Category Archives: Akron Beacon Journal

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?

The Inventors Hall of Fame and failed expectations

I wonder how many people in Akron know that the Inventors Hall of Fame is located in the former Rubber Capital of the World? Probably not many. And it doesn’t matter at this point. Looks like the Inventors Hall of Fame is pretty much kaput — at least from Akron’s point of view. That’s really a shame. So many people had such high expectations for the museum to be a magnet for tourism — and a foundation for a revitalization of Akron’s downtown. Oh well.

The story of the Inventors Hall of Fame is interesting on a number of levels — including how difficult it is to make a big community economic development idea work even when you have considerable public and private support. The Inventors Hall of Fame for Akron was a big idea.

In the 1980s, civic and business leaders, including John Ong, then chairman of BFGoodrich, decided that Akron should compete with other cities (such as Philadelphia) to become the home of the museum. (At that time the museum was housed in the equivalent of a room in the Patent Office in Washington.) And with much work and enthusiasm Akron won. Then it was a matter of building a magnificent building at 221 S. Broadway — and then sit back and wait for people to flock into downtown Akron to learn about the accomplishments of our great inventors, Bell, Edison and others.

Neat idea. And a source of tremendous civic pride and accomplishment. Unfortunately, here’s where reality enters the picture. When the museum opened, the expectation was that annual attendance would be in the range of 300,000 or so. I know this — because I helped shape the communications that outlined those goals. And here’s the rub. I never really questioned those numbers. And neither did reporters — at least not in print — with the Akron Beacon Journal and other newspapers. Everyone kind of chuckled — but maybe it was a Field of Dreams. Build it an they will come. Unfortunately, no.

Last year, according to an article in the Akron Beacon Journal, attendance was about 40,000. And I assume that includes every student in every grade school in Northeast Ohio.

Here’s from the story, written by Carol Biliczky:

Hopes were sky high when Akron clinched the deal to land the National Inventors Hall of Fame almost two decades ago.

But prospects soured quickly once the museum opened in a futuristic new building at 221 S. Broadway.

”No matter how much money we spent on it, it was a loser,” said Robert Briggs, chairman of the board of directors for the Hall of Fame Foundation, which oversees four subsidiaries including the museum. ”We were too optimistic.”

The hall of fame closed the doors of the museum to the public in April. Now most of the building will become part of a magnet school for math and science students.

And one other section from the ABJ article:

Even though the hall of fame put $5 million into the original exhibits and more money later, the public apparently had little interest in looking at plaques of inventors who created the hollow fiber artificial kidney and the silicon solar cell or fiddling around in a do-it-yourself workshop.

”Today’s kids have a very different expectation than earlier generations had,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Museum Association in Washington, D.C. ”I was happy to look at dioramas, but they expect a screen, something that engages them.”

Dreams to make the annual induction of inventors into the hall of fame as glitzy as the Emmys or Oscars did not pan out, said Edwin ”Ned” Oldham, the Akron patent attorney who was instrumental in bringing the hall of fame to Akron.

OK. The point of this is not to be critical of anyone associated with the museum — or about what has happened. I played a small role in this years ago — and I believed it had a chance of being a success and forming the basis for some much needed economic development in Akron.

Saying that, here are some things I was thinking about while running this morning. And maybe they apply to other community projects and economic development activities — and to communications in general.

First, I should have pressed more on the attendance projections. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to set unrealistically high expectations with these projects — or others. This was a volunteer activity for me — volunteered because my boss John Ong was involved. I didn’t ask the tough questions here that I would have asked if this had been my real job.

Second, the Akron Beacon Journal was a big supporter of Akron landing the Inventors Hall of Fame — and of the museum in subsequent years when things clearly were not going as well as expected. How does a newspaper reconcile its genuine interest in the community with its obligation to report fairly and accurately? I was involved through the years in several discussions with ABJ editors and reporters when they could have printed very negative stories about the museum (and subsequently Inventure Place, which emerged after it became clear that 300,000 weren’t coming to Akron each year to look at static tributes to mostly long-gone inventors.) But they didn’t print those stories. Was the city — and taxpayers — well served by that?

Third, it’s possible to harness incredible community resources to work toward a common end. Yet even with that there is no guarantee of success. It’s tough out there folks.

This wasn’t a failure in leadership — or in the ability of a community to act on a big idea. Maybe it was just a failure of not meeting unrealistic expectations.

GM and Bush’s magic wand

Phil Gramm, I’m not whining here. Honest. I finished a really pleasant five-mile run this morning. And picked up my dead-tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal. The main headline on the front page: “Economic crisis has top leaders at a loss.”

From Tom Raum and the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON: The nation’s leaders are running out of answers to America’s economic crisis.

The Federal Reserve has no more practical room to push interest rates lower; there’s only so much taxpayer money for shoring up housing, and if depositors lose confidence there’s little officials can do to stop a run on banks.

OK. Let’s try for this. How about just one consistent answer? We sure didn’t get that yesterday in separate statements from President Bush and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bush argues the glass is  half full. Bernanke suggests we drink up before the glass is repossessed.

But at least Bush tried to offer some perspective and context — always good things from a public relations standpoint. In response to a question about high gasoline prices, His Glibness said: “The president doesn’t have a magic wand.” Indeed. So I guess we’re sunk.

Too bad baseball wasn’t invented before our Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution. Otherwise, I bet there would have been a provision allowing us to bring in a relief president. Or to pinch hit for the chairman of the Federal Reserve. But since we are where we are — I guess we’ll have to look to Dr. Phil to cast the tie breaker.

Here’s an interesting read on The Huffington Post — “A Tale of Two Economies.”

Then take General Motors. Please.

GM announced yesterday its latest restructuring — and cutbacks involving employees, facilities and retiree health benefits. This isn’t funny. Quite the opposite. It’s sad. “As GM goes so goes the nation.” Oh, my. Look out below! Let’s hope that GM — and Ford and Chrysler — survive this mess. Management at those companies really didn’t forsee crude oil prices well north of $100 a barrel — and for years they gave us what we wanted: large trucks, gas-hogging SUVs. Bummer. Oops. Meant Hummer.

And one last point. I noticed that Bob Lutz, GM’s resident blogger and vice chairman, wrote about the problems GM is facing on FastLane. I give him credit for doing that — and I know from personal experience that it is difficult for senior executives to talk candidly about problems and management mistakes.

Unfortunately, we may be in an era where global economic and political realities make it impossible for Lutz and his associates to fix GM and return it to being a foundation for our economy.

Bush snickered at the idea of a bailout for GM if the company’s fortunes continue to decline.

Magic wand anyone?

Baseball, cornhole and political campaigns

Well, I came back from my run this morning to find out that the major league baseball season in Northeast Ohio is all but kaput. Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro tells the Akron Beacon Journal:

“I believe if guys hadn’t gotten hurt — even with the offense struggling and the disappointing bullpen — we would still be in the hunt, though maybe not in first place,” he said. “Next year, I think we will be contenders, as well.”

Oh, as Brando lamented in On the Waterfront: “I coulda been a contender.” Couldn’t we all.

So I guess that leaves cornhole as the only game in the area. It appears that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is organizing a statewide cornhole tournament to finance his campaign. (Good grief. Is he running again. Already?) Here’s from the Akron Beacon Journal story:

And Gov. Ted Strickland has let it be known he will soon hold a cornhole tournament to raise money for his campaign, with regional competitions around Ohio, including one in North Canton.

Not familiar with cornhole? It’s a bean bag-tossing game that’s popular on campuses and at tailgate parties.

First Obama says he won’t accept public money for the upcoming presidential campaign. Now Strickland is going to travel around Ohio and toss a bean bag for dollars.

I’ll just offer one tip to the governor. If the game is close, don’t bring in Joe Borowski, released yesterday as the Indians’ bullpen ace. If that happens, it’s likely the Republicans will sweep Ohio and the nation.

And for the Indians. Hillary was able to hang in there until the bitter end. Couldn’t you have at least faked it until the end of September? By then the Browns will have been eliminated as well.

Wait till next year.