Monthly Archives: April 2008

The news — oh, boy

I read the news today, oh, boy.

I actually thought that would be a clever opening. And maybe it is. But a Google search produced more than 300,000 hits. Oh, boy. Clearly, just like when I go to Starbucks, I never seem to be at the beginning of the line.

Yet here are a couple of items that caught my eye as I was scanning the Akron Beacon Journal this morning. All have some lessons involving news media relations.

It appears that Peter Raskind, National City Corp. chief executive, took a pay cut last year — to $3.4 million from $4.6 million in 2006. National City isn’t doing so great these days — and I guess Raskind is feeling the shareholders’ pain. In fact, the Beacon Journal said that Raskind told the Columbus Dispatch that shareholders have a right to be angry about National City’s performance and should hold him and other senior managers accountable. For $3.4 million I’d beg for their mercy and offer to come to their homes and do light cleaning. As usual, I digress. I’ve been banking at National City for 30 years or more. Go figure. (Lesson — when you’re putting $3.4 million in the bank — National City? — don’t try to score points with shareholders and employees who stand to lose a lot and can’t quite figure out how you and the other senior managers created this mess. Take a pay cut that really is significant. In this case, actions really would speak louder than words.)

And then there is Roger Clemens. This guy can’t catch a break. First his personal trainer links him to using steroids. Now “several people who asked not to be identified” said that the Rocket had a decadelong relationship with country singer Mindy McCready. Here’s the fun part:

Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, confirmed a long-term relationship, but told the newspaper [the Daily News] it was not sexual.

“He flatly denies having had any kind of an inappropriate relationship with her,” Hardin said. “He’s considered her a close family friend…He has never had a sexual relationship with her.”

Oh, boy. Have we ever heard that before? (Lesson: Once trust and credibility are lost don’t expect people to believe you or rush to your defense.)

And how about Miley Cyrus? One day, apparently, she was happy as could be with a provocative photo of her taken by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. But later the 15-year-old celebrity had second thoughts. According to the Beacon Journal story, Cyrus said Sunday through her publicist: “I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.” (Lesson: Talk to your publicist before you take your clothes off.)

Oh, boy. This will be on the cable news shows for at least the next several weeks. Thankfully the presidential election is over and the troops are home from Iraq. And I tagged this post Miley Cyrus. Don’t know if that means anything. But I sure don’t want to miss out on the media frenzy.

Ah, by the way. Who is Miley Cyrus?

And I couldn’t find references to any of these stories on the Beacon Journal’s Web site. Maybe the Beacon Journal is using its pathetic Web site as a way to keep readers like me buying the printed version.

Oh, boy.

Poetry and young writers

Congratulations to Mary Biddinger, poet and assistant professor at the University of Akron. She is featured in the “Book Talk” column in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning.

Mary just published a new collection of poems, Prairie Fever (available at http://www.steeltoebooks.com). And she is the editor for the Akron Series in Poetry at UA. She’s also an excellent teacher.

I know Mary because of my daughter, Jessica, also a poet and teacher.

Admittedly, this is a plug for Mary and her book. But I’m also trying to make a point. I wrote last week about studies documenting the decline in writing among young people because of the widespread use of text messaging. I’m sure there is some truth to this. But c’mon folks. How many of us can still do any math problem without using a calculator?

The problem isn’t text messaging. The problem is that we no longer teach at an early age the fundamentals of writing and grammar. And we don’t encourage young people to read. When we do, the result is some really excellent writing.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of the young writers listed on Mary’s blogroll.

Why young people can’t write — texting

I still believe writing is important. And when I talk to public relations professionals most tell me that is the No. 1 skill they look for in recent grads. We’ll see if that changes at all in the next few years as we move more toward online and social media.

I thought about that this morning when I read an article on EdNews.org: “Shakespeare Didn’t Blog. Author Says Texting and Testing Are Destroying Kids riting Style.” This looks to me like it may be a news release focusing on Jacquie Ream, who has written a book about writing called “K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple.” No matter. Here are a few paragraphs:

“We have a whole generation being raised without communication skills,” says Jacquie Ream, a former teacher and author of “K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple” (Book Publishers Network). She contends text messaging and the internet are destroying the way our kids read, think, and write.

A recent National Center for Education Statistics study reports only one out of four high school seniors is a proficient writer. A College Board survey of the nations [sic] blue-chip companies found only two thirds of their employees are capable writers.

Wonder if those employees are texting? LOL

Seriously — here’s a story in The New York Times, U.S. Students Achieve Mixed Results on Writing Test. It looks like it provided at least some of the information for the above news release/article. The article opens with the following:

About a third of the nation’s eight-grade students, and roughly a quarter of its high school seniors, are proficient writers, according to nationwide test results released Thursday.

IMO that isn’t much of an accomplishment — but what do I know? Again, from the article in The Times:

That a third of the nation’s eight graders can write with proficiency may not sound like much, but it is the best performance by eighth-grade students in any subject tested in the national assessment in the last three years. Only 17 percent of eight graders were proficient on the 2006 history exam, for example.

OMGYG2BK

Again from the article:

The results were released at the Library of Congress in Washington. The host, James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, drew laughs when he expressed concern about “the slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought — the sentence,” as young Americans do most of their writing in disjointed prose composed in Internet chat rooms or in cellphone text messages.

HUB

I’m sure that texting is part of the reason why writing skills have declined. And this isn’t going to change any time soon. According to IDC, a research company in Framingham, Mass., that tracks technology and consumer research estimates that by 2010 81 percent of Americans ages 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005.

So let’s hope that writing skills continue to be a priority for public relations professionals and others. But putting the blame solely on texting isn’t going to solve the problem. Better that we get back to stressing the fundamentials of writing — and reading — at about the same age (5) as kids apparently get a cellphone.

By the way, I read on one of the PR Web sites this morning that you need to Twitter these days if you are going to gain an audience for your blog postings. With Twitter, as I understand it, you can write anything you want as long as it doesn’t go beyond 140 characters. I’m in.

WTF

President Bush and spin

I’ll admit that I don’t know the exact definition of “spin” — from a public relations perspective. I guess it’s trying to put a smile face on everything. And I’m sure that during 30 years in corporate public relations I was as guilty of trying that (on occasion?) as the next guy.

But I have to say that I had a good laugh when I heard President Bush on the CNN news last night. He said we weren’t in a recession. We were just facing a slowdown. Well, I don’t know. I guess it is a matter of words — and in the case of the president — trust and credibility. How does the saying go? When your neighbor loses her job (or home) it’s a recession. When you lose yours it’s a depression.

Well, I clearly can’t figure it out. Maybe David Letterman can. Here goes.

Seriously folks. The problem is that most of us no longer believe what the president or members of his administration says. With little or no trust and credibility, it looks like all they have left is spin. Maybe words do matter.

The New York Times and military pooh-bahs

The weather here in Northeast Ohio really has been great these past few days. So I’m off the treadmill and back on the concrete for my morning runs. And without a garbage truck in sight this morning I had plenty of time to think about a few things. Here goes.

The New York Times printed an extensive article Sunday that raises some important questions. Namely, are the military pundits — those distinguished talking heads — that we see regularly on TV in bed with the Pentagon and defense contractors? Howard Kurtz looked at that situation in The Washington Post Monday. And Editor & Publisher opined yesterday as well. If true, guess who is getting screwed.

The New York Times article, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” is a long one. And you’ll need to read it to really understand the context for this next paragraph. But it will give you a sense for the story.

“Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used these analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.”

We spend a lot of time in my ethics class at Kent State talking about trust. If the allegations are true, then our trust in the administration and the news media takes another hit. It’s amazing that decision-makers can’t learn this lesson. Or maybe they don’t want to. And in this situation you would think that proper and timely disclosure would be all that is necessary. I’m sure I’m missing something.

But saying that — I wonder why it took The New York Times (or some other newspaper) five years to figure out that these retired military pooh-bahs might have conflicts of interest or be likely to receive special treatment by the Pentagon in return for special treatment on the airwaves? McCain’s right. This is going to be a 100-year war. Particularly if the few remaining strong media outlets — The Times, etc. — don’t have the resources or interest to question everything about this debacle in Iraq.

Then maybe The Times isn’t so strong financially anymore. An article in the New York Post yesterday focused on the rumors that The Times might be receptive to hooking up with Bloomberg LP. The article says:

“Bloomberg [New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg] aides are reportedly encouraging him to consider merging financial-information giant Bloomberg LP with the Times, which is under pressure from dissident shareholders to revive ad sales and unload assets to boost its sagging share price.”

So it goes.

The women’s marathon — on to Beijing

I ran in a drizzle this morning going five miles in about 45 minutes. A few hours later Joan Benoit Samuelson finished the women’s United States Olympic marathon trials in Boston in 2:49:08. See. I told you Friday she would break 2:50. Oh by the way. That’s a record for any American woman age 50.

Good for her. And great for the top three finishers: Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell.

Here’s a video. It’s not the greatest. But I guess it’s hard for the photographer to follow the runners for the entire 26 miles.

So now it’s on to Beijing. Gas masks anyone?

And this is great. I posted this ahead of the evening news. No wonder Katie Couric wants to go do something else.

The maration trials and personal success

I had one of those perfect runs this morning. Temperature in the middle 40s, no wind and no cars. At 5 a.m. it doesn’t get much better than that.

As I was running I thought about how much I would like to run one more marathon. That ain’t likely to happen — but it’s a nice thought. And it’s particularly appealing with the women’s United States Olympic marathon trials taking place in Boston Sunday — followed by the Boston Marathon Monday.

And then there is Joan Benoit Samuelson. I wrote about her a few months ago, and if you are looking for a positive contrast to all the negative news recently about sports figures and the Olympic Games it’s her.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, now 50 years old, is going to run in the marathon trials. Her goal is to finish in two hours and 50 minutes. My guess is that she will do it.

But it doesn’t really matter. Joan Benoit Samuelson will always be the standard for honesty and integrity in these kind of competitions — and maybe she does spotlight something important about the Olympic Games, the current debacle with China not withstanding. She could have used her celebrity status following her Olympic marathon win to cash in — but she didn’t. She “retired” to her home in Maine, raised a family, became active in various charities and public causes and became an inspiration for the next generation of American women athletes.

I’ve enjoyed running for the past 25 years or so because of the friendships I made — and because I believe exercise is beneficial in general. Running has also provided me with a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment, confidence and self-discipline.

But Joan Benoit Samuelson says it a lot better than I ever could — saying in a New York Times article that marathoning is a metaphor for life.

“Marathoning is a metaphor for life,” she said, “so there are a lot of parallels you can draw. I tell people to follow your dream, follow your heart, follow your passion, run your own race and believe in yourself. I think anybody who wants to succeed has to have passion. My love for this sport, you can’t instill it in someone else.”

Runner’s World lists Deena Kastor, Kate O’Neill and Elva Dryer as the favorites to win spots on the marathon team.

But if Samuelson can finish the marathon in 2:50 — well, maybe there is hope for the rest of us.