25 September 2009

Who Elected This President?

It turns out, the American media may have played a part in electing Barack Obama as President of the United States. A new national poll conducted by Sacred Heart University has been released on "Trust and Satisfaction with the National News Media." It's posted here and shows that 89.3% of those surveyed believe that the national media played a "very strong or somewhat strong role" in helping elect President Obama.

The University's Polling Institute surveyed 800 Americans nationwide between Sept. 8-11, and covered news subjects from 2003 and 2007. The poll is the third of its kind, and reveals current American attitudes on the fairness, reliability, and influence of news media.

This can not be news to those of us who actually work in the national media. We were there. If we are honest, we acknowledge our part in it. He was younger, sexier (it's a TV term, folks) and we wanted to do stories about the popular team.

So what are we doing now? We apparently haven't stopped.

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said the national news media are intent on promoting the Obama presidency. Only 26.5% disagreed and said something to the effect of "oh, those news media people aren't doing that!"

Yeah. Right. I don't often say "perception is reality" but have you ever seen an industry where that particular statement seemed more appropo?

But here's the part that ought to scare the folks at the top of four (maybe more?) very big news organizations: when asked which news source they trusted the most, the highest percentage of respondents chose Fox News. Oh, now don't get your shorts in a wad. Fox only rated a 30% share.

And oddly enough, when asked who they trusted the least, the same group (but presumably a different section) also chose Fox News.

About a quarter of those surveyed (24.3%) said they believe all or most of what is reported, 54% believe some, and 20.4% believe little or none.

"It is sad, when we find that only 55.9% say they expect the media to tell them the truth today. This perception of bias will eventually catch up with the news media outlets - we found 45.9% have permanently stopped watching a news media organization, print or electronic, because of perceived bias." Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute

Catch up with news media outlets? Like as in falling ratings? Dropping ad revenues? Fewer advertisements? Less attention to every little thing that we say?

Hmmmm, you think?

21 September 2009

What If?

What if the Internet suddenly stopped giving away free news? With so many people saying lately that they "get their news off the Internet," I wonder what would happen if the Internet stopped giving away the milk and instead made people start buying the cow?

I don't mean what would happen to people or society as a whole. I think we might scratch our heads for a moment, then pick up the phone and call back the few remaining people at newspapers' subscription departments and order up the "special." (Trust me. The subscription departments at your local paper are standing by, ready and waiting, with subscription specials anytime you call. Try it and see.)

I'm not suggesting that this will happen tomorrow. It would take some major doing because it would have to start with the wire services and go all the way down. No more freebies on information and intellectual property.

Those wire services, like Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International, would all have to change their working agreements with groups to outlaw the posting of their reporting on the Internet. Since every major news organization in the world uses these wire services as the backbone of their product, this would shut down the Internet as a source of information, except in return for money. Which since the services pay their employees, is really how it should be, isn't it?

And all of the "stories" online? Most of those "news stories" that people would still see for free would suddenly be viewed as what they are: bloggers, babblers, pundits, and intellectual property thieves.

All of the real news therefore, would then be either distributed by television, radio, or in those quaint things called newspapers. Sure, the newspapers would go back to being the slowest of the medias, but they'd still retain their journalistic integrity by virtue of providing the most in-depth news coverage. And yeah, they'd have subscribers again. They might even hire back a few reporters.

Televisions and radio stations would gain viewers back, because well, yes, you'd have to get your news from one of the several legitimate sources, so they'd be back in demand.

It's an old school style approach. And it would require some allowances by the government. We'd have to invite the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to the meetings where such an agreement was negotiated because that might prevent us all from being dragged into court for an anti-trust case.

But there would be no "price fixing." Journalists have rarely agreed on anything (a more snarling, snapping dog-filled pack you've never seen) so how could they or even their bean-counters fix a price? But just to keep it all honest, as we work to restore the business model, it might be acceptable to have government approval.

And websites? Sure, we'd keep those. Why not post the freebie information, advertisements, a few teases to the real stories (available in the morning paper or evening newscasts) reporters and talent bios and emails. But generally, after a few details on the web, we let everyone go back to reporting things other than the latest demise of a venerated newspaper?

I put this question to someone in management at one of my current media clients. He said he thinks it's too late. He said he thought that newspapers and other media outlets had rushed onto the Internet years ago, without giving serious thought to what it would mean long-term and now the momentum was against them. The industry is "hemorrhaging without end."

But I wonder at that analogy and suggested he look at it in a different way:

"If you slit your wrists, you are allowed to go to the hospital."

Maybe it's time to do that. Maybe it's time to check in before we all check out.

20 September 2009

(Sea) Biscuit on a Sunday

I was feeling a little achey on Sunday so I stayed in. I was unsure whether those little quirky pains and pulls were from too much workout on Saturday, or perhaps I was coming down with the latest plague (H1N1 "swine flu") so I thought I should keep it to myself.
I raided the household DVD rack during one of my rare vertical moments and found a copy of "Seabiscuit." You remember the movie? Released in 2003, it bears watching again. It is about giving the nation hope after in the midst of The Great Depression.
Sometimes, it seems like we're never going to get out of this trouble. For me personally, writing at Voice of America and seeing news stories about economies around the world that are poised perhaps to come out much better than we are, it can seem very dark.
The movie depicts a smaller-than-average racehorse owned by a somewhat inexperienced owner who hired an older than average trainer and a larger than average, half-blind jockey. Yet somehow the combination worked.
The sight of that horse, running its heart out in races against much more physically compelling rivals, is somehow... heartening. I think for me to say more would really waste the impact.
The next time you feel a day of shut-in coming on, maybe you'll take the time to watch it. Or perhaps watch it again.

15 September 2009

Let's Talk About TAYLOR, Please?

I've got a new theory about celebrities, apologies, and the stupidity of some people.
Now that the news cycle on someone's bad behavior is past 48 hours, and people are still talking about HIM, it's clear that he's worked this to his favor. And why? Because we gave it attention.
So here's my suggestion: every time you hear anyone talking about this rude incident, talk about Taylor Swift instead. If the other person continues to bring up the rude person's name, make a honking noise until the name is over. Then, resume talking about Taylor.
Or talk about whatever else you wish. Talk about a restaurant you've just been to, or a great meal you had at home. Bring up a good movie you've just seen, or better yet discuss the book you just finished. (You do still read, don't you?) Ask for advice on your Christmas list. Offer your latest money-saving tip for grocery shopping. Anything but the bad behavior that was recently rewarded with two days worth of attention and hype that would have otherwise required millions to achieve.
And let's figure out a way to do this every time someone behaves badly in public. Sure, there's a "watercooler effect" for a day. But two days? It apparently took the little jerk (did you see what a short little snit he is compared to the 19 year old that he stole the moment from?) over 24 hours to apologize. Are you thinking that delay was an accident?
I didn't hear an apology on Leno last night. He said he felt bad. He acted like he was the injured party. Huh? That was the time a sincere person would have apologized and left the spotlight. But to drag it into a second day? Let's tell him and every faker to come that we're not fooled.
It's time to change the national conversation to something and someone who can be a positive influence for us, rather than rewarding bad behavior with the attention that the jerk was apparently seeking all the time. Enough is enough!
PS: Please feel free to pass this along. Post it on your own blog or twitter it yourself. BUT ENOUGH OF THE EMO CREW!

13 September 2009

The Next Day's Apology Is Just "More Attention," Isn't It?

We need a quick infusion of manners in this country. I realize that a certain segment of the society has grown up with parents that told them that anything they did was okay, and everybody got ribbons in the kindergarten race, but we need to wake up and relearn some manners.

First and foremost, we don't scream loud insults when someone is making a public speech.

Specifically, yelling "You lie!" at the President of the United States when he's addressing a joint session of Congress is not acceptable behavior. Someone ought to take Rep. Joe Wilson, (R) South Carolina, out behind a shed somewhere and give him a switching on his bare fanny.

I do not volunteer to be that person, and frankly, I'd like it to be his mama. She should have taught him better manners in the first place, but it's never to late to start, right?

I'm not a big fan of Obama; neither am I opposed to his administration. I'm sort of on the fence. On one hand, he does seem to want a lot of primetime access to the American people. On the other hand, I can't fathom why some Americans were opposed to his speaking to school children. Hasn't every other American president spoken to children at some point? Didn't that right come implicit with the big chair when we voted him in?

Second, when someone wins an award and is in the midst of her acceptance speech, perhaps even the part where sweet-as-sugar Taylor Swift says that winning was the dream of a lifetime, you don't storm the stage, snatch the microphone out of her hand and argue for someone else.

You just don't, Kanye West. And everybody in that auditorium knew it except you.

The place to do that, every bit as tacky and pointless, is back-stage where the press is gathered. "Tell it to the people who care," ie the media. Or blab it at the door of any of the after-parties that crowd the night ahead.
Oh, unless you want to have all the world's attention on you the next day, waiting for an apology and retribution. Unless the point was to hype your appearance on the opening night of Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Wowzer, there is some manipulation of the American public going on these days! Along with a deep understanding of the adage, "Any publicity is good as long as you spell my name right."
We have a lot of growing up to do in this country. Like a lot of Americans whose mindset wasn't incubated in a pool of money or power, I am hoping at some point, those at the "top" (wherever and whatever that means) will start to make some headway on that project.

11 September 2009

Meet Mrs. Wang

Today, I'd like you to meet Mrs. Wang. Mrs. Wang lives in China. And she's one of 1,330,044,544 Chinese citizens, as of June 2008, according to U.S. government figures. She's probably one of ten or twenty million women named "Mrs. Wang" in China, for that matter.
If that doesn't sound like she's significant, well, she means something to someone. Presumably Mr. Wang.
But why should she mean something to you?
Because she just got a new dog... for which she paid $600,000.
Remember when the U.S. economy was strong? Remember just a few short years ago when we spent money like it was going out of style and thought that the good times would never end? Has it occurred to you that it may be someone else's turn now? And look! They are already starting to act like us!
Now, I hate to be a pessimist, but does it seem to anyone else like we've been on top for an awfully long time, and that maybe, just maybe, it's someone else's turn to drive the dogsled? Maybe we're now the dogs pulling the sled?
Don't get me wrong. We've had a good run. But we've wasted resources, shot our credit limits to the point that when Timothy Geithner was speaking to students and academics in Beijing, earlier this year and insisted that trillions of dollars in Chinese investments will be unharmed and that "Chinese assets are safe," and in response, they laughed at him.
So here we are, fit for dogmeat. I am trying to stay optimistic about this whole thing. But I think the new economic big dog doesn't eat kibble. He favors rice. And this...

is a $600,000 Tibetan mastiff that may soon be dining better than some Americans.

06 September 2009

"Space: The Final Frontier"

Have you ever wondered what space smells like? I have to admit, I have not. And yet I was caught by this internet headline:

"Space Sights and Smells Surprise Rookie Astronauts."
Maybe I watch too much Sci-Fi. I thought if you got sucked out into space, somehow your head caved in, so I had no idea you could actually sniff around out there. I learn something new every day on the internet!
Anyhow, the fact that there's no oxygen in space (that's still true, right?) apparently hasn't stopped some folks. And those people say that space has a unique odor that can be compared to gunpowder or ozone. Yeah, ozone. As if that's on your familiar smell list? I should also point out that if you don't know what ozone smells like, perhaps that's because it's toxic. So don't go out and sniff up some. These tricks are strictly for the professionals.

From his lofty perch on the International Space Station, Discovery shuttle pilot Kevin Ford, a first-time spaceflyer says about odour, "It's like...something I haven't ever smelled before, but I'll never forget it. You know how those things stick with you."
Clearly, a comment from a "newbie," but I'm guessing I'll take have to his word for it. There are still lots of things I can get my grip on here on the planet.
Awhile back, a Los Angeles TV station sent me into a canyon to do a story on inner city kids at a trust building retreat. As part of the retreat, they climb 110 feet up a tree and jump out. They invited me to join their experience.
They said it would be a "great peg" for the story. It absolutely was not. My story was about the kids and I didn't want to distract. But since I don't get offers like that every day, I definitely did the climb and jump. And it got me over my life-long acrophobia nicely.
I like to do stuff that scares me. I like to close my eyes and leap. I don't do dangerous things because well, I'm over that silly immortality complex I had a few years back.
But maybe I do have a little too much Captain Kirk in me. Offer me an experience that feels strangely different, beyond my comfort zone and out of control, and I'll jump for it in about half a second flat.
Change is good. Change is growth. Change wakes my senses up and makes me feel alive.

But space? Isn't that where the orange juice tastes like Tang?

PS: Use of the word "odour" above is not a typographical error. It is French for "odor." Clever, huh? It is my effort to expand all of our horizons with a little international flavor today.

Van Jones, White House Environmental Adviser, 2009

It's so easy to look at politicians who lie to the public, accept bribes, hire call girls or cheat on their wives and children (because if you cheat on a wife, you are cheating your children at least as much) but what about people who have strong political convictions and do things about them that they later regret?

Van Jones, the Obama administration guru of green jobs has resigned his position after his past actions and statements with some controversial groups came under public scrutiny.
Mr. Jones has issued two apologies in recent days. One of those mea culpas was for joining a group called 911Truth.org that questioned whether Bush administration officials "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war" and the other for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration.
Haven't we all called an opponent something regrettable at some point? I read a statement once that a man wasn't a man if he couldn't control his temper... or if he didn't have a temper.

It's a sad truth that youth is wasted on the young, but isn't it more regrettable when we are so naive that we go into public office thinking no one will ever question our abilities or intents? When you serve the public in this country, you have several hundred million bosses, each of whom is allowed to criticize and comment on your abilities at will.

I have to admit that for the first several years in television news, I was very thin skinned. These days, if you criticize me, unless you are the one signing my paycheck or my time sheet, I probably will laugh in your face. Literally. I've learned to handle the ups and downs of a very fickle public.

I'm sorry Van Jones has resigned from the position of White House Environmental Adviser. I don't know that he shouldn't have. I don't know that he should. I do know that I understand him to be uniquely qualified, except for this: he didn't have the backbone needed to stand up under public pressure. Which means in his case, he wasn't right for the job.

Politics. Sensitive souls need not apply.

05 September 2009

More Recession....

I am so proud of how Americans are learning to watch their pennies. Not all of us. Not the ones still employed with top-dollar paychecks. But lots of people who didn't use to look at their credit card bills are now examining them closely. And people who seemed to think they were too good to ask why they were charged for three cans of soup when they only bought two, are starting to reconnect. They're actually paying attention to grocery prices and watching every move made by the friendly grocery clerk.
Yes, I still have some friends who can't be bothered to return expired dairy products or go over their checking accounts online, but they are further apart and fewer between these days.
The Washington Post this weekend delivers up this article on how to negotiate a severance package. That's what's called being "timely" on the weekend after the government reports the sky-high unemployment rate at 9.7% nationally.
It's time to think thin. Thin income. Thin wallets. Thinning savings accounts, if you are fortunate to have gone into the recession with a nest egg.

I'm sort of proud of the way some people are handling it all. After years of being lazy, snobbish, prissy and proud, they are starting to get it. They've told their kids "no" when they ask for the latest version of "Playstation," and stayed home for dinner more than one night per month. Who knows what's next? Possibly there's a market for classes on reintroducing conversation at American dinnertables.
Anyway, the same weekend editions also point out that nest eggs are taking a hit. Considering that the average American household began the recession with $11,000 in credit card debt (since I don't have any, I'm guessing there's a household in a lot of pain somewhere), these would be the better stories.
They say that signs of the recovery are being seen. But so far, it's a "jobless recovery," where employers aren't starting to hire back furloughed employees. Instead, they are asking the workers they have to do more. Sometimes for the same price; and sometimes, for less.
We're all going to learn to be very grateful for the good parts of our lives during this downturn. We're going to learn to be happy with what we have. That as I said in an earlier post, "three forks are enough." And that more than one, on many things, is just something to stash in the closet or dust down the line.
We will learn. And maybe sometime soon, we'll learn to smile again. Until then, it pays to learn to watch your wallet and negotiate. And to enjoy it.

02 September 2009

How Much Is Enough?

I have enough. Not too much, but enough.
I know some of you will find this surprising, having watched me spend my way through 1990's and perhaps earlier. But I have enough.
Most of you know that I moved back to the East Coast after seven years in Los Angeles. Happy years, some of them. Not wildly lucrative years, but they were good years. I love sunshine and palm trees.
I left most of my household belongings in a storage bin in Los Angeles until I can gather the courage needed to load it all up and move lock, stock, and barrel to my new locale. I drove east with my small economy car loaded down, but still offering a fine view of the road behind me. And I rarely turned back to check it.
That's how I am at this point in my life, footloose and fancy-free. More so than most 20 year olds you know because the one thing I've never cut loose under any circumstances is my ration of steely nerve. I love a good adventure and starting a fresh life seems the way to gain one.
So I arrived here and set about jump-starting a life with a carload full of clothes, two computers, and five different types of dental floss in varying amounts.
I needed some plates. I bought them at Goodwill. I needed some sheets. I bought them at a discount store. The plates were a hit; the sheets were a miss. Ugly, black, shiny and completely unappealing. I didn't think I'd ever find restful nirvana in them, so I repacked them and took them back to the store.
On the advice of a friend, I went back to Goodwill, this time looking for sheets. And I found them: beautiful, pre-washed (but ahhh, yes, I washed them again...just in case!) quality sheets. They were all top-sheets, because apparently Americans wear out their fitted sheets long before the flat sheets show wear.

This is Rahman. I met Rahman at Goodwill. No, not Rahman, like the noodles. "Rahhh-mahn." He's smiled while taking my money through several transactions now. Heck, he's smiled through transactions with grumpy overweight grannies dragging grandchildren in tow while they buy badly repainted bookcases that have to be loaded on the back dock. Rahman is from Bangladesh and he's very happy to be in the United States. He's profoundly grateful for the kindness of a customer's smile. He's a bonus, that's for sure, but that type of thinking makes you very aware of what other customers are inflicting on him. He's one of my little bits of "people candy" in this experience.
Anyway, I spent the first six weeks trotting back and forth between two Goodwill stores in Virginia, stopping in almost every time I drove over to workout at a friend's fitness center.
I bought antique silverware that is all mismatched. I bought a few pictures in frames that I hung around the tiny little place I rented. I picked up some Christmas-y decorated bowls, but put them back again. I already had bowls: one red, one green. Isn't that Christmas-y enough?
I also carefully considered which used Crockpot to take home. I tested a couple of small fans and lamps and... then I stopped.
It came to me one day after the workout that I have enough.
To keep going back to Goodwill when I don't need anything more would mean I haven't learned anything in this recession. It would mean all the good lessons of life's downturns were wasted on me. It would also mean I was a little ungrateful at what God had given me.
I mean, I have three forks (every one of them is a different length), four spoons, and six table knives (what was I thinking?) so really, I have enough, right?
I think it may just make me smile all the way through whatever winter brings this year.
So thank you, but I have enough. However, if you're invited for dinner, be a dear bring your own silverware. I might not have enough.

01 September 2009

A Different Kind of Innocence

I don't often get to write about innocence. It doesn't seem to appear in news reports or for that matter, in real life much these days, does it? But it may be about to surface again in the case of a Texas man, Cameron Todd Willingham.
Willingham was a 23 year old father of three on December 23, 1991, when fire broke out in the house where he lived with his wife and three daughters. They were very poor and the wife had stepped out to by a Christmas gift or two at a nearby thrift store.

Is your heart breaking yet? (By the way, that's a picture of Cameron Todd Willingham with his daughter Amber to the right here.) Really, you can't make stuff like this up, because people would accuse you of being emotionally manipulative, right?
Willingham awakened that morning to cries from 2 year old Amber. The twins, Karmon and Kameron were also in the house. He tried to get to his girls, but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point, his hair caught fire as he fought to save them.
The flames overtook the little house. The heat got so intense that the children's bedroom windows exploded and flames poured out the windows. Cameron Todd had to be restrained and then handcuffed to stop his desperate, and probably by that time, futile attempts to save his daughters.
Imagine. The agony.
A short time later, an "arson investigator" decided that flame marks and burn patterns indicated someone had started the fire on purpose. Since Cameron Todd Willingham was home alone with the girls at the time of the blaze, he was the obvious choice.
Suddenly, neighbors who said he tried desperately to save his girls changed their tune to "he seemed to behave a bit oddly." The District Attorney publicly commented that the children had likely interfered with Willingham's beer and dart games.
The grieving father was tried and convicted. Initially, they offered to let him plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty, but he continually said he didn't do it and refused to confess. Over the years, he refused many times. But since the tragic fire happened in Texas, surely you can't expect he was convicted of dispensing such a horribly painful death to his own three innocent children without getting to the death penalty, right?
The convicted arsonist was put in prison where he languished for 12 long years, always claiming he was innocent.
Oh sure, there were a few people like a renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, who reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began saying arson didn't seem likely to him. Texas courts ignored that one.
Then, in 2004, Willingham was put to death by lethal injection, still clinging to his claim of innocence in his final breath.
But now the state of Texas has set up a panel which has begun investigating its own evidence. They hired another arson investigator who after a round of questions with the original "arson investigator," says that investigator seems to be "wholly without any realistic understanding of fires" and said that in fact, he seems to think divining the origin of a fire is done by some sort of "mystic" practices.
Willingham was innocent and the fire deaths were a gruesome tragic accident, according to the new reports. Reports which now come five years and several lives too late.