Show us the money, Madison.com

At Madison.com the topline “trending stories” banner changes less than you might expect. Day after day, the #1 “trending” story is Metered subscription: Questions and answers. And only just today — after a remarkable thirty-four daysCity salaries 2000-11 has finally dropped from the top 5 “trending stories”. 

Actually, City salaries 2000-11 is not a story at all. It’s an app, an online searchable database of every Madison city employee’s earnings over the past eleven years. Care to know what your neighbor is making at his job in the city Streets Department? Base pay? Overtime? Comp time? There’s an app for that. Thanks, Madison.com.

Why is this so popular? Are people performing their own analyses of city spending? That would certainly explain the sustained (wow, 34-day) period of interest, but we’re going to guess… no.

Instead we’re going to guess that folks are just being folks… nosily looking up the salaries of their friends, acquaintances, relatives, ex-spouses, co-workers, neighbors, associates, and enemies. Hell, it is public information. We are entitled to it. Why not be well-informed?

*Just as an aside, it hasn’t been proposed just yet, but we’re waiting for some state legislature to advance a bill requiring public employees to be photographed naked, or if the employee claims a religious exemption, in revealing swimwear. The resulting publicly searchable database will be exceeding popular and informative.

But back to “City salaries 2000-11”. It’s not just nosiness that drives interest. Something in turn drives the nosiness, and that is status. It’s a bit of a taboo to talk about, but we are descended from creatures obsessed by status, and it is ALL AROUND US, all the time. Yesterday, the State Journal had us talking about Forbes magazine, a silly operation is about almost nothing except status. Like it or not, status-consciousness just seems to be wired into human beings.  And nothing gauges status like income. For some, income IS status — not a ‘proxy’, not an ‘indicator’ — but the actual thing. And since it’s expressed as a number, it’s perfect for easy comparisons. Especially if you’ve got an online searchable database. Thanks, Madison.com!

But there’s a problem. People want to know about private salaries, too. Private employee earnings are just way too secret. There is, for example, a deplorable lack of public knowledge about how local newspaper employees are making out.

Exactly how much is the publisher taking home?

Yes, we know that newspapers in the past have never reported on their own employees’ pay or other compensation. But they should. First, of all, people are nosey. How are we supposed to gauge our status in regard to various newspaper employees? Do we make more or less than the publisher or the editors or the reporters? Should we take their calls or not? Rub shoulders with them or refuse?

But we can make a perfectly high-minded argument as well. Sure, they’re a private business, but they like to be treated as the Fourth Estate when it suits them. It certainly seems like they could disclose at least the same things that elected public officials do, and that the public would thereby benefit.

The people who daily inform us on the news pages and explain to us what to think on the opinion pages need to be accountable. We need to know how much they earn. We need to know what investments they profit from. Do they have conflicts of interest? Have they received any gifts? Are they busting into the famous “1%”? Or are they miserably and laughably poor? Are they earning a cushy pension that would make us envious, or are they sailing blithely into later life without a pot to pee in? The revelation of all this material would be hugely titillating. Did we say titillating? Scratch that, we meant beneficial and informative, possibly even dull, like an investment prospectus.

Without full financial disclosure, there’s really no way we can invest confidently in what they are telling us. Isn’t this obvious? We know they’ll do the right thing.

Thanks in advance, Madison.com.


Paywall arrives at madison.com

The paywall has arrived at Madison.com.

If you read the Capital Times or Wisconsin State Journal in its online form, and you read it with any regularity, and you read that content produced by their own staff, you’ll soon be seeing the invitation above (if you haven’t already).

Yes, the rules for who pays and who reads for free are murky, but honestly, they’ve got a difficult problem to solve with shrinking advertising revenue. Something’s gotta give. They want their most frequent visitors to pay while still keeping the door open for occasional visitors. OK!

They’re at pains to say it’s “not a paywall” which they would define as a plan that would “completely restrict access”. Rather, according to them, they’re offering “metered usage”. We’ll see if that language sticks with us ordinary yokels.

It’s $4.95 per month (Well, actually they say “for 30 days”. Do they really mean that?) Or $49.95 for 365 days. Or $1.95 per month if you already get the hard-copy Journal delivered.

We’ve said in the past, when this day arrives, we’d likely be willing to pay. And yep, that’s still true. We are in for $4.95.

 


Times-Picayune lays off 200 employees

More shrinking news as the storied New Orleans Times-Picayune transitions from a daily to 3-days-a-week (plus website, of course).

Editor Jim Amoss:  “We’re committed to being the journalistic watchdog of our communities. We’re committed to the high quality of journalism our readers have come to expect from us, produced by a formidable news staff. And we’re committed to deploying by far the largest news-gathering team in the region.”

This is disastrous for the employees and for everyone who values the news. 84 people cut from the newsroom staff.

Here in Madison the Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal have begun requiring online readers at host.madison.com to “register to read”, presumably in preparation for the coming paywall likely this year.


We may be wrong on this one

We may be wrong to agree with the State Journal’s editorial today. And no one should read it without also reading Bill Lueders’ fine article in The Capital Times:

Selling out public schools: Millions of dollars are changing face of education

But we’re going to go ahead and call the State Journal effort an editorial of the 2nd type, The Surprisingly Correct.

We can (and do) suspect the motives of Governor Walker, lobbying groups like School Choice Wisconsin, and loyal newspaper supporters like the State Journal. But we do not suspect the motives of Kaleem Caire and the Madison Urban League. We think the Madison Preparatory Academy is an experiment that deserves to be tried, and we’d bet on its success. Put motivated parents, longer school days, and a longer school year together… sounds like the youngsters might do very, very well.