Archive for April, 2011

First Amendment Protects More Than Just Freedom of Speech

Monday, April 25th, 2011

The on-going saga of Florida pastor Terry Jones dominated the headlines again last week and threatens to do the same this week.  What is really at issue here? Is it freedom of speech or expression as many assert or is it more than that – something more dangerous? Many argued for the former. Let’s take a closer look.

While the First Amendment to the Unites States Constitution does protect freedom of speech, there are exceptions. One that may well apply in the instance of Jones’ plans to burn the Koran in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn is a protection against imminent lawless action and imminent or potential violence. Let’s face it, when you threaten to destroy something that others consider sacred in front of a place of worship related to that which is being burned negative things – including heated exchanges and even violence – can take place.

In that way, is the threat of people fighting and potentially being injured something that should be weighed in light of particular rights of our citizenry? Apparently, the court, which initially listened to a local lawman’s charges that such a demonstration could incite a riot, felt so and is holding to that ruling. There is also a precedent in that the last time Jones carried through with a similar action, violence broke out in Afghanistan – an already incredibly dangerous place – where, of course, we have troops stationed.

Something that not many people are talking about in all of this is religious tolerance. Rather than obliterating a symbol important to many representing a particular set of beliefs, what if time was spent instead undertaking a dialogue designed to gain a better understanding of how others think and act?  Rather than attack, why not interact – in particular when the Islamic extremist is the minority compared to the U.S.-supporting majority? You would think that Jones, as a pastor and supposed teacher of God’s word, would espouse this mindset rather than the other, especially during Christianity’s holiest week.

Doesn’t the road to positive change have to start somewhere and with someone? Why not here and now?

The NFL’s Big PR Gamble

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Tonight, the most popular sport in America introduced its schedule for 2011. Fans across the country went online and even turned on ESPN and the NFL Network for in-depth analysis of games that aren’t even scheduled for 5 more months. Excitement for the 2011 season has begun to percolate. But there’s one big problem – there might not be a 2011 season.

Judging by tonight’s schedule announcement fanfare, it’s almost easy to forget that there’s no collective bargaining agreement between the league’s players and owners.

There’s no deal in sight. So, tonight’s announcement represents a risky PR move. That’s because instead of just looking forward to a season, fans can now look forward to specific games. By placing them on the calendar, with dates, times and TV broadcasts, the NFL has made the 2011 “real” in the minds of its customers.

One of the fundamentals to managing potentially adverse communications situations is managing expectations. The NFL has now created an expectation among fans that particular games will be played. That ups the PR stakes. Now, more than even yesterday, it is imperative that a deal be reached before the start of the season. The league must do whatever it takes to reach an agreement or face the biggest sports PR disaster since the Major League Baseball strike, nearly 17 years ago.

Remembering, Rediscovering The Alamo

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

If you know me well you know that I’ve been talking about getting back to San Antonio for a visit for some time now.  Last week I made it happen. And though  I won’t tell you the exact year when I was last there, let’s just say it was some time ago and they were still holding World’s Fairs. A lover of both history and mystery, I especially wanted to return for a visit to an iconic monument; one which portends lessons on news, fame and myth vs. legend: The Alamo.

Though I was not born in time to experience first hand Disney’s 1950s branding/merchandising of Davy Crockett through television, actor Fess Parker’s later TV portrayal of a coonskin capped predecessor, Daniel Boone, coupled with John Wayne’s rendition of Crockett on the silver screen had me hooked (and soon sporting both a fur hat and play rifle from Disney World). I was far from alone. Crockett in Texas was portrayed as a patriot – there for the sole purpose of fighting for freedom.

In later years, I have read much of the trials of Texas’s revolution and eventual separation from Mexico, fueled and inspired by the sacrifices of 200 men against an army of more than 2,000.  I learned even more on this trip. It is quite interesting to compare and contrast the transmittal of news then (1836) and now.  Through the 13 day siege prior to the final assault, Alamo commander William Travis, just 26, was able to deliver via courier, several letters to Sam Houston on the state of the situation. Many were published verbatim in area newspapers and an army was eventually raised, although not in time. It would take nearly a week for the General to hear of the Alamo’s fall.

At 49 years of age and following two terms in Congress, David Crockett was easily the Alamo’s most famous defender. He was, in fact, one of America’s first true celebrities, immortalized in books and plays of the day and covered in the paper – the mass media of the day. In the wrong place at the wrong time (he came to Texas, despite legend, not to fight but to stake claim to land and reinvigorate his political career), his exact fate – whether perishing in battle or executed afterward – continues to be hotly debated to this day.

At the time, Crockett’s whereabouts were questioned in newspapers across the country days, weeks and even months after the March 6th battle.  Some had him back hunting bear in his native Tennessee, others confined to a life of slavery in the Mexican mines. Eventually, eyewitness accounts from survivors settled the debates.

For me and no doubt any history lover it is all quite fascinating: from the dedication of men destined for immortality, to how the story was originally told and reported, to how it continues to be reexamined and oten retold more than 175 years later.

A TV Station Loses Its GM, News Director and Two Anchors. Really?

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

After a day of news catch-up following a “real vacation” (no cell phone, texting, email, Web or Social Media for a week), there’s one story that still has me thinking. There’s fast-moving change in the media. Then there’s this story.

All of us who follow the media business closely knew changes would occur after ABC/Disney sold WJRT-TV in Flint. The business and that community are too different now since the mega-owner bought that station 16 years ago. But nobody was expecting what happened last week.

It really all started a month ago when longtime General Manager Tom Bryson, who served for decades, retired. This was not surprising as new ownership likes to bring in its “own guy” and Bryson apparently saw a window to retirement. He was a “throwback” GM – a recognized long-term leader in the community, not just an exec climbing the corporate ladder while passing through town. Check out this video of his retirement party, not the typical cake in the newsroom affair but a fundraiser attracting the top leadership from the Flint area.

Fast forward just a couple of weeks and in one fell swoop, the new ownership dramatically altered the station. They fired News Director Jim Bleicher, a veteran himself of more than 20 years at the same station with a reputation of being one of the nicest and most solid people in all of TV news. Both of those qualities are unusual for a TV News Director (the average tenure in that profession, at one time anyway, was 18 months to 3 years). Right after that, new ownership fired the station’s main anchor, Bill Harris, who had been at WJRT since 1977, as well as the weekend anchor and frequent lead reporter, Joel Feick who had been on the air there since 1983. Here’s a report from a trade website with the details.

The faces of the station in the business community, to its audience and to the broadcasting industry – icons all – are now all out of their jobs. Why? My simple, educated guesses are the typical reasons, power and money. New ownership wants their own GM and ND to run the station their way. That probably means a higher mandated profit margin than even Disney had demanded. So relatively high-priced talent is out the door.

This is far from an isolated case, just an extreme one as far as the timing. The position with the worst job security in broadcasting right now is on the anchor desk. Stations feel they can cut there and sacrifice only salary. But here’s the irony – one of the reasons they are cutting is “increased competition” from other news sources, namely the Internet. But how can TV news, when done well, distinguish itself from other sources? Local personality. TV stations should heed the lesson of the radio stations that dropped their personalities to save money, while bemoaning the competition of the iPod.