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Oil, car dealer shenanigans and the unfortunate case of Ms. Sherrod

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Lots of news and news coverage this week.

Day 94 in the Gulf, the cap appears to be at last, though I still don’t understand why fail safe back-up measures were not on standby. The relief wells are nearing the intersection point and now, of course, another problem churning into the fray–Tropical Storm Bonnie. There is clearly a huge black cloud lurking over the Gulf states.

The controversial ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is once again being challenged. Many of the Gulf states rely on the income and jobs provided by big oil drilling. Where it needs to be off the table is along the Atlantic and northwest Pacific coasts unless the past 94 days have taught us nothing.

The auto companies have finally committed to the reality of the need for alternative energy to power cars and trucks. They foot-dragged on this for years in the late 80s and early 90s.  What about infrastructure? If they build them, that will come. DO you think there were gas stations on every corner in the early 20th Century?? There were not!

Some lessons, however, seem forever to remain unlearned. I went to a local car dealer for my 105,000 service on my car this week. The dealer’s service department gave me a $900 estimate for a 90,000 mile check-up–one that I’d had done already a year earlier at another dealer outstate for that amount. The service manual listed the necessary checks for 105,000. You would think the service department would know what was required. The service manager called me two hours later with a new $2,500 for the estimate. I drove my car home with only the air conditioning recharged. Today, it went into a local mechanic. For $300 he will replace the hoses and flush the radiator, even though he says I could probably hold off for another six months. None of the other “problems” pointed out by the service manager could be found by the local guy. Of course, he lives or dies by the quality of his work and his honest business practices.

Mechanics working for car dealerships are paid almost on a commission basis. A particular job is judged to take a specific amount of time and that is what they are paid. If a five-hour job is completed in three hours, the mechanic still earns the five-hour rate. This gives incentive to find more “problems” and add-on charges to the bill. There are a lot of honest mechanics out there, but this way of paying mechanics at many dealerships seems suspect to me.

I was considering buying a 2011 model, but not anymore and certainly not from that dealer.

Then there is Shirley Sherrod, the USDA employee quoted out of context on a video that went viral. First she’s placed on leave, then forced to resign, then the full tape is reviewed and now USDA wants her back. Even the President got involved with a seven minute phone call. Meanwhile, she’s having her 15 minutes (make it about a 48 hour news cycle) of fame with appearances on the morning network news shows, The View and cable. Then the raft of apologies followed, even from some of the right leaning news sites–the same folks that slandered her initially. Bottom line, across the board, journalists (and her bosses) forgot the cardinal rule of good journalism–answering that pesky “why” question. By why, I mean why is someone leaking this? What is the motivation? Good reporters do this. Taking the time to think this through then reviewing the entire tape would have saved everyone a lot of effort and embarrassment and a roller coaster ride for the woman caught in the middle.

The key for reporters is getting it right. Being first and wrong counts for nothing. Pack journalism operating in the 24/7 cycle of the new media landscape makes it more important than ever that fact checking is critically important.

Heading off for some R & R.

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Written by jrnjbb

July 22, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

We the people getting back in charge on the 4th of July

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July 4, 1776, the day that formally began what became the United States of America. Thirteen colonies courageously thumbing its collective nose at the most powerful Empire on earth at that time, England.

The idea that government belonged to the people had been bandied about but never codified as a form of government. The Greeks had experimented with democracy centuries earlier, but in that new era begun on the coast of North America, in stirring words a new nation was formed.

Certainly there were crises, wars and challenges but the country muddled through them.

Now on Day 76 of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, nine years into a war in Afghanistan against an almost mythological Hydra that we largely ignored for part of that time, and several years into what should be termed the 21st Century Depression, the nation faces threatening new challenges, global competitors and a government that seems more responsive to PACS and corporations than we the people. The government is awash in debt and we the people, we the taxpayers will be the ultimate ones to bail us out.

It is unfathomable that American know-how would not have already plugged this leak and that “A Whale,” a Taiwanese super skimmer ship capable of slurping up millions of gallons of gushing oil, would have just arrived on site, and now must patiently wait for Mother Nature (aka Hurricane Alex) to allow it to proceed.

Maybe today, the 76th Day of this disaster, we should forever pledge to wean ourselves from oil and find viable, less destructive alternatives like we’ve done over and over again in the past.

We should pledge to live within our means, from the government on down to the individual.

We should decide if a war on uncompromising terrain is worth the cost in lives and dollars.

And we should take responsibility for our government, learn about candidates and issues that will be on the ballots, and get out and vote with knowledgeably and hold those we elect to account when they succeed or fail to the job we hired them to do. Harking back to the 1960s, that would be real “power to the people.”

We are so blessed to be citizens of this nation and in this century. Let’s not squander our opportunities, let’s become more responsible caretakers of our nation and our planet and recommit to the ideals of 1776.

Written by jrnjbb

July 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm

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Tallahassee Democrat and Gannett try bold and necessary revenue model

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Cheers to the owners, editors and staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. It has taken the savvy and courageous step of beginning to charge for online content starting July 1. Subscribers to the newspapers get full access to all the online content. For less than $15/month, full access to the digital product including the e-edition, and for less than $10/month web content. The Democrat is even offering online day passes for just $2.

This is smart and gutsy. Hats off to Gannett corporate for green lighting this bold and long overdue move.

Of course, some folks are going to be unhappy and unwilling to pay for news. I am not sure anyone was ever happy when the local newspaper’s box and home delivery price was increased way back in the day when print was the main source for news. That news organizations have been allowing free access to their sites and their stories for years now is well established, but it is a practice that must end.

I hope Gannett and the executives at the Tallahassee Democrat give this revenue model enough time to prove itself. And I hope the readers of both the print and online sites decide to partner with their hometown news source and invest in journalism in their community.

The model is similar to one being used elsewhere internationally, including smart and courageous publishers like Alejandro Junco of Grupo Reforma in Mexico.

It is a model that can work. Perseverance is key. Sadly, the story of a lifetime is continues on and off Florida’s shoreline. Though Tallahassee itself is not located directly on the gulf, the BP oil disaster is an ongoing story of major import to the community, the state and the region and is being covered extensively by the newspaper both in print and online. The oil, on Day 65, keeps gushing and now the containment cap is off at least temporarily. Another setback for BP, the government, and the victims both human and environmental of this spill. Plus oil swept ashore on the Pensacola Beach overnight and more washed in during the day. A young dolphin stranded in the shallow water coated in oil may be Florida’s first victim. More marine, marshland and shoreline injuries and deaths are sure to follow.

The ongoing disaster may spur folks to subscribe. The news site and the print product are providing the essential coverage the community needs, just what a news organization should be doing.

This revenue model is one I have long advocated in the classroom and at professional media conferences. I will watch this experiment with interest. Ironically, my Google news journalism alert linked me to the story on the Tallahassee.com news site.

I am not sure how they will deal with aggregators like Google, but, frankly, aggregators should start paying for content they scrape off the web or beginning launching full-blown news sites.

The recent FTC proposals of how government could “save” journalism should scare the heck out of anyone who understand and values the role and need for a free, independent watchdog press.

Over the years, newspapers evolved and expanded to include business, sports, entertainment, features, comics, crosswords, Sudoku, ads and other info. The web is a wonderful venue to continue this evolution. And just like any product at Lands End, Amazon and other online vendors, there is a price tag for journalism, and it is more than worth the modest cost the news site will be charging.

It took quite awhile to get to the heart of the story on this change since the authors felt the need to justify how important the news coverage provided by the paper and its website, tallahassee.com, is to the subscribers. They made their case announcing the “historic change in how (they) do business, becoming one of the first community news outlets to take decisive steps toward protecting the journalism so vital to the social and economic well-being of our community, now and long into the future.”

Congratulations for the courage and leadership in addressing the absolutely necessary changes needed to preserve and protect journalism in the digital age.

_________

In other news, Detroit’s former and now imprisoned mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was indicted by a federal grand jury today on  income tax charges involving his civic fund which may allegedly may have been little  more than his personal piggy bank.  Stay tuned. The Kwame saga continues. As usual, the Detroit Free Press coverage was aces. The Free Press broke the original story that led to the mayor’s arrest, resignation and subsequent guilty plea in the best tradition of watchdog journalism winning a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting.

Written by jrnjbb

June 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Michgan State Coach Izzo is a class act

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MSU coach top pick for Cleveland Cavaliers

MSU's Tom Izzo has coached the Spartans to solid performances

Michigan State Spartan fans are in fight and fright mode. Legendary basketball coach Tom Izzo is being courted by the coach-less Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s likely a tough decision for Coach Izzo, and, if he leaves MSU,it will be a terrible loss for the Spartans.

I’ve met Izzo, and I can tell you he’s one of the good guys. He has standards and he holds his athletes to them. You screw up on campus or in your classes, you won’t be playing. He knows that most of these young men may have dreams of playing in the NBA, but only one or two standouts will ever get the chance, so a good education is important to him.

The Monday the Cavs are offering has got to be attractive not that Izzo doesn’t make good money in his coaching job at MSU. He makes more than the university president, the football coach and the athletic director, and he certainly makes more than any member of the faculty. Then there are the additional perks like the income from product endorsements, summer camps and TV appearances, not to mention extra for tournament money.

Hopefully, part of his decision will weigh the following. In the NBA the players, from LeBron down to the little known bench warmer all play because it is their job. And employees, can get frustrated on the job. In college basketball, the players do so for a love of the game and for some, the hope of a job like those NBA players have. College teams can change significantly every year when the senior graduate. And at the collegiate and high school levels, coaches are also teachers and the lessons they provide can be life changing. I doubt any NBA coach has that kind of impact.

Good luck, Tom, whatever you decide. You are a class act. MSU really can’t afford to lose you. The Cavs would be lucky to get you. Aside from that $30M salary, though I suspect coaching in the NBA won’t nearly be as much fun.

***

Day 53. No surprise. BP and the government grossly underestimated the amount of oil gushing up in the gulf. Now it is said to be up to 40,000 barrels a day before the cap was put on. Mr. President, members of Congress, please reverse course on the proposed leases along the Atlantic coast and the Northwest Pacific Coast, and don’t even think about messing in the Great Lakes. The Gulf Coast states might still be willing to risk the oil drilling. But I for one would hate to see similar messes soiling the coastlines from sea to shining sea.

Written by jrnjbb

June 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Oil and tornadoes don’t deter small town folks

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Day 51. The oil continues to pollute the waters, wildlife, marshes, beaches and people in and around the gulf region.

The networks and major news outlets have given it lots of coverage though, for the most part, they’ve been chasing the story not anticipating (anymore than the government or BP) where the story is going.

The oil gusher as viewed through the remote cameras is sickening as are the photos of oil-drenched pelicans and gulls.

I can’t understand why more communities are not doing what little Magnolia Springs in Alabama is–not waiting for permission or battling through the morass of federal and BP red tape  but simply drawing the lines, literally in the water to block the oil from coming ashore.

Mayor Charles Hauser has said he will apologize later but they have hired barges and boom lines to block the oil now lurking off the entry to their bay–and they’ve been thinking and doing this since May 20!! The lesson from Katrina was the feds and the state were hopelessly inept at handling the magnitude of that crisis. The lessons from the BP oil spill are the same. But the mayor and fire chief and the people of Magnolia Springs are aggressively tackling the looming catastrophe to their way of life.

It’s the people, the everyday citizens who make a difference.

That was evident again in the small Michigan town of Dundee. This rural community was hit hard by tornadoes overnight on Saturday. Since then, the residents and hundreds of volunteers from around the state of Michigan and elsewhere have been chipping wood, clearing debris and trying to put the place back to rights as best as they are able. Meanwhile Michigan’s governor is reviewing the state of emergency request as is the federal government, and both will move at glacial speed.

Cheers to the spirit and initiative of these small communities. It’s their attitudes and actions that will beat back the oil and resurrect a town.

Written by jrnjbb

June 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tiger pitcher robbed, but Major League Baseball should change

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I’ve seen the replays numerous times now, it was the call heard round the world of baseball, at least. Umpire Jim Joyce got it wrong. He admitted it to reporters. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga did get the out in the bad call at first in the 9th inning in the game between the Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Now here’s the bottom line: if the umpire says he blew the call, and the instant replay proves he blew the call, why doesn’t the safe get changed to out. Galarraga gets his perfect game, and Major League Baseball becomes the poster child for good sportsmanship just as Galarraga reportedly did in interviews in the dugout after the game where he did not blame the ump for the bad call.

Baseball is a game. This isn’t about world peace or even stopping the devastating oil spill in the gulf. But it may teach kids and even adults a valuable lesson. Be responsible and accountable for your actions and decisions, and if you make a mistake, admit it and correct it. Because that’s the right thing to do.

Okay, Bud Selig, it’s your call now. Make Major League Baseball the one professional sport that calls ’em like it sees e’m and is honorable enough to correct a glaring mistake.

Written by jrnjbb

June 3, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Oil spills, volcanoes and earthquakes–getting the message? Mother Nature is ticked

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Oil continues to gush from the BP site in the Gulf of Mexico threatening and destroying marine life, coastlines and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and perhaps other states.

In Congressional hearing, BP, TransOcean and Halliburton are in the crosshairs and they busily try to foist the blame off on each other.

Clearly, there was no Plan A, B, C or the entire alphabet about what to do in case of an accident like this one. Because it supposedly couldn’t happen.

Tell that to the dolphins, sea turtles, shrimp and oysters now dead and dying. Tell that to the shrimpers and fishermen and restaurant owners and hotels and charter boat operators who used to make their living and were just now recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

And still the Obama administration and several in Congress are pushing for expanded off shore drilling.

Are they nuts?

When will we learn that everything we do to this planet has consequences, some intended, some not and many we can’t and don’t anticipate. Think Asian Carp, Emerald Ash Borers, zebra mussels, to list some examples.

Is it just me or doesn’t it seem that Mother Earth may be just a tad annoyed with the human race what with earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China and elsewhere around the planet and that volcano in Iceland.

As we drill down 5,000 feet beneath the water and earth to capture crude oil to feed our addiction to fossil fuels, maybe we ought to serious consider some more benign forms of energy–solar, wind, waves.

As millions of gallons of crude oil continue to spill into the gulf with no end in sight, it’s time to rethink. As a TV ad once noted, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

Written by jrnjbb

May 13, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized