Saturday, November 8, 2008

How about a little fun with a Golden Cow?

Enough of the serious stuff for awhile. Last night my wife and were returning from a nice dinner (Luca's Chophouse in Grand Blanc - pretty good) and the conversation turned to something and Joan's response was:

"Just have to keep riding the golden cow."

We both know she meant this as a metaphor for something, but this was as twisted a metaphor as I ever heard. We laughed all the way home as I tried to dissect her meaning.

Was it something to do with a golden calf? Was it riding a winning horse? Did it have something to do with a golden goose? Not a clue.

I wouldn't let it rest. Call it one of the hazards of living with a writer.

So if you could help us decipher this mixed metaphor it would be greatly appreciated. Also if you have some examples of twisted metaphors of your own, please share.

But by all means, keep riding that golden cow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Radio suffering from the same "newspaper" vision

The entire following post was sent to me from a loyal freefromeditors reader:

A must read for radio people... "After the Cuts- An Open Letter"ShareToday at 10:49am

The events of the last few days have made me proud to be an American. Believe me, I'm not one of those real verses fake Americans that was created in the presidential campaign, I just think we are all so fortunate to live in a country as wonderful as this. No matter who you voted for, you had to get a bit misty eyed watching history unfold before us in Chicago, and New York, and on the streets and cities in the US and around the world.

I am also proud to be a broadcaster, and yes, an American Broadcaster. The amazing pictures of the throngs of people truly excited to see the change from the long dark night that defined the last few years got me to thinking, I can't remember a time when the streets were filled with people after an election .. mostly young people ... mostly young people excited and hopeful for the future of the country they want it to be. One can't help but be inspired.

Is it possible that we can exhibit the same leadership and inspiration in the radio business that we saw on TV and heard on the radio from President Elect Obama? Is it possible for us to re-think the entire radio industry and move beyond the cuts? I believe it's fair to suggest that the past few years have not been radio's best. There has been much written about it so I won't go into the past by finger pointing as to the blame.

There is plenty to go around.

Is it possible for us to realize that for radio to succeed in attracting future generations of listeners, we must fundamentally change our whole way of thinking about the way we program, sell, engineer, market, finance, and LEAD the next generation of radio staff, advertisers, and listeners.

In the next 12 months, I believe you will see a continuation of a contraction in the radio business. It WILL get smaller in staff size AND IF WE ARE NOT CAREFUL, listener size.

What will radio look like ... AFTER THE CUTS?

How can we redeploy the limited resources available to make our medium exciting and attractive again? How do you make the cuts, yet leave the creativity and intact? Right now, in the autumn of 2008, we have the opportunity to define the NEXT GENERATION OF RADIO. If we have the leadership and understanding, vision, and the will to win, we can make our business succeed well beyond the current, outdated ... hang on it's going to get bad ... mentality that is the norm today.

I make a living successfully positioning radio stations and other media platforms. I advise company leaders on the right direction by reading the trends that will shape our world over the short to medium term. Radio will not be able to begin redesigning its future until it ends the cutting. The sooner it ends, the better off you will be. There can be no creative process in the atmosphere of fear.

Never before has there been so much opportunity for radio than there is today. We have so much going for us, but in order for radio to succeed in the next decade we are going have to change the way we approach the advertisers, consumers, and potential creative talent that might NEVER CONSIDER RADIO. Why? Because we are not telling the great story we already have!

I don't believe radio has a perception problem ... I believe radio has a reality problem in addition to the perception problem! Lest we forget, there are still a few amazing facts that would be the envy of every Internet start up or large online portal.

Can you imagine a business that is already distributed to 100% of the online computers, cars, and homes throughout America?

Can you imagine a national medium that already has a local sales organization in place in every city and town in this country?

Can you imagine a technology that 100% of the consumers already know how to use? (On, off, tune!)

This is where we have the perception/reality problem.

Even Google does not have the incredible local distribution and reach that we have. So why do we have a perception problem?

Answer - We are NOT doing the basics well.

We are defending the past rather than embracing the future.

In the past few months, I have spoken to many Internet company CEO's about the incredible cume that radio has. Not one CEO ever even thought about considering radio as a means to attract consumers. Why? No one told them! In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to speak to many creative, talented, young people who capture million of hits on everything from Face Book to You Tube about considering radio as a creative outlet. Not one ever considered radio as an option. Why? No one asked them!

The reality is that we have NOT embraced the new technology fast enough to capture the next generation of listeners.

The reality is we are NOT attracting young, creative people to our companies.

The reality is we are NOT embracing new creative ideas in order to attract a new generation of listening.

The reality is we are NOT leading the charge of radio innovation using all of the above.

For those of you that disagree, perhaps you have some individual story of innovation you might point to, ("Well, at my station we bla, bla, bla ...") and I get it! But by and large we are still operating like it was 1998 except we have stopped marketing, researching, innovating, and listening to our employees, advertisers, and listeners.

If we expect to stop the erosion of revenue and time spent listening, we had better start designing our companies for the future instead of the past or present. This will require vision, focus, creativity, and above all, leadership.

As someone who ran a few large radio companies and stations, I understand and accept the financial reality that plagues us all right now. Advertisers are scared and not spending, costs are rising, competition is fierce and the future costs money. Radio operators have to cope with on line expenses not contemplated in 1998.

So perhaps we might take a cue from the millions of people assembled in Bryant Park on election eve that it's time for a radio extreme makeover. It's time to consider changing the way we operate our radio stations and companies by embracing new ideas, fostering innovation, and redesigning the way we operate day to day. And after the cuts, consider the following,

Local, experienced management is the key to successful radio. Top down management may work for nationwide franchises, but the dynamics of local community broadcasting are best left in the local community.

It's time to put control back at the station level where it can really succeed with advertisers and listeners. 80% or our revenue is local, and 80% of the decisions should be too. The next generation of managers will not succeed if all they know how to do is manage expenses and write reports for corporate. They must be encouraged to look for talent in every department, and department heads must make a commitment to look beyond the provincial radio world for talented people.

The Internet is full of young, visionary people as is your city. Make it attractive to work at the station by offering them the creative outlet they crave beyond AM and FM.

Radio is more than AM and FM broadcasting today. Invest in distribution to where the people are by using your station to promote alternative listening and participation. Strong radio brands are money in the bank if you distribute to where the people are.

There simply must be more investment in Internet, and mobile platforms. Radio brands can transcend their own current distribution by putting the emphasis on content, and then push it to every viable platform.

Right now, there are thousands of advertisers looking for an economical way to keep their name in front of consumers, but it's not about selling spots, it's about offering ideas. Ideas require creativity beyond the on air copy. Management must be open to new ideas. The notion that it worked five years ago is totally outdated thinking. No one is doing business the way it was done before.


Listeners and advertisers are expecting their brands to change with the times. This recession, downturn, or whatever it is WILL RECOVER! When it does, radio has the ability to lead the way if we are in the right position to take advantage of it.

What is our life after the cuts?

Making cuts to reduce the cost of producing and presenting radio is necessary today, but putting the station in a position to succeed must also be considered. Radio can emerge as a more creative, innovative medium if it starts right now with the resources remaining.
The extreme makeover of radio must start at the top, the bottom, and the middle.

Now is the time to set the vision, provide the leadership, and execute the plan.

Best regards,
Bill Figenshu

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election post mortem, media loses

Finally, an end to the ads and phone calls. The house is strangely quiet as the robo calls fade into history. My wife is a school teacher and on the list for every Democrat phone list in existence.

I know that John McCain, a personal hero of mine, lost. I did not vote for him, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not vote for Barack Obama either. My honest belief is that the real culprit and problem in our country is the complicity of both major political parties.

Every four years we have this dance where they pretend to be different, but end up with the same old partisanship and the victors spend the next four years rewarding their districts with "bridges to nowhere."

The real loser in this election was the media. Between Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left we ended up not with real political vetting, but cheerleading for one candidate or the other.

I heard Chris Mathews say he got a "tingle" down his leg when he heard Barack Obama speak. There were stories of other reporters wearing Obama t-shirts to rallies. It was clear from the beginning (don't ask me, ask Hillary Clinton and Saturday Night Live) that the media was in the tank for one guy.

That is over the line. It used to be sacrosanct that newsrooms were supposed to be neutral. Reporters were supposed to be down the line neutral, even if their personal beliefs were for one side or the other.

From my experience, most reporters lean to the left, or at least to the Democrat Party. There are few reporters on the right in most U.S. newsrooms. Not a criticism, just a fact. During my career I never talked politics in the newsroom and rarely out of it. My politics are all over the map anyway, but I always believed as a reporter it was important that no one really know where I stood on political issues.

After Al Gore lost in 2000 we had some in the Flint Journal newsroom who were openly despondent over the loss. They spent endless hours following the court battles and loudly expressing their opinions.

These are the same folks who were covering races involving Democrats and Republicans. But when an outdoor writer was assigned to cover a gun rights issue, many expressed the opinion that he could not be "impartial" because he was a hunter. The hypocrisy is blatant.

One of the editors at the paper routinely visited on the phone with Democrat operatives and sources, sometimes offering advice. Again, totally over the line.

I understand that at some point during the recent campaign the editor had to remind his staff in an e-mail they were to try and remain impartial and avoid campaign pins and yard signs.

It was true again in 2004. So the idea that reporters are somehow neutral, impartial observers is simply bogus. It is also lamentable. Hopefully, the fawning attention of Barack Obama will at least turn back to some honest reflection and introspection on their role in keeping tabs on the new administration.

On Monday, the paper took a hit for an anti-Obama news wrapper sponsored by the NRA. On Wednesday it led the paper with a headline that had Obama's name in red-white and blue. I just don't remember any other President who had his name run in a headline like that.

Readers and viewers have to trust that the information they are getting is even-handed and fair. As an insider for 30 years I can tell you that is bogus.

My hope and prayer is that the news media will take a long hard look at how it covered this campaign and reform itself, but I'm not sure that will happen.

At one point Barack Obama (see this You Tube: seemed to indicate he believed there were 57 or 59 states. That was beyond any gaffe uttered by Dan Quayle, even the famous plural potato spelling (a word many reporters have trouble with) and yet, little or nothing came of that on left leaning news organizations or Saturday Night Live.

Look, clearly Sarah Palin was not ready to be President. She was the governor of a small state, something like having a President from Arkansas, but the treatment of her inexperience, compared to that of the relative inexperience of Barack Obama is startling. Joe Biden makes a gaffe a minute and I don't have room here to list all the You Tube versions, but "the three letter word J-O-B-S," comes to mind. We'll see if my favorite programs "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," or Keith Olbermann find the same enthusiasm for making fun of Biden as they did of McCain and Palin.

In the meantime, while the media made sure that Obama got the velvet glove treatment, third party candidates like Ralph Nader, Bob Barr and others were completely ignored. That was deliberate too. In 2000, the press realized that Nader bled off enough votes to ruin Gore's chances and they weren't going to let that happen again.

You can be biased in both what you report and what you don't report.

I know a lot of my former colleagues will not agree with me on this issue, but down deep where their journalism ethics live, they may see my point.

McCain and Palin got a thorough vetting, Barack Obama did not. And the fault lies at the feet of a complicit media. Even with equally tough treatment, Obama may have won, but now we'll never know.

It is my hope that the media will now resume the work it should have been doing all along and get back to being neutral observers and not cheerleaders. The country needs an impartial tough press, no matter where personal allegiances lie.

President Obama deserves everyone's support and he has mine. Is he up for the job? I really don't know, because the media really didn't question any of his "change" statements or his excessive promises. He raised more than a half a billion dollars from who knows? His broken promise to use public financing was very troubling.

Let's hope that in the future third party voices will be heard and included. It's really the only way to break the stranglehold on entitlements and perks that are currently supported by a corrupt two party system.

I'm still glad the calls and ads have stopped. Feel free to tell me where I'm wrong.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A final word on the NRA wrapper

I received this comment from someone inside the Journal: I'm posting it up front to explain a little better what happened with "The" wrapper.

"I totally agree with inky..

I think it's lame that the Flint Journal is blaming their carriers for this. The letter the carriers got on October 15th from the Journal stated: "NRA has provided The Flint Journal with special bags to be used with the delivery of Monday November 3rd. The Journal will pay participating carriers _______ for each newspaper delivered IN the special bag on that day"

Later on they changed their minds and told us to not put the papers in the bag, but to insert or roll them with the paper. This was not mailed out to us, and it seems that not everyone got the updated message.

Whether the bag was in the paper, rolled in the paper, or the paper was in the bag, isn't the problem. The Flint Journal should have just said "This is a paid advertisement, and we are in the business of making money on advertisements. Contact the NRA and complain to them." and been done with it..

The people out there making a big stink about this plastic bag are doing exactly what the NRA had hoped for. Getting the NRA's message out to an even bigger audience."

I could not agree more with anonymous.

"MIstake" Part Deux

For all its apologies on Monday and today, including a front page apology, today's Flint Journal, at least in the part of Lapeer County that I live in just came wrapped in the NRA wrapper again!

Do we get another apology tomorrow? Or will the paper just man up and admit it needs the money?

I take no offense at the wrapper, just the stupid, weak apology of its editor.

Here's an idea for newspapers

A reader of the blog asks, why not newspapers?

See link:

It's been a mystery to me since the Journal went on the Internet why the paper hasn't found a way to make a buck off the online news.

On occassion, I or other reporters would raise the issue at editorial meetings only to be patted on the head like children and told it was not an issue.

Bay City Times got it right

Here's how the Bay City Times (another Booth paper) handled the NRA wrapper:

About the NRA bag on papers Monday
Posted by The Bay City Times November 04, 2008 08:50AM
Categories: Community News, Election, Front Page and Local
The Bay City Times provided the bags that contained your newspaper Monday. Your carrier was not responsible for the bag's advertising message.
The Times accepts political advertising. The newspaper doesn't necessarily endorse the opinions of our advertisers. The Times publishes its choice for president on the editorial page, and did so there two Sundays ago.

Seems to me the Bay City Times handled it properly and effectively. Go to the above link if you want to see it in person and read the one comment.

Trust me, the papers need the money and now that the election is over that lucrative stream will dry up.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election eve NRA wrapper causes anger, apology

Imagine my surprise when I went to my Flint Journal box this afternoon and found my Monday Journal wrapped in a bag with a Pro-NRA, Anti-Obama message on it. See photo I took above.
My first reaction was the paper obviously received a chunk of money to put the newspaper in the bag, first to protect it from this morning's rainstorm, but lastly to put a little hard cash in the Journal register. (The date on my camera is incorrect and I'm too stupid to know how to fix it, the date should be 11/03/2008, but like the Journal, I apologize).

On my local weekly, there was a sticker promoting a local Republican candidate for the State House race and I didn't think much of it either.

But then I turned to and found that the Flint Journal had apologized to its readers and said the plastic bag wrapper was a "mistake." That really stretches credulity. The exact wording of the apology said the wrapper was supposed to be inside the paper.

Huh? Why would a plastic bag, the perfect size for a small newspaper to be rolled up inside be stuffed inside a newspaper? Doesn't make any sense at all.

Why not just admit you took a boat load of cash to wrap the newspaper in an ad and that your endorsement of Barack Obama trumps the ad anyway. Instead the paper is falling all over itself to claim the stuffing of the newspaper in the bag was a "mistake," wink, wink.
The string of comments are pretty amusing and I commend them to your reading. The link to the apology and the comments is here:

I smell another Columbia Journalism Review criticism coming soon.
Actually, with the folks here in Lapeer County, it was probably pretty well received. Judging by the comments on the Journal's website, not so much in Genesee County.

Dream trip over, photos to come

OK, I'm back from Gettysburg and a great weekend of learning and fun. This was a two day event and involved detailed study and visits to follow Lee's retreat following the third day of battle and then a close-up look and walk of Pickett's Charge.

I won't bore you with the details, but call it a Star Wars convention for Civil War buffs. Ed Bearss was as good a communicator and historian that you will ever find.

Now, I'll get back to the newspaper business and its current sadness.