albuquerque Tribune

Fellow media types have been lamenting the loss of the journalistic voice of the Albuquerque Tribune which ceased publishing February 23. As part of  Capitol Report New Mexico, a year-old addition to the New Mexico media scene, this blog cannot celebrate the loss of any media outlet. However, it is worth a passing moment to consider the other requirement for having a real journalistic voice, other than being out there and voicing. This survival requirement is making profit, something disparaged as an uncomfortable concept by a good many media types. 
Profit plays an important role. It measures how well any firm executes its purpose, whether informing readers or delivering widgets of value to customers. While a good many of the Tribune's economic problems stemmed from structural matters—lifestyle changes, television, the internet—at some point the Tribune's value to readers disappeared. Circulation showed an amazing plunge the last few years—to fewer than 10,000 at the end—in a metro area that has grown to more than 800,000 population. The subsidy from the corporate owner, the E.W. Scripps Co., and the clever press-sharing, anti-competitive "joint operating agreement" with the Albuquerque Journal kept the Tribune alive for a long time. 
It would be nice to think my column, printed occasionally by the Tribune through New Mexico News Services, was the most wonderful thing in the paper. Certainly some of my mother's friends thought so. But even if the column was wondrous, it was a long way from restoring that lost journalistic voice and the accompanying profit.
There is one other element. The news February 20 release announcing the Tribune's demise mentioned that The Journal and the Tribune had shared profits under the joint operating agreement and then said, "Under a new agreement with Journal Publishing, Scripps will continue as a partner in the Albuquerque Publishing Co., which directs and manages the operations of The Journal newspaper." Being a partner should mean sharing profit. If so, the folks at Scripps are geniuses. They no longer have to lose money running the Trib, but get part of The Journal's profit. Wow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Movies & NM & Abq

Here's the answer to why New Mexico and Albuquerque are so enamored of movie making. Executive producer (of various movies) David Rubin supplied the insight to several hundred people today at the monthly meeting of the Albuquerque chapter of NAIOP, the professional group of commercial real estate developers. 
"We're fun," Rubin said. 
As to why movie folk are so enamored of New Mexico, Rubin offers four reasons. He called the reasons a "perfect storm"of factors. To start, he said tellingly, there are the rebates—25% straight cash (well, a check) off the top for labor and taxable transactions within the state. "That's huge," he said. Uh, yeah, especially since just about everything that transacts in New Mexico is taxable. Rubin added, "We spend a lot of time figuring who is rebateable and  who is not." No surprise there. Then there is New Mexico's proximity to Los Angeles. We are the closest place with rebates. (Rebates again) Third, Albuquerque Studios offers "Hollywood style infrastructure." And, fourth, overall government is supportive.
As to the notion of capping the rebates, something posed by the Legislative Finance Committee, "It's just insane," Rubin said. Of course. A 25% rebate off the top would do nice things to the economics of Capitol Report New Mexico, or any business. And once the rebate would be in place, massive resistance would be the response to any notion of limits. Again, no surprise there.
The developers have equally obvious reasons for liking the movies. There is office rental, though maybe only for four to six months at a time. Warehouse rental. Movie makers like large open, empty spaces. Apartment rentals. These are not a particular concern to NAIOP, but movie folks coming to town will rent apartments, again for the short term. Rubin cited other economic impacts, all short term and ephemeral. Catering—feeding the movie crew. Yoga classes. The problem for these suppliers is making profit on variable business. How far does one gear up the base—the fixed costs—to service the variable income? 
Some solid, longer term term things may be in place, though. Albuquerque Studios, on the Mesa del Sol development south of the main part of Albuquerque, is the largest independently owned studio in North America, city of Albuquerque film liaison Ann Lerner, told NAIOP. Albuquerque Studios is expanding. Such operations will have people employed, earning a regular income, just like a cabinet maker or a chip maker. It's those regular incomes that economic developers prize. Not fun. 

Balloons Over NM

Actually the balloons are over most of New Mexico, most of Texas, all of Oklahoma and Louisiana and parts of the states surrounding the core four listed here. The balloons are filled with hydrogen and launched each day by people contracting with Space Data Corp. of Chandler, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb. The contractors tend to mechanics at small airports and dairy farmers. Each balloon carries "a shoebox-size payload of electronics," as the Wall Street Journal described them last week. The payload makes the balloon a sort of mini and mobile cell phone tower with a 24-hour life before it explodes. Space Data uses the balloons to provide wireless communications services for trucking firms to track vehicle locations, oil and gas companies to monitor wells, and other applications where work is done in very rural areas.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Affordable Health Care"

That was the pitch from a team of at least three people working our Albuquerque neighborhood yesterday afternoon. We didn't interrupt our walk long enough to discover who the group was representing. (Oops) But we did spot what appeared to be the group's vehicle, a white van with Pennsylvania plates and a University of Pennsylvania parking sticker. Very curious. 
While I have no basis for generalizing, our neighborhood of the University of New Mexico seems to get a full share of folks pitching policies door to door. The Sierra Club and P.I.R.G. are the leading pitchers, usually represented by scruffy youthful types. The last Sierra Clubber got annoyed when asked what he was selling. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fonts and Little Things

Those of us who fuss about little things such as mis-aligned pictures are sometimes accused, with ample justification, accused of being compulsive. Even so, little things matter, such as font choice. This is mentioned because of research done at Wichita State University and mentioned by a columnist in The Island Packet of Hilton Head, SC. "People looking to make a strong impression would do well to stick with the basics (Verdana, Ariel, Times New Roman, etc.)," the columnist said of Wichita analysis. 
In the case of outdoor advertising (the jargon for billboards) the wrong font in the wrong size probably leaves no impression at all, thus wasting the money spent on the sign. The rules, from the aged advertising textbook, call for: clear product identification, large illustration size, and just a few words of copy presented in "heavy sans-serif type, spaced liberally." As you drive, evaluate the signs. A good many are useless.
In Capitol Report New Mexico, we use a good basic font, Garamond, for the body copy. A friend suggested we increase the size from 10 point to 11 point. We will in the spring issue.
For the spring issue, we will present background information on the big issues left on the table when the legislature adjourned February 15—health care, transportation, education funding and more. Advertising sales close March 31.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Environment: Doing One Thing

It's a rule here that vigorous for action argued to be THE solution to a problem misses the point. That's because, you can never do only one thing. So it is with the pitch for biofuels. To the extent that land used for production of biofuels such as enthanol is converted from native ecosystems such as rainforests, peatlands, savannas and grasslands, there is created what is called a "biofuel carbon debt" of from 17 to 420 times the amount of carbon release reduced by replacing conventional fuel with the biofuel. That's because the nature systems suck up huge amounts of carbon just by sitting there doing their natural thing. The report, in Science magazine, is called "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon debt." However, using idle agricultural land about breaks even on the carbon production / saving. The abstract of the article didn't mention this point, but just breaking even seems not worth the effort.
A second article, "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels," found "that corn-base ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years." Switchgrass, the favorite of President George W. Bush, is even worse. The problem is the same one as in the "Land Clearing" article. The carbon cost of clearing virgin lands previously has not been included. Oops.
The two reports are found in the Science Express section of the magazine's home page. See

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Publications

New Mexico is getting two new publications, one online and one printed.
New Mexico Free Press will be community newspaper, says publisher Scott Karlson, "intensively locally focused" on Santa Fe.. State and national news will be covered as applicable. "You won't see a major car accident on our front page." Instead the front page may show a kid hitting a baseball. The paper will be "very much pro-business," covering news and events, but with "a little more" emphasis on feature stories. There will a page directed at youth. Karlson says, "We hope to get a lot of submissions from the community. We want t0 know about clubs, organizations."
The Free Press will have 24 pages to start, with free distribution of 20,000 copies starting March 5. Nearly all the investment money is from Santa Fe, Karlson said.
While we wish Karlson and the Free Press well, it is worth noting that as what might be called a "good news" newspaper, the Free Press defies the conventional definition of "news." That definition is that news is what is exceptional or perhaps compelling in the grand scheme. A kid hitting a baseball, however cool, is not exceptional. 
We don't know the name of the online publication. The information comes from a forwarded email that said, "The Center for Independent Media ( is looking for a State Director for its new journalist program in New Mexico. The program's goal is to build a channel of communication, via online journalism and blogging, which diversifies and deepens statewide news coverage and debate.... The Center for Independent Media is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that fosters diversity of ideas in the national debate through the advancement of independent media,with a primary emphasis on online journalism."
The Washington, D.C.-based Center may be nonpartisan, but it is hardly without ideology. The final required qualification the state director is, "Above all, applicants should be firmly committed to progressive values and uncovering the truth." 
As most know, "progressive values" is a code phrase for the very left end of the political spectrum. It seems to be assumed that "progressive values" are "the truth,"  a contention lots of folks might debate.
Digging around reveals that principal players are veterans of such mainstream efforts as the McGovern for President campaign. However, the digging reveals nothing about a board of directors, an advisory group or anything else that would directly or indirectly indicate the sources of the Center's financing. This is an unfortunate, even hypocritical omission, given the pretensions, the lengthy ethics statement posted on the Web site and the reality that the folks with the money have much too say about what happens in the organization, nonprofit or otherwise.
To be fair, it should be noted that Karlson didn't offer the names of the people backing the Free Press. Nor did we find any clue in the corporate listings at the Public Regulation Commission. However, others in Santa Fe confirm the localness of the venture. That's quite different from a Washington, D.C., outfit. And the agendas—a kid hitting a baseball vs. "progressive values"—are quite different.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Microsoft: What Goes Around...

New Mexico has a new Microsoft connection. Actually the connection has been there since Kevin Johnson joined Microsoft in 1992 from IBM. Johnson, 47, has his business degree from New Mexico State University, the Wall Street Journal said today (P B1). It's just that very knew of the relationship until today. Of course the Wall Street wasn't writing about the Aggies. The story was about Johnson's rise to be president of Microsoft's 15,000-employee Platforms and Services Division and "a key architect" of Microsoft's run at Yahoo. 
The other Microsoft connection is Bill Gates. As a young visionary, Gates came to Albuquerque to write software for the first personal computer, the Altair, which was created right there in river city. Gates got in a financial squeeze, couldn't find money in Albuquerque, and returned home to Seattle and the money. The urban legend part is that Albuquerque "failed" and somehow "lost" Gates. Ohmygawd, has been the refrain for decades, "We lost Microsoft." The fact is that Gates, maybe 20 years old, college dropout and running a startup in a brand new field, sought money from a bank, Albuquerque National. The bank, not a venture capitalist, said no. And the law firm to whom Gates owed a bunch of money said, well, we would rather have the cash instead of equity.
No failure, just the real world of business.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Movie Subsidy

The hypothesis here is that when a grown up wonders if the emperor is movie, the validity of the question is a one to one correspondence to the degree of outrage at the mere fact of asking. The grown up in this case is Sen. John Arthur Smith, Deming Democrat and chair of the Legislative Finance Committee. Smith posed the notion of capping the 25% straight state subsidy offered to movie productions. Movie acolytes have gone bananas. 
Smith's proposal is Senate Bill 519. The fiscal impact report is illuminating. Look for it at the legislature's Web site, The fiscal impact report is fascinating, if a tad complex on a quick read. The state film office asserts that all film activity would disappear with a cap. Like all other claims of the apocalypse, the claim isn't credible. The FIR says, "There is no question that the credit has brought these film productions to New Mexico and significantly increased employment" in a number of sectors. But to what economic avail, over all? The Taxation and Revenue Department agrees with the Legislative Finance Committee that the subsidy may be an overall loser, but the main point from the analysis is that we don't know. The analysis is complex and needs to be thoroughly done.
We, here, know one thing that is unmentioned in the FIR. Having movie trucks, or any other big truck for that matter, parked in front of your store in downtown Albuquerque costs sales. And, no, the lost sales are not made up by sales to movie folk. Nor is the loss in sales compensated for be the movie folk being pretty nice people or the movie thing being pretty cool. We know this because a business owner, a long time friend, told us.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chile Leadership

We know we lead in things chile. Some outside recognition came over the weekend with a Wall Street Journal article that called New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute "widely regarded as the final arbiter of all chile questions." The institute was mentioned in an article about the Bhut Jokolia pepper, grown in state of Assam in northeast India. It had done tests confirming that the Bhut Jokolia is the world's hottest known chile with a reading of 1,041,427 Scoville Heats Units, double the rating of the previous leader, the California Red Savina Habanero.
The institute's Web site is Site visitors will find a 12-page seed catalog under the Chile Pepper Institute Chile Shop. The institute's annual chile conference is Tuesday, February 5, at the Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces with an opening reception Monday evening. Conference topics range from wilt and virus to world chile economics.
The article also gave suitable recognition to Dave DeWitt who 30 years ago found his life's world in publicizing and promoting chile. Visits to DeWitt's Web site,, have doubled to 2.5 million in the last five years. DeWitt's National Fiery Foods and Barbeque Show is February 29 to March 2 at the Sandia Resort and Casino just north of Albuquerque.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Barack Obama

Senator Obama used his early afternoon Albuquerque appearance to continue to pick up populist themes more available now that John Edwards has dropped from the presidential race. According to Washington Wire, a (wsj meaning Wall Street Journal), Obama said he favors using government policy to recalibrate the economy so it is more favorable to working class citizens. See
Interesting word there, "recalibrate." Look it up., the activist, liberal and contraversial group, has endorsed Obama. The National Journal is about to rate his the most liberal senator for 2007.