Saturday, February 28, 2009

No news, which is bad news

This is one of a series of posts by Chuck Taylor and me about the decline of the newspaper business and what that means for Seattle journalism. Chuck last posted at his Seattle Post-Times blog, and I wrote previously here.

While I admire the hard work and can-do sense of optimism that have gone into events like Thursday night’s “No News Is Bad News” panel, the recent spate of discussions on Seattle’s journalism future have left me frustrated, and a bit winded.

For all the motion I don’t sense much movement. The conversations, though pinging among smart, involved people, tend to be circular -- and repetitive from event to event. Yes, it’s a drag that newspapers are dying; and yes, it’s important for society to save, replicate or replace the vital reporting function that metro dailies have provided lo these many years.

But listening in the other night to a live-stream of the NNBN event (video here) I found myself wishing we could stipulate those and a few other points:

* Newspapers have brought some of this shit on themselves, through arrogance, laziness, fear of technology and collective head-in-sand disease.

* “Newspapers” do not equal "news"; nor for that matter does “mainstream media” equal “journalism.”

* Bloggers are people too. Blogging is a platform, not a (lacking) style of reporting or writing.

* That said, not all bloggers or citizen journalists practice the kind of fact-checking that distinguishes the best of legacy professional journalism.

* Whatever comes next, a viable business model is key.

OK. So now what do you want to talk about?

For a few minutes the other night the discussion did swing around toward business models for news outlets -- panelist Art Thiel’s pitch for a Green Bay Packers-style community ownership plan, for example. Somebody else ignored an official admonition and uttered the word micropayments. But none of that talk got too far, nor was there much exploration of what readers actually want to see in their newsiness publication, whatever form it may take.

At one point I tried to interject via Twitter. “Question for #nnbn: Moving on, what will/should local newscape look like post-PI, or post-newspaper?” And I was pleasantly surprised that emcee Dave Ross picked up my question and repeated it to the panel. Alas it didn’t really go anywhere.

Now, I understand, the NNBN folks are talking about putting together a second event to continue the discussion, this one focused more on business considerations. That may prove helpful, but -- I’m sorry -- I’m dubious. And Chuck, I see that you’ve launched a nifty wiki to take on some of the same questions. That strikes me as a cool tool, essentially an extension of the public-meeting discussions, but from the comfort of our homes and with no closing gavel. Personally I’ve never felt comfortable contributing to wikis, but I like the concept and I’m sure some good thinking will surface there. I’ll be watching for sure.

Like the old-school, curmudgeonly dinosaurs lamented in these recent panels, I find myself naysaying a lot of stuff without offering any genius ideas of my own. One difference, maybe: I welcome the new. In fact I launched my own online news digest site 10 years ago, worked for at startup three years before that, and have been a big advocate for Web-first, blog-centric and Twitterific reporting ever since.

But where does all that leave us? I still worry that whatever emerges from the ashes of dailies like the P-I will need some time to get its act completely together.

For instance, as much as I read and admire West Seattle Blog -- Tracy Record’s work ethic shames nearly every newspaper reporter I’ve ever known -- I got in WSB's virtual face a couple of weeks ago regarding a crime report that I thought was irresponsible in its description of a suspect. As much as I respect Cory Bergman, of MyBallard fame, I disagree with his premise -- noted in a comment on your recent post, Chuck, -- that what’s needed is a breach of the “Great Wall” between journalism and the business side of news operations. Actually, disagree is the wrong word. I’m not even sure what he means. But I know I believe in that wall.

This week, Eli Sanders at The Stranger speculated a bit about what the next, online-only P-I might look like: a lot of aggregation, he supposed, including links to formerly competing publications including the Seattle Times. That seems logical and even smart to me, although I know there’s a lot of angst about it among soon-to-be-former P-I staffers.

What do you think, Chuck? And what’s your take on the emerging news sites taking off around town -- PubliCola, Seattle Courant and the various neighborhood blogs? I have some thoughts on those, but I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts, and those of our readers, first.

For every down, an up

Needing a break from the failure of newspapers, hassles of health care and annoyances of unemployment, yesterday I took the bicycle out. My sister Michele and I had a great ride down the hill to Alki Beach, with its beautiful views of downtown Seattle on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other, and enjoyed a nice fish-and-chips lunch at Sunfish.

Of course then it turned out that if you ride down to the beach you also have to pedal up the hill to get home. Still, all good.

A little exercise and fresh air on an usually pleasant, spring-like February afternoon. We agreed it was good day to not have a job.

Here are a few pics, beginning with Mich saddling up at my house.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Party for the PI's Reader Bloggers

A great time was had by all at the party for reader bloggers at Buckley's in Queen Anne tonite. Star PI reader blogger Jacob Metcalf was there, along with the awesome women behind Lemon Margaritas, Beast Mom, Woman at the Table and the late, great Educating Mom blogs. I'd guess in all maybe 30 or 40 bloggers turned out, including a number of PI staff bloggers. Here's Jacob:

Thanks everyone for coming!

News news, news talk

With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the brink of folding and several local groups meeting to discuss the future of news in Seattle, Chuck Taylor and I are joining the fray here and at Chuck's site Seattle Post-Times.

Periodically -- we haven't set deadlines or a time frame for this series -- we'll both post on both blogs our thoughts about the city's changing newscape and about the discussion tracking it. Chuck and I are friends, longtime former colleagues at the Seattle Times and parallel but unconnected travelers in the world of online news. We're also simultaneously (temporarily?) unemployed journalists.

Although there's nothing new about blogged conversations, this format is new for both M&M and Seattle Post-Times. Please feel free to join in with comments at either or both sites, and let us know how we could improve the format.

Thanks for joining us.
-- Mark Matassa


Ever since Hearst announced last month that it would likely close the Seattle P-I in mid-March, Seattle journalists, bloggers and even public officials have been abuzz with concern and -- in some quarters, I suspect -- excitement: What if the Seattle Times closes too? We could go from a two-newspaper to a no-newspaper town inside of one year!

To buck each other up, rally the troops or maybe just find a shared room to stew in their shock and sadness, several groups have organized public forms on the future of the Seattle news business. There’s one tonight at the University of Washington, in fact, sponsored by the Online News Association, with a nice mix of panelists from print, online and radio.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, an ad hoc group of mostly bloggers is putting on an event titled “No News Is Bad News” at City Hall, promising to address the rather unfocused question “Seattle as a No-Newspaper Town?”

A couple of weeks ago City Councilman Nick Licata convened a hearing on the same subject, with some of the same folks involved. You not only attended that one, Chuck, but covered it live on Twitter and later posted about it on your Seattle Post-Times blog. Last week was yet another forum, this one by CityClub.

All well and good. And this subject of the changing news landscape has gripped the national media and blogosphere as well. The discussion as I’ve been following it seems to break into a couple of branches: wailing and navel-gazing by old-school newspaper loyalists who complain about short-cutting bloggers and who bemoan their own companies’ failure to stave off death; righteous attacks on those head-in-the-sand “curmudgeons”; and sometimes hopeful, sometimes heated arguments about which financial models might or might not save the news biz.

So, as a means of kicking off our own conversation, let me ask you:

Will you be attending this week’s events? And does tomorrow’s group even have the title right? That is, assuming the P-I does in fact close (and even if the Times follows suit), will that constitute “no news”? If so, would that be bad news?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


President Obama is about to deliver his first speech to Congress, an appearance they’re not calling a State of the Union address -- or SOTU, as headline writers sometimes abbreviate it -- but that will feel like one. Last month, here in Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire gave the first State of the State (SOTS) of her second term, and a week ago today Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels offered his own State of the City (SOTC) address.

It’s that time of year. So, in the spirit of the season I’m pausing a minute for a personal assessment: the SOML, or State of My Life. Ahem. Lapel pin adjusted. Ready the teleprompters!

Although the SOTUs themselves can drone on, presidential speechwriters often include one line that cuts to the chase. Something like: Tonight, the state of the union is ... sound, challenged, hopeful, whatever the case may be.

Tonight, the state of my life is ... a mix of chaos and stasis. Staos?

In some senses very little has changed, or changes. Approaching two and a half years now since I left work to deal with my health, I remain unemployed, on medical disability, seeing doctors, popping pills, checking months off my chemo calendar. At the same time life feels like it’s changing crazily. The Seattle P-I, where I used to work and Michelle still does, is likely to close in a few weeks. But we have no official word about whether an online version of the paper will survive as rumored or, if so, whether Michelle will grab one of the few musical-chair jobs left to be had.

It’s impossible to say with any certainty what we’ll be doing three months from now or even where we’ll be living. We’re both looking for work here in Seattle, where I have family and prefer to stay, but we agree that this is no time to insist on a specific job in a specific city. As cool as the Excellent Element is, neither of us wants to live in it. So we’re looking elsewhere as well. Turbulence creates downdrafts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if M&M winds up relocating, maybe back to Los Angeles, as early as this summer.

All that’s enough to give a guy a case of the chaotics.

Partly to brace for the financial hit, and in recognition that the various federal bailouts will bail out every sector except that of dopes like us who bought a house we could afford on a loan we were qualified to receive, Michelle and I have reassessed our household budget and made significant cuts in our lifestyle. Again stupidly responsible, no doubt. To be clear, I don’t mean to whine, as we’ve merely ratcheted down to moderately conservative from comfortably affluent. I mean, we are the rock’n’rollers who spent two Pie in the Sky months on the road last year, just a couple of months after spending two weeks in Paris and Rome. We’ve had it pretty good. Ew, did you drop your caviar in my champagne? But we have made adjustments. We’re not taking any trips this year that weren’t already planned, like the April pilgrimage to New Orleans for Freda’s 70th birthday. We’re limiting ourselves to one movie outing a month. We cut back to basic cable. We’ve stopped dining out. We’re making each gin bottle last twice as long (ouch). And I’ve stopped playing poker, on the theory that you should never bet what you can’t afford to lose. That one really hurts.

In support of the new budget plan we’ve combined finances more fully than ever before. That’s a net financial gain for me but a change that makes me cringe. I’ve been financially independent now for more than 30 years and hate to surrender the feeling. Ving Rhames tells Bruce Willis in “Pulp Fiction,” “That’s pride fuckin’ with ya,” and I know that’s true. Still.

I could go on. There are indignities on the job-search front, worries on the family front, frustrations on the medical front.

A friend asked the other day about my health, and I described how at this point the effects of brain cancer feel less physical and more psychological and emotional. I struggle sometimes to think of myself as the same capable, confident person who 17 months ago spazzed out of one familiar life and into this new weird one.

Even so, as I’m sure the president is saying right about now (we’re Tivo’ing the non-SOTU), out of hardship comes opportunity. Hope and recovery are ahead. Trite as these pat lines are, I believe there is truth in them, for the individual as well as the nation.

Personally, I have much to give me strength and hope. Despite some growing pains of adolescence Gina and Franny are awesome, inspiring kids and actually fun to be around. Lovergirl Michelle and I remain totally solid, in spite of the understandable stress we both face.

I don’t know where we’ll be this time next year -- or next month for that matter. But we’ll be here. M&M abides, and the SOML is, staotic though it may be, still pretty good.

OK. Off to watch the speech. Good night, and God bless America! Please comment on Obama’s address here.

Photo credit: Top photo via on Creative Commons license.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Well aren't you saucy?

Here's a review of our dinner last night from the fabulous Franny:

Well aren't you saucy?

Dinner at the Matassa's tonight was rice bowls. "rice and beanies" as they call it. What started as a saucy mix of red beans, chicken stock, sausage, and various veggies, turned out to be a wonderful and delicious dinner served over rice. With comments like "good and spicy and good" "this is tasty" and "BEANIES!" I would say this dinner was definitely a hit. I founded myself getting up to get more against my better judgement because i knew i was already full. It takes some serious foodage to make that happen. However if you try to make this meal at home take note of the coke and baget served on the side.
I give this meal two brain tumors up :)

Thanks Fran!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The envelope please ...

Even before foot No. 1 has stepped onto this year's red carpet I already suspect I'll wind up disappointed in the Academy Awards tomorrow night.

Whatever movie wins best picture will be a rip, since three of my tops of the year -- "Revolutionary Road," "The Wrestler" and "Synecdoche, New York" -- aren't even nominated. The smart money for the best picture Oscar is on "Slumdog Millionaire," the feel-good love story set in Mumbai, India, and told through the lens of a popular TV game show. That's fine, I guess. Michelle and I just saw "Slumdog" last week, and while neither of us felt it deserved all the hype I certainly get why people like it. In down times like these, it feels good to feel good.

Other overrated films getting a lot of attention, in my view: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (gimmicky storytelling, OK popcorn flick, but not all that), and "Doubt" (great performances, but stillborn cinematically as a play that didn't quite make the turn). We didn't see "Frost/Nixon" as a movie, but did catch it on Broadway with the original cast -- superb! -- and I was afraid the hamfisted director Ron Howard would ruin the memory for me.

"The Wrestler" should definitely be nominated for best picture, but since it's not I hope the star Mickey Rourke wins best actor. He deserves it. Another favorite performance (and film) around here was Sean Penn in "Milk," a movie that I found strangely uplifting, strangely being that it's a true story about bigotry and assassination.

I'm not as invested in the Oscars this year as I somtimes am, at least not financially. At work I always participated in the office Oscar pool -- won it the last year I was still at the P-I, in fact, scoring some free movie tickets and popcorn certificates -- but I haven't been tracking all the odds and prognostication this year.

One of these days I expect Michelle and I will be in the Kodak Theater on Oscar night, waiting for her name to be called in the original screenplay category. Or maybe to watch Gina grab a statue for best director, or Franny for best actress.

Whatever the outcome this year, we always enjoy watching the Oscars around here and I'm sure we'll be tuned in tomorrow, with the Tivo set as a backup. I'm also hoping to check in at The Cooler, where Jason will be live-blogging the show and, as a bonus, signed up his friend Allison, of the riotously entertaining blog Tales From LaLa Land, to cover the red carpet pre-show. Check it out.

Will you be watching? What are your picks for the big categories? Let the bickering begin!

Something to get the argument started: the trailer for "Synecdoche," which no one seemed to like but the Matassalosis.

Byrne Pix, redux

I took another run through the 150 pix I posted the other day, narrowed down the selection and made a slideshow with bigger pix. If you still care, you can see it here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Same as it ever was

So what did you get for your last birthday? A new tie? Maybe a nice dinner out? A piece of chocolate cake? I've got a girlfriend better than that, and nothing is better than this: David Byrne at Benaroya Hall.

As you know, Michelle took me to Byrne's Seattle concert on Wednesday night, my birthday, and it was one of the all-time great presents.

Michelle is such a huge fan of Byrne -- and especially of his groundbreaking 1970s and '80s band Talking Heads -- that she was afraid I'd consider the tickets a gift for herself. Like if I took her to a Bob Dylan show for her birthday (which I might have done, come to think of it). But no, I always loved the Talking Heads too, and except for the famous 1984 movie "Stop Making Sense" I'd never seen Byrne in concert.

Wednesday's show was everything I hoped. He brilliantly mixed classic Talking Heads stuff with music from last year's album "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today." (That's a terrific record, by the way, one of my favorites of the year. I was surprised to find just now that I didn't include on my Best of 2008 list, but now I remember I put the list together before I heard it; a friend, responding to my list, turned me on to "Everything That Happens.")

At 56 now, Byrne has barely changed from his classic "Stop Making Sense" look and sound, except for his now-white hair. Still whip-thin, constantly in motion, fluid and jangly, he looks like he could still rock a really big suit. I thought about wearing my own big suit to the show, but somewhere along the line it turned into a really small suit.

The Talking Heads may be no more, but the instrumentation, staging and showmanship Wednesday night were all vintage. Byrne played electric or acoustic guitar most of the night, backed by bass, keyboards, two drummers, three backup vocalists and three remarkable dancers. All 11 wore white (slim white pants and shirts for the men; short white dresses for the women), and they executed precise, intricate and energetic moves throughout the two-hour show. Every second seemed choreographed, and beautifully. His collaborations with Twyla Tharp weren't for nothing.

You may ask yourself, is this my rock venue? Benaroya Hall, normally home of the Seattle Symphony, turned out to be a wonderful host for a new-wave concert. The place is beautiful, and it held its great sound from the standing O that openend the show through the four encores including the scorcher "Burning Down the House."

Byrne's voice was supple and rich as it ever was. The concert goes in my Pantheon for sure. Thank you, baby, for an awesome birthday.

Last year we went to Paris. Gosh, what'll we do when I turn 50?

Here's a taste of Byrne back in the day, "Girlfriend is Better," from "Stop Making Sense."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

David Byrne Rocks Seattle

Quickie photos from the David Byrne concert in Seattle a few hours ago.

As many of our eight readers know, I shot the Talking Heads almost 30 years ago in New Orleans for my college paper, The Driftwood. And also, for myself. Awesome to see him again, for the 3rd time, tonite. The show was great and excellent. How awesome to have a birthday boyfriend who loves the same things I do. Happy birthday, Mark Matassa! How does it feel to be 49?

(Check back later for some scanned B&W photos from back in the day.)

For bigger photos go here.


We're just back from the incredible David Byrne concert -- more to come on that, including the terrific slide show Michelle is working on now -- but first I wanted to note the day's other highlight, an afternoon visit by Gina and Franny. They came bearing a cute birthday card and, better than a cake, my favorite treat from West Seattle's Bakery Nouveau, an almond croissant. Around here, those go by the shorthand nickname "almondy!" so when they arrived we all three shouted in unison: "Almondy!"

Very tasty with a cup of coffee. We also played four highly competitive games of Wii bowling. "Throw it hard and crash the pins," as my brother-in-law Manuel used to say at a real bowling alley. Those girlies crash the virtual pins pretty hard.

I'm having to resort to tricks to stay a few pins ahead. Look, over there, the Jonas Brothers!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One thing planned, two to go

Today's my birthday and among several nice greetings I received was this note from my friend Denny Heck in Olympia: "I challenge you to do three fun things today -- three things you wouldn't ordinarily do!"

Well, OK then. I like that. An unusual birthday wish and a challenge to boot.

For my birthday Michelle is taking me tonight to a David Byrne concert here in Seattle. I'm really looking forward to that. I love his music but have never seen him live. So that's one fun thing I wouldn't normally do.

I'm still accepting suggestions for two other things. So far all I've been able to come up with is: Do an honest day's work and get a good night's sleep. Nothing ordinary for me about either of those, although it's already too late in the day to pull off the first.

I need to run out now and get a blood draw and buy some overpriced anti-seizure drugs, but I don't think those errands count as unusual or especially fun.

Hit me with a couple of ideas before tonight's concert!

Monday, February 16, 2009

President of Goofing Off

For Presidents Day today I took the day off, as usual, while Michelle went to work as usual. (I don't blame her; these holidays are good for getting some work done, and then you can save the day for another time.)

It was a pretty day here in West Seattle, and I was just getting ready to take the underused bike out for a spin when she called and suggested meeting at Than Bros. in the Junction for a bowl of pho. Yum, sounded good. I hopped on the ol' Giant, rode up the street and just beat her there by a couple of minutes.

Afterward, I coasted down California to Cupcake Royale, the girls' favorite hang, to see if they were around. I ran into Franny and Gina's friend Katy. They told me Gina had just left to walk down to the beach. They didn't feel like walking but were about to take the bus and meet her there.

By the way, Gina showed us a rough cut last weekend of "Stella," the not-quite-finished movie that she and Katy wrote and directed and that stars Katy, Franny and a bunch of their friends. Very impressive -- even better than I expected, and I figured it would be pretty good. Amazing the quality you can get with a regular video camera and the editing software that everyone seems to have now.

I can't wait for the final cut.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


What with our job hunts, health concerns, ennui about the dying newspaper business and the stolen attention of Michelle's new journo-training blog, Print to Online, it's been awhile since we've given more than a passing glance at M&M. Both of our readers have pointed this out. It's too bad too, since there is actually stuff to talk about here sometimes. I vow to be a more regular visitor to this site.

For now though, I just want to send a quick shout out to my friend Jason Bellamy over at The Cooler, my favorite film site, which this week celebrated its one-year anniversary.

In his birthday post the other day Jason gave me a smidge of credit for encouraging him to launch The Cooler. That's nice of him, but having read his ink-on-paper film criticism I thought Jason and blogging were a no-brainer combo. As I said in a comment over there I'm not surprised he has turned out to be such a good blogger, but really The Cooler is better than I thought it would be. In addition to regularly and insightfully reviewing new releases -- check out his takes on "Revolutionary Road" and "The Wrestler," two recent 4-glioma flicks on my scale -- Jason has found interesting ways to develop and engage an audience. He discusses filmmaking with other critics, invites readers to debate and help solve mysteries like "Where's Chigurgh?" and, during down periods at the multiplex, recommends DVD rentals in an ongoing feature called "Queue it Up."

All great stuff. Along with The Night Note -- updated almost as sparingly these days as M&M -- it's one of the few personal blogs on my must-read list.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to check it out. Congratulations, Cooler!