Rants


June 21, 2006: 10:24 am: Personal, Rants

Make that “walking” ugh.

The doc confirmed it: walking pneumonia. I’m out for a few days.

And for those in the know? No news.

June 8, 2006: 12:36 am: Big Blunders, Rants

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? (And how much further would you have gone with a little “help”?)

Baseball is in big, big trouble. While everyone has been patiently waiting to boo Barry Bonds on his drawn-out quest to hit his first clean 40 homers in eight years, America’s pasttime is about to come crashing down. Not at the hands of a titan, nor a fallen hero. Just a journeyman named Jason Grimsley.

Fans have been forgiving for far too long. As embarrassing as last year was for Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmiero and Jason Giambi, at least there was no “smoking gun.” Rampant rumors were not accompanied by reams of positive drug tests stacked on Bud Selig’s table. Any excuse was enough to make season-ticket holders and a syncophant press wink before looking the other way.

Party’s over. A no-name known as Jason Grimsley has not only been raided and questioned over illegal procurement of HGH, but he’s turned state’s evidence by supplying names of other players to investigators. Turns out there is no good test for HGH abuse, even though doping it is against the rules.

Once this floodgate opens, there is no plausible deniability. There is no savior on the horizon — like Cal Ripken salving the wounds of a season-killing strike, or Sosa and McGuire whipping up a home run frenzy in 1998. Oh yeah. That’s a lie too.

This may go down as one of the greatest “reputation management” jobs of all time. Years of promises and spin about maintaining a clean sport are ready to fall on baseball’s noggin, like too many secrets stashed on the top shelf of a crowded closet. It’s too big now to pin on individual players.

To make matters worse, the very nature of the American love affair with baseball is at stake: those geeky statistics that supposedly stand the test of time are now in jeopardy. (Stock tip: find the company that manufactures asterisks and invest now!)

So, let me hear from you:

  1. Can baseball be saved?
  2. How do you handle it?
  3. Does anyone really care anymore?

June 5, 2006: 10:46 am: Personal, Rants

When I was in my teens, I fell in love with the Omen trilogy. Okay, not “in love” as in “watch me burn puppies and mutilate my flesh,” but more alone the lines of appreciation for good storytelling and mastery of suspense. Here was a movie that used very subtle clues and cues, and a wicked soundtrack to scare the bejeesus out of you.

Then they had to ruin it all with a re-make.

I’ve got nothing against the actors involved — I think Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles are okay, if not a little young to replace Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. I haven’t seen it, but one telling clue indicates to me that this is nothing more than marketing gone amuck.

The thing that got me about the original trilogy was the sly use of the biblical undertones. The way the plot rolled out and used prophecy made your hairs stand up. Not that I for one minute believed that an Antichrist would show up like that, but any scary tale that borrows a couple of millenia of backstory gets my vote.

I don’t think we’re going to break any new ground with the remake, and I base that on the timing. The first hint I ever had of the movie was the poster:

Omen moive poster

Coming, 06/06/06.

This was not a movie that was begging for a remake. It was not flawed in its execution. It was not time to revisit the theme. Instead, it’s as though some marketing genius figured that 06/06/06 would be a great release date for a movie — now let’s go option a script! Already I have misgivings that this thing is being rushed to meet the release date, and won’t live up to the meager potential. Seriously, would you go to see a remade “Omen” if it came out on Memorial Day?

What’s this mean for you? Timing can be an issue for communicators. When you speak (and stay silent) can be an important factor concerning your effectiveness. Are you running beer ads opposite the Super Bowl? Are you planning an event or grand opening on a day when the media is already booked out with other coverage?

However, timing is icing. It does not fill you up, and does not guarantee success. A perfectly-timed piece of crap is… well… you can polish it, but it still stinks.

(Disclaimer: 06/06 is my birthday. That’s not why I liked the original movie, however.)

Update: Ebert didn’t entirely dislike it. Three out of four stars.

May 31, 2006: 1:50 pm: Rants

Reputation is built by the matching of deeds and words. You make a promise, you back it up. Reputations are destroyed by hypocrisy — breaking a promise you have made.

When the broken promise stems from faulty execution, the mea culpa is easier. When the broken promise develops from selfish motives or a lack of character, the damage takes much longer to repair.

The ACLU has some explaining to do.

The organization for decades has tried to become synonymous with “free speech,” yet now is cracking down on stray messages from within. The new guidelines are there to prevent board members from criticizing any aspect of decided policy. Stephanie Strom writes in the New York Times:

“Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement,” the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.

Yes, it is important for an organization to speak with one voice. The reason, in this instance, becomes particularly telling:

“Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising”

As in many cases, the bottom line really is the bottom line.

Of course, the policy is not sitting well with some current and former board members, who feel strongly that free speech is free speech is free speech:

Nat Hentoff, a writer and former A.C.L.U. board member, was incredulous. “You sure that didn’t come out of Dick Cheney’s office?” he asked.

“For the national board to consider promulgating a gag order on its members I can’t think of anything more contrary to the reason the A.C.L.U. exists,” Mr. Hentoff added.

Later in the article, a board member recounts getting privately chastised for a facial expression. Another was voted off for publicly debating a position.

For an organization that lays claim to non-partisan support, this is a clear violation of vision. This can’t be fixed with a “my bad” press release. This is the sort of crisis that only regime change can repair.

This would be a good time to look at your corporate mission statement. Or update it, even.

May 22, 2006: 7:47 am: Personal, Rants

Boy, did I ever forget the punchline. It’s not that information-seekers are so fond to “transparency” or even “opacity.” They just abhor “translucence.”

Each extreme along that continuum plays an important role. Those who are stuck in between are of no use to consumers, who either wonder about a real agenda, or choose some other means of validation that carries more objective weight.

Duh. That’s what I get for posting so late.

: 12:45 am: External PR, Rants

Pundits and forward-thinkers are still wrestling with questions about “citizen journalists” and “mainstream media.” There are many hands being wrung, many stones being turned, much low-hanging fruit being picked, and a plethora of inappropriate analogies languishing in the passive tense.

Let me save you all some time. “Citizen journalists” (or “those bastard bloggers in pajamas,” if you are on the other side of the ideological chasm,) will never replace mainstream Journalists — at least as long as mainstream Journalists hang on to their only edge:

Opacity.

I know. I am now a heretic within the blogging community. A pariah. Simmer down.

The fact is that what makes for a good blogger doesn’t necessarily make for a good journalist, and vice/versa. Blogging is all about using the power of social media and networking to be transparent. You air it all out, and count on others to forgive your warts. It happens most of the time, because the users/readers passionate enough to invest themselves in your online community will usually value your honesty moreso than your lack of perfection.

Big-J mainstream Journalism doesn’t enjoy that luxury. Tampa reporter Don Germaise found that out in a very big way. While trying to nail down an interview with an elusive white separatist, he agreed to a reciprocal interview. Not just allowing the subject to jointly record — he was the subject for a separate interview for a National Vanguard website. The site included the reporter’s candid quotes about illegal immigration, free speech, and editorial decisions.

Let’s not focus on the views of the website, but instead on the reaction:

“I can state unequivocally that there is nothing about this group that I like. I was naive … to let them use my words to make it appear the way they did. I was wrong.”

Objectively speaking, if a political blogger posted those same words, there would be no issue. Bloggers are given the green light to have opinions and be transparent. It is expected. So why is Germaise apologizing?

“We are supposed to be the messengers and not the story,” said Germaise. “Here, I’ve become the story, which is wrong. It does a disservice to my viewers.”

Because he recognizes that ultimately, he barters in truth, and not honesty.

  • Truth is more objective, honesty is more subjective.
  • Truth is compromised by errors of comission, honesty by errors of omission.
  • Truth is telling your wife that no, those jeans don’t make her butt look big. Honesty is telling her that her butt looks big without the jeans.

Humans have a need for both truth and honesty. And even in a fractured and partisan age where we can cherry-pick our reading assignments, there’s something validating about seeing our pet point of view getting treatment from the objective Big-J types.

Citizen journalists, generally-speaking, tend to be fired up about and handful of issues. They step forward with knowledge, skill, and brazen honesty. Big-J journalists know they have to keep their biases as private as possible. They are the non-eunuchs we trust to guard the harem, because once their cover is blown, we (ahem) cut them off.

Part of our bumpy transition into this new media landscape is we’ve bought into the idea that something will “replace” something else. While we are now swimming in far more honesty than we’ve ever had, all that honesty won’t change the need for objective fact-crunching.

And that’s the honest truth. Opaquely.

Any reference to “wife,” “jeans,” or anatomical features is done within a construct of creative license. Such statements are works of fiction, and any resemblance to a person living or deceased is strictly coincidental. Honestly honey, it’s the truth. I swear!

May 18, 2006: 8:39 am: Birmingham, Rants

Well, it’s down to two on American Idol. And for the third time in four years, Birmingham has one of the finalists. (Four if you count Diana Degarmo, who was born here but raised elsewhere.)

For the past few weeks, there have been a slew of articles and blogs and broadcast pieces about why “the south” does so well in the world’s most-hyped karaoke contest. Some account for the Birmingham success with the “church factor,” some with other cultural and anthropological underpinnings. Jake Tapper at ABC did a piece looking at Idol votes through a political lens.

So far, nobody has it right, and we see such mind-numbing stereotypes as this:

“Perhaps most intriguing, as the fifth season continues, is to consider how much more talent remains out there in the hill towns and dust buckets of the South, and will rarely be heard past the local 4-H show, halftime at the high school football game, or at Sunday church.”

Amateur anthropology aside, there are a couple of important factors that get overlooked… a major key and a minor key, if you will.

Minor key: The South still has an underdog mentality.

If you know anything about college football, you know that the SEC takes it more seriously than anyone else. Lives revolve around football season. To know why, you have to go back 80 years to the Rose Bowl. Southern football teams were often disregarded and ignored by the pundits and voters in the northeast. That is, until the University of Alabama finally broke through with an actual invitation to the Rose Bowl, where it upset a highly regarded Washington team. That was a milestone achievement in Southern pride — and that’s why college sports get royal treatment, befitting the first arena where the region levelled the post-Reconstruction playing field.

Take it to the bank — Southerners are competitive in everything else, too. (And they also keep score on who “gets it” from the outside. I’m sure there is a lot of grumbling over the fact that Tapper included Oklahoma and Texas as part of “Dixie.”)

Major key: Ratings, ratings, ratings.

Lost in all of the analysis is the fact that Birmingham has the highest-rated Fox affiliate in the country. WBRC was a powerhouse long before Rupert Murdoch purchased it in 1996. Nearly ten years later, it remains locked in a close battle for number one in each newscast, each sweeps period being a tossup. Outsiders will claim that Idol props up Fox-6, but it’s really the other way around. WBRC has been savvy and effective in promoting and hyping American Idol, and has the viewership to make a difference.

The point? You can spend a lot of time musing, pondering, and cogitating about a situation that you can’t explain — but often the answer is simpler than we think.

May 5, 2006: 4:49 pm: Personal, Rants

I now know what I need to get out of my funk.

Based on the advice given by this psychic, I need to change my number:

If you think there’s something different about the address above the entrance of KRON television headquarters, the fortresslike building at 1001 Van Ness Avenue, you’re right. The number 552 has been added.

The reason?

A station exec’s astrologer advised that 1001 was a bad number for business.

And business at San Francisco’s venerable Channel 4 hasn’t been good lately. Advertising is down, its entertainment and local news shows lag in the ratings, and parent company Young Broadcasting, which spent $825 million to buy KRON in 2000, is swimming in red ink.

So the station’s honchos turned to East Bay astro-numerologist Jesse Kalsi to provide a “patch,” which is numerology lingo for fixing a bad number. Now, what you see over the door is 1001552.

“Obviously, there are skeptics who think it’s a bunch of hooey, but I can tell you things seem to have improved since the change,” says KRON Programming Director Pat Patton, who says he brought in the psychic with the approval of station management.

So everyone, be prepared for the launch of “Accentuate the Positive, 2.0552!”

Just as soon as I feel like writing anything.

May 3, 2006: 12:43 pm: Personal, Rants

I have the funk.

I’ve been extremely busy lately, and pulled in a number of directions. Haven’t really had time to look for things to write about.

And that’s okay.

I think I’ve set a fairly clear standard for this forum, in terms of keeping focus on a tiny realm within communications. I am interested in a whole host of things, and from time to time I must resist the urge to write about things here that are outside the scope.

If it makes anyone feel any better, I have written some rather long comments lately. Over here, I weighed in on a debate about whether Public Relations bloggers need to appoint a Gestapo for quality control. The discussion spilled over to here, and then to here.

I guess my biggest funk right now is the realization that I might be a better commenter than agitator.

Also — big decisions may be looming on the horizon. Didn’t mean to bury the lead, but an encouraging word or two might help.

For all of you who take the time to find this nobody’s little corner of the intarwebs, thanks — and keep checking. Funks don’t last forever.

April 21, 2006: 1:51 pm: Rants

Lest you think Public Relations is gaining any momentum for “transparency” and committments to ethical principles… a lot of people still think we are slimeballs and snake-oil salespeople.

Attorneys for the players claim “Dancer #2″ from the Duke Lacrosse Indictment Party apparently contacted a PR firm in New York:

They say she has changed her story to gain favorable treatment in a criminal case against her. They note she also e-mailed a New York public relations firm, asking in her letter for advice on “how to spin this to my advantage.”

The notion being spun by the attorneys (paragons of trust and virtue) is that anyone who needs public relations help must be guilty of something.

Sadly, it will probably work as a smear, because PR needs better PR.

April 12, 2006: 1:53 pm: Rants

I’m a big fan of using the internet to search for answers, but I wonder sometimes how often people get suckered by phony info. And I’m not talking about whole websites about 9/11 conspiracies, or theories about Dave Chappelle.

I had to do a little research about a couple of counties in northwest Alabama, and tripped across the Wikipedia entry for Haleyville. Listed in the “history” section, we find this useful nugget:

Haleyville is the location of the first 911 call.

This is, in fact, true. It happened on February 16th, 1968. Having known this bit of trivia, I would be inclined to trust the accuracy of what follows:

There are some interesting things about Haleyville that some people do not know. Lance Armstrong is actually from Haleyville. He actually met his former wife Sheryl Crow there. Jesus Christ made a personal visit to Haleyville. He stayed there two days and then he was picked up by immigration.

Haleyville got its name because a peice of the Haley’s Comet landed and is displayed at city hall. Haleyville was named Williamsburg, WV, but after the accident they decided to rename it.

One of the biggest attractions to Haleyville is actually Phil Campbell which is semi close to Haleyville, there is also a Walmart in Haleyville.

Haleyville Highschool’s mascot is the Lions. The school colors are Red and White, and their most famous football player is Dusty Ball, but he had a sex change so her name is now…. Dusty Ball.

Famous Haleyville Laws:

It is illegal to date your sister, but legal to date step sisters. Engaging in sexual acts with goats is ok, if it is your goat and on your property. It is illegal to paint the balls on Tom Williams Bull. It is illegal and you will face criminal charges if your house burns down on Sunday. It is ok to beat your dog, if you prove that the reason called for it, it was actually your dog, and the stick was no shorter than 12 feet.

Yeah, I’m not the first to discover inaccuracies on Wikipedia. And these are patently absurd and only slightly amusing at best. My concern is for the casual user who hasn’t heard of Wiki complaints, and is liable to believe any fact that pops up on the screen — especially those more probable than Sheryl Crow coming to Haleyville.

I’m a big believer in the power of nobodies and of social networking, but when nobody is in charge, the results can be messy.

Maybe when the level of internet savvy hits critical mass, we’ll see less scamming and more responsible monitoring. But I doubt it, because nobodies draw power from both their numbers and their anonymity.

March 24, 2006: 4:03 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

Transparency. It’s as simple as acting the same way in private that you would in public. It’s living in the glass house, warts and all. And it’s a pretty good guiding principle for building trust.

Check out this article from Grade the News. It looks at transparency in television newsgathering, and includes some rather candid comments from those in the business about how economics and cutbacks have forced some changes in the way it’s all played.

Selfish pitch: I preach about the need for media training, if for no other reason than I know there are fewer journalists trying to do more work. Some get lazy, some get sloppy, some just get overwhelmed. The more you can make their job easier, the better your encounter is going to be.

I don’t advocate doing their jobs for them — because it can come back to bite you if the news-entity has not been transparent.


Speaking of “transparency,” our friend “Larry Pamper” from Banfigureskating.com is trying to perpetuate the idea that he is not connected to the Birmingham Steeldogs.

Bottom line:

  • Be Yourself
  • Tell the Truth
  • Be Transparent

March 15, 2006: 1:39 pm: Big Blunders, Rants

Apparently, the fake news item about Will Ferrell’s non-existent death has finally snapped Google News awake.

After determining that just about anyone can submit and distribute information through i-Newswire, Google has cut the source out of its news mix.

Just before the plug was pulled, a 15-year-old boy “made news” by announcing that he’d been hired by Google.

At least the kid has apologized.

March 13, 2006: 11:53 am: Rants

Blogs are a technology, and nothing more. There is nothing magic about the word blog. Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog. See, I did not turn into a frog.

What is a little frightening is the lack of perspective about where bloggers belong — and that goes back to fundamental misunderstandings about journalists.

Here’s the example de jour: as Congress starts shutting down national security loopholes, the lines they tread are blurry at best.

Ohio Senator Mike DeWine is drafting a bill that would make it illegal to disclose information about either terrorist surveillance, -or- any activity carried out under the 1978 wiretap law that is cited as authorization. A draft of the proposed legislation got leaked to the Associated Press, and there are a number of concerns about it.

The bill is apparently still rather broad in its language, which leads some to believe you could be prosecuted for reading an article about surveillance and telling a friend about it. Highly doubtful.

It’s not uncommon for these drafts to float out as “trial balloons” as part of the vetting procedure. You find out what is troubling, and you fix it before the final release. What is disconcerting to me is the attitude of the policy wonk who is helping write this thing:

“It in no way applies to reporters – in any way, shape or form,” said Mike Dawson, a senior policy adviser to DeWine, responding to an inquiry Friday afternoon. “If a technical fix is necessary, it will be made.”

Reporters love to brag about how they are the “Fourth Estate,” and bask in their special privileges. But are they really that special? Doesn’t the same First Amendment apply to all Americans?

What worries me is how exactly Congress is going to go about defining what is and is not a “reporter.”

Blogs. Blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs. Nothing magic about the word, but there is something magic about what people put in them. Especially the ones with lots of letters and words and stuff. There’s no telling what kinds of thoughts and opinions can be expressed. And that’s the problem.

This is not a salvo in the debate about whether blogs will ever be on par with the mainstream media. This is about fairness. This is about free speech.

How do you define what a “reporter” is? By their activity? Is one who gathers facts and summarizes them in a publishable form a “reporter?” Is it defined by the medium? Radio-TV-Pulp okay, Blog bad? Whatabout those writing for “online magazines” like Slate? Surely, they must be considered reporters.

Well, maybe we look at it from a professional definition. Does that mean that you have to have a press pass from an “approved” entity to be a reporter? Does it mean that you have to be “professional” in the sense of making money at it? What about people with AdSense on their blogs? Do you have to make certain amount of money to be considered a pro? What if your newspaper hasn’t made money in five years, and some blogger is raking in six-figures?

There is not yet an adequate definition of “reporter” that could not conceivably include every U.S. citizen. There is no “test” you have to pass, no professional certification, no government regulation.

When there is, you have my permission to be scared.

March 10, 2006: 10:56 am: Personal, Rants

A short, pithy synopsis of the material to follow — with enough of a tease to entice readers to click beyond their feed readers. Of course, these sentences must stand alone, and in the largest font size.

Less cryptic introduction to the topic at hand, in a large font — and aligned with the image of the newsmaker or object seen floating to the right.

Sentence meant to bridge to PR topic, establishing relevance, usually with a hyperlink to the source material. Interesting insight, in the form of an analogy meant to convey meaning in a short fashion. Contrary statement, highlighting the fundamental key difference (in italics) that fine-tunes the reality described by the analogy. Supporting evidence of that contrary statement, indicated with a blockquote from another external source available as a link, and ending in a colon:

Relevant passage from source material, designed to provide just enough context for those who are too lazy to follow or are on dialup. Preferably, a second sentence that highlights an emotional attachment to the perspective — saying something that I would never dare say myself. All enclosed in a large voice balloon that came with the WordPress theme template.

Transitional sentence, usually done in a larger font, again reiterating the main point.

Return to smaller type, to disguise the fact that I am about to steal borrow someone else’s thoughts and opinions. Preferably someone who flaps his gums a lot as outspoken as I am, and in another city:

Quote lifted from another PR blogger, accompanied by an animated .gif that I cleverly assembled using Microsoft Paint, IrfanView, and unFreez — all because I am too cheap poor to buy software. Preference given to quotes from A-listers, on the off chance that my TrackBack link will drive traffic to my blog.

Summary of AB-lister’s point, implying my tacit agreement without committing myself to controversy.

Slow build toward conclusion in a larger font. Synthesis of two main points of quoted texts above, in a callous effort to “break new groud” with a meta-observation.

Pithy, clever conclusion in a massive font, thematically in tune with the opening line and closing the circle.

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