The Boozy, but not Newsy, Mass Media

by Walter Brasch

The Big Story this past week was the Golden Globes awards.

The Golden Globes, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and broadcast by NBC, drew 21 million viewers for the three-hour ceremony, preceded by a one-hour Red Carpet gush-fest hosted by “Today” show personalities. There wasn’t one TV or film personality the hosts didn’t fawn over.

Tamron Hall several times excitedly told the viewers that last year she watched the Golden Globes on TV, and now was so thrilled to be on the Red Carpet to interview fellow celebrities.

Hosts praised the gowns of the women; the women returned the compliments to Hall and Savannah Guthrie.

No one said anything about the spiffy tuxes that Matt Lauer or Carson Daly wore. However, more than just a few viewers noted that Lauer began the telecast watching celebrities through a pair of sunglasses. Lauer, who long ago transitioned from journalist to $25 million a year celebrity, justified the Jack Nicholson look by saying the sun was in his eyes. It’s possible the director, producers, lighting technicians, and camera operators couldn’t figure out how to position Lauer and the pulchritudinous multitude without having the sun affect them. It’s also possible that someone from the Honey Boo Boo family will become a five-time “Jeopardy” champion.

To make sure the viewers knew the Golden Globes were not the staid Oscars, the hosts and some of the celebrities referred to the amount of drinking before, during, and after the presentations. There is, apparently, a correlation that the Golden Globes are a looser, much more fun ceremony because the stars can sit at dinner tables and shine all night long. Some of the TV and Golden Globes staff, and probably some of the stars, may have even chosen to get a Colorado high before the ceremony. Cate Blanchett, who won a Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Drama,” navigated to the stage and declared, to no one’s surprise, “I had a few vodkas under my belt.”  By the time Jacqueline Bisset got to the stage to accept her award, the orchestra had already begun to play the “Your time is up” music. Emma Thompson, seeming to bond with college sorority girls, came onto the stage with her shoes in her right hand and a martini in her left hand. She was there to present the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, proving that actors will always upstage writers.

Boozers Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford stayed in New York, preparing whatever wine or other liquor they would feature in their one-hour “Today” show gab-fest the next day.

The day after the Golden Globe awards, newspapers ran innumerable color pictures of actresses, making sure to identify whose designer gown they were wearing. There is nothing wrong with that. The people in the TV and film industry, whether star or gopher, work hard and are every bit as professional as any doctor, lawyer, or cosmetologist. However, there are questions about the professionalism of the news media.

During the week of the Golden Globes, there actually was some hard news.            Forty-five homes were evacuated in New Brunswick after a 122-car Canadian National train derailed. Seventeen of those cars, carrying propane and crude oil from North Dakota, burned. Only because the wind was blowing away from a populated area was a major disaster averted. It was the sixth major derailment since July of trains carrying the toxic and highly flammable crude oil from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota.

In West Virginia, Freedom Industries spilled almost 8,000 gallons of the chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River near Charleston. That spill caused more than 1,000 residents to go to emergency rooms for a variety of ailments, including rashes and breathing problems. The 300,000 residents who were affected had to rely upon bottled water for at least a week. The contaminated water, which traveled down the Ohio River, was too toxic even to be boiled, cooled, and then used.

In Chicago, four persons were murdered this past week. In Baltimore, there were 16 murders in the first two weeks of the year. Across the country, more than 200 Americans were murdered last week.

There are several ways to determine news media priorities. You can count column inches or air time; the Globes easily won in that category. You can check placement of a story, whether on a page or in the TV line-up. Chalk another win to the Globes. But there’s also another way to determine what the media think are important. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out more than 1,200 press credentials. This would be probably at least 10 times more media personnel than those who covered the train derailment, the chemical pollution, and America’s preoccupation with guns.

More than 4,000 media credentials were issued in 2005 to the press to cover the celebrity trial of Michael Jackson in ocean-beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif. The International Olympic Committee is issuing 2,800 press credentials for the Sochi winter Olympics; about 6,000 press credentials were issued for the 2012 London summer Olympics.

It’s just a reality of the entertainment-driven news media that thinks it’s being relevant by splashing soft puff and entertainment news all over its good-for-one-week porous sheets of newsprint or the air time it leases from the FCC.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the environmental, health, and economic effects of horizontal fracturing to capture natural gas. The book also includes extensive analysis of the collusion between corporate interests and politicians.]

America’s Uncivil Phone Manners

by WALTER BRASCH

Wednesday, I called the newsrooms of Pennsylvania’s two largest newspapers.

All I got were disembodied voices telling me no one was available and to leave a message.

It was 11 a.m., and I thought someone-anyone!-should have answered their phones. But, with publishers doing their best to “maximize profits” by cutting news coverage and reporters, I figured they either didn’t have anyone capable of answering a phone or figured no one would be calling with any news that day.

So I left a message. It was a routine question, specific for each newspaper and related to verifying information from their papers for a book I was completing.

I left another message the next day. I would have called individual assignment reporters, but unlike the websites of many smaller newspapers, the metros’ websites didn’t have that information. Apparently, they don’t want readers to know who does what at their newspapers.

Nevertheless, no one called back. I wasn’t important enough.

Calls and emails to an agent for an actor, who I was trying to get for a public service announcement for a national organization, a few weeks earlier weren’t returned. Nor were calls and emails to a national talk show host I was trying to secure for a paid speech to a different national non-profit organization.

Nor were several calls and emails to the producers of pretend-folksy “Ellen” ever returned. In that case, I had a “straight-A” student, who was a mass communications major with minors in marketing and dance. She was one of the best students I had ever taught. She wanted to be an intern. You know, the kind who don’t get pay or benefits but get experience. There were jobs available. It took several calls to others who were affiliated with the show just to find out the names of producers or contacts. But no one from the show returned any of my communications, whether by email, letter, or phone calls. Not even to say my advisee wouldn’t be considered.

Celebrities and their companies get thousands of emails and phone calls. To the average citizen that would be overwhelming. But, to corporations, especially those who deal with the public, there should be sufficient funds in an operation that makes millions a year to hire staff to respond to viewer communications.

Most of the smaller media take pride in returning phone calls or responding to letters from readers and viewers. But something must happen when reporters and producers move into the rarified atmosphere of large media.

It’s too bad. Big Media show arrogance to the people, and then spend countless hours wondering why the people don’t trust them.

Unfortunately, the loss of civility isn’t confined to those who are celebrities or part of the Big Media Morass.

A call to a company that installs home generators went to voice mail, and then wasn’t

returned. A call to an individual who advertises that he cleans out gutters and water spouts also wasn’t returned. A call to a university department was answered. The receptionist said the lady “isn’t around.”

“When will she be around?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” came the response.

“Do you think she’ll be available later today?”

“Maybe. You could call back.”

In many cases, the people are left with the belief that others just don’t care. Or, maybe they’re too busy. Or maybe they just forget. Or maybe they’re too busy texting and tweeting to have time to deal with people. Unless, of course, they think we’re at least as important as they are.

Then, they fall all over themselves to talk with us.

Even with these annoyances, most calls are answered; most times, I (and I would hope others) are treated with respect. Most times, receptionists and staff take extra time to try to solve problems.

Nevertheless, more and more we see a loss of civility by people and organizations that may think they’re just too important to deal with the people. For the large corporations and the celebrities that have multi-million dollar budgets, perhaps their PR and marketing efforts should first be focused on dealing with the people rather than splashing us with large-scale media campaigns to convince us that they matter. Failure to do so will leave us believing that they, not us, are the ones who don’t matter.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, and former multimedia writer-producer and university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

A Few Cutting Remarks

Throughout the country, the taxpayers have been revolting. Shocked by the enormity of the taxpayer revolt, and the untimely retirement of several hundred politicians, today’s current legislators, civil servants, and business executives have suddenly became the “people’s champions.” In a parallel universe, we can report the following, just since the latest election:

— Congress got the taxpayers’ message, and cut tax-supported junkets to only 15 per member. “The people have spoken,” said Rep. Horace Sludgepump from the Bahamas where he was on a fact-finding tour for the Maritime subcommittee. However, Rep. Sludgepump cautions that forcing Congressmen to stay at home and work for a living could bring chaos to the nation. Nevertheless, he promises to cut expenses even further three months before the next election.

— The Department of Defense was able to significantly reduce its budget by cutting back on the hours its golf courses and officers clubs were open. Complaining about the cuts were tax-reforming members of Congress whose districts were in the golf club re-appropriation. However, they were voted down by congressmen from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota who were pleased to tell their constituents there would be new naval bases in their states.

— The Governor’s office announced that although the administration was forced to make severe cuts in education and human services, by strict cost-counting measures it was able to maintain staff salaries, and keep off the unemployment lines 125 administrative assistants, 265 executive assistants, 835 assistants to the administrative assistant, and 1,255 deputy special assistants.

— The budget cuts directly affect the nation’s 200,000 homeless veterans. But, there’s an upside to this. Sixty-three-year-old Cpl. Willie Joe Lumpkin, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, re-enlisted. “After being downsized three times in the past decade and having the bank foreclose on my mortgage,” says Lumpkin, “at least I now have a bed and meals.” Lumpkin is expected to have shelter in Afghanistan for at least the next year.

— The president of Mammoth State University said that it too will cut expenses. Beginning next semester, the university will eliminate the departments of history, journalism, and philosophy, recruit high school students with at least a “C-” average who are willing to pay the increased tuition rates, add low-paid graduate assistants to teach megasection classes formerly taught by full-time professors, and cut the library budget by 35 percent. When asked if those changes weren’t severe, the President replied, “We tried to be as humane as possible. We allowed our 1,249 administrators to keep their jobs, have maintained our $6 million football program without restriction, and added three more PR people to better explain the mission of the university.”

— Slagheap World Airlines announced that in the spirit of national cost cutting, it would cut back its cockpit crew to one pilot and eliminate flight attendants, meals, and life rafts. “This way,” said the president, “we won’t have to penalize our loyal stockholders by lowering our return on investment.”

— The Association of American Landlords, which had lobbied extensively against annual safety inspections and property tax increases because they would be unfair to their tenants who would be required to pay higher rents, has also made concessions. Beginning September, in the spirit of tax reform, the landlords will sub-divide all apartments, and raise rents only 10 percent. “Sharing a bathroom and kitchen will bring people closer together,” said the Association president from his McMansion Media Room.

— Newspapers have been swept up in the spirit of reform. At the Daily Bugle, publisher Ben “Cash” Fleaux, from his villa in Bermuda, announced that his newspaper was forced to eliminate stories about local government, consumer and environmental reporting, and news of the courts when it cut its editorial staff by half in order to maximize profits during the Recession. To compensate, the Bugle is running more PR releases and added more stories about celebrities in rehab.

— The medical insurance industry, in keeping with the spirit of cost cutting, today announced it was cancelling coverage for 25 percent of its subscribers. “We hated to do it,” said an insurance spokesperson, “but some people insist on getting catastrophic illnesses, and that’s unfair to the rest who are healthy and don’t apply for benefits.”

— Finally, Dr. Guy Nacologist, the state’s richest obstetrician, announced that in keeping with the spirit of tax reform, he was now requiring all his patients to deliver their babies in eight months, thus saving a full month. When asked if he had also considered lowering his fees, he looked at the reporter, and then pointedly proclaimed that with the increase in country club fees, his patients were lucky he didn’t raise their costs by a similar amount.

[Walter Brasch says that since columnists are the soul of a newspaper, they should be downsized only after the last editor shuts off the lights in the newsroom. He reminds his readers that without their support, he’s likely to become unemployed and a burden on their hard-earned tax dollars. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. Also check out his YouTube video.]

                                                                                       

Newspapers Getting Free Ride From Taxpayers

It is interesting that most daily newspapers across the Commonwealth are very conservative yet they rely on taxpayer subsidies for substantial revenue.  I wrote recently about $3 million in state grants given to the owners of the conservative Reading Eagle.  The editorial content of this paper is quite against such reliance on government except when it comes to filling its owner’s quite sizable pockets.

Classified legal advertising is also a significant revenue source.  Municipalities are required by law (aided and abetted by their lobbyists) to publish all manner of notices in local papers.  Taxpayers can achieve relief if free local newspapers are also provided standing for these ads.  From the Weekly Press:

Pennsylvania state law now requires local governments to publish information regarding a host of governmental activities in newspapers, for the purpose of transparency, which include such items as annual budgeting, financial reports, bids for supplies or equipment, government contracts, the adoption and resolution of ordinances, as well public meetings and hearings. The only catch is that these notices must first be published in newspapers with paid circulations.

If the state legislature allowed municipalities to meet the public notice requirements using free publications they can save up to 80% of these costs.  Haven’t we bailed out hypocritical newspapers long enough?  The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this issue May 14th and letting your Representative know your position will help push reform.  Our State House spends millions in direct aid to newspapers who turn around and bite the hands which feed them.  Our House even spent money recently to erect a statue to Albert Boscov in Reading.  They are refusing to fund an economic impact study on health care however.  Exactly what are our priorities in Harrisburg?