Audit Notes: Digital First takedown, here comes the WSJ, debt and taxes

The Awl roughs up Journal Register's flagship paper

Brett Sokol, writes one of the most brutal piece of media criticism I’ve read in a long time. He examines the promise of Digital First Media by looking at its flagship newspaper, the New Haven Register—and its website—and comparing it (very unfavorably) to the upstart New Haven Independent.

It’s hard to imagine a worse-designed, more downright ugly newspaper website than what the Digital First Media brain trust has come up with for the New Haven Register. From the clown-car layout (how many separate boxes of headache-inducing text can we cram onto one page?) to the crude font, the Register seems less like the digital future than a creaky GeoCities holdover from the Web’s earliest days. This is what so many of Digital First’s boosters been cheerleading for? This is what millions and millions of dollars have been poured into?

Clicking through to read the Register’s articles doesn’t improve matters. The local reporting—or what’s left of it—has been dumbed down to an extent that makes USA Today read like The New Yorker. Actually, that’s being unfair to USA Today—while brief, their political stories are at least coherent. Anyone trying to get a handle on New Haven’s city hall via the Register will be faced largely with mind-numbing, he-said she-said stenography, free of any explanatory context or background. An occasional story with some life in it might still creep onto the Register’s pages (Randall Beach’s columns remain one of only a few signs of a pulse), but good luck stumbling across them in the jumbled morass of the newspaper’s website.


— Speaking of the Hamster Wheel, I never thought I’d read a paragraph like this in The Wall Street Journal:

See, Mama’s good at couponing, which she declares her favorite sport, along with Bingo, and that’s where the family heads next, to Macon, in a bid to raise pageant cash. Chubbs lets us know that “Mom plays Bingo better than she cooks or cleans or anything.”

But there it is in the Journal’s book report, er, TV recap of the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo reality show:

We return to Pumpkin, Chickadee and Chubbs (did John Waters write this family?) helping to plan HBB’s seventh birthday party, and they wrap hot sauce and other stuff from the cupboard as gifts.

Now, I know we’re supposed to think of these folks as low-rent, but I never had a giant slip-and-slide at any of my birthday parties. After all the kids have multiple goes, Mama tries to climb the thing, and as the camera fades to black for commercial, she’s struggling up the ladder as a down-home version of the theme from Jaws washes over the scene.

Thank you, SEO.

— Make sure to read Jesse Eisinger’s column from last week on how the tax deductibility of debt incentivizes risky behavior and provides a huge subsidy to banks:

What isn’t well appreciated is how much the debt deduction helps the banks. The first way is direct: Banking is a highly leveraged industry. Banks use more debt than equity to finance their activities. The tax break makes the debt cheaper and encourages banks, at the margin, to gorge on more.

Financing techniques that have become more popular in recent decades benefit from this distortion. Bundling of debt, like credit card receivables or mortgage debt, called securitization, turns out to give banks a tax bonanza. For accounting purposes, banks are typically able to treat their bundling of this debt as a sale. But for tax purposes, banks often get to call it debt. Those payments to the buyers of the securitizations’ bonds are therefore tax deductible to the bank.

Felix has some more thoughts on the subject.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,