Archive for May, 2010

Despite Kilpatrick’s Sarcastic “Thank You,” We Owe Real Gratitude to Journalists

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

20100525124943_2010-0525-dm-kilpatrick2I saw some Twitter buzz on it this afternoon, but I guess old news practices die hard. I had to confirm it for myself. Did former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick really say a sarcastic “thank you” to my former TV news colleague, WDIV-TV reporter Kevin Dietz at the moment handcuffs were slapped on him?

Kevin answered my email right away. It’s true, he said. In the courtroom, before even acknowledging his own family, Kilpatrick tried to verbally jab Dietz (along with a strong glare), apparently blaming him for the probation violation that today led a judge to sentence the disgraced former Mayor to at least 14 months in prison. Dietz’s investigation of Kilpatrick, after a court filing showed he only had “$6 per month” to pay the City of Detroit $1 million is restitution, revealed Kilpatrick and family living a life of excessive luxury in Texas. You can see that pivotal story here.

In an age of extreme traditional media cutbacks, we should all be thankful that WDIV spent the money to send Dietz to Texas. That budgetary decision, like a series of spends the Detroit Free Press made leading up to a Pulitzer Prize for its Kilpatrick coverage, did the community a great deal of good.

Throughout Kilpatrick’s tenure as Mayor, he evaded the media while blaming the media for his problems. Obviously, that attitude persisted long beyond his term in office and lingers until today – a great day for journalism and a reminder of the important role that it plays in our democracy. This should serve notice to corporate bean counters who continue to order newsroom cuts – journalists’ jobs are unlike any others inside your organizations. While journalists may receive corporate paychecks, they also serve their communities.

As great of a day as this was for journalism, it was that ugly for PR. The Mayor’s latest in a string of unsuccessful spokespeople, the self-proclaimed “Reputation Doctor” (whose name I won’t mention in this blog as I don’t want to aid in his SEO efforts) issued a deplorable statement that I find an embarrassment to the Public Relations profession. He compared today’s sentencing to Apartheid in South Africa, playing the race card in irresponsible fashion. The Mayor once testified that he pays this so-called professional a $1 retainer. At that price, he is grossly overpaid.

No One Forecast This One: Chuck Gaidica & Company To Replace Dick Purtan on WOMC

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

urlAnd so it is now official: Chuck Gaidica and Bobby Mitchell are replacing the legendary Dick Purtan on WOMC. You can read Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea’s story here.

The decision by CBS radio is a surprise although not entirely surprising. Chuck Gaidica, in particular, is well-known and well-liked not only for his longtime and ongoing stint as chief meteorologist at WDIV-TV Channel 4 but also for his past Morning Show work on Clear Channel A/C WNIC-FM. He is joined by the much lesser known Bobby Mitchell (last in this market in the 80s on WHYT-FM) as well as former WJR/Mitch Albom sidekick Rachel Nevada and talented newsman Bob Schuman.

I would be lying to say I didn’t find the decision shocking (and I’m not alone). I had thought that the chair would be filled by still on-the-beach talent with even richer radio lineages, such as former WCSX-er Jim (JJ) Johnson, Chris Edmonds, Stacey Duford, Lynn Woodison and/or Ann Delisi. To be sure, the “buzz” would have been greater, despite the fact that Chuck and company are very capable and talented broadcasters.

It is interesting that the incoming team of four is actually of comparable size to Purtan’s outgoing “people”; especially considering the station’s moving to more music and less talk. Based on the evolution of the music mix and new choice of talent, WOMC would seem to sense an opportunity in the Adult Contemporary world that WNIC and Magic currently play in.

The new WOMC morning show is sure to cash in, at least initially, on curiosity seekers so expect a ratings spike. You also have to give Chuck credit. It takes some big cajones to step into a legend’s shoes (remember Rick Rizzs/Bob Rathbun and the Harwell debacle)? It is a clear demonstration of his passion for the work and love for the medium.

Many Lost PR Jobs Don’t Deserve To Return

Monday, May 17th, 2010

48e10d5e-001f2-04a9f-400cb8e1Across the country and across the Web, within the last week, millions of readers saw an Associated Press story that details America’s lost jobs that are not likely to return, even as the economy improves. Among them are 65,000 advertising and PR agency jobs – about 14% of the pre-recession total.

Don’t necessary shed a tear. Many of those jobs shouldn’t have existed in the first place. I can’t speak to advertising but in PR, many of those jobs only existed to bill unsuspecting clients large amount of money that didn’t need to be spent. Then the clients got wise.

Too many “big firm” PR jobs have existed simply to grow billings, not relationships. In the past few years, since client tolerance for agency tricks has fallen to an all-time low, we have heard the stories from unsatisfied “big firm” clients who sought more cost-effective, honest alternatives from firms with new models.

For example, there’s the global agency that charged a medical society $250,000 for a “PR toolkit” it sold hard – essentially a three-ring binder with tabbed sections that was sent to every member nationwide. This binder was supposed to give doctors a “turnkey” solution to PR by giving them materials they could use to publicize their practices and profession. It was like sending PR pros a medical textbook so we could start curing disease. The binders ended up on shelves or in garbage cans as a complete waste of client money.

We have learned of other examples, like the “big firm” that charged a nonprofit client a monthly retainer for a four-person account team in which three of the members’ primary roles were to meet for an hour per week to “keep up the billings.” That client is now working on an “as needed” hourly basis at another firm with better results for less money. Other cases include flying an account executive into a city to wait by the phone in a client’s office “in case any media calls.” I witnessed that one in person along with another case in which an account person was flown into another city to sit in an all-day meeting and just take notes. Throwing bodies at accounts to make clients feel “serviced” is old thinking that just doesn’t pass muster for clients anymore.

In some of these firms, to support their overhead and staff – some are dedicated to making clips and/or media lists for just one or a handful of accounts – they have grown used to billing clients as much as they think they can get away with as a retainer each month, regardless of objectives. That means they have to find ways to bill clients, just to keep up the retainer, even if that extra work (and extra staff) is not really needed.

For the displaced professionals, many (if not most) of whom are committed to the profession, here’s to a future in better situations in which their future employers won’t abuse their time and their jobs.

BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response As Lacking As Foresight

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

urlThere has perhaps never been a crisis on a scale quite like the continuing BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  And, almost as disturbing as what could be incalculable ecological damage, has been, in my opinion, an unconscionable reaction by those responsible.  Never mind the U.S. government’s negligence in allowing such offshore drilling without disaster plans in place.

BP does have up a slick “Gulf of Mexico Response” micro-site containing up to the minute news and information, including BP’s on-going efforts at ocean damage control and cleanup efforts. There’s even an hour-long technical briefing meeting video as well as underwater film of the containment dome attempt.  However, the oil giant’s overall response has been as fumbling as its mitigation attempts. 

Original estimates from BP and the federal government as to the sheer amount of oil that is gushing into the gulf from the damaged underwater pipeline are now said by some experts to be  four times more than initially communicated—perhaps as high as 3 million gallons a day.

Last week’s performance before Congress also left much to be desired with finger pointing between BP, primary operator of the rig Deepwater Horizon; Transocean, owner; and Haliburtan, primary contractor responsible for cementing the well.  Not to be outdone, Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, was quoted by the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper as saying that the volume of oil spilling into the Gulf is “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean.”

Misrepresenting facts, deflecting blame and making light of a situation all represent the absolute antithesis of adversity management.  And where is the sense of urgency in getting this thing solved?  Instead we are fed a steady stream of vague timeframes and new fix options that might work, maybe.  If BP and their corporate partners in this mess don’t turn things around soon, they might find those horrific tar balls that are washing onto shore on Gulf coast beaches put to use for a time-worn application used for con artists and snake oil salesmen: tar and feathering.

Media Change Moves One Community Into Action With Innovative New Site

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

rapidian_logoAbout a week ago, I was able to spend some time in one of America’s most underrated communities – Grand Rapids, Michigan. I went to pick up a special award for Tanner Friedman and was expecting a nice evening in a first-class art museum located in a vibrant downtown. But, the evening actually exceeded my expectations as I learned of a community actually doing something (other than complaining) about the contraction of traditional media.

That night, I learned of The Rapidian. The more I think about this new media innovation, the more impressed I become. Just hearing the basic descriptions when I was in town and exploring it on the Web didn’t give me enough. So, the other day, I spoke with Roberta King of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, one of the organizations that made The Rapidian possible, to get more details to share with you.

In 2008, frustrated by the inability of traditional media in West Michigan to continue to cover community news like it used to (before extreme cutbacks affecting newspapers, TV and radio), the Community Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (which has an impressive history of operating public access TV, radio, theatre and Web) applied for a Knight Foundation grant. The Knight Foundation wanted to give to community foundations to create platforms for local news and information. The Grand Rapids proposal won the grant, The Rapidian was born and so was mission-driven community journalism in West Michigan.

King (also now The Rapidian’s writer covering running) told me, simply, “We needed to do something to keep local information in the community.” So, The Rapdian hired a part-time Content Coordinator to serve as the editor of the site. The reporting is done by volunteers – Citizen Journalists – who receive ongoing training from the site’s organizers. About 30 community members are pursuing their reporting interests on subjects that traditional media can’t or won’t cover. Primarily, they are covering arts and culture but recent stories have also included education, the environment and happenings in Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods.

The Rapidian is only leaning on local nonprofits to contribute content, submitting to a growing section called “Nonprofit Neighbors.” So far, the nonprofits realize the PR opportunity and are participating.

The Citizen Journalists are driving traffic to the site through their own social media pages and that’s helping traffic grow. In the last month, the site received about 8,600 visits, with a three minute average visit length. Those numbers are growing month by month. Now, King says, the Community Foundation must raise money to match the Knight grant and keep the site as a sustainable enterprise.

For centuries, journalism thrived as a profit-driven enterprise. In many cases across many communities, that may no longer be possible in the same way it has been. That’s when communities may need to start taking charge and creating new, innovative ways for important information to not get lost in corporate downsizings. The Grand Rapids example could be the beginning of a trend and is worth watching in the months to come.

A Mother’s Day Cause For Reflection

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

urlMother’s Day is special for a myriad of reasons. It is a celebration, for many, of perhaps one of the most influential persons in our lives. It is also a day that forces many of us to put our own “day to day” aside to spend quality time with family and mom.

Work/life balance. It is one of the tenets of what we stand for at Tanner Friedman and something my mom instilled in me. And lest you think there were any “free rides” in the Tanner household while I was growing up, think again. I was doing chores—room cleaning, garbage emptying, lawn cutting—through most of my adolescent life. I can still remember the “Work Chart” with all of my weekly duties affixed to the refrigerator door (or was it the back of my bedroom door where I would be sure to see it every morning?). At the same time, we were always encouraged to have fun—to be kids. I learned early on that if I got my school and home work out of the way at the first opportunity, the rest of the day was mine, for recreation and time with friends.

Looking back, I try to recall if my mother was able to truly practice what she preached. She did the traditional cooking and cleaning (along with office work in later years) while my dad served as primary breadwinner and handled the yard work. They both worked far too hard and I recall my mom often saying how much she looked forward to spending their golden years of retirement together traveling, relaxing, with time to talk and enjoy each other. It wasn’t to be.

Not long after retirement, my dad developed alzheimer’s. In November he was placed in a home back in my native Champaign, Illinois, as my mom, 82, was no longer able to care for him on her own. She visits nearly every day even though my dad mostly sits with his eyes closed and head down. I know she feels robbed of that time that they both worked so hard to realize one day.

As I’ve moved up the corporate ladder I know that I too have no doubt worked too hard and too much. My dad’s illness, though terrible, has been a positive wake up call for me to get out of work earlier; to put the computer aside and go watch my daughters play tennis or softball, grab a quick bite out, or enjoy a family movie. 

I’ll be forever grateful to my mom for instilling in me all of the good things about me. I also plan to continue to honor both my parents for their hard work and commitment to family, by doing my best to maintain a proper balance, just like I was taught. Sometimes, it would seem, mother really does know best.

Believe Everything You Hear About Ernie Harwell

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

eharwell-1If you were paying attention when Ernie Harwell left the airwaves in 2002 or when he announced he had cancer in 2009, chance you are heard the same things said about him that will be said in the coming days and weeks, now that he has passed away at the age of 92.

“Class act.” “A better person than he was a great broadcaster.” “The voice of baseball to me.” “A legend.” All of these things are true, along with every superlative you’ll hear. I can testify first hand.

Ernie Harwell was a truly great baseball broadcaster. Trained in journalism and storytelling, he used the medium to paint a picture of every second of a baseball game in a tone and style that matched his personality, as well as the game itself. He used the pace of the game to share classic stories and provide you with personal information on each player. Ernie had schitck and catchphrases, but it all sounded so natural compared with many of today’s announcers who shove that into your ears. In other words, it was no act – it was just Ernie. Perhaps most impressive, though, was his relationship with his so-called “sidekick,” Paul Carey, a skilled broadcaster in his own right, who called the middle three innings for much of Ernie’s tenure. Ernie treated Paul like a partner – an example for relationships in any facet of business and life.

I first met Ernie in 1993, when I was covering the Tigers for a rival radio station. That was his first season back with the team, when he smoothly handled what would have been an awkward situation for virtually anyone else – working games with his one-time replacements, Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun (who were about as popular as a Toyota and a Honda in Detroit in those days).

The first time I covered a night game, I nervously attended the pregame media dinner in the bowels of Tiger Stadium. Ernie saw that I was new, so when I sat at his table (I really just wanted to hear him talk in person), he introduced himself (as if he wasn’t my professional role model). He then introduced me to everyone seated with him and included me in conversation.

The next year, I was hired at WSB-TV in Atlanta. Remembering that Ernie also had his first “full time gig” at WSB Radio, (I memorized his bio in the Tigers’ programs), my first thought when entering the halls of WSB was “Wow. I’m working where Ernie worked.”

I shared that story with him, over lunch with a mutual friend, six years later, after I had moved back to Michigan. At that moment, Ernie stopped talking baseball and started talking Atlanta – his hometown. He told me stories about working as Margaret Mitchell’s paperboy and covering a premiere of “Gone With The Wind” for Life Magazine – stories he had likely told hundreds of times before, but it sounded like I was hearing it all for the first time. That was the magic of Ernie. His voice may be silenced now but those of us who enjoyed the privilege of listening to him or meeting him will hear him for the rest of our lives.

Case of Sleeping Policeman A Wakeup Call To Those In Public Eye

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

sleepingdetroitThe recent high-profile case of the sleeping Detroit police officer this past week, for better or worse, was yet another stark reminder of the speed and power of the media today.  It was also a wake up call to those in the public eye that now, more than ever, they need to be ever mindful of public behavior.

And the rules don’t apply only to superstar athletes or politicians; they hold true for virtually any company, entity or individual that serves the public—be it the postal service, phone company or police department.  All have scores of representatives out on the street everyday where bad behavior can easily be captured by a hidden news camera or “everyman” cell phone.

In the case of the Detroit policeman, the embarrassing photo made its way almost immediately onto the world wide web and to sites such as mediastakeout.com, where it quickly gained nearly half a million views. 

Was it fair? Did the officer get what he deserved? After all, the “story” was not broken by a legitimate source for “hard news” nor has the photographer been identified. As such, where is the context? Was it a hoax? Therein lies the added complication of media today: Anyone can ‘break’ a story but who, exactly, can we trust to fact check and help us understand what we are really seeing and hearing? 

At the same time, some might argue, thank goodness we have more mediums and tools than ever to root out and shed light on those who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  For such individuals, the neighborhood watch is as powerful as ever.

ABC’s Drastic Cuts: A Long Time Coming

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

ABC-logoIf you’re in a certain age range, say Generation X on up, you likely want to practically stand at attention and look at the TV every time you hear the distinctive drums and horns that comprise the commanding ABC News theme music. After Walter Cronkite left the CBS anchor chair in the early ’80s and until TV news took a nosedive in the 2000s, ABC TV dominated national news ratings. Even before that, virtually all of its owned-and-operated stations in the major markets and many of its affiliates in markets of all sizes led local news ratings.

Now, though, as we have pointed out on this blog before with others, even ABC News is looking and acting more like a local news operation. Starting this month, ABC News is another media organization trying to “do more with less” – that cliche I’ve been hearing in broadcasting for at least the last 16 years. This article details how ABC has shed about 400 jobs, on the technical and production sides, as well as “on camera” positions.

These actions likely strike a blow to the morale ABC, watching talented colleagues, still in their primes, walking out the door. The committed journalists left behind face daily challenges to crank out product without the resources they grew up with. Really, though, it’s a surprise that it has taken this long.

In 1999, when Don and I were representing a global airline, my job for several days was to coordinate access for an ABC 20/20 crew in Detroit to shoot a segment. For the better part of a week, six ABC employees were in town, from New York, to shoot one segment – a correspondent, two producers, a cameraman, lighting operator and an audio engineer. They all stayed at the Ritz-Carlton.

Having come from local news, I was shocked at the number of people and amount of money they “needed” to shoot their story. Local TV news was, and remains, “run and gun.” Network news, then, was Hollywood-esque. It was hard to believe, although the segment, technically, looked great on TV. It’s pretty amazing that looking good was enough to sustain relatively huge budgets for 11 years.

Now, ABC has decided to operate more like local TV has for years – fewer people touching the product, fewer employees on the payroll, fewer names you know on the air, more Skyped interviews rather than those shot and lit professionally.

So will you even notice? ABC is betting you won’t.

Once upon a time, ABC ended its broadcasts with the signature “More Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source.” That’s a line no single organization may ever be able to use again.