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Archive for February 2010

Tiger’s tale

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Tiger’s public statement to the press garnered worldwide headlines and made news in those so-called civilized parts of the world where presumably golf is important. His remarks are being parsed and examined with more fervor than a college English professor’s dissection of a Shakespeare play or a Whitman poem.

The cynical reporter in me wondered how the master of image control would handle it. His fellow golfers were already miffed at the timing, and with all the ongoing Olympic coverage it may have seemed like a good time to slip under the radar.

The staged event with just two cameras and three wire service reporters in the room along with around 30 plus family (his mom), friends and supporters present and no questions permitted rankled. It clearly rankled the Golf Writers’ Association members, too, as they declined to cover it officially. (Of course, they had completely missed or ignored the longstanding infidelities that were exposed in December.)

It reminded me of another press conference involving the now former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, who was battling accusations of infidelity and perjury at the time. Kwame’s conduct had been exposed by two Detroit Free Press reporters, M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer. Kwame’s wife sat next to him during the one camera, no reporters present statement made in the church offices of a friendly minister. But the exposed wrongdoing by Kilpatrick was about misconduct by an elected public official whose actions had cost a nearly bankrupt city more than $9M.

The underlying cause of Tiger’s problems are similar to Kilpatrick’s–both thought the rules did not apply to them.  But there the similarities end.

Tiger’s hurt himself and most seriously his wife, family and Tiger, Inc. Kilpatrick hurt his family, but also hurt the people of the city he had sworn to serve.

So, I wasn’t keen on all the publicity and news coverage that led up to Tiger Woods apologia.

In fact, I was so uninterested in it, I was out walking my dogs at the time. But I confess to wanting to see how Tiger’s 13 1/2 minute mea culpa sounded, so I flipped on ESPN about an hour later and watched.

Tiger gave a convincing performance of contrition and accepted responsibility for his actions–three and a half months after his carefully constructed persona unraveled with the revelations of multiple sexual liaisons. He cited the Buddhist beliefs he had been raised to follow and had abandoned. He defended his wife who was not present (good for her). Clearly, his 45 days in therapy had precipitated his mea culpa. He goes back for more tomorrow.

I never relish seeing the mighty fail and fall, though I have made an exception of Kilpatrick due to all his subsequent nonsense. If Tiger can rise from the ashes of his self-immolation, he may well turn out to be a great person after all.

But it is troubling indeed that speculation on Tiger’s statement could lead the national and many local newscasts over the suicidal attack against the IRS in Austin, the death and injury of troops fighting in Afghanistan, the coup in Niger, the growing nuclear threat from Iran, the bipartisan committee on the staggering U.S. budget deficit, and, heck, even the anger of the Russian coach over his skater’s silver to the American’s gold (I stayed up past midnight to watch that, and the American’s 4 1/2 minute free skate performance was slightly better than the Russian’s despite the quad. The latter had some tenuous landings.)

It does demonstrate the disturbing reality that celebrity news is more important than events that should be. That more than 300 journalists from around the world were camped out to listen to Tiger’s statement, though not allowed in the room, 20 satellite trucks were broadcasting his statement world- wide, a news chopper was following his motorcade. He is just a golfer whose made a mess of his personal life.

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Written by jrnjbb

February 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Airlines should charge for carry-ons, not the first checked bag

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Air travel used to be fun, a real adventure. I remember my parents dressing up to go on trips. Now it’s about as much fun as an intercontinental bus trip—in a third world country (minus the chickens in the crate, though the charges for pets have recently skyrocketed, too.)

Airlines started tacking on additional charges when jet fuel like gas prices climbed more than a year ago. Jet fuel prices dropped for the first half of 2009 (and seem to be slowly rising again), but airlines kept slapping on the fees– adding ways to collect some extra cash from passengers—charging for chips and snack packs, bulkhead and exit row seats, bumping the ticket prices for pets and, of course, adding fees for checked baggage. Now some are even charging $8 for a blanket and pillow.

Airlines raked in $1.15B in extra cash in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation as more passengers chose to save the $15 or $25 rather than check their bags.

Instead, they carry it on with them. Though airlines claim to limit carry-on luggage to one personal item (purse, briefcase) and one sized limited bag (around 45 linear inches or height + length + width) no one seems inclined to enforce the rules. Long lines of shuffling passengers are often burdened with two or three carry-ons, many the size of a regular suitcase..

People clog the aisles, jamming overstuffed and oversized bags into the overhead bins as they enter and exit the plane. Flight attendants have learned to bench press as much as 40-50 lbs. in the process.

In the smaller commuter planes, when the airlines and passengers both know there is absolutely no way that suitcase can fit in the overhead bins, passengers gate check their bags. I’ve been held hostage in planes where we all must wait until the gate checked bags are brought out for these folks.

One airline is now considering allowing people without carry-ons to be seated first.

Congressman Dan Lipinksi and five co-sponsors introduced a bill in the House (HR 2870) in mid-June to have TSA (the security check-in folks) strictly regulate the acceptable size of carry-ons. That’s a start, and Lipinski, a frequent flier to and from his home district in Chicago, says he introduced the legislation when the airlines balked at voluntarily addressing the problem. His bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security Infrastructure Protection where it has languished since June 17 and probably will die.

Congress and the FAA should get serious about the issue and suggest a solution beyond Representative Lipinski’s.

Airlines should eliminate the checked bags fees of $25-30 for the first bag and slap that or an even heftier price tag on carry-on luggage excluding specifically defined personal items such as purses, diaper bags, briefcases and daypacks.

If a bag needs to be gate checked, airlines should charge an even higher fee, and, on arrival, the passenger should collect his/her luggage in baggage claim, along with everybody else. That would be real incentive for them to follow the rules and speed things up for everyone. The exception to that would be strollers.

Not only would this speed boarding and deplaning considerably, likely improve the on time flying rates and, most importantly, improve safety conditions in the cabin. In a hard landing, there is the potential that those overhead bins could spring open, sending those 40 lbs bags hurtling around the cabin like oversized shrapnel. Folks could and have been seriously hurt when that occurs.

On new models being delivered, Boeing, Airbus and the others should simply downsize the available space in the overhead bins and increase legroom—something anyone who travels regularly could certainly be approve.

The idea is sure to be unpopular with frequent fliers (and I’ve been one of them) and the airlines but would likely garner support from the flight attendants. TSA screeners  also have enough to do. I am from the Detroit area, the venue for the unsuccessful Christmas Day underwear bomber, so I appreciate the TSA’s efforts to keep the flying public safe. Less carry-on luggage being schlepped through TSA checkpoints  would definitely speed up, those long lines, too.

Written by jrnjbb

February 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Paying for Capital J Journalism

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I have long advocated what I and other call the “cable” model where subscribers can bundle subscriptions online or otherwise.

Other good ideas include a pay program similar to Amazon’s One-Click ordering (this is a version of the micropayment idea), and it has worked extremely well for Amazon. (I ordered two books yesterday after visiting two big box bookstores and a well-equipped health food store–none had the books I was seeking.) I love the Amazon One Click system and the iTunes and iApps systems. No reason it would not work for stories.

As more newspaper fail and/or reduce their newsgathering staffs to dangerously lower levels, less news gets covered, more easy so-called news from PR press releases and government spokespersons because the content and the greedy aggregating robots harvest increasingly less robust news sites for information.

Star Trek’s Borg would insist “resistance is futile.” I disagree. Two interesting  articles on this topic are worth the read.

In a USC Annenberg report on “Should Government Support Journalism–It Always Has” by David Westphal and Geoffrey Cowan, the authors note since the founding of the Republic, newspapers have long received support through reduced postal rates, tax breaks and legal advertising. TV and radio historically received similar support with the exclusive granting of licenses to broadcast over a particular bandwidth.

The amount of these type of subsidies has declined over the years into virtual a trickle, and that’s part of the problem. Legal advertising is in a steep decline as more local and state government post their legal notices on their own websites saving cash-strapped public bodies a lot.

But what Westphal and Cowan contend  is it is disingenuous to take the purist standard that it would be dangerous to accept government subsidies. I admit this was hard to agree with initially, but they argue a persuasive case.

Another cogent article was a Q & A transcript published in The Progressive late last month.  Editor Matthew Rothschild interviewed  the authors Robert McChesney of the U of Illinois and John Nichols, a correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, about their book “The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again.”

They reject the premise that the Internet is killing journalism and argue it’s been a many decades long slow decline caused by the profit motives of big media conglomerates. Their point is that journalism in the past was a public service business. As a journalist and journalism teacher who has worked with thousands of students over the years, I can tell you that most of us got into the business because we thought we could help people and make our world better. Back in the days of family-owned local newspapers, the paper’s owner was a member of the community and ate breakfast at the local diner, sat in church with neighbors and had kids in the local school. For better or worse they were part of the lifeblood of their communities.

It isn’t that way any longer with some rare exceptions. Think of the demise of KnightRidder. Media conglomerates with publicly traded stock are more concerned about the bottom line than any other factor.

This is equally true in broadcasting where technological improvements in measuring audiences and impact has ended the quarterly sweeps periods to daily measurements. If stations scored big during sweeps weeks, and inevitably special packages including I-team investigations were produced and broadcast during that particular week, ratings would spike and allow stations to boost their ad rates.

Now measurements are done every day using high tech “people meters” that send daily data on ratings and the spikes are merely blips and  short-lived. The broadcast solution is identical and as devastating to that industry as print’s response to shrinking circulation and ad revenues has been on the print side. Cut staff.  It’s troubling to see the same story repeated verbatim during newscasts in different time slots. I’ve even seen the occasional rerun two days later.

In corporate America and within hedge funds, it’s all about the money. Quality and public service be damned…except if they boost sales or ratings.

Think Haiti over the past three weeks. Every major and many smaller news organizations put feet on the ground to cover the story. And ratings were high, people cared. Celebrities held TV specials and “We Are the World” is in post-production.  Journalists exposed the horrific conditions to a worldwide audience. It’s one thing to simply announce a 7.0 earthquake on the news.When the video images started coming through whether on TV,  cell phones or YouTube,  the enormity of the calamity became real. Journalism did that and in the process  pushed governments and NGOs to start moving food and water and medical supplies more quickly, helped reunite families and let folks here know how relatives and friends there were doing. When U.S. military flights transporting injured people to hospitals in Florida were halted last week, media coverage pressured a resumption of those flights saving lives. That’s what journalism can do we tell the story, and we also fulfill an important watchdog role. Ask Detroit’s former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick about that.

But the data cited in the McChesney and Nichols book reports the reality of journalism in the midst of its own sea of troubles.  A Pew Center  Study analyzed news coverage in Baltimore during a set period from every outlet, print, broadcast and online. The analysis found just four percent of news stories were first published by Internet news organizations. The overwhelming majority of breaking news was coming from print, specifically the Baltimore Sun. The Pew report also showed that the Baltimore Sun has dramatically fewer employees and was breaking roughly half as many stories as it was 20 years ago.

McChesney and Nichols concluded: ” All the Web is doing is aggregating what little coverage is still done by the newspaper. It’s a disastrous circumstance. If the Web was replacing newspapers, great, wonderful. But that’s not happening. What we’re doing is creating a void. The news we need as citizens is falling into that void.”

The two authors also cite several European models of government subsidized journalism that they argue is more free and aggressive than the much touted U.S. press. It’s worth a read, and I am going back on Amazon to One-Click order again.

So, who should foot the bill for Capital J Journalism?

Bottom line, all of us.

Written by jrnjbb

February 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized