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tbt* Hits the Market, Continues Redefining News at the Times



Now that the first two editions of the five-day-a-week tbt* is on the stands, it's time to put my career in jeopardy, and provide some thoughts on the product.

Piggybacking off the weekly tbt's strong format, the new publication presents a good framework for a quick news read. The cover presentation is clear striking and informative -- packing info on four or five different stories without looking too cluttered.

And best of all, the stories which have been nabbed from the Mothership newspaper and edited down for inclusion in tbt* don't read badly. Consumers reading the tbt* version likely will not feel they are getting a truncated version, which backs editors' contention that repurposing stories for the new format doesn't necessarily mean eviscerating them.

A few nits to pick though:
-- In two pages of Oscar coverage Monday, there was nothing on the biggest question of the night: How did Jon Stewart handle the hosting gig? Also, there was no critical analysis on the awards given, which was especially important given that so many of the nominees were politically charged films.

-- After the first 10 pages or so of Monday's edition, the next 10 pages were filled with material from wire services. That's to be expected, given that daily tbt* "repurposes a lot of stories from the main newspaper and has no staff writers of its own. Still, that is a lot of acreage to devote to outside material, which can make it tougher to develop a local feel.

-- With just two local columnists featured in the first issue, tbt* could also use more local columnists (and I'm not just saying that because I'm a columnist). It seems youth-oriented tabloids such as this work best when they are closely connected to the community. And stong, local columnists are a great way to build that kind of connection.

-- The other great characteristic of good youth-oriented tabloids is a snarky, challenging voice. It is, of course, very early going for the new tbt*, but developing such a voice -- with the willingness to challenge sacred cows in the community -- is also key to cultivating that elusive youth audience. I call it the Daily Show dynamic: young consumers want news that is entertaining, challenging and fearless in pointing out hypocrisy.

But those are just the nits. So far, tbt* seems a promising entry to the Tampa Bay area's news mix (it was fun to watch the Tampa Tribune pull up to Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa and hand out free copies of their regular newspaper Monday and Tuesday, just to blunt the impact of the free coffee and giveaways going on there; in a newspaper war, consumers are sometimes the biggest winners).

I just hope that our new foray into short, snappy, youth-oriented reports doesn't pull us too far away from the aggressive, challenging journalism that we also need more of at the Times.

Black. White. Confused.

As you can see from my review of the new FX show Black. White., I was a little disappointed that the program was so much more about the people participating in the channel's race-swapping experiment than the society they're moving in (I had originally hoped to do a point/counterpoint piece with TV critic Chase Squires, but Chase decided he didn't really have a strong enough opinion about the show).

Still, there are some compelling moments in this six-episode series, though you really have to watch many uncomfortable and predictable scenes before you get to the meaty stuff. Unfortunately, producers R.J. Cutler and Ice Cube did so much publicity months before the show aired, people may be sick of the concept already.

The Los Angeles Times also has an interesting article noting that -- surprise! -- reality TV producers manipulated some of the events to fit their storylines. They have two good examples -- the poetry slam class young Rose Wurgel (shown here in black makeup and as her true race) attends was filled with black students at producers' request, and the black father who gets a bartending job without a background check while posing as a white guy was employed through a similar deal with producers.

I can't help feeling FX missed out on the chance to spark some serious social discussion. And I'm wondering why all those news outlets which ran stories batting around the show's concept when it was announced, seem to have slept on talking about the show, now that its actually going to air.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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