Saturday, November 20, 2010

why do those fish keep swimming in the barrel?

an open letter

Dear former Governor Palin:

It appears that you have managed to put together your second book in two years, all the while traversing the lower 48 on behalf of your grizzly cubs, decrying the free media while accepting paid media opportunities, and communicating directly with your fans and acolytes via digital media.

Now there's some leakage from this book, including the following line:

"Do you ever wonder where the producers of American Idol come up with the seemingly endless supply of people who can’t sing but are deluded enough to get up in front of a national television audience and screech out a song anyway?"

let's play a fun word game for a moment, and do the following with some words:

If you replace producers with parties, people with candidates, sing with lead, and song with speech in this line, would you be talking about yourself?

"Do you ever wonder where the parties come up with the seemingly endless supply of candidates who can’t lead but are deluded enough to get up in front of a national television audience and screech out a speech anyway?"


Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking Back on Reunions

Over the past 25 years, I’ve been to literally dozens of reunions. There have been work related reunions, High School reunions, College reunions. Hell, even funerals these days are reunions by another name.

But clearly, here in America, we place great weight on our high school and college reunions. Having recently attended one of each, and having attended widely divergent schools for high school and then college, I thought I would share some observations.

First off, nothing ever really changes.

Remember the beautiful but distant girl who would never talk to you, dated guys much cooler than you, and then disappeared. Well, she still won’t talk to you, and even with nametags, the silence suggests she doesn’t even remember you. That is if she even bothers to attend. (Girls, replace girl with guy. You get it.)

Remember the person who was a bore back then. Well, they’re even more boring now. Which means they try to take even more of your time. Which makes the, ‘excuse me, I see the canap├ęs are being handed out on the other side of the room, I better go’ line that much harder to employ.

Secondly, not all of us look as lean and lithe as we did way back when. From high school, the cool guys really didn’t turn out all that well. They’ve gained the most weight, have the least interesting jobs, and don’t speak that highly of their exes. From college, the cool guys made the most money, date supermodels, don’t care any more about their exes, and travel regularly.

So Porsches trump Camaros, but I suppose we always knew that.

Third, nobody plays sports anymore, regardless of their level of activity in their youth. Sure, there are weekend duffers, and yoga devotees, but with one or two exceptions, mostly for solo sports like bicycling and running, physical competition has long since left the building.

And the most telling point, particularly with regard to nothing really changes, is that whatever you were back in high school, with rare exceptions, you still are today, 30 years later.

For example, those at the top of the graduating class still remember the order rank for themselves and their classmates, and click it off like they are running down the states that went from Democrat to Republican in the mid-term election. Hey, it’s been 30 years. You’ve graduated from a fucking Ivy League school, have 2.5 kids, a home in the Westchester suburbs, and still this shit matters to you. Gimme a break. Why do you need to reinforce this, particularly among the people who are already on this road with you. And why do you still have to turn down your nose at the others?

On the other hand, the folks who lived on the edge in the 70’s, smoking and drinking, and engaging in serial youthful indiscretions, seem to still revel in that, as though it’s not just a badge, but a lifestyle. Again, it’s been 30 years. What are you up to now?

A big difference is that high school kids are more inclined to talk about injuries, overcoming physical obstacles or limitations, than college friends, who would probably prefer to hire counsel to take care of that cancer scare, or the restrictions resulting from that accident.

But while nothing ever really changes, you do find out that high school was really just a phase for some people, and that for these folks, they were neither scarred, tarnished, nor handicapped by that time and place. And these folks, ironically people who have moved away from home, mostly great distances, and in each instance to communities significantly different than the close-in NYC burbs, seemed to have not only grown the most, but seem most comfortable and at ease. And they were the most revealing, and the most interesting to talk with, whether early in the evening, or later at night, when libations somehow still managed to flow.

Perhaps it’s what I get out of these events, but connecting with someone I either knew briefly, not that well, or in some cases, not at all, but with whom there was a shared experience (a bus ride to school for several years, a class, or just attendance at the same school for a year or so), makes the time and the effort involved in getting to these things quite worthwhile. And in that sense, whether it’s a meeting of former blue collar kids in an Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in Yonkers, or overachieving high flying Ivy Leaguers on the main green in Providence, that shared experience, whenever it was, provides us with the foundation for a conversation, and a reminder of who we are, and how we got there.

As for where we go from here, I am ever more convinced that relatively few of us have a clue, except for those who are living out their dreams, following the path they set upon a while back, and nailing it. But I do know that with a class of high school kids who are now everything from repairmen to milkmen to bra-fitters to court reporters and even anesthesiologists, we’ve got the bases covered. And the makings for another helluva party, if we ever find a way to get together again.

And I still think it would probably remain a good idea to keep my HS buds and my college pals apart. Was never certain if Porsches and Camaros mixed. Or how that would work. That would be a test of how the rubber meets the road!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What should journalists know?

Looking for suggestions on points and ideas for a project I'm putting together on the important things that all journalists should know. It's intended for students, mostly undergraduate students, but could also be applied by grad students in J school. Any and all suggestions are welcome. If anecdotal, share the anecdote. Reinforcement helps.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Journalism redux: Things Seem to Happen in Threes

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a number of examples of radio and television journalists who have stepped over the ethics line, and been slapped back into place by their bosses.

First, Juan Williams made offensive remarks on FOX News about his perspectives on traditional Muslims, and was summarily fired from his other job, at NPR, for those remarks.

Then, in a matter that received much less attention than the first, two Anchorage based television news producers with KTVA CBS 11 were fired from their jobs for making inflammatory statements about the campaign that Joe Miller was running for Alaska's Senate seat. Not only did the producers challenge the integrity of Millers' campaign supporters, but they allegedly joked about using their newsroom positions to denigrate Miller and his campaign in reporting.

And in the capstone to all this, MSNBC's top host, Keith Olbermann, was suspended indefinitely (ultimately for two shows) after it was revealed that he had made financial contributions to three Democratic candidates in the fall 2010 mid-term elections.

In each instance, these journalists engaged in inappropriate, unethical, or offensive behavior. Each deserved to be punished, and to be chastised for what they did.

But for NPR to fire Juan Williams for the statements he made on FOX, when asked his opinion, smacks of political correctness, and suggests that NPR not only overstepped, but was looking for a way to remove Williams from public radio. Fining him, or taking him off the air for a period of time, would have been an acceptable response. But firing, without pretense, and with little cause (remember, his 'action' occured on another network, in another medium), was not only excessive, but ham handed. (When was the last time you heard of a person fired over the phone, let alone a ten year employee) Perhaps NPR will learn how to discipline staff in a more responsible, open and transparent manner in the future.

As for KTVA and Millergate, in this instance, firing these two producers for their inappropriate comments was excessive. Clearly, these individuals stepped out of bounds with their comments, comments recorded on the cell phone of Miller's campaign press secretary. But to summarily fire producers for inane comments, or for mocking politicians, hell, where would we be? Who would we have to cover campaigns? How would we have those gridiron dinners, and such, here in DC each year, where pols are publicly mocked by the 4th estate? Mocking candidates, campaigns, and politicians may not be the world's oldest profession, but it's certainly up there. Crossing a line doesn't justify things, but summarily firing these folks was rash, particularly when suspensions and fines could have had the same effect. After all, Miller supporters, and right-wingers nationwide, still will not harbor any love for KTVA and its' news team, even after this firing. And ripping apart a newsroom to make a point doesn't suggest this is a team that will be moving forward as a unit to advance to the next stage after this incident.

As for Keith Olbermann, the light slap he received from MSNBC is way too minimal for an offense that is perhaps the most significant of the three referenced here. It was words that got Williams and the KTVA producers in hot water. Words. Important words, but not actions. Olbermann took action, and committed $7200 to Democratic candidates, in clear violation of NBC and MSNBC policy, regardless of what he says. Journalists of any character know that among the cardinal rules, primary among them is not to contribute to a candidate for office. How Olbermann missed that, after 25 years in the business, and how he manages to apologize to his audience, but not his MSNBC bosses, particularly after they let him off easy, iss churlish and insincere.

We may differ on the merits on each of these matters, or the justice in any one of them, but for journalists in electronic media, the lessons we must remember in this digital age is to be responsible, remember you're always on, and to focus your contributions or philanthropy to those organizations that are legitimate non-profit entities.