Archive for May, 2007

“Race and the Media” Special Airs Tonight

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

The top social issue in Metro Detroit typically receives the least attention in the media. That’s why the series “Bridging The Racial Divide” is so important. Produced by Emery and Jackie King’s Kingberry Productions, the ongoing series of community discussions on race and how it can stop dividing our community reaches its third installment tonight (Tuesday) at 8 p.m. Detroit Public Television (Channel 56) is thankfully giving this series the airtime it deserves. The latest installment focuses on an issue of great importance to many of us who worked in newsrooms – Race and The Media. Your images of people who don’t look like you are shaped through the media. Although not every outlet in town wanted to talk about that.

As John Smyntek reported in Monday’s Free Press, all three Detroit TV stations, both Detroit daily newspapers and two commercial information radio stations were invited to participate in the televised panel. But, no local television news operations were represented in this discussion. The Detroit News also did not participate. The Free Press, WWJ-AM, WJR-AM managers and former journalists now teaching at Wayne State University and Oakland University made up the media panel, moderated by Emery King and Paul W. Smith.

If you get a chance, check out the show and let me know what you think. I’m setting the DVR and will watch the show when I return from the Mackinac Conference over the weekend. Watch the blog next week for my thoughts.

Hispanic Audience Continues To Grow

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Last night, I heard a statement that I haven’t been able to get out of my head:

“Right now, there are more Latinos in the U.S. than there are Canadians in Canada.”

That was said by Jessica Pellegrino, the General Manager of WUDT-TV, Detroit’s Univision affiliate. The station celebrated its addition onto Comcast cable systems and planned move to Downtown Detroit with a packed gala at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Jessica’s statement is a reminder – one we all need – that as communicators, the Hispanic audience is one we have to keep in the front of our minds. In this space, I will be writing more with concrete examples of how this demographic will be changing the way we communicate in this country. In the meantime, check out Univision Detroit’s site at www.univisiondetroit.com – you’ll be impressed about what they are offering the fastest-growing segment of our community.

What’s So Bad About “American Idol?”

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Mention “American Idol” in casual conversation and you are likely to get a range of responses—from rolled eyes to excited jitters. But love it or hate it, the Fox Television phenom, now in its 5th season, is a true force to be reckoned with in more ways than one.

Consider this: In November of 2004, 62 million votes were cast for incumbent George W. Bush; an election in which he won a second term as president of the United States. Each week on “American Idol,” some 30 million votes are text messaged as viewers from across the country try to keep their favorite singer from going home.

“American Idol” has received a bad rap from critics on a number of fronts—including those that feel it is mindless television and others who have expressed their dislike for, in particular, Simon Cowell’s insensitive criticism and superficial focus on the aspiring singers’s physical looks.

Though, personally, I am not a huge fan of the show, there is no denying some of the great talent that it has discovered. “Breakaway” by first year winner Kelly Clarkston, and, last year idol Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” are both as good as any pop songs in recent memory (and both singers have the fans, record sales and Grammy’s to prove it).

Importantly, though many may not realize it, “Idol” is actually a throwback to the old “Ed Sullivan Show,” one of the pioneering programs of early television and the show that introduced early rock ‘n roll’s most important idols—Elvis and the Beatles—to mainstream America. CBS’s “Sullivan” was mass media at its finest. Young and old alike would gather in front of the black & white RCA each Sunday night for what would become a collective “where were you when you saw” experience. That rarely happens today.

“American Idol” allows (or is it forces?) us to take a break from our personal I-Pods and computers and satellite/cable radio and TV stations numbering in the hundreds, for a rare sit-down as a family, community and nation; parents and their children, friends and their neighbors. Though millions debate and disagree on who should win, it is a twice-weekly exercise that brings us together. “American Idol” truly is a “really big shooow.”

Decency, Obscenity and Freedom of Speech

Monday, May 14th, 2007

In the wake of the Don Imus scandal, there has been much debate regarding decency, obscenity and freedom of speech. Many, citing a double standard, turned their attention to rap impresario Russel Simmons including the May 14th issue of Time. To his credit, Simmons has called for hip hop artists and media to stop using certain words on the air that many find derogatory towards African Americans and women. It’s a start.

It is, of course, unfair to only focus the microscope on rap music when examining pop culture’s influence on society. Many heavy metal and alternative bands such as Blink 182 and Green Day rarely release a CD without a parental warning sticker. Pop and dance music has never been less innuendo and more in your face.

And, what of television? Programming on MTV and VH-1 (both of which play about as much music as C-Span) such as “I Love New York” and “Flavor of Love” seem to aim at the lowest common denominator with viewers exposed to censor beeps in rapid fire succession and more bed hopping than a Washington, D.C. escort service. The same can often be said of daytime television soap operas and “talk shows” such as “Maury Povich”—only a dermatologist is exposed to more skin each day. As for violence, you could write a book on its perpetuation in today’s popular video games, movies and cable TV shows.

As I have written before, I am as much to blame as anyone for this mess. I purchase 50 Cent and Blink 182 CDs (although normally the censored versions) and am a sucker for a good “shoot-em-up” flick. I just sometimes wonder how we have become so laissez fare about it all. Once, we debated whether married-in-real-life TV couple Lucy and Desi should be shown in the same bed, while, the Everly Brothers’s “Wake Up Little Susie,” which implied Susie was not awakening from her own Serta, was banned from radio airwaves. Today, not even the “700 Club” would give either a second thought.

Is this right? Wrong? I would argue it is what it is. Parental guidance, as always, is paramount. Yet, I would also suggest that those making the decisions about what to air, print and publish exercise greater responsibility and be held more accountable. Though art is subjective and freedom of expression is important, we should not be so tolerant when the messages being exported by media are potentially harmful. As Peter Parker/Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said to him so famously: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Truer words were never spoken.

A new blog

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

That’s the first line of one of my favorite movies – “Goodfellas.” For me, though, please substitute “gangster” with “broadcaster” and you’ll get it.

I grew up picturing myself on the radio and on TV when I “grew up.” I did all that, while growing up, but focused my communications career in different ways as it progressed. But, now, I get to go back to my roots.

This new blog actually has a lot in common with my first radio show in 1983. On the air, it was just me, some headphones and a mic – all connecting to an audience. In this case, it’s me, a keyboard and a computer – connecting to you. In this space, I’m looking forward to sharing some perspectives with you, and hearing yours too, on the communications business – a part of my life for nearly 25 years. I’ll share anecdotes, opinions, recommendations and warnings, not just about TV and radio but also about what companies, individuals and organizations are doing (or not doing) to communicate their messages and tell their stories. I hope you will learn something and I hope I will too, by hearing from you on whatever I blog about.

My business partner, Don Tanner will be joining me every step of the way. He shares a lifelong passion for our work. A blog will be easy for him because he wrote a book. Order it today by clicking here.

To sign off, Charles Osgood says “see you on the radio.” For now, we say, “see you online!”