Weekly output: CES vaporware, wireless carriers, Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, removing iTunes DRM

This was what I did over the seven days I define as “CES recovery week.”

Yahoo Tech CES vaporware1/13/2015: 5 CES Innovations That Completely Flopped, Yahoo Tech

Putting together this look back at products that got high-profile debuts at CES and then didn’t ship (anybody remember Panasonic’s Comcast-compatible AnyPlay portable DVR?) made me realize two things: I should have started taking my CES notes in Evernote years earlier, and some of the cameras I took to the show were pretty weak. The photo atop the story, in case you’re curious, is one I took a few minutes before the 2012 CES keynote.

1/14/2015: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide yet again to account for T-Mobile and then AT&T adding data-rollover policies and to call out Verizon Wireless for its creepy and arrogant insertion of ad-tracking headers in subscribers’ unencrypted Web traffic. Next on the to-do list: Rearranging the presentation of Sprint’s mix of phone-procurement options to cut down on confusion.

1/15/2015:  Der Allesverkäufer, Wiener Zeitung

Adrian Lobe, a writer for Vienna’s oldest newspaper, asked me for comment about Jeff Bezos’s influence on my former employer. If you, like me, are hopeless in German and don’t want to rely on Google Translate (it reads the headline as “The all sellers,” which I’m pretty sure should end with a singular noun), the original English version of the first quote from me is “I know my former colleagues take pride on beating the NYT as often as they can.” The second, about any shifts in the Post’s op-ed section: “Not much, and that’s an area where many people were hoping for a change. It’s still populated by too many neocons with a questionable grasp on the facts.”

1/18/2015: How to free iTunes purchases from DRM, USA Today

You can’t pay 30 cents to upgrade a song from DRMed “iTunes Minus” to higher-fidelity, DRM-free iTunes Plus, but you can pay $24.99 for an iTunes Match subscription that will bulk-convert those files. Or you can try your luck with the song-matching feature in Google’s free Google Play Music.

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Weekly output: Washington Post sale (x3), TWC vs. CBS, iPhone apps, lost and found phones

August is supposed to be a slow news month in D.C., but somebody forgot to remind the owners of the Washington Post about that.

8/6/2013: Bezos Brings Patient Capital to the Post; It Needs Bold, Persistent Experimentation Too, Disruptive Competition Project

My first take on the pending sale of my former employer to Jeff Bezos for $250 million looked at the possible upsides of the Amazon founder owning the business. (My second one ran here.) I find Bezos’s willingness to invest in costly ventures that may take decades to pay off, such as the private-spaceflight firm Blue Origin, heartening, but he doesn’t have much of a public record in standing up to government pressure on national-security issues.

WJLA spot on Post sale8/6/2013: Bezos’ influence on the Post, according to tech experts, ABC 7 News

WJLA’s Steve Chenevey–who interviewed me a few times at his old employer, Fox 5 News–asked me for some perspective about the Bezos sale on the Tuesday evening news. You can also see iStrategyLabs CEO Peter Corbett and 1776 co-founder Evan Burfield opine on the news in this report.

8/8/2013: The Hostage-Taking Foolishness of Retransmission Fights, Disruptive Competition Project

This unpacking of CBS’s squabble with Time Warner Cable over how much TWC should pay for the right to retransmit its local stations recycled much of my coverage of the 2010 retransmission fight between Cablevision and Fox–because the TV industry is recycling much of the stupidity of that “retrans” fight.

8/10/2013: How to bring iOS apps back to your home screen, USA Today

This explanation of how iPhone or iPad apps can appear to disappear almost needed a correction. But on Saturday I realized that a passing reference to how many apps you can put in a folder was incorrect (in fact, the limit varies by device), I e-mailed my editor to suggest we drop that detail, and she promptly fixed the piece. In other news, my editor is kind of awesome.

On Sulia, I complimented how everyone involved with the Post sale was able to keep a lid on the news beforehand, cast a little scorn on one story of many to suggest that Bezos’s involvement might finally allow the Post to put in place some obvious upgrades, and reported on my initial experiences with Twitter’s new login verification and Google’s Android Device Manager find-my-phone service.

A post-Graham Post

The spectacle of experienced, often cynical journalists getting a little weepy over the prospect of their paper’s ownership changing from a group of rich people to one exceptionally rich person might seem strange.

But it really happened this week when the Washington Post stunned nearly everybody, myself included, by announcing its impending sale for $250 million to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Post in winterWhat was so special about the Graham family owning the newspaper and the Washington Post Company behind it?

This: To us, their stewardship was our rock.

The family had shown it would take punches for the paper. Eugene Meyer bought the Post at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, when it was the fifth newspaper in a four-newspaper town, then subsidized its losses into the 1950s. His daughter Katharine Graham took over after his son-in-law Phil Graham’s suicide and stood up to Richard Nixon and much of the military-industrial complexher memoirs show she was an Iron Lady well before Margaret Thatcher earned the title.

And even as the newspaper industry started to slide, the Post’s two-tier stock structure locked Wall Street out of voting control and, we thought, ensured the paper could be managed for the duration while others made cruel and stupid staff cuts to meet short-term earnings goals.

For me and many other under-40 Posties, the family’s role was personified by Don Graham, the paper’s publisher from 1979 to 2000, chairman from 2000 to 2008 and still chief executive of its parent firm. “Mrs. Graham” had her well-earned perch in the 9th floor executive suite, but Don was a constant presence in the newsroom who could be counted on to read every story in the paper.

If you did a good job, you might get a handwritten compliment via interoffice mail, later on an appreciative e-mail. And if you screwed up, Don could understand. In January of 2000, stressed over my aunt’s death the day before, I completely blew up at a cranky caller and hung up on him in a stream of curses, something I’d never done before and never have since; the guy promptly called Don, who heard him out, apparently talked him off the ledge and refrained from having me canned.

In and outside the newsroom, Don declined to play the part of a media mogul. He’d followed Harvard by serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, then in D.C.’s streets as a patrolman with the Metropolitan Police Department. He insisted he be compensated far less than his peers, with his salary frozen since 1991. It seemed normal that I’d have the occasional brief chat with him on the walk to Metro at the end of the day.

Up until maybe five years ago, working for the Post seemed one of the surest bets in journalism. But we weren’t doing as well as we thought–even as the apparent security of having the Grahams in our corner probably kept us from taking chances we should have. Circulation figures and ad revenues kept sinking, one round of buyouts begat another and another, and the newsroom leadership turned over more than once. Don Graham’s successors as publisher–Bo Jones from 2000 to 2008, his niece Katharine Weymouth from 2008 on–didn’t have the same newsroom presence.

I’ve wondered what the family members in charge thought about the steady erosion of their legacy. Now we know: Late last year, they began to explore the implausible: If we can’t escape a seemingly endless cycle of cuts and can’t find answers for the questions the newspaper business keeps throwing at us, maybe it’s time for somebody else to take over, somebody with new ideas and enough resources to fund the paper’s reinvention entirely free of the stock market’s concerns.

Since Monday’s news, I’ve been hearing anxiety from current and former Posties over what Bezos might have in store–from his history with unions to what Amazon’s done to independent bookstores. I don’t think you can overlook a deeper angst: that the Post is being wrenched off the foundation that had endured for over 80 years.

Accepting that change had to have been a crushing realization to the Graham family too–that you essentially must fire yourself from your life’s work. But it seems in keeping with the history I’ve read and the publisher I got to know. As my friend and fellow ex-Postie Frank Ahrens wrote in an eloquent note shared on Facebook: “After a lifetime of benevolent ownership, this sale is Don’s last great gift to you. He gave you a fighting chance.”

Don Graham’s work at the Washington Post may be near its close, but he remains one of the most decent, honorable people I have met. Thanks, Don.