Monthly Archives: August 2008

Sarah Palin, public perception and running

Uhh, would we have felt better if John McCain had picked another old white man to stand next to him? Nah. C’mon. Give Sarah Palin a break. If nothing else, she’s a runner.

I’ll admit that her resume is a little thin. But when did being underqualified stop us from electing someone to political office, federal, state or local? Good grief.  We elected George W. twice — for president.

And I’ll admit that I’m almost certain to support and vote for Obama/Biden. I think this country is on the wrong path. We’re running in the wrong direction.  And we need change — fast.

Yet in a way that last notion — change — intrigues me about McCain’s selection of Palin. She’s certainly someone outside the Beltway. Good for her. And would McCain have been better off picking someone else. Let’s see.

Mitt Romney — OMG. I don’t think even McCain liked him.

Tim Pawlenty — Yawn.

Tom Ridge — You can only have one candidate from Pennsylvania. It’s Biden.

Joe Lieberman — Good luck. Would McCain have received any votes from Republican conservatives?

So it comes down to this. McCain, a Beltway insider, is going to run as a maverick — someone who will change things. And standing next to him, instead of Mitt, Tim, Tom or Joe, is Sarah. Let’s see what the public perception is of her in the next week or so.

As best I can tell at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, here’s the prevailing view about Sarah Palin right now, expressed by Linda Bergthold, writing in the The Huffington Post, “The VP Choice that Lost the Presidency for McCain.”

We’ll see. Helping to create — or change — the public’s perception is one reason why so many PR people are gainfully employed throughout this great country.

And who knows. If the early view of Palin changes and she gets to move inside the Beltway, maybe she’ll invite me for a run during one of my trips to D.C.

Hey. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon 20 some years ago. I still know my way around the nation’s capital.

Gustav, conventions and public relations

Well, this should be interesting. Tropical Storm Gustav is heading toward the Gulf Coast — expected to reach land as a hurricane at about the same time GOP delegates are slamming into Minneapolis-St. Paul. With any luck the Republicans will do the most damage. But that is if the convention is held at all.

Republican officials, according to stories in The Washington Post, USA Today and other outlets, are considering delaying the convention. Given the debacle that helped define the Bush administration three years ago post-Katrina, I’m sure John McCain and others don’t want to be seen yucking it up in Minneapolis if people are treading water along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans.

I hope this doesn’t happen. I can’t imagine New Orleans rebounding from another big hit from a hurricane. But the situation does provide some lessons in public relations and crisis management. It also now provides a nightmare for event planners.

Here’s from The Washington Post article, “GOP Considers Delaying Convention“:

For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain’s formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee.

Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be dubious. “Senator McCain has always been sensitive to national crisis,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, noting that the senator postponed announcing his presidential candidacy in 2000 because of the war in the Balkans. “We are monitoring the situation very closely.”

Then as usual we get to the public relations challenge.

Staging a convention during a major natural disaster would be a public relations challenge for either political party. But GOP officials say the burden could be especially heavy for their party, whose reputation was tarred by the Bush administration’s bungling of Katrina and its aftermath in 2005.

And what should the “Bungler-in-Chief” be doing about all this?

“He’s involved, engaged, and getting briefings and working to make sure that the federal assistance is there, but that obviously state and local authorities have responsibilities,” press secretary Dana Perino says [in an article in USA Today]. “And by all accounts and purposes, they are following through on those.”

Bush is scheduled to speak at the convention Monday night.

“We’ll just continue to watch it, do what we need to do to make sure that all the plans are in place to make sure evacuations are implemented, that we provide for the other types of materials that they need, or — in terms of wood, or if they need ice — wood for boarding up windows,” Perino says.

OMG. I bet Dana Perino can’t wait for her tour of duty to be over.

OK. Let’s hope Gustav fizzles in the Gulf. And let’s give John McCain and his advisors some credit for signaling early that the GOP convention would have to take a back seat to developments in New Orleans and elsewhere. Delaying the convention would be a logistical and financial crisis — but if there is a real crisis in this country caused by a hurricane or anything else, putting the brakes on the convention would be the right thing to do. Sometimes that defines public relations better than anything else.

Fox News and objectivity: the joke’s on us

I’ll admit that I haven’t seen many of the speeches at the Obama/Biden/Clinton convention. Most of the big hitters don’t make it to the plate until after I’m asleep at 10 p.m. But I do catch a lot of the cable news shows. That’s fun these days because the cable news pundits on CNN, MSNBS and Fox have finally abandoned the notion that objectivity is the standard for news reporting. Game on.

And of all the changes taking place now that are reshaping the news media — the fact that the era of “he said/she said” journalism is all but over is huge. That’s one of the reasons for the success of The Huffington Post. You see this point-of-view journalism in virtually every blog being written now by reporters and other pundits. And you have commentators — like Lou Dobbs on CNN — who have gained big audiences and ratings by not even pretending to be fair and balanced.

Then you have Jon Stewart. He’s broadcasting The Daily Show (the primary source of news for the new wave of young voters, IMO) from the convention. And he had some thoughts about the “real” news business earlier this week, as reported by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post article, “No Joke: Jon Stewart Takes Aim At 24-Hour Cable News Beast.”

Jon Stewart ripped the cable news networks Monday as a “brutish, slow-witted beast” and castigated Fox News in particular as “an appendage of the Republican Party.”

Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the “Daily Show” host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan is an insult “to people with brains” and that only “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace “saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker. . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they’d figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster.”

Ouch. But hey. Maybe Stewart knows what he is talking about. After all, The New York Times suggested that he is the most trusted man in America.

But it is a change now working its way throughout journalism — and it doesn’t just involve Fox News. If Fox is heading right — then MSNBC is racing just as hard in the opposite direction. We will see how soon The New York Times, Washington Post, et al, get into the race. My guess is pretty soon.

And one more thing about the story involving Stewart and Fox News. Kurtz asked for a comment from the news guys and gals. Here it is — and it’s pathetic, from the standpoint of public relations and journalism.

A Fox News spokesman, who was authorized to give the network’s response to Stewart’s comments but declined to be named, replied that “Jon’s clearly out of touch,” citing a Pew Research Center study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats. “But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon, as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year’s Oscars telecast.”

The Fox News spokesman declined to be named; and Kurtz let him/her get away with it.

And you wonder why more and more people get their news from The Daily Show.

LOL

Haruki Murakami and Kent State

Well, I was thinking this morning while running about how much my life has changed recently. Yet how much it has remained the same. Fall Semester classes begin today at Kent State. This is the first time in nine years that I won’t be in the classroom — or working with senior-level public relations students at Flash Communications, Kent’s student-run public relations agency. I’m going to miss that association with students, in the classroom and on the job.

I still consider myself a teacher — although I’m retired from that now and back writing and doing PR work with Corporate Voices for Working Families. And I’m still running.

In fact yesterday I passed the 1,000 mile mark. And in the 26 or more years I have been running, I have only been under 1,000 miles for the year once — a few years ago because of a tennis injury. No more tennis.

Running 1,000 miles a year isn’t a great accomplishment. But doing it consistently for 25 years or more must say something. And I wish now I would have tried to have said it in a book. Just like the one I finished reading yesterday by Haruki Murakami, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Murakami is a well-known author with an international reputation and following. He also is a runner — completing some 25 marathons and a handful of triathlons. I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his novels. Maybe I will now. But what attracted me to the book were the similarities between the two of us when it comes to running — and what it has meant to our lives.

Here’s a few.

Murakami is 59; I’m 60. He began running in 1982; I started in 1981. While he doesn’t say this in the book, he has to be running around or more than 1,000 miles a year. When preparing for a marathon or doing what he calls other serious running, he pounds the pavement for about 150 miles or so a month. And he is still running marathons. Something that is out of the question for me at this point. But like me, running changed his life — for the better. And, yeah, he goes to bed by 10 p.m. and describes himself as a “morning person.”

He writes: “It’s a lifestyle, though, that doesn’t allow for much nightlife, and sometimes your relationships with other  people become problematic.”

And one more passage from his book:

“Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”

I agree. And even though I’m not at Kent State in the classroom or with students today, I’m still running. And still writing.

So it goes.

A wake-up message from Barack

Well, I’m writing this at 5 a.m. Saturday. But I’ve been up for about 90 minutes, drinking coffee, reading and getting ready to run. And I’ll admit it. I’m impressed that Barack Obama knew almost exactly what time I was going to get up before sending the text message that he has selected Joe Biden to be his running mate.

Here’s from the OnPolitics blog in USA Today, written by Mark Memmott and Jill Lawrence.

It’s 3:42 a.m. ET and the news is now confirmed. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware has been chosen by Sen. Barack Obama to be the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee.

This post began, at 1:31 a.m. ET, with word that the Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times were all independently reporting Biden was the choice — citing unnamed officials with knowledge of the decision who spoke anonymously because they didn’t want to comment on-the-record before Obama’s campaign makes an official announcement.

Then, at 3:21 a.m. ET, we got our copy of the text message blast that the Obama campaign said all along it would use to announce the VP choice. It reads:

“Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3 p.m. ET on http://www.BarackObama.com.”;

The campaign has also posted the news on its website.

Looks like Mark and Jill had to stay up all night waiting for the text message. That’s good. Someone has to provide content for these blog posts. And I wonder if the dead-tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal will have the story. Haven’t heard the thud on the porch as yet. I’ll check as I leave for my run in about 30 minutes.

And I wonder what John McCain will do with his VP announcement. Can’t believe he is up at 3:30 a.m. texting people.

Jon Stewart: America’s News Anchor

While I was running this morning I was still thinking about what has happened in the past few years to the Akron Beacon Journal. You know. Sale to Black Press Ltd. Declining advertising and print circulation. Staff reductions. Defections of key reporters to The Plain Dealer. On and on. But it’s not just the Beacon Journal.

I’ve mentioned this previously. In my journalism classes at Kent State, at the beginning of every semester I would conduct a little in-class survey. How many read the printed edition of a newspaper regularly? A handful. How many get news and information from Google, Yahoo or similar sites? Maybe half the class. How many listen to radio news? Hehe. How many watch the network newscasts? A few. Local TV news? Yeah, maybe half the class of about 20 or so. How many watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart? Almost all hands straight up.

I think The New York Times has it right — in an article printed last Sunday: “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?”  Here’s from the article:

In 1999, the “Daily Show” correspondent Steve Carell struggled to talk his way off Senator John McCain’s overflow press bus — “a repository for outcasts, misfits and journalistic bottom-feeders” — and onto the actual Straight Talk Express, while at the 2000 Republican Convention Mr. Stewart self-deprecatingly promised exclusive coverage of “all the day’s events — at least the ones we’re allowed into.” In this year’s promotional spot for “The Daily Show’s” convention coverage, the news newbies have been transformed into a swaggering A Team — “the best campaign team in the universe ever,” working out of “ ‘The Daily Show’ news-scraper: 117 stories, 73 situation rooms, 26 news tickers,” and promising to bring “you all the news stories — first … before it’s even true.”

Though this spot is the program’s mocking sendup of itself and the news media’s mania for self-promotion, it inadvertently gets at one very real truth: the emergence of “The Daily Show” as a genuine cultural and political force. When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

Well, well. Jon Stewart: America’s news anchor. And why not? It’s a whole new news media world out there folks.

Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources.” That’s the most recent report on the news media from the Pew Center for the People and the Press. If you have any interest in journalism or public relations — or even if you are wondering why your local newspaper isn’t what it used to be — take the time to read this report. Here are a few highlights:

Since the early 1990s, the proportion of Americans saying they read a newspaper on a typical day has declined by about 40%; the proportion that regularly watches nightly network news has fallen by half.

These trends have been more stable in recent years, but the percentage saying they read a newspaper yesterday has fallen from 40% to 34% in the last two years alone. Newspapers would have suffered even greater losses without their online versions. Most of the loss in readership since 2006 has come among those who read the print newspaper; just 27% say they read only the print version of a daily newspaper yesterday, down from 34% in 2006.

I don’t get to watch Jon Stewart much. The Daily Show is on way too late at night for me. And this week I missed the early-evening repeats because of the Olympics.

Did Obama announce his VP choice yet? Maybe someone will send me a tweet. Not sure if Barack has my e-mail address or not.

Beach volleyball: I’m betting on the USA

OK. If you don’t want to know who won the gold in women’s beach volleyball stop now. Go to any of the A-list PR blogs. I’m sure they are still hotly debating the results of the PRWeek blogging contest.

But if you are interested in really important things, well, read on. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor kicked some volleyball butt last night (this morning?, yesterday morning?) to win the gold. Here’s the story (and photo) from the Los Angeles Times, which is interesting because it talks about what they plan to do now, their decisions not to begin families until after the Olympics, on and on.

Anyway, beyond demonstrating the obvious that Walsh and May-Treanor are outstanding world-class athletes, this story also provides some perspective on the state of the news media today. I ready read enough about the beach volleyball victory online before 4 a.m. this morning that I sure didn’t need to hear the thud of the Beacon Journal hitting the porch at 6:30 a.m.  to spur me to action. And I imagine that NBC would have liked to have kept this for prime time viewing — but impossible. (Please tell me it wasn’t on TV last night and I slept through it. I get up every day between 3:30 and 4 a.m. so I have a hard time keeping track of time/days in the USA let alone China.)

Also no surprise, we are well into the era where people like me get their news differently now than even a year or so ago. I sat in my office yesterday following the details of the plane crash in Spain via Twitter. But I didn’t know that Cleveland Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones had died until I turned on the local news at 6 p.m.

And if you follow the link to the Stephanie Tubbs Jones story it takes you to Ohio.com, the Akron Beacon Journal website. The story is from the Associated Press. In this morning’s print edition, the Beacon Journal printed a story written by two reporters from The Plain Dealer. I’m old enough to remember when they were separate papers.

Yesterday I wrote about the non-story that talked about newsroom cutbacks at the Akron Beacon Journal but provided no real details. At one point I really believe the Beacon Journal was an outstanding regional newspaper. Now I’m not sure it is even a good local paper — one with the reporting resources to cover a major story in its own backyard. Every time you eliminate a reporting/editing job you reduce coverage and the overall quality of the product. Too bad. Wonder if the publisher has given instructions to the last person leaving the newsroom that he/she should turn out the lights?

Beacon Journal offers buyouts — not much info

Came back from my run this morning and as usual took a look at the Akron Beacon Journal. The dead-tree edition. I like the printed versions of newspapers. And yeah, I know, it’s generational. When there are no more printed newspapers I’ll read online. In the meantime, I like to hold it, fold it and make just enough noise with it to irritate those around me.

But as just about everyone knows, newspapers are having a tough go of it these days. Too much competition on the Internet. Not enough advertising. On and on. Anyway, the Beacon Journal has been riding this sled down a steep hill for some years now: sale to a new owner, staff reductions, reduced coverage, etc. Yet in today’s paper — pretty much buried in what used to be known as the Business Section — was this article:

(Can’t find it online — which, of course, is a whole other issue. If few are reading the printed version, and the online version basically bites, well…)

Beacon Journal offering buyouts

The Akron Beacon Journal announced Tuesday that it is offering early retirement and buyout packages to all newsroom employees.

“We are offering these packages because of the economic downturn the newspaper industry is facing. The Beacon Journal is no exception,” editor and vice president Bruce Winges said. “We believe that these packages are a generous alternative to layoffs.”

The early-retirement package is available to employees 55 years and older. The buyout is available to all newsroom employees.

Ah, gee, Mr. Editor. And the rest of the story is…oops, that’s all there is. Are there going to be layoffs? How many? Why now? What’s this mean to readers? The community? You know.

Just two points here.

First, I’ve always been amused that newspapers (and other news organizations) are less open with the public than their own reporters demand in similar stories with other organizations. Think this story would have been reported differently if Goodyear, Akron General, Kent State had made the announcement?

Second, I don’t pretend to understand the economics of the newspaper business. So I don’t know what an acceptable level of profitability or return is. But unless a newspaper — like the Beacon Journal — is grossly overstaffed (which I seriously doubt) then every time a reporter or editor is let go it has to reduce coverage and diminish the product. The remaining staff can only do so much. And at some point you have to consider whether you have reduced the staff to such a level that the product is no longer worth the effort — to produce or read. When and if that happens, I think all of us lose — and not just here in Akron.

So it goes.

Obama, communications and beach volleyball

Another absolutely perfect early morning to run: mild, low humidity and no wind. And as I was putting in my five miles, I thought that I should at least occasionally talk about communications on this blog. So here goes. First, I have some advice for Barack Obama.

The speculation is that Obama is going to announce his choice for VP later this week — either Evan Bayh, Joe Biden or Tim Kaine, according to an article in The New York Times. Here’s my advice. Don’t make the announcement Thursday. As a nation, we can only deal with one major story at a time.

And Thursday night — well, that’s the finals for women’s beach volleyball. USA v. China. Karri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are going for the gold. And with all due respect to Bayh, Biden, Kaine, Clinton, et al, well, you know.

Then there is a big story emerging in Akron that will play out during the elections. Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic has proposed a big idea: leasing the Akron sewer system to a private company and using the proceeds to give scholarship money to the children of Akron residents. No big idea works its way onto the election ballot without controversy. And this is no exception. So a citizens’ group that opposes the plan will have its own initiative on the ballot. Oh, boy. A complicated ballot issue — with two competing choices.

I haven’t looked at either plan closely enough to know which — if either — actually makes sense. (And though my house is connected to the Akron sewer system, I won’t get to vote since I am not a resident of the city of Akron.) But here is my advice to the mayor. For his plan to have a chance, he is going to have to make this a debate over the economic future of Akron (more college grads, better jobs, economy, etc.) rather than helping Akron children get a college education. Why? Everyone in the area has a stake in jobs and the economy. Few these days care about education — particularly because most voters have no direct connection with the schools.

Here’s from a recent Gallup poll looking at education:

Just 29% of American adults have children in grades K-12, and of those, almost one in five don’t attend public schools, but rather attend private or parochial schools or are home-schooled. The majority of Americans therefore are not currently or directly involved in schools.

Few Americans mention education spontaneously as the top problem facing the nation today. Education, however, is an issue that has fundamental or basic importance to Americans, and it appears near the top when it is included in lists of issues to be prioritized.

Americans are much more positive when asked about the quality of education their children receive in their local communities, than when asked about the quality of education across the country.

Books such as The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman have underscored how important education can be, particularly in the sciences and engineering, but there is little data to show that Americans’ views on education have changed dramatically.

Now if I were reporting instead of just blogging, I should check with the Akron school system and see if the 29 percent figure makes sense locally. But then again, maybe reporters don’t do that kind of reporting any more either. It requires picking up the phone, or leaving the office to actually go talk to someone.

Here’s a section from a really interesting column by David Carr in The New York Times Monday, “Even Scandal Can Be News.”

Writing about the National Enquirer, Carr says:

Still, at a time when newspapers are cutting back in big whacks and chaining the remaining reporters they employ to their screens to feed all manner of deadlines and blogs, the National Enquirer puts reporters on the streets — in between tracking Kelly Ripa’s lack of body fat — and keeps them there.

“What we do harkens back to a golden age when newsrooms were full of people who would knock on doors and not take no for an answer,” Mr. Perel [National Enquirer editor] said. “A lot of organizations can’t afford to do it or seem to have lost their appetite for it.”

Yep. Given that many reporters these days are being forced to do way more with way less, here’s my last point today related to communications. PR people — when you are writing quotes for use in news releases these days, pretend that someone will actually print it. Gone are the days when we struggled over every word in a pretend quote — only to have it rejected immediately by the reporter. Now. Well, hey, it’s better than nothing and the only effort required is to hit copy and paste. So, come on — let’s try to make the quotes at least somewhat conversational and maybe even credible.

Here’s an example from a story about Myers Industries in today’s Akron Beacon Journal.

”Our objective with the initiatives announced here today is to further improve our manufacturing network and processes to minimize operating costs and maximize customer satisfaction,” John C. Orr, president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. ”That includes rationalizing our manufacturing footprint to lower overhead and distribution costs, improve operational effectiveness and reduce working capital requirements. In doing so, we will be better positioned to serve our customers with the products they need, manufactured at the right location for the customer, and delivered when they need them.”

OMG. I know John Orr. We spent many a pleasant Saturday and Sunday afternoon standing on the sidelines watching our daughters play soccer. And actually talking about a lot of things that actually made sense. At least to me. Minimize…maximize…and footprint. Oh, my.

Beach volleyball, anyone?

A long weekend inside the Beltway

Well, I’m back. I was in Washington most of last week with my new gig, Corporate Voices for Working Families.  And I had the opportunity to be involved again with an announcement that actually did have some news value and received some national news coverage, in print and online. The idea was to recognize members of Congress for their personal and legislative support of polices that help working families.

One of the many things I’ve learned during the past few months is that Congress has no uniform set of polices that govern how each member operates his or her own office. In effect, each operates as an independent, small business — and the range of benefits provided to staffers varies widely.  So Corporate Voices in conjunction with Working Mother magazine highlighted the “best of Congress.”

And being in Washington gave me the opportunity to spend some time gawking at the memorials and other landmarks. During all the years that I’ve been going to D.C. I always try to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the Wall. I did that Saturday, during a walking tour that took me from the Washington Monument to beyond the Tidal Basin. (I had a longer tour on foot during the mid-1980s during the Marine Corps Marathon. But that’s another story.)

Anyway, the emotional pull to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial remains just as strong for me today as the first time I visited years ago. Maybe because Vietnam was my generation’s war — although thankfully, I was able to sit it out at Kent State during my first tour of duty at the university now almost 40 years ago. Still, there is the starkness of the Wall — listing more than 58,000 names.  And people throughout this nation and around the world — family, friends, strangers — still leave items at the base of the Wall to salute those who went to Vietnam and never returned.

This is all history now of course. Many strolling through the park were not alive during Vietnam. And I sat on a park bench Saturday listening the the park rangers and veterans talk about Vietnam and the memorial. And I thought to myself, good grief. How did we as a nation let that happen?

And how many names will there be on a Wall honoring those who don’t come back from Iraq?

Even though it seems the presidential election has been going on now for four years, the nominating conventions begin next week. Let’s see if there is some serious discussions of issues: Iraq, the economy, education.