Seeing Red @ NAB/BEA in LV, NV

For the acronym impaired, the second part of the title refers to the National Association of Broadcasters/Broadcast Education Association convention in Las Vega, Nevada. I attended the conference this past week along with a couple of colleagues and several students from CSU-Pueblo. As always the NAB exhibit hall was daunting…too much to see and take in in the short amount of time that I had. And the BEA conference that followed the NAB presented its own challenges. I found myself wanting to attend two or three concurrent sessions and having to make some difficult choices on which one to attend.

So, what did I see in Vegas…besides the sad evidence of thousands of people trying to get lucky? Perhaps the most impressive new tools on the NAB showroom floor were the cameras by Red. The promise of electronic cinematography has been around for a long time…Francis Ford Coppola was a leading proponent back in the 80s…but this camera heralds a new age of electronic image acquisition. With over 4K pixels horizontal, the high resolution image is suitable for delivery on everything from HDTV to film projection. And with a camera body price below $18K, some are calling the Red, “the tipping point of the democratization of filmmaking.” This year Red intro’d the Scarlet…a 3K camera below $3K. Truly amazing! Check out the YouTube interview with Ted “Leader of the Rebellion” Schilowitz.

BEA also provided an excellent opportunity to find out what’s on the cutting edge of media production, research, and instruction. I had the opportunity to attend excellent sessions sponsored by the documentary division as well as several research presentations by colleagues and graduate students. All in all, a very interesting and informative visit to this dull, dusty town in the Nevada desert.

What does it take?

What does it take to be a journalist? What kinds of skills are necessary to succeed in the role of news observer/reporter? And perhaps most importantly–what kinds of character traits are essential? Ask five practicing journalists and you’ll get at least 10 answers. But I’m sure that most would agree on some of the basics, such as: curiosity (with a healthy dose of skepticism), tenacity, ability to tell a story, attention to detail, high regard for accuracy, moral fortitude, and the courage to question authority.

It doesn’t hurt to have an area of expertise. Business reporters, medical correspondents, and sports journalists tend to have backgrounds in those areas and have the necessary expertise to know what questions to ask. If you want to report on global events, a second or third language could come in helpful. And if you want to have a career that lasts beyond 2010, consider digital media skills such as photography, videography and multimedia. The days when you could count on having a staff at your side to handle the “technical” matters is long gone and the crew of one is the norm.

But perhaps my leading advice to someone who want to report the news is simply to start doing it. You have access to an internet-connected computer and know how to type? Well get after it. Get yourself a Blogger or WordPress account and start writing. Report on issues that concern you, and, to stretch yourself, address other issues that are outside of your comfort zone. But write! Take an issue, dissect it, and put it back together. Try to find the story in something as mundane as a mill levy hike or something as controversial as a proposal for drug sniffing dogs in the high schools. Invite readers and their criticism. If you push a few buttons inviting criticism shouldn’t be difficult.

And if after a few months you find that you’re not excited by the process of researching, writing, posting and receiving feedback, do yourself, and the world, a favor and consider a career in accounting.

The Social Media News Release

Over at MediaShift Mark Glaser has written a fascinating article about the latest trend in news releases…the social media news release. If you want to cut right to the chase, check out the image on the right to see what a SMNR might look like. According to Glaser, the venerable news release–the stock in trade tool of PR practitioners–is long past its prime. The all-to-obvious solution is to update the release to take advantage of the power of social media.

Glaser quotes Tom Foremski who had this to say about traditional press releases:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes…Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Business Wire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists. This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.

Strong words. But if these new-fangled news releases catch on, it means that PR practitioners will have to become more savvy about social media technologies such as RSS feeds and social aggregation tools. And as these news releases incorporate more and more rich media, i.e., digital audio and video, skill with digital media tools will also be necessary. If you’re preparing for a career in PR and thinking that your future includes faxing text press releases–you may want to think again.

Psssst! Wanna buy an energy drink?

Hype energy drinkHas anyone every tried to sell you an energy drink as you strolled across campus? Or perhaps a classmate pitched the benefits of a particular brand of energy drink and its positive effects as you were waiting for your 8am class to start. No? Well perhaps you just weren’t AWARE that someone was trying to get you to buy something! Crazy talk, right? Well, what if I told you that I know a University student who earns a commission from an energy drink company, and that he carries an energy drink with him to all of his classes with a goal of “promoting” energy drink consumption on campus. Surprised? Just the visual cue provided by the unopened energy drink can sitting on someone’s desk might be enough to trigger an urge to purchase a can next time you’re near a vending machine. That, my friends, is called viral, word of mouth, or buzz marketing…and it IS a reality on this campus, and across the nation.

This is clearly a growth industry. According to researchers, Americans engage in more than 3 billion brand-related conversations each day. In order to monetize this trend, marketers are looking for ways to buy and sell these conversations. They even have their own association…WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

And if you didn’t already have reasons to be skeptical of the contents of blogs, you should know that pays bloggers to promote products and services on their personal blogs…effectively making anyone and everyone an agent dispensing commercial messages. PayPerPost calls it “sponsored content” and says that they require disclosure in order to comply with FTC regulations. But full disclosure and transparency may be the exception rather than the rule since there is little practical oversight.

Want to get in on the action but don’t have a blog? No problem. The PayPerPost application can also be added to your Facebook page. Oh, and when you recommend a friend who adds the PPP application you earn $15.

Wow, who knew that viral marketing could be so…


Data Driven Decision Making

curry.jpgThe best arguments appeal to both reason and emotion. But if you have to choose one over the other, data-supported arguments that appeal to logic and reason are usually preferable. And while the idea of math is frightening to many mass communication students, the preferred method of creating and sustaining a rational argument involves the use of statistical analysis. So whether you’re taking my Audience Research class, or Marketing Research, or you’re thinking about signing up for Sport Writing and Statistics class offered this fall…sooner or later you’ll be face to face with stats. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Thinking and reasoning with numbers can be an extremely valuable skill set to bring to a potential employer, and once you get over the initial “fear of math” you may even find that you like it.

All of us use statistical reasoning on a regular basis…whether we acknowledge it or not. We talk about averages, percentages and even probabilities. Given a sequence of numbers we can spot a trend and most of us know about the basic concepts of central tendencies and variance…even if we don’t know the lingo. If you are going to be a news reporter or editor you’ll need to know how to write about events using statistical concepts that your audience will understand. Simple stats turn confusing sets of numbers into understandable concepts. For example, sports statistics such as FG% and RBIs reduce a pile of data into simple numbers that are easier to understand and compare. According to, Davidson’s Stephen Curry ended the season with 25 points against Kansas for a season average of 25.9 PPG and a 3P% (three-point-shot percentage) of 44.8%. There’s even an online stats resources that uses sports and exercise science examples to teach statistical concepts.

On 60 Minutes this evening, Morley Safer filed a report about Bill James, a statistician for the World Champion Boston Red Sox. The segment illustrated the importance of statistical analysis when making critical decisions. So whether you’re a media content creator or consumer, a sports fan or reporter, a basic understanding of stats will serve you well in the long run…and in the short term it may even increase your GPA.

Creativity: The Stuff of Advertising

Advertising is a very attractive career path because of its potential for creative expression. While only a fraction of jobs in the advertising profession mention creativity in their job description, the business itself attracts people with artistic and creative skills…nothing at all like the accountants and sales people that work for Dunder Mifflin. Watch the opening scene from The Office: Local Ad to see what I mean.

But despite their creative moments, advertising pros are sometimes faced with a different effect than intended. The Hillary Clinton 3am Spot raised a few eyebrows when viewers questioned her use of scare tactics and whether Senator Clinton really was the candidate best qualified to take those national security calls, day or night. But an interesting twist was added when the young girl asleep in bed turned out to be–8 years later–an Obama supporter.

Use of stock footage is not an uncommon practice, especially for those on a tight budget. However, in this case, it is a classic example of penny wise and pound foolish. (And if you don’t know what that means, ask your grandmother.)

Political Transparency for Journalists?

Radical transparency is a trendy concept in the world of corporate public relations…but not so much in the world of political reporting…until now. In The Case for Full Disclosure, Time Magazine writer James Poniewozik argues that journalists should put all their cards on the table…let us know who they’re voting for and where they stand on the issues. Instead of pretending to be unbiased, reporters should, “expose the sham of neutrality” and expose the lie that journalists are somehow able to remove themselves from the story. One problem, which Poniewozik freely admits, is that reporters may alienate half of their readers/viewers. And it will be much easier to dismiss a story as biased and unfair if the reporter is on record as a supporter of the opposing candidate/party/position. And what if we find that journalists are predominately Democratic or, more specifically, Obama supporters…would public trust and confidence in journalism and the political process suffer? Transparency will likely come slowly, if at all, to mainstream media which, for now, is using the “sham of neutrality” to differentiate itself from the sometimes rancorous and partisan political reporting found on blogs.

Manipulating Magazine Metrics

The average American household spends about $10 per month on magazine subscriptions. The average number of subscriptions per household is 6 magazines, and the average subscriber spends about 45 minutes with each magazine. (I know that’s a lot of averages…but hang with me.) On average, monthly magazines have a longer shelf-life than weeklies, and both stay around the house longer than daily publications, e.g., a daily newspaper. My personal experience seems to support these data…we subscribe to 5 or 6 magazines and I pick up a newsstand copy now and then. From time to time I also pick up and read magazines in public places–e.g. my dentist’s office. From the look of some of them they have been read by quite a few equally bored patients.

Most magazines are about 50% editorial content and 50% advertisements. And like nearly all mass media, magazines live or die on advertising revenue. So it should be no surprise that publishers want to know who’s reading and to what extent the magazine’s ads are engaging the reader. Just recently the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) announced that they want to measure their audience by total readers, not just paid circulation. According to the MPA, magazines are “passed along” to other readers and these readers should count. Translation: advertisers should be paying for the privilege of reaching all the readers. According to their press release, the MPA also wants to provide more detail about issue-by-issue demographic data, advertisement engagement data, and,”consumer action as a result of the ad.”

But convincing advertisers that print magazines are such a good deal that they ought to be willing to pay for the secondary audience may be a tough sell. One thing is clear–print publications are trying to hold onto their audiences and prove their relevancy in a time of media upheaval. These latest measures may signal a desperate attempt to slow the hemorrhaging.

Childhood Obesity and Screen Time

screen timeTurn off your TVA couple of studies recently published confirm what we’ve suspected. Screen time and obesity are positively correlated. And the news gets worse. A study out of Canada found that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods were 3-4 times more likely to fall into these high-risk groups. Another study, this one out of SUNY Buffalo, found that kids whose screen time was reduced lost weight. According to a report in Bloomberg,

Children whose viewing was eventually cut in half ate less, spent less time on sedentary activities and developed a healthier body mass index, a ratio of height to weight. The reduction in screen time didn’t translate into additional physical activity, providing insight into how sitting in front of a television or computer contributes to obesity in children, the researchers said.

Caveat Emptor: The Bloomberg article linked above is an advertisement dressed up as news. The article spends as much space pitching a $100 electronic device called the TV Allowance as it does reporting consumer information. This blurring of PR/Advertising and Journalism is almost as frightening as a 5th grade classroom full of 200 pound screen junkies!

Off the record “[Hillary Clinton] is a monster”

Samatha PowerSamantha Power is no longer an adviser to Barak Obama. Another casualty of the war of words being raged in the quest for the Whitehouse, Ms. Power went a tad too far in her assessment of the Senator from New York–too far, that is, for a spokesperson for the campaign that is trying hard to avoid politics as usual.

As reported by The Scotsman, Power said, “We f***** up in Ohio. In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win. She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything.”

Even after issuing a public apology to both Obama and Clinton, and confessing to admiration for the former first lady, Power felt obligated to resign her post.

But what about this on/off the record thing? Journalists will occasionally conduct an interview off-the-record, at the request of the interviewee–if that is the only way the information can be obtained. Although information gathered in this manner is not available to be used directly, e.g quoted or attributed, the information can be used as background research. The Scotsman, the paper that broke the story, includes an explanation of their policy on off-the-record interviews at the end of their story. According to The Scotsman, an interview can only be considered off-the-record, “when the rules are established in advance.” Trying to withdraw a statement made in the middle of an on-the-record interview by saying, “off the record” does not make it so. And according to one source, Power should have known better. As a graduate of Harvard Law School and a journalist herself–who has written for Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist and The New Republic–Power should have shown better judgment.

BTW, just yesterday Clinton’s communication chief accused the Obama team of “imitating Ken Starr.” When will the name calling stop?  😉